Missing links

(The following thoughts came up while reading Holy Blood, Holy Grail)

All around us, there are patterns to be discovered, some more obvious than others. A pattern may exist as a cause-effect relationship. For example, if I decided not to walk underneath a ladder, and subsequently won a lottery, is it reasonable to attribute my good fortunes to the avoidance of the ladder? Or, alternatively, if after walking under a ladder, I suffered a bout of bad luck, can I then attribute all subsequent unluckiness to that single act?

When the argument is given in such a form, perhaps many will regard it as being ludicrous to attribute all future happenings to a single and seemingly innocent act!? However, I am sure just as many (maybe even the same people!) will instinctively react negatively when confronted with such a choice, without really knowing why.

A pattern can also be of a more suggestive nature. After all, a common argument for the existence of a God, is the presence (or, as some would claim, the abundance) of miracles, no? Regardless of any faith, the existence of miraculous happenings do at the very least suggest the workings of a supreme higher being at work.

In life we are exposed to sequences of events daily. How do we know what are the best explanations for seemingly related events?

In a nutshell, all established theories in natural sciences (physics, chemistry and biology) are nothing but plausible explanations to a series of empirical observations. Naturally they are not just any explanations. The essential ingredient is that they have all stood up to the test of time.

As an example, for many centuries it was thought that the earth was flat. It was common sense that everywhere we looked, there was no discernible curvature in the ground. Hence flat earth theory. Furthermore, the Earth was once thought to be the centre of the universe. This was disputed firstly by Copernicus and then later by Galileo. What do we believe now?

Continuing the astronomical examples, Newton’s laws of motion, a standard high school topic these days, revolutionised much of the thinking regarding mechanical motion in his days. This has continued to present day. However, Newton’s theory of gravity has been superseded by a more comprehensive theory, namely the theories of relativity by Einstein.

In each case, we should not fault the pioneer whose ideas have been replaced by those of his successor. There are always some elements of truth of even the simplistic theories. However, the most enduring are also the more wide-ranging concepts which are the most appropriate for the technology of the time, and consistent with the observations at the time. This is the natural progress of science and of human knowledge.

As a side note, the idea that Friday 13th is unlucky may have something to do with the fact that simultaneous mass arrests were made against the Knights Templar on that particular day in the 14th century. These events were result of the fact that the Knights Templar had become too arrogant and influential for its own good – much like what the Catholic Church was becoming, before the Reformation. With the passing of time, many similar incidents or cultural notions have thus lost their original significance and become imbued with an aura of mystery.

To be continued…

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