Multiple Enthusiasms

Infinite jest. Excellent fancy. Flashes of merriment.

Tag: science

Love this.

I’ve read a lot about all the people who are worried that CERN’s upcoming activation of the Large Hadron Collider on Wednesday is going to either:

a) destroy the world,

b) open up the gate to hell, which will destroy the world, or

c) create a microblackhole, which will suck the Earth through it, which will (you guessed it) destroy the world.

Obviously, all this speculation has a common denominator:

that, according to Brian Cox, a professor at Manchester University, anyone who believes any of it is a ‘twat.’

Which is awesome.  I’m so tired of ignorant people who claim that both sides of any argument need to be given some attention.  This is why the creation/evolution argument is still a debate; people want to be tolerant of other people’s views/beliefs, whether those beliefs are inherently ignorant or not (they are).

Scientists get death threats over Large Hadron Collider – Telegraph.

This morning, I talked to my brother. My brother and I have a sometimes somewhat awkward relationship; he’s a “Born Again” Christian (I suppose my mother didn’t do a good enough job the first time?), and I’m, quite obviously, not. I don’t know what I’d call myself, actually, mainly because if I could sum up my faith easily I wouldn’t be writing a book about it (but I can’t, and so I am). When my brother and I speak, we usually try to set aside topics of religion and politics so that we can, you know, smile at each other and mean it.

Over the course of catching up (Christmas might well have been the last time we spoke. If not, sometime in the early spring?), I learned that he’s shortly going to be teaching science, math, and history at a middle school or somesuch. I didn’t get all the particulars.

But I wonder: how can a born-again Christian possibly teach either history or science? I’m fairly certain my brother believes two things:

1) God created the entire universe, from scratch, in six days, and

2) He did so approximately 6,000 years ago.

Now, mind you, I have nothing against the story of Creation, and of Adam & Eve. As fables go, it ranks up there with Aesop in its simplicity, message, and ability to teach young’uns a thing or two. Personally, I tend to think that one of the things that can tell you most about about a particular culture is its Creation story. Many of the tribes originally on this continent believed that the world was born on the back of a turtle emerging from the mud. Pretty much every culture has its own.

The Christian creation story seems to be one of arrogance and domination. Man created separately from beasts and in the image of a deity, and then handed dominion over all the land (and we wonder that the environment is currently buggered). It’s very little surprise Bush considers himself a born-again Christian.

I wonder about the curriculum. Didn’t some Kansas school board vote a couple of years ago about whether to give equal representation to both the science of evolution and the story of Intelligent Design (about which there is nothing intelligent whatsoever; if God does, in fact, exist, God does so in a way that transcends such an adjective as ‘intelligent,’ anyway).

The thing is, I do think everything in schools should be given equal representation, just not in the ways most boards attempt to implement it. I think we should start teaching children about the nature of myths and stories early. Like, in kindergarten, or even preschool, and I think that, when we teach children about creation, we should tell them every story of creation we still have on record. I think children should learn that God created the world in six days and that it came into being born on the back of a turtle (to name but two creation stories), because I think in so learning, they will begin to understand the real origins and meanings of stories. I think it will make richer their relationships with each other, and throughout life.

And then, when they are ready to learn more about physics and evolution and biology and reproduction, they will understand the science of it but still appreciate more subtle meanings. The child who learns how science works in equal measure to why we tell the stories we value might just change the world.

I went to an information session today at Regis University, a Jesuit institution in northern Denver. I think it’s best I didn’t manage to get into the University of Denver’s PhD program, but I still want to continue schooling somewhere. Thing is, there are two options now, both with Regis.

The first is another MBA, this time in religious studies. I’m fascinated by religion in all ways, but more important, I sense something right now. See, I’m thinking specifically of guys like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, both of whom wrote mega-bestselling books concerning the fact that religion is, at its heart, a bad idea.

But I think there’s a foundation for all religious thought and pursuit, really. Personally, I don’t believe there’s any difference between a spell, a prayer, and a meditation session; all are, at their bases, pretty much mainly modes of positive thinking. Same thing with that The Secret book from last year or so.

The problem, I think, is that Harris and Hitchens lack a scientific background, and are approaching religion from a mainly philosophical/ethical point of view.

Which is fine, of course.

But I think it misses some very huge things. I honestly think that the fact that most people believe in something of a divine nature has some substantive argument to it. But most of all, I think the more one examines biology and quantum electromechanics and physics, the more one starts to not just believe but realize that there’s something greater going on.

Einstein himself said that religion without science is lame, but science without religion is blind.

And I think there’s something there.

So I could, in theory, design a degree in something like scientific deology (they’re not allowed to use the word “theology,” apparently, for some Arch-Diocesan reason [okay, so there’s a spot where Hitchens and Harris have a point]), and ultimately produce a book I’m planning, called Godology, on the application of the scientific method to areas including God and the afterlife.

Or, I could go for an MBA. Which would really sort of be the first practical degree I could actually use I’d be earning.

And the thing is, it’s not a question of passion or love or whathaveyou, because just the existence of this blog and all I’ve done related to writing is evidence of how I’m fascinated by marketing and branding. I’m aiming for “Entrekin” to become a brand every bit as much as Crichton and King and Gaiman are. I’m not solely concerned with the airy-fairy artsy-fartsy aspect of writing, which is the most major reason I chose USC to study writing; it was about professional writing. About the craft of it yes, but also about selling it.

Because I’ll be honest; I’m not solely trying to write the best books I can. I’m also trying to get them to as many readers as I possibly can.

And part of that is marketing. Part of that is both about analyzing target audience and then reaching it.

So this weekend, I’ve got some figuring out to do. I think, ultimately, the MBA is probably more practical, and I’ll certainly write Godology anyway.

Over the weekend, I caught an article at The New York concerning Jill Bolte Taylor, a Harvard neuroscientist who claims to have experienced nirvana when she had a stroke. She’s written a memoir called My Stroke of Insight, which was just published by Viking, about the experience.

Basically, according to the article, which means, I assume, according to Taylor, after a blood vessel in her brain burst, her left hemisphere began to fail her. Doctors who operated found a golf-ball sized clot in her head and removed it. After surgery and eight years of recovery, apparently, Taylor is basically fully recovered, continues to study neuoroanatomy at Harvard, and wrote her book.

She had been a neuroscientist prior to her stroke, her work concentrating on the different functions the left and the right brain perform. Scientists attribute logic, ego, and perception of time to the left brain (or, at least, Taylor does), with the right brain taking care of creativity and empathy. Taylor believes that cutting her off from her left brain forced her to accept the consciousness of her right brain, which created that heightened sense of empathy, cultivated a sense of blissful nirvana, and, even, allowed her to:

see that the atoms and molecules making up her body blended with the space around her; the whole world and the creatures in it were all part of the same magnificent field of shimmering energy.

Which is fascinating. I’ve always been fascinated by it, anyway. A friend of mine, Richard Cox, even wrote a novel called The God Particle, which includes a sort of shimmering energy field as a plot point (it’s a good novel, too, although I’ve always liked his first, Rift, better.

I’m a little . . . well, confused isn’t quite the word for the science mentioned in the article, but I think I understood the brain and how it worked differently. For example, I knew the left brain and the right brain generally control different functions, but I thought scientists had proven that people don’t use one or the other but rather both in tandem years ago. It reminds me of what I had thought was an old wives’ tale about how we human beings only use 10% of our brains; while it may be technically accurate at any one time, the 10% we use changes according to the activities we are performing. I’ve always though I suck at math mainly because I write so much; I can feel that doing math requires thinking differently than I’m used to.

Then again, I tend to be a mostly happy person, and I wonder if that’s because I spend more time thinking using the areas of the brain that contribute to this “nirvana” Bolte Taylor is writing about. Who says:

Today, she says, she is a new person, one who “can step into the consciousness of my right hemisphere” on command and be “one with all that is.”

And she certainly looks happy.

But something else in the article caught my attention, first in the way it was treated and second in what it means for Bolte Taylor; Bolte Taylor’s brother was diagnosed with brain disorder schizophrenia (according to her page; I’ll link at the end of this post). According to the article’s second page:

Originally, Dr. Taylor became a brain scientist — she has a Ph.D. in life sciences with a specialty in neuroanatomy — because she has a mentally ill brother who suffers from delusions that he is in direct contact with Jesus. And for her old research lab at Harvard, she continues to speak on behalf of the mentally ill.

So, apparently, if a blood vessel bursts in your brain, causing a golf ball-sized clot that cuts you off from your left hemisphere, you get to experience nirvana and the unity of the universe, as well as perceive the shimmering energy field that includes all the atoms and molecules in your body, before you sell a book about the experience to Viking, go on speaking tours, and receive fan mail from all the people who believe in what you’re saying, but if you’re in direct contact with Jesus, you have delusional, brain disorder-based schizophrenia and are mentally ill.

There’s a huge disconnect there, I think.

Now provided, I don’t know about Bolte Taylor’s brother one way or the other. I don’t know what direct contact with Jesus means, nor what Jesus is telling him through said direct contact.

But I will note that, from my three years working as an editor of a clinical psychiatric nursing journal, I could swear I’ve read theories that mental illness can be genetic and run in families.

I know I’m backhandedly implying Bolte Taylor has a mental illness here, but really I’m being disengenuous, for a very specific reason: I tend to believe there might be something to her experience and her perceptions, and what bothers me is the disconnect between the way the media (and perhaps the scientific community) and certainly that article treats her experience versus her brother’s. The article is full of careful explanation and detail describing both her symptomatology and the physiological, neurological, and psychological effects thereof, but when it comes to her brother, he is “mentally ill” and “suffers from delusions.” I get that further mention of his illness or its symptoms are probably both beyond the point and scope of the article, or perhaps even that Bolte Taylor didn’t want to talk too much about it, but you’d think it would have been at least a little more sensitive.

Really, though, it reminds me of this comic by Lore Sjoberg:

(you can find others by clicking on the comic, and find more by Sjoberg here)

Here’s that link to Bolte Taylor’s book I promised. It certainly looks interesting.

What do you think? Of Bolte Taylor’s experience, the science behind it, or the article? I’m really curious to know what other people think of questions regarding science and faith. Is contact with Jesus really less believable than nirvana via a burst brain vessel?

I’ve mentioned religion and faith a couple of times before, albeit in extraordinarily roundabout ways; I remember the first was simply to note that I had completely missed the fact that Ash Wednesday had come and gone and Lent was nearly already over, Easter more than halfway here. This isn’t really because I’ve rediscovered Catholicism after a many-years lapse–rather, I think I often just saw people with ashes on their foreheads. This past Ash Wednesday, I don’t think I had occasion to go anywhere or see anyone, and so I didn’t notice.

I bring this up because faith was one of the things I wanted to explore in greater detail when I started this blog. I was raised Catholic, and though I’d lapsed by high school, still I went to a Jesuit college, where I studied biology. The life sciences. Physics and chemistry and genetics. While I will note that I never had a priest for a science teacher, back then, I will also note that I remember all my teachers wore their ashes proudly when Wednesday came around. I learned about phylogeny recapitulating ontogeny (or vice-versa; truthfully, I can never remember, because truthfully, I never actually understood what it meant) from a woman who took communion. When I studied theology, Robert Kennedy taught not just the Bible from Genesis to Revelations but also Hobbes, Hume, Dante, and Joyce. I actually read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man for a theology class.

My senior year, I began work on a novel about time travel. I had an idea for where it would end, but for a long while, never for how it got there; when I realized that Jesus of Nazareth might have a role as a character, I fought it–I didn’t want the book noticed for its controversy rather than for its story.

One of the most formative moments of my life was when one of my characters surprised me and I realized I didn’t have any choice in the matter. Not just because it was the first time a character didn’t merely take on a life of his own so much as actually fought with me, but also because it forced me to go back there. Back to Jerusalem (however metaphorically speaking), back to Jesus and the crucifixion. In order to get it right, I did a lot of research, reading just about every Jesus-related book I could find.

During the process, I became closer to the idea of Christ and God. Not in the Biblical sense of either word, but both ideas as I perceived them, and in that distinction there is, I believe, a very crucial difference.

I’ve been reading a lot about the recent spate of anti-religious books by guys like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. A lot of books that seem to speak about the evils of organized religion but ultimately fail, I believe, to address why faith exists in the first place.

Faith, I believe, is a story. It is one we construct by living, and I think, like all stories, it has come over the years to tap into our deepest realms of psyche. I think these books fail, finally, to explore faith, focusing instead on the negation of belief, religion, and dogma, which, while arguably a worthwhile goal in the day and age of extremists of all kinds, does not actually engage the topic in the meaningful fashion it deserves.

Where they failed, however, they left room enough for someone to try, which is what I plan to do.