"Not only is the universe stranger than what we imagine,
it is stranger than what we can imagine."
Sir Arthur Eddington

Half a Century

Fifty years seems like a long time. Fifty years ago, only Dick Tracy had a wrist watch that could communicate. Automobiles shouted how powerful their engines were while gas mileage was almost down to single digits. The counter culture was feared to be ushering in an America with blasphemous values. The medium was the message of the New Age. The times were a-changing and those 20 somethings laid plans for a new beginning. The closest thing to Google was the Whole Earth Catalogue while Steve Jobs started to fiddle with the Blue Box to make free phone calls.

National Speedway, 1970
National Speedway, 1970


But fifty years is not long in the 2,000 years of Christianity or the 13,000 years of recorded history or the millions of years of homo sapiens or the 4 billion years from the earth's birth nor the 14 billion years since the Big Bang.
My college graduating class is celebrating 50 years since graduation. An updated Year Book is being prepared and the class will be the honored class in this year's Maritime College Home Coming. The theme will be my, how things changed!

Summer Training Cruise in Europe
Summer Training Cruise in Europe


But have they? Sure, when we were First Classmen (seniors), the school got its first IBM 360 computer. We learned how to produce punch cards to write small programs in Fortran. I was studying meteorology. Weather forecasting was one of the major reasons why large, fast computers were being developed although computer weather models were still to be developed. Today, they are essential tools used to predict the future: weather. Today we can get those forecasted "models" at will on our smartphones anywhere in the world.
But I wonder if our need to believe in this technology is all that much different than the Greek's need to believe in the gods of weather? Apparently, the need to believe in something, even if it is just numbers on a piece of paper is universal. And that brings me to the question of what really has changed.

The yearning to identify something beyond the realm of our own reality is a human trait. We don't have the language or even the capability to explain or understand this. But we do have myth, religion and ritual: the sometimes feeble, sometimes satisfying attempts at describing this "something". The idea that this "something" is external to oneself may not be universally accepted but it does allow us to move forward and, in many ways, allows our humanity to be shared with others. Of course, this "something" can be, and has been, manipulated and rationalized to serve an interest that may not be our own. Is that man's Achille's Heel?

Ah, but times have changed! Our clever machines and technological progress can convince us into believing that we are immune to the inherited yearning of our ancestors and that there is nothing beyond our daily struggle to stay alive. I fear that many will choose that path by denying a common trait that unites us and yet that yearning will remain. Is the tribalism that we see in our politics, sports, and businesses today, just the manifestation of our need for common myths?

Our grandson graduates college this year, fifty years after I did. What will the world be like fifty years hence when his reunion takes place? The world will still be round but who knows what wonders, disasters, fortunes and hardships will transpire by then. I can only imagine that the technological changes that will take place will be startling. But strip away the veneer of our clever machines; the manifestation of the human trait to search for the unidentifiable will still be there. And that will define our humanity.




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