THE ROLE OF SCIENCE IN YOUR SEARCH FOR PERSONAL MEANING
by Todd Duncan, Science Integration Institute
Science has had an uneasy relationship with the human desire for personal meaning and significance to our lives. It is sometimes tempting to conclude we’d all be better off keeping the two topics confined to separate categories that make contact only if absolutely necessary.
But science and meaning are connected in a fundamental way, which artificial categories can never completely keep apart. This connection is forced upon us by the remarkable success of the scientific process in uncovering new information about the universe in which we are immersed. We want any meaning we construct for ourselves to be on solid ground, to be based on the “real world.” Science has worked so well that it is difficult to deny it a central role in telling us about how the world really is. Even if we sometimes don’t like what we think science is telling us, because it may conflict with some ideas on which we happen to base our current sense of meaning, we feel obligated to pay attention and look to it as a source of information about the meaning we seek.
Evidence that many people sense this can be seen both in our fascination with science and in our reactions against it. What are millions of people looking for in such science books as Stephen Hawking’s amazingly popular A Brief History of Time, and in other similar works of popular science? Many intuitively sense that science must have an important impact on the search for meaning, which may be why they turn to such books for answers. Most, I suspect, are disappointed in one way or an- other. Abstract approaches to “theories of everything,” while certainly important in the search to understand the universe and ourselves, have a hollowness to them that always leaves us wanting. In one sense they profess to offer the whole story. But in another, more intuitive sense, we know they can never be the whole story because they leave out what is the very stuff of life to us. These descriptions of the universe seem too far removed from our experience, with nothing that brushes against the universe as we experience it in everyday life, the one in which we make choices and seek meaning and a place for ourselves and our thoughts. Science provides a mental map of the universe, but it is in many ways an unfamiliar and unhelpful map, without clear connections to the concepts we operate with in our immediate experience. Most glaringly, it seems to lack a clear “you are here” marker needed to place ourselves within the framework of the map and use it as a guide to the choices we face in life.
This situation may explain some of the vigorous resistance to scientific ideas and the continued popularity, despite strong evidence against them, of so-called “pseudosciences” such as astrology, creation science, psychic phenomena, or quantum healing. They address directly the daily concerns of life, and thus offer something we have a deep and real need for, which science seems not to provide.
We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched.
We all operate within a framework of concepts that make sense of the world to us, which we use to formulate our goals, hopes, and dreams, and to seek ways to overcome problems and obstacles as we build our lives. Certainly the universe out there has much to say about all this, but it’s hard to figure out what it says when our scientific description exists for us as a remote framework without clearly articulated connections to the concepts with which we operate in daily life. So we live in a disconnected state: abstract and evolving knowledge of the grand universe on one hand, and the immediate need for a guide to our individual choices on the other hand. How do we bring these together, so that we can guide our immediate choices from a perspective that is informed by and connected to the big picture?
These connections exist, but they are easily disguised, lost in the abstractions. The links are difficult to maintain even for sciences that specifically describe us, our bodies and mental processes. In some way we remain detached from these descriptions, still not quite feeling they tell us much about the essence of the world as we experience it. For sciences that describe distant places and distant times, the links can seem almost impossible to maintain. The connections must be consciously made, the insights from science explicitly appropriated into our day-to-day awareness of who we are and how we interact with the world. We can learn to think not of the scientific universe out there, far away and long ago, but right here, where we live and experience the world. The big bang, for example, happened here, in the little region of space we can now hold in our hands, as well as out there in regions that are now 10 – 15 billion light years away. We are just now receiving the glow from a condition once experienced billions of light years away, but that condition was also experienced right here, a long time ago. Bizarre properties of electrons and atoms and photons described by quantum theory can seem abstract and detached, until we realize we’re talking about us, too—our atoms, the air we breathe, the sunlight which sustains us. Many of the remarkable insights from science remain abstract, disconnected from our personal worldviews which are the maps we use to guide our choices and our lives. But this need not always be the case.
I suggest that the meaning behind our individual lives, which science can help us uncover, is not to be looked for only in regimes where our current scientific understanding is stretched or incomplete—in exotic theories of the early universe, in black holes and warped spacetime and the arcane mathematics of grand unified theories. It is found, rather, in the “ordinary world”—the world in which we live every day, but which really is so full of mystery and wonder that it seems inappropriate to call it ordinary. Once we learn to live with a full awareness of our connections to the universe we are a part of, I think it’s safe to say the world will never seem ordinary again._________________
- The author then defines his intent and goal in writing this book:
My goal in this short book is to illustrate that the seemingly opposing aims of “personal meaning” and “consistency with science” need not be in conflict. On the contrary, the process and insights of science can act as a valuable filter and guide to developing our sense of being part of a bigger context, within which our lives have meaning. We live our lives motivated and guided by a set of beliefs about how the world works and how we connect to it. These connections are all around us, in every action and every assumption about what is important for us to do. And science, while certainly not capable of providing all the answers, has a great deal to say about these assumptions. We just need to be aware of how to use the science, and what to look for.
My hope is that someday science will play a much more central role in our varied individual efforts to construct an overall context for our lives. I hope we will learn to see new discoveries in basic science not as detached and esoteric curiosities, justified by the vague possibility of technological spin-offs, but as crucial pieces or steps in the process of uncovering humanity’s role in the cosmos. My aim is to help bring this day closer, by offering a point of view from which science can be seen as an important tool in your personal search for meaning in your daily life. Along the way, I also present some concrete suggestions for putting it to use for yourself.
- Continue reading this brilliant book by downloading it in PDF here:
http://www.scienceintegration.org/books/eordinaryworld.pdf or ask me to email it to you.
- Additionally, what follows is an article from A Writer's Life:
- From Wikipedia:
Tracking and studying Sputnik from Earth provided scientists with valuable information, even though the satellite itself wasn't equipped with sensors. The density of the upper atmosphere could be deduced from its drag on the orbit, and the propagation of its radio signals gave information about the ionosphere.
Sputnik 1 was launched during the International Geophysical Year from Site No.1/5, at the 5th Tyuratam range, in Kazakh SSR (now known as the Baikonur Cosmodrome). The satellite travelled at about 29,000 kilometres per hour (18,000 mph; 8,100 m/s), taking 96.2 minutes to complete each orbit. It transmitted on 20.005 and 40.002 MHz, which were monitored by amateur radio operators throughout the world. The signals continued for 21 days until the transmitter batteries ran out on 26 October 1957. Sputnik 1 burned up on 4 January 1958, as it fell from orbit upon reentering Earth's atmosphere, after travelling about 70 million km (43.5 million miles) and spending three months in orbit.
|Sputnik 1 in space|