Once we realize the ineptitude of human understandings, the wildest romanticisms of the human spirit become something worth believing in.
Once we begin to understand how utterly hopeless we are when confronted with the real questions: questions about why anything exists, why physical laws are the way they are, why we feel and experience things, and why pain, sadness and joy are possible to perceive… every fantastical, romantic explanation for the fundamental nature of reality becomes meaningful and plausible — or at least as meaningless and implausible as anything else.
The idea that our consciousnesses will be transported into an afterlife becomes only as absurd as the fact that our consciousnesses exist. The idea of love as a universal force is only as absurd as the fact that masses of atoms and particles can experience it. Ideas that were previously thought naive mythical fascinations become perfectly valid. Ideas whose foundations were thought shattered by the science’s reality are set free upon realizing its humbleness.
It is not wrong to believe that the Universe has an ultimate cosmic destiny –we do not know what powers brought it into creation. It is not wrong to believe that love is as fundamental a force as gravity — for the gap between the sensation of love and its physical causes is unbridgeable by neurology, chemistry, physics^1. At what moment do the inner workings of the brain become thoughts and feelings? After everything has been explained, reduced to dust, after the firing of neurons and the release of neurotransmitters into synapses, after every chemical, molecule, and atom is accounted for — the question “Why does the sensation itself exist?” remains daunting.
In fact, it is more reasonable to believe that these experiences surpass possible explanations by the physical sciences and are truly fundamental parts of nature. We do not ask why the law of gravity exists — it simply is, a rudiment of our Universe. The same can be said of pain, loneliness, fun, wonder and love — they simply are. Irreducible, and in terms of anything else, an explanation falls short.
Why does the Universe exist at all? Any answer to this question satisfies the wildest imagination. Any mundane explanations eventually force us to confront extraordinary conclusions. The idea of a creator is just as mind-boggling as the idea of no creator. If it is possible for matter and energy to come from nowhere, why does the principle enabling that exist? Who, or what, puts it into place?
Our understanding of reality has advanced epic amounts in the last one tenth of one percent of human existence. In the past two centuries years, we have discovered that matter is made up of impossibly tiny, absolutely identical particles, that are 99.9999999999996% empty space^2. We have discovered that the movement of current through electric fields induces magnetic fields, which induces electric fields, propagating across the universe — what we call light. A scientist who was born 0.25% earlier in human history would have never believed that we could peer close enough into reality to discover such a thing — the amount of theorizing, research, and discovery done in that very thin slice of human history would have been too much to comprehend. They might believe in the inner workings of light religiously, consign it to a question unanswerable by science^3.
Answering the question of what light is to such a person would be as unthinkable as the question of if God exists to us. In the most recent sliver of human existence, we have found that something as seemingly universal as time is actually very subjective, that most of the Universe is comprised of dark matter and energy we cannot see or understand. We have found that the mere observation of light interference patterns changes them, perhaps demonstrating something incredible about the uniqueness of observation itself^4.
In a fraction of the time between Cleopatra’s suicide and the construction of the Great Pyramids, we have built a strong case for the deterministic nature of the Universe — and wore it down with the discovery of quantum physics^5. We have found rules that satisfy our intuition, but discover that we only approach reality with rules complicating it immensely^6. With the direction of discoveries, the true nature of reality will be so staggeringly complex that it exceeds the scope of our imagination. Imagine explaining the concept of light to one with the tools of mechanical science and basic research equipment — the relationship between electric and magnetic fields, the wave-particle duality. Something of the sort would not be thought up of by them in a hundred lifetimes’ dreams.
The idea of a cell phone or a digital device, the idea of the internet might have been imaginable to them. The idea of creating artificial intelligence would likely not have been. Although the field of computing seems like something very fundamental, something extremely basic, it was not conceived for most of human history.
Thinking of the future, it seems as though the most conservative assumptions about reality would exceed the boundaries of science fiction. The boundary of science itself is riddled with escapes, seemingly permanent rules, like absolute zero and causality, are already being chipped away at. Perhaps the bluntest illustration is this: 68% of the Universe is estimated to be ‘dark energy’. 27% is estimated to be dark matter — matter that does not interact with light and cannot be observed directly. 5% is the matter that we know and experience, that allows us to see the hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy and the hundreds of millions of galaxies in our observable universe. 95% is perplexing, clueless, a string of question marks^7.
We are nowhere near the limits of technology and our understanding of reality. The question is not if the technology of our fantasies will come into existence, but if our fantasies can even come close to matching the progression of innovation and time.
A thousand years from now, we will have done between perhaps 3 times as much research into physics and reality as we have done so far^8. The year 3020…attempting to picture it brings about it a scary sense of modernity and foreignness. Buildings will almost certainly be different, perhaps much taller — not doubting that they will stretch into space, that there will be rooms and castles that encompass more than humans can envision. A tower that is a kilometer tall seems futuristic — but it will happen in the timescale of a decade^9– not a millennium, not even a century.
Ten thousand years ago, there were no such things as nations or states. There was no separation between indoors and outdoors — the very idea of ‘indoors’ was foreign and likely unimaginable. Ten thousand years from now, we will have done hundreds of times more research than we have done to date. The year 12020 is not even remotely possible to picture.
A hundred thousand years from now, if humans are still alive, is not even worth bearing the task of imagination. However unthinkable the year 3020 is, 100,000 years from now is a hundred times more unthinkable.
Perhaps one day, millions of years into the future, when we have proliferated across our galaxy (but not the incomprehensibly massive 100 billion Galaxies), when the population of humans reaches the trillions…After we expand outwards literally a billion-fold, we may find nothing but cold silence. We might still struggle for the resolve to continue holding the lonely flame of humanity further into the darkness.
Perhaps in that time, we will encounter other intelligent life, the most ordinary scenario of which would be as stunning as any of those in science fiction.
Perhaps we will look deep into the Universe and pull back the wallpaper — uncover the nature of reality in its truest form. Perhaps the reality behind the wallpaper will be beautiful and infinitely complex, to the point where spending thousands of millions of lifetimes comprehending it will barely scratch its surface. Or, instead it will be beautiful and brutishly simple. But we if we find out the final answer, why anything exists at all, maybe we will uncover the image of our creator. It would be the most significant event in our Universe’s creation — to be understood. It may something we are destined to discover.
1-The so-called hard problem of consciousness — https://www.iep.utm.edu/hard-con/
2-Based on a Hydrogen, the most abundant element in our Universe.
3-We tend to underestimate the pace of innovation. The New York Times published a prediction that flight might be possible in one to ten million years. They published it in 1903, the same year that the Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk.
4-The Quantum Eraser Experiment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ORLN_KwAgs
5-Einstein famously rejected the notion of the uncertainty of quantum physics — God does not play dice with the universe.”
6-Even intuitive laws were once unintuitive. Before Newton, the idea was that objects in motion eventually must come to a rest. Newton’s realization that objects in motion actually stay in motion unless acted upon by an external force must have been a real revelation — especially before the being able to test his theories in vacuums.
8-Unveritable estimates, but you get the idea