Author Archives: Peter Kazmaier
2021 Canadian Federal Election-Part 1: What Issues Would I Like to Query Politicians on in this Federal Election?
A friend of mine, whose opinion I value very much, encouraged me to engage more strongly as a voter in the run-up to the federal election to be held on September 20th. His advice, derived by a consideration of Matthew, chapter 14, convicted me that I should do more than vote, send money to those I deem most worthy, and read-up on the positions of the various political participants. Accordingly, I am breaking a long-standing personal rule to never talk about politics on my personal blog.
Let me begin by saying on July 22nd (I know the exact date since I keep a journal), at supper I pulled out a question out of a box called Table Topics. The question that came up asked: “Which three political issues are most important to you?“
My wife Kathy and I each formulated our own lists and, when combined, came up with four points:
- Preserving our basic freedoms
- Keeping the government from interfering in our lives
- Preserving the history and accomplishments of Canada in particular, and western civilization in general
- Maintaining Canadian energy independence and, particularly, preserving the strength and viability of the Canadian oil and gas sector
Going forward I plan to examine the party platforms and available candidate information on these topics. Here are some links:
- CPC Platform Link: https://cpcassets.conservative.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/25132033/5ea53c19b2e3597.pdf
- Liberal Link: https://liberal.ca/our-plan/
- NDP Link: https://xfer.ndp.ca/2021/Commitments/Ready%20for%20Better%20-%20NDP%202021%20commitments.pdf?_gl=1*1wzq11m*_ga*NDcyMjA0MDE3LjE2Mjk5MTkyMTA.*_ga_97QLYMLC56*MTYyOTkxOTIxMC4xLjEuMTYyOTkxOTIxNy4w
- PPC Link: https://www.peoplespartyofcanada.ca/platform
One of my Facebook friends commented on this simple, apparently long-circulating, arithmetic problem and so it prompted many other of my Facebook acquaintances to also weigh in. The statistics of this FB post, as a whole, captured my attention. With 516K votes (“likes” I suppose) and 5.5M comments that is almost too impressive.
I don’t think the interest in this question would have been so high if everyone had arrived at the same answer. Since some did not, from the few answers I’ve seen, it seems many were prompted not only to correct the errors, but to also provide detailed explanations on the order of precedence rules in arithmetic.
Now, I’m naturally skeptical and suspicious (not always a good trait) and so I could not help suspecting that some of the wrong answers presented with conviction were nothing more than “click bait” and perhaps led to the phenomenal response to this simple post.
As a tutor in chemistry and physics this discussion provoked some interesting thoughts …
- In any math problem that involves a mathematical expression, the expression is a language that connects the person who set up and solved a math problem and someone else who uses the solution to find the correct answer to a similar problem. The conventions around the rules of precedence, that is to say: “multiplication and division must be done before addition and subtraction” are established so that the users of the equation understand how they are to perform the various operations correctly to get the right answer. If they are not followed, then using hyperbole, bridges will fall down, planes won’t leave the runway, and patients will received incorrect dosages. The rules involve shorthand (default rules that everyone is supposed to know) that make the expression as compact as possible.
- since multiplication is done first, as most respondents noted, the expression simplifies to:
- 50+50+0+2+2=? and so the answer is 104
- If the person who set up the expression wanted a different outcome, then brackets would be used to change the order of operations … (50+50-25)x0+2+2=? … this answer would be 4
- The conventions communicate from the person who set up the equation to the user. Like all conventions of this sort, they are only effective if we all agree to the same ones.
- The second interesting point has to do with calculators. Depending on the calculator, a person who has not bothered to learn the order of precedence conventions can easily get the wrong answer. Using a calculator is no guarantee of accuracy.
- For an older, simpler calculator that forces you to enter a number and an operation and another number to complete the operation, going from left to right will give the incorrect answer. By beginning at the left the user imposes an incorrect order of operation on the whole equation. You will in effect solve … (50+50-25)x0+2+2=?
- A more sophisticated calculator that lets you enter the whole expression will follow the rules of precedence
Bottom line: having a calculator does not necessarily keep you from making mistakes if you don’t learn the rules.
Emma, by Jane Austen, is a delightful story with vivid characters, challenging interpersonal relationships, but overall a backdrop that encourages doing one’s duty, being principled, caring for others, and ultimately doing what is right.
In this reading of the story, I was struck by a new word that I learned:
Valetudinarian: A person of poor health or unduly anxious about health.Oxford Reference English Dictionary
After introducing the term, Austen illustrates it accurately in the character of Mr. Woodhouse, Emma’s father.
Before I describe him for those who have not read Emma recently, I think it’s important to distinguish Valetudinarian from Hypochondriac. A hypochondriac imagines he has a serious disease. I suppose when those fears are disproven, fear of another raging, illness emerges.
A valetudinarian, such as Mr. Woodhouse, does not necessarily believe he is ill at the moment, but rather evaluates every activity, every relationship, and every interaction from the perspective of the health implications. So, for example, when others are enjoying a hearty meal, Mr. Woodhouse insists on a thin gruel. When guests are coming over, he insists Emma make sure they are not ill. Children are seen as carriers of disease and travelling is to be avoided if there is any chance of cold, rain, or snow.
Austen does not overtly criticize Mr. Woodhouse, but simply shows how his valetudinarianism constrains his own life and the lives of those around him. Still he is much loved, and understood. Emma cheerfully looks after him. Even Knightley acknowledges this duty as an important obligation.
When I look at my own life in 2020 and 2021, the tendency toward valetudinarianism is very strong. I seem to have been conditioned to see every relationship, every activity, every human interaction from the perspective of health. Like Mr. Woodhouse, this long term focus, this application of a health filter to every aspect of my life is not beneficial and constrains me much as it did Woodhouse. Indeed, it naturally engenders a constant feeling of vague fear.
So what’s the answer?
While I was reading Emma, I was also reading George MacDonald’s The Seaboard Parish. MacDonald, like Austen, lived in an era when medicine could do very little to improve health. The recipe seemed mostly to rest and wait to see if the patient is able to recover. MacDonald’s personal experience with illness and death, should have made him a prime candidate for valetudinarianism, but he was not like that at all, even though he suffered many sorrows from disease.
Sickness, particularly Tuberculosis, was no stranger to the MacDonalds. George would christen it as being “the family attendant” in later years. It took the lives of four of his children and some of his grandchildren as well.http://georgemacdonald.info/children.html
MacDonald lived the idea that God is supremely good and we can trust the future to him, including whatever confronts in the way of illness or death. Our job is to do our duty in the present and leave our future (over which we really have no control) in the hands of the Almighty.
In The Seaboard Parish, there is a massive storm which casts a great ship on the rocks just off the coast of Walton’s parish. At great peril, some sailors and passengers are rescued but many were not. A battered sailor with a broken leg believes he is dying (he was not) and asks Vicar Walton what he should do. Here is what what MacDonald said through the character of Walton:
Trust in Christ and do not be afraid.George MacDonald, The Seaboard Parish, Kindle Edition (Unabridged).
He did not lie to the man as perhaps some would today, to make him hopeful of recovery and easier. He gave the unvarnished truth and I believe it was the best thing to say, since MacDonald had a hope that transcended even the prospect of imminent death. So, as I continue to hear the never-ending news reports on Covid strains as they move through the Greek alphabet, like hurricanes moving through alphabetical names in September, I’ll remember George MacDonald’s admonition and try to live a life of faith, unintimidated by the government, the health agencies, and the news media.
I’ve reached a milestone with the publication of my fifth book, Coventry 2091. It’s time for me to revise my author’s bio. Here is a preview of the changes.
Long before I became a fiction author, I was an avid reader. Books in general and novels in particular influenced me greatly. J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings , C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of the Narnia , and Stephen R. Lawhead’s trilogy, Song of Albion are among my favorite and best-loved novels.
I also very much enjoy classic science fiction classics such as Robert Heinlein’s Tunnel in the Sky.
The stories I most enjoyed were not only entertaining, but they taught me something about all that is good and excellent in ourselves and the world around us. They inspired hope without glossing over the fact of evil
I began writing The Halcyon Dislocation in response to a challenge of sorts. I was meeting with friends in our small book club when I began musing about how much I would like to write a novel. One of my friends, an accomplished author in her own right, looked me in the eye and said, “Why don’t you do it then?” After many conferences and contacts with other authors, my first book was published.
I am now the author of five books. As a futuristic novelist, I started my writing journey by creating a complex, parallel world in The Halcyon Dislocation. And so I began my speculative fiction series, The Halcyon Cycle. My second novel, The Battle for Halcyon, describes the fate of the displaced University of Halcyon as it seeks to return to its own space-time. The third in this series, The Dragons of Sheol, published in 2019, takes the reader to Abaddon, a continent ringed by mountains with the main land mass six kilometres below sea level.
In 2021 I have published the first book in a new series, The Coventry Chronicles, called Coventry 2091. These stories, naturally enough, make some assumptions about what life will be like seventy years from now. Although, I foresee some troubling and deeply unsettling changes ahead, I am at heart an optimist and believe that whatever evil we may face, it cannot forever triumph over good. As a reader you might be surprised at how that manifests itself in the story.
In writing these stories I have been able to pursue a life-long dream of writing fast-paced novels that explore the intersection between adventure, science, faith and philosophy.
My book, The Battle for Halcyon, won a 2016 Word Award in the Speculative Fiction category. Previously The Halcyon Dislocation was short-listed as a finalist in The Canadian Christian Writing Awards – Futuristic Fiction Category. I am grateful for the recognition I received as relatively new and unknown author.
I am currently working on the first draft of Coventry Peril. This story follows the travails of the Coventry Penal Colony and their hope for freedom and a place of safety.
In these days when, by government edict here in Canada, churches are deemed “non-essential services,” I find myself searching the internet for inspiring and thought-provoking messages. A few weeks ago, I listened to a 2004 message by Timothy Keller on guidance. See the link below:
For a transcription of the talk, check out the link below:
Keller talks about three forms of guidance:
“We’ll find out by answering, by looking at these proverbs and understanding first of the guidance God does, secondly the guidance God gives and thirdly the guidance God purchases for us.”
- Guidance God does
- Guidance God gives
- Guidance God purchases for us
He further subdivides “Guidance God does” into:
- Paradoxical guidance God does
- Non-obvious guidance God does
There is so much in this message that I can only talk today about what spoke to me about “Paradoxical guidance God does.” When I think of guidance I think of help in decision making. Keller points out there are two contradictory views about decisions. One view is a deterministic view that decision making is really an illusion. Our brain chemistry, our hormones, are appetites so completely determine our decisions (if you’re a Materialist) that our decisions don’t matter. There is also a theological version of this: God makes our decisions for us, so again they don’t matter.
The second, free-will view, is that our decisions completely determine everything. Keller astutely points out that both points of view, if thought through to their logical implications, can’t help but lead to despair. Absolute determinism logically leads to complete passivity. My decisions don’t matter, ever. But free will leads to paralysis since I know so many of my decisions will not only be wrong, but devastatingly wrong that second guessing and doubt will paralyze me.
Keller correctly points out that, not only Proverbs, but he New Testament itself asserts both individual Free Will and God’s Sovereignty (Determinism) simultaneously and the two together are essential for hope and confidence in the future.
Since Free Will exists and is operative, my decisions matter a lot, so I cannot be passive. Yet since the God who loves me still is sovereign, he can smooth over my many poor choices, so in the end I will be okay. Keller uses the Genesis historical account of Joseph where many people made terrible decisions with some good ones thrown in, but God, made everything work together to good purpose and save Jacob and his family from a killer famine.
How to Come to Terms with this Paradox
As a scientist, I am no stranger to paradoxes. The one that springs immediately to mind is the wave-particle duality that is particularly pronounced in small particles. One knows this paradox is intrinsic to particles. One also understands the quantum nature of very small particles is so different from what I encounter in the macroscopic world, that I should not be surprised the properties characteristic of the quantum realm appear as paradoxes to me.
The way a physicist handles these paradoxes is instructive. One knows when to treat an electron as a particle and when to treat it as a wave to solve a particular problem. For diffraction one treats an electron as a wave; for collisions as a particle.
Some years ago I read Roger Penrose’s book The Road to Reality. Much I did not understand but his explanation of the arrow of time always stayed with me. Of the four dimensions (x, y, z, t) only time is unidirectional, that is to say time always moves from the present to the future. Indeed, our world is what it is, because of time. The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that for any process, the entropy of the universe must increase. To go back in time is to return to a lower entropic state of the universe and so contradicts this law. As a human being, I am remorselessly and relentlessly bound in time. At one point in time I am deciding cereal or eggs for breakfast. Twenty minutes later that decision is irrevocably set in the past. Within time I made a decision.
Yet if I believe that God created everything including time, then I have to believe he exists outside of time as well as within it. This to me is the whole explanation why Free Will and Determinism can co-exist. Within time (the only realm I comprehend), real decisions are being made and have consequences. Outside of time, in some way there is some multidimensional present where all of infinity is seen (I want tot say simultaneously, but that would be a symptom of my incurable compulsion to always drag time back into God’s timeless realm).
This brings me to my final point. I can’t understand God’s Sovereignty without dragging time into his timeless realm and so making him responsible for all actions and destroying Free Will. I can’t understand his sovereignty, but at least I know why I can’t understand it.
As Keller points out, having free, meaningful choices and a sovereign God superintending all is the only way of avoiding paralysis on the one hand and passivity on the other. Like the scientist, I apply my imperfect models to the problem at hand. When I am making a decision, I decide knowing that this is my responsibility. When I have second thoughts and wonder if I my decision has been a huge mistake, I am confident that God in his sovereignty will make it work out, despite my flawed choices.