A Reading Journey

Image by G.C. from Pixabay

I intend to resume semi-regular postings in the near term, and am sitting on a couple dozen post ideas in various stages of development. In puzzling out what order I should put them in, I decided to start with something of a meta-post that lays some groundwork for a number of the future entries.

What I have in mind is to recapture my own journey over the last couple of years, which has resulted in an unexpected shift in my emphasis and awareness. By sharing key elements of my own journey, perhaps you can experience something similar. In any case, you might treat it as a belated (bloated?) summer reading list.

Let’s start just by capturing the chronological list, and then I’ll say a few things about the significance of each item.

  1. Energy and Human Ambitions textbook; especially Epilogue; Appendix D.5 and D.6
  2. Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari
  3. Human Exceptionalism (Do the Math post)
  4. Daniel Schmachtenberger on The Great Simplification
  5. Daniel Quinn’s books: Ishmael; The Story of B; My Ishmael; Beyond Civilization
  6. Post-Ishmael Do the Math posts (Sticks; Love; Cults and a Story)
  7. An Inconvenient Apocalypse, by Wes Jackson and Robert Jensen
  8. We Are the Middle of Forever by Dahr Jamail and Stan Rushworth
  9. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
  10. The Myth of Human Supremacy by Derrick Jensen
  11. Bitter Harvest by Lisi Krall
  12. Hospicing Modernity by Vanessa Machado de Oliveira

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A One-hour Message

In May of this year, I had the opportunity to give a talk to my department on the matters that concern me. What would I say? How could I pack 20 years of learning, Do the Math writing, and recent perspectives into a one-hour talk for my physics/astrophysics colleagues and for students just beginning their professional journeys? How could I have the biggest impact without coming off as being nuts?

As with many things we do in life, I have mixed feelings about the result: things I should have said; things I could have said differently/better; answers to questions that could have been less clumsy. But overall it seems to have worked. While people were not beating down my door to have further conversations, almost anyone I ran into from the department in the weeks that followed would bring it up—indicating that they had been ruminating on the content and expressing further curiosity. It helps that these are people who have known me for years in another context, but it was still a relief to not simply be dismissed as having veered from the one important path: physics research.

Below is a video capture of the event over a zoom channel. The slides are shown well, but the audio quality varies depending on my movements (could be worse). Questions from the audience are hard to make out. Zoom does amazing things for noise suppression, which also applies to audience reactions (applause, laughter). But hey, you get what you pay for.

The theme of the talk is very similar to that of the shorter video I shared recently. It is also reflected in an article featured in a special sustainability issue of The Physics Teacher in September (below is a PDF of the final paper). So I’m “making a lot of hay” out of this approach, of late.

It has been a while since I posted new written content to Do the Math. I have a backlog of ideas to share, so stay tuned—it’s on the way.

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