How did the Universe come to existence? Is our consciousness merely perceiving reality or creating it? What is life? Why does tomato sauce taste good on pasta but not on ice cream?
Those kinds of questions have been jogging around my mind ever since I first looked up at the night sky and learned that those beautiful small glowing dots are actually like our bright hot Sun, only far far away. And that some of those dots are in fact collections of millions of Suns, even further away. And that I am not seeing them as they are now, but as they were millions of years ago, when the light I am looking at had left them. And all those fascinating sorts of things.
People have always been curious about such questions. They inspired countless pieces of art, countless stories and countless interpretations. Some say there is an all-powerful God that runs the show and we are not in a position to know how. Others say everything is simply a consequence of mathematical laws and there is no higher intelligence to it. And some say they are Jedi knights. There are probably as many views on the world as there are people, but one thing is for sure:
People are extremely bad at letting others have different beliefs
When we believe something to be the truth, we tend to proclaim ourself the warriors of justice on a mission to open everybody else’s eyes to (our) truth and humiliate them if they stick to theirs.
When I embarked on a scientific academic path, I was sort of expecting that science provides an objective route to exploring the nuts and bolts of our amazing world. I thought that fights over the ultimate truth were the domain of religious fanaticism and that the scientific community is all about open-minded curiosity.
While the scientific community will probably not torture and burn you in an inquisition if you have “inappropriate” ideas, you should definitely expect a fair share of shaming, your PhD title replaced with “psycho” and possibly elimination from the community.
Here is a true example. Before bacteria were discovered, doctors had no idea how diseases and infections spread. Therefore, they did not see the need to wash their hands and tools. And so, what often happened is that they would perform autopsies in the morning and childbirth in the afternoon without washing their hands. As a result, from the 1600s through the mid-to-late 1800s, there was an epidemic of childbed fever (infections following birth) with up to 100% of childbirths leading to death. A doctor by the name of Ignaz Semmelweis proposed that washing hands with an antiseptic might be the solution. His proposition was received with outrage from the medical community because he could not scientifically prove it at the time (and because it was an attack on credibility of the medical community). Dr. Semmelweis ended up in a mental hospital where he died.
But that was centuries ago, we know better today, right? Take a story of Brian Josephson, a brilliant physicist, pioneer in the field of superconductivity and quantum mechanics and Nobel prize winner. A person with an outstanding contribution to modern physics. Well, dr. Josephson later chose a scientifically heretic path. He started taking up meditation and thinking what kind of connection there is between consciousness and quantum mechanics. He is today labeled by a lot of fellow scientists as crazy and was booed off the stage on scientific conferences. At least he did not end up in a mental hospital.
In a way, it is even harder to discuss with a scientific fanatic than with a religious one. With a religious fanatic, you can pretty much leave them silent with a question “What proof do you have for your claims?” But science indeed does have proof for its claims. However, two things are a fact:
- You don’t know what you don’t know. Nobody can claim that there is no connection between quantum mechanics and consciousness because we simply don’t know.
- You can only prove a theory wrong, not right. We are always performing scientific experiments in the scope of what we are capable of measuring at the time. Therefore, while the results in this scope may be in agreement with the theory, there is a significant possibility that it will turn out that the theory was only valid in this limited scope, but not in other circumstances. This is happening all the time. Newton’s laws were perfectly valid in the scope of experimental capability we had until previous century. But it turned out that at larger speeds and gravitational fields, it was wrong. Einstein’s relativity was born. And it may well turn out in the future that relativity is incomplete and there is an even more sophisticated theory behind it. Same story with pretty much every major scientific breakthrough.
That is why saying something is wrong because it cannot be proved is just like children trying to hide. Thinking that covering your eyes means the world is not there.
As with religion, the most ignorant people are usually the ones most eager to convince others of the truth (which is ironically not even their own discovery, it is something that somebody else told them). The passionate followers.
The thing that also shows signs of fanaticism is that science has become a seal of approval even in things that absolutely don’t require science. “Science proves” is the modern equivalent of “God says”. Take the title of this article for example:
It doesn’t really require a genius mind to figure out that you are not much good without sleep. But if science proved it, shit got real right? By the way, here is one of the outstanding results of research from the article: “A single night of sleep directly impacts your day and even your week.” Mindblowing discovery indeed.
What I am trying to say is that science as we know it is just one perspective on the world. A fascinating and beautiful one, but it is definitely not the whole story. Not by far. It is very easy to ask questions that science has no way of explaining. And those questions are the most interesting ones. You can ask why are the laws of physics the way they are? Were they always the same or have they changed at some point? What is life? We consider living things to be the ones that exhibit some self-organising processes while the other things are considered non-living, e.g. a stone. But why do we draw this distinction? Maybe the entire Earth is a living being and we are like bacteria on its skin.
What about spirituality? Scientific community is so quick to laugh at ancient spiritual knowledge, but guess what? Some of the pioneers of quantum mechanics, such as Erwin Schrödinger, drew their inspiration from ancient texts. Spiritual path is a path chosen by individual and its insights are drawn by tuning in to oneself and observing, not seeking mathematical proof. Why should those insights be any less valid than scientific ones?
True open-minded exploration means being open to all the different perspectives, asking questions that cannot be explained, taking a step back and looking at the big picture. And then looking for parallels between those different perspectives. That is when the beauty of this complex world becomes apparent.
Explore all the perspectives! And if you find yourself reading a post claiming that 5G network will have harmful effects on us and feeling the urge to unleash your inner justice warrior and comment about the science proving it is harmless, pause and keep an open mind. Science didn’t prove shit. We may just not know what we don’t know. It may be the end of humanity. Or it may not. We will see…