The Loss Of Myth And Ritual–Stuff Of The Week

the loss of myth and ritual

John By Joan Halifax (flickr_url: [1]) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia CommonsSeed recalled in 1994 ‘Joseph Campbell’s [pictured] warning that the chief sources of anxiety in our age are the loss of myth and ritual. If we could heal our culture so that it once more provided us with authentic connection between our soul and the Earth, perhaps the need for individual therapy would disappear again. For me, the real work is very much to reclaim these rituals and the empowerment that they offer, and to take that empowerment and spread it through our lives, finding ways to serve the Earth.’ [Retrieved 2013-08-11]

atoms and me

By Ben Pollard from Bristol, CT (Deep in thought) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia CommonsMmmmmm. These atoms that make me have been around for nearly eternity. ‘Me’, I’m here today, gone tomorrow. Ephemera. I’ve known about entropy for some time and the unalterable tendency for everything to increase in disorder, for the energy to run out, or as someone put it, for things to fall apart. That’s a bit of a downer.


deep-thought-from-moviesera.comHowever, I’ve learning of a new countervailing tendency to disorder, for everything to increase in orderly information. Maybe as the energy runs out, the information piles up and something comes together. But doesn’t that then require some kind of storage? Or does the information run out too? Hey, we didn’t know about entropy a few hundred years ago. Who knows what else we’ll discover in the next few hundred. Maybe Seth Lloyd and Douglas Adams are both on to something. Maybe ‘me’ is just a snippet of code among the many, many atoms that make up some giant computer we call the universe. Maybe….

maxwell’s demon, linking information and entropy

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled GNU Free Documentation License. I wonder if there’s some kind of link between entropy and information? Mmmmmmm…. The thought experiment called ‘Maxwell’s demon‘ [pictured] expresses a relationship between information and entropy. ‘Maxwell imagines one container divided into two parts, A and B. Both parts are filled with the same gas at equal temperatures and placed next to each other. Observing the molecules on both sides, an imaginary demon guards a trapdoor between the two parts. When a faster-than-average molecule from A flies towards the trapdoor, the demon opens it, and the molecule will fly from A to B. Likewise, when a slower-than-average molecule from B flies towards the trapdoor, the demon will let it pass from B to A.’

keep it or throw it away

By gabojor (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons[Pictured is ‘Entropiaudem’ by gabojor.] ‘To determine whether to let a molecule through, [Maxwell’s] demon must acquire information about the state of the molecule and either discard it or store it. [It must store it to avoid discarding it.]. Discarding it leads to immediate increase in entropy but the demon cannot store it indefinitely: In 1982, [Charles] Bennett showed that, however well prepared, eventually the demon will run out of information storage space and must begin to erase the information it has previously gathered. Erasing information is a thermodynamically irreversible process that increases the entropy of a system.’ [Retrieved 2013-08-16]


By Illustration: Maria Pflug-Hofmayr, Hubble-image: NASA, ESA, STScI [CC-BY-2.0-at (], via Wikimedia Commons[Pictured is ‘Universe’ by Maria Pflug-Hofmayr, with an image from the Hubble telescope.] On the other hand, you don’t need storage to compute. What is the entire universe computing? ‘Its own dynamical evolution,’ Seth Lloyd says. ‘As the computation proceeds, reality unfolds.’ [Retrieved 2013-08-16]  In his PhD thesis [1988], he says that ‘without increasing entropy elsewhere, a Maxwell’s demon can lower the entropy of his [sic] surroundings…. The possibility [exists] that complex systems … can reduce the entropy of their surroundings by a substantial amount without increasing entropy elsewhere.’ He begins with testosterone-fuelled traders on the floor of the NYSE but soon loses me. It’s not that his writing is obtuse (which it isn’t, I think), but that I don’t know enough. I got a lot of catching up to do.

why do i care?

Marcus_Aurelius_Metropolitan_Museum-from-wcSo, why do I care? At 51, why do I, a humanities grad, care about the non-human origin, fate, and state of an incredibly vast, incredibly old universe? Why do I care about how many quarks can dance on the head of a pin? (Meaning, why do I care about teeny things I can’t see and how and even where they dance.) Maybe I care for the same reason that Melissa Fung was wowed by the night sky when she thought she was going to be killed: wonder. Or what Marcus Aurelius  (pictured) said almost two thousand years ago (though not in English, here made gender-neutral clumsily by me): ‘You who does not know what the world is does not know where you are, and you who does not know for what purpose the world exists, does not know who you are, nor what the world is.’


Cosmological_Mandala_with_Mount_Meru-from-wcOne field of study of you and the world is called cosmology, ‘the study of the origins and eventual fate of the universe. Physical cosmology is the scholarly and scientific study of the origin, evolution, structure, dynamics, and ultimate fate of the universe, as well as the natural laws that keep it in order. Religious cosmology (or mythological cosmology) is a body of beliefs based on the historical, mythological, religious, and esoteric literature and traditions of creation and eschatology.’ [Retrieved 2013-08-17. Pictured is a Chinese cosmology from the 14th century.]

back to that guy

By Photograph by Oren Jack Turner, Princeton, N.J. Modified with Photoshop by PM_Poon and later by Dantadd. [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsBack to the books, which means back to that guy, Einstein. For example, ‘Beyond the challenges of quantum effects and cosmology, research on general relativity is rich with possibilities for further exploration: mathematical relativists explore the nature of singularities and the fundamental properties of Einstein’s equations, ever more comprehensive computer simulations of specific spacetimes (such as those describing merging black holes) are run, and the race for the first direct detection of gravitational waves continues apace. More than ninety years after the theory was first published, research is more active than ever.’  [Retrieved 2013-08-18] Stay tuned….


phonograph_16x9_620x350-from-cbcCopyright is a balance between artist and public. But then there grew an intermediary between artist and public. In music, it was the recording business–the recording studio, the record manufacturer, the publisher, the distributor, the radio and later the teevee, the record store. The balance shifted away from the public and away from the artist and to this intermediary, the recording business. but the balance is shifting again. In Twilight of the Gods, part 5–What Next?, Robert Harris contends that ‘the internet has radically altered the business model of a multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry’, the recording business, which has failed to keep pace technologically and socially.

intellectual property rights

By Tkgd2007 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia CommonsRecordings have intellectual property rights, which are not the same as physical property rights. With physical property rights, you own a thing, such as a raincoat, outright in perpetuity. But intellectual property rights, the basis of copyright law, form a social contract between the artist and society, whereby the artist seeks monetary gain from the public for his or her creation, balanced with the public having access to the artist’s creation. Copyright changes after so many years: initially, the artist controls the copyright, but that is only temporary, because eventually society wants access and the creation enters the public domain. Copyright law ‘is about getting creative things out into the public, … not keeping them under legal lock-and-key forever.’ Or it used to be, until intermediary entities got between the artist and society. Until….

along came the internet: ‘how can you compete with free?’

By The people from the Tango! project (The Tango! Desktop Project) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsTechnology and society have changed greatly in the last hundred years. ‘Knowledge, once the preserve of the few, is now accessible to everyone’, says Harris. But the business model of the recording business has not changed. Music on the internet may be illegal, but it’s free. As one insider lamented, ‘How can you compete with free?’ On the other hand, there are those who say the internet is the best thing that could ever happen to the recording business if only the recording business had a relevant business model. Or just get out of the way.

copyright law as a weapon

This image comes from the Project Gutenberg archives. This is an image that has come from a book or document for which the American copyright has expired and this image is in the public domain in the United States and possibly other countries.Harris faults the unchanging recording business: ‘For the past decade, record companies have been doing everything in their power to keep music fans away from the music they clearly wanted.’ He contends that the record companies’ use of copyright law ‘as a weapon’ is a severe distortion of its original (1708) intent. Originally it was seen as a means of learning, a social benefit, before music and voice were recorded and certainly before the internet. Now music companies are suing fans for getting music for free off the internet. Thirty years ago, copyright law was a backwater, but today, it’s at the forefront of many legal cases. For Eben Moglen, professor of law and legal history at Columbia University, copyright law has become more than a social contract or a weapon. It has become a moral issue.

copyright law as a moral issue

By Mihir.rao94 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons‘The digitization of everything useful and beautiful,’ says Moglen, ‘everything we value and care about in human society, means that we can give everybody everywhere anything we can give any one. And once we’ve made it for one person, we’ve made it for everybody….  And we have to do it; morally we have to do it, and practically we have to do it. If humanity is to survive, it must be smart. If we are to be smart we have to look at all those children in the world who don’t get to go to school, and we have to teach them what they want to know.’

a call for sharing

The Free Software Foundation [FAL or GPL (], via Wikimedia CommonsTo do that ‘we have to allow for a democratization of communications. We have to do more sharing, radically more sharing. We have to do less owning, radically less owning,’ says Moglen. Remember that copyright law ‘as a weapon’ to establish ownership and theft is a severe distortion of its original intent, as a means of learning, as a social benefit, before recording and the internet. ‘From Edison to now, copyright on music made sense.’ Moglen says that before recording it didn’t make sense; now, with the internet, it again doesn’t make sense.


Don_Tapscott-from-wcIt didn’t make sense then and it doesn’t make sense now because of what Don Tapscott, co-author of Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, calls ‘disintermediation’, meaning ‘no middle guy’. Because of the internet, I can learn about M-theory at home. I don’t need a bookstore. I don’t need a record store either. I can listen to Alison Balsom. Youtube’s link to its generic copyright information is buried in the footer (do you ever see the footer?). I heard Danny Michel on the internet, first on, next on, then on When he came to town, we went to see him and bought that relic, the CD. Ditto Whitehorse. Ditto The Good Lovelies.

to be continued….

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