ORIGIN OF THE UNIVERSE: WORLDVIEWS AND RELATED ISSUES By Max Bade (Article)
"...without a cause, nothing can be created." Plato, Timaeus
The present essay was drafted over a long period of time. Its form and content kept on changing since the early 70's when I had the ambition to formulate a sort of "philosophy of life" through a series of sketches on various subjects.
This ambition was not fulfilled and the "notes" remained incomplete and unrelated. Roughly forty years elapsed before some of these notes and sketches were resuscitated, corrected, amplified and logically put together. Early on I have been fascinated with the apparent dichotomy of the physical\scientific and poetic representations of our world and attempted to see and represent commonalities. Take for example Steven Hawking's "A Brief History of Time" and compare that to Hesiod's "Cosmogony"(800 BC?) and you will understand both the differences and commonality in the search of a “true worldview". The present essay is by no means poetic but it drives home the idea that the Big Bang theory was already poetically represented in the Rig Veda 1,200 BC! Is poetry important? Yes! It is easily read and understood by the average mortal; and science? It is terribly complicated and accessible to only few super-trained people. And, "so what?" a confused reader might say. Here I propose it to be essential to have an understanding of a harmonic and true worldview that is one that combines the scientific and poetic worlds. Neither the scientific or the poetic elements alone can do in a globalized world and without it our narrower interest in money and the plutocracy will lead us to self-destructive paths.
The word “cosmogony” is derived from the Greek “begetting” and denotes origin of the universe. Cosmogony is seldom dealt with in society because the universe is such a strange and distant existence. Indeed one rarely makes an issue of it twice in a lifetime and yet it is a challenging and daunting subject that may provide one with a realistic macro-context and framework to our lives. After all, it is important to know whether a humanlike god-convention led by Zeus created the world or a single, invisible and all powerful God, “made everything in six days” or an impersonal play of physical and chemical forces created the universe in a matter of a few seconds. Do we know what we believe in and why?
Related to cosmogony is the word “cosmology” which deals with the study of the cosmos and includes cosmogony. Generally, when we talk about the universe we do not talk about the earth, life and its inhabitants even though the universe is an all inclusive concept. In the following pages therefore, thoughts about the universe and its origin are supplemented with thoughts on specific complementary parts of the universe: the origin of the elements; the origin of the earth; the origin of life and man’s consciousness. This “universe” is not complete but it does represent the world we consciously live in. Besides satisfying a long-standing curiosity the intent was to go beyond scientific boundaries by analyzing the principal implications of a modern and extended cosmology on our outlook, attitude and related spiritual questions.
Why, you may ask, this exercise on cosmology? Because those readily available like those found in religions, or philosophies or even scientific syntheses no longer hold water or are simply partial, non-inclusive and hence, non-satisfying. Cosmology is continually advancing with changing results and like with everything else in science, creates a challenge to be “up-to-date”. Cosmogonies were formerly authored by philosophers, poets or religious founders or interpreters; but today these authors no longer are adequate because they do not tell us about scientific advances and their implication. Without the consideration of science no valid cosmogony is possible and no cosmology can make sense; at the same time natural science based cosmology appears neither sufficient nor satisfying because there are very many unknowns that relegate our understanding to find refuge in theories and conjectures.
Nevertheless scientific knowledge has made enormous strides since Copernicus and in the process has changed our perception of the Universe. Newton’s Principia Mathematica represented the first consistent natural science world interpretation. With the advent of the Theory of Relativity and the Quantum Theory however the scope of science has been significantly enriched and today we are closer to the formulation of a new and more consistent natural science worldview. How long will this body of knowledge last as “true”? We cannot tell except to say that due to the nature of science, probably yet another and more encompassing and precise natural science worldview will follow.
Science, one needs to remember, is a piecemeal and partial authority since it pronounces itself only on whatever at the time appears to have been scientifically ascertained. Furthermore, the pronouncements of science are often made tentatively on the basis of theories and probabilities and are regarded as liable to modification. So, even with many proven beneficial results we have accumulated an enormous and growing amount of information that we perceive as appearing unevenly, partially, often contradictorily, and with too specialized results to be generally understood or appreciated. Spiritually, science represents often an uncomfortable and frustrating body of knowledge where it has “proven” that many findings and beliefs of yore were false, yet it has been unable to give us decisive answers to many, including, the last questions. We seem to think that we know, but in reality we are waiting for a "definite" chapter!
From Ignorant Beginnings to Poetry and Rational Explanations
Early conscious man must have been acutely aware of being at the uncomfortable mercy of non-human nature because of his lack of control and the inadequacies of his understanding. To overcome this situation and establish harmony between man and nature, he made explanatory guesses about the origin and nature of nature. The early “guesses” consisted of myths and expiatory rites. Both religions and mythologies share this fundamental characteristic.
Origins, characteristics, and forces of nature were generally represented by gods, and their actions and interactions with each other represented the early mythologies. Generally, mythologies were polytheist and anthropomorphic, i.e. there were numerous gods and they had human characteristics but were conceived to be immortal and infinitely more powerful than humans. One of the first (4000 BC?) written mythology was Sumerian; then followed the Egyptian; somewhat later followed similar mythologies of the Akkadians, Babylonians and Assyrians; down the line to the most splendid and poetical, Greek mythology. Mythologies gave man an “account of the world” that stretched from the creation of the world, the creation of the gods, the creation of man and numerous stories that related gods and man.
Over time, myths gained in scope and perspective so that the early “guesses” about nature evolved into “interpretations” how the world was created out of chaos, what the precedence and genealogy of the gods were, how man was created (usually made from clay with a magic breath), and from many extant myths one could determine what would happen to humans if they attempted to imitate gods in one form or another. The Sumerian mythology included the "Me" i.e. universal decrees of divine authority that regulated human behaviour and the promotion of arts, crafts and civilization.
In Hesiod’s “Theogony” (800 BC?) for example, one finds significant variations to the known cosmogonical schemes: he speaks of the appearance of Chaos as a primordial principle of the unorganized state of matter before the creation of distinct and orderly forms (Cosmos). Chaos creates night and the darkness of the underworld; night in turn creates light and ether (atmosphere?) on its own. Then, Earth (Gaia) and, Eros appear as symbolic deities representing eternal natural creative processes. Hesiod’s work represents already a transition to philosophy for his cosmogony is what may be said to be a philosophical allegory. From Hesiod to Thales and the other pre-Socrates natural philosophers a next step was realized that formed the primitive basis of our scientific explanation of the creation and functioning of the universe.
Despite the various accounts of the world man soon realized that some, if not all of the religious elements, such as the expiatory rites and moral precepts, did not\not provide him with the expected or desired results. Arguably when mythologies no longer provided a satisfying view of the world, philosophy and science appeared. The search for knowledge—for truth—in primitive circumstances was fostered by curiosity and necessity. Perhaps famine perhaps something else brought man to a significant change and a new beginning: instead of trying to maintain the order of non-human nature by the performance of symbolic religious rites, humans started to exploit nature by means of technology and instead of guessing about nature explored her scientifically. These changes brought about the beginnings of rational thinking and science.
In turn, rational thinking brought about the beginning of: 1.A very long process through which man gained considerable if gradual control over his food supply and nature in general; 2. A long history of competition and conflict between Faith and causal-knowledge; and 3.An inexorable cycle of social changes that appear to occur whenever social forms and beliefs no longer correspond with social and environmental realities.
Science and technology have a long history, but its preponderance and advances have been uneven over time: for example, recent archeological and other evidence points to the existence of civilizations versed in astronomy and navigation that may have lived in the America's but that were destroyed by cataclysms around 12,000 BC leaving pieces of evidence and much conjecture; during the millennium prior to the traditional account of the urbanization process, a surge in inventions occurred (such as metallurgy, the wheel, and others) something that had to wait until the 17th century AD to be repeated and surpassed. Much of the early “scientific” endeavor appears directed to astronomy, determination of the seasons, time, and the calendar which served early civilizations with navigation and agricultural production. Cosmogony continued to be associated with mythology, religion and poetry for a long time. It took until the early Renaissance that new and determined efforts were made to decipher the universe and its functioning laws. With Newton’s “Principia” it got established “scientifically” that the world worked according to understandable principles instead of through the whims of capricious gods. Since then, science has imposed itself as the primary bearer of “truth” overshadowing former principal bearers of truth such as poetry, religion, and philosophy. A confusing part of this truth-bearing is that science seldom appears “definite” thus about 100 years ago the Theory of Relativity, the Quantum Theory, and more especially the Uncertainty Principle have supplemented and expanded Newton’s work and further changes can be expected. So, what is it that now we could “know” about the old subject of how the universe originated and evolved? And what are its implications for us?
"That I recognize what holds the world's innermost together"
Goethe, Faust I,1
On the creation of the universe
Recent discoveries in astronomy and physics have shown beyond reasonable doubt that our universe had its beginning 13.7 billion years ago. Prior to that moment there was nothing; during and after that moment there was something: the universe.
Our universe is thought to have begun with an infinitesimally small, infinitely hot; infinitely dense “something” called a “singularity” (associated with gravitational pressures, black holes and infinite densities). We do not know where singularities came from; we don’t know what they consisted of; we do not know why they appeared.
According to the “Big-Bang” theory and its derivative “Inflation Hot Big Bang” theory, after the initial singularity appearance, it expanded and cooled, going from very small and very hot to the size and temperature of the current universe. The universe continues to expand and cool. The singularity did not appear in space; rather, space began inside singularity. Prior to singularity nothing existed, not space, time, matter, gravity or energy-nothing.
As with other theories, the Big Bang Theory has caused some controversy, but by measuring the stars “Hubble red shift” or how light waves get stretched as they recede; by measuring low level radiation called “cosmic microwave background” (CMB); and through the results of various nuclear laboratory experiments, scientists have been able to ascertain the key characteristics of the Big Bang: expansion, cooling, star formation, chemical compositions and beginnings of the universe.
So, what does the universe consist of? It consists of matter such as atoms, protons, neutrons and other called “baryonic matter” but also of “non-baryonic matter” whose characteristics are not yet known such as “dark matter” or “dark energy”; the known and unknown matter is then found in various forms such as the “nebulae” or clouds of interstellar dust and gas, stars, galaxies, supernovas, planets, proto-planetary disks among other.
Of the universe’ material formations, the galaxies are perhaps the biggest and most important ones. In essence a galaxy is a massive gravitationally bound system of stars, stellar remnants, interstellar gases and dust and “other” such as the poorly understood, “dark matter”. To appreciate some relativity: the universe consists of more than 170 billion galaxies that are millions and billions of light-years away from each other; a galaxy can consist of trillions of stars; the Milky Way is but one galaxy within which the sun and the solar system circle; the Milky Way is about 100,000 light-years across; and Andromeda, the nearest galaxial neighbour is located about 2.1million light-years away. (NB: a light year is about 10 trillion kilometers!).
The expansion of the universe appears determined by two opposite factors: the momentum of expansion and the pull of gravity. Recent observations suggest that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, giving rise to the idea that the universe will eventually cool down until it will be unable to sustain life on earth and other stars that might support life. But in order to ascertain such projections or whether the forces of gravity might impose themselves and create a “crunch”, much more needs to be known. Perhaps there is some middle ground and equilibrium? We do not know.
Available scientific evidence on the Big Bang supports the idea that further research on the unknown parts of the theory is warranted and appears to go ahead. At the same time other theories may evolve to the point where they may have more accurate explanations than the Big Bang one. If and when these complementary findings will be made, the scope of human understanding shall be expanded; but this knowledge shall be concentrated in very few scientists as the scope of the studies are rather specialized requiring the use of ever more sophisticated equipment and training. The theory of the creation of the universe will undoubtedly remain a theory.
"Physicists believe in a "true" world in their own manner: a certain and for everybody equal atom-systematization in necessary movements" - Nietzsche
On the creation of the elements
Shortly after the Big Bang took place the radiant energy that went with it, produced quarks-anti-quarks, electron-positrons and other particle-antiparticle pairs. However, as the particles and antiparticles collided they would annihilate each other back into electro-magnetic energy. Literally matter got annihilated by anti-matter in the first few minutes after the Big Bang. However as the universe expanded the energy of radiation became weaker and the quarks condensed into nucleons rather than getting annihilated by antiparticles. Further expansion and cooling allowed the neutrons and protons of the nucleons to fuse and form hydrogen and helium (the lightest and simplest elements). This condensation is said to have taken place during the first three minutes after the Big-Bang. All other elements were created from hydrogen and helium through a similar nuclear process but through the birth and deaths of stars (that were able to create sufficient radiant energy through the combustion of hydrogen and helium) and over very many years (uranium is estimated to have taken around 6 billion years to form).
In sum, the nuclear cauldron of the Big Bang and the Stars has produced 98 naturally occurring and 20 man-made elements whose atoms combine in many ways to form the myriad of "existents" found in the Universe.
On the creation of the earth
The earth was created through accretion from the solar nebula about 4.54 billion years ago i.e. 8.5 billion years after the creation of the universe. Besides accretion the earth surface was under continuous bombardment by meteorites and other materials from the solar nebula and perhaps was subject to a “giant” collision with another proto-planet that is thought to have created the moon some 50 million years after the earth got formed. At first, the earth was very hot and volcanic. A solid crust formed as the planet cooled and the impact of extraterrestrial material caused lots of craters and probably the introduction of many and varied elements as well as water, carbon dioxide, methane, ammonia, and other volatiles. Through earthquakes and volcanic activity, the earth’s surface eventually took the shape it is in today. Its mass provides the gravity that holds everything together. More or less after 2 billion years since the earth’s creation, the earth appeared stable enough to support some form of primordial life.
NB: Words such as nature and world are often used and refer to the earth in its entirety of chemical, physical, environmental and life-supporting characteristics not necessarily found elsewhere in the universe.
On the creation of life
The details of the origin of life are unknown, but the basic principles behind it have been established. Natural chemistry and a favourable environment have been the essential causal factors in a long transition process from the non-living to the living. One of the phases of this transition involved the creation of organic precursors of typical molecules of living organisms from inorganic compounds under certain conditions known to have existed in the earlier life of the earth and which have been reproduced in the laboratory. These organic precursors survived best in wet conditions i.e. in the primordial oceans. Another phase, involved the effects of radiant solar energy in the transformation of organic precursors in the primordial oceans or their muddy shores (in many ancient mythologies, life has sprung from the oceans and man specifically from mud) to increasingly complex and concentrated solutions of organic molecules which over time would form larger molecules seen in the living cells. Yet another phase, involved random combinations of the larger organic molecules and the formation—after very many trials--- of nucleic-acid molecules that can dictate the structure of protein molecules. If at the same time the primitive ocean contained a second protein with the ability to accelerate the formation of the first, then the conditions for the beginning of a primitive form of life were given i.e. a system in which particular nucleic acids and proteins could reproduce.
“Life” distinguishes itself from non-life, essentially through the ability of some more or less complex molecular structure to replicate itself (the replicator). The nature of the first “replicator” is unknown because its function has long been superseded by life’s current replicator, DNA. DNA is the replicator in virtually all known life and exhibits a very complicated chemical structure. Recent studies on ribosome’s (building blocks of DNA) confirmed nevertheless that the seemingly complicated structure of a ribosome was assembled following a set of simple structural rules that could be executed in and by nature.
The transition from non-living to living was gradual; once it occurred, the further development of living creatures is postulated to have followed the ramifications of the evolutionary process described in the Theory of Evolution.
On the origin of man’s consciousness
The “appearance” of Homo sapiens between 500,000 and 300,000 years ago was preceded by various hominids or manlike species none of which survived. It is generally postulated that over 80% of the existence of Homo sapiens was animal-like until one very significant change presented itself with the appearance of “consciousness”. We do not know precisely how or when this came about. Few deny that there was a process that created "consciousness" in Homo sapiens and that this differentiated him from animals. Among researchers, differences seem to concentrate on the "when" aspects and recent archeological evidence appear to suggest the existence of a much earlier civilizations than the Sumerian or Egyptian one. The Sumerians themselves mention that there were prior "peoples". The Lascaux paintings/drawings in southern France date from 22,000 BC; the Pedra Furada drawings of Brazil are dated at 33,000 BC; and mummies found along the coast of Peru appear older than the oldest of the Egyptian mummies. Unfortunately, very little is otherwise known of the "culture" within which these artistic expressions and mummies originated.
Consciousness is used here as an umbrella concept that refers to a variety of mental functions, activities and phenomena (some of which probably existed well before man learned to speak and think). For example, awareness and self-awareness are important elements; memory is another; and the executive control system of the mind that directs the conscious will, is yet another. Other, consciousness related or dependent mental characteristics of man involve all “spiritual” expressions of man; his capacity to perceive things; intuitive recognition; the ability to think; and the ability to deal with ideal ideas. It remains uncertain, how and when the transition from the animal-like instinctive heathen to the psychologically conscious and from there to the observing and reflective man came about.
One of the first concrete evidence of consciousness has come from a Neanderthal burial ground from around 100,000 BC. Here, food remains, tools and gadgets were found besides skeletons indicating belief and forethought about the needs in the “life beyond”. The Neanderthal hominid (as well as all other hominids) however did not survive to tell their tale.
With the help of many “studies”, “finds”, and “conjectures” of anthropologists, archeologists, paleontologists, geologists, and other specialists it has been hypothesized that over 80% of Homo sapiens’ existence man has thrived in coastal areas and survived by “hunting and gathering”. The latter parasitic and extractive survival activity was carried out with stone tools and in groups in similar ways as packs of wolves hunt. Neither the production of stone tools nor group hunting could be realized without some form of awareness, organization, communication and ability to learn. The use and control of fire as well as the bow and arrow date from hunting and gathering times and likewise reflect flickering consciousness in man prior to his ability to speak and think.
While the experts cannot agree on dates, say somewhere around 50,000 BC, language is said to have made its appearance in southern Africa (the “click” language) with the theorized help of a gene mutation that allowed man to make articulated rather than grunting sounds. As primitive as the first language was, it represented a quantum growth in consciousness and communication. Not long afterward, somewhere between 10-4,000 BC man gradually domesticated plants and animals and thus was able to change the source of his food supply from the uncertain parasitic-extractive means to more stable and increasingly self-sustaining agricultural production that used nature’s bounty. Around 4,000 BC irrigation was applied in major river valleys and the period between 4 to 3,000 BC man invented not only writing but an amazing number of useful higher tools such as the wheel, the sail, the harnessing of animal power, the brick and other. By the time the epic poem of Gilgamesh was written (2,500 BC?) one could assume that the mental capacities of man were fully developed and comparable to modern man.
The above summarized human development process is not without its challengers and detractors and earlier civilizations than those mentioned may have existed in Polynesia, Latin and Meso-America long before those of Egypt and Mesopotamia. These civilizations appear to have been based on navigation and lived in coastal areas, unfortunately the study of these civilizations is still in its infancy.
IMPLICATIONS & INTERPRETATIONS
A Brief Summary
For most of man’s conscious existence he believed in the interpretations of the world provided by mythologies and religion. Religions remain an important “account of the world” for the faithful but mythologies have been relegated to the dustbins of scholars even though they contain a lot of very interesting interpretations. One of these can be found in the Creation Hymn of the Rig Veda (1200 BC?) where we already have something vaguely akin to what might be interpreted to have been a dream of a Big-Bang Theory:
“There was neither non-existence nor existence then; there was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond”; “There was neither death nor immortality then. There was no distinguishing sign of night or day”. “Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning with no distinguishing sign… The life-force that was covered with emptiness, that one, arose through the power of heat”. “Who really knows? Who will here proclaim it? Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation? The gods came afterwards. Who then knows whence it has arisen?” and “ Whence then creation has arisen—perhaps it formed itself or perhaps it did not—the one who looks on it in the highest heaven, only he knows—or perhaps he does not know”.
Is, one may ask, poetry (Rig Veda in this case) not as realistic an interpreter of the creation of the Universe as the scientific equivalent? At least the Rig Veda provided an easily understood interpretation of the creation of the universe which science has not been able to come up with until now. The experimental and causal explanations of the various Creation Theories remain shrouded in uncertainty (we understand principles, but don't know). Under the circumstances, there are those that have a preference for allegorical philosophy and poetry over science.
To cynics, the early basic components of the world of water, fire, earth and air may not be very far apart from today’s interpretation that postulates that the new “real components” consist of atoms, light, neutrinos, dark energy and dark holes. The difference lies in the 2500 years it took man to arrive at this result (Thales' origin of all through water vs the Bosom or "god-particle" of Hawkins and the CERN researchers). The cynics view does nevertheless point to important differences in the interpretation of facts over time and the related differences in what may be considered “the truth”.
The truth is that man-collectively- knows more today than he knew 2500 years ago. Given the limitations of individual human capacities, the “more” has implied specialization to the point where new knowledge is a matter of team-work and the use of ever more costly and sophisticated equipment. While much “true knowledge” is being gained by scientific activity, scientists themselves struggle increasingly to gain consistent and up-to-date physical “worldviews”. Nevertheless physicists believe that a comprehensible universe appears possible in the shape of universally valid particle-energy systematization. But even if scientists were to come up with an appropriate interpretation and meaning, the common person is utterly dependent upon “interpretation of interpretations of simplifications” and may actually feel that ignorance is bliss.
So, what have the scientific i.e. cosmological findings over the recent past meant for us? Space-walks and research satellites have become a familiar matter to most. It is vaguely understood by everybody that the concept of “infinity” goes farther than most dared to think. Infinity seems to have changed the concept of relativity for even the relatively concrete beginning-of-the-world estimate of 13.7 billion years away is one “infinity” that we cannot grasp. Can one believe that because the solar system is part of the Milky Way and this part of another billion parts, one is relatively less important than we were before we knew this? If anything, the idea of a diminished relativity should make us humble and sober but we continue to be arrogant and continue to make wars. And is there now a new physical world view? Yes, it is still in the making but it already has relegated all others to the dustbin. Should we care? Yes! It is important to "understand" because understanding is akin to "liberation": liberation from doubt, liberation from ignorance, and liberation from uncomfortable and "queasy" feeling of incapacity to live in harmony with the Universe, the World and Nature that surrounds and influences us. We should in addition care, because in the dustbin of the past very many valuable parts of worldviews are buried that would still provide sentimental (not scientific!) crutches to humanity that are missing due to the “collateral damage” of science. Science is important, and it is not her fault that humans tend to exaggerate this importance and extend it to domains that are not\not scientific. We cannot fail to deal with society, with human relations, and with laws and ethics and the arts. These are not within the purview of science, have their own laws and methods and if neglected may result in mayhem.
On Knowledge and the Interpretation of Reality
Without pretending to go into the details of epistemology, and considering the many previously remarked “unknowns”, how do we “know” that the various described “origins” are more or less probably “true”? (Or at least truer than the traditional dogmatic cosmogonies?). On the basis of very simple graduations of proof of knowledge, such as “faith”, “beliefs”, “conjectures” and “causal understanding” we can say with certainty that the “origins” are likely to be truer than all other ones because a lot of experimental effort and causal thinking went into it.
Scientific thinking struggles with a definitive answer whenever “nature” makes it impossible-to study her under controlled conditions. Man is hence obliged to theorize on the basis of the available and often circumstantial evidence. The result has been a series of theories: the Big Bang Theory for the creation of the universe; the Element Creation theory for the origins of the elements; the Origin of Life theory through the casual mix of inorganic materials and conditions; and the controversial “Theory of Evolution” for the evolution of all living beings including man. These theories complete a pantheon of rational scientific explanations that provide mankind with a rational physical “worldview”. Just one encompassing and comprehensible theory appears possible and may be a next step. Unfortunately, this worldview is not only highly complex but subject to changes that go in tandem with new and supplementary discoveries, thus difficult to follow, comprehend and barely satisfying for the “soul” that looks for something simpler, definite and permanent.
In regard to the above it appears idle to enter into discussions on whether one or another explanatory approach is more real, more adequate, or superior. Here it should be mentioned that the nature of a theory brings with it that it is an adequate explanation as long as there is no contrary evidence. Science in any case reserves itself the right to “recant” and\or modify the explanation while it welcomes any substantial scientifically acceptable new or contrary evidence. While Faith-based dogmas do not have this window of opportunity that science grants, they have an attractive “certainty” about them. Theories are at best approximations to complete causal knowledge, yet man may still relish in his knowledge of the causality of approximations, relish in the approximate truth and on this basis continue to explore and solve unknowns.
On the ultimate question (the singularity and its fuse?)
The Big Bang theory leaves this question open; but physicist Stephen Hawking makes one believe that this question has an objective answer “if not today, tomorrow”.
Related to the above is the explicit question of the existence of an all-powerful and knowledgeable God who, like in the Book of Genesis, created everything in six days including man in his own image. Considering that it took about 6 billion years to form uranium in nature, a six-day creation period needs to be seen in allegorical not real terms. Unfortunately, churches and religions have had serious problems in adjusting their creeds to more acceptable allegorical interpretations and often still insist on their "truth".
For the Buddhist there is no God, for Lao Tzu and Confucius there was ``The Way`` and for the old Hindus, the nihilistic if not highly philosophical interpretation of the origin of the universe as represented in the Creation Hymn of the Rig Veda much doubt is expressed. Certain scientists, notably Einstein, thought that the universe was pervaded by an underlying intelligence that revealed itself in the knowable world in the lawful harmony of the world, but not through a God who concerned himself with the narrow fate and doings of mankind. Yet the Quantum Theory and the Uncertainty Principle undermined the idea of a deterministic universe in favour of an abstract and hard to understand universe of chance and probabilities.
Stephen Hawking believes that both, the macro-cosmic view of the Theory of Relativity and the micro-cosmic view of the Quantum Theory can be harmonized into one cosmic interpretation. This potentially harmonized physical “world view” however could not (just like Newton’s worldview) at the same time be harmonized with man's spiritual requirements nor with the traditional religious concepts. Some believe that a transition from a supernatural theistic God to a fully natural God as a symbol for the ceaseless creativity in the universe may represent a solution. But this implies changes that are impossible to effect.
Perhaps harmonic solutions can be seen in what Aldous Huxley termed the "mythic-scientific" interpretation of the Universe: "scientific investigation has shown that the world is a diversity underlain by an identity of physical substance while the mystical (or spiritual) experience testifies to the existence of a spiritual unity underlying the diversity of separate consciousnesses". Perhaps we will never know until we create something like "the square root of an abstraction" i.e. when the vast amount of information can easily be synthesized and understood.
What would infinity be my dear?
On large numbers and man’s perception of his vanishing importance
Once upon a time, both philosophers and religion told us that we were valued and valuable participants in the cosmic order. A geocentric view predominated and these beliefs were once the elements that shaped laws, politics and social orders. This perception of the “world” changed with the realization in the 16th century that the earth turned around the sun rather than the other way around. In modern times of course, mankind has learned that our earth is not only part of the solar system but that this turns around the center of an infinitely larger Milky Way galaxy that in turn is only one galaxy among “very many other galaxies” and “very many light years away”. In sum, the perception of the relative importance of man seems to have received a “jolt” to his normally exalted self-appreciation with the knowledge of the earth’s diminutive role in the universe. The more the universe seems comprehensible, the less it seems a "purposeful wonder" and the more it appears as "pointless". Worse still, we learned that if Darwinism does not get us depressed, the Second Law of Thermodynamics will with its postulate that everything-stars, mountains, galaxies-will eventually run out of energy. Entropy is the fate of a universe that will revert to Chaos and the “nothingness” mentioned in the Rig Veda. And as the universe unfolds, we observe that it has the properties we would expect if there is in the end, no design, no purpose, no values, nothing but indifference unless, unless we create for ourselves the answers. Our quasi faith in the sufficiency in science “to give a complete account of the world” has brought us perhaps to believe that we consist of no more than electromechanical impulses in our brain with no meaning or purpose beyond our organism’s capacity to survive and reproduce.
The truth is ugly but we have art so that we do not destroy ourselves.
On Science and Sentiments
It would appear from the judgments expressed above that the results of science may not be liked by an average human being who may be longing after a “worldview” that he would feel comfortable with. But alas! Science and human sentiments do not necessarily see eye to eye. The laws of thermodynamics postulate physical relationships whether one likes it or not and if the result of a scientific experiment shows beyond doubt that X is not = to Y, humans have to accept it and proceed to modify their behavior or outlooks if needed.
In the attempt to formulate a physical “worldview” science may find itself in the uncomfortable position of having to admit knowledge deficiencies, uncertainties, and tentative formulations. This is perfectly normal, for science is but a partial and even tentative authority that is bound to ascertain the reality of nature whether it pleases us in the process or not.
The problem in short, is that the world of our interest, the world of values, the world of sentiments and imagination seem often to have little connection to the world of facts as revealed by natural sciences. Our mind-sets, imagination, and longings of the soul are but a few spiritual expressions that in principle could also be investigated by science, but where science has not made significant inroads. The most amazing thing in the universe is from our standpoint, the presence and power of the mind. Somehow, by natural processes that are still mysterious, millions of brain-cells working together have the power to dream, to calculate, to see, to hear, to smell, to feel, to speak, to think, to perceive and to translate sentiments as well as scientific formulae into writings which other brains can interpret and understand. But as a consequence, we don’t ever seem entirely rational or sentimental there is always some mix of the two elements: the rational and the intuitive.
As humans we seem to live bifurcated lives. We accept the world described by science---purposeless matter in mindless motions---as the “real” world--- while confining the world of meaning and purpose to the realm of the private and subjective. We are aware that how we think of the world and our knowledge of it shapes our actions and hence influences our social and political orders. At the same time we sense that we can only be at home in a world where the facts reflect and reinforce our spiritual longings and values. But what are these spiritual values? What is it that would make us comfortable with science’s findings and nature? It appears clear that science has worked like acid on the traditional spiritual environment and one of the first things we owe ourselves is to harmonize ourselves with the facts of nature translated by science. This process however cannot be completed successfully unless we also critically study the mishmash of our spiritual being so that we get to know what aspect we need to modify in order to establish the spiritual values that allow us to live in harmony with ourselves and nature.
It seems like yesterday that the Enlightenment overthrew the rule of religious orthodoxy and saw human fulfillment based on scientific reason. Yet today, it has become clear that science’s account of the world is neither complete nor satisfying to us. Without further analysis many have already decided that science’s break with long-held ideas, particularly notions of human purpose and final causes warrant their hedonistic and utilitarian claim that longevity, wealth and entertainment are the purpose of our personal, social and political arrangements. This is and has been an appropriate goal for the great majority of the population. Nowadays, unfortunately, the Plutocracy that leads this population is advocating "Pane (Consumerism), Vino (Excitement) et Circensis (Vulgar Entertainment)" as appropriate goals without realizing that thereby they are bringing about what Niall Ferguson calls "The Great Degeneration" i.e. the dissolution of society. Historical analyses however show that societies have the capacity to renew and heighten their culture and thus renew a lifecycle even if like with the Renaissance this can take a very long time.
15.9.11 rev 17.11.13 + 26.10.14
Tags: Max Bade