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A collection of editorials written by Website Editor Jim Powers

What if we are wrong?

Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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“When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school
It's a wonder I can think at all
And though my lack of education hasn't hurt me none
I can read the writing on the wall

They give us those nice bright colors
Give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world's a sunny day, oh yeah
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama, don't take my Kodachrome away”
              Kodachrome  Lyrics– Paul Simon

If you were born in the last 20 years, I may need to explain the meaning of this popular 1973 song by Paul Simon (of Simon and Garfunkel fame). Kodachrome was a very famous color transparency (slide) film introduced by Kodak in 1935. It was used both for shooting movies and for still photography. It was the color film of choice for magazine photographers for decades. If you’ve ever looked at old National Geographic magazines, it is the film the color images were reproduced from.

But Kodachrome didn’t accurately reproduce colors as we see them. As Simon wrote in his song, it produced saturated greens, very bright contrasty images that could make overcast days look like they were sunny. That high contrast resulted from a limited dynamic range. If you wanted bright parts of the image to be properly exposed, you had to let the shadows go completely black. If what you were trying to show was in the shadows, the bright areas would be completely blown out, with all detail missing. Perhaps you’ve heard the expression, “Photos don’t lie.” Kodachrome lied about the way the world looked. Many people were disappointed when they visited the places depicted in Nat Geo and they did not look the same.

What if you discovered that this life and this world are not like you believe they are? That all that stuff you learned in high school and beyond were just crap like the colors of Kodachrome? How would it affect the way you live your life? With how you see and understand other people? Or, with knowing, would you beg for your “Kodachrome” back, and pretend you never learned the truth?

The truth is that reality is not as we perceive it. It cannot be. I’ve alluded to this before in my columns. And understanding the nature of reality is important to our continued existence as a species. Only by understanding that we are living in a construct created not by our superiority, but by our limitations, can we hope to accept others as unique entities that we cannot demand conform to our personal beliefs about “how the world works.”

While philosophers, mathematicians and physicists have been formulating theories about reality for years, it was Albert Einstein who published his theory of special relativity in 1905 that really made it clear that we didn’t understand the nature of reality at all. 

Until then, space and time were considered as separate “things.” We walked the few hundred yards to the corner grocery to buy a dozen eggs. It took us 30 minutes to walk there and return home. But special relativity posited that in fact space and time are not separate things but connected. So, the term becomes space-time. And that the perception of time is personal (relative), so you perceive distance and time differently than I do when viewing the same event, depending on your perspective. 

In 1915, Einstein published his General Theory of Relativity, which argued that gravity influences space-time, and massive objects warp the fabric of space-time. We don’t understand reality at all.

We also tend to base our judgement of others on a belief that we have free will, that we were born a blank slate upon which we can build any life we choose. If we turn out bad, it’s completely of our own doing.

But the concept of free will is also an illusion, and an illogical one. To have free will, we would have to be our own originator. In other words, going back to the moment of creation I would have to have been able to dictate every factor that could have influenced what I have become. How I came into existence, where I came into existence, who’s genes I inherited over millennia and how those genes influence my appearance, my health, my intellect, my personality.

But I have had no say in any of these things. I have my mother’s personality, my great-grandfather’s hair and eye color, and my father’s self-centeredness and low tolerance for being around children. I chose none of that, but the result is that I’ve always been easy-going like my mom, had blond hair and blue eyes like my great-grandfather, and chose not to have children. My parents were solidly middle class, and so am I.

I look, act and think as I do through limited choices of my own. But I was privileged by the traits I inherited and the economic level I grew up in to have had a stable childhood living with both parents, opportunity for education, and mostly good heath during my 71 years of life. But I can take credit for little of it. 

My privilege of my “accident of birth” helps me understand that folks who make bad choices do so because, at the time, it was the only choice they could have made. That doesn’t mean that we should not lock up people that hurt other people or take their stuff. It does mean we should be compassionate toward them.

We are now starting to see the results of religious belief run amuck. The Christian Right has captured a large part of our government and Supreme Court and has started to use the hammer of “God Said” to impose their beliefs on the majority in this country who do not agree with them. They do not appear to believe in the religious principles they espouse, but instead are using God words to justify taking away the rights of others. I say that because I can’t find in the New Testament or the words of Jesus any justification for what they are doing.

Beyond the admonition of Jesus to love God and others as themselves, we can’t know the mind of God. As human beings bound to this physical reality, we can never understand God’s intent in creating us or the world. We are extremely limited in our understanding, yet we claim to speak for an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent entity. We have none of those traits, and thus have no way to know His intent.

Does God oppose abortion? Is every fertilized egg of infinite value to Him? How would we know? 

There are two big events where the bible says God intervened in the world. The first was the great flood, where he destroyed almost all life on earth (millions of children, women, men, animals). The second when he sent Jesus in a second attempt to redeem humankind. 

Arguably, from our perspective, he failed both times. Literally, as soon as Noah stepped out of the Ark after the great flood, he began to sin again. And after Jesus’ self-sacrifice on the Cross, wars, rumors of wars, and the slaughter of innocents have continued. Famine, starvation, and disease still plague the creation.

What if we are living in a simulation, and who we call God is an entity of an incredibly technologically advanced civilization 100,000 years in our future who created our universe in a computer, intervening only occasionally when his creation went awry? And what if, after his second attempt at fixing his simulation failed, he simply left it running unattended and moved onto another simulated universe to try again?

The point is, we have no way of knowing. And what difference does it make to us if God is a software engineer 100,000 years in the future, or an old man with a long beard wearing white robes? The question, “Who can know the mind of God” is a valid one. And if we can’t know, then we should stop using the power of government to force our beliefs on others.

Kodachrome sure made the world look pretty. But it was only an illusion.

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Monday, 15 August 2022