By Deepak Chopra, MD, Menas C. Kafatos, PhD, Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D.
When big science gets a major boost, the news goes around the world with an air of celebration. The latest such event was the confirmation of gravitational waves, which were predicted by Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity. As enthusiastically explained by MIT physicist Allan Adams in a recent TED talk , gravitational waves were considered impossible to detect because of their weakness even 25 years ago. But a project named Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) aimed to build a 5 kilometer measuring device calibrated to within 1/1000 of the radius of the nucleus of an atom in order to capture the signals of gravitational waves from cosmic sources using laser technology.
Science concerns itself with reality, in the form of “real particles”, “real organisms”, and the “real universe”. The tacit assumption is that science can answer the question of reality itself. If this wasn’t the case, science would have a hard time explaining why it holds a special place as a human activity. So one must grant that science concerns itself with the reality of “objects”. What this assumes, of course, is that objects exist independent of conscious experience. In the first two articles of this series, we’ve discussed the evidence that our universe is in fact fundamentally mental. What we call physical things and events, as it turns out, do not exist independently of subjective experience.
If they did, how would one even prove such existence? Conscious experience is the only way that reality can be known. The implications of this increasingly unavoidable conclusion—that the universe must be approached as fundamentally mental—are often misunderstood. For this reason, the vast majority of scientists cling to the belief in materialism, regarding anything else as metaphysics and not science. The goal of the present article is to address some of these misunderstandings.
The night sky that you can view from your back yard is roughly the same, given a few changes in the positions of stars, as the night sky Galileo turned his telescope on to. But visual similarity is misleading. There have been half a dozen different universes conceived of in the human mind. As each conception changes, so does reality. We like to think that science steadily marches forward, but with each new universe something is lost and something is gained. Here we take the term universe to imply a world view, rather than just the large-scale universe explored with telescopes and deep space probes.
For a very long time, if you wanted to know if something is real or not, the go-to people have been scientists. The rise of rationality over superstition is considered the single greatest achievement of the past three or four centuries. So it’s startling news–as we discussed in the last post–that physics has arrived at a reality crisis. Three great unsolved mysteries remain, and they are the same riddles asked by ancient Greek philosophers: What is the universe made of? Where did the universe come from? How do we know what’s real?
It’s fascinating to observe how working scientists approach these questions. The vast majority pay no attention to them, because a scientist’s everyday work, including the work of physicists, is about collecting data, running experiments, and making calculations from known theories, and once in a while formulating new theories. The Big Questions which are left to theorists, are usually bypassed in the everyday lives of scientists. But as we discussed last time, science has to test every theory to see if it matches empirical reality. Galileo could calculate on paper that two objects, when dropped from a height, would hit the ground at the same time, despite the age-old assumption that a cannonball, being much heavier than a lead fishing weight, would hit the ground first, as Aristotle believed. To prove that his calculations were correct, Galileo offered empirical proof, and physics took a huge counter-intuitive step forward.
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