In Passing

A good friend of mine died today. His friendship was of a rare kind, built from scratch in full adulthood, without benefit of youthful energy or shared childhood history or common locality, built even without having met face-to-face. And yet it was a solid friendship, having outlived the length of time it takes to tell all our most interesting stories.

We met online through some forum or other, finding that we shared a few interests in common. And when we each moved on to other fora, we kept our communication going through e-mail and then daily interactive chat sessions, discussing the news of the day, sharing our triumphs and frustrations. I looked forward to meeting my friend in person one day, at last being able to attach a voice to the words we’d type back and forth.

My friend actually passed away a week ago. I didn’t find out until just this morning. The week-long silence in our conversation is no longer a mystery, and the least-expected explanation for that silence has been instantiated. The loss of this friendship in cyberspace hurts as much as any friendship I have lost out here in the real world. Had I known about it in time, I would have traveled to his memorial service.

I guess we’ll just have to wait a little longer to meet up, my friend. TTYL, Curt.

Science, Religion and Politics

I am a person of Faith: I believe in a Divine Creative Force that put this universe together, and that we human beings are an intentional component of that creation. I am also a person of science that trusts the process by which we discover how our universe works. I live comfortably with both, and so I am often surprised and dismayed by what some would put forth as a fundamental conflict between two disparate world views—one held by religious folks, the other held by scientists.

I hesitate to call myself a scientist since I’m not actively involved in research, but I work with scientists, and I have a well-rounded (if perhaps superficial) educational background in several fields of scientific endeavor. I find that most general media sources (e.g., newspapers, nightly news), at least in the US, are quite unreliable in the reporting of science-based news. The public-at-large seems to be increasingly ignorant of the fundamental scientific process and its results, which may contribute to the perceived friction between hard-line religious groups and hard-core scientists. The increasing politicization over matters of scientific inquiry by the current presidential administration has exacerbated the problem by blurring the lines between ascertainable facts, belief structures, and public policy.

I believe that where some religious groups have got it wrong is that science is not a belief system: it is a method of inquiry, a means of discerning how the universe works, through observation and experimentation. Occasionally science discovers a property of the universe which comes into conflict with the tenets of a belief system. Inflexible belief systems resist integrating these new concepts into their structures, but eventually they’re forced to find a way to accommodate them—usually after much wailing and gnashing of teeth. If belief systems cannot adapt to new discoveries about how the universe works, they risk becoming irrelevant, out of touch with the world around them.

Where I think some scientists have got it wrong is that science is not capable of answering every question: it’s much better at determining “how” than “why” (e.g., how does my body turn the lunch I just ate into the energy to type this blather? vs. why am I on this planet typing this blather?); as the scientific method depends on repeatability and observation for results, there are limits to what it can ascertain (i.e., things that are not observable or repeatable are beyond the grasp of rigorous scientific proof). Early in the 20th century, both physics and mathematics discovered a few of their own limitations, e.g., the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and the Gödel Incompleteness Theorem, respectively. And while it is true that science strives to be objective, it is also true that scientists have biases themselves: where data and observations are insufficient, gaps in theories may be filled in by intuition or past experience. However, theory must ultimately be supported by observation, or do better at predicting new behavior, in order to be accepted by a consensus of others in one’s field.

Where politicians seem to get it wrong is in choosing sides in scientific debates or distorting the scientific arguments for political purposes. Granted, a politician’s job is to take action, sometimes with incomplete information; but when more complete data come to light, it may become necessary to revise one’s opinions and theories, and new or different action may be required. The best leaders are those that make decisions based on the best data available, navigating uncertainty or confliciting information using intuition and/or past experience. If better intelligence comes along, then for all our sakes, PLEASE take corrective action. It should be dangerous business to stake one’s political career on the ever-shifting sands of unresolved scientific understanding. I find it reprehensible to distort or divert the search for scientific truth. To do so nullifies any value science may have for society because its results can no longer be trusted.

Beliefs are a choice. I choose to believe in a Deity in spite of what some would call a lack of direct evidence. This doesn’t make me unscientific (but I would be unscientific if I held beliefs that are contrary to direct evidence). But math and science never start with “nothing”: every proof or theory begins with a set of assumptions or starting conditions. We may each choose whether or not God may be a starting condition in our lives, and we should all be allowed to amend our own personal theories as we continue to live and collect new data.

Let us strive not to conform Truth to our will. Instead, let us be shaped by Truth as we continue to find its facets revealed to us. This is the more difficult, but ultimately more rewarding journey. Or so I believe.

At the Start of a New Year

January 1st has never felt like a beginning to me. Sure, the number on the calendar changes, but the real start of things happens around the end of August/beginning of September. This is when school starts, and this is what I consider the real beginning of the year. Of course the “school year” is an anachronism for most of us in the U.S.: there are so few of us tied to the notion of harvest season, after all. But summer vacation and “school days” are now cultural icons—part of the natural rhythm of our lives.

Public schools in my county went back into session this week, and my university starts classes next week. The college students have already begun their annual migration back to campus, and the roads are busy with vehicles and U-Hauls crammed full of life’s ammenities. I haven’t been a student for some time now, but the sight of kids toting boxes and hoisting laundry baskets laden with clean clothes takes me right back to my own first arrival on campus, my first dorm room, my first Rush Week frat party.

So even though the lazy days of summer are drawing to an end, and life with all its regularly-scheduled activities is about to spin up to full speed again, and though I’m not quite ready for it all… I can’t help it: I’m still a little bit excited, even giddy. There’s a whole new adventure about to begin.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Time for a Reunion

If you’ve read my biographical data (and why would anyone…), you may have noticed that I traveled with a group called Up With People. There are some 20,000 alumni of this program scattered across the world now, and every summer the UWPIAA (our alumni association) puts together a reunion for us globe-trotters.

Tomorrow I leave for Tucson, AZ for a Reunion with my cast from 1988. We’ll be joined by about 1000 other travelers from UWP’s 40-year history. I’ll be back at home on Monday, but the blog shall be left unattended until then. I’ll be busy laughing, reminiscing, and partying my butt off.

May your road be as pleasant.

Best of Times…

I work on a college campus, and there are many great things about that. Though not a professor myself, I’m of an academic bent: I like being in a research environment. I like figuring out things. I like to have the opportunity to explore ideas to see where they lead. I like working with other people who share these similar [odd] traits.

Another “plus” of the campus experience is that new people keep flowing into one’s life. The sad part is that most of them will also flow out of one’s day-to-day experience when this particular phase of their education is completed. So it is that I will bid farewell to a few new friends this month, wishing them well in their new endeavors, knowing I will miss seeing them on a regular basis. It is a privilege to share in the lives of others, so even if it’s a little sad to say goodbye, friendship is always worth the investment. How blessed I am.

Hello, World!

Hi, People of the Earth!

I am hardly new to cyberspace: I’ve had a personal website, bio, and photos on the Web since 1994. But I am just now venturing into the blogosphere, and still, this is more-or-less just a convenient way of keeping folks apprised of the updates or changes I’m making to my on-line Amortization Calculator.

So until next time, be at peace!