Five Kinds of Wonder
By Ian Robinson
You could tune out, plug in your iPhone, stay distracted. You could collect wow photoes, gather tweets on new exo-planets, speculate on the possibility of life out there. It would be… interesting. On the other hand, you could wonder.
That would be no small thing. Like Love. Below are just a few of the categories of wonder that are the stuff of life, that great experiment. I here follow and build upon the science of Roy Abraham Varghese.
(References: Varghese, RA (2003) The Wonder of the World – a journey from modern science to the Mind of God, Tyr Publishing, Fountain Hills, Arizona. Shorter and more accessible is Varghese’s Appendix in the controversial book by the former atheist Anthony Flew (2008), There is a God –how the world’s notorious atheist changed his mind, Harper One, New York. )
DNA has only four words, Guanine, Adenine, Cytosine, Thymine (GACT). From these four, arranged in sequences and chains comes three and a half billion nucleotide bases in each cell, which cooperatively and intelligently manufacture all life forms. And that is just the beginning of the wonder of cell chemistry. It is a great wonder that we humans have come to know about it, but it is a wonder that it exists at all. We can speak too of the puzzling dynamics of insect flight and birdsong, the Cambrian explosion, the evolutionary story, the power of consciousness, brain plasticity, the universality of beauty and the default mechanism towards symmetry, just to spin off a few. Life in all its wonder.
The five empirical senses are amazing. For instance, eye -images reverse and invert in the brain, so we can know what’s going on around us. Add to that the senses of sight, sound, taste, touch and hearing. Add to them temperature and weight and these seven senses drive empirical science. Scientific instruments are extensions of these. With these we register and measure the four dimensions of time and space. These seven senses provide data to human reason to process and systematize. And it does find patterns and symmetries at all levels of enquiry.
In addition, however, there are seven other intuitive senses which shape our lives and tell us what is going on around us – a sense of beauty, of justice, of connection, of consciousness, of value, of spirit, of simplicity (e.g.Occam’s Razor). With these senses we create and relate to the world, its creatures and persons. These too provide data to Reason to process and systematise. That’s why there are all those books in all those other libraries. Reason, data and evidence are not the sole preserve of empiricism.
Homo Sapiens shares much with less intelligent creatures, but we are also aware that we are self conscious beings. The ‘I’ is not a particle in us or a part of us, but some whole thing.In just 200 thousand years since homo sapiens emerged from the tree, we have moved across the entire planet and into outer space.
And then there is you – beautiful, unique, a mystery unfolding, capable and loving, an awesome human, seriously streaked with flaws and egotism, able to leap great brilliance and great wrongdoing in a single bound. Amazing homo Sapiens.
Since Heisenberg a hundred years ago, the science of the microverse has been characterised by the logic of paradox and endless leaps of imagination. But emerging from the Big Bang came instantaneous relationships of immense wonder. A proton is 1836 times bigger than an electron, but the two have equal and opposite electric charges, both behave as quantum waves or particles, creating photons. They achieve the only right balance before which molecules can form, and for the suns can explode. Last year, why should we be surprised, some experiments appear to overturn the speed of light as insuperable constant. And then there is the mutli-billion dollar search for Bosun’s Hick, the ‘God particle’. And who does not wonder that the strong and weak magnetic forces emerged from the Bang just right for anything at all to exist. Every one of these even by itself is a captivating wonder.
13.7 billion years ago , we had a singularity, a ‘Big Bang’. It is not over. But the galaxies are accelerating so the explosion is still getting Bigger. If it had all happened one part in 107 slower, it would have all collapsed in by now. We are now 100-200 galaxies, each comprising 100-200 billion stars, and that is only 4% of the knowable universe. Any suggestion that empirical science can rule out the existence of all other dimensions is over-stating what we know.
Dark energy, so called because we don’t know what we are talking about, is driving the Bang forwards. Dark matter is exercising a force of gravity on every kind of known mass but, being relatively evenly spread through the galaxy, is not itself affected by its own kind of gravity.
If the known gravity had been any stronger than it is, the universe would have collapsed. Any weaker, the galaxies and stars could not form, all would be gas and dust. Wondrous and wonderful.
The universe or multiverse or pluriverse, whatever, is dominated by over-arching smarts. It works together. Just a few constants control it all, and just a small variation in each one would see us off the plain of existence.
We have something rather than nothing, but why this particular sort of something? Mind and science can explain things really well, and mathematics has an inexplicable power of correspondence and explanation for the way things are. We are finding overall and comprehensive order that is already there, working away.
So, with humility this time, that sense of order asks us to demand again – How did any thing come to be? How did consciousness (and value and beauty) come to be? Why are there laws, structures, symmetries and super symmetries? Many scientists are concluding that it is a smart universe, steadily moving in this direction for billions in the direction of an Intelligence that is all pervasive. The universe ‘knew we were coming’ they say. Charles Birch uses the intriguing notion it was being pulled along as much as pushed or caused.
It is a cheap shot, in my view, to despise this sense of ‘design’ that is espoused by those who do not share your own philosophy of scientific knowledge. Whatever your capacity for complexity or enquiry, the universe is wondrous to behold at every level, in every language, in every place.
Even the position of the earth in space, just off the edge of one arm of a moderate spiral galaxy, means that we can see far into a heavily populated space, wondering who and what is out there and able to discover amazing things through our fantastic powers of observation. It is as though we are riding a huge Hawaiian wave of extraordinary wonder. And our surfboard is that planet. If we were more centrally located in our neighbourhood, a spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy, the sky would be uniformly grey, like twilight, and only a few bright stars would be visible. But walk out into the desert away from the campfire, and you will hear gasps and sighs, an excited sense of connection with all that blazes upon you, the tone of deep longing to be at home there, and the tiny voice of those who know we are so much smaller than we want to believe.
We have been positioned to wonder, designed to wonder, given the ability to wonder, in a world that was instantly Bang-full of the most unlikely coincidences, and a world that yields up its laws of stability.
All science is built around the wonder at the way things are, and why is it so. Science grew where people believed that some Intelligence had made a stable universe, not a capricious unpredictable one. Old ones in the modern science like Copernicus, Galileo, Pascal, Kepler, Newton, Faraday, Maxwell, Einstein, Planck and Heisenberg, through to today with Collins, Humphreys, Lennox, Polkinghorne, Birch, Plantinga, Tillich, McGrath, Davies and Flew. So many top scientists and philosphers of science put the lie to that well-publicised, absolutist atheistic fundamentalism that is being falsely called Science and Reason by some today.
All science is built around finding how things work and why that happened. That is, ‘Why’ in the sense of ‘cause’ not ‘why’ in the sense of ’purpose’. The universe came into being. Why? Consciousness has come into being, why? Morality and Beauty has come into being. Why?
One theory has a personal God did it and does it and remains on staff for the life of the project. This being is only interested in enquiries around their particular chemistry of genuine love, truth and respect . Everything about this theory or belief is like some aspect of contemporary science, and there are no rules of Reason or evidence that are being exempted to establish this belief. So please consider, and get started.
You and I are an experiment in extraordinary wonder. To wonder is to do great and persistent science. To wonder is to meet the Great Spirit, and to learn to engage with the intuitive language of spirit, like all the billions through the years who have tried this great experiment, and have been found. It is simply wonder-ful.