Physics vs. Metaphysics

There was a time when there was no conflict between science and religion in the popular mind of the West. It was accepted, at least on the surface, by everyone that the Universe was created by and ruled by God(s), and science did not exist, as we know it. With the rise of rationalism, and the introduction of mathematical concepts into philosophy in the 17th century by Descartes, Leibniz, and Spinoza, we see the beginnings of the separation of science and religion. If the world can be described in mathematical terms, we do not need God.

 I am always taken aback when someone intelligent makes an absolute statement such as there is no God. What they are saying, of course, is  that we live in a rational Universe, one in which there could not be anything super-natural, such as a supreme being who created the Universe out of nothing. This statement implies that we understand the Universe enough to make the statement that it is a rational universe, and that is an assumption, an article of faith as blind as the article of faith of someone who believes in a supreme being. The best that can be said is we do not know what we do not know.

 The fact is, both science and religion explain the origins of the Universe by an act of faith; either by a big bang, or by the hand of an eternal God. Neither one can prove that beginning…but they begin an entire and complete explanation of everything else starting from that article of faith. Neither one is provable, and both have problems, dealing with the concept of infinity. What happened before the Big Bang? Where did God come from, and why did he create this universe at the time and place he did?

 To suggest that we live in a rational universe implies that everything can be explained and described Theoretically, if we had a big enough computer, we could, theoretically, track every particle in the Universe and predict the future…but we KNOW that this is impossible. One of the basic principles of Physics, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, states quite clearly that we can either know the position, or the momentum (speed) of a particle, but not both. We cannot know that a particular particle exists in one place and is moving towards another. The principle theory that governs our physics, Quantum mechanics, relies on the idea that the particles that make up the Universe can only be understood as probability vectors. The Universe, as far as we know now, is not rational, it is chaotic. We can predict certain events on a large scale, if they are simple and repeating, but there are far many more events that we cannot predict.

 More importantly, our level of understanding of the mathematics of the Universe, the physics of the Universe, is nowhere near perfected. We have developed two systems of physics, Newtonian physics, which describes the movement of large bodies, such as cars, rocks and pebbles, and Quantum physics, which describes the movement of small bodies, quarks, electrons, pi-mesons, etc. The problem is the Universe cannot have two systems of physics. There has to be one, and we cannot reconcile Newtonian and Quantum physics…thus, we do not even have the tools, at the moment, necessary to describe the Universe. We are at the ‘blind man and the elephant’ stage of physics, where we can feel a large, round body, can invent the tools to explore this body, and say that an elephant is like a tree trunk. We CANNOT see the side of the elephant, the tail, the trunk, etc. We can only describe what we can see, and what we can see is bounded by those tools we use to see them. We did not know radiation existed until we actually invented the tools to detect it.

 Scientists work by using their eyes; a blind scientist is almost totally incapable of performing scientific experiments. He or she has to be able to see the data to interpret it…but what does that say about our other senses? Most spiritual people claim to work by detecting other forms of energy, using other senses. Scientists dispute this, because this phenomenon cannot be detected by scientific methods, but that is sort of the point, isn’t it? These phenomenons are not in the realm of science, they are in the realm of, for a better wording, ‘the spirit.’ Certainly, insects and animals detect the world by senses we don’t understand

 I accept that Science can describe and predict much of the physical world, and has brought us many advantages. We live longer, are able to communicate over the internet, are going to the moon and can watch movies whenever we want. I am grateful for all of that. I also accept that we have only worked with the scientific method for two hundred years, or so, and are very much in our infancy with respect to truly knowing and understanding reality.

 Let us approach this ‘logic’ from a different direction. Instead of suggesting that, since our logic cannot encompass the thought of worlds outside of our logical frame of reference, they do not exist, is it not just as logical and reasonable to suggest that we do not truly understand reality, and that the Universe might be incomprehensible to our current level of understanding? That science is a way of describing one aspect of reality and, say, Buddhism a way of describing another? That Christianity makes one aspect of reality clearer for those people who adopt that way of thinking, whereas Shinto makes a different aspect of reality clear? And, perhaps, we are not really capable of understanding the totality of reality, yet?

 I say yet, because understanding takes time, and often requires prior understanding; we gain knowledge through our ability to use previous understandings to come up with new understandings. It is rare to make jumps of understanding, while skipping intermediate steps. For instance, our understanding of the world of Quantum mechanics would have been impossible without previous discoveries in mathematics and physics; it is hardly likely that Archimedes, the Greek inventor, would have dreamed up Quantum Physics. We needed to go through a revolution in Physics to get to where we are, now. It is inconceivable that we would not have future revolutions in our knowledge of the physical universe as new discoveries force us to invent new branches of physics.

 Arthur C. Clark, in his book “Childhood’s End” wrote of a future time when 2,000 children evolved into a state of expanded consciousness and left the Earth to join a greater consciousness beyond our experience. The rest of the Earth was destroyed when they left, because the purpose of Earthly evolution had been achieved. Is it not possible that our consciousness is evolving…and we have far more to learn about the functionings of the universe than we know now? And that where we are, now, is part of a wonderful adventure that extends into infinity?

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