What do you believe, but can't prove? Tantalizing question, no? But greater minds than mine (and maybe yours) have pondered this question -- and answered in the following excerpt from an article. Enjoy!
God (or Not), Physics and, of Course, Love: Scientists Take a Leap
What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?"
This was the question posed to scientists, futurists and other creative thinkers by John Brockman, a literary agent and publisher of Edge, a Web site devoted to science. The site asks a new question at the end of each year. Here are excerpts from the responses, posted at length at: www.edge.org.
Psychologist, University of Texas; author, "The Evolution of Desire"
I've spent two decades of my professional life studying human mating. In that time, I've documented phenomena ranging from what men and women desire in a mate to the most diabolical forms of sexual treachery. I've discovered the astonishingly creative ways in which men and women deceive and manipulate each other. I've studied mate poachers, obsessed stalkers, sexual predators and spouse murderers. But throughout this exploration of the dark dimensions of human mating, I've remained unwavering in my belief in true love.
While love is common, true love is rare, and I believe that few people are fortunate enough to experience it. The roads of regular love are well traveled and their markers are well understood by many - the mesmerizing attraction, the ideational obsession, the sexual afterglow, profound self-sacrifice and the desire to combine DNA. But true love takes its own course through uncharted territory. It knows no fences, has no barriers or boundaries. It's difficult to define, eludes modern measurement and seems scientifically woolly. But I know true love exists. I just can't prove it.
Neuroscientist, Stanford University, author, "A Primate's Memoir"
Mine would be a fairly simple, straightforward case of an unjustifiable belief, namely that there is no god(s) or such a thing as a soul (whatever the religiously inclined of the right persuasion mean by that word). ...
I'm taken with religious folks who argue that you not only can, but should believe without requiring proof. Mine is to not believe without requiring proof. Mind you, it would be perfectly fine with me if there were a proof that there is no god. Some might view this as a potential public health problem, given the number of people who would then run damagingly amok. But it's obvious that there's no shortage of folks running amok thanks to their belief. So that wouldn't be a problem and, all things considered, such a proof would be a relief - many physicists, especially astrophysicists, seem weirdly willing to go on about their communing with god about the Big Bang, but in my world of biologists, the god concept gets mighty infuriating when you spend your time thinking about, say, untreatably aggressive childhood leukemia.
Editor-in-Chief, New Scientist
Strangely, I believe that cockroaches are conscious. That is probably an unappealing thought to anyone who switches on a kitchen light in the middle of the night and finds a family of roaches running for cover. But it's really shorthand for saying that I believe that many quite simple animals are conscious, including more attractive beasts like bees and butterflies.
I can't prove that they are, but I think in principle it will be provable one day and there's a lot to be gained about thinking about the worlds of these relatively simple creatures, both intellectually—and even poetically. I don't mean that they are conscious in even remotely the same way as humans are; if that we were true the world would be a boring place. Rather the world is full of many overlapping alien consciousnesses.
Why do I think they might be multiple forms of conscious out there? Before becoming a journalist I spent 10 years and a couple of post-doctoral fellowships getting inside the sensory worlds of a variety of insects, including bees and cockroaches. I was inspired by A Picture Book of Invisible Worlds, a slim out-of-print volume by Jakob von Uexkull (1864-1944).
The same book had also inspired Niko Tinbergen and Konrad Lorenz, the Nobel Prize winners who founded the field of ethology (animal behaviour). Von Uexkull studied the phenomenal world of animals, what he called their "umwelt", the worlds around animals as they themselves perceive them. Everything that an animals senses means something to it, for it has evolved to fit and create its world. Study of animals and their sensory worlds have now morphed into the field of sensory ecology, or on a wilder path, the newer science of biosemiotics.
I studied time studying how honey bees could find their way around my laboratory room (they had learnt to fly in through a small opening in the window) and find a hidden source of sugar. Bees could learn all about the pattern of key features in the room and would show they were confused if objects were moved around when they were out of the room. They were also easily distracted by certain kinds of patterns, particularly ones with lots of points and lines that had very abstract similarities to the patterns on flowers, as well as by floral scents, and by sudden movements that signalled danger. In contrast, when they were busy gorging on the sugar almost nothing could distract them, making it possible for myself to paint a little number on their backs so I distinguish individual bees.
To make sense of this ever changing behaviour, with its shifting focus of attention, I always found it simplest to figure out what was happening by imagining the sensory world of the bee, with its eye extraordinarily sensitive to flicker and colours we can't see, as a "visual screen" in the same way I can sit back and "see" my own visual screen of everything happening around me, with sights and sounds coming in and out of prominence. The objects in the bees world have significances or "meaning" quite different from our own, which is why its attention is drawn to things we would barely perceive.
That's what I mean by consciousness—the feeling of "seeing" the world and its associations. For the bee, it is the feeling of being a bee. I don't mean that a bee is self-conscious or spends time thinking about itself. But of course the problem of why the bee has its own "feeling" is the same incomprehensible "hard problem" of why the activity of our nervous system gives rise to our own "feelings".
But at least the bee's world is very visual and capable of being imagined. Some creatures live in sensory worlds that are much harder to access. Spiders that hunt at night live in a world dominated by the detection of faint vibration and of the tiniest flows of air that allow them to see fly passing by in pitch darkness. Sensory hairs that cover their body give them a sensitivity to touch far more finely grained than we can possibly feel through our own skin.
To think this way about simple creatures is not to fall into the anthropomorphic fallacy. Bees and spiders live in their own world in which I don't see human-like motives. Rather it is a kind of panpsychism, which I am quite happy to sign up to, at least until we know a lot more about the origin of consciousness. That may take me out of the company of quite a few scientists who would prefer to believe that a bee with a brain of only a million neurones must surely be a collection of instinctive reactions with some simple switching mechanism between then, rather have some central representation of what is going on that might be called consciousness. But it leaves me in the company of poets who wonder at the world of even lowly creatures.
"In this falling rain,
where are you off to
wrote the haiku poet Issa.
And as for the cockroaches, they are a little more human than the spiders. Like the owners of the New York apartments who detest them, they suffer from stress and can die from it, even without injury. They are also hierarchical and know their little territories well. When they are running for it, think twice before crushing out another world.
What do I believe, but can't prove? Why, I believe that humanity is doomed -- that possibly, fatally ALL intelligent life is doomed (because it is destructive to the universe/cosmos) and in many, oh-so-many ways, humans are very similar to ants. Think about ants, study them awhile, you'll see what I mean. I believe that there may be some "unknown" natural law to the cosmos that rids itself of intelligent life. Think of cancer and how it spreads through a human, devouring and destroying the host. Is that not, in some ways, how humans are in relation to the earth -- and possibly, eventually, to the cosmos itself?
Unfortunately, I am human, therefore I cannot wholly embrace this unproven theory for I, like others of my kind, wish to survive.