Pandemic panic!

It barely allows thinking about — a world in the grips of a decease. I’ve developed an addiction for the statistical information given on wikipedia on the progress of COVID-19 infections. Looking at those exponentially growing curves, one does not know whether one should ran around screaming or hiding underneath the bed. The positive thing is that China has more or less gotten through this thing. Some other countries like South Korea also seems to have things under control. However, most countries, including highly advanced countries like the USA, simply don’t have it under control yet. Before this pandemic, one might have wondered whether one should start learning Chinese. Don’t bother. After this pandemic, everybody that got through this will already be speaking Chinese. … Just joking.

don’t panic, don’t panic

Actually there are some silver linings. The air pollution has dropped significantly. So earth is getting a break. Perhaps this is earth’s way for trying to shed some other decease it picked up called humanity. I can already tell you, it is not going to work. In fact, it probably won’t even make a dent in the overpopulation of this planet. To do that, the number of fatalities would have to be within an order of magnitude of the entire population of the world.

Earth our beloved planet

There is another aspect that may be much more severe. The socio-economic impact of this decease is going to be quite severe. The worst case scenario is a complete break-down of civilization. Not long ago Elon Musk has given a grim warning about the possibility of the fall of civilization. The problem is that such a process is so slow that you don’t see that it is happening. So, I’ve asked myself, how would one know that civilization is in the process of falling? The two things I identified were: when the airplanes are not flying anymore and when the internet does not work anymore, it signals the fall of civilization. Well, we now have the situation where the airplanes stopped flying. Hopefully we’ll get through this thing and then they’ll fly again. Or will they? The internet is still working. Will it stop working at some point because people cannot maintain it any more due to the decease? That would be very bad.

don’t panic, don’t panic

Well, let’s assume we are going to get through this thing without all these bad things happening. But, I don’t see us getting through this thing without some lingering effect. Let’s just hope that lingering effect is going be a positive effect. Perhaps it will teach us to be more careful with this world. Perhaps we’ll also appreciate each other more, care for those that need more care, be less self-centered and less obsessed with material wealth.

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Beach holidays

On occasion, the situation at work may prevent you from taking leave as regularly as you would have liked. It then happens that you get to a point where you are so tired within the core of your soul that you absolutely need a holiday. When you’ve reach this point, what you need is not just any holiday. No, you absolutely have to get the kind of holiday that would be able to cleanse you soul of all the clutter that it has accumulated.

What kind of holiday would that be for you? Some people want to go on expensive overseas trips. Others prefer sea cruises. One can have those sight seeing tours where you come back with a thousand photographs. Perhaps you like to go on a safari in a game reserve.

Rocks at Margate

For me, it needs to include the seaside. So typically, when I’ve reached this level of exhaustion, I book myself a place close to a beach. I don’t need to lie on the beach for hour getting tanned to a crisp. I just need to see the surf and look at the constant activity of the sea. Perhaps I’ll sit on the beach for an hour reading a book. I may take a swim, but that’s not a requirement. In fact, I don’t even care whether it is sunny or rainy. It doesn’t really matter, as long as there is surf. At night you fall asleep to the sound of surf breaking on the rocks. Everywhere you can smell the sea.

For some reason, my soul needs that activity of the water to get itself cleanse of all the knots and clutter that has accumulated from all the stress and frustration that the work situation tends to produce. After I’ve spent a few days near or at the beach, I can feel that my soul starts to relax. Then eventually, I have the energy to go back again and face those challenges.

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Bookmarks

When you like to read then chances are that you have quite a number of bookmarks. One tends to collect them. I have a fairly large collection, accumulated over a lifetime of reading.

Perhaps some of your bookmarks are just a scrap of paper. Or perhaps it is a receipt. Or it could be a piece of cardboard.

I like decorate my bookmarks. At least I use to. There use to be pieces of cardboard inside the boxes in which I bought my Earl Grey tea. They are just the right size for a bookmark. So I would collect them and then decorate them with abstract designs. In the figure below is one of favorites.

My current favorite

It has become a bit of a ritual to select a bookmark from my collection when I start reading a new book. However, lately I tend to select the same one over and over again.

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The thing about philosophy

As a physicist, one tends to have encounters from time to time with the world of philosophy. While some physicists would embrace it and acquaint themselves as much as possible with the various topics, I tend to regard it with a good measure of suspicion. The reason is that philosophy is not a science. It cannot (and should not) test the ideas to see if they are true. In those cases where these ideas (political philosophy) were tested, the results ended up being severely disastrous.

As a result of my suspicion, I deliberately kept myself ignorant of philosophy. But ignorance is never anything to brag about.  So, I decided to read up a little about it. I bought a book that summarizes the different philosophical ideas that was developed over the history of humanity. Although it does not give any detail understanding of any particular idea. It gives one a broad perspective of all the ideas and some idea of who said what.

One thing that becomes clear from such a broad perspective is how diverse these ideas are; how drastically these ideas can differ from each other. Despite the fact that none of these ideas can in any way be confirmed, their proponents are very strongly convinced of their veracity even in cases where they are completely ludicrous .

One of the sad things is the notion of a “proof” where someone tries to show that their ideas are irrefutable. Such proofs consist of supposedly logical arguments. But the steps in these arguments often incorporate hidden assumptions that have not and cannot be shown to be true. As a result these so-called proofs never survive for long. So much for being a proof.

There are situations where people’s ideas have been implemented, especially in the field of political philosophy. In those cases, these ideas had a huge impact on the history. Unfortunately, this impact is usually of a severely negative nature. The French revolution, Nazism and Communism, were all practical implementations of philosophical ideas and the associated atrocities provide clear evidence of just how dangerous it is to follow such ideas.

What is the conclusion then? If philosophy cannot provide the wisdom that it is supposed to provide, does it have any value? I do think it has some value, but one that is far humbler than its proponents would like to believe. Although it cannot provide any wisdom directly, it can provide us with a clearer understanding of the path to wisdom. In this case, I’m specifically thinking of its role in describing and maintaining the scientific method. Perhaps I’ll write more about that some other day.

Fabulous trip

During the last two weeks, I did not post anything. That is because I was traveling. First, there was the conference that I attended. After that, because I have some friend living in the same city, I took a few days visiting them. What a memorable time I had.

It is so green. What a contrast to the grays and browns that I experience here at home. So where is this wonderful place? Ottawa, Canada!

Parliament Hill in Ottawa

In the Byward Market, I bought some apples. One can buy a variety of fresh vegetables and fruit. The area has a variety of different restaurants and shops.

Byward Market Ottawa

I also visited the University of Ottawa and the National Research Council during my trip. These visits gave me the opportunity to discuss research collaboration opportunities with some people in my field of research.

It is not often that I travel these days. Basically, I don’t enjoy traveling . But for some reason, trips to Canada are always great. I just love that country.