Page Created: 6/19/2014   Last Modified: 4/1/2016   Last Generated: 5/1/2018
Before I was in school, around age 4 or 5, I used to wake up in the early morning when it was dark, when everyone was still asleep, and turn on the old vacuum tube television, sit down on the dark blue, shag carpet, wait for the tubes to glow and the images of black & white reruns of Watch Mr. Wizard and his science experiments fill the screen.
The influx of 70's era, psychedelic children's programming came on later in the morning, but early, early in the morning, you could catch the Real Magic from a Real Master, a clean-cut 1950's-1960's scientist in a white lab coat, in a monochromatic lab, with lab apparatus.
So I began life as a little professor, building chemistry sets from household chemicals. When I was the only child able to read out loud the phrase "Science Experiments" on my first grade teacher's chalkboard during my first day of class, I realized I knew amazing, secret things the other kids did not, like Nitrogen and Oxygen.
I wanted to be a Scientist.
So I would go to the library often with my mother and take home books on Chemistry and Science. When I got a few years older, I wanted to know that which I didn't know, and what nobody knew, and started to focus on Codes & Ciphers, Ghosts, UFOs, Big Foot, 6th Sense, ESP, PK and the supernatural. You'd be surprised how many books there were in the kids section in the 1970's on supernatural phenomena, both at my public library and my elementary school. Thanks to Melvil Dewey's library classification system, I knew exactly where to find them, as they were all in one place.
And I began reading, and reading, and the more I read about the unknown, the creepier it became. I was a frightened little kid.
I stayed up late in the nights, watching late night television with my grandfather as he relaxed from a day of teaching the 5th grade. We'd watch episodes of Rod Serling's Night Gallery sometimes, and it was horrifying. Then I'd be so scared I would jump in bed between him and my grandmother, lying in a conscious prison of my own fear, a desolate valley in the crack between the twin beds, while the powerful KMOX AM played scary shows over the nighttime radio. Even though they were snoring nearby and my eyes were closed, it was like I was on the surface of the moon. I was alone. I thought the fear would kill me.
When I was 8 years old, my parents took me to see Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and through Spielberg's eye of wonder, I watched Francois Truffaut communicate with beings of light and sound, and through communication, he removed the fear.
Shortly around that time, The Omen came on television. The idea of a Evil child close in age to myself, his arrival written into ancient history, encoded in numbers, strange marks showing up in chemical photo development, but not of the earth as which we know it. It was and still is the scariest movie I have ever seen.
I clung to my science even harder. It was science and science-fiction that I first learned, and it was my only protection from forces I could not explain. I knew there were other things out there. I knew science had its limitations.
Most of my scientific knowledge at that time came from the 1955 World Book Encyclopedia, a set my grandparents got for my mother, but by the 1970's and 1980's, much of it was archaic. I realized this when I turned in a project to my 8th grade science teacher and was criticized for using the term "Centigrade" instead of "Celsius". My grandparents did not catch such errors, as they did not realize that it had changed either.
Even so, it contained fascinating information that wasn't found in modern editions, as it was written shortly after WWII. Much of it pertained to the ideals of that time, such as rationing and use of materials, uses for war, and was geared to educating American youth on all of science. The world had not yet been "dumbed down" or "safety proofed". If so, it was beyond my perception.
I wrote stories about men breaking the sound barrier, robots, and explosive forces. When I was 11, I wrote a book about scientists, time machines, lasers, nuclear power, electromagnets, dinosaurs, caves, and the power of thought to bend reality, things that still interest me today. Interestingly, my dinosaur looked like a bird, but it wasn't until later years that scientists determined that birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs.
I did my first solo science project called "Do Plants Have ESP?" where I grew two bean plants side-by-side, and each day tried to project "good" thoughts into one, and "bad" thoughts into the other. The plant I projected good thoughts to grew about twice as large as the other one. I was shocked to only receive a 2nd place award.
I knew nothing about control groups, sample size, statistical correlation, etc, but nevertheless, the previous year, my schoolmate and I received 1st place in our "Air Pressure" experiment, which actually didn't have anything to do with air pressure, but was a buoyancy experiment that we naively misnamed. But our hypothesis simply stated obvious facts that were already known, that more "air pressure" had more lifting force.
That's when I realized that perhaps the topic of ESP was frowned upon in science. But that didn't make sense, since wasn't that the very purpose of science, to understand the unexplained?
In later matriculation through various colleges, I became disillusioned with the way science and mathematics were taught, and began studying Philosophy, including Logic and the Philosophy of Science. Science, for many scientists, was just another religion, one full of self-fulfilling prophecies. What good is the scientific method if you only test things that the mainstream agrees with? Just as selective enforcement corrupts law, confirmation bias and selective experimentation corrupts science.
I began to cross the line from empiricist to rationalist↗ and believed that Reason, not science, should be our foremost tool. Empirical science required experimentation, but now, theoretical physics relied on mostly mathematical models, and less on experimentation. They had already redefined science and broken the rules. Why stop there? Why not stay purely in the realm of mathematics? Why is experimentation needed at all? Science, by definition, requires that theory predict observation and be falsifiable. But isn't this limiting ourselves to just one aspect of reality, the one we can observe and falsify? What if there is a hidden world we cannot observe or falsify, a perfect world from which our world was just one derivation? Perhaps mathematics, the study of pattern, can show us the whole pattern, not just our little piece of it. In a way, science is like a parasite, clinging to mathematics, feeding on only the parts of the pattern it wants.
Empiricism must be an illusion, and even empiricists must be rationalists, they just didn't want to admit it. Empiricists can measure things, but how do they determine what to measure? When we hypothesize that a planet follows an elliptical orbit, we don't measure each point in space, we use the mathematical idea of a cone intersecting a plane (the ellipse). None of this occurs in nature, but just an idealized pattern in our mind. An empiricist is like a person using a microscope, but never questioning the integrity of the apparatus. Perhaps it is a kaleidoscope, showing him only the patterns he wants to see. The senses will never be able to detect such an illusion, but our mind, our great pattern matching machine, can.
Many of my professors of Science were not keen on the Arts, and dismissed them as being too easy or purposeless. But those same professors usually lacked skills in spelling, grammar, critical thinking, logic, creativity, artistic expression--something my grandparents, the trained, experienced and careful educators they were, would not have approved. Perhaps, when these professors were young, they failed in the Arts and found sanctuary in Science.
Over in the Arts, many of my professors of the Social Sciences were overly defensive, countering my inquisition into their lack of hard-science with "appeal to authority" fallacies.
There were few that could, or dared to, bridge the two.
Disillusioned with the state of academia, I continued to read about science, and to study things science has not yet explained, such as the supernatural, the mind, unanswered philosophical questions, and paradox.
I read about Einstein, about cutting-edge advances in computing in Scientific American, and began studying AI, cryptography, and building robots in my dorm room. I was looking, searching, and when you are looking, somehow, someway it will find you. Whether it is Jung's collective unconscious at work, or some other force, it will find you.
I saw a new book at the bookstore called Chaos by James Gleick and I knew I needed to read it just from the cover, which my mother got for me as a gift. It blew my mind. Could it be true? Could there really be a mathematical explanation for both living and non-living patterns? Could this be the bridge between art and science? The more I read, the more I knew it had to be true.
As difficult as it was for me, I reflected on my life and asked myself if I really wanted a career in science, or if I wanted to write about and convey what I saw. Mr. Gleick wasn't a scientist, he was a journalist, but he had conveyed something to me no other scientist had. All of what I knew and loved came from books, films, watching television with my grandfather, my computer experimentation, and listening to people's stories. Was the power of science in performing science, or was the power in communicating and interpreting it?
What if, I thought, I studied the medium that can communicate via both sight and sound to others, create worlds, present ideas, motivate them with the excitement of accomplishing feats never before accomplished, the motivations that inspired me to read and write stories when I was young? Is there nothing this medium cannot do? Can it not change minds? Can it not stop armies? Can the light and sound that Truffaut used--in his life--create a bridge between ALL minds? Is the world around me the same world I have known through books, school, and film, or is it a very cold, empty world of measurements and soulless men, the world Antoine Doinel ran away from?
But, taking a cue from the great Isaac Asimov, the man whose selfish style of writing reminded me of my own, I made a final frontal assault into academia, hitting mathematics and computation hard, and was again stopped in my tracks by the same disillusionment. Don't let my story deter you though. Pick up that burning torch and carry it through.
Whoever you are, wherever you are, as a reasoning being in this great Universe, you are free to ask it for knowledge, and it will provide it to you, if you are diligent, careful, and attentive.Comments