Two Ways of Telling the Same Story

When I was in tenth grade I went to my first nerd science program at the Weizmann Institute. Our first lecture was about evolution. After the introduction, the lecturer addressed two friends and me and asked us whether we wanted to disagree with what he was teaching. He asked this because we all came from high schools which identify as religious, so naturally he assumed we believed in creation and therefore could not accept the Big Bang Theory. To his surprise, all three of us said no.

On the other hand, my eighth grade science teacher told my class that the chances that the big bang happened were the same as the chances of getting the Bible written by spilling a bottle of ink.

I know a lot of people who can’t reconcile the coexistence of both science and religion. I personally have never had a problem with it. I don’t think it’s necessary to choose between them. Let me explain why.

First, a little math (feel free to skip this paragraph, I promise I won’t go too deep). In math we have the concept of equivalence, where two things can be worth the same thing but not be the same. For example, 4+5 is equivalent to 9. While they clearly look different on the screen, they both return the same value – 9. Still, one is a sum, and the other is a natural number – not the same thing! But you can’t prove that they’re different. Because they’re not, really. They’re just two different representations of the same idea. 3 to the power of 2 is yet another way to represent the number 9. For another example, think about two triangles drawn on paper with the same size, same direction and same angles, but in different places. They’re not the same triangle, but you can’t really tell them apart.

So here’s my idea. Taking the first example from the previous paragraph, let’s use the number 9 to represent the concept of God. There are tons of different ways of approaching it. Everyone relates to it differently, everyone feels differently and imagines differently. But at the end of the day we’ve still reached the number 9.

I was talking to a friend of mine last week and we were discussing how fascinating we both find studying science. There are moments when you learn something new and it’s just mind blowing. What draws us to science are those moments when you feel like “OH MY GOD Nature is frickin’ awesome.” I felt this way when I first saw the proof that i squared equals -1. To get a taste of how awe-inspiring science can be, check out the double-slit experiment from quantum physics.

So scientists get a feeling of awe, and religious people experience spiritual uplifting. My argument is that these two concepts, like 4+5 and 9, are equivalent. Why is it necessary to distinguish between a sense of awe inspired by scientific study and a sense of awe inspired by prayer or belief? Further, is it even possible to distinguish between them? Can one really argue that these two “awes” are fundamentally different, and not just two ways of telling the same story?

You might want to argue that the creation and the big bang theory are contradictory, but I don’t think they are. I don’t see a reason to differentiate between God and the big bang. If you look carefully at Genesis 1, you’ll find that the days of creation line up very nicely with the theory of evolution. Professor Gerald Schroeder takes this idea even further and says that the age of the earth according to creation and according to science are the same!

Set aside for a moment all the traditions and scriptures and whys and hows. I’m not talking about the entire idea of practicing a religion, just about believing in God. When I see a magnificent proof in a math lecture at University, I experience the same kind of uplifting as I have in a moment of prayer, meditation, or creative inspiration. The sense of awe is what drives me to science, just like the sense of awe is what drives people to believe in God. What’s the difference between the double-slit experiment and a miracle? No difference, I think. Two ways of telling the same story.

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There Exists vs. For All – Math and Racism

I make generalizations by accident sometimes. I think everyone does. It’s just a habit we have of not being accurate when talking about other people.

One of the most basic principles of mathematics – logic, specifically – is the difference between “there exists” and “for all/every.” For example,

1. There exists a solution to the equation x+2=5

2. Every natural number is either even or odd.

The first statement tells us that something exists – but we only know of one number with that property. It would be silly to say that every number solves the equation. The second statement tells us something about all the natural numbers in the world – that even if we go on to infinity, we will never find a number which is neither even nor odd, or both at the same time.

I understand that logic theory is not a perfect analogy for our world since there is little room for grey areas. However, it still has a lot to teach us about our environment and society. The idea of political correctness is all about defining our statements in a more exact way. Often in everyday life we confuse “there exists” with “every,” and I want to argue that this miscalculation leads us to racism.

Here are some examples:

1. All Israelis are racist
2. All Arabs are terrorists
3. All Americans are rich (we have a big problem with that one here)
4. All Ethiopians are illiterate

All of These statements are wrong.

The four statements above are sentences which people have said to me. As sad as it is, I’m not making these up out of my own head. Let’s take a moment and look at some other ways to write the above statements

1. “There exist Israelis which are not racist.” (logical inverse) This is already a much more accurate statement, because we know there are Israelis which are not racist. Instead of saying “all” we should have said “there exist.” On the other hand, saying “There exist Israelis which are racist” gives the most accurate, much more intelligent sounding and much less judgmental statement, and it says the same thing as the original one: There’s racism in Israel, and I think it’s not cool.

2. “There exist Arabs which are not terrorists.” This one should be modified even further to the statement “There exist terrorists which are Arabs.” It’s deeper than “Not all Arabs are terrorists” – being a terrorist has nothing to do with being Arab! There are also terrorists which are Japanese and American. It’s terrible but it doesn’t mean that if you are American you have an increased chance of becoming a terrorist.

3. “There exist Americans that are not rich.” Sadly, most of the way Israelis are exposed to American culture is through television (similar to how Americans mostly see Israeli society through CNN). They watch shows like How I Met Your Mother, Glee and (God forbid) the Disney channel, and let’s face it – there’s not a lot of poverty on TV. It’s easy to look around and see that some people walked here from Ethiopia with the shirt on their back while Americans mostly take a 12 hour flight with two suitcases each. Regardless, the statement should still be “There exist Americans that are rich.” Because we know nothing about how many will be rich once we get infinity of them.

4.

“There exist Ethiopians that can read.” I sincerely thought we were done discriminating based on skin color, but it turns out the problem is still deep within us. Lots of people immigrate to Israel from Ethiopia, and just as with any group of new immigrants, the people who already live here find them strange, different, and “uneducated,” which just means they are culturally different. The statement is false because there are enough Ethiopians who are literate that if you meet one, it is wrong to assume they aren’t. Some have grown up here, served in the IDF and attended universities. Frankly, making a generalization based on skin color makes you look like the one who’s illiterate.

Everywhere we go there are people who are afraid of someone who’s different. But even that statement only implies the existence of two of these people. It is crucial to be exact when we speak of others, not to confuse “alls” with “exists” because we don’t have the ability to know what goes on when there is an infinite amount of people. Only then will it be perfectly okay to say “All.”