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A skeptic's guide to the universe: All is not as it seems

By Charlotte B. Cerminaro
web posted December 20, 2021

At this time of year it never fails to amaze, how the story of the nativity is one that completely upended the stratified society of first century Israel. A teenaged girl, engaged to be married but still ritually "pure", becomes pregnant with the long-awaited Messiah. She is of King David's lineage, of Judah's tribe, the tribe of kings. She was considered a peasant but by modern standards, very well-educated. Reading and writing in the native Hebrew and speaking Aramaic, Greek and Latin, their family also had a deep knowledge of botany and agriculture. According to Israeli law, a rightful king could be born of her loins. Mary's relative Elizabeth, whose husband was Zechariah, were both Levites, the tribe of priests; they were not peasants, and a prophet of Israel could only be descended from Levi. Zechariah was ministering in the temple as a priest when he was visited by an archangel, and it is because of his disbelief that he was silenced for a full nine months until Elizabeth delivered their son.

That a young peasant girl would prophecy and a venerated priest silenced, is the first sign in the new testament that God's ways are not of this world; our artificial constructs and societal castes are of no importance. It's later clarified that many of the additional restrictions and laws of this time were never ordained. Most were in direct opposition to the spirit and intent of the given law, and thirty years later the Messiah would confront these same problems. The words "surprised" and "wondered" appear surrounding Christ's advent more than anywhere else. I often wonder why we have two ears and only one mouth. Is this a general hint that we do better considering and listening, not making pronouncements? Lacking the basic incoming and outgoing system filters that most take for granted, instead of learning from my environment, I absorb it. Most everything, every day. With so much information coming in and no way to process all of it, if I make any assumptions then I must be prepared to drop them; sooner or later there will be contrary information. It would be impossible to learn, or even come close to an understanding, if opinions were held tight and no amount of evidence could sway. The cognitive dissonance would be nothing short of deafening. And with all this information swirling around, when and if it's ever truly grasped, reality is usually quite different than superficial appearances and it is, always, infinitely more complex than it first presents.

Niels Bohr once said, "Anyone who is not shocked by quantum mechanics has not understood it." At first glance quantum theory does seem implausible but it has, to its advantage, all likelihood of being completely true. According to Nobel Laureate physicist Richard Feynman, it's not the most elegant theory but it's the only one that aligns with the facts. And as Einstein famously said, "Truth is that which conforms to reality." As these facts add up, one thing is certain: Our reality is nothing like it appears to be. Quantum theory is, indeed, very deeply disturbing. That all matter in the universe is made of the same particles, or quanta; that this substrate is uniform in mass and density, infinitesimal in size, and most disturbing of all--that at any given time a single particle is everywhere--and nowhere. Yet this theory confirms our understanding of dimensionality, that there are at least eleven dimensions, of which we only occupy four.

I prefer to not ponder this deeply into reality. Truth and reality is sometimes unsettling, but it's also surprising, hilarious, or just plain weird. Singing in a large chorus, enjoying the seasonal hymns and carols, there are always a few people who glance my direction when I glide into the highest tessitura of the soprano range. And afterward that familiar, sheepish smile, saying, "I could've sworn that you were an alto!" Reality is often surprising, and almost never what we would expect. ESR

Charlotte B. Cerminaro is a Juilliard-trained classical musician who, in addition to being a studio and orchestral musician, enjoys writing and has a degree in Molecular Biology. © 2021

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