Struggling with Meaninglessness

searching meaning in meaninglessness

Science isn’t Strange. We Are.

with one comment

I like watching TED’s talk and one of my all time favourite videos would be Richard Dawkins’ – Queerer Than We Can Suppose.

Before i go deep into Dawkins’ message, i will digress a little first. Let’s talk about some classical philosophy. Let’s talk about Immanuel Kant, one of the most influential philosopher we ever have. The following quote is one of his ideas in his work Critique of Pure Reason (1781) :

“Everything we apprehend in any way at all – whether it is a perception, memory, feeling, thoughts, or whatever it may be – is apprehended by us through our bodily apparatus, namely our five senses, our brain, and our central nervous system. Therefore anything that this apparatus can deal with is capable of being experience for us. Buy anything it cannot deal with can never be experience for us , for we have no way of apprehending it.”

This didn’t make sense to me at first. There are things which we can’t see or feel, but we are very damn sure of their existence and we are equally capable of apprehending them – Things such as gravity, magnetism, radiowave, atom, anti-matter and etc. I read them in books and articles and scientist gave some concrete and convincing answers to all these unperceivable entity. So how could this idea of his became a groundbreaking idea? Nevertheless, i changed my mind once i watched Dawkins’ TED talk. Once and for all, i understood the meaning behind Kant’s idea. It is indeed a profound philosophy.

Take gravity for instance. We can never feel and perceive gravity with our five senses (eye, nose, ear, mouth and skin) and our brain. Since we can’t feel and perceive it directly with our bodily apparatus, therefore there is no way we can  apprehend gravity. It doesn’t mean gravity doesn’t exist, just that human will not be able to 100% apprehending it. Scientists can only create theories of how this unperceivable entity behave. As we learned it school, the earth sucks everything towards the center of the earth. This is an extremely common theory and is already accepted as a conventional  explanation. However, a theory is still a theory – it is not a fact. Even if the answer is 99.99% convincing, there is still a possibility of 0.01% chance that the truth will be another different answer.

Bear in mind that gravity is a very kind and simple example. If other examples are taken such as string theory, quantum mechanics or wormhole, these theories are far from being clear-cut as the likes of gravity. Every different scientist may theorise his/her own subjective ideas and interpretation of how these things work. At the end of the day, debate and arguments of who having the better theory is inevitable. That’s why Kant argued – if we can’t experience something with our body senses, then we could never tell for sure how it behaves and what are the features of it.

Let’s get back to Dawkin’s video. The main message of the video is simply about – the limitation of our five senses and brain in perceiving the reality.

According to Dawkins, this universe is consist of 3 worlds – The small world (quantum and atomic world), the big world (stars, blackhole, planets) and the middle world (human). In the middle world, our brain spontaneously evolved accordingly to allow us navigate and adapt to this world. However these three worlds are operating in different set of rules and conditions. Hence, mentally, we are trapped in the middle world’s logic. It is extremely difficult for us to perceive and grasp the reality beyond the middle world because our brain had decided that it is not necessary to understand the small world and the big world. Why? Why would the brain need to wire itself to understand the small and big world when it does not bring us any benefit in surviving? Understanding how atomic works will not bring us any significant changes in the way of our survival – at least this is what our brain instinctively believe. An example Dawkins gave in the video – rocks. I will quote him here.

“We never evolved to navigate in the world of atoms. If we had, our brains probably would perceive a rock as full of empty space. Rocks feel hard and impenetrable to our hands because objects like our hands can’t penetrate them. It’s therefore useful for our brains to construct notions like solidity and impenetrability because such notions help us to navigate our bodies through the middle-sized world in which we have to navigate.”

This is why, i think 9999 out of 10000 people on earth find theories such as string theory, quantum physics and time-travel confusing – human simply are not inherently adapt to other world’s logic. Take for example, the quantum world. According to quantum mechanics, there’s a high probability where an atom will go through the wall. And since human is also made up of atoms,  there is a probability we can go through the wall too. Hence, if a person pushes against the wall for billion of years, there’s a probability where his/her whole body will be able to go through the wall at some point (it takes longer time since we are composed by an enormous amount of atoms – the more atoms in a single entity, the more improbable it is) Now, if you apply this logic back to the middle world and insist to everyone there’s such possibility of human going through wall, don’t be surprised to receive some middle-finger gestures accompanied by W-T-F cries. No where in the human imagination we can visualise the logic of this.

To gain understanding of other world, the rule of thumb is to detach our middle world logic before embracing the small and big world. Easier said than done, this is actually something which is extremely difficult to do, and that’s why great scientists such as Newton, Heisenberg, Einstein and Bohr are special – they have the ability to defy human logic and produced some audacious thoughts of how the world really worked.

At the end of the video, Dawkins proposed a crazy idea – put children to play games which operates in quantum logic and accustom them to quantum mechanics in the long run. Then in the experiment, observe them whether are they able to adapt and think in quantum logic conveniently. Sounds interesting, no?

Last but not least, people who don’t really understand science always perceive science as strange. It is a fact that this is an extremely confusing and complex universe. Human conveniently labeled science as strange because we can’t comprehend it. But you know what, the state of actual reality has already been this way since billion of years ago. The reality is already here and we just gotta uncover it. At the end of the day, I wonder who are the strange one….


Written by elan85

December 3, 2007 at 10:35 am

One Response

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  1. Interesting stuff. Thanks for sharing. But we can feel gravity if we jump up and see the consequences. But without being aware of something called gravity we can not comprehend it.


    May 2, 2012 at 8:02 pm

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