Friday, 20 January 2012

Question everything: thoughts on critical thinking

Past the middle of January, and finally a first trace of snow here in Skåne. I've complained about Scanian winter before (rain, mud, icy winds, sleet...), but this is just ridiculous. By meteorological definition it's not even winter yet. A year without a winter, even a tiny joke of a winter, is just sad. An endless, depressing autumn carrying on forever. And not even the fine parts of autumn: the morning mist, the occasional sunshine, the multicoloured leaves. No. Just the endless, icy rain and mud, mud, mud. Is it due to this pesky global warming, or just a random fluctuation? Hard to tell, I guess, but if the trend of warmer weather continues I think there might be just cause for blaming global warming for stealing away my precious winters.

From one dooms-day topic to the next. The other day I went to a lecture by Toru Suzuki, one of the activists who helped uncover massive corruption in the Japanese whaling industry. Not only did he paint a sinister picture of how far governments in general are willing to go to keep uncomfortable truths from their citizens, he also had a great deal to say about the nuclear power-plant business in Fukushima. Apparently the situation is still far from under control, direct evidence contradicting comforting statements from the Japanese government. It is in my (by now) scientific nature to be sceptical about such possible conspiracy theories, but I think in this situation the scepticism is better applied against the people with the power and the economical interests. If only because the consequences of just letting it be has a far from zero possibility of having truly apocalyptical consequences. 

My belief is continuously reinforced, that when dealing with people or organisations with large economical interests in the situation they are commenting upon, putting on a tinfoil hat just might be justified. I also have a quite strong opinion on whether or not nuclear power is a good and reliable source of energy or not, but that I will orate about another time. My motive just now is simply to encourage scepticism and free thinking. Question everything, all the time. And to minimise the risk of you sounding like a pestilent four-year-old, or worse: a hypocrite, start with yourself and your own way of living, thinking and being. If everyone did this on a regular and continuous basis, the world might become a better place. It would for sure become a more interesting place.

On a related note: please oh please people watch the documentary film Forks Over Knives. It examines the claim that plant-based, whole foods can prevent —and even reverse— most of the deadly diseases (such as various forms of cancer) that have escalated in the western societies over the past century. A radical claim, right? Well, watch the movie, think about it critically, then throw yourself into the debate on the subject! I'd be delighted to discuss, over the internet or over a plate of vegan cookies if anyone'd care to come over. Or sit at home and ponder in silence, whatever floats your boat. Just keep an open mind!


Love and critical thinking,
Winterdragon

Monday, 16 January 2012

Successes!

Hello blog. Oh, and hello blog readers. Happy news! I passed a whole bunch of exams! This term has been the best with respect to results so far for me, but also the most intense and difficult one. I guess that insane amount of studying actually paid off. Just a couple of lab reports to get graded now, then I am officially done with Physics 3 — Modern Physics, at Lund University.

It's over! I made it! Sweet, sweet relief. Now I can publicly call myself allmänbildad inom fysik. I don't think there is a good corresponding term in english, but the content is that I now have a good general knowledge of physics. Sure took some hard work, pain, sweat and tears to acquire that!

Well, it sure as hell isn't over with that. Now is the time to get specific. To study that which intrigues me the most: astrophysics. This term offers a couple of astronomy courses, as well as my bachelor's thesis. It's really scary, things just got so very real, but on the other hand I have never been more motivated than I am now. I really want to do this, and the successes of this passed term have given me a boost of well-needed self-confidence. I now know that I can learn and accomplish things, if I put my heart to it. I still have to work a bit on the ever-elusive self-discipline, but I think things have improved even there. I am dead set on taking the chance of finding out how far all this will take me.

Woo!
Winterdragon

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

My headphones — they saved my life

My headphones broke the other day, some two days after the warranty expired. My suspicion grows that all electronic devices are designed to break the week after the warranty expires. Be that as it may, after a couple of days with lack of music on my daily walks the abstinence was threatening to become severe, so I headed out to buy myself a new pair. Well, the same pair, really, since they were bloody good headphones (apart from their fragility, apparently). Ripped open the package on the street outside the store. Must have had a rather frantic look on my face as I fumbled with the music player and put the headphones on. Went on to blast some Dream Theater loud enough to drown out the rest of the world, and felt the accumulated angst melt away. Walked home happier and considerably calmer.

Addicted to music? Me? So it would appear. But I don't mind having music as a great vice. As long as I don't play it too loud I won't get tinnitus nor bother people around me. Better than smoking, every time.

There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.
— Albert Schweitzer

Winterdragon

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Contemplations and a new year

Woo! Hundredth post! Kinda sucky considering how long I have been blogging, but worth a cheer nonetheless, I think. Also: woo, new year! I guess. Nothing much exciting about that if you sit down and think about it, but with the mindset heavy-laden with symbols of our culture still clinging we tend to avoid doing that. Might as well ponder the meaning of the symbols, then, if we're not ready or willing to break free from them.

Rather than going specific concerning the ritual marking that the earth has once again successfully completed an orbit around the sun from an arbitrarily chosen point and back to the same one I think I will ponder in a more general direction today. It happens to be that I've been thinking about the whole concept of symbols quite a lot the past year. Maybe because, as an aspiring physicist, I'm surrounded by them and my work would be considerably more difficult without them. I've been searching for a connection between the use of symbols in physics or mathematics and the use of them in everyday life, or religion. Do they fill a purpose in a similar way? Ultimately: do we, as human beings, need them?

At least there's the difference that in everyday life, contrary to in physics, symbols evolve in a much more complex way than by a few people agreeing on one interpretation, or even an unambiguous symbol. Just look at christmas. It's a holiday celebrated widely among people across the world, but in rather different ways and often for quite different reasons. The remaining similarity is that there is a symbol for something. Something important enough to make a mental maybe-not-so-accurate projection out of, to make it easier to get a direct relation to the situation. After a while the symbols might even out-conquer what they represent, and the meaning of them is forgotten and crumbles beneath them like an old ballon behind papier mâché. Sometime over the years stuffing ourselves with food becomes more important than the sun climbing into a higher place in the sky each day, or the birth of some random saviour.

I think that's how we function as humans, and that our brains for some reason need to simplify or complicate things to be able to interpret them without going crazy. Might as well have some fun with it instead of fighting it, since there seems to be no way to escape symbols. New ones will spring if the old ones are driven out, anyway.

Well, that's my bit of pondering to mark the beginning of yet another year of contemplations. Let's hope it's a happy one!
Winterdragon