Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume I

A few years ago, I saw that the second volume of Mark Twain’s Autobiography was available in my local library so I decided it was time to read volume I.

Volume I is a big thick book with plenty of notes from the bevy of editors who assembled the Autobiography from Twain’s papers and I enjoyed every page, even those copious notes.  Twain never finished his Autobiography and wrestled with it for over thirty years.  He wrote it for himself and instructed his heirs and assigns not to publish it until a century after his death.  It gave me a sense of what Twain’s every day life was like and clearly traced the Mississippi River of his thoughts.

I took some time off and now plan to read the second volume of the Autobiography, as I see that the third and last volume is available.  I have a lot of Twain to look forward to.

Autobiography of Mark Twain:  Volume I by Mark Twain
Berkeley, CA:  University of CA Press, 2010
ISBN 978-0-520-26719-0

(page 61)  When my father paid down that great sum [$400 for 75,000 acres of Tennessee land], and turned and stood in the courthouse door of Jamestown, and looked abroad over his vast possessions, he said: "Whatever befalls me, my heirs are secure;  I shall not live to see these acres turn to silver and gold, but my children will.”  Thus, with the very kindest intentions in the world toward us, he laid the heavy curse of prospective wealth upon our shoulders.  He went to his grave in the full belief that he had done us a kindness.  It was  woeful mistake, but fortunately he never knew it.

(81)  This was just like General Grant.  It was absolutely impossible for him to entertain for a moment any proposition which might prosper him at the risk of any other man.

(83)  As for myself I was inwardly boiling all the time:  I was scalping Ward, flaying him alive, breaking him on the wheel pounding him to jelly, and cursing him with all the profanity known to the one language that I am acquainted with, and helping it out in times of difficulty and distress with odds and ends of profanity drawn from the two other languages of which I have a limited knowledge.

(89)  He [Grant] was at this time suffering great and increasing pain from the cancer at the root of his tongue, but there was nothing ever discoverable in the expression of his face to betray this fact as long as he was awake.  When asleep his face would take advantage of him and make revelations.

(94)  The Associated Press [asked $500 for Twain’s story of Grant’s book contract] had sent the World’s misstatements over the wires to all parts of the country free of charge for the reason, no doubt, that that statement slandered General Grant, lied about his son, dealt the Century Company a disastrous blow, and was thoroughly well calculated to sharply injure me in both character and pocket.  Therefore it was apparent that the Associated Press were willing to destroy a man for nothing, but required cash for rehabilitating him again.  That was Associated Press morals.  It was newspaper morals, too.  Speaking in general terms it was always easy to get any print to say any injurious thing about a citizen in a newspaper, but it was next to impossible to get that paper or any other to right an injured man.

(103)  He [Hamersley] is a great fat good-natured, kind-hearted, chicken-livered slave;  with no more pride than a tramp, no more sand than a rabbit, no more moral sense than a wax figure, and no more sex than a tape-worm.  He sincerely thinks he is honorable.  It is my daily prayer to God that he be permitted to live and die in those superstitions. 

(115)  The song drones along as monotonously and as tunelessly as a morning-service snore in a back-country church in the summer time, and I think that nothing could well be more dreary and saddening.

(121)  We have been housekeeping a fortnight, now - long enough to have learned how to pronounce the servants’ names, but not to spell them.  We shan’t ever learn to spell them;  they were invented in Hungary and Poland, and on paper they look like the alphabet out on a drunk.

(159)  My teaching and training enabled me to see deeper into these tragedies than an ignorant person could have done.  I knew what they were for.  I tried to disguise it from myself, but down in the secret deeps of my troubled heart I knew and I _knew_ I knew.   They were inventions of Providence to beguile me to a better life.  It sounds curiously innocent and conceited, now, but to me there was nothing strange about it;  it was quite in accordance with the thoughtful and judicious ways of Providence as I understood them.  It would not have surprised me, nor even over-flattered me if Providence had killed off that whole community in trying to save an asset like me.   Educated as I had been, it would have seemed just the thing, and well worth the expense.  _Why_ Providence should take such an anxious interest in such a property - that idea never entered my head, and there was no one in that simple hamlet who would have dreamed of putting it there.  For one thing, no one was equipped with it….

I realize that from the cradle up I have been like the rest of the race - never quite sane in the night.  When “Injun Joe” died..  But never mind:  in an earlier chapter I have already described what a raging hell of repentance I passed through then.  I believe that for months I was as pure as the driven snow.  After dark.

(161)  Besides, I had learned, a good while before that, that it is not wise to keep the fire going under a slander unless you can get some large advantage out of keeping it alive.  Few slanders can stand the wear of silence.

(182)   Mendicancy is a matter of taste and temperament, no doubt, but certainly no human being is without a form of it.  I know my own form, you know yours;  let us curtain it from view and abuse the others. To every man cometh, at intervals, a man with an axe to grind.  To you, reader, among the rest.  By and by that axe’s aspect becomes familiar to you - when you are the proprietor of the grindstone - and the moment you catch sight of it you perceive that it is the same old axe;  then you withdraw within yourself, and stick out your spines.  If you are the Governor, you know that this stranger wants a position.  The first six times the axe came, you were deceived - after that, humiliated.

(216)  I know how a prize watermelon looks when it is sunning its fat rotundity among pumpkin vines and “simblins;”  I know how to tell when it is ripe without “plugging” it;  I know how inviting it looks when it is cooling itself in a tub of water under the bed, waiting;  I know how it looks when it lies on the table in the sheltered great floor-space between house and kitchen, and the children gathered for the sacrifice and their mouths watering;  I know the crackling sound it makes when the carving knife enters its end, and I can see the split fly along in front of the blade as the knife cleaves its way to the other end;  I can see its halves fall apart and display the rich red meat and the black seeds, and the heart standing up, a luxury fit for the elect;  I know how a boy looks behind a yard-long slice of that melon, and I know how he feels; for I have been there.  I know the taste of the watermelon which has been honestly come by, and I know the taste of the watermelon which has been acquired by art.  Both taste good, but the experienced know which tastes best.
NB:  Twain would probably have deeply appreciated Petey Greene’s "How to eat a watermelon" routine

(228)  I was very young in those days [when writing The Innocents Abroad], exceedingly young, marvelously young, younger than I am now, younger than I shall ever be again, by hundreds of years.  I worked every night from eleven or twelve until broad day in the morning, and as I did two hundred thousand words in the sixty days, the average was more than three thousand words a day - nothing for Sir Walter Scott, nothing for Louis Stevenson, nothing for plenty of other people, but quite handsome for me.

(251)  I took the position of local editor with joy, because there was a salary of forty dollars a week attached to it and I judged that that was all of thirty-nine dollars more than I was worth, and I had always wanted a position which paid in the opposite proportion of value to amount of work.

(264)  In my enthusiasm I may have exaggerated the details a little, but you will easily forgive me that fault, since I believe it is the first time I have ever deflected from perpendicular fact on an occasion like this.

(281)  The reason I want to insert that account of the Morris case [a woman thrown out of the White House by an aide of President Theodore Roosevelt], which is making such a lively stir all over the United States, and possibly the entire world, in these days, is this.  Some day, no doubt these autobiographical notes will be published.  It will be after my death.  It may be five years now, it may be ten, it may be fifty - but whenever  the time shall come, even if it should be a century hence - I claim that the reader of that day will find the same strong interest in that narrative that the world has in it to-day, for the reason that the account speaks of the thing in the language we naturally use when we are talking about something that has just happened.  That form of narrative is able to carry along with it for ages and ages the very same interest which we find in it to-day.  Whereas if this had happened fifty years ago, or a hundred, and the historian had dug it up and was putting it in _his_ language, and furnishing you a long-distance view of it, the reader’s interest in it would be pale.  You see, it would not be _news_ to him, it would be history;  merely history;  and history can carry on no successful competition with _news_, in the matter of sharp interest.  When an eye-witness sets down in narrative from some extraordinary occurrence which he has witnessed, that is _news_ - that is the news form, and its interest is absolutely indestructible; time can have no deteriorating effect upon that episode.  I am placing that account there largely as an experiment.  If any stray copy of this book shall, by any chance, escape the paper-mill for a century or so, and then be discovered and read, I am betting that that remote reader will find that it is still _news_, and that it is just as interesting as any news he will find in the newspapers of his day and morning - if newspapers shall still be in existence then - though let us hope they won’t.

(287)  I started to say, a while ago, that when I had seemingly made that discover of the difference between “ news” and “history” thirty-nine years ago, I conceived the idea of a magazine to be called _The Back Number_, and to contain nothing but ancient news;  narratives culled from mouldy old newspapers and mouldy old books;  narratives set down by eye-witnesses at the time that the episodes treated of happened.
NB:  Ted Wilentz’ series of first person historical narratives - Indian captive tales, Father Henson’s story, whaleship Essex…

(291)  The General [Sickles] thanked him courteously.  I am sure Sickles must have been always polite.  It takes _training_ to enable a person to be properly courteous when he is dying.  Many have tried it.  I suppose very few have succeeded.

(298)  If the duel had come off, he would have so filled my skin with bullet-holes that it wouldn’t have held my principles.

(316-317)  I said that no party held the privilege of dictating to me how I should vote.  That if party loyalty was a form of patriotism, I was no patriot and that I didn’t think I was much of a patriot anyway, for oftener than otherwise what the general body of Americans regarded as the patriotic course was not in accordance with my views;  that if there was any valuable difference between being an American and a monarchist it lay in the theory that the American could decide for himself what is patriotic and what isn’t;  whereas the king could dictate the monarchists’ patriotism for him - a decision which was final and must be accepted by the victim;  that in my belief I was the only person in the sixty millions - with Congress and the administration back of the sixty millions - who was privileged to construct my patriotism for me.

They said “Suppose the country is entering upon a war - where do you stand then?  Do you arrogate to yourself the privilege of going your own way in the matter, in the face of the nation?”

“Yes,” I said, “that is my position.  If I thought it an unrighteous war I would say so.  If I were invited to shoulder a musket in that cause and march under that flag, I would decline.  I would not voluntarily march under this country’s flag, nor any other, when it was my private judgment that the country was in the wrong.  If the country _obliged_ me to shoulder the musket I could not help myself, but I would never volunteer.  To volunteer would be the act of a traitor to myself, and consequently traitor to my country.  If I refused to volunteer, I should be _called_ a traitor, I am well aware of that - but that would not make me a traitor.  The unanimous vote of the sixty millions could not make me a traitor,  I should still be a patriot, and, in my opinion, the only one in the whole country.

(326)  Susy on prayer:  “Well, mama, the Indians believed they knew, but now we know they were wrong.  By and by it can turn out that we were wrong.  So now I only pray that there may be a God and a heaven - or something better.”

(340)  However, let it go.  It is the will of God that we must have critics, and missionaries, and Congressmen, and humorists, and we must bear the burden.  Meantime, I seem to have been drifting into criticism myself.  But that is nothing.  At the worst, criticism is nothing more than a crime, and I am not unused to that.

(355)  In my early manhood, and in middle-life, I used to vex myself with reforms, every now and then.  And I never had occasion to regret these divergencies, for whether the resulting deprivations were long or short, the rewarding pleasure which I got out of the vice when I returned to it, always paid me for all that it cost.  However I feel sure that I have written about these experiments in a book called “Following the Equator.”  By and by I will look and see.  Meantime, I will drop the subject and go back to Susy’s sketch of me:

(364)  Jay Gould had just then reversed the commercial morals of the United States.  He had put a blight upon them from which they have never recovered, and from which they will not recover for as much as a century to come.  Jay Gould was the mightiest disaster which has ever befallen this country.  The people had _desired_ money before his day, but _he_ taught them to fall down and worship it.  They had respected men of means before his day, but along with this respect was joined the respect due to the character and industry which had accumulated it.  But Jay Gould taught the entire nation to make a god of the money and the man, no matter how the money might have been acquired.  In my youth there was nothing resembling a worship of money or of its possessor, in our region.  And in our region no well-to-do man was ever charged with having acquired his money by shady methods.

(372)  When he [the publisher Bliss] was after dollars he showed the intense earnestness and eagerness of a circular saw.

(382)  That question was “With whom originated the idea of the march to the sea?  Was it Grant’s, or was it Sherman’s idea?”  Whether I, or some one else (being anxious to get the important fact settled) asked him with whom the idea originated, I don’t remember.  But I remember his answer.  I shall always remember his answer.  General Grant said:

“Neither of us originated the idea of Sherman’s march to the sea.  The enemy did it.”

He went on to say that the enemy, however, necessarily originated a great many of the plans that the general on the opposite side gets the credit for;  at the same time that the enemy is doing that, he is laying open other moves which the opposing general sees and takes advantage of.  In this case, Sherman had a plan all thought out, of course.  He meant to destroy the two remaining  railroads in that part of the country, and that  would finish up that region.  But General Hood did not play the military part that he was expected to play.  On the contrary, General Hood made a dive at Chattanooga.  This left the march to the sea open to Sherman, and so after sending part of his army to defend and hold what he had acquired in the Chattanooga region, he was perfectly free to proceed, with the rest of it, through Georgia.  He saw the opportunity, and he would not have been fit for his place if he had not seized it.

(389)  We, the mugwumps, a little company made up of the unenslaved of both parties, the very best men to be found in the two great parties - that was our idea of it - voted sixty thousand strong for Mr. Cleveland in New York and elected him.  Our principles were high, and very definite.  We were not a party;  we had no candidates;  we had no axes to grind.  Our vote laid upon the man we cast it for no obligation of any kind.  By our rule we could not ask for office; we could not accept office.  When voting, it was our duty to vote for the best man, regardless of his party name.  We had no other creed.  Vote for the best man - that was creed enough.

(407)  [That the Moro slaughter would shock and shame Roosevelt and the Republican party]  I cannot believe that the prediction will come true, for the reason that prophecies that promise valuable things, desirable things, good things, worthy things, never come true.  Prophecies of this kind are like wars fought in a good cause - they are so rare that they don’t count.

(419)  I can see that marching company yet, and I can almost feel again the consuming desire that I had to join it.  But they had no use for boys of twelve and thirteen, and before I had a chance in another war that desire to kill people to whom I had not been introduced had passed away.

(435)  [Livy’s dying] I always told her that if she died first, the rest of my life would be made up of self-reproaches for the tears I had made her shed.  And she always replied that if I should pass from life first, she would never have to reproach herself without having loved me the less devotedly or the less constantly because of those tears.  We had this conversation again, for the thousandth time, when the night of death was closing about her - though we did not suspect that.

(441)  I intend that this autobiography shall become a model for all future autobiographies when it is published, after my death, and I also intend that it shall be read and admired a good many centuries because of its form and method - a form and method whereby the past and the present are constantly brought face to face, resulting in contrasts which newly fire up the interest all along like contact of flint with steel. Moreover, this autobiography of mine does not select from my life its showy episodes, but deals merely in the common experiences which go to make up the life of the average human being, and the narrative must interest the average human being because these episodes are of a sort which he is familiar with in his own life, and in which he sees his own life reflected and set down in print.  The usual, conventional autobiographer seem to particularly hunt out those occasions in his career when he came into contact with celebrated persons, whereas his contacts with the uncelebrated were just as interesting to him, and would be to his reader, and were vastly more numerous than his collisions with the famous.  

Howells was here yesterday afternoon, and I told him the whole scheme of this autobiography and its apparently systemless system - only apparently systemless, for it is not that.  It is a deliberate system, and the law of the system is that I shall talk about the matter which for the moment interests me, and cast it aside and talk about something else the moment its interest for me is exhausted.  It is a system which follows no charted course and is not going to follow any such course.  It is a system which is a complete and purposed jumble - a course which begins nowhere, follows no specified route, and can never reach an end while I am alive, for the reason that if I should talk to the stenographer two hours a day for a hundred years, I should still never be able to set down a tenth part of the things which have interested me in my lifetime.  I told Howells that this autobiography of mine would live a couple of thousand years without any effort and would then take a fresh start and live the rest of the time.

He said he believed it would, and asked me if I meant to make a library of it.

I said that that was my design, but that if I should live long enough the set of volumes could not be contained merely in a city, it would require a State, and that there would not be any Rockefeller alive, perhaps, at any time during its existence who would be able to buy a full set, except on the installment plan.

Howells applauded, and was full of praises and endorsement, which was wise in him and judicious.  If he had manifested a different spirit I would have thrown him out of the window.  I like criticism, but it must be my way.

(566)  Editors’ Note:  On 27 February 1859 he [Sickles] fatally shot Francis Scott Key’s son on Pennsylvania Avenue, near the White House, because the younger Key had had an affair with his wife.  Sickles was acquitted on the grounds of temporary insanity by a jury that shared the widespread public opinion that he had acted justifiably.  This was the first time that the temporary-insanity defense was used.

(659)  I will offer here, as a sound maxim, this:  That we can’t reach old age by another man’s road.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

James Baldwin: The Fire Next Time and Nothing Personal

After seeing the documentary “I Am Not Your Negro,” I remembered how brilliant and direct James Baldwin was.  I’d read some of his work long ago and, more recently, his poems but I hadn’t read his essays.  So I decided it was time to read some more Baldwin, starting with The Fire Next Time (NY:  Vintage Books, 1962, 1963  ISBN 0-679-74472-X):

(page 22)  White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this - which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never - the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.

…But the Negro’s experience of the white world cannot possibily create in him any respect for the standards by which the white world claims to live.

(25)  Negroes in this country - and Negroes do not, strictly or legally speaking, exist in any other - are taught really to despise themselves from the moment their eyes open on the world.

(30)  Black people, mainly, look down or look up but do not look at each other, not at you, and white people, mainly, look away.

(40-41)  In the same way that we, for white people, were the descendants of Ham, and were cursed forever, white people were, for us, the descendants of Cain.

(43)  To be sensual, I think, is to respect and rejoice in the force of life, of life itself, and to be _present_ in all that one does, from the effort of loving to the breaking of bread.

(71)  “I love a few people and they love me and some of them are white, and isn’t love more important than color?”

(88)   There are too many things we do not wish to know about ourselves.  People are not, for example, terribly anxious to be equal (equal, after all, to what and to whom?) but they love the idea of being superior.

……. Furthermore, I have met only a very few people - and most of these were not Americans - who had any real desire to be free.  Freedom is hard to bear.

(91)  Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have.

(99)   If one is continually surviving the worst that life can bring, one eventually ceases to be controlled by a fear of what life can bring;  whatever it brings must be borne.  And at this level of experience one’s bitterness begins to be palatable, and hatred becomes too heavy a sack to carry. 

(104)  But in our time, as in every time, the impossible is the least that one can demand - and that one is, after all, emboldened by the spectacle of human history in general, and American Negro history in particular, for it testifies to nothing less than the perpetual achievement of the impossible.

— 30 —

“The impossible is the least that one can demand” is very close to the quote from Che Guevara, “Be realistic, demand the impossible!” which the Situationists painted on the walls of Paris during the demonstrations of 1968.

In reading about James Baldwin, I learned he and the photographer Richard Avedon attended the same high school, DeWitt Clinton HS in the Bronx, worked together on the school magazine, and did a book together, Nothing Personal (Köln, Germany:  Taschen, 2017  ISBN 978-3-8365-653-8):

(1)  We have all heard the bit about what a pity it was that the Plymouth rock didn’t land on the Pilgrims instead of the other way around.  I have never found this remark very funny.  It seems wistful and vindictive to me, containing, furthermore, a very bitter truth.  The inertness of that rock meant death for the Indians, enslavement for the blacks, and spiritual disaster for those homeless Europeans who now call themselves Americans and who have never been able to resolve their relationship either to the continent they fled or to the continent they conquered.

… but the relevant truth is that the country was settled by a desperate, divided, and rapacious horde of people who were determined to forget their pasts and determined to make money.

(3)  We have, as it seems to me, a very curious sense of reality - or, rather, perhaps, I should say, a striking addiction to irreality.  How is it possible, one cannot but ask, to raise a child without loving the child?  How is it possible to love the child if one does not know who one is?  How is it possible for the child to grow up if the child is not loved?  Children can survive without money or security or safety or things:  but they are lost if they cannot find a loving example, for only this example can give them a touchstone for their lives.   THUS FAR AND NO FURTHER: this is what the father must say to the child.  If the child is not told where the limits are, he will spend the rest of his life trying to discover them.  For the child who is not told where the limits are knows, though he may not know he knows it, that no one cares enough about him to prepare him for his journey.

This, I think, has something to do with the phenomenon, unprecedented in the world, of the ageless American boy;  it has something to do with our desperate adulation of simplicity and youth - how bitterly betrayed one must have been in one’s youth to suppose that it is a virtue to remain simple or to remain young! - and it also helps to explicate, to my mind at least, some of the stunning purposes to which Americans have put the imprecise science of psychiatry….

And they cannot raise them [their children] because they have opted for the one commodity which is absolutely beyond human reach:  safety.  This is one of the reasons, as it seems to me, that we are so badly educated, for to become educated (as all tyrants have known) is to become inaccessibly independent, it is to acquire a dangerous way of assessing danger, and it is to hold in one’s hands a means of changing reality.

….One day, perhaps, unimaginable generations hence, we will evolve into the knowedge that human beings are more important than real estate and will permit this knowledge to become the ruling principle of our lives.  For I do not for an instant doubt, I will go to my grave believing, that we can build Jerusalem, if we will.

(4)  The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us.  The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.

“The Way We Live Now” by Hilton Als (2017)
In Nothing Personal, Baldwin wrote a little bit about his New York.  About being hassled on the streets by cops;  as a black man, he lived in a police state.

— 30 — 

What “I Am Not Your Negro” and the writings of James Baldwin have made me realize, more deeply than ever before, is that Hilton Als is correct, black men, black women, black children live in a police state.  Now that police state is coming for all the rest of us.

Celebrate your Independence this Independence Day and every other day.  Be as brilliant, brave, and uncompromising as James Baldwin and remember the revolution is dancing in the street.

PS:  I listen to Charles Ives’ “Fourth of July” on Independence Day.  We still need that barbaric yawp.  Here is Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra:




Sunday, June 10, 2018

Collected Stories of Eudora Welty

Collected Stories of Eudora Welty by Eudora Welty
NY:  Harcourt Brace Jovanovic, 1936 - 1980
ISBN 0-15-118994-3

“Old Mr. Marblehall”
(91)  Watch and you’ll see how preciously old people come to think they are made - the way they walk, like conspirators, bent over a little, filled with protection.

“Death of a traveling Salesman”
(123)  For he was not strong enough to receive the impact of unfamiliar things without a little talk to break their fall. 

“Powerhouse”
(133)  When somebody, no matter who, gives everything, it makes people feel ashamed for him.

“The Wide Net”
(181)  “The excursion is the same when you go looking for your sorrow as when you go looking for your joy,” said Doc.

“A Still Moment”
(190)  Lorenzo well knew that it was Death that opened underfoot, that rippled by at night, that was the silence the birds did their singing in.

“The Winds”
(214)  It kept her from eating her dinner to think of all that she had caught or meant to catch before the time was gone - June-bugs in the banana plants to fly before breakfast on a thread, lightning-bugs that left a bitter odor in the palms of the hands, butterflies with their fierce and haughty faces, bees in a jar.
NB:  Suddenly remembering that odor of fireflies or lightning bugs.  “I want the lightining bugs back”

“Shower of Gold”
(267)  Time goes like a dream no matter how hard you run, and all the time we heard things from out in the world that we listened to but that still didn’t mean we believed them.

“Moon Lake”
(354)  stobs - a broken branch or a stump; a stake used for fencing.

(356)  It’s not the flowers that are fleeting, Nina thought, it’s the fruits - it’s the time when things are ready that they don’t stay.
NB:  It’s both and all.  Nothing stays, it’s all fleeting.

“The Whole World Knows”
(376)  Ah, I’m a woman that’s been clear around the world in my rocking chair, and I tell you we all get surprises now and then.
NB:   Taoist circle of 50 feet and grandmother wisdom
Chuang Tao:   "I was taught that man in his highest form dwells quietly in an abode whose circuit is fifty feet, but the people in general rush madly about without knowing where they are going."

“Music from Spain”
(399)  It was womanlike;  he understood it now.  The inviolable grief she had felt for a great thing only widened her capacity to take little things hard.  Mourning over the same thing she mourned, he was not to be let in.

“No Place for You, My Love”
(465)  People in love like me, I suppose, give away the short cuts to everybody’s secrets.

“The Bride of the Innisfallen”
(497)  She and the wistful round man still clasped hands through the window and continued to shine in the face like lighthouses smiling.

(503)  raths - a usually circular earthwork serving as stronghold and residence of an ancient Irish chief

“Circe”
(535)  Ever since the morning Time came and sat on the world, men have been on the run as fast as they can go, with beauty flung over their shoulders.

Monday, May 28, 2018

The Sayings of Chuang Chou

When I bought this used paperback I didn’t realize Chuang Chou was just another way of saying Chuang Tzu, the philosopher who wondered if he was a butterfly’s dream.  I thought it would be all new to me.  Since I hadn’t read Chuang Tzu in a decade or three, it was!

The Sayings of Chuang Chou translated by James R Ware
NY:  Mentor Classics, 1963

(page 16)  Lieh Yü-k’ou traveled by riding the wind, because he knew how to make himself light, and after a fortnight he returned.  Not many could attract good fortune as well as he.  Yet, even though he avoided travel in its normal form, there was still something that he needed for support, the wind.  If, however, he had ridden the correctness that is all nature’s and used for his driver the articulateness belonging to the six breaths (Yin, Yang, wind, rain, darkness, and light) to delight himself in Infinity, what else would he have needed?  Therefore, it is said, “Man in his highest form is selfless, gods (once men) take no interest in accomplishment, and a sage has no interest in renown.”

(23)  Labeling things right or wrong weakens God.

(25)  Words bring compartmentalization, by which I mean left, right, rules, propriety, analysis, argument, strife, and quarrels, which are called the Eight Perfections!

(33)  “You must concentrate and not listen with your ears but with your heart.  Then, without listening with the heart, do so with your breath.  The ear is limited to ordinary listening, the heart to the rational.  Listening with the breath, one awaits things uncommittedly.  It is God alone that gathers into the uncommitted, and that makes uncommittedness the fact of the heart and mind.”

(39)  Everybody knows about the usefulness of the useful, but nobody knows about the usefulness of the useless!

(56)  Why do you bother me about how the world is to be governed?

When he [T’ien Ken] put the question to him [an anonymous man] again, the answer came, “Let your heart and mind have an excursion in the objective and bring your breaths into combination with the vast and silent.  Render yourself obedient to Spontaneity and tolerate no subjectivity.  Then our world will be well governed, I promise you.”

(68)  The utter confusion brought upon our world by love of know-how is extreme.

(78)  When one’s will is no longer crushed by things, one is perfect.  

(87) The quietude of the sage is not the result of expertness.  He enjoys quietude because there is nothing in all creation that disturbs him.

…Now uncommittedness, quiet, rest, repose, silence, emptiness, perfect-freedom-action - these are all nature at the level;  they are God and perfect, natural behavior in their highest form.

(97)  eleococca - 桐 vernucosa or paulownia

(104)  Let life be a floating and death a resting.

[Autumn Flood]
(110)  “Things are infinite in the variety of their sizes and eternally varying;  throughout their course they retain nothing old. No particular lot is permanent.  Therefore, great wisdom has an eye to both the distant and the near;  it does not consider the small paltry nor the large important, for it knows there is no end to size.  Since it uses for witness both past and present, the past does not evoke longing, nor does the brevity of the present produce anxiety.  It knows that time is infinite.  Having examined the matter of fullness and emptiness, great wisdom does not rejoice on getting something and grieve on losing it, for it knows that no lot is permanent.  Understanding the path of contentment, it is not pleased by birth, nor does it think death as a disaster, because it is known that neither end nor beginning can be thought old.

(113)  "The presence of excellence is due to nature.  It is the function of man to understand nature, to base himself in nature, and to position himself in perfect, natural behavior.  Then, moving back and forth with hesitation, he will bend and stretch.  And now, having gotten to the essentials, I have nothing more to say.”

“What do you mean by nature?  What do you mean by man?”

“Buffalos and horses having four feet is nature.  Bridling a horse’s head and piercing a buffalo’s nose is man.  So I say, ‘The natural is not to be destroyed by the artificial, Fate is not to be destroyed by deliberation, and native excellence is not to be sacrificed to opinion.’  Observe these three injunctions carefully and omit none of them.  This is what is meant by return to God (The True)."

(116)  Chuang Chou was fishing in the P’u when the King of Ch’u sent two ambassadors to invite him, saying, “We desire to enmesh you in our state affairs.”  Still holding his rod, and without looking back, Chuang Chou replied, “I am told that there is a god-turtle in Ch’u that died at the age of three thousand years and that your king keeps it wrapped in a kerchief in the ancestral temple.  Now what do you think this turtle would prefer - to be dead and have its skeleton an object of veneration or to be alive and drag its tail in the mud?”

“The latter.”

“Go away, then.  I will keep dragging my tail in the mud.”

(119)  When Chuang Chou’s wife died, Hui Shih went to express his condolences.  Chuang Chou, seated on a mat, was singing and beating upon a basin, and Hui Shih said, “If one grows old and dies after living with a person and rearing his sons, not to mourn her is bad enough.  But isn’t beating upon a basin and singing going too far?”

“No.  If this were her initial death, how could I fail to be saddened?  If, however, we examine this question of beginnings, originally there was no birth.  Not only was there no birth but originally there was no body.  And not only was there no body but originally there was no breath.  All mixed up in the vastness and confusion, a change took place and there was breath.  This breath changed and body came into existence.   This body then changed and birth occurred.  Today another change has occurred, and she has reached death.  It is analogous to the progression of the four seasons, spring, autumn, winter, and summer.  This person, my wife, is resting peacefully in the largest of abodes, but if I were to mourn her with a lot of sobbing, I should feel that I did not understand Fate.  That is why I desist.”

[end of Autumn Flood]

(124)  “When shooting where the wager is tiles, a man is skillful.  When the wager is buckles, he is nervous.  When shooting for gold, he is quite beside himself.  In  all these cases the skill is the same, but when the emotions are involved, value is placed on externals.  And this always disturbs internally.”

(130)  One moment up and at another moment down, he considers harmony the only measure.  Floating along in the Ancestor of All Creation (God), he passes from thing to thing but does not particularize among them.

(136)  Do things of the highest type, but avoid thinking of yourselves as being of the highest type.  Then were will you go and not be loved?

(138)  There is nothing sadder than the death of a mind.  Even the death of an individual is secondary.

(140)  As the relation of water to its sounds is perfectly natural when there is no interference, so the relation of man in his highest form to perfect, natural behavior is such that he cannot as a creature separate himself from it as long as he does not try to improve it.

(144)  The man concerned with God diminishes his artificialities more and more every day.

(145)  There are many fine things about Nature, but it does no talking.

(153)  I was taught that man in his highest form dwells quietly in an abode whose circuit is fifty feet, but the people in general rush madly about without knowing where they are going.

(159)  A word on these four topics:  Removing disturbances to our wills, loosening the bonds upon our hearts, removing enmeshments to excellence, and piercing the roadblocks to God.

These six - riches, honors, distinction, austerity, renown, and profit - disturb our wills.

These six - countenances, movements, complexions, situations, attitudes, and thoughts - bind hearts.

These six - dislike, desire, joy, anger, grief, and pleasure - enmesh our natural excellence.

These six - quitting, arriving, taking, giving, know-hows, and technical competence - are roadblocks to God.

If these four are not rampant in our breast, everything is all right.  If everything is all right, we are calm;  if calm, understanding;  if understanding, uncommitted;  if uncommitted, we act with perfect freedom, and everything proceeds as it should.

God is what is respected in perfect, natural action.

(166)  Alas, I pity those among men who lose their own true selves.  I also pity those who pity others.  I even pity those who pity the pitiers.  But all that was a long time ago.

(169)  Yao understands the good that a superior person can do, but he does not understand how such a person turns the world to thievery.  Only those who are beyond the restrictions of superiority understand this.

(172 - 173)  The sage understands the bundle that is this universe and thinks that the whole of it is one body.  Yet, he does not know the reason.  That is in the nature of things. Acting in full compliance with his orders, he recognizes nature as master.  And men in turn call him their master.

(173)  Lao Tan’s [Lao Tzu’s] teacher, Jung Ch’eng [容成氏, keeper of King Mu’s archives, Yellow Emperor’s annalist and original historian, possibly expert in governing chi by accumlating semen]

(178)  If we counted things today, we would not stop with ten thousand - but by convention we do speak of the ten thousand things (all nature) to indicate large quantity.  In the same way, we use the expression Sky and Earth to denote hugeness in shape.  We use Yin and Yang for greatness of the breaths.  God is what is common to all these, and it is all right to use that name because of the magnitude involved.  But now that you have this term will you look for something to compare with God?  Dialectic of that type compares dogs and horses!

(179)  Those with an eye to God do not pursue God to a vanishing point nor try to trace God to a source, for God is the point where discussion ceases.

…Neither speech nor silence, however, are sufficient for giving the whole story of God and created thigns.  It is perfect freedom of speech and silence that discusses them in all their fullness.

(184 - 185)  A fish trap is a means for catching fish, but once we get the fish, the trap is forgotten  The snare is a means for catching hares, but once we get the hare, the snare is forgotten.  Similarly, words are a means for catching ideas, but when the idea has been grasped, the words are forgotten.  Where can I get a man who forgets about the words that I may talk with him?`

(187)  Where there is concern with life, there is death.  Give yourself, then, to the universal view.  Remember that death has a cause, but that the living Yang is free from cause.  Can you really accept that?  Then you will be completely indifferent to whatever happens.

(191)  Today, however, all who occupy high office and esteem titles feel that the most weighty problem is that they might lose them.  With a view to profit, they treat lightly the loss of their bodies.  Isn’t it stupid?

(192)  I sum it up this way:  “The true function of God is the better ordering of ourselves.  Some of God may go to governing the family or the state;  and God’s refuse is for the better ordering of the world.”

(196)  Where God is understood, both the bad situation and prosperity become a succession comparable to cold, heat, wind, and rain.

(215)  The True (God) is quintessence and sincerity in their highest forms.  Non-quintessence and non-sincerity cannot influence people.  Accordingly, he who forces his mourning feels no grief, though he may be sad.  He who forces himself to anger may be stern, but he inspires no awe.  Forced friendliness is not congenial, though it may be smiling.  True sadness grieves noiselessly.  True anger overawes before it reveals itself.  True friendliness proves congenial before there are any smiles.  The True is something within us that our interior gods make external.  We value the True because it is useful to the human order.  When it serves parents, there is kindness and filial affection.  When it serves the sovereign, there is loyalty and sincerity.  At celebrations it causes joy, in mournings sadness and grief.  The principal ingredient in loyalty and sincerity is service, in celebration joy, in mournings grief, and in serving parents appropriateness.

(218)  Chuang Chou:  “To understand God is easy;  to obey the injunction not to put God into words is difficult.  By understanding and yet not putting into words, one attains Nature.  By understanding and putting into words, one attains artificiality.  The Ancients were natural, not artificial.”

(231)  It is better to embrace things globally.  The rarer our talk, the closer to God.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Honeybee Democracy

Honeybee Democracy by Thomas D. Seeley
Princeton, NJ:  Princeton Univ Press, 2010
ISBN 978-0-691-14721-5

(5)  So the mother queen is not the workers' boss.  Indeed, there is no all-knowing central planner supervising the thousands and thousands of worker bees in a colony.  The work of a hive is instead governed collectively by the workers themselves, each one an alert individual making tours of inspection looking for things to do and acting on her own to serve the community.

(11)  The duration of the waggle run - made conspicuous despite the darkness by the dancer audibly buzzing her wings while waggling her body - is directly proportional to the length of the outward journey.  On average, one second of the combined body-waggling/wing-buzzing represents some 1,000 meters (six-tenths of a mile) of flight.  And the angle of the waggle run, relative to straight up on the vertical comb, represents the angle of the outward journey relative to the direction of the sun.  

(35)  In the mid-1970s, for three years I followed the fates of several dozen feral honeybee colonies living in trees and houses around Ithaca, and I found that less than 25 percent of the "founder" colonies (ones newly started by swarms) would be alive the following spring.  In contrast, almost 80 percent of the "established" colonies (ones already in residence for at least a year) would survive winter, no doubt because they hadn't had to start from scratch the previous summer.  Beekeepers describe the time and energy crunch faced by swarms in a rather grim, three-line rhyme:  "A swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay, a swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon, a swarm in July isn't worth a fly."

(54)  The bees had revealed to me that they prefer a nest entrance that is rather small, faces south, is high off the ground, and opens into the bottom of the nest cavity.

(75)  But it is always a "friendly" competition;  the scout bees agree on what makes an ideal homesite, they are united in the goal of choosing the best available site, they share their information with full honesty, and ultimately they reach a complete agreement about their new residence.  One valuable lesson that we can learn from the bees is that holding an open and fair competition of ideas is a smart solution to the problem of making a decision based on a pool of information dispersed across a group of individuals.

(86)  This is a different sort of collective choice, for whereas a homeless swarm makes a "consensus decision" about which _single options_ (candidate nest site) it will choose, a foraging colony makes a "combined decision" about how to allocate its foragers among _multiple options_ (candidate food sources).

(91)  Main features of bees' decision-making process:
First, they showed that the bees' debates tend to start slowly with an information accumulation phase during which scout bees put a sizable number of widely scattered alternatives "on the table" for discussion. 

(92)  Second, the plots of the dance records showed that the shout bees' debates end with all or nearly all of the dancing bees advocating just one site, that is, showing a consensus....

Third, our analysis showed that the bees' decision-making process is a highly distributed and thus a democratic one, involving dozens or hundreds of individuals.

(95)  These findings support the idea that scouts come largely, if not entirely, form the ranks of a colony's foragers.  Both scouts and foragers make long-distance excursions from a central location (swarm or hive) and then must find their way home, so it is easy to imagine that bees with foraging experience make the best scouts.

(98)  I find it extremely suggestive that Lindauer started seeing some of his labeled foragers exploring his nest sites, not exploiting his feeder, a few days after he started noticing most of his previously active foragers sitting around idly, either in some quiet spot outside the hive or in the "beard" of bees hanging outside the entrance.  Anecdotal observations like these are the perfect springboard for an experimental investigation designed to test conclusively whether it is a persistently full stomach per se, or something else associated with forced indolence, that informs foragers to become scouts.

(101)  Given that humans and other animals usually make decisions by drawing on a toolbox of heuristics, it is remarkable that a honeybee swarm does not use these shortcut methods of decision making and instead selects its new living quarters by taking a broad and deep look at the bee housing market.  As we have seen in chapter 4, a swarm makes its decision only after its scout bees have discovered numerous alternative nest sites and have performed a multifaceted inspection of each size...  And as we have seen in chapter 3, each candidate site is evaluated with respect to at least six attributes (e.g., cavity volume, entrance height, and entrance size).  Thus a honeybee swarm pursues an unusually sophisticated strategy of decision making, one that involves nearly all of the information relevant to the problem of choosing the best place to build its new nest...  A swarm is able to be so thorough in choosing its home because its democratic organization enables it to harness the power of many individuals working together to perform collectively the two fundamental parts of the decision-making process:  acquiring information about the alternatives and processing this information to make a choice.  We will now look at the evidence that honeybee democracy does indeed achieve nearly optimal decision making.

(123)  In short, the richer the nectar source, the stronger the waggle dance.  We had also figured out how a dancing bee adjusts the number of dance circuits that she produces in relation to nectar-source richness.  She does so by adjusting two aspects of her dancing:  the _rate_ of dance circuit production (R, in dance circuits per second) and the _duration_ of dance circuit produced (C, in dance circuits) in a dancing bee's advertisement is the product of the rate and duration of her dancing (C=R x D).  So, richer nectar sources elicit livelier (higher R) and longer-lasting (greater D) dances than do poorer nectar sources.  

(140-142)  One strong possibility is that the bees were driven to retire from advertising the losing sites by an internal, neurophysiological process that causes every scout to gradually and automatically lose her motivation to dance for a site, even one that is high in quality.  Such a process would foster consensus building among the scouts, for automatic fading of each bee's dancing would prevent the decision making from coming to a standstill with groups of unyielding dancers deadlocked over two or more sites.  It might also help the dancers reach unanimity more quickly than they would otherwise, for endowing each bee with an automatic tendency to lose interest in any given site would make each bee a highly flexible participant in the decision-making process.

(143)  The drop in dance strength per trip (about 15 dance circuits) appears to be a constant, regardless of series length.
NB:  Town meeting rules by which one member can't speak a second time on an issue until everyone else who wishes to be heard has a chance to speak.

(144)  Both bees and humans need a group's members to avoid stubbornly supporting their first view, but whereas we humans will usually (and sensibly) give up on a position only after we have learned of a better one, the bees will stop supporting a position automatically.

(165)  "Ritualization" is the name biologists have given to the process whereby some incidental action of an animal becomes modified over evolutionary time into an intentional signal.

(166)  If the hypothesis of scout bees as mobile temperature sensors, information integrators, and group activators proves correct, then the mechanisms mediating the initiation of takeoffs by honeybee swarms present us with an intriguing system of behavioral control within a large group.  It is one in which a small minority of individuals actively poll the group to collect information about its global state and then, when the group reaches a critical state, these individuals produce a signal that triggers an appropriate action by the whole group.  

(199)  Instead, in both swarms and brains, the decision-making process is broadly diffused among an ensemble of relatively simple information-processing units, each of which possesses only a tiny fraction of the total pool of information used to make a collective judgment.  We will see that natural selection has organized honeybee swarms and primate brains in intriguingly similar ways to build a first-rate decision-making group from a collection of rather poorly informed and cognitively limited individuals.  These similarities point to general principles for building a sophisticated cognitive unit out of far simpler parts.

(203)  First, a sensory transformation converts the information about the external world that has been registered by the animal's sensory organs into a "sensory representation," which makes the information available for further processing within the animal's brain.  This is what the MY neurons do in the monkey's motion-detection task.  Second, a decision transformation converts the sensory representation into a set of probabilities for adopting the alternative courses of action.  In the monkey's brain, this transformation is implemented by the LIP neurons, as they convert the sensory representation of visual motion into a set of "evidence accumulations," specifically the set of firing rates of the integrators representing different motion directions.  The level of firing in a particular integrator population determines the animal's relative probability of choosing the alternative represented by this population.  Third, an "action transformation" converts this set of probabilities into a specific behavioral act.  This final process of action implementation is performed in the monkey's brains by motor neurons in the FEF and SC regions when they are activated by the population of LIP neurons whose firing rates have reached a threshold level.

(210)  Indeed, another shared design feature of the integrators in monkey brains and honeybee swarms is that they are leaky.  In other words, in both systems, the accumulation of evidence in any given integrator declines unless additional evidence flows into it.
NB:  In bees and synapses "zombie lies" die out

(214)  This design [in brains and swarms] has five critical elements:
1.  A population of sensory units (S) that provides input about the alternatives.  Each sensor reports (noisily) on just one alternative, and each sensor's strength is proportional to the quality of its alternative.
2.  A population of integrator units (I) that integrate the sensory information over time and over sensory units.  Each integrator accumulates evidence in support of just one alternative.
3.  Mutual inhibition among the integrators, so the growth in evidence in one suppresses with increasing strength the growth of evidence in the others.
4.  Leakage of the integrators, so the growth of evidence in an integrator requires sustained input of sensory evidence supporting its alternative.
5.  Threshold sensing by the integrators, such that the decision falls to the alternative whose integrator first accumulates a threshold level of evidence.

(220)  Lesson 1:  Compose the decision-making group of individuals with shared interests and mutual respect

(221)  Lesson 2:  Minimize the leader's influence on the group's thinking

(224)  Lesson 3:  Seek diverse solutions to the problem

(226)  Lesson 4:  Aggregate the group's knowledge through debate

(227)  No scout bee, not even one that has encountered a wildly exuberant dancer, will blindly follow another scout's opinion by dancing for a site she has not inspected.

(228)  How can humans use what the bees have demonstrated about aggregating the knowledge and opinions of a group's members to make good choices for the group as a whole?  I suggest three things.  First, we use the power of an open and fair competition of ideas, in the form of a frank debate, to integrate the information that is dispersed among the group/s members.  Second, we foster good communication within the debating group, recognizing that this is how valuable information that is uncovered by one member will quickly reach the other members.  And third, we recognize that while it is important for a group's members to listen to what everyone else is saying, it is essential that they listen critically, form their own opinions about the options being discussed, and register their views independently.

(230)  Lesson 5:  Use quorum responses for cohesion, accuracy, and speed

(231)  E pluribus unum through quorum responses?  Yes, but do so carefully, using a quorum that is sufficiently large to ensure accurate decision making by the community.

(234)  Thus, the house-hunting bees remind us that the leader in a democratic group serves mainly to shape the process, not the product, of the group's deliberations.  The bees also demonstrate that a democratic group can function perfectly well without a leader if the group's members agree on the problems they face and on the protocol they will use to make their decisions.

(236)  The election's outcome is biased strongly in favor of the best site because this site's supporters will produce the strongest dance advertisements and so will gain converts the most rapidly, and because the best site's supporters will revert to neutral-voter status the most slowly.  Ultimately, the bees supporting one of the sites - usually the best one - dominate the competition so completely that every scout bee supports just one site....

Some have said that honeybees are messengers sent by the gods to show us how we ought to live:  in sweetness and in beauty and in peacefulness.

(262)  Frank Bryan, professor of political science at the University of Vermont and world authority on New England town meetings, has taught me much about his specialty and introduced me to Larry Coffin, long-standing moderator of the annual town meeting in Bradford, Vermont...  Michael Mauboussin, chief investment strategist at Legg Mason Capital Management, has showed me the connections between the search comittees of bees and the investment committees of humans and kindly allowed me to borrow from one of his Consilient Observer essays the title for my final chapter, "Swarm Smarts."

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Dust Tracks on a Road

Dust Tracks on a Road by Zora Neale Hurston
NY:  HarperCollins, 1942
ISBN 0-06-096567-3

(8)  Didn’t own pots to pee in, nor beds to push ‘em under.  Didn’t have no more pride than to let themselves be hired by poor-white trash.

(32)  He was supposed to be so tough, it was said that once he was struck by lightning and was not even knocked off his feet, but that lightning went off through the woods limping.

(63)  The Master-Maker in His making had made Old Death.  Made him with big, soft feet and square toes.  Made him with a face that reflects the face of all things, but neither changes itself, nor is mirrored anywhere.  Made the body of Death out of infinite hunger.  Made a weapon for his hand to satisfy his needs.  This was the morning of the day of the beginning of things.

(67)  The one who makes the idols never worships them, however tenderly he might have molded the clay.  You cannot have knowledge and worship at the same time.  Mystery is the essence of divinity.  Gods must keep their distances from men.

(68)  I just had to talk back at established authority and that established authority hated backtalk worse than barbed-wire pie.

(83)  So my second vision picture came to be.  I had seen myself homeless and uncared for.  There was a chill about that picture which used to wake me up shivering.  I had always thought I would be in some lone, arctic wasteland with no one under the sound of my voice.  I found the cold, the desolate solitude, and earless silences, but I discovered that all that geography was within me.  It only needed time to reveal it.

(145)  Lack of power and opportunity passes off too often for virtue.

(159)  “Race Solidarity” looked like something solid in my childhood, but like all other mirages, it faded as I came close enough to look.  As soon as I could think, I saw that there is no such thing as Race Solidarity in America with any group.  It is freely admitted that it does not exist among Negroes.  Our so-called Race Leaders cry over it.  Others accept it as a natural thing that Negroes should not remain an unmelting black knot in the body politic.  Our interests are too varied.  Personal benefits run counter to race lines too often for it to hold.  If it did, we could never fit into the national pattern.  Since the race line has never held any group in America, why expect it to be effective with us?  The upper-class Negroes admit it in their own phrases.  The lower-class Negroes say it with a tale.

(182)  Somebody had turned a hose on the sun.  What I had taken for eternity turned out to be a moment walking in its sleep.

(191)  Each moment has its own task and capacity;  doesn’t melt down like snow and form again.  It keeps its character forever.

(202)  It seems to me that organized creeds are collections of words around a wish.

(206)  Being an idealist, I too wish that the world was better than I am.  Like all the rest of my fellow men, I dont want to live around people with no more principles than I have.

(208)  What all my work shall be, I don’t know that either, every hour being a stranger to you until you live it.  I want a busy life, a just mind and a timely death.

(218)  If you still have doubts, study the man and watch his ways.  See if all of him fits into today.  If he has no memory of yesterday, nor no concept of tomorrow, then he is My People.  There is no tomorrow in the man.

(238)  All clumps of people turn out to be individuals on close inspection.

(244)  The world is not just going to stand still looking like a fool at a funeral if I can help it.  Let’s bring up right now and lay a hearing on it.

(248)  Democracy, like religion, never was designed to make our profits less.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

King of Infinite Space: Donald Coxeter, the Man Who Saved Geometry

King of Infinite Space:  Donald Coxeter, the Man Who Saved Geometry by Siobhan Roberts
London:  Profile Books, 2006, 2007
ISBN 978-1-84668-007-6

(4)  Coxeter’s definition of his discipline, often recited, was this:  “Geometry is the study of figures and figures.  Figues as in shapes” - triangles, cubes, dodecahedrons - “and figures as in numbers.”

(8)  The spearmint molecule and caraway molecule are chiral twins - one molecule is the mirror reflection of the other, and with that minor difference the molecules have considerably different effects on our taste buds.

(10)  Analogous figures exist in higher dimensions - the fourth dimension, for example, contains the simplex (the 4-D analog to the tetrahedron), and the hypercube (the 4-D analog to the cube). And in higher dimensions still, polytopes morph into more and more complex cousins of the originals, some continuing to infinity.

(20)  Later that evening, relaxing in the hotel lobby, Coxeter met with another fan, Texan Glenn Smith, a self-described “geometry groupie,” who makes a successful living in the sesame business.

(25) Euclid (365-25 BC) proved there are only five Platonic solids.  And given the above-mentioned restrictions, only three regular polygons (the equilateral triangle, square, and pentagon) can be used in the construction of the Platonic solids.  This is because the sum of polygon angles that meet at a vertex must be less than 360º in order to form a convex solid.

(65)  [HT] Flather’s models:  The series included more than fifty stellations of the icosahedron.  Littlewood accepted Flather’s models as a gift to Trinity and Coxeter agreed to write an accompanying enumeration and description, which became The 59 Icosahedron.

(69)  In four dimensions the six regular polytopes include:  the simplex or 5-cell, each cell being a tetrahedron, and three tetrahedron meeting any an edge; the 8-cell, or tesseract, made of eight cubes, three cubes meeting at every edge;  the 16-cell made of sixteen tetrahedra;  the 24-cell made of octahedra;  the 120-cell made of dodecahedra;  and the 600-cell made of tetrahedra.

Schäfli proved that in higher dimensions regular polytopes become a rarer breed.  Only three regular polytopes exist in five or more dimensions, continuing to infinite dimensions:  these are the simplex (the generalized tetrahedron), the hypercube or “measure polytope” (the generalized cube), and the orthoplex or cross polytope (the generalized octahedron).

(74)  In the 1880s, [Alice] Boole Stott rediscovered the six polytopes in four dimensions and then, using a ruler and compass, cardboard and paint, she produced complete model sets of their central sections.

(92)  Icosahedra and dodecahedra do not exist in dimensions higher than four, which suited Coxeter fine.  “Four is my favorite dimension,” he once said.  “The things that happen in four dimensions are extra special and agreeable.”

(99)  For every symmetry in the laws of physics, there must exist a conservation law (if there is symmetry, something is conserved.)

(112)  [JL] Synge [nephew of JM Synge] also wrote a fantastical mathematical novel, Kandelman’s Krim.  Coxeter loved it and plundered its pages, excerpting twelve passages in his book _Introduction to Geometry_…

(161)  “In Italy today, Emma Castelnuovo has popularized and developed a [new approach to Euclidean geometry], he said.  “Her book, La Geomatria Intuitiva, describes the teaching of geometry with apparatus resembling Meccano.  The book, beautifully illustrated, shows how geometrical shapes are used in the architecture of Italy.”

(163)  After his Pittsburgh talk [1967], he traveled to Minneapolis where he was coming to the end of a long-running pet project, working for four years with a group of mathematicians on educational geometry films, "Dihedral Kaleidoscopes" and "Symmetries of the Cube" (two in a series of five films).

(178)  But in Coxeter’s eyes, one of Fuller’s downfalls was his use of preexisting material without acknowledgement.

(191)  By contrast, Coxeter and Greitzer’s book Geometry Revisited, which has 153 pages of text, has roughly 160 separate diagrams - an average of over one per page!…

(195)  He [Claude Shannon] posited that the design of such a communication system was analogous to the sphere-packing problem of the geometer - sphere packing was a strategy for efficiently storing and encoding data to eliminate errors.

(202)  Geometer’s Sketchpad, now in its fourth edition, has met with enthusastic response.

(203)  He [Walter Whiteley] tries to detemine whether a protein’s regoins will be rigid or flexible, because this is the property that dictates how a protein interacts.  Working in the York Math Lab, Whiteley and his students devise computer algorithms that shorten the biochemist’s  search, tinkering with the geometric models, adjusting their struts and nodes, trying to discover how many rigid and flexible vertices each sample protein structure might have.

(212)  He really felt that mathematics was part of the humanities as well as science.

(216)  Crystals, in fact, are classified by seventeen planar symmetry groups (planar meaning 2-D;  in 3-D there are 230 crystallographic space groups), the collection of all motions - translations, rotations, reflections, glide-reflections, screw motions, and rotary reflections - that, when they act on the crystal structure, leave the structure invariant.

(222)  If mathematics is “the queen of the sciences” what is the king?  To which Coxeter responded:  “Maybe the King of the Sciences is Ecology."

(223)  [English sculptor John] Robinson had sent Coxeter a book of his most recent sculptures - Symbolic Sculpture, The Universe Series.  Coxeter appreciated what he saw:  exquisite executions in bronze, wood, and wool tapestry, of many geometrical concepts;  the golden rule, the Archimedean spirals, golden spirals, cones, knots, pyramids, triangles, ovoids, Möbius bands, circles, and tangents.

(230) … John Conway;   Marc Pelletier, a geometric model-maker from Boulder, CO;  and geometry lover Glenn Smith from Texas….

(233)  Jeff Weeks, a freelance geometer from Canton, New York and the recipient of a 1999 MacArthur fellowship.  Weeks is also the author of The Shape of Space, a book exploring the possible shapes of the universe.

(246)  …he [Gyorgy Darvas] edits Symmetry:  Culture and Science, published by the Symmetry Society…

(251)  He [Coxeter] reconsidered his offer [to leave his house to the University of Toronto], however, when he perceived a change in the university’s pedagogical approach - shifting from “learning for its own sake” to “learning for opportunity.”

……There [Stockholm] he spoke on another of his signature subjects, the “Rhombic Triacontehedron,” and he planned to use a new type of model invented by his friend, geometer and geophysicist Michael Longuet-Higgins, at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD.  Called RHOMBO, the model’s component parts are six-faced solid blocks that click together by a patented system of magnets. 

(265)  Morley’s Trisector Theorem;  The three points of intersection of the adjacent trisectors of the angles of any triangle form an equilateral triangle.

(267) NB:  7 triangles around central equilateral triangle.  Any triangle will always have an equilateral triangle at the center of the trisection of its vertices.