At times, I wonder what do we really know.
We don’t know whether what science says is true. Newton said that gravity exists. We don’t know if it exists. No one has seen it. All we see is its effects. The gravity helps us explain a lot of things and almost all the predictions from the gravity theory have been proven to be correct. So, even though we don’t know about the existence of gravity, we believe or have faith that it exists. Rather, the entire scientific community kept faith in Newtonian model till the first decade of the twentieth century. At the end of the nineteenth century, the perception was growing among the scientific community that everything important that was there was to discover had been discovered. As per Wikipedia:
At the end of the 19th century, physics had evolved to the point at which classical mechanics could cope with highly complex problems involving macroscopic situations; thermodynamics and kinetic theory were well established; geometrical and physical optics could be understood in terms of electromagnetic waves; and the conservation laws for energy and momentum (and mass) were widely accepted. So profound were these and other developments that it was generally accepted that all the important laws of physics had been discovered and that, henceforth, research would be concerned with clearing up minor problems and particularly with improvements of method and measurement.
But then, Einstein came and overturned the Newtonian physics from its roots. He challenged the most fundamental assumption of the Newtonian model i.e. absoluteness of time. By doing that he disproved the Newtonian theory and shattered our faith in it.
Einstein proposed a four dimensional world, which has three dimensions of space and one dimension of time. As per this model, the time is not separate from the space; both are different dimensions of a four dimensional world. The current scientific community accepts this four-dimensional model. Even though no one has seen this four-dimensional world, we believe or have faith in it. Why?
Because like Newtonian model, it serves two purposes:
- It explains the phenomena that we observe
- Its predictions have been proven to be true
Aren’t these the two criteria we use to accept any theory? If the theory can explain our observations, and its predictions turn out to be true, then we accept the theory. That is how we accepted Newtonian theory in the past and Einstein’s theory now.
So, even though no one has seen the four dimensional world in the lab, we have seen and tested the predictions of the Einstein’s theory in the lab and thus, we all believe or have faith in the theory.
The general public holds science and scientists in great esteem. Not because the scientists have found the truth. Rather, general public has no way to verify the truth of what scientists say. Given what we have understood, even scientists don’t know the truth; they just have belief or faith in theories that serve the two purposes.
Then why is scientific community or science in general exalted by the general public? Because science has really helped us in our day to day life. We know that air conditioners, refrigerators, computers, cars and millions of others things would not have been possible without science. So, whether science knows the truth or not, since we have benefited from it, we believe in science.
Let’s now look at our daily lives.
When we look at the body of a person, we believe that the person exists. How do we know that the person exists?
- Through our eyes: Our eyes receive certain kind of electromagnetic rays, which are interpreted by the mind as the body of the person.
- Through touch: We can go and touch the person with our hand. When we touch the person, our hand feels certain sensations, which are interpreted by the mind as the touch of the body of the person.
- Through ears: We see the lips of the person moving and receive some sound waves through our ears, which are interpreted by the mind as the sound of the person.
- Similarly, we also use our sense of smell to verify the existence of the person.
Now, if you think deeply, you can understand that we don’t really know whether the person exists or not. What we know is the sensations on our eyes, our ears, our hands, and our nose. Since we believe that there cannot be any other reason for all of these sensations to exist except the existence of the person, we believe or have faith in the existence of the person. Sometimes, it so happens that we see something with our eyes but don’t believe it. For example: a painting of a tree can seem real to us. In that case, we use our other senses e.g. touch, smell to verify the existence of the tree. If all our senses experience the sensations associated with a tree, then we believe or accept that there is a tree. If the sensations experienced by our senses conflict or don’t conform, then we get confused.
Generally, more the conformance between different senses, more is our belief in the existence of the thing. Sometimes, when we just see something, we doubt it later whether it was an illusion or we actually saw it. But if we have heard, touched, heard, and smelled a thing, then it becomes almost impossible for us to accept that it was an illusion. (even though, in reality, it could still be an illusion!)
So, even though all our experience is limited to our body (and different sensation it feels), we believe that the persons or things exist. Why?
Because of the same two reasons. Their existence helps us understand our sensations and the predictions based on their existence turn out to be true.
By repeated demonstrations of these two reasons, our faith in our eyes and other sense organs has reached a level, where we don’t even consider the existence of other persons or things a matter of faith; we consider it THE TRUTH or THE REALITY.
Then, we look at the sun and “see” that it follows us everywhere we go. But in this case, we don’t believe in our eyes. We believe in what science says that our eyes create an illusion of sun following us. We don’t believe that we can have personal suns, which actually follow us and are visible to their owners only (even though this would also explain our sensation of seeing only one sun that follows us and not suns of other people).
Why don’t we believe in personal suns?
Because then we wouldn’t be able to explain a lot of others things, including revolution of earth around the sun, occurrence of day and night, etc. So, to continue to explain those things, we choose to not believe in our eyes and we say that sun doesn’t follow us; it’s our mind which creates an illusion by misinterpreting the electromagnetic rays coming from the sun.
What is the illusion and what is the reality? Do we really know anything? Or do we just have beliefs that satisfy the two purposes as mentioned above?
We believe in science because it satisfies those two purposes. We believe in the existence of people and things around us because their existence helps us understand our sensations and make predictions which turn out to be mostly true. If I slap a person, I feel a sensation on my hand. So, I believe or have faith that his face must be there. Besides, if he responds by slapping back, I feel a sensation on my cheeks and my eyes feels the sensation of seeing an angry person. Since every time I test this model of the existence of other person, the model works, I believe in the existence of the other person. Rather, I don’t even consider it a belief anymore; I consider it THE TRUTH. Probably, just as scientists believed earth at the center of the solar system before Copernicus and believed in absoluteness of the time before Einstein, we might also be wrong in our beliefs.
Gurbani and other religious scriptures say that everything is God and this world is an illusion. They might be right.
I think the essence of the above content is that we don’t really know anything. All we have is our beliefs and intelligence, which understands things and makes predictions. Since those beliefs help us live our life, we believe in them. But as far as THE TRUTH or THE REALITY is concerned, we don’t probably have a clue.