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Letter Returned: Destination Unreachable

January 22, 2013

My dear friend,

Another pair of eyes lost their light today. It’s the same as saying that they lost their life, but that’s why we know the phrase, isn’t it? It’s one phrase, among a numberless fellowship, that is nothing more than a deferment, and a cover between ourselves and the hard truth of our inevitable demise.

Another pair of eyes lost their light today, and dozens (if not hundreds, or thousands!) of eyes will be weeping in sorrow; Weeping for today, for tomorrow, and (for many) honestly just too long to tell how long. Each someone who weeps has lost their own sweet friend. 

You know well how that loss will echo across time, my friend. Its shape is fluid, and so easily it becomes a painful embrace, a little memory or a large one. Most of all, though, it will live on in an endless flow of regret; for the words unspoken, the thoughts unexpressed, the gestures unshown, the love that was lost long ago.

Each and every death leaves all of mankind infinitely poorer than you, or I, or the meanest beggar has ever been, dear friend. The smallest day-to-day in the life of one spawns an ever-expanding ripple into eternity for all. With each death, a person disappears from existence, never again to make ripples in the small blue pond that we call home.

Loss is the unwanted visitor, always overstaying a welcome that neither you nor I extended, beloved friend. How I wish I could send him away! “Out!”, I would command, and as the phantasm would fade to nothing, we would rejoice. The specter gone, our spirits would be free. It is not in my power, I am afraid.

Trying to capture such a person with words, when the living representation was the only way to do so, is a silly and fruitless endeavor. I will not do justice to you, my lost friend, and so I will not shame you by fumbling through a strained, second-rate eulogy. All I have, then, is what I feel.

I feel that to say “You will be missed.” misconstrues me. I miss you already.

I feel that my heart has been mangled and left to its devices, losing a vital piece of the whole.

I feel ungrateful, never having taught so much as I have learned.

I feel that I was not good enough, that I could not have been good enough.

I feel that I will look for you, here and now, and in what there may be after.

With all my love– past, present, and future.
Your friend,

Miles Grimes

Dedicated in loving memory to Amanda McCoy, 1/22/2013

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Evolution vs. Intelligent Design: It’s that simple.

June 9, 2012

I’m saddened to have to write a post of this nature, but it seems the time has come for another rehashing of this tired old crock of publicly debated hell. Evolution vs. Intelligent Design (or Creationism, if we have some straightforward honesty from our theists)! Should they be taught alongside each other in schools?

No. They shouldn’t. Really, it’s that simple. Evolution is a valid scientific concept which is worthy of being taught in high school science classrooms, and ID is not, nor has it ever been, a valid scientific theory. However, many of you will want to know why, and I aim to please, so here is the reasoning…

  • The word “Theory” is almost always being used incorrectly.

    One of the key components of the ID argument against Evolution being taught is that the foundation is the Evolutionary Theory, emphasis of course added on the word theory. Proponents of ID Theory use this to try to equalize the two theories, making it seem as though both are actually just some developed guesses.

    However, this is simply misleading, because the word theory (as many words do, in the English language) has multiple definitions. This is extremely important, because one definition deals with the use of the word theory in the general casual context, while another is used in the scientific context with a very different meaning.

    A quick Google search for the definition of “theory” finds (on dictionary.com) that one definition is in line with this classification previously mentioned: “A proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural and subject to experimentation, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact. ”

    Another definition for theory (coincidentally listed as the first definition, before the former definition, which is the second) is: “A coherent group of tested general propositions, commonly regarded as correct, that can be used as principles of explanation and prediction for a class of phenomena.”

    It is this second type of theory which is being used in the scientific community to refer to constructs such as the Theory of Evolution. Technically, yes, this definition does leave open the possibility for the theory to be shown false; we are humans, after all, and must account for our errors. However, what this does not do is license anyone who does not like the Theory of Evolution to dismiss it out of hand as a guess. Simply as a matter of common sense, though, is the aspect that if well over 90% of the  relevantly-educated scientific community accepts that the theory is correct, it is unlikely that every pro-ID-advocate with a humanities degree and 10 minutes of online research has “debunked” or “refuted” the ToE; that is patent nonsense.

    Do we understand the point here? Let’s take a look at some other big T Theories of science:

    1. The Theory of Gravitational Attraction. Do you see many people jumping off of buildings saying that this one is bullshit?

    2. Atomic Theory. Should we “Teach the Controversy” and bring back the Aristotelian Five Elements system to teach them side by side?

    3. Germ Theory. Pathogens cause disease, right? We know this and can use that knowledge to create vaccines and antibiotics, yes? Bonus, many of the implications of this Theory would be complete insanity if the ToE weren’t correct.

    How many of these are being questioned on the basis of being a theory?

  • Biology only works with Evolution (and it clearly works).

    I mentioned this briefly with the last point, but the plain fact is that nearly the entirety of modern biology is dependent on the knowledge and constructs we gain from the ToE. No one living in a modern society can claim that biology isn’t doing its job. We have unprecedented work in genetics, the elimination of diseases through vaccinations (when was the last time you knew someone to get polio?)  and antibiotics, and work dealing with the drug resistance of pathogens. None of this would be possible without the ToE.

  • Evolution has been confirmed countless times.

    Evolution draws on a vast majority of fields to show confirming instances of the theoretical projections. Fossil observation, DNA sequences, biogeography, and laboratory experiments all provide a wealth of information which are exactly the type of data we should be observing if the projections made by the ToE are correct.

  • Intelligent Design does not provide compelling counter-evidence.

    Many proponents of Intelligent Design claim that evolution (driven by random mutations) cannot account for the presence of many complex organic systems. This concept is “irreducible complexity”: the idea that a structure is too complex to have evolved from simpler, or “less complete” predecessors, through natural selection acting upon a series of advantageous naturally occurring, chance mutations. One commonly cited example of a structure which would be irreducibly complex is the bacterial flagellum. You may remember this structure from your high school biology class: In essence, it is a long propulsion tentacle with sub-parts devoted to attaching the tentacle to the cell wall of the bacterium. Since we cannot understand how such a structure would come to be through the process of evolution, ID proponents argue, then it must be that the structure was created, rather than evolved.

    However, this argument is fundamentally flawed. First, it is an argument from ignorance, and hearkens to the “God of the Gaps” argument: If we don’t know how it works, God must do it. Second, the concept of “irreducible complexity” is rejected by the scientific community. The overwhelming majority of respected, peer-reviewed, papers and books on the topic of the bacterial flagellum have demonstrated that it is entirely possible for such a structure to evolve.

  • Even further, Intelligent Design does not qualify as science.

    You may notice, while perusing the Wikipedia articles of the scientific Theories I listed above, something all of those Theories have in common: They have structure, make detailed positive claims, and can be used to explain past events, as well as to predict future events. Intelligent Design does not contain these features. Instead, it merely claims that the ToE is wrong, and that structures must have been designed by an intelligent agent. There are no structures, it makes no detailed positive claims, and cannot be used to explain the process of past events, nor can it be used to predict future events.

The evidence weighs heavily against Intelligent Design and Creationism, as theories explaining the variation among organisms. Not only do they fail to fit the data which we have from observing the world, but they do not fit the characteristics of a scientific theory.

There is no reason to entertain the notion that Intelligent Design is remotely in the same league as the Theory of Evolution. There is no reason to equalize the two theories. There is no reason to teach Intelligent Design. It’s that simple.

Making Sense of Molgrons

April 3, 2012

Once, there were Molgrons.

They lived on a planet much like ours, and in fact were quite identical to human beings– aside from the fact that their arms and legs were rather tentacles which also spat fire when aroused.

Sarah, by a twist of fate not otherwise explained in this narrative, found herself on the planet of the Molgrons one day. It was a queer happenstance, but Sarah was a robust girl of adaptive mental state, and she decided to make the best of a strange– if not otherwise bad– situation.

Happily, the Molgrons had also experienced a parallel evolution of language which produced the exact syntax of the English language in full (excepting proper nouns, of course). At the very least, Sarah and the Molgrons had a language in common, which should have served to make intelligent communication possible, so far as the mechanics were concerned. How nice that none of those silly Babel Fish needed to be involved.

Sarah, being an inquisitive sort, was widely studied. Among her mastery of subjects resided philosophy, particle physics, carpentry, psychology, basic first aid, mathematics, and many other standbys.

Now obviously, one does not simply open with Hume’s Problem of Induction, nor the proof for Pythagoras’ Relation. If anything, this is simple bad manners. Our heroine had the common courtesy to introduce herself, give general indications of her former life upon Earth, and inquire into the descriptors of the Molgron who had been selected to speak with her. However, with little reference to who people are, or what places are which, there isn’t much to be said after something of a while. One’s interest in baseball is hardly illuminating or interesting, given the low prevalence among tentacled races to be grasping rounded wooden sticks.

So, the two move quickly to matters of philosophical import, the greater questions which had spanned the ages of human history. The greatest question of all came quickly to the forefront.

“How do you believe the universe came to be?”, Sarah asked “Vicki”, the nicknamed Molgron accompanying her.

Vicki had the good grace to smile, but was obviously shocked by the question. “Why, that’s quite clear to us, Sarah. I hadn’t asked you the same thing… I suppose because I just assumed everyone knew the answer. Our holy Goddess created the universe. She designed it all, enacted it, and actively intervenes to make sure that everything keeps running according to the plan.”

Hearing this, Sarah stopped walking, her brow furrowed. “So, when you say ‘actively intervenes’, what exactly do you mean by that?’

“Well, you can’t expect the universe to run on its own. Look at a clock, or a computer, or something similar. A construction is simply susceptible to the fallibility introduced by basically flawed constituent parts, or continued wear and tear. These things require maintenance, however slight, to continue existing and performing their functions. The universe is the same way, but its function is simply to exist! The Goddess Arianna simply performs the necessary maintenance which continues all of life.”

Vicki turned to Sarah, excited to be sharing the truth with her, small flames emitting from her “hands”. “Don’t you see? It’s the perfect relationship between creator and the created. All worldly creations must eventually cease working, moving beyond the ability of even the original creator to maintain them further. With a creator of infinite time and infinite capability, though, the creation can exist forever! The universe can go on indefinitely, giving every soul the chance to take its turn living in a body.”

“Vicki”, Sarah began, “Thank you for answering me. I’m glad that you’ve been able to explain that so well to me. But how do you know? How do you, as Molgrons, know that this is the case, and that Arianna is the creator Goddess who does all this? Do you have proof?”

“Of course we have proof!”, Vicki exclaimed, as a particularly large gout of flame erupted from her left “hand” (fortunately on the opposite side from Sarah). “We’ve simply looked at a fan-shaped node of memory as a longitudinal representation of mathematical alphabets, and deduced the conclusion from there!” Another gout of flame erupted. “It’s genius, the highest genius! I can only imagine the higher intellect of those responsible for the discovery translating to the Word of Arianna.”

Sarah had become quite discomfited by the bouts of combustion taking place during this conversation, but was determined to press on. “Wait, what? Vicki, I don’t understand what you’re saying. How does any of that make sense? I don’t think there even are any fan-shaped nodes of memory… or nodes of memory at all. What are you talking about?”

“Sarah!”, now both of Vicki’s tentacles were emitting constant jets of fire, “I expected more from you. Don’t you see that the neo-classical archetypes are clear maps of memory? The evolutionary imperative demanded that the nodes be multi-faceted and egregious in symmetry.”

Now nervous, our terrestrial figure took a small step backwards before continuing, with hands raised in defense. “Vicki, I don’t know what’s going on, but those words don’t even make sense in a sentence together.”

“What? Come now. It’s all easily explained by multi-tense atomic literary canals instigated into heliocentric-based acceleration. Basics, really, you should know all about it! It’s your field, after all!” At this, the largest explosion of flame thus far was near enough to singe poor Sarah’s eyebrows.

At this, Sarah’s nerve broke. Panicked, dismayed, and confused, Sarah ran. Perhaps it was the isolation among beings who were fundamentally very close to her own nature, or the inability to effectively communicate using a functionally equivalent language with the one she had grown up speaking. Perhaps it was the fire shooting from tentacles. But regardless of the cause, Sarah left the overwhelming stress of the situation by running away as fast as possible. Can you blame her? I can’t. The madness of conscious beings can be contagious, you know.

Implicit in the Text

February 17, 2012

As I walked from my room to eat dinner, I was observing people and noticing that many had their cell phones out. I wondered how many of them were actually communicating with someone, and how many were simply using the phone in their hands to avoid contact with others. This, I think, was the only reason I noticed someone smoking outside of the cafeteria– because I was people-watching, while I walked.

I know this person, because she and I are both part of a research group. I considered saying something along the lines of the oft-used “You know, those things are supposed to be pretty bad for you.”

Since I’ve said “considered”, you already know that I didn’t, and instead just said hi and walked inside. 

Why didn’t I say anything? I obviously had the intention of doing so, and reconsidered. It’s because I know the literature about addiction, including smoking. People who smoke aren’t ignorant of what smoking cigarettes does to a person’s body. The War on Drugs, and especially the War on Tobacco, has been extremely successful in making everyone aware of the negative ramifications.

But people smoke anyway.

The point here isn’t about smoking, though. The point is that the explicit level of meaning here, smoking is bad, is already known, and in fact doesn’t serve much of a purpose.

But people say it anyway.

I thought about this. If the phrase is essentially useless, are we simply too ignorant to realize this fact and stop using it? Do we assume everyone ELSE is too ignorant, or smokers are too ignorant, to realize it? Well, maybe some of us. But that can’t account for all of our behavior.

 The important distinction here is between the explicit and the implicit levels of meaning. When I say to a friend “Hey, you know those things are supposed to be pretty bad for you”, there are some implicit premises here: I care about you. I don’t want to see you come to harm. I like you and want you to be around me for as long as possible.

Far be from me to say that people are always sensible. But sometimes people aren’t being idiots. Sometimes they just care. 

Peculiar

January 31, 2012

I slept.

And my dreams were of struggles and the clouds of despair that accompany the most dire of failures. I dreamt of futility, and weakness, and a hollow nothingness that remained of the man I used to be.

What was peculiar was my desire to sleep, to return, to mend these things, or to fail.

Yet.

Again.

Exposing Thyself: Not the best idea at our age

June 27, 2011

Hello there, friends. As the title states, this is for my friends who are my age. It’s specifically targetted at those with whom I went to high school, but it makes sense for anyone who’s under 21 years old.

I’m in college, and like me, most of you are as well. Whether it’s community college, a four-year university, or even the fabled halls of Harvard itself, it’s the next step in our educational road to the future. We’re all prepping ourselves to “become adults”, learn about our trades, and go on to live out the rest of our lovely lives.

And I get it. A huge part of the college experience is reaching out, meeting your peers, and forming friendships. OBviously, along with those friendships comes a certain amount of social activity, as well as exploration and discovery of things which heretofore were unknown to you. One of those things is partying, and along with that is drinking– drinking alcohol, specifically.

We all know it happens. We all know that most, if not all, of the incoming freshmen in a college are going to hit a party and try a Corona for the first time, or join their new (possibly older) friends in downing a shot or two of Jose Cuervo, before finding the Long Island Iced Tea and going to dance to the undoubtedly loud hit pop songs that are playing in the background.

This is all very illegal, of course, but it’s one of those things that’s socially acceptable, right? It’s one of those things that happens at collge, and even those who choose not to partake of the alcohol are rarely inclined to do anything so drastic as to inform anyone in a position of authority, let alone the police, that some kind of underage drinking is going on.

So there’s a position of grace, an area between illegality and social acceptance, which allows us to do some exploring, and ultimately (undeniably) have a lot of fun in the process.

However, as any good Christian will tell you, it’s easy to abuse a position of grace, and find yourself falling from it rather rapidly.

I logged on this morning and saw a photo album of some fellow Sycamore High School graduates, seemingly getting together to hang out and have a little fun together over the summer. No problems there, I knew quite a few of the people as I did the Facebook-Creeper thing and clicked through the pictures.

Then I saw it. One of the women I had graduated with was smiling for the camera and standing with a bottle of liquor in her hand. Mind you, we’re mostly 19 years old now, with I believe just a handful of people having turned 20, and a similarly small number of people still 18. The point is, none of us are old enough to be legally drinking, let alone posing for the camera with a bottle in hand.

I was a little disbelieving at first, but I looked a little closer, and sure enough, that bottle was exactly what I thought it was. I clicked on, seeing a lot of pictures with friends hugging friends, some games being played, a lot of good things you expect to see in this sort of photo album.

But I saw it again. And again. And again. Shot glasses, hard liquor, and beer bottles, a case of beer on a counter. The more pictures I saw, the progressively less and less the alcohol was being hidden– or had it been hidden at all in the first place?

All I have to say to this is: how can you all be so stupid?

I don’t mean that in the general sense. Many of the people from my graduating class are extremely intelligent people, who I’m sure will be quite successful in their lives and go on to live wonderful lives.

But this, what I saw this morning when I logged onto Facebook? It’s just plain stupidity.

Think about it. This is the internet. Even more– it’s Facebook! Those pictures, which have just gone up an hour or two ago, are now on the internet, and especially on Facebook’s servers (or in their physical back-up tapes, even worse), forever! What happens if, in a year from now, you’re making an application to a financial board for more aid to stay at school, and they do a review of your character, including what they find on the internet? Oh, look at this, you seem to have been consuming quite a bit of alcohol, and was this your freshman year? That looks very good for your chances.

Even worse, think of what this says to an employer: irresponsible, immature, untrustworthy. Did you just lose that job that would have netted you $40,000 a year straight out of college because of those photos on Facebook?

I don’t know, but I wouldn’t take the chance.

Addendum to this: I am not universally condemning the use of alcohol, nor am I even specifically condemning the underage drinking that goes on at college (though what follows from that is entirely a set of consequences left to your responsibility). What am I condemning here is the stupidity, the utter idiocy, of allowing yourself to be casually recorded doing something that is very obviously illegal for you to do.

Guest Post: Inventions, by Michael Schultz

May 17, 2011

Edwin spotted them the moment he stepped off the train. Theodor stood in the back of the crowd, craning his neck. How had he followed him here?

Edwin had met Theodor at the supermarket. He had been testing out one of his new inventions, a barcode scanner that checked other stores in the area to see if he was getting the best price. Edwin loved making inventions. They made his life more fun, or at least more convenient. He liked having time to himself while he worked. Theodor took an immediate interest in Edwin’s contraption.

“Holy smokes, what is that thing?” he shouted from down the aisle. Edwin wasn’t fazed at first. He never assumed people were talking to him. Spending most of his time underground with his toys made him forget about other people sometimes. He finally realized he was being talked at when Theodor walked up to him.

“Did you make that?” Theodor asked. “A combination price scanner-inventory checker—brilliant!”

Edwin didn’t know what to say. He looked at Theodor for a second before he said, “Thank you” and quickly went back to scanning the shelves.

“That’s some real fine craftsmanship right there. You know, it’s not too often you find a fellow tinkerer around here. I used to really think I was the only one.”

Edwin just stared at him again, confused. Theodor slapped him on the back and laughed warmly.

“Ha! Cheer up, buddy. I know what you’re thinking: I’m some nut, what’s going on, why am I talking to you? Well, here.” He took at a pen and scribbled his address on a sheet of paper. “My name is Theodor, and I’m an inventor. I have this meeting of inventors at my house every other Thursday at 7. Why don’t you come by, have a few beers and meet some other people that like to make new things? Trust me, it’ll be fun. A night out’ll do you good anyway.”

Edwin took the sheet of paper from Theodor and just looked at it for a while. He didn’t know what he wanted to do. It had been a long while since he went out at all. He didn’t know if he could manage the first meetings, the awkward hellos, the conversations about the weather. He liked spending time with his things. People made him uncomfortable.

“I don’t drive,” he told Theodor. This was true.

“That’s okay, actually. There’s a train station not far from my house. I’ll pick you up. Take the blue line east and get off at the Brentwood stop. It’ll be there at 6:30.”

Edwin pondered whether or not he felt like going. It seemed like a good enough idea. Maybe Theodor was right: maybe a night out would do him good.

He took a cab to the train station the next night. Sure enough, he got off at the Brentwood stop and found Theodor waiting for him near a silver Accord. The two drove back to Theodor’s house, talking mostly about sports and the weather. Edwin didn’t particularly care for sports. He didn’t even have a television in his house, so he mostly listened .

Once the party started, Edwin found himself having a good time. He met many other people that preferred spending time with things. Somehow, their lonesome tendencies made them closer. He talked, he nodded his head to the music, he drank. It felt good to talk to other people again. He and Theodor had some good conversation about what they had been working on and what they wanted to spend time on next.

“Let me show you my playground,” offered Theodor. The party was winding down. It was late.

The two walked down the stairs in Theodor’s lab, lights illuminating themselves with each step. Edwin’s jaw dropped. He had never seen anything like it. There were entire walls covered in tools, benches of spare parts, half-stripped machines strewn about. It was a paradise.

“Impressive, isn’t it?” asked Theodor. Edwin’s mouth hung open in shock.

“I’ve built just about everything I could ever want down here. Anything you can think of, I probably have the parts. Sometimes I’ll build one thing but then have another idea and immediately turn it into something else.

“Lately, though, I’ve been bored of machinery. I wanted to play with something more… complex.” He pressed a button which pulled some of the tool-covered walls up into the ceiling to reveal huge glass cases full of what looked to be mounted dead animals. Edwin was confused and now a little frightened. He wondered why he left his house. He didn’t want to be with Theodor anymore.

Theodor explained how he had been experimenting with genetic mutations, with hybridizing two animals into one. He showed him his giraffe-squirrel, his sloth-panda, his praying mantis-piranha. They were grotesque. They looked like horrible inventions made of sinew and meat.

Edwin excused himself and called a cab. He said he had a headache; that he had had a great time but he had to get home. Theodor insisted he stay. Edwin backed up the stairs slowly, saying no, no, it really was time for bed. Theodor seemed upset.

He went to the train station and bought a ticket straight home. He needed a cold shower and a cup of coffee.