Saw this YouTube video the other day about Carl Sagan talking about Canterbury monks but in case the link doesn’t work for ya, lemme give you the text version. About a millennium ago, there were these Canterbury monks somewhere in Europe and they were sitting out one night enjoying the night air and one another’s company and they were staring up at the stars. They were simple folk and this was their idea of a good time. I don’t know what they were doing. Maybe just talking and drinking wine. They were doing monkish things, but important to this narrative, they were staring up at the stars and they happened to notice that the moon was like a quarter of a way waxing or waning and just floating up there in space the way it had done for all their lives and so far as they knew, ever. It had always been up there and it was always going to be. Then something curious happened. They witnessed what can only be described as an explosion up on the moon. Something struck it, made a big flash and then for a few moments, the quarter sized moon faded into darkness. Now, no one else saw it so far as they knew. They were the only people around at the time. They all witnessed it, but feared telling anyone else about it cuz who’s gonna believe them? After a few moments the moon returned. From their limited perception of astronomy, it looked like a sign from their god. What it meant, they could only imagine.
Up until that moment, they had assumed the moon couldn’t ever change. Now they had witnessed evidence that it could. That it has. That it perhaps would again. What could they do with this information? Nothing, really. They could think about it. Fear it. Be amazed. Praise or fear their deity. They told this historian guy they knew and that’s the only reason why we know it happened. Well, that and several centuries later we found a way to test to see if what they said could be true. So far as we can tell, it was possible, but we’ll never know for absolute certainty if they witnessed it. Many believe they did.
How do I know this happened? I don’t. It’s a story Carl Sagan told, that he read about or it was told to him by his mentors and teachers. How do we know any historical event actually happened and wasn’t made up? How do we separate fact from fiction in our every day lives? I happen to like Carl Sagan. I usually take pretty much anything he said for granted as about as accurate as is humanly possible, but he was just a human being. Maybe all scientists are really members of some top secret sect intent on spreading disinformation to the ignorant masses for fun and profit. Maybe. I doubt it, but it’s not completely out of the sphere of impossibility. Would be pretty silly, but there are people who believe far crazier things as if they were true, and they have no way to prove it.
How do I know about sub atomic particles? I read about them. Scientists claim they exist. I’ve never seen one. No one’s ever seen one. They’re too small to see. Supposedly there are experiments one can do that proves molecules and atoms and even the Higgs Boson particle are ‘real’ but could there not be other explanations as well?
How do I know about the Andromeda galaxy? If a scientist tried to point it out to me in the night’s sky, all i’d see would be another speck of light. I’ve read that our Milky Way galaxy is on a collision course with the Andromeda galaxy. We should hit it some time long after I’m dead. Okay, I shrug. Sure why not? I got no way of knowing if this is true or not. I read about it. Scientists talk about it. It’s just as valid and relevant to me as belief in the abominable snowman or the bermuda triangle. I can choose to believe, but why should I? What difference does it make?
Everything in our lives every day is about belief. You believe the sun’s gonna rise and set. Tomorrow it may not. A big ass asteroid the size of our moon may come hurtling towards us and that’s all she wrote. You believe the astronomers or NORAD or someone will see a planet killer asteroid before it struck, but how do you know for sure we’ll see it coming, or be able to do anything about it if we did?
We say belief, but that’s not what we mean.
We assume things. We assume the job we had yesterday will still be there tomorrow. We assume our family loves us. We assume our friends will be there and we assume we will be there for them. We assume our spouse isn’t cheating on us. We assume when we order a hamburger and fries it’s gonna be as tasty as last time, and satisfy our hunger pangs just as much. When these things happen, we take them for granted. Maybe sometimes we marvel at how precious it is, but usually we just go about our day running full tilt to get things done and we don’t stop to realize how many speed bumps we just happened to avoid by the luck of our lives.
When these things don’t happen, we complain. We hem and haw and maybe we do something about it, and we don’t think about the fact that a belief we held failed to meet our expectations. We fail to realize the problem isn’t what we believed, but that we believed in the first place. There are billions of variables we never take into account cuz we ain’t mathematicians. If we thought about all those variables we’d freeze up and shut down, cuz they’re scary.
We assume. And we call those assumptions our beliefs.
Sometimes we think we have valid reasons for those beliefs. We may or may not have evidence that supports these assumptions. Regardless of whether or not we do, we still expect the world we know to be relatively the same when we wake up as it was when we went to bed. For some people it always will be, cuz some people are lucky like that. Other people live lives where every day is a new adventure and like it or not, nothing they took for granted yesterday will be taken for granted tomorrow. For most of us, this only happens a few times in our lives. A loved one is gone today who was right here in my arms the day before. Maybe a pet or a friend or a family member or maybe even a celebrity that we never met but we loved whatever it was they did and now that they’re gone we won’t see anything new from them and that’s heart breaking in its own way.
I lost Phyllis Diller today. I lost Tony Scott. I lost William Windom. I don’t know these people, but I’m gonna miss them just the same. Yesterday I lived in a world in which they did too, and now my world has changed. Again. The only constant in the universe is change, but we never seem to get used to it.
Sometimes a person wakes up in the middle of a war zone, when it was a peaceful little village the night before. Sometimes a person wakes up and the ship is sinking, or the house is on fire, or the plane is losing altitude and the pilot’s talking about an emergency landing, or there’s a rash on a sensitive part of their body that wasn’t there before, or they’re in a hospital bed and they don’t feel their legs and they can’t honestly remember where they were the last time their eyes were open.
Sometimes we take our lives way too much for granted, and sometimes life tries to remind us that’s a very bad idea, but whatever the immediate change in our lives, we cope as best we can and eventually we acclimate to a ‘new normal’ provided we survive whatever it was in the first place.
We assume. And we call those assumptions our beliefs.
I had an argument recently with a lady who calls herself a skeptic because she doesn’t believe in a god. However, she couldn’t understand why I don’t believe in voting. How can I not believe in voting? How can I consider myself an American if I don’t believe in voting?
I no longer believe in our political system for the same reason I don’t believe in a god. I find no evidence that it’s real. She couldn’t wrap her mind around that, because to her, voting is very real. To me, she’s taking way too much for granted.
The guys who become candidates for any public office go through a less publicized procedure before we even learn their names. Other people with lots of money invest in whomever they think would make a good candidate for that public office. It’s like a horse race. They look for just the right horse, and they invest their money in that horse, hoping on a return of their investment. The return on their investment may not be directly financial, but perhaps it’s a support of their particular world view, or maybe they’re investing in this guy cuz unlike the other guys this one won’t make them pay more taxes or encourage laws that make the investor’s life more difficult or changes what he takes for granted as good business or ..there’s millions of reasons why, but the point is these people with lots of money decide who is going to run for public office long before their candidates become household names in YOUR household.
You don’t get to vote for the right man for the job. You get to vote for which of the guys those people with lots of money decided upon long before you were in the picture. You think you are voting for the candidate. You assume that. You believe that. You are not. Your vote is reinforcing the decisions already made by people you probably will never meet, who have a lot more money than you do, and they do not have your best interests at heart. They have their own interests, and you are assuming or believing that your interests and needs coincide with theirs and you are wrong to assume that. You are wrong to believe that. You are wrong. You are dead wrong.
But we go along with it cuz what’s the alternative? We assume. And we call those assumptions our beliefs. And we fear the consequences of if we are wrong, but we try not to think about it. That makes us asses. And I don’t mean butts. It makes us donkeys, and I don’t mean in the democratic sense. We are mules. We are thickheaded, ignorant, stubborn mules for believing everything from our vote counts to the sun will rise and set tomorrow. Well. You are still a mule. I don’t vote and you can’t prove do me that I should. So you are an ass, and I’m just an asshole. Really, which one’s better? Is there a difference?
I seriously doubt it.