Thursday, April 22, 2010

On the Theater

Apologies for my silence, blogosphere. (Blagonet? Interbleg?) My extended absence has been due to a number of factors like my own apathy, various hassles and busyness, and especially the two weeks I spent working several hours a day as a stagehand on a play in Rarig, Live the Revolution. It was an epic show in Rarig's basement Xperimental theater exploring the revolutionary spirit, and I'm glad to have been a part of it.

I find it perplexing how along with my computer science major, I'm developing a strong interest in theater, particularly technical theater. I love going behind the scenes, building things, making things work. Maybe it's the same urge to learn how things work under the surface and make them work that makes theater so interesting to me. One of my ultimate goals is to figure out some way to combine these two passions, but as of now I have no ideas; it's looking likely that I'll get a job in computing and work in theater whenever I have time.

My job for Live the Revolution was pretty simple. I set backstage and worked with props to make things go smoothly for the actors. I moved things around, held the curtain open for them, and especially worked with coiling and tying the rope. (I should devote a future post to the particulars of rope, which people could benefit from knowing) If the audience had no idea I existed, then it was a good show. Since the show was in a small black box setting, my section of the backstage was smaller than a prison cell and a good deal darker.

The play itself was quite a unique one. Apparently it had been forming since last fall as interested actors signed on. They helped write it themselves, along with the director and dramaturg, and several of them recited poems during the play that they presumably wrote about issues and people important to them. The play was an abstract, metaphorical exploration of revolution and fighting for change. Though it raised some political issues I wasn't so sure of, I really enjoyed its poetry and inspiration to stand up for what you believe in. Besides regular acting, it contained a shadow puppet play, a musical number, and numerous wordless songs composed by the cast by each contributing simple sounds.

Overall, I was amazed by the uniqueness of the play stemming from its strong message and the level of involvement of the actors themselves in its creation. I only signed on for the last two weeks before its run, and I felt humbled to be a part of something so big and involved. That about sums up my love for tech; I don't like being in the spotlight, I like being the one running it, making things work and being a small but integral part of something amazing. Hanging lights is always fun, too.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

On Effective Certainty

The gist of the Mars Hill talk today was how we should be humble in our knowledge, acknowledging that we could be wrong and submitting to external sources in our claims. Some interesting points were made, like how liberal arts scholars can get much more "out there" in the stuff they believe because their claims are not immediately tested and evaluated by science or the "real world". However, an annoying idea underflowed much of the discussion, namely that humans are fallible, and even if objective truth is out there we can't necessarily know it, or really be sure of anything due to our limited perspectives. As is sadly usual for me, I didn't manage to formulate my thoughts in time to say something, so I write here instead.

Just because we are fallible doesn't mean we are always wrong, or can never be right or sure of anything. Obviously you can be 100% certain of facts about yourself; your name, favorite color, ability to do triple integrals, etc. People of the view I just described would attack virtually any knowledge that falls outside this boundary, reducing it to "beliefs" that may or may not be true, but that in any case we can't be certain of. We can't know anything outside ourselves with absolute certainty, they say.

In response to this, I'd like to introduce a term called "effective certainty". I don't know for certain that the basic axioms of logic that underpin math, philosophy, and common sense are absolutely true, but as virtually every conscious moment of my life has served to reinforce those axioms, I can be so close to absolutely certain of their truth that it's not worthwhile to consider that they could be wrong. I can consider them to be unquestionably true unless someone brings them into question to me. I am "effectively certain" of their truth, in that doubt of their truth does not influence my life or thoughts in any way.

The same is true for the actual, objective existence of the physical world. If I really am just a brain in a jar with electrodes or something, how would I possibly know that or do anything about it? I definitely wouldn't go around sticking my finger in outlets trying to escape such a remote possibility; it makes no difference whatsoever in how I live. By being effectively certain of these things we get science. The theories of science are also examples; we don't know for certain that gravity always works as Newton/Einstein predict, but as we have no counterexamples or -evidence, it's not really worth it to question them except in singular cases.

So, we need not let our lack of absolute certainty stop us from trying to find absolute truth. As I already proved, it is out there, and though we are fallible and can be wrong, we can also be right, and be effectively certain of this. Of course, with many things, like a new theory or idea, it's important to have some doubt and be open to the possibility that we could be wrong. I'm only trying to establish that we can be effectively certain of a good deal of things outside our own existence and rely on these truths in our lives.

One last note: I wouldn't include faith in God in this category of effective certainty. Faith necessarily involves somehow leaping over the limit of where reason can bring us. It is wholeheartedly believing with somehow insufficient evidence to make a purely rational conclusion, whereas effective certainty must be built on mountains of evidence. However, doubt is still damaging to faith, so we should try not to let it affect us, living on it the same way we would with effective certainty. Faith (in the Christian God, at least) is also a relationship besides just belief of facts, further distinguishing it from effective certainty.