Monday, December 22, 2008

A New Beginning and a New Destination

“God is far too fond of irony.”

There are several problems with blogging. The main one is the same as the problem with keeping any journal. When your life is busy and things are HAPPENING, you don’t have time to write. When life has calmed down and you have time for quiet reflection, there’s nothing to write about.

Another problem is something I call the error of oversimplification. Blogs are great for snark, or a humorous aside, or the quick comment. But the world is a complex place and often you have to read several books on even a narrow subject to have enough information to start forming a worthwhile opinion. Thus, a blog is a poor way to explain or opine on any subject. There just isn’t space to deal with things in a meaningful way.

To put it another way, if you buy a pump for your well it will be described as pumping a given number of gallons per minute. Almost anything that moves fluid is rated this way- volume/time. Yet, one of the great unanswered questions of science is turbulence. In other words, science has no way to accurately determine how much water will come out of a garden hose in a period of time because there is no good theory of fluid dynamics. We KIND OF KNOW how much fluid should be moved by a pump in a certain amount of time, but we don’t ACTUALLY UNDERSTAND how to even start to calculate how much fluid will actually move.

Examples of this are everywhere in science. We used Newton’s laws of motion to send men to the moon even though we knew for hundreds of years that they didn’t actually work because Mercury’s orbit around the sun didn’t follow them. This is one of the main reasons that Einstein developed the Theory of Relativity (which does accurately predict Mercury’s orbit). But Einstein couldn’t wrap his head around Quantum Mechanics. His famous quote (often applied out of context)about QM is that God doesn’t play at dice. Yet it seems that there is a certain amount of indeterminacy in the universe.

Or to bring this home to everyone that relies on our technology- every time you go to the hospital for surgery they put you to sleep using anesthesia, even though we have no idea how anesthesia really works. There are two competing theories but each has significant flaws because both would predict certain chemicals would be anesthesia agents when they demonstrably are not.

Oversimplification may be useful in some cases but real knowledge is built on true understanding.

Science maintains that fundamental principles are simple and beautiful. This is not only an unsupported and prejudiced view, but is made ludicrous by one of our linchpins of current “knowledge”-quantum mechanics, which is neither simple or beautiful. The problem with human understanding is the same as the problem with map making: a truly accurate map would have to be a 1:1 scale. In other words, any map that isn’t the exact size of the thing being mapped is basically inaccurate. But what good is a map of the United States that is the SIZE of the United States? Human understanding requires simplification and the more you simplify something the more inaccurate that simplification is.

To bring this all home-all I’m really saying is that my hiatus from the blog has been because things have been happening fast in my life and knee-jerk opinion may be interesting and can occasionally be right but is rarely deep. Now that I have returned the blog will be starting anew. For one thing, I’m going to get a lot more personal, something I’ve avoided before. William Faulkner said that the only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself. While I don’t think Faulkner was a particularly good writer in a technical sense (a trait that I found common among writers I was required to read in literature classes) he was a brilliant man. And in this case, I think he has hit the proverbial nail on its proverbial head. Imparting knowledge without context is like giving you a canteen without water.

Another thing Faulkner said was, “If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate: The ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ is worth any number of old ladies”. In deference to this quote I will from now on rate any work of art by how many old ladies it is worth killing. I have to admit that I did not originate this scale as a measurement of artistic merit. The Comics Journal used it over thirty years ago. But, like God, I am no respecter of persons. If stealing from your mother is OK (It’s not dammit, put that purse down RIGHT NOW!) then stealing from Gary Groth is almost mandatory.

And I will try to use brevity whenever possible. Sometimes that may not be possible, but in spite of what I’ve said up until this point, it is preferable. One of the reasons I think Faulkner was a poor writer is that he never met a period that he liked. I once counted 143 words in a single sentence of his writing. If you can’t find the thought in what you are saying in less than 143 words, you need to quit typing and think some more. As Max Plank once said, I’d have written you a shorter letter but I didn’t have time. Complex ideas require complex explanations but again I fall back on minds greater than my own to say KISS (keep it simple stupid) or Einstein’s “make everything as simple as possible BUT NO SIMPLER”.

Comments are re-opened. I refuse to edit comments since I find comment moderation for anything but removing spambots to be the mark of a coward. I think that, more than often, comment moderation is a way for the blogger to protect themselves from valid points of view that differ from their own than it is a way to enforce civility (more on that later). If you have the courage to state your opinion but not to deal with the opinions of others you are a cur. If you are not willing to engage differing views, then you have no business stating your own.

So, welcome back to my world. Hopefully you can find something worthwhile here.

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