Science And Religion

Excel­lent Sci­ence Fri­day show on sci­ence and reli­gion, via podcast.

If you’ve nev­er lis­tened to a Pod­cast, well let me make a rec­om­men­da­tion. Talk of the Nation’s Sci­ence Fri­day, on NPR, began releas­ing their shows in Pod­cast (mp3’s) a few weeks ago. I grew up watch­ing Ira Fla­tow on New­ton’s Apple, and I love get­ting to lis­ten to the grown up ver­sion today. Well, last week’s show, was two hours devot­ed to dis­cussing Sci­ence and Reli­gion. I had a cou­ple of posts last week on Reli­gion (one of which was worth read­ing), so this seemed some­what time­ly for me.

The first hour was with three physi­cists (a Pres­by­ter­ian, a (hard­core) athe­ist, and a Hin­du) and a Roman Catholic the­olo­gian. This was the most respon­si­ble con­ver­sa­tion on the top­ic of the dual­i­ty of sci­ence and reli­gion that I have ever heard. After speak­ing to their indi­vid­ual back­grounds in per­son­al reli­gion, they dealt with the obvi­ous ques­tion: is the ques­tion actu­al­ly sci­ence ver­sus reli­gion, or do they co-exist? They all go on to dis­cuss the roles of reli­gion and sci­ence in per­son­al choic­es as well as soci­ety. One of the most enlight­en­ing dis­cus­sion is on the answer to ques­tions on “why?” I even found the indi­vid­u­als who called into the show as con­tribut­ing a great deal to the dis­cus­sion (which is so rare, even on a show I respect as much as Sci­ence Friday).

The sec­ond half of the show is ded­i­cat­ed to how reli­gion effects the ethics of sci­ence and to what extent it should play a role in the process. Judaism, Islam, and Chris­tian­i­ty are all rep­re­sent­ed. Fur­ther (and at least one of the guests speaks to this), the dis­cus­sion is put forth in the frame­work of want­i­ng to dis­cov­er and under­stand. The argu­ments that sci­ence is some­how inher­ent­ly evil are all kept very much to a min­i­mum here, which is refresh­ing. It’s a shame to see that some­how cov­er­age of that atti­tude is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of being fair and balanced.

My favorite part, I think, came from not one of the sci­en­tists, but from the the­ol­o­gy pro­fes­sor, who described “lay­ered expla­na­tions”, in get­ting to the why. His sim­ple anal­o­gy is this: a pot of water boil­ing on the stove. Sci­ence explains the boil­ing as excit­ed mol­e­cules. How­ev­er, step­ping back, the water is boil­ing because one turned on the stove. From an even wider per­spec­tive, this is because the indi­vid­ual want­ed a cup of tea. This expla­na­tion reminds me of the (very won­der­ful) Pow­ers of Ten book, which also is all about per­spec­tive. The guest con­cludes that reli­gion and sci­ence are not at odds, as they do not work at the same lev­el. The why to which they speak are not the same, even for the same phe­nom­e­non. This won­der­ful­ly encap­su­lates a por­tion of my own world view. I would per­son­al­ly describe the two at per­fect right angles: over­lap­ping, but not opposing.

This isn’t to say that I agree with all of the guests or callers, as I most cer­tain­ly don’t. How­ev­er, their dis­cus­sion is enlight­ened and refresh­ing in the age of cable TV shout­ing heads. If you want to see just how cool pod­cast­ing can be, and lis­ten to some great con­ver­sa­tion on some pro­found top­ics, take a cou­ple of hours in your car or at work and listen.

Until iTunes 4.9 is avail­able, you should use iPod­der to grab your pod­cast feeds. Get iPod­der 4 here and find the Sci­ence Fri­day Pod­cast here. I also sub­scribe to Sci­Fi Wire, Engad­get, and Make Mag­a­zine pod­casts, if you’re interested.

If Not Now, When?

I’ve decid­ed to knock off a few things on my life-to-do-list. Num­ber 1: run 26.2 miles.

This sort of ties in with yes­ter­day evening’s post. I’ve decid­ed to knock off a few things on my life-to-do-list. So, I’ve signed up to run the Rich­mond Marathon this Novem­ber. Angela is going to do it as well, so we can encour­age one anoth­er. I believe this has almost noth­ing to do about whether my body can han­dle the run­ning of 26.2 miles (although my left knee scares the shit out of me). It is going to be about com­mit­ting to doing some­thing that I’ve want­ed to do all my life. When I was a kid, I thought I would some­day want to run the Boston Marathon. Well, come to find out, they don’t let just any jok­er like me sign up for that (some­thing about qual­i­fy­ing). So, I’ll be okay just run­ning a marathon, rather than what many con­sid­er to be the marathon. None-the-less, if I were to just wait to do this until I was absolute­ly sure that I was capa­ble of tak­ing the time and effort to fin­ish, then I’d like­ly nev­er do it. I’m tak­ing a chance on myself, and this is some­thing I have real­ly want­ed to do for a long time, now.

I sup­pose Ange­la’s rea­sons are sim­i­lar, although it’s not real­ly been some­thing she’s talked about doing so much. I think she wants the chal­lenge as well. To do some­thing that most fam­i­ly and friends would think she’s not capa­ble of doing. Again, this isn’t about com­pet­ing with any­one, but our­selves. And that means one thing: run­ning (or walk­ing, for that mat­ter) across the fin­ish line.

Anoth­er thing is, Angela and I are both the kind of peo­ple who know peo­ple who have run marathons. How­ev­er, we both don’t want that to be our expe­ri­ence: to be the friend of the peo­ple who do things. That’s no real way to know life. We’re going to have to do things like this for our­selves. Have an expe­ri­ence, not just some sto­ries we’re heard.

For the record, I esti­mat­ed my fin­ish­ing time at 4 hours and 15 min­utes. Is that being opti­mistic? Prob­a­bly, but so isn’t the very idea of me fin­ish­ing a marathon?

Something More

I’ve had a web site now for the past 5 years, and I’ve been run­ning a blog for the past 5+ months. I keep telling myself that I’ll get around to post­ing some more mean­ing­ful things here, but I nev­er do… it’s become a per­fect metaphor for my life.

I’ve been inspired. It often comes from the small things in life as much as the large, ground shak­ing events. This comes from my friend, Sta­cie. I have many friends who have web-blogs, and most of us approach it from a geek stand­point. Sta­cie writes hers like a per­son, and I real­ly found myself enjoy­ing her posts more than most about web and tech stuff.

I’ve had a web site now for the past 5 years, and I’ve been run­ning a blog for the past 5+ months. I keep telling myself that I’ll get around to post­ing some more mean­ing­ful things here, but I nev­er do. I tell myself that I’ll even­tu­al­ly post the sorts of things that friends, fam­i­ly, and per­fect strangers alike can read and actu­al­ly get to know me. Maybe I’ll learn a lit­tle about myself in the process. Well, it’s become a per­fect metaphor for my life. I keep say­ing to myself that I’ll be that per­son as soon as I get through all the rest of this crap, nev­er real­iz­ing that real time is pass­ing right now. Peo­ple know me now, and just like a blog not worth read­ing, they’ll not have much rea­son to come back if I’m noth­ing more that a shal­low exis­tence. I don’t real­ly want this to be record of noth­ing­ness. I want it to be a means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. That was my orig­i­nal goal for main­tain­ing a web site, and I should con­cen­trate on that more.

I don’t real­ly believe I’m that shal­low, I just let life go by. I’ve know­ing­ly done this for as long as I can remem­ber. I make great plans about the indi­vid­ual I want to be and how great it will feel, but nev­er actu­al­ly make effort to do those things. I say to myself, “when this real­ly counts, I’ll do it bet­ter and take it more seri­ous­ly.” As if this is all just some prac­tice run for when life real­ly gets going. I have this feel­ing that I should­n’t com­mit until I’m 100% ready. How­ev­er, being an engi­neer has ingrained in me that there is noth­ing that is 100%, espe­cial­ly not me.

Here’s where the blog (and hope­ful­ly my friends, fam­i­ly and per­fect strangers) come in. I need these thoughts out in the open, and then oth­ers can call me a flake when I don’t act on them. That’s fair, right? That way my lit­tle metaphor here, and my life, will hope­ful­ly stay on track. Will any­one be impressed? I doubt it, but I’ll be hap­py and ful­filled; after all, this is about me here, right? Back to my friend’s blog (all of my friends’ blogs for that mat­ter), it real­ly is won­der­ful to read what a day-in-the-life-of is like. How else can we know those things? Any­way, thanks Sta­cie and every­one else who reads here, posts here, writes their own blogs, etc. Keep­ing up with you all inspires me and is time well spent.

To be lit­er­al about a cliche, life is what you make it, not what you plan to make it when you both­er to get up of the couch.

“Star Wars Episode III — Revenge of the Sith”

For the man who’s great­est sin was Jar-Jar Binks, all has been forgiven.

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Anx­ious­ly wait­ing in line for the film, won­der­ing what to say to the 100 or so peo­ple behind me when Angela final­ly shows up after work. (Did­n’t mat­ter in the end, as she did­n’t get there until after I sat down.) I was clutch­ing my tick­ets with the kind of glee reserved for a 4 year old on his birth­day. Hell, it was my birth­day: the final Star Wars film was here and I was in the line to see it; the pin­na­cle of geek highs.

And I was­n’t let down.

The final Star Wars film is a sol­id piece of work. There aren’t real­ly any sur­pris­es here: you know where it begins and you know how it ends. The rest is 2–1/2 hours of intense light saber bat­tles and anguish (on the part of Anakin, not me). This final film has more of an artis­tic flair than pre­vi­ous films. Sure, the cheesy ser­i­al film scene change effects are still there and Lucas isn’t known for his abil­i­ty to bring out Oscar-wor­thy performances.

How­ev­er, there are some scenes that are much more moody or com­posed than any of the pre­vi­ous install­ments. Case in point (and I’m not spoil­ing any plot here): The scene where Anakin final­ly is put into “the mask.” The screen is filled with the pro­file of Vader’s mask as Anakin lies prone and motion­less. Dead silence in which you can hear the col­lec­tive mouths open­ing at the dra­ma. Here is a bril­liant­ly lit, motion­less scene of one of the great­est icons of the 20th cen­tu­ry. And then, in the silence you hear the famil­iar click­ing and breath­ing of Vader’s res­pi­ra­tor. For all the puns, humor­ous sketch­es, and par­o­dies made in the past 28 years, you can still feel the immense grav­i­ty of this scene. See­ing the mask is the line bind­ing back on itself to form a per­fect cir­cle. You know exact­ly where you are know.

There were a few things I had expect­ed to see that weren’t there. While the Mil­len­ni­um Fal­con can be seen briefly near the begin­ning of the film, it’s not real­ly involved in the sto­ry like I would have imag­ined (let along a men­tion of what the Kessel run is, for you fan-boys and girls). I expect­ed to see more of the for­ma­tion of the rebel alliance, as well. Last­ly, as cliché as it has become in my life­time, I real­ly want­ed to see more of Darth Vad­er in the black mask. Not in some sort of fan-boy desire to see more Sith lords, but because I felt almost as if it was my her­itage as a geek-child-of-the-sev­en­ties to see him. I’d wait­ed all my life to get here and I deserved all the time I want­ed to spend with him, sto­ry be damned.

Lucas does a fine job at fill­ing in that gap between two known points. He pro­vides us with a sense that this is the way it had to hap­pen; that Darth Vad­er is less of a über-vil­lain, and more of a sto­ry. Rather than using the Dis­ney-esque vil­lains-are-bad and heros-are-good mod­el, Lucas also allows each of the char­ac­ters to have moti­va­tions, doubts, and human involve­ment. Most impres­sive is Sen­a­tor Pal­pa­tine. You get a sense that while he is no doubt evil and cor­rupt, he real­ly forms a bond with Anakin. Sure, he only wants Anakin becuase he real­izes that the young Jedi is the strongest of them all and easy to manip­u­late, but he no less seems to look out for the boy.

There was no applause after the film. I did­n’t applaud, not because I did­n’t like the film or enjoy myself, but because I was gen­er­al­ly depressed. The sto­ry ends on a stun­ning­ly sober note and as the lights came back up, I real­ized that this was it. Applaud­ing would just be more nails being dri­ven into the cof­fin. There’s no point in my rec­om­mend­ing this film. If you know me and read this, you’ll go see it. Not because I told you to, but because it’s your her­itage as well. You’ve earned the right to see Darth Vad­er, too.