Monday, January 25, 2010

An Eternal Golden Braid...

With all my talking, raving and discussing of this book, I thought it was time to share it with everyone else...

Perhaps one of the greatest books ever written, Douglas Hofstadter has created a masterpiece with Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. When you first pick this book up, you are immediately faced with its daunting 777 pages. All of them filled to the brim with scientific and technical words, diagrams, puzzles, art, mathematics, and even music. The author describes it as a "metaphorical fugue on minds and machines in the spirit of Lewis Carroll." but it is really much more. Many people have come to look at this book as the relationship between science, music, mathematics and art. But more importantly, the connections between these, the symmetry involved in going from one to the other, and finally, how humans are able to do what we do.

But when you really begin to dig into it, and begin to analyze everything that is being discussed, you realize that there is more than what meets the eye. With different analogies, he builds the groundwork for how the human brain, and thinking in general, has been developed, and the many attempts that technology has made to create a human brain. With his likening of the human brain to a colony of ants, he digs even deeper than that, and looks at how DNA defines who we are. He looks at how the brain interacts with the rest of the body, and how art, music, mathematics, and just about everything around us is interlaced and how closely connected everything is.

From the worldview point of view, he avoids the creation question all together. In fact, he even mentions at the end of one of his chapters that he could discuss at great length where we came from, but he chose not to do so, but rather to leave that up to the reader. Because of this, you can interpret this book either way. He has very carefully written this book, and while I tried to figure out which side he is coming from, I was unable to decide.

So, all that being said, I highly recommend this book to everyone, regardless of your area of focus, education level, interests, or anything else. It presents many interesting ideas and theories, and it is loaded with amazing selections of art and intriguing discussions between different characters.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Textbooks and more... Have we adopted a Don't Ask-Don't Tell policy?

So I know it has been quite a while since I last posted, and due to an influx of what is generally referred to as life, I have been previously occupied, and now find myself with free time to begin blogging more. Today, I just want to give a few thoughts about textbooks.

We all use textbooks, right? Everyone has had some kind of education in their life, and odds are that you used a textbook at least part of the time. Unfortunately for us, the way our education system is set up, whatever the teacher's views on the subject are, you will have to conform to those views in order to pass the class. We place ourselves underneath instructors, and many times, their beliefs and value systems don't line up with ours. We very often find ourselves in the position of either having to disagree with the professor, or just be quiet and pretend not to notice.

Textbooks are often used as sources for many things, and people, especially students, take the information inside of them for granted. In some cases, like with my Calculus textbook, this can be done without too much uneasiness. Math isn't really something that changes from person to person. But when you start looking into books that have more subjectivity in them, you enter a dangerous ground. While many people accept most science books for granted, many of them have inherent flaws in the knowledge that they enclose. Take Physics for example. The first chapter of my textbook deals with units; time, weight, length, etc. A pound is a pound, right? An hour doesn't change from person to person. I was agreeing with everything in the book up until the time when they discussed how old the earth was. I'm sure you can guess what's coming. Current "Scientific" approximations currently put the age of the earth at about 3 billion years. We've all heard this, and from the Christian point of view, we know the complete opposite. But how many of us actually say something about this?

Many of us, and I am guilty of this as well, have adopted what the Army calls a 'Don't Ask-Don't Tell' policy. We aren't asked our views on controversial issues, so we don't tell them. I did this very thing the first day in Physics class. The professor went through the table of units, and off-handedly mentioned the age of the earth. Inside, I knew I should say something, but instead, I allowed myself to be convinced out of it. 'Don't be a fool' I told myself. 'You have to spend the rest of the semester with these people, probably longer. Don't make a bad first impression.' I was thinking inside, and too my shame, I held my peace and allowed that statement to go unchallenged.

Throughout our entire lives, we will constantly be facing a barrage of contrary beliefs, ideals and morals. People are constantly making statements that they believe are true, and unless someone says differently, that is what they accept as the truth. Unfortunately, the Christian worldview has been almost completely forgotten, and people have been writing and rewriting their own versions of morals and absolutes. Academia was one of the first stones to fall, and many people within the halls of it are professing atheists. This means that most of the textbooks we have today were and are written by people who, in some cases, have openly stated that they are anti-God.

While I don't have any helpful tips or an answer to this problem, I do exhort everyone to think about what they are accepting as true. When you are reading a textbook, or any book for that matter, try to analyze every bit of it. If we lower our guard, it allows false truth to take seed, and once it has claimed some land, it is increasingly hard to reclaim it.

Another thing that I have seriously been thinking about is career paths. Most of us will have some career field that we will spend most, if not all of our lives following. Many of us will have gone through higher education to get a degree to follow that career. But how many of us have thought of passing our knowledge and worldview onto the the next generation? I was waiting for a professor a few months ago, and as many of the halls are lined with bulletin boards, I was reading all of the posts. One of them was a flyer on how to become a professor. Looking more closely, I found that at the community college I attend, you can become an adjunct professor if you have a 2.5 GPA in you're field of expertise, meet certain background information, and pass two tests, with the SAT being able to count for one of them! This means just about anyone could affect the lives of anywhere from 30-200 students per year, and even more if you become a full-time professor!

Most people say that professors are in Academia for that one bright student that comes along every 5-10 years. I would beg to differ, and say that there are some professors that teach because they know they can make a difference, and they have realized that the foundation of everything someone will do in their life is set while they are in school. So ask yourself this; are you willing to take on a part-time job, to pass on what you know, to the next generation? Many people spend their lives just trying to get ahead, thinking of the next year, or sometimes, the next 5 years. What they should really be doing is thinking of the next 100 years. We are setting the stage for our children's and grandchildren's world. I don't know about you, but that makes me think a little bit harder about what I want to do with my life.

Just a few thoughts for you to consider...