On Weinberg’s Comment about the Universe


I tend to agree with Weinberg’s (in)famous statement:
“The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it seems pointless,” with or without his later qualifications.
The simple fact remains that the more we come to know about the workings of the physical universe, using the scientific methodology, the more pointless (accidental its emergence and non-teleological its laws) appears to be.
This may be sad or unpleasant to many people.
But as I see it, this need not be.
For one thing, we can surely rejoice in and celebrate the universe that science reveals.
Secondly, it is important to realize that we grasp the universe on two different planes: the intellectual (logical/rational), and the experiential (poetic, artistic, emotional, religious …).

Each gives its own version of the world. Each can be enriching in itself without necessarily complementing or confirming the other.
Thus, for example, when we consume food, we may analyze it in chemical terms and discover that all it contains are molecules of various compositions and properties. This understanding need not deter us from enjoying the taste of the food or the happy company of friends and others with whom we may be enjoying the food.
The same may be said of music, the sunset, love or whatever.
Like it or not, this is what it means to be human: the ability and the inclination to be reason-propelled as well as feelings-driven in our interactions with the world.
It is when we claim that one mode of apprehension reveals a greater than the other that conflicts and confrontations arise of the sort that can never be resolved.
So, yes, the more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it does seem to be pointless, just as the more we contemplate on the universe as a magnificent creation, the more beautiful and glorious it seems to be, as if that was the ultimate purpose of it all.
The more I analyze The Magic Flute or The Tempest in cosmic terms the more pointless they seem, and it is no disrespect to Mozart or Shakespeare when I say this. But the more I watch or read them, the more delightful and meaningful they become.
The more I analyze Vedic hymns, the more pointless they seem to be. But the more I listen to them chanted or chant them myself, the more elevated and ecstatic I feel on the spiritual plane. I cannot in good conscience say that the results derived from one mode are better than the experiences derived from the other.

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About Varadaraja V. Raman

Physicist, philosopher, explorer of ideas, bridge-builder, devotee of Modern Science and Enlightenment, respecter of whatever is good and noble in religious traditions as well as in secular humanism,versifier and humorist, public speaker, dreamer of inter-cultural,international,inter-religious peace.
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