Theology and Modern Physics, and me.

“Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible concatenations, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable.”
-Einstein

See, I think a problem that needs to be addressed concerning me and any religion getting along is that I have a lot of theoretical physicists’ point of view on things to meander through. I spent a lot of time researching and understanding theoretical and quantum physics on my own in college, for no reason other than it was interesting, and also researching some of their theological views. Take Einstein’s quote above from above. One would think, “Oh! Einstein was religious!” Here is a follow up quote from that same interview:

“I believe in Spinoza’s God, Who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God Who concerns Himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.”

Until now I’ve let these theoretical physicists’ views coincide and sometimes overrule my own thoughts but I really need to step up and make my own interpretations.

You know that Einstein, even if you’re only vaguely familiar with his work, was a god of physics. If you aren’t really familiar just go wikipedia general relativity, or special relativity, it will blow your mind (and don’t bother with the equations haha just go for conceptual understanding) and really make you appreciate the complexity of the world, do yourself a favor. So with that said, it’s hard not to really, really, respect what he says about things.

What one needs to remember though is that he was a theoretical physicist. He spent his days laboring at a desk and chalkboard, talking to like-minded colleagues, thinking of abstract mathematical equations. With his talents for mathematics and physics, his brain probably spent little time considering the human condition. When he did consider such things, he was able to put it into words beautifully but the physicist in him cannot be hidden away, it seeps out of his every metaphor:

“An hour sitting with a pretty girl on a park bench passes like a minute, but a minute sitting on a hot stove seems like an hour. That’s relativity.”

and

“Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love.”

So I guess my point is…what is responsible for people falling in love? Einstein didn’t have an answer for that. Sure, cite neurochemicals and genetics and environmental influences, you can do that. The complexities associated with those factors are beyond human comprehension, however. The interplay between those things for any one individual is about as complicated as the galaxy (?universe, hm), seriously. We can model it all with sociology and psychology but it will never explain the human beings that fall through the cracks. Those methods will never explain anything other than “the average.” Who is average? No one is actually “the average.”

Anyway, I’m getting offtrack. Einstein, and many theoretical physicists, and many dedicated scientists in general, did not, do not, have healthy social or family lives for the most part. They exist in their own worldview that they have constructed to make themselves comfortable. For them. Not for all of humanity. Physics is for all of humanity, physicists’ world views are not.

Back to the first quote at the top of the page – doesn’t the mysterious and sometimes ridiculous uniqueness of every human being fall under “secrets of nature”? I don’t know what inexplicable things Einstein was talking about; perhaps it was the curvature of space-time, or the fact that our universe is expanding into…nothing, or that light is both a particle and a wave and just to make things crazier does not experience time, or maybe he was just describing the beauty of the cosmos. There is no real explanation for any of those things. They are just parts of the universe. Just like there is no explanation for fate. It’s just part of life.

It is to these things that I can submit myself to a Higher Power. There is no science behind the path you choose in life. There never will be. That’s what spirituality is for.

Logic and reason break down when there is no science to be applied. This is really hard to accept sometimes for me…because they rule so, SO prominently in many other areas of life that I am somewhat well-versed in. It’s quite a disconnect, it’s a jarring disconnect between the modern world and the intangible world. It’s tough to swallow sometimes…tough to keep them apart.

Anyway, I’m glad I kinda got this cleared up. I want to get in the habit of writing my thoughts down because I feel like I get more out of them this way. This way, I have to FOCUS for an extended period of time on one subject in order to explore it in a brief essay, and it’s meditative in a sense. This way the thoughts are not fleeting, my mind does not wander as easily, and it makes me confront myself head on.

4 Comments

  1. December 18, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this.

    Parts of what you say remind me of a talk by Nassim Taleb in which he mentioned that medicine and science used to kill more people than religion. At certain points in the past it was a hell of a lot safer to visit a priest and have him pray for your sickness than to see a doctor about it.

    I think I have the same problem with the scientific/humanistic and religious/spiritualistic communities, they both seem to view themselves as THE arbiter of truth. This is a role that no discipline, no religion, and certainly no person I’ve ever met has ever been qualified for.

    I wish us humans were less insecure about where we find our fullfilment. Just because someone else is content finding their meaning in a differing ideological system doesn’t make them stupid, and it certainly doesn’t make our contentment any less valid.

    My theory is that our insecurity is rooted in the difference between theory and experience. Most theories (theological or scientific) are going to be proven wrong at one point or another, thus fulfillment based on theoretical truth is going to be fleeting at best. Experience tends to be ruthelessly consistent however, and fulfillment based on experience (in my experience) tends to be more consistent as well.

    For me it’s less about the theory of how we’re flying in an airplane, more about the fact that we’re on our way to Hawaii. It’s less about the theology of redemption, and more about feeding someone who’s hungry.

    Then again I’m weird. Anyways, that’s what this made me think about.

    Thanks.

  2. Josh Farrow said,

    December 18, 2008 at 10:52 pm

    Well said good sir. You write like a philosopher, can you speak that way also? I can’t unfortunately. Maybe I could in a foreign country where people talk really slow and articulate their thoughts before speaking, maybe. But not here.

    I like this Nassim Taleb guy already. Bolded quote on his homepage:
    “My major hobby is teasing people who take themselves & the quality of their knowledge too seriously & those who don’t have the courage to sometimes say: I don’t know….”

    I couldn’t find that talk you referred to. Concerning that quote though, and arbiters of truth: After being in academia (biomedical sciences, quitting in 13 days) for 1.5 years, it’s amazing how seriously a lot of people take themselves and their work. It’s off-putting. Only a fraction, a mere fraction, have the words “I don’t know” in their vocabulary.

    It’s not really their fault on an individual level, per se. It’s a competitive world out there and image is everything. However, it gives open-minded people a false impression about life and careers and everything. They don’t have all the answers either and this really messes with me. Guess it is just naïveté on my part, but dishonesty on theirs, chest puffing. It will always be slightly easier to call relative small timers who obviously have their own problems out on their bullshit (in my mind) than it is to refute someone whom you really respect, like Einstein or Sagan. In the end though, I guess the moral is they should all have about the same influence on others’ spiritual world-view: zero. Personal experience is where it’s all at.

    This backlash stemming from mere insecurity is manifested in science as a whole. In religion as a whole. Everyone (mk, 99.5%) in those groups claim to have all the answers, and they’re just running down the streets naked trying to cover their asses, (mis)leading people who haven’t been alive long enough to see what the f they’re running from, just trying to beat the guy next to them. Beat them to what? I don’t know…power, status, ego.

    It’s no wonder it takes us, as a species, so long to do anything productive in these days.

    I got kinda off topic maybe and I’m tired, not going to get back on it tonight. I liked that airplane metaphor though.

  3. December 18, 2008 at 11:48 pm

    I’m not sure if I speak like a philosopher. I certainly do enjoy a good conversation though. I’ve spent many nights enjoying coffee, cigarettes and conversation at Waffle House.

    http://fora.tv/2008/02/04/Future_Has_Always_Been_Crazier_Than_We_Thought

    That’s the speech with the religion and science reference.

    Taleb is a fantastic thinker in many ways, especially in that he admits he knows very little. It’s really refreshing to see him withhold from commenting on questions in the Q&A because he admits that he doesn’t have enough data to make a conclusion.

    I’ve only read one essay by Sagan, but from the tone of said essay he seemed to be fairly humble and open minded as well. Of course in the essay he was espousing the benefits of marijuana so my assessment may be slightly biased. Your initial quote from Einstein also suggests that he was very comfortable with being human, i.e. realizing he wasn’t capable of knowing and understanding everything in the universe.

    Which touches on the idea that perhaps it’s those who are humble enough to admit to and learn from wrong ideas and actions, while being stubborn enough to continue to experiment who end up leaving something worthwhile behind. That’s a whole different rabbit trail though.

  4. Josh Farrow said,

    July 18, 2016 at 11:06 pm

    “Which touches on the idea that perhaps it’s those who are humble enough to admit to and learn from wrong ideas and actions, while being stubborn enough to continue to experiment who end up leaving something worthwhile behind.”

    It has been nearly 8 years, but in reading through this again, I am fully behind this thought of yours, it is truth. I miss the time for discourse and philosophizing, I wish you the best-


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