Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Back To School

September sneaks up on me every year - the silent assassin of the summer.  It’s true that it’s been a while since September marked the start of a new year for me personally, but now the time to buy back to school supplies for my kids, brings with it the sense of time quickening, a total lack of preparedness, and the amazement that my kids are a year older.  Living in the U.S., as I now do, I appreciate the timing of Labor Day, a quick pause before the madness of the first day of school, which in a couple of weeks will be mere mundane reality.

However, September is not wholly unwelcome as many welcome the chance to reconnect with school friends, but also to learn.

As humans we have a thirst for learning.  Which is in essence a desire to know how things work. To understand the world around us.  We may have hated homework and being stuck in the classroom but it wasn’t because we didn’t want to learn.

Of course not everyone has pleasant memories of school or learning, but I don’t think there are any of us without curiosity of how things work.  You may not be a great fan of “book learning” but there are many types of knowledge and as many ways to acquire it.  Some may be more interested in cultivating the earth or fixing cars, but all of these endeavors lead naturally to a desire to figure the how.

This pursuit of the how assumes that there is a how to be discovered.  For example, there is a way to fix a car, a way to grow plants that survive for more than a month (still a mystery to me), a way to solve a quadratic equation.

Our desire to learn more about the how of the world around us is insatiable.  Look at the Mars Rover, the confirmation of the existence of the Higgs boson, we want to explain the how.  But that leads to a deeper question – is there a why? 

A car can be fixed in a certain manner because it was designed in a certain fashion. 

Is the same true of the how behind growing a plant?  Or the Higgs boson? The more information we learn about the how of the universe, the larger these questions will loom.  Is there a why behind the how?  A purpose to it all?

To read an insightful article about the the Higgs boson, see this article from Oxford professor John Lennox.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Thoughts From a Boat on Lake Erie

Staring at the horizon on water is very different to staring at the horizon on land.  If you are on a large body of water facing away from the shore, whatever is over the horizon is hidden.  Of course we know that the water must at some point give way to some form of land mass but it might be very different from the land at our backs - different language, terrain, temperature. 

A long car journey does not pose the same sort of mystery.  We can drive from rural to urban areas but the changes in scenery are gradual and marked out for us.  Watch out ahead.  We are provided with signs telling us the distance to our destination. On the water the horizon is mysterious.  The time of arrival is unknown, perhaps closer than we think.  The water has no marks that can be read, at least by the likes of me. Perhaps this is a perpetual journey without end.

Staring at water relaxes us.  Refreshes us.  Inspires us to create, to reconsider ourselves and our choices anew.  Water is constantly moving reminding us of renewal and change.  As Heraclitus put it we never step into the same river twice. No matter how bad a situation we find ourselves in, there is the potential to change?  On a stormy day we marvel at its natural power on a calm day we wonder at the restraint of such power.

The ancient Greeks thought of the journey from this life to the afterlife as crossing a river.  Looking at the horizon I can imagine that hidden on the other side of the flowing blue mass is a better place – a good country, connected to our present existence but separated.

We long for that shore.  The possibility of its existence makes life worth living.