Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Endorphin Rush of Scientific Discovery

Photo: Hubble "Deep", a glimpse into a vast "nothingness" as granted by modern technology.
Scientists such as those engaged in cosmology and quantum mechanics, representing respectively the infinitely large and infinitely small, delight in searching for the seemingly impossible. It is this journey, this intense struggle to further mankind's knowledge of the vast, impenetrable universe that releases a glanular derived pleasure to the brain and thus a warm feeling of satisfaction with each hint of perceived enlightenment. This feeling can become very pronounced with what might be termed a "Eureka"moment within the study of science which has been beautifully described by Charles P. Snow in The Search, a novel about scientists at work wherein he tells of "an experience of being at one with God and part of the unity of all things" as quoted and further developed in The Search for Solutions by Horace F. Judson.
eureka moment
The endorphin release aspect of this phenomenon is postulated herein and obliquely advanced as a primary motivator in the continuing evolution of human Cognitive skills regardless of any specialized field of study whether real or imaginary. In this we say that it is chiefly the amount of effort put forth in any mental endeavor that really counts and not any actual scientific progress when it comes to the brain's rewarding itself for a job well done. The immediate reward is the pleasurable feeling to an individual mind as opposed to a later sense of self-satisfaction upon reflection of making any actual advancement in mankind's knowledge of the universe. Let's call it a "runner's high" as applicable to the brain (Endorphin). Let's also call it addictive.
Astrophysicists are always wrong, but never in doubt. ... RP Kirshner[23]
In that vein of thought, Robert P. Kirshner writes:

As Hubble said in The Realm of the Nebulae, “We measure shadows, and we search among ghostly errors of measurement for landmarks that are scarcely more substantial. The search will continue” (44). Hubble's article had velocities from Trumpler without citation, distances wrong by a factor of seven, reference to de Sitter's strange kinematic model, and was not enough to convince Hubble himself of the reality of cosmic expansion, but that article in PNAS pointed the way to understanding the history of the universe, and the continuing search among the “ghostly errors of measurement” has led to a deeply surprising synthesis of dark matter and dark energy.
(end of citation)
“What actually happens is that once scientists get hold of a good concept they gradually refine and extend it with greater and greater subtlety as their instruments of measurement improve. Theories are not so much wrong as incomplete.” - Isaac Asimov http://chem.tufts.edu/AnswersInScience/RelativityofWrong.htm
Cosmology's understanding of such mysteriously strange things as the "synthesis" of dark matter and dark energy will (in my own opinion) quickly improve as as scientists make progress in their efforts to reconcile quantum theory with the theory of relativity, and of course the converse may be equally true. Some answers to these questions may already be available to some extent utilizing such branches of study as the Many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics , which has perhaps elevated a lot of previous mere speculation to the status of being in serious consideration as these mathematics seem (at least to us laymen) to be able to find some apparent mathematical proof of viability to almost anything the human brain can conceive of and even more that we cannot.
"Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine." - Sir Arthur Eddington
Are we as laymen capable of getting so excited at the prospect of all this vast gathering of scientific knowledge we hear about? You may have gathered by now that these two particular aspects of scientific inquiry as well as science in general is definitely a huge "brain strain game" being played for the most part by some of the best and brightest "demigod like" minds that mankind has to offer. It may be a bit enlightening, however, to find out that it is actually easier for the rest of us "mere mortals" to reach "eureka levels" of endorphin or endorphin-like releases because laymen have even more unexplored, strange and branching paths of knowledge available to seek whether into the realms of actual science, science fiction, or even in the study, contemplation and meditation of various strong yet (necessarily to this purpose) unprovable beliefs . Scientists are on the other hand constrained by their own Rules of engagement.
When existing laws of science can actually be broken or even seriously bent, this could lead to a new paradigm. Such a fundimental change in our ways of thinking might be be found in physics which are currently considered Dissonant. In such an event we shall doubtless continue our journey into the ever-growing unknown darkness along even more lines of inquiry. "String Theory originally came about as a way to reconcile the mathematically dissonant theories of general relativity (which explains things like movements of planets) and quantum mechanics (which deals with the activity of tiny particles). " http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/201349/the_elegant_universe_pbs_delivers_a.html
Searching along such lessor traveled pathways in the attempt to explain the unexplainable nevertheless has the the attention of both well qualified believers as well as equally qualified non-believers, those who must forever be looking over their shoulders just in case they might actually miss something notable. Various viewpoints may thus take altogether different, seemingly evermore uphill paths which as yet attempt to remain in keeping within the structured parameters of Pure science. Humanity and the history thereof being what it is, however, some researchers bearing strongly biased opinions strive (even if subconsciously) to remain within their own closely defined parameters, possibly keeping in lockstep with a specific belief or system thereof as they seek to navigate between their predefined starting point and/or an already determined ultimate goal.
While all human thought is subject to Bias of some sort, there are different schools of thought as to whether any particular bias would actually represent either an advantage or a hinderance to the study of anything that is in any event essentially unprovable or undeterminable at least as to any final analysis (refer back to Asimov's quote given earlier). Special difficulty comes about when scientists actually constrain their thought processes while still trying to fit scientific observations into an existing Dogma. This situation may be almost as common in purely scientific circles as well as religious ones. That said, there does exist some well respected and fruitful mathematics which rely on such principles as trying to work backwards from a predetermined answer towards an undefined question. Still there's the "E" rush to consider.
One actual advantage to having many different dogmatic persuasions, at least in my opinion, is that a greater pool of knowledge seekers cover more avenues and are available and for the most part eager to explain to us laymen passersby the various "possibilities of impossibilities". Some serious friction between the various qualified parties is inevitable. More competing ideas in activity also equates to more available "brain strain" if one actually elects to examine numerous paths rather than following only a few through some narrow constraints of bias/dogma.
There is a unique kind of pleasure that can be derived from reading through a certain kind of well written religious bias which is often well hidden as in the following scientific opinion. A known bias in science doesn't necessarily make it any less interesting or more unreasonable to contemplate as some competing experts might think:
"The Special Theory of Relativity apparently robs time of its independence, relegating it as an integral part of a four-dimensional space-time continuum. Putting it most simply: Newton's time is absolute, whereas Einstein's SRT time is relative.
Does this mean that there is no absolute time at all? An affirmative reply to this question conflicts with our intuitive perception of time. The first chapter of the second volume of the theoretical physics textbook by Lev Landau and Eugene Lifshits used in universities around the world presents Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity. The final chapter of the same volume entitled "Relativistic Cosmology," however, states: "The homogeneity and isotropy of space mean that we can choose a world time so that at each moment the metric of space is the same at all points and in all directions." Thus, the current view of physics is that local time, which seems different if viewed by a passenger in a moving train or by an observer on the platform, co-exists with a certain unified world time! The branch of physics that deals with this type of time is called cosmology. So even physicists are not always logically consistent! Sometimes they refer to one physics-relativistic mechanics; and sometimes, to another physics-cosmology, representing the scope of General Relativity Theory (GRT). Thus, a certain dissonance has arisen."
In short, it is apparent that all the gates to heaven, hell and points in between are pretty wide open whether a human mind seeks to journey into the unknown in the manner of a mystic as mentioned in a previous posting on "Contemplation" or as a would-be brilliant scientist attempting to understand and even help explain our universe within the structured confines of peer reviewed science. Either task sets impossible goals, but fortunately it is our perceived acheivements found along the endless and sometimes hopeless way that counts towards an individual's satisfaction. The arrival at any number of even false "absolute" truths (which never seem to last) will nevertheless work just fine at least for a little while as the carrot of satisfaction which motivates us to continue pulling such a burden, so to speak. And so as Hubble reported for his measurement of shadows... in realization that he's very likely wrong on many things, we continue the journey and we continue to progress (hopefully achieving many eureka moments along the way).
This is undoubtedly a journey without end but it is not without rewards along the way. So what is the difference between a serious adherent to meditation's long contemplation of either "all" or "nothing" in seeking a trip to nirvana and an equally serious scientist's contemplation of the vast and mysterious universe through the "all" of cosmology or the "nothing" of quantum theory? As benefits the human brain through the release of endorphins or their like, the effect is the same in either case. A "reward" of delight and a sense of well being and purposefulness is "given" for any discovery of "truth" whether actual or perceived. This is a very human thing. It also happens to provide good exercise for our brains and promotes development of cognitive skills - and has done so for all of our generations, one way or another.
Endorphins represent a powerful and quite addictive drug release which originates within us and has pretty much controlled most of our motivations and actions for all of our evolutionary history. As such we may even sometimes subconsciously lie to ourselves as necessary to receive our own internal "fix"if it is otherwise not forthcoming. Achieved with either the discovery of some truth or just utilizing a big lie to ourselves in masquerade as might sometimes be necessary, the endorphin rush waiting within to be released is nevertheless a quite sufficient reward for any particular leg of our journey to find truth.
By way of a warning though, serious problems can also develop with the absence of sleep, another thing we don't completely understand the need for. So an otherwise healthy human being who is under a great deal of stress or other compulsion shall always find the necessary truth (or lie) that allows relief, peace and sleep to come at some point unless some artificial drug is extending this process well beyond what is actually healthy (caffeine, for example). We seek, we find, we sleep, we wake up and then our journey goes on to seek again. Besides, the greatest of all mankind's discoveries have often come after the conscious mind goes to rest and the subconcious mind has a chance to collect and process all that hard fought data. Often as not such eureka moments come along during the wee hours of the morning, but what a way to start the day! Know when to quit, and you'll be ahead when you wake up.
"Does the harmony which human intelligence thinks it discovers in Nature exist apart from such intelligence? Assuredly no. A reality completely independent of the spirit that conceives it, sees it or feels it, is an impossibility. A world so external as that, even if it existed, would be for ever inaccessible to us. What we call "objective reality" is, strictly speaking, that which is common to several thinking beings and might be common to all; this common part, we shall see, can only be the harmony expressed by mathematical laws." - Poincare' The Value of Science

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