Monday, June 24, 2019


Received the Summer Edition of Lapham's Quarterly called Happiness.  Nor sure what I was expecting, but am already drawn into the essays and excerpts.

A couple of interesting quotes:

A society devoted to self-gratification may, in the end, destroy the conditions of its own existence.

Avoid the pursuit of happiness.  Seek to define your mission and pursue that.

Happy people do not look at their watches.

She didn't want to know how a thing was done, but why.  That can be embarrassing.  You ask Why to a lot of things and you wind up very unhappy indeed if you keep at it.

And one which has often entered my mind when thinking about happiness, from a Cheryl Crow song:

It's not having what you want, it's wanting what you have.

One might say that before the Declaration of Independence extolled the virtues of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, common men did not value happiness as a goal in itself, but rather thought that attaining certain goals would bring happiness as a byproduct.  Certainly, women and children were not actively in pursuit of happiness and they generally excepted what was prescribed by their elders as the path to a happy life.  For a women it meant motherhood, perhaps marriage to a successful man to accentuate their duty to bear children, but only in the recent past has love or happiness been a luxury they might pursue.  As for children, far too often their childhoods were marked by home labor on the farm, or slave wage labor when the industrialization of the modern world first occurred.

How things have changed in the past hundred years!.

Happiness is as much a marketing tool as a state of mind.  We allow our happiness to be defined for us, not by our parents, or husbands as before, but by the most clever ad men and con men. 

I have commented in past posts how the cost of living has changed so dramatically.  Where once we had party lines, then one phone per home, now anyone without their personal cell phone by the age of seven considers themselves ill used.  And at a cost of hundreds of dollars per month for the average family.

Where once we felt pride in being a two car family, perhaps the 2nd one being for local use only,  probably high mileage and well used by another before us,  now each driving age adult requires their own vehicle, in new or like new condition with comforts that many of us did not have in our homes when children.

Yet, for all these and so many other possessions, and items which have been sold to us as necessary for a happy life, the United States contains a seemingly unhappy population.

Suicide rates are on the increase, claiming over 45,000 people per year since 2016.  Not to mention those people who are unsuccessful at suicide, or who are leading lives marked by alcohol and drug abuse.  The use of tranquilizers and other drugs meant to help us "cope" is off the charts.  Gun violence claims over 40,000 Americans per year, (there is an overlap between gun deaths and suicides), placing America #1 in this dubious statistic among high income countries of the world.

So, while America continues to be a land of opportunity, a country with as many freedoms as most, a place where the melting pot of diversity in people and culture is as successful as any in history, in very many measurable areas, we are happy at a less than sterling percentage.

I have maintained very often that I would never want to win a big lottery payoff.  I imagine that winning $300 million would ruin my life although I must admit that perhaps $1 million would be nice.  Accumulating large sums of wealth, to me, seems to be a prescription for unhappiness, yet for so many people, a boatload of money is one of their dreams.  It seems so obvious that money cannot buy happiness, and I would imagine that a majority of Americans would agree with that notion, yet we act to the contrary in virtually everything we do.

We stay in jobs that we hate to maintain the paycheck.

We buy the newest and greatest products, thereby discarding those products which had previously replaced the old for the new, oblivious to the wheel we run that results in basements and attics and garages filled with the newest and greatest products of previous marketing campaigns.

We look in our overflowing closets and find nothing to wear, in our bursting pantries and refrigerators and find nothing to eat, on our TV channel guide and find nothing to watch, through our google inspired searches which lists dozens of activities and find nothing to do.

We are unhappy with the vast experiences which life offers us because we are unhappy with ourselves, and so we press on and buy more clothes and different foods, seek new stimulants and stimulations, but so often fail to enjoy them, as if by being able to possess or experience them, they lose their luster, become ordinary, because they were attainable in the first place.

Stop and smell the roses, isn't just about taking time out from the hectic pace of our lives, but about rejoicing in the mere presence of a rose, whether it be the first or thousandth we have seen and smelled.

I generally consider myself a happy person, despite the crying jags I experience from certain memories, certain feelings, certain emotions.  I don't believe that crying indicates unhappiness, merely the recognition of a sad or tearful event.  I sometimes wonder if the happiest people I know, those easy to laugh, who seem positive and less prone to sadness, also cry easily.  Perhaps, when all is said and done, those who laugh and cry the most are the happiest people because they can discern happy and sad experiences for what they are, and then allow themselves to feel the appropriate emotion when it is applicable to the situation, without fearing the vulnerability that can result from displaying emotions.

Perhaps, as darkness is the absence of light, yet without each the other cannot exist, sadness and happiness are linked in that both must exist for either one to be real.  That happiness and crying are not on opposite poles as are not sadness and laughing.

I will check back in as I continue to read "Happiness".


Monday, June 3, 2019

More on Galileo's Daughter

I finished reading Galileo's Daughter over the weekend.  It is interesting to realize that we come to understand through Suor Marie Celeste's letters that she possessed a strong intellect and an ability to improve the lives of those around her, just as her father did, yet did not have a very strong self-image.  One can easily imagine that had she been born a male, she may have made a mark for herself in history, perhaps continuing some of his work.  Of course, it is impossible to accurately predict outcomes based on conjecture, but in reading her letters, and knowing the sad history of male assumptions that women were inferior in all areas, one could only wonder at the loss of insight, inventions, and social and technological progress that we have missed by putting all our eggs in the basket of white male privilege.

Certainly, Suor Marie Celeste could not have dreamed that her letters would be treasured 400 years after she composed them.  Of course, a mere letter from a daughter to a father, in itself, is not historical, and hers would never have been saved if not for her birth lottery victory of being Galileo's daughter, but he had other children, other progeny, and, even if we assume that it was Galileo's deep love for his daughter that compelled him to save her letters, it still reflects positively on her that he loved her so much, when one understands how valued male children were in that time as compared to female children.

It can also be rather humbling to realize that of the millions of people born in those days, very few have been remembered.  We are experiencing an increase in understanding our heredity, whether through family trees or DNA testing, but knowing the names of our ancestors who lived 3,4,5 or more generations before us, and knowing them as people are two very different things.  The reality is that very few of us, perhaps none of you who may be reading these words, will be more than part of the group of people who lived in the early 21st century.  We remember those whom we know who have passed through our memories, and perhaps communications.  But most people are eventually lost in the passage of time, when there are no longer anyone alive to recount what they looked like, what they liked to do, their smile, their mannerisms.  Their essence.  That is what is so unique about this book and the letters quoted within it.  Galileo is presented as more than just a famous inventor and astronomer, but as a man with faults and ailments, as a father, as a fellow citizen, as a man who understood the obstacles he faced in his quest for undiscovered truths, but persisted anyway, perhaps hoping for the best in a naive way, but accepting the consequences whatever they may be, all the while continuing his training of young minds, continuing his experimentation, and continuing his support of his children, especially his daughter, Suor Celeste Marie.

I had remembered poorly, some of the history of Galileo's fate after being convicted of heretical beliefs.  At first, he was merely "kept" at the home of a supporter, in Siena, where he continued to have visitors, and discuss his theories.  But, as time passed, the details of the sentence emerged, and all his books were banned from further publishing, not just "Dialogue".  Also, he was forbidden from teaching, and even of discussing his theories related to earth being in motion.  It would be over 100 years until a publisher was granted permission to include "Dialogue" in a posthumous collection of Galileo's works, but even then, certain disclaimers needed to be included as "Dialogue" remained officially banned.
Amazingly, it took about 200 years for "Dialogue of Galileo Galilei" was dropped from this list, when the Congregation of the Holy Office finally allowed books about modern astronomy which described the movement of the Earth.  Can you even imagine knowing something to be true, today, but having to wait until 2219 before it is officially recognized as true?

The biggest omission I had of Galileo's life, by far, was never being taught of his daughter.  Her sufferings along with Galileo as they awaited, first the verdict, then the details of the sentence, might be considered as big a part of his ultimate punishment as the banning itself, for Suor Marie Celeste dies soon after this travesty of judgment.  Her removal from his life, both emotional and physical as she spent a considerable amount of her time preparing various medicines, balms, and treatments for his various physical complaints, surely led to a reduced life expectancy for Galileo. 

A final bit of information that I did not know, was that one of Galileo's last students, Vincenzio Viviani, spent the remainder of his life trying to have Galileo's remains buried in a place of honor.  And, while he did not succeed, (it wasn't until 1737 that Galileo's remains were moved to a more honorable location), he secretly obtained the remains of Suor Celeste Marie and had her buried with her father.  There she lay, without inscription, until Vincenzio's tomb project was finally brought to fruition.  And there she lay today, without acknowledgement, buried with her father's remains, perhaps the most precious gift humanity could have provided for Galileo and his daughter.

As a side note, the book also included some interesting facts to help the reader place Galileo in history.  For instance, there has been some speculations regarding the fact that Michelangelo died February 18, 1564, 3 days after Galileo was born. 

Other interesting bits of information

Shakespeare was also born in 1564 (again, imagine if his writings remained banned for 200 years!).

Galileo published The Starry Messenger in 1610 after, by using his improved telescope, he discovers the moons of Jupiter. 

Galileo's Sunspot Letters is published in 1613, revealing more details which disprove the idea that the stars in the sky are fixed.

Galileo dies in early 1642; Isaac Newton is born on December 25th of that same year.

Newton publishes Principia in 1687 in which he proposed his laws of motion and universal gravitation, thereby justifying Galileo's discoveries for which he was condemned.

The University of Pisa, where Galileo studied but never earned his degree, grants him an honorary degree, in 1892, upon the celebration of the 250th anniversary of his death.

In 1979, over 400 years after his death, Pope John Paul II calls for theologians, scholars and historians to reexamine Galileo's case.

In 1989, NASA launches the Galileo spacecraft to study the moons of Jupiter at close range.

In 1992, Pope John Paul II publicly endorses Galileo's philosophy.  In his declaration, Pope John reiterates the belief that, given the premise that we can not know God's plan, nor fully understand the reasons or meanings of Her creations, it might be best to withhold judgments by pretending to be the sole arbiter of the meaning of the bible, and perhaps seek truth by using all our gifts, intellect, reason, and deduction included.

OK, you caught me.  The pope didn't say that.  It is my interpretation of Galileo's overriding ability to not only not see religion and science as in competition, but that each compliments the other by combining truth in the physical as well as the spiritual realms.