So, I haven’t been in this space for a while. Honestly, it’s been hard to sit down and really write. It’s comparable to leaving the light and descending into that basement studio where a slab of marble awaits its sculptor.
Not that I’ve ever sculpted before, but I would imagine that is what it would feel like.
Other honest confession – writing in this space has been hard because I’m supposed to be writing this literature review, so all my willpower to write has been channeled towards saying something intelligent about the anti-Stokes shift of upconversion nanoparticles.
But I read this piece (thankfully, my non-academic reading hasn’t stopped) the other day on 17 Simple Strategies to Survive your PhD
And one of the strategies was to carve out time for non-academic work and jealously guard it. The thing about a PhD is that at any time, you could always be working on your research – problem-solving in the shower, reading papers in your bed before going to bed, dreaming about possible experiments – that when you’re not doing “PhD-related” things, you feel guilty.
You’re making pumpkin soup, but your thoughts wander to how you could be making progress on that literature review that’s perpetually on your to-do evernote.
The challenge is to choose to be fully present in the task you have chosen to do: pumpkin soup making is strictly that, and not time for literature review writing (see Eccl. 3 for more on this subject).
All that to say, I could be writing my literature review now, but I’m consciously stepping away and taking the time to put some form to the thoughts floating around in my brain.
Mom told me to write shorter snippets, because you guys don’t have the time to read through long rambles (probably true).
Or about how reaching out to the homeless is not just about money, but about self-worth and identity, and my ideas on how the creative arts could restore that sense of worth.
I’ve been thinking about the sermon preached this morning from John 17 on unity, because when most people think about the church, they think restrictions and divisions.
Just this past week, my co-volunteer at the art studio asked me what denomination I was from, told me the reason why she left the church was because of its rejection of the homosexual.
When in actual fact, the perfect law brings liberty, and it is the unity of the church that leads the world to believe.
I’ve been inspired by those like Jonathan Haidt who talk about stepping out of our moral matrix as a way for liberals and conservatives to see reason in the other side and move towards more bipartisanship.
Like Chandler Bing’s revelation that he was more similar to his grumpy neighbor Mr. Heckles than he would have liked (yes, I do watch Friends ;)), we realize we are more similar to the disliked “other” than we admit.
Maybe I will get around to writing about these topics at some point (we’ll see about that… :P).
But for today, for now (because isn’t that the only thing we’re sure about anyways), I want to write about ‘not knowing‘. Here are some of my inchoate thoughts:
I think it’s funny when people think science is the beacon of truth.
Like when you hear, “I don’t believe in God. I believe in science.”
Because any graduate student who has tried to repeat an experiment, only to fail to get the same picture-perfect images published in Nature, might argue with you on the whole science is infallible and totally credible point.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe there are definite laws that govern our world. Gravity is real (unless you’re Phoebe, haha, okay I’ll stop with the Friends’ references :P)
But, it is our human methods of discovering these laws, and our interpretation of what we observe that are fallible.
Hence, the reproducibility crisis in the research community and my professor’s rant in lab meeting about how we need to be honest in the reporting of our results.
Same thing with God.
There is a reality about who God is. And if you’re not yet a believer, there is a reality of whether there is a God or not.
It is only our human ability to see God clearly that is lacking.
But, just because we don’t have the full picture of what really is doesn’t mean we simply scrap the pursuit of it.
I learnt this past week of two models we use to approximate the surface area of a material: the Langmuir and BET model. Both come with their own assumptions. Neither are perfect, although both bring us closer to reality in their own way.
And yet, we still make decisions based on our faith in these approximate models.
Perhaps you are squirming with discomfort at my pointing out that what you know might not be actually true.
For me, however, it is deeply encouraging.
It encourages me that I don’t have to know it all, to have it all figured out.
I can live in mystery, and dwell in the state of tension between knowing and not-knowing.
I can read the Word not as a tourist, scanning for some quick devotional take-away, but as an explorer, searching even though I may not find.
I feel like I move through three phases: a over-jubilant naivete, an unsettling disillusionment, and finally, a choosing to hold onto faith in spite of.
We still do science, because we trust that despite all the irreproduciblity issues, imprecise instrumentation and human error, there is something that is working: we are drawing nearer to what is real.
In the same way, I read the Word not because I totally understand it, but because in my spirit, I sense a reality that is deeper than mere human words.
I engage in spiritual disciplines because they give me life.
I hold onto faith because some days, that’s the only thing I know how to do.
One day, all will be revealed. We will see reality as it is.
But until then, I say –
even with [insert list of unanswered questions]