Wednesday, January 28, 2009

People R Crazy

I was really happy to see the discussion generated by my ongoing series of posts over at DISCOVER. Much of it is really thoughtful and it's encouraging to see the depth which so many people consider their own thinking on the subject. At its best consideration of science and religion as a subject is really about people confronting the deepest questions of meaning humans can encounter. Lets face it. Life is weird. Being here is weird. Amidst the sorrow and the beauty and the horror and small joys our capacity to to stop and consider the world-in-and-of-itself, to ask what this is and what it means, must certainly count as one "better angel" of our nature.

At the same time in some responses you can see the shadow in us. There is a need for certainty that emerges for some when these questions are touched that is rigid and shuts out the capacity to learn. I love science for its simple ethic of 'stay awake' and 'be suspicious of your preconceptions'. While it may surprise my scientific colleagues to hear me say this, I found the same spirit in many of those who are authentic in their religious life, who find their sincere attempts to live compassionately and with wisdom emerging from their own sense of a deeper weaving to the fabric of the world. That is what makes those people so interesting to me as a scientist (and a friend, acquaintance, etc)

It is sad that for too many people the discussion is not about humility before the great mystery but a kind of steamroller that "they know". I always find this perplexing and unfortunate and it also clearly is the root of a lot of the world's suffering. In the end being human is a creative act of creating meaning from our observations and our lived response to the world. Its so much richer when you don't bring your preconceptions or your demands to the easel before you start to paint.

A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.

The Tao Te Ching
Translated by Stephen Mitchell

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Overviews of the Overview

The next in my series of posts for Discover can be found here.

There is some feedback I am getting about the meaning and the choice of words - a sense that there is something inherently dangerous about words like "sacred". Hopefully people will read those chapters in the book where I spend some time on the way that word has changed over time and why I lean on it so heavily. I will certainly do a post on it soon.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Ongoing Discovery

I will doing a series of posts for DISCOVER magazine on my favorite topic (well other than why Tom Waits should be made a saint).

You can find the post here

Sunday, January 25, 2009

After the Party

Last night after my friend Gregory van Maanen's opening at the Memorial Art Gallery, a bunch of friends hung out and talked about Obama and the road ahead. Everyone was excited about the future - which seems like a new emotion in itself after the disaster of the last 8 years. The degree to which we all have our hopes pinned on this guy was itself a topic of conversation with the inevitable question - is he god? Well, OK, that was the joke floating around the table. Hence the appearance of this blog post.

I am struck by the fact that there are periods of history when relatively enlightened leadership can produce a flourish of culture. Hellenistic Greece, Renaissance Italy, the great Persian empires, the Tang dynasty. Those moments in history when leadership understands the importance of learning and its relation to the wealth and health of the nation echo down centuries and serve as examples of the best humanity can achieve. After 8 years of leadership that seemed to have no curiosity, that was openly hostile to science when it did not support its ideology, that was blind to the link between learning and national well being, it seems reasonable to look at the change and wonder how we got so lucky.

The new administration has a lot on its plate and it will be a wild ride as we watch to see if their policies gain any traction in dealing with the profound difficulties facing the nation and the planet. But one thing is clear - science is once again being put in its proper place as a source of strength in the deepest sense of the word. If the words are backed up with actions, and if those actions are linked with a broader understanding of science in human culture, then perhaps we might witness something like the flourishing of creativity and imagination that has been seen in the past.

Its a lot to hope for but really, in the end, it will be what not just be politics but we all bring to the table. Golden age anyone?