Can Humans Directly Observe the Quantum World? Part I
And yet we might also ask, with a genuine and deep curiosity, why this fundamental framework of human potential is only now being discovered in this advanced and highly prolific age of science? Why has this fundamental knowledge about our very selves and nature – right in front of, inside of, our noses, so to speak – only now emerging, coming to light, also so to speak? Why has this basic nature of our own very capacity to experience the world not been previously evident to us in one way or another, and certainly scientifically?
There are a number of significant and profound answers to these questions, which will be explored in this series. For now we will very briefly point out that in fact there have been people that understood (in their own particular way) that humans are potentially capable of perceiving on such miniscule, hyper-acute, and even microscopic scales. In fact, this knowledge has been held by such people in at least several cultures for centuries, people who practiced engaging these capacities for the very reason that they felt that the realized capacities could lead them to the direct sensory perceptual experience of fundamental properties of the world around them, of the universe. These cultures include the Tibetan, Indian, and East Asian, among others.
Over a decade ago, in Bushell's own research into the sensory-perceptual abilities of highly advanced, long-term, adept practitioners of special forms of observational meditation, he began to realize that some of these practitioners were actually specifically and explicitly attempting to study light with their own highly trained visual capacities, including attempting to perceive the most elementary, fundamental “partless particles” of light. In fact, they were in many ways following the same protocols that contemporary biophysicists and vision scientists employ for testing the human capacity for detecting the least amount of light. The basic protocol includes the following key factors: the need for a completely dark, virtually light-proof chamber, which produces in human vision what is called the dark-adapted scotopic condition; the need for relatively complete motionlessness, as movements can distract and distort perception; the need for extended periods of highly directed and sustained attention; the need for being able to engage in multiple trials of viewing light, i.e., training and learning of the task; the ability to discriminate between actual external sources of light and light spontaneously produced by the body, especially by the visual system itself (internally produced light phenomena known as phosphenes or biophotons).
Is Reality Real? How Evolution Blinds us to the Truth About the World
We assume our senses see reality as it is - but that could be just an evolved illusion obscuring the true workings of quantum theory and consciousness
LIFE insurance is a bet on objective reality – a bet that something exists, even if I cease to. This bet seems quite safe to most of us. Life insurance is, accordingly, a lucrative business.
While we are alive and paying premiums, our conscious experiences constitute a different kind of reality, a subjective reality. My experience of a pounding migraine is certainly real to me, but it wouldn’t exist if I didn’t. My visual experience of a red cherry fades to an experience of grey when I shut my eyes. Objective reality, I presume, doesn’t likewise fade to grey.
What is the relationship between the world out there and my internal experience of it – between objective and subjective reality? If I’m sober, and don’t suspect a prank, I’m inclined to believe that when I see a cherry, there is a real cherry whose shape and colour match my experience, and which continues to exist when I look away.
This assumption is central to how we think about ourselves and the world. But is it valid? Experiments my collaborators and I have performed to test the form of sensory perception that evolution has given us suggest a startling conclusion: it isn’t. It leads to a crazy-sounding conclusion, that we may all be gripped by a collective delusion about the nature of the material world. If that is correct, it could have ramifications across the breadth of science—from how consciousness arises to the nature of quantum weirdness to the shape of a future “theory of everything”. Reality may never seem the same again.
The idea that what we perceive might differ from objective reality dates back millennia. Ancient Greek philosopher Plato proposed that we are like prisoners shackled in a fire-lit cave. The action of reality is happening out of sight behind us, and we see only a flickering shadow of it projected onto the cave wall.
Modern science largely abandoned such speculation. For centuries, we have made stunning progress by assuming that physical objects, and the space and time in which they move, are objectively real. This assumption underlies scientific theories from Newtonian mechanics to Albert Einstein’s relativity to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.
Natural selection, you might think, gives a simple reason why our senses must get it largely right about objective reality. Those of our predecessors who saw more accurately were more successful at performing essential tasks necessary for survival, such as feeding, fighting, fleeing and mating. They were more likely to pass on their genes, which coded for more accurate perceptions. Evolution will naturally select for senses that give us a truer view of the world. As the evolutionary theorist Robert Trivers puts it: “Our sense organs have evolved to give us a marvellously detailed and accurate view of the outside world.”
THE debate about religion and science dates back centuries. The debate is not about a technical matter, but about two realms of knowledge — theological and scientific. There seems to be an epistemological clash of validity between the two, apparently with each claiming sway over human life.
Faith leaders or ulema, in general, boast of having a godly system, which is eternally true, free from error and change. They underplay the hand of man in the understanding, interpretation and application of religious dogmas. Religious leaders are known to oppose scientific developments that they interpret as opposing the key notions of religion due largely to the fear that these would undermine the faith of believers. They may do it with sincerity to religion, and presumably, to save believers from error.
Their tools to deny science are theological and based largely on discursive reason, and not necessarily empirical evidence. They do not always have at their disposal the modern tools of understanding religion, such as scientific history of religions, sociology, psychology, anthropology etc. Reza Aslan’s work God: a Human History is illuminating; it explores how the evolution of religious impulses has taken place in the history of humankind.
Scientists on the other hand, see science as a realm of knowledge strongly reliable, based on human reason and demonstrable empirical evidence. For them, it is a self-corrective and evolving project, modifying itself, and following new evidence through inductive experimentation. It is an approach to generating and judging knowledge.
The debate between religion and science leaves us with no common ground.
A religious mindset on the other hand, sees this changing nature of scientific discoveries as a weakness, boasting of perennial and unchanging ‘truths’. It prefers stability over change; it is dogma-based. In almost all religions, historically opposition to science and scientists has been proverbial, leading to prejudices against, and torture of, scientists, as they are seen as ‘perverted’ souls, hell-bent on defying religious dogmas. This happens often because they use theological criteria to judge science; it is exactly like scientists judging religion or spirituality based on their experimental approach.
The debate between religion and science, put simply, leaves us with no common ground. I, for one argue that the epistemological approaches (forms of knowing and their validity criteria) to both religion and science need to be treated differently as they require different ways of establishing (methodology) and judging (criteria of truth) knowledge and truth claims. We need to be sophisticated enough to see these differences so that we understand each through its own perspective, avoiding one criterion for judging both.
Each branch of science requires different methodologies to study it. Similarly, within religion each branch requires different methodologies of study such as law or spirituality, language or ritual.
Thus, when the ulema judge science using theology, they inevitably make the same mistake as those scientists who judge religion using the scientific method. So, it is necessary that we treat both of them differently, which means we do not downgrade either of them, but acknowledge the unique contribution of each to human welfare.
In my lectures and visits to international audiences, I am always asked by young people the fashionable question: ‘What contribution has religion made to human progress in the last 500 years?’ This is obviously done keeping the magnificent scientific contributions at the back of their mind. I argue, ‘What contributions could one expect from religion to make?’ Did we expect religion to make a technological revolution?
By nature, what science does can be seen and observed; but the transformation brought about by religion in the inner core of people is invisible. However, though exceptional civilisational achievements might have been possible thanks to scientists, it is impossible to ignore the religious ‘faith’ impulse within, and the spiritual inspiration behind for example, civilisational art and architectural marvels, and literary jewels. It is unfair to expect religion to bring, say, a super technological revolution. The major purpose of religion is to not to make technological advances, but to carry out ‘inner engineering’, and transformations, and make people virtuous.
In sum, let us avoid rejecting a scientific approach to solving human problems at the altar of religion; nor should we reject religion because it does not work like science. Let us celebrate both as they address different dimensions of human yearning equally. As the Quran (2:201), says, “...Our Lord! Give us good in this world and good in the Hereafter. ...”. So we seek the best of both religion and science. Let the ulema become a bridge between the two.
The writer is an educationist with an interest in the study of religion and philosophy.
UBC President speaks at the Ismaili CentreToronto about faith in science
Dr. Santa J. Ono gave a lecture on Faith in the Academy at the Ismaili Centre Toronto on August 6. The President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of British Columbia spoke to the audience about how his faith has been intertwined with his scientific research over the years.
“So much that exists in this world cannot be explained or proven,” said Ono, explaining the realization he had many years ago that was pivotal to the growth of his faith.
According to Ono, Albert Einstein and other scientists have shared this same realization.
Ono shared a quote from Einstein: “‘Everyone who is seriously interested in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe – a spirit vastly superior to man, and one in the face of which our modest powers must seem humble.’”
Ono’s research is focused on the immune system, eye inflammation, and age related macular degeneration. He has worked at various universities in the United States, including the University of Cincinnati, Emory University, University College London, Johns Hopkins and Harvard before assuming the role of President and Vice-Chancellor of UBC.
During a moderated discussion after Ono’s speech, Dr. Deborah MacLatchy, President and Vice-Chancellor of Wilfrid Laurier University, asked him to elaborate on his early years of university and how faith came to him over time.
Ono equated his life prior to faith to how “a ship will toss over a rough sea.” He explained that faith provided him with “an anchor.”
Once he began his university training at age 17, Ono began to feel something missing in his life. He encountered new friends who told him about their religion, and when he entered their place of worship - their Church - he felt moved.
Ono discussed how once he embraced religion, he had to make conscious decisions about how vocal to be about his faith. He recalled one colleague cautioning him to be careful, telling him others would look at a faculty member who openly observes faith as lacking a rigorous scientific mind.
The UBC President ultimately came to the conclusion that he would be forthright and use his faith to create dialogue.
Through studying science for several decades, Ono said he has become more humble.
“Many things we believe to be true at a given time - 5, 10, 15 years later turn out not to be true,” he said, explaining that faith has made him a better scientist because it has made him more aware of the limitations of being human. Now, after decades of struggling with the notion of science and faith, Ono does not feel any tension between the two.
At UBC, Ono aspires to create an intentionally diverse environment that reflects the communities which it serves. He talked about how UBC is one of the most international universities in the world, and how its diversity creates an enriched environment for teaching, research, and learning as well as bringing together people from different faiths.
Ono expressed that a diverse environment brings differing views and perspectives, which in some cases causes uncomfortable situations. There is a blurred line between freedom of speech and hate speech, he said, but in his experience, bringing together differing opinions rather than censoring them is usually the right approach.
He also discussed his views on leadership.
“A leader has to start from a position of humility and respect others, everyone,” Ono said, explaining the concept of servant leadership. He explained a leader must be careful about the risks of intellectual arrogance: if one is not open to the idea of being wrong or to different perspectives, it can limit experiments and research.
Nida Hashimi, a university student entering her fourth year, asked about the need to build humility into students before they enter the workplace. Ono answered that as society has become so fast-paced and people have become more focused on the end result, the need for inter-generational education and mentorship has increased.
Ono said he sees this humility and intergenerational mentorship in the Ismaili community and he hopes to see more of it everywhere.
Have you heard that we may be living in a computer simulation? Or that our universe is only one of infinitely many parallel worlds in which you live every possible variation of your life? Or that the laws of nature derive from a beautiful, higher-dimensional theory that is super-symmetric and explains, supposedly, everything?
I’ve heard that too. It’s how my research area, fundamental physics, often ends up making headlines: With insights about the nature of reality so mind-boggling you can’t believe it’s still science. Unfortunately, in many cases it’s indeed not science.
Take the idea that we live in a computer simulation. According to our best current knowledge, the universe follows rules that are encoded by a set of equations. We don’t know these equations completely (yet!), but you could rightfully say the universe computes in real time whatever are the correct equations. In that sense, we trivially “live in a computer,” but that’s just a funny way to talk about the laws of nature.
You may more specifically ask whether our universe’s computation is similar to the computation performed by computers we build ourselves, that is, pushing around units of information in discrete time-steps. This is a testable hypothesis, and to the extent that it has been tested, it has been falsified. It is not easy to obtain the already known laws of nature using discrete, local operations even approximately, and this mathematical difficulty has, so far, rendered scientifically well-posed versions of the simulation hypotheses incompatible with evidence.
And finally, if you are really asking whether our universe has been programmed by a superior intelligence, that’s just a badly concealed form of religion. Since this hypothesis is untestable inside the supposed simulation, it’s not scientific. This is not to say it is in conflict with science. You can believe it, if you want to. But believing in an omnipotent Programmer is not science—it’s tech-bro monotheism. And without that Programmer, the simulation hypothesis is just a modern-day version of the 18th century clockwork universe, a sign of our limited imagination more than anything else.
t’s a similar story with all those copies of yourself in parallel worlds. You can believe that they exist, all right. This belief is not in conflict with science and it is surely an entertaining speculation. But there is no way you can ever test whether your copies exist, therefore their existence is not a scientific hypothesis.
Most worryingly, this confusion of religion and science does not come from science journalists; it comes directly from the practitioners in my field. Many of my colleagues have become careless in separating belief from fact. They speak of existence without stopping to ask what it means for something to exist in the first place. They confuse postulates with conclusions and mathematics with reality. They don’t know what it means to explain something in scientific terms, and they no longer shy away from hypotheses that are untestable even in principle.
Particularly damaging to fundamental physics has been the belief that the equations which describe nature must be beautiful by human standards. There is no rational reason why this should be so, but faith in beautiful math has become pervasive in the community. And that’s despite the fact that relying on beauty as a guide to new natural laws has historically worked badly: The mechanical clockwork universe was once considered beautiful. So were circular planetary orbits, and an eternally unchanging universe. All of which, it turns out, is wrong.
And relying on beauty is still working badly for physicists. We see the tragedy playing out in the ongoing failure of ideas like a unification of the fundamental forces, a theory of everything, or new types of symmetries that experiments continue to not find. Such pretty hypotheses remain popular among physicists even though they haven’t led anywhere for decades. The recent Special Breakthrough Prize for Fundamental Physics drove home the point. The prize was awarded for Supergravity, a theory, invented in the 1970s, that is widely praised for its elegance and beauty. Supergravity has to date no observational support. It wins prizes nevertheless.
This blurring of the line between science and religion is not innocuous. Resources—both financial and human—that go into elucidating details of untestable ideas are not available for research that could lead to much-needed progress. I like the idea that the laws of nature are beautiful and the universe was made for a purpose as much as everybody else, and I appreciate public interest in our research anytime. But let’s not call it science when it is really not.
We have fought hard for secularism, and we don’t want religious leaders to meddle in scientific debate. Scientists, likewise, should respect the limits of their discipline.
Sabine Hossenfelder is a Research Fellow at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies where she works on physics beyond the standard model, phenomenological quantum gravity, and modifications of general relativity. If you want to know more about what is going wrong with the foundations of physics, read her book Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray.
On the Mystery of Being: Contemporary Insights on the Convergence of Science and Spirituality
Who are we? What is our place in this vast and ever-evolving universe? Where do science and spirituality meet?
If you’ve pondered these questions, you’re not alone. Join some of the most spiritually curious and renowned minds of our time for an exploration into the mystery of being. From founders of the Science and Nonduality (SAND) conference, Maurizio and Zaya Benazzo, On the Mystery of Being brings together an array of visionary spiritual leaders, psychologists, philosophers, scientists, teachers, authors, and healers to celebrate and explore what it means to be human.
This beautifully arranged collection of essays and insights highlight topics on the convergence of spirituality and science, weaving scientific theory and spiritual wisdom from some of the most influential thinkers of our time—including Deepak Chopra, Rupert Spira, Adyashanti, and many more—with pieces that get straight to the heart of the matter.
As a powerful antidote to our chaotic and materialist modern world, this dazzling volume offers timeless wisdom and new insight into humanity’s age-old questions. On the Mystery of Being also reveals the cutting-edge explorations at the intersection of science and spirituality today. May it encourage your spirit, challenge your mind, and deepen your understanding of our interconnectedness.
he doesn’t spend much time in the limelight, Ken is probably one of the 2 or 3 most influential spiritual leaders alive today.
His decades of work mapping
the science of human transformation has had a profound impact on my own thinking and is probably one of the most important contributions to spirituality in our time.
Ken has been called “The Einstein of Consciousness” and been hailed by world leaders, changemakers and visionaries.
My good friend Marianne Williamson calls Ken “The teacher of teachers.” She asks, “Who among us can be serious about the work of transformation without understanding his remarkable work?”
Tony Robbins says, “Ken Wilber is a genius. I don’t think there is anybody alive who has developed a more comprehensive theory of life, psychology and spirituality."
Although Ken's work has had a profound influence on most of today's luminaries, you won't find him speaking on the conference circuit or in the media.
It is therefore with great pleasure that I’m writing today to let you know about a rare opportunity to learn directly from Ken in a 7-Part online training he’s offering starting this week at no charge.
His new course is called “The Science of Self-Actualization: The 5 Essential Truths of Your Full Potential” and you can enroll at no cost until November 22nd.
In this inspiring new online training, Ken shows us what the latest research into human development reveals about how we can cultivate and ultimately actualize the highest reaches of our potentials.
One essential difference between Ken’s work and that of many other teachers is that while most show their students a particular path, Ken’s shows you a complete map—a comprehensive map that embraces and includes all paths, Eastern and Western, ancient and modern.
You may have heard the metaphor that there are many paths up the mountain, yet they all take you to the same summit.
In some way, nearly all teachers act as a guide, helping seekers to navigate the slippery slopes of these mountain paths to reach the elusive summit of our highest potential.
Ken, on the other hand, is a cartographer of this mountain, a master map-maker of our psychological and spiritual evolution.
His work illuminates the complete map of our inner terrain, while also skillfully guiding us past the pitfalls, to the most effective paths for us to reach the summit of our highest self.
This is why he is in a league of his own. And it’s why I agree with Marianne that Ken Wilber’s wisdom is vital for any seeker who wants to ascend to their highest potential.
While I do love and support a great many luminaries, there is no one that I am more proud to recommend than Ken.
If you’ve never had a chance to listen to Ken’s extraordinary teachings, I encourage you to learn more about his upcoming complimentary online 7-part training at the link below:
Mawlana Hazar Imam: “I am struck by the close relationship which exists between intellect and the faith”
Posted by Nimira Dewji
“In Islamic belief, knowledge is two-fold. There is that revealed through the Holy Prophet [Salla-llahu ‘alayhi wa- sallam] and that which man discovers by virtue of his own intellect. Nor do these two involve any contradiction, provided man remembers that his own mind is itself the creation of God. Without this humility, no balance is possible. With it, there are no barriers.”
Mawlana Hazar Imam, Karachi, Pakistan, March 16, 1983
“The divine Intellect, ‘Aql-Qul,’ both transcends and informs the human intellect. It is this intellect which enables man to strive towards two aims dictated by the Faith: that he should reflect upon the environment Allah has given him and that he should know himself. It is the light of intellect which distinguishes the complete human being from the human animal and developing that intellect requires free inquiry. The man of Faith who fails to pursue intellectual search is likely to have only a limited comprehension of Allah’s creation. Indeed, it is man’s intellect that enables him to expand his vision of that creation…
If the frontiers of physics are changing, it is due to scientists discovering more and more about the universe, even though they will never be able to probe its totality, since Allah’s creation is limitless and continuous…
The Holy Qur’an’s encouragement to study nature and the physical world around us gave the original impetus to scientific inquiry among Muslims. Exchanges of knowledge between institutions and nations and the widening of man’s intellectual horizons are essentially Islamic concepts. The Faith urges freedom of intellectual enquiry and this freedom does not mean that knowledge will lose its spiritual dimension. That dimension is indeed itself a field for intellectual enquiry.”
Mawlana Hazar Imam, Karachi, Pakistan, November 11, 1985
Hazar Imam Aga Khan Central Asia
Source: The Ismaili, May 1995
“…I am struck by the close relationship which exists between intellect and the faith. During the glorious periods of Muslim history, Muslim thinkers, scientists and philosophers were beacons of light, sharing their knowledge freely with the non-Muslim world, indeed often leading it.”
Mawlana Hazar Imam, Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic, May 30, 1995
Speech published in The Ismaili, May 1995
“Education has been important to my family for a long time. My forefathers founded Al Azhar University in Cairo some 1,000 years ago, at the time of the Fatimid Caliphate in Egypt. Discovery of knowledge was seen by those founders as an embodiment of religious faith, and faith as reinforced by knowledge of workings of the Creator’s physical world. The form of universities has changed over those 1,000 years, but that reciprocity between faith and knowledge remains a source of strength.”
Mawlana Hazar Imam, Cambridge, USA May 27, 1994
The rise and fall of the claustrum epitomizes the hunt for consciousness in the brain.
In 1976, Francis Crick arrived at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, overlooking a Pacific Shangri-La with cotton candy skies and a beaming, blue-green sea. He had already won the Nobel Prize for co-discovering the double-helix structure of DNA, revealing the basis of life to be a purely physical, not a mystical, process. He hoped to do the same thing for consciousness. If matter was strange enough to explain a creature’s life code, he thought, maybe it’s strange enough to explain a creature’s mind, too.
For something that everybody walks around with everyday, consciousness wouldn’t seem to be as immense a puzzle as the origin of the universe. It’s just that difficult to imagine how subjective experience can arise from basic physical elements like atoms and molecules. It seems like there must be more to the story. Small wonder, then, that for ages people believed that consciousness was a function of the soul, far beyond the grasp of science. Consequently, consciousness became the strongest argument for vitalism, the idea that life is dependent on immaterial or non-physical forces. Crick, a lifelong defender of materialism, was absolutely determined when he arrived in California to dispel the notion from consciousness and blaze a path toward solving it.
In the last 30 years of his life, he propelled a revolution in neuroscience by molecular biology, challenging the brightest minds in the field, usually over tea, and publishing works on his “astonishing hypothesis” that consciousness arises from the brain alone. On his deathbed in 2005, Crick, together with his friend and colleague Christof Koch, published a final article, “What is the function of the claustrum?”, which reignited the search for the physical location of consciousness in the brain.1 It proposed the claustrum, a set of neurons coincidentally shaped like a hammock, as the seat of consciousness because it receives “input from almost all regions of cortex, and projects back to almost all regions of cortex,” the wrinkled surface of the brain responsible for conscious features ranging from sensation to personality. The promising idea would go on to spur probing studies on the nature of consciousness, and the beguiling role of the claustrum, that continue today.
Kenan Institute for Ethics - Speeches & Panels - Video - Why Religion Matters: The Future of Faith in an Age on Disbelief -
2000-10-26, Huston Smith lecture on "Why Religion Matters: The Future of Faith in an Age on Disbelief." Huston Smith is the Thomas J. Watson Professor of Religion and Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, Syracuse University
One of the greatest debates in the long history of astronomy has been that of exceptionalism versus mediocrity—and one of the great satisfactions of modern times has been watching the arguments for mediocrity emerge triumphant. Far more than just a high-minded clash of abstract ideas, this debate has shaped the way we humans evaluate our place in the universe. It has defined, in important ways, how we measure the very value of our existence.
In the scientific context, exceptional means something very different than it does in the everyday language of, say, football commentary or restaurant reviews. To be exceptional is to be unique and solitary. To be mediocre is to be one of many, to be a part of a community. If Earth is exceptional, then we might be profoundly alone. There might not be any other intelligent beings like ourselves in the universe. Perhaps no other habitable planets like ours. Perhaps no other planets at all, beyond the neighboring worlds of our own solar system.
MEDIOCRITY #3: In the heliocentric system of Nicolaus Copernicus, Earth is just third in a set of planets circling the sun. But there is comfort in being part of a family.Mikołaj Kopernik
If Earth is mediocre, the logic runs the other way. We might live in a galaxy teeming with planets, many of them potentially habitable, some of them actually harboring life. In the mediocre case, we bipedal little humans might not be the only sentient creatures peering out into the depths of space, wondering if anyone else is peering back.
Today, the broadest version of exceptionalism has been thoroughly disproven, as astronomers have discovered 4,150 confirmed exoplanets, a tally that increases almost daily. The roster of alien worlds includes a remarkable variety of forms, many of which have no equivalent in our solar system. And that is just a limited sampling from the stars in our local corner of the galaxy.
We do not yet have the technology needed to find a close analog of Earth orbiting a close analog of the sun, so we still know little about how common or rare such worlds may be. The question of alien life is still wide open. What we do know is that the Milky Way is home to a tremendous number of other planets. In that sense, at least, we are certainly not exceptional, and Earth is certainly not alone.
I was relaxing one evening when the quietness of the house was destroyed by the sound of a thunderous crash upstairs. Leaping to my feet, I yelled, “What was THAT?”
“Nothing!” was the reply that floated down the stairwell from a person not yet old enough to realize that there are few adults indeed who find such an explanation satisfying.
Strangely, using “nothing” as an explanation has recently been suggested for something much more impressive than a thundering roar on the second floor. I refer to the origin of the entire universe—the biggest crash of all, as it were.
During the course of the 20th century, scientists discovered something that poses a serious philosophical problem for atheism. Cosmologists observed that the entire universe is expanding. The consensus, working backward in time, is that it had a beginning which, of course, raises the question, “What caused THAT?”
Strangely, using “nothing” as an explanation has recently been suggested for something much more impressive than a thundering roar on the second floor.
There appears to be no escape from the reality of a beginning for physical reality, both scientifically (1) as well as mathematically. (2) Although Steven Hawking died an atheist (so far as I am aware), he had the insight to state, “A point of creation would be a place where science broke down. One would have to appeal to religion and the hand of God.”(1)
A point of creation would be a place where science broke down. One would have to appeal to religion and the hand of God. - Hawking
Why did he say that?
Logic requires that just as a woman cannot give birth to herself, so nature could not have given birth to itself. Instead, logic demands that it must be something non-natural, i.e., supernatural. (3)
In an effort to avoid the logical implications foreseen by Hawking, atheist physicist Lawrence Krauss published a book A Universe from Nothing. (4) In it, he attempted to explain how the universe might have come out of something he describes as “nothing”. Some mistakenly understood Krauss’s “nothing” to be absolutely nothing at all, when his “nothing” is actually “something”. So let’s look at both options to see if either works as an explanation for the origin of the universe.
In the “Mathematical Glory” of the Universe, Physicist Discovered the “Truly Divine”
How did this slip through? John Horgan with Scientific American interviewed a physicist colleague, Christopher Search. The physicist is appealingly direct in rejecting the atheism associated with Stephen Hawking and other venerated names in the field. More than that, he says it was physics that brought him to a recognition of the “truly divine” in the universe:
Over the years my view of physics has evolved significantly. I no longer believe that physics offers all of the answers. It can’t explain why the universe exists or why we are even here. It does though paint a very beautiful and intricate picture of the how the universe works. I actually feel sorry for people that do not understand the laws of physics in their full mathematical glory because they are missing out on something that is truly divine.
The beautiful interlocking connectedness of the laws of physics indicates to me how finely tuned and remarkable the universe is, which for me proves that the universe is more than random chance. Ironically, it was by studying physics that I stopped being an atheist because physics is so perfect and harmonious that it had to come from something. After years of reflecting, I simply could not accept that the universe is random chance as the anthropic principle implies.
More on the anthropic principle and on multiverse theory:
Like string theory, this is not science. How do you test the existence of other universes? The universe is everything out there that we can observe. Another universe would therefore be separate from our own and not interact with it in any manner. If we could detect other universes, that would imply that they are observable by us but that leads to a contradiction since our universe is everything that is observable by us.
The anthropic principle is something I discuss in my freshmen E&M class actually. However, I think it is a total cop-out for physicists to use the anthropic principle to explain why the laws of physics are the way they are. The anthropic principle implies the existence of other universes where the laws of physics are different. But the existence of these other universes is untestable. It also implies that our existence is mere random luck.
At the end of the day, the existence of multiverses and the anthropic principle are really religious viewpoints wrapped up in scientific jargon. They have no more legitimacy than believing that God created the universe.
He came to these conclusions after breaking with “dogmatic” atheism:
I was always curious about how things work. When I was young, physics seemed to offer answers to all of the mysteries of the universe. It felt authoritative and unequivocal in its explanations of nature and the origin of the universe. In that sense it was the perfect religion for my teenage self as I went through an atheist phase, which admittedly was probably provoked by all the popular physics books that I was devouring at that age such as A Brief History of Time. Those books were always so dogmatic like the Catholic Sunday school I went to as a kid.
As it happens, these are all themes that are developed with great rigor and depth in Center for Science & Culture director Stephen Meyer’s next book, The Return of the God Hypothesis.
Re-Enchanting the World: Consciously Connecting with the Deep Wisdom of Nature
April 17 - 19 - Horsley Park, Surrey
Mystics and Scientists Conference Series
Come and join our friends at the annual Mystics and Scientists conference. The theme this year is our relationship with the natural world, including interspecies communication with mammals, plants, and trees. They have a fantastic lineup of international experts in their respective fields including: Rupert Sheldrake, Pea Horsley, Fred Hageneder, Heidi Herrmann, Paco Calvo, Anna Breytenbach, Judith Prager, and Shakti Catarina Maggi. The conference will be a highly engaging and creative opportunity to come together with like-minded people in a spirit of exploration and dialogue. April 17–19, 2020, Horsley Park, Surrey, United Kingdom. Early bird tickets are on sale now via: www.mysticsandscientists.org or the FB Event Page.
Think of consciousness like spacetime—a fundamental field that’s everywhere.
The great mystery of consciousness is why matter lights up with felt experience. After all, we are composed of particles indistinguishable from those swirling around in the sun; the atoms that compose your body were once the ingredients of countless stars in our universe’s past. They traveled for billions of years to land here—in this particular configuration that is you—and are now reading these words. Imagine following the life of those atoms from their first appearance in spacetime to the very moment they became arranged in such a way as to start experiencing something.
Many assume there is probably no felt experience associated with the microscopic collection of cells that make up a human blastocyst. But over time these cells multiply and slowly become a human baby, able to detect changes in light and recognize its mother’s voice, even while in the womb. And, unlike a computer, which can also detect light and recognize voices, this processing is accompanied by an experience of light and sound. First, as far as consciousness is concerned there is nothing, and then suddenly, magically … something. The mystery lies in the transition. However minimal that initial something is, experience apparently ignites in the inanimate world, materializing out of the darkness.
But how does felt experience arise out of non-sentient matter? The Australian philosopher David Chalmers famously termed this the “hard problem” of consciousness.1 Unlike the “easy problems” of explaining behavior or understanding which processes in the brain give rise to various functions, the hard problem lies in understanding why some of these physical processes have an experience associated with them at all. And the fact that the hard problem has persisted for so many decades, despite the advances in neuroscience, has caused some scientists to wonder if we’ve been thinking about the problem backward. Rather than consciousness arising when non-conscious matter behaves a particular way, is it possible that consciousness is an intrinsic property of matter—that it was there all along?
In addition to taking necessary science based precautions to protect ourselves from the present pendemic, the practice of out faith can also protect us from the most lethal health issues and indeed bring a dead person alive.
(13) Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah visited Lakhpat, Kutchh on 3rd December, 1903 and graced didar in the Jamatkhana at evening. Before going to his residence, the Imam told the jamat, “Now you all take rest and me too.” At night, the Imam suffered from malaria. Lakhpat was a hamlet, where its news could spread rapidly. The leaders and officers rushed towards Imam’s residence. The Imam told them, “Is the tablet of quinine available here?” Nobody knew about it, which was only available in the city of Bhuj. One person knew Imam’s need of quinine, therefore, he ran blindly bare-footed at about 11.00 am. towards Bhuj as there was no transport at night. Bhuj was 40 miles away from Lakhpat. He was running briskly with non-stop at the speed of 26 miles and reached Bhuj in one and half hours.
In Bhuj, all the shops were closed at 12.30 am, but he managed to search out his friends’ house. He knocked his door and a person opened and asked, “What is the matter?” He said, “It is very urgency. I need tablets of quinine.” His friend said, “But now? It is a late night.” He wept and said, “My Mawla is sick in Lakhpat, needing quinine. I will pay its price whatever you charge, but open your shop and give me six tablets.” His friend took keys and opened the shop and gave him six tablets. He asked for its price. His friend
said, “Are you crazy? He is your Pir means he is also our Pir. Due to your tremendous service, I will also be beneficiary of its reward. Now you hurry up to go back. I don’t need money.”
He put the tablets in his pocket and resumed his pace running towards the direction of Lakhpat. He pierced darkness with the agency of his incomparable and peerless love for the Imam. On one stage, he went through a track in the thicket, where a cobra scrawled, which stung his thumb, causing him acute pain. He thought that a thin stone would have
collided with his leg; even then he continued his running. His mind was focused on the fever of the Imam and thinking, “Let the fever befall upon me, but not to my Mawla.”
Thus, he didn’t care and reached Lakhpat at 2.00 am. He came into the Imam’s residence and entered the room. The Imam was on the bed
and asked, “Who is there?” He was panting and said, “Mawla, the quinine is ready.” The Imam said, “Did you bring quinine? Where from you brought?” He said, “Mawla, from Bhuj.” The Imam said, “From Bhuj? It is 40 miles far from here. Was you alone?” He said the Imam to take two tablets at first, then ask anything. The Imam raised up on the bed and saw his rustic and illiterate follower lovingly. He said, “Mawla, take the quinine.” The Imam said, “Okay, but what happened in your leg? It is bleeding.” He said that it would have collided with a stone, but take the quinine.” The Imam said, “Not at all. Show me your leg.” He showed his leg and the Imam said, “It was not a collision. The snake has stung.” He said, “Mawla, doesn’t matter. First you take the tablet.” The Imam put his blessed hand at his wound and gave best blessings with Khanavadan and said, “You have taken acute pain for me. You are certainly here in my presence and will remain at my feet in hereafter. You have faced much hardship for me. Look, the cobra that stung you was very poisonous and you would have die within two to four minutes.
But it is your matchless love and spirit that the snake’s poison didn’t affect you.” He wept and said, “Mawla, I am nothing. I am illiterate rustic and sinful. Mawla, it is your mercy that I could obtain an opportunity to render this trifle service, to which I am highly grateful and thankful to you. Now please take the tablets.” The Imam laughed and cast his merciful sight on him and said, “I don’t need quinine. Looking your love for me, my fever has gone. Khanavadan, Khanavadan.”
(77) In 1939, Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah graced didar and attended the ceremony of the dast-bosi (kissing hand) in the ground of the Hasanabad, Bombay. One woman from Multan, Punjab also came. She had taken a vow before leaving Multan that she would drink water after having the didar. She had also brought her six months old son.
During the ceremony, her son suffered from fever. She decided that she would take him to the doctor soon after the dast-bosi. In a few moments, the fever of her son became fatal, who neither took water nor anything else, but was in deep sleep. She was beholding the Imam and muttering Ya Ali, Ya Ali. Before her turn of dast-bosi, she examined his pulse and found that her son was dead.
She was a staunch believer. The people around was rejoicing and before her was the Imam accepting the dast-bosi. She pined for her son at its extreme, nevertheless resolved that it was inappropriate to be mournful on the occasion of gaiety and merriment, thus she kept stone on her heart and took dead body on her shoulder imitating that she was sleeping the child by patting his head.
When her turn came, she didn’t like to appear before the Imam with a dead body in hand. She stood at a little distance and made the dast-bosi by a niyyat (intention). She all of a sudden heard the voice, “Khanavadan. Come here.” She was awe-struck at once and came forward with one step, to which the Imam said, “Come near.” She took another step, the Imam repeated his sentence, and now she was near. The Imam stood up half from the chair and put blessed hand on her head. Then, the Imam put blessed hand on the dead body being wrapped in a towel and said, Khanavadan, Khanavadan.
Then, the Imam asked her to recite Hai Zinda. She said, “Khudavind, Hai Zinda.” “Now recite Qaim Paya.” said the Imam. She said, “Khudavind, Qaim Paya.”
In the meantime, the son began to cry, to which she was surprised ungovernably. The Imam said, “Look, the child cries. You now sit aside and suckle him, then break your vow.”
Its patterns help us access the inner truths that science can’t articulate.
The torrential rains at the summer resort in the Catskills, where my dad was a weekend bass player, entitling us to the use of a free if leaky bungalow, drove all us campers into the cavernous dance hall for an impromptu game of trivia. I was 5 years old, and the first up. “Where are you from?” the head counselor asked when I had climbed onto the stage.
I was so intently focused on my private, newfound passion that I hardly registered the question. “Math!” I answered, only to be baffled when everyone around me erupted in laughter.
Mathematics is a universal language of pattern. Equations articulate relationships. They speak to unassailable truths that stand beyond the vagaries of perception and interpretation. Every flat, right-angled triangle drawn before Pythagoras, and every one after, until eternity, satisfies the famous theorem that bears the ancient Greek philosopher’s name. There are no exceptions. That’s the nature of mathematical insight. And through its terse, pristine delineation of inflexible truth, mathematics offers us the comfort of reliability and the beauty of precision. Since my earliest introduction, I have felt the deep allure of these unchanging patterns. Patterns that are impervious to authority. Patterns that transcend all things personal.
It is a perspective I have found to be widely shared among those who practice mathematics or physics as a profession.
All the same, many more of us are drawn to patterns of a different sort, patterns conveyed through particular combinations of sounds and colors and shapes and textures and movements, yielding works of music or dance or film or painting or sculpture — patterns, that is, which emerge as creative human expression. These are patterns we value because of, not in spite of, their capacity to reflect thoroughly personal, deeply subjective responses to the infinite spectrum of human experience. As cave paintings, ancient figurines and archaic musical instruments attest, since the earliest glimmers of thought our species has intensely pursued and consumed such expression.
And that presents a puzzle.
I have little doubt that should we ever make contact with an extraterrestrial intelligence, they will understand our mathematics, especially the equations we have developed to explain the regularities of reality. After all, recognizing the patterns inherent in physical phenomena is central to survival. We have prevailed because we can sense and respond to the rhythms of the world. Every tomorrow will be different from today, but beneath the myriad comings and goings we rely on enduring qualities.
The sun will rise, rocks will fall, water will flow. The vast collection of allied patterns we encounter from one moment to the next profoundly influence our behavior. Instincts are essential, and memory matters, because patterns persist. While the specific environment of a distant intelligence may differ significantly from our own, it is likely that it, too, prevailed by developing a refined sense of pattern described with precision through some version of mathematics.
Yet when it comes to our artistic yearnings, there’s a chance that the extraterrestrials will be thoroughly perplexed. Why would any species spend time and energy on creative works that seemingly have no survival value? In a precarious world with limited resources, the puzzle is thus to understand why we are drawn to activities that relate so obliquely to the goals of securing food, or a mate, or shelter.
Charles Darwin himself took up this question, and wondered if the goals might not be as oblique as they seem. Perhaps, he suggested, the art impulse originated as a type of mating call, drawing various of our forebears together and thus steering the propagation of the species. Other researchers have suggested that the creation and consumption of artistic works may provide an intellectual playground, where ingenuity and imaginative problem-solving skills are brought forth and refined in a safe environment. According to this view, the sorts of minds that can summon forth everything from “The Starry Night” to “Guernica,” from the “David” to “The Burghers of Calais,” from the “Goldberg Variations” to the “Ode to Joy” finale, are minds that have creatively imagined their way out of one potentially devastating challenge after another. Perhaps, then, art matters because it primed our very capacity to survive.
Among those who think carefully about the relationship between art and evolutionary selection, there is as much controversy as there is consensus. Establishing an irrefutable Darwinian basis for art is no small challenge. Moreover, in considering why art matters today, not just in our ancestral past, the adaptive role may give us insight but at best would provide only a partial accounting. To fill in that account, we must focus on the many nuances of truth.
Mathematics and science seek objective truth. Physicists approach it through their analyses of fundamental particles and the mathematical laws that govern them. Chemists illuminate it by invoking collections of these particles, organized into atoms and molecules. Biologists consider higher levels of organization, amalgamating atoms and molecules into the fantastic complexity evident to us within cells and life forms. Psychologists, neuroscientists, and philosophers add further layers still, examining the workings of the mind and the questions minds can pose about themselves and their experiences. No single story tells it all. Only by blending insights from each of these accounts can we gain the fullest understanding.
Art is a critical component of this project, a pathway toward a yet broader variety of truths that encompasses subjective experience and celebrates our distinctly human response to the world. This is vital. There are truths that stand beyond articulation, whether in the language of mathematics or that of human discourse. There are truths we can sense, truths we can feel, that would be diminished by translation from inner expression. Art is our most refined means for accessing such truths. There is no universal summary of art, no definition that unambiguously delineates it. Our reactions to art are uniquely our own. But it is this very flexibility, this dependence on the individual, this reliance on the subjective, that makes art essential for grasping our all-too-human place in the cosmic order.
Whereas the patterns of math and science matter because they speak to qualities of reality that exist beyond us, the patterns of art matter because they speak to qualities of reality that exist within us.
Why Science Alone Could Not Tell Us Whether to Reopen Notre Dame
It is a moral question in which important principles are in tension.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is a distinguished immunologist and an advocate for public health. I have the privilege of sharing with him an education in Catholic schools laden with the study of classical texts, philosophy and theology.
Dr. Fauci credits such an education with giving him his impressive ability to explain complex medical facts to general audiences and present cogent arguments.
He consistently says that he speaks as a scientist, offering us the best scientific information available to guide our response to the coronavirus pandemic. His advice is invaluable. There are, however, questions that a scientist, speaking strictly as a scientist, cannot answer for us.
For questions about moral value — how we ought to decide and act — science can inform our deliberations, but it cannot provide the answer.
At the University of Notre Dame, we recently announced our plans to return students to campus for the fall semester. In order to reduce the chances that students from around the country and the world with multiple departures and returns will carry pathogens with them, we will bring students back two weeks early, forgo a fall break and finish the semester before Thanksgiving.
As soon as students arrive in August, we will conduct orientations to welcome them back in the Covid-19 era. We will also institute extensive protocols for testing; contact tracing and quarantining; and preventive measures, such as hand-washing, physical distancing and, in certain settings, the wearing of masks. This is how we can restore in-person classes safely.
Athletic competition presents another set of challenges. We believe we can, with aggressive testing, hygiene and careful monitoring, keep student-athletes safe. Indeed, keeping healthy relatively small cadres of student-athletes, coaches and support staff members is a less daunting challenge than keeping safe the several thousand other people in the campus community.
Fans in the stadium, however, are a different matter. Fighting Irish fans regularly fill Notre Dame Stadium’s 80,000 seats. I see no way currently to allow spectators unless we restrict admissions so that physical distancing is possible.
Our focus to this point has been on restarting our educational and research efforts, and we will soon turn to answer the question of how many games we will play, when we will play them and how many fans will be in the stadium.
With these and other steps — informed by the best medical advice we can find — we believe we can keep our campus environment healthy.
Our decision to return to on-campus classes for the fall semester was guided by three principles that arise from our core university goals. First, we strive to protect the health of our students, faculty, staff and their loved ones. Second, we endeavor to offer an education of the whole person — body, mind and spirit — and we believe that residential life and personal interactions with faculty members and among students are critical to such an education. Finally, we seek to advance human understanding through research, scholarship and creative expression.
If we gave the first principle absolute priority, our decision about reopening would be easy. We would keep everyone away until an effective vaccine was universally available.
However, were we to take that course, we would risk failing to provide the next generation of leaders the education they need and to do the research and scholarship so valuable to our society. How ought these competing risks be weighed? No science, simply as science, can answer that question. It is a moral question in which principles to which we are committed are in tension.
We all hope for an effective vaccine that will put Covid-19 behind us. Yet we cannot and should not assume that a vaccine will be available soon, nor, indeed, that another pandemic will not follow close behind. We live in a global society, and it is possible that animal-to-person contact in an open market somewhere may again cause a pandemic disrupting our society.
We may need to reconcile ourselves to the fact that we are facing not simply a passing crisis, but a new normal. For that and similar challenges, we need moral insight.
We are in our society regularly willing to take on ourselves or impose on others risks — even lethal risks — for the good of society. We send off young men and women to war to defend the security of our nation knowing that many will not return. We applaud medical professionals who risk their health to provide care to the sick and suffering. We each accept the risk of a fatal traffic accident when we get in our car.
The pivotal question for us individually and as a society is not whether we should take risks, but what risks are acceptable and why. Disagreements among us on that question are deep and vigorous, but I’d hope for wide agreement that the education of young people — the future leaders of our society — is worth risking a good deal.
Indeed, the mark of a healthy society is its willingness to bear burdens and take risks for the education and well-being of its young. Also worthy of risk is the research that can enable us to deal with the challenges we do and will face.
We have availed ourselves of the best medical advice and scientific information available and are assiduously planning a reopening that will make the campus community as safe as possible. We believe the good of educating students and continuing vital research is very much worth the remaining risk.
In our classical, humanistic educations, both Dr. Fauci and I came across the texts of Aristotle, who defined courage not as simple fearlessness, but as the mean between a rashness that is heedless of danger and a timidity that is paralyzed by it. To possess the virtue of courage is to be able to choose the proper mean between these extremes — to know what risks are worth taking, and why.
Perhaps what we most need now, alongside science, is that kind of courage and the practical wisdom it requires. Notre Dame’s recent announcement about reopening is the attempt to find the courageous mean as we face the threat of the virus and seek to continue our mission of education and inquiry.
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