Thursday, July 15

All the efforts of the human mind cannot exhaust the essence of a single fly.

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.


佳皓佳皓 said...


susan said...

'Surfaces can be seen and measured, but depth must be interpreted.'

This is another of your posts synchronous with aspects of our embodied lives I've been attempting to understand through reading and contemplating the words of people much wiser than myself. The quote above belongs to Ken Wilber who has written a number of books dealing with the philosophies relating to both science and spirit. He says in this modern era we've come to inhabit a 'flatland' of meaning since our culture in general has has become captive to 'scientism' rather than the larger and more encompassing view that's suggested by quantum mechanics.

It's true that for general purposes of daily living the Newtonian paradigm is sufficient for our needs, and we pretty much take for granted the more esoteric knowledge of those who've developed electronic devices and systems that are beyond the capabilities of the general public. We have allowed for experts whose studies are incomprehensible to those outside their particular fields of interest.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with science and its requirement for solid proofs that can be verified independently. The problem is that the cult of 'scientism' and its underlying insistence that everything in reality can and should be defined is as unrealistic as maintaining that the world was physically created a few thousand years ago.

Wishing for return to some intellectually fabricated past where all was perfect is regressive thought. Continuing along the path of industrial degradation might be even worse and could, of course, lead to a future whose dystopian consequence are all too easily imagined. What we need is a transformation to a more balanced view. That can only happen as each of us comes to comprehend that we are each whole and nothing can ever be lost. It's a tall order, isn't it?

All the best

gfid said...

i came across my copy of 'the elegant universe' as i unpacked some boxes in my study the other day.... and here you are, writing about the same subject. the beautiful thing about science and discovery is, we'll never run out of things to learn. the frustration is, despite that, we sometimes behave as though we know everything there is to know.

insightful and inspiring, as always Lindsay.

Mercutio said...

An interesting post.
The way I take this is that is demonstrates that Creation is not a specific event which occurred at some distant point in time, but rather an ongoing process which is continuous.
For all of our technology, the world-at-large remains an unknown, and we operate within only a small portion of it. Quite often, science leaves us with as many questions as it does answers.

There was a person in my study circle that brought this up the other day, but there are things we simply do not know and cannot understand. Inside of the womb, we can see that the fetus grows eyes and ears, a mouth and fingers; but these things have no function inside of the womb. It is only after birth occurs that the function of these things becomes known.
And this is the manner of the soul upon this earth. We develop the characteristics in this place that we will need in the world beyond. We have no knowledge of their function, nor can we hope to perfectly understand such things. We know only a portion of the path.
In the end, all obstructions are essentially the same.

Even our spacestation amounts to no more than a modernized Tower of Babel. And yet we marvel at the wonder, and grow conceited with our own cleverness.

楊儀卉 said...


雅俊芬凱陳許 said...


lindsaylobe said...

Hi Jia Hao, Susan & Gfid, Mercutio & Yangyi Hui & Masatoshi Fen Kai Chen Xu
Susan –reference 'Surfaces can be seen and measured, but depth must be interpreted.' A most apt quote from philosopher Ken Wilber that fits in nicely with the post. I don’t think we will ever be able to achieve a balanced view entirely especially as wisdom has not kept pace with technology and the ability to understand all of the consequences.
I agree with what you say about science that we sometimes behave as though we know everything there is to know.
We have this propensity to take a linear view of the world desirous of a beginning and end but I rather like the idea on an ongoing process of continuous creation. Science, I think will leave us with as many questions as it does answers and we only know a portion of the path just as we only see a smattering of reality.
Yangyi Hui & Masatoshi Fen Kai Chen Xu –Glad you both found the information useful i
Best wishes

Seraphine said...

it is my wish that the cosmos continues to wear undergarments, because i like a little imaginative mystery.
life will end when we have everything figured out.
the romance will be gone.
the essence of the single fly will be much the same as it's married brethern: infinite boredom based on too much familiarity.
thomas aquinas would have certainly been disappointed by a universe in full-monty mode, bereft of subtlety.
what is left to discover is everything.

ErnestoW_Honaker101婉菁8 said...

thanks god for the chance to enjoy so many good artical.............................................................

lindsaylobe said...

Hi Sera- Imaginative mystery insofar as science and the cosmos is concerned is alive and well as scientists wax lyrical in describing the extraordinary sight and wonders of images from the outer regions of space.

My post which barely scratched the surface on planet earth is more akin to undertaking a work of art or composing music since such an output does not suggest ways to solve the world ills.

But a thousand words can still present a picture to ponder whether or not the mysteries continually widen or is science just like art to changes the way we see the world.

So that there can be no doubt we are privy today by courtesy of modern technology to witness a beauty, (maybe a form of poetic technology) in what we can see and discover to achieve some understanding of the ways things are without necessarily knowing why they are as they are. That is the province of philosophy which is more about asking the questions than in attempted to provide answers.

My conclusion was ‘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.

Who can say what Thomas Aquinas would say today or how the ancient priests and Kings who used astronomy as a tool would have reacted but I would hazard a guess they would been just as enthralled and filled with a sense of wonderment as today's scientists and those like me whose who share that passion.

Best wishes

Gary said...

Profound...I had to read it slowly :)

And here we are... all clearly descended from the same mother and father (now proven by science).

A big family of sometimes confused siblings. Humility indeed!

黃錢靜怡慧婷 said...


劉智陳建霞堯 said...

Practice what you preach...................................................

Seraphine said...

"there is a reality beyond all human experience"

first i have to prove that i exist, and then that i am human.
for all i know, i might be an unhatched egg.

i found more answers than questions when i studied philosophy one semester during my freshman year.
but then, i wasn't an exceptional student, although i was enthusiastic enough.

lindsaylobe said...

Hi Gary and Sera
Thanks for your comments.
I also had to write very slowly and constantly review what I had written to ensure it made sense since much of it is counter- intuitive.
I like your phrase ‘A big family of sometimes confused siblings’.
Good for you if you found more answers than questions when you studied philosophy as philosophy can indeed help us think objectively about many vexing questions. But I’ m sure you are aware no philosophy is ever complete as exceptions arise all the time where a particular philosophy doesn’t work in different circumstances. That is why asking the right question in philosophy is what it is all about.

But I think we can take our existence as a given –just as we can also take the existence of large scale physics in the universe governed by laws and authenticated by observation and calculation.

But at the sub atomic level - the mass that also makes up everything including you and me – is where the mysteries of interactions of those tiny particles making up that mass where scientists conclude we don’t fully understand what is going on. But to appreciate that requires equal doses of humility and intellect to understand their reasons which I attempted to briefly explain in my posting.
Best wishes