Before science happened, people used to look up at the stars and see gods. They saw signs. They saw the future and the past.
Then scientists showed that stars are just big lumps of rock.
Comets are big lumps of rock on fire.
The sun is in the middle of things – not us. And that’s just a big lump of burning stuff too.
The world is round. There aren’t any dragons at the edges and you can’t fall off.
Life before science
Imagine life before science. A universe alive with meaning. A cosmic map of your life and the life of your ancestors.
That’s what it was. Unquestionably.
It didn’t take any thinking about. You didn’t have to look at it any more or try to come up with a new interpretation.
It was obvious and everyone knew it to be true.
The scientific era
We’re pretty much in the same position right now.
We have our beliefs. Rocks, burning, gravity. We have our proofs. We don’t think about it anymore.
The thing about the early scientists is, they didn’t trust the old truths.
Aristotle, for example, wondered why when you look out at the sea to the horizon, you see the top of the sail of an approaching ship first. How can that be if the earth is flat?
They kept looking at the world around them.
Eventually, a belief system that had been respected and adhered to for generations was toppled.
In its place, the new kid on the block slowly got to sit on the throne. In the end, no one doubted she was the queen.
Well, maybe not everyone. But the people who didn’t weren’t taken very seriously.
The post-scientific era?
There may be some among us who are still looking at the stars, unconvinced that they are simply dead lumps of rock and gas burning down to nothing.
They look closely, they find new ways to measure. They come to their own conclusions. They make a newer, bigger kind of sense.
Maybe it’s a kind of sense that doesn’t kill the planet? Maybe its a kind of sense that includes scientific knowledge, but add more stuff to the equation?
Inevitably, sooner or later, there’ll be a new kid in town and the old queen will be deposed.
I wonder who it will be?
Padmasambhava’s idea of wisdom
Padmasambhava (the guy credited with establishing Buddhism in Tibet) apparently defined true wisdom as something like:
I do not know.
I do not see.
I do not understand.
My mate’s idea of wisdom
When I was younger, whenever I answered “I don’t know” to something, my friend would immediately pipe up with:
Keep that don’t-know mind. That don’t-know mind is good!
I’m not sure if he was quoting DT Suzuki or Yoda, but it has stayed in my head these last 20 years or so.
I was thinking about it only this morning.