Science.

A friend asked me what my philosophical beliefs are, how I feel about alchemy and astrology and whether I think there is a God. He didn’t know this site existed and so I pointed him toward my Post Christianity post.

His reply was that he understood me to be an atheist but that he felt that the question had not been answered fully and followed with whether or not I thought “so called science” had all the answers.

It was not the first time I have heard the term used and not the first time it struck me as indicative of a foregone conclusion. It was however the first time it really struck me as an oxymoron. (noun, plural oxymora [ok-si-mawruh, –mohruh],oxymorons. Rhetoric. 1. a figure of speech by which a locution produces an incongruous,seemingly self-contradictory effect, as in “cruel kindness” or “to make haste slowly.”.)

It is an oxymoron because it implies uncertainty, that is to say it describes science as something that is unreliable or hit or miss in some sense, but science is – ( noun 1. a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws:). That is to say “so called science” is defined as unreliable knowledge. Knowledge is by definition a known quantity – hence, reliable.

The definition above relates to a single scientific discipline however, but in the context of our discussion it referred to the entirety of these disciplines in the same vein as the broader discussion going on globally – i.e. Science is the body of disciplines which encompass the study of the universe that surrounds us, from the very small to the very large, with branches such as physics, chemistry, biology, neuroscience, etc, all of which use mathematics to a great extent as a tool.

The “scientific method” – the method we employ in order to discover new science (knowledge) relies on experiments that can be independently performed by anyone with the means and inclination to do so, whose results are published for all to see and critique. This ensures that all conclusions are thoroughly verified and tested before they are accepted as truths. What’s more they are repeated to ensure that the results and therefore the conclusions of those results are reliable by means of standard deviation. This method has evolved to be more and more reliable over the past two centuries and the fact that you can read this text on an LCD screen is part of the tangible evidence of its’ reliability

So where’s the philosophy in all this Kirk? you’re going off on another rant.

Well, now the questions become “Does science as described above have all the answers?” and if “No”, “Is there any merit to Alchemy and Astrology, or even a religious philosophical system?”

Well the short answer to the first question is a simple “No”. Why? because we have only been at it for a very short time, and the universe is really big, and a lot is happening in it. Furthermore most of the time that we have been asking questions about it, our tools were limited to our own eyes and our mind, so one could say we have only been at it seriously since the Renaissance.
What’s more, there are unanswerable questions: “Is there a God?”. God is defined as a supernatural being that is to say, beyond nature, or above the plane of nature – the universe. If God exists we cannot measure it, if we could measure it (by implanted vision or talking or praying) that would imply its’ pertaining to the universe and thus not supernatural. Even if the interaction is one way say, from God to us, that still means it can be part of the universe and so a subject to its’ laws which again violates its’ supernatural definition. If a God does not exist, we have no, and will never have means of knowing this with any degree of certainty because of the nature of the definition.
There are also nonsensical questions: “What happened before the Big Bang?”. The Big Bang is an event which created the space-time continuum, so the question is equivalent to “What is south of the South Pole?” At the South Pole, all directions are North. Asking the question is like trying to divide by 0 – nonsense.

So we cannot conclusively answer the “Is there a God?” question, so let’s instead shift it to something that we could possibly tackle with a few more questions.

“Is it possible there is a God?” – “Yes” – it is certainly possible, if we define anything as being supernatural i.e. not beholden to the laws of the universe (known or not) then that concept is possible, like the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The issue with this is that God is defined as being the primal source, prime cause or the more archaic prime mover but even the question of “Is God there?” subordinates its existence to the concept of truth and the very idea that God is subordinate to anything makes the entire concept collapse making God’s existence more and more unlikely.

To conclude this answer, in my view, the existence of a God is irrelevant, and the pursuit of an answer to an unanswerable question is a waste of time.It is irrelevant because if it does exist, we cannot interact by definition and so it cannot communicate with us and vice versa, no communication results in no influence and thus no relevance – it would be nice to know, but we can’t, so why bother when our lifespans are limited? furthermore why dedicate our lives to something that is impossible to be sure of when we could instead pursue concepts that come with some benefit.

“Alright, what about Alchemy and Astrology, why are they pseudo-science”. We defined science as something that is known, rigorously. So, what makes a pseudo-science.

Alchemy is the process of transmuting a substance into another by way of chemical reaction and/or incantations, it was the precursor to the modern science of chemistry. While Alchemy was able to observe correlations between certain interactions (Vitriol transmutes metals into salts) and their effects, it could not explain the underlying mechanism that lead to those effects and so results were, understandably, unreliable. They thought they knew something because certain predictions came true, but they did not understand why or how so… pseudo-science. Eventually alchemists became chemists as the mechanisms of reactions became more and more understood making alchemy obsolete in its’ use to pursue facts about the natural world.

Astrology is the study that assumes and attempts to interpret the influence of heavenly bodies on human affairs. Astrology relies on correlations between astronomical positions of planets and stars and human behavior and psychology (i.e. if Jupiter is in this constellation such and such will happen to you or your psychology). This is a fallacy. Correlation does not imply causation as shown here. Astrology has not produced a theory (read a system of proofs) by which the correlations it presents as fact come to be. They think they know something because certain predictions come true but they do not understand how or why so… pseudo-science.

 

As a rational being I try my best to base my decisions on the best approximation of truth that I can. Neither religion, alchemy or astrology provide anything close to the best approximation, let alone truth.

Leg pain – and a girl.

I tore a calf muscle about a couple of weeks ago. Football is quite physical, and being a goal keeper doesn’t quite shield you from injury. About a week later I realized it was more than just sore muscles and the doctor said I probably have a tear, rest your leg, use ice to cope with the swelling and if it hurts too much, paracetamol is enough of a painkiller.

One never quite realizes how debilitating injuries can be until they are faced with the fact. Walking is an adventure. When it doesn’t quite hurt and you become a little bit overconfident your muscle twitches in strange ways, the pain is instant and punishing of any such transgression. There is no real treatment, aside from the aforementioned rest and ice packs. Ice is interesting, cold things hurt, and then strangely they start to burn I found out.

Suffice to say I’ve been living with varying amounts of leg pain for the past fortnight. My colleagues at work have taken to calling me dr. House and I am awaiting the cane I was promised in order to help with my recuperation.

Today I went to work for the first time, not having moved much beyond my studio door for the past few days. I really didn’t know what to expect but my leg and I had a deal, I would behave if it would behave in return. The walk to the subway took longer than usual, but the deal was working. He grumbled and twitched a little bit as I went down the two flights of stairs, I relented and used the handrail.

We’re good pals, my legs and I, we’ve been places and done things that most people on the train probably haven’t, it’s part of what got us in this little squabble, but not her, she looked different from the rest as she was getting ready to board the train. Sure she was short, but that backpack can’t have been light. Her cheeks were flushed with the spring sun still glinting into her blue eyes as she walked into the train. I leaned over to check my leg for painful spots as I do every now and again when a pair of feet appeared next to me. Light brown leather shoes, gently wrapped around slender ankles, no stalkings or socks.

I leaned back and there she was holding onto the bar, well this is odd I’m in the handicapped spot, my leg is a mess but I should probably leave her my seat when she refuses someone else. She is exceedingly pretty with her short brown hair tied up like that.

We somehow both noticed the kids next to us talking about their driving tests rather coarsely at around the same time. I caught her peaking at their phone, and she caught me catching her, and we didn’t let go for a few seconds, until people had to get off at the next stop and she maneuvered to remain in the same place despite her enormous backpack.

I knew the next stop was the exchange, I hoped she was headed for the train station and not the airport and would linger on for another few minutes. I pushed myself to look again and there she was looking back blinking now and again, once for every new digit in my heart rate, and hers no doubt as she became flushed again.

The train stopped, the automatic voice said the words, the doors opened and without letting go of my eyes she smiled playfully and walked away. Should I stay or should I go? I should stay… safe travels subway girl.

February 2015.

This is a story. This music goes with it (opens new tab). Read it and call me crazy at your leisure.

I was feeling happy when I woke up this morning. I have a new job that I love, I think I might be falling in love, I’ve rediscovered an artist that I like, I can see that it’s sunny outside, my room’s a bit of a mess but that can be fixed when I come back from the doctors’, oh and I must remember to tie up my freshly sprouted bean stalks. Got stuff to do today, best get cracking.

Doctors’ appointments are interesting experiences. Mine said I should get more exercise than I already am because I work in an office and that exposes me to sedentarism, and I should quit smoking, he suggested a way I hadn’t thought of before, and I’m going to try it, wish me luck.

I took everything he said to heart, as I do, and I’m hopeful about the future but it’s still a bit of a downer coming back home. I walked up the corridor leading to my studio unlocked the door and slowly got out of my boots and jacket, and just crashed into bed fully clothed for a bit.

A second later I opened my eyes and noticed a brown patch on my yellow wall. Three blinks later and it had grown into a sketch of someone I thought I recognized, that can’t be right. Blink Blink. Now another sketch of a manga cartoon is superimposed on the first… I’m probably dreaming. Close your eyes it’ll go away.

When I next opened my eyes after what felt like a few minutes the sketches were gone but now a black spot was in the same place. I hadn’t noticed that before. Blink blink. It’s now a black and white sketch of someone else I once knew, the inner spaces are white, the contours are thick black strokes, and those voices – those weren’t there, I hadn’t noticed the walls of this new place are so thin. Bin… tan pis, I’m probably still dreaming, so let’s see what else gets drawn on the wall.

As I try to concentrate on the images, they get faster and faster, all different, people, cartoon characters all in faster and faster cadence, my heart rate soars and the voices are getting stronger and they are very close… this isn’t turning out quite the way I like, best go back to sleep.

I’m finally up. Hm those voices are still there. I get out of bed and realize there are people in my hallway. I’ve got the urge to tell them breaking and entering is a felony, but before I can open my mouth I notice the two cops standing in my bathroom door speaking to the other 5 people huddled around. What is going on? They’re all speaking Romanian and seem to be very interested in my bathroom… ‘What’s going on? Why are you all in my house?’. Nothing, it’s like I’m not there. I get right in the middle of them and try to listen to what they’re saying, but I can’t understand my own language. It’s like the words are blurred.

What’s happening?! I try to check the kitchen for signs of whatever it is that’s going on in my bathroom and notice that it’s dark outside… must’ve slept through the day, wouldn’t be the first time. The kitchen looks fine, grab my smokes from the counter and try to address the people in my doorway again ‘Please tell me who called the cops and why? I don’t intend to retaliate in any way, just take a look at me, it’s not like I could anyway’ Nothing. ‘Please, I just want to know what happened!’, nothing, why are they doing this? Why are they all in my house discussing my bathroom? I only now hear the water flowing in there, but it’s dark and the light’s not on, please don’t tell me the guy upstairs is flooding me.

I walk outside into the hallway but no one is there, all I can see is the reflections of the lamps on the floor and lights at each end of the corridor, all I can hear is Romanian being spoken and the echo of water flowing. Right, that’s it, I’m going to the police station to fix this.

The night is young at least, I have no Idea what time it is but Jupiter can’t have been up for more than a couple of hours. I stare at it ‘Hello old friend, at least you’re still there, oh no… no don’t do that’. It starts to move randomly around it’s spot, faster and faster it’s no longer a dot and starts to describe a sketched human shape flying in loops around it’s usual place. As I’m walking looking right at it, I step on a piece of almost frozen snow and it cracks. I’m startled… So i’m definitely not asleep, that proves it, and I probably wasn’t before. Those people were all in my house, all day, as I was sleeping, talking about my bathroom… That’s what those voices were… What is going on? WHAT IS GOING ON?!

Where am I? Oh look, those two were in my house earlier, quick, after them, they’re walking straight towards me. I hear her speaking. ‘Did you see how angry he was? I would be too if people barged into my house like that and didn’t speak to me… And the cops didn’t even look at him? can you imagine what was going on in his mind?’. Great they’re on my side. ‘Oh I’m so glad I caught up with you, can you tell me what happened? I’m starting to get a bit flippy’. She glances my way and looks me straight in the eye, but they just keep on walking and talking as if I wasn’t there.

‘NO’, I follow them, but I can’t get any closer, I’m running and they’re walking but I’m not closing the gap. It’s dark and I’m surrounded by tall desolate apartment blocks, there’s melting snow everywhere and they round a corner from the alley. I keep running but somehow the alley is a lot thinner now than it was before. The hedges on the sides are starting to scratch me and before I know it I’m stuck, in the middle of all this. Time to backtrack but it’s all the same. Now I’m lost and somehow I’m half naked from the waist down except my boots. I look up and Jupiter is still there, still drawing away at an animated cartoon of a sketched human shape playing around across the night sky as if on blueprint paper. I need to get home, regroup and figure this out… this can’t be happening, nothing makes any rational sense. I’m not entirely sure I have any reason left that would make sense of anything right now, I’m clearly losing it.

This isn’t the street I live on, I must be close by though, there’s the church. All I have to do is get there and from there it’s two minutes to my place. When did all these churches start getting built? I never noticed them before. Why are they all being built all over this block? They’re all in various stages of construction. Why is there a group of Franciscan nuns in the middle of a rundown Bucharest neighborhood walking around Orthodox building sites in the middle of the night? ‘Hello? Can you tell me what street this is? I’m trying to get to street X’ ‘Oh that’s right over there’. She points me toward a parallel street. She spoke a language I had never heard before, but somehow I understand her and take her advice. Now i’m close for sure.

There’s a cop car with the lights on parked close to my building, great maybe now they’ll tell me what happened, give me some explanation, but which one is it? I just moved here… They both look the same, why am i not cold even though it’s February and I’m wet from head to toe for some reason. The next thing I know I’m standing in front of my open doorway, the house is dark with an orange light filtering through the curtain from the streetlamps outside. The water is still on but no one is here. I’m dripping from my jacket, now I am cold and I can feel the exposure, my genitals are trying hard to get inside my abdomen, my legs are cold and wet and I’m thinking it can’t get much worse so I might as well try to get online and check the news, try to shed some light on what’s going on. On my way there I finally check the bathroom.

A series of metal pipes are fastened to the ceiling leading into glass tubes that spiral widely into a network of glass lab equipment, clear water is coming from the ceiling and it’s turning dark blue before it all drains into a massive glass vat where once filled it turns into a fine foam and vanishes. What is this for? Who put it here? Where is the water coming from? Why is it vanishing. I rush into the kitchen, fumble around for my ashtray and get out my smokes. I need a time out, I really do. I open it up and take one out without looking, but it’s flattened beyond use, and wet, and a leathery brown, it’s burst and wet, but it’s smoking already, how? I take a good look into my pack but they’re all in various stages of whatever happened to the first one. ‘No… please no…’ I’m naked, wet and cold… My place is completely trashed and I may or may not be in trouble with the police… I’m seeing things and my fucking beans are dead! I start to slide my back down the side of the counter and I feel like I’m about to completely break down into little pieces of what used to be me.

Skype calls and I wake up. The sun’s still up. I hadn’t noticed my bike was missing in the dream. Well… It’s definitely there now. Right, where was I? ah yes… I gotta clean up this mess

Role models are stupid.

We tend to measure up against each other. It’s called having a competitive nature. We love doing it. “Manchester is better than Liverpool” or vice versa. “Nelson was better than Napoleon”. “Newton was better than Einstein and both were certainly better than me”. “I should be more like Patrick Stewart or Morgan Freeman” They can be fictional too… “That Aragorn, he’s a hansom fellow and he’s good with a sword too… I suck with swords.” This is counterproductive.

In idealizing our role models, past or present we tend to take from them that which brings us closer to understanding why they are great – their flaws and by extension, their humanity. Could Newton have come up with the theory of relativity and phrased in in the same way as Einstein? Maybe… But the fact of the matter is that Newton was not Einstein, he lived in a completely different time, he was a mystic obsessed with finding the philosopher stone, and in his spare time he revolutionized natural philosophy, which is not to say that he placed as great a value on it as he did on his alchemical pursuits – he was a product of his time and it could be argued that “Principia” would never have been written or published had it not been for the insistence, friendship and patronage of Edmund Halley, who DID see the true significance of it.

The principles of Newtonian mechanics are fairly simple. So simple in fact it’s taught in 7th grade here. It is within the power of a child thirteen years of age to understand and demonstrate this understanding by writing the mathematical formulae and arguing the proofs. Was Newton therefor any different than you and I? You could say “well he thought of it first” and this is true, maybe. He was certainly the first to publish an academic paper about it, and he was the first to make clear sense of it and show it to the world, but this involved the participation of others. It is also possible, because the man named Newton thought of it, that others have or could have, but simply did not come by the set of circumstances necessary to either realize the revolutionary nature of their insight or bring it before an audience that might, or who may not have had the inclination.

Mihai Eminescu was a 19th century Romanian poet. The greatest literary mind our nation has ever known, it is taught. In a novella called “Sarmanul Dionis” – “Miserable Dyonis” in a philosophical tour de force, he tackles the issue of perception, among other things. The question of whether when you say something is red, would what you are seeing be something that I would also call red, or would it be my green? I asked myself this same question in second grade, having never read his works, I never told anyone because it never really came up in conversation after that and when I did read the novella I was rather amazed that that same idea had been thought of so long ago that I was somehow no longer special, less individual and more a collection of random thoughts that just so happen to exist together in this particular arrangement – thoughts that may be part of who other people are.

While personal experience is by no means indicative of truth, but rather a possible clue to a way forward in the pursuit thereof I too often hear from others this idea that something is beyond their comprehension or ability. To quote a cliche “genius is 99% hard work”. The quote leaves room for doubt, maybe it was the scientist in Einstein who thought one could never be sure, but can only establish degrees of certainty.

We instead tend to focus on this infinitesimal but comfortable and convenient doubt about our own potential to excuse ourselves from the hard work we must endure to achieve true greatness. This is the danger of role models and why it is stupid to assume they are greater than us. It is the pursuit of our insights and dreams that distinguishes the great from the many rather than the ideas themselves, the 1% is in fact there in everyone.

By ignoring this fact and failing to recognize one’s own individuality we end up in a uniform society, and by uniform I do not mean flat, but rather a patchwork of uniforms. We tend to think that “every generation has its’ way”. The 80s had strange hair, the 90s had full denim suits and somewhat less spandex, Generation Y has their Apple gear and thick black glass frames, metalheads have their long hair and “fuck you” attitude. These are all uniforms, worn by those who would define themselves by a certain idea, an idea that was voiced by someone else, which they may agree with, and which may be perfectly reasonable, but that does not and cannot encompass all validity.

It is far more beneficial to include all experience into one’s world view and try to make sense of it with this enhanced “dataset” than to automatically dismiss that which is foreign because it does not fit a predefined model of who we think we ought to be

 

 

 

The virtues of not acting on impulse.

I was angry today, very angry. Those who know me would say that is very unusual as it takes quite a lot to set me off. I wanted to scream, yell and break things. In the end I put on some loud music and played air guitar for about a half hour. I realized just how irrational it was and in the middle of singing along to brutal heavy metal I dissected the feeling in my mind. Why did I feel this way? What was the causal relationship between what had just happened and the very physical feeling of intense scorn I was experiencing. Why should it be that this emotion should dominate my psyche when it was clearly irrational?

Darth Vader had a point – let the hate flow through you, do not resist it, let it flow so that it does not settle.

Why? Quantum physics tells us that the mere act of measurement changes the properties of that which we measure. I decided to put this to the test in what was admittedly a less scientific experiment on myself. I systematically arranged the facts about what I was feeling in the truthful order in which they unfolded. The music made me feel the elation that music usually does, when we like it, and dissecting my feelings into their component parts stripped them of their power. It took about ten minutes of this exercise to regain my usual composure.

I have had the fortune of burying more people my age (whom I knew personally) than is usual for someone below thirty years old and not living in a warzone. I say fortune because it exposed me to death, it is no longer a myth to me. Three of these people committed suicide.  The latest was sometime this week and when I first heard the news I tried to remember the man. It had been over a year since we last spoke. He seemed to be a rational person, mild mannered and respectful. It struck me that he spoke correct Romanian without having to try, which is rare.

A mutual friend who knew him better than I did spoke to me of a depressive character and an existence rife with insecurity. It only took a more severe bout of deep depression and the local crematory was in business a couple of days later.

Suicide is a strange thing. The same friend said he somehow felt similarly but thought “I’ve already bought the ticket, might as well stick around for the show, it’s not going to last forever”.  We all have moments in our lives when we feel like we just can’t take anymore and it seems like an attractive solution. All over, as quick as your chosen method can deliver the result.

The first person in my life who committed suicide was sixteen at the time. It was not her first try either. I admit I had somewhat of a crush and it was all kind of surreal at the time. It felt like I could have done something to prevent this. I was one of the two or three people in our class who knew why she’d missed school for a month in the first semester. She was smart and we shared similar tastes. One night she decided it was all too much and resolved to end it. We all learned a lesson during the events that followed, and it wasn’t just that drowning and being under water for two days makes your body swell like a cheap tampon. No, we got to witness the aftermath of a family losing their only child. We got to watch a mother bury her daughter and the seemingly unbearable desperation of being unable to make her wake up. We got to witness the reality of choosing to die on purpose.

What’s more is that this lesson continues. Twelve years later the problems we faced in our teens seem trivial and remote. She missed these twelve years by leaving the cinema early and it is painfully clear to me that she never got to really appreciate whether the movie is any good, she only saw the intro and decided the lead’s partner was going to ruin it. Turns out that guy was just an extra with a single line though.

The decisions we make in our lives can have a profound effect not only on ourselves but on those around us. It can be easy to act on a gut feeling, at the time it’s the most attractive solution to whatever conundrum life throws our way, and while taking too much time to act can be an equally debilitating course I think it always pays to stop and take a look at yourself when in a crysis.

Stop, drop and roll.