Quantum Mechanics and Enlightenment
Science has always been an attempt to understand the world around us. In this way, it is similar to religion and philosophy. In fact, the first modern scientists were called Natural Philosophers. But long before the rise of the Natural Philosopher, people were doing science, even if they didn’t call it that.
The first scientists were spiritualists, seeking to make sense of the universe, but they drew from a much wider pool of instruction than their modern counterparts. We have come a long way since stargazing was the height of academic achievement. But just because we learn new things doesn’t mean there is nothing left for us in ancient beliefs.
One of the greatest explosions of knowledge occurred during the seventeenth century, a period called the Enlightenment. In the West, all sorts of new discoveries were made, from medicine to industry. The school of direct observation triumphed in the scientific world. Empiricism ruled over intuition. The knowledge of the unobservable was delegated to bookstores that also sell crystals, and the weird self-help section of the library.
Much of the older knowledge was deemed unworthy to be kept in the world of science. There were a lot of good reasons for this. The modern methods of science have historically been better than their ancient counterparts. Questioning the purpose of life won’t help you speed up production in a factory, and wondering if microorganisms are keeping secrets won’t help you cure any diseases.
Also, you really don’t want people doing yoga in your laboratory.
Now our modern methods of science have led us to a place where we are stuck.We cannot move any further because Quantum Mechanics, the study of how really really tiny things behave, challenges everything we think about how to understand the universe.
Basically, Quantum Mechanics studies the smallest unit of stuff that we are aware of. The sophisticated term, “stuff,” is used because it is unclear exactly what things are like when they get that small. Sometimes, it appears that the stuff moves around in particles, like matter. Other times it appears to move in waves, like energy. So somewhere between a wi-fi connection and a bag of skittles lies the answer.
The problem is, we can tell the stuff is behaving both as particles and waves. At the same time!That is, until we try and look at it. The process of observing the stuff seems to be changing the stuff. This is a neat trick that would be fun on the every-day scale. It would be cool to be able to change things just by looking at them. Its too bad it totally ruins science.
This is the point where empirical observations break down. If the process of the experiment changes the experiment, than what are the results? Indeterminate. Perhaps we can find a detour around this roadblock, though. And maybe those ancient spiritualists can help.
Many ancient belief systems include the notion that searching for enlightenment requires a certain amount of detachment. You’re not going to find things your looking for until you stop looking. You know, “if you already know the candlelight is fire, then the meal was cooked a long time ago.” That kind of stuff. And its tough if you don’t believe in it, because nothing can help get you around this invisible block but acceptance.
So we are faced with a hokey, guru, copout solution. If the the act of observation changes the results maybe the only way to get accurate results is to not observe them.
Of course, designing and experiment that is also not an experiment, attempting to trick God into revealing his secrets because he doesn’t think we’re looking, will be a difficult thing to accomplish. But Humans are the only group of sentient beings I know of that have a decent chance.