I've been writing about queer issues for what seems like far too long. So today I thought I'd embark on another free-flowing-train-of-thought-oh-no-it's-getting-away-from-me sort of post. Not unlike this one from a few months back: http://arch-heretic.blog.co.uk/2012/03/15/pandemonium-13188740/
"I have no doubt that in reality the future will be vastly more surprising than anything I can imagine. Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose."
- J.B.S. Haldane, geneticist and evolutionary biologist.
Queerer than we can suppose?
I don’t believe that he meant in principle that some knowledge, deep knowledge was inaccessible to us… only that we couldn’t do it within the constraints of our existential normalcy. But then, that is what science is for.
Imagine all humans were affected by an ailment at birth which reduced eyesight to a fraction of what the norm is now. A far-sighted plague, if you will. I imagine it would, in cases where surgery was impossible, become common practice to proscribe glasses to everyone. In this scenario, let us imagine that humanity carried on pretty much as normal after this readjustment. After all, what had they done but raise their conception, their perspective of the world back to its former position of normality? Before long, there might be varied false philosophers rationalising that it benefitted people to be born with poor eyesight, and that this made people value glasses, and the ability to see well… that they might take it for granted to see with any clarity were they not so neutered.
But what if we wanted to see more? If we wished to see radio waves as they reverberate through the air, gaze at the molecular Swiss cheese of a mountain, or better yet – a cave… and see complexity spiral ever inwards all the way down to the atoms, and the highest limits of the gamma ray… all the way down to the quantum foam of the universe where matter emerges like the bubbles from beneath the surface of a stygian pool of… of…
…The primordial mystery. The primordial problem, to put it in more scientific terms… to see that we’d need special glasses, constructs sheathed in logic and methodology, the understanding that science is an instrument, like a wand… it penetrates, and you sacrifice more in its use than Mithras, or Baldur… or Christ did by their sacrifices.
Union with truth requires not just reverence for truth; you must cast off all ideas which insist on themselves by false pretences, or appeals to the natural fallacies to which humans are prey. Some will tell you to dismiss the fear of being wrong – I say that is not always the way.
I say that it might be better to be so afraid of being wrong that you must not risk the unworthy clarion of faith. You should instead trust. Trust can be verified, tested, broken. The scientific method of rationality would not consider you a false friend to ask hard questions, nor be impugned were you to constantly test its honour.
The truth is not scared of falsehood, only the reverse is true.
By this method and these principles humanity has held nebulae in its conceptual hands, and with that knowledge, hard won, learned how to twist the very fabric of reality. Laws. The world is built on them. Even if it were not so, and laws were flouted, by miracles, say, we would at least have the methodology to learn that truth, and reconcile ourselves to that reality… but that is not the reality we’re in, from our current vantage point on the ivory tower. And there is no excuse for recourse in myths of miracles or hear-say when we know damn well by now how blind people are when they remove the glasses of scepticism, of rationality. Some see this as an indication that there are some things you cannot grasp without taking off your glasses. As though to see clearly, you must first make yourself blind.
These are the same people who then wonder at why, when you give two of them an elephant each, and tell them to remove their glasses and extend an arm to feel what is before them, they individually come up with such varying conceptions of the traits of this animal, and when they meet to discuss their deductions, they disagree vehemently with the other’s hypothesis. One thinks it a leathery winged creature, the other a form of serpent.
They each call each other heretics and war with one another. At this point you return them their glasses, and they all but tear them off and curse you for trying to bring these phenomena of the elephant into the domain of your parochial ‘reality’. Screw you, science-freak.
This is the bait-and-switch those who argue for god or 'the supernatural’ extend every time, when they are not also engaged with waging an unwinnable war with reality by trying to find any scrap of fact to suit their ideas, instead of ideas to suit a fact. Both ways are dodging the truth. And as I’ve said before, only falsehood dodges truth. Was it not Martin Luther who said:
"What harm would it do, if a man told a good strong lie for the sake of the good and for the Christian church ... a lie out of necessity, a useful lie, a helpful lie, such lies would not be against God, he would accept them."
It is almost elegant in its circularity as it is total in the renouncement of our ultimate aim, if I can be so presumptive, dear reader to include you in this quest?
Let me end by quoting a scientist (PZ Myers), instead of a priest:
"Don't forget: the truth is our pole star, science is the vessel we use to progress, and a passion to explore and learn is the engine of our purpose. If we lose sight of that in our concern to be gentle with those who impede us, we'll lose our way."