I don't believe in magic. No Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, Leprechauns, Witches or Dragons. No Gods. No Afterlife.
That last one is tough. Very tough to accept that one day, you won't be there. Still harder when you love someone like you love yourself and that person ceases to be there. It's easy to see why people have sought and found consolation in magical tales from prehistoric times until now.

Finding no comfort in magic myself, I've tried to find comfort in science. That's hard too. But, unlike magic, not ridiculous. Science does not tell you there's an afterlife; that would be magic. Science offers no concept of an immortal soul and is still in the dark about what consciousness is.

What science does offer is a theory on the preservation of information, closely linked to quantum mechanics and the laws of thermodynamics. If you discount magic, we are really just fantastically complex information processing entities; our information processing processes like thinking, acting, feeling can be described entirely in terms of informational bits. This is were I found some consolation in science. More specific these two main principles:

  • Quantum determinism means that given a present wave function, its future changes are uniquely determined by the evolution operator.

  • Reversibility refers to the fact that the evolution operator has an inverse, meaning that the past wave functions are similarly unique.

The combination of the two means that information must always be preserved. It cannot be destroyed. Information never dies!

These three words have surely helped me keep close to sanity in some of my more despairing moments. I found other kinds of comfort in science later that I will talk about in the future, but this was the start for me of a whole new way to look at science and its place in my life. It also marks the beginning of a whole new way of thinking about life, the universe and everything for me.

The following quote by Aaron Freeman really succeeds in putting into words the kind of consolation I found in a simple scientific principle. I hope it can be of help comforting others as it did with me.


You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.

And at one point you'd hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him/her that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let him/her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her/his eyes, that those photons created within her/him constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.

And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.

And you'll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they'll be comforted to know your energy's still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you're just less orderly.

Amen.

-- Aaron Freeman,

1 Comment

Linear

  • Marcel Loesberg  
    Well said. I remember you posting this same quote on facebook before and I can only agree with the science. Glad it helps you find some peace of mind!

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