A Measure of Scientific Thoughts
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” [Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV)].
As scientists race from now to tomorrow and back, probing deeper and deeper into the microcosm and macrocosm of physical reality, they are encountering greater complexities and less certainty. The arrogance of the nineteenth century European Enlightenment has slowly dissipated into the bedevilment of century twenty-one chaos.
The diversity of the phenomena of nature is so great, and the treasures hidden in the heavens so rich, precisely in order that the human mind shall never be lacking in fresh nourishment. [Johannes Kepler].
Science acknowledges that after a certain point, human observation requires interpolation, interpretation and analogies. No direct view is available. In outer space and molecular biology, in quantum mechanics and the human genome, no direct view is possible.
I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me. [Isaac Newton].
Human Observations and Scientific Thoughts
What is even more discomforting is that human observation itself becomes an obstacle to accurate measurement. In addition, the presence of our instruments, the echos of our senses, the shadows of thoughts, all interfere with the light of our intellect, and distortions occur.
Nasruddin went one day to the market to sell ten donkeys he owned. At times he rode one of them and at times he walked. After a while, he stopped to check the number of donkeys and counted only nine. So he dismounted and started to count them again. He counted ten so he mounted and continued the journey. When he again counted the donkeys as he rode, he found them nine. So he dismounted and counted and again counted ten. Finally, he told himself, “Walking and gaining a donkey is better than riding and losing one!” [Adapted from Mullah Nasruddin: Stories].
Our physical senses can directly perceive familiar measures without much thinking. We can easily visualize a person six feet tall, but how tall is four cubits? Can you picture a nanosecond or a gigabyte? Very large and very small quantities may be generally indirectly perceived, but they are still a few thoughts away from being fully understood.
Both religion and natural science require a belief in God for their activities, to the former He is the starting point, and to the latter the goal of every thought process. To the former He is the foundation, to the latter, the crown of the edifice of every generalized world view. [Max Planck, Where is Science Going?].
Measurement of the Mind
Having become familiar with a measurement of size, weight, distance, etc., our mind is able to think about it and understand it by a simple reference. It then becomes a symbol for information that we easily manipulate, and also communicate to each other.
As in learning a language, we at first have to translate each foreign word into our native tongue. Eventually, with practice we can think in our newly learned language, without translating.
Similarly, after using measurements for a while, we can understand them and use them to reason and calculate without a mental translation. We are then able to “perceive” directly what the measurement signifies, without pausing or concentrating on it.
However, as science increasingly relies on indirect measurements, such direct understanding and direct perception diminishes. We begin to rely on symbols and indirect measurements that require complex calculations, abstract measurement, and analogies. Our mind cannot “absorb” these abstract measurements, so direct perception or visualization does not occur.
Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are part of nature and therefore part of the mystery that we are trying to solve. [Max Planck, Where is Science Going?].
Mysticism in Science
Mystics often describe their religious experience as ineffable, referring to the difficulty of describing the Presence of God in literal terms. All they can do is use metaphors, analogies and symbols to convey a sense of the depth and passion of their experience. [See: Jerome Gellman, Mysticism, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy]. Science, too, has found it difficult to describe its discoveries.
In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t. [Blaise Pascal].
As a result of our increased use of complex and abstract data, our observations are no longer directly relevant to our senses. They must be “fed” into other instrument to be made relevant to theories, hypotheses and interpretations. That is what scientists now do. That is how great innovations and discoveries are identified and tested.
What makes this process even more abstract is that complex scientific thoughts are themselves removed from our common perception, making only cameo appearances in text books, news releases and science fiction.
By thinking, He cannot be reduced to thought, even by thinking hundreds of thousands of times. [Guru Nanak, Sri Guru Granth Sahib 1:1].
The Realm of Thoughts
When we enter the realm of interpreting data in order to measure and analyze, we lose a degree of certainty and understanding. This new science has many parallels to religion.
The history of Western science confirms the aphorism that the great menace to progress is not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge. [Daniel J. Boorstin, Cleopatra’s Nose].
Once in the realm of thoughts, instead of direct empirical observation, the scientist resembles a theologian or a philosopher. His knowledge becomes a series of assumptions, theories and ideas regarding the nature of reality. As with theologians, the scientist’s swagger begins to falter at this point and doubts appear.
Whether sought through the microscope or the telescope, God is ever beyond human perception. God’s vast and infinitesimal dimensions are outside human comprehension, yet they are just a deep thought away.
No vision can grasp Him, But His grasp is over all vision; He is above all comprehension, Yet is acquainted with all things. [Qur’an 6:103].