“What is invisible? There’s more of it than you think actually. Everything, I would say, everything that matters, except everything… and matter. We can see matter but we can’t see what’s the matter…”
John Lloyd, the speaker behind this genial introduction to his TED talk, was described to the audience as a man that “has spent his whole career eliciting that sense of wonder…” and he has a message that is extremely significant for our times.
Science and technology, of course, have led to impressive inventions and vast expansions of power and comfort in our day-to-day lives. The contributions of science are all around us and form our way of thinking and approaching reality. But how much does science truly explain? How much of the essential in our lives and in our world are really revealed, changed, and affected, by our knowledge and technology?
When we access the Internet, the amount of information at our fingertips is truly incredible. When I turn on my smartphone, I have immediate access to the weather, the news, messages from friends, and much more. Many of us are literally immersed in information, in knowledge. However, even with all the doors that science opens for us, in the end, what really changes?
Here are a few lines from a Steve Jobs interview that answer some of these questions
Wolf: What’s the biggest surprise this technology [the web] will deliver
Jobs: The problem is I’m older now, I’m 40 years old, and this stuff doesn’t change the world. It really doesn’t.
Wolf: That’s going to break people’s hearts
Jobs: I’m sorry, it’s true. Having children really changes your view on these things. We’re born, we live for a brief instant, and we die. It’s been happening for a long time. Technology is not changing it much – if at all. These technologies can make life easier, can let us touch people we might not otherwise. You may have a child with a birth defect and be able to get in touch with other parents and support groups, get medical information, the latest experimental drugs. These things can profoundly influence life. I’m not downplaying that. But it’s a disservice to constantly put things in this radical new light – that it’s going to change everything. Things don’t have to change the world to be important.
I came across a science website the other day that had as its motto “Question Everything”. The motto, on the one hand, transmits a spirit of adventure, of breaking limits, which I think is valuable. But, on the other hand, do I really need to know everything? It’s obvious that some things are more important than others. Shouldn’t we start by asking the key questions first? Lloyd mentions two that are essential: “Why am I here” and “What are we going to do about it? I would add: “Who am I?” and “Where am I going?”
What’s the point of discovering the universe if I don’t even know who the discoverer is?
When posing these deeper questions, the light shed by science is very unsatisfying and the sense of control and security furnished to us by technology, (the belief, for example, that everything has a “solution”, even if we haven’t discovered it yet), can sometimes distract or obscure these questions more than respond to them.
So, where to turn? Where to look? Who to ask? Lloyd offers a few interesting thinkers and some intriguing answers. But we must go much deeper. Our decision to confront these questions in the depths of our heart, to experience the pull and tension of their weighty importance, and to accept our limitations in fully answering them, defines much of our lives and our path of conversion.
We must turn to the “science of the faith”, the knowledge given to us by Christ, passed on to the Church. Only He “fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear “(Gaudium et Spes, 22). At the same time, we must each be willing to pose the question in order to truly understand that answer. We must remember that surrounded by a world of sophisticated devices and scientific discoveries, our faith points us to an infant who was placed in a manger, became a common carpenter, and was nailed to the cross, and to the group of fishermen who followed Him, almost all of whom were martyred.
As I mentioned previously, I think this is a vital issue for everyone, but especially for the youth. The dependence on science and technology is something very natural for the new generations and so is the temptation to disregard the deeper questions. Without a mentor or a friend to challenge them, many go for years caught up in the stir of technological novelties and innovations without asking the question: “What really matters?”
Here is a great passage from Pope Benedict talking to the members of the Pontifical Academy of Science in 2006.
“Science, however, while giving generously, gives only what it is meant to give. Man cannot place in science and technology so radical and unconditional a trust as to believe that scientific and technological progress can explain everything and completely fulfill all his existential and spiritual needs. Science cannot replace philosophy and revelation by giving an exhaustive answer to man’s most radical questions: questions about the meaning of living and dying, about ultimate values, and about the nature of progress itself.”
Below you will find the original talk.