Monday, December 22, 2014

Physics and Christianity Revisited

Last year around this time, I posted a thing.  That thing was a blog post entitled "Reconciling Physics with Christianity."  I posted it somewhat ignorantly and have done some exploration, both biblical and otherwise, of the big ideas addressed in that blog post.  This year, I'm going to give you all the re-evaluated version of that post exploring three specific ideas: the Big Bang Theory, the Theory of Evolution, and the concept of free will.  As a scientist and a Christian, these are ideas on which I have decided I need to take an educated stance.  That position is my own; it is ever-evolving, and I welcome alternative perspectives, whether in agreement or opposition, so do not hesitate to comment if you, the reader, have something you would like to share on any of these topics. 

The Big Bang Theory is the idea that the entire universe began as an infinitely hot, infinitely dense singularity which, at some point, began to expand rapidly.  During this expansion, particles collided, things happened, and, long story short, the universe as we know it was born.  The process that I have just crudely described is believed to have taken place over the course of roughly fourteen-and-a-half billion years.
Cool, we're all on the same page.
Last semester, I took a class called "Modern Physics."  It was basically an introduction to Quantum and Relativity.  In this class, I was exposed to the foundation upon which the Big Bang Theory was built.  I learned about the microwave background and about the history of our universe from a physicist's perspective.  I learned that there is a lot of evidence, both mathematical and empirical, for the Big Bang Theory.  I learned that there are many good reasons for the theory's popularity and lifespan.  The predictive calculations performed using this model for universal expansion have proven to be almost undeniably accurate.  If our universe expanded from a singularity, then it probably happened in this way.
All of that being said, I still can't subscribe to the theory.  The most outstanding detail, in my opinion, that the Big Bang Theory fails to shed light on is the very beginning of time.  Scientists have not been able to determine just what initiated the "Big Bang."  There are theories, but they are not provable, and any theory that cannot be experimentally proven falls under faith, not science.  Which brings me to what I believe.  I can't fathom an explanation for either eternal existence or spontaneous formation (also known as creation) without a prime mover.  In this way, and in many others, the Big Bang Theory points to intelligent design.
But I said the evidence of the Big Bang was "almost undeniably accurate"!  How could something so convincing be incorrect?  Honestly, it's a great model.  As I said, if our universe expanded from a singularity, the Big Bang Theory would likely be the one to correctly describe this expansion.  However, the acceptance of God as the creator of the universe throws a monkey wrench into the equation.  For God as I know him to be real, the Bible must be true.  Why?  Because God is omniscient and omnipotent; He says that the Bible is true, and He cannot be wrong.  For the Bible to be true, the universe cannot be fourteen-and-a-half billion years old because it reads that God created the earth as it is in seven days (I know many of you will disagree, so I will likely end up exploring the foundation for this belief in more detail in the near future).  If the earth is not fifteen billion years old, the Big Bang Theory breaks down from a mathematical perspective and cannot be true.  However, it is possible for the evidence of the Big Bang to exist without the occurrence of rapid universal expansion because God created the earth (and everything else) with apparent age.  Trees were not created as seeds nor were humans created as babies.  In the same way, our universe wasn't created a newborn; it was created with an apparent age of fourteen-and-a-half billion years which can be accurately modeled with an idea such as the Big Bang Theory.
In brief summary, the Big Bang Theory in conjunction with my Christian convictions leads me to the conclusion that God created the universe with apparent age in such a fashion that it matches a predictive model which obeys the physical laws He set in place.

Evolution is supported by a metric crap-ton of evidence as well.  I haven't done too much looking into it, though, to be completely honest, and I'll tell you why.  I have already come to the conclusion that God exists.  I could write a book describing all of the factors that have led me to this end, but I won't bother you with its pages now.  Instead, I will simply explain why, as a Bible-believing Christian, I cannot subscribe to the Theory of Evolution.  To reiterate, I'm taking the existence of God for granted and going from there.
There are two fundamental aspects of Genesis which make the Theory of Evolution impossible from a Christian perspective.  First, Genesis explicitly claims that God created the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the beasts of the land.  If the Bible is accurate, then these creatures cannot have evolved from a single-celled organism; simply put: God says they didn't.  Second, Genesis claims the existence of a soul in humans.  The book does not mention God giving any other living creature a soul.  Man could not have evolved from any other species if God as I know him exists because there would be no defined line between beast and man.  This gradient between animals and humans, who were uniquely created in the image of God, makes the appointment of a soul impossible to make non-arbitrarily.
Simply, if the book of Genesis is true, then the Theory of Evolution cannot be accurate.

Free will.  I guess my stance on free will depends on how you define it.  God has many qualities-- among the first that come to mind are omnipotent and omniscient.  We could never surprise a God who is both of these things.  Lots of people get their panties all up in a bundle when they hear this and start protesting that "a loving God would give us a choice."  But what is a choice?  As far as any of us have the ability to see, our choices are our own.  God's inescapable will for each of us should not detract from the freedom of our choices from a human perspective.  I refer to this paradox as "the perfect illusion."  If God truly is in control, then our choices cannot be our own; however, if we are puppets, we don't feel the strings.  
Think about it, though.  I know the puppet illustration isn't agreeable, but if God's purpose on earth was really left in the hands of such broken people as we are, would we truly have the promise of victory?  How could we, who struggle with all multitudes of sins every day, hope to accomplish the work our God without his guiding hand?  I know this question lends itself to the response that "God's hand does guide us, but it doesn't force us," but consider the implications of that statement.  How many times, when you were faced with temptation, have you given in, despite the conviction that you felt even as it was happening?  We are totally depraved; we will always sin.  God's grace, however, is perfect, and it is sufficient in our weakness.  If God did not intervene on our behalf, we could never fulfill his will on earth.  
This conversation naturally leads to the question of the elect.  God's chosen people are often referred to throughout the Bible.  It's indicated with complete clarity that the elect were chosen before the beginning of time.  This doesn't sit well with people for all of the same reasons that the absence of free will doesn't.  The most common argument against the idea of the elect is that it contradicts God's loving nature.  I would argue, however, that it enhances it.  If the gift of salvation was awarded based on anything that we have done, everyone who has ever walked the earth aside from God's son would go to hell.  It is God's overwhelming love and grace and mercy that pardon's his elect.  Furthermore, if we can agree on God's omniscience, then we can't disagree on the existence of God's chosen people.  My cousin, Jeff, is quick to point out that the only reason his worship can be genuine is because God chose him, a sinner who doesn't deserve salvation, to be one of his adopted children.  If it was our choice or our merit that earned us our place in God's kingdom, then we could no longer earnestly sing about his mercy.
In short, God exists outside of time; there is nothing that surprises Him.  He is omniscient, omnipotent, and all-loving at the same time.  That being said, we are given the perfect illusion of free will, which, though it makes the hard times seem harder, it also makes the victory seem sweeter.

So that's what I've come to so far.  The Big Bang is an excellent model.  Evolution disagrees with the Bible on a fundamental level.  Free will is the perfect illusion.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Christian Vernacular

          "I hope God imparts wisdom to your soul and adorns you with his blessings in this time of tribulation."

          It's weird to listen to the way Christians talk.  It's as though we feel the need to put on this facade whenever we're in religious circles.  You hear a lot about the way people act happy or "good" and about the way they lift their hands during worship, but I'm not going to talk about those things.  I'm going to talk about the words we use.  

          I find that it happens most often when we pray or when we give advice.  How often have you bowed your head and closed your eyes, then felt like you were listening to another language?  I'm not talking about tongues-- that's another topic.  I'm talking about the words that people might use once every couple of months in everyday conversation that they manage to squeeze into every sentence of their prayers.  I'm talking about storm analogies and generic, out-of-context references to scripture.  We weave together all of these things into a tapestry that, when it's done, looks nothing like we do.  If you're getting defensive: don't.  It's nothing that I'm not guilty of, and it's not an idea that's specific to Christianity-- we try and fit in everywhere we go (for some reason).  However, I feel like it's particularly noticeable in religious spheres, so that's what I'm going to spend most of my words exploring.

          So that's the Christian Vernacular.  The words and generic turns of phrase that Christians use around their "brothers and sisters in Christ."  But let's talk about why anyone should care.  It's a free country, right?  Talk how you want to (talk) when you want to (talk that way)!  Sure, sure.  But I have some concerns.  The Christian Vernacular is indicative of training that has happened over the course of our lives; it shows that much of our speech in these circles is habitual.  This is... largely unavoidable, right?  Religion is a very routine thing for many people.  It shouldn't be.  But it is.  And when you let your religion become something that happens at church on Sundays, you come face to face with the real danger at work here.  The real danger is not habit of speech; it's habit of thought.  Water that is stagnant becomes polluted and gross.  An athlete who doesn't improve can't compete.  A Christian who limits himself to a weekly routine suffers a similar fate.  If you aren't getting better, you're getting worse, and it's important to avoid habit of thought if we truly want to improve as students of the Bible and as followers of Christ.  

          "My thought isn't habitual, Calvin.  Who are YOU to tell ME that just because I talk differently at church than I do at home, I'm becoming a routine Christian?"  No one, of course.  But that's not the only issue with the Christian Vernacular.  Think of the non-believer who comes to church on Sunday and gets little to nothing out of the sermon because it's so littered with our oddities that they can hardly follow along?  Think of the friend to whom you're trying to reach out who can't understand the ideas your trying to convey because your phraseology in relation to Christian topics has always been tainted by the Christian Vernacular that your friend doesn't speak?  It's difficult to break from the way you do anything you've been trained your whole life to do.  People don't bother to try and listen in or follow along when Jeff and I talk about Yu-Gi-Oh or Super Smash because it sounds like a foreign language to them-- we've been told this on multiple occasions.  We're commanded to spread the gospel; how will we do that when even those with ears to hear trip over our exclusive language?  Now, to be fair, I'm being a little ridiculous.  People aren't stupid; they know what you're trying to say.  However, there are important subtleties that can be lost in translation, and I think that's worth noting.

          My main concern, though, is sincerity.  Maybe not even sincerity, but at LEAST the appearance of sincerity.  It is important both to be genuine and to appear genuine in religious spheres.  However, I think that in an attempt to sound genuine, we sacrifice our sincerity, if that makes any sense.  I'll try to explain.  People roll up to church and want to sound like they've been they've been there before, so they use all of these classic "I can do all things" and "for God so loved the world" deals when they talk with their friends.  Then, it comes time to pray, and they want to sound like they're good at praying (whatever that means), so they use all these fancy-pants words that they hear other people say when their eyes are closed.  There's clearly a disconnect between the heart and the mouth there, right?  And I know what you're thinking "I don't do that."  But, in truth, we all do.  It may not be conscious, but we do it, and I think that we would be better off if we didn't.
          I think it would behoove Christians to try to marry their speech in and out of the church building.  It's a good exercise to, when you're praying alone in your room, make an effort to say what you're thinking and what you want to communicate to God rather than what you've been trained to say to him.  I often find myself using the same structure day after day when I'm praying, and I've found that, when I do this, I'm usually distracted or thinking about other things.  This is a habit I'm trying to break.  The next step is to make the same changes when you're talking to your Christian friends.  It's all about intentionality-- something I've been working on lately.  I don't want to tell anyone what to do, but if you feel like this is something you're struggling with, as I have been, then these are just some ideas to get you started on making some changes for the better.

That's a lot to chew on, but here is the tl;dr version:
-Christians talk funny; I call this the Christian Vernacular.
-Habits of speech often reflect habits of thought, and these are dangerous.
-People don't want to listen to a bunch of stuff they don't really understand.
-Sincerity matters.

          I want to leave you guys with a challenge that I was faced with last week at InterVarsity, adapted slightly.  What is one positive change that you could make in your life?  What is keeping you from making that change?  If you ask yourself this every day and make a genuine effort to be intentional about making those changes, imagine the person you could become.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Time is Really Cool

Time [tahym]

The system of those sequential relations that any event has to any other, as past, present, or future; indefinite and continuous duration regarded as that in which events succeed one another.

I included that definition, not because I'm going to refer to it or anything, but rather because it's sort of the conventional way to start a discussion as narrow as this one will be (I have a very loose definition of "narrow")-- I guess that's so we're all on the same page before I start rambling on about something with which you may not be familiar, but, at least in this case, you would have been just as well off had you neglected to read the definition I (or, transitively, the internet) gave to you.

Time is really cool, guys. It's one of my favorite things. Time is this immutable constant (redundant, yes, but I like those syllables together-- I'm obsessed with the way syllables interact with each other, but I'll tell you about that another time); it's this thing which drives all of creation. We often like to say that we "manage" our time, but that's kind of dumb, right? We can't "take charge" of or "dominate" time; we're completely subject to its influence, and it's completely immune to ours, and, in a strange way, that's a very freeing idea. Humor me for... however long it takes you to read this.

Do you know what a second is? You probably thought you did, but you probably didn't, actually. That being said, you were just a Google search away from knowing that a second is "the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the cesium 133 atom." I'm not going to cite that source. Sue me. Anyway, that's what a second is, and it doesn't change. Tomorrow, a second is still a second and an hour is still 3,600 of them, and there's nothing you can do to change that. Now, some of you astute readers are sitting behind your computers thinking about those articles you've read and those rumors you've heard about time travel and the slowing of time and blablabla, but, if you're willing to take me at my word, I'm willing to spare you the majority of the details and just tell you that time does not change or contradict itself. Even if time seems to pass differently for objects moving at relativistic speeds, this is really just an artifact of their reference frames, and, should they be brought near each other again, physics would ensure that their differences would be reconciled as a result of the non-ambiguous turn-around which one of the objects would inevitably have to undergo. I don't know how to do this concept more justice with my insufficient words (this is practically redundant as well, but, again, I'll write about that later), but can we both just agree that the idea of something by which you're always bound but with which you can never interact is awesome? I'm sure we can.

That being said, I have to give a nod to the one way in which we humans can (sort of) interact with time. Probably my favorite aspect of literature is the way that the passage time is sort of up to the author's discretion. A writer can suspend you for minutes in just a moment by giving you more words to read than you possibly could in the time that passes from the character's point of view. Conversely, the writer, or director, or story-teller, or whatever has the ability pull you through years in just seconds. There are many other ways in which the author of a story can manipulate your sense of time, but I don't have time to go into all of them, so I'll leave the rest to your imagination.

Time drives (almost) all things forward. It's an integral part of the system which governs all things in the physical world. Chad is fast because he can run certain distances in less time than others can; if he could change or manipulate time, the concept of speed would become completely ambiguous because that immutable standard to which all runners were once compared no longer holds. Without the constant nature of time, there is no speed or efficiency; one could literally accomplish everything within the scope of our physical boundaries (this idea is clearly a contradiction, but we'll let that rest), could he manipulate time. It is this constant nature that secures the existence of a standard to which we can all be measured. "All in good time," people say (though I'm not entirely sure what distinguishes "good time" from "bad time"). Why do they say that? I've told you why: time drives (almost) all things forward. It's this intangible force which ensures that, no matter the situation, a new one will arise. Even if you have a test in an hour, and even if you aren't prepared for it, and even if you miserably fail that test an hour from now, it will still, eventually, be behind you because, say it with me this time, "time drives (almost) all things forward." Pretty cool.

I said that our inability to interact with time is a "freeing idea." This seems counter-intuitive given the common knowledge that we're all subject to the effects of time, which seems inherently restricting, but think back to the example of that test you're about to fail. Soon, it will be over. This applies to everything, and I do mean everything, on the horizon. Quick, think of all of your biggest concerns right now, all of those things that you went on Facebook or Blogger to distract yourself from-- bear with me, I'm not trying to stress you out. Eventually, you will be done with that test, you will survive the semester, you will get out of college, you will make a life for yourself-- you get the idea. Time is one thing (of very few) about which we don't have to worry; it's not something upon which we have to try to exercise our smothering control. It's the only constant that we treat as a variable. It's not restrictive-- it's dependable. It won't change from today to tomorrow: I call that a "freeing idea."

All of the ideas that I've discussed in the previous paragraph were just a segue-in-disguise meant to draw you into my final point, my very favorite thing about one of my favorite things. This, reader, is a big deal. Here it goes. The ties which bind us to time are some of the most foundational (only kind of a word) distinctions between God and man. We, humanity, are constrained to time-- this system of past, present, and future. We're obsessed with what happened yesterday, wrapped up in what's happening today, and blind to what will happen tomorrow. Man is so meager that he can't even comprehend the infinite, so limited that he can't touch time, and oblivious that he is ignorant to his own ineptitude. In contrast, God is so great that he is infinite, so unrestricted that he is both the beginning and the end, and yet so loving and gracious that he gave mercy to whom? Man. And all of this beautiful dichotomy is illustrated through time, the boundary that separates creation from the Creator. Where man can only have authority over the pages in a book or the pixels on a screen, God has authored all of time, with all of mankind as his cast and all of nature as his setting. And his story? His story is the greatest, most complex plot of all time, which climaxes with his return. I can't wait for that day.. but "all in good time."

PS:  Thanks, Jeff, for some edits.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Never Memorize Anything Ever Again

                Scientists have found no measurable limit to the amount of information our brains can store.  If you had the time, you could sit down and memorize every event in human history that was ever recorded.  In fact, you've probably memorized millions upon millions of bits of information over your lifetime already.  "Yes, but I've forgotten most of them," you might be saying, but that isn't really true.  When it comes to our long-term memory, the issue is not storage-- that is to say, your brain doesn't replace old information with new; rather, it files it all away.  "Forgetting" happens when you have trouble finding the right filing cabinet.  If you want to be a good rememberer, learn to organize your memories, so you won't have trouble pulling the files you need when you need them.  One way that people do this is by associating information they don't want to forget with an extremely familiar environment-- one's house, for example.  That's where the idea of a "mind palace" comes from (for all of you Sherlock fans); Holmes is able to recall anything and everything at the snap of a finger because he's organized all of the information that he thinks he will need in a palace within his mind, rather than shoving it all into random filing cabinets as many of us tend to.  Now, imagine that you had a mind palace of your very own and that, in a moment's time, you could call to mind anything that you wanted to know in any given instance.  It's a truly awesome idea, isn't it?  Luckily for you, you do have such a palace, yet you often refuse to open its doors.

                Your elementary school teachers often told you to "memorize your times tables."  I don't regret ignoring them.  Why would you waste your time doing that when the only time you don't have a calculator within arm's reach is when you're in the shower?  They also probably made you memorize the fifty states and where they were located on a U.S. map.  I could label Virginia, Florida, California, and Texas, but beyond that is beyond me, and that has never been an issue.  Why not?  Because I carry a map of the entire world in my pocket.  I know that George Washington was our first president, but I couldn't say with conviction who came right after him.  Don't worry, though; if I ever need to know, I'll just check the history book that sits on my bedside table every night while I sleep.  I find the memorization of factual information that's easily and always accessible to be a pointless exercise and a waste of time, especially when most of what we memorize just gets lost in our records. 

                The internet has done us the favor of taking more information than any individual could ever have the motivation or time to collect and organizing it into a gigantic, practically infinite library.  This library is so enormous that no one person could possibly crack every cover it holds, yet so small that it fits in your hand.  The power that the internet gives anyone with access to it is immeasurable in this "information age."  With the help of a computer, phone, or tablet, you have the ability to learn whatever you want to, see anything that words can describe, and share any information you think the world should know-- what a profound idea.  Why debate whether the winter solstice is on the 20th or the 21st of December when you can just look on Wikipedia?  Why bother your professor after the lecture for clarification on how to solve trigonometric integrals when you can just watch a tutorial on Youtube?  Why ask someone how to use an app or change your settings when you could find a more clear and concise answer in just a few seconds via a Google search?  Along the same vein, why memorize your times tables, states, or presidents when you could just look it up whenever you need to know?

                Yes, I'm aware that if everyone was as ignorant as I am, we would not have the stores of information that we do, and I'm aware that a foundation is necessary in order to build an informational structure.  I'm not saying that schools should do away with facts and focus solely on problem-solving, but when you're honed in on the "what" rather than the "why" and the "how," it should come as no surprise when college and even high school seem extremely challenging to the average student.  Memorizing one's times tables does not contribute to an understanding of mathematics, just like the ability to label fifty states on a map won't help you comprehend the intricacies of social interaction.  We would all be better off if we stopped worrying about the right answer and concentrated instead on how to get to it.  This contrast was illustrated to me during my freshman year at William and Mary by my Physics and Calculus classes.  In Calculus, everyone, including the professor, seemed to put more stock in answer than the process that got you there; one arithmetic error along the way would lead to a seven-point deduction on a ten-point problem.  In Physics, your answer could be off by a factor of a hundred, and the professor would deduct two or three points on a question worth twenty-five.  Why?  Because the Griff (Professor Griffioen) didn't particularly care if you put all of the numbers into your calculator just so; he was more concerned about whether you knew what you were doing with the variables.  Furthermore, formula sheets were found only in my Physics classes; while this is likely due to the sheer number of equations that we would have had to memorize for each test, I believe that it speaks to a bigger idea: memorization is pointless.  Like I said before, there will never be a time in the workplace when I will need and won't have access to Maxwell's Equations.  I wasted hours memorizing the derivatives and integrals of "common" functions for my Calculus class, hours that I could have spent mastering the actual mathematics that I was supposed to be learning.  The overemphasis of mindless details is destructive in a world in which a computer program will, every time, crank out the correct numbers if given the correct instructions. 

                In an age in which a new, bleeding-edge smart phone is released every six months, time is our most valuable resource.  Technologically, we're advancing at a breakneck pace, and we don't have time to sit down and memorize a bunch of facts that someone else has already made easily accessible to us.  There may be no limit to the amount of information our brains can hold, but there is a limit to the amount of time we have to use that information, so why not utilize the tools at our disposal to save ourselves the trouble of committing to memory countless things that we already have the ability to pull from storage at any given moment.  Let "the cloud" be your memory and the internet be your mind palace, and don't memorize anything ever again; you'll just be wasting your time.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

"You think that's air you're breathing?"

Sometimes, learning about physics makes the world feel a lot like the Matrix.  You've seen the movie, right?  If you haven't, that's your homework; seeing the Matrix should be a part of everyone's cultural education.  The basic idea is that war broke out between men and machines; we "scorched the sky," blocking out the sun in an attempt to cut their power supply, and, in turn, they started growing and harvesting humans a

s their new energy source; however, since "the body cannot live without the mind," they trapped our consciousnesses in "the Matrix."  Basically, the world around you is a fabrication created by the machines to keep your mind at bay while they use you like the little battery we essentially are.

It's strange, developing the understanding of the world that my physics classes demand I do because everything starts to look a lot different.  This doesn't happen over night, of course.  First, you start seeing the parabola of a soccer ball after you kick it, then you start dividing it's velocity vector into its dimensional components, then you start to wonder what contribution its rotation has on its trajectory and so on.  But that's just one thing.  The gym is no longer a room full of mirrors with a bunch of sweaty guys and heavy things-- well, yes it is, but it's also Newton's playground.  A slinky is an embodiment of Hooke's claim to fame.  Directions become arbitrary and math becomes noise.  The more I understand the world around me, the less "real" it seems, but "What is real?" Morpheus would ask.  And that's a very good question.  Just kidding, that's a stupid question.  Better questions would be "What is true?" or "What is important?"  Those questions, however, are too big to answer in a blog, and I'm not writing a book any time soon, so we'll just keep exploring the stupid one because, though it's a little too lofty and a little too inviting to the sort of cyclical thinking that I just can't stand, it's still interesting.

Back to the Matrix, so I can tie these ideas together.  So let's make like a Yu-Gi-Oh player and simplify the game-state (a skill which I believe nerds and normal people alike should develop): the Matrix is a program with a bunch of rules and a bunch of players.  Cool, that's easy.  How is our world any different?  And I know what you're thinking: "well of course, Calvin, that's the whole point of the Matrix-- it IS the world we live in, and we DON'T have any way of proving what is and isn't real," and you're right!  But I'm not talking about the laws that govern the prisoners in the Matrix from which the machines are excluded-- those laws aren't tangible, not really, and they're flexible.  I'm talking about the physical laws that God wrote for us, the laws that we credit to Newton, Kepler, Gauss, Faraday, and others that don't just govern the humans in the Matrix, but the machines as well, the laws that can't be bent or broken.  With scientists talking about multiple universes and billions of years, it's difficult to define what is "real" anymore.

The things that we're exploring in modern physics are beyond even our own understanding because, while physicists of the past were just natural philosophers, today's physicists have to go beyond intuition and what makes sense because, honestly, we've already figured out just about everything there is to figure out about the things that make intuitive sense to us.  We're shooting photons at things and hoping for results that will take us somewhere new.  We can no longer say for certain what things will do when they're really small or really fast, so we have to rely on probability to govern our expectations.  We no longer come up with an idea and design an experiment to try and prove it-- well, we do, but lots of times we're really just looking for something that implies correctness rather than something that proves it.  We're reaching beyond what we have the ability to observe, and it's freaking cool.  That being said, it makes me nervous.  Not because I think we're stepping on God's toes-- I plan on dedicating my life to understanding his creation better.  Not because I think we'll discover something too dangerous to trust ourselves with-- we've done that already.  Because I'm afraid that I'll get lost.

Ever tried solving a complex integral with the wrong method and gotten lost in the web of mathematical junk that it spits out?  Ever tried to build something but found that you don't have enough hands to hold all the places you've smeared your glue?  Ever started writing a paper, then struggled to organize all of your words into a well-constructed thought?  That's what I'm afraid of: a confused and jumbled sense of reality that comes from taking on something that's bigger than you are, and believe me, the Universe (Multiverse?  Just kidding, I don't subscribe to that) is much bigger than you are.  But at the same time, isn't it kind of crazy how small things can be?  When you consider the sheer size of the world and the solar system and the galaxy and the Universe, it's amazing that there can be a thing as small as a bug.  You realize this when you try and paint just about anything.  You sit down to recreate the dandelion on the canvas you just bought, and, before long, you realize that the dandelion has a bajillion little petals and that the middle thing is so intricate that you'd rather just make it a blob with lots of lines on it than try and comprehend what's actually going on in there.  It baffles me, the detail that God put into this world.  When he made that dandelion, he didn't throw an arbitrary number of petals and middle things onto it; I know one of my previous posts talked about the arbitrary "nature" of our world, but all of the things I mentioned were things outside of nature-- nature follows the intelligent design of our creator.  Just google "Fibonacci in nature," and you'll see what I mean.  But I'm getting off topic, so I'll just wrap things up and save that story for another time.

So this is the part where I take all of the worries I've just heaped onto your shoulders and whisk them away with a flourish of words.  Except not-- I'm stuck with it, and now so are you.  "Welcome to the real world, Neo."  Sometimes the world seems too big to be real, and sometimes things seem too small to be realistic.  But, somehow, God managed to create a Universe that is both so massive and so complex that even with all of the gifts he's given us we could never hope to understand it all, and, even though that's scary, it's awesome.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Expect the Obvious

It's commonly said that we should "expect the unexpected."  That's incredibly silly.  If we live our lives expecting the unexpected to happen, we'll be let down often.  I believe that we should instead expect the obvious but be prepared for the unexpected because, it's true, sometimes, things don't happen the way we think they will, but, more often than not, they do.

I'm all about constructing truths from things that I observe.  To call them "truths" is somewhat deceptive because they sometimes prove false, but we serve the the majority here in the U S of A, so they're truths.  The truth that comes from this idea of expecting the obvious is that unrealistic expectations lead to disappointment.  I like to think of myself as a realist, but, looking back, I've decided that, often times, I've been more of an idealist.  I blame this on the fact that all my life I've been very lucky.  I applied to one Middle School program, one High School Academy, one college, and two jobs and haven't been rejected.  I wish that I could say "I'm just so awesome that no one can say no to me," but that's not true.  The High School Academy I applied to was a Creative and Performing Arts Academy; how many boys do you think applied?  If you're a male and have a beating heart, it would be difficult for them to refuse you.  Both of the jobs I've been offered were probably because of my connections; my brother is a personal friend of the Chick-Fil-A manager who hired me, and my good friend's step mother is the owner of the establishment at which I'm employed when I come home in the summers.  Most of my "success" can be attributed to the graciousness of others.  All of that to say: I've been very spoiled, and I believe that this has led to a rose-colored glasses sort of perspective that is both comfortable and dangerous to have.

In areas of my life aside from academics and the job market, I've still been lucky, but I've also been let down because of my unrealistic expectations, so, lately, I'm starting to see the world as it is.  Kind of.  I'm starting to realize that not everything gets handed to you on a silver platter, and I'm starting to learn that Daddy's money won't always put food in my mouth and a roof over my head.  I'm starting to discover that, soon, I'll have to depend on myself to make it in this world.  Of course, that's not true at all.  I'll be leaning completely on God, but if I just sit back, put up my feet, and say "please," I have a feeling God won't hand me good grades and a career worth pursuing.  Which leads me to the idea that there are two sides to this coin: you can't simply adjust your expectations, you have to adjust your actions as well.  So, yes, I've come to expect the world to disappoint, but I'm also trying to operate in a way that will ensure success despite disappointment.  The world doesn't revolve around any one person, and if I go through life thinking that things will always go my way, then I'm bound to end up discouraged.  Long story short, keep your expectations low, but your standards high-- don't "strive for consistent mediocrity" as my friend's Calculus teacher once told her class they should; strive to be outstanding all of the time.

From those who haven't had it their way, I've learned that happiness and satisfaction don't depend on the circumstances you're in but on the way you handle them.  This is an idea that occurs again and again in the Bible.  In Philippians 3, Paul writes "But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.  Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death."  Paul mentions the things that were gain to him, probably referring to his laundry list of qualifications as a would-be super Christian (if there was such a thing) that preceded this passage, but he also mentioned suffering the loss of all things, and counting those things as nothing.  I realize that, were this a formal paper, I would probably get marked down for straying from my thesis in this paragraph, but this is important enough to mention.  Despite whether your expectations are realistic, the circumstances that you find yourself in will not be of your choosing, but contentedness doesn't come from comfort; it comes from God.

I choose to keep my expectations of this life low because we live in a fallen world, but, ultimately, I anticipate that Christ will come and take me home to heaven.  Some of you might think that this conflicts with what I've been saying for the last eight hundred words, but some of you would be wrong.  Given that this is the most realistic expectation one could have, a promise from the God of the universe to his children, I have no fear of disappointment.

I know I've thrown this out to a much grander scale than you might have expected, but this truth doesn't only apply to the big things in (and after) life.  Just the other day, I was walking back to my dorm after class, thinking about this blog post.  It was in the twenties, and the wind was blowing.  To get into the buildings here at the college, you have to use your magic swipey card.  As I approached the path that leads to Gooch Hall, I thought "maybe someone will be in the lounge, so I won't have to take my hands out of my pockets and get my wallet out of my backpack."  Then, I realized that this was an unrealistic expectation that would likely lead to disappointment, so I pulled my hands from my warm pockets, un-shouldered my backpack, and took out my wallet before I reached the door.  In so doing, I saved myself time and discomfort: no one was in the lounge-- no one is ever in the lounge.  Of course, this is just one example, but I'm sure you can think of many other scenarios that fit this same mold.

So take off your rose-colored glasses and see the world for what it is; I promise that the rewards of saving yourself disappointment will outweigh the comfort that comes from resting in unrealistic expectations.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Live Your Life Efficiently

This is something I say A LOT.  I find myself obsessed with the idea of efficiency-- and for good reason!  Don't worry; I'll elaborate.

It probably started with Runescape.  I'm sure you've heard of it; it's a Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) in which you create a character and complete incredibly repetitious and simplistic tasks over and over to gain levels and items and blablabla.  That's the simple version, of course-- if it was really that easy, it wouldn't be very fun.  So in middle school, I played Runescape, and I quickly learned that the key to success in the game was efficiency.  Fight monsters with lots of hit points, and good drops so you can get lots of XP and items with few clicks.  Rather than operating task by task, operate area by area, so you don't waste all your time running from Lumbridge to Varrock and back to Lumbridge, when you could have done all your Lumbridge business at once and saved yourself the trip back.

During and following this stage of my life, I found myself applying this principle to my every day life.  Get the milk, cheese, eggs, and bacon bits out of the fridge all at once, rather than making multiple trips to and from the giant, cold box.  Bring the backpack downstairs when it's time to eat breakfast, rather than going all the way up the stairs to get it when it came time to leave for school.  You get the idea.  Then, I stopped playing Runescape, but the obsession lived on.

Jeffrey and I began playing Yu-Gi-Oh! competitively a few years ago, and, through it, I learned another lesson of efficiency.  The game works, again, basically, in a system of pluses and minuses; I won't bore you with the details, but suffice to say it's important to accomplish multiple goals each time you play a card.  This added the idea of efficient use of resources to efficient use of time.  Don't pour the milk, then close the fridge-- pour the milk AND close the fridge.  Don't brush your teeth, then put on deodorant-- brush your teeth AND put on deodorant.  You have two arms, use them both.  Don't pack pretzels and a peanut butter sandwich for lunch-- pack a pretzel AND peanut butter sandwich for lunch.  Don't do your homework before you get to school-- do your homework WHILE you're at school.  Except Physics homework-- do that at home.

Speaking of which, the next giant leap for Calvin-kind was when I took Physics and Calculus.  As you might imagine, this completely changed my perception of efficiency, and this change in perception manifested itself mostly in the way I traveled.  Don't accelerate to a red light just to break-- try and time it so that it changes to green while you still have some speed, so you don't have to waste gas and time accelerating again.  Don't just walk mindlessly through the halls-- pick a path through all the zombies that won't force you to do the awkward "which way tango" with ten strangers before you get to Spanish.  Don't use the sidewalk just because it's there-- take the most direct route to your destination.

Now that I'm aware of this obsession, I've begun to think about it on a grander scale.  At college, I probably spend at least an hour every day just walking from place to place.  What if I took slightly larger strides?  I began to count seconds.  It took me eleven minutes to get to my Seminar on Tolkien from Calculus II walking normally; it took me eight when I was in a hurry.  What if I hurried to every class?  I could waste just eight elevenths of the time that I normally would!  For the sake of simplicity, we'll call it eight tenths, which would be forty-eight minutes to the hour.  Only accounting for week days, I would save exactly an hour a week.  An hour a week begins to add up to entire days very quickly, when you start looking at semesters.  And what did it cost me?  Practically nothing.

The walking example is a good one, but there are hundreds of other little ways to save time every day.  Setting up the home screen on your smart phone and bookmarking frequently used tabs to save you clicks, foregoing the making of the bed, which you'll just mess up again when you go to sleep again, getting all of your food before your sit down to eat it, the list goes on.  Over the years, you could save yourself weeks, even months in tiny little increments.  That's kind of awesome.  Imagine all the extra stuff you could do with that time!  Honestly, not that much.  It's just a few minutes a day, and you'll probably end up wasting them staring your phone or computer, anyway-- I know I have.  But it doesn't matter whether you make good use of the time you save, really!  Because would you rather waste your time a) looking at your phone or b) walking by yourself in the freezing cold?  The correct answer is a, for those of you who had a doubt.

So next time you're walking somewhere, take bigger steps, and next time you open the fridge, get everything you need for your breakfast, so you can waste that time doing something else, instead.