Questioning the Science

A couple of days ago, I saw a comment by a bestselling author who was rather scathing about people who question “the science.” It kind of took me aback because it seemed so . . . ignorant. Science is all about questioning. If it weren’t for questions, there would be no science. It’s the search for answers to those questions that create what we call “science.” Although some questions seem to have been answered, such as why an apple falls (though “gravity” itself still inspires questions) and if the sun is the center of the universe, there are others that haven’t been answered and perhaps never will be, such as what the universe is made of, how life began, what makes us human, what is consciousness, and a whole slew of other questions that make people try to reach beyond what they know.

According to Nasa Space Place, “Science consists of observing the world by watching, listening, observing, and recording. Science is curiosity in thoughtful action about the world and how it behaves.” It also says, “Science is not just a tidy package of knowledge. Science is not just a step-by-step approach to discovery. Science is more like a mystery inviting anyone who is interested to become a detective and join in the fun.”

Nowadays, though, “science” has reached the level of dogma, something that is incontrovertibly true, and anyone who dares question that dogma is branded a heretic. Of course, the word “heretic” isn’t used because it smacks of religion, and science isn’t religion, it’s . . . science. Or so they want you to believe. You’re not allowed to do your own thinking because . . . science. You’re not allowed to question the doctrine they’re foisting on you because . . . science.

But nothing is incontrovertibly true, not even truth (whatever that might be).

Supposedly, there are whole rooms full mysteries in the dark corners of the Smithsonian that don’t fit current theories about evolution, prehistory, whatever. Science only gives us the best possible explanation for observable phenomenon, and science can be manipulated to fit the scientist’s bias and, more probably, to fit the bias of the government or corporation funding the science.

Getting on a soapbox wasn’t my point in writing this piece, however. What prompted this essay is that yesterday, the day after I read that author’s comment, I saw her latest offering among the new books at the library. By habit, I reached out for it, because she was an author I sometimes read, but I couldn’t touch it. She’s nothing special and rather predictable, but that’s not why I could not force myself to pick up the book. It was the memory of her scathing remark about the stupidity of people who question the science.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Nightly Recap

During the past year or so, I’ve gotten into the habit of talking to Jeff at night when I am pulling back the bedcovers to get ready for bed. I don’t really tell him anything important; I just say a few words about my day or how I feel about things such as growing older or his being gone or anything else I feel like mentioning. I don’t think he’s listening — if he still exists somewhere, I sure as heck hopes he has something better to do than hang around and listen to me whine — but still, I talk to him, or rather I should say, I talk to his picture.

Occasionally I think it’s a bad habit and one I should break, because after all, it is a bit . . . not crazy, exactly, but off in some way . . . to talk to a picture. On the other hand, it’s not hurting anyone, least of all me, so why not continue? I’m not trying to hold on to him. After almost twelve years, it’s very obvious to me that he is gone. I’ve also built a good life for myself, so it’s not as if I am yearning for the past. I’m simply voicing the highlights (or lowlights) of my day. Although talking to a photo of a dead guy is basically the same as talking to myself, doing so gives me the feeling of imparting my feelings to someone other than to me.

This habit makes me wonder how important such a time of storytelling is, even if it is one-sided. In previous eras, clans and tribes, communities and families, would gather together around the fire in the evening and tell stories about their day. It was a way of saying, “I am here. I am living. I have meaning.” It was also a way of defining the clan, of gathering all their stories into one pot.

People living alone in houses or apartments seems to be a relatively new phenomenon. In previous eras — post-clan and pre-industrial age — families would gather in those members who were left alone, such as widows and maiden aunts and elderly patriarchs, but now, so many people, both young and old, are left to fend for themselves. Not that I want it any different for myself; it’s just an observation about changes through the ages, and how for most of human occupancy on this earth, we told our stories at night.

Whether it was a cultural evolution or written in our genes, it does seem as if this nightly recap is necessary. Oh, we can live without it — I did for over a decade before I developed this new (old) habit — but looking back over the many thousands of years of human interactions, this gathering of people and stories and thoughts seems important to our mental health or at least our sense of self and self-worth.

Of course, I could just be alibiing my habit, finding reasons that my behavior is reasonable, but still, I wonder.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Festivities

Today was another windy day, though not as devastating as the windstorm we had a week or so ago. Still, I played it safe and stayed home except for a brief jaunt to the library before the winds got too bad. It was a treat. When my knees were acting up, I got in the habit of going to the library when I got out my car each week. It was just so much easier making the extra stop than trying to wield a satchel-full of books as well as a walking stick. But today I took a chance on walking, and it all worked out well. Even better, I got plenty of books to tide me over until after Christmas.

Speaking of Christmas — everyone who has come to the house the past couple of weeks has remarked on all the Christmas presents I’ve received, which made me smile. True, my coffee table is piled high with festive boxes, but almost all of them are empty. I use the gift boxes I’ve collected over the years to store my lights and ornaments, so after the tree is up and decorated, I don’t have to find a place to store the boxes. I just leave them out in plain sight. (If I had a big tree, I’d put them under the tree, but since my trees are small, I use the coffee table.) All those seasonal boxes not only make the place look festive, but it gives me a sense of wealth seeing all those gifts, even if the “gifts” are filled with nothing but air.

And speaking of festivities — in the book I’m reading, a character mentioned May baskets, which brought forth a whole stream of memories that have been long out of mind. When I was in grade school, my mother sometimes made cupcakes that looked like May baskets for me to take to class on May Day. And oh, were they beautiful! Basically, they were just cupcakes with icing to match the pipe cleaner “handle,” and the handles were decorated with dime-store flowers. It sounds simple, but I remember she spent a lot of time making those baskets, and eventually, she had to give it up, not just because it was too time-consuming but because those tiny flowers disappeared from the stores.

In my early twenties, I again started the habit of May baskets, but I followed the original tradition of leaving the baskets on people’s doorsteps. I stopped when the husband of one of my friends threw the basket out in the street because he thought it was a bomb. This was decades ago, long before people in safe neighborhoods had to worry about such things, but his actions broke my momentum, and I never did such things again.

It does make me wonder, though, if this would be a good time and a good place to reinstitute the practice. I enjoyed making the baskets and leaving a surprise for people, and I doubt any of the people I would leave a basket for would immediately think “bomb” when they saw a basket of flowers and small gifts.

But May is a long way away. (Though at the rate time is moving, it will have come and gone before I get around to making any baskets.)

Meantime, there is Christmas to get through. I don’t imagine I’ll have any problems; in fact, I am actually looking forward to spending the day by myself, reading, playing on the computer, and eating good food. Oh, and opening the gifts I did get. I’m especially looking forward to seeing what the plant fairies and garden gnomes sent me!

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

More Truth and Secrets

Yesterday I pondered a saying I’d read, that the truth of a person lies in her secrets. I wasn’t, and still am not, convinced of the truth of that particular sentiment. For one thing, I think we are more than whatever secrets we might have, and for another, I’m not sure if we ever can know the truth of a person, whether our self or someone else.

I do know that what we secretly value tells us more about us than our secrets. For many of us, our secret values are the same as our overt values, the results of which anyone can see. In my case, this blog attests to my valuing truth, honesty, integrity, good writing, friendship, home.

For others, the values they brag about are at odds with what they secretly value. Some politicians are a good example of this. They are revered for their public service, and in fact see themselves as public servants, when what they secretly value is the power and money that accrue to them for what is so euphemistically called “service.” They do serve their constituents to the point where they can keep getting elected, but more than that, they serve those who can bring them the wealth and power they want. Public service? Baloney! If all public service were so lucrative, making these self-serving “servants” millions over the course of their tenure, we all we would be out serving the public. (The definition of “public service,” according to the Cambridge dictionary is “something necessary that is done or provided for the public without trying to make a profit,” which is the opposite of people earning millions as so-called public servants.)

The truth of us might also lie in how we view ourselves, whether that view is true or not. Again, in the example of some politicians, despite the money and power they crave and do all they can to garner more of each, they might truly see themselves — and cherish that view of themselves — as public servants, doing all they can to better the world. That what they are doing might be actually be worsening the world is ignored by even their inner voice because it does not fit with their cherished view of themselves.

All of this, of course, comes down to one of my original points in the first paragraph, that perhaps we can never know the truth of a person. Nor do I suppose it matters, except in the case of a writer constructing a character for a novel. Other than that, we deal with one another — and ourselves — the best as we can despite whatever the truth of us might be.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

Knowing and Not Knowing

We generally know what we know, and sometimes we even know what we don’t know — or at least we feel there is something we don’t know. This second feeling gives rise to conspiracy theories because we know that there’s more to many news stories, for example, than we are being told.

But we can’t know what we don’t know that we don’t know. Or maybe I mean we can’t know that we don’t know what we don’t know. An example of this is grief. I thought I knew what grief was, and I thought I knew that there was more to grief than I knew, but there was no way I could have ever known the truth about the epic grief after the loss of a life mate/soul mate. How could I? I didn’t know that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Only those who experience it can know the truth of it. Until you’ve been there, you don’t even know there is such a feeling even when people tell you there is.

This is also true of mundane things. For example, I am reading a book about the blue people of Kentucky.

What? Blue people? Yes, there were such people. I didn’t know about them, and it shocked me to realize that I hadn’t known that I didn’t know, but it shouldn’t have shocked me. How could I have known such a thing if I didn’t know it? It’s not as if blue (Blue Man Group aside) is a color we associate with humans on a regular basis. Oh, there is that whole blue blood thing, but that’s different than skin color. Supposedly the phrase originated with the Spanish — the purebred Spanish were white skinned, and so the blue of their veins was easily visible, but as they intermarried with the Moors, those hybrids had a darker skin and so their veins weren’t as visible.

On the other hand, the blue people of Kentucky actually were blue, though it wasn’t a skin condition. Rather, it was a rare hereditary blood disorder called methemoglobinemia inherited through a recessive gene from both parents. Their blood was blue due to a lack of oxygen in the hemoglobin. In the 1960s, doctors discovered that a commonly used dye called methylene blue could donate a free electron to the methemoglobin so it could bond with oxygen.

The blue people of Kentucky weren’t the only blue people — some isolated Inuit communities in Alaska were also blue. And there must have been others because the two people who were responsible for the blue folk of Kentucky were not blue themselves — the man was a French orphan, the woman a red-haired, pale white American, but both had the recessive gene.

Which makes me wonder if there really were blue blooded royals in ancient Spain, and that the story of their veins showing through their pale skin was simply that — a story.

All this brings me back to the whole thing about not being able to know what we don’t know that we don’t know. There are a lot of things I don’t know, but I know I don’t know them such as fractals or string theory. But since I can’t know what I don’t know that I don’t know, how could I ever learn about things I don’t even know exist? I suppose it comes down to the simple truth that I don’t need to know such things, and if I do need to know them, I will either be forced into the knowing, such as with grief, or stumble upon the knowing, such as with the blue-skinned people.

Either way, from your standpoint, it’s probably not worth your time trying to untangle these thoughts. It’s enough to know what we know and know what we don’t know without going further into the mental maze than that.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Little Things Amuse Little Minds

On the entrance to the library, there is a sign that says “Possession of dangerous weapons is prohibited on these premises.” I always have to laugh at that, wondering why a library would ban sharp minds, because truly, there is no weapon so dangerous as that. They let me in, so perhaps I’m not as sharp — or as humorous — as I once thought I was.

I’ve been seeing all sorts of “boycott Kellogs” notes online, and I have to laugh at that, too. Even if I wanted to find out why I should boycott (I am still on my news fast, eschewing all news), and even if I did find out and want to boycott, I couldn’t. I don’t buy any of their products. Not one. So who would know if I boycotted or not? I also find it ironic that Kellogs — the company that manufactures such delicacies as Pop Tarts, Pringles, and Froot Loops — started out as a health resort. Dr. Kellogs’ invention, cornflakes, was one of the early health foods. (Graham crackers and the first cereal called “granula” predated cornflakes.)

I am also amused by all the return address labels I get. What century do those people live in? Haven’t they ever heard of texting? Email? Not that I want them to spam me — I certainly don’t them sending me emails or texts. I’m merely pointing out that hardly anyone uses return labels any more. I use maybe one or two a month. It used to be I didn’t use any until the appearance of The Bob temporarily closed the office where I paid my utility bill, and I got into the habit of mailing it. (Silly, really, because it’s only three blocks away. Luckily, the local mail stays in town, so it gets there quickly. When I lived on the western slope, my local mail went first to Grand Junction, the next county over, then back to the town where I lived, which sometimes took a week.)

Because of all the begging mail I get, I would have to live ten lifetimes to use up those address labels. And perhaps by then, even texting will be passe. We might all have implants that let us transfer information to one another instantly without resorting to such unwieldy tools as phones and computers.

I hadn’t realized so many things have been amusing me lately, but apparently, I amuse easily.

This reminds me of my eight grade teacher who would stand in front of the class and reprimand us for playing around at our desks. As she was warning us that “Little things amuse little minds,” she’d be fiddling with a pen, which always made me want to laugh.

I started out talking about smart minds and end up with little minds. I better quit before I start talking about things I never mind.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

Rain Dance

Even though there is no sign of rain or snow, and neither is forecast for the near future, I hoped that by going out to water today, it would act as a sort of rain dance so that the clouds would release whatever moisture they were holding.

But no rain came. At least, no water came from the sky. I suppose the sprinklers can be considered artificial rain, so from that standpoint, my sort of rain dance brought results.

Despite my best efforts at taking care of the grass, it’s starting to brown out a bit, but I suppose that’s understandable. Most nights the temperature hovers around freezing, though sometimes the temperature drops down to the single digits. (Fahrenheit.) In fact, although the day had warmed up to about fifty by the time I got out there, what water hadn’t drained out of the hoses was still frozen. I had decided I wouldn’t water when the temperature is in the forties because it’s way too cold, especially since I seem to get as wet as my lawn. Now I know I probably couldn’t even if I wanted too. It’s hard to water when the hoses are blocked with ice.

Can you tell I really have nothing to say? I’m just spinning my mental wheels, going nowhere. Actually, I’m not even spinning the wheels. I seem to be mired in the doldrums. Oh, I’m not depressed or anything like that, it’s more like the sailor’s doldrums — a place of such calm that ships get stuck on the windless waters. That’s me — my words are getting stuck on the windless calm of my mind. Nothing is roiling around inside for me to work out. No big questions or lessons are waiting for a resolution.

There is one lesson, come to think of it. I checked to see which came first, the doldrums meaning mental stagnation or the doldrums meaning the stagnating seas, and it turns out that the first definition came first. In fact, the “dol” of doldrums is related to our word “dull.”

Whether I am becalmed or simply dull, I do know one thing — this place itself can never be likened to the sailor’s doldrums. There are no seas for one thing, and too much wind for another. I feel bad for the neighbors. No matter how much I try to keep from watering their driveway, the winds shift and their driveway gets wet anyway unless I water by hand. Which I do — I lay out a sprinkler hose in one part of the yard while I hand water another part.

It’s been working.

So far, anyway.

p.s. The photo is not mine, and that’s not my yard, but I didn’t think to take a picture when I was out there earlier, and now it’s too dark, so I used a free photo available from my blog platform.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Curmudgeonly

It’s 72 degrees (Fahrenheit) outside right now. In a mere fifteen hours, it will be 16 degrees. Wow, what a drop! I insulated my outside faucets because I won’t be watering for a few days, though by Wednesday, it will probably be warm enough to give my lawn a rinsing.

It will be good to have a break. Too often, standing out there watering, staring at all that green, I find myself thinking that grass is like hair for the ground. And just like hair, it needs periodic trimming and conditioning, shampooing and rinsing (mowing and fertilizing, watering). As you can see, not a whole lot goes on in my head when I am taking care of my new lawn.

On the other hand, when I am out and about, too much goes on in my head. For example, I’ve been seeing Santa Claus decorations, and for some reason, I have taken a dislike to the mythical old gent. (St. Nicholas may or may not be a myth, but the obese, red-garbed, bearded gent who harnesses wild animals to take him around the world in a single evening sure is.)

I think this dislike started around the time of that Polar Express movie. Here’s a kid who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, but he’s taken to the North Pole, meets elves and sees a huge Christmas present manufacturing system, and then it still takes a huge leap of faith before he believes in SC. Why? It should have been obvious from the beginning that something was going on. Then, when he gets older, he’s rather smug about still believing. Um. If you know something for a fact, if you’ve seen with your own eyes, then it’s not believing. It’s knowing. And how can he feel superior to those who didn’t go on the Polar Express, who had only their own mundane experiences to go by? As you can see, that ridiculous movie still brings out the curmudgeon in me.

Although I’m not particularly religious, religious decorations don’t bother me at all, mostly because they are an intrinsic part of the Christmas story, beginning a couple thousand years before the bearded guy was ever thought of). Mostly, though, the decorations that speak to me are the seasonal ones. As in seasons. Holly. Wreaths. Trees. Cranberries. Snow. The snow part is decoration, you understand; I’m not particularly fond of white Christmases. I’m surprised more people aren’t leery of snow at Christmas. Obviously, snow makes travel difficult, and so many people do travel at that time of year.

Not that any of this matters. It’s just my curmudgeonly side coming to the fore.

And speaking of being curmudgeonly — apparently, I use the phrase “this matters” (as in none of this matters) rather frequently because almost every day now my grammar check tries to tell me I should be writing “these matters.”

Bah, humbug!

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

Assumptions

In my wanderings through the internet, I came across one of those ubiquitous articles trashing the USA, written from the perspective of people from other countries. I don’t know why I even looked at it since I don’t appreciate such articles, mostly because they don’t reflect my life at all. What people hate about us are so often the policies enacted by politicians without regard to any of us — neither those of us living here, nor those living elsewhere. And if it’s not those policies that earn us such disregard, it’s the international corporations that destroy us as much as anyone else. (Why such corporations are considered to be American, I don’t know. Maybe because it’s easier to talk about how horrible the people in the USA are then point the finger at themselves?)

What stuns me is how much contempt people have for us while at the same time they have their hand out for the USA taxpayer’s money. (I read somewhere once that the United States should declare itself a third world country, that way some of our foreign aid could go to fix our own problems.) As for why we are handing out money — I don’t understand that, either. For example, we send money to China, yet we borrow money from China so that we can send it to them. Even more absurd, the people we send aid to hate us just as much as everyone else. And most absurd of all, so many of those same people want to move here so they can change this country to be just like theirs.

But none of that was in the article I mentioned above. It was more about cultural expectations and assumptions. Some people found it shocking that each of the states and each section of each state has its own particular culture and history and lifestyle. Others found the level of patriotism a bit over the top. Others were appalled at both the level of fitness in the country as well as the level of obesity. Some were shocked by the huge open spaces while others were stunned by the reality of the big cities, as if they’d assumed New York and Chicago were sets created as backdrops for various movies, even though neither are in the top ten of the largest cities worldwide. Some people thought the number of stores ridiculous, even though some areas (such as where I live) have very few stores. Some people were shocked that contrary to the hype, we generally are a friendly bunch. And on and on and on.

To me, this article wasn’t about the terribleness of the United States, but about the ignorance of the people who made these assumptions. A few minutes spent with Google, for example, can tell people that New York is real, and as large as it is, other cities in other countries are so much more populous.

Also, a brief look at statistics can show why assumptions of any kind regarding the USA are ridiculous, especially for those who are looking for some sort of uniformity throughout the country. Although the corner of Colorado where I live is approximately the size of the Netherlands, only about 100,000 people live here compared to the 17.4 million living in Holland, and yet this area is part of the same country that includes unwieldy cities such as New York, Chicago, and Seattle. And that’s not all. The USA and Europe are roughly the same size, though there are twice as many people living in Europe as live in the USA and 45 times more countries in Europe than in the USA. (45 European Countries vs. 1 USA country.)

So, what have I learned from all this other than that assumptions are simply assumptions and not fact? That’s easy. Stay away from articles purporting to tell me how terrible we in the USA are.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

Forty Days and Forty Nights

For someone who is supposed to be in isolation, I have a rather active social life, at least I did today. I got one phone call from a friend, made a call to wish another friend happy birthday, got a few emails, and spoke to a few people out in the wilds of my neighborhood. Whew! That’s more socializing than I do when I’m not isolating myself!

It was such a nice afternoon, still and warm, that several people were out and about when I went for a short walk. When I stopped to talk, I made sure I was far away from them, at least twenty feet, so both parties were protected. Tomorrow will be a bit chillier, then the next two days will be warm again. After that, I’ll be out of isolation, but I’m sure it will feel more isolating than these past days because the temperature will drop, and we’ll all be isolating ourselves in the coziness of our homes.

It is interesting, though, that in the computer age, isolation feels a lot less like isolation than it did when quarantines were first created in the 14th century. I paused here to check the internet, and actually, I’m wrong about the isolating factor of quarantines. The practice of quarantine started during plague times. To keep the plague from spreading to Venice and other coastal cities, ships were required to sit at anchor for forty days before landing. So back then, people were quarantined en masse. No isolation for them. They certainly didn’t need computers and such to make them feel less alone.

Quarantine today is a matter of fourteen days, not forty, so I’m not sure the practice can still be called a quarantine since the word comes from the Italian phrase quaranta giorni, which means 40 days. I wonder if they knew that’s how long it would take the plaque to remove itself from the ships, or if it was a biblical thing since Noah endured 40 days and 40 nights of rain, and Jesus fasted in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights. (So why weren’t the ships kept at anchor for quaranta giorni e quaranta notti? Or maybe they were, and like everything else, over time the phrase was shortened to make it less unwieldy.)

Whatever the meaning of quarantine, and despite my rather social time of isolation, I’m glad I don’t have to be alone for forty days and forty nights. Not that the addition of “nights” matters — I’m always alone at night. And anyway, technically I’m self-isolating rather than quarantining since no one is keeping me at home but me, and I can go and do wherever I want as long I stay far away from people. Which tends to be my inclination anyway.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.