Divine Neutrality, Blog. Science, Philosophy

Axioms

September 8th, 2015

Hypotheses I cannot prove; taken on faith

I’m thinking about my axioms of faith. On what unprovable hypotheses do I confront the world. My axioms are my prejudices; the fewer the better. The first one is this:

1. That reality exists. That a world exists in whose catalogue of entities I am one. And what I encounter of its other entities are my access to reality.

But illusions exist. They may be mistaken for reality but are not ‘real’. One such is that the sun sets! The sun’s apparent motion in the sky is an illusion. The effect is entirely due to the rotation of the earth on which we are fixed; that is the reality. Other illusions are not on such a grand scale; most are of a personal nature. That a snail speaks to you.

How are we to know that we know reality? How are we to distinguish between what exists in reality and our interpretation of reality? To distinguish objective from subjective? These words, ‘objective’ and ‘subjective,’ are the ones which are commonly used to partition the two; to differentiate reality from strictly personal experience.

Many philosophers contend that nothing is objective. You can’t ever be sure that you know reality. The moving-sun illusion epitomizes that idea. Until a few hundred years ago the whole world’s consensus was that the sun is an object that physically moves across the sky from east to west. Like a bird or clouds move across the sky. Mankind surely classed this as an objective fact. But, that the sun moves is a communally subjective experience. It is not an objective fact but an illusion shared by many.    (more…)

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Right Wrongs

August 1st, 2015

Drowning in the ocean of injustice.

Context: An atomic bomb was dropped by the U.S. on Hiroshima, Japan in August of 1945. This event was the critical one which ended the Second World War. Some claim that it was an act of savagery needlessly killing many because the war could have been ended without that event.

Dear Ted:

Thank you for the passages from Zinn. (H. Zinn, 2010, “The Bomb”) Your outrage against the injustice portrayed by Zinn is understandable. My world outlook forbids me from accepting Zinn’s thesis without scrutiny but let us accept it for the sake of conversation. The thesis is this:

    Influential advisors, mainly Jim Byrnes, led President Truman, in 1945, to sacrifice the lives of over 200,000 people unecessarily, by dropping an atomic bomb on them, for the sake of a political power gambit: to pre-empt any Russian influence in the defeat of Japan. To “let us dictate the terms of ending the war.”

Let’s grant this interesting thesis. What are we to make of it?

I know, Ted, what you make of it. A reason for moral outrage. A call to wake fellow citizens to this atrocity committed by our government.       (more…)

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Perspectives

July 1st, 2015

Sadye Stories

queue My mother’s name was Sadie. By some coup of whim I had thought she spelled it ‘Sadye’ when I suggested that name for our new born daughter to her mother. My precious wife, Elfi, acceded so our daughter became Sadye.

Quarantine.

Sadye was a 5 year old in kindergarten in 1997. The children were on an outing. They were invited to visit a nearby farm. We lived in a rural area where this was easily possible. I and a few other children’s parents had come along to help.

Kevin, a mentally impaired child, is a member of the class. He is attended by both of his parents. They are making an effort to ‘mainstream their child’, to give him some quality of life even with his great handicap. Kevin needs them. He makes sudden explosive shrieks, animal-like groans and grunts. He can’t help it. These sounds issue from him uninvited.

I hear the other children’s parents. One says to another in anger, “That child shouldn’t be here. It’s disturbing for our kids.”

But what about Kevin?  Should he be quarantined from humanity?

Easter

At age 6, Sadye enthusiastically discusses the color of the Easter eggs and where she found them but never the nature of the Easter Bunny. The compelling question is, “Where are the eggs hidden?” Contemplations about the essential character of the Easter Bunny – a rabbit that lays multicolored-hard-boiled-eggs – hold no appeal at all.

For Whom the Blessing?

It’s winter. Cold outside and even inside; especially at night. In the morning I wake my 9 year old daughter, Sadye, with loving kisses. I sit down carefully on the edge of her bed, bend over to gently stroke her forehead and whisper quietly, “Good morning, my lovely. Time to get up out of those cozy warm covers. Are you awake?”

Eyes kept closed she nods sleepily; by which she means that she has received the message and will shortly get up. I leave the room, go to the kitchen and greet my wife preparing breakfast. Ten or fifteen minutes later Sadye comes out. Well. Often she does. Occasionally she takes longer or comes out in a mood less than jubilant. But usually she bounces out of her room all showered, dressed and ready for the day.

Any adult must perceive the beauty in having a loving father for an alarm clock. One must certainly get out of bed somehow – by the clock or otherwise. Better wake to kisses than to shrill ringing. And how does young Sadye view the ritual. She would portray it this way: “In the morning my father comes in to make me get up and get dressed.”

There is no rancor in this. She doesn’t compare my kisses to an alarm clock. She compares them to ‘not having to get up at all’. So the ritual is a blessing, not so much for Sadye, as it is for her father.

Dematerialization

Living in the woods there is outdoor tidying to be done. The brush grows high in early spring and becomes a fire hazard. It must be cut down. The debris foliage is gathered into large dome-shaped stacks; each perhaps 7 feet high and 30 feet around. To dispose of them, I burn such stacks of brush to ash. It’s done before the fire hazard season begins, in early May. There are brush burnings every spring all over the neighborhood.

A stack of brush is mighty to behold for a 6 year old. It’s a lot of stuff. Sadye watches the burn. In the end all that stuff ends up as a small pile of feathery ash no more than 3 inches high. And the weight of the ash is far less than the weight of that big pile of brush.

I ask Sadye, “What happened to all that stuff? The ash is far less stuff then the original brush was. Where did it all go?”

Looking at me in puzzled surprise she answers with assurance “It burned up.” She accepts the dematerialization of matter as a fact of nature. Movie and TV fairies often disappear in clouds of smoke.

“Where did it go?” had no significance or meaning. The question was, “How do you account for the matter that was there?”  Sadye’s perception was, “It ceased to exist. The matter became nothing. Why should it go anywhere?”

Up to the middle of the eighteenth century the whole world shared Sadye’s perception. Then Antoine Lavoisier asked himself that question and aswered it by experiment. He was careful to include the weight of everything involved – the substance burned, the air around it and the residue. And he found that the stuff did go somewhere.

The smoke was ‘matter leaving’. Matter went up in the smoke. The wood reacted chemically with oxygen in the air and combined with it to spew matter into the air. Lavoisier had discovered that, although matter may change its form or shape, its mass always remains the same. That’s what all the subscript and prefix numbers in every chemical formula do; account for mass. That mass is to be accounted for, is the foundation stone of all of chemistry.

How remarkably fertile that innocuous question has been: “Where did it go?”

Lavoisier’s was one of the greatest minds of his time. He was guillotined by the French revolution. The revolution that helped bring enlightenment into the world killed its most enlightened citizen.

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