Saturday, May 15, 2010

What is this meaning you speak of, and why does it matter?

PZ Myers posted an interesting video by a nutter priest. The underlying theme, that "new atheists" just aren't serious about atheism is rather ridiculous, but he also goes on at great length about meaning. This actually follows nicely with a discussion I had a while back, when I met with some of the local CFI members for Cafe Inquiry. (horribly, I was late and we ended up not really getting into the topic I had chosen for the evening - though that saves me thinking about another one)

I think there are some definite advantages to having become an atheist at this point in my life, in this time. A very big one is this whole notion of some metaphysical meaning to life. I was struck last night when we were momentarily on a discussion about philosophers. One of the gentlemen at the meeting looked over at me and said; "I am eighty three years old and I have been really wondering about [meaning] for most of my life." He has also been an atheist/agnostic for most of that time, as far as I could gather.

To my post Christian self, this seems rather simple. There is no great mysterious meaning to life. Quite simply, my life has the meaning that both I attach to it and the meaning those whose lives I touch attach to it. And having wasted all too much of my life wondering at what meaning some magical being attached to my life, I am extremely comforted by this. I don't have to wonder about it, because when I let go of the god paradigm, I let go of a lot of the baggage that went with it - though certainly not all.

This may well be the most important baggage that I have left behind. To be certain, this places a great deal more responsibility onto my shoulders. Now I not only have to decide what meaning I want my life to have, I have to live a life that will create that meaning. But this is also empowering to me. No more to wonder what some amorphous being put me here to be, put all of us here to be, my life belongs to me now. And while things are definitely not perfect, I have mentioned before about what a brilliant time it is to be human.

I think this concept of meaning and ownership of self is what really gets me excited about being human. It is also what gets me so excited about living in this backwater planet in a backwater galaxy. No imagined being owns me, controls me or forces me into a neat little box of meaning that I can't even know or understand. As intimidating as it seems sometimes, I have a great deal of control over what my life means. While I am not always the nicest of people, I have managed to do some pretty awesome things for people - though that is balanced some by having hurt people too. But as I grow, mature and move into a career of service both to my chosen profession and to people who are so very despised by so many other humans, I am becoming a person whose life's meaning is something I can be proud to call my own. And as I learn and grow as a parent, there is a great deal of meaning that is wrapped up in the skin of two wonderful boys.

It is exceedingly unlikely there is any extrasensory meaning to life. What we see, who we are is what we get. And no matter what Father Barron seems to think about it, this is a wonderful thing. It is a gift not given by some god or by the universe, it is a gift we can give ourselves when we let go of gods and magical thinking*. It is freedom from yet more chains created by enculturation in a default religious society. It is freedom from an abysmal distraction in our exploration of the rolling vistas of our minds, though it is no less a quest.

It is still a quest. But it is not a futile quest. It is not a quest in which we are powerless to influence the outcome and whose outcome we can actually understand. It is a quest made up of decisions instead of speculations and that is truly wondrous to behold - far greater than a chorus of heavenly angels could ever be. It is an ever continuing quest to be a better human being than we were mere moments before

* Assuming you were ever really there.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

My Brilliant Partner and Her Exciting New Situation

I am so very excited to be able to finally mention this awesome news about Juniper, the very best partner a guy could want. I can't begin to express how very lucky I am to have such a great partner, proud that such a woman wants to be with me.

And now things are even better for her. I have been rather biting my tongue wanting to congratulate her publicly. Now that she has broken her rather extended blog silence, I figure it is ok to do so. My very beautiful, fucking brilliant partner has been accepted into a PhD program. A program she was rather strenuously encouraged to apply for by her soon to be mentor. A program he wanted her in because she is so very clever that it shines.

I love Juniper so very much and am terribly excited that she has this opportunity. She deserves it, even given her minor problems earlier in her education. And she is going to excel. She is going to excel because she has my absolute support - long distance though it may be. And she is going to excel because of all the generous and outstanding support she has from so many wonderful people in the science blogosphere.

What happens to her is very important to me and what is happening now is in no small part because of the support and encouragement that so many of you have given her. Just as I cannot begin to express just how proud I am to have her in my life, I also cannot begin to express just how much I appreciate the lengths so many of you have gone through to support her. I am amazed ever day and unspeakably grateful for everything so many of you have done for her and for me as well. Both Juniper and myself have been given great opportunities because of blogging an the relationships we have developed.

Thank you all so very much for being a part of our lives.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Bloody Damned Online Exams1!!1!!!!11!!

In general I rather like Moodle, our web learning system. Except when it comes to taking tests. When it comes to taking tests it can suck sweaty donkey balls. This is not, I should note, the fault of the Moodle system, but rather is the fault of Valley's techies.

When I first used Moodle, I was warned by the instructor that we should log into Moodle through the back, rather than through the school web site. If you logged in through the web site the system would time you out after 25 minutes of inactivity. Taking a test counted as inactivity.

Then somewhere along the way while tweeking moodle, apparently they set it to log you out after an hour of inactivity even logged in through the back. Ooops. This means that if you are taking a test and take more than an hour, when you go to submit it will ask you to log back in. Early on fter this change this meant you just lost your only chance to submit your test. Being logged off the system and back on in the middle of a test counted as an attempt and few instructors allowed more than one attempt. After this caused no small uproar they apparently changed the system so that it wouldn't log you off in the middle of a test - or so I thought.

Then I took my communications final this afternoon. Apparently they only extended the time it takes to time you out of the system while taking a test. Now they were kind enough to set it up so that if you actually happen to get timed out while taking a test, it won't count as an attempt when you log back in - it will just take you back to your test. With one small problem...

The motherfucking test comes back fucking blank!!!!!!!!!!

My communications final consisted of two long essay questions, a small short answer section and six short essay questions. Three of the short essays and the first long essay required that you actually do a little bit of quick research, as they included bits that did not come from our reading or discussions. I spent a little over two and a half fucking hours on my final, only to have the whole motherfucking thing pop back up blank. And while the first question - one of the long essays, was set up in a window that allows you to copy and paste, the rest of the responses went into windows that didn't allow that. So while I actually had the answer to the first saved, I didn't have the rest.

I wish I had noted that you can print the fucking thing before I tried to submit the first time. I noted this and "printed" it to an xml file the second time around, before I submitted it - just in case. But that time it went through without a problem. It also went through a good deal shorter than it was the first time around. I should be fine, but I prefer to be more than fine. My general preference is to produce work that makes my instructors wish they could give more points for an assignment.

Motherfucking online tests...