Pursuing The Truth

Pursuing The Truth

It is a strange irony of our times that so-called "scientists" who claim that they are engaged in "discovering" the truth are most often involved in fabricating myths, which they then claim are the truth. Let it not be misunderstood that this statement represents an indictment of all sincere seekers of the truth. The vast majority, undoubtedly, are not only sincere and loyal to their vocation, they are humble enough to acknowledge their limitations when it is pointed out to them. May this tribe prosper and proliferate. Developments in recent decades, since the turn of the twentieth century, are proof positive of the benefits which have accrued to humankind due to the dedication and perseverance of such honest seekers after truth.

This opinion piece is dedicated to the very limited objective of criticizing some charlatans and poseurs who assume the mantle of "scientist" and proceed to spread their deadly errors around them - with fatal consequences, it must be averred.

Those who have followed the progress of science - specially physics and chemistry - can not have escaped the discovery that many so-called "scientific" assumptions which were taken for granted in the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have had to be abandoned because of newer insights gained by these sciences. For example, the assumption that all matter has mass has been abandoned by most physicists today. Scientists like Fritjof Capra, Sir Arthur Eddington, Sir James Jeans, N. Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, D.T. Suzuki and others have arrived at the conclusion that there is no such thing as the "ultimate" constituent of matter. The common consensus, now, is that the basic constituent of matter is, in fact, energy. Capra affirms that "The discovery that mass is nothing but a form of energy has forced us to modify our concept of a particle in an essential way. In modern physics, mass is no longer associated with a material substance, and hence particles are not seen as consisting of any basic 'stuff', but as bundles of energy." One has only to read Capra's "The Tao of Physics" and "The Turning Point" to understand this.

Following on the revolutionary adjustments made in physics and chemistry, the newer sciences of biology and the so-called "brain sciences" are taking a new look at the assumptions underlying their studies. The eminent biologist Paul Weiss has observed "We can assert definitely . . . on the basis of strictly empirical investigations, that the sheer reversal of our prior analytic dissection of the universe by putting the pieces together again, whether in reality or just in our minds, can yield no complete explanation of the behavior of even the most elementary living system." Biologists are busy dissecting the human body down to its minute components, and in doing so are gathering an impressive amount of knowledge about its cellular and molecular mechanisms, but they still do not know how we breathe, regulate our body temperature, digest, or focus our attention. They know some of the nervous circuits, but most of the integrative actions remain to be understood. The same is true of the healing of wounds, and the nature and pathways of pain also remain largely mysterious.

Given the very primitive stage at which biology is now, it is truly astounding that some self-proclaimed scientists presume to understand what constitutes "personhood" solely from the perspective of this embryonic science. In a recent internet debate, one "doctor" (?) loudly, and proudly, proclaimed that all humans are primates. In substantiation of his claim, he referred his readers to a 7th. standard school textbook on biology. We, of course, know all too well the quality of our school text books ! He has asserted that all sentient beings are included in the definition of "person." He derives his definition of personhood from neurology, which, he claims, offers us the most "scientific" and reliable definition. This is in sharp contradiction with his own assertion that the definition of "person" is derived from what he calls "religious philosophy" (which he rejects as being equivalent to superstition). He claims that "secular" philosophy offers us the basis for the definition - again, in stark contradiction to his own claim that only "science" can offer a valid definition.

In his very captivating book "The Tao of Physics," Fritjof Capra asserts that "In the Eastern view, human beings, like all other forms, are parts of an inseparable organic whole. Their intelligence, therefore, implies that the whole, too, is intelligent. Man is seen as the living proof of cosmic intelligence; in us, the universe repeats over and over again its ability to produce forms through which it becomes consciously aware of itself." Further, in his Epilogue, Capra tells us: "Beyond the dimensions of our everyday environment, however, the mechanistic concepts lose their validity and have to be replaced by organic concepts which are very similar to those used by the mystics. . . . The organic view, therefore, seems to be more fundamental than the mechanistic." Our good doctor (?) who justifies the murder of unborn human babies is clearly at variance with the best "scientific" view in the world today.

A basic and critical flaw in the attitude of the pseudo-scientists who so glibly pontificate on questions which are far beyond their limited comprehension is their dismissive attitude towards insights gained from other intellectual disciplines such as metaphysics and theology. They relegate these insights to the realm of superstition and voodoo. Such short-sighted and bigoted "scientists" would do well to ponder thoughtfully on the observation made by the French Nobel Prize winning molecular biologist François Jacob: "For the only logic that biologists really master is one-dimensional. As soon as a second dimension is added, not to mention a third one, biologists are no longer at ease . . . . However, during the development of the embryo, the world is no longer merely linear. The one-dimensional sequence of bases in the genes determines in some way the production of two-dimensional tissues and organs that give the organism its shape, its properties, and . . . . its four-dimensional behavior. How this occurs is a mystery."

David Suzuki and Peter Knudtson rightly caution us: "If we choose to ignore the still-staggering limitations to our knowledge of human inheritance - preferring instead convenient illusion - we could easily fall prey to a most dangerous human folly. DNA sequences in hand, we could find ourselves sliding down a slippery slope toward the perilous state of mind that is a mix of bloated human pride and self-confidence that ancient Greek thinkers referred to as hubris. There is wisdom on this matter in the words of Isaac Bashevis Singer - another Nobel laureate, but a man of literature rather than science: "Our knowledge is a little island in a great ocean of non knowledge.""

The very first principle of scientific enquiry is to be open to facts and opinions which happen to come our way. To dismiss other points of view arbitrarily and out-of-hand is to display arrogance which is simply not compatible with what is called "scientific temper." What distinguishes the greatest scientists is their humility and willingness to take a fresh look at their own assumptions. A prima facie rejection of opinions as being derived from "religion" or "superstition" is the hallmark of an opinionated and closed mind. Moreover it is not calculated to win friends and influence people. In the words of Fritjof Capra, once again, "In trying to understand the mystery of Life, man has followed many different approaches. Among them, there are the ways of the scientist and mystic, but there are many more; the ways of poets, children, clowns, shamans, to name but a few. These ways have resulted in different descriptions of the world, both verbal and non-verbal, which emphasize different aspects. All are valid and useful in the context in which they arose. All of them, however, are only descriptions, or representations, of reality and are therefore limited. None can give a complete picture of the world."

Truth is not something created by humans. The universe existed billions of years before humankind came to be, and will continue to exist long after we cease to be. Science is a human - and thus a fallible - enterprise which tries to understand ourselves and the world around us. Truth is a gift from our Creator which is to be received with humility and respect. An attitude of arrogance, as is so often seen in some scientists, is the very antithesis of real science and the spirit of enquiry.

-by Averthanus L. D'Souza