Sunday, May 23, 2010


Youthful folly has success.
It is not I who seek the young fool;
The young fool seeks me.
At the first oracle I inform him.
If he asks two or three times, it is importunity.
If he importunes, I give him no information.
Perseverance furthers.

In the time of youth, folly is not an evil. One may succeed in spite of it, provided one finds an experienced teacher and has the right attitude toward him. This means, first of all, that the youth himself must be conscious of his lack of experience and must seek out the teacher. Without this modesty and this interest, there is no guarantee that he has the necessary receptivity, which should express itself in respectful acceptance of the teacher. This is the reason why the teacher must wait to be sought out instead of offering himself. Only thus can the instruction take place at the right time and in the right way.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Exploring the Mysterious Portolan Maps

Section of the amazingly accurate 1559 map by Mateo Prunes.

One of the most mysterious topics in world history concerns a handful of maps depicting the world’s geography with a precision that far exceeded the tools and abilities of the day’s mapmakers. The Library of Congress this week convened a conference, “Re-Examining the Portolan Chart: History, Navigation and Science” to discuss maps originating about 1275. According to today’s Washington Post:
It is a rare representative of one of the world's greatest and most enduring mysteries: Where and how did medieval mapmakers, apparently armed with no more than a compass, an hourglass and sets of sailing directions, develop stunningly accurate maps of southern Europe, the Black Sea and North African coastlines, as if they were looking down from a satellite, when no one had been higher than a treetop?
The earliest known portolan (PORT-oh-lawn) chart, the Carta Pisana, just appears in about 1275 -- with no known predecessors. It is perhaps the first modern scientific map and contrasted sharply to the "mappamundi" of the era, the colorful maps with unrecognizable geography and fantastic creatures and legends. It bears no resemblance to the methods of the mathematician Ptolemy and does not use measurements of longitude and latitude.
 And yet, despite it's stunning accuracy, the map "seems to have emerged full-blown from the seas it describes," one reference journal notes. No one today knows who made the first maps, or how they calculated distance so accurately, or even how all the information came to be compiled.
While maps such as the Carta Pisana are indeed worthy of in-depth research, I’m also drawn to even more mysterious examples, such as the Piri Reis map from 1513, which has been the topic of a couple of books, the most fun ~ even if perhaps not the most accurate ~ being Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings, first published by Charles Hapgood in 1966.

Click here for the Washington Post article.
Click here for more on the Piri Reis map.
Click here for a Wikipedia overview of ancient maps.

Brain Now Found to Better Distinguish Fear

New research into the brain’s capacity for storing fear holds promise for treating post-traumatic stress syndrome, among other fears that lurk in our minds and can haunt our lives.

The new study results appear in the current issue of Nature Neuroscience. According to
The research focused on the brain's amygdala, which has previously been shown to store fear memories. However, prior studies have indicated that the amygdala does not discriminate among the different threats it holds and processes. In other words, whether you are afraid of dogs because you were once bitten by a dog or you are afraid of pizza because you once nearly choked to death eating it, all the amygdala remembers is that both of these experiences were scary. By contrast, other brain areas, such as cortex, ensures that all other aspects of these fearful events in your life are remembered.
New evidence, however, points to the amygdala being able to make distinctions among the fear memories it holds and retrieves.

Click here for the article.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Ram Dass

Spiritual teacher Ram Dass ~ earlier known as Harvard professor Richard Alpert (born 1931) ~ here recites a well-known anecdote that captures a universal truth in which I firmly believe. That is, you can’t really tell whether an incident is “good” or “bad” until its implications have played out over a period of time.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Is Life on Earth Merely a Cosmic Fluke?

Paul Davies ~ one of the scientists involved in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) ~ says nothing in the laws of chemistry or physics indicate life is a cosmic imperative. Instead, he says we should consider the possibility that life on Earth is a fluke, a completely improbable event.

Davies runs Arizona State University’s Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science, and chairs the SETI Post-Detection Taskgroup, which has developed a plan for the day we do find life elsewhere. In his new book, The Eerie Silence, Davies provides an overview of various efforts to contact aliens, and he also notes how recent discoveries have led to the widespread belief that life must be common in the universe.

According to
Hundreds of planets have been detected orbiting distant stars, and while these planets are more like Jupiter than Earth, that’s mostly due to our detection methods. Less massive planets will likely be found by newer telescopes, and the fact that we have already found so many worlds bodes well for the potential number of habitable planets in the galaxy. In addition, life has been discovered in some of the most extreme environments on Earth, including the deep subsurface where sunlight cannot penetrate. This suggests that life is possible in all sorts of unusual places, including planets we once would have considered inhospitable to life.
“If life started more than once on Earth, we could be virtually certain that the universe is teeming with it,” Davies writes. “Unless there is something very peculiar about our planet, it is inconceivable that life would have begun twice on one Earth-like planet but hardly ever on the rest.”

Click here for the complete article.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Viktor Frankl on Idealism and Destiny

I'm so excited to find this video clip from 1972 of Viktor E. Frankl speaking on idealism and what it means for the individual.
Frankl is the author of Man's Search for Meaning, an oft-cited, powerful book stemming from Frankl's experiences as a death-camp prisoner during Hitler's Holocaust. This clip is just over four minutes.

Frankl was a founder of "logotherapy," a form of existential analysis devoted to finding meaning in life and thus a reason to continue living. He lived from 1905 to 1997.