Saturday, December 27, 2008

Chapter 11, from 1983 - pumping them out because I actually can!

I don't know about physics. I left off that study a long time ago. There are plenty of good books introducing the concepts in simple terms. Read them. I don't know why none of them clarify my trouble with the concepts. Perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps I'm missing something. But it seems to me that according to relativity theory, if you approach the speed of light to any measurable extent -- and a small percentage would be quite a feat -- then you lose touch and enter a different world.

The texts are full of examples of passing spaceships. They travel at a relative speed that approaches the speed of light. According to the theory, spaceship A is shortened along the dimension of its travel, and time appears to slow, when looked at from spaceship B. And spaceship B looks the same to spaceship A. Neither of them have changed from their own point of view. So why do none of the books tell you that this is ridiculous? I mean the theory's been proven in various ways; but why doesn't anybody point out that these two spaceships can't communicate with one another. It all makes sense in the abstract, when you're a God-like observer on the outside. But if the value of time differs for each of them in incommensurate ways, then they have no basis for communication.

How do you talk to someone whose time goes slower than yours? It isn't just that his voice slows down and you have to listen differently. He ages differently from you, though nothing may have changed from his own point of view. And you age differently to him. If you ever meet, you couldn't agree on anything. Your own experience would differ from the one your observer had proven with his own senses. And what basis could you have for communication in the first place? You wouldn't have any basis for comparing your existences unless you'd met somewhere prior to passing in space.

So, alright, you've met. You synchronize watches and take measurements and then take off to watch each other. Sure enough, you observe from the signal which flashes out the seconds that time had slowed for the other fellow. And you watch his spaceship foreshorten. He does the same for you. Then you meet again. Of course, everything's back to normal. You're the same size again, but he's counted fewer flashes on your timer than you did yourself. And vice-versa. It doesn't make sense. Flashes are flashes, and counting is unquestionably reliable. You must have lost touch somewhere. But where? You observed him the whole time, and he observed you.

Who knows? Relativity is a theory. The only thing we know is that we don't have any experience in the kind of shift that would occur were we, the observer, to accelerate to where relativity best describes our relationship with what we know. From our point of view, relativity helps to explain things that have from us the distance of abstraction. But we haven't been there. We use instruments to probe and measure and test. We believe them because their practicality is born out. Other theories have been proven, and these instruments result from them until finally a tremendous amount of trust is put in what is read from them. It's a trust with plenty of foundation. The instruments don't lie. They can't. But neither can they probe where we don't point them, or tell us anything about what we don't already believe.

They might surprise us. When something unexpected happens, they might call attention to a deficiency in our knowledge or belief. But we always have faith that eventually the world out there will find its way through the instruments, and our beliefs and knowledge will turn to truth. Any responsible scientist knows enough to keep back from the truth. They only deal with theories and evidence to corroborate them. They don't deal with truth.

But why don't we know that? Why do we imagine that the scientists know the truth? They don't know, and when pressed are the first to admit it. It is our fault that we have placed them in a position of authority in regard to truth.

Any authority is always given. And it is always our fault, not the authorities'. We may have given away our very souls. It is not Faustus -- not the scientist -- who makes the bargain with the devil. It is we who give away the truth.

Scientists have a tremendous amount of faith. In the scientific method. They believe in the value of what they do. They refuse to believe any expressions of truth that cannot be "proven" according to the scientific method. That is a powerful expression of faith. That however far from the truth they are now, only the scientific method will bring them any closer -- even if the truth forever recedes to infinity. The chase is fun, though. And it's only fun to play according to the rules. To accept any other than the scientific method is to crumble the foundation upon which any agreement among men could possibly rest.

It's a noble faith. Basically a scientist must be totally honest. Of course, if he isn't honest it can be easily demonstrated when his results can't be reproduced by other scientists. The only method -- or the most perfect method -- for keeping men honest. You have to be able to describe the conditions surrounding certain events sufficiently so that when those conditions are repeated anywhere in the known universe your predicted results will ensue. If you're lying, your predictions won't work for anybody else. Or if you haven't managed to include all of the conditions in your description. You might believe something too much and allow your own commitment to a certain result to help that result along in such a way as cannot be repeated by other scientists. The principles of science prevent dishonesty, lack of vigilance, or misinformation from getting very far. Science is a noble faith.

Scientists ought to be respected. But shouldn't they be concerned when the rest of us are all misled? Look, whatever the scientific theory is, there are some things all of us can be sure of. We've been to the moon. But to go any farther takes immense amounts of time, planning, energy, and control. A world first has to be imagined in which that is possible. Not this world, certainly. A different world. A totalitarian world? Or a world where men who leave can trust that they'll be watched and cared for until they or their descendants return. If they went on an American mission, they might come back to a Chinese reception. National purpose wouldn't be enough.

Why do we want a totalitarian world? For a belief in control is always a longing for a totalitarian world. Where all the decisions have been made. Where you are cared for. Where there are no responsibilities but to the collective whole. Where the individual ceases to exist. Where all that is left is the self of the state. Why do we long so to eradicate our souls? And why do we enact our longing through the paradoxical belief that only through will -- through control -- will we ever be free? We pound on the bars of our cage, never to realize that if we only showed our jailer a little compassion he would let us out. We are our own jailers. There is no other.

There are always kamikazes. Men willing to die for the glory and adventure. They would go out into space even if no one cared for their return. But how could we trust them? What could they possibly care for earth? They would have repudiated their birthright just by wanting to go. And we on earth aren't really interested in the adventures of others. We want them to bring back gold, energy, and solutions. But can we afford the gamble? Can we afford not to gamble? We can't know, because we don't have the experience. All we can do is assess the risks.

We are sure of one consequence of the mass-energy equation. We are quite sure that we can explode the earth by pressing a few buttons. It seems to be a final and unequivocal confirmation that knowledge is power, especially now that an undergraduate has demonstrated the knowledge to actually build an atomic bomb. Of course, the information is classified. But how ludicrous! The information is there in the fabric of science for anyone who desires to get it.

And what if some weakling desires to use it? Well, knowledge is power -- with a bit of money, that is.

Seems like we'd better do something quick. Like keep knowledge away from undesirables. Well, that certainly shoots the truth. But damn the truth, the existence of our world is at stake. Ah, then that's more important than truth?

What's really at stake? Power seems to be the only thing. Amateur bombers can't blow up the whole world. Only big superpowers with jets and rockets and submarines can do that. All the amateur can do is blackmail the powers. Of course, we're afraid of that, because these amateurs are dangerous and might not care too much about blowing up a few million innocent people. But then, millions of innocent people starve and are blown up and kill each other all the time. Some of it's because the powers don't care to share their wealth. Some of it's because people don't care for each other -- or they care more for an idea. Some of it's just plain carelessness -- like highway accidents.

Maybe we're not competent to live in the modern world. Maybe we ought to put some metaphorical knife on our dashboard to protect ourselves. Or maybe we ought to do something to eradicate the hatred that is making us so vulnerable. It isn't the obvious hatred really. The third world is still like the black slave -- serving its master and believing that their prosperity will grow with master's.

They still swallow the line. No, it's really the crazies we've got to worry about. The one's who might poison the water or the food.

It's not just the bombs, or the cyanide in the Tylenol. These are abstractions like the black boogey man who haunts the suburbs. They don't touch us no matter how effective the propaganda is to make us fear them. They touch someone else -- a statistic. Oh, I've been mugged. I'll never forget the sensation. I had a very powerful realization that these three black kids were people -- not bogeys. Sure, I was scared. I was petrified as I kept waiting for the knife.

But there wasn't one, and I called out for them to drop my wallet and leave me my papers after taking the money -- and they did.

I know people get killed and beaten -- but not by abstraction. Hell, your wife might shoot you, your boyfriend bash your head in or a drunk driver run you down, aside from the maniacal murderer we all know and fear so much. The knowledge that enables you to build a bomb or become wealthy, or become respected. It seems to give you power. But really the circumstances are what give power. Respect is granted by a reception. You have to demonstrate your knowledge. It is powerless in itself. We all know that money can't buy love or respect, though it can buy all the shadows. But still, in a world where money is everything, the rich will have it all. If we served and worked only for friends and people we care for and respect, then the rich wouldn't have any power at all. Their power is the power of circumstance. If we value wealth above feeling, then the rich will be powerful and our friends may be worthless. And the bomber's knowledge is useless in a world that wouldn't be affected.

Sure there might be some crazy who just wanted to hurt somebody. But, would there really? Who carries a bomb to the capitol or into a building or onto a plane unless, no matter how crazy, he feels that whatever he's blowing up is hurting him. Even the hardened terrorist thinks that the innocent victims of his acts will hurt the system.

And who is really insane? I don't think knowledge is power. It doesn't even come close. Power occurs in the connection. And the connection is made of desire, and the desire comes from circumstance, and the circumstance is, ultimately, the world and the universe. And I don't think there is any knowledge in the world that comes close to truth. Knowledge is the practical delusion by which one steers through the world. Knowledge is the operational use of a metaphor that's shared by a great number of others. If the sharing stops, then the knowledge is nil.

A man who would now claim by right of revelation or observation that the world is made up only of billiard balls that are infinitely tiny, and which bump against each other ceaselessly and so forth would be a fool. On the other hand, he might believe that and keep it to himself while making utterances only about the bigger billiard balls. Then he'd know something. But he'd make a fool as a physicist. Of course, then he might think some physicists pretty foolish for what they know about love or drink, or sex or music or whatever. Who's to say where knowledge ends and delusion begins? Truth comes first. Knowledge is a quality -- not an idea.

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