Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A New Planet

A New Planet

"This is a major milestone on the road to finding Earth's twin," said Douglas Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Kepler's results continue to demonstrate the importance of NASA's science missions, which aim to answer some of the biggest questions about our place in the universe."   Michelle Johnson, NASA Ames Research Center

Last night I had a dream, a crazy dream filled with images.  I have these often.  It was a restless night for me.  In my sleep, I was driving up over a hill on the highway and traffic was backed up for miles.  As we slowly motored up the hill towards a police officer waving people through, there were multiple tow trucks pulling wrecked cars out from a ditch below the hill; there were body bags strewn about.  When we pulled up next to the police officer, they stopped traffic to allow one of the trucks to pull out.  The cars were smashed, some rusted, and we asked the police officer what happened.  He said, nobody knew.  The cars appeared to have wrecked at different times and nobody ever found them.  We pulled over, as I am sure any police officer would let you, and we got out to walk around.  It was a war zone feeling.  How could so many cars have wrecked and nobody said anything?  It wasn’t a steep ravine; it wasn’t covered in trees, or hidden by rocks.  It wasn’t on some windy country road; it was in town.  We looked up from the ravine and there was a faded dark blue apartment building with wood siding towering above the wreck site.  One window in particular had a shrinky-dink rainbow hanging in it with slightly open blinds.  We asked the officer how come nobody up there noticed or called, and he simply replied, “we don’t know.”
            The dream gets weirder as I begin to wonder around the area dumbfounded by a feeling of apathy in the world.  I see a grandiose dying tree, reminds me of the Jardine Juniper in Logan, off to the side with high brown grass growing around it.  As I walk towards the tree, I see a giant albino boa constrictor sliding up the gray and dead branches.  When it sees me, it quickly moves in.  I can feel the snake wrap around me and at first I try not to fight too hard and calmly peal it away from me.  The tail begins to wrap around my legs and I finally call out for help.  I begin to struggle, to reach up and grab at the head, to try and unwind from it.  The skin is cold.  I reach into the mouth of the snake and ram my hand deep down into the mouth.  The grass is high and I can feel as I slip away, covered in shadows, and nobody is looking or seems to care.
Recently, I was in an argument with a person over creationism and teaching it as a science in the classroom.  It was a roundabout argument with no clear way to get off.  I didn’t know the person; they were a friend of a friend of a friend.  She kept telling me that evolution had been proven by science to not be true and that the liberal science community had brainwashed everyone into believing their history.  She said creationism had been proven to be truer by using “real” science.  I was dumbfounded by this statement.  She gave me a website with “science” articles where I could find the “truth.”  Not being one to exactly walk away from an argument even when all common sense says this won’t go anywhere, I dove into the website and started to read.   
            In their world, the earth is only 6000 years old, dinosaurs were around with humans (it is still debatable whether or not they were on Noah’s ark, and oil (or any “fossil” fuel) can be created and replenished quickly.  The bible is absolute truth.  It is deductive reasoning.  If the bible is true, then all else must be true also.  He is the son of God, or the whole thing is a sham.  The earth was made, with everything on it, in six days, and then God rested.  He kicked up his feet, flowing grey beard cascading into clouds, and sat back to watch.  But why?  I know the stories and rationale behind free will and faith…the party in the sky.

Walking to Albertson’s to rent a movie, Chico runs ahead and I know it is dangerous, but I trained him.  It is my responsibility and anyone who knows me, knows I take care of my dog.  In Berkeley last week, I was visiting friends.  Chico wanted out from the apartment and so I opened the door and kicked him out and said, “good luck, you’re on your own” and shut the door.  It wasn’t a minute later this lady knocks on the door with a look of horror on her face asking if someone just told that dog “good luck, you’re on your own” and kicked it out of the house.  She was practically breathless, aghast that anyone would kick such a “cute” dog out alone.  I jumped to try and explain he was my baby and he is. 
Chico runs ahead of me to the first cross walk on the corner of El Camino Real and Brisco.  He knows he can’t cross the road without me.  He is not allowed off the sidewalk unless I go with him.  He stops at the fake grass on the corner, doesn’t bother peeing, and waits for me.  I arrive, hit the cross walk button and wait.  Cars race up and down.  Chico looks at me for the signal and I watch the light.  After tiring of waiting for a while, he takes a seat and looks up at me for direction.  Ours is the last of the cycle and I tell him to stay with me.  He knows the command, but doesn’t always obey.  We cross Brisco, push the button and wait again for the light.  Once again, we are almost the last cycle.  The lights are not timed for pedestrians; they are made to make traffic flow as quickly as possible through a tight constriction under the freeway.  As chaotic as it might feel, there is a science to the madness.  It might need to be re-evaluated.  It is a terrible intersection and perhaps the worse in the entire Five-Cities area.  We walk under the freeway, cross two more lights, and then are free to walk up the hill towards Albertson’s.

I like science.  I don’t know if I always have, but I do now.   I have been doing it for a while.  I am not good, but I am learning.  My dissertation might not be revolutionary, but I enjoyed the process.  It is a process of discovery.  I don’t know how to do the cluster analysis by hand, but I understand the basic math behind it.  Nonetheless, I hear Dr. Berry reminding me that the stats or only as good as the story we tell with them.  It must still make sense.  Words are important in the interpretation process.  Science is a methodology in my mind.  Some have argued it is a paradigm; however, I feel, and perhaps Kuhn would agree, that science is not a paradigm, but a tool for changing them.
A friend and mentor in writing once turned me on to Chet Raymo’s The Soul of the Night.  In it, he describes redshifts, a Doppler effect when the light wavelengths stretch out as the universe expands.  Quasar (Quasi-stellar radio source) are the brightest of the redshifts.  They are said to be an accretion of matter, or a collection around a super massive black hole at the center of distant galaxies.  They are billions of light years away, and therefore, billions of years old.  They are light from the beginning of time.

Corporations do what they are supposed to do, the same way scientists do what they try to do, and pastors at churches do what they need to do.  And politicians, I’d say in essence, but definitely not in practice, they do what is best in the interest of the greatest good.  They are there to protect us from the powers of money, science, religion, and each other.  Still, our government is founded on the idea that all those things can exist; they are driving agents for the evolution of culture.  They inform every part.  Right now, over 40-50% of Americans believe in creationism.  99% of all scientists, and 70 Nobel Laureates, don’t believe it should be taught as a science in schools.  From 1990 to 2005, the average CEO salary rose almost 300%.  The average worker rose less than 5%.  Corporate profits were up over 100%.  In one workday, out of 260 possible, a CEO would make more money than the person working in their factory floors did all year.  Congressmen/women make almost four times the average worker.  Our government is not working for us.

From an NPR article preparing for President Obama to give a speech in the exact area Teddy Roosevelt did a hundred year earlier.  These are the words of Roosevelt:
We grudge no man a fortune which represents his own power and sagacity, when exercised with entire regard to the welfare of his fellows. Again, comrades over there, take the lesson from your own experience. Not only did you not grudge, but you gloried in the promotion of the great generals who gained their promotion by leading their army to victory. So it is with us. We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used. It is not even enough that it should have been gained without doing damage to the community. We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community.

We do not understand our community.  I am not a person to run away from a fight; I fled once as a kid, running from my friend at the time who was mad at me for god knows what reasons; I think it had more to do with things in his own family; He tried to apologize many years later and I shrugged him off when maybe I shouldn’t have.  He was a dick, but I could have been nicer.  I ran from his desire to fight.  It made no sense to me.  When I once put myself in between five guys to help one guy, I paid the price for it.  My Kung Fu instructor told me I didn’t know for what I was really fighting.  I should have thrown a stick at them, called them names, and ran away just far enough to have them chase.  Certainly I could have eluded 5, high-on-something, kids, and get them to chase for long enough that the other person could get away.  Sometimes the best option is to run away; however, when the next place to run is 600 light years away, maybe it is time to fight.  I do have real fear, but I am not afraid.

Chico prances along the sidewalk towards the redbox to rent Conan the Barbarian, the remake.  I know it won’t be good, but that doesn’t matter.  I think that is why they made the movie.  They knew some of us would watch it regardless of how bad we knew it would be.  Conan fought against “evil.”  They killed his family and his entire village, and he seeks revenge.  Next to the redbox, a couple in love stands.  They whisper close to each other and smile.  He has on the red apron and shakes the bell for The Salvation Army; she is close by and seems happy.  Does the bliss come only from the love of each other?  Is their army mounting an offensive I don’t know about?  I like the look of love they give to each other and out to the world.

I can interpret the snake many ways.  Some might say it is the devil, he comes to me and shows how he has me wrapped up, and I don’t want them to know.  The true talent of the devil is to make others think he doesn’t exist.  I am fooled my science and doomed to hell.
When you invent something, be ready for it to become bigger and better than you.  Isn’t that part of the desire behind invention?  Isn’t that the beauty of the human mind, of thought out of nothing, understanding from the dark?  Invention is the mother of necessity.
We ate from the tree of knowledge; we took from God the very thing that makes us human.  With knowledge came love.  In exchange for perfection, we choose knowledge.  Some have theorized that the other tree in the garden was that of ever-lasting life.  I believe we chose knowledge over eternity, and that has made all the difference.  With death, comes love and life.  With pain, comes necessity for invention.  Each step of the way we learn something, figure it out, and work towards getting back to God, to perfection.  It is a route we take as a civilization, as an earth, and we do it together.  I do hope that even when the sun threatens to destroy the earth, we will survive.  As a father or mother, your greatest desire is to have your kids be better than you, to do more than you.  Without critical thinking and the scientific method, we would still be in the trees.  As we build high rise building and retreat to our apartments, are we moving backwards?

Chico and I walk back to our warehouse.  Cars whiz by us everywhere.  I can smell the carbon and feel the heat coming off the engines.  In front of Trader Joes, nobody stops to let us walk by.  We wait as three, and then four cars ignore us, their places to be more important than ours.  They need to get there quicker.  Finally, a car stops and they wave to me.  They are friends and I wave back.  It feels great to see people you know while walking.  We head down the hill and back to the crazy intersection of lights.  I hate it.  The sidewalk is only on one side of the bridge and while we walk, oncoming traffic rushes by trying to make the next light as quickly as they can.  I would never want to bring my kids through this.  Why is everyone in such a hurry?  Are they really saving time, and if so, for what?
            Why can’t we listen to the science?  We scour the universe for other earth-like places where we might retreat.  Why such apathy towards what happens here, right now?  We dream about the possible oceans on other planets, while polluting our own.  I bought a waffle iron from The Salvation Army, and when I went to buy a scrub brush to wash it, I couldn’t find a single brush not made in China at any of the stores to which I walked.  I went to lunch with a local store owner the other day and he spoke about the disparity of wealth between his salary and his workers, about the stuff from China, and about the future of the earth when people don’t listen to science.  I am not upset at him.  In fact, I have always said I think a legitimate argument is one that admits this.  I am OK with someone telling me they think things are getting bad and they are going to get what they can while they can—survival of the fittest.  How could I disagree?  I disagree with apathy not reality.  I prefer we choose differently.  Why not deregulate it all, cut them all down?  Why dream of distant earths where my distant bloodline might one day walk and live?  Because today I walked on the beach at low tide, dead birds in the littoral, bits of plastic scattered in the seaweed, and a beautiful woman walking next to me.  In those few glances into her eyes, I could feel the black holes of the world accreting around me, the universe, billions of years old, light from the age of dawn, expanding, redshifts in my blood, and I just wanted to kiss her and hold on as we spin out of control.