Questioning 4/14/22

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

The story may be apocryphal, but it speaks volumes.  A young woman was preparing a ham for a meal, and had cut off the end of it, as she always did.  Her daughter asked her why she always did that, and her answer, “because that’s how your grandmother did it”, was unsatisfactory for the girl.  So, mom went to her mother and asked, who gave the same answer, “that’s how your grandmother did it.”  Her mother’s mother, a great-grandmother by now, was still alive, so sure enough, mom went to her and asked why she did it.  “Because,” she answered, “my pan was shorter than the ham, so I had to cut the end off to make it fit.”

Two generations had been throwing away the end of the ham because nobody ever questioned it.  I was raised as a Methodist, and a Republican, and by tradition I’m supposed to be both today.  However, at one point, the Methodist church “de-frocked” three ministers for overseeing same-gender weddings.  I was working in industry at the time, so figure it was somewhere around 1986 when I questioned why that should be so.  I considered the harm of homosexuality, and the benefits, and their decision made no sense to me.  I honestly cannot see any harm in same-gender relationships.  People might scream “indoctrination”, but homosexuality is not a choice.  It’s just the way some people are.  I’m reticent to say it’s genetic, but how can we indoctrinate sexuality if it’s a natural development of who we are?  On the other hand, I see great benefits for same-gender unions.  The people in them are going to be happier, and if they are happier, they will make the people around them happier if they’re just allowed to live their lives.  This was the end of my indoctrination into a religious organization that, frankly, I had no choice in choosing. 

Watching the Republican party, I realized that their actions, their priorities and their beliefs do not reflect my moral code.  Yes, the party of Lincoln, but recently voter suppression laws in Texas have led to the disposal of more ballots in the history of the state, even though the most recent election has been demonstrated to be one of the most secure and least corrupt in history.  And it’s not just the Republican party.  Shortly after the Emancipation Proclamation, the Democratic party was the driving force behind the Jim Crow laws that are still influencing elections today.  This is why I don’t align with either party, but the pendulum swings.  I cannot do anything about the Democratic Party of the past, but today, in the currently political environment, the Democratic Party best aligns with my personal beliefs. 

We should always be willing to question our beliefs, and the “truths” that we are raised with.  Some of the obvious truths are flawed.  Dropping a bowling ball and a marble, the heavier bowling ball will fall faster, right?  Sir Isaac Newton disproved this, not with a physical experiment, but a thought experiment.  Assuming the heavier mass will fall faster, he imagined then binding the two together.  Will the sum of the masses, being heavier than the bowling ball, fall faster still?  Or, falling slower, will the marble act as a “drag”, so they will fall at a speed between that of the bowling ball and the marble?  Both answers are equally valid, and since both cannot be true, he realized that the initial assumption is wrong.  He questioned the infinite wisdom from the ancient past, and realized that all objects, regardless of mass and ignoring wind resistance, will fall at exactly the same rate of acceleration (32 feet per second per second, meaning that at one second of free fall the velocity of any object will be 32 feet per second, in the second second it will be 64, and 96 in the third). 

Science abounds with examples of people questioning “conventional wisdom”.  When I taught thermodynamics, I took great joy in shattering the foundations of science with my upper-class students and showing just how weak the laws of science truly are.  And, yes, I followed it up with a discussion of how to accept and deal with this weak foundation, but the students left with a much deeper understanding of the world that they thought they knew, and better equipped to question the logic.

There’s a fine line between asking questions and engaging in denialism.  Today, politicians are seeking votes by using scare tactics about the Covid vaccination.  When I first became involved in the trial of the vaccination prior to FDA approval, yes, I had my doubts.  That is why I enrolled in the trial, because I wanted to know, and do my part to figure out, if it’s effective.  Unfortunately, many claims of drugs like Ivermectin were unfounded and pure conjecture, but because a certain individual backed it (and apparently still does), many people took the suggestion to heart, leading to a variety of deaths, and studies that invariable prove that it has little effect, if any at all.  These people questioned the vaccination, being developed by a plethora of experts and subjected to proper studies, and yet somehow failed to question the wisdom of a handful of politicians and television celebrities with no credentials whatsoever. 

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