Saturday, 2 February 2008

Test your sense of natural wonder

ice flowers

The aim of this thought experiment is to explore the conditions that favour the human sense of natural wonder. This sense is an important part of life quality because it adds intensity to our feelings. Plus it is an important part of our respect of nature and of our responsibility for the environment.

First setting

Look at the above picture and imagine that it has been painted by a human artist. Imagine how the artist may have done it, whether he has used a paintbrush or an etching needle, how he might have spread the paint, and the like. Take the role of an art critic and rate how much you are impressed by this piece, on a scale from 1 to 10.

Second setting

Look at the above picture and imagine how moisture has condensed and frozen on a cold window pane. Imagine that water is made up of molecules that all look exactly alike, how these molecules have aggregated on the glass, guided by a mix of deterministic and accidental forces between them, under the influence of tiny differences in temperature and moisture varying over time. Done? Rate again the degree of impression on you.

My results

In the first setting I see that the artist has worked out nicely the theme of conflict between dynamism and inertia. I would not say it is a masterpiece but I appreciate the precise needle or paintbrush work. Today I feel generous, so I give 5 points.

In the second setting I am deeply impressed, considering how all these water molecules, looking exactly alike, spontaneously can form such wonderful structures. I see a principle at work that may help to explain the evolution of life from simple structures: the emergence of new features that cannot be predicted from the elements when these aggregate to compound structures. I find this really fantastic, 9 points.

Creationism and science

The first setting is a model of how theists (creationists) look at nature, and the second setting is the way scientists (freethinkers) do it. Of course there is a huge difference between the evolution of ice flowers and the evolution of living organisms. But both cases have one principle in common: Complex structures are more of a wonder when they are not created.

A naive creationist may look at ice flowers and say that God has painted them. He may be impressed by the artwork but hardly will rate it higher than the artwork of a human painter. On the contrary, such an achievement of an almighty being is not very impressive.

Replacing ice flowers with living organisms will, of course, raise the degree of impression by magnitudes - on the creationist side as well as on the scientist side.

Freethought and sense of natural wonder

And now I come to the point. The gap will remain when we move from the ice flower model to the whole universe. The freethinker looking at plants, animals, stars and galaxies will be more deeply impressed than the theist looking at creation. Thus, freethought is a better condition for the human sense of natural wonder.

This has been the first thought experiment to test the hypothesis that freethinkers live better than theists. The outcome does not allow to reject this hypothesis. I am going to plan more such experiments because the sense of natural wonder may not be the most important factor of life quality.

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