Tag Archives: universe

What keeps you awake all night?

What an improbable thing, of all improbable thing...

What an improbable thing, of all improbable things…                  (image via io9, I think, via their Fb page…)

“Do you ever wonder how the universe will end?” Asks Salon on their Facebook page while sharing this article about 5 questions that keeps physicists awake at night.

Wanna know what keeps (or ought to) biologists awake all night?

How much of life currently on this planet will end. Not wondering, but knowing that we, humans, who can wonder about the beginning and the end of the entire universe, are causing another mass extinction of life. Right here. Right now.

On this very pale blue dot where the most improbable of things in the universe (question 3 keeping those physicists awake all night; really, guys?!) happened: life evolved. To the point where it could begin to wonder about the universe. To keep itself awake all night wondering about the universe.

Then kill itself?

What keeps you up at night?

On worshipping the Sun, late at night…

Even though I was brought up steeped in religious traditions—of the orthodox north Karnataka Madhwa Brahmin variety, no less—I grew out of them in college and have never really felt the need to seek any comfort in imagining a supernatural deity of any sort watching over me ever since. Of course, the broad and ambiguous philosophical traditions of Hinduism allow for atheists to remain part of the fold, because it doesn’t require firm belief in any particular (of its thousands of) deities, but rather emphasizes practice, or karma. In this, Hinduism may be closer to being a philosophy and culture more than an organized religion, unlike Bill O’Reilly’s latest delusions about Christianity. In recent years, especially after two decades of mostly living in the US, I have drifted away from much of the cultural practice as well, and find myself nonplussed by Hinduism as much as by any other of the world’s religious traditions. As to the dominant / mainstream (fundamentalist/supremacist) practitioners of these religious traditions… that’s another story.

These late night reflections on religion may seem rather odd on this blog, but they’re triggered in part by a nocturnal viewing of the sun (more on that below), and a recent essay by Indian environmental historian Ramachandra Guha where he tracks the rise of Hindutvawadi trolls on the internet, as part of the overall rise in Hindu supremacist (which may be a better term than fundamentalist, given Hinduism’s lack of singular fundamental texts or beliefs) movements in India. It was interesting to learn that my own upbringing was somewhat similar to Guha’s – except that my father in his later years joined the urban middle class throngs voting for the right-wing parties. I am glad, though, that in raising our own family now in America, we have managed to avoid what appears to be a common trajectory for many immigrant communities: a tracking back to a more rigid form of religious/cultural practices, often coupled with support for more conservative/religious politics in the US, all of which seems driven by the search for identity in a foreign land. I don’t go to the temple, for example, and have given up on attending various “cultural events” organized by local Hindu communities because I cannot stand their politics (which too often refract Indian communal identity politics in strange colors); or the trolls who show up to defend their interpretation of Hindutva in the manner Guha describes.

So how do I deal with that immigrant’s identity void? And how will I deal with questions about our culture and tradition that may come as my daughters grow up and face their own inevitable struggles with identity?

Science and secular humanism have served us well so far, and I hope they will provide strength to my girls when they come into their own as individuals embedded in a society that remains far too beholden to outdated religious ideas worldwide. I’m confident that we will find some ways to figure things our using these frameworks without having to resort to belief in some supernatural divinity.

But if that long-dead religious impulse ever gets resurrected (can’t imagine why, but the faithful keep telling me the day will come!), and I find myself in some spiritual void seeking an emotional crutch, I think I will probably take up Sun Worship. After all, the Sun actually exists, and is largely responsible for powering the evolution of life on Earth, and will keep life going here until it expands and swallows the planet in a distant but inevitable future – long, long, long after we are all gone, recycled back into the stardust that was forged in the interiors of other, older suns.

Here’s my prophet of choice, George Carlin, describing how, overnight, he became a Sun Worshipper (at around the 3:30 mark in this clip):

[youtube gPOfurmrjxo]

Of course, Carlin jokes that his conversion wasn’t actually overnight because you can’t see the Sun at night!

How Carlin would have loved this video, then, which showed up on my computer screen late last night, making me suddenly feel a strong urge to worship the power of the Sun (and triggering this blog post):

[youtube dY69TuaZ0Pk]

Isn’t that truly awe-inspiringly spectacular? And to think that the Sun was tossing off that little flare at the same time as I was sitting in my living room late at night, peering at my laptop screen in my insomniac way, looking for inspiration to finish a bit of writing on a long-overdue research manuscript!

The video comes from the Helioviewer project, which allows one to visualize and explore the surface and inner heliosphere of the Sun from the comfort of one’s living room, using imagery data from NASA and the European Space Agency (the other ESA)! So not only do we not need to build any temples or churches to worship the Sun—who doesn’t give a shit about what we do anyway, because the Sun just IS—we don’t even need to wait until dawn to spend some quality time contemplating the face of this wondrous and powerful deity!

So that’s the other reason why I am up at night now, rambling on about religious impulses in this blog post!

Let me leave you with another awesome little video from just a couple of minutes ago:

[youtube fGA1CDKcCfo]

How can you not worship that?



A cosmologist in hypothetical make-up


This is from last night’s Colbert Report where physicist and blogger Sean Carroll’s new book “From Eternity to Here” presumably got the Colbert Bump. On his blog today, Carroll also offers some insights into how smart and professional Colbert and his team are in putting together the comedy show! That show continues to impress (along with the other guy who would be on afterwards in that other universe), especially with its science coverage. And I thought Dr. Carroll did very well last night, despite being caught off-guard and forced to use the jargony word entropy – the interview came off rather well organized.

Carl Sagan’s Apple Pie


This recipe is tumbling around the internets today (although not always with the original picture above which I found on Flickr; If you want the 4×6 recipe card version, go to the source). Something to consider doing if you (like so many of us in California this week) are stuck indoors amid rainstorms!

But wait… look at the preparation time!! Honestly, these old-world classical recipes are too much for the busy modern cook, aren’t they? Oh well – scratch that; I’d rather go with the premade universe instead (what with the recipe already allowing a premade pie shell/crust anway!), thank you very much!

Hat-tip: Daniel Florien.