Monday, August 16, 2010

Across the Universe

So, how about that superstring theory? Not something you hear around the water cooler, but it’s something I’ve been deep in thought about lately. I think it’s the culmination of some things I’ve read/seen lately, that electrifying moment where all of the separate information floating around finally swirls together in a recognizable shape. Epiphany!

Let’s back up, with a small story. A month ago, Mateo and I were butterfly-swinging on the swing and thinking deep late-afternoon thoughts. He said, “Even if I’m in space, I’m touching everyone on earth,” and further explained, “I touch air in space, and people touch air on Earth, so I’m touching them, too.”

Needless to say, the kid’s a genius. He rudimentarily explained entanglement theory, which is related to superstring theory, and he’s not even five. Mateo moved on in that swing ride to humming tunes to himself, but I’m going to dwell on the science a bit more. Essentially, superstring theory is the notion that there are not three, not four, but ten dimensions of space in our universe. Ten! (Well, 11, counting time). Most too small to see, probably hiding within the deepest, tiniest recesses of atoms. Vibrating within those dimensions are tiny loops (strings) of energy that are tuned to their function—much like a guitar’s different vibrations produce different pitches, the strings’ vibrations make a particle act as it does… like telling a tree molecule to be tree-like. The strings are within all—it’s The Force, if you want to get all Star Wars. It makes much more sense (with visual aids) in this fascinating, concise TED video.

Entanglement theory ties to string theory because it basically states that, like the shared energy powering us all, particles and objects are quantumly connected even if they are spacially separated. Some scientists (like Mateo) even say that space is an illusion of perception, that all particles are still touching and closely entangled. Note: I’m pretty sure I read about this in The Lost Symbol, so blame Dan Brown for any inaccuracies. Citation!

Another (less technical and more emotional) TED video is a MUST WATCH. This neurologist had a stroke in her left cortex, which allowed her the unique perception of right-brain-vision. She explains how the right brain perceives this entanglement and transcendent “one-ness” already (relating how she saw her arm molecules float and mix with the wall molecules). It’s that logical, scolding left brain that sets our boundaries and fools our perception into thinking we are bodily separate from the particles of other things. Isn’t that mind-blowing? That we could be in a totally different reality, one in which the lines are blurred, where the pixels of your image float and blend with everything around you? I wish I could turn off my left brain for a minute, just to experience this… oh, wait. It’s called LSD.

In sum, these are the individual thoughts that converged into my latest epiphany—I call it The Isolation Paradox. You’re thinking, “Iso-what? I’m bored already.” If you’re still reading this lengthy rumination at all, that is. If you are, thanks! The rest won’t be long, I promise.

Theory Nutshell: we’re all touching/breathing the same air, our molecules are entangled and mixing, and everything is operated by a central string force. We’re all One. Therefore, isolation is an illusion. This is great news for all the lonely people (where do they all come from?), but bad news for those who want to be isolated. Which brings me to the theory: when one tries to isolate oneself out of fear, it only exacerbates the problem and causes destruction, because isolation is illusory*. Two examples:

1) Crime. I got this example long ago in college from a book by theologian Parker J. Palmer. He talks about how when people think they’re isolating themselves from crime—gated communities, “white flight” to the suburbs, etc—it actually creates more crime because the divisions between the groups widen, causing a greater rich/poor gap, stronger negative stereotypes (which breed misunderstanding and conflict), and generally more fear as people hunker down into their “protected” bubbles.

2) Germophobes. This is a micro-isolation, but also an illusion; if you’re connected to everything molecularly, I’m sorry, but a bottle of hand sanitizer ain’t gonna protect you from the millions of foreign particles that cycle in and out of your body. It will, however, make you more vulnerable to germs, because you are killing off the body’s natural bacterial defenses while the germs evolve to resist your feeble attempts at sanitation.
Lesson: buying into the isolation illusion only causes destruction and suffering. I’m not talking momentarily “alone time,” mind you, but the sustained separation from the other, motivated by fear. It’s a free ticket to dehumanize, which abets all kinds of evil. Seeking separation from harm paradoxically causes more harm.

The paradox works both ways, though: only when one embraces the connectedness can one reduce fear, reduce vulnerability. Open yourself to make yourself less vulnerable. Interesting, no? Get in touch with that neglected right brain, with the Oneness of the universe, and see that separation, foreign-ness, and safety are all illusions. A terrifying yet comforting thought. Another paradox!

Comforting, too, to young ones with limited power-- the other day, my little genius was playing a game of “be faster than dad’s high five.” When he missed the cat-like reflexes of his dad’s hand, he stated: “I still got you—my had was touching the air, and the air is touching your hand.” He may grasp the infinitely interconnected laws of the universe, but he's not above using it to best his Daddy.

*Greg doesn’t think this is a word. He’s silly like that sometimes.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Presto --> Pesto!

Okay, so there may have been a promise to share the witty little tidbits uttered from the mouths of babes during the recent trip... consider that promise broken. Not my fault! I got my tablet reimaged, yada yada yada, that document no longer exists. It sucks, does it not? Thankfully I still have my 500+ pictures as proof that the Kleinhanses Did Black Hills.

So, what to write about... it's on the tip of my tongue, literally: food! Pesto, to be exact. It's that time of year, when the ears of corn grow heavy, the tomatoes swell ruddy and sweet, and the bushes of basil reach the point where it's either cut them down or allow them to take the yard by force. Back off, basil--I'll eat you up, I love you so!

Pesto, like vinaigrette, is stupidly simple and infinitely flexible. The name is a variation on the Italian verb for "pound," or so says Wikipedia. One is supposed to do such pounding with a mortar and pestle (which I do have, because I'm ancient, but don't use, because I'm lazy). I saved myself a sore forearm by using a borrowed Magic Bullet (shout out to Tali!), which is magical indeed when it comes to pounding pesto. Here's my very rough recipe:

-plastic grocery sack full of basil leaves
-4 cloves garlic
-about 1/4 cup parmesean cheese
-however much olive oil makes basil damp enough to puree well (1 cup, maybe?)
-little salt

Blend in small batches in Magic Bullet until soupy in consistency, pour in ice cube trays, freeze, pop out, and store in plastic baggy in freezer. Enjoy all winter long! Note: one cube roughly equals one tablespoon, so the size is ideal for flavoring recipes from pasta to sandwich spreads to this stellar roasted red pepper soup I concocted.

Note #2: most pestos include chopped pine nuts, and I've done this before, but the actual flavor of the nut is somewhat lost in the bodacious basil flavor, so I omit; according to Wikipedia, that means my pesto is actually a "pistou" now. Fancy! Don't get me wrong, I love love love the mild crunch of a pine nut atop a lovely caprese salad (another August favorite!), but I'm not about to drop $12.99 on a jar (seriously, that's their actual cost) for texture alone. Use walnuts, or something, if you feel like a nut. Note #3: this is probably the only time I will ever counsel the use of walnuts. Ick.