Sunday, January 26, 2014

Good Morning Jack...

Letter to my Son
Sunday, 26 January

When our dreams lead

Good Morning Jack…

There was no fanfare for me over deciding on a resolution for this year.  I didn’t choose from a list of self-improvement items that I’d so far avoided.  I’ve never succeeded at sticking with beneficial behaviors unnatural to me and tasks I dread undertaking.  No, I just sort of fell into this idea because the time seemed right to make some long-delayed explorations that are on my own terms.  So much of what we’d like to do finds its way to dusty recesses of our mind because there are always more pressing personal concerns we need to confront.  It begins for us at a very early age, starting about the time we show up for our first day at school.  Maybe we just want to play with blocks all day but time must be set aside for our own personal growth into becoming responsible members of our society.  After a while the time for education extends beyond school hours and we find ourselves setting aside our interests to do homework.  Don’t forget we also have household chores.  The older we become the more challenging the homework.  Even when we are not attempting to solve assigned problems our minds may well be dwelling on the consequences of not measuring up to the expectations placed upon us.  We seem constantly confronted with new challenges that test the limits of our capabilities.  Those among us that are particularly conscientious and have lofty ambitions soon find themselves fearing to stumble at any point as it can only mean a contraction of their dreams for the future.  God forbid the world discovers us average at anything we undertake.

It’s been more than forty years since I got my first degree.  It was easier then because a college education was cheaper.  I didn’t have to take out huge loans to put myself through school.  I didn’t have to concern myself with getting a high-paying job to pay off my debt once I graduated.  I could take courses of interest to me without having to calculate how they would advance my career.  I could just learn and give myself the time to think about things I had never thought about before.  What a wonderful life!  Of course, I didn’t exactly handle my years in school that way.  I had a job.  I chased girls.  I was in a big hurry to get on with my life.  I would take five courses a semester, any one of which deserved my full attention.  I cut corners and studied to make it through the course without becoming a victim in chemistry or calculus or some other nasty test that would leave me left for dead, a scalped student on the academic battlefield.  So much of my education seemed a blur – like touring Europe in five days.  Instead of getting my passport stamped I received a grade and moved on to the next subject.  The most important piece of knowledge I retained was how to prepare for tests.  Don’t ask me anything about plant physiology two weeks after the course ended.

 Now I’ve reached the other end of my life.  I’ve begun thinking about things I’ve never before given much thought.  Some of these thoughts are actually questions that possibly have no solvable answer.  What is the length in time of now – the instantaneous present?  Does instant have a length?  Isn’t time made up of a series of instants?  Why would I want to know the answer to that?  Maybe my question really has to do with the nature of time.  What is time?  Is it linear as it seems to us or is that possibly an illusion?  Is time linked to space – if no space then no time?  I hear the nature of time is linked to gravity.  Why?  If true, what is the significance of that piece of evidence?

I’m also puzzled about consciousness.  Just for the sake of argument let’s say that our mind, our consciousness, is the result of the physical processes of our brain.  What property or properties of all this biochemical activity provides us with human intellectual thought?  What is the nature of thought?  How is it we find human reason so useful in deciphering much of the physical realm?  Is mathematics a human discovery or is it a tool of our invention?  Of what use it is to human beings that we have curiosity of this nature?  Asking such questions doesn’t put food on the table and they may never come with an answer of any certainty.

Over four decades ago we sent men to the moon.  It was an extraordinarily ambitious undertaking and it cost us a fortune to accomplish.  As a result our astronauts brought us back some rocks.  People may criticize the mission as a boondoggle – a giant publicity stunt that resulted from some ill-conceived competition between the U.S. and Soviet Union during the Cold War.  In fact, much of the technology we take for granted today – from smartphones to GPS navigation – has its inception in the Apollo Moon Program.  The challenge of manned space flight brought about a scientific revolution that we are still benefitting from today. 

I’m not going to find the answers to the questions I’ve posed for myself.  My effort in investigating these questions, though, will result in new mysteries to consider and intriguing new speculations that should stimulate my imagination.  My process of researching these ideas can only result in rewarding new thoughts for my consideration.  I have no idea as to what path my curiosity will lead me but I do know that it will take me far away from where it is I am today.  I’ve started a voyage that promises no material reward.  I’m doing it just because I can.  It’s human nature.  Really.


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