Last weekend, I went for some coffee with a friend, S. Unfortunately, the cafe was pretty crowded so we were offered the last free table in the corner they call 'the living room'. Where I ended up sitting, you get it, on the couch. The waitress was slow, but told us everything we ordered was 'Terrific!'. We spent the afternoon discussing this and that, and at some point the question was raised whether people are more nuts in Canada or California. To make a point for California I told S. a story from my last visit in LA:
I went for a walk in Venice Beach. Yes, it looks like in the movies with all the muscles and bikinis being shown off there, that's already nuts enough if you ask me. But what's much more interesting is the amount of weirdos you meet on the walkway. Like, people offering psychic healing within 2 minutes (guaranteed, only $20, special offer), play Beatles songs backwards (so they say, not that I could tell), or sell incredibly bad 'art' that allegedly their gifted dog painted.
So, I was walking there on the weirdway and came by this white haired guy, who looked like he had never heard of sun protection. He was wearing nothing but a pink mini skirt, standing on an upside-down turned skateboard with one missing wheel, beating with a spoon on the back of a bowl. He asked me how I am, and distractedly I said I'm fine, staring at the amount of white hair and beard falling over clearly visible rips. He asked for my name, and I choose to be Kate, not in the mood to explain the origin of my first name.
"I am Jesus.", he said, stopped beating his bowl to shake my hand, and grinned at me, displaying evidence for a missing dental plan. Okay, well, I mean I've learned that Jesus is quite a common name in Mexico, so I just nodded. Then he added "I died for your sins."
Being a polite person, I said "Thanks.", he definitely looked like recently crucified. I asked how his mother is doing. "Busy, busy" he said. Yeah, I guess, tough job being holy and all. Anyway. Unfortunately Jesus recognized my German accent and began asking me things about the pope. In case you wonder: no, I have never met the pope in person, despite growing up in Germany, but hey, there are roughly 80 Millions of us. And by the way, I am not catholic.
I was trying to get rid of Jesus, who began quoting things from the bible that I didn't understand for one reason or the other, when he suddenly leaned towards me scaringly close and asked:
"If God would answer one question for you, what would you ask?"
Hah! What a question!
Okay, now back on the couch in the cafe with my friend S.
Pretending to be intellectual, I should come up with a sensible answer to that question, shouldn't I? What about: How do we achieve world peace in 3 easy steps? But then, what would all the newspapers write about? I really don't want to be responsible for millions of unemployed journalists. But I thought about the question for quite some while. Eventually, I recalled that this is supposed to be a science blog, so maybe I should ask for the theory of everything or so.
But what if I'd just not understand the answer? What if nobody of us would? What if the human brain is just not capable of grasping the theory of everything, assumed there is one? If it's like your baby cries, and all you do is hand over the car keys. It doesn't help either if you add a map with a clearly visible red X on the closest mall, but car keys taste quite interesting, don't they?
So, what I would really like to know: If there's a theory of everything, are we able to understand it?
If we are, I am sure, sooner or later we will find it. I hope, rather sooner than later, but as always I am quite optimistic there. What really keeps me up at night is the question whether we would realize what we have found, should we stumble across it.
My friend S. began to look concerned as a result of my couch talk, so I felt like I had to explain myself. Yes, I do think that the capacity of the human brain at it's present state of evolution is most likely not able to finally explain everything there is in the universe. I mean, everyone who ever had to fill out a tax income return form, knows that there are things you just can't understand.
To prevent any misinterpretation at this point, I am not advocating intelligent design, instead I like to call it the principle of finite imagination. But like most scientists I know, I don't see any fundamental incompatibility between science and religion (though there is undoubtly some incompatibility between followers of each). I strongly believe that there is a theory of everything, but I also think nature is still way ahead of us. Let me put it this way:
There are more things between strings and loops than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
(Okay, that was the story about my intellectual answer to Jesus' question what I'd ask God. What I actually said was "I'd really like to know is why his son is wearing a pink skirt." )
What would you ask?
TAGS: SCIENCE, RELIGION, COUCH