Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Connecting the dots on America's suburbs

A recent NYTimes article on rising poverty in the suburbs connected with a few other readings and viewings I have encountered over the last few years. This topic is fascinating to me as Kristen and I recently made the shift from a suburban (perhaps exurban?) area into a metropolitan area. Additionally, this seems to be a topic close to home to millions of Americans--as evidenced in the comments section of the NYTimes article.

The Brookings Institution reported two years ago that “by 2008 suburbs were home to the largest and fastest growing poor population in the country.” In the previous eight years, major metropolitan suburbs had seen poverty rates climb by 25 percent, almost five times faster than cities. Nationwide, 55 percent of the poor living in the nation’s metropolitan regions lived in suburbs.

To add insult to injury, a new measure to calculate poverty — introduced by the Census Bureau just last year — darkens an already bleak picture: nationally, 51 million households had incomes less than 50 percent above the official poverty line, and nearly half of these households were in suburbs.
From The New York Times

James Howard Kunstler's thoughts on suburbia: (note: this video contains explicit language)

The True Cost of Gas may be much higher than we really think. How will the rise in gas prices (to levels normal around the rest of the world) impact less dense areas?

And finally, The Arcade Fire song "The Suburbs"

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Tao of Physics--annotations

Following are a few passages from The Tao of Physics that I found illuminating. 

The author's purpose is to demonstrate the similarities in the quantum/relative world view and the worldview of Eastern mysticism. Page numbers are for the 25th anniversary edition of the book published by Shambhala in 2000.

...the various schools of Eastern mysticism... all emphasize the basic unity of the universe... The highest aim for their followers--whether they are Hindus, Buddhists or Taoists--is to become aware of the unity and mutual interconnection of all things, to transcend the notion of an isolated self and to identify themselves with the ultimate reality."

The most important characteristic of the Eastern worldview--one could almost say the essence of it--is the awareness of the unity and mutual interrelation of all things and events, the experience of all phenomena in the world as manifestations of a basic oneness. (p. 131)

Capra mentions multiple times that Eastern philosophy sees the world as inherently unified (hence, universe) and dynamic. All separateness and all static objects are an illusion. In the subatomic world, the particles that make up the world around us are always in flux. Many of the features of these particles, for instance, cannot be known for certain as the quantum world has a basic indeterminateness to it. He contrasts these viewpoints with a mechanistic view--which he finds is the predominant Western worldview--that sees the world as made up of individuals objects and the forces that these objects respond to (or perhaps can influence as in the case of a human).

Rational knowledge is derived from the experience we have with objects and events in our everyday environment. It belongs to the realm if the intellect whose function is to discriminate, divide, compare, measure and categorize. In this way, a world of intellectual distinctions is created; of opposites which can only exist in relation to each other, which is why Buddhists call this type of knowledge 'relative'. (p. 27)

Because our representation of reality is so much easier to grasp than reality itself, we tend to confuse the two and take our concepts and symbols for reality. It is one of the main aims of Eastern mysticism to rid us of this confusion. (p. 28)

It is important to realize the difference between the mathematical models and their verbal counterparts. The former are rigorous and consistent as far as their internal structure is concerned, but their symbols are not directly related to our experience. The verbal models, on the other hand, use concepts which which can be understood intuitively, but are always inaccurate and ambiguous. They are in this respect not different from philosophical models of reality and thus the two can be very well compared. (p. 33)

At the atomic level, then, the solid material objects of classical physics dissolve into patterns of probabilities, and these patterns do not represent possibilities of things, but rather probabilities of interconnections. Quantum theory forces us to see the universe not as a collection of physical objects, but rather as a complicated web or relations between the various parts of a unified whole. (p. 138)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Physics Videos

I've been reading The Tao of Physics for the last two weeks. I keep swearing I will post some of my thoughts about this interesting book, but I have been so engrossed in the counter-intuitive ideas in the text that I spend my time reading and re-reading chapters. Anyway, as I'm canceling Netflix soon, I've been looking up videos to watch and found a few full-length introductions to physics.


Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe on Nova