Monday, 6 April 2009

The Scientist and the Universe

The universe is profoundly weird, even godlike. The Big Bang itself, entirely inaccessible to the tools of scientists, is an extraordinary theological phenomenon - a whole creation emerging out of nothing in an instant. And why should there be anything at all, instead of nothing - for ever? It would be much less trouble to have no events, no stuff. Yet here we are, millions of years on, evolved from that formless energy into you reading and me writing. Why? Science is silent.

The queerness of the universe goes much further than this. For instance, it isn't really there in the sense of which we think of it. The amount of actual 'stuff' in the human body for example, can be contained in a grain of salt - the atoms and molecules we are made of consist almost entirely of space. Of course we feel solid, but at the most fundamental level there is almost nothing there. We are such stuff as dreams are made on.

Furthermore, at a subatomic, quantum level, matter springs in and out of existence in a kind of 'quantum froth'. Something all the time is coming from nothing and reverting to nothing again. And it is scientifically unquestionable that the mighty cosmos, from one distant corner to another, including the particles that make up you and me, is all made of the same stuff/energy - the same stuff/energy down to the last infinitesimally small particle, created all those millions of years ago in the Big Bang. Not a single iota has been created or destroyed since. We are literally and factually both all one and eternal.

Since all is one, the universe is you - or at least expressed through you. The universe is dead without human beings to conjure it into life - to give it colour, meaning, shape. In that sense we are still at the centre of the universe. Science, in its constant breaking down and measuring, obscures the truth that there are not multitudes of events but just one event. Not many things - just one thing. And that event - that thing, could be described as the unfolding of 'God'. It's a God that has nothing to say about morality or judgement, or heaven. But it is unquestionably real - and is evidenced by our ability to imagine and perceive. We are the universe becoming conscious of itself.

These are all extraordinary godlike ideas, yet as factual as the dinner you eat or the road you walk on. The trouble is that science gives us no way to feel these miracles as lived realities. The human soul is left unnourished by equations and syllogisms. Science needs a dose of humility before working out what a scientific god might look like - and feel like. Science hates God because it shows that scientific powers are limited in the face of an ultimately unfathomable universe. But scientists need to take note of the Zen nostrum 'If you ask where the flowers come from, not even the god of spring knows'. Or, as Sir Arthur Eddington put it when talking about fundamental particles, 'Something unknown is doing we don't know what'. Science respects ignorance and the 'cloud of unknowing' in a way that religion based on sacred scriptures often does not. But we shall not move towards a new vision of god until science acknowledges the limits of its own disciplines and makes the poetic leap from measurement and analysis to meaning and synthesis. This a job perhaps more for poets than scientists. If so, poets need to read science books more - and scientists need to understand what poetry is for and the irrefutable realities of which it too, speaks

Tim Lott - From Here to Divinity

There is much here to remind us of the depths long-ago reached by Indian cosmology, such as that found in the Stanzas of Dzyan