On Being Tumblr

On Being Tumblr

On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.
I did not ask for success, I asked for wonder. And You gave it to me.
- ~Abraham Joshua Heschel, a prayer from Heschel’s book of Yiddish poems remembered by a listener because of this post on failure and curiosity.
Comments

A Twitterscript with Gordon Hempton

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Gordon HemptonOn March 7, 2012, the audio ecologist and “soundtracker” Gordon Hempton found his way to a comfy-quiet public radio studio in Seattle to speak with our host, Krista Tippett, via ISDN line. We live-tweeted some of the best verbal nuggets from this conversation. What are your favorites?

Comments
Download

Being Comfortable in the Presence of Mystery

by Krista Tippett, host

Livio_CMYKMario Livio speaks with Brian Greene (photo: ©The Philoctetes Center for the Multidisciplinary Study of the Imagination/Flickr)

When I first picked up Mario Livio’s book Is God a Mathematician? I knew I wanted to speak with him. Given that title, it is perhaps surprising to learn that he is not himself a religious man. But in his science, he is working on frontiers of discovery where questions far outpace answers — exploring the nature of neutron stars, white dwarfs, dark energy, the search for intelligent life in other galaxies.

In vivid detail and with passionate articulation, he reinforces a sense that has come through in many of my conversations with scientists these past years. That is, in contrast to the nineteenth- and twentieth-century Western, cultural confidence that science was on the verge of explaining most everything, our cutting-edge, twenty-first-century discoveries are yielding ever more fantastic mysteries. The real science of the present, Mario Livio says, is far more interesting than science fiction could ever be.

For example, the fact that the universe is expanding rather than contracting is new knowledge. That has led to the discovery of what is called, for lack of precise understanding, “dark energy,” which is accelerating this expansion. This utterly unexplained substance is now thought to comprise something like 70 percent of the universe. Likewise, the Hubble telescope has helped humanity gain intricate new detail on the unimaginable vastness of the cosmos and the relative insignificance of the space we take up in it. At the same time — and this is one of Livio’s intriguing mysteries — this new knowledge and perspective also shine a new kind of light on the inordinate power of the human mind.

Livio’s question “Is God a mathematician?” is actually an ancient and unfolding question about the uncanny “omnipresence and omnipotent powers” of mathematics as experienced by science and philosophy across the ages. The question itself, as Livio says, is as rich to ponder as any of its possible answers. And so is the fact, behind it, that our minds give rise to mathematical principles, which are then found to have what physicist Eugene Wigner called “an unreasonable effectiveness” in describing the universe.

Livio also picks up on an intriguing theme left dangling in my lovely conversation in 2010 with the Vatican astronomers Guy Consolmagno and George Coyne — the enduring question of whether mathematical truths, laws of nature, are discovered or invented. Livio unapologetically offers his conclusion that there is no either/or answer possible here — that mathematics is both invented and discovered. That is to say, as he tells it, scientists habitually “invent” formulations and theories with no practical application, which generations or centuries later are found to describe fundamental aspects of reality. Even mathematical ideas that are at first invented yield real discoveries that are relevant, true, and wholly unexpected.

I was also interested to learn, as I went into this conversation, that when Mario Livio is not doing science he is a lover of art. “Beauty” is a word that recurs across my cumulative conversation with scientists, and Mario Livio infuses that word with his own evident passion. He is not quite sure, when I press, what that might have to do with his simultaneous passion for art. And yet there is something intriguing — mysterious even — about his description of how echoing allusions from science and art come to him effortlessly in his writing.

And in the backdrop of our conversation, images from the Hubble Space Telescope have brought a lavish beauty of the cosmos into ordinary modern eyes and imaginations. One senses that of all the accomplishments in which he has played a part, Mario Livio is most proud of this one. For him, science is a part of culture — like literature, like the arts. And he wants the rest of us, whether we speak his mother tongue of mathematics or not, to experience it that way too. This conversation brings me farther forward on this path.

I kept thinking, as I spoke with Mario Livio, of Einstein’s references to the reverence for beauty and open sense of wonder that Einstein saw as a common root experience of true science, true religion, and true art. His use of the word “God,” Mario Livio tells me, is similar to Einstein’s grasp for the word “God” as a synonym for the workings of the cosmos. I am struck once again with the capacity of modern scientists to be more comfortable with the presence of mystery, and bolder in articulating its reality than many who are traditionally religious.

Comments

Waves of Murmuration (video)

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

No, not a line from The Pixies. Liberty Smith and Sophie Windsor Clive will ensnare you in the majesty of this chance encounter with “one of nature’s greatest and most fleeting phenomena” — a collection of starlings rolling over a kayak canoe on a lake.

Editor’s note: In the comments below, Maureen Doallas reminded me of two spots where I first heard about starling murmurations and thought I’d share them with you: Paolo Patrizi’s magnificent photos of murmurations over Rome and a BBC documentary. Both are definitely checking out.

Hat tip to Anne Breckbill for the heads up!

Comments
Earth and Moon as Stars in the Night Sky
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Twenty-one days into its journey to Jupiter, NASA’s Juno space probe captured this remarkable sight on August 26th: our planet and its moon (Earth’s on the left) from approximately six million miles, nearly ten million kilometers, away. Seeing Earth from the outside, Scott Bolton, Juno’s principal investigator, put it best, “We see a humbling yet beautiful view of ourselves.”
(image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI)

Earth and Moon as Stars in the Night Sky

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Twenty-one days into its journey to Jupiter, NASA’s Juno space probe captured this remarkable sight on August 26th: our planet and its moon (Earth’s on the left) from approximately six million miles, nearly ten million kilometers, away. Seeing Earth from the outside, Scott Bolton, Juno’s principal investigator, put it best, “We see a humbling yet beautiful view of ourselves.”

(image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI)

Comments
Download

Tuesday Evening Melody: Philip Glass “The Play of the Wrathful and Peaceful Deities”

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

There’s no other composer quite like him. Philip Glass summons the inner strength — the power and majesty — and the vulnerable adult who is always a child inside. His music stirs something primal; he reminds of us of our vulnerability. His music compels us to remember how profound we all can be, even when we can’t feel or say one remarkable word.

I’ve been moved by “Mad Rush” on several occasions, but I had no idea of the back story until now. It was originally written for the organ, which I encourage you to listen to, but the reason it was written is just as interesting. Glass tells the story this way:

"In 1979, most of us didn’t really know very much about His Holiness the Dalai Lama. We weren’t sure exactly when he would arrive, though there was a time specified. I was asked to compose a piece of somewhat indefinite length. Not actually a problem for me. I played in the organ; I’ve become very comfortable with this as a piano piece.

It eventually acquired the name “Mad Rush,” which had nothing to do with its original purpose but… For those who are interested in the Tibetan iconography of Tibetan Buddhism, you might think of it as the play of the wrathful and peaceful deities.”

You can watch Glass’ performance of “Mad Rush” at the Garrison Institute on April 13, 2008 at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in New York City.

(Hats off to findout for reminding me of this exquisite piece!)

Comments

Buddhist Slime Mold
Rob McGinley Myers, Associate Producer

It’s been a pretty cold, wet, desolate spring so far in Minnesota. I went for a walk the other night and it seemed more like autumn than spring, with the wind on my face and the scent of dead leaves in the air. But as I passed under a tree I suddenly noticed buds breaking out all over the branches. It felt like a tiny miracle.

I had just recently listened to our upcoming show with Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, and seeing those buds made me think of what he says about being mindful.

"When you breathe in, your mind comes back to your body, and then you become fully aware that you’re alive, that you are a miracle and everything you touch could be a miracle — the orange in your hand, the blue sky, the face of a child."

I was looking for a video to illustrate my own sense of wonder about the world coming back to life, and discovered this, which I find equally creepy and beautiful. It’s not exactly an image of spring, but it reminds me that all living things are breathing. We just have to pay attention to realize it.

(video by sesotek/Vimeo)

Comments