Friday, February 15, 2008

Started thinking about entropy

The title of this post is taken from Warren Zevon's description of the walker in the wasted city in Run Straight Down. The theme is one that has something of an obsession of mine, although I suppose technically what interests me isn't entropy so much as what it connotes: destruction, decay, catastrophe, waste, ruin, etc. I'd date it back to watching Carl Sagan's Cosmos on public television when I was about eight, which really got me into physics. My fascination was with drastic change and destructive processes: supernovae, black holes, the Big Bang, the annihilation of matter and antimatter, radioactive decay, coastal engineering ... those phenomena that are dramatic and uncontrollable yet still subject to order. Quantum mechanics captured my imagination because it dealt with these things with such beautiful precision, but it lost my interest (at least as a career) when the progressive detachment of the theorists from those phenomena became apparent to me, save for a couple of brilliant professors about whom I should say more in the future. Perversely enough, I was a lousy experimentalist despite my firm belief that theorists should concern themselves most directly with experiment, so that left me more or less without a career path in physics, which is why I moved on to other things.

I give this mini-biography because I've realized that I haven't really moved away from that intellectual focus. For better or for worse, the way I see the work is that what defies explanation sets the foundation for our understanding. Pushing against the limits of reason enables reality to shape our thinking. That is the part of the Christian tradition that resonates with me intellectually, whether it is Israel struggling with how the "benefits" of civilized life can leave on thirsty in a way the desert never did, whether it is Origen learning to know the Scriptures of the Hebrews better than they themselves did, whether it is the Cappadocians wondering how the legacy of classical philosophy can produce Eunomius, whether it is Aquinas knowing more in Pseudo-Dionysius than his Neoplatonism told. These are all of a kind to me; this is the way I understand them. And in many cases, I have encountered ways of understanding in other Christian traditions that I consider thoroughly incompatible, which is what causes me to recognize that I am irrevocably wed to the Catholic understanding.

It has occurred to me that if I am to really give a reason for the hope within me, an apologia, I must articulate why it is that I cannot be anything else. This is not to say that I have compelling reasons for my own belief, nor is it intended to denigrate the reasons and experiences of others. Rather, it says what I can believe. If others cannot change my needs in that regard, then they are free to say that the fault rests with me, for that might well be true. But my experience of late has convinced me that these are things beyond my own power to change, so if you wish me to change them, then pray for me to have the will that I currently lack.

But for this season of Lent, which began this year on my son's second birthday as a jarring reminder of life and death at once, I feel the need to confront the reality of myself. At least until Easter, what I write here will be that apologia that I give for my own hope, knowing that I am dust and unto dust I will return.