Friday, June 5, 2015

Science and the Perception of Reality


Written By: Shummas Humayun

Nature blessed us with the remarkable gift of consciousness.

Even though our collective age of existence as compared to the age of the universe seems negligible, we as individuals try our best to make sense of everything we experience through our senses. Hence it is natural for one to ask, Who created the universe?

The answer to this innocent sounding question is actually so complex, so far fetched and so out of the reach of our current understanding that even the brightest minds cannot answer it certainly with simply ‘this’ or ‘that’. I think it is the responsibility of a conscious human being, to have the audacity to keep aside the conventional beliefs and to ponder over ‘why is there something rather than nothing?’. The notions and hence the answers that which we acquire through childhood indoctrination in my view are highly unreliable. Since most of us believe what we have been taught since birth and somehow, we happen to accept it as the absolute truth. As a result of which there is no reliable method through which people belonging to different belief systems could genuinely decide, that whose explanation is more real than the other and hence the perception of reality in this case, turns out to be completely relative to a specific group of people.

So does childhood indoctrination provide enough reliable evidence (other than plain notions) to answer the above mentioned questions? Certainly not.

According to the Greek mythology, the first goddess Gaia (the goddess of Earth) was born from ‘Chaos’ (nothingness) who later wished to have a child. Gaia’s desire of having a child was so intense that she ended up impregnating herself and gave birth to Uranus. Quite a fantasy we now know. But apparently this was reality for the ancient greeks which they passed down from generation to generation, dating back to 1100 BC.

Similarly, humans were considered as God’s specially designed creatures, superior to all others. This view led our ancestors to conclude that Earth must be special too and perfect in the sense that it must be at rest as compared to other heavenly bodies. According to their philosophy, motion was responsible for changes and changes referred to imperfections in the state. Hence Earth was percieved to be in a state of rest, free from all imperfections. This gave birth to the ‘Ptolemaic model of Solar System’. Seemingly acquiring it’s name from the advocacy of a notable philosopher Ptolemy who lived around 120 AD. According to this model, Earth was the centre of the solar system with other celestial bodies including the sun orbiting around it. The churches found this view well suited with some verses contained in Bible. Among which the most obvious one is, “Tremble before him, all the earth! The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved” [Chronicles 16:30].

It was not until 1506, that someone openly challenged this widely accepted notion based on weak philosophy. When Nicolaus Copernicus presented his theory of Heliocentric solar system (Copernican Model), according to which our sun was at the center of the solar system with planets orbiting around it, he had to face strong religious opposition.

One of the strongest arguments that the supporters of the Ptolemaic model (Earth centered model) had, was “if Earth was moving through space then it’s moon will be left behind but since this doesn’t happen, Earth must be at rest in the center”. However, later when Galileo turned his telescope towards Jupiter and observed the planet, he found out that Jupiter had moons of it’s own which seemed to orbit around it. He immediately recognized that Jupiter’s moons were not left behind due to it’s (wrongly percieved) motion around the earth, though Jupiter still appeared to be in motion. This discovery didn’t fit in the Ptolemaic model and left a big hole in it. Another strong belief under the domain of the Ptolemaic model was the Aristotelian view according to which the heavens (the sun, moon, planets) were all perfectly smooth spheres orbiting around the special among all, Earth. But on the other hand, Galileo’s observation of black spots on the sun and rough surface of the moon, gave much evidence for imperfections in the celestial realm. This further weakened the ptolemaic model and was seen as a big threat not only to one of the most widely held beliefs but also to the church’s interpretation of Biblical text and hence, to Christianity itself. Due to Galileo’s staunch advocacy of the Copernican Model, the church sentenced him to life imprisonment. It was not until long after his death, the church exonerated Galileo in 1992 and finally changed it’s interpretation of the Biblical verse.

From these facts, it is quite evident that not only does the perception of reality improve with the passage of time but along with that, the interpretation of religious text also evolves. Hence the understanding of religion which often comes in the way of scientific advancements is itself, not absolute at all. As Einstein once said, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind”.

Returning to the question: Who created the universe afterall? Well, I am really not sure. And, I can’t claim to know something that I couldn’t even prove to myself, let alone the masses. Perhaps this is what the entire struggle is for anyway. Isn’t it? A struggle to know why did the universe turn out to be the way we see it and what would it be like, if the initial conditions of it’s formation were slightly different. In order to make such predictions there is a need to know what the initial conditions of the universe were, to begin with. To know the conditions that were responsible for the formation of this particular set of stubborn and invariable laws of nature. And why this particular set of laws and none other? Only after having a definite answer to the above mentioned question, we can move on to our main issue under discussion, are these laws fine tuned by an intelligent creator? This will provide enough evidence in favor or against.

It’s like climbing a ladder. It’s every step, further away than the previous. Every step more difficult to climb, but equally astonishing and rewarding. Leading physics to it’s ultimate destination; Formation of a perfect model so elegant, that it would account for everything in the universe from the microscopically small to the magnificently large and would hence make accurate predictions on the universe’s timeline. That would be the theory of everything and hence, the final triumph of physics.

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