Friday, September 7, 2018

A Little More, After All....

....because Jason and I were talking about this last night, and there is a lot more to say, but I can only say part of it here.

Here's the thing about the Niels Bohr story: It's probably apocryphal, or maybe he really said that but he was joking around. But who cares? As that article goes on to point out, we are all looking for explanations of the unexplainable. (Inexplicable? Sure. If you like. But here I'm not talking about the inexplicable. I'm talking about the unexplainable.)

When you didn't have much information, you might think that it's some interference by the inexplicable force of FATE that makes bad things happen to good people, and, more inexplicably, good things happen to bad people. 

Let's say you're an ancient Greek or Roman. You invent some really scarily sociopathic gods to explain everything. Let's say you're an ancient Greek "scientist," and you claim that hummingbirds don't have feet. And everyone else believes you, except the people who live in the countryside and see hummingbirds all the time and see their feet. (I still don't get what's up with that ancient so-called "observation.") 

And in the 20th Century, even if you're an eminent physicist, if you hang a horseshoe on your wall, the right way, it might just bring you luck, even if you don't believe in it. Because, why not?

But this is different from true religion. Here's a quote from LDS Pres. Harold B. Lee, back in 1971, quoting from another religious leader: 
I quote from this article by Rabbi Arthur Herlzterg:“What people come to religion for, is an ultimate metaphysical hunger, and when that hunger is not satisfied, religion declines … the moment that clerics become more worldly, the world goes to hades the faster.“… Religion represents the accumulation of man’s insight over thousands of years into such questions as the nature of man, the meaning of life, the individual’s place in the universe. That is, precisely, the question at the root of man’s restlessness.“Man seeks something to end his state of confusion and emptiness … in the latest parlance, an antidote for aimlessness. We do not know if the truths of religious tradition can be interpreted to satisfy this need, but we are sure that here, not in political activism, is religion’s path to relevance.”In other words, in my own less learned words, religion does for us what science, and politics (as the Rabbi said), can't do. It feeds our "metaphysical hunger," our hunger for answers to those questions we can't answer in any other way. 
And true religion, as opposed to old myths involving the bizarre behavior of gods who are out of control, or half-baked observations and misguided "explanations," answers our need for "something to end [our] state of confusion and emptiness."

One final point, which is essentially what Laura mentioned in her comment to my post of yesterday: The argument between science and religion is a false one. It was made up by men (yes, men, not women, and not all humans) to promote conflict and promote their own agendas, to their own benefit, and to the detriment of the rest of us...

...which is why we're not arguing that there's some kind of conflict there. We keep pointing out, and will continue to point out, that true religion and real science are merely different roads toward the same goal, of understanding this world, this universe, and our humanity.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Myths, Superstition, and Religion

Dear Reader,

I've been trying for months to come up with a perfect conclusion for my thoughts on how myths and superstition are different from religion; and how there's not really any argument to be had about these differences, anyway. 

I've been reading online articles and checking out books from the library; I've been writing notes for myself on napkins and wherever; I've even bought a couple of books about the history of various mythologies and ancient religious beliefs.

I've mentioned Hugh Nibley in previous posts on this subject, because he studied those ancient religions and their so-called myths, recognizing that one doesn't have to call everything that's old or connected with some ancient beliefs "myths"; any more than one has to call every factoid or idea or temporary equation from modern scientific beliefs or paradigms "science."

I like how Hugh Nibley shows ancient myths that dovetail with our LDS teachings (as in the Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrine and Covenants, as well as, of course, the Bible). I loved reading this morning about the founding of the Baha'i faith and the explanation of Baha'i beliefs given by Baha'i leader Shoghi Effendi (*I'll paste it below in case you don't want to follow the link).  (Notice that the first thing he says the Baha'i faith does is "search after truth, unfettered by superstition or tradition.")

I like seeing how my non-LDS and non-Christian friends follow the same principles of behavior that we teach in our church.

I guess I've concluded: Scientists are no more rational and logical and no less likely to believe in superstitions and to have private religious beliefs than any other people. Scientists rarely decide to study science to "prove" that religions are "false," though of course some self-proclaimed scientists do become atheists and take it upon themselves to proselytize at every opportunity against religion.

I've gone through the five stages of grief, so to speak, about scientists who deny the existence of God (or of anything else above and/or beyond what they themselves, the self-proclaimed petty little gods of their own little worlds, their own little labs, their own pathetic students: 

Denial (I can't believe this man [because usually they're men] can be so closed-minded); anger (what's his problem, anyway, other than being an idiot!); depression (I guess there's no hope in the world of finding a bridge between science and religion); bargaining (if only I could explain that science and religion are both seeking after the same over-arching knowledge of the universe and our place in it!---then they'd stop being so mean!); and acceptance (oh, well, I'll just continue in my own way to understand, and apply my scientific method to science and my religious understanding to all those things that the scientific method can't explain).

Here's something funny, in an article called "The Science of Superstition," in the Feb. 16, 2015, issue of The Atlantic magazine:

A visitor once asked the Nobel Prize–winning physicist Niels Bohr whether he really believed that the horseshoe he’d hung at his country home was lucky. “Of course not,” Bohr said. “But I understand it’s lucky whether you believe in it or not.” (emphasis added by me)

If Bohr couldn’t resist magical thinking, can anyone? One recent study found that even physicists, chemists, and geologists at MIT and other elite schools were instinctively inclined to attach a purpose to natural events. When the researchers subjected the scientists to time pressure (reasoning that this could expose a person’s uncensored biases), they were twice as likely to approve of statements such as “Trees produce oxygen so that animals can breathe” than they were when they had time to respond more deliberately [1]. Such bias may well be deep-seated: another recent study found that, regardless of their parents’ religiosity, 5-to-7-year-old children preferred explanations of events that involved lessons—like “Maggie’s house burned down to teach her not to play with fire anymore” [2].

But so what? Why do we care if scientists can sometimes be superstitious, too? Because they claim that all they're interested in is pure logic and science! I've even met someone who called himself a scientist, even though he was "just" an engineer (see? see how that creeps into an otherwise polite statement?), who said he wasn't interested in fiction and poetry because they weren't a valid way of learning about the world.

I could go on and on about this, but I'm not going to, not right now, anyway. 

*From the Patheos blog "Sic et Non," Shoghi Effendi explaining Baha'i teachings:

The independent search after truth, unfettered by superstition or tradition (emphasis added by me); the oneness of the entire human race, the pivotal principle and fundamental doctrine of the Faith; the basic unity of all religions; the condemnation of all forms of prejudice, whether religious, racial, class or national; the harmony which must exist between religion and science; the equality of men and women, the two wings on which the bird of human kind is able to soar; the introduction of compulsory education; the adoption of a universal auxiliary language; the abolition of the extremes of wealth and poverty; the institution of a world tribunal for the adjudication of disputes between nations; the exaltation of work, performed in the spirit of service, to the rank of worship; the glorification of justice as the ruling principle in human society, and of religion as a bulwark for the protection of all peoples and nations; and the establishment of a permanent and universal peace as the supreme goal of all mankind—these stand out as the essential elements.

Unprecedented (Weird Word of the Week)

This word has been driving me crazy, ever since the 2016 elections started in 2015 or whenever they started. I'm so sick of pundits saying that this or that thing is "unprecedented," it's driving me crazy.

As Lawrence O'Donnell told Rachel Maddow last night, "We need a new word, a stronger word, instead of "unprecedented."

I have a few suggestions:

Crazytown (though that's already been used; see the Urban Dictionary)

Crazypants (also already in use; see the Urban Dictionary)

Exhaustingly idiotically impeachable (though that's more than one word)

Ready for the 25th Amendment (see what Elizabeth Warren has to say about this)

Here's a quote from that article:

"What kind of a crisis do we have if senior officials believe that the President can't do his job and then refuse to follow the rules that have been laid down in the Constitution?" Warren told CNN. "They can't have it both ways. Either they think that the President is not capable of doing his job in which case they follow the rules in the Constitution, or they feel that the President is capable of doing his job, in which case they follow what the President tells them to do."

Dear Reader, please send me your suggestions.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Fiction Friday (August 10, 2018): "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency"

Precious and Grace: No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (17) (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series)I just finished reading the 17th book in the series, "Precious and Grace," which I recommend as being as delicious and soothing and fun as the first sixteen.

What's even better, now I see there are two more books in the series available from the wonderful Alexander McCall Smith: "The House of Unexpected Sisters" (pub date May 2018) and "The Colors of All the Cattle" (this one actually due out in November).

Better still, the 12th Isabel Dalhousie book is out in hardcover, meaning I'll soon be able to find it at an affordable price in paperback.

If you haven't read any of these books, let me know where you want to start, b/c I think I might have all the previous ones around here somewhere:)


Aunt Louise 
The Quiet Side of Passion: An Isabel Dalhousie Novel (12) (Isabel Dalhousie Series)

Friday, July 20, 2018

Fiction Friday (July 20): Words Really Do Matter

"Autobiography of Red" and "Amy's Three Best Things"

So, you know how when you pick up a book, judging it by its cover at first, because, yes, we CAN and DO judge books by their covers, and then flip through the pages and light upon one or two random lines on one random page, and realize that you are going to like, or not like, that book?

Try out these two lines, and see if you know what I mean: 

From "Autobiography of Red," by Anne Carson:

"Her voice drew a circle
around all the years he had spent in this room."

And now, from "Amy's Three Best Things," written by Philippa Pearce and illustrated by Helen Craig (I picked up this book because of its charming cover...see above about covers!):

"And the next day the sun shone, so they all went to the fair."

Now, which of these sentences makes you want to go on and read the rest of the book? Admittedly, the "Amy" book is for children, but I don't think that fact necessitates every dang sentence having the word "and" somewhere in the middle of it, or several times in it. And (yeah, I know, "and") because it's a children's book and it really is a charming story with charming illustrations, I'm not really complaining. Not at all.

But doesn't that other line, "Her voice drew a circle/around all the years he had spent in this room," make you want to read more? Doesn't it make its own picture in your own mind, not on the page, where you don't need it, because it's in your own mind?

Both stories are made up of series of incidents in the main characters' lives, forming a plot arc that is interesting, but words matter.

I would write more about this right now but because words matter and because I'm so sleepy that I'm having trouble with words, this will have to do for now.

(By the way, which book cover for "Autobiography of Red" makes you more interested in buying the book? When I bought it, I chose the one on the left because it was used so it cost me about half the price of the new book. But, price aside, I think I like the one on the left better, anyway.)

Autobiography of RedAutobiography of Red by Carson, Anne (1999) PaperbackAmy's Three Best Things

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Happy Bastille Day!

Is that the appropriate greeting? Or is that like when a foreign student once wished me a Happy Memorial Day, the day when we remember those who have died?

Not sure, but here's a photo of Pres. Macron and his wife and a bunch of other people standing at attention during a two-hour-long parade. Did they have to stand that way for the whole two hours? I hope not! Anyway, I'm pretty sure they're actually celebrating this day.

The parade lasts more than two hours and involves over 4,200 soldiers, 220 vehicles and 100 aircraft. Japanese and Singaporean soldiers are also taking part in the parade to represent their respective relationships with France.Bastille Day celebrations are not limited to Paris. Across France, other parades and parties will commemorate the move towards democracy over 200 years ago. Festivities will also take place in countries around the world, including South Africa and India. (from USA Today)And, from The Verge:
Image: Ministère des Armées
For the first time, France’s military cyber command marched in this year’s Bastille Day parade on the Champs Elysees in Paris, alongside other units in the nation’s armed forces. The military noted that it’s a recognition of the advances that the unit has made since its formation last year, and reinforces that “cyber defense remains a national priority.”
French defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced the formation of COMCYBER in December 2016, noting that the emergence of state actors operating in cyberspace was a new way to approach warfare. The command brought all of the nation’s soldiers focused on cyber defense under one command, with three main tasks: cyber intelligence, protection, and offense. 
The timing of the creation of the command is no coincidence: it came after widespread allegations from the United States that Russia had intervened in the 2016 Presidential election. Yesterday, those allegations gained some additional credibility as a grand jury issued incitements against 12 Russians, claiming that they had carried out cyberattacks to undermine the country’s election infrastructure. 
The recognition that France’s COMCYBER has received by being permitted to march in the parade alongside the rest of the country’s armed forces is a notable example of the seriousness to which its taking the issue, as officials warn that countries such as China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea remain a threat to the US and other nations’ digital infrastructure.

A Quick Digression: Science and Politics

While we're writing about science and religion and myth and mysticism and superstition, we've got to consider also the role that politics plays in all these discussions.

I mention this now because I've just read an article, "How Politicians Have Corrupted the Concept of 'Survival of the Fittest,'" which points out some of the ways that our American ideas of  toughness and self-sufficiency influence our understanding of Darwin's theory of evolution.

Not only have many misunderstood Darwin's theory of how species survive and thrive, but people with power in our political system have used these misunderstandings to move the goal-posts on the playing field of American life.

Emphasizing competition and "survival of the fittest" leaves out more than half of the components that contribute to what makes individuals thrive and societies survive. Hiding the fact that most rich people in America actually inherited their riches and benefited from social safety nets not extended to those without the head-start of financial and social standing keeps those rich and privileged people in power, where they continue to extend the same benefits to their own children, keeping them from us and from the children of the rest of us. De-emphasizing and downgrading the importance of sharing and cooperating makes the denial of universal health care and Social Security (yes, this is coming, too, just look at what Republicans in Congress are already promising to do!) seem acceptable and even part of the "American way."

But it's not just in the national political arena that this misunderstanding scientific principles and how science works interferes with creating a just and fair society. Con men and hucksters abound, selling their products and philosophies to naive and uneducated individuals who want a quick fix and don't know any better. 

And among those who do know better, researchers who want to make a name for themselves, and are devious enough to think of a faster way than the tried-and-true, and scientifically rigid and controlled methods of conducting experiments, can fake data, misrepresent results, and become, say, the head of their university department or big-company research division, with results that can hurt other people. 

That's all I'm going to say about this for now. If any readers have any comments on this topic (or the way I've so quickly pumped out these few words on my keyboard), please share them.

One way to do field work: grasshoppers in cages!