Mathematics, Physics and the Real Face of God

By Aldworth, Roland | Contemporary Review, May 2001 | Go to article overview

Mathematics, Physics and the Real Face of God


Aldworth, Roland, Contemporary Review


To see something 'with your own eyes' is for most of us the greatest certainty we can have in life. Yet the category of knowledge we call science has proved time and again that our senses as a source of knowing are primitive and unreliable.

Were it not for science most of us would be unshakeably convinced that the sun goes round the earth. We actually see it rising in the east and setting in the west. It's not a different sun each day, so it must be going round the earth. It is even possible to sympathise with the Inquisition when they asked Galileo why they didn't feel the earth moving beneath their feet.

Though many would argue against it, the scientific method is the only reliable form of knowledge we possess. Everything else has to be intuited from our senses. It makes mistakes, but then it is designed so as to accommodate mistakes otherwise it could not continually revise its position as more and more know ledge is gained.

Only seventy odd years ago the whole of humanity thought that the entire universe verse was just our own Milky Way. Then Edward Hubble discovered that the nebulae were other galaxies like ours only much further away than was thought possible. Another big surprise was that most of them were moving away from us. So the universe which for all of history had been thought to be eternally static and everlasting, was actually dynamic and moving. Still more surprising, the evidence suggested that fit was expanding now, then at some time in the past it might have had a beginning.

Today we have mapped out great wedges of the universe and seen how clusters and super clusters of galaxies form patterns, much like the bubbles left on an empty glass of beer. With the help of the COBE satellite we have been able to measure accurately the afterglow of the actual creation.

This has led us to an understanding of where we reside in the universe, as Stephen Hawking reminds us; on a tiny planet, orbiting a medium sized star in the outer suburbs of an average sized galaxy which is one of a hundred billion that can be seen.

At first sight we seem to be lost within an immensity the vastness of which it is difficult to comprehend. It has led some scientists like the Nobel prize winner Steven Weinberg to conclude:

The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless ... the effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little above the level of farce, and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.

For me this represents one of humanity's ultimate cries of despair. And yet; is the universe so remote? On a somewhat deeper level Einstein pointed out that the greatest mystery in this universe is that it is capable of being understood.

Fortunately, our hardly visible smudge of consciousness cannot be insignificant. The scientific method has also shown us that we are the end product of the gradual evolution of this fifteen billion year old entity. We are the end product of something that began with the first simplest atoms and ended with the human brain. In us this enormity has become conscious of itself. We cannot escape the fact that, as far as is responsibly known, we are the torchbearers of the universe's self-awareness. Surely there can be no more awesome responsibility?

At the other end of the scale of size, at the atomic and subatomic level, another great mystery resides. It is called quantum entanglement or non-locality, and was debated for most of the last century.

In 1964 John Bell, an Irish theoretical physicist, published a theorem that seemed to prove the argument for non-locality. Eighteen years later Alain Aspect in Paris was the first to conduct the defining experiment. By using two subatomic particles with opposite spin, he sent them some distance apart and found that if he changed the spin of one particle; then its brother - which could know nothing about his fiddling with the first particle - instantly changed its spin also. …

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