Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Local "Common Sense" Global "Ignorance"

Here I am borrowing the terms from the domain of calculus or geometry where we might have a maximum for a “local” neighbourhood but “globally” or across the entire continuum/domain the point might not be a maximum. I believe we humans with our massive intellect and an even bigger mass of arrogance are getting stuck in this “local” maximum. Our daily life is governed by set of laws which we humans have become accustomed to; they form the very fabric of our everyday existence. As a matter of fact they have become so ingrained in our head that we tend to view every experience through the lens of those implicit sets of rigid laws. These laws are less of laws and more like handy tools, honed and sharpened across generation upon generation of evolution of our species from a nomadic hunting gathering society to a nomadic industrial atomistic society. However they have outlived their usefulness and gradually are becoming more of a hindrance to the progress of our species. It is our responsibility to actively and aggressively combat such outmoded concepts and thoughta. It is time we dethrone “Common Sense”

What is common sense, well in this case I mean it is the set of ideas or concepts that we generally accept to be true and are develop mainly by the process of “induction”. Take the example of classical logic and the principle of excluded middle in particular, which states you can’t be A and Not A at the same time. This is a law which serves us pretty well in our everyday life after all you can’t be dead or alive at the same time; unless of course you happen to be a cat in a close box with an ampoule of poison and a trigger which operates randomly. In that case you are a very special cat indeed, a cat who happens to be both dead and alive at the same time till Master Schrodinger opens the box and collapses the probability wave. Before the advent of quantum mechanics and relativity the world was much simple, Newtonian mechanics was nothing but a deductive extension of our “common sense” albeit beautifully done. Relativity and Quantum theory rained havoc to our common sense; it has indeed made reality queerer than fiction and definitely queerer than you can think.

Particle and wave, the two distinct concepts of the classical world became much fuzzier concepts in quantum world. It seems entities could be both and indeed it is we who gave them existence by simply measuring them in a particular way. Energy or mass created out of the quantum fluctuation in space, using the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, accounts for 70% of the mass in the universe. The idea is simple, uncertainty allows for creation of energy out of nothing provided they exist for a very short period of time, voila there you have it, space becomes a soup of particles being created and annihilated all the time. These  virtual particles, so called but who are very much “Actual”, accounts for much of the mass of the universe. This flies directly in the face of our “common sense” and yet it is true, whether we like it or not we weren’t consulted. The computer chip that is the bulwark of our modern civilization works on the principle of quantum tunnelling, which allows sufficient number of electrons with less energy to cross the energy barrier of atomic orbitals. This is again because of uncertainty principle which allows electrons to have sufficient “additional” energy to cross the barrier albeit for a short duration of time. Since there are millions of electrons probability allows for unusual events like this to take place regularly.

Relativity destroyed the idea of objective of time; late comers could finally say they weren’t late for an appointment, after all time is relative. Unfortunately in our everyday life or frame of reference time is indeed objective, it’s only when we approach the speed of light do things go awry. It is now well accepted fact that if two objects moving very fast and in different direction observes a common event than it is very likely they will disagree as to the exact timing of the event. As a matter of fact to ask the question “at what time did the event take place” without specifying the frame of reference is simply nonsensical. It is currently believed that we live in a unique age where the universe is expanding and the galaxies at the outer fringes of our universe are expanding near the speed of light or may be more. In a billion year or so it might happen that all the galaxies within our telescopic viewing range may have crossed the light barrier. In that case, astronomers who might live during that age may conclude erroneously that indeed the universe is composed of only Milky Way since he can’t see any other galaxy. It is indeed a fascinating idea and that is the current viewpoint of the astrophysicist community in regards to functioning our universe.

So it becomes obvious that our common sense which works so well in everyday life, which is so obvious and intuitively appealing may and often do breakdown when the horizon is much more extreme. When we are talking about the micro world of quantum mechanics, when we are talking about events that take place in a billionth of a second or events which are light years away or taking place million times faster than we are accustomed to then our “time tested” “efficient” “successful” Common Sense FAILS spectacularly. We are probably the only species who had the ability to develop such a non instinct based abstract thinking concept like common sense and it is we who must now question it. Why?

Surely we have accepted relativity and quantum mechanics, we let the physicist deal with these stuffs, and we even allow graduate students to be taught these queer things at least those who are interested in them. So we have already accepted them and we are moving ahead! Well my answer is not quite so. We have allowed these things to continue even though they challenge our everyday ideas precisely because they are so far removed from our everyday experience that it hardly matters; it’s a charity we can afford to give without sacrificing much. However when Galileo challenged the geocentric view or the flat earth hypothesis, things didn’t go all that smoothly. Church had already given its favour to geocentrism to change its stance would destroy the image of infallibility, hence it became blasphemy. Surely that was Middle Ages, we have progressed long way since then or have we.

One of our oldest sacred view is that we are special and in a way unique. It is very common among us to ponder what makes us, individual, unique and I am sure deep in our heart we sincerely believe there is something special about us, not only as humans but the individual we are. Galileo took that from us by removing us from the center stage of the universe and since then physics has made us more and more insignificant. 150 years ago a similar blow was hit upon us by Darwin, he dethroned us from the perspective of “best of creation” or at least the way we thought we were the best creation, by showing that we descended from primates. Since then the battle has raged on, it seems in the face of overwhelming proof to the contrary we are still trying to hold on to the view that we dropped from the heavens one fine morning and started living. In my view and I might be wrong, that is an Insult to God. To suggest that he couldn’t have created us via evolution seems to me arrogance on our part, as if we know his limitations.

The primary bottleneck is the concept of design without designer. The basic logic being every building has a builder and hence we must have a creator. Evolution explains our current biodiversity impeccably well. Why do we have tail bone, why do we have back pain, why do human foetus when 4-5 months old begin to grow hair behind their back which later disappears. These can be explained by our descent from primates who had tail, hair at their back and where not used to straight erect posture. Yet we hold on to the view of creationism simply because it is so common that a complex organism like us could not have been created by a process of random play of amino acid molecules. Our common sense is used to observing development of complex design like buildings or cars or bridges which require our active participation ergo we couldnt have been a product of random play. But buildings and bridges cover a very finite insignificant time horizon and are nothing compared to the billions of years amino acids had. It is indeed an inversion of reason, a ridicule of common sense that given billion of years and billions of molecules with natural selection you can have complex organism with design without the active participation of any designer.
Evolution is as absurd as the curved space, quantum fluctuation and wave particle duality. It goes against every iota of common sense that we have just like relativity and quantum mechanics does. And just like relativity and quantum mechanics it is JUST AS TRUE. What makes human beings special and unique is not the fact that celestial bodies revolve around us, not that we fall from heaven just the way we are but because we can go beyond our instincts, we can evolve beyond our genes, we can even evolve out of our common senses. I am theistic evolutionist, a believer who thinks God created universe and that he uses natural phenomenon to run the show, it is an assumption I agree but I take it because it has proven to be useful and successful.

1 comment:

  1. Hah hah. Kotha theke koi! Superb. ;)

    I like your non-dogmatic approach to this whole affair.

    You did first sound a bit like Nietzsche with Common Sense... but by the end, and even by the Schrodinger middle... that disappeared.

    Keep it up.