Monday, November 19, 2012

Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle

"Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty -- some most unsure, some nearly sure, none absolutely certain." -Richard Feynman

Observe, Ask, Experiment; The first steps of the scientific method, Rinse and Repeat. There is a very systematic approach to science. It seems to be about reaching that undeniable, unquestionable fact. How much uncertainty and doubt play into the universe might surprise you. For the continued perpetuation of progress, is it crucial for the reasoning man to be aware of the role uncertainty plays in our pursuit of knowledge.

Religion is all about creating comfort.  By saying “We cannot”, or “we will never know” we are relinquishing our own intellect to a higher level of unattainable intellect which provides great comfort. 

Uncertainty creates intellectual discomfort which is constant companion to those pursuing truth. New evidence may render old theories antiquated, but the new scientific discomfort introduced a new approach and eventually a  new discovery. Scientific progress is dependent on that uncertainty. It is that little angel on the every scientists' shoulder always asking " Are you sure?" 

I have an intense relationship with that angel who I shall call "Hmm". Hmm started out as a squatter, secretly taking up residence in the kingdom of my  sub-conscious. She would come up early in the form of "If I think my god is true and other religions think their god is true, which one really is The One?". She appeared in my Chumash class , when my teacher tried to explain away atrocious act committed by our all-loving god.  Hmm attempted to poke its head up when I read about carbon dating and its geological implication.. But all along Hmm was sufficiently suppressed by the very powerful leader named God Knows Best”. God Knows Best was very specific in what areas of his kingdom I can explore and roped off many forests and trails  as strictly off limit. He had a powerful army with painful threats ensuring compliance. He was a frightening leader but  he created an environment where I felt taken care of and looked after. The instituted mental subservience provided a great level of comfort. 

Hmm is a resilient little knight . She regroups and resurfaces in many different disguises which  shakes up the comfort for a little while, but for as long as the kingdom was under the rule of God Knows Best, Hmm would be suppressed. Eventually God Knows Best grew old and fragile and the new king,  Free Inquiry, was crowned. Free Inquiry was a more democratic ruler, he allowed me to explore many new areas of my sub-conscious. I discovered that the dark forbidden forest is full of brilliant creatures and beautiful flora. Full of fascinating factoids. Hmm was now promoted and was no longer suppressed.

Giving Hmm free reign came along with expected discomfort. Discomfort that is quite painful at times. Free Inquiry completely pulls the carpet of comfort from under me. It left me defenseless and doubtful  When you discover that most of what you believed was a lie, it create a tremendous amount of hurt. The world as I knew it, is turned upside down. People I used to trust are now viewed with suspicion.  Ideas that used to be central to my identity are now completely destroyed. All that comfort is replaced with uncertainty. Uncertainty is painful. Doubt plagues a person. 

But I am attempting to rebuild. I now acknowledged that uncertainty is welcome. I fully realize how Hmm was instrumental in allowing me to get to where I am now, and I realize what a big role she will continue to play in my continued quest to find the most authentic version of me. I grew to love Hmm, I encourage her and made her my most trustworthy adviser. 

I have equated my current position with the chemical law known as  the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. It tells us that it is impossible to determine with certainty the position and momentum of a subatomic particle. The allure of that principle is the certainty in which the rules applies. It is certain that we are uncertain. I will adopt that principle as a governing law in my new kingdom. As I grow more comfortable in my quest, I will continue to be certain that I am uncertain. Religion tries to peddle absolute truths but that is actually  translated to mean “Do not question”  Science tells me that nothing is immune to questioning. I side with science because of that attitude, and I hope to continue being absolutely certain with my newly found permission to be uncertain. Rinse and Repeat

Never Be Told!!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Lost in Limbo

"Then she told me all about the bad place, and I said I wished I was there. She got mad then, but I didn't mean no harm. All I wanted was to go somewheres; all I wanted was a change, I warn't particular. - “Huckleberry Finn” (Mark Twain) 

Welcome to the pearly gates of Glorious Heaven. Angels in white nightshirts and cherubs in togas roam the place playing annoying harp melodies. In Heaven only believers roam the halls, but no religion agrees on what defines a believer, so in heaven, all these earthly fights between ardent religious followers reach their crescendo. In Heaven, I'm reunited with every annoying cousin and uncle that will pinch my cheek, remark how tall I have grown, and remind me to call my grandmother more often! Oh, How wonderful that sounds. 

Then there is Hell. I picture hell as an underground dance hall where blood red curtains are blowing against the brickstone walls. In these halls, heretics roam freely. How I would love to take a walk down to hell! Can you imagine the conversations between Aristotle, Bruno, Galileo, Darwin, Descartes, Spinoza and the myriads of other great minds who have been labeled heretics. My ears are tingling in anticipated eavesdropping.  

Almost all religious beliefs all have some version of the afterlife. It is after all the perfect solution to keep the minions in line without an active policing force. The idea that all of our actions are carefully monitored and later to be calculated by the Great Accountant in the sky has proven to be quite effective. Heaven and Hell are a peculiar concept, one that I find has no place in my rationale. 

But there is a third possible afterlife, one I find strangely relevant. Catholics call it Limbo. Dante, in his book Inferno, describes Limbo as "Dark, profound it was, and cloudy, so that though I fixed my sight on the bottom I did not discern anything there". It is supposed to be the place that souls that never found Christianity are suspended in. There are similar ideas expressed in different religions, but Limbo is one that fits so perfectly with what I'm trying to express. Dante describes the people he met in Limbo. "People were there with eyes slow and grave... they spake seldom, and with soft voices". These days, especially nights, my eyes are now slow and grave, I speak seldom and when I do my voice is soft, not a soft, sensual voice, but a soft defeated one. 

People are in Limbo, as Virgil explains to Dante, because they were born in the wrong time and the wrong place. Oh I can't count how many times I have thought about that. Make no mistake, I do love my family very much, my parents have done everything that they deemed right. But oh how I play with the idea of being born in a different place. Perhaps somewhere where I am not judged based on how much I mirror my parents’ beliefs. A place where I will not hurt the ones I love just by living a life that mirrors the most authentic version of me. 

That is why I am stuck in Limbo. On one side I witness simple, seemingly happy people leading their lives in anticipation of heaven, shutting off their minds to the vast inconsistencies in their everyday behavior. The are following a clearly marked and illuminated path, and I can see young pliable children morph into a predefined mold. They appear to be happy, and perhaps they are, but on closer look I see only ignorance and mental subservience .Their innocence is only usurped by their elitist self-righteousness as they mentally cluck at these who they already picture in eternal damnation. 

Over the other shoulder, I see complex and intriguing people. People who never allow others to dictate their behavior. They appear to be coloring outside the lines, but when one looks closely you can see that they have just created their own lines. It might appear to be a chaotic scene, but all I see is freedom and tolerance. In the distance I can still clearly see shackles lying neglected on the ground.The shackles look quite familiar, and when I look down and I see them anchoring me. Shackles of religious beliefs, Shackles of communal expectations, shackles that tell me what I can and cannot do, or even think!

 I am stuck in Limbo. I cannot go right, because every cell in my body will reject living a life in complete contradiction to the authentic me. But I cannot go left, because what I realize is that these shackles were put there by those I don’t want to lose and what I see as a shackle that hinders me, they see as a jewel that enhances me.

Apparently being in Limbo provides a unique perspective. By being in these position, I can clearly see how so much that is sacred on the right, is secondary to significant topics that are never addressed.  

Ultimately, Limbo is a lonely and sad place to be. But Dante does list some he saw in Limbo: He met greats like Democritus "who ascribes the world to chance"; He saw "the moral Seneca, Euclid the geometer and Ptolemy, Hippocrates, Avicenna, Galen".

 I take some relief in being in such great company, but I eagerly await the day I can release my shackles and walk into the sunset, through the gates of Hell.

Never be told!