I was struggling with a set of intractable problems in science. Action at a distance, probability and free will have all troubled me for a long time. A few days ago, I reached a particularly frustrating knot in a tortuous mental exploration of free will and suddenly felt deep and dismaying futility. It had less to do with the limitations of my intelligence, with which I am intimately conversant, and more to do with the boundaries of science itself. Why do fundamental questions stymie it? Is science just complicated hocus pocus? A clueless poseur? Past its peak? No different from a religious system?
Whoa! God forbid! After a few seconds, I came to my senses. Mortified, I allowed all the virtues of science to flash before my mind’s eye. I thought of all it has explained, all it has achieved, and of its transparency that elevates humility over hubris.
We ask ourselves why there’s a universe, why there’s any order in it and not just chaos, why there’s matter, why gravity, why the other three forces we know? And what about change and time? Why is everything not just static?
These impenetrabilities are probably not unique to us. In a very different universe with very different curious beings, they would probably have a similarly circumscribed science.
As to the emergence of life and free will, there may be no final understanding of them either as they are the products of our ultimately inexplicable universe. We may agonise about free will contravening fundamental physical laws, but the more significant problem is the existence of any laws. The fundamental law could have been – ‘There is nothing’. Or it could have been – ‘Void’. That law was broken or never existed, and nothing can be more mystifying.
Perhaps things are just as they are. It may be better for us to intimately understand the characteristics of the universe rather than expect to reveal its origin and causes. It could be as futile as trying to prove and understand God.
So let’s accept science may always fall short of ultimate explanations. But these limitations do not diminish the beauty and strength of the scientific method. Science needs to continue undaunted as a positive trait for life. But it can deliver more than just material progress. It is a matter of seeing science in a different light, seeing it with the glow of faith. Faith in science will reward us. It will uplift and motivate us. I don’t mean that we should treat science as if it is a God. Instead, we should see if it can extend to meet our emotional and spiritual needs. If it can, the potential outcomes could be superior to an exclusive belief in divinity.
If we fortify science with our faith, it can be a calling for many and not just a tool for the few.
To develop this passion for science, we need to trust its ability to lift billions out of poverty and increase their happiness. We need to believe it will not destroy life even as it unleashes tremendous power from the wispy material of the universe. We should have confidence it will not ruin humanity through digital addiction and that it will restore the environment. Have the conviction it will not ravage us by killing privacy. And hope that it will unite people rather than divide them, and make us more equal over time.
Religion is losing its hold. Many have turned in a big way to agnostic mental and physical exercises, sports and art to try and lead a nobler life. Science should be standing ready and prepared as an excellent alternative for anyone seeking personal growth and inner peace. It should satisfy not just the rational but also the emotional and spiritual needs of laypeople. It should be comforting, familiar and exciting. Not esoteric, difficult and fear-inducing.
Science should not be a way of life just for scientists but for everyone. But we seem complacent on this.
How can we provide immersion in the wonders of science to every human in every corner of the world? A chance to contemplate the mysterious beauties revealed by astronomy, particle physics, mathematics, relativity, engineering, medicine and pretty much every branch spun off by science. Ways to experience the thrill of Voyager travelling off into the void, the intricate design of the human eye, the marvel of a touch screen, the excitement of cancer cures. It’s all science. And beholding them is as marvellous as opening your heart in a grand temple, cathedral or mosque. Science has an endless variety. It evolves, widens and deepens every day. We need never run out of a sense of awe and exaltation.
Let’s afford science at least the same amount of faith that the religion grants Gods. This faith will be different in being open-eyed and willing to accept the limitations and dangers of science. And it will be unlike religion too in its readiness to frequently knock its idols off their pedestals and continuously reshape its beliefs.
I have renewed my loyalty. Come join me and say, “Hallelujah, Scientia!”
Shashi on LinkedIn