Over the years, numerous people have asked me if I believe in God. It's a tough question, but the short answer is no. Given this, the next question is always, "Then what do you believe in?" This piece is an effort to answer that question.
What do I believe in?
I guess the fundamental answer is that I believe in the scientific method. Anything which can be explained and repeatedly demonstrated through experimentation qualifies as truth in my book. This puts Albert Einstein squarely into the prophet category for me. He came up with a theory, proved it, and since then experiment after experiment has reaffirmed that he was correct. Things he predicted but couldn't prove have been proven time after time since the 1930s when he published his General Theory of Relativity.
However, since God hasn't deigned to be proven, I simply can't believe in Him.
I've always wondered what the world would be like if God had provided us with some proof. It should be easy for him, I would think. Have a simple prayer invoke an image of Him telling us that he loves us. Something which would work for every person on the planet. I think that would suffice to silence even the harshest critics.
However, without proof, God is just another story created by Man. You can believe in Him if you want, but you simply cannot demonstrate his existence in such a way that anyone can duplicate the demonstration.
So, this returns me to the question, "What do I believe in?"
The Scientific Method.
I believe in the existence of matter and energy which interact to form repeating self-similar, and occasionally sentient, patterns. These patterns are the structure of the universe and form the basis for everything we can perceive.
Let's review the basic building blocks of the universe, as determined by years of repeatable experimentation. The atom was first proposed by Democritus (circa 460-370 B.C.) as the fundamental building block of the universe. Elements were discovered in 1662 when Robert Boyle demonstrated that you could pump out a vacuum. This started the analytical study of chemistry and gases but the existence of the atom itself wasn't really proven until 1808 when John Dalton showed that atoms had measurable weight and combined in patterns to create the elements. In the 1920s the theory of quantum mechanics was created to explain the strange behavior of subatomic particles, such as the protons, neutrons and electrons which make up the atom.
Now, the basic premise of quantum mechanics is that atomic elements operate on a smaller scale than we do, and thus exhibit different behaviors than we might expect from common experience. Additionally, it explains situations where there is an immense velocity which is out of our scale, such as any appreciable fraction of the speed of light. So, quantum mechanics deals with both small and fast, which is, not too surprisingly, exactly what atoms are.
The other part of quantum mechanics that I like is the fundamental unity of energy and matter. As Einstein determined, matter and energy are equivalent. Before that, people viewed matter as particles and energy as waves. In reality it appears that matter and energy are both particles and waves at the same time.
For me, this is the essential truth of the universe. Let's explore why.
First, let's consider how we measure time. Our lives are measured in years, or rotations of our planet around the sun. We also count the days, which are based on the frequency with which our planet rotates on its axis. We then divide the day up into hours, minutes and seconds while we divide the year into months of days. Nowadays we need a clock much more accurate than the orbit of the Earth, so we use an atomic clock based on the vibration frequency of the ammonia molecule (NH3).
The key here is that time is all about frequency. It's defined as frequency. A day is how frequently the planet rotates. A second is some fraction of that. Now, let's examine the range of frequencies by looking at the electromagnetic spectrum.
The following list has various spectra and their wavelengths and frequencies:
gamma rays 0.1e-12 - 5.0e-12 3.0e21 - 60.0e18 x-rays 5.0e-12 - 4.0e-9 60.0e18 - 75.0e15 ultraviolet 4.0e-9 - 0.4e-6 75.0e15 - 800.0e12 visible light 0.4e-6 - 0.8e-6 800.0e12 - 400.0e12 infrared 0.8e-6 - 0.01 400.0e12 - 30.0e9 microwaves 0.01 - 1.0 30.0e9 - 0.3e9 radio 10.0 - 2.0e3 30.0e6 - 150.0e3
Our range of experience extends from extremely small and fast gamma rays to very long slow radio waves. There are two important things to remember here. One is that all of these forms of radiation take the form of photons and they all travel at the speed of light. It's merely the frequency at which they vibrate which determines what kind of radiation they are. Additionally, this chart only illustrates the range of frequencies which we can divine. There are faster frequencies and slower ones, but they are not currently useful to us because we cannot perceive or affect them. However, they exist, just as much as ours do.
So, to recap, energy is radiation and it's merely vibrating photons traveling at the speed of light where the frequency of the vibration determines its behavior.
Now, let's look at matter. What is it? This is an essential question of physics. There are no definitive answers. However, it seems obvious to me that matter is made up of smaller pieces of matter. Elements are made of atoms. We've blasted atoms into their constituent parts. We've blasted those parts into elementary particles and we're currently blasting those parts into even smaller parts.
I don't think we'll ever reach the end of this cycle. I suspect, even believe, that there is no smallest piece of matter. There will be merely the smallest piece we can perceive. Currently this appears to be the quark, which comes in a half-dozen flavors and combine to create other larger particles like protons and neutrons.
Now, we've determined that matter is made up of smaller moving things. Dealing just with atoms, we can see that an atom is a nucleus with one or more electrons orbiting it. The weak nuclear force is what keeps the electrons orbiting, at least until energy is added to the system in the form of photons which cause electrons to move to larger orbits or to escape the atom entirely, ionizing it and giving it an electromagnetic charge. The key is that atoms vibrate. They have a frequency and amplitude.
Consider photons next. They're vibrating too, although we're not entirely sure "what" is vibrating. However, given that they are infinitely divisible wave phenomena which also happen to behave like particles in certain scenarios, this implies that photons are actually collections of minute matter moving at the speed of light. In fact, the essential difference between energy and matter is simply that energy is moving at the speed of light and matter is moving much slower. The problem with this notion arises when you consider that relativity requires that things moving at the speed of light be massless.
The speed of light is an important concept here. It's not a constant, it's a limit. Relativity states that the speed of light in a vacuum is the absolute limit of velocity. The speed of light in other matter is different, depending on the matter. For example, the speed of light in glass is significantly slower. It's even slower through rock, however, rock is not impervious to radiation. Gamma and cosmic rays both have shorter frequencies which rock cannot stop, although it still slows them down.
Since the speed of light is actually a limit and not a constant, let's consider the notion of limits. Calculus, the mathematics of change, defines limits as a way of dealing with infinite repeating series, a concept surprisingly similar to this notion of matter as infinite collections of smaller matter. While the notion of infinity is intrinsic in limits, limits also reconcile the infinite and discrete aspects of the universe by turning an infinite series into a single value. Thus, it's entirely reasonable to claim that something is infinite but limited. So velocity is infinite but limited to the speed of light in a vacuum.
Since matter and energy are equivalent, it should be possible to turn one into the other. We've already determined how to use fission to rip apart the nucleus of an atom apart and release tremendous amounts of energy. We've never really managed to create matter from energy though. Presumably, you can combine immense amounts of energy into small amounts of matter. Current theories place this sort of behavior only in the initial moments of the big bang, but there's a lot of hand waving about the particulars.
My hypothesis is that since matter and energy are indeed the same, the only real difference between them is the speed with which they vibrate. Matter vibrates slowly, so slowly that we perceive it as solid, despite the fact that it is still relativistically faster than us. Light vibrates fast, so fast that we perceive it as energy. It's so simple it's stupid. Energy is just matter at or above the speed limit. Mind you, I've seen no discussion of this notion by the scientific community, so it's idle speculation on my part at best.
Since the only real difference between matter and energy is the frequency at which is vibrates, this difference is very important. For example, let's consider the most basic "pieces" of matter known to us, the hydrogen and helium atoms. Granted, they're made up of smaller things, but as I mentioned before, everything is, so you need to arbitrarily decide what scale you're going to operate on. Let's deal with atoms for a bit here.
What is the difference between hydrogen and helium? It's the amount of matter, and not much else. The basic hydrogen atom has an electron and a proton. Helium has two protons, two neutrons and two electrons. Other atoms, or elements, have more complex combinations of these three elementary particles and subsequent differences which follow from this, like charge, mass, structure, etc.
The essense of this point is that the only real difference between the basic building blocks of our universe is simply the patterns they fall in to. For example, we've found it possible to split atoms into other atoms via fission and to recombine atoms using chemistry. There's a lot of magic here that we've made use of, and probably more to discover.
This notion of a speed limit is an interesting one. Relativity demands that it exist in order for the math to work, and all experiments regarding relativity's predictions for light have borne fruit. Light is affected by gravity, and gravitational lenses exist in space which demonstrate this. I think this helps my claim that light is just matter moving quickly.
Some people will probably protest here. Limits aren't sensible, they'll claim. Not so. Limits are very natural. Examine the tangent function, for example. It has an infinite number of asymptotes, which are places where tangent approaches infinity. If you look at the graph of tangent, you'll see that there's essentially an island of similarity bounded by two asymptotes where the function is undefined. I think the speed of light is one of these asymptotic limits. However, in order to get to the other side of the asymptote, you need to be so small that the speed of light is your minimum velocity.
The question of how this transition is made comes up next. One of the likeliest candidates for the conversion of energy into matter is the black hole, a super massive body which has such enormous gravitational pull that not even light can escape it. We've essentially proven their existence. The math holds up and the Hubble space telescope has pinpointed numerous X-ray sources which are undoubtedly black holes sucking in stellar material in great quantities. As part of the process of a black hole's voracious appetite, it captures great quantities of matter. In fact, you can't have a black hole without having a great deal of matter, since it takes a phenomenal amount of matter to create the "hole" in the first place.
So, matter and energy fall into black holes and disappear forever. Lots of people suspect that something more is going on here, but it's likely to be impossible to prove what happens since all the patterns present in matter disappear when the matter is sucked into the black hole. New patterns emerge on the "other side" perhaps, although we will never know.
That's where belief comes in. We can't prove everything. However, there's a difference between science and religion when it comes time to extrapolate from existing evidence. Religion deals with the hardest part of the human existence and in a manner that defies science. It asks "Why are we here?" Science can't answer why questions very well. It answers how questions. Therefore, science and religion are really dealing with different topics, although they converge in our search for an explanation of our existance.
So, why do I believe we exist? Simply because we can, I guess. The universe is a complex place, with cataclysmic action on an infinite scale, made up of patterns building upon patterns ad infinitum and life blossoming within them.
I've heard a proof of God that can be discussed here. I wouldn't mind a reference to this guy whom I saw on TV. I thought he made a good attempt, but the problem with philosophical logic is that the variables are all fuzzy. Anyhow, his proof went like this:
1) The universe created the universe.
2) God created the universe.
3) What are you, a moron?
Actually, his third option wasn't that stupid, but I wasn't taking notes. Like I said, I'd love to be clued in to this guy's name and his actual list, but I'll deal with that when someone writes in. Right now I'm trying to talk about item number 1. You see, I believe that the universe essentially did create the universe, or that it is doing so as we speak.
You see, the problem is that the universe does not need to be bounded by the big bang. I believe that it is a continuous phenomena made up of smaller discrete transient phenomena (like us, atoms and other important yet insignificant particles). This is an essential truth of the universe. We see it everywhere. Creatures are made up of cells which are made up of atoms, etc. It's an inherent property of the universe. Littler stuff makes bigger stuff.
I see no reason there has to be only one big bang.
Einstein's theory of general relativity appears to have several possible solutions. One of them is the wormhole, a conduit between a black hole and another place and time. I suspect this to be a mechanism by which new universes are created. As matter dumps into a black hole, it collects, until it reaches some limit, whereupon it slowly evaporates from our universe and explodes into a new universe at a completely different scale.
The key is that our big bang is simply one of zillions of bangs that will occur over the course of time. I expect that matter simply recycles through these black holes. It could collect, on a scale we can't perceive, until it erupts again.
To me, the key thing to everything's existence is obviously gravity. This mysterious force is adding energy to the universe and powering all of the stars in existence. It's the only force that doesn't obey Newton's second law, "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." Gravity has no opposite reaction that we can see, although under super symmetry there are particles which mirror and counteract gravity.
This notion of super symmetry is the leading edge of physics these days. It's a compelling theory in that it provides for the equal and opposite aspect by defining numerous new complementary particles to balance the ones we know. For light particles there are symmetrical heavy particles that we cannot perceive. There are something like 10 dimensions involved in super symmetry, and some scientists speculate that the symmetry isn't even; that some particles are lopsided or missing. Since this is a relatively new theory, expect to see some changes as bits and pieces are proven and disproven.
Super symmetry accounts for a lot of interesting stuff, but its major problem is that we can't actually perceive much of it. However, scientists think that now that we know what to look for, we stand a good chance of proving or disproving portions of the super symmetry theorems. Unfortunately, doing so will require expensive new high power apparatus, and given the state of the Texas SuperCollider (i.e. dead from lack of funds), it doesn't really appear that we'll know any time soon, unless someone finds something cool to demonstrate from these theories, which is what I'm hoping.
However it's explained, it still appears to me that there's an æther filling the universe. It's just that the æther is made up of matter and it's oscillating at a bazillion different chaotic frequencies, making patterns of all kinds. Of which you are one.
I like to think of the universe as an infinite volume of water, undulating in every direction possible. Now imagine it as steam, light enough to see completely through. The universe is not very dense. However, it is very fine, with vanishingly small particles making up some of the waves. These particles clump together because of gravity, and oscillate in groups of many sizes.
It's pretty easy to see that gravity is what powers the universe. It causes all of the oscillations mentioned previously. I speculate that it has higher and lower frequency "resonance" effects, like electro-magnetism and nuclear bonding. It is a mystery of universal fascination and speculation. Gravity is my messiah.
Speculation leads us to believe that gravity is a result of the curvature of space, but that's a tough concept to grasp. It falls in most people's "Just Because" range of meaningless explanations. In reality, it translates into fundamental mathematical concepts.
Euclid invented geometry back in 300 BC. It was based on five postulates, or assumptions, which he had to make in order to prove most of the basic laws of geometry. Well, it turns out that Euclid's 5th assumption doesn't have to be true, it just appears to be. It states that one and only one line parallel to a given line can be drawn through a point external to the line. Allowing more than one parallel line through a point leads to hyperbolic geometry while allowing none leads to elliptic geometry. These weren't discovered until 1850 or so. The important thing is that these new geometries still obey all of Euclid's laws and mathematics. They just don't look the same.
So, could curved hyperbolic space create gravity as a side effect of its curvature? Hyperbolic parallel lines diverge. Could gravity be nature's equal and opposite reaction to this space/time curvature? It seems reasonable to me, but I wouldn't stop there. I'd be willing to bet that the curvature of space is variable over time. I don't really have any scientific basis for this assumption, but it seems to make sense to me, and I am talking about belief here, not proof.
It's my belief that we live in a vast universe. One much larger than even the wildest cosmologist expects. I also think it's changing its shape over time, and that's one of the reasons for the difficulty in determining the Hubble constant. I suspect it is possible that this changing of shape is what has causes gravity to exist, but what do I know?
The key to the whole game is patterns though. We are built from patterns and we are creating patterns. Our brains are pattern recognition systems. Of course, the question of how our brains do this is unanswered. It's another place that belief comes into play. Religious proponents give God the nod when it comes to explaining Man's superior intellect, but I don't see that we're that different from the other animals that inhabit this planet. We share so many traits and behaviors with other animals that I cannot help but believe in evolution.
For example, watching my dogs is a fine way to see some of the worst of mankind in other species. Lt. Woof, our overly intelligent shepard/chow mix, is rife with avarice and greed. She is not content with one bone. She must have her brother's bone too, so she gets on the other side of him and barks at me until I yell at her, frightening him so that she can grab his bone. Sneaky, and she's not using her brain for good.
Other examples, ranging from Koko the sign-language speaking gorilla to any number of obviously emotional creatures we've encountered, illustrate that there are a lot of similarities between the brains of humans and other species. The more important question may be, what are the differences which help us to out-think our earthly cousins?
"Several current consciousness theories propose systemic quantum states in the brain"
- Stuart Hameroff, M.D., Professor, Departments of Anesthesiology and Psychology, University of Arizona, 1996.
Dr. Hameroff is talking about the activity in the brain's neurons being quantum level effects. Anesthesiology theory currently suggests that chemical and electrical reactions occur on a intricate and subtle quantum level in such a way that we have conciousness. Anesthesiology is one of the best ways to explore this area because the entire point is to remove consciousness without interfering with the body's ability to function. This field alone has probably done more to extend the human lifespan than any other.
However, if consciousness is indeed a subtle function of a scale spanning interaction, then it's exactly the sort of thing I'm on about here. The big bang was a scale changing interaction which, while important to us, is merely a pop in a vast cosmic fire. One of the most amazing things we've found in this universe is intelligence, which may also be a scale-spanning interaction. Or is it just the ability to store, retrieve, recognize and analyze patterns?
Our computers operate on patterns, but do not yet recognize them. That's why I want to create an open collaborative effort to create an artificial intelligence which can collect, analyze and predict patterns in data that it is fed. Follow the link to find out more about this idea.
Intelligence is essentially the ability to recognize and analyze patterns, but there's more to it than that. As a parent, it is obvious to me that the base which the brain builds on is composed of emotions. My daughter was emotional long before she was rational. Animals are more emotional than rational. That tells me that emotions are central to the operation of intelligence. I believe this is a result of the patterns of emotion which occur as things grow.
Feelings and bodily cycles are the first patterns we learn. Hunger, food, potty, hunger, food, potty. After that we learn the cycles of the days, weeks and years and then we clue into the bigger picture of patterns that span longer periods of time. Many animals never make it past the the hunger, food, potty part.
This notion of animals as emotional creatures upsets some fundamentalists. I've heard people claim that animals don't feel the things we feel. I dispute that and I think a lot of people agree these days. Animals feel the same things we do, hunger, pain, happiness and sadness. They just don't get much past that.
The other point I've heard made is that animals have no souls. That's just pride and superiority speaking. Animals have as much souls as we do. Their "force of will" is just as much in charge of their existence as an CEO's. I believe that whatever happens to us at death happens pretty much the same way for them.
Of course, this notion of what happens at death is a crucial difference between religious and non-religious beliefs. It's apparent that the body is emptied of whatever "force of will" or soul carries it around, becoming just another piece of meat. The question is, where does this or soul go? I certainly don't know, and no one else on this planet does, despite whatever they tell you. They might believe they know, but the only people who really know are dead.
Empirically, we've tested dying people and various anecdotal stories abound, but there's very little difference between a dead body and a live one. We've never sure what is going to actually kill someone either. It's a very variable area. For example, I was just watching Saving Private Ryan and seeing the horror of the Normandy beach assault brought this point home to me. Some guys took a bullet to the body and dropped, while others lost limbs and stumbled around looking for them. Some men had the light of life snapped out of them while others took a long time to die, clinging to the spark. There's no telling how it's going to happen because there's no real understanding of how and why it's happening.
So, until someone can prove God's existence, and I'm of the option that God is the one who'll have to do that, then I'm forced to conclude that the blood, devastation, death, war and horror that mankind suffers from is simply chaos and self-inflicted wounds.
Rosanne (of all people) actually had it right though. I just saw her on Dennis Miller's show and she was talking about having defeated the "Monster" within her. Her claim was that anyone's problem with someone else generally stemmed from a problem within themselves. While this is obviously limited in scope, and does not qualify for the butthead who stole your car, it is so true that I laughed. So many wars and fights of all kinds are started because people have problems inside their own minds, with their monsters.
Religion was started because of the fear of this monster. The notion of original sin is an acknowledgement of the monster within us all. Rosanne also felt that mankind was on the cusp of evolution, where we would all acheive some understanding of the way of our minds and defeat the monster, but I'm not so sure of that myself. I've seen a lot of people succumb to the monster. I've even been there myself, and while I think we can fight it, it seems so ingrained in us that I can't believe we'll get over it on a species level. I think we'll defeat it on an individual level, but then we have been for thousands, perhaps millions of years.
I think that's the best we can hope for at the moment, individual conquests of our baser instincts. Until God can give us something better than an old book at least.