Friday, December 13, 2019

Conversation between a Skeptic and a Believer

(Steven wrote this, but I really liked it, and so I am posting it with his permission.)

BELIEVER: You know, somewhere out there, there exists a radio station. And that radio station is broadcasting music that it is possible for us to hear even where we are right now.

SKEPTIC: What are you talking about? I can’t hear any music.

BELIEVER: Well, the radio station doesn’t broadcast sound that you can hear. It sends out the signal using radio waves.

SKEPTIC: Radio waves? What are those? I’ve never seen any radio waves.

BELIEVER: Oh, you can’t see radio waves. Nor can you feel them or hear them. But they are real and that is how the radio station sends out its music.

SKEPTIC: I’m sorry, but I don’t believe in things that I can’t see, hear, or feel. How do you know that this radio station really exists?

BELIEVER: I know it exists because it is possible to hear the music that is broadcast by the radio station. But you need to have a radio receiver to do so. I have a radio set so I have heard the music and I know that it is real.

SKEPTIC: Look, here is a radio receiver set right here and it is not playing any music. That goes to show you that there is no such thing as a radio station.

BELIEVER: In order for the radio set to play the music from the radio station it needs to be turned on.

SKEPTIC: I’ve tried turning it on but I all I hear is static.

BELIEVER: The radio set also needs to have an antenna in order to pick up the radio wave signal from the radio station.

SKEPTIC: Even with an antenna all I get is static. Are you sure there is a radio station out there?

BELIEVER: Yes, there is a radio station out there.

SKEPTIC: Do you know where this radio station is, or what it looks like?

BELIEVER: Well, no actually. I have no idea where it is or what it looks like.

SKEPTIC: I’m sorry, but like I said, I don’t believe in things that I can’t see or feel or hear. If you don’t know where it is or even what it looks like, then I don’t understand how you can believe in such a thing.

BELIEVER: You don’t have to know where it is in order to hear the music that it is broadcasting. As long as you have a radio receiver set with a good antenna and have it tuned to the right frequency then you can hear the music that is being broadcast from the radio station.

SKEPTIC: Now it needs to be tuned to the right frequency! You seem to keep coming up with a lot of conditions to make this work.

BELIEVER: Well, unless all these conditions are met you won’t hear any music and all you will get is static. But I’m telling you exactly what you need to do in order to hear it. Follow these steps and I know it will work for you just as it works for me.

SKEPTIC: Even if the radio somehow started playing music how would you know that it came from some radio station and was not just coming from inside the radio itself?

BELIEVER: Well, I guess you just have to listen to the music and decide for yourself. But as for myself, I believe that it comes from the radio station.

SKEPTIC: You seem to be very trusting to believe in something that you don’t know that much about.

BELIEVER: All I know is that when I have my radio on with the antenna extended and I have it tuned to the right frequency that I hear music and I believe that the music is sent from a radio station that is out there somewhere.

SKEPTIC: You know, I once tried turning the tuning dial all around and for a moment thought I heard some music but then I didn’t hear it again so I came to the conclusion that it was just a fluke and therefore there is no such thing as a radio station and whatever I must have heard just came from inside the radio or perhaps I just imagined it.

BELIEVER: Yes, it is difficult sometimes to get the radio tuned to just the right frequency to hear the music. Sometimes some fine-tuning is required. It takes some patience but the effort is worth it because then you can hear the music from the radio station. And the more you work at it the more you can learn how to stay on just the right frequency.

SKEPTIC: I’m sorry, but I just don’t believe that there is a radio station out there. I don’t believe that you know there is a radio station out there. I don’t believe in things that I am not sure of and unless I know exactly where this radio station is or what it looks like or how the radio waves work I won’t believe. Honestly, if there really were a radio station out there I think that it would try a little harder to make people know that it is there and not just send out invisible radio waves on only one frequency that most people can’t hear.

BELIEVER: I’m sorry you feel that way. But I know that the radio station is real and that it is broadcasting music. You are free to believe whatever you want. But as for me, I’m going to go home and listen to some music on the radio.

Monday, December 9, 2019

I Believe in π

(This parable is intended to share my own thoughts and feelings. It is by no means intended to show disrespect to anyone who may or may not believe in π.)

I believe in π. It is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to the diameter and to my understanding, has a value of approximately 3.14159... In English it is spelled pi, and sounds like the word pie.

Imagine that I encounter someone who has lost their belief in π. They say it doesn't work for them. They say they don't believe it. (And somehow I hear, though it isn't explicit, the message that I shouldn't believe it either.)

I scratch my head and I don't know what to say. It seems to work for me. Sure, I've had some times when it didn't work out for me, but that's usually because A) I tried to use it in a way that it wasn't intended, B) My measuring tape was stretched out of shape and inaccurate, or C) I made an error in my calculations. But on the whole, it has worked, and as I have used it more often, it has gotten easier and I have gotten useful answers more frequently.

Suppose they tell me they don't believe in π because it is irrational. There is no pattern to it. It isn't consistent. It doesn't make sense. If π were real, wouldn't it be simple and clear and easy to understand?

Again, I don't know what to say. Yes, it would be nice if π were simple and easy, but that just isn't the way it is. It wouldn't function as effectively if it were anything different. 

What if they tell me they don't believe in π because they don't know what version of π to believe in? The ancient Babylonians believed its value was 25/8, while the ancient Egyptians thought it was (16/9)^2. Some mathematicians in India interpreted it as the square root of 10. Archimedes of Greece set much of the groundwork for how π is calculated today and narrowed the value down to between 223/71 and 22/7 and gave it a new name: Archimedes' Constant. Some Welsh guy named William Jones gave it the name π as the first initial of a greek word meaning periphery. Today there are so many digits to π that a man could (and has) recited them for over 24 hours straight, and there is still nothing to say "this is the end". How can a normal person ever know which of these numbers are accurate, if any? How can I be so egotistical to believe that I know the truth?

I'll freely admit that I don't know the whole truth. Personally, I know very little - only about six digits, and in practice I only use the first two or three. But for me, that is enough. That is sufficient for me to get useful answers and solutions I can work with to the problems I face. For me, π works. Without it, I don't know how I would find solutions to those problems. Believing in π gives me peace because I know I can use it to gain the answers I need.

But then imagine I am told that I should not be influenced by emotions, opinions, choices or fears, that I should seek truth, not happiness. They tell me that I should use scientific method to discover truth - look for patterns, make a hypothesis, test that hypothesis, analyze my results and then have those results confirmed or rejected.

What can I say? When I have used my interpretation of π, it has appeared to work. As far as using scientific method goes, I hypothesize that if I use it correctly, it will continue to lead me to the answers that I need. I've continued to test this hypothesis by using π whenever I have a relevant problem to solve, and my results have been consistent - except as I mentioned before, when I have made a mistake in calculations, measurement or usage. I know other people who have had results similar to mine. I don't understand why it would work so well for some people and not for others. I don't know why it works at all, but I do know that it works for me. For me it is truth, even if I do only know the first six digits of something that goes on eternally. Again, if I didn't use π, I don't know how I would be able to find the answers to my questions.

Doubters of π might bring up other reasons why they don't believe in π. They may mention a text book that teaches about π that is full of typos. They may question whether the concept of π was discovered by the Babylonians or the Egyptians. They may mention some tale of how π was used in the construction of some building but the building leans and will some day fall over. They may mention how Archimedes wasn't known for his mathematical writing to the people of his own time period. They may further mention that Archimedes created war machines and wonder that he could have had anything to do with discovering more about π.

I don't know how to respond to this onslaught of seemingly unrelated information. In my head I think, "So what?" That all may be true, but it is all beside the point. It doesn't matter who discovered π. π was discovered by humans and humans make mistakes. But that doesn't mean that the things they discovered are inherently wrong. It doesn't matter who has used π or how their uses may or may not have turned out. What do typos have to do with whether or not π works? The fact (for me) remains that π has been discovered, that I am lucky enough to be aware of it and have learned how to use it so that it works for me.

Maybe they tell me that 𝜋 works for me only because I have been brainwashed or conditioned to believe in it. 

I consider this. Maybe I was. I was taught about π from an early age. I was taught how to use it, given plenty of opportunities to practice with it, and even tested on it. But then I remember that there was a time after I finished school that I didn't use π for a while. I thought I didn't need it; it was irrelevant to my life. And then one day I was working on a project and had a problem I couldn't solve. I struggled with the problem until I remembered what I had been taught about π. It took a lot of time and effort to remember all I had been taught, but at last I was able to use π to figure out the answer I needed and was able to complete my project. I remember this experience and ask myself, if being conditioned helps me to find answers when I need them, how is conditioning a bad thing?

Finally, imagine I am told that there have been or currently are billions of people on earth who have never heard or understood the concept of π, and they get along just fine.

That may be, but I still don't know how they would have solved the types of problems that I solve using πWhat great achievements might they have been able to accomplish if they had known the use and value of π? It just makes me feel sad for them.

I would also feel sad for anyone who knew about π but didn't believe in it - those for whom π might not seem to work. They'd ask their questions and seek for another truth and I would love to understand and relate to them, but it would feel like we came from different worlds. How come π doesn't work for them when it works so well for me? I don't know. And I wouldn't know what to say.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Pondering Mortality

If you've been following my blog for a few years, you might remember that I have seizures occasionally. If you haven't, or want a refresher, check out this post. And this one. Once they figured out it was seizures, they put me on medication, and I haven't had a seizure in over a year now. (Yay!)

Before they figured out it was seizures, when it was just syncope, I was referred to a cardiologist, who did a bunch of tests and found some issues, but none of them would cause the syncope, so I kind of dismissed them. He did put me on some medications though, and I've continued to take them, and yesterday I went to the office for a yearly check up, kind of wondering why I bothered now that I know that the syncope episodes were seizures, and not heart related. Now I'm wondering if I should have paid more attention.

One of the tests that the cardiologist did at that time was a test for Lipoprotein (A)  The doctor gave me another copy of the results from that first test yesterday. I remember him telling me at the time that it was high, and that it meant I had a greater risk of heart attack or stroke, but it didn't really sink in for some reason. Yesterday I really looked at the numbers. The ideal amount of Lp(A) is less than 75 NMOL/L, moderate is between 75-125 NMOL/L, and high is anything greater than 125 NMOL/L. I have 172 NMOL/L.

Lipoprotein (A) is a type of cholesterol (similar to LDL) that clings to the sides of the arteries and causes blockages which lead to blood clots, heart attacks and strokes. Everyone has some amount of it in their blood but to have a high amount of it is genetic. The amount doesn't change much over the lifetime although there is an increase when a woman hits menopause. It isn't affected by diet or exercise. And there is currently no medicine to treat it. (See here for one of my sources and more information.)

The current treatment involves lowering other factors that can lead to cardiovascular disease. This is why I'm on cholesterol lowering medicine even though my normal cholesterol is already pretty low. It is because of the high risk of having a stroke that my cardiologist recommended that I take aspirin every day.

Yesterday, the cardiologist recommended that I come back in six months so they can do a test to see how much blockage there is in my carotid artery, and he suggested another ECG in a year.

Ever since I left the doctor's office yesterday, I've had the thought rolling around in my mind that the life ahead of me could be short. I knew a man who passed away suddenly just a couple months ago from a heart attack, and he was maybe ten years older than I am. That's young! All this has gotten me thinking: What do I want to do before I die? What things have I been putting off, thinking there will be plenty of time later? What should I be spending my time focusing on? I'm not really morbid - I don't expect to die in the next few months, or even in the next few years, but what if I do? What if I die in a car accident today? What do I not want to leave undone?

Thursday, November 21, 2019

A Fable

Once upon a time, a father had three ignorant, illiterate sons. When his sons reached a certain age, he sent them away to learn what they could and return.

The eldest boy left his father and set off on his journey. After many days he came to a large building. As he got closer, he saw a man standing at the entrance.

"What is this place?" the boy asked him.

"This is the repository of all the learning of the wise ones," the man told him.

"Who are you?" he asked.

"I am the librarian, the keeper of knowledge," the librarian responded, and led him inside.

The inside of the library was filled with shelves which were themselves filled with papers and scrolls and collections of paper.

"What are these?" the boy asked.

"These are books," came the response.

The boy took one from the shelf and opened it. Inside were markings the boy had never seen before. "What is this?" the boy asked.

"This is writing," the librarian answered him.

"I can't understand this!" The boy closed the book and left the library.

When he arrived home, his father asked him, "What did you learn, my son?"

"I learned that wise ones are idiots," the boy replied.
__________________________

When the second boy left his father and set off on his journey. After many days he came to a large building. As he got closer, he saw a man standing at the entrance.

"What is this place?" the boy asked him.

"This is the repository of all the learning of the wise ones," the man told him.

"Who are you?" he asked.

"I am the librarian, the keeper of knowledge," the librarian responded, and led him inside.

The inside of the library was filled with shelves which were themselves filled with papers and scrolls and collections of paper.

"What are these?" The boy asked.

"These are books," came the response.

The boy took one from the shelf and opened it. Inside were markings the boy had never seen before. "What is this?" the boy asked.

"This is writing," the librarian answered him.

"Can you help me understand?" The boy asked.

"Yes, I can." The librarian patiently taught the boy about letters and words and the boy learned to read.

One day when the boy could read, he asked, "What can I can I do with this?"

"You can read any of these books." the librarian told him, gesturing to the books on the shelves around them. 

The boy picked up a book and started to read, "The world is round."

"How can the world be round? It looks flat to me!" The boy closed the book and left the library.

When he arrived home, his father asked him, "What did you learn, my son?"

"I learned that wise ones are idiots." the boy replied.
____________________________________

When the youngest boy left his father and set off on his journey. After many days he came to a large building. As he got closer, he saw a man standing at the entrance.

"What is this place?" the boy asked him.

"This is the repository of all the learning of the wise ones." The man told him.

"Who are you?" he asked.

"I am the librarian, the keeper of knowledge." The librarian responded, and led him inside.

The inside of the library was filled with shelves which were themselves filled with papers and scrolls and collections of paper.

"What are these?" The boy asked.

"These are books." came the response.

The boy took one from the shelf and opened it. Inside were markings the boy had never seen before. "What is this?" the boy asked.

"This is writing." the librarian answered him.

"Can you help me understand?" The boy asked.

"Yes, I can." The librarian patiently taught the boy about letters and words and the boy learned to read.

One day when the boy could read, he asked, "What can I can I do with this?"

"You can read any of these books." the librarian told him, gesturing to the books on the shelves around them.

The boy picked up a book and started to read, "The world is round."

"How can the world be round? It looks flat to me! Will you help me understand?"

The librarian answered, "Yes, I will." He took the boy to the sea side and showed him the curve of the horizon. He showed him how a ship disappeared around the curve of the earth as it sailed away.

The boy nodded as he understood. "What can I do with this?" he asked.

"You can learn more." The librarian responded. The boy picked other books. He learned about orbits, solar systems, gravity, planets, plants and animals.

Many years later, the boy returned home. When he arrived, his father asked him, "What did you learn, my son?"

"I learned that I still have much to learn." the boy replied.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Bus Stop

Last Friday and Saturday, Northglenn High School Fine Arts Department presented the play "Bus Stop" by William Inge.

 Joshua was the Shop Foreman, and spent many, many hours working on the sets. The final result looked really nice! 

Peter also spent some time helping with the tech crew and managed to get his name into the program as well. He spent the last half of the performance we watched in the lights and sound booth, watching the folks there push buttons and stuff. Maybe for the next play he will take a more active role.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Studying the Book of Mormon

During General Conference in October of 2018, President Nelson invited the sisters of the church to read the Book of Mormon. He said:
  "I invite you to read the Book of Mormon between now and the end of the year. As impossible as that may seem with all you are trying to manage in your life, if you will accept this invitation with full purpose of heart, the Lord will help you find a way to achieve it. And, as you prayerfully study, I promise that the heavens will open for you. The Lord will bless you with increased inspiration and revelation. 
As you read, I would encourage you to mark each verse that speaks of or refers to the Savior. Then, be intentional about talking of Christ, rejoicing in Christ, and preaching of Christ with your families and friends. You and they will be drawn closer to the Savior through this process. And changes, even miracles, will begin to happen."(See entire talk)
I accepted his invitation. I figured out how many pages a day I would need to read in order to finish by New Years' Eve. And I read that many pages each night before I went to bed. My scriptures were already well marked, so I soon gave up trying to mark every verse that speaks of the Savior - It seemed too messy to mark these references on top of the scriptures that were already marked, and I soon gave up. I finished reading the Book of Mormon on New Years Eve according to plan and then switched to reading the New Testament with the Come Follow Me program, only reading occasional cross references in the Book of Mormon.

This year, during the Saturday session of General Conference, I felt the need to try this invitation again, to do it a little better. I found an unmarked copy of the Book of Mormon to use, so previous markings wouldn't be a distraction. I chose a length of time when I could read with few distractions - for the 45 minutes while my boys are in seminary each morning. I started my study each day with a brief prayer, and then I began to read, and mark, and think. I kept a composition book nearby so I could record thoughts, questions and feelings I had as I read.

I finished this morning, exactly six weeks from when I started. While I have read the Book of Mormon many times before, this time, I feel like it was different. I watched for references to the Savior and I realized that he was on almost every page. I read with questions and again and again I would come across verses that were relevant to the questions I had and helped guide me towards the answers I sought. I found stories that I could relate to and apply to my life today. I read chapters that I have read countless times before, but gained new insights, found new truths that I hadn't considered before. I have been inspired and enlightened.

Since I've been reading in the morning, I've had the entire day to think about the things that I've read. I've been driven to write gospel centered blogs. I've talked about what I've read to my boys while I drove them from seminary to school. I've shared my testimony of the things I've been reading at church. I do feel like I have drawn closer to my Savior in a way that I didn't last year. I think I understand a little better what Joseph Smith meant when he said, referring to the Book of Mormon, "a man [or woman] would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book."(Introduction

Once again I feel like I have received a witness that the Book of Mormon is of God.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Searching For Truth: The Problem with Uncertainty

(Disclaimer: The things I write in my "Searching for Truth" series are not intended to be doctrine. They are only my personal thoughts from my own perspective as I resolve my personal questions. I post them here in case someone else might find them interesting or gain insights for themselves - in agreement or not. If you have a comment that relates, something I may not have considered - in favor or against, please feel free to leave a respectful comment.)

I recently had someone who I love and trust tell me "If your current views are really correct, you shouldn’t be afraid to have them challenged. They should be able to stand against any test. If your views are not correct though, but you still want to hold onto them anyway, then new ideas ... can indeed be dangerous."  This person also appears to value uncertainty: "No matter what it is, you could be wrong, so let go of your pride and be brave enough to face the possibilities."

While this might be true when it comes to scientific facts, I don't believe it applies when it comes to spiritual beliefs. While part of me wants to "let go of [my] pride" and be humble enough to admit that I might be wrong, something in me really fights against it. It sounds right, but it feels wrong. Of course it is good to be humble! Of course I should try to understand other people's views and ideas. So what's wrong with it? 

As I've pondered this, I've realized something that (to me) is profound: There are some things that are true only because we believe in them. When these things are challenged, when uncertainty is introduced, it can cause us to feel doubt, and so they then cease to be true. This is why I try to avoid those things that seriously challenge my faith. It isn't so much fear that I might be proved wrong as it is self-preservation - I need these things to stay true for me.

For example: You hear of people in life and death situations having the strength to lift cars to save someone, while under normal circumstances, they wouldn't be able to. Whatever the physical reasons behind it, they are able to lift the car because they believe they can - if they didn't believe in that moment, they wouldn't try hard enough to succeed. They wouldn't be able to do it. 

When Peter believed that he could walk on water, he could do it (See Matt 14:25-33). It wasn't until he began to doubt that he started to sink. His view that he could walk on water was correct - he really did it. When that view was tested by the wind and the waves, he became uncertain. His belief didn't withstand the test - not because it wasn't true when he believed it, but because it ceased to be true when he started to doubt.

The scriptures tell us that faith can move mountains. But there is no room for doubt. If we say, "Well, I'm 99% sure I can move this mountain, but I might be wrong" then there is no way that we will ever have the power necessary to be able to move it. 

I believe that God can and does answer my prayers so I am watchful and listen for answers - and I find them. I am helped, guided, and comforted. If I began to doubt God's existence, would I still feel the comfort of knowing that there was someone watching over me? Would I continue to trust that there was someone with all wisdom that could guide me through the challenges that I face? Would I continue to have the power to do the things I don't believe I could do without His help? It isn't so much that my doubt would make any difference whether or not He actually exists, but rather that I would be cutting myself off from the blessings and the power that come from believing that He does. I would lose the ability to walk on water and I would sink.

When you ask me to suspend my faith, to even consider the possibility that I might be wrong, you are asking me to relinquish the power that my faith gives me. You are asking me, as Amalakiah asked Lehonti (see Alma 47:7-18), to come down off my mountain where I have power and security, to go down where I am vulnerable, at greater risk of being poisoned or worse. That's I don't want to go there.