Friday, September 2, 2016

Correspondence: Origins

James W. Cronin at the University of Chicago,
where he taught physics, astronomy
and astrophysics
Of something rather than nothing, of life, of happiness…of the big lie

Edited by Moristotle

Interesting argument for why there is something: “James Cronin, Who Explained Why Matter Survived the Big Bang, Dies at 84” [Sam Roberts, NY Times, August 30]. Excerpt:
In 1964, Dr. Cronin and Val Fitch of Princeton University were conducting experiments at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island involving matter and antimatter: particles that have the same mass but hold opposite (though equal) charges, either positive or negative, compelling them to destroy each other on contact.
    The researchers found that for all their similarities, the particles obeyed slightly different laws of physics: that there was, as Dr. Cronin put it, “a fundamental asymmetry between matter and antimatter.”
    This contradicted a bedrock scientific principle known as charge-parity invariance, which had assumed that the same laws of physics would apply if the charges of particles were reversed from positive to negative or vice versa.
    The finding, known as the Fitch-Cronin effect, bolstered the Big Bang theory, mainly by explaining why the matter and antimatter produced by the explosion did not annihilate each other, leaving nothing but light instead of a residue that evolved into stars, planets and people.
    “We now believe this tiny difference led to us,” Michael S. Turner, an astrophysicist at the University of Chicago, said last year after Dr. Fitch died at 91. [read more]
Wow, if evolution could already have produced biological life on Earth before the planet was even a billion years old! “World’s Oldest Fossils Found in Greenland” [Nicholas Wade, NY Times, August 31]. Excerpt:
Geologists have discovered in Greenland evidence for ancient life in rocks that are 3.7 billion years old. The find, if confirmed, would make these fossils the oldest on Earth and may change scientific understanding of the origins of life.
    Experts are likely to debate whether the structures described in the new report were formed biologically or through natural processes. If biological, the great age of the fossils complicates the task of reconstructing the evolution of life from the chemicals naturally present on the early Earth. It leaves comparatively little time for evolution to have occurred and puts the process close to a time when Earth was being bombarded by destructive asteroids.
    The fossils were discovered four years ago but not publicized while the geologists, a team led by Allen P. Nutman of the University of Wollongong in Australia, checked out their find. [read more]
I have an older cousin (a psychiatrist) who has retired to India, from Colorado. She has been a “troubled searcher” all her life (after having been brought up in a staunch Baptist home), and, for the moment, has latched onto Hinduism.
    The article, “What Makes a Good Life: Revelatory Learnings from Harvard’s 75-Year Study of Human Happiness” [Maria Popova, Brain Pickings], includes a video on the study [video box included below]. Excerpt:

“The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge,” Bertrand Russell wrote in his 1925 treatise on the nature of the good life and how we limit our happiness. For the whole of human history up to that point, such questions had been left entirely to his ilk — the philosophers — and perhaps to the occasional poet.
    By the following decade, a team of visionary researchers at Harvard had enlisted the tools of science in wresting tangible, measurable, actionable answers to this perennial question of the good life. So began the Study of Adult Development at the Harvard Medical School, better known as the Grant Study — the longest-running study of human happiness. Beginning in 1938 as a counterpoint to the disease model of medicine, the ongoing research set out to illuminate the conditions that enhance wellbeing by following the lives of 268 healthy sophomores from the Harvard classes between 1939 and 1944. It was a project revolutionary in both ambition and impact, nothing like it done before or since.
    For some necessary perspective on medicine in the 1930s: Having not yet uncovered the structure of DNA, we knew close to nothing about genetics; mental health was a fringe concern of the profession, with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders still two decades away; the microbiome was an inconceivable flight of fancy. Little progress had been made since Walt Whitman’s prescient case for the grossly underserved human factors in healthcare and the question of what makes for a good life was cautiously left to philosophy. It’s hard for the modern mind to grasp just how daring it was for physicians to attempt to address it.
    But that’s precisely what the Harvard team did. There are, of course, glaring limitations to the study — ones that tell the lamentable story of our cultural history: the original subjects were privileged white men. Nonetheless, the findings furnish invaluable insight into the core dimensions of human happiness and life satisfaction: who lives to ninety and why, what predicts self-actualization and career success, how the interplay of nature and nurture shapes who we become. [read more]

Watching Donald Trump in action and reading about Russia’s strategic use of disinformation [“A Powerful Russian Weapon: The Spread of False Stories,” Neil MacFarquhar, NY Times, August 28] got me to wondering about the origins of “the big lie.” Apparently the term itself was coined by Adolf Hitler, at least according to Wikipedia’s article on the “Big lie”: Excerpt:
A big lie (German: große Lüge) is a propaganda technique. The expression was coined by Adolf Hitler, when he dictated his 1925 book Mein Kampf, about the use of a lie so “colossal” that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.”  
    That statement alludes to Hitler’s explanation of the psychology involved. From Mein Kampf:
In the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously [my emphasis]. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation [than that the allegation is a lie]. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down [disproven], a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.
    The Wikipedia article elaborates:
Hi[tler’]s primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it….
    The principle is sometimes translated and abbreviated as the pithy saying: “Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.”
    I did tell you what got me wondering about this, didn’t I?

This Contrarian guy tells it like it is: “The Moron’s Case For Hillary Clinton…because some of you really are that stupid” [The Contrarian Blog, no date indicated]. Excerpt:
There are only 2 candidates who stand any mathematical chance of prevailing in this year’s election and one of them is, in fact, eminently qualified to become the 45th President of the United States, perhaps more so than any of the other 44 previous office holders. She (that’s right…SHE) has been dedicated to public service in one capacity or another since 1971. Her accomplishments are tremendous. To name a few (edited from the list once provided by Daily Kos for space):
  • First ever student commencement speaker at Wellesley College.
  • Distinguished graduate of Yale Law School.
  • Editorial board of the Yale Review of Law and Social Action.
  • Co-founded Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.
  • Former civil litigation attorney.
  • Staff attorney for Children’s Defense Fund.
  • Faculty member in the School of Law at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.
  • Former Director of the Arkansas Legal Aid Clinic.
  • First female chair of the Legal Services Corporation.
  • First female partner at Rose Law Firm, the oldest and one of the largest law firms in Arkansas.
  • Twice named by The National Law Journal as one of the 100 Most Influential Lawyers in America.
  • Former First Lady of Arkansas.
  • Arkansas Woman of the Year in 1983.
  • Chair of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession.
  • Created Arkansas’s Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youth.
  • Instrumental in passage of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.
  • First Lady of the United States.
  • Promoted nationwide immunization against childhood illnesses.
  • Successfully sought to increase research funding for prostate cancer and childhood asthma at the National Institutes of Health.
  • Worked to investigate reports of an illness that affected veterans of the Gulf War (now recognized as Gulf War Syndrome).
  • Helped create the Office on Violence Against Women at the Department of Justice.
  • Initiated and shepherded the Adoption and Safe Families Act.
  • First FLOTUS in US History to hold a postgraduate degree.
  • Helped create Vital Voices, an international initiative to promote the participation of women in the political processes of their countries.
  • Two-term New York Senator and the first ex-FLOTUS in US History to be elected to the United States Senate.
  • Served on five Senate committees: Budget (2001–2002), Armed Services (2003–2009), Environment and Public Works (2001–2009), Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (2001–2009) and the Special Committee on Aging.
  • Member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
  • Leading role in investigating the health issues faced by 9/11 first responders.
  • Worked with Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York on securing $21.4 billion in funding for the World Trade Center redevelopment.
  • Former United States Secretary of State.
  • Brokered a ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas in 2012.
    Go ahead and try to show what the other candidate has done in the public interest during his whole worthless life. [read more]
Grateful for correspondence, Moristotle


  1. Wonderful items! I am truly thankful. What riches, what thoughtful, intelligent, well-informed correspondents!

  2. Enjoyable read this morning---that's no lie.

    1. Well, but if it is a lie, it's a little one!
          And thanks for not mentioning that you had to read yesterday's "fish" this morning because they didn't appear until noon or so (NY time zone). I have put in hours of time lately on a certain expat/repat project, and on a related project about a trip to Leningrad when the city was still called "Leningrad"...All of which will unfold tomorrow through Tuesday. <hint, hint>