Bare Bones Biology 291 – Enlightenment?

Most people pursue a quest of one kind or another. We seem to be made that way, always dissatisfied unless we know the answer or are looking for it. As a scientist, I tend to appreciate answers that are factual. I agree with Sean Carroll, quoted froASC_0975-for blogm The Great Courses, The Higgs Boson and beyond, 2015:

“Really, the reason why we devote our lives and our money to . . (basic scientific research) . . is because we want to know the answer. . . We want to discover the way the world works. . . We want to know what this nature is that we live in, what are the rules, what are the ingredients.”


I have confidence in the factual reality of a statistically evaluated experiment that is conducted by a person who is well trained in the tools of his discipline and peer reviewed by other experts.

But of course the limits of both basic science and statistics are significant, and if we have no other source of reality, then many of our questions are left unanswered. Science and mathematics may be our best windows onto factual reality, but there are other kinds of reality that can be studied using other methods. History, Art, philosophy, religion, even economics and politics; much can be learned from the humanities, especially if we remember that what we are learning about is humans, and humans are not everything; we are not omniscient. Therefore the answers will not fulfill our thirst for omniscience any more than basic science and mathematics do. And nobody can be truly expert in all.
As a result, in seeking omniscience, we end in chaos, unless we stand on the shoulders of history, as a vertical dimension, and on the validity of other world views, as a horizontal dimension, and search the past and present dimensions for signs of common human insights that emerge from diverse human experiences. One of these is quoted by Huston Smith in “The Soul of Christianity:

“in its broadest terms, religion says that there is an unseen order and that our supreme
good lies in rightful relations to it” (from William James, in Varieties of Religious

In other words, from the concentrated wisdoms of two quite different windows on reality
emerges the same view, suggesting that:

There are rules — the universe and the Biosytem and the human reality operate according to natural laws —
1- These rules are not fully known to us;
2- These rules certainly are not made by us, and we cannot change them;
3- We want to know what they are;
4- Speaking from the viewpoint of evolution, it may be very much to our advantage to understand those rules that relate to human behaviors, and that may be why we all (or nearly all) have an internal need to set out upon our individual quests to find meaning within our individual environments;
5- and we all must settle for something less than omniscience.ASC_1197- for blog

Some of us refuse to settle.


But what if our individual enlightenment lies in understanding that very fact — that we can NOT be God after all, because we have not the capacity for omniscience. For one small but finite reason, there are not enough neural connections in any one brain to organize or comprehend the whole of God’s Laws of Nature.
Really we know this, but we nevertheless carry on with our various quests for omniscience, and I suspect in the back of our subconscious awareness, the quest is not so much for omniscience as for omnipotence.
We want to know everything so that we can be in control of everything and have our own way with the world.
We would do better to spend our energies trying to understand the power we do have — and its implications for the future welfare of all sentient beings — rather than trying to rewrite the laws of Life.
This is Bare Bones Biology, a production of

A copy of the podcast can be found at:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: