Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Preface: Yesterday was politics as usual here. Today, Mark has satori-slapped me out of my strident voice and into a more calm and introspective mood. He wrote a little on his thoughts about philosophy. I started to comment on his blog, then realized I was writing a frickin' term paper on the subject. So, instead, I'll dump it here.

On Some Of What I Use From Philosophy and Religion

Even though my undergrad and grad curriculums were heavily skewed towards physics, my advisors recommended I also take a series of philosophy courses. From an applicability perspective when doing all those insane derivations, the tools of deductive logic turned out being more useful to me than number theory, algebra, or geometry. Of course, calculus, differential equations, matrix theory, etc. were needed - Physics will always just be the little, practical, brother of Mathematics.

I also grew to appreciate better, through philosophical and theological readings, the limitations of the natural sciences. Where the scientific method is appropriate and where it isn't. As I dug more deeply into the (then) outer limits of theoretical physics (back when grand unified field theories didn't incorporate nifty string theory insights), having *that* fundamental awareness was actually...useful.

The concept of The Fundamentally Unknowable - that which exists beyond the limits of empirical analysis - was originally very difficult for me to accept. Mankind is driven by this conceit. Don't get me wrong. This is inherently not a bad thing. But, post Heisenberg, most physicists seem to be OK with TFU. At least they have agreed to a truce, on some fronts. Philosophy helped me to fully appreciate this realization.

As a lapsed catholic, I once tended to lump theology, philosophies and all religions together into one pile, which stood at the polar opposite of science. But as I have grown older and have gained more life experience, I begin to see this as a very western and recent attitude. Probably the most useful thought I ever had in my life, was when I realized that religion, especially some of those of the east, as well as some philosophical writings (mostly those that take on the Santayana-esque skepticism and animal faith duality), are primarily about ways of living well. At the core of christendom, this exists too, of course. All three major religions, of the family of Abraham, have it. But unfortunately, their 'it's My way, or the highway' pitch for converts broke the strong connection to the core teachings. At least for me. The convert game also brought about the We Know It All, Go With Us, Or Risk Eternal Damnation clause. Back east, Zen and other schools of Buddhist practice, have been able to retain an immediacy, a living component to the teachings. If you do this well, you will live well. That's all I really need, you know?

This is not meant to discount Physics. I loved it, still do. In fact, TFU is a quasi-quantum mechanical concept. The Knowable and The Unknowable stand equal, in the universe. That's hard, for Man, to say.

That said, I think we all agree the answer to the meaning of everything is 42.. More evidence. And more. And yet more. You can spend all day doing this.

But what about the question "42?" Now that's where za-Zen really kicks in!


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