Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: science

Isaac Asimov: Robots and Space Travel

I finished reading “The Roving Mind” by Isaac Asimov over the weekend. 348 pages in 13.92 hours. But who’s counting?!

isaac asimov

The man invented the word “robots,” but he’d never used a computer. He knows that the word is only attributed to him, but he knows he heard it somewhere before. He used a typewriter and when told a newfangled word processor would at least speed up his writing, he scoffed. He wrote a book a month and so many essays. “Prolific” doesn’t begin to describe him.

I enjoyed reading some of these essays more than others. My favorites being the last few that he wrote about himself. I was encouraged to hear that he often wrote “off the cuff” and only went back to clean up some mistakes and maybe rearrange a bit. That’s typically my style as well. I’m not saying I’m a genius, but what I write is usually what I’m thinking as I think it. It may not be brilliant but it’s honest, real.

There was one bit about space exploration that I found inspiring. Imagine space colonies, people living in space, children growing up on a space station. They’d be the people that went on the long journeys into space, the ones that got on that light speed vehicle and headed into the vast unknown. They would be used to that life and not as likely to be unnerved by the confinement.

Also, reading Isaac Asimov describe how big the universe really is, not to mention our own dang solar system. Amazing.

I’m not big sci-fi fan. Hell, I’m not even a big science fan. I’d rather delve into relational human issues, spirituality and imagination, than ponder the secrets only meticulous science can unravel. But space travel is fascinating to me. The prospect of it. What’s out there? Who’s out there? I’m not concerned with how we get there or if there will be metals to mine or an atmosphere on that distant planet. What I want to know is, how we will talk to them. Will we even be able recognize a sentient lifeform from an entirely different galaxy?

It’s probably why I love Star Trek so much. The exploration of space. “This is a science vessel!” How would we even begin to communicate and interact with a species that developed completely outside our own system? How will they be different? How will they be similar? It boggles my mind.

The only drawback to this book for me was that, because it was written in 1983, it felt a little dated. Many of the things we thought were going to destroy the world in the next decade never came to fruition. Don’t get me wrong, some of them still could, eventually. But, like a lot of predictions and panics, we’re assuming that technology will remain the same when we look forward to a grim future. These days, with the rapid development of technology, anything can happen.

When I look to the future, I wonder what crazy new thing will have been invented and embraced that will change how my grandchildren live. I’m curious and optimistic, unless I’ve just been to the grocery store, and they’ve put my spaghetti sauce on top of my loaf of bread…again. Then I’m afraid that I am convinced there is no hope for us a species.

Are you a sci-fi fan? Do you read Isaac Asimov fiction? What’s your favorite?

Go back and read my first post, “The Roving Mind: New Read” to see where I came from.

Media B.S. and Scientific…ahh, who am I kidding?!

Two quotes about media b.s. and scientific challenges from the essay “The Role of the Heretic” in the chapter “Other Aberrations” in The Roving Mind by Isaac Asimov.

“Supply the public with something amusing, that sounds scholarly, and that supports something it wants to believe, and surely you need nothing more.”

Sounds familiar. This is what we get from today’s “news,” social media, and politicians. When you ask anyone where they are getting their data, or what study or finding they are paraphrasing, you are accused of either not having an “open mind” or being “anti-science.”

“I hope scientific orthodoxies never remain unchallenged. Science is in far greater danger from an absence of challenge than from the coming of any number of even absurd challenges. Science, unchallenged, can become arthritic and senile, whereas the most absurd challenge may help to stir the blood and tone the muscles of the body of science.”

Unchallenged scientific orthodoxies are the same as religions. They both only wish to keep their power and control the masses so that things continue the way they want them to.

And…that’s all I’ve got today. Not very inspiring, I know.

The trouble this morning is that I promised myself I’d write SOMETHING every day and then post SOMETHING, even if it’s not worth posting. Do you think that’s too much? I’m talking about an hours’ worth of work each day. I really don’t think that is too much to ask of myself. But here we are…struggling to keep up.

And what about tomorrow? One day a week I leave the house at 7am to drive down the hill and visit friends. I don’t have time to write before I go. No big deal, right? I mean, it’s only one day and I have a legitimate reason. But I’ll have another this weekend when we leave on our mini vacation for our anniversary. That’s two days, maybe three.

My initial solution was to write two posts today and schedule one to come out tomorrow morning, but then I woke up angry and tired from a bad dream and just couldn’t get into writing anything at all. I decided what I really needed to get my brain off the dream and into work mode was some breakfast and coffee. Then I started texting a friend about that stupid dream. My mother-in-law called and asked me to pick something up at the store for her later. Then I thought, “Screw this. I’ll read some more and then write while my son needs the livingroom silent for his class.”

I showered, started the laundry, chatted with a friend, ate more tasty things (still thinking about a tasty lunch), sat down to my computer, and decided I needed to clean up some photo files first…

Yeah. You see where this is going.

But here I am now. FINALLY. At the laptop. Sitting in my bed instead of my office because it’s not comfy at all. My husband is working at his desk on the other side of the room. Luckily, he’s not on the phone right now.

My head hurts. I need more coffee. How long is that kid going to be in class?! The laundry will be done soon. It’s hot again today. I’m starting to think summer won’t end this year. First Covid bullshit and now infinite summer.

All of this angst is because I had a bad dream, a few of them in a row actually. I woke up tired and cranky. What I need is a nap and there is no room to hide in today.

But that’s ok because I DID write SOMETHING, and I am going to post it. For posterity, of course. And I believe I’m hilarious, especially when I’m being pissy. Win!

Go back to my first post, “The Roving Mind: New Read” to read more about this book.

The Roving Mind: A New Read

I started reading “The Roving Mind” by Isaac Asimov this morning, my first tentative step into read more of his non-fiction work.

The Roving Mind

After much tweaking of my mourning routine, I have finally caught the reins and started a more consistent writing schedule…again. And now I get to post about my latest book right as I start to read it, instead of after I finish like I have had to do the past month.

I enjoy writing these New Read posts because my initial impressions about a book are usually pretty different than my thoughts at the end. There was a reason that I picked up the book in the first place, (and, yes, I’ve promised to get better at remembering that reason). There is also a reason I’m picking the book off the TBR shelf today, which may be different than my reason for buying it.

What are my initial impressions of Isaac Asimov’s “The Roving Mind?” I started reading the Foreword, the Introduction, and the tributes from other science and sci-fi writers and teared up. I didn’t realize how much loved he was as a writer and a friend; it sounds like he was fascinating person. Then again, how could he not be? He’s written so much about science, non-fiction and fiction. I know him for his fiction. I’ve read Foundation, The Gods Themselves, and The Fantastic Voyage. I plan on reading more! So far, The Fantastic Voyage has been my favorite, but I think it’s mostly because the movie from the 60’s was so fun (and scary) for me when I was a kid. My husband has read more of his non-fiction. I have some of them on my bookshelf behind me right now.

I don’t consider myself much of a scientific thinker. I lean more on emotion and feeling, more concerned with getting along and making connections with people than thinking along the lines of repeatable experiments and data tables. When a scientist says something is true, I tend to lean more on “Can I trust that person?” than “Is his data provable?” But Asimov…he makes science approachable for people like me and I’m excited to start reading more of his work.

My edition of “The Roving Mind” is a collection of essays originally published in 1983 but republished in 1997 after his death in 1992. I bought it from Amazon, probably because I had the thought to read some of his non-fiction after finishing Foundation. It’s been sitting on my TBR shelf since 2013. I don’t think anything has sat there that long, but it’s science, it’s hard, and I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. Three essays in and I’m wishing I had read it years ago. This is going to be fun!

Want to follow me through this book? Read more at the following links.

Chaos & Peace: The Roving Mind #1
Media B.S. and Scientific…ahh, who am I kidding?!
Isaac Asimov: Robots and Space Travel

Optimism is What Will Save Us: A Book Review

Optimism in The Rational Optimist

“The Rational Optimist – How Prosperity Evolves” by Matt Ridley is a book that will change you and then you’ll start to change your world, and as a result change the whole world. Positivity and optimism will become a movement! I’ll start with a quote from the last chapter of this book.

“In this book I have tried to build on both Adam Smith and Charles Darwin: to interpret society as the product of a long history of what the philosopher Dan Dennett calls ‘bubble-up’ evolution through natural selection among cultural rather than genetic variations, and as an emergent order generated by an invisible hand of individual transactions, not the product of top-down determinism.”

“Futurology always ends up telling you more about your own time than about the future.”

The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley

This book is so full of legitimate reasons to be optimistic about the future that it’s hard to quote from, hard to pull out one piece and attempt to get you excited about reading it. But I want you to read it. It’s still (10 years after publication) what we need to hear as we continue to pull each other down across the internet.

Politicians, activists, scientists, and media producers have always been telling us that the world is getting worse. If they told you that everything was great, we are right on track, and not to worry, it would seem that we need fewer laws, lower taxes, and fewer politicians. And they aren’t doing it intentionally or because they are evil. They do it because optimism doesn’t sell, pessimism is what keeps them employed. It’s the same reason the new soap company tells you that your old soap is causing you problems and theirs is going to solve all those problems you didn’t know you had.

The book does not deny that things can be improved. It’s rational optimism, not putting on rose colored glasses. It doesn’t deny climate change or science. It doesn’t claim that the world is so damn rosy that we can just sit back and enjoy the ride. His claim is that things are getting better and will continue to do so IF we can keep communicating ideas between each other and have the freedom to work together in amazing ways.

This morning I read in the August issue of Reason magazine, “When things are worse, or perceived as worse, people grow less tolerant, less empathetic, less open to compromise, and they offer each other less leeway. A sense of scarcity or impending scarcity fosters a zero-sum mindset.”

The more we believe what they say instead of evaluating our own experience (through their lens not our own), the angrier and more distrustful we are of the people around us, which creates the negative experiences we read about and then gets amplified on social media because we just have to warn the others. It’s a spiral downward.

I loved this book because he doesn’t claim to have the answers. He doesn’t even claim that everything will work out for the best in the end. What he does say is that we should be aware that this world is changing so rapidly, no one can clearly predict what will happen and what we should do about it now. In the past, freedom and less control are what seem to get us where we want to be with the fewest casualties, maybe we should try staying on that track.

And there are rational reasons for optimism, despite what the news and the politicians are saying. I can see that in my own life, without ever opening my computer or watching the news. My life is much easier and richer than my parents’ was, and my children are already better off than I was at their age. Watching them find jobs and housing this past year was FAR easier than when I was doing it. Your field of search is unlimited. You can search, interview, and apply for an apartment, all online from a thousand miles away.

Don’t know how to do something? Google it and you’ll find a step-by-step video from a hundred different people or a free online class. Want to visit a place? Whip out your phone, read reviews, make reservation, all while you’re driving following directions that tell you where the traffic is lighter. Want to skip the crowds? Order online, have things delivered, or look at an app that tells you how crowded a restaurant or park is in real time.

And there’s not just optimism in our personal lives. The whole world is getting better, and he shares all the statistics to prove it. We feed more people, live in cleaner environments, and live healthier, longer lives. And richer we get, the more we have to share and help others get where we are.

It all starts with the freedom to trade, the building of technology, and trust. The more we see the positives, the happier we all are, and the more we start to trust and help each other.

So…yeah, this was a great book. I’m glad I read it again. Have you read The Rational Optimist? You should! If each of us started to have a slightly better outlook about the future of humanity, just think how much good we could do!

Want to read my original thoughts about this book? Go back to my first post, The Rational Optimist: New Read.

I am Always in Awe of Humanity’s Insignificance – Just Dust in the Wind

That dust in the wind settles everywhere. Book cover on a desert floor background.
That’s one dusty desert floor!

Reading this book, I kept remembering that scene from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, when Ted is waxing philosophical with So-Crates. “All we are…is dust…in the wind.”

“The speeding wind rumples the surface of the oceans into whitecaps. Whitecaps are masses of bubbles. When those bubbles burst, little droplets of salt water fly into the air. The water evaporates, and a little crystal of salt remains, airborne.”

The secret life of dust by hannah holmes

And that is why we smell the salty air long before we can see the ocean. I love the smell of dust in the wind, tiny particles that float on the air and are blown for miles, even across oceans.

I live about 80 miles from the Salton Sea in California and on days when a storm brings the wind from the south, up over the Gulf of California, I don’t need a weather report to tell me. The rotten smell of the dying lake reaches all the way up here, 80 miles across and 3500 feet up.

But according to this book, that’s just a tiny jump for dust. Dust from the Saharan desert covers South American jungles. And dust from Japan floats over the American Southwest. Crazy to think, but it’s true. Nature is one wild thing.

“Rivers of dust flow around the world, riding the invisible currents of the air. They are such an integral part of the planet that without them, rain and snow would be rare. But now, as scientists map these subtle rivers, they’re troubled by a human addition to the natural dusts. The dust rivers are becoming dangerous. And they flow from one nation to the next without discrimination.”

the secret life of dust by hannah holmes

One question always pops into my head when people write or speak about how humans do unnatural things. Are we not a natural part of this planet? Did we not evolve here along with the rest of the natural world? Why is it that if mankind dams up a river it’s unnatural, but if a beaver does it beautiful?

Yes, it is cliché, but all we are is dust in the wind.

This earth does not give a damn what creatures live on it. Species come and go; they evolve, they thrive, they grow and overwhelm the resources, they adapt (or not) and then they die out and are replaced. All species, including humans. This is the natural cycle. And we are a part of it, a conscious and intelligent part of it, yes, but still natural and still insignificant in the grand scheme of the universe.

That doesn’t mean we can’t try to make things better. We can use these big brains to cooperate and adapt, to make our civilization last as long as possible, but we are not outside of the natural world any more than an ant colony, a wolf pack, or a virus is.

I wrote about this wonderful book back in January. Hop over the post, “The Secret Life of Dust” by Hannah Holmes to read my first thoughts on it.

Have you read this book? Want to read along with me? Go get The Secret Life of Dust and leave me a comment about your thoughts on it. I can’t wait to hear from you!

Weird Science: A Kangaroo Rat’s Unhappy Flight

The life of a kangaroo rat. If you think your life is hard, that too many crazy things just happen to you and you have no control what-so-ever, just think of him. Not only does he contend with attacks from above and below, he is regularly swept up by strong winds AND humans on a weird science quest to determine windspeeds!

“The kangaroo rat has proved to be a useful unit of measurement for the upward speed of a dust devil. Or so concluded one researcher in 1947, according to the scientific literature: Having noted that dust devils sometimes snatch up these luckless creatures, the investigator measured the speed at which a kangaroo rat falls when dropped from a tower. From this observation he was able to calculate that the upward speed of dust devils must be at least twenty-five miles an hour. He further observed that the kangaroo rat was angered by this employment but unhurt. Since California’s Mojave Desert, as an example, can host thousands of dust devils a day, evolution may have furnished the oft-lofted kangaroo rat with a crashproof anatomy.”

The Secret Life of Dust by Hannah Holmes
Weird science experiment "lab rat"
A rescue from the cat.
Those fluffy bouncing tails
are just too tempting!

You come up from your burrow to the surface, squinting your big black eyes at the brightness. The sun is low on the horizon, casting long shadows of joshua trees and cholla across the ground, perfect hiding places from predators up above. You take some tentative hops out onto the hot desert floor, your little rat feet barely noticing the sandy 150-degree surface.

A warm breeze brushes past your short whiskers and you sniff…smells dry and dusty. You stop, lean back on your giant back legs (the better to jump with my dear) and take a long look around. That ridge there looks promising for delicious seeds. Dropping forward into a long fast hop to the next shady spot, the breeze gets stronger and your whiskers twitch in alarm.

You lean in and pick up speed, your big but stout ears can hear the roar of the wind coming on like a freight train (if you knew what one was). Suddenly, you’re airborne, tumbling through the sky, fluffy tufted tail over tiny nose and around again.

“Not again,” you grumble to yourself as you spin through the air along with pieces of paper, abandoned grocery bags, and loose sand. Bits of rocks and twigs bite your ears as you tumble and turn in the air with them. “Where will I land this time? And how long will it take me to find my burrow? My wife just won’t believe it happened again!”

As quickly as you were picked up, the dust devil drops you back onto the hot desert floor like a human toddler tired with its toy. You roll along the ground and land head down with your back smack against a large rock, a rock larger than you, anyway. Righting yourself, you shake your head in disgust, throwing the fine sand from your ears and take stock of your situation.

You have no idea where you are. Everything looks familiar, but the smells here are so different. “How many miles from home has that devil taken me this time?” A few tentative hops tell you that nothing is broken, just a bit battered and confused, when you’re suddenly pounced on by a cat and brought into the human house like a toy, or worse, scooped up by a lab coat wearing researcher to be dropped ON PURPOSE, your fall timed with precision, all in the name of science!

I wrote about this wonderful book back in January. Hop over the post, “The Secret Life of Dust” by Hannah Holmes to read my first thoughts on it.

Have you read this book? Want to read along with me? Go get The Secret Life of Dust and leave me a comment about your thoughts on it. I can’t wait to hear from you!


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Worship the Idol

Science was better than religion until we made a god of it too; infallible, omnipotent, and unendingly good.

Both are only mankind’s reasoning of the world in which we are living, only a process of nature not outside of it.

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