Friday, October 28, 2011


"A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit, and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?" - Albert Einstein

     Einstein couldn't exactly be called the master of simplicity. A few sentences of General Relativity is enough to give you a migraine for a week. But it is an innate quality of the human psyche to desire order and clarity, even though the fallen state of matter tends toward chaos. Maybe this an aspect of the eternal tug-of-war between light and darkness; between good and evil. I think the notion of simplicity resides on a number of psychological and spiritual planes. Perhaps it lives in the single beam of light shining through a crack in a dusty barn, or the minimalist composition of a tree on a winter horizon. It can exist in a deep sigh or in the closing of the eyes. It can exist in a day of hard, fulfilling work and in the trill of a piccolo in a symphony. Perhaps it lives only in memories, or in the pages of a book. It can reside in the wind, rolling through the hills, and the whinny of a horse in the early morning. But what is chaos? Chaos can be seen in the crawl of congested traffic or in the adrenaline-affected thoughts of a terrorist. Most obviously, it's the state of my room's floor right now, or a day of nonstop, unfulfilling activity. 
     Lay the pieces of a jig-saw puzzle into their box and then shake the box. The puzzle will not put itself together. The same is true of Legos. Shaking a box of Legos in hope that they will build an airplane is an obvious waste of time. It takes a conscious and motivated mind to create order and wholeness from chaos. The chaotic state of the world is the unfortunate reality of sin. A world largely without holiness is a world without order; a world largely devoid of simplicity. 
    Simplicity is not just a fact of certain events or instances. It is not limited to austerity or to rest. Simplicity is an outlook. In a world full of nonsensical numbers and the endless pursuit of meaning, Einstein found simplicity in a bowl of fruit and a violin. We have the ability to consciously observe and appreciate things in their simplest forms. Maybe it's the steam off of a cup of tea, the laugh of a child, or the satisfaction in a completed task. We should endeavor, not to deny reality or over-simplify to black and white, but to recognize the beauty of the simple things in life.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Oranges and Elephants

"Suit the action to the word, and the word to the action." - William Shakespeare     
     No word in the English dictionary rhymes with "orange." "Orange," therefore, is a special word. On a half-intensional quest for interestingness, I did a little etymological search on the word "orange" in the Oxford English Dictionary. If the OED were an ordinary, bound dictionary, its thickness might rival the height of the Empire State Building. Fortunately for me, the online school where I take a couple of my classes has a privileged access to the online dictionary database. Convert a book the size of the Empire State Building into bandwidth, and you suddenly realize why everyone else on the cafe wifi just lost internet access.
     But I digress. Suffice to say that "orange" had quite the etymological history, much to my satisfaction. The word comes from the original Sanskrit phrase, "naga ranga." The phrase literally means "fatal indigestion for elephants." The origins go way back to the Biblical story of the Fall. The Malaysian peoples of ancient times had created a story based on Genesis, but with an elephantine twist of their own. Allegedly, it was the elephant, not the human, that stumbled upon a beautiful, fruit-laden tree in this Malay story. Tempted by the fruit on what happened to be an orange tree, the elephant committed the first sin of gluttony and ate them all. Then, on the spot, the overindulged elephant exploded. Dozens of years later, a man stumbled upon the fossilized remains of the exploded elephant, and found many orange trees growing in what had been the elephant's stomach. "Naga ranga!" the man cried. "What fatal indigestion for elephants!" The phrase was eventually translated into English as "orange" via Persian, Arabic, regional Italian, Portuguese, Middle French, and Anglo Norman.
     For one of only a few English words without rhymes, "Orange's" etymology is certainly one-of-a-kind as well. Also one-of-a-kind, is my appreciation for crazy stuff like this. I was going to draw a picture of an exploding elephant to complement this post, but I thought better of it. You're welcome.
Thanks to the OED and