The God ‘n’ Science Question

213 - Lady of the SeaDon’t worry. I am not about to convert you to anything. Honest.

Cross my beer and hope to fly!

Sometimes, though, although I believe in God, I find that I feel closer to atheists than people from my own religion, and although this should be a ridiculous state of affairs, at least I can safely nip down the bar and have a few with an atheist without any fear that they will start an inappropriate witter about something they have heard and would like to repeat to me about God.

However, it is not the thinking of the Goddy-two-shoes that I wish to discuss here, but that of their direct cousins, the science-purists.

I recently made a comparison of belief in the one true God with the belief in the one true Math, especially as there are people who believe that anything beyond simple math is either magic or a cart load of cow end product. So, there are people who both believe in Math and state that it is an exact science, that one plus one is always two – even though this is often not true. Yes, one apple I buy down the market plus another one apple should, we hope, always equal two apples, but there is also a classic chemistry demonstration where you add one glassful of one liquid to one glassful of a second liquid and end up with less than 2 glassfuls of liquid. OK, it is due to the differences in molecular sizes of the liquid, but the point is that math is not true everywhere all the time, and when we discover it isn’t we have to change something in our understanding to make our belief in maths true again. And that is OK.

One of the many arguments I have heard why belief in any god is untrue is that religious stories are no more than histories and fictional stories. So what, I say, why do they have to be true? I used a story about apples earlier to describe an aspect of maths, but it was not a true, factual description of an actual event as I have never in my life bought any apples from any market. Does my fictional apple buying story prove that Math is not true? No, that would be silly, but so is disregarding any god based on a story about that god or his or her religion.

Science is not the rock-steady fixed thing which education often suggests, there are often no answers, many answers, or incorrect answers later becoming correct answers and vice versa. Up until a couple of centuries ago scientists believed that heat was a fluid and coldness a second fluid (the latter being made up of sharp particles, hence accounting for the ‘sting’ of cold). It was a great theory, something seemingly rock-solid that could be taught. It was only when someone observed a cannon being bored with a blunt tool that it was ‘proved’ that the boring tool could not possibly contain that much heat fluid to keep a cannon hot for days that Science moved on to a new Truth.

The point is that it is hard to arrive at a proof until we first have a belief. In a way, proofs are merely those beliefs that we can prove, or prove sufficiently well to convince people in our time, while scientists are people who have a set of beliefs that they wish to prove and accept both that they may never find their proof or discover proof that disproves their belief.

Belief is the glass we keep in the hope that one day it will be filled with our chosen beverage.

My loss of this feeling of the certainty of school-room science stems from my personal experience of life in research and development. I never could predict what new invention I would make, but every time it happened it rewrote part of my understanding of the world, of science. Life in research is often like standing on water that happens to be able to support you for that brief moment it passes under your feet as it flows from the chaos of the future towards the chaos of the past: science is not fixed, it is a continuity.

To be honest, I believe equally in God, interstellar travel and the continuance of mankind, even though I have proof for none of them. Do we all need to share the same beliefs in some kind of god any more than we share the same tastes in wine, women and song?


On the NATURE of bOXES

With all the fuss there is in some quarters about Big Data, I got to wonder how it related to my feelings of categorization.

I mean, I look out of my window and I see stuff.

I look at a Jackson Pollock and I see stuff.

Hrub 02 Market stallsBig Data sounds rather like yet another way of not admitting a rather uncomfortable truth – that we have spent way too much time talking about boxed content as if the boxes always had meaning, and their actual substance and arrangement less.

Look at it this way: what is a beer glass? Whatever answer you choose you can be sure it will always be inadequate, because a beer glass contains infinity – sadly only in its description rather than content. If it were the other way around I probably would not be here writing to you, and you might not be there to read the nothing that I might have written, our present existence might be nothing more than a blurry wish. Or not.

Whether we keep our beer glasses boxed in a category or distributed around the convenient surfaces of our house or apartment, they seem to remain a constant, a fixed reality, objects we can take in our hand , separate from any other object, fill, empty. However, just as we cannot have existed without our full complement of ancestors, that beer glass we are so dreamily caressing cannot exist without all the beer and liquid containers that have gone before it and alongside it, nor indeed without our enduring memory. That beer glass can only exist because enough of the other beer glasses have existed, as well as beer and whatever came before beer, and money, and all the things that exist today around the world that we use as containers for things, including that jam jar of wild flowers or that box of computer components lashed to a camel in a barless desert.

Our class or category called ‘beer glasses’, and the specific item in our hands are nothing but part of a continuum, a dream of our existence, the physical representation nothing more than a picture of a  pebbly beach on the shore of a greater existence. In other universes they may never have existed.

We have barely begun to explore the connections yet. Our glass is the daughter of a materials industry, an ancient parent, one of many, a marriage of mixed ages, including manufacturing, sales, advertising, brewing and design, and many other, less obvious donors, but all helping to suspend our little glass in a web of fields streaming out into the past and future. More significant than any of these is our decision through time to participate in drinking, without this then our glass would never have existed and continued to exist.

The point is, all of this has existed throughout time, the difference now is not especially the ability to process large amounts of data, but that those with the knack of processing data in non-classical ways can meet, and those without it cannot but notice that there are people who can. Non-classical data processing is no longer something one can simply pretend does not exist, that such an analyst is lying about their methods.

Apples fell from trees before Newton, but after one could not pretend that there was no force to ensure that they always fell.

Big Data? Big Excuse, more like 😉

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