“The most important things in life are unknown and unknowable.” – W. Edwards Deming |
I have to tell you, dear reader, that statement of Deming’s is downright annoying. More irritating is that I know Deming is right; and it becomes clearer to me as I grow older. For instance, when science says that (based on elementary statistics) there is life elsewhere in the universe, and me being scientifically educated, I believe they are correct in their supposition. I mean, just in our Milky Way galaxy there are between 200 and 400 billion stars and countless planets, many of which are of the rocky variety like Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. On top of that there are billions of galaxies. Holy crap!
But how about intelligent life like humans?
I’m thinking this through in the first class cabin of a Delta flight. I was upgraded based on my two-million miler status. The guy next to me has been knocking back cocktails, and making loud, braggadocio statements to the flight attendants since we pushed-back from the gate. I feel his gaze, but have decided to ignore him and concentrate on my thread of thought. It works until he pokes me in the arm. Sigh.
“Hey, Sid Farnsworth here. Didn’t catch your name.” He continues without taking a breath on a diatribe about what an important financial planning executive he is, which means I don’t have to give him my name. That's a small victory, right?
“…yeah, that’s right. How do you like this sport coat, huh? Very expensive. Go ahead and feel the material.” I decline, but he keeps on. “No, no go ahead, go ahead.”
I sigh and comply, rubbing the sleeve slightly. “Nice.”
“Damn straight. Paid five-hundred bucks.” He pulls out his wallet. “Snake skin; costs me a cool hundred. See all the money?” He opens it to show a bunch of hundreds and fifties. “Go ahead, take some.” He quickly closes it and laughs. “Just kidding.”
This is intelligent life? I turn from him and pretend to sleep, but he keeps on yakking.
His droning-on helps me return to my previous contemplation. Based on an elementary knowledge of physics it is hard to prognosticate the probability of extraterrestrial life. Using Earth as an example; of the millions of life forms existing only ONE knows it will die, and looks at the stars and wonders what else is out there. Science tells us we are the result of an incredible chain of events, as follows: 1) Earth is in the Goldilocks zone from it’s star—not too close, not too far; 2) an atmosphere and magnetic field protects us from deadly radiation and gamma ray bursts—that’s right, those beautiful Northern Lights are the Sun trying to nuke us; Earth got bonked by a Mars sized plant called Thea, which 3) slowed rotation from six to eight hours to 24; 4) put the planet on a tilted axis, which created temperate seasons; and 5) created the Moon, which stabilizes our rotation. Without the slower rotating speed, weather conditions would be unlivable. Likewise without the Moon we’d wobble uncontrollably (e.g. Mars wobbles 60-degrees) causing catastrophic seasons and weather.
Religious folks of all faiths and creeds point to intelligent design by an omnipresent creator. They claim the chain reaction previously mentioned was part of a grand design that began with the Big Bang as in “Let there be light.” Islam has no problem relating to science maintaining everything that has happened and will happen is God’s will anyway. Mormons say there are millions of Earths out there where the Gods are merely resurrected men of the LDS faith. Buddhists and Hindus refer to death as just a transition to the next consciousness, whatever that is. Science and so-called intellectuals scoff calling those with any kind of faith statement ignorant and superstitious.
But like Deming claimed, the truth is unknown and unknowable—truth being different than opinion. Hell, we all have opinions…but as smart as we think we are that’s all we have.
As a child brought up in Christian tradition, I had no doubt that the dogma I was taught was true. Then I became “educated” and my scientific self began to doubt. Some years later I learned that the more educated one becomes, the more one realizes one doesn’t know. Ignorance abounds, and I put myself at the head of the class. That put me into a real conundrum. The closer I inch toward Jim Morrison’s old friend, The End, the more not knowing bugs me. Too bad. What I seek is unknown and unknowable. Rats!
I was once witness to an event that (perhaps) should have comforted me. But being human, the more that event is in the past, the more I seek an alternate, scientific explanation. Here’s what happened: My father lay dying in a state of comatose. I said a quiet prayer asking God if He is real to let my father see Him before the moment of death. Of course, I expected nothing. At his final instant, my father opened his eyes, looked into an empty part of the room, grinned, and said to someone, “Hug me.”
Today I feel ashamed of what I didn’t do. I didn’t tell Dad I loved him, and I was afraid to touch him as if his death would rub off on me. That was but one opportunity of many that has slipped by during my lifetime. I have consistently and continually done the wrong thing at the wrong time.
So, what’s next? I’ve given up on knowing the unknowable, and am (late in life), reconciled to whatever fate awaits me whether it’s passing to another consciousness or being silenced forever by sleep’s big brother.
By Gene Myers, a confused but opinionated ignoramus…ZZZZZZZ…
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Deming, intelligent life, extraterrestrial life, intelligent design, Christian tradition,