Challenges to Basic Assumptions

I grew up default Christian.  My parents took me to church, usually the (generalized) Protestant services at the on-base chapel.  I went to Bible school.  Listened to sermons.  Sang the hymns.  And prayed before I went to bed.  As a child, it was easy for me to have faith and to believe without questions.

But that did not last long.  I started questioning and stopped going to church.  I never took the giant leap of faith.  I learned about other religions; adopted some aspects of each for myself.  And continued the rest of my life not being religious, but not disrespecting religion either.

It’s worked for me.  But I always assumed that my questioning of beliefs was over.  Until this year.

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If you ever want to have some fun in a group of intellectuals (or, in my case law school students), challenge science.  Better yet, compare belief in science as the same as belief in religion and watch the reaction.  It is amusing; of course, it might only be me.

I started playing devil’s advocate during a discussion over school curriculums; specifically, whether Creationism should be taught in schools.  Rather than arguing that Creationism should be taught in schools, I attacked whether the theory of evolution should be the only thing to be taught during science class (to explain the beginnings of well… us).  Apparently, I hit a button because most of my classmates went on the defensive.

The best I can describe their reaction is this: they were trying to convince me that evolution is NOT a doctrine, in the same way many do when trying to defend the rightness of their religious beliefs.

I realized during this discussion the hypocrisy of it all.  We are allowed to question the core beliefs and assumptions of religion, but not those of science.  I was merely turning the tables against science (something I’ve never done before, it is quite fun), and got shouted down for it.  The next day, a classmate pulled me aside to make sure I wasn’t offended, which may indicate how the discussion played out.

I never really thought about science as doctrine before this class.  And surprisingly, there are basic assumptions made in order for science to work.

Science operates on the assumptions that natural causes explain natural phenomena, that evidence from the natural world can inform us about those causes, and that these causes are consistent.

It may not seem like much, but people put a lot of faith into the assumption that everything that happens around is caused by something not-divine (in other words, caused by “nature”).

Another assumption of science: humans can interpret the natural phenomena correctly (or even truthfully).

Questioning science, of course, seems ridiculous.  Science has safeguards against coming to a false conclusion.  We’re all taught (hopefully) about the scientific method: Make a hypothesis, test the hypothesis in a way that can be duplicated, manipulate different factors, and record the results.  Repeat ad nauseum until you can safely say, “Sure, Hypothesis X is, more likely than not, true.”

Wait … what?  More likely than not?

That seems to be the biggest safeguard of it all: Science, as in the acquisition of knowledge through the scientific method, rarely leads to absolutes.  (Probably because everything is continuously tested and absolutes would take the fun out of science.)

So many take for granted that science is not absolute and it is an interpretation of the things that happen around us.  Religion, to some, operates in the same way.

Through all of this, the interesting thing I find is the common thread of everyone just trying to figure what all “this” is.  What is it that drives us to seek the explanation?  And why is it so hard to see that we’re all trying to get to the same place?

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All the time we are aware of millions of things around us…these changing shapes, these burning hills, the sound of the engine, the feel of the throttle, each rock and weed and fence post and piece of debris beside the road…aware of these things but not really conscious of them unless there is something unusual or unless they reflect something we are predisposed to see. We could not possibly be conscious of these things and remember all of them because our mind would be so full of useless details we would be unable to think. From all this awareness we must select, and what we select and call consciousness is never the same as the awareness because the process of selection mutates it. We take a handful of sand from the endless landscape of awareness around us and call that handful of sand the world.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig

“Russian Roulette is not the same without the gun”

As a general rule, I don’t regret many of the impulsive choices I’ve made in my life (save for one or two).  I made the decision to move to Los Angeles based off one phone conversation with Ipsa*.  After one lecture of AsianAm studies, I decided to go to law school.  Both choices, made immediately and whole heartedly, led to great consequences – life changing in fact – and I’ve never looked back.

Granted, there are a few impulsive decisions that make me cringe: like trying to ride a bike with no hands or feet.  Or July 4th, 1999.  But, regardless of how many scars resulted, I never regretted it.  Probably because I have the belief that every choice made along the way led to who I am now and who I am meant to be.  How can I regret that?

Still, I wonder – why don’t I give more thought into the “life-altering” decisions?  Or even to the small decisions that pepper my daily life?  The logical side of me says that such behavior is reckless.  Maybe even a little selfish.  When it comes down to a choice that’s fun or easy against responsible and thought-out, I go with the fun or easy.  Study or watch The Dresden Files?  Guess which wins out.  I’m fully prepared to deal with the consequences – like the less than stellar grades I receive – because I have to.  But, I know it’s only a matter of time before it all catches up with me and knocks me down for a long time.

Then there are the decisions I never make: allowing them to just pass me by and I shrug it off as “not meant to be.”  But in truth, I just never take the time to think about things and how actually making a choice will be good or bad for me.  I just wait long enough until I don’t have to make the decision.

I’ve just finished my second year of law school, and apparently I am the only one who doesn’t feel the pressure of finding a summer job (“for the experience”).  Although I do still have my research position, it’s not enough to get my foot in the door after I graduate, or so I’m told.  It’s not that I don’t want a great job after school; it’s more of the nagging feeling that I don’t want to work 60 hour weeks, letting life pass by.  I love learning about the law; I don’t know if I can live in that world for the rest of my life.

Or maybe, I just don’t want to “grow up” and take on actual responsibility.  I’m comfortable in this cocoon and maybe my decisions are based on the underlying desire to remain in it.

I don’t know for sure.  All I do know – no matter what’s in the chamber, I won’t regret the decision.

A Question

Would twitter folks appreciate being notified that I have a new blog entry?

Strangely, I’ve always kept on the down-low, which has both negative and positive consequences (depending on how much of an exhibitionist I feel like at the moment).

Any thoughts?