Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Now that we have that out of the way

To my millions and billions of devoted readers, I am hoping to be back to a more consistent posting routine. I won't go into all the details of the absence, other than to say this: Cancer sucks. Or better yet, metastatic cancer sucks. Free- loading parasitic cells dance in the circulation looking for new homes to colonize, multiply and grow. The growth puts unnatural pressure on the other internal organs causing additional problems. Doctors say "sure we can treat that too" with additional drugs, with additional side effects that cause additional problems that might call for more drugs. Slowly you get backed into a corner without an escape route.

And less you try and read too much into this, no, the cancer didn't strike me (or a relative). Just a dear friend. I've lost people to cancer before, but this was different in that I had a front row seat. We could see the future and it was miserable.

And then a miracle occurred. Truly a miracle. For without any medical intervention the metastatic tumors are gone. The oncologist is at a loss for words, other than to say that no rational explanation exists. Too many tests would have to have been consistently wrong for there to be an error. It would have been several errors. I teased him by joking that I had been synthesizing cis-platin in the lab in evenings and using that. He said that was as plausible as any explanation he could provide. It was a miracle. Truly a miracle.

And so I face this paradox. As a scientist, miracles are not part of the job. Miracles are not repeatable - why it happened here and not to another person of similar faith is impossible to explain - and science is all about repeatability. That's why scientific journals exist. You report what you did and what you found so that others can repeat it. If they can't repeat it, then something is wrong. So needless to say, miracles are not part of the scientific literature. They can't be consistently reproduced.

My way out is the thought provided by Freeman Dyson: "Science and religion are two windows that people look through, trying to understand the big universe outside, trying to understand why we are here. The two windows give different views, but they look out at the same universe. Both views are one-sided, neither is complete. Both leave out essential features of the real world. And both are worthy of respect."

Each year, I grow professionally and feel I have a much better grasp of science and technology. My current job is extemely helpful in this regards as I am exposed to so many different problems in such a vast range of industry in an very short period of time. It would have been impossible to acheive this growth in any of my previous jobs. But each year my personal growth also occurs and this episode, as well as many of pains in the last 7 years have quickly left me with a with different perspective: that we really have little control over our lives and that there will be twists and turns that cannot be foreseen. Helping each other in these times is essential, as it can easily happen to you. It might hit you as a sudden blow or as a slow creeping, but life is not linear. Kinetics can outrun thermodynamics for the short term, but eventually it loses out.

So that is my article of faith. Another paradox for the pile. Add it to particle-wave duality, the twins paradox and the rest. Paradoxes make the world so much more interesting.

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