For me, science is energizing while religion sucks the life out of my soul. Or whatever the heck it is that makes my life lively.
As I said in a comment to my "Quantum Christian gobbledygook" post, deflating the ridiculous proposition that electromagnetism casts any light on the Trinity was deeply satisfying. I felt so good after writing that post.
Doing my best to look upon reality with eyes wide open unleashes something that could easily be called "mystical" if it wasn't so natural. Speaking truth to bullshit – that brings us closer to the angels.
More accurately: it would, if there were any.
Today I stumbled upon some YouTube videos of Sean Carroll giving a talk at the recent Daily Kos convention. Carroll is a physicist with an engaging sense of humor. He started off his "Hey, I Uploaded a Video" post with:
Just got back from a great trip to Beijing, very enjoyable if a bit tiring, where much musing was done on the Primordial Existential Question, about which more anon. But I also mused a bit about what this blog needs, and I came to the conclusion that must have been obvious to everyone else long ago: more videos of me.
Sean, you'll get no argument here, even though I've only visited the Cosmic Variance blog a few times. I enjoyed your pithy discussion of what the universe is made of.
Short answer: almost entirely not of what we are. You and I, said Carroll, are made of ordinary matter. But that constitutes just 5% of the universe's total stuff.
The rest is 25% dark matter, which hasn't been detected yet (if you want to know how scientists can come up with a precise percentage of how much there is of something undetectable, watch the videos), and 70% dark energy – which is inherent in the fabric of empty space.
That's way cool. And gloriously mysterious. It isn't the false mystery of religion, which posits hypothetical metaphysical entities and then breathlessly proclaims how inaccessible they are.
Well, yes. This is what you'd expect if something isn't real: it'd be unreachable and unknowable.
But science is pretty darn sure that dark matter and energy are real. We just don't know their nature. That's a true mystery.
Near the end of the second video Carroll talked about the movie, "What the Bleep Do We Know?" He said that the film is full of nonsense. It claims that we can change reality into what we want by thinking about it. The people who made it, he noted, must have earned themselves high-ranking jobs in the Bush administration.
David Albert, a physicist and philosopher of science professor at Columbia, was interviewed for four hours by the filmmakers. They took 10 seconds of what he said and completely mangled his meaning.
Carroll said that Albert now is doing his best to communicate how we really should go about trying to understand reality. Which, in Carroll's paraphrase of Albert's message, is:
Look, when you're trying to understand the world, there are two approaches you can have.
One kind of approach is that when you try to look at the world you come with a precondition, you come with a set of demands that the world tell a story that is flattering to you.
The other thing you could do is to come with an authentically open mind and open heart. Expend many different hypotheses and compare them to the evidence. And accept what the evidence tells you. Discard the hypotheses that don't fit the evidence and believe in the hypotheses that do. And that second method is called science.
And I would like to say that it's more than that, that the second method is called honesty. And it's probably a good method to use in all sorts of fields of human endeavor.
Amen to that.
Here's Albert himself on the subject of "What the Bleep Do We Know?" and how we should go about knowing more. Double Amens to this.
It seems to me that what's at issue (at the end of the day) between serious investigators of the foundations of quantum mechanics and the producers of the "what the bleep" movies is very much of a piece with what was at issue between Galileo and the Vatican, and very much of a piece with what was at issue between Darwin and the Victorians.
There is a deep and perennial and profoundly human impulse to approach the world with a DEMAND, to approach the world with a PRECONDITION, that what has got to turn out to lie at THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE, that what has got to turn out to lie at THE FOUNDATION OF ALL BEING, is some powerful and reassuring and accessible image of OURSELVES.
That's the impulse that the What the Bleep films seem to me to flatter and to endorse and (finally) to exploit - and that, more than any of their particular factual inaccuracies - is what bothers me about them. It is precisely the business of resisting that demand, it is precisely the business of approaching the world with open and authentic wonder, and with a sharp, cold eye, and singularly intent upon the truth, that's called science.
Not religion. For sure.