The Limits of Human Science

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In an attempt to carry on a dialogue with the scientific empiricists among us, I would humbly like to submit a few thoughts and arguments about what I perceive to be the limitations of science and the scientific method. This is not necessarily intended to be an argument in favor of religion or mysticism – only an attempt to question the degree to which some of us, paradoxically, put our absolute faith in scientific knowledge, to the exclusion of anything else. Nor is this intended to question the validity of the scientific method – it’s really about questioning some of the basic assumptions we make about science.

One of the basic steps in the scientific method is “observation”. Empirical science is entirely predicated on observation, as it is the first step in the process, followed by the steps of “analysis” and “inference”. Newton, for example, developed his laws of motion when he observed an apple falling from a tree, as the legend goes, which is an anecdotal way of pointing out that, essentially, Newton’s laws of motion reflect his rational explanation, in the language of Mathematics, of the behavior of physical objects in the observed universe – the key point being that it is a rationalization (i.e. mathematical explanation) of observations.

Einstein added a unique twist to the scientific method in that he often worked from what he called “thought experiments”. Einstein was also a major proponent of the role of the imagination in science, which was a significant departure from the scientific method preceding him – much more driven by empiricism, i.e. experiment and observation. The scientific method, as it stands today appears to follow an iterative paradigm in which we have such steps as “Think of Interesting Questions” and “Formulate Hypotheses”, etc. However, it still appears to be fundamentally predicated on the apparently all-important step of “Making Observations”.

Now here’s the thing about making observations – they are essentially subjective. Every scientific observation ever made on record has been made by a human being with five senses and with a uniquely human point of view. It might be argued that scientific instruments provide us with a more objective means of observing reality, but let’s keep in mind that every scientific instrument ever built was designed and built by human beings with five senses (or by machines designed and built by similar human beings) and intended to be read by other human beings with five senses. Thus, in design, architecture and interface, every scientific instrument ever built essentially serves and reinforces the human five-sensory perception of reality. Einstein’s approach of deploying the creative imagination lends his theoretical work a uniquely original, out-of-the-box perspective. Nevertheless, in order to be accepted as mainstream science, Einstein’s theories had to be subjected to mathematical elaboration and empirical validation (by means of scientific experiments and instruments designed by human beings with a five-sensory perspective on reality).

Following Einstein’s example, if we allow our imagination to take flight, at this stage, and conduct a small thought experiment … let’s imagine that somewhere in our vast universe there is an intelligent alien life form of some sort – a silicon-based life-form, for argument’s sake, with eleven senses, three hearts and five brains operating in parallel, like nodes in a computer server cluster. In other words, a life form as far removed from our own as we can imagine. Let’s imagine that they eat raw sand and other silicates for breakfast and that they can see a different range of electromagnetic frequencies than we human beings can (e.g. radio frequencies, UV frequencies, etc.) and hear a different range of audio frequencies than we can, much like bats, for example. Let’s even imagine that their sense of touch is not “in tune” with ours, so that they might be able to walk through walls or on water. Would the perception and experience of reality of such an alien being be remotely similar to our own? Of course not. Therefore, would their observation of nature be remotely in sync with our own? Obviously not.

If, therefore, this alien being had a profoundly different observational experience of reality than our own, and if, as we understand, observation is the integral step in the scientific method, does it not follow that any science developed by this alien intelligence would have absolutely no correlation or similarity with our own concept of science? Is it not reasonable to suppose that this alien science would be fundamentally different from what we must now term “human science” – different in ways that we cannot possibly imagine? Indeed, it may be the case that not only will an alien intelligence arrive at different physical principles than our own, based on their very different observation of reality, but, in my opinion, we cannot even be sure that the mathematical systems they develop will have any correlation with our own. We would tend to suppose that 2+2=4 is a universal fact, but can we be sure of that? Unless we happen to encounter an alien intelligence that corroborates that as a universal fact, we cannot be absolutely certain – it remains an assumption.

If we then conclude that our present understanding of “human science” is limited by our five-sensory experience of reality, and if, one day, we happened to develop a sixth sense, out of the blue, is it not possible that our new perspective of reality, afforded to us now by our six senses, might render all of existing human science as simplistic or incomplete or even, possibly, deeply flawed in some way that we now cannot fathom in our five-sensory state? In which case, how can we have any clue that what we now consider to be indisputable fact is not utterly absurd from a more enlightened point of view, even as the Renaissance theory of the bodily humors or the Medieval ideas about medicinal blood-letting are from our post-modern point of view?

Thus, if we consider any of the so-called “conspiracy theories” or “mystical ideas” out there, such as Deepak Chopra’s ideas about alternative healing or David Icke’s theory that the moon might be an artificial satellite or Masaru Emoto’s ideas on the effect of human consciousness on the crystalline structure of water – are we justified in claiming that such ideas contradict modern science? Isn’t it more accurate to state that such ideas contradict human science as we currently understand it – in its current stage of development? Does that invalidate these alternative ideas or render them inaccurate? Surely not! Unless and until we can find solid evidence definitively to demonstrate the fallacy of such ideas, we must at least concede that they are possible, however improbable we may consider them to be. And even if we do find the evidence to refute any of these ideas, how can we be certain that we are not misreading or misinterpreting the evidence or the idea?

Given all of these considerations, is it reasonable for some of us to assert that our current understanding of modern science gives us the right and ability to ridicule any ideas that may seem to be absurd from the modern scientific perspective? Or should we not, at least, try to be more open-minded and accepting of apparently unconventional ideas, considering that some of them may have the potential to be enormously beneficial to humankind?

Loud and Stupid: On Groupthink and Mob Psychology

We live in an age when, thanks to the miracles of modern technology, it is easier than ever before to express oneself and to make oneself heard. On the other hand, thanks to these very same technological wonders, the sad reality of groupthink seems to be more pervasive than ever before — people appear, at some level, to be more inclined to follow the herd and less inclined to think critically as individuals and ask difficult questions of themselves and others.

The media appears to have lost every shred of integrity, a fact underscored most recently by the Brian Williams fiasco, and is so much at the mercy of market influences that one cannot take it seriously any more. The public appears to be more misinformed and deluded than ever before — at the mercy of unscrupulous politicians, marketers and PR firms peddling their dubious wares. The disturbing levels of pervasive religious superstition and the lack of basic scientific knowledge in mainstream society are getting to be downright dangerous — the prevalence of apocalyptic ideas among the religiously minded is on the verge of turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy!

And yet, the tools for widespread education and enlightenment are readily at our disposal. It is easier than ever before to educate oneself — one can even audit lectures from the world's leading universities online for free, and great works of literature have never been more accessible, thanks to their publication in digital form by such ventures as Project Gutenberg, Google Books and others.

So what keeps us in this state of pervasive ignorance? What prevents us from achieving the enlightened state that would keep us from being manipulated and exploited by politicians, marketers and religious con-men? Perhaps it is about recognizing that mere access to tools and technology is only the first step in a very long process. There needs to be a cultural shift away from ignorance, groupthink and a mob mentality, and towards education and critical thought. There needs to be greater awareness of the tools and technologies at our disposal that enable us to better ourselves and others. We need to learn to think for ourselves and give less credence to loud-mouth talking heads on TV who try to tell us how and what to think!

The truth is probably that we are in middle of a cultural paradigm shift — a fundamental transformation that is at least as significant, in many ways, as the invention of the printing press. Technology changes so rapidly that it hardly has the time to be fully appropriated by society before it makes yet another quantum leap! And the exponential rates at which technology continues to advance means that the problem is likely to get worse in the near future before it gets better!

I guess, in the end, the only thing that will save us is our own human individuality — our human capacity to grow, learn and adapt to the rapidly shifting circumstances around us — to develop the faculty for critical thought and the ability to learn empirically as well as theoretically.

In the end, I believe that we, as human individuals, can do a great deal to shape our destiny.

 

A Question of Belief

I take my beliefs seriously, and sometimes, I feel compelled to express what I believe and why. I’m not sure if it has any impact on the rest of the world — maybe it’s a way of clarifying my own thoughts about my beliefs in my own mind.

In the 21st Century, the biggest challenge — really, the only significant challenge — to Christian ideas and beliefs is science and the scientific method. As Neal Degrasse Tyson stated in the first episode of the brilliant new television program Cosmos, the scientific method is so powerful that, in a matter of a few centuries, it has taken us from Galileo’s telescope to the moon and beyond — to nuclear power, Wifi and to the edge of quantum computing and biotechnology. Who can honestly foresee where it will continue to lead us?

But even though science continues to push the boundaries of explanation of the observable universe, and pushes the limits of observation of the universe itself, there still remain some kinds of questions about human experience that science is incapable of addressing adequately — philosophical concerns such as the purpose of human existence, the nature of human consciousness and identity, the metaphysics of human morality, the role in our lives of the humanities and arts, and, most notably, the nature of the human heart.

I don’t want to delve into the details of the philosophical questions I grappled with on my journey towards my Christian faith because doing so would be an arduous trek into some obscure conceits. Ultimately, what I personally find most compelling about Christianity, is an intangible, undefinable sense of veracity that seems to transcend any purely intellectual attempt to grasp it. Perhaps that is what a leap of faith amounts to — making a decision to believe in something without complete knowledge, but with a reasonable, reasoned sense of the authenticity of the object of one’s faith. At the same time, one must be careful to keep an open mind and always ask questions, not allowing oneself to become trapped by dogma.

Like Giordano Bruno, whose life and vision were dramatically portrayed in episode 1 of the television show Cosmos, I guess my own faith is inspired by a sort of personal vision or insight that helps me reconcile what I know in the context of my scientific background and education and what I believe in the context of my faith. The difference is that my vision seeks to transcend science and religion (even as it is a concrete idea, not a mystical vision), and I hope that I do not meet with the same level of derision among skeptical scientific thinkers as Bruno did among religious people for his vision of a universe modeled after Copernican ideas.

The idea that inspires me is that the creation of the universe may be analogized with a more mundane act of creativity that we are more familiar with. If God’s creation of the observable universe can be thought of as something like, e.g., J.R.R. Tolkein’s creation of middle earth or C.S. Lewis’ creation of Narnia, it somehow makes more sense. If we think of God as existing beyond space and time and creating the universe as a continuity, in the way that an author writes a book, then the universe may have a history of billions of years, even if it was, in a sense, created only a few millennia ago, from God’s point of view. This would be similar, in a sense, to Tolkein writing his books 60 years ago, but his middle earth having a chronology or history of, perhaps, thousands of years.

We human beings, trapped in the continuity of our universe, would be incapable of comprehending or appreciating the space-time continuum that God might operate in even as the characters in a book might be incapable of comprehending the continuity of the universe inhabited by the book’s author and readers. The difference, of course, is that the drama played out in our universe is seemingly impromptu and unscripted — real life happens as a product of human free agency, not, as far as we know, because it has been pre-determined or scripted by God (though some philosophers might argue to the contrary).

Anyway, to speak in simple terms, it helps me to think of the universe as something between a novel and a dream — a product of the creative imagination of an omnipotent intelligence beyond space and time, i.e. God. But because the characters in God’s “novel” have free will and, as such, could influence the “plot” of the story with their own actions, things started going wrong when the “characters” started violently attacking and killing one another — depicted in the Bible as being initiated by a primordial act of fratricide — the story of Cain and Abel. Naturally, God, the author of this “imagined” universe, becomes concerned and attempts a series of interventions, which the characters in the “novel” perceive as supernatural events. Ultimately, God decides to write himself into the story as the protagonist to bring order to the chaos — and so, he creates Christ, who, though he is no different from any of the other characters in the story, happens to have God’s own consciousness projected onto him. God identifies with the protagonist of his story, even as an author might identify with the lead character in his novel, and, in that sense, Christ is perceived as the very son of God, with a Divinely inspired mission to redeem mankind from its unfortunate condition.

Do I have any evidence to support these ideas? No, but it is a theory that attempts to explain certain facts about the universe, such as the origins of human consciousness and morality, man’s relationship with God, etc. And even though it may not have any mathematical underpinnings to elucidate its meaning, it has the virtue of providing a coherent explanation of some Christian ideas. Much as the theories posited by major scientific theorists (Newton, Einstein, etc.) attempt to explain the observable scientific facts of our universe.

In that context, the miraculous and the marvelous are well within the realm of possibility. If one is limited only by the extent of our imaginations in our power to disrupt the fictional universes we might create, then a God, with an infinite imagination, would have an infinite power of intervention into the universe of his creation — our universe. Perhaps, some day, we might see such a display of his powers! In any case, it remains interesting to note that one of the New Testament gospels begins with the phrase, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God . . . .”

Thus, I am inspired by this somewhat grandiose cosmological vision, which may appear to be bordering on the fantastic, but is, ultimately, no more fantastic than one of Einstein’s thought experiments! And while it is lacking in specificity, it is, at least, no less empirically verifiable! Ultimately, it inspires me and gives me faith along with some speculative answers to some of the questions that I am faced with. And while it may be far from the truth, at least it works as a theory, providing an explanation, however imperfect, of the observable facts, in a way that, perhaps, Newtonian physics provided answers before Einstein appeared on the scene!

Meanwhile, even as we reflect on these profound themes, I encourage you to check out Horizon Cybermedia‘s current, ongoing production — a multi-part web series entitled American Castle: The Secret World of William Randolph Hearst. I hope you enjoy it!

Wishing you the very best,

Uday Gunjikar
Founder and CEO,
Horizon Cybermedia, Inc.

 

The Paradox of Modernity

Are we becoming dehumanized by technological utopianism?

Every age has its myths.

One way to describe and understand myth is: they are the stories we tell ourselves to motivate and rationalize our thoughts and actions.

In archaic times, recent scholarship suggests, primitive societies were primarily driven by scapegoat myths. As civilization evolved and advanced, the myths were rewritten to appeal to more refined sensibilities, while retaining a ritual sacrificial practice at their core.

During the Christian age in the West, ecclesiastical doctrine displaced the ancient myths as the predominant motivating principle in people's lives — bringing its share of problems — crusades, inquisitions, witch-hunts and the like.

In our present age of scientific enlightenment and technological progress, we tell ourselves new self-validating myths — that modern education and industrialization will lead us to a utopia — a far cry from the darkness, superstition and ignorance of the past. And so, we are impelled inexorably onwards, towards scientific innovation, technological progress and self-illumination.

When religious fanaticism rears its ugly head, as it often does in various forms — fundamentalism, terrorism, theocracy, chauvinism and the like — we rightly denounce these as the misguided remnants of a benighted past.

And yet, even as we are impelled inexorably towards a utopian Promised Land in which all our needs will be fulfilled at the press of a button while we tread across space and time as effortlessly as the deities of the ancient myths, one cannot help but wonder if what awaits us is not really a utopia of liberty and abundance but, rather, a soul-crushing, dehumanizing form of enslavement brought on by relentless mechanistic technological progress.

As the inexorable tide of modernity washes us towards what may appear, from a distance, to be the shores of a progressive, enlightened future, in which we will have destroyed and exposed the superstitions of the past while all our material needs are instantly gratified, one wonders if we will pay for this future with our very souls! Will we end up as dehumanized, mechanistic beings with no sense of individuality or identity, while we progressively relinquish our humanity and privacy to corporations and governments in the name of security? Will we have lost touch with what it has meant, in the past, to be human, even as we progress towards a world of instant gratification and deliverance from want and need?

It is a delicate balance — to retain our humanity as we move towards a technological utopia — but it is a balance that one cannot afford to neglect, because we do so at the expense of our very souls! Ultimately, this balancing act will prove to be critical — it will make the difference between a true technological utopia and a nightmarish Orwellian dystopia in which we live slavish lives at the mercy of authoritarian power-brokers!

Horizon Cybermedia was created to tread the fine line between the promise of technology and the soul-enriching potential of the arts and humanities.

I am here, now, to proclaim that Horizon Cybermedia is still alive! In fact, watch for its imminent resurrection in an exciting new format, with fresh, new content!

Meanwhile, check out ExplorationTheSeries.com for an ongoing dose of soul-enriching, life-affirming content and stay tuned for much, much more to come!

Wishing you the very best,

Uday Gunjikar
Founder and CEO,
Horizon Cybermedia, Inc.

 

Science and Religion

It’s been way too long since I last updated my blog, so I figured it was about time I posted something—even if it’s just filler material, pending the next major project that I’m currently working on for Horizon Cybermedia. A quick update on what’s to come—I recently started editing the next film in my Exploration series, which will visit the outstanding rock-cut Kanheri Buddhist cave temples located in the Borivli National Park near Mumbai, India. At the same time, I plan to post a review of a fascinating novel I have been reading, written by a friend I have known since childhood. The novel is The Rozabal Line by Ashwin Sanghi. It is a remarkable work of speculative fiction that delves into the deepest, hidden recesses of the human psyche and dares to address one of the most controversial, difficult subjects of all—religion! The novel ties in very neatly with my film, as Buddhism plays a crucial role in the story—one that I will address in greater depth when I am ready to publish my review.

As it happens, I have also been reading another very interesting book on the subject of comparative religion, namely God is Not One by Stephen Prothero, in which the author does a comparative analysis of the eight major world religions, emphasizing their differences. He suggests how unlikely and even dangerous it is to assume that it is at all possible to envision a world in which all the world’s major religions could be unified into some sort of harmonious whole or molded into a global world religion. He strikes many interesting chords, and I am inclined to agree with his point of view in many respects. 

However, I think he neglects to address what I believe to be some basic truths—namely, that, in the end, all religions, however diverse they may be, are essentially the product of the human psyche, which is fundamentally similar. So at the core of all religions are some very fundamental, universal truths and these truths, I think, could be a foundation to establish some sort of common ground between religious systems—not so much in an attempt to promote a “global world religion” as to promote understanding, peace and fellowship among human beings of all creeds, backgrounds or ethnic origins. As a Christian myself, I interpret Christ’s message to be this very theme—after all, wasn’t Jesus Christ most critical of doctrinal orthodoxy and dogma to the exclusion of basic humanity and human decency? Would not Christ, if He was with us right now, be sharply critical of so-called religious authoritarians, whatever their credo, who use doctrinal orthodoxy to justify or rationalize a basic lack of decency, humanity and compassion? Correct me if I am wrong, but I think that the whole point of the Christian message is to move away from the head and towards the heart—away from petty doctrinal divisiveness and towards basic humanity and compassion.

Interestingly, another project I am currently working on, quite independent from anything to do with Horizon Cybermedia, is a novel based on a screenplay I had written a couple of years ago. This novel is more about science than religion—it tackles the other great subject of our age. It brings to my mind how fundamental this dichotomy between science and religion is—the more so in this 21st century, when science and technology continue to advance at an ever increasing pace. For some reason, nevertheless, religion is proving to be no less relevant even in this era of supposed enlightenment—an enlightenment to be inspired, in part, at least, by scientific and technological advancement. So where will it all lead us? What does the future hold? The end of religion, in a world where scientific knowledge reigns supreme and abolishes the superstitions of the past? Or will religion make a dramatic comeback and have the final say? After all, in a world in which “Scientology” is itself a religion, one cannot—one dare not—underestimate the power of religion over the human psyche! Truly religion is a force to be reckoned with, but even so, does it have a place in a progressive, technologically advanced society, and if so, what is it’s role?

These are some of the questions I hope to address in future blog posts. Consider this one to be a starter—a foretaste or foreshadowing of blog entries to come!

Meanwhile, I welcome your feedback. If you happen to be reading this blog entry or following this blog, I welcome you to reflect on these weighty issues and post a comment or two with your insights. Religion is a sensitive subject and is liable to provoke a passionate response from some quarters, so I urge you to measure your words carefully before posting them. Of course, I will be moderating all comments to ensure that nothing offensive or inflammatory gets posted on my blog so that the spirit of congenial dialog is in no way compromised!

I look forward to hearing from you! Meanwhile, do keep on the lookout for the next film in the Exploration series, coming soon, and, of course, my review of Ashwin Sanghi’s brilliant novel, The Rozabal Line and even, possibly, of Stephen Prothero’s book God is Not One. Meanwhile, do continue to visit http://www.explorationtheseries.com and check out the current and archived videos in the film series Exploration with Uday Gunjikar, which takes you to fascinating sites around the world right from your armchair by the fire at home!

Wishing you the very best,

Uday Gunjikar
Founder and CEO,
Horizon Cybermedia, Inc.