The Bounds of Experience

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To categorically delimit, in its totality and with complete certainty, what is and is not natural, science would need to achieve an exhaustive enough delineation of nature and everything it encompasses. A look at the history of science, however, shows that the boundary of what past generations of scientists thought possible keeps expanding, and not always in ways that were previously expected. A certain idea can seem illogical in the extreme at one point in time and become perfectly rational after further revelations. There therefore opens up, for those who care to think about these matters, a valid, though unanswerable, series of questions.

Where, if anywhere, is existence bounded? In the direction of the very small, we recall that, with the exception of the Middle Ages, which doubted their existence, atoms were thought indivisible from the time of Democritus until well into the eighteenth century. Today there is an entire menagerie of subatomic particles, and a vibrating string is offered as the new elementary particle. In the opposite direction, it was only in the 1920’s that Edwin Hubble discovered a multitude of galaxies. Today we speak not just of many galaxies but of many universes and of higher-dimensional branes colliding into each other. There is, therefore, an essential variation, as well as a lack of clarity, at the edges of experience, whether at the verge of the very large or of the very small. Not only that. The obscurity at the edges is a structural aspect of human existence.

Which begs the question: Are there scales of space and time that human beings not only cannot currently access, but that we can never reach, no matter how far our technology advances? Who can say whether there are even realms that simply transcend physical nature (or what we know of and as physical nature)? Where empirical evidence becomes impossible, nothing can be confirmed or denied. Why speculate about matters that are beyond science’s ken, then? What is the difference between believing in God on the one hand and, on the other, believing in Richard Dawkins’s flying spaghetti monster?

In science, atheism seems to have found its fundamentum inconcussum, the unshakable ground on which it intends to win the future. Yet it seems to me that science, being so open-ended, simply leaves too much to the imagination. At some point, religion, spirituality, mythology, etc., take over. They cannot be replaced by science since they “fill in” what lies beyond its scope. Since science can never say with absolute certainty that there is nothing beyond what it already knows, this horizon of indeterminacy and its “beyond” are fixtures. No matter how far the compass of science extends, people will be able to ask: Is there something more?

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