This is my favorite quote from the early chapters of a book by theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss (The Edge of Knowledge:Unsolved Mysteries of the Cosmos) among the passages that I shared in a recent blog post.
Because this, to me, is the most fascinating aspect of the cosmos: that it keeps surprising us. The imagination of nature is far greater than the imagination of humans. In my own work, every day I am surprised if I am not surprised.
So true. I love the eminently scientific notion that nature surpasses the imagination of us humans.
Of course, Krauss, being an atheist, isn't saying that nature is the product of some god's creativity. Rather, however the laws of nature came to be, and there's no evidence of a supernatural origin, the result is beyond what the imagination of we Homo sapiens is capable of comprehending.
But here's the good news. Humans aren't separate from nature. Nature is us; we are nature.
So even though we may never be able to comprehend all of the mysteries of the cosmos that Krauss discusses in his book, bit by bit, year by year, century by century, humans will use our nature-given talents to grasp more and more of how nature operates.
At least, that's my optimistic view.
I'm assuming that religious dogmatism or political attacks on science won't sidetrack scientific progress. This is one of the things, among many, that worries me about the prospect of Donald Trump getting another term as president in the 2024 election.
Trump has no respect for facts, knowledge, or science. That's bad enough, but much worse is the prospect that he would pursue anti-science policies if voters were so foolish as to give him four more years to pursue his authoritarian agenda.
Trump isn't religious. He doesn't believe in anything but his own selfish desires.
However, because he appointed three conservative justices to the Supreme Court who overturned a long-standing precedent that enshrined a woman's right to choose an abortion in every state, Trump has a lot of support from evangelical Christians who have a thoroughly dualistic view of reality.
To them, God is the creative power, not nature. Humans are supposed to obey the fundamentalist Christian fantasy of God, not any other religious fantasy. So nature is denigrated, since God supposedly wants humans to rule over nature, just as God rules over us.
Today I started reading the cover story in the October 7, 2023 issue of New Scientist: "You and Your Microbiome." The microbiome is the trillions of microbes that inhabit our gut along with other parts of the body. The story says:
The microbes that colonise us, collectively known as the microbiome, challenge the concept of a discrete self. These include bacteria, viruses and fungi, although the bacteria are the best studied. Together, these microbes orchestrate the immune system, influence how the brain works and grows, and affect our personality and feelings.
Over a third of the genes in the human genome have a bacterial origin, and the action of trillions of microbial genes in the gut has direct impacts on our nutrition and metabolism. Recognizing this leads to the startling conclusion that a discrete human body isn't an individual, it is a "metaorganism."
[Thomas] Bosch, who runs a metaorganism research centre, is one of a growing number of scientists who say the key elements that we believe make us individuals are themselves produced by interactions with microorganisms. If this is the case, we need to rethink what it means to be human.
"Certainly, the line that demarcates where we end and the external world begins is up for debate," says Geraint Rogers at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute in Adelaide.
...All this has profound implications for what it means to be human. For hundreds of years, people have considered themselves apart from nature, which has led to an unfolding crisis of overexploitation of the environment.
"Humans were always thinking they were different, they were better than nature, they looked at nature as something foreign," says Bosch. "We have to go back to thinking that we are all part of an integrated, living cosmos. We are not better or separate -- if we look in our own body, we are full of nature."