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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

theories: empirical and not-so

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Total science nerd here. I  adore science. Really — every year I buy the Best Science Writing 20-whatever. Or else my husband gets it for me as a present. :) If I had my life to redo, I’d probably be a scientist. Or at least write more about science.

Which may be why I’m ambivalent about the above animation. Like many, I believe Stephen Hawking is a great mind — but there are some pretty obvious holes (and no, I’m not punning on the infamous black kind) in this short.

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First of all, this is a theory. And here’s where we begin to have semantic issues. The word ‘theory’ pivots on two separate ‘meanings’ in science. Ergo the conflict with creationists over the ‘theory’ of evolution.

It’s not hard, actually, to untangle the semantic snafu. Gravity is a theory just like evolution: empirically derived. Meaning, folks used observations to craft it. They saw things drop. Experimented with dropping them. Measured time, distance, all that stuff. Same with evolution. People find fossils all the time. Including ones that prove pretty indisputably the interconnections on the tree of life.

evolution treeAn aside: no scientist says men ‘descended’ from ‘monkeys.’ People share with all primates a long-ago common ancestor. We also share a common ancestor with all other mammals. And, ultimately, with all life on the planet. Kind of a nice Buddhist thing to think about…:)

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But back to the point: the difference between Stephen Hawking’s ‘theory’ and the theory of gravity or evolution is that Hawking’s theory is NOT arrived at empirically. In other words, his theory is internally rigourous, IF you accept his premises (basically Hawking radiation & his description/ definition of a singularity). The other stuff he bases it on is pretty commonly accepted. Maybe not verifiable — borderline empirical — but far more mainstream. Kind of like the way we accept certain ‘theories’ about the centre of the earth. No one’s been there, so we don’t know. But we’re pretty sure of certain things about it — like magma, the magnetic core — they fit what evidence we do have.

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That’s the rub. Creationists say there’s only a ‘theory’ of evolution. The term in their sense — theory — means ‘you don’t (and can’t, really) know this.’ But actually? We have evidence. Fossil evidence. There is incredibly strong empirical evidence to support evolution; about 97% of scientists say it’s so. In 2006, only 600 scientists signed on against Darwinism, and this from a pro-creationism source. There is NO empirical evidence to support a creationist world view, any more than there was for a cosmology of Greek gods.

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Are you bored yet?earth on turtle back

Because this has a point, and it’s about beginner’s heart. We often want to believe things — it’s called attachment. And, sometimes, faith (still a kind of attachment :)). But seeing is a form of believing. The Buddha was a skeptic, dismissing the whole discussion of an afterlife and/or reincarnation until we got our heads around the lives we lead here. Now. Remember the part about it all passes…?

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So yes, I follow science. And I’m a tad insulted when people who don’t say, “Oh! You BELIEVE in science.” Well actually? There’s no ‘belief’ involved. The sun rises and it sets. The earth revolves around the sun, which thus rises and sets. And we are not carried through the void on the back of a turtle, which was once a popular belief throughout the world. You can SEE these things. It takes far more ‘faith’ to believe in not-science. In other words? You believe in whatever isn’t science.

This matters because as long as people feel they can do whatever they want — think: priests who molested children, nursing home workers who abuse their patients, criminal politicians and bad teachers and whomever… — and receive absolution from their guilt? They’ll continue to do it. And as long as science is sidelined by religicos, we’ll continue to pollute the planet, citing not-science to excuse the change in climate. After all, it’s all only theory, right?

My beginner’s heart is trying hard to breathe through my frustrations w/ anti-science folks. I’m sure this is good for me . But I’m not so sure about the planet…

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Buddha dogs and learning about love

pascal at Dori's 2013We have two dogs — both goofy-looking French bulldogs. The elder, Pascal, is sick. Turns out that despite being ‘guaranteed,’ AND xrayed, he has dysplasia. As well as a pinched nerve in his lower spine. He’s in a lot of pain.

Most folks prefer his brother, Hugo the lovebug. Hugo will take up with strangers as if they were long-lost twins. He once tried to run off w/ the plumber (really). He will fold in to your lap as if a (barely) animated canine blanket — laying completely open.

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Pascal is nothing like this. He barks incessantly at even the birds in the yard. He is subject to fits of anger if your feet scare him. He refuses to jump onto the chair — he has to be picked up. But as it turns out, that’s his dysplasia. As are his non-biting attacks when he’s inadvertently pained.

And now we’re facing the question dreaded by every pet owner: how much quality of life is enough?  And how many $$ — on a fixed income — are too many?

I’ve learned so much from this lumpy galoot of a dog. That love really is unconditional, often. He’s not the smartest, or the prettiest, nor is he the best dog I know. I’ve had dogs since I was born, and he bests few of them. But he’s himself, and no one else is. That’s love, I guess.

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It’s also attachment, which I’m leery of, as a Buddhist.dukkha Not the love part, but the ‘I don’t want to lose my dog’ part. Classic dukkha. Actually, all three kinds, rolled into one hurting French bulldog. I don’t want to have to decide whether he should live or die. Whether the pain he feels will be ameliorated enough. When he will need the hip replacement(s) we know already we will not be able to afford.

And I don’t want things to change. I want it to be last week, when he was still fine, and the nerve wasn’t pinched. Because I’m conditioned to be happy in his presence. Not to suffer, as he is now.

Who knew my baby dog was such a Buddha?

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mouthy middle-aged white chicks…

loudmouthI freely admit I’m a loudmouth. AND political, to boot. Not to mention an engaged Buddhist, and a wannabe Unitarian. Which is to say, a total bleeding heart liberal with a big vocabulary. (As distinguished from a knee-jerk liberal — NOT what we like in my family.)

This is not a good thing in some venues. Trust me. Nor does it … make me friends. :) In fact, I never ask to be friends on FB, and warn everyone who tries to friend me. I am VERY political.

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But how can we sit by and condone things that hurt people? Things that exclude people?  I don’t know why this matters so much to me, and so little to many people I run into (over?), but it does. On both counts. For me, the political is ALWAYS personal. The ’60s were about the politics, for some of us — not the sex, drugs, rock & roll. :)

Apropos of politics, and helping people when we can, I sometimes read grants for organisations. I used to write them, but now I read them. Kind of fingers & thumb of the same hand. And when I read, I look for certain things: the mission of the granting organisation, obviously. But also: who benefits from this? How much does it cost per person served? Does it leave out folks?exclusion

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For instance, if it’s a reading grant, and the book you’re reading stereotypes a minority, well, what’s up with that? Do I think we should fund your project? And note: in Oklahoma there are many ‘minorities’ who get left out: women, African Americans, the physically handicapped, Native Americans, non-Christian religions, homosexuals, single mothers, atheists… The list of who’s ‘out’ is pretty much everyone except white men of property. And I’m only kinda kidding…

I didn’t grow up a white man of property. I grew up a minority — a white woman in an Asian country. ‘Marginalised’ by both race & gender. Later, I would be a white non-Muslim woman in a Muslim country. Outside the right lines because of my gender, again, but also my ‘lack’ of faith. Maybe this is why I’m pretty dead-set on inclusion of my friends. Because few of my friends are white men of property.

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inclusion 2Please note: my wonderful, thoughtful, reflectively liberal husband is a ‘white man of property.’ And as soon as my sons pay off their college loans, I hope they too become men of property. They’re already white (well, mostly). But my best friends are all over the American census: black, Indian, gay, Muslim, atheist, Hindu, Jewish, lesbian, single mothers, physically handicapped. Shoot, a LOT of these ‘categories’ are family members!

So here’s my point: why is this such a big thing in America? Such a big deal that we don’t even notice — many Americans, that is — until we slap against it. We don’t even see that the book we’re reading stereotypes Native Americans. Nor do we see that our idea of the ideal American West paradigm leaves out the horrific suffering of Native Americans, the slavery of Chinese rail workers, the slavery of African Americans…

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Why are so many Americans aghast that the new Miss America, for instance, is ‘Indian American’? She’s an American citizen, for cryin’ out loud! And isn’t the fact that there’s a big outcry PROOF that this country is, at BEST, ‘integrated’…? Because true inclusion means we’re all in this together. Which we don’t really seem to be. Instead, we think that America should look like my lovely niece: blue-eyed, pretty, and educated. The fact that she’s gay? Well, at least that doesn’t SHOW, right?

It makes me crazy. Because right now, it  a whole of folks are still on the outside. Including my niece.

 

 

 

 

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hungry children and politicians

hungry childI have never understood letting children go hungry. Children are our most precious, irreplaceable resource. NOTHING trumps feeding children, and certainly not politics.

The American government — in the guise of the Republican house — just voted to let children go hungry. You can frame it as you like, but in 2014 about 22 million children will go hungry without SNAP. And why? Why is it more important to let children go hungry than…?

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I don’t get it. We can afford war, obviously. We can afford junkets for Congress, and pretty lavish Congressional salaries. We seem to be able to afford everything but what most impacts children: food & education.

As a mother, as a teacher, as someone who aspires to a moral life, this troubles me profoundly. There isn’t a religion I know of that doesn’t place a high premium on feeding the hungry, caring for our children. Across spiritual borders, hungry children are seen as particularly vulnerable. Our charge is, always, to make sure we care for them. hunger graphic

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But apparently, if we give it acronyms (SNAP), or long words (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program), we can pretend it’s something other than what it is: essential FOOD for children, the elderly, the poor. Many of these children — 10 million — “live in ‘deep poverty,’ with family incomes below half of the poverty line.” In case no one remembers, $23,550 is the poverty line in the US for a family of four. My nephew, raising three children by himself, makes minumum wage. In Oklahoma, that’s about $9,000 BELOW the annual poverty line: $7.25/ hour x 40 hours weekly (which he can’t always get), x 50 weeks (just in case he really ever got his two weeks of vacation) = $14,500.00. GROSS, folks — not take-home.

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Without food stamps, my nephew’s family would go hungry  many nights.  His mother helps. My niece helps. We all do a little. But where is the infrastructure for the working poor? He’s a veteran, struggling to provide a very  minimal life for three young children. And the Republican Congress thinks he doesn’t deserve this?

child povertyI am so angry with people who can’t POSSIBLY know a thing about real poverty that I could, as my great-aunt Bonnie would say, spit. There is nothing shameful about poverty. There is something morally reprehensible about asking children to go hungry for your politics.

Seriously? Where is the morality in this? And please tell me: what kind of ‘family values’ are these…?

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