Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Astrophysics spiritual

Lord Martin Rees, cosmologist, astrophysicist, and recent past president of Great Britain's scientific Royal Society, is an atheist, but for me Krista Tippett’s conversation with him held more spiritual meaning than a typical church service does.

He has little interest in science versus religion battles, but his reflections on scientific discoveries imply the existence of spiritual reality. Rees said,
There's evidence, which has come about in the last 10 years or so, that even empty space, when you take away all the dark matter and all the atoms, still exerts a kind of force. It exerts a sort of push or tension on everything.
Immediately I think of spiritual reality, which physical science ignores but for which it has encountered evidence since the dawn of the quantum age. In the manner typical of scientists, this possibility never occurs to Lord Rees. He speculates about purely physical possibilities.
This therefore means that even empty space has a kind of structure, and we don't understand that at all. . . . most of us would guess that empty space does have a structure but on a tiny, tiny scale, a scale a billion, billion times smaller than an atomic nucleus. . . .
One of the fascinating ideas is that if you could chop up space on a very tiny scale, you would find that what we think of as just a little point in space is actually a tightly wrapped origami of extra dimensions. . . .
And then he enters a field exciting to me because it corresponds with the Seth material I’ve blogged about:
On this very, very tiny scale there may be extra dimensions over and above the three that we are familiar with. And that indicates the mathematical challenge of trying to understand space at the very deepest level. . . .
There may be other universes, other regions of space/time, which are separate from ours, because they're embedded in a common higher dimension.
Another universe may be just a few millimeters away from ours. But if those millimeters are measured in a fourth spatial dimension and we're imprisoned in our three we wouldn't know about it.
Rees, in typical scientific fashion, does not entertain the possibility that dimensions other than our space/time one might occupy no physical space at all while still exercising power. The evidence propels him toward admitting the possibility of unfamiliar dimensions, but as a typical scientist, he cannot admit the possibility of immaterial or spiritual dimensions.

In Seth Speaks we read about realities that do not coalesce into matter; we read about intense concentrations of energy entirely separate from matter. Material form, which occupies the whole of scientific inquiry, does not, however, exhaust the total sum of power that exists.

There is a force indescribable that religions try to describe. It overwhelms with thrilling power both religious and non-religious persons. It inspires holiness, and it also generates odd phenomena such as the paranormal experiences normal people experience—seeing deceased people, hearing bodiless voices, receiving just the right idea while engaged in writing or some other creative activity (an experience familiar to me).
This power/force/energy is beyond the capacity of science to explain. Scientists like Lord Rees and other atheists are touched by it without acknowledging it.
Next time, Lord Rees on strident atheist hostility toward religion.


June 14
In her conversation with astrophysicist Lord Martin Rees, Krista Tippett said he is “very vocal about not seeing science and religion as adversarial aspects of human life.” She asked him about ancient religious traditions that “have moral reasoning at their heart” and bring depth to public life. But Rees associated religion with dogma:
I am not a person who adheres to any religious dogma. [I am]skeptical of anyone who claims to have the last word or complete understanding of any deep aspect of reality.
The most we can hope for is some incomplete and metaphorical understanding and to share the mystery and wonder whether we are believers or not. . . .
I find myself very out of tune with old dogmatic religions, which . . . includes the three Abrahamic religions. . . . I can see a closer affinity with Confucianism and systems of thought like that.
His thoughts ring in tune with me, and I add that the deepest expressions of Christian thought also might ring in tune with him. But they are less accessible than literal expressions—the U.S. bishops’ attempt to ban S. Elizabeth Johnson’s Quest for the Living God demonstrates their inability to even grasp deeper expressions, much less teach them. Consequently, scientists like Rees fail to see much depth in religion.

Lord Rees respects,
some very distinguished scientists who do have traditional religious beliefs…. I find it hard to understand how they can adhere to these beliefs in the way they do, but plainly they do.
He recommended maintaining “peaceful coexistence” with religious believers. Tippett noted,
We have a lot of listeners who are atheists and agnostic, [leading] ethical and spiritual lives. . . . They are asking these questions of meaning.
She deplored the lack of middle ground in public discourse:
There’s the new atheist revival or there’s religion . . . You are . . . at least defusing the idea that the relationship is adversarial.
Rees commented that strident hostility toward religion is not typical of non-believing scientists. He regards mainstream religions, which have no problem with science, as allies against the “real danger to the world”—fundamentalism.
Tippett asked about an ongoing debate:
[Some say] it's so unlikely that everything came together to create this hospitable biosphere . . . there must be some purpose behind it, whether they call that God or not. [Others say], it's a random accident. It's an incredible, exquisite random accident.
Rees understood the issue differently from the debate raging in the U.S.
I regard this as . . . a scientific question … not a metaphysical question, albeit a very speculative scientific question. . . .

We do want to know how much is there, in physical reality as it were, beyond the part of the universe we can see . . . Are there completely disconnected regions of space and time? And if so, are they all governed by the same physical laws or could it be that there are different physical laws, so that what we've called the universal laws are really just bylaws? . . .
only one form of space or many different forms of space. . . . That’s an important question, which string theorists worry about.
Physical reality with laws and forms different from ours again gets close to information in the Seth material, but Tippett persisted in getting his take on the question roiling Americans:
Do you rule out . . . the possibility of purpose or of a, you know, a creative intelligence or what … Einstein divined behind the universe?
Rees answered,
I just don't understand what could be meant by purpose. I think if there was a purpose, I wouldn't expect human brains to be able to understand it. . . .
We exist and are conscious and able to wonder about how we came to be here. But I regard the rest as a mystery, and perhaps it will have to await the evolution of some species more advanced than humans to make more sense of it. So it is just a mystery to me.
I can’t wish for a better spiritual reflection than this!
Tippett seized an opportunity to discuss a subject she has probed in past interviews.
You just mentioned consciousness, . . . How do you as an astrophysicist, a cosmologist, observe that development and think about its possibilities? Does it inform what you do and how you make sense of it all?
Along with Krista Tippett, I regard consciousness as a threshold between science and spirituality, but Lord Rees did not accept her invitation to enter that field. He talked about the brain:
. . . the highest summit in studying the complexions of our world. And how far we will get in solving that I don't know, but there are many mysteries still obviously. . . . We should not be surprised that there are many mysteries, because we are just beginning and the world is very complicated and our brains may not be up to solving all of them.
Then he halfway acknowledged his dodge.
Scientists obviously are aware of the big problems, but they don't tackle the big problems head on. They work on a problem which they think they can solve. . . .
no scientist gets credit for failing to solve problems beyond their competence . . . So scientists tend to work on a sort of bite-sized small problem. But the occupational risk then is that they forget that their small problem is worthwhile only because it's helping to illuminate the big picture. . . .

Robert Wilson . . . made one of the greatest discoveries of the century . . . tinkering with the antennae of a radio dish and making sure he got rid of all the background [which led to the Big Bang theory]. He was doing detailed technical things, and he was so focused obviously on doing that because that was his expertise that it didn't really sink in what a great discovery he'd made.

And — and so I think that's why it is important for scientist to engage with the public. Because if you talk to a general audience, then the questions they ask are, of course, the big questions. They don't care about these tiny technical details. . . . they remind us that the big questions are important and also they remind us that most of those big questions haven't yet been solved.
Krista Tippett’s persistent return to the big questions revealed that, embedded in scientific discoveries, can be spiritual implications beyond the capability of many, both religious and non-religious, to see.

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