Thursday, February 25, 2010

Newtonian Relationships vs Quantum Ones: isolated and alone or interactive and interdependent?

My ministerial ethics class is shaping up to be a really good one. when i was going into seminary, my pastor said that if i could find anything else that i could do as an occupation, i should do it. being a minister is the hardest job in the world. why? certainly a rocket scientist's job is much harder... or a construction worker... or a dude on the deadliest catch.. what's up with ministry that makes it so hard?

well, you see people at their worst. grieving, dying, and on committees being anxious and completely irrational. granted you see them at their best too, like weddings, baptisms, and such.

i've been studying human emotion for some time now. the most recent two finds is the PBS Series This Emotional Life.  It's a 3 part series, most of which is online, dealing with the science behind emotions. The second source is Peter Steinke's Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times.

I've already experienced Steinke's work in another class and found him fascinating. This book covers Bowen Theory which is an understanding of what happens when people come together and interact, how the mutually influence each other's behaviors, how change in one person affects another, and how they create something larger than themselves. I like this view as it isn't a Newtonian understanding of people and their interactions.

Newton's atoms were like billiard balls, separate, compacted masses always operating to ironclad laws. This was extended into thinking about society, namely that the individuals were the atoms of society; isolated and impenetrable (unknowable). Freud might state "to myself, i am a self. to others, i am an object. to me, others are the objects." 

Quantum changed all that. Quantum states that there is no world of composed, solid, individual parts unaffected by and unrelated to one another. in fact the quantum world goes so far that it boils down particles to subatomic particles that are so small that there are no small particles---only relationships. there can be no subatomic particles without the presence of other particles. such it is with humans. the genius then, as Steinke puts it, is that life is built of small, discrete things that are connected and interactive. everything is connected to everything else. all parts dependent on one another and mutually affect each other.

Humans are responsive, relational creatures. Leaders then are the chief stewards who are willing to be accountable for the welfare of the thing/system/culture/thing-people-create-when-they-get-together/congregation. Leaders set the tone, invite collaboration, make decisions, map direction, establish boundaries, encourage self-expression and reflection, and maintain the integrity of the whole

a tall order.. one i hope to do well and get the message out that we're all in this together. Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Rationalist, Newtonian, Quantumian (?), Pre-, Modern, Post-, Post-Post, Fundamentalist, Agnostic, Atheist, Martian, Pens and Pencils.


Sabio Lantz said...

I guess I like some of the things you say. But I must say, I have a HUGE allergy to "Modern Science Analogies".

Quantum Woo is repulsive.

It is nauseating. In its day X-ray analogies was the rage, then "radiation" or even earlier, "photons". Recent cool analogies include: Epigenetics, Fuzzy Logic, Chaos Theory, Entanglement.

Everybody grabs this stuff like hungry shoppers to make their point deeper.

Lord Buddha, that stuff kills me.

Sorry, I know, the general public loves it and thinks the speaker must be so smart and so on top of deep science and mathematics.

Yuck !

Here is Courtney Love:

"She also said Robert Graves was her favourite author, that she would take Mozart's music to a desert island and that the work of poet Rilke, along with watching quantum physics videos on YouTube, had affected her music."

Sorry for the regurgitation but sometimes, someone just has to say something.


Sabio Lantz said...

Ya know, I thought of another way to explain it less emotionally:

"Try this toothpaste. Obama uses it too !"

It is as if the speaker is trying to sponge credibility off Obama. When people use new fadish science insights they are trying to give credibility to their thoughts with parasitic analogies.

Just this worms little insights -- I love quantum stuff ! :-)

Luke said...


God forbid we use science as a metaphor! we wouldn't want the unwashed masses tampering with our empirical knowledge, getting dirty hand prints on our ivory towers.

last i met with Steinke, we talked about how we both like the magazine Seed. he's got some good points and a good handle on science.. afterall he's a church conflict moderator with a degree or two in psychology.

here's a way to react to this post less emotionally:

i think Steinke is guilty of Quantum Woo because this isn't the history of science at all.


i think Steinke is a genius as he takes the history of one branch of science and shows how it relates to another branch that it really shouldn't have ever related to in the first place.

depending on your view.. and i don't want to read into it.. so take your pick. and remember, no emotion. i don't care how you feel about it, just what you think about it.

Sabio Lantz said...

All I wanted was an apology and a hug.
But no!
You come back with cold-heartless logic.
What are you, a closet atheist?
Smile !

Seriously, though, I wager you agree that:

(1) Analogy is one of the weakest forms of argument.

(2) Analogy, while weak in the logic form is persuasive because most people aren't trained to think too abstractly and analogy gives ways they can handle

(3) But analogy has many pitfalls (as do all argument styles) including

(a) poorly fit analogy

(b) broken down analogy because of over extension

(c) false persuasion due to riding on emotions of that chosen for analogy

So, I imagine you agree with part of my caution alert concerning science analogies though you may not have liked being called into question or even more than that, I doubted your teacher -- Steinke.

But I was not doubting Steinke or you, I was drawing attention to the problem with analogies. Though we all know they have strengths.

So I can't tell you about Steinke, I just read one page on him (here). I am sure he offers amazingly helpful group dynamic advice and insight over his many years.

So, don't be emotionally attached to Steinke, divorce it from the real caution I was throwing out with scattered pieces of self-confessed emotions and tell me your thoughts.

Smile !

Tit for Tat said...

Its interesting, but I always get this sense that Sabio wants to end his thoughts with, "Praise the Lord"


Luke said...

"Analogy is one of the weakest forms of argument."

not at all. sure it has it's holes and it isn't an exact science but it is infinitely helpful to me and to those like myself who aren't as smart as you with abstract theories or numerical data analysis. i mean this in all seriousness, i am not the smartest guy in the room, but i can spin a good yarn and compare unrelated things.

analogies seek to take something unfamiliar and compare it with something familiar to reach understanding. religion does this all the time with the Steinke examples, with Jesus being the vine, true branch, root of Jessi (don't like those, okay, how about) the living water, perfect lamb, bread of life, fisher of men, God's beloved, etc. etc. etc.

Sciencey people seem afraid of using stories to get their point across because it won't be exact. yet this is the very thing that is keeping creationists going! if presented in a story, i'm sure evolution would soon overtake the creationists. it's like Robert Krulwich stated in Radiolab's "Tell Me a Story"

i think you do an excellent job at this on your blog and i wonder why you're resistant to it now. do you not agree with Steinke? if so, why not?

you say you're pointing to the problem with analogies, and i know that... the only time ppl get in trouble is when they take analogies literally. like Jesus being the new Moses... save for the fact that Jesus in Matt was viewed as having a new law on a new mountain that carries on the SPIRIT of the Law of Moses.. a literal view of that has lead to supersessionism and anti-jewish thought in Christianity for too long than i care to think about. or Jesus being of David's line, save that he doesn't have any standing army, and his context is in complete contrast to Davids... although Mary M could equal Bathsheba sans the whole rape scene.

In my view, i feel Steinke is right on the money here with his analogies because we used to think that no person could ever be truly known or divided up, just like Newton thought of the atom. yet this isn't true, we're finding that people can be divided along the lines of their relationships. some of this is Jungian (with preexisting archtypes) while some of it is Conditioning (relationships with existing persons and events). relationships matter, esp. when it comes to people. in fact, i don't think you can describe someone without using a relational term. we are best served if we stop acting like we can't be known and start focusing on our relationships and locating ourselves within our contexts and traditions. you seem to get this with your blogging about past experiences and such... but what do you really think? ;-)

good discussion man, looking forward to your thoughts.

Sabio Lantz said...

Ah, I think there is a very important distinction needed here:

A-p: Analogy used for persuasion
A-a: Analogy used for argumentation/debate

A-p is indeed very powerful, as my note said. And it is very useful as a teaching tool when the object of the lesson is not up for debate. It is, as you and I know, one of the best ways we learn.

A-a has many pitfalls when we are probing truth and trying to wrestle with reality and in that way it is "one of the weakest forms of argument". Though you may still disagree, I thought this distinction would help clear the mud.

I'd have to read Steinke to see if I liked his group dynamic theories. But it is sure that he is talking to believers and thus only doing A-p.

Buddhism was used by many people in the Beat era to support their lifestyle desires , Quantum is used by religions to say, "See, it is really tough, God is in there!" I just get tired of everyone being a parasite on other ideas. There are other stories that could be used by Steinke, lots of good persuasive everyday analogies, but Quantum lends him science credibility, smartness and up-to-datedness with no effort. It is just a cheap move in general. Even if Steinke is a brilliant, helpful saint.

Sabio Lantz said...

I saw this fun little post on Analogy by a Physics teacher (ironically from the same school where I taught and got a masters in Education):

Luke said...


dude. You're killing me with paradox. You don't like feelings yet 'feel' Steinke is a hack. Read the book and give me some data

Sabio Lantz said...

Nowhere did I put down Steinke. In fact I have complimented him to try to safeguard you jumping into defensive mode. But I failed.
And I won't be reading the book -- but I am sure it is excellent.

Luke said...

sorry man, please forgive me.

i guess i'm frustrated and not getting your point at all. i post something that states "hey, don't think of people as isloated individuals, but more a collection of relationships past, present and future if you wanna be a good minister." then you write "analogies are dangerous and ppl use science to lend themselves credibility."

okay... not sure how to take that. either there is something about this particular analogy that you found dangerous to spawn this response or you read Steinke as trying to garner credibility through his irresponsible use of science. so my mind is abuzz with confusion and frustration and i let it get the better of me.

i don't read Steinke in the book as arguing things but rather teaching. saying, hey, remember in biology class where you learned that cells have to have good boundaries... and that if they don't keep good boundaries viruses get in and disrupt or if they over reach their boundaries and start unchecked multiplication that's cancer... well that's kinda like a church. gotta have good boundaries to keep out toxic behavior. i think that's a cool analogy that works for me because i remember it. it's a good teaching tool

plus it's my learning style to learn by story. i liked the article you posted, it had good points... but used really outdated references, the latest being from 1984, which is academically frowned upon. this guy doesn't seem to have the concept of multiple intelligences and instead favors a data heavy way of teaching science.

in my personal experience i know that this doesn't work for everyone. in h.s. chemistry my teacher had a direct approach and i almost failed chemistry. it tarnished my love for science. then i got into physics where the teachers was metaphor heavy and we got to figure out the physics of a roller coaster (by riding it) and all sorts of neat, practical experiments that really lent themselves to my learning style and reinvigorated my love of science that i thought chemistry had killed.

but as for "I just get tired of everyone being a parasite on other ideas." well welcome to the world! everything is borrowed, there is nothing new under the sun. doesn't science AND religion stand on the shoulders of the giants that had come before and seek to improve and update their methods? sometimes this leads to a complete upheaval of what came before (like Newton and Galileo) or a modification to the original work (like Darwin).

so i guess it's my turned to be confused by your writing and i have a little vertigo from this reversal. sorry for my immaturity. i hope you can explain. thanks!

Sabio Lantz said...


I never minded the essential content like:

"hey, don't think of people as isloated individuals, but more a collection of relationships past, present and future if you wanna be a good minister."

nor criticize Steinke

Maybe I was doing a kind of poor blogging etiquette and sabatogging or hijacking by going off on the downsides of analogy.

My apologies.

Analogy is a useful teaching tool -- I used it all the time when I taught statistics which is very abstract and difficult for non-math oriented minds My mind loves abstract math, but not many students like it so my job was to put it in a language that helped them. So you can see I am analogy friendly.

But I still say Analogy has many pitfalls which need to be guarded. And over the last 3 years I have heard Quantum Physics grabbed as an analogy by everyone to support their favorite theme, and usually in ways which I think fall into the pitfall region of analogies.

That was my only point but problem was, my point did not match the main theme of what you were saying. So, my bad. Again, we probably agree more than not.

Anonymous said...

Luke, I mostly agree with you, though (and this may be a matter of styles and traditions) I've rarely known leaders to have that much actual leadership. You may be up front facing the back door, and everybody else might sitting in rows facing the front wall, but you're part of the community all the same, or IMHO ought to be. Clergy has a role in the community, but then everybody has some role in the community. The whole thing isn't resting on your shoulders alone. Clergy are not responsible for all those things, or at least not solely responsible - nor for only those things, either, come to that. Mind, they are important things and it's a great thing to help tend to them, but the keyword it seems to me is "help"