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The art of science and evasion

05 June 2012, 15:19

I have a cat. Schrodinger’s Cat, to be precise. And I am about to put this cat amongst some very agitated pigeons.

Erwin Schrodinger postulated a thought experiment whereby a cat was placed in a box with a deadly substance, which would be triggered by the decay of a small atomic substance, which would then release a poisonous gas. This is an extreme simplification of the process, but will do for now. While the cat remained in the closed box, there was no way to discover whether the mechanism was triggered or not. And therefore, no way to discover whether the cat was dead or alive. So, to the outside world, the cat was both alive and dead simultaneously, as well as every possible state in between. There’s an Afrikaans saying which I like. ‘Dit smokkel met jou kop.’ And this ‘smokkels with your kop’, big time!

In a similar vein, consider the atom. We know the structure of the atom because, since the introduction of electron microscopes, we’ve been able to see them, but consider this. When Sir Ernest Rutherford first split the atom, he had never seen one, and was working purely from mathematical deductions. And the ancient Greeks deduced the existence of atoms using pure logic. It comes from the Greek word atomos, meaning ‘not divisible’, because that was as far as logic could take them. Pretty impressive, nonetheless.

So, the elctron microscope revealed something quite startling. We’ve all seen illustrations of the atom, with the electron spinning about the nucleus and, although this is true, it is also inaccurate. The electron forms a wall, solid to all practical purposes, around the nucleus. It is everywhere at once. It creates both a wave and anti-wave, making up a solid wall.

Then we have the nucleus, which is made up of quarks, hadrons and gluons. These cannot be seen, but have been proven via mathematics and experimentation, hence the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva. This was built to test the theories of particle physics and high energy physics, including the Higgs Boson and the large family of particles hypothesised by supersymmetry.

Quantum Mechanics is nothing if not confusing. Even, or especially, to quantum physicists!

And on to the the daddy of them all, in terms of confusion! String Theory. String Theory has been hypothesised to tie General Relativity to Quantum Physics. Essentially, String Theory and Supersymmetry are partners and exist in eleven dimensions. One of the theories forwarded is the Anthropic Principle, which states that scientists can use the fact that humanity exists as an explanation for certain physical properties of our universe.  This is of course flawed, because we would not be here to argue the case if things were not so. Chicken and egg.

String Theory postulates that all objects in our universe are composed of vibrating filaments (strings) and membranes (branes) of energy. It also promotes the idea of other, parallel universes, and the other eight dimensions. Multi-dimensionality is nothing new to science, of course.

And then we come to light, which has, by experiment, been proven to be both wave and particle. And subject to gravity, which we do not quite understand. And we do not really understand gravity! In fact, if there’s one thing most thinking people understand, it’s how little we actually understand.

The strange thing about all of this, is that the people who formulate these theories and then go about trying to prove them are split in one area, essential in one domain, absolutely inessential in another. Roughly half of them are theists, many Christian, and the other half are atheist or agnostic. Agnostic is interesting, because it means, in essence, don’t know. Gnostics were an ancient group of people who believed they had secret knowledge of God and all things metaphysical. So A =not, gnostic=knowledge. Mostly though, from my experience, agnostics are people who cannot be bothered to take the effort to be either atheists, or believers, so it’s more a case of ‘don’t care’, rather than ‘don’t know’.

So, the theists. Those who believe in the God of Einstein and Spinoza, or the ‘blind watchmaker’. They believe there is a God who runs the show, but is unknowable and, quite simply, too big to be bothered by the plight of insignficant beings like us.

Then there are the peple from various religions, from Christianity through to Taosm and everything in between. They either manage to divorce their work from their beliefs, or incorporate their works into those beliefs.

Such as Isaac Newton, perhaps the most important scientist ever in the field of applied physics. It’s called Newtonian Physics, for goodness sake! A Christian and, from many accounts, a dreadful person. So often the case, unfortunately. 

Nowadays, there are people in all the fields of science, engaged in furthering our knowledge, and situated in both camps. None of them naïve enough to believe in fairy tales. Many people would argue that faith has to be separate from science, and would find others agreeing whole-heartedly with them, but I do not believe that should be permissable.

If my belief cannot stand up to investigation, my faith is worthless. If this God, who claims He is omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving, pre-existent and personal, cannot stand up to scrutiny, then I’m afraid he’s only a larger version of me, and definitely not worthy of worship. And, at the risk of repeating myself, God is not so weak that He needs our worship. People are worshipers, and will worship almost anything, which is why God directs that worship in His direction. And, speaking personally, after having had a personal experience with Him, you have no choice but to worship. The feeling is one of unspeakable fear and awe, rolled into one. And, once it’s over, the wish for it to continue.

So what made Max Planck believe in a personal God? He didn’t believe in the blind watchmaker, he believed in the God who cares about us in a deeply personal way. What made Carl Sagan, one of the most gifted scientists of the twentieth century believe that not only was there no God, but no necessity for a God?

It is my personal belief that, if you truly seek the truth, you will find this God of whom I speak. If you are prepared to examine the archeological evidence; if you are prepared to confront the truth, regardless of the discomfort it brings; if you are prepared to examine all the evidence objectively, pro and con and then make your decision, you will at least have been true to yourself. And if, in this search you do not find God, then, at least in your case, there is no god to be found.

It does, however, require brutal honesty with yourself. And that is sometimes the hardest place to start.

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