Saturday, May 28, 2011

So Learned, Yet So Misinformed

In Dale Wasserman's book, "Man Of La Mancha", Dr. Sansón Carrasco attempts to cure Don Alonso Quijana, who believes he is a knight-errant named Don Quixote, of his "madness" by pointing out that there have been no knights for nearly three hundred years. Don Quixote's reply: "So learned, yet so misinformed".

"These are the facts," insists Carrasco.

"Facts are the enemy of truth", counters "Quixote".

Dr. Stephen Hawking, renouned physicist and mathematician, widely acknowledged as one of the world's greatest intellects since Albert Einstein, announced In a recent interview with Britain's Guardian that heaven is a myth; a "fairy story" for people afraid of death.

During his interview, Dr. Hawking made it clear that he does not believe in a god, a heaven or hell, or even the concept of a soul. We are, says Hawking, nothing more than a collection of neurons and synapses firing off in our brains. When our brains die, we cease to exist. The end. That's all she wrote. Thanks for coming out.

Before continuing, let me assure you that this is not going to morph into a rant about the folly of secular pagans who refuse to believe in God and the Holy Bible. Those who know me know that I am not a particularly religious person. I question everything and I don't believe that any one religion or philosophy has a true understanding of the mind of God. I don't even necessarily think of God in the traditional sense; a mystical, all-powerful being who created everything and who manipulates events according to some Divine Plan. On the other hand, unlike Dr. Hawking, I do allow that there are probably things about which I not only have no knowledge, but which my mind may be completely incapable of even imagining or comprehending. I don't assert that Hawking is wrong about there being no heaven, no afterlife and no soul. I do, however, suggest that it's a little arrogant of him to insist that his opinions are unassailably correct.

I do agree with Hawking's suggestion that our time and energy might be better spent improving the world that we live in and the lives of those that live in it, rather than living only for some nebulous promise of eternal bliss once this life has ended. What if Dr. Hawking and his ilk are right, and we really do cease to exist, completely and utterly, once our brains have stopped functioning? That would mean that this life is all that we have. How sad to waste it in the vain hope for something better.

My criticism of Hawking, isn't about his rejection of religious philosophy so much as his refusal to consider that there may be forces and phenomena which he simply does not understand. The fallacy commited by many scientific minds is an adherence to the belief that "If I can't see it, detect it, measure it, quantify it or explain it, it doesn't exist". By insisting that there is an explanation for everything, science does not allow for the notion of miracles.

Ironically, some may argue that Hawking himself is a living, breathing miracle. The motor neurone disease, which has confined him to a wheelchair for most of his life, was expected to kill him within a few years of its original diagnosis. That was over 49 years ago, yet Dr. Hawking still survives.

Certainly, science must get some of the credit for this. Without the advanced medicine and technology that helps him to communicate, to move from place to place and even just to eat and to breath, Dr. Hawking would surely not have lived nearly as long as he has. The trouble with intellects like Hawking is that they give all the credit to science and technology alone, not allowing that there may be something greater, something more intangible and impossible to measure, record or even detect, at work as well.

Most of us are familiar with the old paradoxical riddle that asks, if a tree falls in the middle of a forest with no-one there to hear it, does it make a sound? Dr. Hawking, pondering this question from a purely scientific point of view, might accept this answer; as the falling tree strikes the ground, the impact generates sound waves. The fact that there are no ears present to detect these sound waves is immaterial. From a strictly physical point of view, the tree has indeed made a sound.

If we accept this, let us then change the question slightly. What if a deaf person is in the vicinity of the tree when it falls, and what if that person is not facing the tree? Let's assume that it's a small tree, too small to cause any vibrations that the deaf person might feel when it lands. This person would be completely unaware that a tree has just fallen over, yet the event has surely occurred. The person's inability to detect the sound waves made by the tree does not invalidate their existence.

Scientific minds like Dr. Hawking make the mistake of assuming that they know all that there is to know. They don't allow that there may be phenomena that science is, as yet, unable to detect, record, measure or study.

So learned, yet so misinformed.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

I Have No Topic And I Must Blog

I realize, faithful readers, that my blog posts have been increasingly "spotty" of late. There are several reasons for this. In my last post (three long weeks ago) I wrote of how, having thought that my computer had died, I had ordered a new one, only to resurrect the old one afterward. This small victory did not instill in me any sense of obligation to cancel the order for the new computer, however. Far be it from me to forgo a perfectly good excuse for buying myself a new toy, even if that excuse becomes technically invalidated!

Since then, my new computer has arrived and there was a certain amount of disruption caused by the necessity of setting up the new machine and moving all my old files over. However, truth be told, I had the new box up and running, with internet access, the very day that it arrived, so all that hardly prevented me from blogging. It would be more honest to say that I've been more interested in showing off my new toy to myself than I've been in blogging. (Let's see now, I have an hour to myself, during which I could post something to my blog, which I could do perfectly well using my old PC, or I could take a virtual aerial tour of Seattle with the graphical detail turned up to "full". Tough call...)

There is, however, a secondary reason for my protracted silence. I've been suffering from a case of "Writer's Blog", if you will. Somehow, no topics have managed to inspire me over the past few weeks. This is where writers such as myself walk a fine line. As I've said before in this blog, I'm of the opinion that, once one decides to blog, it behooves one to post on a fairly regular basis, lest one's readers lose interest and stop returning. On the other hand, writing is sometimes like speaking. When one has nothing to say, it's often best to say exactly that ... nothing.

I always knew the day would come when I would lack for blog ideas. One strategy that I use to avoid, or at least minimize, this eventuality, is to jot down notes for future reference whenever possible ideas occur to me. These often germinate into respectable blog posts. Unfortunately, I currently have a plethora of random, unrelated ideas that neither promise to flourish into respectable topics in their own right, nor can they be combined into any sort of intelligible whole. Some humble examples:

Under the category of "Things That Bug Me" (see also "Andy Rooney Impersonations)"; Tim Hortons coffee lids whose plastic tabs refuse to stay down once bent back. They invariably pop up while I'm trying to sip my coffee, forming a small, brown, plastic, Hitleresque "moustache" beneath my nose.

Under "Editorials", a news item that I once read about a University of Waterloo professor who noted that about 25% of high school graduates that enter university are failing basic literacy exams, and that includes students who were scoring between 80 and 90 percent averages in high school English. I can only conclude that certain high school English teachers are either incompetent or, at the very least, disengaged.

Staying with literacy and writing, and under the category "Life Imitates Art", I've mused privately about the eerie similarity between acronyms used in e-mail and texting ("OMG! ROTFL! CU L8TR!") and Orwellian Newspeak ("reporting bb dayorder doubleplusungood refs unperson rewrite fullwise upsub antefiling"). Both are equally incomprehensible to the normal reader and both share the dangerous characteristic of suppressing the expression of intangible concepts by robbing the English language of expressive words and phrases (not to mention robbing their writers of their grammatical and spelling talents).

Under "Random Musings", I found myself playing a computer game at one time whose typically unimaginative introductory narrative reported that the enemy had developed "The world's most advanced weapons system". My immediate reaction was "What, another one? That's the fourth one this month!" World's most advanced weapons systems are becoming somewhat like PCs. It seems they're obsolete by the time you get them home and unpack them from their shipping crates, having already been replaced by a new "World's most advanced weapons system".

Intriguing ideas, all, yet none independently capable of standing as a blog post in its own right. However, rather than disappointing my readers by greeting them with "It's Alive!" for yet a fourth week, I've seen fit instead to offer up this buffet of bite-sized samplings from the Halmanator menu. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm suddenly feeling hungry...