By Tamlyn M. Shaw MSc
One of the most misunderstood words that science offers to the world is the word ‘Theory’. People hear this word and they immediately think it’s something that hasn’t been proven and is just mere speculation. However, for scientists to actually use the term it usually means that although it has yet to be proven, it is the result of intense analysis of the available facts. The most famous example is the ‘theory’ of evolution. This is called a theory as it is the best possible explanation we currently have for interpreting the facts. It is based on fossil records, that if all laid out on the ground can tell an amazing and immediately obvious story. The reason it is still called a theory is that there may still be pieces of the puzzle missing that could change our interpretation. This is how science works, we revised our understandings when new evidence challenges our beliefs. It is a beautiful system that is part of the reason I love science so much; it is flexible. When we read these clues left for us in the earth, they suggest that there has been a gradual progression from single celled organisms such as bacteria, all the way to multicellular organisms such as ourselves. Carbon dating is an invaluable tool that scientists use to determine how old each fossil is based on the rate of decay of the Carbon atoms that make up all life. In this manner, a timeline can be produced and with time there is a definite and irrefutable increase in complexity of life on this planet. Despite this, there are people who refuse to ‘believe’ in evolution as if it is the same as believing in horoscopes. This is mainly due to it clashing with their existing belief structures in their brains and this challenge is simply too much for them to bear. It threatens their pre-existing beliefs to the point that they have to either accept that everything they know is wrong or outright reject this new information.
Another of my favorite theories that I learned in my undergraduate year studying Human Life Sciences, was about how our cells acquired the ability to convert food into energy. In the very beginning there were only single celled organisms (bacteria) floating around in the early biological soup. These single celled beings were either capturing the energy of the sun, via photosynthesis, to convert carbon dioxide in their environment into energy or they were using glucose and oxygen to make this energy. This was all performed on their outer membranes and they could therefore directly interact with their environment. An interesting observation only made this century observed that the organelles within our human cells and other animals and plants, are in fact identical to these early bacteria. In plants the bacteria that used to photosynthesize, are used by plant cells to capture light energy and make food and are called chloroplasts. In our cells the bacteria that used oxygen and glucose to make energy are our mitochondria and are the power stations of cells. The theory goes that back in the day our early cells engulfed these bacteria and made a deal. In return for their abilities to make energy, these bacteria would be given the safety of living in a multicellular organism and could remain fixed and receive all the nutrients they required. This is still a theory but when you look at the facts it seems like the only conclusion to be drawn.
Some people feel that science will never be able to explain the mysteries of the universe such as people’s subjective experience of God and spirituality. Some of the biggest questions humans have pondered for centuries are “what am I?”, “Why am I here?” and “Where did I come from?” As science has so far failed to provide answers to these questions it requires a certain amount of theorizing and speculation. However as we discussed, this can be done using the facts to connect the dots and remaining very aware that they could be arranged in a multitude of manners. But with each new puzzle piece, we get closer to the real picture.
I feel that science is a valuable tool in this process but that fundamental changes need to take place in the interpretation of its findings, as well as the direction of its focus. In order to clear up the fog caused by religion and mythology in the past, science decided to only focus on what could be measured externally and tried to be objective in its approach. This meant that scientists tried as much as they could to remove themselves from the equation and only record that which could be measured and quantified. However, with advances in quantum physics, it is becoming apparent that this is an impossible task, as the mere act of observation has the ability to change the outcomes of an event. This is why placebos work so well, the beliefs of individuals have a profound power over events. A key finding from quantum physics has been that when a subatomic particle is observed, changes are measured as compared to when it is not observed. Many other theories that are emerging are showing us that this world is not at all as solid or real as it seems. So it seems to be that science needs to open its mind and re-analyze what we currently know and realize that the mysteries of this world are not out of reach for understanding if only we change our approach.
These are exciting times where we are starting to find science and spirituality come together. Recent studies have shown that meditation has profound influences on the brain and that the heart emits its own electromagnetic field. Who knows maybe one day we will find evidence for the soul and proof that telepathy and clairvoyance are real phenomena…All I know is that science and spirituality are not so distant as most people think.
About the author:
I am a Cape Town, South Africa local, 26 years old. I have always been passionate about understanding life and what it is all about. I love the outdoors, meeting people and psytrance. I am a PhD student in Medical Biochemistry at UCT at the moment and have embarked on my spiritual journey for the last 3 years or so. I discovered meditation, breathing and yoga, as well as learning about chakras and the influence of my energy field on others. As a scientist I am always sceptical at first but the connection I have found to the source of love is undeniable and has been a life changing journey. I am dedicated to spreading knowledge about how science can help us understand the world around us and help with answering some of the harder questions in life. I also believe in the power of love to change the world and that we need a new world view.