One of the hardest things to get smart people to do, whether philosophers or scientists, is to confess the hard limits to our knowledge. One thing well beyond the limits is what is called 'the hard problem' of consciousness: that is, why does it feel like we're conscious at all?

If we don't call it a miracle, it's not clear what else we might call it.

[H]ere we are, a gaudy efflorescence of consciousness, staggeringly improbable in light of everything we know about the reality that contains us.

There are physicists and philosophers who would correct me. They would say that if there are an infinite number of universes, as in theory there could be, then creatures like us would be very likely to emerge at some time in one of them. But to say this is only to state the fact of our improbability in other terms....

The universe passed through its unimaginable first moment, first year, first billion years, wresting itself from whatever state of nonexistence, inflating, contorting, resolving into space and matter, bursting into light. Matter condenses, stars live out their generations. Then, very late, there is added to the universe of being a shaped stick or stone, a jug, a cuneiform tablet. They appear on a tiny, teetering, lopsided planet, and they demand wholly new vocabularies of description for reality at every scale. What but the energies of the universe could be expressed in the Great Wall of China, the St. Matthew Passion? For our purposes, there is nothing else. Yet language that would have been fully adequate to describe the ages before the appearance of the first artifact would have had to be enlarged by concepts like agency and intention, words like “creation,” that would query the great universe itself. Might not the human brain, that most complex object known to exist in the universe, have undergone a qualitative change as well? If my metaphor only suggests the possibility that our species is more than an optimized ape, that something terrible and glorious befell us—if this is merely another fable, it might at least encourage an imagination of humankind large enough to acknowledge some small fragment of the mystery we are.
The thing about the hard problem isn't that we don't know how to answer it. The important thing is that we can't even put firm brackets around what an answer would look like.

Back from the Land of the Dead

Back from the Land of the Dead:

I have returned from my short journey to California. Southern California has a particular beauty, which can help explain why there seem to be so very many people there. Some highlights from the trip included getting to sit with some Hollywood Marine recruits on the flight out, who were just on their way to boot camp; it was a pleasure to talk with them. In addition, I had one afternoon for looking across the bay at Coronado, and for driving past Miramar.

Now, as DB says, back to your regular programming.

Robin Hood, History Channel

I'm watching a wonderful History Channel show on Robin Hood. Ridley Scott, Russell Crow, and various historians are all in it. I particularly like the actual timeline they keep showing of when the name "Robin Hood" first began to appear in written documents. They say he was mentioned in oral history for about 100-200 years before his name was recorded in documents. He also had a big presense in various ballads, all way before his name ever was written anywhere.  Somewhere around 1460 a guy who has come to be known as Robin Hood existed.

Of course, I can still recite the entire song from the Disney version and I recall having a massive crush on the fox (read: cartoon) version of Robin Hood. Never was into Errol Flynn. I will enjoy seeing Russell Crow be him.

Robin Hood and Little John running through the forest, laughing back and forth at what the other one has to say; reminising this and that, and having such a good time; ooodalolly ooodalolly, golly what a day!

Don't worry, gang, Grim comes back soon and will be restoring the usual program.

Paintings of Knights at The Met (Saints Maurice and George)

Saber with Emeralds

I'm having a girly-girl fit.  All you guys will groan, I'm sure. Yes, it's only a ceremonial saber, but it's so pretty.

Isn't it wonderful?

And while I'm at it...

Great Riots of US History

Great Riots of US History:

Todd Jensen writes to point us to his piece on ten great (or terrible) riots of American history. It's a short piece, but with description and video from the more recent of these shortlived uprisings.

Old door, Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius, Faustina

For your info:

I just had to know, so I looked up Hadrian, and searched for Faustina within those results, and got this:
As Hadrian died shortly after and Antoninus Pius assumed the throne, Marcus soon shared in the work of the high office. Antoninus sought for Marcus to gain experience for the role he would one day have to play. And with time, both seemed to have shared true sympathy and affection for each other, like father and son. As these bonds grew stronger Marcus Aurelius broke off his engagement to Ceionia Fabia and instead became engaged to Antoninus' daughter Annia Galeria Faustina (Faustina the Younger)in AD 139.  An engagement which should lead to marriage in AD 145.
Faustina would bear him no fewer than 14 children during their 31 years of marriage. But only one son and four daughters were to outlive their father.

In AD 139 Marcus Aurelius was officially made caesar, junior emperor to Antoninus, and in AD 140, at the age of only 18, he was made consul for the first time.

Also of interest:

Never listen to gossip!



I'm traveling this week.

While DB continues to entertain us with Met photos, I may have less to say than usual.

Nubuck armor

I may turn this into an almost daily piece from The Met. Any objections? Or should I cool it already?

What do you suppose the little hook is for above? To hold the helmet in place?

I'm grouping these pieces together only because of the reconstructed look using the nubuck. Historians will recoil, I'm sure.

hehe -- lookin' a little Texas (above).

Getting down to brass tacks (above).

Here is a great link about the history of armor, its use, and various related links. You can search by time period and region. I highly recommend the informational links at The Met, as well as the artwork and artifacts.

Disclaimer to the Hall:
I am learning about this stuff as I go along; maybe in ten years you'll get an essay or two that wraps the pretty pictures and the historical aspect together. Since I grew up with the porcelain tea set and not the faux weapons, I'm not inclined to already know about this stuff. However, my best friend and I did always raid her brother's room, since his stuff was cooler. After all, we did not have "equipment" or "ammunition" and his endless array of neat things like little hard plastic backpacks (for when we were going on a mission) that could be packed with fake coiled ropes, "rations," and a spare rifle outshone our many plastic shoes, boas, and various outfits in which to change our dolls. Inevitably, he had to lower himself to dealing with us, and we'd make up one side and he the other. We'd always win.
This amuses me no end:

Yup, along with British and French troops, that's a company of US Infantry, marching in Red Square. Part of the 65th anniversary celebrations of the victory over Nazi Germany. The US, British and French troops were invited by the Russian Government to participate this year, for the first time ever.

But other Russians aren't so happy:
Author Alexander Prokhanov, editor in chief of the nationalist Zavtra daily, called the appearance of U.S. servicemen in Red Square a national humiliation.

"The fact that American troops are trampling underfoot the cobblestones of Red Square is a huge shame and humiliation for Russia," Prokhanov said. "Thus they are celebrating their final victory not in World War II but in the Cold War."


(via perfunction)

Amor Caritas

To go with Grim's beautiful poem...

Lady of Flowers

Lady of Flowers:

O Lady of Flowers, May is your hour;
The world fills with color, deepens in hue,
Trees grow with green, vines tower,
Bulbs of winter now blossom for you.
We broke beds in November, marked with stone,
Fires of winter we lay by in mirth,
The white ash on beds shone
‘Til April rain turned ash to earth,
We planted while our son would sing;
For You love flowers, and we you;
Worked, we, to thunder of spring;
The soft shoots of the plantings grew.
The sunlight of May at first break of day
Embraces your love in fullest display.

Medieval ladies quiz

Happy Mother's Day. Don't forget the ladies.

"The Inquisition"

How serendipitous is question #10?