Brain Clouds and the Grand Canyon of My Mind

One of my favorite movies is Joe vs. the Volcano. Joe, a hypochondriac,  is informed that he has a fatal “brain cloud” and has only a few months to live. Figuring he has nothing better to do, Joe decides to take an offer to help out an island tribe by serving as their human sacrifice to the Mighty Woo, their volcano god. Trust me. It’s a comedy.

What’s funny is that Joe’s diagnosed “brain cloud” isn’t real and he is actually fine.  His real “brain cloud” is that he has prevented himself from living and understanding life up until the point of the fake diagnosis…a cloud that only cleared when he thought he had an actual brain cloud.  Oh, the irony.

I was reminded of this on my trip to the Grand Canyon this week. As I peered over the rim, this is what I saw.

grandcanyoncloud

View of the Grand Canyon looking over the rim. Isn’t it incredible?

To me, it actually was not disappointing, but fascinating—fascinating to think that it is possible something so vast and enormous could be casually missed.

I mourned for all the day-trippers  who would only see the Grand Canyon like this. I also learned that only 5% of visitors to the Grand Canyon ever step a single foot below the rim, even on a clear day. Whoa. Really?

As I walked for several miles along the rim, I kept thinking about what I sometimes miss in life by producing clouds of my own…refusing to go deeper and trying to understand that which I’ve already decided is so.  What a shame.  Clouds cover amazing things as well as boring things, but you never know what is under them until you remove the cloud.

I was challenged last week when I decided to listen to a scientific panel on intelligent design; that is, the idea that there is or is not a creator of the universe.  I was really looking forward to hearing some good meaty scientific explanation. Something to challenge myself. To look at it clearly I had to first decide if it was a cavern I was willing to walk down and attempt to blow away any clouds I might be creating. That is, not try to prove my own opinion by dispelling others arguments, but walk down into the cavern and just simply observe what was there.

As a scientist at heart (and, yes, only with a B.S. and an M.S., not the required P.hD., which I learned from the panel was necessary to be considered really smart), I prepared myself and was eager to listen to the perspectives of these doctors of science and embrace from a scientific perspective what they had to say. On my way down, I was saddened by the discovery of many clouds.

walking-in-clouds

Going deeper into the cavern, I could see some parts very clearly, but still discovered a lot of clouds.

Some key statements made during the Intelligent Design panel:

  • It is the limits of knowledge where intelligent design is regarded throughout history. For example, though Newton may have been one of the “smartest” people on Earth, when he came to a point where he couldn’t explain something, he attributed those parts to God. This is seemingly repeated throughout history as soon as the limits of knowledge were reached. Interesting perspective, but it does assume Newton didn’t have other reasons for his belief and that he just gave up. Brain cloud.
  • Intelligent design is a philosophy of ignorance. Science is a philosophy of discovery. Ouch. Last I checked science wasn’t a philosophy at all. It is about asking questions and testing them. Brain cloud.
  • Anyone who assumes a religious view in the lab is a person who has given up and therefore doesn’t belong in the lab. So, I’m guessing Newton should have never been in a lab? That would have been sad for mankind. Brain cloud.
  • 85% of the best and brightest scientists (Ph.D’s in the National Academy of Scientists) don’t believe in God. One possible reason 15% still do is because smart people are better at rationalizing things so they can somehow rationalize religion. The panel suggested that instead of just listening to the 85%, they should be studying the 15%. Interesting. Yes, now that is science! Poof. Cloud cleared away.
  • 60% of scientists don’t believe in God, while only 40% of physicians don’t believe in God. The scientists on the panel hypothesized that this is because religious myths pay emotional dividends for patients (for example, you get to be with Jesus and see your dead child again).  At least we have a somewhat testable hypothesis here. But, there are lots of variables. Partly cloudy.
  • 90% of the general public believe in a higher power. The panel reasoned that people want a big truth that they can organize their life around. They want to have something that will answer all the difficult questions that will balance all the things in their lives. Science can only offer little truths. Those don’t provide the excitement the bigger religious environment offers. Hmmmmm. We are assuming here that scientists are smarter than the general public in every way.  And that other people couldn’t possibly understand something they do not. Big, big brain cloud.

The panelists then started to debate how they could get the public to start thinking scientifically. That this was a crisis. Without science there is no innovation and without innovation we have an economic problem. Only with scientific discussion and sound reason  could the world’s problems be solved and cut through the dogma. They did not discuss the idea of creativity or the fact that innovation sometimes comes from creative abstract thought. Brain cloud.

In their continued discussion, they joked about the “creation” signs that were put up in the Grand Canyon offering a different explanation for the canyon’s creation — a catastrophic world flood. When I read about this flood theory from various creation scientists, I was again struck by a cloud. The very fact that they are called “creation scientists” makes them no different then the panel discounting intelligent design. In both cases, these scientists were trying to defend a belief, not do real science. I was sad.

A scientist doesn’t already know the solution and then work to find evidence to prove it. A scientist asks questions and with every theory, no matter how probable, more questions are always produced.  Science is inherently about asking “How?” And it is a good thing we have science!

It occurred to me that things get cloudiest when we assume faith and religion are also about asking “How?”   Faith and religion have nothing to do with “how”….it is about asking “Why?” And when we mix the two together we create all kinds of clouds. No wonder we sometimes have a hard time seeing each other. Poof!

Whoa. There is a canyon down there.

Watch your step. There is a canyon down there!

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