SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY
Moon Goddess and Jade Rabbit: How Science and Spirituality Commingle
By Andrew Lam
New America Media
Each year during the mid-Autumn Moon festival, a pastry shop near our house in Saigon, Vietnam, would display the figure of a dancing goddess in a flowing dress who, I was told, resided on the moon. Then one year the goddess was gone, replaced by three strange creatures adorned with Christmas lights.
“Mother, are those angels?” I asked. “No,” she answered. “They’re American astronauts and they’ve landed on the moon.” That was of course the Apollo landing in 1969. Ever since then other nations have followed suit, sending satellites to hover on earth’s orbit, probes onto distant planets, and China has just last week launched a moon rover known as the Jade Rabbit to collect data.
If I had believed the goddess really did live on that silvery globe that hung outside my window at night, that mindset long ago shifted toward something else entirely.
Science, after all, dethrones all the old, known gods. The Hubble telescope and then later on the Kepler telescope -- our amazing eyes in the sky -- have found at least 150 billion galaxies, many of them still being formed. More importantly they discovered thousands of exoplanets –those that are outside the solar system—and many may even be in the habitable zone where life could very well exist. There aren’t enough gods and titans in human history to name the planets in our own vast Milky Way, let alone the rest of the awesome universe. Instead, scientists use letters and numbers -- MS13 for a galaxy, NGC 3766 for a star cluster.
When Nietszche asked, “Have you not heard that God is dead?” it was a rhetorical question. Galileo, Newton, Einstein and the like revealed a universe more startling than any ancient myth could describe. The sea on which humanity now sails is infinitely more vast than that imagined by Columbus.
And yet it is my contention that science, even as it slays the old gods, does not destroy human spirituality. Quite the contrary, they reinforce each other.
Many years ago at UC Berkeley my physics professor offered his attentive students proof that God exists. He called it the Big Bang theory. Most scientists now believe that the universe began with an instant of creation some 20 billion years ago. The fragments of that formative explosion are still flying outward from the focus of that unfathomable blast.
So what triggered the original blast? Where did the energy come from that defies all known physical laws to form the universe? No one knows. Science has its limitations, after all. The ultimate source of energy remains, always, a mystery. “You may say God, if you like,” the professor told his startled students, “set the ball rolling.”
God set the ball rolling once again with the recent news that there’s water being discovered in Mars soil. I have to admit that the moment I heard the news, my mind went blank, so dumbstruck was I by its implications. There’s a high probability of life existing out there after all, just as I had secretly hoped and, perhaps, always known.
At such a moment science and spirituality seem to mingle in a metaphysical embrace. The more science reveals, the more mysterious the revelation. Science, in other words, is at its best when it evokes, like art, the experience of wonder.
“The first step of mystical realization is the leaving of ... a defined god for an experience of transcendence, disengaging the ethnic from the elementary idea,” wrote Joseph Campbell. Some Zen Buddhist monks understand this point very well. To go beyond the trappings of idolatry and reach enlightenment, they smash their Buddha statues. The true god is impersonal, unknowable, always beyond sight.
So now there’s a Jade Rabbit on the moon studying her soil, but where did my beautiful moon goddess go?
She neither lives nor dies and has no name; she has been internalized. She’s the moment of wonder itself. In her presence the child still gazes, wide-eyed. Beyond her, there dances a marvelous night sky full of stars.
(Andrew Lam is New America Media editor and the author of “Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora,” “East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres,” and “Birds of Paradise Lost” which recently won a Pen Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary award.)
“Hour of Code”
gives students taste of computer science
Less than a year ago, brothers Hadi Partovi and Ali Partovi launched Code.org to help advocate for computer science in the United States. and increase participation in STEM education by making these subjects more available in schools and classrooms around the country. Today, it seems that what started as a whisper has grown into a roar.
Last year, Code.org kicked off a new, nationwide campaign called the “Hour of Code,” which asked teachers across the U.S. to help introduce their students to the basics of computer science through the organization’s coding programs and tutorials. Timed in conjunction with Computer Science Education Week, the campaign has sought to change the perception of Computer Science in the American education system — chief of which is the fact that, today, 9 out of 10 schools in the U.S. do not offer computer science classes.
After campaigning and lobbying for change at the state level, in which the Partovis and Code.org have asked states to begin offering programming classes for credit, it seems that their work has begun to pay off — both at the policy level and through the “Hour of Code.” Alabama, Maryland and Wisconsin have announced (or are planning to announce) policy changes at the state level, while both the Chicago Public Schools and the New York City Department of Education have unveiled plans to bring computer science to their classrooms.
What’s more, at the culmination of Computer Science Education Week, the Partovis told us that more than 15 million students had participated in the “Hour of Code,” collectively writing more than 500 million lines of code during the campaign. While Computer Science Education Week came to a close in December, the campaign has continued, and the number of students participating has since crossed 20 million, with over 675 million lines of code now in the books.
All told, Hadi Partovi told TechCrunch, more than 20 million students have participated across 170 countries. However, factoring out non-
The “Hour of Code” has been bolstered by support from a litany of recognizable names. For starters, both Microsoft and Apple showed their support by hosting an “Hour of Code” at every one of their retail outlets over the course of the week, with Apple advertising its tutorial on its homepage. Google, in turn, kicked off of Computer Science Education Week with a Google Doodle that remembered “Grace Hopper, an American computer scientist and creator of the Cobol programming language” and also linked to “Hour of Code” beneath the doodle.
On top of that, the campaign featured on the home pages of YouTube, MSN, Bing, Yahoo, Disney (and many more), with recognizable names from across politics, music and sports pitching in their support. Among them were “actors and musicians like Shakira, Ashton Kutcher, Angela Bassett and athletes like Chris Bosh, Warren Sapp and Dwight Howard, along with tech leaders like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Susan Wojcicki.”
Politicians from both sides of the aisle also lent their support, including President Obama and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, as well as “Senator Cory Booker, Newt Gingrich and Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan.”
To help teachers get their students started in the world of programming, Code.org has curated online tutorials and programs from a bevy of partners, including companies, non-