If I am allowed to use a single word to separate humanity from the rest of living things on earth, I can only think of “science”. Through our understanding in science, we have risen beyond survival centred living into progress centred living. In other words, we no longer live our lives in trying not to die but to achieve the next level of progress.
Definition Of Science
What exactly is science?
This is what the dictionary says:
sci·ence [sahy-uhns] Show IPA
- a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws: the mathematical sciences.
- systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.
- any of the branches of natural or physical science.
- systematized knowledge in general.
- knowledge, as of facts or principles; knowledge gained by systematic study.
In my opinion, the above definition is totally meaningless. Let me give you a better definition of science:
Science involves the following steps:
- Identify an observed event.
- Guess possible explanations to this event.
- Conduct experiments and tests to eliminate those explanations.
- The one explanation that remains, no matter how improbable will be accepted as the true answer until further contradicting data comes along.
Through the above procedures, our species had not only gained knowledge on what have been going on around us, we progressed to make use of this knowledge to elevate ourselves to the next level. Not only that we managed to eliminate many false ideas which we call “superstitions”.
Science As An Antidote For Superstition
We no longer live in fear each time we encounter an eclipse of the moon or sun. Eclipse is nothing more than shadows. There are no “sky-dogs” up there in the heavens wanting to eat up our sun and moon. We do not have to worry of getting strike by lightning if we do not follow some religious routines because we not only know how lightning works, we know how to control its powers. So if lightning is a manifestation of the judgement of God, then we have overcome this judgement by installing some lightning rods and copper tapes on our buildings.
When earthquakes, typhoons, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, floods or any other natural disaster happens, we know they are the result of the law of physics. They were not caused by the “Judgement Of God” as some con artists claimed to be in order to scare the public into giving them money.
In short, our knowledge gained through science has set us free from the bondage of stupidity and superstition.
Here is a disclaimer. I do realise that there are still con artists out there who had successfully made a living by proclaiming the “Judgement Of God” after every disaster. The only reason this can happen is their victims did not pay attention in their science class. So, the moral of this story is, a scientific illiterate and his money are soon parted.
Limitations Of Common Sense In Science
Many people have this misconception that science is common sense. The truth is, such belief was true in the beginning of scientific pursuit. Earlier disciplines like classical mechanics, wave theory and thermodynamics are very common sense friendly.
We can throw up an object, drop it from height and slide it on a smooth surface to see Newton’s Laws at work. Ancient armies had been using it to hurl stones to their enemies’ fortifications even before they could fully understand the law behind it.
Drop a pebble into a pond of still water and you can see the wave theory come to life. Thermodynamics can be seen in the kitchen when the cooking process is in progress.
In short, the above are clear and easy to understand. Then, we discovered electricity and magnetism. At first, we thought of them as separate phenomena but we have learned that they come together. So, we call the combined entity as electromagnetism.
While electromagnetism may give us the “magical” feeling, it is entirely scientific because it is predictable and controllable. We can switch on and off our electricity supply, control its properties and even use it to perform logical functions, which had given rise to the invention of electronic computers. We know electromagnetism is true even though we cannot understand it as well as we understood the Newtonian Laws of Motion because experiments, tests and applications had confirmed on what we know.
This is the part where we begin to rely on the discipline of science to identify the truth even if we could not fully understand it.
Then, as if the world is not strange enough, we stumbled on even stranger truths in relativity and quantum mechanics which totally defy our common sense.
Why is that so? The above disciplines had revealed knowledge of the world beyond the world we live in (which consists of billions of atoms and moving at speed that very small compared to the speed of light) to the extremes like the world of very small, very fast etc.
In the world of the extremes, things work very differently from what we think as “normal”.
Here is an example.
We live in the world where what goes up must come down and water makes us wet. We take for granted of the water “wetness” and focus more on gravity because it gives us more problems. However, if we are as small as the ants, things become reverse.
If you are as small as an ant, gravity is not much of a problem. The main problem is the surface tension of the water. At this size, water droplets will appear like a huge boulder in the middle of the road. If you do not careful, you might walk into the “boulder” of water and get drowned. On the positive note, you don’t need cups or buckets either. You can literally hold a sphere of water in your hands. Instead of wiping your wet floor, you simply pick up the balls of water on your floor.
However, if you are to shrink even smaller into the subatomic level, the world is even stranger. You are no longer limited to a single space at a given time. You can be present at more than one location at the same time. No one, including you yourself can identify your own location. Instead, you can only define the region of space where there is a high probability of you being there.
If you know where you are, you don’t know how fast you walk. If you know how fast you walk, you don’t know where you are. If you stand still, a huge cloud will surround you where you can be anywhere inside the “cloud”.
This is the world of very small. What happens when you move very fast until you are close to the speed of light? You will experience time dilation. Time flows slower for you than the rest of the world. If you look out, you may think that the rest of the people are moving in a fast forward manner while they may see you as moving in slow motion.
It is important to note that the above ”strangeness” are strange only because they are not common in the world we live in. If we have been living in the substomic scale or have the facilities to travel at close to speed of light, then they are normal to us.
Our brains were evolved to find ways to survive. Not to understand the universe. Our diversion into science is more of a side track from the “purpose” of our existence.
Here is another fact. We like to think our senses as powerful but from the cosmic scales they are extremely limited. For example, our eyes are definitely better than nothing but they can only detect a very narrow range of electromagnetic waves (which we call “visible light”) that exist in this universe. We cannot see electromagnetic waves with higher and lower frequencies of this range like infra-red, radiowaves, gamma rays, X-rays etc.
This tells us that we humans are not adequately “equipped” to be scientists. Our brains and sensors are too primitive for that. Yet we did not give up and made great progress in understanding the universe. What we lack in our sensors, we use artificial sensors to “see” what we cannot see. What we lack in our brains’ imaginary function, we use mathematics to make up for it.
In conclusion, the enterprise of science has elevated us beyond our natural limitation. We are no longer subjected to the limitations imposed by our genes. If the Creator has a purpose for our existence, we must have exceeded it.
Suppose there is a God up there. What will he think? It depends. If God is an insecure, obsessed with self-glory and low self-esteem person, he must be feeling threatened by our progress. It is only a matter of time when he will want to sabotage our Tower Of Babel.
However, if he is an honourable, moral and with healthy self-esteem, I suspect he will applaud our achievements.