An Uncertain World
One fascinating result of the Olympics is the creation of certainty. World’s fastest man? Hah! Big surprise. It’s Lamont Jacobs, an unknown from Italy. No one was more taken aback or lost for words than Jacobs—his dream was just to make the finals. Maybe it’s peaking at the right moment, but for this moment he is the fastest man on earth. In an uncertain world, a bit of certainty.
That’s what fascinates about our world—we want definite answers but little is certain. Consider the most basic questions: what came before our birth or, looking ahead, what comes after this life? Mortality has these book ends of birth and death—the answers to our biggest questions lies just beyond our grasp. Who hasn’t stared into the heavens on a starry night and wondered? Religion traditionally speaks to the meaning of life, but science increasingly has something to add.
Consider the recent death of physics Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg. He wrote a best-seller, The First Three Minutes, an account of how science by degrees developed its own account for the Creation, beginning 14 billion years ago with the Big Bang. Weinberg, a vocal atheist, closes with this comment, “The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.”
A pointless universe devoid of purpose or meaning? Weinberg’s comment drew a lot of comment. When later questioned, Weinberg conceded that physicists weren’t qualified to prove or disprove the meaning of life, but maintained that he hadn’t found a basis for meaning in his studies. It remains a stand-off between religion and science, this question of the meaning of life.
Steve Shapin is a scientist turned historian. He helped create a new field, the “sociology of science.” His books present science as a human endeavor, based on social assumptions and subject to human frailties. Shapin’s concern is with the authority of science, noting that its influence for good rests on public faith. There’s uncertainty in science: each breakthrough revises what was taught the day before and creates new questions. It really is an uncertain world.
Steve Jobs, as recorded by Walter Isaacson in his book Steve Jobs, spoke of meaning as the end of his life drew near. “I’m about fifty-fifty on believing in God,” Jobs acknowledged. “For most of my life I’ve felt that there must be more to our existence than meets the eye. … It’s strange to think that you accumulate all this experience, and maybe a little wisdom, and it just goes away.” Strange indeed.
One thing is certain: Like Weinberg and Jobs, each of us will one day pass on. We’ll stick around as long as we can, helped by medical science, but our time will come. Won’t that passing be the most interesting, educational moment of our lives? In a flash, we’ll have the answer to the ancient question of what’s next. For now, we walk by faith, guided by our beliefs, seeking purpose in an uncertain world. There’s meaning in that.
Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of Loving Laguna: A Local’s guide to Laguna Beach. Email: [email protected]View Our User Comment Policy