The Science Debate

The Science Debate

One would think there is no debate about science. The scientific method is, quite simply this: “a method of procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.” What I find extremely interesting about this statement is the use of the word “nature,” or rather, natural science. It bears noting that “natural sciences” are those sciences which have to deal with the physical world – astronomy, physics, biology, geology, etc. In other words, it is a study of, you guessed it, the natural world.

At a recent M.P.S. meeting discussing the impact of humanity on the earth’s physiology, or eco-system, many arm-chair scientists spoke up and theorized on the state of our globe’s atmosphere. One person noted that there is a “layer of bacteria” it the atmosphere, and this could be the cause of some of the earth’s climate issues. Skeptical, as always, I wanted to know more. Using the internet and what I hope were reputable sources, I determined there is not a “layer” of bacteria but viruses and bacteria do get swept up into our atmosphere and in some cases, may be able to thrive there. There is no indication, however, of their impact on Earth’s changing or evolving climate.

img_0451The activities I undertook to understand what someone was saying were also a topic of this very same discussion. We have many ways of obtaining information and while the internet and search engines are helpful, they are not the “end all” of research. When libraries and bookstores were the norm, the person doing the research had to know the topic area, perhaps some reputable authors or scientists, and then searched and read through information to find data to support, or deny, whatever message they were researching. Now, it is slightly backwards – we’re provided the data quickly, but with little background on who, or what, produced this data.

While the tools may have also made the data easier to find, we have become less able to do actual research. In a recent airport visit, I watched a “Big Story” about a man who became fascinated with sea horses. He moved to California from his native Iowa, and during a dive in 2016, he spotted sea horses in the Long Beach harbor. He became fascinated with the creatures and now averages 1500 miles per year, driving and diving up and down the coast of California, to study sea horses. He is not a biologist or scientist of any kind. Yet, over time, he’s taught himself to start taking data, creating biomes for these creatures to study them, and become one of the foremost authorities on sea horses. Why? Because they fascinate him. He is passionate about them. Dare I say, he loves them.

We normal humans have become subjected to being fed “science” and rarely make the time or foment the passion to study a single piece of nature. We might find flowers beautiful or animals majestic, but we move right back to our computers and away from the natural world. When we get out into the world, we begin to understand it in a way that computers and spoon-fed data can never provide. Rather than find a path to learn, we are mortified by “not knowing” and become fearful. We look for information to make us feel better, to generally support our suppositions. We do not gather data based on observation or theory, like our friend above, nor do we really obtain knowledge. We lack understanding. We take what we hear, and return to the world around us a feedback loop of information that is consumed but not subsumed.

483c5e6d-977b-48b0-9d69-bbbc4c60790a-921-000000d05cd6384bWhy is science, a respect for science, important? For two reasons, I believe. The first is our ignorance of true science, of true nature, ignores the facts of the world around us. It drives us away from being of nature, when in fact we are nature. We lose context and disseminate false information. Fake news isn’t fake because someone simply lies; fake news is fake news when we perpetuate it without solid understanding and investing in personal research. We then make choices about how we live and how humanity thrives based on misinformation.

The second reason true learning of nature is important is because understanding nature stops fear and anger in its tracks. Understanding the larger cycles of the earth, geologic cycles, helps us understand better what is, and is not, human impact. It complicates what we want to be simple, but it complicates it because it is complicated. Nature needs to be understood by our individual selves, otherwise, we’re not really learning. We are part of this great body of animal, mineral, and vegetable. We’re made of stardust and earth, of air and water. We’re electrical and chemical. So is the world around us. If we seek to understand the universe, we are really seeking to understand ourselves. Destroying this ignorance destroys fear and hate.

48b17022-8269-4ce9-9a6e-1e009bd6dc11-921-000000d41d537600While I think we should question everything, I am not so sure there should be debate about science – about its existence and use in our lives. There should be no debate about nature, about physics or chemistry, no debate about exploration nor about the extrapolation of research. We should all become our own scientists in this world, curious and intuitive, passionate about life. Humanity isn’t separate from nature; humanity is nature, and thus, we study nature, we study ourselves. We learn. We grow, We become better.

Why Beauty? The Splendor of Truth

Why Beauty? The Splendor of Truth

Is beauty important? Why does it even exist in the first place? Everyone has a definition of beauty, and they are all different: A beautiful body, a beautiful painting, a beautiful sunset. It captivates and arrests the gaze. Beauty shines through the whole universe. When confronted by true beauty, one cannot turn away one’s eyes. We aspire to be beautiful so people will love us. It captivates all the senses, the soul and the spirit.

Maybe the question is not “what is beauty,” but “why is beauty?” Why is it any use to us at all? How do we know it? As Freemasons, we are taught that Beauty adorns all great and important undertakings. Beauty in the arts gives pleasure through inspiration. A gentle obsession with beauty is a source of much in our lives. Let us muse together on beauty.

How does one decide if something is beautiful or not? The Greek philosophers Socrates and Plato are said to have been the first who tried to define beauty. They thought that an object is inherently beautiful. Other philosophers argued that beauty is subjective. Beauty is not the quality of the object but it is an experience of our own, thus the popular phrase, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” For example, after seeing a starry sky, a gorgeous painting, or a mystical rainbow, a person may feel wonder and awe by the beauty in it. But not everyone may feel the same way about those same things.

Is beauty objective or subjective? Does our perception of beauty define us?

Plato’s Ladder

Plato uses the symbol of a ladder to show different levels of beauty in his dialogue in The Symposium. Each rung of the ladder gives a different perspective. On the first step or level, a person loves a body, and then all bodies. By the third step, he relates to the beauty of souls over that of bodies. This leads to the love of laws and institutions, leading to the love of certain types of knowledge. It ends in the pursuit of knowledge, or the love of wisdom. Upon reaching this, the person will see Beauty in its purest form or Beauty itself.8154643392_20cf304518_z

Step 1 – A beautiful Body
Step 2 – All beautiful Bodies
Step 3 – Beautiful Souls
Step 4 – Beautiful Laws, Institutions
Step 5 – Beautiful Knowledge
Step 6 – Beauty Itself

Looking at this it seems that beauty is not just about pretty things, but it’s something much deeper and vaster. It involves some sort of process of transformation. There is a saying In Italian, “bello da morire” which means “beautiful to die for.” The presence of beauty creates the possibility for a shift in us. If we change too much, we die of our old selves. According to philosopher David Hume, “Beauty is no quality in things themselves. It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.”

I think that beauty is like love in that it is one of those big realities in our life. Our relationships may be complex and at times contradictory and difficult. For example, we know that someone who looks traditionally very beautiful could be very dreadful indeed.

Ultimately, we face a paradox. Beauty may be important because it has strength and the power to transform us. But there are parts of us that resist that; we are attached to our old images of ourselves, old dogmas, and habits, and therefore, we prefer not to let in too much to beauty. It can be dismissed or ignored, and life goes on anyway in quiet desperation.

Do we even dare climb the ladder to this ineffable beauty? Plato said that beauty is truth. For example, if a statement is true it will also be beautiful. But there is even a problem 3913221135_a6918bf8cf_zwith this. We might see a statement that is beautiful to us, yet if we test it we find out it is not true. Beauty is a very complicated relationship.

Beauty in Freemasonry

In Freemasonry, we learn the concept of beauty cannot only be of a material beauty. If we go deep enough we will indeed find out that beauty is the splendor of truth. Inner beauty is goodness, and inner goodness is beauty. At some point, comes a decision to tread the way and be a better person. Embracing beauty helps with that.

Plotinus, one of the most influential philosophers in the ancient world, talks about fostering an inner vision:

Cut away that which is superfluous, straighten that which is crooked, purify that which is obscure: labor to make all bright, and never cease to fashion your statue until there shall shine out upon you the godlike splendor of virtue, until you behold temperance established in purity in her holy shrine.

By making “crooked things straight,” it seems that we can begin to experience a portion of those beautiful truths. Raise your consciousness and beauty will unfold before you. Attending a beautiful masonic ceremony or engaging in the creative arts can be enlightening and so can eating a box of chocolates. Divine!

I recently was listening to an interview by the late poet John O’Donahue. Something in his words and in his haunting deep Irish voice touched my soul ever so beautifully. I closed my eyes to as if to pay homage to the gods of poetry and philosophy. It was one of those rare encounters with beauty. We have all had them. In a moment of sublime Beauty, we are all rendered speechless. Beauty is ineffable. Why Beauty? It conveys something Divine that book knowledge doesn’t. Beauty gives way to contemplation. Admittedly, the very heart of Beauty cannot be captured in words.

Beauty does not linger, it only visits.
Yet beauty’s visitation affects us and invites us into its rhythm,
it calls us to feel, think, and act beautifully in the world:
to create and live a life that awakens the Beautiful.

– John O’Donahue