During my last year as an undergraduate student, I was invited by my adviser to join his research team. At the time, Reagan was our president. While he was busy expanding our defense industry, he also knew that he was fighting our last battle with the evil empire.
So he initiated the so-called "dual use" program (later greatly enhanced by his successors) which basically tied justification for all future peacetime defense spending with potential commercial applications. This subtle shift had the unintended consequence of completely changing the funding dynamics of academia research.
My professor was a practical man. Until then, he was perfectly happy solving mathematical problems. All he had to do, once a year, was to convince his long time program manager inside the Department of Energy that his efforts in understanding wave propagation in layered elastic media were beneficial in improving the design of underground bunkers to survive nuclear attacks.
With the end of the cold war in sight, he knew he had to think different. So he decided to bring in some elements of experimental investigations into his team. And I was the right indentured servant, at the right place at the right time.
When I was hired, I was given a clear job description. I was to set up the necessary experimental apparatus to provide real world data to back up theoretical work being done by my professor's more senior students. I was excited. But little did I know that I was also the scourge sucking the fun out of an otherwise joyous Christmas party.
I was working long hours trying to capture experimental data and comparing them with calculations. Since they didn't match, I found myself talking to the senior students about the assumptions behind their work and how I could improve on my end in order to get a better match. I was like the dentist, constantly pulling teeth and inflicting pain.
Finally I had a conservation with a reluctant Ph.D. student who was about to graduate and he said to me that there was really no reason why our two sets of data had to match. If they did, it would be great. But if they didn't, it didn't necessarily mean that either one of us was doing anything wrong. It just meant that we hadn't found commonality between the two different worlds that we were each exploring.
In other words, if his theory did not match any of my experiments, it did not mean that he was wrong. It just meant that he had spent the last five years of his life inventing a more perfect world, one that I had yet able to reproduce in my dark corner of the lab.
That hit me like a ton of bricks. It was impressive logic, one that I didn't completely understand until I became a graduate student myself.
It turns out the study of physics is not the same as the study of a physical world. It is in fact the study of a mathematical world that is our best approximation. So the study of physics is merely the pretext for the study of mathematics.
In studying any mathematical world, it is as much about the formulation of the problem as the pursue of the solution. The body of knowledge that separates the learned from the unlearned is in the mathematical rigor necessary to formulate the problem in such a way that not only a solution would exist, but that if it exists, it would be unique.
Without such assurance of existence and uniqueness, it would be a dark and unpredictable journey.
However, if a solution is indeed unique, then once it is found, there would be no need for affirmation and no room for improvement, because a unique solution is also absolute.
Therefore, uniqueness is both a relief and a hinder, being the seed for enlightenment but possibly the root for intolerance.
No wonder my fellow classmates were upset at me. They were happy with the purity of their pursue. They didn't understand why I was mucking it up by insisting that their world had to jive with mine. As long as they were pursuing a solution that was guaranteed to be unique, I was just being a pest.
I envy their bliss.
In studying modern history, it amazes me that so much conflicts and aggression were caused by religion, especially western religion.
But interestingly, no Protestants, Catholics, Muslims or Jews ever disagree on the existence and uniqueness of God. When they do disagree, they mostly disagree on the divinity of one charismatic medicine man who was brutally persecuted by an occupying army nearly two thousand years ago.
On the other hand, the eastern religion, whether it is Hinduism or Buddhism, also accept that there is a God, but they accept that there could be more than one.
So essentially everyone agree on the existence of God, just not its uniqueness.
That's enough. Millions of people had been killed over the centuries for much less and lots more will.
I believe God is all understanding and all merciful. But I wonder if God might prefer not to be so unique, or at least not to be so absolute.
For sure there would be a lot less human sufferings if she isn't.
I apologize in advance for being such a pest (again).
Have a wonderful Sunday, everyone.