The sum of all fears

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In light of recent news reports, it is no surprise that I’ve started dreaming about Russian people. I had the opportunity to sleep in this morning and in doing so hit some significant REM states. What follows is what I remember. Predominant color in this dream sequence was black. I’m calling this dream sequence “The sum of all fears.”

Some details are already slipping away, but I remember a dark skinned man in a black suit. He was a government person, maybe a cop or agent of some sort. I was shadowing him. If you can imagine what it’s like for an angel or ghost to tag along with you, I was like that ghost, tagging along and observing, at least initially. He was hunting someone and when he found this person, he shot him dead. As the body lay on the ground, the agent bent over him and scooped out one of the dead man’s eyes. I recoiled in horror, but I could not leave. Suddenly I had a bag in my hands, like a specimen bag, and the agent put the eye inside it. From inside the eye socket he spooned out three more eyeballs that were larger than the first one, and dropped them one by one into the bag. When I looked, the bag had liquid too. Had it always had liquid inside? The four very round, ping pong sized eye balls were floating in this liquid. I’m guessing they weren’t all eyes, but some kind of data storage. Then we were on the move, walking quickly through the darkness until we came to a building. I have only a vague image of a door in my memory, but we went inside this building. At some point we walked rapidly down a hall, again mostly in darkness, and a moment later reached a T-intersection. On my right was a shallow alcove. Its back wall was mostly computer screens. I stopped, but the man did not. On the screen scrolled numbers. (A bit like that scene in Fallout IV where you have to decipher the codes on the old computer.) Not appearing number by number, but in full sets and filling the screen up like this:

381398417348 134978 19387434 234837487 108343418 10834134719349817324 8979837483747 193473814387

There were symbols mixed in. I would type them but they aren’t on my Querty keyboard. I was mesmerized by the code. I couldn’t take my eyes away from it, nor even blink. It scrolled screen after screen after screen, the code growing in volume, as if it were talking to me. Suddenly my mind was zooming through space – deep black space with the streaks of silver stars elongating on my left and right, much like the imagery of the Starship Enterprise hitting warp drive. After maybe fifteen seconds of that, I arrived suddenly at an asteroid field. I screamed out in fear. Then beyond it, a field of floating space ships in varying shapes and sizes, and all a weird matt black metal. One directly in front of me was an enormous structure made of two disks with bulging centers (not domed) that were joined together like an X. It was rotating slowly in front of me. I screamed again and tried to wake up. The dream shifted to me lying in my bed in sleep paralysis. While I screamed, both of my daughters tried to wake me. In my head I was saying over and over, “I can’t breathe!” and I could feel that my lungs refused to draw a breath. But they couldn’t wake me. Fortunately, I woke myself but found that I was alone.

Maybe the observant reader will wonder at this point what does this have to do with Russia? The man I started out with returned in the second dream, picking up nearly where we left off after having obtained the disgusting eye balls. We walked through the darkness, weaving around buildings, along sidewalks and hedgerows until we arrived at a black iron gate. He opened it and we passed through. The path was canopied by tall thick trees but there were no street lamps to light the way. A very deep voice came from our left, saying, “stop,” and I looked to see a man dressed in dark slacks and heavy black wool overcoat. He had been lying on a bench and sat up. He came over to us with his gun drawn and grabbed me by the arm. He propelled us forward and took us into a room in a building to our left. When he spoke, I recognized his accent as Russian. He delivered us into the hands of some other men. Some were Russian and some were Middle Eastern. They took my companion into a back room. My dream memory has faded somewhat, but I do remember that I had a long woolen scarf around my neck and I used it to hide the bag of eyeballs. I used to my advantage the fact that I was an innocent female, caught in something I had no real part of even though I was hiding something these men probably wanted. I wanted something from the men also, but I can’t remember now what I said. I asked for something, like, to use the bathroom, or for a blanket or something like that, but speaking aloud was the wrong thing to do. The Russian man stared at me like I was an alien. He grabbed my arm again and pushed me over to a service window that had two or three men on the other side of the partitioned glass. There was a silver tray at the bottom, reminding me of the way old banks used to be set up. I repeated the question in this small hesitant voice, and these men stared at me like “what the hell is she?” I didn’t understand what was so wrong with me. They were speaking English. I spoke English. My accent wasn’t strange. I didn’t get why they looked at me like they couldn’t believe their ears.

I’m not sure about the sequence here, as my dream memory is rapidly evaporating, but at some point I was taken to a place that was several stories tall and each floor was joined by a wide staircase with black wrought iron railings on both sides. Both of my daughters were there, and across the room my youngest daughter was lounging, like a cat, on a large square ottoman. I could see she was wearing only scanty clothing and she had a visible tattoo on her lower abdomen. I thought to myself, “When did she get that?!” A weird dream memory flashed in my head of her at a tattoo parlor getting a small tattoo on her shoulder. Suddenly, a couple of Middle Eastern men grabbed her and ran down the stairs with her. Cradling the bag of eyes (I don’t know why they were so important) I ran after them, screaming at them to stop. I was at least two floors behind them when I reached the stairs and I realized I was never going to catch up, so I literally jumped over a railing and down to the next level. I ran down a few steps, then jumped over the railing again and down to the next level. In real life, I would have never been able to do that, and regardless of this amazing skill I couldn’t seem to catch up. Increasingly panicked, I ran in the direction I thought they were going. There was a maze of train tracks ahead with numerous trains going this way and that. I read the signs and saw that I was in England. I was struck by indecision about which train to take. I didn’t want to take the wrong one and risk losing her forever. I thought if I took a picture of one of the signs and sent it to my oldest daughter, she could help me decide. As I focused my phone’s camera on one of the signs I was ripped out of the dream and back into the world of reality.  I was, of course, very relieved to find my daughter was sound asleep in her bed – and safe (with no tattoos)!

And, that was the end of that. You might be wondering if these detail heavy dreams are a common thing with me, and the answer is yes. They aren’t terribly numerous, thankfully, but they do usually come with lots of details.

Ode to My Mother

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It’s really safe to say that I haven’t dealt very well with my mother’s passing. I didn’t have her long enough. I didn’t appreciate her enough. I didn’t say I love you enough. And it occurs to me that I need to express my feelings about her. The blog post is a tribute to her.

More than a decade before my mother passed away, she wrote a poem about dying, entitled “I’ve Gone Walking.” This message to her seven children is a reminder that life is fleeting and that while we are here we should look for beauty in our imperfect world.

My mother was a poet, a writer, a water-color artist, an avid quilt-maker, and a home-maker. She found great beauty and inspiration in many types of flowers, and to her they mirrored the grace of God. She was born in the Great Depression era, suffered through a war-time unlike any America has seen since, and thus understood the value in the small things of life. Because of her love for nature, she walked each day. She kept her eye on wild flowers that grew along the path and she would tend to them to make sure they stayed beautiful. It infuriated her when the city mowed them down and often she scattered seeds to encourage them to grow.

mom-1949

Ruth

My mother was beautiful. She had the classic beauty of any film star, but was down-to-earth and gracious. She was quiet, unassuming, and a little introverted but also full of vim and verve. Do you remember the cowardly lion from Wizard of Oz using that expression?

It’s sad, believe me, Missy,
When you’re born to be a sissy,
Without the vim and verve.
But I could show my prowess,
Be a lion, not a “mowess,”
If I only had the nerve.

She had vim and verve in spades. Even when struck down by Alzheimer’s and up until nearly the very end, my mother was striking, intelligent, and absolutely the antithesis of a quitter.

Sometimes my children ask me what she would think about this modern generation. Mom loved children, likening them to flowers in a garden. They are lovely to watch as they grow. They have their season. They have a life path that doesn’t necessarily make you (as a parent) happy, but still you will always look back fondly at their glory. When my mother reached the dark stages of her disease, she clung to stuffed bunnies. At some point she had several in a basket. These gave her some sense of the seven children she had ultimately forgotten. This fact still reduces me to tears.

Because Mom lived through the great hardship that came from the Great Depression, she understood frugality, self sacrifice and budgeting not just money but food, energy, and even emotions. My grandparents built a farm in rural Arkansas with their own hands. They raised eight children living off vegetables they grew, chickens they tended to and a cow they milked. Even when she had very little of her own, Mom was a generous person who regularly sent money to those less fortunate, particularly those in other countries. Mom had lived through the era of the holocaust and the threat of communism, as well as the ugliness of the Vietnam War. She had married a career military man. She would look at the state of America today with grave concern. She would not want us to plummet back into the darkness of the first half of the 20th century. She would not sit idly by. She would fight for what is good and right.

The legacy of my mother is that even amid great darkness and suffering – love, grace, beauty and strength of character will win.

I love you Mom.

Moments on Time

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Stephen Hawking wrote in his book, A Brief History of Time, that time is a relative, personal concept unique to the observer who measures it. The laws of science do not distinguish between the past and the future. Backward time movement is forbidden by the second law of thermodynamics. This particular law, as we watch it play out in physical experiences on Earth, is bound by the rule of Earth’s gravity. In the example Mr Hawking gives, a cup of water falls to the floor, the cup shatters and the water scatters. Whilst water droplets might coagulate into a puddle and are molecularly unchanged, the pottery or glass cup is reduced to shards that will never reassemble themselves in any way. More importantly, time will not reverse. The cup of water will not go back to its intact state on the table. Time does not stop, reverse, and move forward again. This ‘always going forward’ behavior is called an “arrow of time.” Mr Hawking states there are three distinct arrows of time: thermodynamic (where entropy gradually increases); psychological (our perception of the passage of time and how we remember the past but not the future [more on that later]) and cosmological. This latter, he says, is evident by the expanding universe. (PS p.183 Loc.2953 “…the expansion of the universe is [truth]..”)

The psychological arrow is determined by the thermodynamic arrow and these necessarily always point in the same direction. Using the same analogy of the cup of water, I can follow along with Mr Hawking’s entropy analogy (he uses a puzzle, but I like the water cup better). His scattered puzzle pieces represent disorder vs. the put-together puzzle that represents order. If a system begins with some kind of order (put-together puzzle or full cup of water) then over time it will become disordered, because disordered states outnumber ordered states.

I don’t necessary agree that the nature of our universe can be reduced down to a single concept of entropy or order because it then becomes dependent on a fixed beginning, i.e. the big bang. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying there wasn’t a big bang. I just don’t believe it was the first. I have never believed in the beginning there was nothing. The way I see it, the universe is in a constant state of life and death. Think of the Klein Bottle, or the Ouroboros, and there’s another one I can’t remember the name of at this moment. I don’t ascribe to a singular beginning any more than I can ascribe to the boundary condition. I’m also not saying that the 2nd law of thermodynamics isn’t a thing, of course it is. It just isn’t the thing. Mr Hawking uses it to substantiate the psychological arrow of time by concluding that our brains use energy to recall a memory, and the by-product of that energy increases entropy, and therefore “we must remember things in the order in which entropy increases.” Disorder increases with time, he says. 

As he weaves through his chapter on the arrow of time, he evolves – saying, “The collapse of a star to form a black hole is rather like the later stages of the collapse of the whole universe.” The universe expands and expands until at some point it begins to contract. It contracts and contracts, condensing down until it reaches that moment of singularity – or collapse. (I am reminded that this process is a lot like the birth, growth, decline and death of a person). He hypothesizes that the thermodynamic arrow reverses at the beginning of contraction and entropy decreases towards order. But, I’m not convinced that the arrow reverses, instead it seems to me it would just curve along with us and continue to move forward toward a new, albeit violent, outcome. Boom! The big bang again.  But, as Mr Hawking points out, life won’t be around to witness much of that contraction phase. In fact, we won’t come along (again) for a really long time.

I started this topic to help myself work through the idea of getting over the past and look toward the future, and as always, Solace in Science!  I’m reminded how my oldest daughter always teases me, “Mom, your sense of humor is ridiculously diminished each day you work in that humorless job,” so I take my ha-ha’s where I can get them. Thus, it’s humorous to me that Hawking started this chapter from the point of view that we humans can only see now and the past. And that’s how we know that the arrow of time moves forward. That’s why we don’t see time pause, reverse and start again. I think I find this overall approach to understanding time to be a faulty one. If you are the Curiosity Rover on Mars (literary license here, please) and the little computer eyes look up away from the dusty, seemingly dead landscape, and ponder the concept that there are no beings anywhere in the solar system, time still marches forward. The fact that We Humans see now, but we only remember the past doesn’t prove anything about the nature of time itself. Human remembering is really dependent on how strong our recall mechanism is. The information is there, stored perfectly unless our storage mechanism is faulty through some trauma or illness. Our recall mechanisms can be amazing or awful or any shade in between. Just because we can’t remember it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen – anymore than if we can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

It’s my opinion and maybe I’m alone in this – we do perceive the future. I’m not sure how it works though. We don’t see it the same way we see the Right Now. Right Now is gone at the speed of light. The future is always just a SOL increment away.

Once upon a time I thought about how a multiverse would have independent bubbles of time, and what would happen when bubbles bump into one another and merge. (Also see ekpyrotic theory.) A topic for another day…

PS: check this out Arrival