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.
most but not all the scientists i have read and known approach their research with indeed a precondition or bias.
most i have read or known approach their research with a materialistic paradigm.
it appears to be a human condition and education can even have an affect on our ability to have an open mind.
but on the other hand lack of education can keep one in ignorance.
look at the history of science and how often they have proclaimed something a fact only to find out much later that fact was invalid.
the human mind has almost unlimited ability to deceive itself.
what would life be like without that deception and ignorance?
Posted by: william | August 18, 2007 at 09:06 PM
William, science indeed has a bias toward explaining reality in materialistic terms. That's because what can be observed, tested, explained is made of matter/energy.
Yet when science gets down to the quantum level, it approaches non-materiality. This is true non-materiality, not the hypothesized "spirit" of religion.
So science can't be faulted for focusing on what can be shown to exist, rather than what is merely believed to exist.
Yes, scientific theories change when new facts are discovered. This isn't a failing of science; it's a powerful asset, a main reason why science is so successful.
By contrast, how many religions or spiritual paths can you name that have openly said, "I was wrong. Here's the updated truth?" I can't think of any.
Science is open to fresh understanding. Scientists are rewarded for overturning the apple cart of current knowledge. That's how you win a Nobel Prize.
Religions change only under great pressure. It took the Catholic church a long time to come to grips with the fact that the Earth goes around the Sun.
I agree that the human mind has an almost unlimited ability to deceive itself.
But science is the way out of this trap, not religion. Open-mindedness is key, flexibly adapting to new information as it presents itself. That's the way of science.
Posted by: Brian | August 19, 2007 at 01:03 PM
Well said, Brian.
My philosophical outlook, though rooted in what could be called non-materiality, is not threatened in any way by advances in science...
Antoine de St.-Erupsery said, "Perfection is attained, not when there is nothing more to be added, but when there is nothing more to be taken away."
Science is creeping ever closer to that understanding.
You said: "By contrast, how many religions or spiritual paths can you name that have openly said, "I was wrong. Here's the updated truth?" I can't think of any."
That's what Gurinder Singh (guru of RSSB) seems to be doing with RSSB teachings these days according to what I hear, admittedly secondhand. He is "updating" the truth, and the devotees I still know have no problem with it. They think it's a good thing, "keeping pace with the times" and all that. I was always told Truth is timeless and unchanging.
Posted by: Tucson Bob | August 19, 2007 at 02:40 PM
Science does not need mysticism,
Mysticism does not need science,
But man need both!
Posted by: Rakesh Bhasin | August 21, 2007 at 07:25 AM
Heh heh heh....
Posted by: tao | August 22, 2007 at 03:50 PM
Posted by: Rakesh Bhasin | August 23, 2007 at 06:29 AM