Friday, October 9, 2009

Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life

I happened to pass two colleagues in the hall today. One said to the other, earnestly, "Science can't solve the mystery of ..." and I walked out of earshot before that final noun phrase hit the airwaves. But I can guess-- beauty, consciousness, language, life -- you can fill in a couple more, and you may have some of your own.
In my mind, I whirled around and said, in a calm but piercing voice, "Yes it can."
Blank looks (In my mind I get to direct the entire conversation). Then, they ask, "Well, what is the answer?"
I say, "I don't know. Science doesn't know."
Puzzled looks this time. Then, "If science doesn't know, science can't explain it."
I shake my head wisely. "No," I say. "Science can explain it. It simply hasn't done it yet."
Why do people who are supposed to be capable of critical thinking make such a simple error? Hasn't is not the same as can't.
When we consider the things that, over the years, people claimed science couldn't explain and science finally did explain, we have a long list. When we consider the things that, over the years, science hasn't explained, we still have a long list. But the first list is growing and the second shrinking.
I firmly believe that, eventually, science will explain everything. This stand usually provokes one of two responses. Response A: "But that will destroy all the beauty in the world." That seems to me like one of the dumbest statements a human can make. Why should beauty be hooked into ignorance? We finally know pretty much how the northern lights work, something we didn't know when I was a kid. Yet, somehow, those northern lights are just as beautiful to me as they were when I first saw them on a frozen January night in Alaska.
Response B: "There are some things that humankind is not meant to know." Another dumbest thing. This is the driving force behind all the anti-science novels of people like what'sizname who wrote The Andromeda Strain and all those novels about science gone bad. As if ignorance were a passport to grace. Pffffft!
Beauty will remain.


Jacqui Binford-Bell said...

Do those that say science cannot answer the question want to answer it with God?

I have generally found that many of my fellow human beings are unable to live without answers of some sort. And yet I have always felt the path to knowledge is to life with the question until the answer is found.

Ignorance is to provide any answer just to close the question.

On both your houses said...

I dunno Jacqui. People love mysteries. The idea of some ultimate mystery is very attractive, I think. Maybe it gives some excitement to life.