Here in the States, Thanksgiving time is upon us. The implications for this blog is that I’ll be gone from tomorrow until Monday, as I’ll be spending Thanksgiving in various planes for family business. So, after today, no new posts until Monday.
Traditionally, of course, Thanksgiving is that day when we Americans are supposed to honor that old tradition celebrated first by the Puritan settlers of feasting and giving thanks to a god for all of our blessings. So, aside from turkey, football, and 2 days off, what does this mean to those of us who are godless? Whatever you want, of course. Celebrate it whatever way you want or not. But I actually do think that, in case we’ve forgotten, it can be beneficial to step back, appreciate what we have and be thankful.
So, thankful for what and to whom? Humanity has come a long way. Only relatively recently have women achieved the social equality with men that should have been theirs all along (still work to be done, of course). In spite of the expressions of racism displayed by a few in the last election, significant progress has been made here as well. Scientific and technological advances have increased our average lifespans, allowed us to live lives in greater comfort than our ancestors had known, and revealed to us wonders of the cosmos that our stone age ancestors could not even have dreamed of. In fact, one of the benefits of the age in which we live is that we can dream larger than ever before. One of the benefits of modern science to the modern mindset is to be comfortable with uncertainty. We know there are things we do not know and that’s fine. We know we have the tools to progress.
To whom would I say I am grateful for this progress that has allowed me to live in some measure of relative comfort and to have opportunities to seek out intellectual stimulation? I guess I could be thankful to the universe for existing in such a way that it can, in some sense, be comprehended. Of course, the universe is indifferent, not caring whether or not I appreciate its grandeur. I am certainly thankful for those who came before, who, whatever their motivations, worked to advance medicine, improve our understanding of nature, improve the social fabric of humanity, to, in general, advance the Enlightenment. Most of the people who have been involved in that process are no longer with us, Isaac Newton, Max Planck, Louis Pasteur, Thomas Jefferson, Susan B. Anthony, and so many more. As they are gone, they also can not care about any appreciation I have. It may seem kind of pointless to be thankful, unless one examines the operational properties of thankfulness. In physics, one of the foundational questions is how things such as length or time are defined (This has important implications for the special theory of relativity..perhaps for future posts…). One school of thought hold that they are defined by how they are measured.
So, how is thankfulness measured, or shown? Perhaps one way is to continue the work.
Oh yes..for Dr. Who fans out there, I guess the title of this post implies I am thanking the Doctor.