Truth, knowledge and science
Truth alone will endure, all the rest will be swept away before the tide of timeMahatma Gandhi
Truth is the inherent nature of everything within and around us. It is the structure of the man and his universe. It is the principle behind all the changes that are continuously happening in this universe.
The concept of ‘absolute truth’ outside of human mind is nebulous. Mind is a like prism and it can dissect and understand only the signals that can pass through it. There could be an infinite world outside the limits of human cognizance. Knowledge is the understanding of the truth of reality by the human mind. It is the outcome of the interaction of mind and its universe. Knowledge is defined by its power and not by its truth content. It is the awareness of the nature that allows us to precisely manipulate the present and accurately or probabilistically predict the future events. It does not need to be the absolute truth as long as it provides this manipulative power. For example, a scientific theory is a knowledge about a natural phenomenon. It is a construction by the human mind based on experimentation and observations that helps us to understand the cause-effect relationship of that particular phenomenon. This understanding gives us the power to predict and manipulate the events. For instance, we can never know the actual truth behind the happenings in the quantum world because we lack the appropriate sensors and cognitive capabilities to thoroughly understand the events in the atomic scale. However, theories and hypotheses put forth in quantum mechanics translates these events into a concept that human mind can perceive, and then manipulate these nanoscale events, to obtain a wide application in a variety of modern technologies. Hence, quantum mechanics is not an absolute truth but it is a great knowledge. Truth exists all over the universe and knowledge is its translated form according to the language of the mind.
Science is a tool discovered by humankind to investigate the nature and acquire knowledge. It is merely an idea that authentic knowledge can be achieved by disciplining the mind to have an unbiased view of nature. This exercise has proven to be a phenomenal success in explaining both the being and the becoming.
In the endeavor to create scientific knowledge about nature, there is no such a thing as absolute truth. We strive only to be less inaccurate over time
The Second law of thermodynamics and dissipative structures
No other part of science has contributed as much to the liberation of the human spirit as the Second Law of ThermodynamicsPeter Atkins
There are very few laws of nature that are as fundamental, universal and unyielding as the second law of thermodynamics. It is the natural tendency of energy to disperse and dissipate. It is the law that dictates heat always flows from hot to cold bodies and not in the reverse; things go from order to disorder spontaneously; life proceeds from birth to death with time. It gives the direction for all spontaneous processes and makes the flow of time irreversible.
The most interesting formulation of the second law was given by Eric Schneider, “Nature abhors gradient”. The flow of energy and movement of matter happens in the direction that aids abolition of differences in nature (temperature, pressure or concentration) and achieve a state of equilibrium. Earth is situated in the midst of a one such massive heat gradient, between the 5000 Kelvin Sun and 2.7 Kelvin space. This is perfect enough to churn the engine of change among the molecules on earth according to the above principle.
A fascinating discovery in this area was made by Nobel laureate Ilya Prigogine. He showed that the dissipative and the chaos producing second law also gives birth to complex structures with high degree of organization. These are called dissipative structures that are naturally and unpredictably borne out of chaos in the presence of continuous gradient like the sun’s radiation. These orderly structures are capable of effective dissipation of energy. Myriad of these structures are present throughout nature including hurricane, whirlpool, life and human society. This discovery laid the foundation for the grand synthesis of physics and biology. The question of origin of life and its evolution to greater complexity no longer belongs to the realm of fantasies rather they are purely natural phenomenon abiding the second law similar to parallel events in the inanimate world.
Change is the only constantHeraclitus
Everything in nature is in a state of evolution, matter and energy continuously taking various shapes and forms along the path of time. Of all the planets, earth has the optimal conditions for a very special kind of molecular evolution called biological evolution. There are evidence to suggest that this phenomenon is a manifestation of the second law and the whole of the biosphere can be seen as one massive dissipative structure that is few billion years old, still alive and actively evolving in complexity.
This process has formed the most fascinating arrangement of elements, the human brain, over 3.5 billion years of evolution. A lump of matter with orderly energy flow that can see through the true nature of things using ideas borne out of its structure. This ability to extract knowledge about the world outside by brain matter is a game changing event in the biological or genetic evolution.
The procurement of knowledge by any lump of matter regarding the principles behind nature accelerates the process of evolution by exposing undiscovered gradients in energy. This brings about a change in the structure that is not necessarily in favor of humankind nor the underlying structure that is responsible for the change itself. But an evolution to a more complex structure that is deaf and blind to the hopes and desires of the structure that gave birth to it.
Fervent hope is that human mind will use the acquired knowledge to intervene and manipulate the world around him for the ‘betterment’ of the species. This may be possible if the mind itself is created with some sort of unique substance that is not present anywhere else in this universe. However science has devalued almost all the hypotheses that has claimed humans to be made of anything special. The material substance is no different from the rest of the universe and if broken down we turn precisely into water, air and bit of dust. Our metabolic pathways are very similar to those in archaic bacteria. We differ only in the complexity of the organization.
Our mind and its cognitive capabilities are itself a mere product of evolution of things. It is possible, once the human mind is possessed with the knowledge regarding the structure of nature and her potential gradients, that it may not have an inclination to serve Homo sapiens but it could end up feeding the same relentless evolutive force – The irresistible force of creative destruction which is the source for all manifestations both in the inanimate and the animate world. If discovery of science was an evolutionary tool then Homo sapiens and his cognitive powers are merely a station in the irreversible path of the arrow of time. Science agrees, nature is heartless, mindless and purposeless.
There is no evidence that nature has preferences for the humankind. The ideas of ‘natural’ human rights is merely an imagined concepts that exist only in the mind. They are not laws of nature and are similar to imagined norms and beliefs of assortment of religions which mankind had created over the years. In reality, the individual man neither has any purpose to satisfy nor any goal to reach. It is up to him to choose to accept this reality and celebrate the beautiful fleeting moments of life or sink into solitude where all his imagined stories gradually disappear.
Knowledge and biological evolution
Life is interposed between two energy levels of an electronAlbert Gyorgyi
Biological evolution has created highly differentiated structures while chaos is generally the rule in the rest of the world. The genetic material is the book keeper of evolutionary knowledge for the scheme to build structures that are paragon of orderliness and can allow a controlled flow of energy. The knowledge required to build this coherent phenomenon called life in the midst of universe of chaos was accumulated over the years of chance variation of molecular structures and environmental selection of processes capable of effective dissipation of energy, survive and reproduce. Precisely according to the dictatorial needs of the second law of thermodynamics. Not according to the likes and dislikes of the mind of a superior kind. In the beginning simple structures were selected then subsequently complex organization of billions and billions of molecules evolved. Followed by the evolution of the brain matter.
The birth of human brain and the development of cognition has initiated a new pathway for acquiring knowledge and hence the evolution of matter and energy. Now at this point the biological or genetic evolution is almost redundant and evolution of ideas is in full force shaping everything in the world including the man himself.
Knowledge and cultural evolution
Our essential nature has more to do with the cosmos and its laws than with Rome (or any other human society) and it’s ruleEric Schneider
If evolution is about changing the shape and forms of matter with dissipation of energy then the pace of cultural or ideological evolution is far superior compared to biological evolution. The physical world and the living world has changed many folds within the past 5,000 years –A change created by cultural ideas formed inside the collective human minds. The changes have been most dramatic in the past 500 years during which the accumulated knowledge has been increasing exponentially.
Culture is the social behavior of the human society. Among living things, human beings have the gift of imagination and a wide range of behavioral possibilities. The behavior of all other species is predominantly dictated by the genetic structure and its environment. For millions of years, the behavior of individual members of any species or its group behavior have not changed. The structures of ant colony or beehive today are exactly the same as it were 100 million years ago. The same is not true for human behavior and his society. We are constantly evolving.
Our history books are filled with innumerable characters with many distinctive behavioral patterns and loaded with revolutions, wars, norms, practices and different forms of society for which there is no deterministic connection to the DNA. The structure of the human brain is such that it has liberated the human behavior from its genetic master to a very great extent. Still, the environment and the genetic code sets the basic constraints and limit the potentialities. However within these constraints, man is allowed to shuffle his possibilities and demonstrate a wide range of individual behavioral patterns and social structures. The evidence suggests that humankind has not changed biologically in the last 30,000 years. A child born today probably has similar genetics and biologically coded behavioral patterns as the human born 30,000 years ago. Both can be successfully nurtured to become a farmer, a slave, an industrialist, an imperialist or a capitalist.
The environment and the laws of nature designs the play zone and its rules. The gene by constructing the structure of the brain and the body sets the next layer of limitations. For humans, the limits set by the genetic code on human mind and its imagination is very little. Our imagination can take us to the corner of the universe, float in the sky, dive into the sun, talk to the mountains and think about the structure of atoms. However the code has strict limitations on our physical abilities – cannot fly, live underwater or move at 100mph. The bifurcation point is the explosion of knowledge. The collective human knowledge has enabled us to unshackle the limits set by the environment and our physical body. We use the machines to manipulate the environment and augment our physical capabilities. Now we can walk on the moon, break the nucleus, sink into the deepest oceans and float in the vacuum of space.
The two greatest products of cultural evolution are integration of human societies by imagined realities or myths (religion, money, nation, corporation, human rights and constitution) and science. The myths have progressively integrated the behaviors of millions of people to cooperate for a common fabricated purpose. The science has delivered us the truth behind the nature. Both together have made humankind the most powerful species on earth. With advancement in the communication technology, we are able to spread our myths and knowledge and transform the world into one global society. The possibility of having multiple different cultures in the world at the same point in time is reduced due to the gradient reducing function of the communication technology.
What will the global human society crave for? Is there any directionality to the changes happening in the human society or is it all random? Is there a conflict between the urges and desires of the biological man and the technological advanced cultural man within each one of us?
Human mind and its craving
We naturally crave for greater heat and not for the greater good!
With our new found powers of knowledge and social integration, we have discovered hidden sources of energy. We are able to redirect the flow of energy and extract work in this process. We have built structures with functional capabilities that behave as extensions to our bodily organs allowing us to do things which our genetic code did not prepare us for.
We created the concept of money by assigning a value to a paper and mutually trusting it to exchange our goods and services. Money has given us the opportunity to create fictitious needs that could generate more work out of human time and body. To bring order and coherence to this work, we formed extremely complex social structures that connect the entire globe mostly based on imagined values of duties, rights, goals and purposes – Family structure, educational system, human employment, banking, politics, religion, government and its institutions. In the process, we enslaved a part of nature, eliminated vulnerable beings and domesticated humankind.
Fundamentally we are a lump of matter that should abide all laws of nature like any inanimate thing. The elements in our body will fall for gravity like any rock would do and it will move precisely according to the laws of motion. The laws of thermodynamics illustrates the natural behavior of heat and energy. If life is merely a process of energy transformation, then the flow of heat and energy in a living structure will obediently follow the thermodynamic principles. Are all the cravings of our mind – to do more, to explore, to burn, to advance, to progress, to get complex and to dissipate – merely a manifestation of the supreme law of nature. It is illogical to think that the urges and desires of the biological man is so complex and we had created all of these for the sole purpose of human advancement and preservation. It is more likely that man is just another obedient pupil of the all-powerful second law. Similar to the biological evolution of living beings, human’s cultural evolution marches in the direction of increasing complexity of societal structure that will facilitate the process of energy exploration and dissipation of physical gradients.
The modern techno-scientific man is probably caught in this web of evolving complexity of his society. Biological man inside each and every individual has not changed a bit in the last 50,000 years. It is likely that his primal needs and desires are still unchanged. The gap between the biological man and the cultural man is continuously widening at an unprecedented pace. This gap could be the reason for the ailments of the modern man – depression, anxiety, burnout and emptiness. We have reached a point where machines with artificial intelligence are needed to carry the baton of evolution as the ‘heat’ and the pace of change is too much for the biological man and his short life span. It is high time that we get the “modern man mutation” in our genes to cope with all the accumulated knowledge we extracted and the myths we created. Or else, the machines should take over the complexity and let the man be simple.
No single idea has been more important than, perhaps as important as, the idea of progress in Western civilization for nearly three thousand yearsRobert Nisbet
1. E. Schrodinger, What is life? Cambridge University Press, 1944.
2. J. Monod, Chance and necessity: An essay on the natural philosophy of modern biology, Knopf, New York, 1971.
3. E. Schneider and D. Sagan, Into the Cool: Energy flow, thermodynamics and life, University of Chicago Press, 2005.
4. Mae-Wan Ho, The Rainbow and the Worm: The Physics of organisms, World scientific, 2008.
5. I. Prigogine and I. Stengers, Order out of Chaos: Man’s new dialogue with nature, reprint edition, Verso, 2018
6. Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A brief history of humankind, Harper, 2014
7. L. Kovac, Bioenergetics: A key to brain and mind, Commun Integr Biol, 2008;1(1):114-22
8. L. Kovac, Information and Knowledge in Biology: Time for reappraisal, Plant Signal Behav, 2007 Mar-Apr; 2(2): 65-73