Tuesday, March 18, 2014

I'm Going to Learn the Language of the Universe

One of the beautiful things about living in our time is the depth of human understanding and the pace of discovery.  If you are interested in the secrets of the universe, and I am, it is an exciting time to be alive.

I've experienced frustration on a number of recent occasions where a scientist or science enthusiast was talking about the implications of a discovery, such as the Higgs boson, or the recent measurement of gravitational waves, and I could only understand a small watered-down portion of what was really going on.

Here I am, living in a world where people unlock the secrets of the universe for me and report back, and I can't even appreciate the answer they've given me because I'm not fluent in the universe's language.  So I'm beginning a journey into math and physics.  Ultimately I want to have an enthusiast's comprehension of both quantum and cosmology, and I know that to really understand these things is to understand them with numbers.  So math first.

I don't know what the exact path forward will be.  I'm starting with my old Calculus text, and I'm going to try to go through a chapter a week.  If that's too much, I'll slow down.  When I'm done with that, I'll figure out what the next hop is.

This will probably take me 4 or 5 years.  I'll be 40 this year.  I figure by time I'm 45 I will at least have made myself aware enough to appreciate what we know, what the big questions are and why, and which frontiers are being pushed.  (And then, when Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres says "You can't do that!  something something Hamiltonian something something FTL signaling", I will have some idea why turning into a cat will break the universe.)

It would be nice to enjoy this journey with other minds, and my schedule doesn't really permit normal classes, so if anyone is interested in this kind of thing or knows of relevant online communities, that would be neat.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Anvil of Truth

If beliefs are swords, then Truth is an unbreakable sword.  How to tell which swords are unbreakable, and which are just swords?  We must repeatedly lay them down on the anvil and strike hard with any falsification that might break them. 

The ones that shatter were not Truth; this is obvious enough.  What some fail to see is the meaning of their own reluctance to put a cherished sword down on the anvil, and strike.  That is not Truth, it just a belief you are not ready to let go of.  To value Truth is to be prepared to acknowledge that you did not have it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

WTC cross is part of the history of 9/11

American Atheists is opposing the inclusion of the WTC cross in the 9/11 Museum.  I do not agree with them on this. 

I think that the separation between church and state is extremely important, and I absolutely do not want the government endorsing any particular religious view.  I also think that this boundary is often stepped across by Christians who have not considered what it would be like to live in this country as a non-Christian.  Atheist organizations such as American Atheists are important in maintaining and re-asserting that boundary against religious encroachment, and law suits are an important tool for doing so.

But I don't like this one.  Separation of church and state does not mean that all mention of religion must be eradicated from public spheres.  The WTC cross is a piece of the history of 9/11.  It was a symbol of hope and faith for Christian responders as they sorted through the emotional and literal rubble of 9/11.  It is part of the story of how we responded, as a nation.  No doubt there were non-Christians among the responders who probably felt little affinity for the cross, and still others who probably participated in the on-site Christian ceremonies even though this wasn't their faith.  Some may have seen it as a symbol of how religion got us into this mess in the first place, but nonetheless it was there at ground zero and it mattered.

To say that this cross cannot go in the museum is to make invisible a part of the responders' story, and it is to do so only because that part of the story is religious.  That is not what separation of church and state means to me, and I don't think it means that legally, either.

It is important to me that the memorial and museum not seem to communicate that we are a Christian nation, or that Christianity occupies some superior position in our society, or that 9/11 was in some way an attack on Christianity rather than on America, or that this cross should represent all religious Americans or all Americans, or anything of that sort.  That would be overstepping; it would be a government endorsement of Christianity and/or an erasing of non-Christian Americans.  But the WTC cross represents, to me, that there were Christian responders who found this cross in the rubble, and then drew hope and comfort from it. That in a time when we were all asking ourselves what this all meant, some people felt that the symbolism and discovery of this cross was part of their answer. 

As long as the museum doesn't step over those bounds, that part of the story should be told, too.  I think this lawsuit is grotesquely insensitive.  I would prefer, in this case and in many others, to see the secular community looking to make sure that everyone feels included and represented rather than making sure that there is no mention of belief whatsoever.  As atheists/humanists we have our own perspective to share and represent. Death takes on a different character when you know that the dead are truly gone. There is no next journey or happier place, we can only celebrate our memories of the dead and what they meant to us in life.  Our brushes with death bring into sharp relief how precious this one life is, and the absence of other meaning emphasizes how important other human beings are to us.

Let us add the atheist/Humanist perspective, rather than subtracting the Christian one.