Thursday, December 28, 2017

Seven Questions for the New Year

            I heard a TED Talk podcast where a woman decided to really get to the bottom of seven questions or issues, ranging from some obscure issue in quantum physics to Obamacare. She started by considering why she believes the earth moves around the sun and not the other way around – what is the evidence? The only one she actually pursued to a conclusion was the difference between yams and sweet potatoes. The speaker was focused on how to come up with answers to her questions.

            I thought it a good exercise in place of New Year’s Resolutions since I seem to have the same Resolutions every year. What questions do I want to get to the bottom of in the coming year?

            So, here’s my list:

1.     Where does all the hatred come from?
Look at the terrorists, the Shia/Sunni conflict, the acrimony in the American political scene, just to mention a few things. Why? Kim thinks it has a lot to do with testosterone. Is that it? Yes, there is a lot of love in the world, as the movie Love, Actually suggests, but lovers have not come up with the equivalent of a car bomb.

2.     Why do people shrug?
What’s the history of that gesture? Is it universal? On the other hand, I shrug, who really cares?

3.     What is the political climate in this country going to be in twenty years?
Will Trump pull a Putin and find a way to stay in power? (Probably not – look at the way he eats.) My father was born in Canada – will that help me get in?

4.     What is the soul? If it’s not immortal, is it still a soul?
I recall an experiment done in the Middle Ages. Scholars wanted to know if animals had souls, so they weighed a fish, killed it, and weighed it again. It weighed less, proving it had a soul. As a bonus, they discovered how much its soul weighed. One reason I don’t like this experiment is that it links the soul to its activity at the time of death. I am not as interested in life after death as I am in attaining life before death, and that has something to do with the soul.

5.     What’s the Next Big Thing we can expect in technology, and can I avoid having to learn how to use it?
Most of the new technology acts to expand my field of incompetence. We’ll see what’s next. Self-driving cars are on the way, and though I am dubious, if my driving continues to deteriorate I may get one. Another guess: we will move our computer screens to the retina of our eyes, controlled by our thoughts, so we won’t be able to tell our grandkids to put their cell phones down to have a real conversation. I may have seen this one in a science fiction novel.

6.     How do you make a white sauce?
Ouch! Kim just hit me because she has explained this more than a dozen times.

7.     Is juicing really good for us?
Who knows? Yes, Kim and I feel better, but that could just be the placebo effect, and we don’t feel better every day? Maybe all the real nutrition is in the pulp from carrots, beets, celery and apples that we scrape off the walls of the juicer and dump into the compost. And how about red wine – good and bad? How about a shot of bourbon – good for the heart, bad for the brain, good for stress reduction, bad for cancer. (I do drink gluten-free bourbon, for health reasons.)

8.     Who am I?
My good friend Peter said in a sermon: “We all wear masks. We wear a mask to hide our self-perceived faults and weakness; the mask of certainty when we are shaken; the mask of gregariousness when we might be shy; the mask of humor when we are hurting; the mask of victim when we are not. We need to be truth-tellers—at least to ourselves—if we are to change our ways.” Amen to that, but what if I am nothing but a collection of masks? Or put another way, a repertoire of roles that I play – teacher, father, husband, etc.?

Several years ago, I wrote an article comparing Gainesville with Ann Arbor. I considered, among other things, what’s the first thing you ask (or wonder about) after you meet a person. In Gainesville, it’s Where are you from? In Ann Arbor, it’s What do you do (presumably, for a living)? A friend from Alabama said it’s Who are your people?

For years my identity was teacher, rather than New Englander, or lapsed Protestant, or former athlete. When I retired Kim designed a business card for me that announced my identity as “Writer,” but that was self-promotion.

Now, what? Good project for the new year. On the other hand, who cares but me? I shrug, therefore I am.

            Astute readers may have noticed that I have eight questions, not seven. So? All the more reason to get started.

            Let me know what questions you want answered in the coming year. I will post them.

Doug Reilly commented below:

Here’re my thoughts;

1.     Where does all the hatred come from?

I don't think it's just testosterone; remember this exists in both male and female, of ocurse in much different concentrations. Certainly, men have more often been the source of war, torture, and hatred. As for torture, rmember the Bitch of Belsen. I voted for Hillary for many reasons; however, one is that I believe a woman is less likely to start a war.

I've had both Shias and Sunnis in my house for dinner at the same time. I even had an Iraqi and an Irani, during the Iraq-Iran War, at the same time. In each case, they sat together, chatted, and behaved like the IAEA colleagues they were.

4.     What is the soul? If it’s not immortal, is it still a soul?

I once read of a similar experiment on humans. I take the soul to be the beliefs, actions, and basic essence of a person; I'm an atheist and do not believe in an immortal soul or life after death. I remember a quote, I think from an Arab, that 'death is when no one remembers you or your work.'

I prefer to travel hopefully, rather than arrive. Like you, I’m concerned about the life before death.

5.     What’s the Next Big Thing we can expect in technology, and can I avoid having to learn how to use it?

Some friends say Quantum Computing is the next tech advance; I'm not convinced. If you or I could predict this, we could make a killing on the NYSE. However, as Niels Bohr once said, "predictions are difficult, especially about the future..."

6.     How do you make a white sauce?

This one is easy; I love to cook. The basic agredients are the same; the quantities vary depending on how thick you want the sauce. The ingredients are butter, flour, salt, pepper, and milk. For example here's the recipe for a medium sauce:
2 TBSP butter
2 TBSP flour
dashes of salt and pepper
1 cup milk
Melt the butter, add the flour, salt, and pepper, and stir to make a roux (kind of a slurry). Add the milk and stir continually until the sauce thickens and is without lumps. This is how to start any kind of cream soup; just add the asparagus, corn, or whatever.

8.     Who am I?

Interesting question...I think we continuously develop and learn who we are. I'm not sure about the mask; that probably says I can't see my mask, which means I can't easily see what others see me to be. I remember a seminar in "Active Listening," one thing I remember is realizing that what another hears may be quite different from what I think I've said.

Now, what? Good project for the new year. On the other hand, who cares but me? I shrug, therefore I am. COGITO ERGO SUM...

           Let me know what questions you want answered in the coming year. I will post them.

here's one of mine: Will we ever put an end to WAR or is it basic to human nature?

Take care, doug reilly


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