Throughout its history, Western science has had one major failing – its inability to ‘think outside the box’. Each passing day brings a new theory or discovery, most of which are ignored or derided by ‘orthodox’ scientists who cling to their safe, comfortable dogma. In the 1860s, chemists refused to acknowledge John Newland’s idea that the elements might fall into eight distinct ‘families’. Later on, Dimitri Mendeleyev was awarded the Nobel Prize for the same idea, which led to the periodic table that hangs on the wall in every high school. The stories of Copernicus and Galileo have become famous examples of maverick scientists proving the establishment wrong. Even such luminaries as Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein suffered the disbelief of their contemporaries at one time or another.
Due to this hostile, neophobic academic climate, few scholars are willing to stick their necks out and embrace a novel idea, regardless of its merits, for fear of losing their reputation or – worse yet – their funding. Indeed, it is an unwritten rule of modern science that the investigation of certain subjects is tantamount to professional suicide. No chemist today will seriously experiment toward the alchemical ideal of ‘transmutation’. Few anthropologists will accept the possibility of trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific contacts before the days of Columbus (pr at least Leif Erikson), and even those few will guardedly admit that a few small-scale events could have occurred, but no major communication. It is a rare Egyptologist that will look twice at the notion of the Sphinx being older than the Fourth Dynasty, and a still rarer geographer that truly believes in Atlantis.
Science holds tightly to its predetermined ‘facts’ – indeed, just as tightly as religious people hold to their own. Each accuses the other camp of trying to ‘undermine’ theirs with ‘obviously untrue’ statements. Such tensions are understandable, since science and religion are in a sense two roads leading to the very same goal; each is on a quest to understand the ultimate truth of the Universe. I believe it is time that these two take a long, hard, objective look at each other, since there may be a wealth of information in each that would benefit the other. Perhaps Aleister Crowley said it best:
We place no reliance
On Virgin or Pigeon –
Our method is Science
Our aim is Religion.
Crowley’s own unorthodox religious leanings and somewhat dubious reputation aside, this example of his thinking bears remembering. The word ‘religion’ comes from Latin roots meaning ‘re-tying’, more specifically a re-establishment of one’s link with the Divine. ‘Science’, on the other hand, means ‘knowledge, and the pursuit thereof’. I can think of few better ways to be bonded to any God or Goddess than through knowledge – detailed study of Their greatest work, upon whose verdant bosom over six billion of us have made our homes.
“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing”.
In our arrogance, we claim to know many things. Just as we once ‘knew’ the Sun revolved around the Earth, ‘knew’ the world was flat, we now ‘know’ that we cannot travel faster than light, we ‘know’ the reasons for rainfall and tides and comets and black holes. We couldn’t possibly be wrong, since we’re such smart, highly evolved creatures.
I’m sorry, I said the E-word. Evolution? Creation? A little of both? Who knows?
Today more than fifty million Americans went to school. They learned, or at least heard, certain key factoids which make up a part of the accepted body of American knowledge. Few will have thought to question anything stated by their instructors – indeed, the most frequently asked question across these schools today was probably “will this be on the test?”. Millions of notebooks were half-heartedly flipped open to record unthinkingly the words of the curriculum.
Western society in particular is guilty of this practice; we place inordinate value on sameness, such that within any given socioeconomic group most people will dress the same, listen to the same music, watch the same TV shows. Fashion statements are generated by large corporations, whose subsidiaries pander to the similarly slavish fashions of the niche markets. Record companies churn out new clones of old artists, the promotional machine turning them into superstars and ensuring their marketability. Ultimately, a tiny élite controls the behavior of most of tomorrow’s leaders, who are mindlessly following orders as they are taught more and more definitely how to think – or perhaps more importantly, how not to think. We read Orwell’s 1984 and think of it as fiction when in fact it simply mirrors today’s reality so perfectly that one must almost ask whether Orwell was a latter-day prophet.
We believe that our government has our best interests at heart rather than its own; we believe that the news media is always telling us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth; we believe that accepted scientific principles are always right and we believe that our textbooks, encyclopedias and religious works provide an unerring guide to the world and everything in it.
Where am I going with all of this?
If the patterns of today continue, it is conceivable that within a few generations humanity will be faced with a completely new scenario, an event which we are unable to predict today, and that the billions of Earthlings faced with this problem will be unable to devise a single new idea between them and will thus perish.
Some may consider this a needlessly alarmist hypothesis. Others may sit comfortably and say that God – and I use the term to indicate any religious figure or figures – will no doubt save us from any such catastrophe. Others still may cling to accepted scientific dogma, believing that the corpus of accumulated data will no doubt yield a solution. What if these people are all wrong?
I believe that it is the duty of today’s Westerner to make himself a royal pain in the tail for the establishment. Perhaps the scientists are indeed right, or the Church, or the historians. I am not willing to bet the continued existence of my species on it. The class of 1491 believed that the world was flat even though the Egyptian, Minoan and Greek civilizations had already mathematically determined otherwise and certain Asiatic folks had already visited the American continent. The learned elders of the sixteenth century were convinced that the Sun revolved around the Earth, going so far as to revile and punish the mavericks who proposed a heliocentric system, notwithstanding teachings from the past suggesting otherwise. Today we all accept the Darwinian theory of evolution, albeit in a rather distorted way that would horrify Darwin himself, though many of us are aware of the establishment’s reluctance to believe him. What do we “know” today that the class of 2100 will ridicule? Nothing, say the scientists. What we know now is obviously the shining, unassailable truth. Their word does not satisfy me any more than the “truths” of yesteryear satisfied Columbus or Galileo.
The Real Truth as we know it today is not an ultimate destination; it is a claim made by closed-minded people who wish to keep their books in the accepted literature and their royalties in their wallets. It is a system of denial whereby anyone proposing a different scenario is immediately dubbed a ‘crank’ (at best) or a ‘heretic’ (at worst). Few members of the establishment are open-minded enough to accept that if a well-loved article of established dogma is proven incorrect it must be amended or replaced. Even on those rare occasions when the ‘lunatic fringe’ is proven correct about something, those very lunatics who dared to dream of something new gather their followers about them and begin to cling to their own discoveries as tightly as the now-discredited generation before them, and before long the new knowledge is just as entrenched as the old, accepted just as blindly by the next generation of students.
If we are to progress, to advance our understanding of Science, of Nature and of God, we must question everything. Only those who believe that faster-than-light travel is possible will have the impetus to make it possible. Only those who believe in human immortality will find the way to make it happen. Only those who learn the lessons of the past will be able to carve out a meaningful future for the human race.
I’m sorry, Henry, but history is no longer bunk. Let’s take another look.
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