Scientific compass

Growing up in Houston meant that I could visit NASA any time. On every visit I would stare in awe at photographs of the big blue planet in space. The rocket launchers, astronaut training facilities, and all of the geological species from space fascinated me, but I don’t recall ever feeling any sense of compassion for what the astronauts or rocket scientists were doing; I just thought their inventions were neat. The word ‘astronaut’ became synonymous with ‘play’.

Reflecting on my own research endeavors, I’m realizing that I haven’t really dedicated too much consideration to the moral compass guiding my pursuit in science. Perhaps I’ve put too much faith in the basic goodness of my human nature and maybe I’ve let my “Oh, that’s cool!” instincts take over.

Lately though, my thoughts have been more transcendental in nature.  In recognizing the preciousness of life, I’m realizing that striking a balance in nature and employment is necessary. Compassion combined with a clear awareness of the wider perspective (including long-term consequences of a technology) must be a key motivation in the scientific process. (I hope to write more thoughts on genetic engineering in the future)

In the current paradigm of science, only knowledge derived through a strictly empirical method underpinned by observation, inference, and experimental verification can be considered valid. This method involves the use of quantification, measurement, repeatability, and confirmation by others. Many aspects of reality as well as some key elements of human existence, such as the ability to distinguish between good and evil, love, artistic creativity – some of the things we most value about human beings – inevitably fall outside the scope of the method.

Scientific knowledge, as it stands today is not complete; therefore we must clearly recognize the limits of the empirical realm.  In recognizing these limits we can genuinely appreciate the need to integrate science within the totality of human knowledge.  Otherwise our conception of the world, including our own existence, will be limited to the facts adduced by science, leading to a deeply reductionist, materialistic, even nihilistic world view.

I’m not necessarily opposed to reductionism, but I recognize that problems arise when reductionism, which is essentially a method, is turned into a metaphysical standpoint. Understandably this reflects a common tendency to conflate the means with the end, especially when a specific method is highly effective.

In summary, this has become an overly convoluted writing about my scientific motivation and my quest to better define this motivation with respect to a principled moral compass.


Indian Spiced Green Beans

I grew up eating a diet of traditional Indian food. My mother would come home after work and make dinner from scratch for my father and I every day. I don’t know how she managed to balance everything, part of me thinks she has superhuman powers!

My favorite simple dish she makes is spiced green beans. They end up flavorful, crunchy, and pair well with any sort of daal.

3.5 cups cut green beans (about 1 pound)
2 Tbsp canola or coconut oil
½ tsp ajwain seeds
¼ tsp turmeric powder
1 cup cold water
1 tsp salt
½ tsp paprika
1 tsp crushed cardamom seed
1 tsp lime juice
¼ cup cilantro (for garnish/additional flavor)

Place 2 tbsp canola oil in skillet and add ajwain seeds to the oil. Allow to cook until seeds become dark in color.

Add ¼ tsp turmeric , all of the chopped beans, the water, and salt.

Cover and allow to simmer stirring occasionally until beans are tender (about 5-10 minutes)

Add in paprika, cardamom seeds, and lime juice. Allow flavors to blend into bean mixture for a few minutes.

Place cilantro on top of the beans to garnish the dish.



This year, for Valentine’s Day, some friends and I headed over to the art museum for a little lesson in tango dancing, delicious food catered by one of my favorite restaurants in town, and art gallery tours.

I was impressed by the turnout, and the overall execution of the event.

Now, if only I didn’t have two left feet 😉



A couple of days ago my lovely Elyse stopped by for tea and to bake cookies!
We followed this recipe.  I’m told that they turned out wonderfully (my lab-mates devoured them!)

Baking with friends in the dead of winter really warms the soul.



Today, Pope Benedict XVI has announced he will resign as head of the Catholic Church citing health reasons (this hasn’t happened in over 600 years, so it is a big deal). In reflecting on this, I got around to reading his thoughts on economic policy and Truth. I’ve long supported the notion that economics and morality cannot be mutually exclusive entities and the following particular quotes from his encyclical Caritas in veritate resonate with my mind in a profound way.

Echoing my thoughts on the demise of society do to over-industrialization and mindless capitalism:

The mobility of labour, associated with a climate of  deregulation, is an important phenomenon with certain positive aspects, because it can stimulate wealth production and cultural exchange. Nevertheless, uncertainty over working conditions caused by mobility and deregulation, when it becomes endemic, tends to create new forms of psychological instability, giving rise to difficulty in forging coherent life-plans, including that of marriage. This leads to situations of human decline, to say nothing of the waste of social resources. In comparison with the casualties of industrial society in the past, unemployment today provokes new forms of economic marginalization, and the current crisis can only make this situation worse. Being out of work or dependent on public or private assistance for a  prolonged period undermines the freedom and creativity of the person and his family and social relationships, causing great
psychological and spiritual suffering. I would like to remind everyone, especially governments engaged in boosting the world’s economic and social assets, that the primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is man, the human person in his or her integrity: “Man is the source, the focus and the aim of all economic and social life”

Thoughts on the need to for mindfulness in a global economy:

Global interconnectedness has led to the emergence of a new political power, that of consumers and their associations. This is a phenomenon that needs to be further explored, as it contains positive elements to be encouraged as well as excesses to be avoided. It is good for people to realize that purchasing is always a moral — and not simply economic — act. Hence the consumer has a specific social responsibility, which goes hand-in- hand with the social responsibility of the enterprise. Consumers should be continually educated regarding their daily role, which can be exercised with respect for moral principles without diminishing the intrinsic economic rationality of the act of purchasing.

Finally, as a scientist, I’m constantly asking myself, ‘Is what I am working on, enlightening the world to further realize Truth?” Here, the Pope examines my sentiments exactly:

Besides requiring freedom, integral human development as a vocation also demands respect for its truth. The vocation to progress drives us to “do more, know more and have more in order to be more”. But herein lies the problem: what does it mean “to be more”? Paul VI answers the question by indicating the essential quality of “authentic” development: it must be “integral, that is, it has to promote the good of every man and of the whole man”.



Watching life sprout makes me happy…

Dried mung beans

Soaking moth and mung beans

Soaked beans to soon to be wrapped…

Presents waiting to be opened after a night of dormancy

Sprouts of mung beans ready to eat!



Have a delightful weekend!

I hope you have a wonderful weekend!
I’ll be recovering from a stressful week and will be overly gentle with myself (cue emergency compliments)

Tonight I will be laying low, hanging out with friends, baking these cookies, and making/eating this pizza!

I got sucked into participating in an inferno challenge at my local gym (wish me luck). I will no doubt be sore and in pain after the workout, but my friend Morgane and I will stuff our faces with olives, goat cheese, ice cream, and chick flicks in the evening as a recovery treat!

On Sunday, Chris and I are going to do our annual viewing of the Oscar Animated Short films…
I really hope the Paperman wins… It’s a charming romantic comedy set in 1940’s New York. Watch it here, if you have six minutes. It makes me feel giddy/hopeful about the future 🙂

As for the rest of the weekend, I think I’ll spend it delving into some more of the writings of Alan Watts… this book I’ve been reading is so incredibly insightful!

Here, he asks, ’What would you do if money were no object?’

Have a delightful weekend!


How I discovered the internet

I remember very distinctively the first time I saw the Internet.

I was ten or eleven years old, in the sixth grade, the year was 1997. These were certainly not the early days; this was two years after the Netscape IPO. Accordingly, the <;frame>; had been set in the <;blink>; of an eye. “Internet” was household term and venture capitalists had long since mobilized. Still, at this time, if you went to AltaVista and searched for “Google”, you would have gotten zero results. Like me, the Internet was beginning an explosive phase of awkward growth, which proves to be highly formative, as well as full of embarrassments.

My nanny took me to the community library that her mother worked at after school everyday. One day, the library on the second floor got six public use computers that were connected to the Internet.

One of the older kids, Frank, had a slight inkling of knowledge about the Internet, making him, by comparison, an expert. The first time I saw the Internet, he was using it on one of those computers. When I walked up, he was staring at a page of black text on a white background. There was a centered image at top. I was fearful and excited, but remember the exchange of words verbatim.

“Is that the Internet?”

“Yes.” He answered pride fully, and highlighted the portion of the text he was currently reading with the mouse to indicate his focus.

The highlighting, to me, was of tremendous importance. That was associated with one thing in my mind: the hours I had spent watching one of my teachers write letters in WordPerfect 5. On considering the gravity of the erroneous conclusions I made next, my voice quivered when I asked faintly:

“You… can highlight it?”

“Yeah… but it’s not like you can edit it.” He, too, was disappointed. Having had similar experiences, he correctly guessed what I had assumed.

This shattered a portion of my imagination as quickly as it had been created. I had only seen highlighting in the context of word processors, so to me, it meant I could press a key, and magically replace the current text with my own content.

Just imagine that. In that instance, without knowing the words for it; I had imagined every page on the Internet was a Wiki. I was heartbroken to learn otherwise, but from that moment on, I still spent innumerable hours in that library on that computer, exploring everything I could find there. It was not until a year or two later that I discovered it was possible for me to create content after all, not just consume it. This is still the one thing that motivates me most: creating something that people in the world might find useful.


Crêpes of faith

Over the weekend I spent much needed time taking a mental holiday. My gorgeous French friend Morgane hosted a girl’s night full of crêpes and banter only the dreariest of winter nights could bring. After dinner, I headed over to the box office to watch Xerxes, an opera of a dramatic love-triangle with an overly convoluted plot; fortunately Handel’s music was beauty to my ears.



As for the rest of the weekend, I’ve been doing much thinking on matters of faith. The realm of science I am presently surrounded by is wrought with staunchly empirical minds. It frustrates me to no end; it is as though we are but drones that experience the disease which is the absence of feeling.

After spending an embarrassing number of years studying science I’m finding that there are subjects where reason cannot take us far and we have to accept things on faith. Faith then does not contradict reason but transcends it. Faith begins only where reason stops, and as I’ve recently experienced, there are very few actions in the world for which reasonable justification can be found.

Experience has humbled me enough to let me realize the specific limitations of reason. Life is too ordered for me to not believe that there is something infinitely higher than intellect that rules us. Skepticism and logic-based philosophies fail to help in the critical periods of life. One needs something better; outside of them, that is faith. Accepting faith requires one to be humble (empiricists in my department are certainly not), and that in spite of one’s greatness and giant intellect we are but infinitely small specks in the universe.

A merely intellectual conception of life is no longer enough for me. Truth- the spiritual conception of life that eludes the intellect- is the thing alone that provides me peace these days. For even though we are surrounded by everything that money can buy and affection can give, there are times in life when our lives are utterly distracted.

So then, how does an empiricist such as me begin to have faith?

The answer: Unlearn a lot of literature that dazzles intelligence and hold onto the token of humility. Freely admit that I know nothing. I am ignorant, inconsistent, and utterly ridiculous.


Actively practice

Human life is far more than a set of ideas to which we subscribe. It is not unusual for our professed ideologies to differ from what we actually do – and not just because of hypocrisy or our failure to live up to what we say we believe. Our lives are grounded far more in our actions and activities than in our ideas. What we do is a far more accurate description of what we believe.

Lately, I’ve had several illuminating conversations with friends and have found myself enamored by asceticism. I’m finally realizing that perhaps most of my life has inadvertently been spent striving to live by ascetic principles, but I’ve thus far failed to actualize that as being the end goal. This lifestyle is indeed incompatible with the needs of contemporary society (and is thus difficult to live out), but I feel that it yields a particular freedom from consumerism that most are unable to escape from.

I should say first that I am not opposed to buying or owning things, but it is disturbing to know that that how I see the world often has nothing to do with  my own reason, decision, or preference. Ideas are planted into my brain by marketing forces that think of me as little more than a lab rat.

It is amusing and ironic then that our self-interested society that seeks to promote individuality, instead promotes sameness. One cannot be truly unique if he or she is to continually be bombarded by the same images posted on imgur, facebook, pinterest, or lookbook. The beauty that is the uniqueness of each individual becomes a single (perhaps beautiful) homogenous picture. However, creativity and originality are gone.

Perhaps in attempting to rid the mind of greed, envy, lust, or gluttony one can live a virtuous life of true and selfless individuality. Maybe we can inspire a new world renaissance.

Here’s a song that sums up how I’m thinking…

Animal Collective “My Girls” from Chad von Nau on Vimeo.