phil-mella

Because physics has moved beyond Relativity Theory and Quantum Mechanics, stretching the limits of understanding, some have suggested it’s melding with spirituality and its precursor, faith.

Faith in the unseen requires a reasoned extrapolation predicated on an act of the will. As C.S. Lewis wrote: “Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.” We embrace the demands of faith because the horizon of our understanding is expanded, despite the absence of empirical knowledge.

We turn now to the nature of knowledge, and its limits, known in philosophy as epistemology, which has its roots in the Greek philosophers. It’s only a slight exaggeration to assert, as the renowned mathematician, Alfred North Whitehead has, that “Western philosophy is just a series of footnotes to Plato.” In his “Allegory of the Cave,” he describes prisoners who can only see shadows, but one day learn the false nature of their shadow world. It’s analogous to our limited understanding of this world and the role faith plays in our belief in the next.

We segue to contemporary physicists, most of whom believe the universe is comprised of 12 fundamental particles, which are governed by four collateral forces.

The four fundamental forces are the strong, the weak, electromagnetism, and gravity. Gravity has an infinite range but is the weakest, and although electromagnetism is stronger it too has an infinite range. The weak and strong forces work their special magic at the subatomic level. Three of these forces are the product of “force carrier particles,” which are in the category of bosons — and now we’re getting closer to the core of this puzzle.

Matter particles have a mechanism whereby energy is transferred, using bosons.

The elusive Higgs boson, the so-called God Particle, was discovered in 2012, and validated the Standard Model, and, critically, deepened our understanding of what happened in the first fraction of a second at the birth of our universe.

This returns us to that vexing question of the limits of human knowledge. Specifically, why physicists can cross the threshold of speculative understanding, while many argue that it’s off limits to spirituality and religion.

This recalls Immanuel Kant’s argument that the “categories” of the human mind provide a self-referential blueprint that defines the limits of our knowledge. A quote from poet Wallace Stevens, captures this notion: “The corporeal world exists as the common denominator in the incorporeal world of its inhabitants.”

Philip Mella serves on the 4th Judicial District Nominating Commission and is a health care administrator with a passion for history, politics and the written word. He also served on the Woodland Park City Council for seven years. Email Philip at roadnottaken@pikespeaknewspapers.com.

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