November 29, 2009

A Slice of PIE: Quantum Physics and Christ

It has been said: “The quantum universe is not a universe of things but a universe of relationships.” (THE PRESENT FUTURE by Reggie McNeal, c 2003).

I respect this author immensely. I’ve taken his work seriously and started to incorporate his theology into my life mission as well as looking for it in the mission of the Church I work to serve.

I’ve also been a science teacher for nearly 30 years – a ninth grade physical science teacher for the past 11 years – and I know as much as any lay person about physics of both the classic and quantum variety.

So does the statement in THE PRESENT FUTURE and the definition of quantum physics really line up? Wikipedia has this to say in defining our subject: “Quantum mechanics is essential to understand the behavior of systems at atomic length scales and smaller. For example, if classical mechanics governed the workings of an atom, electrons would rapidly travel towards and collide with the nucleus, making stable atoms impossible. However, in the natural world the electrons normally remain in an uncertain, non-deterministic "smeared" (wave-particle wave function) orbital path around or "through" the nucleus, defying classical electromagnetism.”

So far, so good: the concept of a “universe of relationships” seems to be supported by the fact that “electrons…would collide with the nucleus…However in the natural world the electrons normally remain in an…orbital path”.

Now the litmus test – which is a test done in chemistry (which I also teach at a beginners level) with a slim piece of paper that changes to one color when dipped into an acid and another color when dipped in a base (in chemistry parlance, it’s called an “acid-base indicator”. We actually use a broader-based pH paper now rather than actually litmus paper, but the idea’s the same) – is to see if BOTH line up with what the Bible says about the world.

Philippians 2:5-6 says: “In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage”. (TNIV)

In the Gospels, John 1:18 reads, “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only [Son], who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” (TNIV)

How about the Old Testament, that fount of gruesome stories, pages and pages of rules and prophecies of the promised Messiah? Could it have anything to say about quantum relationships? In First Kings 10:1, we read: “When the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the LORD, she came to test Solomon with hard questions.” (TNIV) (Purists of course will note that the word “relationship” is not used in the King James Version, but that’s all right here. Grammar, word choices and common usage has changed over time and the words we used then are not the same we use today…)

I would conclude then that the analogy is a good one and that the Church today is in fact a quantum mechanical Church – one of relationships between Jesus Christ and His people; you and me and anyone else who claims Him as their Savior and Master.

Therefore, in relationship with Him and others, we can continue to serve Him in a world that includes hot debate about global warming, Large Hadron Colliders and the everyday, unconscious use of light amplification by the stimulated emission of radiation devices (LASER for those of you unfamiliar with the expanded acronym…)

Comment, anyone?

(image of a Tokyo laser Christmas Tree taken from:

November 26, 2009


(This series is a little biography and a little imagination. The biography will detail a month long trip my dad took in the summer of 1946 when he and a friend hitchhiked from Loring Park to Duluth, Minnesota and back. The motivation, names and details all come from my imagination though. For example, I don't know if Dad ever made it to Anoka’s amphitheater, but you never know! I plan to interview Dad for more details as time goes on. To read earlier SHORT LONG posts, click on the link right. # 1 is on the bottom as you scroll down. Enjoy!)

“We’re never gonna get home,” Tommy Hastings said wearily as the two fourteen-year-old boys hiking the shoulder of US Highway 7. It was dark this far out of Minneapolis; so dark they could barely see their feet.

Freddie Merrill trudging alongside Tommy hadn’t said a word since leaving the Lake Minnetonka parking lot. He hadn’t wiped away the trickle of blood from his nose, either. Just before they’d gone out from under the last street light in Excelsior, Tommy had caught a glimpse of the dribble of blood snaking down his best friend’s upper lip and chin, as if Freddie’s face had a black crack in it. The other boy said suddenly, “Good.”

Tommy glanced at him but didn’t say anything. They kept walking.

Five hours later, the clock in the Municipal Building struck four as the boys reached the north shore of Lake Calhoun. Another fifteen minutes found them at the corner of Hennepin and West 15th. Tommy stopped. Freddie kept walking. His foot pads sounded flat against the cold concrete of the sidewalk.

“You sound like you’re on death row,” Tommy said into the silent, cold air.

Freddie stopped and turned around, his back to the streetlight on the corner. His face was in shadow as he said, “What do you think is gonna happen when I get home? ‘s Mom gonna throw her arms around me and thank God I’m home?” He paused, passed his hand over the stubbly heinie – it’s what they called a “crew cut” on the men still coming back from the war – and said, “I’m dead meat and no mistake.” He turned back and kept going.

“Stay at my house tonight,” Tommy said suddenly. He knew he’d catch it from his dad when they all woke up tomorrow…later on today. But he knew that his dad wasn’t going to beat him to a bloody pulp – his dad was almost 80 for cripe’s sake. He could talk his way out of it, ‘specially if he played the ‘Freddie’s-dad’s-a-drunk-card’. Dad despised the Prohibition of the ‘20s while he and Mom lived in Duluth, but he didn’t hold with men beating boys, either.

Eddie turned his head but kept walking, “What good’ll that do? He’ll just beat me tomorrow then. Or the next day. Whenever he’s sober enough to stand and hit.”

“We’ll go for a month. He can hardly remember what happened last week. In four weeks he’ll have forgot us going to Minnetonka and have something else to be mad about.”

This time Freddie stopped. He didn’t turn around for a long time and when he did, he walked all the way back. He rubbed his hand across his face, stopping at the dried blood. He licked his thumb and worked at cleaning it, almost like a cat would clean its face. When he spoke, he said, “I couldn’t leave Mom.”

“She can take care of herself. She’s working outside most of the time now, anyway.” Freddie nodded slowly, finished cleaning his face and stood with his face shadowed, facing Tommy. He didn’t say “yes”, but he wasn’t refusing, either. Tommy pressed on, “I got some cousins up there or something. Mom’s kin. We could find somewhere to stay.”

Softly, almost in a whisper, Freddie asked, “How’d we get there?”

“Steal a car,” Tommy said without thinking. When Freddie opened his mouth and raised his hands to refuse, Tommy laughed and said, “I’m kidding!” Freddie’s hands went down slowly and Tommy said seriously, “We hitchhike. There’s lotsa people traveling now that the war’s over. People going all over. It should be easy to find a ride.”

“Dad says hitchhiker’s are bums.”

He almost said a cuss word, but Freddie’d really put up a fuss if he did that. His dad would smack him every time he said the “d” word or the “b” word. The “f” word would earn him a black eye and other bruises. “Nah. Not since the war was over. Lots of soldiers hitchhike around.”

Freddie didn’t say anything at first. Finally he said, “We go to Anoka, first then.”

“Huh?” Tommy exclaimed.

“I been to Anoka on the train. Mom and me and Dad went a couple times. My aunt and six cousins are there.”

Tommy agreed instantly, saying, “We’ll sleep at my house, leave at noon and get out there before fireworks.”

Freddie nodded slowly. “OK. What can happen between now and midnight?”

image from:

November 22, 2009

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: nook, Kindle and e-readers -- The Triumph of E-Chauvanism

From Nathan Bransford's 11/20/09 column:

"And this is why I believe e-books are going to win in the end, and probably sooner than we think. It's simply vastly more efficient to download any book you could possibly want instantaneously and read a book on a screen (even better if it's a screen you already have, hello smartphone) than to cut down a tree, make paper, print ink on it, bind it, ship it across the country in a plane or a truck or both, and make someone walk or drive to a physical store (who may or may not have the book they want) every time they want to read a book.

"I think we'll look back on the print era and marvel about all those people who were responsible for delivering all these individual printed objects, kind of like how there used to be a fleet of milk men in every city rather than one guy driving a truck to a couple of supermarkets.

"To be sure, no technology disappears completely - people still ride horses, go to plays, type on typewriters, listen to record players, and send handwritten letters. And printed books aren't going to disappear either. All of these technologies have advantages and an associated nostalgia that people will always want to preserve and experience. There will still be printed books and physical bookstores, even if there are far fewer of them.

"But things tend to move in one direction: toward greater efficiency and productivity. There's always a delay as people adapt to the new technology, but prices come down, the technology gets better, and the efficiency spreads.

"Printed books have their advantages, but they don't win where it counts. Nature may abhor a vacuum, but human nature abhors a bottleneck."

Nathan Bransford simply states the general feel of what I've been hearing throughout the writing community as well as the "book" community. As an employee of Barnes and Noble (my extra job), I've been indoctrinated regarding the new nook and I confess the machine is tempting and in all likelihood I'll get one someday if only to be able to keep reading the books I want to read.

Even so, my argument is, was and always will be that ebooks are for the wealthy and the wealthy ONLY. And yes, I am included in that label. In the Seven Worlds Index (, the nook, kindle and other e-readers, will be available to most in the First and Second Worlds, many in the Third and Seventh Worlds, some in the Fourth and Fifth Worlds and few in the Sixth World.

NOT ONE of the poor will be able to afford a book. Not ONLY will they not be able to afford it, even if gifted with one, they will not be able to maintain it. Books need no power. EVERY ereader does. It needs technology to exist, it needs technology to support it, it needs technology to use it.

It is insufferably self-centered of the wealthy to assume that they and they alone read and think. Because that's what it comes down to. The assumption that no one who cannot afford to have an ipod, iphone, nook, kindle or any OTHER ereading device isn't "really" worth the effort to educate is the hidden message in this movement to yank reading from the hands of the poor and concentrate it in the hands of the wealthy -- who will eventually be the only ones able to access new information. The gap has been growing for years and excpet for libraries, shows no sign whatsoever of stopping. (And locally, library funding is regularly curtailed in favor of road funding...)

Last of all, when the comet strikes, when the plague happens, when disaster overcomes the human race and civilization collapses in chaos, we will not be ABLE to access the books online, the CDs, the efiles and ecommerce. Information will disappear or become inaccessible. If we believe that Humanity is eternal and that we will ALWAYS beat the odds, dodge the bullet or survive the plague, then we are not considering history nor are we considering the fallibility and frailty of Humanity.

WHEN it collapses, the more we have stored electronically, the more we will lose. The more we squirrel away in the internet, the more we will have to rediscover when it is forever lost...

November 15, 2009

WRITING ADVICE: Jack McDevitt 6: Use Wooden Dialogue

(The Twelve Blunders are used with permission of Jack McDevitt, from his webpage:

This is one thing in my writing for which I have been praised. In the many times my work has been rejected, I have half as many compliments directed at my dialogue.

Maybe it’s because of an exercise I do when I teach a summer school class for elementary through high schoolers called, Writer To Get Published. When we reach the day for dealing with dialogue, I send the students into the hallways and classrooms to eavesdrop on what people are saying – AND TO WRITE IT DOWN.

Fifteen minutes later, we come back to the classroom to talk about what people REALLY say and what authors REALLY right. For my students, I call it “realistic fake conversation”, but I like McDevitt’s phrasing better: “the illusion of living conversation”. He points out earlier in the article: “Real people interrupt one another constantly, deliver irrelevancies, squint, change the subject, shake their heads, often fail to use complete sentences, and sometimes lose their train of thought altogether.”

While this is entirely true, some authors either don't notice it in their own writing or ignroe the injunction against it. The field of speculative fiction is especially prone to writing stilted dialogue. It's even got it's own name: purple prose.

In SF, we like to think that we are beyond the purple prose of the Golden Age of SF where characters uttered sentences like “As you know, Captain, the space warping technology we possess is very different than the type possessed by the invading aliens because we base our technology on the original theories of Hawking where the invading aliens base theirs on the theories of their equivalent of Einstein, which, as you know…” I tried to do a search on collected examples of SF writers who used an obvious info-dump in a recent book. No one seems to be willing to collect them, perhaps because they don’t want to embarrass the genre. After a quick glance at the next book in my “SF TO READ” pile, I find the second sentence in Wolf and Myers’ SPACE VULTURE. It comes very close to what McDevitt warns against: “These mushrooms after being processed and formed into pills, let users eat all they wanted without gaining weight.”

While that snippet isn’t dialogue, the following bit three pages later alleges to be: “ ‘Interplanetary Statute 462, paragraph 93, subparagraph 4 makes what you did illegal. As to the ethics…’” Just that brief skim has done nothing to entice me to read the book. I know that if a character I enjoyed in a novel abruptly gave an infodump at some point, I might be willing to overlook it once -- but not any more than that. Better to leave the infodumping to Wikipedia.

The best way to check for such ridiculous mistakes in dialogue is to read it out loud. I encourage my students to do it, and I usually do it myself. McDevitt recommends it and asks that you examine it as you read: “How does it sound? If it’s awkward, long-winded, pompous, or formal, get rid of it. One of the pro writer’s most valuable attributes is a willingness to heave material over the side.”

If you happen to have a sample of wooden dialogue or purple prose from a recent speculative fiction novel written by a famous person, share it here. Just for the fun of it, the next time I read a Jack McDevitt novel, I’m going to keep a pen handy to see if he’s followed his own advice. I’ll certainly keep the pen handy for to use on my own novel!

November 12, 2009

A SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH 3: July 3, 1946-July 4, 1946

(This series is a little biography and a little imagination. The biography will detail a month long trip my dad took in the summer of 1946 when he and a friend hitchhiked from Loring Park to Duluth, Minnesota. The motivation, names and details all come from my imagination though. For example, I don't know if Dad ever made it to Lake Minnetonka or rode in a 1938 Ford pickup, but you neve know! I plan on interviewing Dad for more details as time goes on...Enjoy.)

Freddie Merrill glared at Tommy Hastings and finally said, “You sure we ain’t gonna get lost? Real sure?” They were standing in front of the tailgate of Leo Hartkopf’s pick up.

Tommy laughed nervously. “How can we get lost walking from the beach here to Leo’s pick up? He’ll probably even drop us off on the other side of Loring Park if we ask nice."

Freddie looked through the back window of the truck at the older boy. He was busy ogling girls lying on the beach. Freddie took a deep breath then said, “All right. I’ll go.”

Tommy vaulted onto the bed of the pickup, scurried forward and slapped the roof. He leaned around the cab and shouted in Leo’s open window, “Let’s go!”

The truck roared noisily to life and Leo ground the gears backing out. A few moments later, they were on the road. Leo would honk at girls in sun dresses and bathing suits and all three boys would wave wildly, Tommy and Freddie standing, pressed against the cab and hanging on for dear life.

In the announced ten minutes, they were on the south shore of the gigantic Lake Minnetonka. Even in the hot sun, they could feel the cool breezes whipping in off the vast body of water. Below them, Leo slowed suddenly, throwing Freddie and Tommy forward. Both boys let out loud whoops! of joy. Leo drove to a parking spot and pulled in. He jumped from the pickup and looked up at them and said, “Have a good time, boys?”

“Great!” Tommy shouted. They vaulted the sides of the truck bed and landed on the ground.

“Let’s go meet the gang,” Leo said, waving them along.

A huge swimming area, close to shore and layered with light gold sand stretched for hundreds of feet. Four white docks stuck out into the blue waters and hundreds of men, women and children played. Dozens of girls in wet bathing suits sunned themselves or sat under broad umbrellas. A volleyball game was going on a ways up shore, with mostly boys on the court and girls cheering and jumping around. Freddie grabbed Tommy’s shirt and said, “Let’s go there!”

Tommy said, “Leo! Can we go watch volleyball?”

Smiling, he met up with two boys his own age who had four girls tagging along behind them. He waved, “Knock yourselves out!”

Freddie sprinted and called over his shoulder, “First one there gets to dunk the last one there five times!” Tommy surged after him, but Freddie had always been faster – it came from keeping out of his dad’s drunken reach.

By the time the last sliver of the sun cast long shadows on Greenwood Beach, twenty boys, girls and teens were ringed around a blazing fire. The great pile of driftwood roared, sending fountains of sparks into the cooling night air to shower down on screaming and laughing kids. Tommy was trying to convince a dark-haired young lady to sit beside him – close beside him – on his now very dirty towel. “I can’t sit there,” she said, giggling. But she didn’t hesitate much when her girlfriends pushed her from behind and she ended up close enough for Tommy to snag her hand and pull her down beside him.

A few feet away, Freddie glowered, planted on a log, his skin flaming red and agonizing. Two girls sat with their backs to him, one brushing the other’s hair, both of them shooting darts at him with their eyes. He surged to his feet and said, “We gotta go. Come on, Tommy.”

“We don’t have to…” Tommy began then looked up at Freddie’s face. He scrambled to his feet muttering apologies to the girl and hurried after Freddie as he stalked off for the parking lot.

When he caught up, he said, “What’s wrong, buddy? What’d I do…”

“It wasn’t you. I’m just tired. And sunburned. And those girls were getting’ on my nerves.”

Tommy laughed, “Girls always get on your nerves…” Freddie shot him a dark look as they reached the parking lot. It was cold now away from the fire.

Freddie stopped suddenly. “Where’s the pickup?”

The parking lot was practically empty. Of the few cars there, none were pickups. Tommy stared, mouth open. He said, “He said he’d tell us when he left!”

“When did he say that?” Freddie asked. He scanned the parking lot five times, his head sweeping back and forth, back and forth. “Where is he?” he exclaimed, his voice cracking.

“Hey, don’t worry. I’m sure he just went away for a little while. He’ll be back…”

Freddie whirled and ran into the parking lot, shouting, “Leon! Leon! Where are you?”

Tommy chased him down, but when Freddie took a swing at him, Tommy ran at him and tackled him in the grass along the edge of the lot. Freddie was crying by the time they hit the ground, covering his head and rolling back and forth, moaning, “He’s gonna beat me! He’s gonna beat me!”

Tommy pinned him, but it was like Freddie didn’t even notice the knee in his chest, bawling louder and harder. Finally Tommy grabbed the front of his shirt, dragged him to his feet and got him walking. From Minnetonka, he could see the faint glow of the massed lights of Minneapolis in the sky and with the wailing Freddie by his side, he started off along the asphalt strip of Highway 7, knowing that even though they weren’t lost, he might lose Freddie to his drunken father’s rage when they got home.

If they ever got there.

November 11, 2009

My Blog on another site: Heinlein's Heirs

I sometimes write essays for another website that belongs to science fiction writer, Bruce Bethke. Go here:

if you want to read my blog!

November 8, 2009

Slice of PIE: Interstates Over Park Reserves; Postmodernism Over Original Faith

Driving south on US 169 west of Minneapolis, is a 21st Century bridge that spans a piece of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. This concrete expanse allows no exit into the Refuge below and except for a brown highway sign marking its existence and the expanse of trees and swamp (note: this is an unkind way to say "marshland"), lake and river. You pass over it in a matter of moments and there are no lights pointing down into the Refuge pointing out the sights.

If you aren't interested in the Refuge, you wouldn't even know it's there. I would venture a guess and say that the vast majority of people passing over this section of the National Wildlife Refuge pay no attention whatsoever to the wildlife below because the "wildlife" of the typical commuter rush occupies their attention. I would boldy venture to say that to most people, the Refuge doesn't matter at all -- what's important is what is on US 169. The fact that it passes over a National Wildlife Refuge is insignificant compared to the fact that it carries a huge number of people to and from their homes to work and from their work to home each day.

What does an interstate and a wildlife refuge have to do with postmodernism and original faith?

The connection should be obvious! If not, let me illuminate.

By definition, postmodernism is, in plain English, a "system of observation and thought that denies absolutes and objectivity" and "rejects a notion of universal truth but emphasises that meaning is in appearance and interpretation". Maybe that wasn't plain enough. This is my own defintion given what I've learned and experienced of the postmodern church: "Scripture, God and Jesus can be interpreted by the people within a culture based on what can be seen and thought because we can't be objective about our faith".

Though some postmodern Christian movements claim that their "interpretation" is closer to the origins of St. Augustine than 21st Century evangelical or conservative Christianity, I would dispute that. Liberal theology, Christian existentialism, radical orthodoxy, hermaneutics and weak theology -- all schools of thought of postmodern Christianity -- may lay claim the same roots as the faith of the early church, but I believe that they pass over those roots just as the shiny new 21st Century bridge passes over the wildlife refuge. The practitioners of such thought have much in common with the commuters on the US 169 bridge over the Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge: none of them believe that the original below them is of any importance to the shining newness above.

Neither of them seem interested in considering the roots -- the real roots -- of the postmodern bridge they so blithely travel over. Neither of them seems interested in noticing the reality of what lies below the construct they've worked so hard to build and whose ultimate future lies in crumbling ruin and reabsorption by the original reality from which both sprang.

image from:

November 5, 2009


November is National Novel Writing Month and for the first time in my life, I'm participating. So my writing time has been consumed by the "novel" I'm working on. If you're interested in the site and in what NaNoWriMo is, go here:

This to say that I'm not done with my entry for today. I'll let you know when it's posted!

November 1, 2009

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Dream of Suspended Animation, Nightmare of Cryonics

Since I started reading books and watching science fiction movies, I have dreamed of going into a suspended animation tube like the Robinson’s did in LOST IN SPACE and sleeping in my starship as it crossed incredible distances – then waking in orbit around a new world.

Even as I grew older, the idea of suspended animation or human hibernation has remained a profound hope. There are hints and clues that this might be possible: dogs have been frozen for brief periods and most of them resuscitated without brain damage. Pigs with profound blood loss from an induced bleed had the volume replaced with frigid saline, the vessels repaired and were wakened. Mice breathing hydrogen sulfide gas had their metabolism reduced ten-fold – though the experiment did not work with larger mammals, it may be a matter of finding the right combination to work for humans. Chemical induction of hibernation holds some possibilities as well. Clearly, animals sleep for extended periods of time; some amphibians are frozen solid and then thaw unharmed. There is a clear movement to growing this technology that will end with procedures that have applications in human and animal medicine, emergency medical services as well as my own dream of long-term space travel.

Enter the nightmare of cryonics. While I’d heard rumors about this decades ago as well as rumors that Gene Rodenberry of STAR TREK fame had been cryopreserved (he wasn’t – a small portion of his ashes were put into orbit in 1997. That orbit decayed by 2004 and those remains were incinerated on reentry), I didn’t actually find any facts until reading the book, GREAT MAMBO CHICKEN AND THE TRANSHUMAN CONDITION (Ed Regis, 1991). There, cryonics was portrayed, if not in shining light then in a favorable light. For years, while gently mocking the concept of freezing bodies and brains for later healing and revival as it occurred in the STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION episode, “The Neutral Zone”; I held little hope that such a process might become feasible.

Now even that faint hope is smashed like a pumpkin on Halloween night. In his new book, FROZEN A True Story: My Journey Into the World of Cryonics, Deception and Death, Larry Johnson (with Scott Baldyga), the author brings to light truly horrific details perpetrated by the California company, Alcor. The very last hope that ANYONE might die and then be revived by future “magical medicine”, has been permanently dashed when shown the conditions under which the cryopatients were processed. The only way anyone might ever be recovered from Alcor is by finding a cell and cloning an entire new person. Then the purpose of cryopreservation would be defeated – the memories and personality of the patient would be entirely lost.

Worst of all though, now that the charade is revealed and doubtless about to collapse, any chance that current scientists might advance any real discoveries leading to breakthroughs or the development of a real science of cryopreservation are gone, perhaps forever. And THAT makes me mad. How about you?

One last question: if someone were cryopreserved and then resuscitated, would their soul come back from heaven, hell, paradise, limbo or nirvana?