Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Connections: Rationalism, God, Kids, and Waking Up

A friend of mine has inadvertently managed to cut a knife through my years and years of upbringing which has taught me I'm a flawed and useless mind. Flawed, yes, anyone with AADD (Adult Attention Deficit Disorder), by definition, is - but useless?

His net effect is that I've found the joy I used to take when I was young in engaging my brain in things. Growing up about the only TV I watched were nature shows, PBS (Public Broadcasting System), Doctor Who, original Star Trek, some cartoons, and Night Court. I enjoyed horseback rides and spending hours and hours not playing videogames, but drawing and making up my own worlds - which I do to this day every time I'm walking by myself.

So I bit torrented the first season of James Burke's Connections and, while some of it is out of sync and the 70's film quality doesn't hold up well, it's still just an incredible series, and it's got me thinking.

You see, I have a rather rational mind. I recall, watching something Carl Sagan put together, learning that 95% of the world believed in some sort of God. My immediate response was "95% of the world is stupid?" I am no longer an atheist, but that's not by choice, but by personal experience. Believe me, if faith was all I had - I would still be the staunchest atheist you could find who really didn't care to spread it around or use it to say "I can do whatever I want," which is what almost every other atheist I ever met did, and I didn't like them, but that didn't matter to me at the time, because rational thought mattered more than emotional beings.

Suffice it to say, I do not believe in coincidences anymore than God or a policeman does, and aside from this, I've seen proof that the world isn't as simple as what we can normally observe. Beyond that, I can't tell you anything - what religion to follow, what ethics to follow, I can just tell you - the tree is there, even if nobody sees it or believes it, and I get the sense that the tree isn't anymore damaged by a lack of belief than a tree in this world. It just is. I make no effort to explain it because I'm rational enough to believe the only way to explain it would be through the scientific process, and I don't have the tools I'd need to do that. It's also pointless, because as much effort as some people put into believing in God, others put into disbelieving. It almost always boils down to emotional need.

I've also found that I still enjoy rationals more than true believers in Christ because they're capable of thinking without boundaries. My wife is a wonderful exception - she'd be akin to some of the scientific Catholic friars of old - devout to the physical secular world as well as the clerical one. You can't bring scientific information to her that she doesn't want to accept because, to her, all proven science is part of the world, from Dinosaurs to ancient man to the vastness of the cosmos, it fascinates her. There was a time she'd have been burned, or, like the old friars, carefully researched away from prying eyes.

At any rate, the thinking rationals put into the workings of the world interests me more because they aren't afraid to say "Fanatical religion = bad" and so on. For some stupid reason, most followers of faith don't want to admit that there is any bad associated with what they do.

The flip-side, of course, is rampant liberalism and the problem this brings with rearing children, but I digress...

It Helps My Life
Anyway, rational thinking has got me thinking about the world again, like I used to do more of - how news is spread, information twisted, how societies and civilizations work, how change happens (thanks to Connections) and how we are all caught up in it. The Internet wasn't around in the 70's, but it was on the drawing board, so to speak.

This, in turn, has given me another hobby I can engage in with my wife. You see, my lovely armchair anthropologist (she's had college level courses in anthropology but, as she was a traditional Franciscan Nun at the time, she was not allowed to collect a paper degree, so she has no proof other than quizzing her) goes so far as to take a notebook and colored pens to make notes on everything she sees, so much so that she cross-references what one documentary says with another.

Testing My Daughters
Back on Connections: I actually wrote up a written test for my 10 year old daughter, Maria, 9 questions in total, dealing with the first episode. My wife tried to tell me it was too much, and I realized it was, so I added money to the pot: $1 per every two questions answered. 1 question was rhetorical.

Dulce participated passively, by watching the show and then observing Maria giving her answers.

Maria de Guadalupe couldn't write down her answers, so I transcribed for her. It was made especially difficult because her reward for beating up a 13 year-old black ghetto boy (poor kid, but this is basically where I live, so I might as well write it like it is) arrived the same day - she was stuck: she wanted to have fun with her reward, but I told her "If you don't do your Connections work today, you won't make any money. You'll still have to watch it, but you'll have no questions and no opportunity to make money. This is how the world works, Maria. If someone asks you to do something for them and they are willing to pay you, you can't tell them 'Maybe next week.' "

She eventually saw my point. Her questions weren't entirely correct, but I kept telling her as I transcribed "I don't care if you're completely correct, I care that I've made you think." She earned $4 in roughly 2 hours of work - one hour spent watching the first episode by herself, and another reviewing it and saying her answers with me when I got home. She's lucky if she can make $4 in an entire day of chores, so she was amazed at the work/reward ratio, and asked if she could do more.

Mexican Jew. She likes work and spots ways of making easy money fast. *chuckles*

The questions:

The questions ranged from "What would happen if there was no electricity in our house? How could we survive if it never came back on?" to "What happens to a city if it loses electricity permanently? What do the people do?" to "Why is the plow so important to civilization?"

Her answers ranged from bits of ideas to pure accuracy based on what James Burke said. I'll post it here. Dulce was interested, but is 7 - I can't do this to her just yet, but I'm glad she wanted to observe.

How many 7 year-old little girls do you know who want to watch Connections, twice?

  • Watching Connections has helped rekindle my questioning of the way things are, and why.
  • Dove's daily commentary and friendship helped spur all of this.
  • I love asking my children why, and not focusing on their answer, just that I made them think.
PS to Kevin - The other religious friend of mine whom I find capable of rational thought is Kevin, in Virginia. He's got some hard and fast views, but that's what makes him a great person - he'll never betray a confidence, and never betray a person, because he's incapable of it. Jack Bauer could torture the man, and he'd stay firm. On the flip-side, that means you can't question President Bush or the PS3 ;)

And I love him like that. Too few people have firm minds. His is just one (firm mind) that is unusually free from being stuck in the mud, so to speak.

PS to Dove - I know he's not big on compliments, but I hope he realizes that he's made my life a bit better, and that is pretty much the best thing someone can say about a friend.

PS about Dave - I am an INTJ. I am aware this makes me more apt to thinking rational thought and working systems is far more important than emotional concerns, which don't affect how the world works, only what you do in it.

In the title, "Waking up" refers to my re-realization that my mind, while beneath super geniuses, is still useful, and fun to exercise.

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