Physicists announced recently that they had discovered gravitational waves, confirming a one hundred year-old prediction of Einstein’s General Relativity theory. As remarkable as the discovery seems, it does little or nothing to resolve a profound quandary in physics that is indicative of a larger dilemma within the whole idea of the “scientific world-view.”
First let me say why this matters to me, as someone whose formal studies were in literature, that softest of all subjects. I’ve actually been fascinated by the world of cosmology and theoretical physics for a long time. I grew up with the ideas of two great humanist popularizers of science, Jacob Bronowski (The Ascent of Man) and Carl Sagan (Cosmos), intimately beamed into my brain by television. The story they told me was that modern science was a hard-won triumph over bigotry and ignorance; it was the ultimate homage to nature. It had discovered many of the laws that governed the physical world, and yet there was much more to know. Science was a great adventure, and there was room for us all to join. Carl Sagan said that we were “star stuff,” grown to be able to contemplate itself and the cosmos, and now longing to return to the stars.