Tag Archives: science

“Make it So”

I wrote a while back about the way that science fiction provides examples to us of what a world without religion looks like.   It’s an important point to think on since there’s quite a lot of hullaballoo surrounding the thought that atheists or agnostics can’t be nice or get along and are particularly evil so a future filled with such people is certainly vile, discordant, and unlivable.

Not so.  Many science fiction movies and television shows exemplify that humankind can actually thrive where religion is absent and reason prevails in it’s stead.  Is there evil?  Yep.  We can’t escape it because it is part of ourselves, but we do see in each instance that love or relationships or family overcome and save the day, and tellingly, no supreme being is needed.  (By the way, we really don’t know how else to write the story except that good always defeats evil – such an optimistic species).

With the release of the newest Star Trek movie, a fellow writer picked up on this theme and discusses it in this Atlantic article.   It is hopeful in this time of turbulence – especially as an American watching the current election cycle – to see a standard held for us all to claim:  we can rely on each other, as well as our own reasoning, to create a decent society.

May we ‘make it so.’

Yours,

Frankie

 


No Religion: What’s to Believe In?

As we continue to progress as a species, more of us human beings are stepping from the dark archaic belief systems of religion to the bright confidence of knowledge afforded us by science.   But the shift from religion to non begs some questions:  What do we do with ourselves?  Where do we put our energy?  What’s to believe in? What becomes our focus?

From my humble perspective, it kind of seems that a default focus would be nationalism; belief in one’s nation and attention to its politics and social/economic issues.  From my humble perspective, we could use a boost in national attention to politics and social/economic issues.   But there lies a danger of jingoism, unabashed love for one’s country without regard for other nations, fervent almost blind belief that ‘my country is the best’.  In a time when we face global challenges such as health epidemics and climate change, we can’t really allow ourselves the pleasure of arrogance.  We must be able to cooperate, to admit that maybe another nation is doing something right and we might consider adjusting our own perceptions.  We are bound together by this planet and its natural laws, we have to work with one another in order to keep our species viable.  While some of our new found energy can and should be focused on national issues, it is necessary to strike a balance with how much energy we invest in our country – there are bigger ideas to focus on as well.

I heartily contend that the biggest idea should be humanism – a focus on mankind and our path of past, present, and future, our connection with one another as dictated by nature’s laws.  If we think about it, we only, always, have each other; and though cultures vary we cannot deny our bloodline and the truth that we are all brothers and sisters.  I believe we owe a certain amount of attention to our race based on this sole premise, with the spirit that we are inherently obligated as human beings to look out for our siblings. As mentioned above, our modern age forces us to examine physical global issues and international cooperation is paramount to finding solutions to these issues.   A humanist focus allows us to set aside cultural prejudices and adopt cooperative attitudes based upon the assumption that we’re all in this together.

Science appears to be the common ground for us all and I’ll assert that the growth of humanism will include many elements of the discipline.   Two plus two will always equal four and no matter where we go in the world we can speak that language to anyone. I am not claiming that science has all the answers although I’m close to agreeing with many modern thinkers who believe it does.  It certainly answers our questions best and provides a universal language with which we can speak to one another, culture set aside.   Besides providing a common language science provides a foundation for finding common solutions to the challenges we face together.  The discipline is a perfect fit with the tenants of humanism.

I’ll even go out on a limb and demonstrate that we already have a vision for the melding of science and humanism and how they work together by invoking the genre of science fiction film and writings.  There are several examples where science fiction has remarkably portended the future as far as gadgets and inventions are concerned.   Even George Orwell was prescient enough to understand that an entirely new language would evolve under political pressures.   Using science fiction as a barometer for the way humanistic tendencies might emerge, one finds an astonishing body of work that illustrates how political and even personal decisions are made based upon available evidence and facts instead of mystical, archaic texts. Pay attention next time you tune into Star Trek, or Dr. Who, or The Fifth Element.

We’ve come a long ways since the days when science and religion walked the same path of curiosity together, searching for answers to the same questions.   At some point their paths split and one has gone on to answer those questions with solid evidence.   As we continue to progress as a species and more of us also leave the anachronistic beliefs behind, we are faced with the necessity of filling the void.   Humanism does so with a neat and comfortable fit.  Here’s to our future and the place that Humanism has within it.

Yours,

Frankie


Questions, and Answers

Two inquisitive minds set out with similar questions which obliged each to begin from the same point, and on equal footing. It wasn’t a race or competition they anticipated, mind you, but a quest instead.  A search for answers to curiosities springing from a well that would not be stopped.

Their shared questions:  What this?  Why that?  How come?   When?  Why here?  gave them a momentary sense of camaraderie.  As they floated along in the same stream they traded suspicions and congratulated each other on specific observations.  For a while, then, the two could amicably and happily content themselves in their common search.

By and by, they arrived at a fork in the stream and there was great discussion about which direction to take. One stream was slightly wider and its current more brisk as a consequence, the other retained the same width and flow as the original. One inquisitor felt that answers were probably best obtained in the wider stream, the other felt more comfortable with the status quot.  Imminently, there was no reconciliation, the two parted ways and stayed the course they thought would best answer their questions.   They never saw each other again.

For a time, the streams continued on without change, answers refused to be found, but the curious contented themselves in their individual decision and pondered what it might mean, if anything, that they chose differently.

After, say, a fortnight, one of our seekers discovered a profound answer, a vigorous stream itself feeding into the original waterway, fortifying it with the new information – its banks were widened, its flow increased, its current quickened. Steadily, almost consistently, creeks and other streams, in the form of answers, found their way to the questioner.  Before long a wide river of knowledge stretched out on either side and ahead.   There was life with this river.  Green trees stood solid and sure on each side. Birds and bugs filled the air.  Fish and algae dominated the water.   Vibrant; enviable; this river would continually be fed with new streams, leading the seeker to countless, continuous, and beautiful discoveries.

I wish I could report that the other seeker shared a similar fate in success at finding aswers.  It seems the stream of this questioner had no other resources to keep it flowing.  Sure, seasonal creeks would donate their runoff, but the crucial steady supply of new water was absent.  The queried mind worried somewhat about this lack of new energy and it was left to contemplate only the answers it had so far acquired.  Those would be recycled continuously for want of fresh information and as a result the stream eventually dried up.   This curious seeker then, wandered a desert-land bereft of life and the dawnings of new days.

It is an easily observed case from my perspective.   I stand on the mountaintop of time and history.  I can see precisely where the two parted ways.   My eyes savor the beauty of the wide silver gleam that morphed into a behemoth river and they track stream upon stream of answers flowing into its arms.   I scan the valley to find the other seeker.  Ah, just there. Only recognizable by its origin, where it diverged from its companion.  If I trace its route I can see the gradual shrinking and final ending in a small pool of a lake whose only source is the one stream.  There is scant evidence of life and when the lake fills with sediment and dries, as all lakes with only a single feed are wont to do, that life will dissipate, allowing desert to arrive.

Observing these two is an exercise in the profound contrast of outcomes.

Science and Religion set out with similar questions which obliged each to begin from the same point, and on equal footing. Their shared questions:  What this?  Why that?  How come?   When?  Why here?  all attempted to define man’s place in the universe.  From the mountaintop of time and history, we witness the destiny of each.  This is a story about Questions, and Answers – an exercise in the profound contrast of outcomes.


The First Commandment: Thou shall be Ignorant

Right there in the very front, in the beginning so there’s no question of its importance, no room for misinterpretation, god commands his children NOT to eat of the tree of knowledge of ‘everything’* and thus the religion is bound and encapsulated within itself, with no outside influences – however sound their truths might be.

This thought struck me for the first time the other day and it intrigued me greatly because I immediately understood that it was important, no it was crucial to the religion to damn knowledge right off the bat, at its inception: That way there could be no question or curiosity from its followers and any thinking or contemplation done by said person is strictly limited to “a chaotically cobbled together anthology of disjointed documents, composed, revised, translated, distorted and ‘improved’ by hundreds of anonymous authors, editors, and copyists, unknown to us and to each other, spanning nine centuries,” as Richard Dawkins accurately describes the bible.

Now I am well aware of the ‘theological’ discussions regarding this particular transaction in the story of the garden of Eden, I was a christian myself for a long while.   Most interpretations use the story to set the stage for the rest of the bible, ie.  the fall of man, the failure of man to be perfect and hence the need for a redeemer.  Some say it defines man’s life cycle: pain associated with birth, toiling in the soil until death.  There is also significant discussion about whether the whole thing was a set up:  surely an omnipotent god just knew we were going to botch it? Yet, didn’t he have to give us free will at some point in order for us to have the ability to choose whether or not to obey him?  But if he was an omnipotent god wouldn’t he have known we would be unable to resist temptation?  Especially that all-too-human trait of doing exactly the opposite of what a parent tells us to do?  But then he had to allow us a choice….ad infin.

I say not one of those premises is the truth and they merely act as smoke screens.  See, if one is tasked with compiling a workable document for a fledgling religion as were the delegates at the Council of Nicaea under Constantine’s orders, then it makes perfect sense that a well refined story would be utilized at the very outset of the narrative which effectively deters its readers from ever wandering past the pages of that one quilt-worked book.  By so doing, the religion is then set up, indeed, mandated to refuse any other refinements or outside information.   Now the religious leaders have a captive audience.  Now can begin the building of a theological empire whose leaders are given carte blanche control over their flocks because they have been taught that information and knowledge is evil and suspect.

It’s been an effective tool.  The christian religion is entirely encapsulated and absolutely refuses any new information.  Check out what Copernicus went through when he observed that the sun did NOT revolve around the earth.  His successor Galileo was forced to recant his view about a heliocentric galaxy and not until 1992 did the church issue a formal apology on his behalf.  1992!! Darwin’s ideas have been similarly refused even though the past one hundred fifty years have yielded massive amounts of support in their favor.  Yet a christian’s response is almost robotic:  Doesn’t matter, got a commandment to follow, No. New.  Information!!!!!!!

How has that affected our nation?  Well, we have a large section of our population who are dutiful  christians and therefore make for paranoid, suspect, information wary voters whose only source of information comes from the church and select news sources that are proven horribly skewed.  I know ’cause I was once one of them.  Some of those christians have been elected to office and so we possess wholly ignorant politicians who are charged with making long-term policies without caring about facts, they blatantly admit it, and they careen forward recklessly, with blinders on.  So we will continue to suffer the effects of global warming because we cannot accept new knowledge as a nation. And we will continue to be left behind the world in terms of groundbreaking science research, education, and progressive social goals.  We can no longer claim to be number one as a nation on several levels simply because so many of us have obeyed the first commandment:  thou shall be ignorant.

It’s a damning, damning situation and there’s not much to do for it except plod along.  It doesn’t do any good to present facts, send links to verifiable resources, or emphasize one’s historical background in education.  Our brothers and sisters simply cannot fathom or manage any form of outside information or knowledge: they’ve been taught that its evil. I find for myself, that at some level this new revelation allows me to muster a great deal more patience towards my fellow humans. Awareness is everything sometimes. The best we can do is educate when the opportunity arises and try not to sound like arrogant asses at the same time (I know this can be a problem because I’m sure I’m not the only one who has to be conscious of it).

Despite the ironclad direction to remain naive, there are those brave enough to dare step outside the lines and let the road take them where it may.  I know because I was one of them – and every day more and more of us make the choice.

Imagine ….  a movie with a character living in animation until suddenly something makes her real and we see her foot emerge from the cartoon into real grass, experiencing real sounds, amazing smells, and beautiful, beautiful colors for the first time.  She feels the warmth of the sun on her face and the wind gently tossing her hair.  For several long moments we might watch her as the camera circles around her and we witness the overwhelming gratefulness she experiences as she takes in everything and smiles at her newfound freedom, no longer confined to the pages of someone else’s hand. Yes she’s a bit scared and we would see that she navigates through some bumpy roads in this new reality, but we watch her grow more confident each day.  And, at the end of a few years, we might picture her at her computer writing these words of truth:  Peace comes with understanding, it does not pass it.

Here’s to knowledge and understanding kids; and let truth will out.

Frankie

* I choose to use the word ‘everything’ here since it more accurately depicts the gist of the commandment.  In research for this article it was asserted in several places that the phrase ‘good and evil’ is really used a merism…that is a set of linguistic opposites put together with the effect to mean not just the parts, but the whole. So the interpretation of knowing ‘good from evil’ is a bit off, it really means that adam and eve would have knowledge of everything, including good and evil.


The Value of a Dreamer

Jacob sat crying, exasperated and exhausted because he couldn’t figure out the math problem.
His mom came over to the table, gave him a hug and suggested he take the rest of the night off. “That assignment isn’t due until Thursday anyway, honey, give yourself, and your brain a rest.” She gave a tousle to his coarse, sandy hair and a peck on top of his head to finish. Jacob slowed his crying and his panicked breathing, closed his book and got up from the table to get ready for bed.

As a twelve year old his bedtime routine was fairly quick and ten minutes later his mom went to his room to tuck him in. She noted that his demeanor was still deflated so she implemented her ‘go to’ strategy of offering to tell him a story of one of his favorite heroes. “Which one do you want to hear?”

“Ummmm, I dunno.” He replied, his big blue eyes were nearly full of tears again so his mom, in an attempt to quell another breakdown, dived right in to one of his favorites.

“Remember the guys who dreamed about the teeny tiny particles that would hold all of everything together, hmm? Small, invisible bits of energy that act like glue and if found, would change how we see the world.”

Jacob blinked back the tears forming in his eyes, mostly for his mother’s sake, and nodded in approval at her attempt. “Peter, Robert, and Francois,” he said, “they were big dreamers.”

“Yes they were, and just like you I am sure they struggled over their maths as well. I bet they still do. So how did these dreamers find their dream,” she asked her son, coaxing him out of his misery.
“Lots of people helped.” Jacob replied.

“That’s right, it always takes more than one to make a dream come true. In fact, so many people believed in this dream that they built some pretty amazing things to make it happen, like…..”

“Like the world wide web!” Jacob interrupted, “That’s my favorite part of the story, hundreds of scientists all over the world working on one single problem. They had to have a way to talk to each other, right? So they hooked up their computers to each other so they could talk any time of the day or night!”

His mom laughed. “That’s right sweetie, and now we can Skype grandma because of their desire to fulfill a dream. Who knows what your dreams will create, yeah? What else?”

“The ell – eightch – seeeeeee…..” Jacob shouted out and let the ‘seeeee’ trail off into infinity. “The big
circle tunnel they built underground in…., where did they build that again?”

“Europe son, it’s so big it exists in two countries, France and Switzerland.”

“That’s right, in two countries!” Jacob mused, “That’s a big circle.”

“It is a big circle, but it had to be in order to make Peter, Robert, and Francois’s dream come true. Do you remember why it had to be so big?” Jacob’s mom moved a piece of hair out of his eyes and tucked it behind his ear.

“Cause the atoms hafta get really, really, really, really super-fast for them to crash into each other.” Jacob was sitting up on one elbow now, engaged and enthused.

“Exactly,” said Mom “They have to spin around and around in that big wide tunnel until they build up enough speed to collide. One group of scientists built a camera to take pictures of the crashes so other scientists could study the pictures to see if Peter, Robert, and Francois were right about their dream. But why would it matter so much for them to be right?”

“Because it would answer some questions about our universe,” Jacob chirped back, “or if they weren’t right, they might at least get a clue about what was right. Right?” he smiled coyly at his mom.

“Yup,” she smiled back at his witty use of words, “but what did they find out about the dream of an invisible force that held everything together?”

“They were right! Their dream came true, they discovered the Higgs boson and the math worked out too. Now we have an answer. But we have more questions too.” Jacob rolled over on his side and put his head on his mom’s lap, she rubbed his back.

“Yes,” said his mother, there will always be more questions, but dreamers like yourself… and Peter, Robert, and Francois, and all the other hundreds of scientists and people who work so hard will always find answers to those questions. Now sleep, I bet you’ll get that math problem right off tomorrow morning. And dream your own dreams my dear, who knows what might happen?”

“I’m gonna solve the mystery of black holes.” Jacob announced as his mom turned off the light and closed his door.
“No doubt you will son, no doubt you will.”

author’s note: This story inspired by the Documentary “Particle Fever” and dedicated to the hundreds and thousands of scientists the world over whose diligence and dreams answer questions we all have. Thank you.


Sunrise story…….

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This beauty appeared a couple of days ago, when I see clouds on the horizon in the morning I know I’m in for some color and I was not disappointed.  I have a funny story about another gorgeous sunrise …. I work as a front desk clerk at a hotel and so my job in the morning is checking guests out.   One gentleman, big guy, booming voice, seventies-ish, mentioned the sunrise and that “Jesus must’ve gotten his paint brushes out this morning.”   Being an atheist, these  comments always put me in an awkward position….I must be respectful, but at the same time I don’t want to perpetuate theism…I have to come up with some way of stating the truth without  offending or condescending.   I chose silence at first, hoping we could move on somehow, but the question begged an answer and the six or seven people standing around all heard it and were awaiting my reply, probably a bit vexed at my silence.  He repeated the question again in some variant form and the best response I could come up with was, “Well, I’m a science kind of girl so when I see a sunrise like that I think of the clouds of water molecules that are reflecting the sun’s light off of them which gives them the colors we see.”   I didn’t include the fact that I also wonder incessantly at the idea that we, of all animals formed from the dust of the stars and living on this earth, can have the conscience to notice such beauty, and that I have this moment and this day to make my time count for something.   I think it would have been overload for him.  As it was, he coughed and muttered and shuffled away as I said in my
kindest voice, “Have a great day!”   We all breathed a few moments as the tension passed and then, to my delight and surprise, the woman behind him came up to check out and said to me in a low whisper “I’m with ya on the science thing.”

Have Peace Kids,

Frankie


one of my favorite books….

coming-age-in-milky-way-timothy-ferris-hardcover-cover-art

you’ll notice i’ve taken a quote out of this work for this weeks widget space.

this is one of my all time favorite books ever for many reasons:

1.  i like mr. ferris’ writing style, ’tis a lot of information he covers, yet he keeps it light and interesting.

2.  it reminds me to be grateful for the time that i live in…the ability to look back on our history and development the way mr. ferris has AND be able to draw out some lessons for today is a cherished commodity.

3. the depth and breadth of the book makes an admirable synthesis of our quest to understand our earth-home and our place within the universe.  mr. ferris deftly weaves together the marriage of physics and astronomy as they team up to find answers to our never-ending questions.

4. it’s one of those books that is best read a few times over….so much information and such a beautiful story of us humans as well. as a writer and a historian, mr. ferris’ attention to detail is also a treasure trove of information.

5. the work leaves me in awe, once again, at us amazing humans.  our ability to observe and deduce, question and patiently wait for an answer, makes me proud to be one of us…

happy reading! and be well,

frankie