Deeply moving mysteries

I was feeling extremely unmotivated this weekend past, so I burned a lot of time watching anime. My favourite was a beautiful single-season show called “Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko” (電波女と青春 男) which translates into the slightly odd “Radio wave girl and young (youthful) man”. Wikipedia tells me that this phrase “denpa” (radio wave) is also used to describe alien conspiracy type people as well, i.e. with similar associations as “tin foil hat” in English.

In some ways it is a relatively standard sort of teen romance comedy/drama (although it turns out I am a sucker for those anyway), but since the main female protagonist is a spaced-out blue haired girl who vanished for six months before she was found floating in the ocean –and then started claiming she was an alien and running about the city wrapped in her futon– it has some non-standard qualities. It asks a bunch of my favourite philosophical questions along the way too: What is it rational to believe? Is it morally right to break other peoples beliefs in things you think are crazy? What would make you change your beliefs about something you previously thought impossible? This sort of thing. If you like anime I can certainly recommend this one.

Erio wrapped in her futon

Erio wrapped in her futon

Anyway, this got me thinking about mysteries of various sorts. Science is sometimes unfairly accused of taking the mystery and wonder out of life, and while I emphasise the “unfairly” I do admit that there is a certain amount of heartwarming and uplifting childish wonder that knowledge inevitably destroys. When we are children our sense of wonder is of a deeply emotional origin, and in a world illuminated by the light of knowledge some of this is lost, and is generally replaced by a more academic kind of wonder. If you can retain that sense of child-like wonder about the things in the universe that really are mysterious then you are most fortunate, and wise, since these things deserve your wonder no less than the wild imaginings that your child-mind created. I admit this can be hard in the face of the many harsh and soul-crushing aspects of reality, and I struggle with it myself.

I think part of the struggle is with what we do and do not think is probable, not so much what is possible. For example you would not be crazy to believe in the existence of other universes, there are various quite convincing arguments that such things may exist –and if we one day discover that they do that will surely be as heart-rendingly severe and wonderous a discovery as science has ever made– but deep down I don’t really think it is probable. I have no real reason for this, and I would probably intellectually calculate that it is more probable than I emotionally feel, but, since wonder comes from the heart, my wonder at this possibility is not very strong. Likewise, while we could be living in the matrix and it would be truly incredible if we were, deep down I rate the probability of this too low for the possibility to increase my heart rate.

There is one mystery that does still resonate with my soul. And of course it is part of why I liked Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko: extraterrestrial life. This is much closer to home than other universes, and much more probable in my opinion. The universe is so staggeringly large, and the Sun and Earth so un-special seeming, that there must be other life out there somewhere; and though I don’t know what kind of number I would put on the probability, the fact that I would be heartbroken if we somehow learned there really was nothing out there tells me that deep in my belief structure that number is not tiny.

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2 thoughts on “Deeply moving mysteries

  1. I think it’s a little like a subconscious Occam’s Razor thing. Once we accept that we just happened by chance and that there are unfathomably many planets out there, it’s easier to imagine alien life. But to believe there might be a multiverse requires somewhat more faith in my opinion; the standard universe picture seems simpler.

    Also, Drake equation 🙂

    • Sure, I think that’s more or less what I said :p. Subconsciously I rate the multiverse as not-so-probable. I can’t quite say at what level I think the simplicity argument affects me though. At a fundamental theory level I don’t know if a single universe is really “simpler” than many, given the outstanding problems we have yet to solve in the single universe case.

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