Monday, July 11, 2005

Disenchantment

Back when I was writing for the Globe, a reader wrote: "To laymen, science often seems to take away mystery and make them feel a little stupid at the same time. It seems to me that there is a growing suspicion that while science might be useful it is also spiritually destructive. A lot of people want to feel that there are things out there that can't be explained. Maybe we all feel that way to some extent."

Yes, I suppose we all do feel that way to some extent. The human mind loves a mystery, loves a world possessed by spirits. And science does have a way of disenchanting. The ancient gods have been tossed from their Olympian thrones. The spirits of trees and brooks sent packing. Like a heartless landlord who cares more about profit than compassion, science has evicted the fairies from their hills.

But is science spiritually destructive, as my correspondent suggested? At its best, science is a manifestation of curiosity, intelligence and imagination -- that is, the best of the human spirit.

As for wanting to feel that there are things out there that can't be explained: Not to worry. The human brain is finite, a few hundred billion nerve cells. The universe is possibly infinite. It will continue to surprise us for a long, long time -- possibly forever.