Tired of phone commercials…

Over the weekend, some friends and I head over to the Barrett’s home for afternoon tea. Somehow, the topic of terrible cell phone ads came up. I don’t even watch TV; instead I opt to watch a couple of episodes a week of the Colbert report via Hulu, but even through Hulu streaming, these ads have not escaped my attention…

If you want to be unlimited; Sprint can help you out…

Or, if you need an upgrade on yourself, the Droid is to the rescue!

These commercials suggest that the miraculous is only to be found in the latest technology (it is indeed miraculous that these gizmos exist, but miracles are hardly limited to technological advances).

Also, I think the phrase “I need to upload all of me.” is just perverse. The “need” to display oneself to a world of potential viewers is an exhibitionist’s dream or perhaps it represents a tacit nod in the direction of immortality—I “need” to upload “all of me” so that none of me will be lost. (Though, some may say this blog is a need for me to this, so I am guilty too).

The fact that this ad has been made, and has made it to the airwaves says more about us than about the merits of a data plan.

xoxo
-P

Objectivism

Is the compulsion to overwork, the reckless pursuit of affluence, and the credo of individualism worth the demise of society?

Then, I take a step back, consider libertarian ideals motivated purely by economics (think Ayn Rand objectivism), shudder, and think to myself, ‘heavens No!’

There are two novels that can transform a bookish fourteen-year-old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish daydream that can lead to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood in which large chunks of the day are spent inventing ways to make real life more like a fantasy novel. The other is a book about orcs.
-Raj Patel, The Value of Nothing

This indeed was my case. At the age of 15, I was handed the works of Ayn Rand, and for a decade I had taken objectivism to heart as Truth without much looking back.
Now, as I question my ideals and role in society I reflect sorrowfully on my objectivist mindset. In his 2012 interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, Barack Obama summed it up:

Ayn Rand is one of those things that a lot of us, when we were 17 or 18 and feeling misunderstood, we’d pick up. Then, as we get older, we realize that a world in which we’re only thinking about ourselves and not thinking about anybody else, in which we’re considering the entire project of developing ourselves as more important than our relationships to other people and making sure that everybody else has opportunity – that that’s a pretty narrow vision. It’s not one that, I think, describes what’s best in America.

I guess this is all a sign that I’m getting older.

xoxo
-P

Craft party

Collaging, darning, painting, drawing.
Yes, we did it all…

Fondue… compliments of an ex-fraternity 😉

Shakespeare and cake

Exercising creative muscle

Phil darning socks. Crafts practically.

Artsy fartsy mish mash

A scientist writes a haiku

Let them eat cake…

Pondering the night away

Now, back to thinking analytically…

xoxo
-P

Density

I’ve been doing a bit of thinking about the type of lifestyle I seek to have as I continue on in life. With petrol prices nearing $4/gallon (and considering the crazy traffic and commute most people in large cities face), I’m realizing the importance of considering population density in addition to the availability of public transportation among other things.

I happened to stumble upon this powerful infographic…

I’m still pondering how crime rates, diversity, rooted-ness, reality, and utopian ideals all fit in. It is impressive to think that there really aren’t that many of us!

xoxo
-P

I’ll sub a convention for reality

Words are useful so long as they are treated as mere conventions. More often than not, we run around confused; trying to live in the real world as if it were a world of words, and when we find reality to be indescribable, we are left dumbfounded. The harder one attempts to live in this world of words, the more isolated and alone he or she may feel. Joy and liveliness of things is exchanged for certainty and security. On the other hand, the more we are forced to admit that we actually live in the real world, the more we feel ignorant, uncertain, and insecure about everything. Life becomes stressful for small Pujas.

I believe that the reason I love science is because I’ve placed a false reality in it. I’m afraid I have greatly misunderstood the scope and purposes of science because I have confused the universe which science describes with the universe in which man lives. Science is merely a convention that symbolizes the real universe; serving a similar purpose as money. They are conventions that are convenient for making practical arrangements, but prove to be cumbersome when the meanings of money and wealth, or reality and science, are confused.

In a similar way, the universe, when described in terms of dogmatic religion, is nothing more than a symbol of reality; it is constructed out of verbal and conventional distinctions in the same manner as science. Science has “destroyed” the religious symbol of the world because, when symbols are confused with reality, different ways of symbolizing reality will end up being contradictory. People in the STEM fields can get away with fundamentalist empirical views in modern society because the scientific way of symbolizing the world is more suited to utilitarian purposes than the religious way, but this does not mean that it has any more “truth.”

Is it truer to purchase a computer by its weight or by its storage capacity? It depends on what you want to do with it. The war between science and religion has not shown that religion is false and that science is true but rather, it has demonstrated that systems of definition are relative to various purposes, and that none of them (science included) actually “grasp” reality. Religion has been misused by fundamentalist groups as a means for actually grasping and possessing the mystery of life, so a certain measure of “debunking” has been highly necessary (to the detriment of humility).

In the end, it appears to me that in the process of trying to symbolize the universe, we lose the actual joy and meaning of life itself. The reality of the present eludes all definitions and descriptions; here is the mysterious God which words and ideas can never pin down. Almost every spiritual tradition recognizes that a point comes when a man must surrender himself and face the fact that he cannot know or define the ultimate. It is up to the individual to find a balance.

xoxo
-P

Purim 2013

Over the weekend, I ended up heading to the opera house to check out the opera Akhenaten. It was a surreal experience, and the very first modern opera I’ve seen. The opera focuses on Akhenaten, an Egyptian pharaoh who attempted to abandon traditional polytheism that existed in Egypt at the time in lieu of a monotheistic religion that worshiped the Sun.  In addition the interesting story line, I absolutely love the composer Philip Glass; the music was breathtaking and so were the costumes!

The next evening, my friend Morgane who happens to be culturally Jewish and I got together  with a couple of other friends to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim.

Apparently, On Purim, Ashkenazi Jews eat triangular pastries called Hamantaschen (“Haman’s pockets”).  To make these treats, a sweet pastry dough is rolled out, cut into circles, and traditionally filled with a filling; its is then wrapped up into a triangular shape with the filling either hidden or showing.

In addition to making and eating sweet and savory Hamantaschen, we also ate a festive meal (since this is a part of the Purim holiday tradition).

After our feast, we spent time listening to old 1940’s jazz hits, talked about our respective jobs (one of my friends is an artist who also works at a halfway house and has a seemingly infinite number of interesting stories to share), and discovered that our friend Lydia’s father happens to make guitars out of locally sourced woods found in the Adirondack mountains (see them here). He is quite the accomplished luthier!

xoxo
-P

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.

xoxo
-P

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.

Ingredients:
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.

xoxo
-P

Vday

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 😉

xoxo
-P

Baking!

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.

xoxo
-P