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Monday, May 3, 2010

Reflection 14: Don't Stop Believing

I spent this past weekend reading Krista Tippet's Einstein's God, Weber's Vocation Lectures and Look to Windward. To my surprise, they all kind of complemented each other.

Look to Windward was a fascinating book and it was probably the best way to conclude our semester-long exploration on how to contact beings so different from ourselves. But I guess, how and in what form contact happens is equally important as who should carry out the initial contact. I guess, I will therefore have to follow Ellen Arroway's example and assume that if the aliens contact us in the language of science, then we should not talk to them about our prophets at first instance. However, it is possible that in any given circumstance contact may go unnoticed, as in K-pax. Perhaps we have been contacted many years ago and given vast amounts of technology well beyond our capabilities and we owe our civilization to a superior civilization. It is also possible that we are being studied and when global warming reaches a certain level, we will be contacted again. In any case we should not actively sit and wait for a contact to take (or not take) place.

I think Weber's Science as a vocation should have been one of the required readings we discussed in class. However, it almost feels as if we read it, for most of what we read and discussed tiptoed around Weber's Science as a Vocation lecture. In his lecture Weber contrasts the American and the German paths in becoming a faculty member, and explains how not every scholar is not a teacher (real story) and proceeds to his discussion about having an inner vocation- the actual subject of his lecture. He submits that "in the realm of science, the only person to have "personality" is the one who is wholly devoted to his subject." Furthermore, one who accepts to wholly devout him/herself to his subject should also accept to become obsolete in the years to come.With every progress, science supersedes itself. What interests me most about Weber's lecture is his conclusion that "the growing process of intellectualization and rationalization (to which he calls the "process of disenchantment")   does not  imply a growing understanding of the conditions under which we live" (12). He takes this point further and says that science is meaningless because "it has no meaning to the only question that matters to us: What shall we do? How shall we live?"(17). Science, according to Weber, can provide us with methods of thought and clarity and comes with its presuppositions (which makes me think of Palmer in Contact). Along with Weber's line of thought, the best possible encounter experience would probably be of D.W. Yarbrough's, given his scholarly attitude of not letting his beliefs to evangelize any aliens. So I think, I wouldn't mind having D.W. in a potential crew.

I really enjoyed taking this class, and I am looking forward to next semester when I'll be taking changing views of the universe. Hopefully, I will be presented other opportunities to spend more time studying social science fiction.

 Take away lessons from this semester? Here are a couple:
1. We cannot isolate ourselves from outside world, because we are surrounded.
2. We cannot isolate ourselves from ourselves, because there is no escape.
3. Communication or understanding is no panacea for conflict. 
4. Final frontier is none other than the walls of our own imagination.

I'll leave you with two quotes:

Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.
 ~ Voltaire
 Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away. 
~ Philip K. Dick

Don't stop believing.

Look No Further

I guess I liked Look to Windward, for the same reason I liked Caprica: I am really fond of the idea of being able leave a little bit of me after I die. And when I say "die," I mean experiencing a physical death not a spiritual / mental death. However, I have to agree with Phil that, soulkeepers are not holding the authentic copy. Back in high school when I was preparing for my art exam, one of the exercises I had to go through was "repetition & variation." I remember drawing a number of apples, from different angles, different techniques and etc. Ultimately what I was drawing was the same apple but in each trial I was capturing a small nuance. So I think, I agree with Phil that the soulkeepers are exposed to some form of variation with every form they come to contain.

I have been hooked on this mind/body split since the Sparrow and I read a chapter in Krista Tippet's new book Einstein's God over this weekend where Dr. Mehmet Oz was talking about healing process being a mental and a physical process, and how one's close relatives can play just as an important role in the healing process as science/medication itself. He proposes that the mind and body need to be healed simultaneously, and in different ways. Only then a patient can achive the "maximum healing," he says.

I also found amazing how in Look to Windward, humans are capable of creating planets. I think the universe that we were introduced to in this book was ultimately the most fast-paced and dynamic one. I am quite settled with the existence of Hub though, I do not know what to make of it. I do not know if I should feel more bad about its existence or its destruction. The system in The Culture has become so self-sustained, and so self-centered, and so ever lasting that the inhabitants of the Culture are doing all sorts of wacky things with their lives--because they can. Though book does not say anything, the only reason why Culture works so well is because every inhabitant of the Culture has an endless faith in the system and they put their trust in the mighty Culture. Is it possible that the Hub would like to harm its components?  How does it work for assasins? Do we need to think as if they are sacrificing their bodies for the sake of their minds (i.e. ideologies)? Would mind want to kill its body, then? Perhaps with every near death experience of its inhabitants, the hub might be dying a hundread time.

Funny, that's probably how my Mac feels everytime I run 50 different apps simultaneously on it.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Patterns and Protocol

I really enjoyed Look to Windward. Tons of aliens, plots, intrigue, and not just floating continents, but living floating continents. It feels like I'm reading the novelization of some Prog Rock concept album, and I mean that in the best possible way.

I was happy to find a story set outside of the human perspective, but I also found it intriguing how human everyone sounded. I find it amusing that most intelligent species seem to develop following the same basic patterns of milestones: "to flourish, make contact, develop, expand, reach a steady state and then eventually Sublime was more or less the equivalent of the stellar Main Sequence for civilizations" 198. Even though humans arrived late to the party, to join the galactic club of the Involved, it feels as thought they are part of the greater tradition of intelligent races in the universe. I like that feeling.

It does however start to dilute the alienness of anyone in the book. It has been very easy for me to just anthropomorphize these aliens, turning them into humans. I keep having to remind myself that this or that character has three legs. I actually have two different mental images of Quilan, one human and one.... whatever. I think there's a possibility that the sheer number of species in this book could possibly take away from the experience. On a more profound note, it could be instead a dilution of the term "humanity" because that is now just a drop in the bucket of all the aliens out there.

This book makes me wonder how long it would have taken for civil war to break out on Rakhat, or if indeed that sort of cataclysm only happens when "Culture" steps in to make things right

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Reflection 13: What if John 3:16 ∴ E=mc² ?

This week's class was very slow- Just like the book itself. At some point I even questioned if Eifelheim was really a sci-fi book. It read very much like a non-fiction piece with a bit of religion here and a bit of science there. It felt too real to be sci-fi. It can even give you a warm fuzzy feeling by the time you reach Chapter 8, which I have not really expected given Emilio's tragedy, conquest of America and Isaac's song in the previous weeks. Regardless, I'm glad that we got to read about an alien encounter that takes place not in the future, in present but in the past, then gets buried and is deliberately forgotten/ erased. 

It is clear from the book that these aliens have a social hierarchy and believe in ascribed status, with very little social mobility. They look at humans and as they "learn" from (or shall I say "as they listen to") Dietrich and learn about how peasants kill their Lords, Hans explains how he finds such an incident "unnatural" (142). When Hans explains, or rather tries to explain what is natural for them, Dietrich starts imagining foul couplings with beasts and wonders how monsterous creatures could be born out of such pairing. Right before Chapter 3, we see Hans and Dietrich fleding from each other. As it was mentioned in class, it is very much unclear if the Krenken and the Humans truly understand each other after this point on. In fact, they probably did not understand each other prior this point either. Language is a big obstacle in communication, but there are bigger obstacles between the Krenken and the Humans... the obstacle of form and spirit. 

If we consider language  as means of material exchange of thoughts, it is obvious that the Krenken and the Germantown people are unable to communicate. By learning about the social system of Oberhochwald (which was the feudal system based on religion), I think the Krenken tried to slip into the mind of Dietrich to understand him, and his references better. Or perhaps...Eifelheim was a social science research area for the Krenken. Maybe the converts were merely conducting a participant observation to get inide the heads of the humans?

Additionally, as for the the formulation of John 3:16 // E=mc² on the board, Aaron and I thought it might be interesting to modify the statement into John 3:16 ∴ E=mc², to indicate a causal relationship. Religious stories, myths and miracles have inspired many scientists to try and look for real answers after all. Maybe religion should exist to create more questions, than answers and science should exist to create more answers than questions. So, they might go hand in hand...cohabitate just like Tom and Sharon.

A Common Understanding

What exactly am I supposed to take out of this book, I do not know. In fact, I did not know where the story was going as I read the book. It almost resembled a subtle tragedy taking place not only in 14th century Germany, but also between Tom and Sharon. I think at this point my focus is well beyond "monks and aliens," or  "theoretical physics of unexplainable" and more on Tom and Sharon. I think I am more interested in their relationship, for I think their marriage can explain the alien, human interaction that took place in Eifelheim as well as the 12th dimension.

I think Tom and Sharon's marriage is a modern day tragedy- or rather a modern day phenomenon of two different people living together under the same roof. Sharon understands only a little bit of Tom's historical research and Tom only perceives a little bit of Sharon's discovery. They are both after more proof, more evidence to support their ground-breaking discoveries but we never see what happens. Take Dietrich to be Sharon and consider Tom as a Krenk: Voila, the perfect depiction of paenes ( almost, in latin) understanding and yet being able to share the same roof and space. They almost speak different language to each other. Does it matter that we understand?

To understand, to internalize an input, analyze and put away or to do something about it. With this course I am now less sure about my understanding of anything. Maybe it so happens that we think differently, and we love differently and what holds us together in some cases is a bed, a house, a common area or simply put: a common understanding. I am not sure what that common understanding between Dietrich and the Krenken was.

Tackling the mass-energy equivalence & John 3:16

The comparison, if it could be said to be a comparison, between the mass-energy equivalence equation and John 3:16 that Professor Jackson posed is an interesting one. With due consideration given to all the factors in play regarding these subjects, one could argue semantics over this comparison for days on end without reaching a consensus. As such, let us first make a few distinctions between the two of these subjects.

The mass-energy equivalence equation is a scientific concept. This is to say, it has been investigated through scientific method through which the evidence was observable, empirical, and measurable, and also subject to specific reasoning. Thusly, because reasoning and empirical evidence is capable of "connecting the dots", let us say that the mass-energy equivalence equation is metonymic inasmuch as the data can be proven to be directly related to one another.

John 3:16 states: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (KJV). One may observe that several pieces of data are incapable of being metonymically proven, nor are they metonymically (or causally) observable, empirical, or measurable. Specific reasoning may be used to subjectively validate the notion that whomever believes in Jesus Christ will have everlasting life — however, this notion cannot be said to be verified on the same level of empirical knowledge precisely because: (1) Can we observe everlasting life? No. Due to our own limited lives, this will never be possible. (2) Can we find empirical evidence of everlasting life? No, for the same reasons which answered the previous query. (3) Can we measure everlasting life? No, see previous answers ... and even more pertinent: (4) Can we observe and measure empirical evidence of belief in metonymic measurements? Definitively, the answer is that we cannot. Only metaphoric reasoning can give a sense of truthfulness to the claim that, by believing in the son of God, one may enjoy life everlasting.

The question of the hour is what kind of value do place in truth. In what situations is the truth more desirable? Are there situations in which the truth does not matter as much? The author addresses "truth" in a very interesting way: "Hope may be a greater treasure than truth" (364). That is not to say that truth does not possess value, because it a truth is being claimed with the notion of hope being more valuable than truth, but that truth is, at the same time, sometimes both necessary and unnecessary. In that same passage, truth serves the function of affirming that there is something more valuable than truth at that moment in time, and that thing is hope, truth merely serves to verify its own inability to serve a higher purpose than to verify itself.

Reconciling Portrayals of "the Other" as "the Beast"

Even after reading Eifelheim twice, there is a feeling, a response that I quite can't put my finger on. At first, I thought of the feeling as the otherness of the medieval humans. Perhaps this was only enhanced by the contrast being made even more stark by including modern-day human characters such as Tom and Sharon Nagy, whom we, as modern-day readers, are quicker to find affinity with. Then, a quote struck me on the second reading: "Dietrich saw the world suddenly through Krenkish eyes—lost, far from home, neighbors to ominous strangers who could contemplate the killing of their lords, an act incomprehensible, even bestial to them. To Hans, Dietrich was the Beast that Spoke" (139). In that moment, the aliens seem more human in their encounter with humans than the humans do with their encounter with aliens. The Krenkl have their own sense of being-ness, and an ethics in which survival, in being paramount, seems to flow from that as well.

It is fascinating, however, that the author is able to, at least for this reader, stir human feelings for other, sentient beings. Even though the Krenkl are beastly demon-devils in one age, and aliens in another — the embodiment of evil and otherness — certain humans in both ages are able to reconcile these differences. What makes certain human beings, such as Dietrich — and to some extent, Judy — able to reconcile these differences? Dietrich cares for, protects, and nourishes the Krenkl as he would human beings, albeit with more caution, due to the precarious situation that harboring "demons" places him in.

To Dietrich, the "otherness" of these aliens does not supersede their ability to have thoughts, feelings, and emotions — even a sense of humor which is not otherworldly. These are the traits of sentient beings, and the presence of them convinces Dietrich that God's love can expand to all creatures. As such, Dietrich accepts and tolerates the difference of the Krenkl. To him they are others not in that they are inhuman, but merely in that their biological makeup is different from that of humans. That is to say, that they are different life-forms in terms of their biological make-up is not as important to Dietrich as is the similarity that the Krenkl share with humans the capability to think, feel, and experience emotions. It is human, however, only inasmuch as Dietrich and the rest of humankind label these capabilities as being indicative of humane-ness.

Likewise, Judy opposes removing Johann von Sterne, Hans, from his burial site. She has attached a great sense of dignity to the Krenkl, and it is not human dignity. It is a dignity which she has extended to other life-forms, regardless of there relation, or lack thereof, to homo sapiens. What other characters have we encountered who share similar attitudes? Andrew "Ender" Wiggin and Emilio Sandoz.