I am still inching my way through Jim Holt’s, Why does the World Exist? I’ll probably finish it in the same time frame it took to build a pyramid. The book is so rich in thought that it’s like wading through a vat of molasses. The concepts it teaches are stranger than any found in fiction.
I’ve just completed a juicy chapter where the author interviews Steven Weinberg, a physicist who has spent his life looking for the unified theory of everything — a theory that would explain the fundamental forces of the universe: electromagnetism, strong and weak forces and gravity. As the author admits, the problem may be “that we are trying to be logical about a question that Is not really susceptible to logical argument.” (Ibid, pg. 160).
Holt may be right. The universe could be illogical or organized along principles too large for our brains to grasp. Yet scientists continue to seek understanding, using instruments and equations in their quest. But is it reasonable to go on examining a seemingly infinite universe with finite minds? Steven Weinstein offered an elegant answer to this question:
The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life above the level of farce, and gives it some of the grace of tragedy. (Ibid pg. 163)
When I came upon this statement I paused, not only because it attempts to describe the human condition, but also because this statement about grace was graceful in itself — a sentence where meaning and expression mirrored one another in a way that made them one. That, I said to myself, is poetry.
Perhaps what the scientist and the artist share in common are moments of insight, times when logic or empirical studies do not apply. Pure mind finds its own way and then, as necessary, attempts to help others understand through a chosen medium. Insight is prior to knowledge. It is the unified field that binds us and transcends everything else.
(Artist conception of Quantum Mechanics courtesy of psion005.deviantart.com)