I'm a brilliant scientist and I fear for the world's fate

I wish I could have faith -- at least for my daughter's sake if not for mine.

By Cary Tennis

Published January 24, 2008 11:48AM (EST)

Dear Reader,

I am taking a four-day weekend. The column will resume on Tuesday, Jan. 29. Enjoy your time off from me!

Hello, Cary,

I have mastered many advanced scientific and engineering fields and can mostly understand just about every advanced scientific theory or engineering device currently in existence or previously in existence -- like how to build an atomic bomb or an IC (integrated circuit) device from basic raw materials, or create a digital camera array, program a computer, build a complete scientific instrument from basic components, interface a computer and other devices. Or knowing the physics of how the sun works, or how to make any glass act just like a plastic metal (my thesis), or why the entropy of the universe requires that black holes, contrary to theory, are not really a one-way sink for the universe.

To better teach myself quantum mechanics, I wrote my own text (which the quantum professor at the university reproduced and gave his later classes). I have also studied a great deal of mathematics, philosophy, economics and history. I devour current events and have done many strange jobs: flown jets, worked in intelligence, and done cutting-edge research at a number of R&D laboratories both private and governmental.

However, I do not understand faith, nor how it is even possible to hold such a strange idea in the mind. I do miss this mind drug and how it would provide a childlike answer about "after" death. But such a lie is just a pointless waste of my time. (Yes, I have read the Bible in detail, and studied all the other great religions.)

Yet, more to the point, I am baffled by how I can deal with "knowing" the real future -- we in America are fucked -- at least in our way of life: We cannot control the economic slice of the world pie that we have grown accustomed to, and as is all too clear, our future will be hard and poor.

Worse, we are fast approaching peak oil, and our way of life will soon take an even bigger hit. To see the truth of this, look at the cost of food: It is climbing. The cost of oil has rippled through our economy, caused in part by our stupidity in creating ethanol from corn, but that is just the sign of doom -- peak oil is our real doom and the world's, too.

We do not and will not for many years have any way to handle peak oil; I know the technology and there is no answer we can hope for in under 10 years (if we get started now, that is) -- my life, yours, that of all middle-class people are doomed to spiral down.

Again, this is only one more piece in the disaster looming over us; environmental degradation, overpopulation, world hunger, war and large sections of third-world states falling into chaos are going to threaten us in the next 10 years. I know this and I know that all this could be avoided if --

1) People gave up faith,
2) Stopped feigning the truth and
3) Stopped listening to the right-wing Republican thugs and their loony mouthpieces that are raping the middle class and poor for the rich elite (themselves).

I know there is zero chance of this happening. So, how can I look my daughter, who is the light of my life, in the eye, smile and continue to follow through with the same things I always do, knowing the truth of the terrible world she will soon live within, which will try to crush her future?

How can I stop caring, turn off my brain, and just enjoy the time we have left in the sun? In other words, give up truth and be like everyone else and live with blinders? Drugs would help, but then I'd miss out on the fun that we have left.

The real truth is that, "in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man" is ... an unhappy, depressed man who everyone else thinks is just a troubled, opinionated know-it-all.

One-Eyed Man

Dear One-Eyed Man,

Faith is not the problem. Death is the problem. You are troubled by a vision of planetary death, which stems from fear of personal death. This fear also makes you ache for your daughter, whom you envision being left alone in a dying world. It is not a technical problem. It is a spiritual problem. You seem to find it hard to accept that. Perhaps you can accept this, though:

You need a vacation.

You must go to the ocean and jump in. You must go to the ocean, take your shoes off and walk in the sand. Sit in the sand and look out at the ocean and think of Odysseus. Think of Priam and his ships. Think of Lear and his madness. Think of Cleopatra, a swarm of locusts, the wisdom of ancient Egypt, Jews wandering 40 years in the wilderness. Think of the spice wars, cholera epidemics, the Great Fire of London, the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, the rise of Islam, the Nazi phenomenon and the coming Super Bowl contest. Think of George W. Bush sauntering through the capitals of the Mideast like a chastened frat boy on his final field trip.

Think of evolution, our origins in the sea, our miraculous plankton brotherhood, our kinship with kelp that waves serenely in ancient seas. Think of the sand and how old it is; think of our cells and think of our options, how we could be plankton if need be, how we could be gas or liquid, how we could transubstantiate at a moment's notice if only the right force came along. Think of the mutability of atomic structure, how easily matter becomes energy, how we each might fissure into energy at the time of death. Think how many mysteries remain for us and how little we know about the silent, mocking plankton. Think of bombs and timers and the vaporizing flesh of a martyr in his millisecond of victory and doom. Think of mountains, their patient climb of eons to the sky. Contemplate the aurora borealis and the southern lights, simultaneous sunsets down the longitudes of our slow, inherited spinning. Think of a beard growing on your father. Think of the egg that became you. Think of solar cells and leaps of efficiency. Think of Edison and Einstein: Are we fresh out of amazement?

Have we finished finding things out? What preposterous presumption is that? We are finding things out faster than ever. We are about to know our own genes, the true bible of our being. So if we are finding things out more quickly than ever and things have looked much worse in the past and we got over them, where is the justification for your gloom? Why do our little problems seem insurmountable? Where is your faith in science? Where is your wonder? Where is your readiness for the surprise of new knowledge?

I think you're just tired. You're too smart to be talking like this. They must be overworking you in the lab. You need a vacation, man.

I myself am taking a couple of days off. I am visiting my father, an ex-Navy man. I am trying to understand his lifelong interest in UFOs. We are sitting in the kitchen and he toddles in, wearing his tweed jacket and red sweater, his hair tousled and gray, his posture bent with old age and Parkinson's. He carries stacks of books on UFOs, crop circles and the like. He piles them on the table: Would you like to look at some of these books? It is the same old story, his strange superstition, my skepticism. But among the books is "Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies," by Carl Jung. Is this an instance of synchronicity? Is it just a coincidence that your dire fears of planetary collapse come to me as I am reading Jung's meditations on the symbolic meaning of flying saucer reports? Writing to a friend in 1951 he said, "At a time when the world is divided by an iron curtain -- a fact unheard-of in human history -- we might expect all sorts of funny things, since when such a thing happens in an individual it means complete dissociation, which is instantly compensated by symbols of wholeness and unity. The phenomenon of the saucers might even be both, rumor as well as fact. In this case it would be what I call a synchronicity."

You are dying to protect your daughter from the end of the world but you cannot. Nor can you protect her from your own death. Nor can you prevent your own psyche from struggling to provide you with lifesaving symbols of renewal. Scoff if you must. But take a vacation and your psyche will renew itself in spite of you.

Indeed, "but this is wondrous strange," says Horatio.

"And therefore as a stranger give it welcome," says Hamlet. "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

94 letters: 94 mysteries.

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