I have just emerged from a time-warp! Well, hello! Are you still here or also still emerging?
Well, my post is not about time warps or whatever happened in 2019-2022 (maybe I will reserve that for the next one). Today I would like to share some of my thoughts on physic’s “laws” and how that ties in with my faith.
Growing up, I never really liked mathematics. Mathematics seemed more of an exercise in memorisation of made-up rules. Since my memory for the addition and multiplication tables was, we’ll call it “challenged”, I did not enjoy maths until it became much more abstract. Why memorise it if I can just work it out from scratch every time right?
The next paragraph will seem unrelated, but I promise it does all come together in the end.
Computer coding is a fundamental part of my work. I (like most astronomers I know) spend a significant fraction of my research time coding to create bespoke analysis or visualisation tools that do not yet exist in order to interpret the meaning of the photons that hit our telescope detectors. Coding is a language. Once I action the instructions written in a coding script or on a command line prompt, the computer faithfully goes ahead and executes it. Of course if there is a bug, it also goes ahead and blindly executes that… I “speak” many computer languages (mainly R, python, fortran, linux), but ultimately all are translated into binary, a more fundamental language that all computers are based upon.
Similarly, it appears that, with mathematics, we have tapped into or are able to interpret some higher level language that the Universe seems to be “written” into.
Mathematics is the language in which God has written the universe. — Galileo Galilei
This is something we all take for granted, but why should this even be the case? Seriously, many decades later, my mind is still blown that mathematics can be used to understand the Universe!
The only incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible. — Albert Einstein
Without the expectation of order and repeatability, there would be no point in doing science. Through repeatable observations, basic mathematical axioms (taken to be self-evident) and adding increasing levels of complexities, physicists are able to make solid predictions about the future fate of our Universe.
By now I hope it is pretty clear that I am far from a literal reader of the Bible. I firmly believe it is important that one reads the Bible or any historical text with the author’s and audience’s historical and literary context in mind. With this caveat in mind, I find it interesting that in Genesis 1, God “speaks” creation into existence: “God Said[…]” is repeated 9 times. The idea is echoed elsewhere in the Bible also.
My computer is a far cry from the Universe, but I find the parallels between God speaking commands to creation and me speaking coding to my computer compelling. The laws of nature are like instructions “written” in a language that can somehow be interpreted by mathematics even though humans actually invented maths! The Universe obeys these instructions, which may be written in some more fundamental language than mathematics (like the binary in my computer) and we can study their effects, derive the relevant constants and translate fundamental principles into mathematics to comprehend the Universe.
This brings me to also ponder the state of our understanding of the Universe. We are kind of stuck… physics as we currently understand it breaks down where the quantum (very small) and gravity (very massive) forces compete such as in a black hole or at the time of the Big Bang. This has led many to pour much effort into finding a “theory of everything”, including the famous late Stephen Hawking, whom I have mentioned before.
I wonder if we just need new maths? Might we perhaps be able to tap into the binary code of our Universe someday?
01010100 01101000 01100001 01110100 00100111 01110011 00100000 01100001 01101100 01101100 00100000 01100110 01101111 01101100 01101011 01110011 00100001