Thursday, July 26, 2012

Land of Dreams

Rosanne Cash, daughter of Johnny, had this to say in an interview with CBC Radio's Jian Ghomeshi:
My sense is that in my father’s generation, you wanted success and material wealth. You wanted a comfortable life, but that the way to achieve that was through commitment and a strong work ethic and personal integrity.
But these days, Cash goes on to say:
Sometimes some people want all of those things, but they want to get there no matter what.
She then quotes Buckminster Fuller who said,
It is the integrity of each individual human that is in final examination. On personal integrity hangs humanity's fate.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Cape Breton Island

My wife and I just returned from a week of vacation in Nova Scotia. We particularly enjoyed our time on Cape Breton Island traversing the Ceilidh trail and Cabot Trail. Nova Scotia is a proud land with a noble history. Scottish Highlanders, with their distinctive Scottish Gaelic language, were cleared out of the Highlands of Scotland by English landowners in the 18th and 19th centuries. Pictou, Nova Scotia received the first wave of immigrants from Scotland on September 15, 1773. About 200 people arrived on a small sailing ship called the Hector. It's full size replica still sits in Pictou Harbour.

The Highlanders who landed in Nova Scotia (New Scotland) had to work hard to overcome the hardships of the land. They fished and farmed; grew flax to make linen cloth; raised sheep; built homes and tamed the land. They developed their own traditions, maintained the Gaelic language, and sang and played music everywhere they lived. They had songs that were sung while they milled cloth (milling frolic music), they sang while they milked cows, planted crops, and any other work they might have done. They brought with them the bag-pipe but adapted many bag-pipe reels, jigs, and strathspeys for the fiddle. The bag-pipe influence is still evident in the music of Cape Breton Island. Families passed down the knowledge of the family tunes and fathers taught their children to play the fiddle the way their father had taught them. To this day, you can tell what family or locality the player is from by the style of the fiddler and the way he taps his foot. Kitchen parties, or Ceilidhs (pronounced Cay-lee) held in the evenings were important ways that knowledge was passed from one generation to the next. Stories were told, good hearted arguments about the right way to play a tune or a note occurred, and the social fabric of the society was maintained.

Life was hard for these early settlers but hard work saw them through. In contemporary times, Nova Scotia has suffered more hardship. Unregulated fishing of cod and haddock allowed unsustainable numbers of fish to be taken out of the Atlantic resulting in the collapse of the cod and haddock industry. Government shut down all cod fishing to allow the numbers to return but twenty years later there are still few cod and haddock in the Scotian Shelf. Scientists believe that the ecosystem has been permanently changed by the overfishing. Today, a lobster season and a crab fishing season are the only fishing available to those who used to fish the mighty Atlantic sea. Much of the area relies upon tourism from May through early September and jobs are hard to find. Some bed and breakfast businesses and restaurant owners spoke of how many young people have become dependent on employment insurance cheques.

Nova Scotia exports most of its East Coast musicians, adding to the economic problems of the region. Many bands and artists write songs and adapt them for commercial markets but eventually make their way to the larger centres like Toronto or Nashville. Our travels through the Ceilidh trail were rich with music. Many restaurants and pubs featured live music by local artists. Some was traditional and some was contemporary folk music.

Jimmy Rankin from Mabou, Nova Scotia on Cape Breton Island (part of the Ceilidh Trail) writes of the sadness and loss of his home. His song called "Running Home" has references to his longing for home and how he must travel but he will always be "chasing home." The final three stanzas have a different style and tune and speak of the former glory of his home and how they have lost much: "Northern winds got the best of us; sure made a mess of us; hope they're not the death of us."

Running Home (Lyrics and music by Jimmy Rankin)

Say goodbye to the city nights
Now I need the northern lights and the changes
Gotta trade the bars for stars
Haven't seen your face in while must be ages

I'm always gonna be chasing highways
I'm always gonna be chasing highways
Running home
But I'm running home

This place is full of memories
Some of them of my younger days running carefree
I'm far away from the scene back there
Far away from the space I care deep inside me

I'm always gonna be chasing highways
I'm always gonna be chasing highways
Running home
But I'm running home

Trading tunes until daylight
Many times I burned up the night getting crazy
Tired of the scene back there
Back again to a space I care all around me

Running home


This ain't much, just a little note to you
I miss your touch and everything you used to do
You're miles away from where you used to be
Northern winds got the best of you
Sure made a mess of you

Can't go back to the place that was before
The past is past and no one lives there anymore
There're miles away from where it used to be
Northern winds got the best of them
Sure made a mess of them

This ain't much but I had to make it clear
I'll spread my wings and I'll disappear
To miles away from where I used to be
Northern winds got the best of us
Sure made a mess of us
Northern winds got the best of us
Sure made a mess of us
Hope they're not the death of us.

I too desire to see this proud land "Rise Again." May we live to see the rise of proud Cape Bretoners once again.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Miracles and Moses

Moses was a man who saw many miracles. Perhaps he is the man who saw more miracles than any other man who has ever lived. If we try to number just how many miracles he experienced it becomes hard to measure. His miraculous salvation from death when all the Israelite males were to be put to death at birth pales in comparison to the parting of the Red Sea and the drowning of the Egyptian army. Should we count both as miracles? God speaking to him out of a bush that burns but is not consumed - a metaphor or a miracle? Should we count the ten plagues of Egypt as one miracle or ten? Of course, it was Albert Einstein who said, "There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." But a conservative estimate suggests that Moses experienced ten miracles from God. A generous estimate puts the number around twenty. Most of these events happened after Moses was eighty years old. Moses aging process is likely a miracle in itself. If we round out the number of miracles to 20 and divide them over his entire life that is one miracle every six years. Even if we were to only look at the last forty years of his life, the number becomes one miracle every two years.

What is my point? Even in the life of the man who witnessed many miracles from the hand of God, miracles are rare. If we could be fortunate enough to witness a few miracles in our lives we should consider ourselves very blessed. I will testify that I am one who has been fortunate enough to have experienced several miracles. Some of the miracles I have experienced are enumerated and summarized in previous blogs. (Start at this one if you want to read about some.1)

Frances Collins, a physician and scientist and follower of Jesus, put some of this in perspective when he said:
Perhaps on rare occasions God does perform miracles. But for the most part, the existence of free will and of order in the physical universe are inexorable facts. While we might wish for such miraculous deliverance to occur more frequently, the consequence of interrupting these two sets of forces would be utter chaos. (Frances Collins, The Language of God, p. 44)2

As you and I look for miracles in our own lives, we must resist the temptation to seek too many and resist the temptation to see too few. How many miracles would be sufficient to convince us of the existence of God? As for me, I have been blessed with an abundance.

2 (Collins 2006, 44)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Tale We've Fallen Into

I first started reading J.R.R. Tolkien when I was about 19 years old. I remember one marathon reading session over a Christmas break from school. I really wanted to finish the Lord of the Rings Trilogy before I went back to reading books for school. The words of these books created amazing images in my mind that stay with me to this day. Tolkien had a great depth of knowledge and the books can be read on several levels. Recently, a friend reminded me of the following quote from The Two Towers. It can be read as great dialogue in a fantasy novel, a meditation on the life of a country or culture, a meditation on cosmogeny (the origins and meaning of life), or even, a meditation on one's own life.

We shouldn't be here at all, if we'd known more about it before we started. But I suppose it's often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that's not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually — their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn't. And if they had, we shouldn't know, because they'd have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on — and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end. You know, coming home, and finding things all right, though not quite the same — like old Mr Bilbo. But those aren't always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed in! I wonder what sort of a tale we've fallen into?

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Two Towers: Being the Second Part of the Lord of The Rings. Agincourt: Methuen Publications, 1971, p. 320, 321.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Higgs and Bosons

I have been giving some thought to the implications of the likely "discovery" of the Higgs Boson particle that accounts for the Higgs field. I am sure you have read something about it by now, but if you haven't, get caught up here.1 Professor Higgs, of the University of Edinburgh (score one more for the Celts), who was present at the announcement must also have been thinking about the implications. News stories spoke of his emotions as he wiped a tear from his eye and realized he had just become the most famous scientist on the planet. Everyone knows where the next Nobel prizes in physics will go but behind the scenes will be several large consortiums sharing the honour.

But what of the scientific and engineering implications of the Higgs Boson? No one can begin to guess where this might lead. But let us consider what we know about the Higgs Boson. We know it generates a field through which all other fundamental particles must pass. It is the "pea soup" of the universe through which we all swim. It gives us mass. But what if we could learn to counteract the Higgs field and reduce the mass of particles; and the sum of all these particles in bodies of mass like a car or plane? Vertical take-off and hovering action might be possible. Also, objects with reduced or no mass would require less force to accelerate (remember the old formula for acceleration: acceleration = force divided by mass; a = F/m).  Thus, if you could clear out all of that problematic Higgs field in front of your direction of travel and thus make your car or plane virtually mass-less, a small amount of force would give greater acceleration. Objects with no mass travel at the speed of light, why not us? Would anyone like a 20 minute trip to Mars? How about an afternoon trip to the edge of the solar system? Don't expect such inventions next week.

What of some of the other implications of the Higgs Boson? Discovering evidence for the Higgs field is one important piece of the argument that supports the Standard Model of physics. If we have Higgs Bosons, we have a Higgs field, and we have evidence that the super-symmetry string theories are pointing in the right direction. Tell the String Theory people to keep looking for all ten or eleven dimensions of String Theory. The mass of this fundamental particle, now estimated to be in the 125 GeV/c2 range, will also give physicists ideas about which of the theories is more likely to be accurate. Thus science can now focus experiments in areas that will be more fruitful.

What of philosophical implications. Again, it is too soon to guess but certainly one thing we are seeing is the triumph of both theoretical and experimental physics. It was predicted that the Higgs Boson existed and it has now likely been found. The math and theories are bearing out and are worthy of our continued study. We live in a complex, but non-chaotic, universe (or multiverse). Philosophy, science, and theology will react and will once again find a new equilibrium of interaction. I look forward to the implications for philosophy and theology. Much hard work lies ahead of us and we should get at it. I am sure the physicists are working hard right now.