theadanews.com - Ada, Oklahoma

February 13, 2013

A language fit for living

Bobby Winters Guest Columnist
The Ada News

Ada —  

Nothing is what it appears.

The solid looking countertop on which my computer monitor is sitting (made my Kevin Hunt and his brother almost 15 years ago) is actually mostly empty space.  The countertop is composed of wood and formica.  The wood and formica are made of molecules.  The molecules are made of atoms.  

Atoms, often pictured as solid, little billiard balls, are made of protons, neutrons, electrons, and God knows what else.  Even if we pretend that these particles are little billiard balls themselves — which they are not — the electrons orbit the neutron-proton composed nucleus at a distance relatively large to the diameter of the nucleus and so the atoms themselves are mostly empty space.Therefore, this solid-looking countertop is actually mostly not there.  

My mind has created a symbol for the countertop which takes its place in my thoughts.  This symbol is a much different thing than the actual object.  The symbol expresses solidness while the reality of the countertop is mostly empty space. Everything is a lie. My whole life is based upon lies.  I can believe nothing.

But ...

I am still typing on the same computer monitor and it has not fallen to the floor — not in the last 5 minutes, not in the last 15 years.

The solidness of the images formed in my mind are a result of this.  They reflect the experience I’ve had with the world over my life and, indeed, the experience the human race has had over its existence.

Scientists — relatively recently in terms of human history — have created and used tools to extend their senses beyond what had been needed for survival in nature.  This has revealed to them things which had not been seen before and things they have struggled to express in language.  They’ve taken words from dead languages — Greek and Latin to name two —added new meanings to old words, drifted into uses of metaphor that would make a poet proud or make a poet blush.

Nothing is wrong with this.  It is a necessary part of the endeavor, but let us not forget that the language they use is a part of their task.  They are no longer operating in the realm of living a natural life, but looking at foundations.  Thinking of my countertop as empty space does me no good.  In fact, if I try to punch through my countertop I might well break my hand. That wouldn’t happen if it were the empty space that I know.

Let me use another example.  We get married and have babies.  (Okay, that getting married part isn’t absolutely necessary, but I am still one of those who believe that a home with a loving mommy and daddy is the gold standard for child-rearing.)

From the point of view of some, all of the love-songs, all of the courtship rituals, all of the wedding dresses, and all of the rest is just a by-product of DNA trying to replicate itself.  All of this ooy-guey, lovey-dovey stuff is just a side-effect.

But...

In the realm of natural life, it is an expression of living.

There is a language that is used by scientist and a language used by people as they live their regular lives.

Science, for all it has done for us-- and it’s done a lot--is just one small thing.  Living a life in harmony with my fellow man, with Nature, and with God, that is the big thing.

———

Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, is assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and professor of Mathematics at Pittsburg State University. He blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. You may contact him at okieinexile@gmail.com.