Summit Daily letters: In the face of uncertainty, our curiosity is a gift from God
September 15, 2017
Our scientific curiosity is a gift from God
I just finished an article which was a commentary on the weather prognosticators' inability to predict the precise pathway of Hurricane Irma. I myself have had similar reactions to the limitations of this science. But, whereas the writer's conclusion was that we don't know everything about predicting the weather, or medicine and the many other aspects and branches of modern science, my take was that the author stopped way short of where he might have led us readers. I deduced that he was perfectly at ease with where, at the curb side, he had dropped us, flummoxed by our continued human ignorance. My conclusions took me much, much further.
If Western humanity has any distinctiveness, it derives from a notion that there is much to be discovered about our universe, and that our purpose in this world to draw back the curtains and discover what makes everything operate as it does. God has implanted with us as a collective species these abilities to know and unpack cosmic "secrets." This is not the time to be throwing our hands up and capitulating to our limitations. Our weather folks have sophisticated instruments by which they know when and where hurricanes are forming and why. They can determine and know their intensity, velocity and strength. They feed all their data into super computers whose powers are little more than a half-century old. That they haven't yet "broken the code" to decipher precisely the pathway of these storms isn't something to be lamely accepted, derided and mourned. It is the proverbial gauntlet, thrown down to us as a challenge to go further, study the phenomena deeper, calculate and fold in even more data, create better machines and models so that, in the future we shall be even more adept at our predictions.
The tragedy of our times is that we are witnessing an anti-intellectual, anti-science, dark age. It is an unfolding that seeks to gut the funding for the very agencies and programs that have brought us to the level of sophisticated, scientific knowledge that we enjoy at this moment in human history. This regression threatens the enterprise of discovery and advancement just at the moment when break-throughs in medicine and pharmacology, hydrology, and agriculture, to name but a few areas of modern science, are most critical to our continued wellbeing and futures.
There was an episode of "West Wing" in which a probe, the Galaxy Five, upon landing on Mars, failed to begin communicating with Earth. The president had scheduled a closed circuit, educational program with school children all over the United States. When the probe's systems shut down, there were those who assumed that so, too, would the TV program. Why have it when the main attraction was not operating? The answer was that, even, or especially, in failure, it wasn't a reason to quit. Rather, there was the challenge to move past what we hadn't perfected, to discover and to probe harder, smarter and more astutely. Failure was the impetus to try harder.
The human thirst for knowledge is one of the greatest gifts of God, and the ultimate blessing is the opportunity to seek and assimilate, and then to continue that seeking. The never-ending goal isn't to just up and accept our limitations, but to explore and discover, thereby advancing humanity's capacities, knowledge and capabilities.
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One day soon, with the help of satellites and computers, charts and graphs, hurricane hunters and just plain human brains, focus, sweat and grit, we shall perfect our abilities to chart the direction of monster storms and maybe even affect how they are formed, how they move and how to direct them away from doing the catastrophic damage they do.
Rabbi Joel R. Schwartzman
A history lesson for Morgan Liddick
Re: Morgan Liddick's Sept. 11 column, "Much ado about DACA."
Wow, Mr. Liddick! You were so quick to harshly judge and condemn those young brown demonstrators for — amongst other offenses — "no knowledge of, nor interest in, history." If you know your history, specifically that of your native Texas, then you know that rash pronouncements led to many a lynching of Mexicans by racist hicks. And if "racist hicks" grates, how about "rural resident bigots"? It's both factually and grammatically correct, if clumsier. . .
Over the years, in your overwrought writing there seeps a narrow and white-washed (pun intended) version of history that you arrogantly lord over your readers' heads — I will put you to the test on this later. For now, explain the similarity you see with the open borders of yore and today's borders — you have 5,000 years to draw from, so you say. How does Attila the Hun galloping unhindered through Eastern Europe into Austria and Germany compare to the "threat" of today's economic and political refugees, many women and children, stumbling across a scorching desert? Does the U.S. really need an expensive "big, beautiful wall" for these "invaders"? By the way, the Great Wall of China didn't work out so well.
In addition, and more to the DACA point, it is so disingenuous of you to, on one hand, criticize the appeal to emotion in the DACA debate while you pander to your readers' fears with vague talk of "an unending horror story" and "massive upheavals." Stop dishing out hyperbole and serve them facts, e.g., between 1975 and 2015, the annual odds of being killed in the U.S. in an attack by foreigners or immigrants was 1 in 3,609,709. No, that's not a typo — it's a one! (Alex Nowrasteh, "Terrorism and Immigration: A Risk Analysis.") And immigration is actually associated with a decline in terrorist acts according to new research from the University of Warwick on migration flows between 145 countries (Nicola Jones, "Study indicates immigration not to blame for terrorism"). Mr. Liddick, you need to get out from behind your laptop and do some real research!
Also, don't pretend to be an expert in law by citing the U.S. Constitution in defense of your demagogue Donald without also citing The Administrative Procedure Act prohibiting agencies from acting in an arbitrary and capricious manner. Regardless of what you might know about the law, you seem to know little about justice, decency or morality. And finally, this leads to your history test . . .
Tell me who is known for saying, "An unjust law is no law at all." No googling allowed! Good luck.