Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Two related thoughts

Event #1: I have reached the Stone Ages in my Ancient Civ class. Always a merry time, I get to talk about the rise of human civilization, and the great changes that brought about the rise of agriculture, villages and cities in rapid (relatively speaking) succession. One small part of today's lesson was giving a definition of religion (yes, I talk about religion in my history class). Let me write it down and see what you think of it.

Religion is the belief in the unseen. If you can't see it, hear it, touch it, smell it or prove that it exists and yet you still know that it exists -- that's religion. It's one of the most basic characteristics of the human species. The odd pile of flowers over dead Neanderthals aside, we seem to be the only hominid capable of such an interesting assumption. I might quibble with the definition but it seems to work for seventh grade history.

Event #2: This blog popped up on Twitter today and I was blown away by the force of its argument and the clear-eyed, sober realism it expresses. I am a speculative fiction writer. Like the writer of Starship Reckless, I write because the far-fetched ideas of FTL, personality uploading, and radical economics of Cory Doctorow appeal to me. I have faith that even though we haven't seen much space exploration, we will in the near to middling future. I have faith that although artificial intelligence (to borrow a phrase from an RPG I like, Diaspora) has a lot more of the former than the latter, some day computers will meet and quickly exceed our own intelligence. I have faith.

Am I just a religious writer in speculative drag?

I do not have a strong science back ground. I took undergrad anthropology and psychology and left math to the people who liked it. I read a lot of popular science but I'm not so foolish to think that in anyway makes me an expert biology, physics, or computers. I like science. I believe in science. I have faith that the view expressed through science is the correct one although I might not have the best metaphor to explain why.

I felt chastened by Athena Andreadis's blog not because I thought we were going to Alpha Centauri next week but because when something like an earth-sized planet is discovered in a neighboring star system I begin to dream. Dreaming is not rational but it is necessary for life. Dreaming rises above the disordered meaningless clutter of politics, daily life, and the odd natural disaster and casts our eyes upwards. 

Dreaming is not always practical though. I doubt I or anyone I know will ever see what world circles Alpha Centauri and I'm glad blogs like Starship Reckless exist to remind me of that. 

Anyway, read the blog, it's an elegantly phrased, well-supported downer and someone needed to say it.
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