Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Enduring Love, Complex Love

Human Relationships

Endless Love: Ben-Zeev writes; "A complex psychological personality is more likely to generate profound romantic love in a partner, while even the most intense sexual desire can die away.
Sexual desire is boosted by change and novelty and diluted by familiarity. Romantic profundity
increases with familiarity if the other person, and the relationship itself, is multifaceted and

Photo CreditChris Stowers; Panos Pictures
Source: Aeon
An article, by Aaron Ben-Zeev,  in Aeon looks not only at love in general, but at love in particular, notably at couples who have had an enduring love for a decade or longer. In a mixture of science and literature, Ben-Zeev, a professor of philosophy at University of Haifa, looks at love through literary narratives like Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary (1856) and Amos Oz's My Michael (1958) and how, if at all, they influence our modern sensibilities.

Ben-Zeev starts off by writing about Oz's novel, based largely on a biblical myth:
Emma and Hannah appear to be victims of a myth, a dangerous romantic ideology still enshrined in our rituals and songs: love can overcome all obstacles (there is no mountain high enough); love is forever (till death us do part). This seductive romantic ideology assumes the uniqueness of the beloved along with a kind of fusion. Soul mates are meant only for each other; the lovers form a single entity; each of the partners is irreplaceable in all the world. (Millions of people go by, but they all disappear from view – because I only have eyes for you.) Ideal love is total, uncompromising, and unconditional. No matter what happens outside the circle of the relationship, true love endures.
Romantic ideology still has its allure, but the idea that passion can last a lifetime has lost credence in modern times. One argument against enduring intensity comes from thinking rooted in the work of the great 17th-century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza: emotions occur when we perceive a significant change in our situation. Change cannot last forever. Ergo, passionate love must fade.
In line with that, many studies have consistently shown that sexual desire and intense romantic love decrease drastically over time. The findings show that the frequency of sexual activity with one’s partner declines steadily, occurring half as often after one year of marriage compared with the first month, and falling off more gradually thereafter, especially after the child-rearing years. This decline has been found in cohabiting, heterosexual couples and in gay and lesbian couples. Accordingly, many scholars have claimed that enduring intense love is uncommon, almost always evolving into companionate love which, as time goes by, is low in attraction and sexual desire. Love is a trade-off, the prevailing wisdom goes: we can either soar briefly to the highest heights or we can have contentment for many years. It is fruitless to despair like Emma and Hannah, because no one can have both.
Or can they? New research suggests that common wisdom might be wrong, and that a significant percentage of long-term couples remain deeply in love. In 2012, the psychologist Daniel O’Leary and his team at Stony Brook University in New York asked study participants this basic question: ‘How in love are you with your partner?’ Their national survey of 274 individuals married for more than a decade found that some 40 per cent said ‘very intensely in love’ (scoring seven on a seven-point scale). O’Leary’s team did a similar study of New Yorkers and found that 29 per cent of 322 long-married individuals gave the same answer. In another national study in 2011, the dating site Match.com found that 18 per cent of 5,200 individuals in the US reported feelings of romantic love lasting a decade or more.
Research in neuroscience identifies the possible mechanism behind these results. In a study published in 2012, Stony Brook psychologist Bianca Acevedo and colleagues reported on 10 women and seven men married an average of 21 years and claiming to be intensely in love. The researchers showed participants facial images of their partners while scanning their brains with fMRI. The scans revealed significant activation in key reward centres of the brain – much like the patterns found in people experiencing new love, but vastly different from those in companionate relationships.
This essay poses many questions and provides many insights, some that are contrary to modern psychological theory on what drives human emotion; it is worth reading, if only to consider what is important for those searching for love. It is my opinion that one does not search for love, or for a loving person, but for a person with whom one can make a harmonious life. A love that is enduring is a love based on meeting each other's changing needs. People are complex and thus often change with time, as does the kind of love each expects.

That some couples can have enduring and loving long-term relationships is not really surprising for couples who have them. That this will only apply to a small subset of all human relationships is also not surprising. This shows that individuals often marry for the wrong reasons, choose the wrong person to marry, or that some persons ought not marry at all.  Although this essay does not point this out, some individuals, perhaps not many, can be happy and content alone.

You can read the rest of this article at [Aeon]

Monday, April 21, 2014

Building The World's Biggest Telescope On Top Of Cerro Armazone, A 3,000-Metre Mountain In Chile


Artist's Impression of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT). One of the
purposes for this telescope is to serach for exoplanets, says Simone Zaggia, of the Inaf Observatory
of Padua: "More importantly we want to find out if their atmospheres contain levels of oxygen or
carbon dioxide or methane or other substances that suggest there is life there. To do that, we need
a giant telescope like the E-ELT."
Source: The Guradian

An article, by Robin McVie, in The Guardian looks at what it will take to build the largest and most powerful telescope in the world atop Cerro Armazone, a 3,000-metre mountain in Chile; part of the construction of this telescope requires engineers to blast away 25-metres of this mountain's top. Blasting is scheduled to begin on June 16; and the telescope will take more than a decade to build, with a completion date sometime in 2025.

The European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) will have a 39-metre mirror. McVie writes about this project, led by Gird Hudepohl, its engineer, who was in charge of a similar astronomical project atop another mountain in Chile.
Given the peak's remote, inhospitable location that might sound an improbable claim–except for the fact that Hudepohl has done this sort of thing before. He is one of the European Southern Observatory's most experienced engineers and was involved in the decapitation of another nearby mountain, Cerro Paranal, on which his team then erected one of the planet's most sophisticated observatories.
The Paranal complex has been in operation for more than a decade and includes four giant instruments with eight-metre-wide mirrors – known as the Very Large Telescopes or VLTs – as well as control rooms and a labyrinth of underground tunnels linking its instruments. More than 100 astronomers, engineers and support staff work and live there. A few dozen metres below the telescopes, they have a sports complex with a squash court, an indoor football pitch, and a luxurious 110-room residence that has a central swimming pool and a restaurant serving meals and drinks around the clock. Built overlooking one of the world's driest deserts, the place is an amazing oasis. (See box.)
Now the European Southern Observatory, of which Britain is a key member state, wants Hudepohl and his team to repeat this remarkable trick and take the top off Cerro Armazones, which is 20km distant. Though this time they will construct an instrument so huge it will dwarf all the telescopes on Paranal put together, and any other telescope on the planet.
When completed, the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) and its 39-metre mirror will allow astronomers to peer further into space and look further back into the history of the universe than any other astronomical device in existence. Its construction will push telescope-making to its limit, however. Its primary mirror will be made of almost 800 segments–each 1.4 metres in diameter but only a few centimetres thick–which will have to be aligned with microscopic precision.
A project of this complexity and longevity has all the potential for technical setbacks and delays in time. Even so, the $1.5-billion project is progressing. As to why this particular location was selected and why astronomers consider it ideal, there is indeed an excellent scientific explanation:
The answer is straightforward, says Cambridge University astronomer Professor Gerry Gilmore. It is all about water. "The atmosphere here is as dry as you can get and that is critically important. Water molecules obscure the view from telescopes on the ground. It is like trying to peer through mist – for mist is essentially a suspension of water molecules in the air, after all, and they obscure your vision. For a telescope based at sea level that is a major drawback.
The amount of money might seem large, but we ought to put this number in perspective; when compared to how much nations worldwide have spent on useless wars and military campaigns in the last decade alone (at least a thousand times more, or trillions of dollars), the money is insignificant and has a genuine benefit to science and, moreover, to increasing our knowledge of the universe.

You can read more at [The Guardian]

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Altered States Of Being

The Human Mind

Bicycle Day: John Horgan writes: Albert Hofmann first experienced LSD's full effects
while riding a bicycle in Basel, Switzerland, on April 19, 1943, as commemorated in this
blotter-acid art. Psychedelic enthusiasts now commemorate Hofmann’s discovery of LSD’s
effects every April 19, a.k.a. 'Bicycle Day.'”
Source: SciAmer

An article, by John Horgan, in Scientific American describes one person's experiment with psychedelic drugs while visiting the birthplace of LSD, or lysergic acid diethylamidein Basel, Switzerland.

Horgan writes:
Exactly 71 years ago, April 19, 1943, Albert Hofmann, a chemist for Sandoz, in Basel, Switzerland, ingested a minute amount—just 250 micrograms–of a compound derived from the ergot fungus. He soon felt so disoriented that he rode his bicycle home, where he experienced all the heavenly and hellish effects of lysergic acid diethylamide.
Albert Hofmann first experienced LSD's full effects while riding a bicycle in Basel, Switzerland, on April 19, 1943, as commemorated in this blotter-acid art.Psychedelic enthusiasts now commemorate Hofmann’s discovery of LSD’s effects every April 19, a.k.a. “Bicycle Day. ” To celebrate this Bicycle Day, I’d like to describe one of the strangest trips of my life, which took place in Basel and involved (sort of) Hofmann.
In 1999, while, researching a book on mysticism, I flew to Basel to attend “Worlds of Consciousness,” a leading forum for scientists studying altered states, especially drug-induced states. The meeting, held in a convention center within walking distance of my hotel, offered two divergent perspectives of hallucinogens. In the convention center’s lobby, vendors peddled visionary books, music and art, including drawings, by Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger, of pouty-lipped, warhead-breasted, cybernetic vixens transmogrified by titanic psychic forces.
Beside this artistic evocation of psychedelic visions, a display of “scientific” posters—with titles like “Psychoneurophysiology of Personalized Regression and Experiential Imaginary Therapy”–seemed parodically dry. The meeting’s schizoid character was reflected in its speakers, too. One group sported hippy-ish threads and extolled altered states in subjective, even poetic language. The other wore jackets and ties and employed clinical, objective rhetoric.
The meeting’s guest of honor was a stooped, white-haired man with fierce, Churchillian mien: Albert Hofmann. His contributions to psychedelic chemistry extended beyond LSD. In the 1950s, he analyzed Psilocybe cubensis, a “magic mushroom” consumed by Indians in Mexico, and deduced that its primary active ingredient is psilocybin. Hofmann’s research inspired other scientists around the world to investigate LSD, psilocybin and similar compounds, which psychiatrist Humphry Osmond dubbed psychedelic, based on the Greek words for “mind-revealing.”
At 93, Hofmann still avidly followed the field he helped create. One day we spoke during the lunch break, and Hofmann, in halting, heavily accented English, vigorously defended LSD, which he called his “problem child.” He blamed Harvard-psychologist-turned-counterculture-guru Timothy Leary for giving LSD such a bad reputation.
“I had this discussion with him,” Hofmann told me. “I said, ‘Oh, you should not tell everybody, even the children, “Take LSD! Take LSD!”’” LSD “can hurt you, it can disturb you,” Hofmann said, “it can make you crazy.” But properly used, psychedelics stimulate the “inborn faculty of visionary experience” that we all possess as children but lose as we mature.
Hofmann recalled a psilocybin trip during which he ended up in a ghost town deep inside the earth. “Nobody was there. I had the feeling of absolute loneliness, absolute loneliness. A terrible feeling!” When he emerged from this nightmare and found himself with friends again, he felt ecstatic. “I had feeling of being reborn! To see now again! And see what wonderful life we have here!” The gruff old man stared above my head, his eyes gleaming, as if born again this very moment.
In his writings, Hofmann occasionally divulged misgivings about having brought LSD and psilocybin into the world. In a letter in 1961, he compared his discoveries to nuclear fission; just as fission threatens our fundamental physical integrity, he said, so do psychedelics “attack the spiritual center of the personality, the self.” Psychedelics, Hofmann fretted, might “represent a forbidden transgression of limits.”
The writer of this article then discusses his own trip, and the resulting altered states of seeing and thinking, by his ingesting Psilocybe semilanceata, a type of mild-altering mushroom. It is worth reading this writer's experience as a sort of cautionary, or exploratory, if you will, tale on the indiscriminate use of drugs.

This is not to suggest that further research should not continue; it should, in keeping with increasing scientific and medical knowledge. Psychedelic drugs might have some medical use, as I have written about in previous posts, notably for those suffering high levels of despair or as a means of relief from unbearable pain and suffering. Its use as a recreational drug, however, is debatable, as this first person-account shows.

Reality is often tough to accept and bear, but so is an uncontrolled, unknown and unreal state of being.

You can read more at [SciAmer]

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Remembering What You Must Not Forget

The Old Country

A Wedding Scene: Life went on, as depicted in this couple getting married under the chupah, 
or marriage canopy.
Credit Issachar Ber Ryback; 1917
Source: General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

An article in Public Domain Review looks at the painter, Issachar Ber Ryback, whose art depicts shetl life in the Ukraine following the First World War, where pogroms and revolution were normal part of daily living, well, actually it was more like despair, destruction and death. These are not happy paintings, but what else can you expect when these were not happy, hopeful times.

The article says:
A selection from a set of 30 lithographs by the Russian artist Issachar Ber Ryback, dating mostly from 1917 and published in a book by the Berlin-based “Farlag Shveln”. The images depict scenes of Ryback’s home village in Ukraine before it was destroyed in the pogroms following World War I, a fate which seems ominously echoed in the torturous angles and distortions of form in which he represents the daily activities of village life. After graduating from art school in Kiev in 1916, Ryback played a key role in the Yiddish avant-garde of the Soviet Union following the Russian Revolution. After his father was murdered by Petliura’s soldiers in 1921, he fled to Germany, settling in Berlin where he became a member of the Novembergruppe and was involved in a number of important exhibitions. After a return trip to Russia, working on a set design for a Yiddish theatre and undertaking a prolonged journey through the Jewish “kolkhozes” of Ukraine and Crimea, he moved to Paris in 1926. Here he lived at the heart of the city’s vibrant artistic life – including solo exhibitions at the Galerie aux Quatre Chemins (1928) and Galerie L’Art Contemporain (1929) – until his death in 1935.
It is true that most of the figures look grotesque and unreal, which is the general impression of of life then, where it seemed that daily living was not ordered, but disordered, or out of order—a general sentiment felt to various degrees across Europe after the First World War. The people waited for some order to be restored, somehow, by someone, and while waiting with some kind of hopeful expectation, they somehow continued with their activities, such as marriage, religious ritual and commercial transactions. Somehow, and for some very personal reasons, these paintings resonate today.

To view more of Issachar Ber Ryback's paintings, go to [PubDomRev]