Friday, June 04, 2010


Spicy Miso Ramen

When spending a day hiking with a statistician, I find it unwise to use the phrase, “But it’s only in the specific that we can know the noumenal.” This I learned yesterday, while hiking with a statistician. I love my brother’s Dartmouth friends, but being consistently around that level of discourse can be exhausting. And make me question my presuppositions.

Spending two days with someone who spends all his time analyzing data made me think a lot about abstract math. Not quite abstract math at all, though, but concrete math, the math that governs every inch of our lives, ever bit of data that we accumulate in a cloud around ourselves as we live. All of those numbers are so specific, but also abstract in a real way. Is the only thinking that matters in life numbers and what we can do with them? Things we can count or measure? Is that all we believe?

A little known fact about me is that I entered college a chemistry major, with leanings towards quantum mechanics. What fascinated me about chemistry was knowing the innermost secrets of the fundamental elements of the universe. I always want to start from the beginning, and it seemed the only way to understand the world from the beginning was to begin at the inside and work my way out. It was only later that I figured out that the best way for me to understand the world was by art rather than by science.

I do believe that art is the only way to understand the unquantifiable things scientists pass over in silence. God, love, truth. Not that data isn’t useful, but one must use the language of the subject, and the only way to talk about the noumenal is to use the language of the noumenal. The language of art. No matter how many numbers we accumulate, I doubt they’ll ever say anything meaningful about faith.

These topics were all discussed on the eleven-mile hike we did to the top of the Wausatch range, one of the sets of mountains encircling the Great Salt Lake. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, and I did get to assuage my desire to fill up my water bottle with snow. Today we drove on, through the barrenness of Nevada, into California. I haven’t been here since I left by train, carrying a bicycle. It’s as crowded as ever, but I still see reasons why people are drawn to it. Reasons like the ramen shop we ate at for dinner.

I also passed by the Pacific Crest Trail today. We drove right by and took pictures. I believe a 300-mile hike in the Sierra would have been possible, but I probably would have had to take a lower-elevation side trail. As it is, I’m being whisked away from California temporarily because of family concerns.

The pilgrimage west is completed, at least temporarily. I didn’t get to dip my toes in the Pacific, but I did get to drive west across the Bay Bridge in dying afternoon light.

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