Friday, 24 July 2009

Science v Spirituality (3)

This blog entry was going to be just a glance at some of the upcoming topics on my ever growing list of "Things on Which I Would Very Much Like to Opine". That'll have to wait though. I will endeavour to explain ...

I'm a long time fan of Carpool, a weekly web based chat show hosted by TV personality, self confessed wet liberal and jolly nice chap, Robert Llewellyn (Red Dwarf, Scrapheap Challenge). The show has a simple and yet engaging concept in which Robert just gives someone interesting a lift and chats with them on camera. Guests in the passenger seat have included; Ruby Wax, Stephen Fry, Arthur Smith, Michael Eavis, Charlie McDonnell, and each of the Red Dwarf cast; Craig Charles, Danny John Jules and Chris Barrie. You can catch up with any and all of the previous 'casts on Bobby Llewellyn's Carpool website. Anyway, what I mean to say is that it's funny and interesting so that's why I watch it. =P

Now, like myself, Robert dabbles with Twitter and on occasion he "tweets" about his upcoming guests and asks if anyone has a question they'd like him to ask them. A few weeks ago he announced that the CERN scientist and media figure Dr Brian Cox would be on an upcoming show. Thinking that my question might well be overlooked, I nonetheless cast my bread upon the waters. Through Twitter I asked Robert if he would ask Brian the following questions;

"... given that everything (inc time?) was "one" at the moment of the big bang, is there a case for pantheism?"

also, what is Brian Cox' view on the "Unified Field Theory" in relation to Pantheism? ... and can the answer be entertaining hehe."

Obviously that last question wasn't meant be taken entirely seriously. Anyhow, when I watched the released episode last Friday, to my utter surprise (and probably my eternal embarrassment) Dr Cox did in fact read out my first question on the show. Yikes, I thought, as my spoonful of cornflakes froze on it's journey to my still open mouth. Oh the anticipation! The only answer I got though was a look of scornful bemusement on Brian's face (see inset) and a lot of hearty chuckling from Bobby. Now I'm not fragile, I can take the piss out of myself as much as the next guy and I laughed heartily too. I have to say though that in the light of the weird scientific observations that have been made about our universe I feel that my question deserved just a tad more consideration than the implied "Oh dear, nutter alert!"

For instance, Einstein's work indicates that time may be nothing more than "a persistent illusion" (Einstein himself expressed some level of belief in "Spinoza's God", a "God" consisting of the oneness of everything). Furthermore the effects of "quantum entanglement" appear to defy the universal speed limit and our understanding of space and time. Renowned physicist Richard Feynman speculated upon the possibility that our universe may consist of merely one single electron whizzing back and forth through "timelessness". Everett's "many worlds" interpretation suggests at least one extra spatial dimension containing "many" 3 dimensional bubble island universes moving through it. And then there's the retroactive actions of electrons which can be seen in a particular version of the double slit experiment (from Rob Bryanton's blog "Imagining the 10th Dimension"). Oh, you get the idea ... lots and lots of weird stuff has been observed about "time".

Now admittedly I've only got a layman's understanding about these matters. I'm also aware that for the most part the theories I've outlined above are still subject to vigorous debate amongst physicists and yet it seems to me that on the basis of our present understanding it's quite possible that everything that ever was, is or will exist in our universe may be, in actuality, just "one" thing when looked at from the perspective of timelessness. And if we go on to consider that this theoretical "oneness" must then, by logical deduction, include my consciousness (all of it, from my awakening to my death), your consciousness, the consciousness of every person, every living thing that ever has or will walk the Earth, every living thing in the galaxy ... in the whole universe ... ever, then it begs some seriously radical questions and raises some fascinating possibilities.

But it was that word "pantheism" wasn't it? A word bursting with memes and preconceptions about "gods" and creators, praying and religion. It conjures up images of some judgemental entity which is aware of us and with whom we can interact. I guess it was my own fault for using it but when Brian asked me on Twitter to choose a new word I just couldn't come up with one. I still can't. I mean come on, in many ways "theonenessofeverything" sounds even worse than "pantheism"... and nowhere near as snappy.

You see this is part of what I've been trying to get at when I say that I believe Dawkins does significant harm with his
overly strident defence of science. It's very much cool and de rigeur nowadays to mercilessly "pwn" the religious with science and this reinforces an "us and them" and "ne'er the twain shall meet" attitude by insulting, alienating, misunderstanding and unfairly representing theists and, by association, metaphysical thinkers. I believe that this unnecessary chasm of hostility also produces a climate in which any metaphysical speculation is frowned upon and ridiculed too, thus stifling any serious enquiry which might otherwise get undertaken. Apparently, men of science have always shunned anything to do with metaphysics and I think I understand some of the reasons why. Nevertheless, I believe that science would benefit greatly if it could collectively, objectively and neutrally embrace and examine the "metaphysicality" that seems so clearly indicated in our reality. Einstein might have sensed something of this when he said,

"Science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind."

I can't end this blog entry without giving Dr Brian his due respects. After being directed by him via Twitter to his site which hosts quite a number of excellent podcasts about the Large Hadron Collider on the Swiss/French border, I found one in there entitled "Science and Religion" (as opposed to my little series here on science vs spirituality ... see the difference?). In it Brian reveals that he is very much aware of the metaphysical debate and admits a certain sense of wonder at what it all may mean. But I think I can say with considerable certainty that Brian Cox does NOT like the word "pantheism". =P

Twitter links: @bobbyllew, @ProfBrianCox, @CaptainFrantic


  1. Hey Captain Frantic, I completely missed this great post. You and I see very much eye to eye on this discussion. Keep up the great work!


  2. Hey Rob, thanks for reading and for leaving a message. =)

    Yes, I've been convinced in my own mind about the essential oneness of the universe ever since I managed to gain an understanding of Einstein's theory of relativity and started to think about the possible implications. Your project over at 10thDimension (blog link in the sidebar) resonates greatly with my beliefs and provides some theoretical framework for them to exist within.

    I note also that on your youtube videos, the moment you even mention spiritual conclusions from the science that we know (and can extrapolate from) then out come the drooling Dawkinites in the comments, ready to pummel anyone who has the audacity to believe in ANY form of "God". Ignorant is too good a word for these blinded bigots. I thank Dicky for creating such monsters.

    Anyway, back to the positivity. Thanks once again Rob for expressing your oneness with me and my beliefs (pun entirely intended hehe).


  3. Nice work Captain!
    The 'Oneness' (or 'Unity' as I like to call it) quite likely does contain every single thing within the entire history of this universe. It's just that from our current experiential point in spacetime we can only see what's directly in front of our noses. No need to bring any gods into the story though. Unless you think the Unity could be a god. But it wouldn't be able to answer prayers or anything so wouldn't be a very useful god.

  4. @BobH thamks for the comment Bob. I'm sorry I took so long in replying as I've been in deepest darkest depressivestan for the last 2 months. Anyway to address your point, I don't "believe" in the oneness of everything, I just see it as a very valid possibility, one which I lean towards but do not hold onto with blind dogma. I agree that this "god" of the sum of all things must exists beyond the scope of our sequential experience in space-time and is therefore probably beyond the scope of "prayer" or "petition" ... but I'm not going to rule it out absolutely. If we take a broader view of prayer as becoming more connected with this "oneness" then meditation becomes a kind of prayer in and of itself. Deep stuff ... and I have no answers lol. Anyway thanks for the comment. Namaste.

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