Carpe Diem? Huh? And Then What?

Andrew grad Franklin field 09 

  Carpe Diem seems like the most natural and obvious of exhortations to shout at a graduation.  Seize the day.  Certainly, commencement exercises must constitute a major point of transition (fulcrum hopefully) for most participants.  But “hurry up and get on with your life” is probably not the best advice for a young broadly educated mind.

  Graduation ceremonies should always be powerful experiences for all attendees and the aforementioned such was no exception.  As the students and faculty began to file in the orchestra began to play and the trickle soon became a swarm.  I first thought back to graduations past until I noticed that tears had welled up in the eyes of both sisters as brother came into view.  Wife choked a bit, and well, me to.

   Made me think of brain science and what it can and cannot explain.  We have what have been called mirror neurons.  A set of neurons fires when you do something.  Mirror neurons fire when you observe somebody do that thing.  Researcher V.S. Ramachandran calls them “Ghandi” neurons because “they’re dissolving the barriers between you and me”.*

  That’s neat and interesting, but incomplete.  Other researchers have shown that phenomena related to consciousness can be observed, measured etc, but not consciousness itself.  Some think it a matter of time till it is seen how thoughts emerge from the brain, but none do now.

    As I’ve said above, while it may well be understood one day, I do not believe it will be found to be a sum of the parts sort of thing.  Stuart Kauffman again: “Whatever its source, consciousness in emergent and a real feature of the universe…. These phenomena, then, appear to be partially beyond natural law itself.”

  It is much easier for me to consider tenderness amongst siblings with that observation in mind than, say, mirror neurons.  We are more than the sum of the parts.

  While in Philadelphia I saw one of the two of Galileo’s telescopes known to be still in existence.  Fascinating to look at and think about.  They got him into trouble.  Not so much for debunking heliocentrism as for challenging the then prevalent western world view that spirituality was the only source of knowledge.    

  In her remarks the wonderfully enthusiastic Penn President Amy Gutman told those in cap and gown that their toughest challenge would be to find: “What matters most to me?”.  Not an easy question for most to answer, but indeed perhaps the most important.  I’d add that it is probably be just as important to learn to live in that question.  If you carpe diem with questions answers will follow.

Andrew grad Myerson 09

   That’s what Galileo did.  “It [the earth, not the sun] moves” he told the Pope and was placed under house arrest for blasphemy. He continued wide ranging research for the next ten years until his death investigating the speed of light and the nature of tides among other things.  Very significantly,  he developed the basic principle of relativity.

   Einstein wrote: “Pure logical thinking cannot yield us any knowledge of the empirical world; all knowledge of reality starts from experience and ends in it.  Propositions arrived at by purely logical means are completely empty as regards reality.  Because Galileo saw this, and particularly because he drummed it into the scientific world, he is the father of modern physics – indeed of modern science altogether”.

  Or as Uncle Ed helped translate from another tradition: “Whatever you see is a reflection of your own mind.  The essence of mind has, from the very beginning, has been free of conceptual limitations.  Having recognized this truth, free your mind from grasping at phenomena and clinging to thought…”**

Andrew Board spring 09

*New Yorker May 11, 2009: Profiles

**Path of the Bodhisattva, Vimala Publishing

***Hint: Above image is not through a telescope, has not really yet been seen in 3D, but is indeed way out there and has not been seen before.

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