Driving home this evening, on my car radio I heard the end of an interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson, the astrophysicist who hosts the new Cosmos series. Tyson said:
I try to have my philosophy disturbed every day.
That's obviously an open-minded scientist speaking, not a fundamentalist religious believer. People of faith don't want to have their philosophy disturbed, because its foundation is so shaky.
They don't know. They aren't sure of the facts. They don't possess demonstrable evidence.
No, they just have faith that maybe, perhaps, possibly, what they want to be true really is: salvation, eternal life, God's love for them, a special place reserved in the cosmic scheme of things.
Tyson, on the other hand, is committed to learning the truth about reality, no matter where that search leads. Naturally it isn't necessary to be a scientist to have this sort of commitment to truth-seeking. It simply takes a willingness to have one's cherished assumptions challenged -- over and over again.
I don't know if I remember the exact words Tyson said next, but this is pretty close.
The essence of science is making sure that our biases don't make us turn away what is true, or embrace what is not true.
Biases. We all have them. Scientists included.
Like most people, I have a bias toward living rather than dying; being happy rather than sad; wisdom rather than ignorance; pleasure rather than pain; love rather than hate.
So, sure, I found it really easy to follow a religious path (for over thirty years) that promised me everything I was biased toward: life after death, eternal bliss, revelation of the secrets of the cosmos. For a long time I resisted both my own doubts that all this was true, along with the skepticism of my wife and other people.
Eventually, though, I took a more scientific attitude toward the spiritual philosophy that appealed to me so much. I became more concerned with truth, and less with how comfortable my religion made me feel.
Like Tyson advised, I was willing to have my belief system disturbed.
I figured that if it can't withstand close inspection and tough questions, it damn sure wasn't capable of sustaining me in this life and, possibly, beyond. Better to do my best to learn the truth now. After all, I knew that I had at least this one life to live. That might be it for me: one lifetime.
Seemed senseless to dilute and diminish it by living a one and only life that was founded on falsehoods.
Near the end of the portion of the interview with Tyson, he said something like:
Science enables us to gain knowledge of the objective outside world which is apart from what is only inside our heads.
Yes. Yes. Yes.
I used to believe in "going within" via closed-eye (and closed-minded) meditation. Meaning, I had faith that there were realms of reality beyond the physical, and it was possible to enter them by raising my consciousness to a higher state of awareness.
Who knows? This might be possible. But now I'm in a "I'll believe it when I see it" frame of mind, as contrasted with my previous "I'll see it when I believe it" attitude.
My focus is on enjoying and learning about the world outside of me.
I know that this exists. I love its otherness, its not-me'ness, its grandeur, mystery, and beauty. Residing inside my head is fine from time to time; I'm just no longer interested in making it a permanent habitation.
The truth is out there, said The X-Files show. Science agrees. It just isn't what we want truth to be, but what it truly is.