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Things that go bump in the night

I just had my 82nd birthday.  I imagine it is common for people to wonder about what's next when approaching the end of life. Whether you are devout or an atheist the thought of "what if I'm wrong" must visit sometimes.

I thought I'd share some personal perspectives with you.  We can't always focus on pain, pills, and disease. There is a natural tension between science and belief. Science has no place for a soul and religion promises that it exists.  How might this be reconciled?

I challenge you not to run away from this blog.  If you haven't confronted this ultimate question yet, be assured you will.  If you have wondered about it, broadening your perspective can only be a benefit.  This is not a typical blog but I promise, there is treasure down below for inquiring minds.

I spent a 50 year career as an engineer, steeped in science.  I believe in things we can measure. That led me to an interest in the fundamental explanation of all that is.  How does physics explain existence at a fundamental level? It turns out that we don't have an explanation.  We can measure the constants of nature with great accuracy but we haven't had an explanation of why things are what we find.  We measure the mass of the proton or the charge of the electron with great precision but we don't know how to explain why those values are what we measure them to be. Science like religion stands on the fact that there is a reality we can't explain.

A key tenet of science is that it is a search to disprove the latest theory. Whenever we can show that a theory is wrong in some way it leads to a search for the next best theory and our knowledge improves with each step. In simple terms, no matter how good a theory is, it is subject to being disproven.  It takes only one black swan to prove that all swans are not white and that simple concept is fundamental to science.

Science has no place in its systems for faith or any of the things we call paranormal.  We don't find those to be measurable so they likely don't exist from the perspective of science. Even though I'm a science based person, I have known of things which challenge that view.  A few examples to illustrate that point.

Common knowledge in the family is about my grandfather.  One day he and most of the family were in town shopping and one of the boys was working in the field at the farm. Suddenly my grandfather raced out of the store, leaped in the car are and sped to the farm. He found his son dangling perilously on the moving belt of the harvesting machine and in grave danger of being killed. The machine had gotten plugged and instead of stopping the belt to clear it he had tried to kick it loose.  He lost his balance and fell on the belt.  He caught himself on the frame but with his feet on the moving belt he had been unable to climb to safety.  If he lost his grip, death would follow quickly..  He was nearly at the end of his strength when his father arrived and was able to stop the machine in time. In a devout community it was accepted as the will of god and not questioned particularly but how did he know?. A black swan perhaps?

We lived in a small town, 500 people, a remote farming community.  In the winter when storms came in everyone just hunkered down and waited for it to end as all of roads would be closed by the drifting snow.  One day when I was a teen a real gale roared into the area.  High winds and snow, caused nearly a whiteout.  Dad drove a snowplow in the winter but that wouldn't start until the storm passed.  We were eating supper when he suddenly got up and started putting on his bad weather gear.  Mom questioned him and he said that he just knew he had to go get someone and with that he was gone.

There were no medical facilities in our town so people went to a larger town some 30 miles away  for medical care.  A young couple had gone there for delivery of their baby and were discharged that day.  Despite knowing of the storm they thought they could make it home.  Bad idea.  They ended up stuck in a snow drift miles from any help.  It was bitterly cold and a dangerous situation.  About an hour later dad arrived with the snow plow and got them out of the drift.  He then plowed the roads all the way to their home delivering the new young family to safety.  How could that have happened one might ask? Science doesn't accept it.  Remember, it only takes one.

My dad was an ordinary hard working man, but he just seemed to know things. One more as icing on this cake.  Some decades later dad was a crew chief at a copper mine processing facility.  One day they were replacing the wear plates inside a large ball mill.  That is a big barrel of a machine that is 20 feet long 8 feet in diameter. It has a load of large iron balls in it and ore from the mine goes in one end and is ground to face powder coming out.  From time to time the liners of the ball mill have to be replaced.  These machines were run in pairs sitting side by side and both were down for maintenance.  Everything was normal and men were inside working to replace liners. 

Suddenly dad started throwing men toward the exit shouting "Get out, Get out". In a few minutes with everyone standing on the catwalk he was being peppered with questions but had no explanation.  He didn't know why and both he and the crew were wondering if he had gone mad. Suddenly the machine started!  Anyone inside would have died instantly, but that was impossible.  The system had a safety interlock and dad had the key in his pocket. It turned out that the night electrical crew had been doing maintenance of the power systems and had somehow swapped the power feeds between the two machines in the pair. When the other crew turned their system on, dad's machine actually started. A bit of information from the near future?  A black swan?  How do we explain this?

I'm somewhat involved with a theoretical physics project with a goal of finding the fundamental mathematical definition of all that is. I believe the work will open a window to explaining how these impossible black swans can be understood.  In the future, besides my discussions of patient health issues, I'll touch on some of this advanced work for anyone who is interested.

The EASL meeting is going on right now and a lot of drug information is being presented.  Lots to think about for the future of patient care coming to you soon.