Divine Neutrality, Blog. Science, Philosophy


July 1st, 2015

Sadye Stories

queue My mother’s name was Sadie. By some coup of whim I had thought she spelled it ‘Sadye’ when I suggested that name for our new born daughter to her mother. My precious wife, Elfi, acceded so our daughter became Sadye.


Sadye was a 5 year old in kindergarten in 1997. The children were on an outing. They were invited to visit a nearby farm. We lived in a rural area where this was easily possible. I and a few other children’s parents had come along to help.

Kevin, a mentally impaired child, is a member of the class. He is attended by both of his parents. They are making an effort to ‘mainstream their child’, to give him some quality of life even with his great handicap. Kevin needs them. He makes sudden explosive shrieks, animal-like groans and grunts. He can’t help it. These sounds issue from him uninvited.

I hear the other children’s parents. One says to another in anger, “That child shouldn’t be here. It’s disturbing for our kids.”

But what about Kevin?  Should he be quarantined from humanity?


At age 6, Sadye enthusiastically discusses the color of the Easter eggs and where she found them but never the nature of the Easter bunny; an egg laying rabbit.

For Whom the Blessing?

It’s winter. Cold outside and even inside; especially at night. In the morning I wake my 9 year old daughter, Sadye, with loving kisses. I sit down carefully on the edge of her bed, bend over to gently stroke her forehead and whisper quietly, “Good morning, my lovely. Time to get up out of those cozy warm covers. Are you awake?”

Eyes kept closed she nods sleepily; by which she means that she has received the message and will shortly get up. I leave the room, go to the kitchen and greet my wife preparing breakfast. Ten or fifteen minutes later Sadye comes out. Well. Often she does. Occasionally she takes longer or comes out in a mood less than jubilant. But usually she bounces out of her room all showered, dressed and ready for the day.

Any adult must perceive the beauty in having a loving father for an alarm clock. One must certainly get out of bed somehow – by the clock or otherwise. Better wake to kisses than to shrill ringing. And how does young Sadye view the ritual. She would portray it this way: “In the morning my father comes in to make me get up and get dressed.”

There is no rancor in this. She doesn’t compare my kisses to an alarm clock. She compares them to ‘not having to get up at all’. So the ritual is a blessing, not so much for Sadye, as it is for her father.


Living in the woods there is outdoor tidying to be done. The brush grows high in early spring and becomes a fire hazard. It must be cut down. The debris foliage is gathered into large dome-shaped stacks; each perhaps 7 feet high and 30 feet around. To dispose of them, I burn such stacks of brush to ash. It’s done before the fire hazard season begins, in early May. There are brush burnings every spring all over the neighborhood.

A stack of brush is mighty to behold for a 6 year old. It’s a lot of stuff. Sadye watches the burn. In the end all that stuff ends up as a small pile of feathery ash no more than 3 inches high. And the weight of the ash is far less than the weight of that big pile of brush.

I ask Sadye, “What happened to all that stuff? The ash is far less stuff then the original brush was. Where did it all go?”

Looking at me in puzzled surprise she answers with assurance “It burned up.” She accepts the dematerialization of matter as a fact of nature. Movie and TV fairies often disappear in clouds of smoke.

“Where did it go?” had no significance or meaning. The question was, “How do you account for the matter that was there?” ¬†Sadye’s perception was, “It ceased to exist. The matter became nothing. Why should it go anywhere?”

Up to the middle of the eighteenth century the whole world shared Sadye’s perception. Then Antoine Lavoisier asked himself that question and aswered it by experiment. He was careful to include the weight of everything involved – the substance burned, the air around it and the residue. And he found that the stuff did go somewhere.

The smoke was ‘matter leaving’. Matter went up in the smoke. The wood reacted chemically with oxygen in the air and combined with it to feed matter into the air. Lavoisier had discovered that, although matter may change its form or shape, its mass always remains the same. That’s what all the subscript and prefix numbers in every chemical formula do; account for mass. That mass is to be accounted for, is the foundation stone of all of chemistry.

How remarkably fertile that innocuous question has been: “Where did it go?”

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What is Energy?

June 1st, 2015

An Abstract Reality

my wayWhat IS energy; that you buy it, use it, have it and notice it in others? (“The kids have such energy!”) You never see it, never touch it. Never smell it or hold it. What is the nature of such a substance? Energy is not coal. Nor oil. Nor sunshine. Nor boys playing soccer. These are said to possess energy. But what is this energy that they posses?

Here is the remarkable answer: “It is a numerical quantity which does not change when something happens.” R.P. Feynman 1962

That energy is a “quantity which does not change” means that if it grows less in one form then it must increase in another. So that the total amount doesn’t change. When I pay, say, $.15/kilowatt-hour for electrical energy, my purpose is to see it transformed into mechanical energy to run my refrigerator and into light energy at night for my reading convenience. Energy is something that can be transformed from one form into another. The totality of it persists (is conserved) as its form changes.

Electrical energy is made from the mechanical motion of wires in magnetic fields. The mechanical energy driving this motion comes from the thermal energy of heat which in turn comes from the chemical bond energy stored in coal or oil. There is energy of motion. There is energy of position – say of an apple feeling the force of earth’s gravitational pull. There is chemical energy stored in the binding of atoms to one another. There is nuclear energy stored in the binding of the nucleons inside the nucleus of an atom.

But what, then, is energy?

It is a mathematical attribute found to exist in nature. That there is a quantifiable concept called energy emerged from the mathematics invented to describe the physical world.

The concept was born about 1807 when Thomas Young gave the first quantitative formula for the energy that is to be associated with motion. It was wrong by a factor of 2 but soon corrected. The energy to be associated with a mass, m, in motion moving at a speed, v, is given by the formula mv2/2. The energy of position (in the gravity field of the earth) to be associated with the same mass being at a height y above sea level is mgy, where g is a known numerical factor.

The genesis of the idea that such a thing as energy exists is exemplified in this joystick graphic. In it you see that a mathematical quantity is conserved throughout the turmoil of physical events.

You can throw or drop the apple by clicking on the appropriate button. The graphic numerically displays the apple’s attributes as they change with time; its speed (positive means ‘going upwards’, negative ‘going downwards’), its varying position and the time at which each is measured. (The actual time is displayed numerically but the motion graphic shows it slowed down for convenient viewing. A 1-second interval is viewed in 10 seconds.)

As the apple, in its motion, follows the laws of nature, its position (height above the ground) grows or shrinks drastically and its speed keeps changing all the time. But remarkably, an arithmetic function of its speed (the square) plus another function of its position is shown to be constant throughout the motion.

In the graphic, the sum shown is actually computed repeatedly from the two terms above it. This sum turns out to be the same number no matter what is going on in the motion. You may freeze the motion and check the computation at any stage of the trajectory. Then release the motion to freeze it again at another time – say 0.2 seconds later. You will see that although all the physically measurable quantities – the ones above the summation line – have changed markedly, the mathematical construction combining them is constant. This mathematical construction is conserved! It doesn’t change with time even though so much is happening.

It was from the reckoning illustrated in this joystick graphic that an idea was born. The idea is that there exists an ethereal mathematical something called energy that is conserved in all physical processes. Any such process can only change the form of the energy – not its magnitude. In the falling apple, position energy changes into motion energy. Mathematical expressions soon followed describing electrical energy, magnetic energy, chemical energy, heat energy and all the other forms. Over a hundred years ago Einstein taught us that mass is a form of energy. The equation for mass energy is E=mc2.

Afer a few centuries of hearing about it we have come to adopt, as something completely familiar, a mathematical relationship between measurable quantities. This mathematical insight brought a completely abstract and invisible property of nature into common acceptance. The word energy is popular with everyone. It has achieved recognition.

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The Tick

May 1st, 2015

The Tick

Sadye 1996 August 1997

Perhaps it was a tick lodged in her skin; that tiny black spot on the left side of her neck. Perhaps it was only the crust on a healing skin wound. It’s hard to spot that devilish insect unless you inspect carefully. You get ticks playing in the woods and that’s what Sadye does. Play in the woods. A forest of trees and undergrowth surround us on all sides. Sadye is five years old. I’m her dad. At breakfast her mother noticed the dark fleck.

Sadye doesn’t want her mother poking around the skin of her neck. She runs away. She won’t hold still. She screams. It mounts into a tantrum ending in uncontrollable sobs. She is being violated. She has been unjustly accused of harboring ticks.

Her mother is distraught and anguished. She knows that if you don’t remove a tick within hours it can cause serious illness. Lyme disease. She pleads with her little girl. She only wants to look at it. She promises not to touch. Looking won’t hurt.

The rock of logic is too heavy a burden to bear. Sadye collapses into sobbing hysteria resisting this new attack with even greater determination. Her mother gives up. She retreats. Out of Sadye’s earshot she confides to me that she will inspect it at night while Sadye is asleep.

Later, I drive Sadye to her play school. She is in a happy mood. I say to her: “Tell me what you would do. You are in the middle of the street. A car is coming toward you. Would you run out of its path? Or would you stand there and cry because the car will hit you?”

“I’d run away,” is her response, enthusiastic about playing a game of questions and answers.

“Well,” I say, shamelessly exploiting her exuberance, “you get out of the way because the car can hurt you. You might be so badly hurt that you couldn’t run and play anymore. A tick can hurt you also. It can put you in the hospital as surely as a car can. You should get out of its way,” said I, pontificating mightily. “Let us remove the tick if it’s there. Crying won’t make it go away,”

“Dad”, interrupts Sadye, “when a car crashes the tow truck comes to take it away.” …

How weak mere reason is against the mightiness of drama.

Later that day I picked Sadye up from play school. In the car, after reporting on her time at play, Sadye says, “The tick is gone, Dad. I washed it off myself. With a wet tissue.”

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