What a scientist fears the most

Shounen anime are not exactly the pinnacle of logic, but a question from one of the recent episodes I watched got me thinking:

    "Do you know what a scientist fears most?"

The series provided two answers to this question:

  1. To forget: "It is memory loss. We scientists place our lives at stake to transform our knowledge into various forms, which we then develop and allow to mature over time. It is our very soul, something that can never be traded away."
  2. To be forgotten: "You claimed that it was memory loss. I concur. I can't bear to fathom the possibility that my creations could be forgotten and buried in the abyss of time."

Obviously, these came out of two egocentric scientists. Nevertheless they do have a point if you reconsider their answers on a more humanitarian ground.

The possibility of losing our entire accumulated knowledge is terrifying. Imagine a grand-scale disaster which puts the destruction of the Library of Alexandria to shame. Just how many centuries would it take us to reach the same point we're in today? Could there be any greater loss?

Of course, there'd be no point in worrying about passing on our knowledge, if there were no one to pass it on to begin with. With our current understanding, we have no choice but to assume that we're alone. We don't have the luxury of underestimating the importance of our evolutionary success: our existence, and our intelligence. For all it's worth, we could simply be the most precious thing in the universe! Then again, wasn't that what we had dreamed of?

However, for a scientist, there are even more dreadful things to consider.

What if science is a Sisyphean task and scientists are working their way for a better understanding to no avail? Maybe "the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose".

Whenever the boundaries of science are in question, I'm always reminded of the "edge" of our universe. As the universe is not just expanding but expanding at an increasing rate, the space between clusters of galaxies continuously grow, and the particle horizon covers less and less due to the fact that nothing can move faster than the speed of light. If we were to point our telescopes to the sky after a certain time in future, all we could observe would be nothing but our good old Milky Way. Who knows, on a different case, maybe it's already too late.

What if magic and miracles exist? We already have more than enough unpredictability on our hands, thanks to quantum mechanics. Imagine what it'd be like in a world with people casting spells. Imagine deities granting our wishes through inexplicable means. A world shrouded in mystery... It may be a rousing fantasy for you, but I'm pretty sure scientists wouldn't find a world where the laws of physics are broken every day, to their liking.

Speaking of the divine, what if there are beings, however advanced they may be, that are outside our physical domain and unbound by the laws governing our universe? That could indeed be the case if the multiverse hypothesis is correct and our verse is just a bubble among others. It may very well be outright impossible for us to discover each other, let us communicate.

What if one of these assumptions is true? What if all of them are true? Wouldn't that eventually cap our ability to learn, rendering science obsolete? That, I think, is what a scientist would fear the most.


There are 4 comment(s) for this entry.

  1. darius long
    May 16, 2012 10:39

    this is amazing, i complete agree, and i know where you got it from lol.

  2. lalala
    May 17, 2012 14:27

    What the heck. Magic and miracles happening in our world throwing everyone off guard is often a setting in my daydreams. How mysterious~

  3. Mancarci
    January 10, 2013 23:02

    Why would magic be any different from science if it existed? It would be part of the physical system, open to be examined, it would have rules governing it and I do not think shooting flame balls would be more mysterious than gravity.

  4. erengy
    January 11, 2013 00:04

    That's a valid point of view; indeed, there could be different systems with different "rules" in action. However, what I meant by "magic" is the ability to bend those rules by utilizing a supernatural side of our existence, which is by definition above the laws of nature and therefore could not be subject to scientific investigation.

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