Sunday, February 22, 2009

Escape into Reason

I once had a dream where the physical laws of my universe were continually changing.  A water bottle might change shape or location even if no force was acting on it.  I got so fed up with the stupidity of it all that I remember asking "Is this a rational or an irrational universe" right before I woke up.
In short, I like things to make sense.  I like to understand the reasons behind what happens.  Irrationality irritates me.  I like to look at a piece of artwork and understand why/what an artist did what he did.  When I'm told that art doesn't have to have a meaning, something inside me rebels.
In so much of life, I never stop to ask "Is this a rational or an irrational universe?"  I just take it for granted that it's rational.  Because it is.  But why is it?  I think it's time for people to start asking themselves: 1) Is this universe rational or irrational  and 2) Why is it the way that it is? 
So much of the time people go through life benefitting from the fact that the universe is rational but never appreciating it.  Can you imagine CSI in an irrational world?  Just the thought of it is absurd: "How do you know that this is the murderer?"  "That's a good question.  I don't actually know that she is.  I'm just thinking that at the time of the murder, cotton had different properties than it has now."  "Different properties like what?"  "Well, I think it was a toxic gas instead of an inert solid, and that the perpetrator opened a cannister of cotton underneath the victim's nose.  At that time it diffused into her nasal passages and killed her.  But by the time the coroner did his job, cotton had different properties.  It was back to the inert solid that you buy at the drugstore."  "Which explains the anomalous residual cotton strands in the nasal passages."  "Wehtjakwety."  "Thwewtaywuekt."  (The conversation cannot continue, either because sound waves are no longer able to pass through air because of a change in the physical laws of the universe, or our two conversants simultaneously morphed into a calico cat and a denim dog and their mouths are sewn short).
We can only solve crimes because there are some fixed characteristics of this universe.  And because, more often than not, people exhibit some degree of rational behavior.
If someone set out to make a movie that was irrational, would it do well?  There could be no plot, because in an irrational world there is no such thing as cause and effect.  There could only be a series of events, of experiences.  Some might be related, but no ultimate meaning could be derived from them.  A dad might be pushing his daughter in a swing, but the swing might drift into space, and then the movie might become a Western, then a film about Samurai.  Or it might simply be a black screen, or a staticky frame that continued for 45 minutes.  It wouldn't matter.  It'd be absurd.
Because the vast majority of people recognize the rationality of the universe, the occassional seemingly irrational event jars on them.  That's when questions like "How could a good God allow something this horrific to happen" begin to surface.  They're assuming that the universe is rational and that God, if He existed, would be rational.  Why the presupposition?  It's valid, but why?
Why the stasis?  Paradoxical, isn't it?  A researcher feels such pride in their publication, but at the same time talks about the constant flux of the universe, the constant adaptation occurring around them.  What hope do they have that the system they described, the data they collected, the conclusions they drew, will be valid tomorrow? 
Why are there energetic valleys in this universe?  How is it that even biological systems with all their ability to adapt universally play with the same set of biological LEGOs?  Should I believe the researcher who recently said on campus that "there's nothing special" about the nucleosides in DNA?  Is it possible that he underestimates the system he poo-poos?  Why do we assume that the sun will rise tomorrow?  Why did it rise yesterday, and then again today?  How is it that so many of the same physical processes occur without fail from ancient times to present times?  Why are there constants in this universe?  Is there a unifying Person or force holding it all together?  Oh yeah!  There is such a Person... this Jesus who holds all things together, and provides us with a dynamic equilibrium: a peace in the midst of storm.
Is the universe rational?  Oh yes, because it was created by a rational God.  Disagree?  You say that yes, the universe is rational, but not because of God?  Why then is the universe rational?  Oh, you there say that rationality is simply a construct, and that it is simply irrational man's attempt to fit a rigid structure over an amorphous blob.  But the only way you could convince me of this is by reasoning with me.  And that would require that we both were rational.
Truly, I believe that if people could be transported to an irrational universe for just two seconds, they could see and appreciate the rationality of our universe.

No comments: