What Books Do for the Human Spirit

A theme of Bear Skin is the transformative power of art, narrative, story, poetry and words.

A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another. ~ Rebecca Solnit.

It seems that all throughout history, writers, thinkers, poets and philosophers have marveled at the power and magic of books and stories.

But surpassing all stupendous inventions, what sublimity of mind was his who dreamed of finding means to communicate his deepest thoughts to any other person, though distant by mighty intervals of place and time! Of talking with those who are in India; of speaking to those who are not yet born and will not be born for a thousand or ten thousand years; and with what facility, by the different arrangements of twenty characters upon a page! Let this be the seal of all the admirable inventions of mankind. ~ Galileo Galilei.

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For many poor or location bound readers, books form a doorway, a portal to the greatest minds and events of history. For the wealthy and more mobile, books remain challenges to priorities, values and heart orientation.

Some books seem like a key to unfamiliar rooms in one’s own castle…I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us…A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us ~ Franz Kafka.

For science fiction writers, books form curious transportation through time and space.

Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic. ~  Carl Sagan.

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For political activists and educators, books are a tool for the liberation and empowerment of the human spirit.

Reading is a way to change our destiny ~  James Baldwin.

For thinkers of all kinds, books create access to great pleasure, even ecstasy.

Reading, is the work of the alert mind, is demanding, and under ideal conditions produces finally a sort of ecstasy. ~ E.B. White 

 

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Through books, humans find freedom, agency and friendships with great thinkers. What better and more cost effective hobby is there in the world?

Homo Ludens with a book is free. At least as free as he’s capable of being. He himself makes up the rules of the game, which are subject only to his own curiosity….. And no other hobby can promise this — to eavesdrop on Montaigne’s arguments or take a quick dip in the Mesozoic. ~Wisława Szymborska.

Science-fiction and permission to wonder.

This week the Wall Street Journal and The Australian both ran an interesting article on the scientific evidence for the existence of a creator. Written by Eric Metaxas, biographer and journalist, the article raises the question of God using scientific arguments.

Metaxas cites the 1966  Time magazine headline, “Is God Dead?”, in which  the astronomer Carl Sagan announced that there were two important criteria for a planet to support life:

  1.  The right kind of star, and
  2. a planet the right distance from that star.

He goes on  to point out that given the roughly octillion — 1 followed by 24 zeros — planets in the universe, there should have been about septillion — 1 followed by 21 zeros — planets capable of supporting life. As of 2014, researches have discovered precisely zero.

Is science showing there really is a God?

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/wall-street-journal/is-science-showing-there-really-is-a-god/story-fnay3ubk-1227167151847?nk=26f354557e2c6acf47e6a2d00c0e8baf

 

Metaxas continues to show that as knowledge of the universe has increased, it became clear that there were far more factors necessary for life than Sagan supposed. His two parameters grew to 10 and then 20 and then 50, and so the number of potentially life-supporting planets decreased accordingly. The number dropped to a few thousand planets and kept on plummeting.

As factors continued to be discovered, the number of possible planets plummets below zero. In other words, the odds turned against any planet in the universe supporting life, including this one. Probability says that even we shouldn’t be here. Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life — every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart. Without a massive planet like Jupiter nearby, whose gravity will draw away asteroids, a thousand times as many would hit Earth’s surface and so forth.

Metaxas concludes, the finetuning necessary for life to exist on a planet is nothing compared with the finetuning required for the universe to exist at all. Alter any one value and the universe could not exist. For instance, if the ratio between the nuclear strong force and the electromagnetic force had been off by the tiniest fraction of the tiniest fraction — by even one part in 100,000,000,000,000,000 — then no stars could have ever formed after the Big Bang at all.

“Multiply that single parameter by all the other necessary conditions, and the odds against the universe existing are so heart-stoppingly astronomical that the notion that it all “just happened” defies common sense.”

What is curious to me about this dialogue is several points:

  1. Western tradition, stemming from the Enlightenment period has placed a sharp divide between discussion around faith or spirituality in relation to science. The religious wars of Europe at the time resulted in an uneasy truce based on the determination to separate church and state, science and religion from each other.  There is almost a ban on public discussion to this day of the combination of these ideas.
  2. However, scientists making strong athiestic statements of the ilk “God is dead” re-enter this debate as guiltily as any churchman or Musliman or Hinduman.
  3. Since the Romantic period of the late 1800s, art and culture has moved strongly towards a more spiritual dialogue, integrating what was denied during the rationalistic period of enlightenment debates. This re-ignited stories of spirits, other worlds, magic, time travel, dreams and re-opened questions of origin and being.
  4. Science fiction is a descendent of the romantic tradition, combining scientific knowledge with permission to wonder and imagine.

Science Fiction, not unlike ancient myth and legend, has long asked these questions with absolute permission. Unembumbered by rhetoric required to separate rationalism and spiritualism, questions of being, life, existence have been freely explored. 

Moreover, the harsh modern and pre-modern debates are largely out of date in contemporary society, a society in which most people and cultures acknowledge a spiritual realm, even if they do not agree to the nature or name of that realm.  Such an article, other than within the close circles of academia still bound to the strict mores of generations past, will not seem surprising at all.

In fact, I believe most people sigh a sigh of relief to hear that science is gradually catching up with the zeitgeist of the time to acknowledge it’s okay to discuss spirituality in the public realm again.