“Everything simple is false. Everything which is complex is unusable.”
– Paul Valéry
The age of enlightenment has brought us incredible technological advancement and an incredibly useful way of exploring the world. The scientific method has rightfully displaced the dogmatic religious viewpoints that served no one except the patriarchy. However, this new way of thinking has also dis-proportionally shined a light on just a specific part of reality. We must ask ourselves, what more is there to explore?
Across history, mankind has endeavored to create maps to navigate across the unknown explored by another. Whether the maps describe a mountainscape, an archipelago of islands or the floor of the ocean, they all serve the same purpose; They abstract how the world looks to a less-detailed representation so that the user of the map can make useful predictions on what will happen if he/she goes to any point in the map.
A map – by definition – never truly describes reality. A map abstracts reality to a more readable format. To illustrate this, imagine a map to be made at true scale – it would describe every single detail in the world to be exactly like its physical representation – every single grain of sand would be described up until the atomic structure and beyond.
Such a map would be incredibly elaborate as well as incredibly useless. Why would one bring such a map, when one could then simply look at the real world for the same information! It would be like trying to write a diary in full detail. Before long – one would only be writing about writing in a diary!
Science is also a map. Science is a bundle of theories designed to describe and predict the measurable components of reality which we can perceive by either our own senses or current technological instruments. Through the ‘lens’ of the measurable the scientific method exposes and abstracts a part of reality. It is wise, then, to realize that the description of reality that science provides is:
A. False. Due to the nature of the abstraction the map-making implies by having to describe it with unreal symbols or inaccurate words. (Note that this holds for all things we attempt to describe and that it is still a close approximation for many important facets of reality – which accounts for it’s usefulness in applied sciences!)
B. Incomplete – since the ‘lens’ of the scientific method only exposes the part of reality that fits our criteria for a scientific theory. It automatically dismisses anything outside of the limited scope – although anything outside the scope can still be useful knowledge.
C. Increasingly complex – which diminishes its usefulness as a map. Our ways of measurements are inadequate in areas such as the quantum and singularity realms and so we are forced to rely more and more on virtual constructs, static variables, imaginary numbers and time and an unavoidable inherent uncertainty built into the universe – not only moving the description further away from ‘reality’, also making it less understandable to grasp and apply beyond technology.
With these assertions about the method that currently drives our society forward, I would argue true seekers of knowledge and the true nature of reality must also consider exploration outside of the well-defined bounds of the scientific method.
Blind Men and an Elephant
For a moment – let us enter our imagination and travel to an unknown town in the far east. The town is much like other towns. The town is small and everyone there lives a simple life. Some citizens are farmers, some citizens are writers and others announce the daily news.
There is one aspect of this town, however, that differentiates this from other towns; In this town, every single citizen is completely blind. Everyone has been blind from birth, and such has never experienced sight in their entire life.
One day, the blind citizen that announces the daily news shouts across the town square that a strange beast no one has ever encountered has entered the town square. He shouts far and wide that “An elephant” has arrived. No one has any idea of the shape or form of this unknown beast.
Energized by their unbridled curiosity, the blind town folk gather around this strange new beast and begin to explore it. Since they are all blind, they must rely on touch only. At first, they stumble around a bit trying to find it – and some are sceptical it even exists. Some walk away and dismiss it as a fabricated story. But before long, one of the citizens finds the elephant and shouts out his position.
Now – all the town’s folk gather around the elephant and begin exploring it by touch. One of the blind men touches his trunk – and declares the elephant as like a thick snake. Another touches his tail and declares the elephant as like a rope. Another, his tusk, and declared the elephant as like a spear. Another touches the elephants ear, and another it’s skin, and another his leg – and they all come up with different opinions.
Before long, the elephant grows increasingly irritated by the continuous groping and swiftly leaves the village – leaving the blind men to discuss the nature of an elephant solely by their somatosensory observations. They continue to firmly disagree until deep in the night, as their observations were wildly different and unlikely to coexist!
Then, the wisest of the blind men joins the conversation – and swiftly solves the paradox of the elephant by quoting the great quantum mechanics scientist Warner Heisenberg:
“We have to remember that what we observe is not nature in itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.”
None of them are wrong. Actually, they all got a part right. Their difference in definition stems from their difference in their method of questioning.
Caecus Caeco Dux
Our scientific method is like grasping at reality like a blind man grasping at the elephant’s tusk. Our theories – at least for now – seem a decent approximation of the part of reality which the scientific method can expose. But it is missing the rest of the elephant.
For there are many aspects of life besides the measurable. For example, can one measure love? No. But we all agree that is exists and it is an important concept in our everyday life.
Similarly, many other concepts have been discarded by the scientific method which have served mankind for generations. Concepts such as God, morality, the Dao, the Soul, Virtue, alternative states of mind, unlocking the full potential of the brain, reality beyond what our senses and instruments can measure and many other unknown avenues. These concepts are immeasurable – perhaps even imaginary. But are they really less imaginary and useful than the abstract and virtual constructs our current scientific theories demand?
The cutting edge of science deserved to be explored and will bring us many useful advances. But trusting in science as the full nature of our reality is trusting in a blind man to lead the blind. We must continue to explore the other paths of knowledge neglected by our pursuit of the scientific method. Paths once well explored – but judged as impossible to know – paths like philosophy, spirituality, the power of the mind and our unlimited potential for creation.
I was fortunate enough to encounter a wonderful and amazing woman in my life that has invited me across the boundary of rationality into the unknown. That taught me that there is more than meets the eye. That inspired me to explore. Has this made me more stupid? Not at all. What she done is open my mind to consider alternatives to explain the true nature of the universe.
Will this bring exciting new technology to propel human civilization across the stars? No, that responsibility is fully within the realm of science. But will it bring us closer to character, virtue, happiness, love and unlimited potential? It will.
You have read this far listening to a rambling madman and so I would like to honor and congratulate you; It means you are a true seeker of knowledge. I’d would love to urge everyone reading this to explore the unknowable – to open your mind to possibility and remain open to alternatives outside of your own personal beliefs or method of questioning. Worst case, you find nothing of value. Best case, you encounter a whole new world.
Find out what maps are already drawn, then go the other way.
3 thoughts on “Terra Incognita”
The Valéry-quote is GREAT!
Of course, every map describes reality. It’s the reality of maps, maps are real in the world of maps. Or what do you mean by reality? It’s the same with our laguage here, it describes the linguistic reality. Speaking about reality we have to make clear about which reality we are thinking of. That the linguistics of every symbol-system, isn’t it?
All the best
The Fab Four of Cley
🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂
Love your comment, thank you for your thoughts! You are right – ofcourse – that it depends on the linguistics on what constitutes “reality”. That is exactly where the chaos stems from – where the linguistic reality is so often confused with the indescribable reality in between the words and symbols. The symbol-systems we concoct are useful and necessary for us to make some sense of the world – but they must be coupled with the realization that they are merely abstractions. There is a whole world to explore beyond, before and in between the well-established symbolic maps.
Top site ,.. amazaing post ! Just keep the work on !