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Brights, Dulls, Quakers and Forces

Facilitating Paradox: Stretching Bright?

Aaaaccccch! I guess I just hate labels - in fact, I don't much care for naming anything. So the current discussion going on in several places over the newly coined term "Bright" bothers me on levels other than those being discussed.

Oh, I see the practical advantages of both labels and names - but so often we name something, then set it aside and never look at it again. Well, we look at it again, but we never see it again. Thus it was that I feel I long ago lost the night sky because all the stars fit into named patterns for me. I can't see the stars as they really are - I see them through the eyes of ancient people who made them into patterns, or I see them through the eyes of modern scientists who attach all sorts of descriptive labels to them. But I can't just see them. And thus, too, I am in constant danger of losing the magic of birds as I strive to identify them.

What a strange battle it causes, this striving to identify and name helps us to communicate - and yet destroys our deeper sense of wonder and of seeing. If it is so with a bird or a star, how much more so with a person?

With that caveat I do agree that all is natural - and that includes all the so-called "creations" of man. We haven't created anything - we've simply rearranged what was already here using the natural material of our brains and bodies to do so. I just don't think we know all - whether we are "bright" or "dull." I think we tremendously over estimate our knowledge of everything.

Yes, we know a lot about relationships - if you do this, then this other thing will happen. We can tell you under what conditions hydrogen and oxygen interact to make water. But we know very little about the how and why of things. It's all a string of descriptions. We hide the reality of our ignorance behind names - such as "gravity," or "the weak force." As much as we're able to deconstruct things we never get at their essence. We keep taking them apart until there's nothing left - well, nothing more that we can detect with our current collection of detectors. Yet we don't know what anything is, perhaps because in trying to know it we have destroyed it. (Hmmm... is his the uncertainty principle again?)

The names give us a way to talk about these things that is extremely useful in curing disease and building airplanes - but I feel it also hides them from our view. It gives us a false sense of knowing. If it is so with scientific names, how much more so with the labels we apply to these complex collections of apparent contradictions we call human beings? What is really hidden behind names such as Quaker, Christian, Unitarian, and Buddhist to mention just a few? I could apply any of these labels to myself, but I know none would really fit - but if I did they would help you think you know me. And maybe they would help satisfy my herd instinct - make me feel a little less alone - for awhile.

Perhaps I'm going too far afield. Perhaps I just don't like the self-application of the term "Bright" because it sounds too self-congratulatory. As someone said, so what are the rest of us - dull? "Bright" sounds like an adjective, not a noun - a challenge, not a name. Who invented this, the Wizard of Oz? Afterall, he handed out labels and certificates to help a lion and a tin man recognize their better qualities. Have the skeptics been skipping down the Yellow Brick Road all these years? Who woulda thunk it?

Frankly I know a lot of very intelligent people who in the past have called themselves skeptics. I admit this term carries negative connocations that are perhaps undesirable and undeserved. I certainly understand the desire to want to better define oneself. But "bright" - it sounds like these folks have been nursing this sense of being wronged for too long and now have simply over-corrected. And no, I won't suggest another label. I've kinda had it up to here with naming - come to think of it, one of my pet peeves is yet another label we toss around very, very loosely - "god." Now there's a word I'd love to see a moratorium on! It means everything and nothing. It has the practical disadvantage of hindering communications (because we don't even come close to agreeing on a definition) and the more subtle and important disadvantage of erasing that sense of the greatest mystery of all.

Posted by Greg Stone at August 7, 2003 05:06 AM | TrackBack
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