Posted by: matt25 | April 12, 2010

Life, Politics, and Change You can Believe In

As I read the New York Times opinion piece  “Change We Can Believe In” By STEVEN STROGATZ  it struck me that although it was about Calculus and not  politics at all, that maybe there was a hidden link there.  Clearly I am not the first to think that way or the popular TV series “Numbers” would never have been produced and the sci-fi “Foundation” books by Isaac Asimov  would not be among my favorite fictional reads.  If nothing else it is an intriguing  concept.

Let me break it down.  Strogatz made me understand the use and value of derivatives in Calculus in a way that my professors at the University of Buffalo were never able to do.  It is the math of change.  Even nature obeys the principles of Snell’s law which describes how light rays bend when they pass from air into water, as they do when shining into a swimming pool.   But his use of video of Michael Jordan’s jump shots caused me to think about a connection to human endeavor and the obvious connection to politics evoked by the title of his piece.

The TV show Numbers has certainly brought the possibilities associated with “Game Theory ” and other mathematical concepts and their application to crime solving into the mainstream consciousness.   But it was Asimov who took this concept to it’s ultimate expression in his Foundation trilogy.   In it the Foundation’s destiny is charted with remarkable precision using psychohistory, a scientific method of predicting the future, developed the the Foundation’s founder, Hari Seldon. Hari Seldon plots the paths of the Foundation, from its start to, one thousand years later, its leadership of the galaxy.

I personally think that a great deal of insight about where we are heading as a culture, and even as a race, can be gathered from a mathamatical and scientific exploration of events, especially of historical fact, which could be invaluable if applied with wisdom.  This would have the possibility of leading us to better decisions about nearly every facet of political life.   But only with probability and not certainty. To think otherwise would make me guilty of a great arrogance.  For no matter how much we learn, we only find there is much more to learn and therein lies a mystery of our finite existence in an infinite universe.

Finally today, I am reminded of the words of Pope John Paul II,  “Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes”.  This quote states very well my firm conviction that a life of reason and a life of faith are not at odds with each other but rather have a firm hold and dependence upon each other.  They both lead us to the truth by different paths and the truth is what we need to bring about change that we can believe in.


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