Archive for January, 2008

One Thumb and Two Fingers

January 24, 2008

Positive dynamic stability is a principle every pilot learns to understand.

Imagine an airplane flying in a straight line with its altitude and airspeed steady. The pilot takes the stick, pushes it forward, and then releases it. The airplane begins to dive and as a result its airspeed increases. As air rushes faster across the surface of the wings, lift is increased and the airplane begins to climb. The airplane climbs through its original altitude but as its airspeed decreases, so does lift. The airplane levels off and begins to descend. As it passes its original altitude – descending this time – airspeed increases, lift increases, and the airplane begins to climb again.

This process continues with each hill and valley, each wave becoming progressively smaller until at last the airplane is once again flying in a straight line with its altitude and airspeed steady. Positive dynamic stability has negated the pilot’s input, steadied the ship, and brought order because of the way the airplane was designed and not by any input from the pilot. If anything, the pilot’s action led to instability but clever design returned everything back to a default pattern of order.

As a flight instructor years ago I would sometimes get a “white-knuckle” student who worked against the airplane by constantly moving the stick and never allowing the aircraft to stabilize.

The cure was simple.

In flight, and after a reasonable number of warnings, I would take the controls and stabilize the airplane. I would then ask the student to make a hard bank to either side and begin a descent. Once the maneuver was established and the airplane was “out of control”, I would make the student put both feet on the floor and sit on their hands, neither of us touching anything. Most trusted me enough to comply. Down, up, down, up, each pass closer to the original altitude and airspeed. Soon, the airplane was flying in a straight line with its altitude and airspeed steady. In fact, the airplane was flying itself more smoothly than the student had ever done it.

After that the student was allowed only one thumb and two fingers on the stick and their flying was much better.

The principle of positive dynamic stability can be applied to life outside the cockpit as well. In the past, I have been a white-knuckle pilot while flying my life. I have crashed into more rocky hilltops and dry gullies than you can imagine.

The cure for this is simple too.

Put both feet on the floor, sit on my hands, and stop moving everything around. The principle of positive dynamic stability works in life and it’s as real as gravity, as powerful as the will of God. One thumb and two fingers. That’s all it takes.

Big Brother is Watching You

January 16, 2008

Disturbing. That’s what it is.

I read a story today that has left me profoundly unsettled. It appeared on washingtonpost.com in an article on December 22, 2007. Here is an excerpt:

The FBI is embarking on a $1 billion effort to build the world’s largest computer database of peoples’ physical characteristics, a project that would give the government unprecedented abilities to identify individuals in the United States and abroad.

A database of people’s physical characteristics? In the government’s hands? My hair stood up but then I realized that the government already has biometric and DNA data on criminals. There had to be something different about this particular database or the Post would never have published a story on it.

Digital images of faces, fingerprints and palm patterns are already flowing into FBI systems in a climate-controlled, secure basement here. Next month, the FBI intends to award a 10-year contract that would significantly expand the amount and kinds of biometric information it receives. And in the coming years, law enforcement authorities around the world will be able to rely on iris patterns, face-shape data, scars and perhaps even the unique ways people walk and talk, to solve crimes and identify criminals and terrorists.

I wonder which of the President’s cronies will get this lucrative contract? I hope they are qualified to collect this data. And once it is collected, I hope they are qualified to protect the data from hackers. Still, where is the hook?

The FBI will also retain, upon request by employers, the fingerprints of employees who have undergone criminal background checks so the employers can be notified if employees have brushes with the law.

Does this mean that anyone I work for will have access to my records? Records in which personal, sensitive data is collected by the left hand of Big Brother – then distributed by the right? Our government has overstepped its bounds before; this is just another example of a deeper disease, the result of the desire for power and control.

The FBI already admits they will store the fingerprints of law abiding United States citizens so they can notify “employers” if an employee has “brushes with the law”. This is too much like a grown-up version of the schoolyard tattletale. I would like someone to define “brushes with the law” and “employers” to me. Does that mean any time I design a website for an organization or write an article for a magazine that the client is then my employer and has a right to know if I get a speeding ticket?

What’s next? The FBI will report to a total stranger any time I bounce a check or if I’m late on a quartely payment to the IRS or if my car’s registration is expired? This is a slippery slope in a world where many employers do routine pre-employment background checks including your criminal, financial and medical history.

And what about the security issues? Just the fact that such a database exists will be enough to attract the attention of a score of very talented hackers who thrive on the business of identity theft. If a hacker steals your credit card number you can simply notify the bank and get a new account number. However, if someone steals your fingerprints, your iris pattern or your face-shape data, who will you notify and how will you get a new “account number” when your account number is a part of your body? Yikes!

Nobody digs a mine unless they plan to work it, and nobody really knows what they will find or how it might be used. Once this database is built and populated with your unique biometric whorls, shapes and patterns, whoever controls the data will have the power to become you. Literally.

Is Evil Necessary for Good to Exist?

January 6, 2008

 

I posted something recently called The Opposite of Love, a little piece that explores the nature of opposites. That got me to thinking and I’d like to expand a bit on the idea.

There are a lot of opposites in our world. So many, in fact, that you could argue that we live in a dualistic universe, one in which everything has an opposite. Perhaps opposites are necessary for the existence of some, or all, things.

For example, in order for hot water to exist, cold water must also exist. Otherwise it would just be water. Hot water cannot be defined without the existence of cold water. Hot water is just water that has a higher temperature than some other water. Even the term ‘higher’ requires two temperatures, one hotter and one colder.

How about on and off? If there was no state of off, there could be no state of on. It is the possibility that a light could be off that makes real the possibility that it could be on. Otherwise it would just be a light.

Up and down, light and dark, positive and negative; the examples are numerous. What about good and evil? (My regular readers are groaning right now. “Oh, he’s not going to get back into the God thing is he?” Yep, I’m afraid so.)

Is evil necessary for good to exist? I’m thinking that maybe it is. That might explain the existence of evil in the first place, something that has bothered me for a long time because of one very simple question. If God created the universe and everything in it, where did evil come from?

I am not one to take the Bible literally, but I do believe it contains a lot of ideas worth considering. Take the story of how evil was introduced into the world. There was God, Adam, and Eve hanging out in the Garden. God is credited with creating Adam and then Eve, but wasn’t there another presence there too? Yes, I am referring to Satan, in the form of a serpent.

Did Satan just appear spontaneously, out of the control of God, or was he created for a purpose? Or perhaps Satan has always co-existed with God and the two are really just opposites that rely on one another for existence. God and Satan: The eternal yin and yang, light and dark, something and nothing.

I know this is an unorthodox idea but before anyone blows a religious fuse, remember that it is just an idea. I’m just throwing it out there, so stay with me. There really are only three explanations for the existence of evil (if it does exist). First, evil just happened by itself. That implies that God is not omnipotent. Second, God created evil. Even if evil is the result of a fallen angel, if God created everything, he must have created Satan knowing that he would fall, and therefore God created evil. Third, God is both good and evil. This is the possibility that makes the most sense to me.

The first case violates the whole concept of a created universe. Any creator powerful enough to create life and everything that is would have seen evil coming. I can’t see a creator god making such a big mistake, as in, “Oops, I didn’t see that coming.”

The second case, although more plausible, violates the concept of reason. Why would a creator god create its own nemesis? The only reason I can think of is that in order to give us free will, God had to create something besides good from which to choose. If there is only one choice, free will has no meaning. This has some validity, especially if you believe that the purpose of life is change.

The third case really only violates our traditional concepts of good and evil. We have labeled good “good” and evil “bad”, but what if these are man-made constructs that misrepresent the true nature of good and evil? Perhaps good and evil are just two sides of the same coin or just two movable points on a continuum?

In a world of “us against them” don’t we always consider “us” to be good and “them” to be evil? Don’t you realize that in “their” eyes, we are the evil “them”? Who is right? Doesn’t it depend on your point of view?

If you can see the truth that there really is no enemy, it may be that the third case is the only one that makes any sense at all.

Awareness is Cruelty

January 4, 2008

My friend Roger Johnson recently posted Letting Go of Meaning, a powerful entry in a collection of insightful wisdom he calls the Roger Johnson Weblog. I am a regular reader of Roger’s work, but this particular entry really inspired me and wrenched from me a response so poignant that I had to post it here. In Letting Go of Meaning, Roger writes:  

I searched and searched for the thing that would make me valid. Depression and terrible anxiety were all that I found.

Roger, you have just touched on the very thing that I struggle with most. I have spent my entire life seeking something to prove I am valid, to show that I am worth something, that my existence means something.

For short periods of time I thought I had found it, but invariably the illusion was broken and each time and I was left with greater doubt than before. I no longer trust my ability to know what is best for me, or what I should do. This has left me in an awful predicament, a sort of stagnation that I hate but am afraid to break out of.

I have been very successful in a variety of careers and I have a bachelor’s degree, none of which I care about any more. I married a woman who had four children and helped raise them for 13 years. She left me three years ago. None of them bothered to even call me for Christmas. I didn’t call them either, but I tried that for awhile and it was never reciprocated. I don’t care about that any more either.

I drove trucks for awhile after my divorce thinking that might clear my head, but all it did was make me lonely. After 30 years of working I am unemployed and don’t want to go back into anything for which I am qualified. I have applied for numerous entry-level positions in new fields but cannot get an interview because (I presume) my background makes me overqualified. I may have to lie about my experience and hide who I am and the accomplishments I have made just to get a job.

So, do I lie about who I am just so I can stop feeling so guilty about being unemployed? Do I take another corporate job so I can feel good about myself for a little while? Do I remain unemployed so I can write a novel or maybe get part-time work that leaves me time to write? (My girlfriend who I love and adore is a doctor and makes plenty of money so that’s not an issue. What is an issue is that she is supporting me and that makes me feel worthless.) I don’t know.

I feel lost but I guess knowing I am lost is better than thinking I know where I am going when in fact I am lost. If ignorance is bliss then awareness is cruelty, but no matter how uncomfortable I am, living in truth is a better thing than perishing in delusion.

I just wish I could get to that place you describe:

There is being and knowing, that I am, everything is built upon this.

I need to find a place that will allow me to keep what I do and who I am separate. What I do is not who I am, but yet I have seen it as such for so long that I am having trouble keeping the two apart.

Well, I guess I’m off to start inventing someone who might be able to get an interview. I think my resume objective should start off, “Mixed-up middle-aged disillusioned professional seeks fulfilling, inspiring and creative entry-level position with enough time off to write a novel.” How does that sound?

The Opposite of Love

January 2, 2008

What is the opposite of love? At first glance, the obvious answer is hate. I looked up the antonyms of love and hate in a few online references, and in all cases love and hate were listed as opposites. That got me to thinking.

I know that I have both loved and hated someone at the same time. When my ex-wife suddenly left me years ago, there was a brief moment when I hated her. This happened shortly after our separation and at a time when I still loved her, so the two emotions can exist together in a kind of dark harmony.

I began to wonder: If love and hate can mingle together in one heart simultaneously, are they truly opposites?

For example, most people would say that light and dark are opposites. In the classic yin-yang symbol, light and dark seem to exist separately, each defining the other. However, at the core of the light there is a spot of darkness, and at the core of the darkness there is a spot of light. The lines are clearly defined, however, and there is no blending of the two. On the other hand, I am looking at a shadow on the wall of my office. It is not pure light or dark, but appears to be a mixture of both, a subtle blending not seen in the yin-yang symbol.

Perhaps light and dark are opposites only in the sense that they tend to define one another on a continuous gradient between the two extremes. If this is so, any area on the wall that appears brighter than another would seem to be light; the contrast between two adjoining areas produces the sensation of relative lightness and darkness.

For example, say we assigned a scale of one to ten to the light-dark continuum, with one being pure darkness and ten being pure light. An area of level three would seem to be very dark unless it was compared with an area of level one, in which case it would appear as light. A logically bright level eight area would appear dark when compared to a level ten.

This is very interesting, but it occurs to me that there would be no way to make a level one area appear as anything other than dark (since there is nothing darker than pure darkness), or a level ten anything other than light (since there is nothing lighter than pure lightness). So at the pure extremes of light and dark the gradient model does appear to break down and offer us the possibility that light and dark are really true opposites.

Likewise, take the opposites ‘something’ and ‘nothing’. There is no gray here. Either something is something or it is nothing. It cannot be a mixture of both. One can never equal zero.

I have always believed the opposite of love is fear, not hate. In my own thoughts I theorize that it only appears that hate is the opposite of love. Since hate is often the result of fear, I think that hate is the symptom and fear the cause, making fear the deeper, hidden and true opposite of love.

Perhaps fear is the true opposite of love just like pure dark is the true opposite of pure light (and something is the true opposite of nothing). If this is so, hate may be just a point on the love-fear gradient, a transitory dot on the line between the two extremes.