The Search For Truth

If a scientist, philosopher, or anyone else tells you something is true, and in fact it is not true, it is not true. To say something is true does not make it true. Even though you are told something is true, if it is not true it is simply not true. On the other hand, if something is true it is true, even if you are told or believe that it is not.

If something is true or false, it is true or false whether we believe it to be true or false, or have not thought about its truth at all. If we believe a lamp is on a table, whether we have any evidence it is or not, and it is in fact on the table, then what we believe to be true is true. If we cannot determine whether or not the lamp is on the table that does not change the actual position of the lamp. Even though without evidence we cannot prove a lamp is on a table, if it is on the table it is there and our belief is true.

Just because we cannot prove something is true does not in any way mean it is not true. Because we cannot prove, or disprove, we continue to exist after the death of our bodies does not mean that we do not continue to exist, or that we do. If we continue to exist after our physical death, then we continue to exist, and if we do not, then we do not.

Science is based on observation, formulation of theories, and more observation. To observe necessarily requires the ability to perceive - to sense, feel, smell, touch, taste, see, hear. Early humans used all their senses to explore the world around them. When human senses proved inadequate, they devised better and better tools and instruments to extend their range. Microscopes and telescopes to expand vision, stethoscopes and amplifiers to increase hearing, plus thousands of other sensitive devices.

The catalog of devices used to expand our human senses is enormous and growing by the minute, yet all the instruments of humankind can do no more than extend the reach of humans into the universe of which they and their instruments are a part. We know of three spatial dimensions, height, width, depth, and a fourth dimension, time. Is there a fifth, a sixth, a seventh, an eighth dimension? No one knows, for if they exist they appear to be separate and beyond human ability to sense, measure, and thus scientifically prove.

Does that mean those dimensions do not exist, the answer is no. If a fifth dimension exists, it exists. If a fifth dimension does not exist, it does not exist. This is true regardless whether we can, or never can, observe that dimension and, of course, is true for any sixth dimension, seventh dimension, eighth dimension, etc. It is important to realize that no matter how many dimensions are eventually observed, one or more additional dimensions may or may not exist beyond human ability to observe.

Many of you are saying to yourselves it is one thing to say that a dimension beyond human ability to observe may exist, but an entirely different thing to say that one probably does. You are right. Most of you will go on to say it is highly improbable, maybe less than one chance in a trillion, that even one more dimension exists beyond the observable number of dimensions, however many that may eventually prove to be. If you think that, you are wrong. To be able to statistically predict the likelihood of an event happening we must first observe to see how often the event occurs during a given period of time. If we cannot observe the event when it occurs, we cannot determine how often it happens (or does not happen) and we cannot calculate the likelihood of the event (mathematical models may predict the existence of that which cannot be observed, but they cannot contribute to statistical proof).

One problem with recognizing the limitations of statistical analysis and science is understanding the difference between not observing an event where the event watched for can be observed, and not observing an event where the event cannot be observed because it is beyond human ability to sense. The first, not observing an event which could be seen, leads to the valid conclusion that the event is unlikely to occur. The second, not observing an event which is beyond human ability to perceive, beyond experimental observation, cannot lead to any conclusion at all about the reality of that event. Yet it appears to be human nature to assume that things which have never been observed do not exist, or at best are highly unlikely to exist.

If something exists beyond human perception it will never be observed during our physical lifetimes. If you cannot measure something because it is beyond human perception you cannot prove it exists, on the other hand you cannot prove that it does not exist. More importantly, you cannot say that it is likely or unlikely that it exists! You simply cannot say anything objective at all about that which is beyond human ability to observe.

It is very, very important to realize that it is absolutely impossible to say that it is either likely or unlikely something exists beyond human observation. We simply cannot determine in any way the probability that something exists, or does not exist, beyond our observable universe. To understand the significance of this often overlooked statement is to understand that we have absolutely no idea what, if anything, lies beyond our human boundaries.

Because we cannot know what lies beyond our perception or how it might affect our physical reality, we can never prove that anything is absolutely “true”, or absolutely “false”. A moments thought should bring the realization that this absolute limit of statistics and science renders all “scientific proof”, as well as subjective feelings, that nothing exists beyond our perception into “philosophic arguments”. Despite what science might claim to have “proven”, and despite what we might “feel”, about what lies beyond our ability to observe, we cannot say anything objective about that which is beyond human perception. No one, not you nor I nor the smartest person on earth can say that it is likely, or not likely, that a “world” or “worlds” exist beyond the physical world in which we live. From an objective standpoint anything, or nothing, may exist beyond human cognition.

Before leaving our discussion of truth, we should note the apparently absolute limit where the question “how” becomes the question “why”. Let’s jump ahead 10,000 years and assume that a “theory of everything” has been found that describes the behavior of all forces and elements according to a set of fairly simple laws. If and when such a theory is “proved” we may in fact have succeeded in explaining the past, present, and future behavior of all observed matter and energy. However the ultimate questions will remain. Why were the unified forces that control energy and matter created? Why do they exist? Who or what is the source of such primordial forces if they are the most fundamental of forces? These questions will still be unanswered, and it is not hard to see, will remain unanswerable.

Science will have succeeded in fully describing the forces seen in nature, and their effects on matter and energy. The question “how” nature works will, for the most part, have been answered. But an explanation of the creation, the existence, the source of the forces, the answer to “why” such forces exist, will be missing. The ultimate question “Why?” most clearly defines the limit of science and human beings.

This leads us to one more unanswered question. At the time this note was written it was generally accepted that all of space-time was created at or near a point in time popularly known as the “big bang”. Scientists tell us that everything in the universe was created out of a tiny speck of matter.

Here is the problem. Entropy is a measure of disorder. If you pour cream into your coffee, the cream will never remove itself to make the coffee black again. This is because the entropy (disorder) of the system (the coffee with cream) tends to increase over time. As a rule, systems tend to become more disordered over time.

The universe we live in is a place of amazingly low entropy, if that was not true we would not be alive. Every star, planet, rock, tree, living creature, every human being, everything in the universe that is more ordered than the diffuse interstellar gas clouds that surround us, is an example of a system with low entropy. For our universe to have the extremely low entropy it has, required at the “starting point” of the big bang the selection of a single low entropy universe from a virtually infinite number of possible high entropy universes.

Roger Penrose, a noted British mathematician who along with Stephen Hawking established how singularities form in black holes, concludes that: “There is a certain sense in which I would say the universe has a purpose. It’s not there just somehow by chance. Some people take the view that the universe is simply there and it runs along, and we happen by accident to find ourselves in this thing. I don’t think that’s a very fruitful or helpful way of looking at the universe, I think that there is something much deeper about it, about its existence, which we have very little inkling of at the moment.”

To be more exact, in his book “The Emperor’s New Mind”, Penrose calculated that the universe we live in required the selection of one out of 10 raised to the 10th power raised to the 123rd power of all possible universes! This is a deceptively large number, which in fact cannot be written. If you tried to write it out by writing the number “1” on a piece of paper, you would have to write a 0 on every single atom in the universe just to approach the number of zeros that follow the one, even then you would not be close to writing out the entire number (see If this interpretation of modern cosmology is as solid as it seems, it means that the chance that our universe was created at random is as close to impossible as we can get!

Many find comfort in believing that even if science has not yet discovered them, every physical event from creation onward evolved according to a set of absolute physical laws. The mathematically precise physical structure of the universe, the tiny place we have in the incredible vastness of space, the biologic characteristics we share with animals, etc., all may be interpreted as evidence of a purely mechanistic process that governs our lives. Indeed, there is ongoing research trying to explain biophysical evolution in terms of self-ordering / self-replication.

Scientists may or may not eventually be able to offer insight into chemistry that could have allowed transition from inanimate molecules to living cells. At the moment, when applied to biologic systems, the theories are considered by most to be purely speculative. Even if scientists are successful in proposing a robust mechanism, current models do not provide an explanation of how our low entropy universe was selected from all possible universes, or an explanation of one of the great unknowns of life, the phenomenon of consciousness.

If we focus on the most fundamental levels we are still confronted by the fact that for self-ordering to be possible in the first place there must have been a break in the symmetry of particles and anti-particles, otherwise there would have been nothing to organize. If we consider the complexity of that which we observe, the initial extraordinarily low entropy of our universe, matter which should not have survived antimatter, and the mystery of consciousness, and if we are honest with ourselves, we cannot escape the intuitive feeling that there is an “order” in the chaos that cannot be explained by science.

Even if the odds against the random selection of our low entropy universe out of all possible universes are not quite as impossible as they seem, we simply cannot ignore the intuitive feeling that the odds are almost infinitely against the random creation and existence of everything around us. Think about this for a while. No matter how strongly we may feel that life is the result of physical processes only, if we are objective we must admit that it intuitively seems impossible that a random physical process could create the almost infinitely complex, yet extremely well ordered, low entropy, universe in which we live. Anyone who takes the time to try to visualize billions of stars bursting out of a pinhead faces a mystery which, at the very least, leaves us with the possibility that the observable physical universe is not “all there is”.

What all this tells us is that we have no real idea at all what the true nature of our life is, or what the possibilities are for our continued existence after death.

NEXT: Truth, Belief, & Faith          

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