Science, at least modern technological science, is intrinsically progressive—whatever technology is newer is considered by most people to be better than what is old. More: Science understands itself to be expanding, broadening, and deepening human understanding. The latest scientific knowledge is, from the point of view of science, the fullest and best available knowledge. Scientists believe that quantum physics, for example, explains the physical world more accurately than, say, ancient Epicurean physics.
But there are certain basic human questions to which science offers no answer. Indeed, questions science cannot answer:
- Why are we here?
- Where are we going?
- Where ought we go?
- What ought we to do?
No advance in science or technology can answer these questions or provide comfort for the souls that reflect upon them.
Science might someday empower us to fly through galaxies, perhaps even travel through time, yet man will still ask the same questions about himself. Science can never take the human out of human beings. And that is a source of great comfort.
Suppose man acquires the technology to speed through the universe and visit distant planets or solar systems with regularity and safety. Would not those trips quickly become as boring to future man as air travel is to us today?
And what would man do once he arrived at such distant destinations? He would observe the new environment in which he found himself, taking in the sights and sounds, smells and tastes and feel of it all. But the experience that is new would quickly become, well, no longer new. What then?
MINDS THINKING WITH OTHER MINDS
The greatest discovery man could find on other planets would be other rational minds—fellow human beings—with whom the basic human questions could be raised, discussed, and debated: Is there purpose to our lives, and if so, what might it be? What is the good, the true, the beautiful?
But then we realize a truth:
And it means the answers, if any, are as available to us, right here and now, as they might be to any rational minds residing in galaxies light years away.
There is a mystery to the life of any living, freely-thinking, self-conscious mind. Only such a mind can ask why it exists, why it thinks, or what its purpose is. Awareness of that mystery, questioning that mystery in order to understand it better—even if the best we can do is better understand the questions, because all answers seem problematic—may properly be called the light of what is most divine in us.
It means that the highest answers to the highest questions, the permanent questions, will likely not be found by sending spaceships on long voyages. It means the highest things can be found right here within ourselves. It means that the human condition will always be our condition. It means we can feel at home with ourselves, while investigating and questioning all that is beyond, above, and around us, offering purpose and meaning to this thing we call human life.