Thursday, October 16, 2014

Does It Matter?

My walking partner, Michael, and I were discussing the other day, “Does it Matter.” My uncle Ed, the most accomplished scientist I know, (kindly) asks me this in response to my inane questions.

Michael (or Dr. D, as his students called him), said that we don’t matter in the grand scheme of things—that we are minuscule particles. To give the other side a voice, I said that, given the Butterfly Effect, everything we do makes a difference in the universe. (Is that a symptom of ADD?)

Both arguments probably have a lot of validity,  but we probably are on one side of the fence or the other. Ed might respond that it doesn’t matter which one you choose.

I think holding both views, one in each hand (lightly), might be the way to go. Michael’s view would keep us humble. We wouldn’t take ourselves too seriously. We would enjoy life. My view, shared by the Butterfly, might suggest that we have a very big purpose in the universe. It might constitute significant motivation for changing the world.

In support of Michael’s viewpoint, the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam says,

“Then to the lip of this poor earthen Urn
I lean'd, the Secret of my Life to learn:
And Lip to Lip it murmur'd—"While you live
Drink!—for, once dead, you never shall return.”

This suggests you only live once, and so you should just enjoy life.

And yet Omar Khayyam himself was a contradiction because he wrote this and other poems. Why didn’t he just drink?

In a Festival service this morning for Sukkot/Simhat Torah, we read the following prayer:

“Adonai, what are we, that You have regard for us?
What are we, that You are mindful of us?
We are like a breath; our days are as a passing shadow;
we come and go like grass which in the morning shoots up, renewed,
and in the evening fades and withers.”

This is a point for Omar Khayyam and Michael. We are only a blade of grass.

Is the Butterfly Effect a pipe dream? Is it one of those theories that may be true, but in practice doesn’t mean anything. The thought of one Ebola germ lurking on a doorknob just jumped into my head. That germ could board a plane and travel to Dallas, Texas, and cause schools to be cancelled and fear to permeate a nation.

What about a smile at the check-out counter. Imagine if you could “make someone’s day” by smiling at them, and then they smile at others and so on. Did that smile make a difference? I think so.

I wish I could have remembered some of the inane questions I asked Ed. Maybe they do make a difference. And maybe he wasn’t making a judgement, but just wondering why my resources were directed toward that problem and not one that mattered more.

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