Services

A Dictionary of Akkadian


Akkadian was the dominant language of the ancient civilization of Mesopotamia. It was the lingua franca in the Ancient Near East for several centuries. It was gradually replaced by Aramaic. It faded into oblivion once Alexander the Great Hellenized (Greekified) the region and in modern times we had no dictionary to decode it.

But, after 90 years of work, scholars at the University of Chicago finally published in 2011 a 21-volume dictionary of Akkadian.

Unspoken for 2,000 years, Akkadian was preserved on clay tablets and in stone inscriptions until scholars deciphered it.


Gilgamesh was a historical king of the Sumerian city-state of Uruk, a major hero in ancient Mesopotamian mythology, and the protagonist of the Epic of Gilgamesh, an epic poem written in Akkadian during the late second millennium BC.

Composed of many stories, the connected narrative that is the Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh was composed by a scribe named Sîn-lēqi-unninni, probably during the Middle Babylonian Period (c. 1600 – c. 1155 BC). The source material is much older.

In the epic, Gilgamesh is a demigod of superhuman strength who befriends the wildman Enkidu, and together, they go on adventures.

Gilgamesh is considered one of the masterpieces of world literature. As a half-god and half-man, his isolation from both worlds turns him into a cruel tyrant over the citizens of Uruk. To impress them forever he orders a great wall to be built, driving his people to exhaustion and despair so that they cry to the Sun God for help.

The Sun God's response is to to send to Earth another kind of man, Enkidu, to live among the animals and learn kindness from them. He falls in love with Shamhat, a singer from the temple, and he follows her back to Uruk. There, Enkidu, the “uncivilized” beast from the forest, shows the evil Gilgamesh through friendship what it means to be human.



Cosmic Internet


Have you been worrying about what kind of WiFi connection you would get if you were in space? Well, NASA is about to make it a little easier to post your space photos to Instagram.

They are working to make interplanetary internet a thing. Are you surprised to know that there have been previous efforts to bring WiFi throughout the solar system?

This new attempt will use Delay/Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN) and I love this idea of cosmic WiFI.

Is there any practical application for this research? Well, yes. Communicating from Earth to any spacecraft is really complex. The Moon is about 250,000 miles away. Mars is 140 million miles away. NASA has three communication networks: the Deep Space Network (DSN), the Near Earth Network (NEN), and the Space Network (SN).

That Space Network made me think of President Trump who said in early June that he has  ordered the Pentagon to create a “space force” as the Defense Department’s sixth military service branch, “separate but equal” to the Air Force.

“When it comes to defending America, it is not enough to merely have an American presence in space. We must have American dominance in space,” siad Trump during a White House meeting with members of the National Space Council.

If a Space Force sounds weird, so must Cosmic WiFi.  It is fertile ground for comedy and parody. I saw a tweet from a parody Trump Twitter account that said that not only willwe build a base on mars, but the Martians will pay for it.

Well, if Trump ever gets into space, at least he can still tweet.

In looking online, I also discovered a book, The Cosmic Internet, about the author’s direct conversations with the nonphysical aspects of the universe.

What?

The author contends that after our physical lives are concluded, will we continue to exist in some way.

The author, Frank DeMarco, writes that he can channel, connect, and communicate with guides or spiritual teachers and address questions that humans have been asking for thousands of years.

This "internet" is metaphysical, not a physical, network.

Down the Creativity Rabbit Hole

When I was writing recently about Mary Shelley I fell down that Internet rabbit hole of related links. The Internet is a dangerous place for anyone who has attention deficit disorder - and I think that includes almost all of us.

Maria Popova writes the fascinating BrainPickings website and if you read any post there you will find it filled with links to other posts and sources and images. It is its own rabbit hole. She posted that creativity is combinatorial. That's a new word for it.

It means that being creative we use all of our accumulated "knowledge, memories, bits of information, sparks of inspiration and combine and recombine, mostly unconsciously, into something" we then believe is new and our own, original idea.

Albert Einstein called that “combinatory play” and he was known for coming up some of his best ideas violin breaks, walks and bike rides.

When I take a deep dive into the many links rabbit hole, the real value for me only happens when I actually start writing.

Oliver Sacks said that “The act of writing is an integral part of my mental life; ideas emerge, are shaped, in the act of writing… a special, indispensable form of talking to myself.” Sacks was thinking about storytelling and the river of consciousness in the psychology of writing.
"If imitation plays a central role in the performing arts, where incessant practice, repetition, and rehearsal are essential, it is equally important in painting or composing or writing, for example. All young artists seek models in their apprentice years, models whose style, technical mastery, and innovations can teach them. Young painters may haunt the galleries of the Met or the Louvre; young composers may go to concerts or study scores. All art, in this sense, starts out as “derivative,” highly influenced by, if not a direct imitation or paraphrase of, the admired and emulated models. 
When Alexander Pope was thirteen years old, he asked William Walsh, an older poet whom he admired, for advice. Walsh’s advice was that Pope should be “correct.” Pope took this to mean that he should first gain a mastery of poetic forms and techniques. To this end, in his “Imitations of English Poets,” Pope began by imitating Walsh, then Cowley, the Earl of Rochester, and more major figures like Chaucer and Spenser, as well as writing “Paraphrases,” as he called them, of Latin poets. By seventeen, he had mastered the heroic couplet and began to write his “Pastorals” and other poems, where he developed and honed his own style but contented himself with the most insipid or clichéd themes. It was only once he had established full mastery of his style and form that he started to charge it with the exquisite and sometimes terrifying products of his own imagination. For most artists, perhaps, these stages or processes overlap a good deal, but imitation and mastery of form or skills must come before major creativity."

Oliver Sacks makes a creative note on the run
(Photograph by Lowell Handler from On the Move)
Staying within the BrainPickings universe, I then turn to poet Rainer Maria Rilke's only novel, the semi-autobiographical The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

Rilke saw creativity as more than just putting down memories.
And still it is not enough to have memories. One must be able to forget them when they are many, and one must have the great patience to wait until they come again. For it is not yet the memories themselves. Not until they have turned to blood within us, to glance, to gesture, nameless and no longer to be distinguished from ourselves — not until then can it happen that in a most rare hour the first word of a verse arises in their midst and goes forth from them.

Musician poet Patti Smith says of the creative process in songwriting:
It’s a channeling. Burroughs always called it a shamanistic gift. Sometimes I feel I am channeling someone else. Part of it is experience from performing and understanding that, as a performer, one has a mission, like Coltrane, to take your solo out to talk to God, or whoever you talk to, but you must return. So it has structure. That’s one way that I write. Others take quite a bit of labor. Often the simplest song is the hardest to write. “Frederick” was very hard to write because in its simplicity I also wanted it to be perfect.
Oliver Sacks says that many creators don’t make the leap from mastery to “major creativity” or what Schopenhauer considered to be the distinction between talent and genius. Many of us would be quite satisfied to reach a level of mastery. I think that "genius" is used much too casually these days.
Why is it that of every hundred gifted young musicians who study at Juilliard or every hundred brilliant young scientists who go to work in major labs under illustrious mentors, only a handful will write memorable musical compositions or make scientific discoveries of major importance? Are the majority, despite their gifts, lacking in some further creative spark? Are they missing characteristics other than creativity that may be essential for creative achievement — such as boldness, confidence, independence of mind? 
It takes a special energy, over and above one’s creative potential, a special audacity or subversiveness, to strike out in a new direction once one is settled. It is a gamble as all creative projects must be, for the new direction may not turn out to be productive at all.

As a teacher, I have always been very impressed with students who can make connections from course content to their own lives, current events and other courses. Paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould wrote:
My talent is making connections. That’s why I’m an essayist. It’s also why my technical work is structured the way it is. How do the parts of the snail shell interact? What are the rates of growth? Can you see a pattern? I’m always trying to see a pattern in this forest and I’m tickled that I can do that. … I can sit down on just about any subject and think of about twenty things that relate to it and they’re not hokey connections. They’re real connections that you can forge into essays or scientific papers. When I wrote Ontogeny and Phylogeny I had no trouble reading eight hundred articles and bringing them together into a single thread. That’s how it went together. There’s only one way it goes together, one best taxonomy, and I knew what it was.

Oliver Sacks writing in his seventies (Photograph by Bill Hayes from On the Move)