What if the “Satan” in our soul selling transaction was institutional? Perhaps organized religion itself? Perhaps an economy, industry and job? Perhaps an educational institution or a political party?
In “Einstein’s Dice and Schrodinger’s Cat: How Two Great Minds Battled Quantum Randomness to Create a Unified Theory” by Paul Halpern, there is this quote from early 20th Century scientist Ernst Mach on use of evidence versus speculation:
“If belief in the reality of atoms is so important, I cut myself off from the physicists’s mode of thinking, I do not wish to be a true physicists, I renounce all scientific respect — in short: I decline with thanks the communion of the faithful. I prefer freedom of thought.”
Much in theoretical science and religion are similar: they rely on dizzy making abstractions divorced from what we see, touch, hear, smell and taste. We see this divorce in the tension between religion and inquisitive critical thinking, or between science and near fanatical devotion to Darwinian theory to explain virtually everything in the language of adaptation. To challenge Darwin in academia is to be branded a moron or heretic. Yes, careers can be burned at the stake.
I suspect the reason many great scientific advances are made during the early careers of scientists, and particularly for those like Einstein, is that younger scientists have not been enculturated into the orthodoxy of their disciplines. Einstein in his early investigations acted outside the constaints of an academic setting policed by tenured professors. Hence, his mind examined new possibilities. He had both an advanced mind and a beginner’s mind.
The threat of operating too long in a system is that the system or model becomes a hardened prism through which we see “reality” and “truth.” We repeat truisms to one another so often that we no longer question the underlying assumptions or entertain other possibilities.
The thing we originally use to see more clearly can later blind us. For example, Newton identified the existence of gravity and even established equations tracking its effects on mass of one body in relation to another massive body. He saw a more or less linear relationship between these bodies and his formulas were comparatively simplistic but useful. They were also incomplete and limited.
Einstein dared to think differently, with new imagination. He thought of space as filled with gravitational forces like waves that rippled through a three dimensional time-space web, altering the matrix of both time and space. For decades, scientists assumed Newton’s view was the final statement of reality. They did not dare to question basic underlying assumptions.
Recently, gravitational waves were detected as the result of a supernova explosion that compressed time and space ever so slightly as waves reaching our planet. In 2016, LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, has detected the infinitesimally small gravitational wave, as predicted by Einstein. The implication of this discovery is that we live in an invisible soup of “matter,” existing as waves of energy and light. These are invisible only because our senses have not evolved to perceive this matter. For example, “seeing” a radio wave did not improve our chances of survival, nor did we need to hear the high frequencies a canine can hear. On the other hand, our ability to see is quite developed and extraordinary, and this ability is fortunate. It allows us to measure the distance between galaxies. Other beings elsewhere in the universe may have the sensory apparatus not only to see [or hear, or smell, or taste, or touch], but to explore and use what we can only infer to exist. I will venture to say these beings may even exist in the very media we are unable to see and only indirectly to detect.
Have we bargained our imagination and curiosity for the comforting illusion of certainty? We need to “know,” but our knowing is ever less than we need. Can we say with Ernst Mach, ” . . . I decline with thanks the communion of the faithful. I prefer freedom of thought.”
Most retreats from free thought are caused by anxiety in not knowing. There is infinitely much we do not know. We do not know the Mind of God. We do not know what awaits us after death. [Ideas of ‘heaven’ are sketches, not a comprehensive descriptions.] We still do not know a cure for many cancers. We do not know the purpose of suffering. We do not know if our spouse will desert us. We do not know even our own hearts or the trickery of our own minds. We look to false prophets and instant gratifications to take off the edge.
I am not an existentialist, but I admire the courage existentialists exhibit in the face of “not knowing.” I differ with them in asserting that courage is inherently dignifying. The dignity of courage in the face of unknowing is the faith that there is something meaningful to know. For Christians, that faith is informed, and is both objective and intuitive. The fingerprints of God are all over Her creation. That kind of informed faith is what drives great scientists to doggedly pursue elegant understanding of the Universe at both the micro and macro levels. God’s dice are loaded.