Posts Tagged ‘Spirituality’

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RIP Ray Bradbury

June 6, 2012

I just heard that Ray Bradbury passed away today, at the age of 91. He was one of the first four science fiction authors I read when I was young, along with Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke.

From RAH I learned how to conduct myself as a  human being, from Asimov to think far into the future, from Clarke the excitement of what could happen in my lifetime, and from Bradbury – that the future would not be without poetry. He was the less technical of those four by far, but the one with the best gift for words; his writing was less about the science and more about the wonder. He was less my favorite when I was in my “extremely technical” phase, but later I came to appreciate his work far more.

Much later, of course, I learned to love Harlan Ellison’s work, but Harlan is…something else. Perhaps Ellison is sort of the anti-Bradbury, in a good way!

Anyway, I’m sorry to hear of his passing. Now all of those big four are gone. I hope, for him, that “Mars is Heaven.” I’m sure he would like to be there, or in his beloved Waukegan of his childhood.

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Does God Exist?

November 16, 2011
bubble universes

Bubble Universes visualized in journalofcosmology.com

I’ve been doing some interesting research for a novel I’m writing.  (More on that, maybe, in another post.) It concerns quantum physics and even smaller things – string theory, branes, theories of 10- or 11-dimensional space-time, multiple universes – all sorts of what can be considered either cutting-edge physics and cosmology or crazy crap.

I confess I came to the whole quantum physics stuff late. In high school we got “classical” physics, down to the electron, proton and neutron. I didn’t take a college science class (Yea music degree!) so I didn’t get anything there. Most of what I got was from science fiction I read, and the science fact articles I’ve absorbed through the years from Analog or other magazines.

Parallel to this I was a kid growing up in small-town Ohio in the Sixties in a German-Lutheran environment, religiously speaking. The Lutheran Church there had not yet been changed by the inclusion of Scandinavian influences. I’ve always thought that the Church I grew up in was closer to old-school Roman Catholicism that the Catholic Church was in the Sixties. Minus that transubstantiation stuff, of course.

These two viewpoints always kind of fought in my head. Is there a God? Is He a personal God? If I pray to Him, does He hear me? Does he answer prayers? How do I reconcile my religious upbringing with, not Darwinism, but cosmology, which was trying to determine how the whole universe started.

What was here before there was a here? If the universe was created from a Big Bang, how did that happen? And why? I’ve always felt that the intense study of the Big Bang and what happened immediately after it, while extremely valuable, ignored the more basic question: what was there before it occurred?

Now there are scientists who are saying that maybe our universe has collided with others. (Also see here.) Some believe that branes have collided, or that gravity, weak in our 4-dimensional view, could be very strong in another dimension or set of dimensions. Others are seeking to understand why the universe seems to be perfectly set up for life to exist.

None of these, nor superstring theory or it’s successors using branes, really refers to why things are the way they are. They just seek to describe what they are. If strings exist at the Planck length (or less) it may be impossible to ever detect them directly. God may just not want us to look that far “behind the curtain.”

The more we know about the very small, the more we can determine about the very large. The Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland is supposed to whack protons together so hard as to produce energies never before seen on Earth. There was an unfounded concern it would create a black hole that would ultimately eat the Earth. The smaller you want to observe, the greater the energy required. That may put a limit on what we can detect.

Instead of looking at this from the “blind watchmaker” angle, let’s look at it from the point of view that there is some kind of intelligence that is extra-universal. It exists outside of our universe but can perceive what happens in our universe. Perhaps it influences how our universe began. Is this the vengeful Yahweh of the Hebrews? Is this a being that cares about us at all as individual solar systems, as planets, let alone as individual people?

I don’t know. In an infinite set of universes, being created and collapsing, eventually there will be one that will have exactly the physical characteristics necessary for life to evolve. (If you wait long enough, those million monkeys will eventually type all of Shakespeare.)

I was going to say, “Are we lucky enough to be the only ones who live in that universe?” What popped into my head was, “Are we the only ones blessed with living in that universe?”

I have to confess that God nowadays seems a bit close-mouthed about things. Back a few thousand years ago he would talk to people, or smite somebody, and demonstrate he was there. Now we look for anything that might be somehow made to fit into our beliefs. I’ve got a couple of incidents myself (which I will not relate here). Is it just our evolved predator brains, looking for patterns where there are none?

I just can’t believe that. If there is some kind of intelligence outside of our universe that tweaked the parameters of our universe so that suns and planets could form, so that water and carbon and other elements could exist and combine in certain ways, and so that ultimately life, sentient life, could come to be – I’m calling it God. Does He listen to my prayers? If He can design a universe, why not? If He went to all the trouble to make the universe balance so we could exist, why wouldn’t He take an interest in His creations?

What happens outside of our universe? Are there more universes? How many more? An infinite number? At what point does the multiverse become self-aware? 

I think the problem with atheism is that it is thinking too small. “I can’t see it, or smell it, or touch it, so it can’t exist.” I think the ideas of what is outside of our universe, how our universe began and how it might end, and how it is built at its fundamental level all tell me it was designed for us. God did want companionship. Perhaps trillions of trillions of companions. Perhaps the multiverse is self-aware and is looking after its component parts, which it labored long and hard to build in a certain way.

Now: let’s say the multiverse idea is correct. What’s outside of the multiverse?

A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!” 

— Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time

"It's turtles, all the way down!"

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Little musings…

August 7, 2011

Thoughtful cat is thoughtful.

I realized the other day that for the first time in 45 years, I’ve hardly thought about music (in terms of performing it) at all in the last two months. Now, there have been a few other things going on, of course, but usually either playing, teaching, or writing music has been in there someplace even during the summer. This year I’ve really been away from it. It feels very, very odd now that I’ve noticed it.

Some stories should be savored. I read pretty fast, and I think sometimes I don’t enjoy fiction as much as I could because I’m reading the book too fast. I’ve been listening to the audiobook of the new Jim Butcher book about Harry Dresden the Chicago wizard, “Ghost Story,” as I’ve been driving around to the places where I’ve been training people this week. If I had spent the same time with the actual book I would have been finished with it by now. I think I’m enjoying it a lot more this way. I don’t know if that would be true of all books for me, but for these it certainly has been.

A lot of what is going on in this particular Harry Dresden book has to do with memories. I think I remember stuff just about like everybody else, but in fiction people have this recall that sounds like they suddenly have a video playback of the event in their heads. I can’t see an event in that way, not even with my eyes closed and trying to block out distractions. I can get some vague shapes, but that’s about it. I seem to remember voices better, even some smells and certainly emotions from the event. But see it in my mind? Nope. Nikola Tesla was supposed to be able to visualize his inventions in full color and three dimensions before he ever built them. He said he saw them as clearly as physical objects, was able to rotate them, disassemble them, basically do what we can do with 3D CAD software today. I always had a lot of respect for the amazing genius of Tesla but I think if I actually met him he would freak me out. Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain was a friend, and he didn’t seem to be frightened of him, though. Anyway, can everybody else recall events in such detail? Is it just me who is memory-blind to a certain extent? For example, I can recall certain events from when I was a child. I don’t know how much of what I think members of my family looked like is because I really remember and how much is from photos I’ve seen since.

Why are Japanese beetles so danged hard to kill?

My brain is done for now. That’s all I can think about for a while. I believe I’ll go pet a cat…

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Happy New Year musings

December 31, 2010

I’m writing this about an hour before midnight on New Year’s Eve. I know that the passing of one day and the start of the next means no more today than it does any other day, but humans are time-binding animals, and we seem more comfortable if we can divide things into manageable units.

Years are such units. Of course, the Earth’s orbit does that for us, but we could still just think of the passage of time as seasons or something else. Maybe just “many moons” would be enough.

But we believe in marking the passing of time by years. And in that marking, we have set this date as the changing of the years. So I go with it.

Why all this? Because I’ve heard for a long time platitudes like “I hope this year is better than last.” I never really thought of that as being a sentiment I would embrace until now. I’ve always looked to the future, and I’ve been mostly optimistic about what the future might hold for my family. We’ve had good years and bad years, but I have to say that 2010 was probably the most challenging I can remember. From the passing of my brother early in the year to my wife’s job difficulties, this has been one of those years I would not care to repeat.

There were wonderful things as well, of course. While the loss of my brother has struck all of us hard, I think it has brought our family closer than we have been in many years. Our granddaughters are a constant source of delight of me. They are truly blessings from God. I really think I understand the meaning of that phrase now.

My wife’s job difficulties, like mine that started four years ago, appear to actually be turning out for the better. It didn’t make it easier to go through, and we’re not out of the woods yet, but in the long term it looks like things will be better.

Family and faith in God will get you through almost anything, though. I really do believe that. I don’t think I want to test “God won’t give you anything you can’t handle.” I’d rather not find out how much He thinks I can handle. At least, not this year.

And I wish a good year to all of you in 2011!

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Merry Christmas!

December 25, 2009

From the Gospel of St. Luke:

1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. 2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) 3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) 5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. 6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. 18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

Ref.: here

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

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Science Fiction and Christianity

April 1, 2009

neo_heroWhile I was looking around on the City Journal web site (see post below), I found a piece about Science Fiction and Christianity, by Benjamin Plotinsky. He talks about the major SF books and films with Christ-like figures, from Star Wars to The Matrix to Dune.

I thought this piece was interesting in light of my previous post about the role of religion, or at least spirituality, in Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galactica. In B5 it was always pretty obvious where JMS was going, at least that he was going to explore “alternate explanations” for common religious beliefs. In BSG it was more subtle for a long time. As the show played and Baltar increasingly talked about God, it was unclear if this would be significant or just the ramblings of a guilt-ravaged man who was living with the knowledge that he had betrayed the entire human race.

It was significant, and not in the way I expected. I alternately expected it to come to nothing, or a shining-light-in-the-sky kind of revelation about who the Cylon God would be. Ron Moore left us hanging without answering those questions, to an extent. However, the discussions I’ve seen on line about the end of the show dealt more with the fact that the Galacticans seemed to reject all technology and allow themselved to fall into savagery than how the Cylons influenced their religious beliefs. Maybe I’m not reading the right forums!

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It’s All About God’s Love – Battlestar Galactica Finale

March 21, 2009

battlestar22806a WARNING: Post contains spoilers for those who have not seen the finale! Read at your own risk!

Who would have though Ron Moore was a religious guy? Even in a non-denominational, non-single religion way?

The finale brought us quality CGI battle scenes, lots of ammo spent, a couple of standoffs, murder and suicide, some tearful moments (for me, not just the characters), and, for the show, a pretty happy ending. It also left some questions about The Bigger Things: Head Six and Head Baltar are angels? Sort of, anyway. And what was Starbuck?

Moore sheds a little light on it in the interview you can read here. The last hour felt odd to me, because once again the planet had a definite visual feel to it. Old Caprica was pretty much shot normally, with no color alterations. New Caprica was shot to look very washed-out all the time. Real Earth (Earth #1?) was blue-gray; a visual cinder. New Earth’s colors were oversaturated, and I swear some of the clouds were CGI to make it look even more pristine than normal. Maybe that was all done to convince us that British Columbia looks like prehistoric Tanzania. I think it was definite decision to make it feel brighter, happier, and filled with promise.

Thanks, Ron, for not ending the series any darker. We needed to “play them out with music at the end,” as Heinlein would say. The fact that they would all soon be scratching out a menial existence was enough.

babylon5_01_1280x1024

I want to make sure we remember J. Michael Strazynski and Babylon 5 at this moment. Without B5 and its groundbreaking use of story arc we could never have had BSG. (By the way, the original B5 Lurker’s Guide is still up, thank the Great Maker.) I know, other shows have done story arcs, but four years?  Lost, maybe. It’s still a tough sell to a network, I’m sure. But B5 was where TV science fiction grew up, and storytelling because more than the monster-of-the-week.

Ron Moore tried to make BSG relevant to the questions of our day, as did Gene Roddenberry in his original vision of Star Trek. In large part, he succeeded. He knew that the majority of his audience was going to be held by the character development. He apparently had no concerns that the audience would be unable to suspend their disbelief about the underpinnings of the show, such as  what makes a Cylon a Cylon. As far as we could see, they were human. One, because of God’s Love, was even able to have a child with a human. Where’s the machinery?  Moore always tried to avoid the nerdiness factor that could have doomed the show…but I guess I’m that nerd, because I’d like a little more reason to believe Cylons were at least partly non-human. Maybe “The Plan,” the prequel movie Edward James Olmos directed and which will air next fall, will tell us. But I doubt it. I would expect it was written more to bridge to the prequel series, “Caprica.” Maybe we will learn more there.

Title - Battlestar GalacticaAnd what ever happened to the Centurions? Are they still out there? Did they build a machine civilization? Are they V’ger? Are they the Borg? I hope not. I expect something better of our favorite toasters!

EDIT, supplemental:

Here is a link to Maureen Ryan’s interview with Ron Moore and her thoughts on the finale from the Chicago Tribune: link

She caused me to remember a couple of other points:

First, JMS was (and is, I supposed) an avowed atheist. In fact, he used to work for Madelyne Murray O’Hair’s atheist magazine. His picture of the universe included “Old Ones,” beings who apparently moved to the End of the Universe after they tired of reality and playing the game. He also made the mysterious alien Kosh as the kind of being humans had interpreted as angels, and the Shadows as demons, or at least as the creatures who kindled such mythology. He resurrected his main character without telling much about how. He was willing to say there were things We Could Not Yet Understand, but he didn’t make them completely unknowable…just that we weren’t there yet. It was a sort of an explanation of the bases of man’s religions that traded some scientific Mysteries for spiritual ones. Was that really a trade? JMS left that open-ended. There were many religious references and discussions within the show. To JMS’ credit, he always treated them with great respect. I always thought of him as more of an agnostic…the show seemed on one level to be JMS trying to work out what was to him a reasonable belief system.

6a00d834518cc969e201156e31a4bf970c-800wiRon Moore, as you can see from the two interviews referenced above, was not that subtle. Some Things We Cannot Know, and may never know…at least on this side of reality. (Anders to the departing Kara Thrace: “See you on the other side.”) I never made a connection of a sort of Holy Trinity about the show, but in a way it was very true. Kara was very much a Holy Spirit at the end. I think Moore’s characters are in some way more aware of their importance to the human race, because there is so little of it left, and very unaware of their lasting influence. They are just trying to survive and do the right thing, with little time for reflecting on the big picture…unless they end the reflection pretty much roaring drunk.

The main characters JMS established in B5 were aware of their importance – world leader, emissary, religious icon, leader of all sapient creatures (!). They often acted accordingly. And yet the show was about the characters, just as BSG was. G’Kar was my favorite on B5, and I just realized there are parallels with my favorite BSG character…Starbuck. Hmm. Maybe these two series aren’t as different as I first thought…