If you've never read the novel Contact
by Carl Sagan I strongly recommend it.
No, not the movie. The movie is indeed based on this novel, but they left out an extremely important element from the novel.
Spoilers ahead. You have been warned.
In the novel, when Ellie is with the aliens at the end and is talking with them, they tell her that they have discovered evidence of a Creator of the universe. They did it by calculating the value of pi out to a HUGE number of digits and found, buried in that number, a series of digits that couldn't possibly be naturally occurring. (They explain this better in the novel than I can here.) They therefore had concluded that the universe was created by a supreme being, because the Creator's signature was literally worked into the very fabric of the universe.
Now, I don't think Carl Sagan wrote this to express his personal belief in a Creator. (I think he was agnostic.) I think he did it to show what sort of evidence he would need in order to believe.
That said, I do want to point something out. In the novel, it was about a super-advanced alien race that believed in a Creator because they were able to prove it mathematically. That's all well and good, but it completely defeats the purpose of Faith. If I can empirically prove to you that God exists, then you don't need Faith. In fact, you'd be left with no logical choice but to accept the existence of God. I won't get into why I think that's a bad thing here, but I would challenge each of you guys to ponder that question for yourself.
I have seen the movie, but wasn't able to get through the novel (too dry for me!) But I do enjoy the movie as well, because I think ti does a good job of capturing the feeling of a spiritual experience. Something that happens to you and you know is true to the very core of your being... but you can't really explain it, and you certainly can't prove it. And yes, Sagan was an atheist. So it's interesting that both
of these aspects come from his writings!
The problem is we're dealing with concept out of our scope of life. We're used to Newtonian physics, but when you get really big or really small, suddenly things no longer make sense. The faster you go, time slows down? Doesn't make sense, but that's what the Math says and further research supports it. What about quantum physics? Talk about hard to conceptualize. But, that's what the math says and so does our research.
It's not that this isn't logical, it's pure logic. It's math. It's just not something our brains are used to conceiving.
We'll get to my thoughts about math in a moment. But do you think that this could be evidence that we, as human beings are not entirely logical in the first place? That we rely on more than logic and reason to make sense of our surroundings?
Can you even imagine what "nothing" is?
I can. It's what remains on my plate after I'm all done eating my cognitive dissonance burger. It's a very sad sight, indeed.
But this is where the math, the purest form of logic, leads us. If you still think this is all hogwash people made up, I invite you to dive into the subject. It's one of the most interesting things you can get into.
I've considered math, especially when learning about ancient Greece and the Pythagoreans. It made me wonder about the true nature of math.
Let me present you with a scenario - show me a two. I don't mean the symbolic representation of a two (which in Arabic numbers, is 2. In Roman numerals, it's II. I could go on, but I'm not sure how many will be correctly interpreted by various Web browsers.
). I don't mean two of something. I mean an actual, physical two. One I can hold in my hands and manipulate, look at under a microscope, dissect and reassemble, and draw pictures of and hang on my refrigerator.
I'm willing to bet that you can't do it. So far, no one I've talked to has been able to do this. We can certainly look up the definition, we can draw its symbolic representation, we can identify it as a noun... but have any of us actually snuggled with a two? If it has no actual physical form, how can we prove that two even exists?
What I'm getting at is that mathematics is an extremely abstract concept. It's a way that, for centuries, people have used these numbers to define the universe in a way that makes sense to them. And, as you're willing to point out, at some higher level the math begins to falter. The numbers tell us one thing... but our minds and sense of reason tell us that it can't possibly be that way.
So what do we do? We take a leap of faith
that the numbers don't lie. We believe
that the math is correct, despite what our gut instinct tells us.
In one respect, the Pythagoreans were all about numbers - they believed that the universe was basically run by and could be explained by mathematics and music. In a sense, it was a sort of cult that worshipped mathematics, logic and reason. Yes, I went there - math often takes just as much faith as other forms of established religions
I've sometimes wondered about what it would be like to have humanity contact a group of aliens who didn't operate off a base-10 system (based around the concept of our base-10 being an evolutionary trait tied to the fact that we have 10 fingers. These other aliens would have greater or fewer digits, so there would be some form of conversion necessary before the sciences started to make sense to each other). Or, alternatively, a society where numbers don't even exist at all (I'm still trying to conceptualize how this society would function - I'm wondering if they developed concepts based around geometry rather than algebra. Perhaps, in their society, pi actually equals 1, and all the rest of their numbers hinges on that fact. This one would be much harder to write about). But that's more of a side note.
I'm certainly not saying that we should completely dismiss mathematics as a religious cult that should be ignored (much as my math grades would like to attest to that...
). But rather we should acknowledge that mathematics is a man-made construct, designed for us to try and understand the universe where we've found ourselves. And like most man-made tools, it may fail when we implement it in an incorrect fashion.
I know this is getting deep into philosophy - a good portion of which does consist of "what if...?" scenarios. Blame it on Douglas Adams - his statement that 6x9=42 started me on the thinking that, what if, the math that we've known and used for so long... is wrong? And very few of us realize it? So it's kind of an examination of belief systems in general. Kind of. I think my train of thought is unloading at this point, so I'd better stop before my ramblings dissolve into complete nonsensical psychobabble.