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Contemporary Tribes

May 6th, 2008 · Posted by Hugo · 10 Comments

This is a continuation on yesterday’s post, What is God?: The Tribal God. Please read that first. This part is separate, in order to keep that one shorter, and to not ruin it with the silliness below. (I don’t like this post very much, it seems rather frivolous, does it not?)

Your Tribes?

So what tribes do you belong to? In our culture, we no longer live in tribes in the traditional sense. Our tribal instincts can be expressed in other ways, or other communities can serve as (imperfect) replacements for our tribal needs. Often tribes are not that long lived, or your membership or participation in a tribe is relatively short.

In my case, I was a member of the “Wilgenhof tribe” (or still am), a men’s residence in Stellenbosch. With 200 inhabitants, it was a little too big for perfect tribe size, but one has to compromise. Furthermore, every year, some leave and others join, so in all, the tribe has a core group of “current members”, but extends onwards to a couple of thousand currently alive. (There was a gathering of the clan recently, which I could not attend due to being out of the country, but in 2003 we had a 100 year reunion with nearly two thousand participants. Memory of a precise number is rather vague.)

Then there’s sport clubs. Consider the paddling/canoe club. A wonderful tribe that. The shared narrative of this tribe is that of mutual competition against one another, but also of support of one another, cooperation while braving the cold and wet, the rapids and tree blocks, in the journey down the river of life, balancing on a narrow and unstable boat. It is a narrative of long-distance endurance and camaraderie. (Sprinters and other short-distance paddlers are a sect that have been mislead, their existence is but “tolerated” by the true-paddler, the river-paddling endurance athlete ;) ).

We’re also trying to establish a trail running tribe: Stellenbosch Trail Runners.

Religious tribes? Small churches can be a strong tribe, with everyone knowing everyone else.

Beyond the religious tribes, what are our strongest tribes these days? A small company or corporation? Or a division of a large corporation? A company of people working together towards a common goal (success of the company, in the grand scheme of things, even if individuals have more selfish motivations).

The Narratives of the Science Tribe

Now, let’s talk about the tribal narratives of science

When different tribes come together, they discover they have differing stories. No surprise, after all, as each tribe’s stories is dependent on the tribe’s culture, not something that is universally shared between all people. (In Meh/Lah terminology, These stories define the tribe’s “Meh”. And this Meh isn’t shared.)

But there is another story, the story of empirical reality, the story of our universe. This story is the same for all of us, irrespective of our culture. This is because it is a story that is not written by human hands. This story isn’t even written in the “language of men”. (This is the story of our Lah, something that is not subjective to our experiences.) Naturally, this makes the story rather hard to read. The story is recorded by a trail of evidence, and some of the elements of the story can be discovered through mind-boggling experiments. The people reading this story are scientists, that employ a process known as the scientific method. By this process, they reconstruct the story of the past, the present, and the future of this cosmic drama.

The process needs to take human subjectivity out of the picture, through a painstaking process of challenging every theory and testing it empirically. This does mean that this story does not talk about the subjective human experience, and is thus arguably incomplete. Like any and every story. Stories are written from a particular perspective, framed between a designated beginning and end. Only within the context of this defined incompleteness, this framing, can a story ever be considered complete. ;)

Because aiming for empirical “correctness” is such a difficult endeavour, it takes time and effort. Our understanding of the story improves over time, becoming less and less “incorrect” or more and more “complete”. What measure of “completion” we can reach in this process of discovery (within the confines of its frame), remains to be seen.

From this bigger scientific story emerges a new creation story. The remarkable thing about this creation story relative to others, is that it brings with it the “empirical correctness” of science. Brian Cox (physicist) talks about particle physics in his talk What really goes on at the Large Hadron Collider, with the following words towards the end, slightly adjusting his spoken words for the written medium (this is about 11 minutes in):

In the last few minutes, I just wanna give you a different perspective of what particle physics and cosmology means to me. It has given us a wonderful narrative, almost a creation story, if you like, about the universe, from modern science over the last few decades. I’d say it deserves, [...what's this clause?...], to at least be put up there with the wonderful creation stories of the people of the high Andes and the frozen north. This is a creation story, I think, equally as wonderful.

He then briefly describes this story from a cosmological perspective. (I.e. he doesn’t go into biology.) Go listen to the talk if you haven’t done so already (and tell me what the missing clause is ;) ). That’s mainstream physics. Another beautiful story, another reason to marvel at the wonders of this universe, or expressed in monotheistic language, the “marvels of God”. I must say, from that one video clip, I’ve decided I quite like the “rock star physicist” Brian Cox. May he play an integral role in the further popularisation of science.

While I’m Rambling

The Freethinking Maties tribe is having a gathering tomorrow. Here’s the announcement they sent out:

Greetings Freethinkers!

Some info on our next event:

Date: Wednesday, 7 May
Time: 19.00
Place: Staff Room, Konservatorium (Music Department). Use Neethling Street entrance, and the rest of the way will be signposted.

We will be screening a NOVA documentary entitled Judgement Day: Intelligent Design on Trial. It is about a court case in Dover concerning the teaching of intelligent design in public school science classrooms as a valid alternative for evolution. The documentary is a must see, containing compelling scientific arguments used to refute intelligent design as used in a court of law. With all the recent hype about intelligent design on campus, this should prove a relevant topic. Entry is free for all members, and wine will be served.

Also remember our event on 14 May, to be held in the same venue. It concerns the myths surrounding public understanding of nuclear energy. Our guest speaker will be Dr. Richard Newman of iThemba LABS Nuclear Research Division, and we will be having wine and snacks afterwards. Entrance is free for all members. More information on the way!

The documentary about the Dover trial is a must-see for people interested in the so-called “evolution debate”. Unfortunately I’m still not back in the country, so I’ll miss it. I might be able to attend the nuclear energy gathering though.

“Free for all members”? I don’t know what the arrangement is for non-members. I’ll drop a comment below if I find out. If some theists do attend, please bear in mind you’re guests of a “foreign tribe” with a different culture. Exercising colonialism would be disrespectful. ;)

Categories: Religion and Science · Worldviews
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10 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Kenneth Oberlander // May 6, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    Pity you can’t make the meeting tomorrow. The NOVA documentary is supposedly excellent.

    So you were in Wilgenhof, were you…I was in a somewhat better residence a block or two up Victoria street…with a red post box on the corner…;-)

    *battle lines are drawn*…

  • 2 Hugo // May 6, 2008 at 5:42 pm

    I wouldn’t know about resses with red post boxes and the like. After all, nothing else on campus really matters, does it? There is only One True Tribe (to rule them all and in the darkness bind them).

  • 3 Marthelize // May 6, 2008 at 5:48 pm

    Oh dear….

    Seems that boys never grow out of varsity.

    Julle weet mos…

    Now I’m curious…If I say I was in the best ladies res on campus…which tribe do you think I belong to? ;)

  • 4 Kenneth Oberlander // May 6, 2008 at 5:48 pm

    Hmmm…an analogy!

    At the risk of derailing another thread, I think you will appreciate this then:

    Lord of the Rings: an allegory of the PhD?
    The story starts with Frodo: a young hobbit, quite bright, a bit dissatisfied with what he’s learnt so far and with his mates back home who just seem to want to get jobs and settle down and drink beer. He’s also very much in awe of his tutor and mentor, the very senior professor Gandalf, so when Gandalf suggests he take on a short project for him (carrying the Ring to Rivendell), he agrees.
    Frodo very quickly encounters the shadowy forces of fear and despair which will haunt the rest of his journey and leave permanent scars on his psyche, but he also makes some useful friends. In particular, he spends an evening down the pub with Aragorn, who has been wandering the world for many years as Gandalf’s postdoc and becomes his adviser when Gandalf isn’t around.
    After Frodo has completed his first project, Gandalf (along with head of department Elrond) proposes that the work should be extended. He assembles a large research group, including visiting students Gimli and Legolas, the foreign postdoc Boromir, and several of Frodo’s own friends from his undergraduate days. Frodo agrees to tackle this larger project, though he has mixed feelings about it. (“‘I will take the Ring’, he said, ‘although I do not know the way.'”)
    Very rapidly, things go wrong. First, Gandalf disappears and has no more interaction with Frodo until everything is over. (Frodo assumes his supervisor is dead: in fact, he’s simply found a more interesting topic and is working on that instead.) At his first international conference in Lorien, Frodo is cross-questioned terrifyingly by Galadriel, and betrayed by Boromir, who is anxious to get the credit for the work himself. Frodo cuts himself off from the rest of his team: from now on, he will only discuss his work with Sam, an old friend who doesn’t really understand what it’s all about, but in any case is prepared to give Frodo credit for being rather cleverer than he is. Then he sets out towards Mordor.
    The last and darkest period of Frodo’s journey clearly represents the writing-up stage, as he struggles towards Mount Doom (submission), finding his burden growing heavier and heavier yet more and more a part of himself; more and more terrified of failure; plagued by the figure of Gollum, the student who carried the Ring before him but never wrote up and still hangs around as a burnt-out, jealous shadow; talking less and less even to Sam. When he submits the Ring to the fire, it is in desperate confusion rather than with confidence, and for a while the world seems empty.
    Eventually it is over: the Ring is gone, everyone congratulates him, and for a few days he can convince himself that his troubles are over. But there is one more obstacle to overcome: months later, back in the Shire, he must confront the external examiner Saruman, an old enemy of Gandalf, who seeks to humiliate and destroy his rival’s protege. With the help of his friends and colleagues, Frodo passes through this ordeal, but discovers at the end that victory has no value left for him. While his friends return to settling down and finding jobs and starting families, Frodo remains in limbo; finally, along with Gandalf, Elrond and many others, he joins the brain drain across the Western ocean to the new land beyond.

  • 5 Marthelize // May 6, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    I’m not sure if I am now inspired or terrified to pursue my PhD…

  • 6 Hugo // May 6, 2008 at 7:00 pm

    A must-read for any aspiring PhD: http://www.phdcomics.com/

    My M was enough of a nightmare that I don’t have any desire for tackling a PhD. Maybe it’s a pity, but such is life.

  • 7 Hugo // May 9, 2008 at 4:41 pm

    Anyone here going to attend the nuclear energy talk?

  • 8 Marthelize // May 9, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    I think I might go have a listen, barring any other important engagements I might be forgetting….

    Do you want me to take notes? :)

  • 9 Hugo // May 9, 2008 at 5:04 pm

    No, I’ll be there. Just checking whether I’ll get to meet any more of the crowd that frequent this here blog. ;)

  • 10 Marthelize // May 9, 2008 at 5:24 pm

    Ah! An actual meeting of the blogging minds. Fascinating! well then I suppose I’ll just have to attend ;)

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