Sunday, January 27, 2013

Orcs and Anarchy

            My stocking on Christmas morning contained socks, Nutella, a frying pan, odds-and-ends, and a box set of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings novels. While there are many themes in Tolkien’s books I could babble about, the one that I believe is most often overlooked is anarchy and the inability of law to create good or fetter evil. I also must admit that these are themes that I touch on quite often, but I haven’t used the second best-selling novel as my soapbox before. Be warned, tharr be spoilers.
            What is most important to note about Tolkien’s anarchy is that there are rules in place; they just aren’t the rules of a government. In the Shire, the only place explicitly void of an absolute ruler in Middle Earth, the rules take the shape of old laws and traditions that are not enforced but are followed because everyone enjoys the benefit they provide. In the journey of the Fellowship, anarchy exists, but it is subtly different. The Fellowship passes through regions controlled by friend and foe where they blatantly disobey the law of the land in lieu of their own ideas of what the proper rules for the situation are. Tom Bombadil was ruled by no power but his own; Gandalf disobeys the leader of the Wise when choosing his side, and Faramir doesn’t take Frodo back to Minas Tirith when the two meet near Mordor. The basis for the Fellowship’s form of anarchy is not old tradition though; it is natural law, the belief that there is an inherent right and wrong in existence and an essay in and of itself.
            Tolkien never states that anarchy is be-all-end-all of social order (or lack thereof). The Shire still falls under Sauron after the fall of the Ring, a situation that could have been avoided if the hobbits had an organized military, etc., etc. And the only ingenuity to come out of the Shire was pipe smoking. With an organized marketplace, monopolies legally granted to inventors for new inventions, and an effort to capitalize on pipe weed, hobbits could have easily created a higher standard of living and even longer lives. Imagine, 140 is the new 50.
            What Tolkien does promote through his portrayal of hobbits is that happiness is maximized through an anarchistic state. The hobbits are (generally) happy not to meddle and not to be meddled with. On a short tangent, in the real world there is a country, Bhutan, that uses its gross national happiness to measure its progress.
            For my own personal view, I see no reason why Tolkien’s anarchy can’t work outside the pages of his novels if Mankind is given enough time and training (see The Magic School Bus). Of course, Man would desire to consume, build, and create at a speed and with a fervor that hobbits would abhor. While wanton destruction in the name of progress would end badly, there is no reason to believe that happiness is only possible in an agrarian society. All this would require is for the (very few) good and efficient practices enforced by law to become tradition and habit while the rest get weeded out.
            In my next essay, I plan to make fun of everyone who tries to explain and fix real-world problems with examples from fantasy, so mentally prepare yourself for that.

-Jason Rossiter

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Physicist in Defense of Religion

     This essay will not be in support of any one religion, or of a lack thereof, or of anything in between. I consider myself an agnostic, so I don't know what I would be supporting even if I DID write a essay like that. Rather, I want to even the playing field. There are lots of proclaimed scientific arguments for the nonexistence of god (many of which are as faulty as they claim a belief in god is, but many of which have merit), but not many in support of the existence of a higher entity. I want to outline the two main reasons that I think faultless science may still allow for the existence of some higher power.
     The first reason is the Big Bang Theory (the scientific model, not the TV show, though the TV show is great). Contrary to popular belief, the Big Bang Theory is not a model of the origin of the universe, but rather a model of its early evolution and expansion and the criteria to which this must have adhered and the qualities which it must have produced. The Big Bang Theory can actually do very little to explain what the universe was like at its moment of creation, other than extrapolate that it must have had infinite density and temperature (which means infinite mass and infinite energy) and infinitely small size, and it can do nothing to explain where this singularity, this particle of infinite mass and energy and zero size, actually came from. This is a powerful point in support of the existence of some higher power which actually brought this singularity into existence.
     The second reason is the whole field of quantum mechanics. Most people who feel that science disproves religion seem to have a deterministic worldview; this means that they believe that, if we know the position and velocity of every particle in the universe and the forces at work, we can determine what the future of the universe and everything in it will be. This was considered true for a long long time, until the advent of quantum mechanics with the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in 1927, at which point it was determined that it is an inherent quality of particles that certain pairs of physical properties can only be known with a certain extent of precision, such as position and momentum. Since then, despite Einstein's famous quote, "God does not play dice with the universe," it has been experimentally proven time and again that on a quantum level (meaning on the level of magnitude of very small particles like electrons) there are no deterministic answers, only probabilities. There's a pretty good chance that that electron will be somewhere in that electron shell of that atom, but there's also a higher-than-is-negligible chance that that electron is much farther out, or much closer in, or not in existence for a few seconds, or in two places at the same time for a few seconds. (Unless you've heard this before, I'm sure this is blowing your mind and you don't believe me at face value, but I encourage you to do some individual research on the subject and prove me right. Google is a valuable resource.)
     There's also a very very very minuscule, infinitely small chance that someone will completely stop existing all at once, if every particle in their body decides to stop existing at the same time. The reason I bring this up is that, if the universe is not deterministic and the particles that everything is made up of are controlled by probabilities, then it is very possible that a higher power would be able to use these properties to influence our daily lives. For example, neurons and synapses and the signals sent along them are very small and very delicate things; very small changes could conceivably show relatively large effects in the behavior of a person. Coupled with what is known in popular science as The Butterfly Effect, which states that small changes in initial conditions of a system can result in large changes in later stages of the same system, it is conceivable that a higher power could effect very large effects in the universe, seemingly without breaking the known laws of physics. This is what I choose to believe people mean when they say things like, "God works in mysterious ways."
     Beyond that, there's always the idea that science is continually changing. What we believe today could be proved wrong tomorrow. For some perspective, it wasn't until 1905 that Einstein solved countless paradoxes and problems in physics by challenging the notion of absolute time, and 230 years passed from Newton's proposition of the Law of Universal Gravitation to Einstein's proposition of gravity as a curvature of spacetime. More than anything else, this essay is a plea that you should listen to someone of any faith or lack thereof before dismissing their point of view.

For anyone interested in bite-sized tidbits of physics, visit Minute Physics's YouTube page, and be blown away.
Even Einstein, who revolutionized the world of Physics at least three times over, was wrong about quantum mechanics.

- Adarsh Nednur

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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Year's News

Due to all our authors being amazing, multi-talented individuals who have important things to do like schoolwork, QBA will no longer hold even loosely to a Wednesday and Sunday publishing schedule. Essays will be published whenever the authors dern well choose to publish them and no sooner.

We all hope everyone is enjoying the holiday and new year!