Bob Schwartz

Category: Science

Alternating Current

Alternating Current

Edison said
Man was not meant
To ride a wave
To alternate between
In out
Give receive
To breathe.
The vessel will not hold
He said
If you fill and pour
Fill and pour.

Joshu’s dog
Nansen’s cat
Might still be alive
If he were not so stubborn.

Poor master Edison
Could see so far
But only in one direction.

The Age of Enlightenment Has Left the Building (At Least in America)

Age of Enlightenment: an intellectual and scientific movement of 18th century Europe which was characterized by a rational and scientific approach to religious, social, political, and economic issues.

It was great while it lasted. At times difficult, but fun too. The Age of Enlightenment gave us, for example, the American Revolution. Helpful.

If more evidence is needed that the “rational and scientific approach” is going or gone, here is the new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on the role of carbon dioxide in global warming:

“There’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact…So, no, I would not agree that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change disagrees with him. Almost all scientists disagree with him. The current EPA website disagrees with him (though that will be fixed). Many junior high school students disagree with him (though our new Secretary of Education should be able to fix that too).

The Age of Enlightenment doesn’t have a special holiday, because it is already embedded in so much we do (see, for example, the Fourth of July). But maybe we should at least recognize its passing. We’ll miss it, more than we know.

Bodhi Day Riddle: Fig Newtons

Fig Newtons

Here is a riddle for Buddhists, scientists, cookie lovers or anyone else who likes a challenge:

Why should Fig Newtons be the official cookie of Bodhi Day, the day of the Buddha’s enlightenment?

(For more serious posts about Bodhi Day, see here and here.)



November 14, 2016, 6:49am


The moon looks bigger
Than the sun.
Do you see
What we know?

Star Trek Koan


Captain Kirk faced a crisis on the Enterprise. He summoned his ship’s doctor and his ship’s engineer. Bones says, “Damn it Jim, I’m a doctor, not an engineer.” Scotty says, “I’m an engineer, Captain, not a doctor.” Who is right?

The Quantum Physics of You

You are quantum physics.
Deeply important and essential.
Deeply complex and puzzling.
There is no sense, no rhyme or reason
To be angry with quantum physics
Even if it is sometimes frustrating to fathom.
The only appropriate response
Is fascination and appreciation
And thanks for making the universe possible.

Technology Saves Us Again with Infinite Self-Tying Water Balloons

Bunch O Balloons

Just when you think that 21st century technology has served up all it can—for better or worse—along comes Bunch O Balloons .

Let them tell the story:

Bunch O Balloons is the ultimate way to make water balloons! Fill over one hundred water balloons in just seconds with this ready to go bunch of self-tying water balloons and blast the competition out of the water.

One hundred water balloons in just seconds!
Self-tying water balloons!

We barely had the audacity to wish it.
They had the inspiration and creativity to build it.

Other modern marvels will have to step aside. Even the atomic bomb—the fiercest and most significant technology of the 20th century, maybe of any century—can sit in the shadows. We now have a means of mass warfare that it is fun and relatively harmless (except to Wicked Witches and others sensitive to water). It’s true that some spoilsports will think about filling the balloons with liquids other than water. And that those who could only throw one water balloon as a symbol of protest will now have an unlimited arsenal.

But seriously, how can we not be in awe of a development so, well, awesome?

Stay dry, my friend. If you can.

Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si’

Laudato Si'

The Pope’s new encyclical, Laudato Si’, has been much in the news. Whatever you’ve heard about it, if you haven’t seen it, you really don’t know the whole story.

You’ve heard it is about the environment and climate change, which is in small part true. You’ve heard Catholic presidential hopefuls such as Jeb Bush and Bobby Jindal admonish the Pope, their spiritual father, telling him to stick to religion and stay out of politics.

The encyclical is much bigger than climate change, the environment, and certainly bigger than Bush or Jindal or dozens of politicians. It is a big statement about the moral and religious shortcomings of this modern world and us modern people. You don’t have to be Catholic or Christian or faithful or religious to read and appreciate it. You just have to read it.

It is full of inconvenient and uncomfortable truths. Which is probably why the coverage has focused on the environmental exhortations, rather than on the broader cultural, media, technological and social ones. In essence, it is nothing less than a call for radical evolution, in the spirit of the radical evolutionary upon whom the church is built. There are plenty of established institutions and powerful interests and individuals, including the media, who could be forced to change if such radical evolution came to pass. And many of them don’t want to change, and don’t even want us to listen to the Pope talking about it.

The encyclical is a long and deep but very readable work. Download it, sample it. You don’t have to read it all, or all at once. It is naturally grounded in theology, and in some particular theology, but be assured that the observations and conclusions don’t require you to hold any sectarian beliefs. It only requires that we believe that things are far from perfect, and that after we take a close look at ourselves and others, we believe that we have the power and obligation to make things better.

It is filled with so much quotable inspired thought and inspiration. Here is just one brief excerpt:

114. All of this shows the urgent need for us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution. Science and technology are not neutral; from the beginning to the end of a process, various intentions and possibilities are in play and can take on distinct shapes. Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way, to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made, but also to recover the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.

Laudato Si’ PDF

Laudato Si’ epub and Kindle

Interstellar: Not thinking is the best way to travel

Soul Nebula

The new movie Interstellar takes on big questions and concepts. About the nature of everything. It is more like an invitation than a text, more like an appetizer than a feast. How much of that can you pack into a movie anyway?

Whether or not you’ve seen it, or liked it, or tried to understand it, here is something to consider.

What available paths are there to addressing these issues?

Being one of the travelers who journeys to the far reaches of time, space, and the other numberless dimensions.

Being a scientist who theorizes about that.

Being a director who makes a movie about that.

Being a viewer who watches a movie about that.

Being someone who thinks about that.

Being someone who stops thinking about that and journeys to those far reaches.

The list isn’t comprehensive, none of these is exclusive of the others, none of these may be best. But if you did see Interstellar, or have seen the dozens of movies that address this, or read any of the thousands of texts that address this, or are just curious, do investigate that last possibility. You may discover that the place beyond thinking looks like all the wonders of Interstellar. With fewer movie stars and special effects. But much more real.

Notes on Interstellar



Christopher Nolan’s movie Interstellar is more interesting than it is imperfect. See it if you like space movies, sci-fi movies, intellectually curious movies, spectacular movies, etc.

It is filled with wonders. It is like the car trunk stuffed with luggage for a vacation, so much colorful and significant luggage creatively crammed in that when you open it on arrival you say: Wow, I wonder how we ever got all that stuff in there?

No spoilers here, but a couple of things.

Look for all the tiny (and not so tiny) echoes of space and sci-fi movies past. Star Wars, Close Encounters, etc., but most of all 2001. Why not? Right now, “they” are probably having a good 5th dimensional laugh watching Stanley Kubrick’s proto-human apes tossing that bone.

Interstellar has the most subtly cool robots ever. TARS doesn’t sing like HAL, but he has moves like Jagger and is great with the snappy patter.


The movie is much about cosmology—the origin and nature of existence. Cosmology is the domain of all kinds of people, including religionists and philosophers. But in greater part, we have handed over many of those considerations, as in this movie, to theoretical physicists—Einstein, Hawking, etc. I am a big fan of cosmology.

It is not a spoiler to mention that plenty of people, including some in this movie, believe that the Apollo 11 moon landing was faked. Which raises this way-out-there question: What if the moon landing was real but all the cosmological theoretical physics is faked? Going back before Einstein, theoretical physics spends much of its time (as we understand it) looking for physical proof of those theories. What if all the theory is so utterly astounding and enlightening that when the evidence failed to support it, all the scientists engaged in the study conspired to make it seem as if those theories are supported?

Faking the moon landing mission has never been put entirely to rest because, in fact, only three people experienced it first-hand. Everyone else was second-hand or more distanced from the actuality. But the basic elements of it are well within our understanding: astronauts, rocket, spaceship, lunar lander, moon, television pictures. The cosmological speculation and supporting discoveries are so far beyond anything that most of us can fully—or slightly—grasp that we could easily be fooled into taking it for “reality.”

By the way, for those wondering about the earnestness of all that, be assured that I am just playing. Or am I?


We don’t have to be space pilots to experience cosmology, or be theoretical physicists or movie directors to think about it. Cosmology is ordinary. Interstellar and other movies and thousands of works of art and literature point to this. Everybody is a cosmologist, like it or not.

Cosmology is an excellent topic that does not necessarily require specialized knowledge. You may not know a worm hole from a black hole. But you already know a ton about time, space, being, and gravity. You just have to know how to know and that you know.

This is from an essay almost 800 years old. No more or less spectacular than Interstellar, it is no more or less a non-theoretical description:

Do not think that time merely flies away. Do not see flying away as the only function of time. If time merely flies away, you would be separated from time. The reason you do not clearly understand the time being is that you think of time only as passing.

In essence, all things in the entire world are linked with one another as moments. Because all moments are the time being, they are your time being….

You may suppose that time is only passing away, and not understand that time never arrives. Although understanding itself is time, understanding does not depend on its own arrival.

People only see time’s coming and going, and do not thoroughly understand that the time being abides in each moment. Then, when can they penetrate the barrier? Even if people recognized the time being in each moment, who could give expression to this recognition? Even if they could give expression to this recognition for a long time, who could stop looking for the realization of the original face? According to an ordinary person’s view of the time being, even enlightenment and nirvana as the time being would be merely aspects of coming and going….

Mountains are time. Oceans are time. If they were not time, there would be no mountains or oceans. Do not think that mountains and oceans here and now are not time. If time is annihilated, mountains and oceans are annihilated. As time is not annihilated, mountains and oceans are not annihilated.

The Time Being (1240)
Treasury of the True Dharma Eye