Tag Archives: Science

On the level

I read a story, a few weeks ago, about a fellow who took a carpenters level with him on a cross country flight, in order to prove that the Earth is flat.

His experiment, it seems, was based upon the following argument: If the Earth is a sphere, an airplane pilot cannot fly on a level course, because to do so would cause the plane to go careening off into space.  Therefore, he, the pilot, must correct for the rounded Earth slipping away below him by occasionally dipping the nose of the plane downward, which action would be easily noticeable on a precision instrument purchased at the Home Depot.

I may not be explaining this as clearly as I should, so I whipped up a graphical aid.

Now, I do try to treat “fringe groups” with a certain amount of patience and good will.  Recognizing, as I do, that my own belief in multiple gods, puts me right out on the edge of things, in many peoples eyes, it seems only natural that I treat other groups with the same friendly manner that I hope people will express toward me and mine.

Is Scientology your thing?  No skin off my nose.

You like pineapple on your pizza?  I’ll just pick those off of my slice, if that’s okay.

You preferred the Star Wars prequel movies to the original three?

….ummm, I’m sure you have many redeeming qualities.

I draw the line with Flat Earthers.

If you truly believe that we are all the victims of a “Global Conspiracy” perpetrated by every school, corporation, government, and independent scientific body on the PLANET, throughout over 2,000-years of history since the day when Eratosthenes proved mathematically that the Earth was a sphere (and only missing the actual circumference by a few percentage points), and if you’re evidence for this is “Well, it looks flat to me,” and/or “The Bible doesn’t say anything about us living on a ball,” then I am done with you.

Yes, my flat earth friends, you have been lied to for the last two-thousand years.

Just not by the people you think.

And it’s not even a lie, really.

At least, I don’t think it was done intentionally.

The ancient tribesmen who wrote those chapters of your holy book were working off of their own observations.  And the world, to them, looked flat.

Now I realize that this takes us into a touchy subject area.  Because, of course, a great many of the Christian faithful believe that scripture was written by God through the hands of men.  The “Inspired Word” they like to call it.  So, in their view, the Bible wasn’t written by a bunch of yokels who could have got it wrong, it was written by God himself and no part of it can be false.

And yet there is plenty in there that is demonstrably untrue.

So what to do?

Well, most of the particularly faithful people that I know, have made some accommodation for themselves in this area.

Maybe God only told the people who were writing things down, things that he knew they could understand.  Maybe God showed them the whole complicated mess, and they could only grasp a small portion of its true shape and function.  Maybe he wanted to keep things mysterious for his creation, and so relied upon vague verbiage to keep his followers guessing.

The line, or lines, that these folks draw, between truth and misprint, seem to move and twist with circumstance, but at least they are there.  At least these folks are trying to reconcile a system of belief with the mechanics of the physical world around them.

The Flat Earth Brigade will do no such thing.

They cover their eyes and stop up their ears and they congratulate themselves for the purity of their faith against opposition from every quarter.

But they are wrong.

What they cling to is not faith.

That’s a thing we call desperation, and it is a desperation that seems to be on the rise.

Today, they are taking levels aboard airplanes, and we point, and we laugh, and we shake our heads in pity and disbelief.

But we have all seen the things that small groups of religiously fervent people are capable of, when they believe that they alone hold the truth, and that the whole world is set in conspiracy against them.

We should never rest too comfortably upon the strides we have made.

Any tool made to create, can also destroy, even something as simple as a level.

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Filed under Culture, Modern Life, Religion, Science

Pluto Rising

PlutoClosestYet

I came to know the gods through science.

Tell me, is that a strange thing to say?

Does it run contrary to your expectations?

Walk back with me a little ways, and I will try to explain…,

When I was a very young boy I was hungry to read and watch and learn anything science related.  I don’t know exactly where it came from, this desire of mine, but it manifested early and it stuck.

Probably, it started with the dinosaurs.  Isn’t every little boy drawn to the image to giant lizards smashing through the jungle?  Certainly, the box-office of a certain series of movies would appear to support that idea.

So, like a lot of kids that age, I absorbed everything I could about them.  I learned their various names and measurements in excruciating detail.  I could tell you the most up to date theories concerning the eras in which they lived, the shape of the land and the environmental changes which directed their movements and shaped their evolution…,

Did I say “evolution”?  Oh yeah, I was not very popular in Sunday School.

Big surprise there!

When I asked too many ‘disruptive’ questions, they started sending me to the church library.

“Look for your own answers,” one of my teachers told me, and that may have been the best advice I ever received in a church.  And so I read their books and compared what they told me to the books I was reading at home.

It was all about the books in those days, it’s easy to forget.  Internet, what’s that?!

So time passed and my interests shifted upward and outward, into the nighttime sky.

My parents had long subscribed to magazines like National Geographic and Popular Science, so I was already a ‘space enthusiast’ by the time Carl Sagan’s Cosmos aired in the last months of 1980.  By the end of the series I was absolutely hooked.  My best friend at school called me ‘space man’ because that’s all I could talk about.  I counted Newton, Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo among my heroes.

I was outside nightly, over the course of one summer, using a telescope, paper and pencil to chart the orbital positions of Jupiters moons.  I wondered, at the time, if anyone else was doing that with me.  I wonder if anyone has done it since?

There’s an app for that, I know, but what’s the fun in that?

Those moons, and Saturn’s rings, and the phases of the planet Venus.  Those are things that we can look up there and see for ourselves.  We don’t need computers or smart-phones or glossy illustrations in a book.  It just takes a couple pieces of glass and a clear sky.

So at night I watched, and during the day I read.

Our UniverseAnd one of the many books I devoured in my quest for space knowledge was called the ‘National Geographic Picture Atlas of Our Universe’.  Arranged like others of its kind, the book worked its way outward from the Sun, through the nine planets and into the realm of distant stars and nebulae, providing a basic overview of each body encountered along the way.

One notable difference, however, was that the opening chapter of the book provided an extremely vague overview of some early mythologies relating to the stars and planets.  Then, at the beginning of the chapter devoted to each planet, there was a small illustration of the Roman god for whom that planet was named, and a tiny blurb describing these gods.

I chewed through that book as I had all the others, memorizing all the statistics about the planets, moons, and stars presented there.  But unlike the books I’d read before it, and the many that came after.  I kept going back to it again and again

There was something about those little illustrations that kept pulling me back.  Those stories touched something in me that lie deeper than a simple thirst for knowledge.  There was a familiarity to them, and they seemed important.

Illustrations of three Gods (Jupiter, Venus, and Pluto) from the National Geographic Picture Atlas of Our Universe

Illustrations of three Gods (Jupiter, Venus, and Pluto) from the National Geographic Picture Atlas of Our Universe

In school (both Sunday School and the regular kind) I was told again and again that these gods had never existed, and that no one alive worshipped them any more, because the ‘one god’ had replaced them, and wasn’t that so much better.

But we still used the names!  We called out to them in the days of the week and the months of the year.  Seemingly everything spinning above our heads for a billion billion miles was named in their honor, and we told their stories again and again to explain why.

Even those who do not believe in the gods must admit, there’s a kind of immortality there.

And I’ve got to think there’s bad news there for the monotheists in the crowd.  Print all the books you want, folks, the entire sky is named in honor of the gods of old.  Words on a page fade over time, but those names have revolved above us for thousands of years now, and we’re still adding to the list.

Pluto, named after the Roman god of the Underworld, was discovered and named in 1930, and four of its five moons (Nix, Hydra, Kerberos and Styx) were discovered and named in the last 10 years.  Classical mythology does not just live within the antiquities collection of some museum, it lives in the night sky for everyone to see.  It lives in a tiny planet that we’ve sent a multimillion dollar space probe to the outermost edges of our solar system to explore.

The God Pluto abducting his future wife Persephone, daughter of Demeter.

The God Pluto abducting his future wife Persephone, daughter of Demeter.

Brother of Jupiter and Neptune, dark Pluto is the invisible king of a frigid realm where go the dead to sleep.  He is husband to Persephone, who waits out the long winter season with him, clothed in darkness, before he opens his hand, and allows her return to this world through the flowering of spring.

See now a body moving through space, one so small that scientists argue it shouldn’t be called a planet at all.  It orbits at a distance of over 3 billion miles, in a realm of darkness where the the Sun is only slightly brighter than her neighboring stars.  It is invisible to us without the aid of our most powerful telescopes, and in the course of its long orbit, it moves among great tumbling blocks of ice and dust – the long forgotten corpses of worlds that might have been, long ago ejected from the warmer regions of space by the gravitational force of Jupiter, and of Neptune.

Pluto and its moon Charon, seen together in space from the New Horizons spacecraft.

Pluto and its moon Charon, seen together in space from the New Horizons spacecraft.

It is a world insignificant to the lives of men.  And yet, if the theories of many scientists are true, if the building blocks of life were delivered to our world on comets from that distant realm…, like the seeds of Persephone, the very first spring and every one thereafter, may have been born from Pluto’s hand.

This Tuesday, the New Horizons spacecraft will make its closest approach to that far away speck of light.  We will pull the veil back a little further on the mysteries of creation, as we are treated with our closest look yet at Pluto’s strange and ruddy surface.

I’ll be on the edge of my seat, waiting to see all the new images.

There was a child I remember, who wanted nothing more than to be an Astronomer when he grew up.  I often feel as if I have failed that child, in many respects.  But I’ve never forgotten that thirst for knowledge of faraway places.  And I’ve never stopped looking for those amazing places where mythology and science converge.

They are not so rare as you might believe.

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Filed under Mythology, Science, Spiritual Journey, The Gods

The Astrology Post

I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about the things in which I believe, and very little time talking about the things which I don’t.  There are several good reasons for that, the primary one being, that I enjoy talking about my beliefs.  Talking about them helps me to explore them further, to poke and prod them, learning more about their depths and limitations.  It’s a big part of why I’m here.

On those occasions in which I write about the things I do not believe, it is typically because someone, somewhere, thinks my lack of belief is somehow an impediment to their own freedoms, or the American way, or something equally silly.

There are, however, those rare occasions, when I simply feel compelled to clear up certain assumptions that have been made along the way.

These assumptions do no real harm to me or mine.  They just cling there like some benign bacteria, ever present yet mostly invisible.

Yes, I said, “mostly invisible.”  If left alone for long enough, these assumptions may begin to grow and multiply.  Eventually, they start to itch.

I don’t believe in Astrology.

It’s not a big deal but it may come as a surprise to some people.

People have this strange tendency to think that if you believe in one thing that they consider “odd” you are far more likely to believe in all the other things that they consider “odd”.  Assumptions, it seems, do not come individually wrapped but rather appear in prepackaged assortments.

“Ah yes, you believe in mythological gods and magic, therefore you must also believe in Bigfoot, U.F.O’s and Pyramid Power.”

What the people making these assumptions fail to take into account is the primary commonality defining the items within the category is their own personal definition of the word “odd” (or “crazy” or “ridiculous” – exact phraseology, like milage, will vary).

The Humanists in the crowd will, at this point, start clearing their throats and muttering “scientifically provable” to each other along with ample back patting.  On the other side of the room, the particularly devout Christians will bang on that Astrology is a falsehood and a sin against god – this despite the fact that the Bible uses it as a proof for the divinity of Christ.  I’ll leave them all to it.  Which ever side you are on, it still comes down to what ‘you’ choose to believe and what ‘you’ choose to label as “other”.  Your criteria (however scientific or religious) are your own.

For me, Trickle-Down Economics, U.F.O’s, and Astrology, all fall into that “other” category along with Bigfoot.  Sure, there may be a few blurry photos and some questionable math, but nothing solid enough for me to really put my finger on.

If my goal here is to more clearly define my own beliefs, to myself and others, than I must also be clear about the things in which I do not believe.

And so, I don’t believe in Astrology.

Well, for the most part.

I mean, it’s not as if I don’t think there is ‘something’ to it.

I’ve dated and then been burned by too many Scorpios, to think there wasn’t some commonality there.  I just don’t see what it could have to do with the stars.

Yet, aside from the Sun and the Moon, our other planetary neighbors are so far away that their gravity, their magnetic fields (where such exist), and the minuscule quantity of reflected sunlight they bounce Earthward, could have no measurable effect upon us whatsoever.  Indeed, the other seven planets, Mercury thru Neptune, could wink out of existence this moment, taking poor Pluto along with them for old-times sake, and we wouldn’t even notice it had happened until the riots broke out at N.A.S.A.

I cannot think of a way in which it would matter what random grouping of unrelated stars the planet Jupiter was passing in front of at the moment of my birth.  I am a product of genetics and environment, not some imagined planetary confluence.

In Astrology Sagittarius is a Half-man, half-beast archer who is tutor to heroes. In Astronomy Sagittarius is a teapot. Conclusion: The most powerful science of all is Marketing! I mean seriously, a teapot!?

Or are we perhaps, thinking about the whole thing in entirely the wrong way?

What if we thought of the heavens in the same way we think of a clock.

We watch the hands as they move around, pointing at different combinations of numbers along their way.  We know that certain of these combinations correspond to our growing hungry or tired, but we never make the mistake of believing that these things are caused by the positions of the hands on a clocks face.

(Sit down Pavlov! I’m not talking to you.)

What if these patterns which seem to have some influence over personality type (among other things) have nothing to do with the movement of objects in the heavens except that such movements are regular enough to line up (however roughly) with whatever other patterns we may notice in our lives.

Correlation may not equal causation, but it’s still a handy tool for keeping track of things.

I just don’t know.

As a polytheist, it is in my nature to accept that not only are there multiple versions of the truth, but that sometimes multiple truths may stand in conflict.

This does not mean that I just accept any crazy idea that comes down the pike.

I would need to see a lot more evidence to make me believe that something like Astrology might actually work.  Until then, I’ll put it firmly in the ‘maybe’ column where it can keep Bigfoot company.

Pyramid Power and Trickle-Down Economics are still crazy.  That hasn’t changed.

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Filed under About this Blog, Divination, Modern Life, Science

Blinding Me With SCIENCE

The scientific method teaches us that the proper method of inquiry is to develop a hypothesis which we then test through repeated experiments.  We revise and we test, revise and test, until at last, we come to a conclusion.

What many people do not seem to realize is that the scientific method is only one of many possible forms of inquiry.  There are other ways to think, and to experience the universe.  These methods may not always be as orderly as science, but they have a way of taking us to interesting places and unexpected conclusions.

For example…,

Just lately, I have noticed a strange trend among my some of my friends and co-workers to shout the word “Science” at, what seems to me, only the slightest provocation.

I work in a technology field, dealing with a public who often lack a clear understanding of the principals behind the operation of their personal electronic devices.  More than once, I have heard a fellow employee punctuate his or her recollection of a customer interaction with an enthusiastic “Science!”  —  as if he or she had just demonstrated to the 15th century Catholic Church that the Earth was in orbit around the Sun.

And then there is social media, where (as just the most recent example) a friend’s Facebook update about watching the Perseid meteor shower garnered a reply of “Hell yeah, SCIENCE”.

Hell Yeah Science

Maybe I’m confused (or just too particular about meanings of the words I choose) but some people appear to be very confused about what the term ‘science’ actually means.

Science is not a thing, it is a process, a methodology, a filter for observing the world around us.

Science does not make meteors fall from the heavens and burn up in the atmosphere and unless you are using equipment to gauge the trajectory or composition of those falling bodies, you are not conducting science.

A falling meteor is reacting to the forces of inertia, gravitation and friction – not science.

A cellular phone operates through the transmission and reception of a particular frequency of electro-magnetic waves.  Those waves may have been discovered by scientists, but dialing a phone is no more an act of science than lighting a fire is an act of sorcery – for surely the first ancients to control fire and put it to use were considered great wizards or holy men by their brethren.

Now where was I?  Ah yes, SCIENCE!

As I have begun to notice the growing misuse of that word, the cheesy old Thomas Dolby song has become firmly wedged in my brain.

‘She Blinded Me With Science’

Check out the video!

Unable to successfully dislodge it from my weary mind, I gave in and started looking up facts about the song.  I quickly discovered that the old fellow in the video, the one who can be heard shouting “Science” throughout, is (rather was) a famous British scientist by the name of Magnus Pyke.

Think of him as an earlier, British version of ‘Bill Nye the Science Guy’.  Dr. Pyke was featured in several television programs throughout the 1970’s, becoming a minor media personality.

The interesting thing about his appearance in the Thomas Dolby song is that he came to deeply regret it.  For years after it’s release, people would run up to him in public and shout the word “Science” – an unwelcome annoyance, to be sure.

Continuing further down the rabbit hole, I also discovered that, while Dr. Pyke spent years trying to popularize scientific thought and principals, he was also quite dubious about the application of those principals in modern society.  In particular, he noted that the creature comforts offered through technology and the applied sciences tend to lure society away from individual freedom and that increased efficiency and productivity have a dehumanizing effect upon the population.

“The main body of the citizenry, the ‘workers’, are kept segregated from the drones … the children, the old and the idle … it has the effect of setting economic effort apart and dividing the day and the week into “work” and “everything else”.  This way of thinking has so deranged our minds that we have come to accept that only when we are actually carrying out paid industrial work are we serving our purpose on earth.  To minds so deformed, the things that ‘retired’ people do are not considered to be of value. They are empty, merely something to do.”

— Dr. Magnus Pyke

Dr. Pyke went so far as to suggest that certain pre-industrial societies were better suited to integrating scientific thinking into a more holistic worldview than what we have seen in the industrialized west.  This is a view I have long shared.

Interesting, is it not, the things we can discover when our search for knowledge is guided by intuition and insight rather than rigorous testing and modeling?

And actually, it sound to me as if the scientific community might not be that far behind.

“…And the trouble with a hypothesis is it’s your own best idea about how something works. And, you know, we all like our ideas so we get invested in them in little ways and then we get invested in them in big ways and pretty soon I think you wind up with a bias in the way you look at the data.  I think we have an over-emphasis now on the idea of fact and data and science … we work hard to get data. We work had to get facts, but we all know they’re the most unreliable thing about the whole operation.”

— Stuart Firestein, PhD 

The truth is, when you get past all the ‘wannabe science nerds’ that seem to be popping up in droves every time someone airs a rerun of ‘Big Bang Theory’ and talk to the people who are doing the actual science, it becomes clear that the public perception of what science ‘is’ is painfully skewed.

Science is not in the business of proving (or ‘disproving’ anything).  Science seeks only to investigate.  It is a yard stick that we set against a universe that defies measurement.  It can tell us many useful things about the world around us, but not everything, not ever.

Mobius Measure

Science!

One of my co-workers recently mentioned that his sister was suffering from headaches.  When he suggested to her that she see a doctor, she replied that she had made an appointment with a chiropractor.  He then complained to me that he, “would prefer she do something a little more “science-y”.

The good Dr. Magnus may have spun just a little faster in his grave.

Ah yes, let’s not look for the cause of the ailment.  Far better to just treat the symptom, and to place your trust in someone who is likely being paid by a multinational pharmaceutical company to prescribe their latest concoction.  Which science, I wanted to ask, was he looking for, Biology, Chemistry, or Economics?

“She blinded me with science!”

They raise science up, the monotheists and the atheists alike, as if she were their goddess.  I see the monotheists appealing to her daily, to rationalize their beliefs, to give them some grounding in truth.  The atheists appeal to her to sweep away anything that is not based on hard, cold fact.

Urania StatueIn Greek mythology, Urania, a daughter of Zeus, is the muse of Astronomy and Mathematics (the disciplines that would eventually become what we think of today as Science).  I wonder if she hears their many prayers and if she is puzzled by them.

I have sent many a prayer to her myself over the years, though I did not always know her name.

As a child, I worshipped her as I watched episode after episode of ‘Cosmos’ and ‘NOVA’, while reading ‘National Geographic’ and ‘Popular Science’ and when I spent my nights charting the movements of Jupiter’s moons through my telescope.  I worship her still, if a little less fervently than in my youth.  The difference, I suppose, is that over the years I have discovered that Urania is just one of the Muses, a single slice of the way in which we humans experience the ultimate mystery of our existence.

The truth, I believe, is that our understanding of the universe can never be complete, unless we embrace all the Muses, equally.

The world around us is more than mere data can define.

“It’s poetry in motion,
When she turned her eyes to me,
As deep as any ocean,
As sweet as any harmony,
Mmm – but she blinded me with science,
She blinded me with science,
And failed me in geometry.”

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Filed under Culture, Modern Life, Philosophy, Science