This 103-year-old philosopher's to-do list will get you through self-isolation

Need to isolate? No problem! This philosopher is keeping the world posted on his isolation routine by Facebook.

This 103-year-old philosopher's to-do list will get you through self-isolation

Romanian Philosoher and activist Mihai Sora

Screenshot from UN FILM DE LUIZA ȘORA
  • Like everybody else, Romanian philosopher Mihai Sora is stuck inside.
  • He is keeping busy for a 103-year-old man, and keeping the world up to date on his indoor adventures with Facebook.
  • His to-do list is impressive, but not so impressive it can't be used by most people.

The social isolation necessitated by COVID-19 is difficult for a lot of people. Between being mostly stuck inside, having reduced contact with other people, and the creeping boredom that comes after you've done everything on your to-do list, it's little wonder that people are getting stressed out about it.

However, there are ways to make it a little more tolerable. A few good ideas for what do at home these days come from the Romanian philosopher Mihai Sora who, at 103 years old, is keeping the world posted on his social isolation practices via Facebook. According to the Calvert Journal, some of the items on his to-do list include:

  • Solving a Rubik's Cube
  • Painting his white fridge (inside and out)
  • Reading Proust
  • Starting to learn Swedish
  • Improving his Japanese
  • Writing in his "little Facebook notebook"
  • Drawing a flock of sheep
  • Clearing out his study
  • Learning how to use the washing machine
  • "Stoically" listening to French composer Pierre Boulez
  • Checking out planets discovered by NASA
  • "Training in general," as well as reading and using his exercise bike.

Meet Mihai Sora, one of the most interesting men in the world

Born in 1916 in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Mihai went to France for his PhD in philosophy as a young man. When the Nazis invaded, he joined the French Resistance. After the war, he was offered French citizenship but declined to return to his homeland, newly communist Romania. Unable to leave Romania after 1948 because of the aforementioned communism, he was unable to publish his work again for 20 years due to government censorship. To make ends meet, he worked day jobs, often getting fired for insubordination, and translated classic literature into Romanian.

After the fall of Romanian Communism, he served as the Minister of Education for a brief period. He resigned in protest against street violence between miners and anti-communist protesters. Now, in his golden years, he remains an activist. He even found the time to go to a few street protests at the age of 101.

His philosophy is also nothing to sneeze at—his first major essay, "On Interior Dialogue. Fragment from a Metaphysical Anthropology" was well received in postwar France, and his political philosophy has attracted a fair amount of attention.

How he is keeping sane during social isolation

In addition to accomplishing all this, Dr. Sora is keeping the world up to date on his isolation through Facebook posts. The posts include his observations of how nice the night sky is:

Musings on how weird it would be for aliens who show up when the streets are empty:

Notes on how to entertain children:

Mihai ȘORA

Updates on his art projects:

And reminders that this, too, shall pass and afterwards we should go for a nice walk in nature:

This might be the kind of social media influencer the world doesn't deserve but actually needs.

His posts and to-do list are particularly brilliant in that they are not fundamentally difficult or too foreign for most people to emulate. His to-do list includes chores, learning things he always wanted to but lacked time for, and doing things he already enjoys.

If you're stuck at home too, perhaps you should borrow a few of these ideas. Ever wanted to start learning a new language? You've got time for it now. Ever want to read the classics? Project Guttenberg is online, has thousands of books to choose from, and your schedule is clear. More creatively minded? That's fine; there are plenty of Bob Ross videos on YouTube to get you started in painting. There aren't a ton of great online resources for helping you clean out your study, but that's also a good idea of Dr. Sora's you should steal.

And don't forget to take his advice to look up at the sun, moon, and stars every once in a while. Just because you're stuck inside doesn't mean you can't wonder at the scope of the cosmos. Just because we're all a bit anxious lately doesn't mean we have to lose our sense of awe.

So, try some of his ideas for yourself. After all, if they are keeping a person with as exciting a life as Mihai Sora occupied, it should be enough to keep most people busy for a few more weeks.

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

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