Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Nothing ever burns down by itself

Everything is caused by something. Despite the negative thoughts involved with something burning down, I mean simply that things never occur on their own. There's always a cause.

Searching for and isolating causes is something I've always been interested in. If something moves, I want to know why. If someone is sad, I want to know what caused their sadness. If someone is hurt I want to know what is damaged and understand what happened to cause the injury. Only by understanding the cause can I search for a cure or avoid it in the future. Only then can I help those around me.

The cause of cognitive thought

This is how I've always functioned. I don't remember the last time I was ok with something just happening and not knowing why. This is true for my interactions with inanimate objects as well as people. People are an enigma. Philosopher's and psychologists have spent centuries trying to figure out the human mind and how it works. Medical science also aims to understand the mind but through physical means, aiming to understand what the prefrontal cortex does and how it interacts with the corpus collosum and the basal ganglia in order to produce cognitive thought. I've read books on the subject; it's confusing as hell.

But that enigmatic nature of humans is what I find fascinating. There's a beauty in complexity just as there's beauty in simplicity.

There's a story about a scientist talking to an artist, and the artist picks up a flower and says "I feel sorry that you see this flower as a scientific thing; a collection of biological parts made up of atoms interacting in a functional way. You're unable to just appreciate the flower for being beautiful."

The equations of light

The scientist then replies, "You feel sorry for me that all I see is the complex interactions of perfect physical interactions coming together in a unique fashion that they create this beautiful sight? That somehow knowing how things functions removes their beauty, as knowing a magician's secret ruins the magic of the show? I would argue that I feel sorry for you, for while all you see is a flower, I see the beauty of the universe and all it's perfection interacting within that flower."

I'm paraphrasing as I remember the story and am probably incorrect; I think it's actually written by one of the new-age Atheists and he then goes on to describe how understanding the scientific nature of the universe is more beautiful than saying "God created it." That's not the point though.

Watchmen, by Alan Moore

I find beauty in understanding how things work. I become more interested in my friends the more I learn about them. The more I learn about their pasts and what they're thinking the better I can see the beautiful interactions that have taken place to produce the person I'm with. The book Watchmen by Alan Moore discusses this when Jon Osterman - a man who can see every molecular interaction with perfect understanding and as such knows what has and will happen due to the laws of physics - says:
Thermo-dynamic miracles... events with odds against so astronomical they're effectively impossible, like oxygen spontaneously becoming gold. I long to observe such a thing.

And yet, in each human coupling, a thousand million sperm vie for a single egg. Multiply those odds by countless generations, against the odds of your ancestors being alive; meeting; siring this precise son; that exact daughter... Until your mother loves a man she has every reason to hate, and of that union, of the thousand million children competing for fertilization, it was you, only you, that emerged. To distill so specific a form from that chaos of improbability, like turning air to gold... that is the crowning unlikelihood. The thermo-dynamic miracle.
Humans are remarkable. The odds of us existing as we do, of everything that had to happen in order for me to be alive at this moment, sitting at this computer, writing these words, just think about that.

Every advancement is connected

First sentience had to develop millennia ago, then language, written word, mathematics, physics, electricity, computational engineering, the microprocessor, computer code, HTML/XML/CSS, the internet, then Google had to form and Blogger. On top of all of that, each generation of my ancestry had to meet when they did, fall in love, make love when they did and have that exact sperm and egg combine to create that child, the child had to go to school in the exact way it did and get picked on by that exact bully and have those exact experiences that led to them meeting the person they married, thus resulting in the next generation doing the same thing and eventually producing me. Taking it even further, that had to happen with each of you in the way it did thus leading you to either find this page through a Google search of billions of websites and exabytes of information or for us to have met previously and us interacting in such a way that we've become friends - all of your ancestors and their actions culminating to our friendship, and our friendship and interactions culminating to yet another event that may occur thousands of years from now.

That's beauty.

The lotus: my favorite flower

I know several beautiful girls - Brooke, Jen, Emily, Alisha, two Larissas, two Beckys and three Lindseys, just to name a few - as I've gotten to know each one I find them more beautiful. Flowers are beautiful. There's beauty in the tallest redwood tree. There's beauty in knowing the equations of a leaf falling from tree, the forces of gravity and air movements creating a dance as it flutters to the ground, never to be looked upon again. There's beauty in looking at a flower and seeing all the parts, all the interactions between electrons and photons of different wavelengths to produce the colors that my eyes perceive. There's beauty in a rotting log, the bacteria feeding on it and breaking it down to nourishment for the plants around it which feed the animals. There's beauty in watching a gentle snowfall and the formation of the ice crystals, the molecules of water freezing in lattices to form such geometrically perfect shapes. There's beauty in a log fire warming a home during the cold winter snowfalls. There's beauty in fire, the molecules oxidizing and changing to produce thermal energy warming us.

Knowing how something works doesn't take away anything; it makes it more awe inspiring and beautiful.


Nothing ever burns down by itself; every fire needs a little bit of help

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