Here’s an article I wrote for ThinkChristian on the LHC.
Who knew that scientific discovery was, in part, motivated by the search for eternal life? A few days ago I read about physicist Theodore H. Maiman. He discovered the laser 50 years ago, but surprisingly never got the Nobel for his work. While he died in 2007, his friends and supporters still believed that his place in history was secure. “When you create something of this magnitude, your legacy lives on forever,” says Prof. Rawicz (Simon Fraser University). “There’s a Latin phrase; non omnis moriare. You don’t die entirely.” (Quote from Globe and Mail, May 16th)
I was thinking about mirror neurons as I was cycling this afternoon (really). They’re recently “discovered” neurons that are a subset of the motor neurons in our frontal cortex. While motor neurons fire whenever we move, mirror neurons fire when someone else moves - as though virtually mimicking the action of another. They fire even if we’re not moving, and neurologists figure that this mirroring activity is the way the brain begins to learn how to imitate behaviours. (I got all this stuff from a lecturer on TED named VS Ramachandran – http://bit.ly/bAPg5x ). Anyway, I was thinking that it’s neat how God built a capacity to follow into the basic fabric of our brains. Our brains imitate the activity of another whether we want them to or not. We can choose to follow up with that imitation by mimicking the action (we still have free will) but regardless, as some subconscious level we still follow. We’re built to follow God; the ultimate Other, making the ultimate movements. I wonder if Jesus (the one through whom all things were made) knew about this when he said, “Follow me.”
Stephen Hawking’s recent comment that an alien visit would not work out well for us – just like Columbus’ visit wasn’t very good for the natives – shocked a lot of souls. When someone this esteemed makes this kind of comment you have to listen. Last month 22,000 people were asked if they believed that aliens walk among us disguised as us. 20% of respondents (from around the world) said they thought they did! 20%! I guess it just goes to show how strong a capacity God has built into us, to engage in the belief that an alien Other could, did and does walk among us… and even looked like one of us!
Yesterday these words from dance choreographer Wen Wei Wang caught my attention, “I read movement like other people read words.” My immediate reaction was, “I want to learn that language too! So that I can discern God’s truth through the world of movement, via his greatest handiwork, the human body.”
The quote came from a larger comment included in a Globe and Mail interview, “I have a physical memory. For example, I remember every step I ever danced or created. I read movement like other people read words. I see dance language in a visual way – like a moving picture or sculpture in space. I create pictures into which the audience can read their own stories.” That last line reminded me of what Jesus said when asked why he couched his truth in all of those mysterious parables, “That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight.” (Matthew 13, The Message).
I think there are all kinds of stories, spoken in all kinds of languages through which God speaks his truth. A book on science and beauty just arrived in the mail today (The Evidential Power of Beauty; Science and Theology meet, Thomas Dubay). On the back cover Nobel physics laureate John Feynman says, “You can recognize truth by its beauty and simplicity.” Imagine what it could mean to know the languages of beauty and simplicity more fluently. Or the language of film, chemistry,structural engineering, psychiatry, botany, or martial arts. I want to explore all of these different ways of knowing in my next book.
A couple of nights ago Venus and Jupiter visited the moon. At first I thought they were just bright stars, but they seemed too bright for that dusky time of day. They must be planets. And they were. I had to pause and take a picture. How cool is that; a moment where God smiles down on us…
This morning’s paper had a story on the rare celestial event. It was interesting to note the varying interpretations. Astronomers didn’t see this as much of a big deal. Those planets are out there, orbiting, all the time. Other mere earthlings got a bit more excited. Seeing with the naked eye what star-gazers can only perceive through their telescopes was quite an other-worldly experience. Some saw this heavenly vista as a brief respite from all of the economic ills we’re currently facing here on the planet. Others (from their latitude) saw the moon’s crescent shape forming a smile below two planetary eyes; like a divine face or something (how we tend to humanize our gods!) In New York city the face changed, however, forming a frown.
According to the news story, some even posit that it was this kind of heavenly event that occurred in 2 BC when the Magi saw the Bethlehem star. A sign from God… that he’s still there… that he’s always been there… keeping it all in orbit… holding his universe in his hand.
I read the obituary of world class physicist, Robert Jastrow, this morning. He had an interesting insight into the whole faith v. science debate. While I’ve always been able to see the ‘control freak’ factor playing out in those who espouse a radical fundamentalist faith position in these matters, I never considered that this same motivation may be at play on science’s “side” of the equation. Jastrow made a rather honest confession when he said…
“Scientists cannot bear the thought of a natural phenomenon which cannot be explained, even with unlimited time and money… There is a kind of religion in science, it is the religion of a person who believes there is order and harmony in the universe, and every effect must have its cause, there is no first cause. This religious faith of the scientist is violated by the discovery that the world had a beginning under conditions in which the known laws of physics are not valid, and as a product of forces or circumstances we cannot discover. When that happens, the scientist has lost control.” Physicist Dr. Robert Jastrow, former head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in his obituary, Globe and Mail, Feb 13, 2008