Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Cosmological "Heart of Darkness"

Another reading I did thanks to the professor in Warsaw mentioned in previous post,
who pointed the book to me: "Heart of Darkness" by J.P.Ostriker and S. Mitton. Both are the
renowned cosmologists, and the "Science essentials" Princeton edition is a
very good way to stay in touch with the recent developments, even for an
astrophysicist. I warmly recommend it.

The writing does not necessarily follow the historical line, it is rather focused
on a paradigm shifts. But it gives a good sense of the struggle to make
sense of data in cosmology, not only of the theoretical development.

It is still a revelation to many people to understand that cosmology is a
kind of more straightforward science than, say, solid state physics. That
its theoretical base is close to elementary particles or high energy
(astro)physics, not something from the other side of the spectra of Physics.
This is well emphasised in the book, with a novel Newtonian calculations for
the basic relations in Cosmology, like critical density and other parameters
of the standard cosmological model.

The slow appreciation, and acceptance, of the Big Bang model, is presented
in extense, the reader can understand how it is intertwined with our
understanding of the stellar and evolution of galaxies.

Cosmology today can not be taught without the Dark matter and Energy -
indeed, as the title of the book shows, they stole the show. Authors
artfully show the slow, but persistent, seeping of the Darkness into the
Cosmology during the last century of research.

Again, a good read, even for a professional astrophysicist, with some
interesting insider stories.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Infeld's "Quest"

From a renowned Polish astrophysicist I got the autobiography of Leopold Infeld: "Quest", for reading. We had an interesting scientific-historical discussion, and he was kind to lend me this very informative book.

As it is usual in Warsaw, you step in the footprints of historical events
everywhere. The professor told me his mother was taught Physics in the Jewish public school in Warsaw before the WWII by Infeld. And when reading the book, in the part where Infeld describes his Warsaw times, I learned that the school was not more than few hundred meters from the place where I was reading the words (p.107): "...and each day I passed down the same streets-Orla, Karmelicka, to Nowolipki where my school was, in the heart of the ghetto, crowded by three hundred thousand Jews." I was reading it in an apartment in Karmelicka street, there was no a single traditionally clad Jew kilometers from me-except in a museum "Polin" opened recently, celebrating the history of Polish Jews. It was all what remained of that crowded ghetto. No, not exactly: yesterday in the evening I went running around the Park Krasinskich near Plac Bankowy, and there is a line in the pavement marking the line of the wall of former ghetto. With an information plate describing it. They could equally well make a crying wall there.

Famously enough, prof. informed me, Infeld did not want the translation of the book into Polish language... Interesting, as the book itself is dedicated "To my friends in Poland". And the book was written in 1940!

I was very surprised by the outline of Infeld's life described to me by the professor. In my ignorance, I supposed it was an "usual" story of a Jew intellectual, persecuted by the Nazi, who fled to the USA fast enough to be luckier than most of the others. I learned that my "knowledge" on the matter is, again, lacking, to say it mildly.

Nor was Infeld a professor when he escaped Poland, nor he was
escaping Nazi. His way to the professorship or the USA was not at all
straightforward. Escaping his own unhappy life-his first wife died of
medical condition few years before the WWII-to regain sanity and
console himself, he searched for ways to go out of Poland. He needed
to occupy himself with work.

Another dimension he describes frankly in the book is the relationship of Gentile to Jews in Poland. He is clear that there was a strong divide in the society, but indicates his (and other Jews) paranoia, too. The two communities simply did not know each other. It might seem impossible today, but just go and live in Berlin Charlottenburg today and see how much you understand the Turkish community there. Or go to live in Asia, and find a connection to Chinese or Japanese. You will soon find that to live along someone, does not mean to understand, or (easier) to know their culture at
all.

The book is divided into three parts: "The Ghetto", "Escape" and "Search and Research". It starts and ends with beautifully titled short sections "The Beginning and the End" and "The End and the Beginning", respectively. In them the author describes how he heard of the German attack on Poland in September 1939, when he was driving with his pregnant wife through New England in USA.
He read about air rides on Warsaw. Infeld himself was a remote observer of the war. The complete world of his in Poland before the war was erased. Lvov, the city where he started his independent life and youth, is not even in Poland today. Krakow Jewish community, where he spent his childhood in the Ghetto, was erased, the same as the Warsaw one. Many millions of people disappeared, literally in smoke. As my good uncle would say, from his bottom of Australia, "Who is to blame?"

Yes, who is to blame? We see rising of similar sentiments today in Europe, not so much towards the Jews, as they are nonexistent in numbers threatening the Gentile, but to the others. It is interesting to see how Europe did not go far from its narrow-mindedness. Frightening. In the first part, "The Ghetto", Infeld describes his childhood in Krakow ghetto and, in a very surprosing way for me, presents the isolation of the Ghetto. Jews preserved their culture and religion this way, but also separated themselves from the host community. As we see today, it is a risky business.

"Escape" part of the book describes his way to scholarship, from the teacher in Jewish school. Here is also the story of his tragic first marriage, with a girl from the rich Jewish family. It ended in devastating blow in a loss of his wife whom he loved dearly, when he was 34 years old. He describes in painful details how he and the girl's parents (she was their only child) could not grasp with the loss. He also describes how physical side took over his pain-sex overcame. He only indicates "lifes destroyed" by his reckless behavior, but it is enough to understand that he was completely lost.

In a self-preservation move he asked his colleague and professor in Lwow to help him to obtain some scholarship abroad. He finished obtaining the Rockefeller fellowship in Cambridge. He entered the Big Physics world through a side-door. Much held ajar by Einstein, which he met in Berlin, and then, 16 years later, in Princeton, USA.

In "Search and Research" is described some of the Physics he was involved in, but most of the emotion in the text goes into problems he had to stay in USA. Here again Einstein helped, collaborating on the popular science book Infeld devised to write for Einstein. Here Infeld shows how a physicist should not forget his fellow citizens, who pay his research. A genuine effort by him and Einstein bore fruits and, in effect of his new fame, he obtained the professorship in Canada, something he could only dream of before the book.

The end of the story is after the war, when he returned, somewhat
controversially, to the communist Poland. In Warsaw, undoubtedly governed by a Public Relations communists there wanted to bathe in, he was offered unlimited resources. He took and used them well-the school of physics in Warsaw is today a cradle of good physics.

"Quest" is a very informative text. Some of the things mentioned there are rather a taboo still in Poland. Or simply nobody, except those who were directly involved, is really interested in it. The remnants of the world described in the book are still present, but in the next refurbishing of the cities, they could get erased. This should not happen, as we are still to learn the lesson... This is why testimonies as this book should be more than welcome. It is not about Jews. It is about "us" and "them", an eternal quest for the human race.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Sleep

During the two thousand years
of Buddha's sleep
Nothing happened.

The World was going its usual ways.
Waves of the Universe
washed the sand on the beaches.

Nothing happened.
Stars were shining
a dew of morning,

For two thousand years
Nothing happened.

Would Buddha need to observe this?
He closed his eyes.

He is in the garden.


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Farewell

To conceive a verse,
one needs to learn
love, smile and joy,
death and sorrow.

In this time of a hunt
for the ghosts of real life,
they seem as luxuries.

When a friend, be it,
in this carmic cycle,
a dog, a frog or a human,
leaps into eternity,
give it a soothing kiss
and merely a "bye".

Measured in the scale of stars,
You will follow in no time.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Ph.K.Dick, "The man in the high castle"

Reading of this book was a travel in time, not only beacuse it moved me to some alternative space-time, but also because of shifting me for some 30 years in my private time-the time when I read it the first time. I lived in so different a world then, that thinking of it seems equally imaginary as this novel's story.

In fact, the reality of today seems closer to PKD's story than what I lived back in 1980-ies, in Yugoslavia. Reading of newspapers or listening to the news would easily convince me that Nazi and Japs won the WWII, and we are in some post-war development from the extremal times.

Superb story, with a quality above mere story-telling. Alternative history? He is known to move in his head, in last years of life, into the reality where we all live in a Roman Empire time, only we do not know it. Matrix before "Matrix"?

It is interesting how he makes the book written by "I Ching", giving it another dimension. Weird, especially at his time of less "global" world. Really nothing "typical" in his writing here.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Ferdydurke

Reading of Witold Gombrowicz's "Kronos" motivated me to re-read some of his works again. Nothing more logical than going for his first, "Ferdydurke".

I read it first some 25 years ago, in Croatian translation, and later also in Polish original, probably this very example I read this time. As usual, the book is the same, the reader changes.

When in my first reading I was a pup-pup-pupil myself, which could
participate in some enaction of the scenes from the book; later I was a bit less ...pup-pupil, and now I am rather on the other side, of Pimko, the Pedagogue. Less pup-pupile? Hope so.

It is interesting that, reading it, I recalled some characters from that shadowy world of education. And that the most sad and pathetic characters were some I knew recently, not at all the old "educators" from my school time, but some of my colleagues. Eh! Probably Gombrowicz himself saw many of the people around below their "serious" skin.


This work is not a satire, I see it more like a vivisection of an imperfection of society, a failure of pretending to be governed by grown-ups, when it is in fact a non-cooked meal. It is incredible that Gombrowicz wrote it in 1935!, but then, this was the time which, in prediction of the slaughter to come, gave birth to many a unexpected work. I think that in 25 years I will still find it amusing.

Classical parts of this book are two pieces which also stand alone in the short-stories collection of his works: the sketches about Philidor and Philibert's Child Within. The first, with it's absurd analysis and synthesis, and the second, with its equally absurd line of events in the most "serious" and linear part of the society, is a grotesque and, in fact, vividly realistic reminder of the socially agreed quality of the less earthly portions of our world. If only for those two, Gombrowicz should be remembered as a great writer!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Witold Gombrowicz: "Kronos"

This is the last published writing by the author, even if he wrote it for many years and was known by some to be his most valued possession. It is a kind of raw notes, true and merciless-on life, not only on himself, but mostly his private things. Like, his love affairs, his physical maladies down to falling teeth, infection on his testicles or triper drop, financial and social status (which was highly oscillating during the time).

Necessary a post-humous publication, probably not even meant to be else, since it is full of "non-acceptable" (at his time) details, like his homosexuality, and ofen using the service of street whores, male or female, or being involved into hazardous street-sex encounters, which even brought him some visits to local police stations.

Rarely I saw such an overly honest text. In fact, I do not think I ever saw such a thing, ever, except maybe in "Un-expurgated Diary" of Anais Nin. Both works have an anthropological value, might well one day be exposed in an exhibition as "a human of the middle of XX ct."!

The book is published by a large investment of work and ...detachment of his wife and friends (not to be hurt by the revelations). Being rather a sketch of the diary than the diary (Gombrowicz was renowned for his-equally merciless-social diary), it is relying heawily on foot-notes, but they are non-intrusive and well-measured.

I read the Polish version, the 1st edition, from 2013. It went rather un-eventful in publication even in ultra-conservatist Poland of today, where Gombrowicz is esteemed as a literature bard. For that part Polish are a reasonable nation, not estranging themselves from even the most unsympathetic characters of their culture life. And Gombrowicz definitely was the one who would share the hostile feelings towards the establishment of today's Poland, as he did towards the Polish establishment at his time.

I was attracted to the book by the possibilty to know more about the author, whom I appreciate for independence of thought when it was not at all simple. If anything, Gombrowicz remains brutally frank, and he is not avoiding the responsibilty for his being himself.

Nowadays it is all too easy to forget that there was a time, not so long
time ago, when one could not tell to the "establishment" to go fuck
themselves and die in oblivion... In fact, in our time, which is that of neo-concilianism, we even more rarely see the uncompromise fight for one's personal right to be her/himself. An artist became "a celebrity", or simply "a nobody".

Gombrowicz is, even today, a welcome refreshing wind in the steam of the futile efforts of so many a (wo)man to be liked (not only on Facebook), to be relevant.