A Poem on the Anniversary of My Mother’s Death



Finding something green
in my mother’s kitchen
is easy. Look on the counter top.
It’ll be there. But wait,
I haven’t shown you around. Enter here
from the hall by the front door. Notice
the slate floor, three skylights ranging
overhead. We’ll go past the circular
stairway made of stone like an ancient
castle. Another time, we’ll run
up and down those stairs, one hand
on the cool wall, up toward the light
of the sky, or down into the basement dusk
where a lone bulb lights our way.

Next time we’ll go into the livingroom,
look out the wall of windows
across the river to the cornfield, or sit
in the worn easy chair, facing
the huge fireplace set
into a wall of stone.
We’ll admire the mantle, a boulder
so huge it took four workers to hold
while it was levered and braced into place.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Today
we’re in the kitchen, seeing the outside
of the staircase, the back
of the stone wall. The rocks give texture
and shadow, windows overhead give light.
Here, as we enter the kitchen is the old
cook stove with it’s pipe rising.
If it were winter, a loaf of bread
might be warming there,
on that shelf by the firebox.

However, it’s summer now, so my mother is not
kneading dough on the counter top, flour
spread to all corners, her recipe box open,
one card leaning against the flour bin.
That is a winter scene. Today this end
of the counter is bare, wiped clean.

Notice the deep rose of the Formica, the sink
toward the far end. See the eggshell tiles
on the wall between counter top and cabinet
bottom. Notice the painted scenes randomly
interspersed. Here a woman is milking
a cow in a meadow, there a donkey
snoozes in the sun, its ears laid back
in rest. Further down a man in a straw hat
walks away from a sheath of wheat. Hours
my mother spent choosing and arranging
tiles, until the pattern was just so.

The tiles end here beneath the cabinets
with their stained wood finish. And now
we’ve reached the stove
taking up most of the wall at the far end.
It’s a long kitchen but narrow.
The yellow wall above the cabinets
helps lighten the room, ease
the foreboding stone of the opposite wall.
If you need more room turn here
by the stove and walk
into the livingroom, past the refrigerator
and freezer. Through them really,
as they face each other like sentinels
from their built-in cubbies on either side
of the doorway.

Please, before you go, say hello
to my mother.
We are, after all, here looking for green
and there it is, in her hands. Lettuce
this time. A big leafy head, fresh cut
from the garden, bright green and crinkly
edged. If she could see us she’d exclaim:
“Look, isn’t it beautiful. Have a taste.
I just picked it.”

Of course she can’t see us
for we live in different times
now. She having stopped too soon
while we must continue on our travels.
So we must be content to watch
as she washes each leaf separately
under the faucet and places it
on a towel to dry. Her hands
are rough and fresh as the lettuce.
The sun has darkened her skin, her face
is beginning to wrinkle around the eyes,
just a little, to match the gray
which has appeared so recently on her brow.
But it’s her eyes, such a surprisingly
clear blue, which hold her pleasure
in this simple task of washing
each leaf of green so recently
cut from her garden.

Here we will leave her,
in her kitchen, as she remembers
the feel of dirt crumbling
in her hands, anticipating the cool crunch
of fresh lettuce. We’ll leave quietly
so as not to break the spell. We’ll try
to return, gently as possible, to the present,
this impossible present, where only our memory
can find her.


morning glory

Thanks for reading,

February 2018

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A Pair of (unrelated) Poems
Sunny Ice
What is it?

or perhaps you would prefer

The Law Against Clean Houses
Northern Harrier

or even:

Fun Games with Electricity
Climate vs Weather: A Response to Willful Ignorance.


What is Math?

What is math?

It appears that no one is quite sure. You could say it is the study of numbers, but that leaves out geometry, probability, the study of sets, and much more. Mathematics goes far beyond numbers. Many definitions of mathematics don’t even mention numbers. Wikipedia says math “…is the study of such topics as quantity, structure, space and change.”

Bertrand Russell, on the other hand, being a mathematician himself, said that mathematics is: “The subject in which we never know what we are talking about, nor whether what we are saying is true.” (Russell, Bertrand (1901), “Recent Work on the Principles of Mathematics”, International Monthly, 4.)


In other words, no one knows what math is, but they recognize it when they see it.

I would add that mathematics is the study of patterns and it is the language of science. It is a particular way of describing and understanding the natural world.

puppy explores egg carton
first there is counting


Now lets talk about maps (don’t worry, this isn’t a complete non sequitur). A map is a description of reality. A road map it is a description of roads, intersections, towns. A topographical map describes the height of the land, a survey map gives boundaries, etc. In each case it isn’t the real thing, but you can use it to navigate the real world.


East Montpelier, VT 05651 - Google Maps

I like to hike so I’ve learned to read topographical maps. I can sit in the comfort of my living room and see that the Flume Trail has a long steep section that I should avoid if the weather is bad. If you think about it, that’s quite an achievement. Lines on a 2 dimensional surface give me true information (if the map was well made) about the actual landscape.

BA 6

Math can be thought of as a type of map. It uses “mathematical objects” instead of lines on a map. A mathematical object is anything that has been defined in such a way that it can be used in mathematical processes (rather circular definition, but there you have it). This includes numbers, lines, sets, matrices, etc. Where I can read a road map to get from point a to point b, a mathematician can read a formula and see a circle, or the speed of light, or how to construct a better widget.

For example, you can map out shapes using geometry. The State House dome is x circumference. Your door frame is a rectangular opening size y, so to replace the door your dog ran through you need a door to fit size y..


Geometry is relatively easy to imagine as a map since it deals with shapes, but equations can be thought of as maps as well. “Three for a dollar” is an equation written out with words. It maps out how many for how much. Odd looking equations also have real world applications. F=ma is Newton’s Second Law of Motion. In English it says that the force (F) which is acting on an object is equivalent to the mass (m) of that object multiplied by its acceleration (a).

Roughly speaking you can use that equation to discover how hard your dog hit the door by multiplying her weight by how fast she was moving. Actually, that description would make a physicist cringe, first because size does not equal mass, second, because acceleration isn’t the same as speed.

Technically, acceleration refers to change in momentum, and mass refers to the amount of matter in a given object regardless of forces working on it – gravity for example. However, here you only need a rough approximation of the force so we’ll avoid those technicalities. Once you know the force of her run you can determine just how thick your door needs to be to prevent a repeat performance.

Imagine, f=ma just mapped out your door needs. Who wouldda thunk it?

This shows how math can be used to describe and model physical reality. However, math goes a step further than a standard map. Math predicts. It’s as if your road map could continue on into unexplored areas.



For reasons no one understands, mathematics can be used to predict how physical reality works. This leads to a great debate over whether math is invented or discovered. Why is it possible to use the rules of mathematics to predict the existence of a physical object (such as various sub-atomic particles)? Its an interesting question (at least to me and many other math affectionatos), but regardless of why it works, there is no doubt that mathematics lead to real results.

What surprised me when I first looked into math is how dynamic it is. We (meaning non-mathematicians) tend to think of math as fixed. We know all there is to know and we are simply learning new uses for what we know.

Actually, that is far from the truth. Mathematical knowledge builds upon itself the same as any other scientific discipline. I had fun looking up current mathematical topics with names like: fibered simple knots, modularity of K3 surfaces and algebraic topology. I saw a prize won for “deep work on the global Gan-Gross-Prasad conjecture and their discovery of geometric interpretations for the higher derivatives of L-function in the function field case.” (http://math.mit.edu/index.php).

Henry Cohen received the 2018 Levi L. Conant Prize from the American Mathematical Society for his paper: “A Conceptual Breakthrough in Sphere Packing” (Feb 2017, Notices of the AMS). In his remarks upon accepting the award he said:” “The /E/_8 and Leech lattices are fascinating objects, and I hope readers will grow to love them as much as I do.” http://math.mit.edu/index.php

Uh huh. No wonder we’re afraid of math.

Screenshot 2017-05-31 16.49.03

Like I said math is a different language. But that doesn’t mean we can’t understand the reasoning behind it, at least in areas which effect our lives. I have written about how compound interest works and I would say that probability and statistics are equally important areas to understand. I will write about them at a later date. Stay tuned….

Thanks for reading,

Feb 19, 2018

If you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy:

Puppies and Taxes
Is Math Broken? The Problem of Infinity.
What you should know about money.
Introducing the Glorious, Golden, Phi
If this was not your cup of tea perhaps you would prefer these:

Killer Cats
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New Puppy!
If you are terribly picky, or enjoying yourself so much you can’t bear to stop, how about these posts:

Much Ado about Nothing
Climate vs Weather: A Response to Willful Ignorance.
Sunny Ice

Three things you Must Have Before Getting a Puppy

I promised last time that I would write about what you need before you bring home a puppy. You will need three things. You will need all three of these or you and your puppy will be miserable.

1) Patience

2016-09-24 17.48.59-2  pup playing on couch  Nik digging
Puppies are usually ignorant. An older pup might have learned the wrong tricks. If you get a pup at 8-10 weeks old she likely won’t know anything. (Don’t get one any younger, they need to be with their mother and sibs for at least 2 months). In either case, whatever you do you are teaching your pup something. If she grabs your pant leg and you pull away, that is a fun game, so she will do it again. If she grabs your pants and you trade her for a pull toy and play tug of war with her she will be more likely to go for the toy next time. Actually, she will need to grab your pants dozens of times and each time have it traded for something more fun, before she learns anything. That’s the real problem.

It’s fine when you’re playing with her, but when you are tired and grumpy you are still teaching her how to react when she grabs your pants (or chews the couch, or shreds your library book, or pees on your computer or, or,…). Even though you won’t want to be, you are “on” all the time. That brings me to

2) Time

DSC_0301  DSC_0257 DSC_0185
Puppies have a lot of energy. It comes in bursts. They seem to have two speeds. Full speed ahead and full stop.


Each pup is different, of course, but they all need exercise. If you can leave them at puppy day care or have a dog walker that’s great. But they will still need time with you. You may be tired and hungry when you get home from work, but your pup will (hopefully) be thrilled to see you and want to play.

Plan on walking your pup a lot. Betel is young enough that a short walk down the driveway is enough – as long as we go out every couple hours. I work at home, so my schedule has become erratic. She’s too young for a long walk (although that is changing daily), but she needs lots of exercise already and will need more and more as she gets older.

DSC_0297  DSC_0105
I use walks for training time. We are playing together anyway, so I play games involving coming when she’s called, trading a stick for my pant leg (see above), sitting on command, etc. I make it fun and we continue for a bit when we get inside so she doesn’t mind coming back in. It also exercises her mind at the same time.

3) Ability to live sleep deprived
The last of your three great needs is the ability to give up some sleep for several weeks to a month or more. A young puppy will not be physically able to go the night without peeing. If she sleeps in a crate you have to get up to let her out. You really don’t want her to learn to pee in her crate (unless you don’t mind having a dog that you can’t housebreak). It’s unfair to her and you will regret it down the line.

Most puppies don’t like being alone. They have (hopefully) been living with mother and siblings and it is an adjustment. Expect some howling and barking.

DSC_0595  This has been a difficult one for Betel. She had 9 siblings so it must seem awfully quiet. At first, as soon as I left the room she began howling. I waited until she was quiet – if I went right back in I’m just training her that howling gets attention. I only reward her for silence. If she cried at the sight of me I’d turn my back on her or leave. At first she only had to be quiet for a few seconds (literally) before I would go in and reward her for silence. Then we worked up to a few minutes. Now I can leave her for several hours. She cries a bit, but then settles down.

It took 10 days. we’re still working on nighttime. She is now sleeping until nearly 5:00.

Time, patience, and ability to function without sleep. Do you have all those? Does everyone in your household have those? It only takes one person letting the pup on the couch to undo all your careful couch training. If you do then rush out and get a puppy. They are, quite often, loads of fun.

That’s it for today. Now, I’m going to see if I can get a quick nap in before I go to work.


Thanks for reading

Feb 16, 2018

If you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy:

Puppies and Taxes
Is Math Broken? The Problem of Infinity.
What you should know about money.
Introducing the Glorious, Golden, Phi
If this was not your cup of tea perhaps you would prefer these:

Killer Cats
Northern Harrier
New Puppy!
If you are terribly picky, or enjoying yourself so much you can’t bear to stop, how about these posts:

Much Ado about Nothing
Climate vs Weather: A Response to Willful Ignorance.
Sunny Ice

New Puppy!

I’m having a hard time making my brain work. We have a new puppy. If you have ever lived with a puppy you will know why those statements go together. I’m eating my lunch and resisting the urge to gently rest my head on my plate for a short nap.

This time of year when Blue Jays call out they say: “Beadle, beadle.” That’s the name of our new pup. The Blue Jays are calling out to her.

We have wanted a puppy for some time. Our last dog, Nikki was a shelter dog who had been adopted out, then returned by the new family when they realized how hard it was to have a pup. Especially Nik. She was a wild thing, she loved to run and dig and get into trouble. She nipped hard and often until she was old enough to know better – perhaps, a bit older than that. Eventually she settled in and by the time she was 16 she was nearly mellow. I still miss her terribly.


Yet, one can’t be dog-free forever.

We got Beadle a few days ago. That’s how long since I’ve slept. Beadle is a howler. She had nine siblings and now all she as is a pair of cats and a pair of humans, none of whom live in her crate. I’d probably howl too. Understanding doesn’t make it any easier to sleep.

Fortunately, Beadle is an adorable little thing. She has long, soft, mostly black fur with tan belly and legs as well as cheeks and eyebrows. She has a fine spotting of silver right around her eyes.




Having a puppy isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s easy to forget how awful they are. You look at them and think, “how wonderful, how sweet, how innocent.” DSC_0609

Then they wake up.



They howl and they bark, and they chew, and they pee (and pee and pee) and they poop, they can’t be alone for a single second.


Fortunately, puppies are adorable. I’m willing to forgive Beadle nearly anything. At least, let’s say, we’re working it out.

We set up a crate within a pen in the living room until she is old enough to have bladder control. At the moment we are taking her out around 15 times a day. That might be an exaggeration, but not much of one. The pen lasted for 24 hours before she climbed out. Forgot to add that to the list – puppies are escape artists.

There is a lot to know before you get a pup. This post is getting long, so I’ll write another on “pre-pup prep.”

Besides, it’s my turn to take Beadle out. I hope it’s gotten above zero by now.DSC_0611DSC_0716

Thanks for reading.

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Introducing the Glorious, Golden, Phi

morning glory

If you follow this blog you know I’ve been considering math recently. “Why?” you might be thinking. It’s simple, I want to better understand the world. I feel like the more you know about something the more interesting it becomes. So, I’m considering mathematics in our world.

Take the number 5 for instance. It’s a good sturdy number. It takes up one handful of fingers nicely.

photo from Creative Commons

So, lets see what we can do with 5. Lets take 5 lines of equal length, flip, flip flip, we have a pentagon.

Now lets take 5 more straight lines of equal length, flip, flip flip, from here to there, there to here.



Bingo, a star inside a pentagon. Not only that, we have also cleverly created another pentagon. Indeed, if you are so inclined you could do that forever.



If you aren’t interested in forever smaller stars and pentagons, we can move on to investigate another number.

1 + √5

“Hold it right there,” you might be saying, “I didn’t sign up for this.” I know, it looks like math, but you don’t have to do anything with the equation except look at it. It’s a lovely thing. In fact, mathematicians think this is such a beautiful number they gave it a name.

Let me introduce you to Phi which uses the symbol:   Phi      also written:      Phi

While I agree that Phi looks like a random sort of number, let me assure you it is special. In fact, I’m sure you’ve seen evidence of Phi in your own life. But, let’s set that aside for the moment and take a trip to ancient Greece. Around 300 BCE a mathematician named Euclid defined what is now known as the Golden Ratio. To define it, he said to consider a line divided in a specific way (this is how mathematicians spend their time, they contemplate lines).

Here is Euclid’s line. It is divided into two sections, AB and BC.

A_______________________________________B_____________________ C

Altogether, this line has three different segments: AC, the whole line, AB the larger of the two sections and BC the smaller section. The Golden Ratio is a line where the ratio of AC to AB is the same as the ratio of AB to BC. In other words, the ratio of the full line to the larger section of the line is the same as the ratio of the larger section to the smaller section.

Sounds irrelevant, right? However, if you pull out your trusty ruler and pocket calculator you will find the same ratio in the star inside the pentagon.

Look at that, you have discovered your very own Golden Ratio. There is Euclid’s line inside the pentagon.

“Amazing,” you are probably saying. “I’m going to immediately text all my friends.” But, wait, it gets even better.

Let’s bring Phi back into the equation. It turns out that if you figure out what that ratio, the Golden Ratio, the ratio of length AC to AB etc, you will find it is
1 + √5

Ah ha!
Phi is the Golden Ratio. The Golden Ratio is Phi. No wonder it gets its own name.

If you were to work out the above equation you see that Phi is equal to 1.618… Those three dots means the number goes on and on and …. Phi is one of those numbers, like Pi, that goes on forever without repeating. (In another post I’ll show how they know that).

Phi makes beautiful star pentagons. There are also Golden Spirals and Golden Rectangles, all made with this same ration.

For example: this is a Golden Rectangle. You can use it to make all sorts of things. Like the star pentagon you can use the Golden Ratio to create ever smaller Golden Rectangles.

Golden Rectangle




from here you can create a Golden Spiral. Notice the successively smaller rectangles used to create the spiral.Golden Spiral and Golden Rectangle, Fibonacci



You could make the same spiral with Golden Triangles. Golden Triangle and Golden Spiral

Phi is not just found in geometry. It is found everywhere from art to pineapples. If you are ever looking for something to do try counting the seeds in a sunflower. If you look closely you will see the seeds make 2 spirals in opposite directions. If you count the seeds of one spiral and divide by the number of seeds in the other spiral you should get the Golden Ratio (if not you may need to count again).

2016-09-12 19.30.52.jpg

If you don’t feel like doing the math to find Phi we can take a detour to Italy to meet Leonardo of Pisa, aka Fibonacci (c 1175-1250). Fibonacci rediscovered a sequence of numbers that was first described by Indian mathematicians hundreds of years earlier. Fibonacci numbers are a sequence of numbers created by adding the previous two numbers together. For example if you start with 1,1, you add them together to get your next number: 2. Add that to the previous (2+1) to get 3. Add 3 to the previous (+2) is 5.


5 + 3= 8

8 + 5 =13

13 + 8 = 21

21 + 13 = 34 ….

What makes this sequence interesting is that as the numbers get larger the ratio between two consecutive numbers gets closer and closer to … you guessed it … Phi.

the ratio of 1 : 1 = 1
The ratio of 1 : 2 = 2
2 : 3 = 1.5
3 : 5 = 1.66666666666667
5 : 8 = 1.6
8 : 13 = 1.625

46368 : 75025 = 1.6180339889579 That’s starting to get pretty close to Phi!

So now you see what pentagons and sunflowers have in common. They both contain Phi.

It is often said that Phi is an aesthetically pleasing ratio and it certainly can be found in art. (Go to https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/312366924129044770/ if you want to see examples.) Phi is also found in pineapples, and pine cones. Some people claim the proportion of fingers to knuckles is Golden. It does seem to be everywhere. If you look around you might see signs in front of stores, or sea shells, or your favorite artwork with proportions that look “Phi-ish.” So, if you want to know your world better, take a look around.


If you found this interesting you might like:

What you should know about money.
How Do You Know? A Look at Knowledge
Is Math Broken? The Problem of Infinity.
World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice
The Law Against Clean Houses

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What you should know about money.

“Oh no!” You might be groaning to yourself. “What is she going on about now.” Actually, I’m going to go on about compound interest.

Bear with me. This won’t take long to read and you might save yourself a bunch of money (and I included photos to keep it fascinating). As a bonus, if you read to the very end I show you how to get $15,000 in free money! Wow. So, read on my friends.

If you use a credit card, have a mortgage, or are otherwise involved with borrowing or investing money, then you should have an understanding of compound interest. It’s how the rich get richer and the poor go broke.

Here is how it works: When you borrow money you pay it back with interest. Interest is simply the amount of money (usually a % of the total loan) that the lender charges you for allowing you to borrow that money. Or, in the case of an investment, it is what the institution pays you for letting them use the money you have invested (deposited) with them.



When the interest is compounded it means that the interest you owe each month (or quarter or year, depending on how often it is compounded) is added to the total you owe. This means you are paying interest on the interest.

There are set formulas to determine the math and different companies do things a little differently. Often loans are arranged so the monthly payments are all the same. In the case of a mortgage it is usually set up so you pay more of the the interest in the beginning and only after the bank has gotten a good portion of the interest do you start paying the the principle of the loan. In each case, however you end up doling it out, the interest will accumulate, that is, it will compound.


For example, say you have $1000 in a bank account earning 5% interest each year (unlikely, but the math is a lot easier than 1.46%). If it is a flat 5% rate, at the end of the year you will have $1050. Pretty straightforward.



If the interest is compounded monthly then it gets more complicated – but if you are the investor it is well worth it.

Using the same example of $1000 over a year at 5%, in the first month you get 1/12 (one month’s worth) of the yearly interest. That is $50 per year, divided by 12 months, or $4.17.

So, $4.17 is added to your balance. Now, in your second month you have 1004.17 in your account. Again you get 1/12 of the yearly interest. But now that is 5% of $1004.17 so your monthly interest is now $4.18. The third month you are getting paid 5% of 1004.18, so your 4th month you will be getting interest on a bit more than the third month.  By the end of your first year you will have earned $1051.20.

Big deal, you might be thinking grumpily to yourself. I have to read all this for a measly $1.20 a year.

Yes, but not so fast.

cherry and walnut box
hey, I’m a woodworker, why not a photo of a box? box by creative woodworking


Now lets look at your credit card. A credit card is simply an easy way to borrow money. You hand over the plastic, some bank somewhere coughs up the payment and you walk happily away clutching your widget under your arm. Unfortunately, at some point you need to pay the piper/banker.

Say you owe $1000 on your card at 20% interest (much more realistic than the 5% at the bank). First you need to know if that 20% is the interest rate alone, or the APR (Annual Percentage Rate). The APR includes all that compounding, so it is a more realistic number. Credit cards have to tell you the APR. Look for it on your card and see what you are paying.

If you have a flat 20% rate (you don’t), by the end of the first year you will owe $1200 ($200 = 20% of $1000). If your credit company compounds the interest monthly (likely) then it works the same as it did with your bank account, only less happily for your financial well being.

The first month you will owe $16.67 in interest ($200 interest per year divided by 12 months). This gets added to your balance. You now owe 1016.67 total. The next month you will owe a total of $1084.72, because of the interest added to your original balance. By the end of the year you will owe $1219.39, for an APR of 21.94%. So, by compounding your interest, 20% turns into 21.94%.


In that scenario, for ever $78.06 you spend you are handing over $100. That $21.94 of each $100 is what you pay for the privilege of borrowing the money (ie using your credit card). People with low incomes or a bad credit record end up paying higher interest rates. It becomes harder to borrow and the loans get harder to pay off. This is a recipe for going broke.

On the other hand, if you can pay off your card every month you are paying $100 for every $100 you borrow. In that case the annual fee (if there is one) is the only money you are actually paying the credit card company. Now that is a good deal. It doesn’t get much better than a 0% loan.


If you can’t pay off your credit card it can quickly add up. That is because credit card rates are so high and often if you are late on a payment they go even higher.

But even at low rates compound interest adds up, all it takes is time.  This is how the rich get richer.


Say you have $100,000 lying around that you invest at 3.92% APR. In 30 years you will have $170,213. You will have “earned” $70,213. Those numbers are actually for a mortgage, but it works the same way whether you are borrowing or investing (although the difference to your purse is considerable). So, if you flip to being the borrower, then in this example, the bank will have charged you $70,213 for your mortgage. Remember, that is at 3.92% while credit cards can easily be 15-30%.

But here is the promising part.

Say you can put away $50 each month starting when you are 30. In those same 30 years, at the same 3.92% you will save $33,204.28. Not bad, considering that the amount you actually invested was $18,000 ($50/month = $600/year x 30 years = $18,000). That is the real magic of compound interest. It grows faster and faster over time as your money snowballs. It is much better for your finances if you invest the money rather than borrow it!

So, I recommend you pay off your loans and start putting money away.


That my friends, is my lecture for today.
Enjoy the day,

January 5, 2018


If you enjoyed this you might like:

How Do You Know? A Look at Knowledge

An Introduction to Clouds

World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice

chickens and pearls

A Question of Time



How Do You Know? A Look at Knowledge

I’ve been thinking about knowledge recently.

Did you know that shape shifting lizards are living among us? Many politicians, including Hilary Clinton, George Bush and Queen Elizabeth, are actually blood-sucking aliens. (This invasion was brought to light in the 1990’s by David Icke.)

Did you know that climate change is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese as a way of hurting the US. (Our president said so.)

Actually, I know both Icke and Trump are wrong, but how do I know? When I say I know something, what do I mean? In this day of alternative facts and outright lying how do we know what is true / real?

That is the question I’m going to explore in great and philosophical depth. I hope you stick around for it.

2014-08-26 10.12.56
glove sucking caterpillar

Here goes:

I know the sun is hot.
I know Clinton is not an alien lizard.
I know that the earth is warming.
I know 2 + 2 = 4.
I know Beta loves me.

These are different types of knowledge.
I know the sun is hot because when I sit in the sun I get warm and if I stay out too long I get a sunburn.
I know Clinton isn’t a lizard because I’m a reasonable person (at least, I like to think so).
I know climate change is real because the majority of climate scientists agree it is and show evidence ranging from the loss of Antarctic ice sheets to steadily increasing average global temperatures.
I know 2 + 2= 4 because my teacher told me so and every time I add 2 + 2 it = 4/
I know Beta loves me because she wags and wiggles from head to tail while giving high pitched yelps of joy when she sees me (and isn’t that great for the ego).


Now let’s look at each example a bit more closely, starting with how things can go wrong and what we can do to prevent that.

Our senses give us massive amounts of information each day. We take that experience and base knowledge on it. However, our senses can be wrong, or our interpretation might be off.

If I go outside on a day like today, when the sun is shining and it’s a beautiful -10 ℉, I might assume the sun is making it cold out. If I never experienced the sun that is just as reasonable as thinking the sun is making it hot when it 95℉. Fortunately, I go outside in all weather, and, yes, the sun makes it hotter (I recommend a moonlit walk when it is below zero. Beautiful. Brisk.) Repetition provides confirmation that the sun is hot.


The second example, well, the idea of shape-shifting aliens (reptilians is the official term) is ridiculous. But, then again, it’s also ridiculous to imagine an earthling who can shape shift and change color to match its surroundings – like an octopus.

Hmm, being a ridiculous idea isn’t enough. However, another reason I just can’t believe in aliens (much as I would like to) is that all the evidence for their existence is hearsay from questionable sources. Meanwhile, the evidence against their existence is pretty overwhelming.
1) No person has ever turned into a lizard (although over hundreds of millions of years it could be said that lizards turned into people, if you count the first thing that crawled from the ocean as a lizard).
2) No aliens have ever been seen (although there is hope for finding microbes on Titan).
3) While politicians change political shape with some regularity, you would think a doctor would have noticed if any of the above was a lizard in disguise.

This is a newt. Not a lizard.

On the other hand, we have massive amounts of evidence that climate change is happening. Numerous studies in a wide variety of fields have shown both cause and effect. Studies have been repeated by other scientists with similar results, leading to a global consensus among the scientific mainstream. If it was just one or two scientists, well, they could be wrong, but in this case, unless there is a major conspiracy by science and the media in general…. (an idea which, frankly, is as ridiculous as the shape shifting aliens).

Evidence against climate change is often put forward by politicians who clearly have no understanding of the issues (confusing climate and weather for instance). The scientists who argue against global warming have been refuted by their peers. That’s enough for me to trust my knowledge that climate change is real.

Third, I know 2+2=4 because it is understood. And it works. I can take 2 pebbles and then add two more and I will have 4 pebbles. I can do the same thing with muffins or kittens or houses. In fact, I can do it with everything, including abstractions like numbers. “Knowing” in math is a bit different from other knowledge because of the strictures of mathematical logic. Since I don’t know much more than 2 + 2 = 4, I’ll leave math aside for now.


Finally, there is my girl Beta. Dogs wag and wiggle when happy. Beta wags and wiggles when she sees me therefore Beta is happy to see me. Besides, what else could she be saying? Actually, since we can’t get into her head I can’t ever really know what she is thinking or feeling, so I have to go with how she has behaved in the past, how other dogs behave and what dog trainers have told me.

In case you are getting lost, we have now looked at several different ways of knowing things, each of which has its drawbacks. Our senses can be wrong, our sources can be wrong, our understanding can be wrong. With so much information at our fingertips we need to be careful.

The moral of the story is that it’s not safe to take things on face value. Rather, if you want to have confirmation, look at your ideas different ways. Think about the source, compare with your own experience and also look at what the science says. Despite it’s reputation, science can and does give us huge amounts of knowledge about the world in which we live.

Stay tuned for more science…..

home made solar filter for camera

Thanks for reading,

Jan 1, 2018

If you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy:

Climate vs Weather: A Response to Willful Ignorance.

A Case for Curiosity

A Question of Time

Is Math Broken? The Problem of Infinity.

A Pair of (unrelated) Poems

Climate vs Weather: A Response to Willful Ignorance.

I’ll try and keep it simple. Weather ≠ climate.

Weather is local. It is created by the existing atmospheric conditions. It rains because the clouds are supersaturated with moisture.


Climate is a pattern.  It describes environmental /atmospheric conditions over time and / or place. The earth is heating up because CO2 and other emissions are trapping excess heat in the atmosphere.

Click on links on images below for more information.

world temperature map
drawing of glob with thermometer
USA Climate danger map by Courtney Menard
Courtney Menard

For a detailed look read this: World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice.

December 29, 2017


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Sunny Ice

Beautiful Storm

Going the Distance

Beautiful Objects in the Sky

A Case for Curiosity

Fun Games with Electricity

Sunny Ice

We are heading into some cold weather here in the frozen North-lands. The rumor is that it might not get above zero F. this week. Last week was warm(er) and sunny and the transition from warm to cold has been beautiful.

I took a walk in -10 weather this morning and the sun was sparkling on all the ice formed earlier, so I took some photos.

I hope you enjoy them.

Dec 27, 2017

I love the colors in this photo and the way the ice almost floats above the branch.
icy ladle!
natural curves contrast with parallel twigs
the chicken fence is beautiful with a flash
perfect droplets frozen in place

If you enjoyed this post you might like these as well:

An Introduction to Clouds

What is it?

We all change our minds sometime.

First frosty morning

The Great American Eclipse of 2017

chickens and pearls