Today's Miles = 59.3
Average Speed = 10.1 mph
Maximum Speed = 25.7 mph
Total Miles = 3684.1
I'll warn you now that this is a long and rambling entry. Feel free to stop reading when your eyes start to glaze over, or pour yourself a cup of coffee and get ready to waste a little time with me.
Today was a day more of thought than of action, where my mind was occupied with internal grappling and I was mostly oblivious to the passage of space around me. My ride today was a gradual downhill from Hamilton to the town of Lolo, then an ascent to my destination at a USFS campground around sixteen miles outside of town. Looking ahead on the map I'm happy once again that I am heading west, for the next week will contain several mountain passes which are far more challenging to climb in the eastbound direction.
Without any conscious direction on my behalf, my thoughts this morning were back on the subject of the rights of man and the role of government. Now I know that writing about politics is a no-win situation for me, as I'll either be preaching to the choir or I'll alienate those who disagree with me. But if I don't write about what I was thinking then I'll have nothing to write about, as thinking was all I did.
I happen to be a person who agrees with the principles for which the Revolutionary War was fought and upon which the United States was founded. But somehow over the course of time, and particular over the last century, it is as though we have taken those principles and turned them on their head. If I ask myself today "where do the rights of Man come from", the answer appears to be that they are granted by the government. If I ask myself today "what are the powers of the government", the answer appears to be that they are broad and general with only a few specific exceptions. But this state of affairs is so very wrong, so completely at odds with the groundwork laid by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, that I can't understand how we have come to this state and why more people don't see things as they are.
According to the principles upon which the United States was formed, rights do not come from the government but instead exist even in the absence of government. The Declaration of Independence proclaims that it is a self-evident truth that Men are "Endowed by their Creator with certain Inalienable Rights". The idea that our rights come to us naturally was the cornerstone of the philosophy behind our nation. Since our rights come naturally, government can no more "grant" them to us then it can "grant" us the air that we breath. Instead, in fact, it is the people who grant powers to the government. This belief courses through our founding documents like blood through our bodies.
In the Declaration we find "...that to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed..." which means just what it says, the powers of government come justly from the people. In the first sentence of the Constitution we find "All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress...", again stating the belief that legitimate power of government is a grant from the people.
The question of where the powers of government come from is an important one, as it leads us directly to the question of what the powers of government should be. If we believed in the divine right of kings to rule then it would come naturally that the sovereign could legislate, execute, and adjudicate however he pleases. But the founders had explicitly embraced the concept that all powers flowed from the people, and had to be granted to the government for them to be legitimately held. From that concept came naturally the doctrine of enumerated powers, the idea that the government held only the powers explicitly granted to it by the people as listed in the Constitution. Return again to the first sentence of the Constitution "All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress..." and ask yourself "what of the powers not granted"? There was no wholesale transfer of power from the people to the Congress, but only of those powers "herein granted". So where do the powers not granted lay? The answer, of course, is that those powers stay with those who naturally hold them, namely the people. Just to drive this point home the Tenth Amendment states that "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution ... are reserved ... to the people".
I need to stop writing this here. These pages aren't meant to be a primer on the nature of government, nor do I imagine that this is what those reading these pages come here seeking. And just as I am forcing myself to stop writing on this topic now, so I realized as I pedaled north that I needed to force myself to stop thinking about this subject. Since I couldn't simply force my mind to be blank I scanned my memory for some other problem to occupy my thoughts, and I somehow turned to the topic of physics.
My friend Rob Vanderhoff had posed a question for me, which I will paraphrase as follows. Imagine we take a centrifuge and load it with several vials of blood, then cause the centrifuge to spin for a period of time, then stop it from spinning, then examine the blood in the vials. Our inspection would reveal that the blood had separated into several base components, sorted by mass, from top to bottom within the vials. So far, this is everyday stuff, but then Rob threw in the following twist. Say that we repeat the experiment, but we shift our frame of reference. Instead of causing the centrifuge to spin, we consider the centrifuge to be standing still and the universe to be rotating around it. Does the blood still separate? If the blood does separate, does this violate Newton's First Law, which says that an object at rest will stay at rest until acted upon by an external force?
This one kept me occupied for at least a couple of hours before I felt I had thought it completely through. Of course the blood will separate, as shifting our frame of reference does nothing to alter the underlying mechanics of what is happening. Newton's First Law is not violated with respect to any object that isn't being acted upon by a force. And while I don't want to spill the beans for anyone who wants to think about this for a bit, I would recommend focusing on the following two questions. First, what are the nature of the forces acting in a centrifuge and where do they come from? Second, what does it take to be considered an "object" for the purposes of Newton's First Law and does our loaded centrifuge count in this situation?
Alright, so it just wasn't going to be one of those "light thinking" kind of days. This happens to me more than I care to admit, and I know from experience that all I can do is go with the flow or find something to distract me. But from the saddle of my bicycle I couldn't exactly turn on the television or pick up a book, and although the passing scenery was new to me it felt so familiar that it couldn't distract me from the gears that were turning inside my head.
When I reached Lolo I decided to stop for a quick supper before riding west on Highway 12. I was pleased to find that for the first time in awhile I had a strong digital signal on my cellphone, so I hauled my electronics into the restaurant with me to catch up on some email while I ate. If you have been reading these pages from the beginning, you may remember Ed Gibbs, whom I rode with for several days back in Virginia. Ed was the first cyclist I met on the road, and he and I clicked well enough that we have been in fairly regular contact via email ever since. Now several of the people I have met on the road have obviously been on a spiritual journey, and several others have encouraged me to spend some of my time on the road in spiritual exploration. More than anyone else, Ed has been constantly reminding me to think about not just where my bicycle is taking me, but where I want to go as a person. As I ate my supper and replied to one of Ed's latest messages, the idea of God was planted in my mind and stayed with me once I returned to the road.
Ok great, now I'm on the subject of religion, one of the three great topics one is supposed to avoid in polite discussion. I guess since I've already brought up politics I may as well consider nothing taboo for this entry, but I'll just keep my mouth shut regarding sex for now.
Religion sure is a hard one to talk about, isn't it? It is such a personal thing that it is almost impossible to discuss without being offensive to someone. I've met too many people who believe that if I don't share the key points of their faith, then I am at best a bad person or at worst a good person who is going to a bad place. But on the other hand I have plenty of friends who hold that to even consider the existence of God is to follow a path of superstition. Both of these camps consider the other to be narrow minded in their thinking. The faithful feel pity on those who won't open themselves to the possibility of God, and the secular look down upon those who have to rely upon belief in the supernatural to find order in their lives. Personally, I think that either mindset misses the point. The key to believing in God is making a leap of faith. Notice the words I used, that our language uses, to discuss religion. One "believes" in God, but one doesn't have proof of God's existence. One makes a leap of faith, not a leap of knowledge.
So as for myself, what do I believe? That is a question that I can't really answer. Firstly, because I don't really know what I believe. Secondly, because I struggle to put into words the concepts that I form in my mind. I can say that a very long time ago I believed in God the same way that I believed in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. God was something that I was told existed and I accepted that without question, because as a child I hadn't learned how to question yet. At a later time in my life, as a student of science and engineering, I actively disbelieved the existence of God. God was something for which no concrete evidence existed.
But just because something cannot be proven does not mean that it has been disproved. I've been increasingly captivated over the past ten years with the idea that certain things are simply unknowable. At the simplest level we have the sentence "this statement is not true". More than simply a puzzle to entertain a child, the sentence sits there and refuses our attempts to classify it as true or false. Kurt Gödel demonstrated that mathematics will always contain theorems that are not possible to prove true or false. Werner Heisenberg postulated that certain information about the state of quantum particles will always lay outside our grasp. Erwin Schrödinger even went as far as to theorize an animal that was simultaneously living and dead.
Almost always at the heart of these conundrums is a kernel of self-reference. "This statement is not true" only works because it refers back to itself. And self-reference is at the heart of one of the most astonishing things we find on this planet - life. Life itself relies upon self-reference to reproduce and perpetuate itself. Our cells are built upon the blueprint carried by our DNA, but our DNA is reproduced by our cells.
Two questions arise here - where am I going with this and why am I going there? First the "where" question; Self-reference is everywhere around us in our universe, self-reference often leads to things that are unknowable, and therefore I can accept things being unknowable. Perhaps at the core of God's existence is the idea "I CANNOT BE PROVEN"? Second the "why" question; Because I am a logical person, because I am an engineer, because I believe in science, I need a framework to explain to me how God could exist and yet be unprovable.
This leads to what has been my biggest revelation in my quest to come to understanding - that science and God are not incompatible ideas. It seems that in our conventional way of thinking we consider science and religion to be opposed to each other. I have come to see them as one and the same. If God is the creator of the Universe, and science is Man's attempt to understand the Universe, then I can accept seeing science as nothing more than an attempt to understand God through the understanding of the creation.
It was just one of those days.