Thursday, September 06, 2007

I had originally planned to do quite a bit more reading of current evangelical Christian thinking before moving on, but I was so burned by Blue that I've decided to move on, at least for the time being. I have a Brian McLaren and Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell, and I may still read them at some point, but it will be sometime in the future.

So what I've been thinking about recently is- exactly what does it mean to have faith? The analogy I think of most often goes back to a math and chemistry fair that I attended when I was in high school-- so (clears throat: ahem), obviously this was a long time ago. We went off to a huge high school a couple of hours away and attended various classes on interesting things (and I really did think they were interesting, which tells you exactly how much of a nerd I was then)(and still am). The only one I remember was about fractals, imaginary numbers, and chaos theory. I will tell you my memory of it because it's relevant to my point and then tell you what I found out when I went back to fact check this afternoon.

What I remember most is the explanation of imaginary numbers. An imaginary number is a number whose square is a negative number. Got that? Since a negative number times a negative number is a positive number, this shouldn't be possible. For example. The square of 4 is 16, because 4 times 4 is 16. The square of 3 is 9, because 3 times 3 is 9. But what number squared is -9? If you multiply -3 times -3, you still get 9. (hmmm. So is the square root of 9 also -3? but I digress) If you multiply 3 times -3, you get -9 but it's not a square.

BUT. the interesting thing is this: if you allow for the existence of these seemingly impossible imaginary numbers, you can do all kinds of neat things with them in equations that describe phenomena in the real world and help mathematicians and scientists solve real world problems-- I think particularly in electronics and the mechanics of turbulence and fluid dynamics.

And that's how I've come to think of faith. It doesn't have any objective existence in the real world. There is no real, tangible, sensory evidence that you can produce for why you have faith. There is no reason to have faith, it shouldn't exist. But if you accept that faith exists and you work with it, it changes things; it adds dimension and understanding to my life that would otherwise be impossible. If you act as if faith exists, it becomes true, and leads to all kinds of practical, useful corollaries.

Interesting analogy, isn't it? But when I went to wikipedia this afternoon to read read about imaginary numbers to make sure I had the idea right, I found out that the math behind imaginary numbers is more mind-boggling than I knew. It turns out that all numbers are abstractions that are only useful in context. (you can read the wikipedia entry on imaginary numbers for more on this topic. it's really interesting.) So even though imaginary numbers are called "imaginary," they are no less real than what we think of as "real" numbers. So maybe my analogy doesn't hold up too well to close scrutiny, but I'm giving it to you anyway, because I just found that out this afternoon and I haven't had time to think of a new analogy yet.

but you know......... maybe that makes it an even better analogy. I think it needs to be late at night and half-a-bottle-of-wine-gone to follow this train of thought, at least for the non-mathematically inclined, like me.

Sign me boggled.
Aunt BeaN

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