“When they finish work, labourers at least take their money and off they go to the pub and end up in the police station. Well, that’s a good week’s work. But where can man go?”
These were my favourite lines from Dostoyevsky’s ‘Notes From the Underground’. It surmises one of the most essential of issues man faces. It is also why men crave mystery, mysticism and the supernatural. Tales of gods and fairies of monsters and magic and mystics have been great places of relief for man who craves the unexplained. For who would enjoy a deterministic universe as the one Newton imagined, where every thing could be determined through mathematics if you had enough data. Where nothing is left unexplained. This would not only be boring it would be frightening.
One of the greatest stories ever told is that of Job in the Old Testament. Job is a virtuous man who has been endowed with wealth, health and a good family. When questioned by Satan about the virtues and faith of Job as being only present as long as God favours him, God decides to test Job. God takes away not only his material wealth but his family, his place in society and even his health. Job loses everything even his (healthy) body. Yet Job never seems to lose his faith and respect for God.
Only in the end does god reveal himself to Job, but even then only answers Job’s objections to His actions with more questions. He asks Job how can he fathom the actions of an entity so immense, so powerful, so intelligent that created all of universe in all its glory. Job is a mere mortal And he has to live with this mystery, this unknown all his life and simply strive towards the ideal of God never actually reaching it.
The story gives the Man a pub to go to after he has finished his work. What a saviour religion is! Can a man without faith in the absurd (for that is what faith is) survive? Kierkegaard understood faith well and for him the unquestioning acceptance of the absurd was really faith and not reduce it to explanations. He it seems understood his cravings for the unexplained and the unexplainable.
“Faith is namely this paradox that the single individual is higher than the universal.” – (Fear and Trembling)
Modern science it seems slowly takes away all mysteries away, digging deeper and deeper into the mind of God to reveal all his intentions and powers. Nothing remains hidden from the eyes of curious scientists for long. From the tiniest electrons to massive blackholes and galaxies we see it all, how they work, how they interact, how they come to be. We know how the heavens work, we can even predict what they will do next, all that is left is to bend the heavens to our will.
Science it seems takes away all the pubs for man to go to. But is this really true? One of the greatest areas of enquiry within science of the past century has been that of Quantum Mechanics. And some of the most intriguing sets of the experiments are of the double slit apparatus in this field, and in particular the ‘Delayed Choice’ experiments. Photons are known to behave either as particles or as waves depending upon what kind of detector is used. A detector which detects waves (interference pattern) will detect a photo as a wave and the detector meant to detect it as a particle (an electron absorbing it to gain energy) will detect it as a particle. But what if the photon is measured to be a wave when it leaves an then measured again later as a photon? What if two identical photons (entangled photons) leave the same source and then the detection of one moments before the detection of the other pre determines how the other will choose to behave even before it is detected? What if a wave of photon from a quasar millions of light years away is detected here on earth as a particle, has the photon changed its decision to be a wave taken millions offers ago? Can we alter history by changing a variable in the present they way the se photons suggest?
All this surely seems absurd, and counter intuitive to all our understanding of time and causality. Is photon behaving as neither particle nor wave when it is not being subjected to experimental apparatus? Or does it really change its own past, even that of millions of years ago and billions of kilometres away? And do all fundamental particles work in this way? And this is not the only experiment in quantum mechanics that destroys all our understanding of how things work, there are quite a few.
All this seems absurd and beyond logic to us, but who are we to question the behaviour of photons and electrons? Who are we to call them absurd or unnatural? They are the more abundant entities, we are just the rarities, the offchance. We cannot comprehend what it would be to exist at that scale, we weren’t there when these fundamental particles laid the foundations for our earth and the sun.
It is clear there is at least some mystery even in the scientific approach, well at least for now. Who knows what the future might bring, maybe we will understand everything and all the intricacies of the mind of God and it will just be a matter of playing with this mind. Or maybe we will never know what a photon does when it leaves the first detector and reaches the other. Maybe it is just incomprehensible for us mortals who never witnessed the creation, who never experienced the hearth of the early universe. These mysteries of science are the pubs that science provides for the Man and gets him into a drunken stupor and hope there will always be some few left even when the mind of God isn’t one or as long as man needs the pubs.