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CTDL 200: On the sacred and the study

“The religious impulse addresses something just as concrete as the pursuit of scientific or historical knowledge: it addresses the human need for the sacred.” — Chris Hedges in I Don’t Believe in Athiests.

“His argument was not with God, but with those who believed that our understanding of the sacred had been completed.” — Ann Druyan on Carl Sagan’s view on religion.

“What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the desire to find out, which is the exact opposite.” — Bertrand Russell (as quoted by Ann Druyan).

In the introduction to The Varieties of Scientific Experience Ann Druyan loosely defines “sacred” as “those truths that inspire love and awe.” This is the journey I’m trying to make, to discover what is sacred to me. I don’t see this journey as one with an end, though there may be stops along the way. I think the thing that has prompted me most in my recent scientific exploration is that, as the Bertrand Russell quote above says: I don’t want to have the will to believe; I’m much happier to have the desire to find out.

It is very hard to look at your infant child, or your ailing grandparent, and not know what is most sacred to you. As spectacular as the vistas of space, or those here on earth, are, they’ve got a tough job competing with the awe and love you feel when a tiny hand wraps around your finger for the first time (or five thousandth time for that matter). The same goes for when you see the look in their eyes when something clicks for the first time. Likewise, there’s an awful lot of love and awe I feel when thinking of my now deceased grandparents, and the time I had with them while they were still here. My wife is a source of awe and love as well, what she does with and for our children, the caring and love she brings to those in her life, and that she’s been with me for almost 15 years now.

But those are personal, unique to me and my perspective (not that others don’t find awe in their family, but not many find awe in mine), things that invoke awe. I find the journey of learning to be pretty awe inspiring as well. To see how we’ve put our minds to work in the past and present, how we’ve built the collective knowledge to its current impressive (and yet impressively incomplete) levels, is a thing of great wonder to me. The “motto” of this site is such because of that awe: Count that day lost in which you do not learn at least one new thing. My goal here is to help myself, and others, experience that awe (the learning one, not the one about your family, that’s up to you).

There have been so many social/historical/philosophical/scientific discoveries that I get to continue to experience the existing information as if it were new to the world, for the rest of my life, because it is new to me. If I’m lucky I’ll be able to learn things that are new to you too, and we’ll share that journey. If I’m particularly fortunate I may stumble upon some insight or information that is new to everybody and thus contribute to future generations in more ways than just my genes.

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