Sun, 20 Apr 2008

A puff of logic...

Astute readers of my blog will recognize the byline of my blog from Douglas Adams' "A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", a classic sci-fi comedy novel I first read as a teen-ager.

Here's the full context:
The Babel fish is small, yellow and leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy received not from its own carrier but from those around it. It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. It then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix formed by combining the conscious thought frequencies with nerve signals picked up from the speech centres of the brain which has supplied them. The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language.


Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mind-bogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God. The argument goes something like this:

"I refuse to prove that I exist," says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing."

"But," says Man, "the Babel fish is a dead giveaway isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves that you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. Q.E.D."

"Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.

"Oh, that was easy," says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.

Most leading theologians claim that this argument isn't worth a pair of fetid dingo's kidneys, but that didn't stop Oolon Colluphid from making a fortune when he used it as the central argument in his book Well That About Wraps It Up For God.
Despite the rather flattering company it would put me in, my byline states "minor deities" in a (feeble?) attempt to escape elitism. One of my favorite quotes comes from the dizzying intellect of Isaac Newton:
"I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."
Newton, I think, is describing the complex, infinite, and unknowable nature of the universe, so it would be foolish to suggest that with a handful of shells and pebbles that one sees enough to have insight over more than just what is in one's grasp. Socrates speaks to this as well as the "gadfly" of Athens, "to sting people and whip them into a fury, all in the service of truth."

Socrates went to great pains to suggest that wisdom often comes by acknowledging what we don't know, rather than mistakenly asserting that we do. Socrates was fundamentally inquisitive about his world, and his affirmation that "the unexamined life is not worth living" resonates deeply with me.

I tend to enjoy noticing what is generally considered mundane, observing what is generally considered unremarkable, finding insight in what is generally considered trite, even if it means I am, as Newton might suggest, focusing on a small grain when there are vast oceans before me.

Avid readers will note that I've been particularly smitten with photography recently, and I think I know why. Photography simply fits my personality...

First, there is the technical aspect to it. Optics, geometry, mathematics, physics, all play a part. Photography is literally the art/science of "capturing light".

Second, there is the artistic aspect of it. Should I compose a wide shot, or zoomed in? Are there distractions that should be optically blurred out, or do I need to keep things in focus? Are there any interesting lines, patterns, or colors that need to be included in the shot? Do I want this picture to be grainy, or sharp?

Third, there is the "existential" aspect of it all, where observation, insight and attention to detail play a part. I could wash my car, or I can go outside and snap a few pictures of a butterfly on a twig. The act of capturing provides an insight into noticing the world around you, and a camera is a very powerful visual medium in which to do it.

They say a picture is like a thousand words. You can assume that any picture you've seen that I've taken means that I spent a few moments observing what I shot. So, like blogging, photography is my way of sharing the shells and pebbles I've found along the way with the world.

Khan Klatt

Khan Klatt's photo