Physics and Ignorance

Physics! And science, and consciousness! All up and about, getting in each other’s business.

In the words of Wesley Crusher, “Space, and time, and thought aren’t the separate things they appear to be.” Whenever we stop to think about things, we have this sense that it doesn’t all add up, somehow – and many people from many different directions are coming up with possible answers.

Quantum mechanics points to some explanations of previously inexplicable phenomena, but in some ways it rips open more questions than answers. To top it off, most people – including myself – do not have an understanding of even basic level quantum mechanics. This leads to the desire to abuse it, to use it to explain things it cannot explain, by relying on ignorance of the underlying theories.

For instance, the idea that “the act of observation will change what is being observed” to many people has deeper implications that may not actually apply. There could be a temptation to apply it to consciousness, that somehow if we look at something our conscious mind may change what is happening. However, all it might be saying, is phenomena on the quantum level are so small, we can not observe them if they do not interact with something else in the environment. Hence, we can never see anything in its “natural” state, we can only see things once they’ve interacted with something else – perhaps “interfering with what we want to observe is necessary to observe it.”

Recently, I’ve come to the readings of many spiritual thinkers who have taken to studying quantum mechanics. I haven’t read many of their theories on quantum mechanics specifically, although I am interested in looking into it, but I’m skeptical. I’m skeptical, the same way scientists were used to be skeptical of the idea of the “birth” of our universe (an idea that was originally officially supported by the Catholic Church.) It actually turned out to be true, most scientists now believe in the big bang, but the Church’s official support of this didn’t lead to a deeper understanding. It just muddied the waters, with them casting their vote on something we don’t get to vote on.

Similarly, I’m skeptical of spiritual people who want to borrow from science to add an authority to their spiritual beliefs. In fact, I’m skeptical of anyone who pretends they know too much. I just saw this beautiful video of Richard Feynman, which seemed to me to be a key to understanding what made him an effective discoverer of physics.

Sure, he probably had a brain full of brains, and good training, and whatever else. But, without this willingness to be open to not knowing, he could easily have squandered it on trying to prove the arbitrary things be believed instead of trying to discover things he didn’t know. There are people out there with higher IQs than Richard Feynman, and Einstein or whoever you want to list, who do not figure out nearly as much as they did. Clearly, people who figure shit out have something we can’t measure going for them – possibly, just luck.

Still, it’s very rare to find someone who admits their ignorance, especially someone high up and fancy like Richard Feynman. Nearly everyone I meet spends a lot of time trying to convince other people “I’m right!” I don’t think you need to be doing physics to benefit from allowing yourself space not to know.

Perhaps, at the end of the day, it’s why I trust science above other forms of discovery. It’s not even the methodology, but the top scientists tend to admit “I don’t know everything,” whereas the top religious figures tend to say “I know the mysteries of the universe.” Unfortunately, they all seem to have different explanations for them.

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