Thursday, May 17, 2012

Humans... old humans

Recently I can't stop bumping into information on scientific discoveries about early humanity.  First it was science websites talking about the earliest proved artifacts of deep sea fishing and bug repellant bedding arrangements.  Next it was my biology class ending with a section on human evolution.  Now, it looks like my general education humanities class begins with a discussion of cro-magnon culture and artifacts.  The introduction to the course spent an entire page warning me that I was going to have to deal with information that contradicted or failed to support the bible.

Believe it or not, I'm actually somewhat pleased that my human evolution studies are being followed almost immediately by a discussion of cro-magnon culture and ancient civilizations.  It will be almost like picking up where I left off on the subject.  The best sum up of what I've learned so far is that "anatomically modern humans" have been around for a long time as far as science can tell, probably 100,000 years or more.  Even early in that time they made stone tools, developed art work, and ritual behavior probably indicative of religion. 

There are two things that bother me the most upon encountering these subjects.  First is that the people who purported to teach me about these subjects before and propose rudimentary systems of synthesizing scientific and religious knowledge apparently either knew very little or they were rejecting scientific reality to replace it with their own.  One professor claimed that neanderthals disappearing and anatomically modern humans appearing lined up with the Book of Genesis time lines.  Apparently he never really bothered fact checking who ever told him that or he made it up.  Neanderthals disappear from the fossil record about 30,000 years ago and overlapped in time a lot with and hybridized a little with modern humans.  Another professor claimed that we should simply view any human fossil from more than 5-6 thousand years ago to simply be non human.  Again, there's no science to back that up, from all appearances he simply made that up because it was the easiest way for him to reconcile the subjects.  Speculation proposed as fact with no evidence isn't something I should have been wasting my time listening to.  This doesn't bother me as much as it might because I've come to suspect anything that I learned from that set of professors as highly suspect.  At George Wythe it is quiet possible to be an academic jack of all trades and a master of none.

The second thing that really bothers me is that there has been little evolution of LDS doctrine to constructively deal with new evidence.  The Articles of Faith explicitly describe that God will yet reveal many important things, the D&C describes a line upon line process of gaining knowledge, the D&C describes all knowledge as being the inheritance of the saints, and doctrinal practice as described across the ancient and modern scripture makes it clear that God is frequently willing to let us rest on the laurels of our own cultural misunderstandings if it isn't particularly urgent that we learn better.  That all being said I think we should anticipate that as new knowledge and discoveries are made that church doctrine will somehow constructively adapt to avoid dogmatizing what were probably misunderstandings to begin with.  I propose no synthesis of doctrines.  I'm just sharply disappointed that none has been forthcoming.

Instead of any attempt to show that the different points of view can or should be reconciled with science we get talks quoted in lesson manuals about how a supposedly more careful reading of Genesis will prove that no organisms were mortal or died before Adam partook of the fruit.  Given an extensive fossil record that shows that people and organisms died before the garden ever took place this claim is so weak that it doesn't deserve to be part of the teaching.  But it is still there.  Believing this doctrine requires us to come up with explanations about how all those buried fossils weren't actually dead but were simply in a suspended animation till Adam partook of the fruit at which point a whole bunch of stuff died rather quickly.  It's always 'possible' this or some other explanation could reconcile our approved Institute manuals with science but it hardly seems likely.  Rather than acknowledging scientific evidence and flexibly suggesting that reinterpretation is possible we seem to be stuck in a position of trying to pick fights with science.

Here is what I believe has happened to us.  The LDS church has made statements from time to time discouraging us from exploring science based on religious belief or religion based on science.  If you link the two together when the science turns out to be wrong or incomplete the religious ideas you attached to it go out the window along with it.  However, in practice this restriction only appears to apply forwards in time.  Nobody ever gets up and says that we should throw out our pre restoration of the church ideas about science and religion- only avoid making new ones.  From Plato and Aristotle down animals and plants were considered to be unchanging over time, if I remember my biology textbook said because it was believed the species represented divine platonic "forms".  The LDS church latches onto this idea when it describes animals and plants being physical manifestations of spiritual creations.  Darwin didn't publish his ideas confronting the "mutability of species" until after Joseph Smith's death.  Without exploring science and religion together in the ways discouraged by the church pre-Darwinian ideas about science and religion are therefore essentially locked into place because it was the default assumption to make.  Granted, trying to come up with something logically consistent that divorces LDS thought from Aristotle on the mutability of species would be very hard.  It gives me headaches to think about.  However, I'd rather have the church actively engaging with the possibility of doctrinal reinterpretation rather than teaching us to assume all new discoveries in archeology and biology are false.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Relaxed... and me

I once told a group of fellow students that they probably almost were never actually seeing me, that the real me was almost always hiding somewhere else.

I told a co worker recently that while I'm at work I tend to be really uptight and nervous.  She was confused, telling me that I was really loose and I tried to explain that when I'm just being myself and letting go I can be "really weird."  I really hated saying it that way, but there's no way to say "I'm intentionally suppressing my personality because being on the autistic spectrum isn't compatible with this work place."

Sometimes I have to stop and ask myself, where did the "me" go?

I have to actively suppress my detail orientedness to work with customers.  It's not because the customers particularly mind, I still tend to get great scores on customer satisfaction.  It's not because I'm not getting the job done per se- often being detail oriented can help me achieve better outcomes on things.  It's not because people can't understand it- I've developed quite the talent for finding analogies and other linguistic gymnastics to help people understand me (for instance I once achieved helping a very elderly lady understand why I couldn't promise her that her late fee date and service suspension date would stay the same-in context of actual company practice and policy).  It's because being detail oriented can be culprit number one in making the length of my calls longer- and short call time is king at this project.

I have to actively suppress my love of the silliness inherent in life at work.  It's not because everyone at work is straight faced serious all the time.  There can be quiet a lot of absurdity going on at any given time.  It's not because the people there hate me- most people are at least superficially quite friendly.  It's not because my way of finding joy in the little things in life is HR inappropriate-I've overheard way too many in depth workplace discussions of people's sex lives and preferences for it to be an issue with HR appropriateness.  It's because the silliness I like to engage in is so different than what people tend to tolerate well that I have to acclimatize them to it which requires a stable social group.  I don't have a stable social group at work.  And worse off, I'm a bad judge of the mood of corporate gate keepers of acceptable behavior so I'd be likely to get in trouble by continuing silliness past when it was power structure acceptable.

I have to actively suppress my core sense of intuitive integrity and rule following at work.  Besides calls being short the other all important requirement at work is making up-sales.  I've occasionally been told point blank by my immediate superiors to skip explaining what, if I looked into them, are probably some sort of "full disclosure" legally required details of the sales process.  And no lie about it, its easier to sell if you allow the momentum to build on hype even if the customer has obviously misjudged their own interests.  I've found myself pointing out to elderly customers that my introductory that they are suddenly excited about is actually about the same price as their current service because they aren't adding in the modem rental and tax fees.  Every time that happens I have to fight between my need to be loyal to my financial well being by keeping my job and my loyalty to myself and to other people as human beings.  I find a compromise that works, but generally not one that leaves my mind at rest.  Not that sales is an inherently evil trade to engage in, but to do it right when I'm not intuitively good at it is harder when the advice I'm most likely to receive to enable me to achieve more sales is to lie a little more.

So where did the "me" in all of this go?  Sometimes I pop out unexpectedly, like when a trainer was talking about whether he or his wife was the one to wear the pants and I surprised myself by impulsively voicing the obvious pun that we could all see that he was wearing pants at the moment.  When my internal strain levels drop dramatically- like right after finishing a semester- I find myself coming out to play more often.  If I've found a slightly more stable group to socialize with I can find myself becoming slightly more open, explaining more of who I am, showing people more of the emotional dynamic that makes up who I am.  Occasionally I've even rushed home in an almost craze because my fight flight response went wild in response to the terror I sometimes feel at expressing more of myself than I meant to.  If I put that much adrenaline behind a pair of bike pedals I go fast.  Sometimes if Bonnie Jean and I aren't too exhausted to properly enjoy each other's company we can spark up some of the openness and craziness that made us find life without each other unthinkable.  Between working full time at a job I sometimes find stifling and doing school work at a breakneck pace in the time left over by the job I sometimes have a chance to come out and look around.

If I try to remember back to when I felt the most me, the least squished into a box that I couldn't break out of without the shards of my socially improper exit lacerating me I go back to a canoe on some lonely lake in Canada- or any time when I can actually relax at home.

Canoeing over 100 miles in less than 2 weeks doesn't give much room for avoiding socially bonding.  It also created a structure of unified social purpose that was easy to fulfill.  I can remember laughing in ways I hadn't laughed for years-and stripping the varnish of social inhibitions in ways I almost have never enjoyed before or since.  It's probably why I've kept the name CrouchingOwl- it was how my troop honored me when they tried to express the me they met out in the woods.

At home, one of the easiest ways to make my wife smile is to just be myself.  When I see her smile and say "You, my love, are so weird" I know I've done what I could to light up her life for another moment in time.  Home is where the "me" comes out of its shelter to actually live, and how I know that I can survive pushing myself through more and more molds that don't really fit me, and still be me at the end.