July 21, 2013

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: “October Sky” – A Message For Today and Tomorrow

“There is no success without hardship.” – Sophocles

I read lots of blogs. All kinds. I read blogs that look at the world and events from my point of view (conservative Christian); blogs that are far left of my point of view (like The Contrary Brin (http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/); I even occasionally read REALLY far out blogs and websites (http://weeklyworldnews.com/).

One I try to keep up on is Science Daily. Still, even with a science blog – which should be “politics-free” – the slant comes through. Take for example this article in which the headline reads, “Chimpanzees and Orangutans Remember Distant Past Events”. (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130718130613.htm) The article doesn’t even talk about “distant past events” – it talks about how these two species could recall four occasions of tools being hidden in a particular spot three years earlier and an even that had happened once, two weeks earlier.

Fascinating in its own right, the intent of the headline is to promote the idea that chimps, orangutans and Humans are all just animals and Human memory no big deal. While it’s very humans-descended-from-apes proper – it’s a far cry from incontrovertible evidence that we are just one more animal with internet headline writing capabilities. (Even when you factor in that an average chimp lives 40-45 years, an average orangutan lives about fifty years, and an average Human, 49 years – recalling an event three years past is hardly what anyone would call remembering “distant past” events.)

At any rate, my rant this week  is about scientism (“Unlike the use of the scientific method as only one mode of reaching knowledge, scientism claims that science alone can render truth about the world and reality.” (http://www.pbs.org/faithandreason/gengloss/sciism-body.html). The headline above serves as a simple illustration of this – and how it connects to the Human presence in space.

I recently finished watching “October Sky” for the umpteenth time. The movie is based on the book THE ROCKET BOYS by Homer Hickam, Jr. Having read the book as well and seen the differences between the two, it’s clear that Hickam romanticized (and abbreviated) the methodology and experimentation that lead up to the success of the Auk XXXI and their winning the National Science Fair.

Even so, even so...my argument is that scientism romanticizes science so far that questions, mistakes, and minor research is touted as definitive proof that whatever subject the paper addresses is How The True And Real World Is.

All of THIS is to say that there are turning points at which Human history might go in one direction or another – and it’s not until after sober evaluation and long observation that we know what those points are. Tossing around amazing revelations of science daily as if this recently discovered thing “proves” something is reckless at best, absurd at worst.

In “October Sky”, one of those turning points comes shortly after the boys are called to the office and questioned about starting a forest fire with one of their rockets (this is hyper-dramatized in the movie; in the book Quentin explains to the Troopers why the rocket couldn’t have been theirs and they accept it). The defining scene in the movie (though it’s an amalgam of several other events in the book), is right after Ike Bykovski dies in a mine accident and Homer’s dad’s eye is injured. In the book, it’s Ike’s death that precipitates Homer’s nearly giving up the rocket flights. In the movie, it’s the arrest and humiliation that drive the boys to give up rocketry. Either way, it’s a dark moment when they torch “mission control” and head off for a life of teenage debauchery and rock and roll.

After watching “October Sky”, I made this note to myself: “Progress does not come from ‘fun’ – it doesn’t just happen (as certain elements of the scientific community expect it to when we reach ‘the singularity’) – the Great Generation did not come out of plenty (the American dream reborn as the Scientism Dream) but out of want, deprivation, and sacrifice. When was the last time science has sacrificed, faced a true dilemma, or actual want – one that they couldn’t just wave away with correct [i.e.–a DFL-controlled government] legislative magic?” Going on to add that The Rocket Boys started with nothing and flew in the face of societal practicality – not by appealing to the courts, the president, each other, and rhetoric – but by doing what needed to be done, harming no one, and then accomplishing what they set out to do with a minimum of whining, appropriations, and claims that everybody is out to get them and that by solving this, that or the other problem, “science alone [will have] render[ed the only viable] truth about the world and reality” .

(In an ancillary note, often times “hard science fiction” touts this same party line with the exceptions (CASE OF CONSCIENCE, DUNE, any of the others listed at the Wikipedia site (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_religious_ideas_in_science_fiction)) proving how open and inclusive the field is to spirituality.)

Image: http://rlv.zcache.com.au/sophocles_there_is_no_success_without_har_mousepad-r31782760281e012f204900ffb0cb9003_x74vi_8byvr_512.jpg

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