Models And Reality
I know the difference between model and reality. I don't care whether you call God Yahweh or Allah or whether you tell me the circumference of a circle is 2*pi*radius or tau*radius. The language changes, but the concepts are the same.
My father once told me of the time he was in school and the teacher brought in a black box. It had all sorts of levers and wheels and things sticking out of it. Pushing or pulling on one thing would cause a reaction somewhere else. The assignment was to figure out what the internal mechanism of the box looked like. Every student came up with a different answer. Every answer worked. My father understood that theories are useful as long as they describe our results and help us make decisions, but that no one can ever really know the truth for sure. They never found out what was in the box.
I think in the same way. Reality is ultimately unknowable and so our models must be tentative. I am always learning. I love hearing new ideas that challenge my old thinking, but I don’t immediately throw out my old ideas for new ones that can just as easily be challenged by still newer ones. I don’t need to have it all figured out to believe in something. The physicists who first discovered that atoms are made of positive nuclei with detachable electrons didn’t know anything about antimatter or the wave nature of electrons. They still to this day don’t know whether they are better thought of as point particles or as loops of vibrating string. This does not stop them from believing electrons exist.
Our ideas about cosmology have also changed a lot in the past five hundred years. Our ideas about how large the stars are, how far apart they are, how fast they move, whether they move at all, what they are made of, and the nature of the invisible stuff in between them have all changed – sometimes more than once. This does not stop people from believing that stars exist.
In the same way, I don’t have to understand just how God operates to know that “something” is there. I expect to be surprised as I learn new things about the universe. Is God really a trinity? Is he really a male? Is he really omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent? How does he experience time? Does Hell really exist? Do angels really exist? How exactly does a painful world and a loving, omnipotent God coexist? I am open to all possibilities.
For now, having a benevolent intelligence guiding my life is as good a model as any, ready to be refined as new data pours in. Evidence of disasters in the world is no more problematic for my theory than the “vacuum catastrophe” is for quantum mechanics, or the “ultraviolet catastrophe” was for classical mechanics – they still teach the laws of Newton and Maxwell in school because they are precise enough for most applications and using quantum mechanics for everything is unwieldly. That I sometimes act and speak as if I am on my own without any divine help should be no more surprising than it is that scientists switch back and forth between the contradictory models of quantum mechanics, classical mechanics, and general relativity based on the phenomenon under study.
Which models give you hope?
Leave a Reply.
My name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small.