Harmony of Nature — the Holy Grail of Science
Ever wondered why fundamental arguments in fields of natural science and humanities are never settled? Or why the history of ideas moves in waves? Why nature feels so healing? Science has the answer, but not the way Einstein would have had it.
In pursuit of understanding the universe that surrounds us, the duality within us is reflected in our discoveries. Every fundamental intellectual standpoint winning the hill, has an inverted twin ready to tear it down. Time after time, we are led to the tragic effects of our fundamentalist readiness to engage in this battle of extremes. Political warfare, ecosystem pollution, mental suffering — all results of an imbalance so willingly chosen. What is the deeper cause of this and why isn’t science guiding us any better?
Science aims to find the objective truths. The method is mathematical logic (reasoning) and the matter is collected data. Logic works in two directions: up or down a pyramid structure between the general and the specific.
Feeding it with data at a middle level, the scientist can work upwards, inductively, to bring about the generalizing laws relating to the data available. (For instance, every swan observed is white, so the law of nature will then say that all swans are white.) These laws, premises, can then be used to work downwards in deducting a specific conclusion. (We have a swan in our pond. And the premise says that if X is a swan, then X is white. Ergo, the swan in our pond is white.)
That the induction from facts is flawed, is evident as soon as contrary data arrives (a black swan is observed). The only objective truth we have is our original data, then. And logic seems to be completely truthful only in the downwards deduction, which in turn presupposes a premise that can never be proved to be right.
Still, proper science is possible if the flawed induction is used as a strength: by treating premises as something to disprove (searching for swans that are not white). Inductive logic is truthful when uncovering false premises. In fact, this is the only instance where we can learn something new, as deduction just gives us what is already inherent in what we choose to feed it. Being critical and discovering what is not true, is the most valuable attitude in science.
A pessimist is just an optimist who is wise enough to have a sense of how much better things should be.
The most scientific of all sciences, the ultimately critical dissection of nature which most thoroughly discards the trappings of the human mind, and which is therefore imitated and fundamentally relied upon by all other sciences, is physics. Through the hierarchy of complexity from far off sciences like sociology to psychology and onward to biology and chemistry, we find in physics the laws of nature and the scientific method that every other layer builds upon. And the fields of physics most fundamental are the ones concerned with matter furthest from the human existence: theoretical astrophysics and theoretical particle physics.
While Einstein’s concept of relativity is often understood as a refute of absolute truths, it is nonetheless the very opposite. That everything is relative, does not imply that everything is happening by chance in a flux of accidental causes and effects. On the contrary, it means that everything is firmly linked in a complex and unique relation to its very own absolute truth. So in theory, anything can be dissected, understood and predicted, giving a green light to the aspirations of science.
In the astrophysical dimension of nature where gravity plays a part, Einstein’s general relativity, which unites time, space and gravity in one theory, works well and has not been disproved yet. But in the dimension of particle physics, he lost out to quantum mechanics as early as in the 1920's. This constituted a radical break from physics as we — often still, a hundred years later — know it. While Einstein built on top of former laws of nature, the new and current physics disproves those premises. And in so doing, it messes with our established understanding of the nature of science itself.
One such revolutionary principle, is complementarity, developed by Niels Bohr. It states that objects have sets of dual properties which are mutually exclusive when measured. In the nature of small things, cause and effect is not linear and predictable, but move in quantum jumps and have a limitation to what can be measured.
The concepts of particle and wave, make a good example. According to the old physics one object can not have both properties, the wave being a state of the particle substance. But experiments show that particles will behave like waves if measured in a way that allows it, by way of reducing the measurement of the particle as a particle. If a quantum object is fired onto a particle detection screen with a plate in between that has two openings, which allows for wave interference on the other side, the lonesome particle will hit the detection plate in a place that is decided by the wave behavior. And repeated firing will expose a clear wave pattern on the screen.
Not only does the chosen method of measuring determine the outcome, which makes the scientific gathering of objective data impossible. It also means that the manifestation of all physical objects in nature is the result of complementary dual relationships which show one mutually excluding property more than another, but never the complete realization of one property — making all data inherently unreliable. This manifestation does not show us the reality of the object, only one of many possible ways the balancing of pairs of properties can turn out to exist in the eyes of an observer. And the deeper reality of everything physical lies in a unity of properties that to human understanding are mutually excluding.
Our logic depends on premises, but we are not able to formulate a premise that allows the unity of what is mutually excluding. Science is left with unreliable data and an incapable logic. The field of physics, aspired to by every other scientific field, has disproved science itself.
It is a fundamental problem of epistemology with far ranging consequences in any human interaction with and understanding of the world. For almost a hundred years, particle physics has carried on using quantum mechanics without being able to disprove this central dilemma. Most scientists simply leave the epistemology and ontology to the side and use whichever one of the complementary properties that works best for the formula at hand. This gave us nuclear power and smart phones, as well as the prospect of quantum computers. One scientific success after another, built on data we don’t really know what are, and adhering to laws of nature that make no sense — Einstein’s worst nightmare come true.
The ancient Chinese concept Chi denotes holism and was traditionally symbolized by a circle. When the dualism of two mutually excluding opposites are added into the oneness, you get the Tai Chi (“great oneness”) better known as the Yin and Yang symbol. This is a perfect illustration of the incomprehensible unity of opposites and as such, Bohr made use of it in his own coat of arms design, as a symbol of complementarity.
Every culture and system of thought and faith has had to deal with the dual nature of the single world that we experience. The same deeper truth about their relation have been found and named by unrelated thinkers, the ultimate science of particle physics being among them. Three fundamental entities in two levels gave rise to trinities and dualities such as:
- Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Christianity).
- Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu (Hinduism).
- Dharmakāya, Saṃbhogakāya and Nirmāṇakāya (Buddhism).
- Chi, Yin and Yang (Chinese philosophy).
- Synthesis, Thesis and Antithesis (Hegelianism).
Symbols for these concepts of duality have been chosen among the otherwise innocent objects around us (for better or for worse, as the originally poetic connection between meaning and symbol often turns into fundamentalist identity):
The essential truth behind all these inventions and discoveries is that to every one aspect of our world there are always two extreme — even mutually excluding — manifestations, who nonetheless have equal validity and existence in the complete nature of the aspect.
The wisdom drawn from this truth has time and time again been that of ontology and ethics, delivering the message that “there is an enormous struggle going on between the major forces of nature, but harmony at the higher level.”
As a way of explaining the existence of the world, the trinities and dualities have been brought out and been given symbols (names and shapes for the ears and the eyes). Gods and monsters were born along with Ragnarok and the promise of a new world. Some ended up with symbols of reality like matter and energy along with a Big Bang and black holes.
And in order to direct people’s actions towards the common good, the insights of complementarity offered lessons of tolerance of differences and a higher level of understanding.
Human concepts are defined by contrast. We think in dualistic terms. The very act of thinking involves reflection, which needs both a subject and an object. Having one fundamental standpoint in an argument is only possible when the opposite view is also available, so even if the two views disagree, they still rely upon each other to exist. And as fundamental one standpoint may be, so is the twin. Fundamental arguments may win the day and the country, but not completely and not forever. There will always come a realization that something is missing and it will always be easy for the daring to become icons of the long lost standpoint. Thus history repeats itself and ideas move in waves.
Even our concept of unity, holism and the higher level, is necessarily pulled down and placed in a dualistic perspective when we think of it. It needs to be contrasted with fragmentation, dualism and the lower level, in order to be understood. The actual sphere of Chi, the harmony of opposites, is out of reach from our conscious thinking (reasoning, mathematical logic, science). We simply cannot grasp it.
Still, using that dualistic thinking we arrive at the conclusion that holism must be the truth — as we do in many other ways through experience (sensing data before putting it through the conscious machine of logic): the healing power of coming close to the wilderness, leaving reasoning to the side in meditation, the beauty and harmony evident in nature, letting ourselves open up to love and the bliss of art.
Working our way back through the hierarchy of sciences while respecting the altered understanding of its very data and method, we will be able to accept the standpoint of our fiercest opponent in fundamental discussions and see them as valid manifestations of nature that we should aim to strike an even balance with, when the aim is to describe nature as completely as possible.
Every step of additional complexity in phenomena under investigation brings a higher level of concepts. Chemistry considers acids and molecules, for instance, as biology looks at life and DNA; psychology studies phenomena like anxiety and consciousness, while sociology deals with culture and ideology.
Let’s have a look at some examples among all the sciences. An obvious duality fundamental to psychology is the one of mind and body. Behaviorism accepts only the body, though. It advises governments on educational methods, using the behavior of white rats in labyrinths and their reaction to reward and punishment. The idea is that psychology is all about the neurology of animals, rats beings as good as humans. But neurology belongs to the sphere of biology, not psychology, human psychology is at a higher level of mind then that of rats, and the easily measurable behavior of brain nerves is only one extreme manifestation of psychology. Teaching methods developed on the basis of the neurological learning of rats will not serve its purpose — on the contrary, it may promote rat behavior in humans. At the other end of the spectrum we find Freudian therapists who have a hard time healing the depression caused by cancer.
Even in the field of the philosophy of ethics, we find a school of analytical philosophy, called utilitarianism, which only accepts to use the measurable effects of human actions as data. They are opposed by deontologists, who insist that only universal moral laws should guide our actions. Analytical philosophy itself, is in such a dualistic relation to a philosophy, which goes beyond the concepts that can be pinned down in a mathematical, logical analysis.
The misunderstood method and matter of science aspired to by most scientists, has similar consequences in every field of research, in degrees relative to its hierarchical level. It is adept in mobilizing support on either side, as the extreme standpoint is always the easy one.
Our goal is the difficult one, to understand the true nature of our subject matter. In so doing, conceptual extremities are helpful in outlining the field in question, but the balance of fundamental opposites shows the most complete picture. What’s more, this dualistic explanation will never make any sense on its own — an acceptance of a higher level unity, however inexplicable, is required. This holistic level constitutes the harmony of manifestations, so essential to the complementarity of nature.
We can say with Descartes, Cogito, ergo sum. (I think, therefore I am. A subject exists, therefore an object exists. Yin is, therefore Yang is.) But with that, we are left with an eternal struggle and unsolved questions ad libitum. These are only the incomplete manifestations of Chi, the true, complete and incomprehensible nature.
In particle physics, this involves being aware of the fact that a particle is also a wave and that human science is inherently limited in finding out what it really is, rendering our methods inherently fallible. In psychology, this involves a realization that on this level of phenomena, body cannot be separated from mind and vice versa, while the best explanation of what is going on in our brains is just as confusing as that, but still far better than any of the easy choices would be. In philosophy, this involves taking the trinity of two levels into account and not discarding what cannot be analysed, while at the same time not letting the sphere of faith rule on its own.
Harmony is not a static balance of forces, but a dynamic dance giving more to the whole than are the sum its parts — as in music. We can and should all enjoy the symphony of complementarity, singing the songs of the Holy Grail of science.