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“A university student attending lectures on general relativity in the morning, and on quantum mechanics in the afternoon, might be forgiven for concluding that his professors are fools, or that they haven’t talked to each other for at least a century.” Physicist Carlo Rovelli wrote that in his recent book, Reality is not what it seems. “In the morning, the world is a curved space-time where everything is continuous; in the afternoon, the world is a flat one where discrete quanta of energy leap and interact” [emphasis in original]. Einstein’s physics and quantum mechanics perceive the same reality differently. Yet both hold good in scientific models. Both are true though they are contradictory to each other!

“With every experiment and every test,” Rovelli goes on, “nature continues to say ‘you are right’ to general relativity, and continues to say ‘you are right’ to quantum mechanics as well, despite the seemingly opposite assumptions on which the two theories are founded. It is clear that something still eludes us.”

Science accepts its limits and limitations. Science also knows that there aren’t too many ultimate truths. Truth has to be discovered at each turn on the way. And truth can be bizarre sometimes. A thing can be a particle and a wave at the same time! Yes, science does tell us that. You need to know a bit of quantum mechanics to understand that.

The most knowledgeable scientist knows that his knowledge is not ultimate. A lot of things remain elusive, beyond the understanding of science. “This acute awareness of our ignorance is the heart of scientific thinking,” Rovelli says. Science is a perpetual quest, an endless search for truth. Einstein can disprove Newton, Heisenberg can disprove Einstein, and the process goes on. Truths are not fixed and sacrosanct in science. Science is open to any given reality, open to understand reality in new ways, open to accept new aspects.

That openness is the basic quality of any seeker of truth. “To learn something,” in the words of Rovelli again, “it is necessary to have the courage to accept that what we think we know, including our most rooted convictions, may be wrong, or at least naïve: shadows on the walls of Plato’s cave.”

There is a fundamental humility in the way science works. Science does not trust anything with the blind hubris that often accompanies religions. Even the greatest of all scientific geniuses can be disproved at any time. The accumulated wisdom of our fathers and grandfathers is not so sacred that they cannot be questioned. “We learn nothing if we think that we already know the essentials, if we assume that they were written in a book or known by the elders of the tribe.” That’s Rovelli again. The scientist asserts boldly that faith in given truths kept people ignorant for centuries. Religious faith, for example, prevented people from learning new truths, from advancing on the way of knowledge.

Science is a quest for truth, a perpetual quest. But it is not only science that can discover truths. The scientific approach is one way of discovering and understanding truths. We can understand truths in other ways too. The Romantic poets of the early 19th century believed that imagination was the best means for understanding truths. Imagination and intuition can help us discover truths. The Christ and the Buddha and the Mahatma did not use scientific methods to arrive at their truths, and their truths were as profound as, if not more so than, the ones given by quantum mechanics.

The quest has to be sustained. That is what matters. We should keep our hearts and minds open to new truths instead of clinging rigidly to a few pet ones. No one who is open to new truths can be a killer for gods. Every crusader, every militant bhakt, every jihadist, has a heart and a mind that died long ago clinging to pet truths like barnacles clinging to rocks.

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Previous post in this series: Paradigm Shift

Tomorrow: Rebel


  1. Sadly the fair name of science has also been sullied in recent times when the "quest for truth" is replaced by the need for funding which is provided by rich corporates meaning your "truth" may have to be tweaked to serve business interests...

    1. Yes, this is catastrophic. Science should not be misused this way. But our politicians are diabolic creatures.

  2. The scientific approach can be applied anywhere, so true. Enquiry, imagination, intution and rational thought are not exclusive of each other.

    1. They aren't exclusive of each other. On the contrary, they work together. Einstein didn't arrive at his conclusion using reason alone. His imagination and intuition were equally strong.

  3. Yes the quest needs to be maintained unadulterated
    Here from atoz

  4. Quest for truth is exemplary for sure. And that's why any genuine truth-seeker should be appreciated and stood by. I am in complete agreement with your thoughts spelled out herein and fully endorse that openness is the basic quality of any seeker of truth. Quest for truth can never be the cup of tea for those who keep the doors and windows of their minds shut.

  5. Wow! Like 'barnacles clinging to rocks' fits perfectly.

    Coincidentally, I read this yesterday on another Q post: "We can read these texts and find in them the 'confirmation bias' that affirms what we know so far... or we can read these texts with the question, what further can be added to my knowledge?" on...

    The openness you mention (as the quality of any seeker of truth) is the vital ingredient for any growth. The absence of this quality always heralds the beginning of the end--history is proof.

    1. Thanks for adding to the post. I'll read the post mentioned too.

  6. The interlinking between science, religion, imagination and most importantly highlighting scientific approach to seek truth has been wonderfully portrayed. Sad , that in current times there is a keen interest to seek favoritism than truth! Dissent is being questioned itself.

  7. In an ideal world yes this holds:

    "We should keep our hearts and minds open to new truths instead of clinging rigidly to a few pet ones."

    But unfortunately right now the world is such that even science has become more and more engineered like religion. We are not sure anymore what the truth it new or old.


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