Another matter

Aurora Borealis; the Northern Lights.
Aurora Borealis

When is a substance not a liquid, solid, or gas? Give up? When it’s plasma, the fourth state of matter. (Not blood plasma, which is something different.)  Alas, my elementary school science failed me. And now…literally, decades later, I have become re-enchanted with this fact.

So, for those of us who are a bit out of touch with plasma, I’ll paraphrase a bit about this state. To begin with, what exactly is plasma?

Plasma is a super-heated gas that becomes so hot its electrons leave the atom’s orbit and roam free. A gas becomes a plasma when extreme heat causes its atoms to shed their electrons.

Okay, that’s cool, but where is it? We recognize the other states of matter, but what about this mysterious thing? Plasma is the most abundant form of visible matter in the universe and believed to compose up to 99 percent of what we see in the night sky; populating the infinite regions of interstellar and interplanetary space. Like the sun, stars are enormous balls of plasma. The fusion fueled by plasma creates the energy that gives us sunlight, which as we know, is essential for life on Earth.

Hmmm, so if this plasma is another state of matter, where else is it found?  Lightning, neon signs, fluorescent light bulbs, a candle flame, some television and computer displays are all examples of plasma. Like a gas, plasma has no shape or a definite volume unless it is enclosed in a container. However, distinctive from gas, when under the influence of a magnetic field, it may form structures such as filaments, beams and double layers.

Can we see it? Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights, is nature’s way of showing it to us. This occurs because plasma particles hurled from the sun interact with Earth’s magnetosphere, (the magnetic field that surrounds us).

Today’s esteemed thinker is English chemist and physicist, Sir William Crookes (1832-1919). He discovered the element thallium and invented the radiometer, the spinthariscope (a device for studying alpha particles), and the Crookes tube. Not a household name, Crookes discovered the electron when he was reconstructing the Cathode Ray. By placing black vanes on one side and silver on the other, it caused the vacuum tube to spin when it hit the light. Since the Cathode Ray had previously been built, he needed to call it something else. Today it is known as the Crookes’ Tube.

In 1879, while playing with an experimental electrical discharge tube (in which air is ionized by the introduction of a high voltage through a coil), he discovered “Plasma”.  Originally Sir William Crookes called it radiant matter. However, in 1928 Irving Langmuir, an American chemist and physicist, renamed it because he was reminded of blood plasma… go figure! 

Esteemed thinker: Henri Rousseau

There are twenty-four hours in the day all making up the exact amount of minutes, sixty-per-hour to be exact. However, it is curious that some of these hours seem to fly by, not allowing us to complete specific tasks. It is during this time that we often say, “time flies”. Yet, on the opposite pole, there exists times when we feel an hour goes by so slowly that we wish it away. These creeping hours are universally agreed upon to be relegated to the occasions when we wake up in the middle of the night and are unable to fall back to sleep.

During these fitful hours nothing seems to agree. Our pillows are too flat or too thick, our sheets are too hot or too cold, and the room is too quiet or too noisy. The clock’s ticking or lit numbers seem too loud or too bright, and seem only remind to us that we should be asleep.

Twenty-four hours in the day may be the official count however, during unintentional times we are awake instead of sleeping, twenty –four hours seems interminable. rousseau image

Today’s blog brings to you the esteemed thinker: Henri Rousseau (1844-1910), a self-taught French artist born in Laval, France. His nickname, “Le Douanier” (“the customs officer”) by his acquaintances in the Parisian avant-garde was given to him because of his occupation as a toll collector. During his life as an artist he was often ridiculed as not being good, and unlike his peers who profited by their art, Rousseau did not.
His style, often described as childlike and naïve, did in fact portray his subjects with bold colors and very personalized style. His style was never appreciated by the conservative art officials in Paris, yet he was able to find exhibitions that accepted his work to be shown.

It was contemporary artist friends such as Camille Pissarro who praised his direct approach. After his death in 1910, his work did influence other artists; from his friend Picasso to Max Ernst and the Surrealists.

And so, I bring you a most famous painting by “Le Douanier”, which envisions those set hours we call night….here is an oil on canvas titled “The Sleeping Gypsy” (1897).

rousseau_ sleeping gypsy

Second image: Henri Rousseau 1902 photomechanical print : photogravure

Vincent van Gogh and patience

Van Gogh-church-at-auvers-1890.jpg!Large Is it possible that in the 21st century men and women are in a hurried state, both in mind and movement, more than those who lived in previous centuries? For without much effort it is easy to observe that in all walks of life, regardless of one’s location, there is a sense of urgency smothering the landscape and exuding an assumption that we are never caught up, that the more we do the more we feel we need to do. And as we rush about there too is a chronic din, a background noise of dissatisfaction. Accompanied with the belief that men and women today have a monopoly on being too busy is the conclusion that those who came before could not possibly understand that we today have so much more to accomplish.

But let us stand back and treat the problem by viewing it with a pragmatic approach; this problem that maligns our thoughts, this problem that haunts us and keeps us awake at night…this problem of too much to do and not enough time. If we were to inspect any device that tells time, from your antique Grandfather Clock that survived so many house moves, the one with the pendulum that still swings and dings at each hour, to the most efficient app on your phone that awards you with accurate time anywhere in the universe at any given moment; if you count the minutes from the first light of day to the blackest part of night, the total will still be only twenty-four hours. It is the same amount of time that humans have always been allotted to accomplish what they set out to do in any given day.

Then just perhaps what has diminished is actually not “time”, since mathematically that notion is completely erroneous… Perhaps we have whittled away a part of what was a human attribute and supplanted in its place another human attribute, frustration. Just perhaps it is our patience that has worn away like treads on tires that speed round and around on a race track. For although humans have always been in the market to improve time in order to more quickly accomplish our tasks, our chores, our day-to-day means of transportation, our ability to receive and send communication, although we have successfully sped up the inner workings within our world, we still must be patient… for within the space allocated in a single day it forever remains finite… no more no less, twenty-four hours. Like expanding a balloon, we are able to fill it with just so much air, and although by using a pump we can increase the speed at which the air enters such a playful object … it can only consume and occupy a fixed amount of space before…(well you know what happens)…… it pops!

van gogh 2 Today’s blog brings back a most original person, the esteemed thinker: Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Dutch post- impressionist. Although he is recognized as one of our most gifted artists, this blogger finds that his writing is as expressive as many of his paintings. So, I have taken the liberty of extracting from his autobiography, Dear Theo, a most thoughtful observation.

Without further delay, enjoy a few moments out from you hectic day to enjoy his words. I now present Vincent van Gogh ….

“…There is a saying by *Gustave Dore which I have always admired: ‘J’ai la patience d’un boeuf’. I find in it a certain virtue, a certain resolute honesty. It is the word of a real artist. Ought one not to learn patience from nature, learn patience from seeing the corn slowly ripen, seeing things grow? …

Hardly a day passes now that I do not produce one thing or another. I cannot but make progress; each drawing one completes, each study one paints is a step forward. It is the same as on a road: one sees the church spire at the end, but there is another bit of road one did not see at first, and which must be covered. But one comes nearer and nearer. Sooner or later, I shall arrive at the point of beginning to sell….”

*Gustave Doré : French artist, engraver and illustrator (1832-1888). Translation: “I have the patience of an ox”
First Image: The Church at Auvers by Vincent van Gogh (1890)
Second image: Self-Portrait of Van Gogh (1889)

Rupert Brooke and the night

sunset compressed No matter how familiar we are with a particular location or place, no matter how often we may have frequented or visited; when the sun goes down and the sky grows dark, a change appears. Go outside when the moon is up and suddenly one can hear curious sounds that were muted by day. There is a stillness in the air that is pushed along by the breeze, and as it travels through the open spaces of the canopies it flicks the leaves ricocheting back the most eerie noises. Insects call, night birds hoot, and any rustle by a woodland creature in a familiar bush or scrub becomes an uninvited intruder sending shivers down our backs.

But if this place you are familiar with is not a countryside, but rather the busy streets of a city; the hustle and bustle of day, which is accompanied by a constant flow of activity, the chronic din of the upward and downward pulley of elevators, and the zipping to and fro of traffic; the arrival of darkness ascends like the rise of the curtains at an evening performance. The city’s glow takes on a theatrical appearance of stage lights and a new vigor illuminates what was once quite ordinary. A frenetic passion overtakes blanched city blocks and as though a resurgence of a Renaissance of sorts has been resurrected, neon signs splash color every which way, music oozes out into the streets with the swing of an open door, and expectations soar.

At night we view things differently, and we often wear a persona that can be an extension or even a new conception of ourselves. For no matter how familiar, how recognizable, how comfortable we were by day… night stares back at us and smiles; it diffuses a blanket of darkness often hiding our clarity or removing our inhibitions…

rupert brooke 2 Today I bring back to you our esteemed thinker: Rupert Brooke; English poet and author, best known for his poetry of World War I. Allegedly learning to love poetry from reading Browning at an early age, he belonged to the Georgian Poets, a term describing a romantic and sentimental style … a description of a group of authors writing between the Victorian and Modern era.

So take a moment from your day for a tidbit out of the young Mr. Brooke. From his essay “Letters from America” here are his lovely words about his observations of New York City.

“… Cities, like cats, will reveal themselves at night. There comes an hour of evening when lower Broadway, the business end of the town, is deserted. And if, having felt yourself immersed in men and the frenzy of cities all day, you stand out in the street in this sudden hush, you will hear, like a strange questioning voice from another world, the melancholy boom of a foghorn, and realise that not half a mile away are the waters of the sea, and some great liner making its slow way out to the Atlantic. After that, the lights come out up-town, and the New York of theatres and vaudevilles and restaurants begins to roar and flare. The merciless lights throw a mask of unradiant glare on the human beings in the streets, making each face hard, set, wolfish, terribly blue. The chorus of voices becomes shriller.

The buildings tower away into obscurity, looking strangely theatrical, because lit from below. And beyond them soars the purple roof of the night. A stranger of another race, loitering here, might cast his eyes up, in a vague wonder what powers, kind or maleficent, controlled or observed this whirlpool. He would find only this unresponsive canopy of black, unpierced even, if the seeker stood near a centre of lights, by any star. But while he looks, away up in the sky, out of the gulfs of night, spring two vast fiery tooth-brushes, erect, leaning towards each other, and hanging on to the bristles of them a little Devil, little but gigantic, who kicks and wriggles and glares. After a few moments the Devil, baffled by the firmness of the bristles, stops, hangs still, rolls his eyes, moon-large, and, in a fury of disappointment, goes out, leaving only the night, blacker and a little bewildered, and the unconscious throngs of ant-like human beings…”

* Night photograph:overlooking Biscayne Bay and Miami, Florida.

Esteemed thinker: Henri Bergson

Henri bergson Some of us remember our dreams, some of us don’t, while others choose not to; but when you awaken, if your memory allows you the luxury of recall, dreams are often presented in a disjointed and unintelligible jumble of ideas and scenes. And so, trying to explain your “sleep-time story” often translates into a laundry list of sound-bites making little sense in the light of day. For while you are in a dream you are producing… shall we say… a most peculiar movie, which follows a sequence of events and situations that go from “reel to reel” (or “REM to REM”) . So what is it that makes our dreams so odd, so weird, so incoherent? Some superstitions and ‘old wives tales’ make all kinds of proclamations with rather unscientific explanations regarding how one will dream. For example: sleeping with knives under your pillow will keep nightmares away, or eating garlic at dinner will guarantee bad dreams…does that mean nibbling cookies will grant us sweet dreams!

Today’s blog invites you to hear from our esteemed thinker: Henri Bergson (1859-1941). As a French philosopher, Bergson was highly acclaimed for rejecting the current trend of thinking, rationalism for intuition and experience. His influence on the 19th and early 20th thinkers crossed over the oceans and was embraced by greats such as French novelist Claude Simon, American Philosopher and psychologists William James, English mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, and American author and artist John Dos Passos. In 1927 Bergson won the Nobel Prize in literature.

dreamcatcher_cepia And so, let us take a moment to experience a bit of insight from his essay and work titled Dreams; allow Henri Bergson to reveal the source of our strange and often incoherent nightly visions…the dream.

“… The incoherence of the dream seems to me easy enough to explain. As it is characteristic of the dream not to demand a complete adjustment between the memory image and the sensation, but, on the contrary, to allow some play between them, very different memories can suit the same sensation. For example, there may be in the field of vision a green spot with white points. This might be a lawn spangled with white flowers. It might be a billiard-table with its balls. It might be a host of other things besides. These different memory images, all capable of utilizing the same sensation, chase after it. Sometimes they attain it, one after the other. And so the lawn becomes a billiard-table, and we watch these extraordinary transformations. Often it is at the same time, and altogether that these memory images join the sensation, and then the lawn will be a billiard-table. From this come those absurd dreams where an object remains as it is and at the same time becomes something else. As I have just said, the mind, confronted by these absurd visions, seeks an explanation and often thereby aggravates the incoherence…”