Tuesday, May 31, 2011

We Had Been Told This Mighty Ocean-Liner Even God Himself Could Not Sink

According to The Christian Science Monitor, Titanic was launched 100 years ago today. It was built in and launched from a shipyard in Belfast, Ireland, at the time the largest in the world. In the photo above, the first in the linked gallery, Titanic sails out of Southampton, England, on her first and last voyage.

The word "hubris" is of Greek origin, and the concept (though I suspect it long predates that culture) plays a major role in much of Greek and Roman mythology. In that tradition hubris refers to overweening pride to the extent a character's self-satisfaction and confidence offends one or more Gods, who then decide to punish the mortal who thinks so highly of him/her self. Clearly, the concept exists in Christian mythology as well, though as far as I know, it's merely referred to as "pride," and not as hubris, at least in the King James version of the Bible.

The tale of Titanic, in all its versions, is perhaps the best-known parable of hubris in modern times. I have mentioned the line I chose as the title of this post in discussions I've had with students on the nature of science quite a few times. I've been under the impression it was excerpted from a contemporary editorial, but I don't know that for sure. (Followup: a little poking around, and I found this Snopes post; the quote is probably apocryphal.) You couldn't beg more effectively for a god's wrath and punishment than to challenge said god with "even YOU couldn't sink this ship."

If you're not a believer, though, as I am not, how do you explain this "punishment?" First, you have to give up the idea of "punishment" and "reward." The universe is not conscious, does not have purpose, does not care what you do or don't do, does not care whether you live or die. There are consequences of actions, but these are not "intentional." If you throw a ball into the air, it will fall to the ground. That is a natural consequence of gravity, not a sign that god or the universe finds airborne balls anathema. In philosophical terms, I do not consider the universe to be a teleological construct.

So why do human displays of hubris so often result in catastrophe? Because we are so damned good at constructing our own perceptions, which we then project upon reality. If you are in charge of the largest ship in history, why should you worry about a few piddling little icebergs? If we speed up, we may be able to break the mail record. If you're drilling in thousands of feet of water with the best new technology, why should you be concerned with a potential blowout? Why should you even think about what options you might bring to bear in that event? It can't, and therefore won't, happen. Perhaps you're in charge of managing the most complex machine ever built... why should a frosty night be of concern? A wondrous spaceship like the shuttle is certainly immune to a mere chill, whatever those dweeb engineers might say. If you're convinced that the US is the greatest nation ever, and undefeatable in any way, you might be inclined to ignore warnings of a known terrorist trying to find a way past our security, and declare an unjustifiable war on an uninvolved country when he does. Or, you might put a bureaucrat-lawyer, whose expertise is horse racing, in charge of the nation's emergency response agency, and declare he's doing a "heckuva job" as thousands perish after a major city is inundated. And the list goes on and on, and on. You may allow urbanization and development on coastal plains far outboard of obelisks from centuries ago which warn of tsunami dangers. You may develop residential neighborhoods on the slopes of historically active volcanoes, or in the path of enormous mapped debris flows or lahars. You may build great metropolises in the middle of arid lands prone to decades-long droughts. You may look at housing as a bubble that can't pop, and encourage banks, recently freed to do so, to invest in your bundled loan packages.

And on, and on. And on.

My point is, one needn't fear God or Gods to recognize and fear hubris. As far as I'm concerned, it's one of the most important and most ignored concepts controlling humanity's future that I can think of.

I wish I could find a clip of this song to embed; it's hauntingly beautiful and sad. But a YouTube and Google search return mostly, in yet another case of hubris, hundreds of clips of Celine Dion's banshee howling.

Hans Theessink: Titanic (lyrics from here)
That night it all started when the ship began to shake
We were filled with amazement a little shocked but not afraid
We didn't really understand what caused the water to come in
We had been told this mighty ocean-liner "even god himself couldn't sink"
You took a picture of our child your hat and your jewelry
And we put on some warm clothes because we thought it might be cold at sea
When we left our cabin we noticed how the water started pouring in
Was it a tear or maybe just a drop of water on your chin

Titanic Titanic so proud and so free
Will your grandeur protect us from the cold icy sea

We followed some white arrows with a lifeboat-sign
We had to go onto the first-class deck but no one seemed to mind
Despite the strange situation we all took it quite with ease
Only one of the third-class passengers was behaving foolishly
We talked to a gentleman that we'd met earlier on
He introduced us to his wife he introduced us to his son
Then the captain said that the lifeboats could not be lowered down
I believe it was because some chains of the hoist could not be found

Titanic Titanic so proud and so free
Will your grandeur protect us from the cold icy sea

We were all invited for a free drink at the bar
We drank to the empire and to good health for us all
The ship was leaning to one side we felt it sinking quietly
We decided to stay together on board though many people jumped into the sea
Then the rats left the ship to try and find dry land
But we stayed close together and held each others hand
It was midnight on the water we could hear the ocean roar
In the lifeboats that were lowered down there was no room for us anymore
Not a helping hand around in this cold cold night
An iceberg disappearing into the distant morning light
We're watching the last lifeboat as it slowly lowers down
There's many men women and children left behind not a helping hand around
Not a helping hand around not a helping hand around
There's many men women and children left behind not a helping hand around
Now the members of the band struck up with "nearer my god to thee"
Somehow banal but in the vain of our time and century
By now we have lost our last tiny bit of hope
We're all going down while the flag is going up

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sunday Funnies: Breaking News Edition

demotivational posters - BREAKING NEWS
see more Very Demotivational
What Would Jack Do?
The High Definite
Duck This Gif - Duck This
see more Gifs
funny pictures history - PRAISE THE LORD  FINALS ARE OVER
see more Historic LOL
Playing with an Otter Gif - Playing with an Otter
see more Gifs
Lady and the Tramp: Jurassic Edition Gif - Lady and the Tramp: Jurassic Edition
see more Gifs
funny graphs - Well That Changes Things
see more Funny Graphs
The lack of rapture may very well be the reason for our endless winter here in western Oregon. Bits and Pieces
demotivational posters - CHRISTIANITY
see more Very Demotivational
"A Mormon Science Fair," from LOLreligion. "I reeeeally wonder what that data says..."
Sober in a Nightclub
Seriously, I wonder if a tongue-in-cheek campaign like this might have a positive effect in a campus environment like, say, OSU... Sober in a Nightclub.
Comic JK
funny pictures - Quelle surprise.
see more Lolcats and funny pictures, and check out our Socially Awkward Penguin lolz!
funny celebrity pictures - What Is Best In Life? DANCING!
see more Lol Celebs... Ah, ah, ah, ah, stayin' alive, stayin' alive...
Balloon Juice
Cheeseburgers in the Sky
TLL of the Day
see more The Daily What: “Barack Obama’s signature is totally a cartoon baby Tyrannosaurus playing with a ball of yarn.”
funny car photos - You Don't Want To Know How Many People Followed Him
see more That Will Buff Out... The George W. Bush Memorial Pilot Car.
funny puns - Every girl's crazy 'bout a carp dressed man.
see more So Much Pun
funny pictures history - ANT FARMS
see more Historic LOL
Sober in a Nightclub
Savage Chickens
Sober in a Nightclub
4koma comic strip - BURN
see more Comixed
funny puns - Stop Sine
see more So Much Pun (Stop Sine)
job fails - punny
see more Monday Through Friday
Clay Bennett
Darius Whiteplume's Tumblr
Funny Pictures - Chernobyl Cat
see more Lolcats and funny pictures
Jesus: now available in vending machines. Bits and Pieces
Stalker Dog!! Gif - Stalker Dog!!
see more Gifs
naughty memes - It Really Works!
see more Memebase After Dark
funny puns - Gandalf the Grader
see more So Much Pun
The Far Left Side
Bug. If it was me, I'd be in exactly one episode for two or three minutes, wearing a red shirt.
Sofa Pizza. No, of course it's not shopped.
Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal
The High Definite
Some of us don't need to go all the way to the moon to have that perspective. TYWKIWDBI
It's Caturday!
see more The Daily What
Cats and iPads Gif - Cats and iPads
see more Gifs
What Would Jack Do?
Skull Swap
Sofa Pizza
Sofa Pizza
Sober in a Nightclub... T. rex: the king of pranksters.