Every so often a local hero comes along who entirely undermines our cynical view of the world as eat-or-be-eaten, and if you haven’t heard this story, it will make your day.
That hero came in the unlikely form of Billy Ray Harris, who confirmed all the evidence I’ve written about concerning the immense, transformative power of the generous gesture.
Harris, a homeless black man who spends his nights sleeping under a bridge in Kansas City, managed to just get by with the change he was able to beg from passersby in one of the city’s squares.
One day, Sarah Darling dropped some change into his collecting cup, but unbeknownst to her what also dropped in was her diamond engagement ring.
That ring, worth thousands, could have transformed Harris’s fortunes, and after she left, a little devil ‘on his shoulder’ urged him to keep him.
The following day Sarah returned to the square. “I don’t know if you remember me,” she said, “but I think I gave you something that’s very precious.”
Mr. Harris, whose grandfather, a reverend, had raised him from the age of 6, didn’t hesitate. “Was it a ring?”
Professor Craig Hogan of the University of Chicago and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory has embarked on a wildly ambitious project: to demonstrate that a tiny bit of cosmic jiggling proves that the sticks-and-stones universe you see before yourself is a hologram.
To test this question, Hogan has employed two giant interferometers at Fermilab, developed by some researchers at MIT. In a classic laser hologram, a laser beam is split. One portion is reflected off an object - and say, an apple – and the other is reflected by several mirrors. They are then reunited and captured on a piece of photographic film. The result on the plate – which represents the interference pattern of these waves – resembles a strange set of concentric circles.
However, when you shine a light beam from the same kind of laser through the film, what you see is a fully realized, three-dimensional virtual image of the apple. (A perfect example is the image of Princess Leia, generated by R2D2 in Episode 4 first movie of the Stars Wars series).
I’m sure you’ve heard of the theory of Six Degrees of Separation, which maintains that everyone on earth is only six friends or acquaintances apart from anyone else, and the Hollywood version, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, which challenges you to link anyone in Hollywood in six steps, via his or film roles, to actor Kevin Bacon.
That got me thinking about another game: a list of those greatest influences that most shaped me from my college-student self to the author of science books like The Field. At 18, I knew I wanted to write books, but I never could have predicted the content. Which 10 books were most responsible for taking me from there to here?
This is no mean task, as my husband and I are avid readers and also magpies: fiction, science, non-fiction of every variety, New Age, even cookbooks line shelves in every room in our house. And of course not only books but also countless interviews with nearly 100 scientists informed my views.
Nevertheless, this was roughly the process, the 10 degrees of separation between my interest in general literature (I studied English lit at university) and my current work in pioneer science.
Most people completely miss the biggest opportunity they will ever have in their lives for great and lasting change: the times of extreme adversity.
They focus on the immediate carnage — the lost property, the displacement in their lives, the cost in dollars and cents — and not the blessing of the curse – of being propelled into a completely uncharted territory.
Alphabet City under water
Several days after Hurricane Sandy hit lower Manhattan, leaving most of Avenue C in the East Village under water, Zachary Mack, co-owner of Alphabet City Wine Company, published a blog in Forbes magazine about his experiences of waking up to see his shop under water. No business along his street had been spared. ‘As someone who saw it in person, the sight was at once surreal and horrifying,’ he wrote four days after the storm. Yet despite all of this, my spirits have never been so high.’
Within minutes of Zachary’s arriving at his wrecked store on the Tuesday, October 30, the day after the Con Ed transformer exploded, a group of three regulars showed up with flashlights and trash bags. ‘What do you need us to do? How can we help you?’ they said.
Last year, I got tired to death of talk about 2012. I listened a good deal of powerful oration and prettily turned phrases about evolution, but did not see much hard evidence of anything besides business as usual. So I decided to become a little instigator of change myself by handing people an evolutionary action plan for free.
There would be no catch, no sales pitch, no back-end product hard sell, in fact no business agenda. I’d help to set up the groups and give them a weekly guide to how to evolve, personally and as a community, and then show them how to bring their message out to the world.
Over time, I’d communicate with the groups via free teleseminars and webinars, and then have them connect with each other via my website.
It is not the end of the world, and we’re all still here, I’m happy to observe. We averted a fiscal cliff, but we all harbour, even more than we did in 2012, the uneasy sense that we have reached the end of something, closed a chapter on our own history, arrived at a point where there is no turning back. The end of life as we’ve known it. The end of oil. The end of easily acquired stuff. The end of cheap, flourishing modern capitalism. The end of every-day-in-every-way our easy-street Western life is getting better.
So if it’s all burning down, if we have to build over scorched ground again, what do we put in its place? What exactly does post-2012 evolution looks like?
Why do societies fail?
To answer that question, I’ve been reading the work of Jared Diamond, the Pulitzer Prize winning geography professor and erstwhile anthropologist, who has built his reputation on asking the big questions of specific societies: why do some of them thrive while others make stupid, even disastrous decisions? What holds it together and what causes it to collapse?
I’ve been specifically interested in an interview he gave about a course he ran on the collapse of societies. Why had some societies like the Mayans in the Yucatan or the Anasazi in the American Southwest or even the Easter Islanders brought about their own destruction by ceaselessly mining (and finally exhausting) their own resources?What makes a society not realize that it is eating its own children?
Today is the last day of the world – at least the world as we know it. Millions of people around the globe are celebrating the end of the old ‘I win, you lose’ paradigm and the beginning of a new, evolved consciousness. To get a glimpse of what that new paradigm might look like, we need to look no further than what happens when people make music together.
Psychologists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, Germany, and the University of Salzburg, Austria, wished to examine whether our brains act “in tandem” with others when we’re engaged in a common purpose. Although some research had been done with functional magnetic resonance imagery, no one before had examined simultaneous brain-wave activity between people carrying out the same task together.
Sociologists know that people are prone to copy each other: runs on the bank cause people to rush to withdraw their money; suicides among young people cause a rash of copycat activity; cheaters on an exam beget a spate of other cheaters. And now we know that another kind of behavior is just as infectious: homicide.
A team of public-health researchers from the Michigan State University led by April Zeoli decided to determine whether homicidal behaviour spreads like a virus. By applying public health tracking methods to the 2,366 homicides, occurring between 1982 and 2008 in Newark, New Jersey, the Michigan team discovered that murder spread infectiously like a flu epidemic, starting from the city’s center and spreading southward and westward.
What has amazed me most during Superstorm Sandy, while whizzing over Europe and the Middle East recently and watching the aftermath of the US presidential election is how many people the world over understand that during this vital crossroads in our human history we will only survive by moving away from individualism to interdependence.
We need, essentially, to move beyond red states and blue states, to one BONDED purple state.
To do that requires learning how to do something besides polarizing against some other or ‘them’ who doesn’t agree with you or, no matter what his otherness happens to be. It involves, in essence, turning ‘purple’: learning to have aerial vision of the whole.
I’ve had hundreds of passionate replies before on my blog or updates on Facebook, concerning international Peace Intention Experiments, revolutionary discoveries about the nature of our world, radical new ways to restructure our society, or even contentious issues about the state of modern medicine, but nothing has generated more response than when I announced to the world, via a new photo, that I’d stopped dyeing my hair.
Almost everyone to a man and woman liked the new image more than my dyed former self, but they also liked what it represented. Many saw it as an expression of power, a rebellion against the straitjacket of our current conception of beauty with its tyranny of youthful appearance at all costs.
I had not really thought of it as an act of defiance or me a poster girl for women of a certain age.
I did it because I want to live long enough to be around for grandchildren. I did it because I don’t want to die as my mother did, of a slow and painful cancer.
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