Friday, August 7, 2015

Grandchildren: The Grandest of the Grands!

Last week, I had the distinct privilege of hosting Michaela and Samantha, two of our triplet grandchildren, for a week of Florida fun and sun adventures (and a bit of rain). They stayed with me at Freedom Pointe Independent Living, The Villages, FL, where my wife and I live.

(The third triplet was with our daughter in California. My wife,Vi, was in Georgia due to medical issues with our daughter there, so I had the honor of hosting them alone.)


Here they are at the pond near Spanish Springs Town Center. Samantha (right) is a junior ornithologist who unfailingly identifies the birds and records them in her journal. She plans to study biology when she goes off to college in 2016.

Michaela (left in the photo above and middle in the second photo) is a junior chef who plans to study hospitality when she goes off to college in 2016. She had an opportunity to talk to Catherine (left), a Cornell hospitality student who served as an intern in the Dining Room at Freedom Pointe. Michaela demonstrated her culinary talents in the cramped kitchen of our condo. (Yum, yum Delicious.)
Samantha, Michaela, and I exercised our bodies as well as our minds as we cycled around The Villages.

 (When we stopped for water at a postal facility, Susan, a complete stranger who was walking her dog Lulu, volunteered to take this photo. Proof that The Villages is "the friendliest home town".)

We even cycled to one of the family pools, where Michaela (bottom) and Samantha (top) "horsed around". Michaela is a competitive swimmer, so she also swam in our Freedom Pointe indoor pool and even joined us in a water aerobics class (getting a peek at what she will look like 50-60 years from now :^)

Of course they had to try out Grandma and Grandpa's golf cart.

They are accomplished auto drivers with their MA drivers licenses, but I insisted on "checking them out" for golf cart driving and etiquette by having them drive from Freedom Pointe to Spanish Springs Town Center and through the complex Morse roundabout with concentric car and cart paths, as well as the cramped tunnel below El Camino Real near Buena Vista so they could get to the Publix supermarket.

They learned to always park their cart to one side of a space to leave room for another cart. (The photo above was taken from our fourth floor window at Freedom Pointe, facing El Camino Real.)

More bird watching by Samantha. (The photo was taken from the fourth floor balcony, facing the golf course pond behind Freedom Pointe.)

(For bird watching fans, here is one of my You Tube videos of the "Congress of Birds" in the Amberwood golf course pond behind the Village of Chatham home where we lived a few years back.)


We kayaked the Rainbow River (with good friends Phyllis and Chuck).  Michaela and Samantha  (shown here at the State Park swimming area by Rainbow Springs, the source of the River) found the trip enjoyable, while, for me, it was challenging.

At few years ago, at this same State Park swimming area, my friend Warren narrated the mis-adventures of our friend Dee (whom I lovingly call the "Ditsy Brit") visiting from England. I posted it to You Tube. You may notice black bars, top and bottom, intruding into the image and wonder why. Well, after I uploaded the original video to You Tube, their computer noticed that the image was unsteady (because Warren was taking it with a hand-held camera in a tipsy kayak). They suggested that I make use of their free service to steady the image, and I did so, with the result seen. Pretty good, I think!


We couldn't miss the Glass-Bottom Boats at Silver Springs. Here Samantha and Michaela view some fish near a deep blue spring under our boat.

This is the first time I've been back since the State of Florida took control from the former commercial operators who were having financial problems. The rides and animal park adventures are gone, but the original Glass-Bottom Boats are as good as ever.


Another great central Florida spring is Homosassa Springs State park, home of the Manatees and much more, including an impressive array of birds. Like Silver Springs, this was once a commercial tourist attraction that ran into financial difficulties and was taken over by the State of Florida. In keeping with the slogan "The Real Florida", they decreed that only native Florida animals could remain, and, over time, the non-natives were relocated. However, "Lou the Hippo" an African native, was too big and getting too old to relocate. So, the Florida Governor gave Lou special dispensation, and declared him a legal Florida resident.

The photo shows Lou, now about 55 years old, with a life expectancy of about 60. When we arrived for the Hippo feeding show, Lou was almost completely underwater, with only his ears showing. However, when he heard the keeper unlock the gate, Lou immediately rose up to participate.

The photo shows me and Michaela with three rescued American Eagles who, unfortunately have suffered injuries that will prevent them from ever being released into the wild.

Many birds call Homosassa State Park their home. Some, like the Eagles, are rescued and will never be returned to the wild, others will be released after rehabilitation, and some are permanent residents, confined by netting. In addition, we saw quite a few voluntary visitors who were attracted by the free food and shelter.

 Here we are with a Roseate Spoonbill, who let us get remarkably close.

More photos and text on my FaceBook page


Perhaps the highlight of the week (at least for me) was sharing "intellectual" matters with Michaela and Samantha. By a stroke of careful planning, I was scheduled to speak to our local Philosophy Club the very week they visited, and they consented to attend.

My talk was about "Visualizing Einstein's Relativity". See the topic on my new Blog "Visualizing Science and Technology with Ira", and download my animated Powerpoint slides here.



During the week, we also had wide-ranging discussions about several topics, including politics and religious belief. Although we don't exactly see eye-to-eye in some of these areas, I respect their high intelligence and opinions, encourage diversity of opinion, and sometimes engage as "Devil's Advocate" to spur intellectual growth (mine, as well as theirs :^)

Although I do not happen to believe in God in the "traditional" sense, I am far from being an Atheist. To appreciate my views, please have a look at these Blog postings:

god is NOT Great by Christoper Hitchens (a GREAT Writer)

The GOD Delusion by Biologist Richard Dawkins (a GREAT Biologist).

Other Blog Topics Related to God by me (a GREAT Grandpa).

Each of these Topics is followed by what I consider a very high-level intellectual cross-discussion with with my PhD Advisor, Howard Pattee (a GREAT Teacher and Physicist), and other intellectually distinguished friends with diverse  backgrounds and opinions. (Perhaps, years from now, these may take their place among Plato and Aristotle's dialogs and writings that enshrine Socrates :^)

I should mention that, despite my (and my wife's) lack of "traditional" belief, our three daughters, and our triplet grandchildren, attended Hebrew classes and were Bat Mitzvah (Jewish Confirmation). We did so out of a kind of "ethnic solidarity" rather than "traditional" belief.

Here are some selections you might find interesting:

god is NOT Great

god is not Great - How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens is an easy read - that man can really write! I found it interesting but full of irrelevant information and cheap argumentative tricks.

I know the scriptures are the writings of humans without the benefit of modern scientific educations. I know they have been translated and edited by humans for thousands of years. I am not a literal believer. Therefore, the rather obvious lack of scientifically verifiable content in holy books does not surprise me at all.

Hitchens claims (page 8) that religion has retarded development of civilization. On what evidence? None that I could find.

The very fact that all societies and great civilizations of the past have been infused with what many of us judge to be irrational spiritual belief seems to argue for the benefit of religion for their survival and spread. If religion retards civilization, one would expect non-believing societies, free from religious retardation, to have been most successful. Can anyone cite an example? History proves the opposite!

Hitchens relates how he was asked by Dennis Prager if, approached by a bunch of men on a dark evening in a strange neighborhood, he would be less worried about his safety if he knew they were coming out of a prayer meeting. He spouts (page 18) a litany of cities (Belfast, Beirut, Bombay, ... "and that is only the B's") where, during certain times in recent and ancient history he would be less confortable if confronted by men exiting a religious meeting. Hitchens lives in Washington, DC and spends most of his time away from home in New York, London, Los Angeles, and so on. What would any honest person's answer be to that question?

He goes out of his way to trash both Mother Teresa (page 145+) and Ghandi (page 182+).

Hitchens was a Marxist before he lost his faith in that hopeless cause. He supported Trotsky who was exiled and later murdered by Stalin. One wonders if Hitchens would still be a Marxist had Trotsky turned the tables and eliminated Stalin.

Based on experience of loss of faith in Marxism, he laments (page 153) the pain he knows his book is inflicting on the religious faithful. I wonder if he is simply jealous of their faith? Like a kid whose balloon has popped, he savors the experience of popping everyone else's balloon.

He misquotes Rabbi Hillel, one of our most influential Jewish scholars, claiming Hillel stated the Golden Rule in the postitive version (page 213): "Treat others as you wish to be treated." In fact, even the slightest research would have shown that Hillel used the negative version favored by most Jewish scholars. Hillel wrote: "That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it."

He has an entire chapter entitled "Is Religion Child Abuse?" and concludes it is much worse (page 217) "'Child abuse' is really a silly and pathetic euphemism for what has been going on; the systematic rape and torture of children ..." He cites cases where children have indeeed been abused by priests of various religions, but that is an argumentative trick. If some Englishmen rape and torture children would it be right to say English civilization is all about rape and torture of children?

On the positive side (at least for me as a Pantheist) he notes Leslie Orgel's comment (page 84): "... evolution is smarter than you are." (Orgel was an associate of Francis Crick, DNA pioneer.)

He also writes (page 165) "... people can be better off believing in something than in nothing, however untrue that something may be."

The GOD Delusion

Unlike Christopher Hitchens's "god is NOT Great", written from an historical/literary point of view "The GOD Delusion", by a respected biologist, contains actual science-based arguments.

Evolution of Memes

Richard Dawkins previously wrote "The Selfish Gene" (1976) where he introduced the word "meme" (from "mimeme" derived from the Greek "mimeisthai" which means "to imitate"). The word "mneme" was used by others in a similar way as early as 1927 (from the Greek mimneskesthai" which means "to remember").

A meme is the cultural equivalent of a gene. Dawkins wrote: "DNA is a self-replicating piece of hardware. Each piece has a particular structure, which is different from rival pieces of DNA. If memes in brains are analogous to genes they must be self-replicating brain structures, actual patterns of neuronal wiring-up that reconstitute themselves in one brain after another."

The etymology of the word "meme" itself is an excellent example of the evolution of the cultural equivalent of genes. “Meme” is one letter shorter than “mneme” and far easier to pronounce. A challenge arose in 1980 when E.O. Wilson introduced a new word, "culturgen" for the same concept. That word has all but died out as “meme” survived and replicated in the natural human selection process. Clearly, the word “meme” is the “fittest” (best fits into the human cultural environment and brain structure).

A Personal God IS a Delusion – But is it a Useful Myth?

Although I agree with Dawkins that the "traditional" concept of a personal God, external to the Universe, is, strictly speaking, a delusion, I am surprised at the vehemence with which he attacks it.

He minimizes the significance of the fact that the various religions which survived and reproduced over millennia and encompassing the belief systems of billions of people are the “fittest” beliefs (best fits into the human cultural environment and brain structure, regardless of whether or not they are literally true). As such, they must have provided some real benefit to believers and the societies that promoted and still cling to religious beliefs.

About half-way through the book, he finally acknowledges, however grudgingly, the facts. He writes [pg 163 …166]:
[W]e should ask what pressure or pressures exerted by natural selection originally favoured the impulse toward religion. … Religion is so wasteful, so extravagant; and Darwinian selection habitually targets and eliminates waste. …no known culture lacks some version of the time-consuming, wealth-consuming,hostility provoking rituals, the anti-factual, counter-productive fantasies of religion. [Emphasis added]
David Wilson and Group Selection

Dawkins searches, in vain, for rational explanations for the survival of the God delusion. He mentions David Sloan Wilson [pg 170] a colleague of Howard’s and one of my favorite professors at Binghamton University who Dawkins rightly calls “the American group-selection apostle”.

Group selection makes the claim that groups, including religious associations, which promote cooperative, altruistic behaviors, survive at the expense of less religious groups. While I accept multi-level selection (gene level and meme level), I am not sure that true, pure altruism exists and have gone round and round discussing this with Wilson.

Dawkins Belief there is “A generalized process for optimizing”

He goes on his apparently subconscious defense of pantheism [pg 139]:
It is clear that here on Earth we are dealing with a generalized process for optimizing biological species, a process that works all over the planet, on all continents and islands, and at all times. … if we wait another ten million years, a whole new set of species will be as well adapted to their ways of life as today’s species are to theirs. This is a recurrent, predictable, multiple phenomenon, not a piece of statistical luck recognized with hindsight. [Emphasis added]
Dawkin’s “generalized process for optimizing” is Omnipresent (“all continents and islands … all times”), Omnipotent (“whole new set of species”) and Omniscient (“as well adapted to their ways of life as today’s species”). Change it to “Generalized Optimizing Device” and we have our familiar Pantheistic “GOD”. QED :^)


Grandchildren are GRAND. I may be biased, but I think ours are the GRANDEST!

The photo below shows the Nathan's Coney Island t-shirt they presented to me as a thank-you for our week together. Note how it fits into the theme of the "office" part of our Freedom Points Independent Living bedroom.

Do you see the Coney Island Parachute Jump print with Cyclone and Nathan's Hot Dogs, and the Coney Island carry bag?

At left are my US Patents, top is my IBM and Lockheed retirement memento, top right my NJ and CT vanity plates. Middle right is my 1976 US bicentennial needlework based on 13 cent stamp of the time, but with a subtle change. 

(At far right notice legs reflected in mirror. They belong to Samantha who stood on the bed to take this memorable photo.)
Ira Glickstein

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