Our Endless Curiosity

Scientists are convinced that the universe can exist by itself, without the blessings of a Creator. Are we befuddled by our restricted mental capacity which arises out of our recent, ongoing evolution?

Have you ever wondered why if you look at the night sky at the horizon in search of stars you would be disappointed to see scarcely one of them? The reason is simple. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is like a biconvex disc; our solar system, hence our planet, is almost at the peripheral, thinner part of that disc and its plane lies almost in the plane of the galaxy. The majority of the stars are at the thicker, middle part of that disc. To gaze at them we have to look towards the centre of the Milky Way, which is right overhead. With your eyes you could count about 2000 stars. But now it is known that our galaxy has about 200 billions of them; and there are some 100 billions of such galaxies!

So we become amazed by the vastness of the cosmos. If you think that’s the end of the story you would be far from right. In the 1920s a gentleman called Hubble discovered that our universe is expanding or accelerating constantly. He found that the rate of expansion goes on increasing exponentially with the distance from a given centre – and this came to be known as the ‘Hubble constant’. And if you think of it then there will come a distance (say at X miles from us) at which the rate of expansion would be almost the speed of light. Which means that the information and light from that far-away point X would never reach us – implying in turn that we will never know that part of the universe; it is lost to us for ever.

Now we can visualize ourselves in that gargantuan vastness: we are just a dust in it.

Will we ever have all the necessary information to form a concept of our cosmos? Or is it possible, as is being done today, that a sample of it will be enough to be analyzed and simulated electronically, and the result extrapolated to the whole?

Cosmologists think that we should do that; at least it is a beginning. But now they are telling us that the story is much more complex. They are saying that all the mass, galaxies and Pillars of Creation (photos from the satellite Hubble) we see in the universe are just 16% of the whole; 84% are missing, which they have labelled as dark matter. This is contributing to create gravity which is pulling the whole universe together to collapse; but to counteract – there must be dark energy which is anti-gravity – it is causing the said expansion of that same universe. We can appreciate how the picture is far from simple.

Being human, we cannot refrain from not asking questions; we want to know who created all that? How did that unbelievable vastness come about? While some of us are convinced that there has to be a Creator, there are many astronomers, cosmologists and men of science who will reject this claim.

On the one hand we may be doubtful about the capacity of a dust (that’s us!) to understand the impressive expanse of the space all round; we may even think that it is a form of arrogance on our part. On the other hand we would be wondering where would the Creator be when he created our universe – outside it or within it? If He is outside it, then there would be some place still outside that universe; if within it, then the universe existed before being created. So to bypass that dilemma, we coined the famous formula that the Creator was there from the very beginning. He was, He is and will be.

To most of us space is just a three-dimensional affair, satisfying our simplistic concept. But to experts in the field there are many other dimensions, including time, to add to space – just to titillate our mind. To all of us the universe is almost globular, yet we are told that if we remove away all galaxies and matter, we would see it flat and two- dimensional. In reality, we would not be able to separate space and matter; what we call space or the void is far from being empty; it is teeming with energy, with particles popping in and out of existence; and from there matter blossomed out.

And yet, we humans are stubbornly convinced that our simple concept of cause and effect – the Cartesian method – will be sufficient enough to understand such a cosmos. A few of us, the religious, have invented all sorts of hyperbolic, metaphysical language to propose different approaches to define that universe, how it is composed of different tiers, created at a given time. And if there is a Creator what would His characteristics and assets be that would allow Him to create such a gigantic wonder out of nothing? But could we offer ourselves any other tool or method to reach a more rational explanation? That sense of rationalism, tagged by the cause and effect conception, refuses to bow out. Scientists are ready to throw in their weight. They are convinced that the universe can exist by itself, without the blessings of a Creator. Are we befuddled by our restricted mental capacity which arises out of our recent, ongoing evolution?

Observing and Questioning

Imagine being in front of a tall wall with a small hole in it, and if, while peeping through, we come to notice a cat — for the first time in our life – passing by on the other side of the wall. First we would see the head followed by the tail. True to our curiosity we would go on peeping; soon the cat makes a U-turn. Again we see the head first followed by the tail; and the feline goes on playing that to-and-fro game with us. So finally we come to the conclusion that the head is the cause and the tail the effect. If only we have the means, or intelligence, of peeping over the wall, and look at that queer animal on the other side, we will discover, to our dismay, that both head and tail form a single entity; that there is no cause and effect. The cat just exists – just as our cosmos.

Is it possible that evolution is yet to gift us with the means of going over the wall, to discover new ways of thinking, of viewing life and space differently, so that we would finally know what the truth is? How did our universe kick off on its extraordinary journey? Or maybe we are not yet gifted to understand everything around us? Just as thousand years ago, our ancestors could not have had the mental capacity of conceiving the internet, is it possible that our queries are outstripping our biological and mental development?

But as we are getting into the habit of asking questions, maybe evolution is hinting that our brain is mature enough to have a go at satisfying our curiosity.

So we can always have the intellectual satisfaction of saying that we, the dust, the insignificant nobody of this universe, but gifted with consciousness, are the one asking the questions. There are a lot of them; and we have to tread carefully, lest we should ask such ‘silly’ questions which will derail our curiosity and leave us a nincompoop – “where is the universe?”! (as suggested by a religious Indian pundit.) That, we feel, is a better one than that of Stephen Hawking’s “what is north of the north pole?” (because some clever one can come up with the answer – the Polar star). We’ll be knocking our head against a very thick wall if we ask the wrong question.

Meanwhile we have invented all sorts of stories and myths; we have tried to humour ourselves, to give explanations to our children, to give a sense of direction or purpose to our life, while our scientists are doing their best to give the highest rationalized explanation so far. Whatever it is, the cosmos will always keep us dreaming and in awe for centuries to come.

 

 

  • Published in print edition on 18 September 2015

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