I do not have a mind for math or science. I do have an orderly and logical mind, but it is fueled and sparked by the nuances and shades of words, by metaphor and images (visual and written), and by intuition. I am skilled at creating flow charts and processes if they contain words; bar graphs and line graphs prompt me to gear up for battle. Chemistry was a nightmare; I didn’t attempt physics. Advanced numerical processes and the 1’s and 0’s of computers (no matter how logical) are beyond me. It was only when I learned about the structure and workings of the brain that I was able to forgive myself for these lapses. I could always say to myself, “My brain doesn’t work that way.”
I tell you all this so that you will understand how mind-boggling it was to read about the James Webb Space Telescope in Time magazine for July 3, 2017. When the telescope is launched in October, 2018 by NASA (in cooperation with the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency) and parks itself in space about 1 million miles away, it will get very close to seeing back to the very beginning of our of our approximately 13.8 billion-year-old universe. “[It will pick] up signals that have been traveling to us since just 200 million years after the Big Bang, and converting that information to pictures.
An image it delivers of, say, a brand-new galaxy won’t be the galaxy as it looks today, but as it looked 13.6 years ago – the cosmic equivalent of live-streaming videos of your newborn across a network that takes, say, 80 years to complete the transmission. The baby in the video will be an octogenarian by the time your receiver watches the stream. That time-capsule quality will be true of all the observations Webb makes of stars and nebulae and other structures at the most distant removes of space.
Leave aside the physics and engineering miracle that is the Webb telescope which, of course, is beyond my wildest imagination. Just think about the fact that it will capture a view of the world of the Big Bang, soon after (relatively speaking) the actual occurrence – an event that happened 13,6 billion years ago. The Webb telescope will looking further back in space and in time than we have ever seen before. The science in this story is baffling to me; it deals with the speed of light and the theory of relativity. How any of this is possible, I don’t know. I just know that it creates a huge sense of awe and wonder in my mind and in my soul.
This story made me think of Brian Greene, a physicist and mathematician, who was inter- viewed by Krista Tippett on the radio show On Being on June 1, 2017. When Ms Tippett asks, “If you think about a mind or an intelligence or even that order behind the universe, then how do you imagine that?” Mr. Greene responds:
The important thing to bear in mind — I think many physicists have this perspective — we don’t envision that there’s some mind behind it all, but we do envision that there are these powerful laws that can do things that you wouldn’t expect them able to do, based upon the most naïve look at the equations. I mean, how could it be that general relativity, the simple equation in quantum mechanics and the standard model of particle physics — if we put that into the mix, over the course of billions of years, can somehow conspire to yield you and me, this complex, cognizant being? How could we really just emerge from the laws of physics acting through evolutionary change?
But that’s the power of the math. So if you want, there is the hidden hand. Call it the hidden hand of God if you want. I would simply call it the hidden hand of the equations. And that gets us from the beginning to here.
I would rather be left with awe and wonder by the world created by a cosmic God who was/is/will ever be involved in the universe to be revealed by the Webb telescope than understand all the math perfectly and be left with the “power of math” and the “hidden hand of equations . . . that gets us from the beginning to here.”