Thursday, August 05, 2021

It is all about the journey

The job and the career coming to an end is no different from life itself in which, well, life ends.  When the destination is fixed and non-negotiable, it is clear that life is all about the journey.  Will the journey be on the high road or in the gutter, whether it is sweet or sad, the cosmos has no concerns.  The cosmos is.  There is no grand story--it is up to us to individually make the choices and make meaning of it all.

I keep reading about the Nobelist Steven Weinberg, who died recently, and about his profound statement that “The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.”  In this pointlessness, a rich life is about us creating our own meaningful narratives.  Weinberg said:

I believe that there is no point in the universe that can be discovered by the methods of science. I believe that what we have found so far, an impersonal universe in which it is not particularly directed toward human beings is what we are going to continue to find. And that when we find the ultimate laws of nature they will have a chilling, cold impersonal quality about them.
I don't think this means [however] there's no point to life. Usually the remark is quoted just as it stands. But if anyone read the next paragraph, they would see that I went on to say that if there is no point in the universe that we discover by the methods of science, there is a point that we can give the universe by the way we live, by loving each other, by discovering things about nature, by creating works of art. And that -- in a way, although we are not the stars in a cosmic drama, if the only drama we're starring in is one that we are making up as we go along, it is not entirely ignoble that faced with this unloving, impersonal universe we make a little island of warmth and love and science and art for ourselves. That's not an entirely despicable role for us to play.

I love how he makes it clear that it does not mean that our lives are pointless.  Not at all.  We are not being cynical or nihilistic.  On the contrary, we love being here and we put in all the effort that we can in making meaning out of this chance existence.  The cosmic drama is not about us though.  We humans are not even bit players!

Of course, such a view of the cosmos and about ourselves is contradictory to most religious narratives in which there is a creator and life has a purpose.  But, over the years, I have understood enough to stay away from maniacal atheists who seem to want to belittle religions and their believers.  While initially fascinated with that approach, I walked away from it because I appreciate the meaning that a religion provides for those who do not want to create one for themselves.  Of course, the challenge is when those believers want to impose their meaning on me, but that's not what this post is about.  Here's what Weinberg says about faith:

“I think a world governed by a creator who is concerned with human beings is in many ways much more attractive than the impersonal world governed by laws of nature that have to be stated mathematically; laws that have nothing in them that indicates any special connection with human life.  ... We’re going to die, and our loved ones are going to die, and it would be very nice to believe that that was not the end and that we would live beyond the grave and meet those we love again,” 

As Weinberg summed it up: “Living without God is not that easy. And I feel the appeal of religion in that sense.”

As my journey swings away from higher education, I know I will continue to read and think about the making meaning of it all.  What a fascinating existence out of stardust!

Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Fire and Ice

When I came to interview for the job that I have now been at for 19 years (and soon coming to an end), one of the questions that I asked around had nothing to do with the job itself.  I asked the interviewers and the people I ran into: Does it snow here, and how much?

Having grown up in a tropical landscape, and after having lived in Southern California, I knew well that I had no skills to live and work through snow and ice.  Rains I could manage.  Cold I could bundle against and turn the heater on.  But snow and ice I couldn't.

The responses were unanimous.  Rarely ever it snows, and even then it is just a dusting that quickly melts away.

I felt reassured.

Turns out that they were all wrong. 

Not that they lied.  The climate ain't what it was.

Now, every winter we have come to expect a snow dump. And then the snow freezing over. Life stalls. We can't do anything because the natural world and the infrastructure do not have a place for snow and ice.  Trees tumble. On homes. They drag down power lines. Roads become treacherous.

Climate change is the greatest threat ever.

Yes, the climate has changed before--naturally. This time it is different--we humans have caused it.  The heat comes early and is hotter than ever.  When it rains, it floods, and doesn't rain when it used to.  We are creating hell on earth.  As Francis Fukuyama notes, we're cooked

The human-environment relationship will dramatically change, leading to many acts of desperation.

The climate crisis has already sparked an exodus from around the world.  We are perhaps even downplaying the role of climate change in this global migration crisis.  We are possibly looking at a future with humanitarian crises of the likes that we have never seen before in peaceful times, which is why the International Refugee Assistance Project has developed a plan that the Biden administration could use--if it chooses to.

The last couple of days sunlight has been orange here because of particulate matter in the air from the fires to the south and the east of us.  A friend texts, "at least there is no ash."  Even Polyanna will be impressed with how we console ourselves!

I am powerless to stop the abnormal smoke and snow here in the valley.