Monday, October 18, 2010

Photos: Ghostly Stream

I spent just about all day yesterday in Harriman State Park, taking pictures of fall foliage. While I got a number of nice foliage shots (some of which I might post here), my best shot of the day (IMHO) was of a stream. Here's the pic:

Canon XSi, 100mm macro lens, 30 seconds, f/32

As you might imagine, the stream did not really look like that. It was simply water flowing down and around the rocks. So, how did I get the water to look like that? Did I use some Photoshop magic? No, I didn't (as a matter of fact, I don't even own Photoshop).

The trick to taking "ghostly water" shots like that is to use a long exposure. If you look under the picture, you'll see that for this shot, I left the shutter open for 30 seconds. That's quite a bit of time. Because the water was flowing at a nice pace (had it been flowing faster, the water would have looked even more "ghostly") leaving the shutter open for so long allowed me to capture much of the movement, resulting in the image you see.

Of course, it's important to remember that if you're going to leave the shutter open for that long, there are two things you MUST do:

1. Use a tripod. I don't care if you're the best surgeon in the world -- no one can hold their hands still for 10 seconds, let along 30. You absolutely must use a tripod to keep your camera still while the shutter is open.

2. Change the f/stop on your camera. I stopped the camera all the way down to f/32 -- the smallest aperture I could get with the lens I used. If you don't do this, your entire picture will be completely overexposed.

3. Although not a must, a filter would also help to reduce the amount of light coming into your camera. This will allow you to keep the shutter open longer.

As always, I welcome all comments, critiques and criticisms.

The Wolf

Thursday, October 14, 2010

See? Science and Torah Can Agree!

The Boston Globe is reporting that genealogists have discovered that President Barack Obama is a distant cousin of Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin -- high profile members of the opposition political party.

I don't really care to comment about Obama, Limbaugh or Palin -- you'll notice that I rarely, if ever, bring up politics on this blog. But the article brought me to an interesting conclusion -- that there is one thing that even the most ardent Biblical literalist and the most atheistic evolutionist can agree on -- that if you trace back far enough, all human beings are related to each other.

See, science and Torah can agree! :)

The Wolf

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Poor Arguments

Every now and again,  you come across an argument put forth by someone and wonder how it is possible that they don't see the refutation to their very own argument.  A good example of this was found on Rabbi Lazer Brody's website earlier this week.  He writes:

My simple mind asks a question - How is it that the scientists purport to know what happened millions of years ago, yet deny the hard historical fact that 2 million men, women, and children saw the revelation of Hashem on Mount Sinai a mere 3323 years ago? This latter fact has been passed down from father to son and from rav to talmid (teacher to student), so that's why I go with the simple faith of our forefathers. Also, if it was good for the previous generations' spiritual giants, it's certainly good for me.

The answer, of course, is very simple -- (1)  Events that happened millions of years ago left behind physical evidence that can be examined today -- fossils, geological formations, layers in ice cores and the like.  Mattan Torah, on the other hand, did not leave behind any physical evidence.  That's not to say that it did not happen -- on the contrary, I believe that Mattan Torah occurred.  But you cannot express dismay at the fact that scientists are willing to rely on physical evidence and not on historical retellings that have one root source.

Another factor to consider is that there is a qualitative difference between "hard" evidence (such as the physical evidnce I mentioned earlier) and "soft" evidence (traditional retelling of historical events).  The latter type of evidence is far easier to manipulate than the former.  Just to give an example, ask any two random people to tell you the story of Little Red Riding Hood without referring to a written text.  In the vast majority of cases, the people telling the stories will not relate them exactly the same way.  Some people may choose to play up or embellish one part of the story more than the other.  Or put it this way -- did your father tell over the story of the Exodus by the seder EXACTLY the same way every year?  Do you tell it over to your kids EXACTLY the same way?

Lastly, of course, there is an additional difference.  Rabbi Brody may have this tradition passed down from father to son and from rebbe to talmid -- but the scientists don't.  If Rabbi Brody is willing to accept this, then that's fine -- but he cannot insist on forcing those same views on others -- not unless he's willing to accept the ancient traditions passed down by other religions as well.

Rabbi Brody continues in his post:

It's utterly absurd to think that anyone could have been capable of pulling the wool over the eyes of such intellectual and spiritual giants as the Ramcha"l, the Vilna Gaon, Rebbe Chaim Volozhiner, Rebbe Nachman of Breslev or the Chofetz Chaim. Stories do change and develop over time, no one can argue with that. But the holy Zohar warns that our Torah is not a mere collection of "stories", G-d forbid, but precision Divine wisdom. That's why our sages throughout the generations believed in every iota of Torah

I don't necessarily know that the scientists would agree that it's "utterly absurd" that the wool could have been pulled over the eyes of the tzadikkim he mentioned above -- but let's put that aside for the moment.  The real problem with his argument here is that he's assuming something that's not in evidence -- that a deception is being perpetrated.  His argument (as I understand it) is as follows:  if Mattan Torah is false, then someone lied.  If it's a lie, the above named people would never have fallen for it.  Hence it can't be a lie.

However,  Rabbi Brody is engaging in the fallacy of the excluded middle.  There is another possibility -- that the people who transmitted the historicity of Mattan Torah to these tzadikkim actually believed in these events.   As such, when (for example) the Chofetz Chaim first learned about Mattan Torah from his father, he has no reason to doubt his father's word, because his father believed in the historicity of Mattan Torah.  There was no deception being perpetrated against the Chofetz Chaim because his father presented the facts as he believed them to be and as he received them from his father.  I don't know anything about the Chofetz Chaim's father, but for the sake of argument, let's say that he, too, was an extraordinary man who would never knowingly accept or transmit false information.  But could you say the same thing about his father?  His grandfather?  And every person in the chain back to whichever son of Aharon (if I recall correctly, the Chofetz Chaim was a Kohen) he is descended from?  Is it not within the realm of possibility that *someone* in that chain was deceived, duped or even just came to believe information that was not historically accurate?  If so, then no one is "pulling the wool" over these giants any more than Ptolmey "pulled the wool" over the people of his day with his geocentric model of the universe.  There was no deception -- merely people working with the information that they had at the time.  By framing it as a "deception," Rabbi Brody excludes the possibility that they could have simply believed in inaccurate information because that was the information/evidence that they had at the time.

I don't have any problems with Rabbi Brody's beliefs.  As I mentioned above, I, too, believe in Mattan Torah.  But I do have a problem with his arguments -- they are poorly thought out with easy refutations at hand -- refutations to which he has seemingly blinded himself.

The Wolf