Wednesday, February 25, 2009

All Spirit is Matter

There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter. (Doctrine & Covenants 131:7-8)

Where Is the Spirit World-Is the spirit world here? It is not beyond the sun, but is on this earth that was organized for the people that have lived and that do and will live upon it. No other people can have it, and we can have no other kingdom until we are prepared to inhabit this eternally. (
Discourses of Brigham Young, p.376)

Spirits are just as familiar with spirits as bodies are with bodies, though spirits are composed of matter so refined as not to be tangible to this coarser organization.
(
Discourses of Brigham Young, p.379)

When you lay down this tabernacle, where are you going? Into the spiritual world. ... Where is the spirit world? It is right here. (
Discourses of Brigham Young, p.376)

The material world we live in - i.e. those things we can sense through our natural senses, is made of baryonic matter. Baryonic matter includes all atoms and so constitutes virtually everything we can experience. Dark matter, on the other hand, is hypothesized to be non-baryonic. This means that dark matter has absolutely no interaction with normal matter and is completely transparent to electromagnetic radiation. Trillions of dark matter particles could be streaming through your body (and most likely are) and you would sense nothing. They would not interact with atoms in your body and you could not change the dark matter in any fashion.

The only way that the existence of dark matter can be inferred is through the study of gravitational effects such as the rotation speeds of galaxies. Research on distant galactic structures indicates that we can directly sense only about 4% of the mass/energy in the universe. Of the invisible 96%, about 22% is estimated to be dark matter with the remaining 74% consisting of what is termed "dark energy".

Could it be that dark matter and dark energy are the "more fine or pure" spirit world that surrounds us? There is no evidence for such conjecture, but it's an interesting thought experiment.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Book Review: Alvin Maker series by Orson Scott Card

I had put off reading Orson Scott Card's series of novels known as The Tales of Alvin Maker for years even though the general theme fascinated me - a loose retelling of the Joseph Smith story in an alternate world of folk magic. Last year I realized that rather than listening to news and weather for 45 minutes during my daily commute, I could check out audio books from the public library. The Alvin Maker books were prominently displayed on the shelf, so they became my initial choice.

I'm glad I listened to them rather than read them. The superb voice acting coupled with Card's wonderful writing made it a real treat. I actually looked forward to getting in the car each day to and from work because I was captivated by both the storyline and the dramatization. The fact that Card writes in the vernacular of the time also adds immensely to the pleasure of the journey. I can't recommend these audio books highly enough.

The Tales of Alvin Maker currently consist of six novels, with a final seventh still unpublished. The novels, in order of publishing, are Seventh Son, Red Prophet,
Prentice Alvin, Alvin Journeyman, Heartfire, and The Crystal City. The concluding novel in the series will be Master Alvin. In recorded author's notes on one of the audio books (I believe it was Red Prophet), Card affirms that there will be only one more book in the series though "it may be 3000 pages long".

The books are set in an alternate world of folk magic.
The tales revolve around Alvin Maker, a seventh son of a seventh son, who has extraordinary gifts. In fact, he is a Maker, destined to build the Crystal City as he fights The Unmaker, who seeks only to destroy. Race plays a large role in the books with Whites, Reds (native Americans), and Blacks each having their own powers and playing their own roles in the unfolding events.

Alvin's powers are not seen as religious in nature, but rather accepted as an extraordinary manifestation of the routine spells, hexes, and magic that pervade the land and its people. Although religion plays a role in the story line, its presence is not overbearing. However, it is clear that Card deeply understands the religious experience and uses that understanding to good effect in these books. Although readers interested in a good fantasy story will like the Alvin Maker books, the perceptive Church reader will recognize much in the book that alludes to LDS practices and doctrine.

Card has a wonderful writing style and a deep understanding of relationships and the human condition. All of his writer's gifts are brought to bear in this series. The sensitive writing brought tears to my eyes multiple times. One of the most touching is a scene where Alvin and his brother-in-law, the adopted former slave known as Arthur Stuart, are running from slave finders. The slave finders have a "cachet" that allows them to track the escaped slave wherever he goes because it contains things (such as hair) that are unique to Arthur Stuart. Alvin realizes that he can change Arthur Stuart from the inside out so that the cachet will not match him anymore. Essentially, Alvin realizes that by changing the "tiny parts" of him, he will become a new person. To do that Alvin changes Arthur Stuart as they are in a river and then immerses Arthur Stuart fully to wash the residue of the "old man" away so that only the "new man" remains. The allusion to baptism is clear and makes the scene powerful in ways that only a faithful Church member can fully appreciate.

Whether you read or listen, you will come away from Alvin Maker better for the experience. Now if Card would only finish Master Alvin!!

An ongoing list of Sparsile book reviews

Sunday, February 22, 2009

More Than Human

I just finished watching an interesting presentation by Juan Enriquez at TED.com (http://tr.im/gEOJ). As I watch the bio-engineering revolution unfold around us, I wonder what the future holds for those who deem our bodies a sacred gift from God. Certainly the ability to do such things as growing our own replacement organs and enhancing (or rejuvenating) failing body systems (hearing, eyesight, etc.) is exciting. To be able to extend our years of productive work and service will open up new opportunities.

Should there be a limit to how far we allow biological, robotic, and genetic sciences to extend our innate human form and function? Some years ago I listened to an interview given by Zbigniew Brzezinski where he posited that the great question of the 21st century would be "What does it mean to be human?" Revealed religion tells us that humans are the spirit children of God, created in his image. I fully believe this.

However, what about human clones? Are they spirit children of God? Is it immoral (i.e. against the desire of God) to extend human lifespan beyond "the age of a man"? Is re-engineering humanity the Tower of Babel for our post-technological civilization?

The recent leaders of the Church have (very wisely) been cautious about defining the boundaries of science and religion. This is in part, I believe, because Mormons believe all truth comes from God. Scientific truth is just as valid as revealed truth. Furthermore, the truths discovered by man will only complement truths revealed through prophets. But just because we understand how (i.e. discern scientific truth) to make someone more than human does not necessarily mean that we should put that science into practice. That was the horror of the Nazi eugenics and medical experiments.

The next ten years promises to be an exciting ride for the biological, robotic, and genetic sciences. Will we also develop the ethical and moral capacity to keep up?


Friday, February 20, 2009

The Destruction of American Will

It is with dismay that I read of the passing of the "Stimulus Bill". The reliance on the federal government to provide "bailouts" when the economy hits a trough is taken to obscene extremes with the unimaginably huge debt that is levied on the current and future generations of productive citizens. The lack of leadership of both the former and current president in this time of economic uncertainty is distressing. The cries of both Bush and Obama will linger in the hall of shame for years to come. What happened to leaders who espouse principles such as "The only thing to fear is fear itself" or "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country" or "I don't believe in a government that protects us from ourselves"? Instead, we hear fear-mongering from our presidents. We hear calls for personal responsibility, but instead see the irresponsible rewarded with other's tax dollars.

Those who caused this economic crisis are crying for help because they made ill-advised and greedy, selfish decisions. I'm not just referring to the dishonest bankers who invented investment strategies so "sophisticated" that no one really knows what they are worth or Detroit car companies who seem to lack the most basic understanding of what American consumers want and need. I'm also referring to the millions of Americans who revel in credit card debt and purchase houses larger than they can afford. And we can't forget Clinton and his cronies in the Congress who pushed lenders to provide mortgage loans to those who could not afford them. Lack of accountability, at the corporate, government, AND the personal level, caused this crisis. Unfortunately, those who live within their means and practice prudence in their financial dealings have also been sucked into the black hole.

We are reeling from 8 years of a president who thought that stubbornness equaled principle and who was manipulated by his senior advisers. Now we are embarking on a journey with a president who speaks with a golden tongue but has little or no idea on how to solve the pressing problems that face this country. Change is coming, alright. It will be a change brought about by the lack of will of the American people to sacrifice for a cause greater than self. It will be change that comes at the cost of liberty - first the loss of economic liberty, which leads to the loss of personal liberty, which will, in the end, lead to a weak, rudderless nation.

Here's a few tips, Mr. President: Let the automobile manufacturers go bankrupt; let the state and local governments realize that taxpayer money is not an endless stream of gold; let individuals who are mired in debt because of their own poor decisions reap the consequences. If we do that, we'll have pain, but we'll emerge as a stronger and vital people who have a clear vision to a bright future. If we continue down the "bailout" path, we'll be a fractured, miserable socialist state.

It's time to start thinking about who to vote for in 2012. Mitt Romney anyone ...

Book Review: "Outliers", Malcolm Gladwell

An interesting examination of people that are outside normal experience. It discusses those who are extraordinarily successful, and sometimes those who had the innate potential for greatness, but didn't get the right "breaks". Gladwell conjectures that "outlier" success is primarily due to two factors: 1) being fortunate enough to be born in the right place at the right time; and 2) hard, meaningful work. He suggests that there are many people who have the ability to be wildly successful (Bill Gates, world-class gymnasts, etc.) but were not given the opportunity to succeed.

Interesting facts abound: 1) almost all the Canadian junior hockey system's great players are born in the first three months of the year; 2) Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Bill Joy - perhaps the preeminent pioneers in the PC or workstation computing industry - were born in 1954 or 1955.

Gladwell also conjectures. My favorite: Asian's stereotypical prowess in mathematics is due to the Asian language linguistic rendition of numerical systems and the culture that came from thousands of years of wet-rice farming!


Gladwell's bottom line: Successful people do not achieve greatness despite their backgrounds (Horatio Alger's take) but BECAUSE of their backgrounds. It is an interesting hypothesis and certainly true to some extent. However, Gladwell seems to choose evidence that only supports his theory. Certainly not EVERY Canadian hockey player born in January, February, or March reaches the NHL. Certainly not every computer geek born in 1954 or 1955 founds companies like Microsoft or Apple. Nonethless, it is thought-provoking book.