Finding The Top Albums By Year From 1948 to the Present

By James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, October 21, 2014

The 33 1/3 LP came out in 1948, and even by 1958 had only garnered 25% of the total record market. At first, 78s  continued to dominate, and then 45 rpm singles. It took a while for what we know as an album to become a major art form. Even the term album is a holdover from 78 rpm records, which could only contain up to five minutes to a side, and required many discs to make a collection of songs, which was called an album. LP discs can contain twenty or so minutes a side, and 10-12 songs per disc, and so they were an album of songs, not an album of discs. The modern concept of the album, first the LP, then the CD, seems to be fading. It’s apparent reign was about half a century.

Using Wikipedia’s excellent Timeline of Musical Events, it’s possible to drill down to a decade, and then year, to follow popular album releases over time. For example, here’s 1951, the year of my birth. If you look at the 1951 album releases and then try to find them on Spotify, you won’t, most likely. Nearly all of the early LPs of the 1950s aren’t reprinted. It’s not until the later 1950s do some albums become famous enough to be remembered, reprinted, and even stay in print. For example, Blue Train by John Coltrane in 1957.

Blue Train - John Coltrain

Now this is the point of this essay. If you subscribe to a subscription music service like Spotify, Rhapsody, Rdio, you can musically stroll down memory lane, year by year, and listen to the albums of the time.

Another great site that helps is Best Ever Albums, and here’s how they present 1957. In 1957, they list 107 top albums. By 1967 that jumps to 312, then 453 by 1977, 704 in 1987, to a 1,000 in 1997. Best Ever Albums quits tracking after a thousand albums each year. There’s no telling how many albums come out each year today. People still make albums, but listeners don’t buy them. They’re on Spotify waiting to be played. Unless you find a method to search for albums other than popularity, you won’t go looking for them. My time tracking method is one such alternative method of discovering albums.

My point is you probably missed a tremendous number of great albums. The average music fan bonds with a relatively small number of albums they discover in their teens and twenties, and then pretty much stick with their favorites for the rest of their life. They might add a few new songs to their playlists each year, but not many. Subscription music services offer you access to millions of songs and albums. What mind blowing tunes have you missed?

Using Wikipedia, Best Albums Ever and Spotify, it’s possible to attain a magical music education. I wished Spotify would let us browse by year, or even better yet, but release date. I love tracking things by time. I wished Billboard put all its charts online, but it doesn’t. It is possible to go to Tropicalglen.com and play songs by year. You can then follow the links to Cash Box charts. For example, here’s the weekly charts for 1967.

I don’t know why I like to remember things by time. Maybe I’m trying to time travel.

JWH

“Who Knows Where The Times Goes” at 4am

The older I get, the more I think about time.   Maybe that’s because I’m running out of time, or maybe time is just how we link our memories.

Now that I’m retired my sleep patterns are changing.  I guess work made me a solid sleeper.  Now I sleep whenever I feel like it, and more and more I find myself waking up in the middle of the night.  I’ve discovered 4am is a great time to listen to music on the headphones.  This morning’s random play started with “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” sung by Judy Collins.

One reason 4am is a great time to listen to music is because my mind exists in a disassociated dream-state.  Music and lyrics trigger images and thoughts that don’t surface during the daylight hours.  Since I also have a bit of a cold, my mind was even more weird.  Colds make me nostalgic, and listening to a song about where did the time go really pushed that button.  I even played it twice.

I do not fear the time

Who knows how my love grows

Who knows where the time goes

Me and my friends are getting older and we often talk about where does the time go, and lament that time is running out.  If I live an average lifetime, I only have about as many years as I did from 2000 till now.  That’s both a lot of time, and not very much.  I already know many from my generation that have passed on, and the people I spend time with are becoming old friends in both age and the length of time I’ve known them.

Getting old sucks, but what can you do about it?  I have a philosophical bent that lets me enjoy my decay, but my friends think I’m morbid.

There’s a weird dichotomy between the people I knew before thirty, and those after forty.  Some of my “new” friends I’ve known for twenty years, yet sometimes when I’m hanging out with them I feel like I’m with strangers.  Maybe blood kinship only feel tighter because those are the people we’ve known since the beginning of our personal time, and everyone we met after we’ve adultified still feel like strangers.

Since my playlist was on random, it was rather serendipitous that the next song was “Old Friends” by Simon and Garfunkel.  It was a song written back in the 1960s imagining being old at seventy  I realized that Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel are now in their seventies.

Can you imagine us years from today

Sharing a park bench quietly

How terribly strange to be seventy

Old friends

There are damn few people I knew growing up that I’m still in contact with now.  What’s funny is I used to wonder back in the 1960s what all those rock stars I admired then would be like in their seventies.  Now I know.  It’s so fucking weird to see Bob Dylan, Neil Young, The Rolling Stones on TV.  I’m still playing albums those guys made back when, picturing them from their classic covers, but seeing wrinkled old coots on my TV screen.

In the darkness, half asleep, I think about how Susan and I are getting old, and so are all our friends, and how we’re all worrying about becoming feeble or demented.  I seem to worry about different things things than my lady friends.  They hate so much not being young, but they seem to have their health.  My friend Connell and I, worry more about our failing bodies.  We don’t mind the wrinkles, but know our bodies aren’t going to hold out like the ladies, who will probably all last until their nineties.  Connell and I think we’ll fade away before our eighties.  I’ve known Connell since 1966, so we’ll be old friends in our seventies.  Some of my lady friends might have as many years ahead as they’ve had since 1980.

While listening to “Old Friends” in a dreamy state, half in, and half out, of consciousness, I had many revelations about time, things that seemed so insightful in the four o’clock hour of the morning, but now lost in the light of day.  I wish I could recapture the brilliance of my visions, but I can’t.  I live a strange life now by not working, spending most of my time processing the past.  I still do things in the now with friends, but my nine-to-five time is mostly spent in the profession of studying the relics of time.  I am a temporal archeologist.

I graze on time.  I study science that chronicles billions of years. I read histories that span  thousands of years.  I read novels from the past three centuries.   I watch movies that span nine decades.  I listen to popular music that span the same nine decades.  I read biographies that take me up and down the past.  I study 3,000 year old religions and philosophy that are distilled from 300,000 years of ancient thoughts.  I graze on time while my own dwindling 4D space is being consumed.

The next song that came on was “Hello Stranger” by Barbara Lewis.

Hello stranger

It seems so good to see you back again

How long has it been

Seems like a mighty long time

How very strange, because it feels like I’m constantly reacquainting myself with old friends.

Wow, three songs in a row about time, what a coincidence.  Maybe fate is telling me something.  Or maybe time is very essential to song writing.  I wonder if I went through my playlist of All Time Favorites at Spotify, how many songs will I find about time?

Laying in the 4:14 am dark, with my eyes closed, in a serene state of floating consciousness, listening to my Spotify playlist through an old pair of Sony Walkman headphones attached to my iPod touch, I realized just how much time I spend consuming the past.  I study cosmology about things billions of years old, and evolution about things millions of years old, and history of things thousands of years old, and pop culture that spans hundreds of years, and my parent’s life since 1916, and old movies of the 1930s and 1940s, and my life since 1951, and rock music and science fiction since the 1960s,  and computers since the 1970s, and computer networks since the 1980s, and the internet since the 1990s, and all the great TV shows since the turn of the century.

I could restate that list over and over again with different examples.

I now like to think of my memory as a timeline, and my life in retirement is about moving up and down that timeline learning new stuff to fill in the ticks of time.  Laying in the dark I think of all the people I’ve known, many of which are dead, or I’ve lost contact with, who exist along my timeline since 1951.  Interspersed between the memory of people on the timeline are songs, and next to the songs are books I read while listening to music.  Or maybe television shows I watched with different people, or places I visited with other people.   It does seem like a mighty long time.

Time is the thread that ties everything together, and who knows where it goes.

JWH – 7/13/14

The Eternal Now and Time Travel

This morning while taking a shower I began thinking about now.  Here I was, a naked 62 year old male, in a 1950s pink tile room, wondering what was going on concurrently in the rest of reality as I soaped up.  My wife would be just getting to work in her office in Birmingham.   1.3 light seconds away, events are happening on the Moon, several light minutes away Mars and the Sun are doing their thing, stuff is also happening around Alpha Centauri, four and half light years away, then 2,538,000 light years away the Andromeda galaxy is speeding towards our galaxy, and who knows how many billions of light years is the edge or the universe, or what’s beyond and how far it extends. 

Everywhere there is something happening, as I take my shower.  We’re all in an eternal now.

I try to imagine Einstein’s space-time concept and how it might affect things.  But to me, it seems logical to think there is a universal now that happens everywhere, even into adjacent universes in the multiverse, or even adjacent multiverses.  Could there ever be two nows?  Or multiple nows?  Isn’t death just losing touch with the now?  And didn’t the eternal now exist even before I existed?  Isn’t consciousness tuning into the now?

As as science fiction fan I love the concept of time travel, but isn’t time travel the attempt to go to another now?  If there is only one eternal now, then that will be impossible.  We see artifacts of the past, and anticipate the future, so we assume both places exist – but do they?  When we see the Andromeda galaxy in the sky, we’re seeing what it looked like 2,538,000 years ago.  It’s actually much closer.

Recently scientists created a computer simulation of the universe.  I wonder if it’s how it looks in the eternal now, or how we see through timed artifacts?  Everything we perceive about reality is time delayed.  We aren’t looking out our eyes, but at reprocessed information, so there’s a slight delay.  If I talk to my friend Connell in Miami, a thousand miles away, there’s a slight delay in the phone signals.  The eternal now is everywhere, but we experience it inside our heads, and all that input about reality is delayed.  The visual field I see in front of me as I type is a tiny fraction of a second late from the eternal now.

The theory of an all powerful, all knowing God is quite interesting to think about regarding the eternal now.  If God is not limited by the speed of light, God would see everything at once in the eternal now.  But would this deity also see the past and future all at once too?  Or does God inhabit the moment like everyone and everything else?  It’s hard for me to believe in God knowing how big reality is, especially if the eternal now has always existed, and will always continue to exist.  Infinity is such a mind-bashing number.

We often ask when did time start, and when does it end.  And we often imagine the beginning of space and matter.  But do we ever wonder about the origin of the eternal now?  If there was only one Big Bang moment, then that was the beginning of time, space and now, but it’s starting to look like there wasn’t just one Big Bang.  No matter how many universes there might be, won’t there only be just one eternal now?  Isn’t it the same now here as it is fifty-five universes over from ours?

I think we’re hung up on birth and death, beginnings and endings, because we have one of each, but maybe reality and the eternal now doesn’t.  As a kid I wondered who made God like other kids, and why wasn’t there nothing.  How could existence start at all.  My conclusion?  That non-existence nothing can’t exist.  That it’s impossible.  If it could, it would have, but since it didn’t, it can’t.  It hurts our heads to comprehend why non-existence isn’t so.  Logic tells us there should have been an origin.  Our minds can’t get beyond cause and effect.  We know nothing lasts forever, but maybe one thing does, the eternal now.

We spend our lives pursuing religion, philosophy and science trying to understand the origins of existence, but in the end the answer is always beyond our small brains to comprehend.  And even if we built an AI Mind the size of Jupiter, would it be large enough to know?  Even if God existed, would God know?  Would not a being that could comprehend all of reality have to ask:  Where did I come from?  How did I get here?  Doesn’t any being asking the ultimate ontological question end up with “It’s turtles all the way down!”

pugs-00121

The Hindu tell us to “Be Here Now” – but where else could we go?

JWH – 5/9/14

Learning to Write Science Fiction By Studying Temporal POV

My goal is to write a science fiction novel, but I don’t have the skill or discipline to finish one now.  I write scenes and chapters, and then rewrite them.  I spend much of my time thinking about fiction and how it’s created.  I also spend a lot of time thinking and reading about the past and how we learn about it in fiction and nonfiction, films and documentaries, television shows, and even poems and songs.

When we read science fiction we read it imagining the scenes are happening in the future.

All art is communication from the past.  Even when artists are creating their artwork in the present, they are inspired by the past in creating their communiqué to the future.  Yet, when we experience art, we experience it in the present.  Writing science fiction is hard because I’m writing a message to the future, about the future, but it’s really about their past, and my past, but perceived in some future present.

Once you start thinking about artistic temporal POV it gets as twisted as a time travel paradox.

Most readers will be thinking I’m overthinking this and say, “Quit procrastinating and go write a story about spaceships and robots.”  I can crank out bad fiction all day long.  Fiction is like a stage magic – full of illusions and sleight of hand.  It’s easy enough to fool readers with crude make believe, but it’s damn hard to create a slick piece of storytelling magic.

My retired life is divided into three modes.  The first, I spend living in the present, cooking, cleaning, having friends over for dinner, getting the hot water heater replaced, shopping for books, paying bills, etc.  The second, and what I spend most of my time doing, is decoding messages from the past.  The second mode happens in the present, so reading a book – the act of sitting in a chair and looking at pages – I’m still living in the first mode.  In my head though, I’m decoding messages from the past.  Most people never think about this, and reading a book or watching a movie is the present.  It’s only when you examine how art is created that you start decoding the message from the past.  My third mode of existence, which I’m working to expand, is spent coding messages to the future.

This morning I woke up at 4:09 am. I sat in the dark (I sleep in a chair) thinking about all this.

Crosby, Stills & Nash 

I put on Crosby, Stills & Nash, CSN’s first album.  Listening to an album on headphones in the dark before dawn is a great time to focus on music and stimulate thinking.  I remember buying this album the week it was released in 1969 and how excited I was to discover it.  The Byrds were my favorite group in the 1960s, and Buffalo Springfield was another favorite band, so the names David Crosby and Stephen Stills jumped out.  The album blew me away back then.  And as I listened to it now, I admire it greatly for its artistic construction, and find it beautiful to hear.  However, the songs are fascinating.  They are histories themselves, many about famous girlfriends.  Or the songs have a history themselves, like “Wooden Ships” which months later appeared on the Jefferson Airplane’s Volunteers album.

Why am I talking about music when I promised to talk about science fiction?  I’m working on a story that I want to be about legendary people.  When you read it, these people will be from the future, but the narrative will make you feel they are from the past, but the scene will be set in their present.  What details from fifty years ago about ordinary people living their present survive to make legends?

Like I said, all artwork is a communication from the past.  But even my urge to hear this album this morning comes from an earlier communication.

legends_of_the_canyon

The other night I watched Legends of the Canyon about many famous musicians, songwriters and groups that lived in Laurel Canyon in the 1960s, including The Mamas and the Papas, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Joni Mitchell, and Crosby, Stills & Nash.  Because David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Dallas Taylor were prominently interviewed, the film almost seemed to be about the birth of CSN.  Now I want to find time to listen to Joni Mitchell and The Mamas and Papas albums.  I don’t think I’m an old guy that dwells on the past, at least not my personal past, but much of my retired time is spent listening to music, reading books, watching television and going to the movies.  These people who lived in Laurel Canyon lived lives that are still being written about again and again.  Imagine writing about such people who live in the future.  How do you capture their essence in the fewest words?

One thing that struck me was the memories of Crosby, Stills and Nash had of the first time they played together.  Crosby and Nash insist it was at Joni Mitchell’s house, Stills adamantly insists it wasn’t.  Reading science fiction often feels like science fiction writers are predicting the future, but they are not.  They never try to predict the future.  We remember the past imperfectly, but we constantly mine it for value.  Don’t we also mine speculation about the future for value even though we know those stories are completely untrue?  Doesn’t fiction create truth out of lies?  

I’m consuming the past.  Part of that is being in the present moment just enjoying the art, but more and more, I’m thinking about where and how the art was produced.  I have read many books and articles about these bands, albums and songs.  As interpreters of art we do not have to know the history connected to them.  You can listen to “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” without ever knowing that Stephen Stills was writing about Judy Collins.  However, if you do study it’s history, the nature of how you appreciate the song changes.  The more you know how the song was recorded, and how the band was formed to record it, the more you realize the song is history, part of the past, and not part of the present.  Won’t the same be true about science fiction?  The more you know about science and the present will enhance the art of painting imaginary futures?

hemingway 

Am I studying art, or studying history?  Yesterday I cooked lentil soup while listening to The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway Volume One.  The stories are exquisite.  They are wonderful read by Stacy Keach (who Judy Collins left Stephen Stills for) on the Audible edition, making them dramatic, and the intent of Hemingway’s writing clear and obvious.

For my retirement years my goal is to write a novel, and I’m working on it sporadically.  I’m not a very good writer, so I’m spending part of my days studying fiction and writing styles.  When I listen to Hemingway I realize two very important things.  One, Hemingway wrote as if he witness these events first hand.  Some of his stories, like the Nick Adams tales, are autobiographical, but others like “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” are obviously fiction, but the details are so vivid, that I believe many of them are autobiographical too.  Second, Hemingway wrote in a style that describes much with few words.  His scenes are vivid and dramatic, with dialog so pitch perfect that they feel ultra realistic, like everything he writes is a documentary film.  It has tremendous impact.

For example, just a few lines of dialog paints a vivid picture of the mother in “Soldier’s Home.”  How did Hemingway create her?  Was she like his mother, or did one of his friends tell him a story about their mother, or did Hemingway make it up whole?  Like a poet, Hemingway uses very few words to capture this woman.  The scene reminded me of conflicts with my mother when I was young.  No matter where Hemingway got his idea, it feels like it had actually happened.

Most fiction is made up in the head of the writer.  It’s not based or inspired by anything that really happened.  Great fiction either captures real events, or fakes them so well they feel real.  Good writing is about pulling off this trick.

I spend my days experimenting with writing science fiction, but I want to use the Hemingway style.  How do I write about a future that will never exist as if I’m chronicling something I experienced for real?  It’s only possible if I can visualize it completely, as if each scene really happened.  I’m working on a scene where a man and women meet for the first time – how can I convey it to readers who can’t see what I’m seeing in my mind, and for me to make them feel they are experiencing something that really happened?

Philomena

After I cooked the soup, I went to see Philomena with my friends Janis and Anne.  It’s a movie based on real life events, which was also published as a book, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith.  We all loved this quiet little movie because it was so real.  I spend a lot of time thinking about how real life is turned into fiction, or how completely fictional characters are made to seem real.  It often seems to me that the fiction with the most impact is either based on real events, or at least written by people who have been to the times and places where the stories took place. 

That means science fiction and fantasy have a very real handicap.  If everything comes out of the author’s mind then the story is limited by the author’s imagination.  That’s why the Harry Potter books are so impressive.  J. K. Rowling spent years imagining her characters and scenes.  She even drew detailed pictures of them.  And that might be why movie science fiction and fantasy is so much more popular than book SF&F.  Movies have to create all the visuals and that makes the stories more real.

Science fiction and fantasy stories must spend a lot of time painting the scenery and explaining the cultural background, but don’t you think the Harry Potter books feel like the events actually happened?  Isn’t that why they succeeded and other books about schools for wizards don’t?

from-lark-rise-to-candleford

Sometimes history is so distant that we must recreate it from imagined details.  After the movie last night, Janis and I watched Alpha House, and then I watched an episode of Lark Rise To Candleford.  Flora Thompson wrote a trilogy of books that were autobiographical sketches of growing up in rural England in the late Victorian times.  As much as I love the TV series, it’s full of anachronistic thinking.  I’ve read a little bit of the original book and it’s absolutely wonderful in providing period details.

Writing science fiction is like producing a television show over a century after the events – only a strange stylized view comes through.  I wished I had the skill to write about the future with the details of Flora Thompson’s written observations.  Since that’s impossible, I’d have to make up the details with that level of realism.  I don’t know if that’s possible.

distrust

I’m currently listening to Distrust That Particular Flavor, a nonfiction book by William Gibson, where he talks about learning to write science fiction, but also deals with understanding the past, present and future.  Gibson also admits to not knowing how to write when he started writing but taught himself.  Listening to his essays I get the feeling he’s also obsessed with time and science fiction too, but maybe in a different way.  He talks about writing about the net before the net caught on, and writing about future technology that we have no words to describe, especially verbs that explain its impact.

1984_pulp3

I’ve also reading Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell.  It is a book written in the late 1940s about 1984 but about a future that has never happened but is all too real, that is now part of our past.  Nineteen Eighty-Four is a brilliant piece of science fiction, absolutely stunning, among the best examples of the literary technique ever produced.

So, what makes Orwell’s great novel great?  To me it’s the temporal POV.  It reads like the events have already taken place, like the details given were facts of memory, like the characters actually lived through these events.  It feels like Orwell lived through this time like Hemingway lived through the events in his stories.  That’s a neat trick for a science fiction book.  It’s a trick of literature.  It’s a writing trick that distinguishes literature from genre.  And it’s one very hard act to pull off.

In struggling to write my scenes, which I do over and over again, at best I can produce pulp fiction.  I’m not being critical.  There’s nothing wrong with pulp fiction.  Hell, my writing isn’t even good pulp fiction.

But what all of this exploration of time and science fiction has taught me is I want to write as if I’ve already experienced what I’m writing.  In other words, I want to write about the future as if I’ve already lived it, instead of imagining a future I might could live in.

JWH – 12/18/13

A Bacterium, Ant, Cockroach, Mouse, Cat, Extraterrestrial and Robot Walked into My Kitchen

Infinity is a very large number.  Larger than you can ever imagine.  But let’s try.

Until recently we lived in a universe – billions of galaxies, with billions of stars each.  Big numbers, but nothing compared to infinity.  Then scientists began to speculate about a multiverse – an infinity of universes.  How many is that?  Enough that your life could be randomly recreated over and over again, for an infinity of times somewhere out there in an infinity of universes.  Some of your lives, an infinity, will only be roughly like yours, but some of them, another infinity, will be exactly like your life now, and another infinity of them will be only slightly different, by just one little thing.  And so on.  For infinity.

The number of monkeys and the amount of time it takes to randomly recreate all the works of Shakespeare by banging on old typewriters are very small numbers compared to infinity, but still much larger than what we can imagine.

Get the idea how big infinity is?  No, I don’t think so, not yet, it’s still bigger than you can imagine.

This morning after my routine breakfast of scrambled eggs and potatoes, I was sitting on the porcelain throne in the smallest room of my house, reading a copy of Civilization by Niall Ferguson, when an alien from Gliese 687 broke into my house and examined my kitchen without me noticing.  So how could I know this?  Well, this morning I was reading The Hidden Reality by Brian Green while sitting on the porcelain throne in the smallest room of my house, just after my breakfast of eggs and potatoes and I had this thought:  What if while I was taking my morning dump, an alien from Gliese lands in my backyard, jimmies open my back door with with a dazzling alien lock pick, lets itself in, along with a yellow cat hanging out by the back door, to poke around my kitchen, for a bit, only to leave before I finish my reading to return to the kitchen to do the dishes?

If we live in a reality of infinity that has happened.  Maybe it happened to me today.  Let’s make infinity even bigger.  Let’s imagine that alien is also being followed around by a robot from another universe that is billions of years old, and it is collecting information on the life forms of this universe.  Hey, it could happen, we have infinity to work with.

My kitchen is a rather small place, at least compared to all of reality.  To me it appears to be empty of life except when I fixing myself something to eat.  My wife works out of town Monday through Friday, so I live mostly alone.  On the weekends my kitchen is very busy with Susan and my coming and goings, but for the most part, from my frame of reference, my kitchen only exists when I’m in it.

My awareness of reality is equal to my ability to comprehend the physical reality outside of my body.  I have five senses that collects data that my brain processes into a view of reality.  It’s not a direct view.  I also am able to analyze this data and theorize about aspects of reality I can’t perceive directly – like time, space and infinity.  We might only have five senses but we have many more cognitive tools to perceive reality, like mathematics, logic, imagination, science, etc.

This is a tale of perspective.  A lesson in how we explore reality.  How big is reality.  How much can we perceive?

Like the famous fable about the blind men examining an elephant and all reporting something different, this story is about different creatures exploring my kitchen and reporting what they saw.

kitchen

I use the world reality instead of universe because scientists are now hypothesizing that our universe is one of but many, probably an infinity of them.  So I use the word reality to point to the whole shebang of everything.  My kitchen is but one infinitely small aspect of one infinitely large reality.  Any creature standing in my kitchen will feel they are in the century of reality.  If we expand outward from my kitchen by powers of ten, we’ll eventually surpass the size of the known universe at ten to the 26.  More than likely, reality extends upwards well beyond that, probably for infinity.  If we explore downward by decreasing powers of ten, at 10 to the minus 18 we’d reach the smallest particles we know about today, but again, there’s probably plenty more small to explore, maybe an infinite amount.

My kitchen is so small compared to the rest of reality as to be non-existent.  But then, compare to the smallest of things, my kitchen is as large as the universe is to us today.

The Tale of the Bacterium

bacteria

Okay, the bacterium didn’t walk in, it floated in with a few billion friends.  They wafted in unnoted by all.  Bacteria don’t have sense organs, so their concept of my kitchen was rather limited.  Maybe as much as you or I would know about the Moon if a bit of moonlight flickered on us through a window one night when we weren’t paying attention. 

Bacteria are tiny, but common, and essential to life on Earth, and for most places in our universe, the common form of life.  Some scientists have even pessimistically suggested that our kind of self-aware life might be so uncommon that we might be the only example in this universe.  Others theorize our kind of intelligent life might be common enough to have many concurrent examples per galaxy.  A bacteria might have as much as a terabyte of information stored chemically in it’s structure.  How many universes have to evolve before we have one universe where bacteria were randomly produced out of simpler non-living elements?  If it takes that many to make the smallest of life forms, how many universes have to form to create the scenario I’m giving here?

Bacteria have chemical receptors.  There was a wet spot on the extraterrestrial’s respirator exit value and they landed on it.  They died when she/he returned to their ship in my back yard moments after leaving my kitchen.  They never knew anything about my kitchen or the ET, but then bacteria have never known much about anything, let alone conceived that we all live in the same reality.

The Ant’s Story

Ant

The ant came into the kitchen from under the house, via a loose space between the flooring and the water pipes.  The ant is a giant compared to the bacterium, a magnificent creature, with useful sense organs and a little teeny tiny brain.  To the ant, a creature who perceives the world mostly in two dimensions, my kitchen is a vast affair, but not impossibly large, probably no bigger than you and I walking through a large neighborhood.  The ant was prowling through the cabinet under my sink while the alien was examining the island counter of my kitchen, while I was in the bathroom sitting on the pot reading Civilization by Niall Ferguson, and the robot was discreetly observing the alien.

The alien never noticed the ant.  The robot recorded the ants activities with it’s powerful sensors.  The ant felt the vibrations of the alien moving around the room, but never sensed the robot.  The ant never even met the dying cockroach.

Imagine if life on Earth had never evolved past the ant.  What if the perception of this Earth, our Earth, had never been perceived by nothing greater than an ant’s brain?  We humans think reality is all about us, but it’s not.  We humans come and go, even in all of infinity.  And compared to everything else in infinity, in all of reality, humans would make up such a small percentage of each universe, that our total impact would be near zero.  Compared to all of reality, we are as close to be nothing as nothing.  Isn’t it hilarious that we each think we’re everything?

I often wonder what the world will be like when mankind becomes extinct and the most advanced being on the planet will be the dolphin or chimpanzee.  Will they remember us?

What the Roach Saw

dying-roach

Unfortunately, the roach had entered my kitchen yesterday and had already partaken of the poison I had set out for roachkind.  It wasn’t quite dead.  It’s hairy legs occasionally stretched and retracted.  The roach didn’t know it was dying.  Nor did it notice when the alien reached down and carefully picked it up and put it in a small specimen container.  The roach would finally die in orbit around the Earth.  The roach had liked my kitchen in it’s own little way.  It was warm and not perfectly clean.  It had possibilities for a future colony.  Lucky for me, but sad for the roach, it never got to lay its eggs.  Those eggs were an interesting surprise to the ET from Gleise 687.  To the roach, my kitchen was a much smaller place than what the ant found, but to a roach, reality isn’t very big at all.  There is no infinite numbers in a roach’s brain.

The roach had perceived my presence several times during its short visit.  It had no understanding that I was a fellow creature living in a large reality, it only sensed me by vibration and changes in light patterns on its primitive receptors.  Evolution had programmed it to always run.  However, the roach had no program to warn it of the chemical appeal of the bait I had left for it.  Sorry little guy.

Mouse in the House

mouse

Last night, unnoticed by me, a little mouse crawled into the pantry from a passageway of tunnels in the wall.  My kitchen was a far richer place to little Mickey than what the ant and cockroach found.  My kitchen had wonderful possibilities, a very rich environment it.   It was aware of my every movement in the house and knew when to hide and when to scamper.  The kitchen was a three dimension maze of sights and smells, and when I left for the bathroom, the cute little mouse had come out of hiding and ran across the kitchen floor hoping to find something good to eat.  It froze when the alien picked the lock of my back door, momentary letting in a  chill breeze.  The mouse sensed the cat immediately and was below the house before the cat reached the kitchen.

The little mouse could not count.  It never knew that billions upon billions of bacteria lived inside it’s little body.  It was no Carl Sagan of mice.

The Kitty Kat

OrangeTabby

The scruffy old cat was looking for a warm spot when it ran into the house.  The being that let it in did not scare it like the human that lived there.  The cat was leery of all humans and lived out of doors on its own.  It was always drawn to the warmth that leaked out of houses, but never liked people, and especially hated dogs.  It always kept other animals at a distance, except the ones it wanted to eat.  As soon as the yellow cat walked into the kitchen it could smell the mouse.

In terms of certain kinds of numbers, cats and humans are very close.  We know of each other’s existence.  The difference is we can conceptually know much further than our senses can show us, whereas a cat is a creature that lives very well within it’s perceptual reach.  This makes some humans sad, and others happy.

Alien from Gliese 687 (cloaked)

kitchen 

The alien was hundreds of years old because of enhancements to her/his biology.  Aliens from Gliese 687 traveled between stars at one third of the speed of life.  They have been observing Earth for millions of years.  That’s the thing about intelligence, about the only thing to do in this universe is to observe how it works.  Observers seldom let themselves be observed because of ethical reasons.  It’s not much fun for a species to discover it’s not the crown of creation.  If humans suddenly realized it was the mouse or cockroach of this reality, or even the bacterium, it would be hard on our collective ego.

She/he had let in a yellow cat that was hanging around the back door.  The alien was completely silent, but then she/he was unaware of being followed by a robot from another universe.

The Robot from Another Universe (cloaked)

kitchen

The carefully cloaked robot had been following the alien for over two hundred of our years.   The robot found the alien the most interesting creature it has discovered in the last 787,623 years.  When you can live for billions of years across multiple universes finding something interesting to do with your time is a challenge.

The robot was like a machine, but calling it a machine would be insulting.  Eons ago it had been created by intelligent machines closer in shape to what we call machines.  There are limits to intelligence, consciousness, awareness and lifespan, and this robot was at the outer limit, at least for all the universes it was aware of, but then there was much it wasn’t aware of.  There’s always more.  Infinity is like that.

Me, James Wallace Harris

me

This version of me is a lot like most of the others like me.  I mostly know about this house, and what exists around it for a few miles.  Conceptually I know about a lot more, but most of my awareness is focused on a tiny piece of reality, in a tiny fragment of time.  Reality has existed for an infinite time before me, and will exist for an infinite time after me.  Reality is infinitely bigger than I can imagine.  I miss a lot, like the visit from the bacterium, ant, cockroach, mouse, cat, alien and robot.  That’s how it always is, we miss a lot.  We miss most of everything.  We miss an infinity of everything.  But that’s okay, because we have a finite mind that enjoys a finite time and place.  Small numbers do have their charm.

None of my visitors stayed long, and by the time I finished my after breakfast read and returned to clean up the kitchen they had gone.  I went off to my computer room to write this until lunch time.  Which is now.

JWH 12/11/13

Who Knows Where The Time Goes?

A very long time ago, Judy Collins sang a song called “Who Knows Where The Times Goes?” that is very relevant to me now.  Play this video to hear the song, and to have a soundtrack for this essay.  Play the other two if you have the time, and especially if you don’t, and you’ll know which by the end of this story.

I’ve been retired five weeks now, and I’m constantly asking myself, where does the time go?  For my entire work life I dreamed of having more time by not having to work, and now that I don’t have to work, I’m not finding that abundance of time for which I wished so hard.  What’s happened?  I should have a third more time – where did it go?

Before I retired I read about a book a week.  I thought after retiring I’d have so much more time that I might get to read two books a week.  I’m not even reading as much as when I worked full time.  Does anyone really knows where their time goes?

I’m not watching more TV, or even doing more housework.  I’m certainly not writing more.  Days have gone into hyperdrive, and time has just disappeared – going who knows where.  I no longer think about tomorrow, and everyday is Saturday, and it’s very pleasant indeed, but I keep asking myself, who knows where the time goes?

Was time ever a commodity? 

Just because we can count the hours and minutes doesn’t mean we have them to spend and save.

“Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” is a folk song written by Sandy Denny in 1967, and here’s a tribute to her, which ends with a photo of her headstone.  She didn’t live long, and her grave marker is a very sad way we all ask where does the time go?

I’m watching a television series called Lark Rise to Candleford about life in England in the 1880s.  In one episode a craftsman comes to Candleford to build the town a clock and he warns the folk their old life will disappear when they live by the clock.  After retiring I’m living in a different dimension, without a clock, where time is disappearing.  I’m already forgetting the days of the weeks, and it’s hard to remember the days of the month, and now, even the hours of the day seem unimportant.

Time is something we have when we live by the clock.  I no longer look at the time to see that I have three more hours till lunch, or two more hours until I need to do something else.  It only intrudes when the outside world asks me to do something at a specific time.  I get up when I feel like it, I eat when I’m hungry.  I watch television when I want, from streaming or DVD, not a schedule.  I read when the urge strikes, and nap when I’m drowsy.  Sometimes it’s light outside, sometimes it’s not, and that doesn’t seem to matter anymore.

Yesterday I turned 62.  If I stopped following the calendar I wouldn’t even feel the time of getting older.  Maybe it doesn’t even matter where the time goes.  Can time be an illusion?  Maybe time only exists if we count minutes, and it ceases to exist when we don’t.  What if I was brave enough to throw away my clocks, watch and calendars?  Would time disappear completely?  Would living become timeless?

I really love this song.  Here’s another version, a more recent version.  Does it matter that there’s been 43 years since the first version?  It doesn’t feel like it, not if you’ve stopped counting the minutes. 

I know how to find the time again – if I wanted to.  All I have to do is live by the clock.  If I want my 8:30 am to 5:00 pm hours again all I have to do is live by numbers.  Require myself start writing at 8:30, and take lunch at 12, and to read between 1 and 3, and work at hobbies between 3 and 5, and I’ll find my lost time.  I don’t know if I will though.  Living without time is a different state of mind, and I’m digging my new kind of consciousness.  I just hope it’s not the land of the Lotus eaters.

JWH 11/26/13

I’m Retired–Do I Throw Away My Alarm Clock?

Which is better:  Following disciplined habits or natural cycles?

Having to get up and get to work on time used to provide discipline in my life.  When I was off for weekends or vacation days, the time I was ready to start my day got later and later.  Every morning I need to shower, exercise, dress, eat breakfast, floss and brush teeth before I’m ready to start my day.  If I get up at 6 AM I can be ready to go by 7:30.  But if I snooze until 7 or 8 AM, my day might not start until 9:30.  This morning, I got up later, and didn’t hit the computer until 9:36.

Now that I’m retired I have a choice to make.  Do I live by the clock or my biology?

clock-stethoscope 
[Living against the clock: does loss of daily rhythms cause obesity?]

Sleeping in seems so wasteful.  But is that a false assumption?  Now that I’m retired, does it matter what time I start writing each day?  Would I be more productive if I lived by the clock or learned to adapt to my natural rhythms?

I’ve always assumed discipline is a major virtue.  That we each seek to conquer nature by using willpower to bend our bodies and environment into our control.  Isn’t it everyone’s assumption that we must overcome our animal urges?  However, studies on health and stress show that might not be the best way to live, and that going with the natural flow of things might be healthier.

If you look across the Earth, have we conquered nature, or merely destroyed it?  That’s getting awful philosophical as to whether I should sleep in or get up early.  Can’t I just accept that the early bird gets the worm?  Now that I’m thinking about this question I realize I’m living by a lot of assumptions.  My 9 to 5 work years forced me to get up early, but now I’m free to follow a different path.

Since my health is in decline, it’s more important that I listen to my body than the Clock app on my iPod touch.  Just writing these words shows me I need to do a lot of rethinking of my commonly held assumptions.  And what other assumptions do I need to question about my other daily habits?

How many meals should I eat and when?  Do I need to shower every day?  Does it have to be in the morning?  What time is best to do my exercises?  When is the best time to write, clean house, socialize, watch TV, etc?  What if I follow my circadian rhythms and I no longer track a 24 hour clock?  How do I adapt my freeform schedule to my friends who follow a work schedule? 

There is something to be said for natural sleep . I notice this morning when I woke up at 7:30 that it was just getting light.  I’m wondering if my natural alarm clock is set by the amount of light outside.  The room in which I sleep faces east, and has one long window without curtains  across the east wall.  Maybe I should do a scientific experiment and note when I wake up and when sunrise is for that day, and see if in the course of the year if I follow a natural cycle.

As I’ve been sleeping later, I’ve been wanting to stay up later.  I’ve been retired just six days but I’m already having a hard time remembering what day it is, and I’ve stopped following the clock.  Also, I’m now eating at different times.  I even nap later.

My retirement goal is to write a novel.  I assumed before I retired I needed to stick to a disciplined schedule and work at novel writing just like I worked as a computer programmer.  Now I’m thinking that was a false assumption.  Or is that just a rationalization to sleep later?

The western world changed after the invention of the clock.  Now that I’m retired I realize I’ve left clock time.  Because I don’t have cable TV, I don’t even watch TV to a schedule anymore.  I’m on Netflix time.  Does this mean I’ve been a Morlock all my life and now I’ve become an Eloi?  That might not be good.  Modern sequels recognized the virtues of the hideous Morlocks – they got things done, while noting the Eloi were lazy and wimpy.

Living by the clock is mechanical.  Living by nature is undisciplined.  There’s got to be a happy medium – or is that another false assumption? 

JWH – 10/28/13