June 2010

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by Sy Schechtman

Two important bits of minutia I have carried with me down thru the ages are the literary gem of Shakespeare’s, where Hamlet says to his loyal aide Horatio, “There are more things in heaven and hell then are dream’t of in your philosophy”, and the hard physical fact that water starts to expand below 32 degrees fahrenheit. This latter fact makes life below sea level sustainable and allows the survival of all marine live. And , of course, for the natural progression of all the subsequent animal phyla up the normal the evolutionary path that we now enjoy, , with homo sapiens the primate of preeminence at the very top on land, and not merely frozen solid as are all other liquids, which continue to solidify below the freezing water level of 32. This most fortuitous fact, evidently contrary to the normal rules of liquid expansion and contraction, makes life possible for humanity and most other animal life, whose body content is 50 to 80 percent water. Absolutely nature’s somewhat haphazard bumblings--- its’ hit or miss evolutionary path--- or some evidence of an off course correction by some out of bounds agent keeping a watchful millennial eye on the process?

A recent book by Dinesh D’Souza, “Life After Death,The Evidence” discusses the puzzling but ever compelling enigma of the after life ----- aspects of life after death. Our author is a well known conservative political commentator who is now also somewhat of a Christian apologist, but his book is a respectable compendium of only authoritative western philosophic and modern scientific sources on the tantalizing afterlife “dilemma”. There is a resurgent interest in this aspect of “life” ----shall we say?--- if only because of continuing firm scientific developments. The Hubble Telescope is one such technologic feat that has lifted us well beyond earth’s distorting atmoshpere into the vast expanse of the surrounding cosmos, enabling astronomers to discover and confirm and perhaps confound some established beliefs.

When I was much younger accepted astronomy was the fact of an expanding universe, but most were confident that sufficient gravitational forces would soon compel this expansion to stop, cosmic stability of the planets would be attained, and many eons later, because of failing solar energy, implosion of the universe would occur. But because of Hubble’s sharper images, undistorted by earth’s atmosphere, we now are aware that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, as if it were literally flying apart. Also we are now able to peer back almost to the beginning of the material universe, when the solar system we now know was one large mass of super dynamic contained energy, and with the aid of the complicated mathematics of today are able to state that this concentrated mass exploded----an overwhelming “Big Bang” into the previous existing void. And this occurred about thirteen and a half billion years ago. Not quite the mere 5800 years or so that fundamental Judaeo Christian reasoning has rationalized.

Not only are most traditional religious western advocates -----Jewish, Christian, and Moslem, about four to five billion people--- upset by these coldly secular estimates, but so are the not so gleeful scientific propounders of this definitely non theistic evidence. These latter people, mostly devout atheists, realize that there is not enough known energy sources in the universe to account for the accelerating pace of the expansion of the universe. The initial Big Bang explosion can account for the primary expansion, but the accelerating force of expansion now occurring can only be explained by the so called “dark energy” and “dark matter” postulate. Still invisible and undiscovered forces that makes up an estimated 90 to 95 percent of all matter and energy in the universe! While it is still quite conceivable that scientific theory will still be able to harmonize these so far unknown entities into a natural, impersonal, non theistic universe, many ardently secular folk are uncomfortable with the throwback echo of “in the beginning God created the heaven and earth…….in six days He created them…….and on the seventh day He rested…..”. And also that He then surveyed it all, and pronounced it very good.

Scientists. too, today have been carefully surveying the aftermath of the Big Bang theory, mostly with a jubilant “there I told you so” superior air. However, quite a few have demurred. Like Steven Weinberg and Brandon Carter, about the six crucial physical constants…. “The nature of our universe is remarkably sensitive to these numbers. If you imagine setting up a universe by adjusting six dials, then the tuning must be precise to yield a universe that could harbor life”… As in water expanding below 32 degrees when it should be totally freezing over.

It is not possible to explain a prime pillar of evolution, the Darwinian survival of the fittest, without this large gap in existing immutable physical laws. No animal life that had not developed sufficient anti freezing mechanisms in the frigid, frozen waters would have survived. But fortunately we are all still here now, allowing ordinary evolution to continue to occur, as water has fortunately not reverted to other more usual liquid characteristics of becoming a completely solid substance.It is also not possible to explain, at the other end of the evolutionary process, the amazing complexity of the single somatic cell in an animal organism, which is in itself a complex mini factory that contains energy, respiratory, nutrient, enzyme and hormone codes for the host body; a tiny speck of protoplasm whose ultimate destiny is to divide and become another cell in the designated bodily tissue of this functioning organism.

We are always confronted by that classic conundrum of the chicken and the egg. Which came first? Was it all a chance occurrence of nature or was there a Prime Progenitor? Scientists are still consciously searching and probing the outward reaches of the universe for physical and “natural” causes so that ultimately we can satisfy our human hunger for more enlightenment, on both the physical and the spiritual side of our nature, for the essence of our meaning and destination on planet Earth in this galaxy in the cosmos, which is still rapidly expanding. Shakespeare’s Hamlet certainly and succinctly was right about “more things in Heaven and Hell” that are still beyond our understanding, and science is certainly right in exploring all of material reality to expand our understanding of the physical aspects of of our universe. But there is a metaphysical aspect beyond this, and room for great expansion of human understanding. Science is now hypothesizing many universes beyond our own to explain, among other things, perhaps, how quantum mechanics can mesh with relativity---which always stumped Einstein. But some of these new celestial enitities might have different concepts of time and motion and be more metaphysical than stodgy old Planet Earth. Indeed the concept of time maybe merged or simply disappear and be known as spacetime and mortal existence be extended indefinitely.

It is much too premature to rule out Heaven or Hell. After all, Columbus thought he was finding the Northwest Passage to India and rich spice trade that Marco Polo had previously aggrandized. Instead, of course, was a previously uncharted vast wilderness, that after some initial privation and struggle the massive realization of great tidings for western civilization that is present in our hemisphere. And it costs almost no present physical capital to entertain the probability of the afterlife. And much spiritual gain ----an ultimate calm certainty that despite the perceived or real inequities of this mortal life there is another chapter of existence that we will experience in a mode and manner unknown but most necessary and uplifting.