“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” – Arthur C. Clarke
What is the difference between science and magic? UNDERSTANDING. A lack of this understanding can wrap us in fear and yet full of wonder. If science is characterized by an understanding of the laws of nature, then magic must be characterized by a deviation from this natural law.
Today’s scientific frontier of particle physics sits on this border of science and magic. As scientists peel away the layers of the atom, they are revealing a very strange reality; a reality more magical than mechanical. With the emergence of quantum mechanics the line between science and magic is blurring. Particles have become probabilities and the tangible has become like water between our grasping hands. We have named this world of the very small but there remains a foundational question unanswered: “what is matter?” (Scientists call it a quantum cloud or a realm of possibilities, which is a very vague way of the scientific community saying, “we have no clue.”) We are still at a loss for what this thing called existence is and it seems that our science is slowly revealing itself as a merely a description of the inexplicable; like wizards studying in the school of magic. We may be able to name all the pieces and shown how they work together but will we ever know what this magic that constructs our world truly is?
Perhaps this is not a question for science. Or perhaps “there is no purpose to purpose,” as stated by Richard Dawkins. Even stranger, perhaps we will someday be able to describe these quandaries. Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson would say that man has too frequently, “invoked god at the perimeter of ignorance.” Meaning that once we believe that something cannot be understood, we will cease to attempt to understand. Dr. Tyson believes that this leads to the decline of inquiry and the prolonging of discovery.
We should always push our limits, but at which point does our scientific understanding become a description of this elusive, indescribable magic? Once man has named everything and every interaction of matter is understood; will we truly know our world? Once we have seen the universe as a whole and also glimpsed that foundational building block of nature; will we then know what “it” is? Will we then know what existence, or consciousness, or energy, or matter is? We might, and that is why we keep searching.
Can we answer all the questions of science?
Dr. Richard Feynman was a pioneer of this search and his only aim was to find out more about the world, no matter how this world revealed itself. The universe could very possibly be a place we will never fully understand and matter might be an indescribable entity but this should not discourage our search for truth. Throughout history, men have labeled hard questions as unanswerable, and today many of those questions are answered. Humanity must keep an open mind and a healthy perseverance to continue discovery.
But with that open mind we must also be willing to accept all outcomes of this search. There might be a limit to our understanding; some answers might be beyond our reach. Some of our questions may only be answered from a perspective outside our universe. How can you describe matter, other than the stuff of existence? Or consciousness, other than the medium of experience? Nevertheless, let the search continue so that one day, perhaps without even knowing it, we might live on the edge of that understanding.