An observation and an inquiry

There are things about my life that continue to surprise me. One is that when I get really tired, I don’t sleep as well. It seems counterintuitive. Last night was a good example. I worked hard and straight through the day. With meetings at 8:30, 10:30; 12 noon, 1:30, 6:00 and 7:00, I didn’t take any breaks in my day. I caught a sandwich on my way to my noon meeting and grabbed a snack before my 6 pm meeting, but didn’t have a proper meal during the day, either. By the time I got home in the evening, I was ready to wind down and prepare for bed. But after a couple of hours of sleep, I was wide awake and ended up getting out of bed and reading for a while.

I wish I could teach myself to simply sleep when I am tired. I’ve got a pretty full day today, too. What seems to happen is that my brain gets going with all kinds of thoughts and I wake with ideas in my head and kind of want to keep thinking. Sometimes the thoughts in my head have a direct connection with the work I am doing. As often, however, they are wrestling with bigger philosophical and theological questions that will remain for years and, while fun to contemplate, do not need to be “solved.”

So, once again, I have been wondering about the classic philosophical debate over the nature of mathematics. The question to consider boils down to this: Are the laws of mathematics fundamental realities about the nature of the universe, or are they human inventions that come from our imaginations to explain the phenomena we observe? For a specific example: Did Einstein invent e =mc2, or did he discover it embedded in the fabric of reality, waiting to be seen?

How that question is answered reveals a fundamental assumption of science and influences how scientific inquiry proceeds. If, on the one hand you believe that basic principles such as mathematics are the product of human imagination over generations of inquiry, you conclude that there are multiple ways of interpreting our perception of reality. A fundamentally different system of counting and measuring might produce a fundamentally different reality. On the other hand, if you believe that the universe has immutable laws that can be discovered and, once discovered remain constant, you have to come up with other ways of explaining exceptions and inconsistencies. A common practice among physicists, for example, is to question our powers of observation. To a particle physicist, the walls of this room are not really solid and their color is not fixed. The walls are made up of moving particles and my assumption that they are solid and of a particular color is not a matter of reality, but rather a projection of my mind based on sensory input from my hands and eyes.

The debate can become pretty esoteric, but they have real-world consequences. The Large Underground Xenon experiment (LUX) that is currently running at the Sanford Underground Laboratory in the former Homestake Mine in Lead, South Dakota, cost $10 million to built. It has not discovered any evidence of dark matter. Those who believe that the theories of dark matter are not projections of human imagination, but rather quests for observable reality, are in the process of securing funds to build a much larger and much more expensive detector that will render the current $10 million model obsolete.

In perspective, $10 million would build over 125 Habitat for Humanity homes, which in turn would produce sufficient mortgage revenue to completely eliminate poverty housing in the State of South Dakota within 25 year. Of course the funds available for scientific research are not available for addressing poverty housing, but it reveals another philosophical debate that, in my mind, is directly related to the question of mathematics.

The fundamental formula of Christianity can be summed up in a short quote from one of the letters of John that appear in our Bible: God is love. Apply the same question. Is the statement that God is love a projection of the human imagination - a manifestation of the best of human intentions and understandings? Or is a reflection of a fundamental reality that is within the universe discovered by generations and generations of people seeking to understand the very real experiences of being human?

Is love a puff of emotion or a necessary requirement for human existence?

You probably already know where I land in that debate. To my sometimes atheist-sounding scientist friends I submit that love is as fundamental to the organization of the universe as mathematics. When they contend that without mathematics, I don’t exist, I counter that without love no one exists. Either love is real or nothing is real.

I’ve decided to stick with love.

But that is obvious. You can tell what I think by my profession and the work I do every day. You can tell what I think by the sermons I preach. If you’ve been reading my blog before you knew that about me before you started to read this morning’s post. And I know it about myself. Yet I allow those thoughts to disrupt my sleep when I am tired.

The reason, of course, is that is is literally that important. Love is more important than any of yesterday’s meetings even though some of them involved discussions that affect dozens of people’s lives. One meeting, of our Local Outreach to Survivors of Suicide (LOSS) Team, is a place where lives literally hang in the balance. Love is more important to saving lives and preventing suicide than the organization of the team, however. If we forget that, we will fail to succeed in the work to which we are called.

Love is more important than the church budget, its capital projects or the slate of nominees for leadership positions.

Love is more important than the hymns for worship in upcoming weeks or the structure of the Black Hills Association.

At least, when I wake in the night with ideas dancing in my mind I know that I haven’t forgotten that fundamental truth.

Love is at the core of our being. Without it we do not exist.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!