Saturday, July 02, 2005

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee!

It seems to me that we all have one basic decision to make in life: Does the world revolve around us or are we in the world. Do we make sense of our experience by thinking about it or by exploring the world?

Both of these decisions make some sort of sense. Most people don't come down firmly on one side or the other, leading to serious confusion.

Throughout most of human history, it made perfect sense to think that the world was made by a being with a human personality. Rocks and stones had wishes and goals. The stars were stuck on a bowl that stretched over the sphere of human action. During that time, which shades into our historical past, major religions arose and cast this worldview in stone and set it at the centre of their faith.

The second world view emerged gradually and could only be clearly seen in the broad light of day when people like Galileo and Copernicus dared to challenge the idea of the Earth Centered universe (and therefore a human-centred universe). Copernicus feared the Church so much he didn't publish his results for years. Galileo was threatened with torture and spent his final years in house arrest. At that point, the battle was joined and clearly defined. Since then, the contest has become broader and muddier.
Charles Darwin made more waves when he challenged the idea that humans had a special place in the natural world. The Human-centred view insisted that we had a special place in nature, whether or not we accept the Genesis story as literal proof.

Even at the beginning of 20th century, we thought that the sun was the centre of the universe. Hubble exploded that myth by showing that the universe consists of hundreds of billions of galaxies like our own. It is now quite clear that whatever our importance may be in our own eyes, we occupy no special place in nature.

To many people, including myself, there is no longer any question about how we should explain our experience of the world. Facts override theory. Experiments trump hopeful dreams. Real exploration replaces fantasy. Most importantly, we take responsibility for our own lives. God won’t fix it. “Good and bad” are what we say they are – the Universe doesn’t care. Bad guys don’t go to Hell. Good people don’t go to Heaven. We must learn to live with the Universe as it is and leave our fantasies behind.


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