I remain mindful of the words of one of the great religious philosopher Thomas Aquinas who said ‘All the efforts of the human mind cannot exhaust the essence of a single fly'.
His quote reminds one of our limitations and need for humility. His philosophical style was to argue the for and against before concluding and avoid bold statements based purely on religious texts. Instead, he recommended any relevant scientific or specific knowledge about a subject be studied beforehand as otherwise one risked making a fool of oneself and losing credibility.
Aquinas’ philosophy coincided with the early beginnings of modern day science when all philosophy was based upon science. Interestingly enough it is only in more recent times as the volume of scientific knowledge expanded exponentially that we seek to separate the two.
My intention is to attempt to perpetuate the rather grand tradition of this sage by examining the religious philosophical implications of modern day science and to see how they challenge or reinforce our traditional views, beginning with the basics of Einstein’s special theory of relativity and concluding with the quantum mystery.
An introduction to the special theory of relativity.
Imagine you’re on a spacecraft and another spacecraft passes you speeding away at the difference in your respective speeds. But that relative increase in speed will not be true in respect to a laser launched from a nearby space station as that laser flashes past you at the speed of light. Despite accelerating the speed of your spaceship you notice you can make no impression on the speed at which the laser pulls away from you at an indicated speed of light. Puzzled you retry the experiment to soon realize the laser always disappears from view at the speed of light regardless of your spacecraft’s speed.
If you able to understand the reason for this then you can understand the special theory of relativity.
Einstein correctly concluded that since nothing can exceed the speed of light all of our motions through space will be relative to that absolute, so that any observations of the speed of light will be the same wherever you are. Hence the speed of the laser will always be observed at travelling at the speed of light.
We are all familiar with the concept of a game of table tennis noting it takes the same time for the ball to pass over the net when playing a game in a fast moving train as it does for a game played on the platform. If you carried out an experiment measuring electromagnetic waves you would get the same result.
However for an observer on the station looking into the fast moving train this is not the case since the trains speed plus the speed of the ball will equal the total speed of the ball as far he is concerned. The actual speed of the ball is the same for all observers but it is relative to motion whilst light for any observer anywhere will always only be seen as the same absolute speed of light.
Hence all of the laws of science are the same to all observers regardless of their location in space after allowing for gravitational effects.
Einstein’ discovery paved the way for this conclusion (which however will be challenged later on) and hence our observations are relative to our motion through space except for the combination of space and time termed space-time. After discovering the special theory of relativity Einstein incorporated the gravitational field effects which cause warping within his general theory of relativity.
A brief excursion into the slippery concept of time differences.
The obvious conclusion following on from the theory of special relativity is that any movement through space reduces our time in space to the point theoretically once you have reached the absolute speed of light time becomes frozen.
Time + motion through space = speed of light.
Therefore if motion is represented by the speed of light then time must equal zero
This idea of course in reality is quite farcical since any object travelling through space at that speed would develop such an unimaginative amount of mass as would be almost the equivalent of all matter already present in the entire universe.
However there is a relative difference for all of us depending on our motion through space but the miniscule differences on planet earth can effectively be ignored and we can feel comfortable with our outdated Newtonian view of time. We can have no doubt however as to the soundness of the theory since it is has been independently verified by extremely accurate atomic clocks stationed on board aircraft. Spend your entire life flying in planes and you will be younger than your comparable walker but the differences are so small that on your death bed the flyer would scarcely have the additional time to think about even saying a few ‘Hail Mary’s’.
However in the vast distances of space the effects can be calculated to show huge disparities.
Returning to our spacecraft to imagine in the future we have discovered a way to travel at close to the speed of light to find some remarkable consequences. Since our motion at close to the speed of light drastically reduces our time in space any prolonged space journey lasting a number of years will require us to wind forward our clocks hundreds of thousands of years on reentry into planet earth.
But our stay at home earthlings have long since perished as those who welcome us home are thousands of generations later than those present when we left. That is because time has not slowed for them as it has for the space travelers whilst the biological aging is no different for either group.
Spacecraft intrepid travelers slow space time is only point one ( .1) with motion at 99.9.
Whilst for the stay at home earthlings earth time is 99.8 plus with motion at point two (.2)
These are simply arbitrary numbers I have chosen to help illustrate my point.
Can we draw any religious philosophical conclusions?
Since the universe is subject to unique laws which unfolded miraculously in exact sequences to allow life to form one can posit that we are the product of a creation in an evolving mystery which I think can only leave us in state of wonderment.
For me there is abundant evidence around us everywhere to indicate that all life and nature itself is simply miraculous. By virtue of the laws of science we can also say we live in the most probable of many possible universes which leads us to reasonably suggest within those predestined routes there only exists causality for freedom of thought or actions or choice. That causality I see as an evolved creation gift which gives us the sense of freedom or free will within the determinism arising from constraints of those predetermined laws.
Although we can measure time we cannot say what it is and can only understand time by combining time with space for the absolute concept of space-time. Accepting for the moment a creator then past present or future becomes irrelevant accepting that for us we remain trapped within what seems to be to us our enclosed universe where time does seem to be indicative of an arrow usually always moving forward except for possibilities inherent in extreme warping effects of gravity.
But so far we have only barely scratched the surface to already reveal our rather tenuous grip on reality and of time.
Understanding classical physics through the application of the quantum
So far we have viewed the universe through the prism of classical physics which can confidently predict planetary movements and space travel to such a degree that we can have confidence in these evidence based outcomes. But if we attempt to understand classical physics through the applications of the quantum (the subatomic level of particles present in the universe) you expose those universal laws to some doubt. Indeed the general theory of relativity which has been demonstrated to be proven correct over time is only valid as it applies to large physical objects but only barely clings on to its integrity when you begin to contemplate the bizarre behaviors of the smallest of those fragile tiny particles known within our universe.
Einstein’s explanation for quantum mechanics ( the probabilities and uncertainties of sub atomic particles known as quantum laws ) where particles split into respective waves or particles to mimic behaviors as if they were still one, regardless of their distances apart, was to say those correlations were due to the underlying properties already inherent in both prior and after disentanglement. In other words these 'spin characteristics ' were integral to the separated particle and its wave function before and after they became separated.
Once again Einstein’s elegant theory seemed plausible enough but other physicists were doubtful. The matter was settled once and for all when Einstein and other brilliant physicists that followed him were all proven to be wrong half a century later. There is now overwhelming evidence for this so called quantum entanglement. (See Brian Greene – 'The Fabric of the Cosmos – Space, time, and the texture of reality').
The search for answers goes on with scientists now entertaining the idea of different dimensions and hidden properties within those minute particles that might provide solutions to the seemingly intractable mysteries. If you believe knowledge is reality (which can’t be proven or disproven) it could be we simply do not have sufficient knowledge about the particles since that knowledge is hidden within another dimension upon which we are not privy. Suffice to say that space may be not as we thought it was but possibly is made up of many more dimensions.
Should any of these extra dimensional theories turn out to be correct it will confirm that at the most fundamental level we do not experience the reality that underpins the universe.
In that sense we can return finally to a religious philosophical view and conclude that hardnosed materialistic evidence based science is now leading us to the view there is a reality beyond all human experience and understanding which may well always be the case. So that trust which is so important in our relationships with others, but so often can be misplaced, is also analogous to the universe, since human experience is not always a good barometer in understanding her rich fabric, bearing in mind - ‘ All the efforts of the human mind cannot exhaust the essence of a single fly.’
So that all we can do is to have trust in the human spirit and for those who have a religious leaning, an ultimate trust - we need not fear our morality for in death we return home from whence we came.