Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Struggle Between Light and Dark, Good and Evil

The world's great religions all speak in some way of a struggle between light and dark, between good and evil. Perhaps this is one of the most pervasive similarities that can unite religions amidst a plethora of differences that can divide religions. I believe that this is due to the reflections of our ancestors on the nature of the process of attaining maturity coupled with their attempts at explaining the nature of reality.

First, as humans we go through many stages of life in our youth, teens, and early twenties before painfully realizing that we are not the center of the universe! This is, as Joseph Campbell points out in The Power of Myth, is the "death to self" and the rebirth and resurrection from which we must come back as self-responsible individuals. In explaining this transformation, religions warn us of evil spirits, demons, or devils. These, of course, we now know are not literal beings, but affects of psychology or biological malfunction. But, they symbolize the obstacles we face in attempts at "losing of oneself" and the "giving of oneself" to others and to things that are larger than one's own individual self persona.

Modern writers deal with these questions as well in their own ways that resonate with our own experiences and culture. I've written in my audio book about Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban, and how the "dementers" are symbolic of the obstacles and barriers we face in life that we think we can never overcome. Even Eminem says that you have to "lose yourself".

What is ironic about the so-called loss of oneself, just as Jesus says, is that this process ultimately causes you to find your true and authentic identity. It is when you realize that you even though you are an individual being, you are continuous with and interdependent upon the people and the environment around you.

In Campbell's interview with Moyers during the first episode he speaks extensively about Star Wars, often showing Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. Campbell says that Darth Vader and the Death Star are symbolic of "the machine" of modern life that take their tolls upon us. He says that modern times and business have tried to box us in and force us into a particular kind of rigid system. He says that Luke Skywalker refuses to give in to the Dark Side and in doing so he transforms and sublimates its lure and power. He does not know that Darth Vader is his father until later, but he knows that good is stronger than evil and he will not give in.

The Power of Myth Part 1 of 6: The Hero's Journey

By the time this summer is through it will have seen several blockbuster films bring fans into theatres all around the world. Spiderman 3 featured dialog that speaks to the struggle between good and evil quite often. Peter's aunt warns him against vengeance and strives to teach him that forgiveness is the only true power. Peter, as Venom, dabbles in his dark side before finally coming to his senses, and later tries to warn others. The film ends with the admonition that personal choice and personal responsibility at any given moment is what will determine one's fate.

The next one that will hit the theatres is The Transformers. Watch the trailiers and explore this film's own depiction of good versus evil portrayed immediately on its home page in the two options for entering the site, Protect, or Destroy, synonyms for Good, and Evil.


When I was a child, I watched The Transformers television program all the time and played with the toy figures. I even drew my own Transformers comic books.

This series is, of course, based upon the fight between the Autobots and the Decipticons. I don't know the author's intent behind these names, but it's pretty easy to surmise that the "Autobot" is the one who "automatically" performs good deeds out of his own nature, while the "Decepticon" deceives and connives by his own nature.


Twenty years ago there was an animated Transformers film! I went to see this with my grandfather and he fell asleep. I was intrigued, of course, and remembered the most memorable part of the film as the moment when Optimus Prime sacrifices himself to avoid harming Hot Rod, later to become Rodimus Prime.

Megatron and Optimus Prime fight until death:

So, what then should we do after struggling to overcome evil and triumph with good. I am reminded of one of the opening quotes from that same first episode of The Power of Myth:

Joseph Campbell was in Japan for a conference on religion when he heard another delegate from the states in a conversation with a Shinto priest.

"We have been to many of your ceremonies, and seen a good number of your shrines . . . but still I don't get your ideology, I don’t get your theology."
The priest paused as though in deep thought and then slowly shook his head. "I think we don't have ideology, I don't think we have theology . . . we dance."

Just Like Optimus Prime and Megatron Should Have Done Instead Killing Each Other!

"A cute girl stopped me on the way, so I danced." -- Hatake Kakashi

Friday, June 22, 2007

Salsa Weekend!

This weekend is another big salsa dance weekend.

I just got back from a lesson at Sanctuary:

Saturday there is a big workshop the lasts 6 hours at Georgia Tech, put on by the Georgia Tech Salsa Club:





And then a party from 9 PM to 1 AM.

Guess I better get some sleep ;-)

Harry Willson : Freedom From God and Myth and Mortality, and Movies About Joseph Campbell

I listened to a very interesting interview on Infidel Guy's show with Harry Wilson, author of a book called Freedom From God. He grew up as a believer and went to Princeton Theological Seminary. He eventually grew to disbelieve in the literal interpretation of Christianity and grew to love the works of Joseph Campbell, even before his The Power of Myth interviews aired. (More about The Power of Myth and Joseph Campbell in the end notes of this post including a 56 minute video about his life and works plus many other videos and interviews with him!)

Willson said that he remembers when he was a missionary and people who were not religious would show him leaves and trees and hands and feet and talk about the wonder and beauty and mystery they saw in the natural reality around them and he said his response was usually, "Well God made all that", but he was not amazed or intrigued by it.

He mentioned Campbell's expansive view of mythology and wisdom and comparative religion as being very influential to him getting over his disillusionment with leaving religion. I find resonance with that as Campbell's work has been inspiring to me as well.

Infidel Guy's Podcast

Here is Infidel Guy's interview with Harry Willson for listening:


Willson's books are available on at:

Freedom from God: Restoring the Sense of Wonder


Myth and Mortality: Testing the Stories


Here is an excerpt from Harry's web site:


Harry Willson's formal schooling include a B.A. in chemistry and math at Lafayette College, Easton, PA, 1953 [summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa], and an M.Dv. [Master of Divinity] in ancient mid-east language and literature at Princeton Theological Seminary. He also became bilingual, through one year of Spanish Studies at the University of Madrid, and he has since studied Spanish, literature, philosophy, mythology and theatre arts at the University of New Mexico. He has the Diploma de EspaƱol como Lengua Extranjera from the University of Salamanca.

He learned more by working: truck farming through high school and college in Williamsport, PA, and jackhammering in Lansdale, PA. He served as student pastor at the Presbyterian Church, Hamburg, NJ, for four years while in seminary.

In 1958 he and his wife and three children moved to New Mexico, where he served as bi-lingual missionary pastor, in Bernalillo, Alameda and Placitas for eight years. He served as Permanent Clerk of the Presbytery of Rio Grande, Chairman of Enlistments and Candidates, Chairman of the Commission on Race, and Moderator of the Presbytery.

In 1966 he left the church, in sorrow and anger, mostly over the Vietnam War. He taught school for ten years, at the Albuquerque Academy and at Sandia Preparatory School.

Since 1976 he has been self-employed and building a body of work as a writer. He has assisted in his wife's business, Draperies by Adela, as bookkeeper, estimator and installer, and has managed several businesses of his own, including worm ranching, organic gardening, conducting dream workshops, raising rabbits, selling fireplace inserts and caning chairs.

Joseph Campbell, George Lucas, Star Wars

Joseph Campbell was the great American mythologist whose works inspired George Lucas's hero archetypes in the Star Wars films. You can learn about this in the following video program about Joseph Campbell in which George Lucas says that if he did not read Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces he probably would have been still writing Star Wars!

In the interview he discusses how he was fascinated with native American, talking about the traditions of stampeding the buffalo over the edge.

Joseph Campbell - The Hero's Journey


Note: This is depicted in some paintings by my great grandmother Carola. You can see her paintings of native Americans on her web site at and in her virtual gallery inside of Second Life that is linked from her site.

21 Southwestindian11 Wildhorses_jpg20 Southwestindian10 Buffalo_jpg19 Southwestindian9 Swan_jpg18 Southwestindian8 (Strong Woman)_jpg17 Southwestindian7 (Legend of the white buffalo)_jpg16 Southwestindian6_jpg15 Southwestindian5_jpg14 Southwestindian4_jpg13 Southwestindian3_jpg12 Southwestindian2_jpg11 Southwestindian1_jpg

Bill Moyers Interviewing George Lucas About the Mythology of Star Wars

Here is a quote from George Lucas about how he sees his responsibility in film-making:

"I have a philosophy: that we all teach. Anybody in the media has a very large megaphone that can reach a lot of different people, and so whatever they say, whatever they do, however they conduct themselves, whatever they produce has an influence, and it’s teaching somebody something." -- George Lucas, filmmaker

More Videos

The Power of Myth Part 1 of 6: The Hero's Adventure

The Power of Myth Part 2 of 6: The Message of The Myth

The Power of Myth Part 3 of 6: The First Storytellers

The Power of Myth Part 4 of 6: Sacrifice and Bliss

The Power of Myth Part 5 of 6: Love and The Goddess

The Power of Myth Part 6 of 6: Masks of Eternity

Here is an excerpt from the Joseph Campbell Foundation web site about his background:

"Over one hundred years ago, on March 26th in 1904, Joseph John Campbell was born in White Plains, NY. Joe, as he came to be known, was the first child of a middle-class, Roman Catholic couple, Charles and Josephine Campbell.
  Joe’s earliest years were largely unremarkable; but then, when he was seven years old, his father took him and his younger brother, Charlie, to see Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. The evening was a high-point in Joe’s life; for, although the cowboys were clearly the show’s stars, as Joe would later write, he “became fascinated, seized, obsessed, by the figure of a naked American Indian with his ear to the ground, a bow and arrow in his hand, and a look of special knowledge in his eyes.”

   It was Arthur Schopenhauer, the philosopher whose writings would later greatly influence Campbell, who observed that

…the experiences and illuminations of childhood and early youth become in later life the types, standards and patterns of all subsequent knowledge and experience, or as it were, the categories according to which all later things are classified—not always consciously, however. And so it is that in our childhood years the foundation is laid of our later view of the world, and there with as well of its superficiality or depth: it will be in later years unfolded and fulfilled, not essentially changed.

   And so it was with young Joseph Campbell. Even as he actively practiced (until well into his twenties) the faith of his forbears, he became consumed with Native American culture; and his worldview was arguably shaped by the dynamic tension between these two mythological perspectives. On the one hand, he was immersed in the rituals, symbols, and rich traditions of his Irish Catholic heritage; on the other, he was obsessed with primitive (or, as he later preferred, “primal”) people’s direct experience of what he came to describe as “the continuously created dynamic display of an absolutely transcendent, yet universally immanent, mysterium tremendum et fascinans, which is the ground at once of the whole spectacle and of oneself.” (Historical Atlas, I.1, p. 8)

   By the age of ten, Joe had read every book on American Indians in the children’s section of his local library and was admitted to the adult stacks, where he eventually read the entire multi-volume Reports of the Bureau of American Ethnology. He worked on wampum belts, started his own “tribe” (the “Lenni-Lenape”), and frequented the American Museum of Natural History, where he became fascinated with totem poles and masks, thus beginning a lifelong exploration of that museum's vast collection.

   After spending much of his thirteenth year recuperating from a respiratory illness, Joe briefly attended Iona, a private school in Westchester NY, before his mother enrolled him at Canterbury, a Catholic residential school in New Milford CT. His high school years were rich and rewarding, though marked by a major tragedy: in 1919, the Campbell home was consumed by a fire that killed his grandmother and destroyed all of the family’s possessions."

A wonderful quote from Campbell:

"When you see the Earth from space, you don't see any divisions of nation-states there. This may be the symbol of the new mythology to come."
- Joseph Campbell

Who can argue with that? See Google for verification:


Another quote purportedly from him:

"God is a metaphor for that which trancends all levels of intellectual thought. Even the categories of being and non-being. Those are categories of thought. It's as simple as that."

Read more about him here:

And read much more about him here:

The Hero With a Thousand Faces

Campbell's first original work is still one of his best known and most important. It stands as a classic in the field of mythology and comparative religion.

This influential study traces the story of the hero's journey and transformation through virtually all the mythologies of the world. Originally published in 1949, it has inspired generations of students and artists and sold nearly one million copies in various editions.



The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell

Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth is essential viewing for anyone old enough to appreciate its vital teachings. One of the greatest interviews ever recorded, this six-part, six-hour encounter between teacher- mythologist Campbell and student-journalist Bill Moyers (recorded in the two years preceding Campbell's death in 1988) covers a galaxy of topics related to Campbell's central themes: Mythology is humanity's universal method of seeking the transcendental, and "follow your bliss" is the timeless formula for spiritual satisfaction. Campbell himself is the embodiment of these themes, an erudite scholar and quintessential storyteller, recalling a wide spectrum of myths from throughout history (Japanese, Native American, Egyptian, Mayan, and many more) to illustrate humankind's eternal quest to grasp the mysteries of creation. Historical artifacts and illustrations bring these timeless stories to life.

An astute interviewer, Moyers is an acolyte in perfect harmony with Campbell-as- mentor, wording questions with penetrating perfection as their intellectual dance reaches exhilarating heights of meaning and fascination. Moyers also finds the perfect hook for a global audience, examining Campbell's admiration of George Lucas's Star Wars saga as a popular tapestry of ancient myths, and Lucas himself is interviewed in a DVD bonus segment ("I'm not creating a new myth," he says, "but telling old myths in a new way"). Campbell's seemingly endless well of knowledge reaches a simple conclusion: we need myths to survive like we need oxygen to breathe, as a life force with which to understand our existence--past, present, and future. --Jeff Shannon

The Power of Myth, starring George Lucas and Joseph Campbell


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Dancing a Jig in Second Life with Slip Stringfellow

Slip Stringfellow performed at Nancy Blake's tonight in Second Life.

Slip Stringfellow is an accomplished Irish music musician who plays regularly at physical venues around Atlanta and now performs from the comfort of his home studio in various virtual venues throughout Second Life.

He is also the designer and vendor of the Stringfellow Audio Slip Stream Audio Center. Check out his web site for more information about this neat product for Second Life users:


Here are a couple of screen shots of tonight's performance:




Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Salsa On Tap

Well, this rookie has been trying to learn salsa for a couple of months now and while my feet are still pretty rookie-ish, I've learned about tons of resources and events. There is no shortage of things going on in Atlanta for aspiring salseros. is probably the best place to look.

You can also check out the Salsa Classes Calendar on the shared Google Calendar here:

Wow! That is a lot of stuff.

This past Saturday the monthly Salsa Swim took place at the Take Hold Ballroom on Miami Circle. That was a lot of fun. Monday I did another beginner lesson there with Jimmy Rumba and his wife instructing. This was definitely my best lesson yet.

This weekend the Georgia Tech Salsa Club has an event on Saturday all day and then a party at night.

If I can someday do half as well as this I think it will be well worth it:

Of Universes, Demons, and the State of Education with Thanks to Carl Sagan

Note: the video above is based on the following essay. The video is not finished, but the audio is, though the quality is not too good and I may have to redo it.

Also, check out this blog to see the first 5 minutes of Sagan's Cosmos series and many other clips:
Make sure to also check out Celebrating Sagan, a Blog-A-Thon aimed at getting as many people as possible to share their memories about him on the 10-year-anniversary of his death.

Originally written in March of 2005 in Peyton, Colorado.

If you've ever seen the COSMOS series or read the book by Carl Sagan, I highly recommend his more recent (1996) book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.

I'm reading it right now and see it as a true beacon of light for clear, rational, critical thought.

It's tempting to want to believe that UFOs are really alien spacecraft with little visitors, because it's interesting and mysterious.

It's tempting to think that by sitting around and praying or by performing group meditation that we can affect physical, measurable change in the external world, but what do true, peer-reviewed, independent, double-blind, studies say about such activities?

It's tempting to believe that demons, fairies, pixies, goblins, ghouls, cyclopses, gods, goddesses, supermen, and of course leprechauns really exist, but where is the incontrovertible evidence, the same type of which you would demand be presented by the car salesman claiming your SUV vehicle will get 30MPG?

In this book, Carl Sagan lucidly and elegantly lays to rest many of these ideas, while showing parallels between the modern obsession with aliens and the time-honored traditions of angels, demons, and flying creatures. He points out that the US government in 1994 admitted that the "Roswell Incident" really was a crash of a balloon that had sensitive surveillance equipment that was supposed to help detect Soviet nuclear detonations, not an alien crash. Despite this, a TV show called "Roswell" was launched later than this date based on the alien premise. I happened to enjoy the show because the girls were good looking.

He also calls out the alarming drop in the quality of US student abilities in math and sciences compared to other nations. After presenting the following excerpt, I will explain why such a trend is a terrible indicator for the future of this nation and why I believe we must do everything we can to subvert this trend.

Here is an excerpt from the chapter "No Such Thing as  Dumb Question"

Every now and then, I'm lucky enough to teach a kindergarten or first-grade class. Many of these children are natural-born scientists -- although heavy on the wonder side and light on skepticism. They're curious, intellectually vigorous. Provocative and insightful questions bubble out of them. They exhibit enormous enthusiasm. I'm asked follow-up questions. They've never heard of the notion of a "dumb question."

But when I talk to high school seniors, I find something different. They memorize "facts." By and large, though, the joy of discover, the life behind those facts, has gone out of them. They've lost much of the wonder, and gained very little skepticism. They're worried about asking "dumb" questions; they're willing to accept inadequate answers; they don't pose follow-up questions; the room is awash with sidelong glances to judge, second-by-second, the approval of their peers. They come to class with their questions written out on pieces of paper, which they surreptitiously examine, waiting their turn and oblivious of whatever discussion their peers are at this moment engaged in.

Something has happened between first and twelfth grade, and it's not just puberty. I'd guess that it's peer pressure not to excel (except in sports); partly that the society teaches short-term gratification; partly the impression that science or mathematics won't buy you a sports car; partly that so little is expected of students; and partly that there are few rewards or role models for intelligent discussions of science and technology -- or even for learning for its own sake. Those few who remain interested are vilified as "nerds", or "geeks", or "grinds."

But there is something else: I find many adults are put off when young children pose scientific questions. Why is the Moon round? the children ask. Why is grass green? What is a dream? How deep can you dig a hole? When is the world's birthday? Why do we have toes? Too many teachers and parents answer with irritation and ridicule, or quickly move on to something else: "What did you expect the moon to be, square?" Children soon recognize that this type of question annoys the grown-ups. A few more experience like it, and another child has been lost to science. Why adults should pretend to omniscience before 6-year-olds, I can't for the life of me understand. What's wrong with admitting we don't know something? Is our self-esteem so fragile?

What's more, many of these questions go to deep issues in science, a few of which are not yet fully resolved. Why the Moon is round has to do with do with the fact that gravity is a central force pulling toward the middle of any world, and with how strong rocks are. Grass is green because of the pigment chlorophyll, of course --we've all had that drummed into us by high school -- but why do plants have chlorophyll? It seems foolish, since the Sun puts out its peak energy in the yellow and green part of the spectrum. Why should plants all over the world reject sunlight in its most abundant wavelength? Maybe it's a frozen accident from the ancient history of life on Earth. But there's something we still don't understand about why grass is green.
"It's Official," reads one newspaper headline: "We Stink in Science." In tests of average 17-year-olds in many world regions, the U.S. ranked dead last in algebra. On identical tests, the U.S. kids averaged 43% and their Japanese counterparts 78%. In my book, 78% is pretty good -- it corresponds to a C+, or maybe even a B-; 43% is an F. In a chemistry test, students in only two of 13 nations did worse than the U.S. ...

He goes on to cite that many Asian students do much better in math, but say they are NOT GOOD at math, but the Americans students say they are pretty good.

Why this Trend is Horrible for Your Future, American, Whoever You Are

At this point I want to outline why such a trend should trouble each and every American, especially the younger you are, since presumably you have that much longer to live in this country.

First, the Knowledge you Refuse Will be Lorded Over You Eventually

This is a simple principle that we can illustrate with a simple thought experiment.

Scenario Background

I'm really 27 as of this writing, but imagine I am a 16-year-old student about the enter the 11th grade in the year 2005. I was born in the year 1989 and from my youth, I remember thinking about the year 2039, because in that year I knew I would be 50 years old.

"Wow, 50 years old," I thought, "I will have my own house, multiple cars, my own boat, and my own home-theatre by that time. I will also have a big phat-azz bank account, fo'shizzle."

In my 11th and 12th grades, I decide to play around, and not take any accelerated courses, because I don't want to be burdened with the trials and tribulations of studying hard and sacrificing television time. Despite this unwillingness to study hard and sacrifice, I continue to envision that 50th birthday as nothing short of a party on my boat with all my rich friends.

But, years go by and I start to notice that the Asian people around me are getting high-paying jobs. I ask them what they studied and find they learned things like "computer science, electrical engineering, finance, quantum physics, etc." They start leaving the US and going back to their countries, and I watch the nightly news and learn that some of these Asian countries are building sophisticated communications networks, nuclear weapons, or that just about every single electronic device I own, including the TV I watch for 5 hours every night, the Laptop computer I play video games on, and even the shoes I wear were manufactured in these countries.

I think to myself, "So, what? The companies are still American, we are just having the labor performed in the other countries because its cheaper and more cost-effective for the American company." But, over time, say by 2019, only 20 years until I crack 50 and smash the champagne against my boat, there become more and more well-known universities with basic research programs located in China, Korea, India, and elsewhere. And, commensurate with this, more and more companies are not just manufacturing goods there, they are actually run and owned by residents of those countries. In fact, some of the CEOs and other top executives were the very same Asian kids I saw in my schools in America many years before, when they were the ones taking all the advanced classes.

in 2019, I decide to survey once again the intellectual landscape of America, and see that it has continued to decline, while other nations once again have continued to ascend. At this time, it becomes plain to me and all others with two eyes, that the great work-ethic that once was the American trademark has faded into oblivion.

At the age of 30, I look back and see that the past 150 years have been both a success and a failure. The success came from the many years of American ingenuity and hunger for intellectual challenges, leading to many advances in basic research including the fields of physics, chemistry, biology, business, psychology, neuroscience, manufacturing, etc. But, with this success came an excess. The excess was the culture of convenience and instant-gratification. From my hindsight-is-20-20 vantage point in 2019, I can clearly discern that what at the time seemed like surely the definition of ultimate freedom is not what it really seemed:
  • No need to care about how my Walkman works; Sony already did it for me.
  • No need to understand what bits and bytes are in my computer; Intel already did it for me.
  • No need to learn what cell-phone technologies are; Verizon already did it.
  • No need to care about the how something woks, SO LONG as I have it in my possession, I don't care.
This culture of convenience actually turns out to become the ultimate curse. Because, in my leisure and my consumption of all the wonderful devices and gadgets manufactured in other countries, I neglected to see that all the knowledge was slowly being transferred right out from under my fingertips to large clumps of minds gathered in other nations. where all those hard-working "nerdy" Asian students were busily learning computer science and quantum physics, while I enjoyed my Walkman, my TV, and my laptop, but also elected not to learn about how to make them better, but instead was concerned only about my personal enjoyment.

This is the fortune and the misfortune of having been the best. As Americans, we enjoy so many comforts and luxuries that have come as a result of our own intellectual successes, but the expense is that we take it for granted that these comforts will always be available. We do not struggle to learn more. We do not strive to think deeply, to tune our attention span to more than 15 minutes.

But, there are people who are striving to learn new things, and striving to become more knowledgeable about things that already exist. Many of them have come from other nations to study in this country. Some of them go back home. Some of them stay here. But, American students are going to have to start paying attention and making the grade.

Scenario Implications

And, what happens if American students continue to simply refuse to challenge themselves to learn mathematics, science and engineering? Well, in addition to what is briefly narrated above, consider this list of just 10 devices that all require mathematics, science, and engineering:
  1. Automobile engines
  2. Aircraft engines
  3. Boat engines
  4. Computer assisted weaponry
  5. Televisions
  6. Cellular Phones
  7. Computer Hardware
  8. Computer Software
  9. Computer Network Infrastructure Components (HUBS, ROUTERS, FIBEROPTIC CABLES)
  10. Medical Equipment (Drugs, Imaging Equipment)
Each of these objects requires several levels of planning, design, and construction, including:
  1. Functional Requirements analysis -- What must it do?
  2. Compositional Requirements analysis -- What is it made of? Physics, Chemistry, Biology
  3. Manufacturing Requirements -- How will it be made? Where will we get the parts?

    And finally, the most important that ties all of them together:
  4. Workforce Requirements -- Where are the human beings who know the Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Logistics, Informatics, Computer Science, Finance, etc to accomplish what we want to achieve?

The Componentization of the Production Line

Of course, many products are assembled with automated, mechanical systems that have been designed to take the place of manual laborers. So, sometimes the last step is not to look for human beings to do the physical work, but to find the human beings capable of designing or putting together the automated systems to do the physical work.

Automated Production Lines

This is especially important, since the human beings must be capable of higher and higher levels of abstracted thinking as more and more of the physical labor has been componentized and black-boxed into pluggable parts. It takes well-educated, expansive-thinking human beings to survey the landscape of available technologies and methodologies and pick and choose how to combine all those options together to accomplish the physical work.

Automated Information Services

In the realm of information sciences, it is very similar, except the "product" is really an information service, the output of which is the proper presentation of information in varying formats that is readable to both human beings and other automated systems.

If American Students Continue to Refuse to Challenge Themselves

If American students continue to refuse to acquire the skills in mathematics, science, and engineering, then these higher level functions will be filled by people who do know -- people who are not American.

What will Americans then Do?

This is not to say that Americans will all lose jobs. Let's think about it for a second. Right now, we still enjoy having a high degree of intellectual capital in these areas. We still have some of the best universities and best companies, so we have a lot of high level knowledge. This means we have the intellect to be able to both create new ideas for products and services and manufacture or implement them. A very general flow from idea conception to product production or service implementation is something like this:
  1. Ideas are hatched through university research or corporate research
  2. Ideas are further experimented on by research and development teams
  3. Ideas are concretized into possible products or services by businesses
  4. Businesses begin to manufacture products or provide services based upon specifications
  5. Consumers make purchases
Now, consider it is the year 2039, I've just turned 50, and the decline in American student abilities and drive has continued. Where does this leave a country of more than 300 million people in this chain?

How about step 1? Idea Conception

Well, the students stopped caring about math and science, so it is impossible for them to conceive of innovative ideas for research.

How about step 2? Idea Refinement

See the failure in step 1.

How about step 3? Marketable Business Idea Creation

See the failures in step 1 and step 2.

How about step 4? Rote Following of Orders and Specifications to Implement Passed Down Ideas

This might work. Assuming the motivated students in other countries have gone to the trouble to do 1, 2, and 3, we may still be able to follow orders from specifications. We may be able to operate the machines that the people in other nations designed for us to operate in order to produce the goods and services that they dreamed up and designed. Referring back to Sagan's commentary about the studies:

But when I talk to high school seniors, I find something different. They memorize "facts." By and large, though, the joy of discovery, the life behind those facts, has gone out of them. They've lost much of the wonder, and gained very little skepticism.

This fits well with an envisioned future wherein the American workforce becomes the implementers of the specifications that are handed down from other nations. We'll take the specifications, the machinery, the "facts" that are given to us, and implement as needed, but all the intellectual capital will remain in the other nations.

This is a sobering, sad, vision, but it's reality. If American students do not embrace the challenges of learning these difficult fields, then other nations will, and what will happen is that people in other nations will become the business owners, and they will "farm out" work to the unskilled labor in the United States.

Do I think it has to happen this way? I surely hope not.

My Own Experience

As for me, the above narrative is somewhat my story, but somewhat not. I studied hard, though not as hard as I know I could have. I did not do as well as I could have in high school. I only excelled when I got to college. In college, I challenged myself to take the most advanced courses within my degree program. My program was a combination of business and technology, and I focused on system analysis and design of automated computer information systems. This included taking three C++ programming courses, in which I saw very few American students. There were a large number of Asian students, both male and female.

Moral of the Blog

The moral of the blog is that we all are responsible for our own futures, and collectively, as Americans, we have to embrace learning, before someone else embraces it and we have no intellectual capital left to bargain with.

We have to take responsibility. We have to become smart again.

Addendum: 5/15/2006

COSMOS by Carl Sagan Cosmos Video Clips:

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Da Vinci Code Reloaded : Fibonacci's Revenge

It was a common lament of high school to hear about mathematics: "How does this apply to the real world?". This was often echoed by people with little patience or imagination. Fear not, math lovers. A more mature understanding of math is that it is used EVERYWHERE in the real world.

Every single thing you own depends on math. Whether it's your sneakers or your iPod, everything you own required someone to know mathematical concepts to create those objects. The more complex the object, the more mathematics, science, and engineering knowledge it requires to produce it.

There is no magic here, however. Anyone can begin to understand these concepts by reading web sites and observing nature. The Da Vinci Code book and movie made the Fibonacci Sequence come into fame, but people have long known about the curious relationship of the PHI ratio to rest of the cosmos and its natural order.

You can read all about the Fibonacci Sequence on Wikipedia and elsewhere on the web. Here are some of the best links I have found about it. (Thanks to my uncle Kevin, of, for reminding me of this tonight (Ever wonder exactly why someone like Natalie Portman looks so beautiful? It's in her PHI. Beauty is in the PHI of the beholder. Watch this web site's presentation to understand how it works!)

Something you may not know is that Google Calculator will spit out the Golden Ratio if you just type "phi" as your search term:

To summarize the Golden Ratio, just follow this simple sequence:


Now, if you divide successive terms the average approaches the decimal 1.618

What is so amazing about that? Everything. It's simple and pervasive in nature. 

How does it apply to different fields of study?

The proportion of PHI appears all over in plants in their natural growth patterns. It's also used in designing visually appealing gardens.
Graphic Design:
The Fibonacci Sequence is a fundamental concept for creating visually appealin graphics of well-balanced proportions.
Human Anatonmy:
The human body exhibits very logical PHI-proportions. In fact, plastic surgeons use "Golden Ratio masks" to exhibit the "perfect face". You can see all about this on this web site:
Computer Programming:
Computer science courses use computing the Fibonacci sequence as an exercise in recursive programming. It is also involved in fractals.
Another interesting application is Fibonacci math applied to dance performance:


Returning to the 1.618 ratio and the golden sequence, when you elect to plot these ratios on paper, you get a shape like this:


This looks suspiciously like a shell's growth pattern:


It's also similar to the growth pattern of spiral galaxies and hurricanes!


So, math and patterns like this are everywhere! Studying the universe leads to discoveries like this that make it both comprehensible and mysterious.

You can also see the Fibonacci Sequence growth pattern in the proportions of the human body:


And in the beautiful facial proportions of Natalie Portman:


Or, if you're a woman reading this, perhaps George Clooney is more your style?


Maybe you had Frosted Flakes for breakfast and like tigers:


Or in the proportions of your fingers:


Maybe you like famous artwork, but couldn't quite pinpoint what makes it seem so beautiful:


While I have not seen any evidence of "The Golden Ratio" in ordinary popular dances, there was a specific effort to employ math and dance at Wake Forest University. Read all about it here in "Dancing With Fractals":

I have observed the beauty of many dance patterns, and the most exciting parts are always the turns and spins, as evidenced by the following videos:

Magna Gopal spinning dozens of times:

Jimmy Rumba and Magna Gopal dancing and turning and spinning all over the place:

Others have done much more than I could hope to do to explain how this ratio is found in nature.

So, watch and learn:


More math Resources

Great inspirational math posters:
Amazing "Powers of 10" applet:
Math world:

Inspirational math posters

January poster: Maths<br />Counts

February<br />poster: Maths<br />Counts

March<br />poster: Maths Predicts

April poster: Maths is<br />Cool

May <br />poster: Maths Hots Up

June poster: Maths Connects

July poster: Maths Evens the Odds

August poster: Maths Takes Off

September poster: Maths is Vital

October poster: Maths Breaks the Code

November poster: Maths Makes Waves

December poster: Maths is For Ever