Our attempts to understand and appreciate the universe around us began thousand of years ago. Many great men and women spent their whole lives focusing on a single question trying to find answers. Every passing day, we got a step closer to the truth. But will we ever reach it?
A few days ago I read the book, Subliminal by Leonard Mladinow ,which was focused on our unconscious mind and how it controls and affects our lives on a daily basis. In one of the topics I read something, that gave me a rush of mixed emotions- surprise, anger, sadness, and admiration. The topic was how our brain saves only the small picture, and when required to remember or ponder upon it, makes up for the missing pieces using previous experiences and a little bit of instinct, which is supplied by the unconscious mind. But here’s the catch- this new ‘complete’ image can easily be altered and also because of the uncertainty due to the missing parts, it will never be ‘the exact picture’.
What I am trying to say is that when you go through an experience like an adventure ride, your brain doesn’t save every small detail of it, but the basic details. When asked to recollect it, or ponder upon it, the brain makes up for the remaining details it didn’t remember by filling them up with information that it ‘finds’ suitable based on previous experiences or a hunch or estimation. You might remember what ride you took, but were there blue stripes on the ride? Or what was the colour of the shirt of the person next to you? These questions, that the brain considers inferior to store are answered using guesswork based on your incomplete basic picture saved by the brain. Plus, information like this can be altered bu subjecting the brain to new information that might not be true. For example, months later a friend you was with you on the ride claims that the ride also had lights on it, which you will most probably trust and modify your memory accordingly, even though this can be wrong information.
This kind of functioning of our brain has some deep effects on our quest to unravel the secrets of science. Since the experiences we go through, the memories we retain, and the way we process information is greatly influenced by our past experience, and the approximation of the missing information by the brain, it is a herculean task to be able to know the true picture. The laws we predict, the formulas we write, and the theories we apply, are all a result of the efforts of a brain that has a habit of taking short-cuts. What this implies is that we can always make better approximations, formulate better equations that more closely predict and fit the observations, and give better explanations, but these will always have some degree of uncertainty resulting from the filling up of missing spaces crudely. We will always be a finite amount away from the reality.
Take for example our quest to understand gravity. Issac Newton presented his theory of gravitation, giving a mental picture of two bodies attracting each other due to their mass, but not certain how. Einstein later improved the idea, by introducing the concept of curving of space-time due to mass, giving newer, and better equations, that more closely and better explained gravity to us. But even this is an approximation of the true nature of gravity. Emerging from a theory that is a result of a not-so-perfect brain. In the future someone might come up with a better picture of gravity, giving better results and closer to the reality we experience. But this too is at the end of the day an approximation to the truth.
This is almost terrifying for me. The idea that despite the numerous lives spent, the ones that will be spent, and mine too, on the quest for a scientific understanding and discovery of the true nature of the universe and its laws, will always amount to nothing more than approximations, no matter how close, kind of makes it look waste in the end. The true reality will always be shrouded under the curtain of uncertainty. Resulting from the absence of complete information. Efforts that will never result in the achievement of the ultimate goal. The thought of me studying all these years, and then researching in the future, knowing that everything I understand and know is just a pixellated photo of the real one, and that I will never be able to see the clear picture is depressing to say the least. How can we then fulfill our curiosities?
Our brains evolved with the sole purpose of surviving. To live amongst the dangers surrounding us, it was easier for brain to just process a small amount of the information it gets, to guess whether to flee or fight in the situation to survive, and not waste time in processing every minute detail and this favoured us in the wild. And that is why our brain functions as it does. But this very feature prevents us from discovering reality.
Perhaps the best I can wish for is a future with science so developed and accurate that it reaches the best possible approximation of our reality. The true nature of it will remain hidden- forbidden.
-The Cosmogasmic Person.