Science in a Box
By James Sharman.
Does science have boundaries beyond which there is knowledge? It seems to me that there is a popular idea that science will eventually discover everything that there is to know (some people even think we are quite close to that). I would suggest that even whilst science may never reach it's natural boundaries, science may be limited in ways most scientists would not even consider.
Although many people have suggested that science does have natural limits I do not think that this limits its expansion. Until very recently we believed that the atom was the smallest building block in the universe. Everything was considered to be composed of groups of atoms in particular arrangements. We now know of course that atoms are comprised of electrons, protons and neutrons which in turn are comprised of quarks, by banging these these together in particle accelerators we can observe even more exotic forms of particles. It seem's to me that the more we learn the more we open up more passageways of development. The boundaries of science recede before us giving the illusion that possible knowledge has no limits.
Beyond The Limits
If science were one day to reach it's limits then we would be left asking the question "What, if anything, is beyond?". If there is nothing beyond the limits of science then we don't have a problem, we have simply gained all the knowledge that we can have and we must simply look else where for something to fulfil the human need to expand and learn. Is it possible however that there may be something beyond all possible human expansion both physically and scientifically speaking. If philosophy can suggest a means by which this could be the case then we are stuck with the possible problem that we may never know what lies beyond all physical limits.
The Virtual World
If I were to construct a computer and feed it all the information concerning the state of the universe and then model all the physical processes that make our universe operate then I could construct a fully working universe. Now obviously this it not possible, you can't model a system using another system within itself, it may however be possible for me to build a computer that could model a far smaller environment but still large and complex enough to simulate conditions similar to earth. If I have produced a good enough world within the memory of my computer it would be possible for an equivalent to life to exist with in the environment (from either my direct intervention or from an evolution like process). If the life within my created environment were sentient then they would surely start to explore the environment and study it's workings in a similar manner as do we with our science. The problem for this artificial life is that they live in an environment in which they can discover everything about the environment and yet they would not be able to detect anything outside of that which is in the computer program, they would never get any indication that they were a simulation on a computer unless the designer had made provision for this. Now before you all laugh I'm not suggesting that the universe is just a program running on some massive celestial computer. What this does show however is that a closed environment such as our universe can exist and yet have an 'outside' that is entirely undetectable however advanced science becomes.
If you think about the virtual world example for a while and then look at the supernatural there are some interesting questions raised. If I as the programmer were to directly modify the data stored in the computer that represents the word this would be observable to the inhabitants as a supernatural event. The supernatural is defined as something that has no possible scientific explanation (do not confuse this with the term Paranormal that describes something that is believed to have a scientific explanation that is beyond present understanding). If we apply this to the 'real' world we soon see that the Supernatural is something that we can't disprove scientifically (by its very nature the supernatural is beyond science).
In this light we can look at the universe and all possible scientific understanding as being contained in a box, this box in itself has no boundaries or limitations. This box may be all that there is or it may be only a component part of a larger still environment, without intervention from outside the box this is something that we can never know. If we prove the super natural as existing we prove the existence of something outside the box but while we remain in the dark as to the existence of the super natural there is no answer.
What I have said here is not intended to be proof of anything. Moreover what I have done is to provide a hypothetical situation that can be used to show that certain things can't be disproved or discounted. By applying this theory it becomes apparent that disproving the supernatural is an impossible task for science, what may be possible however is proving that supernatural activity does occur. If we were to find events that simply would not have occurred in the natural order of universe then we have found a supernatural event. Unfortunately however for those who believe in the supernatural, discerning the Supernatural from the Paranormal is unlikely to be possible until we have a far more complete picture of the way the universe works. I would be very interested to see if one day after travelling to the stars, colonising galaxies and expanding human knowledge to it's limits, we are forced to take a second look at what primitive cultures and religious have been telling us all along. In the light of rational thinking how foolish do scientists appear who claim that science disproves God and the supernatural while they are still incapable of fully explaining why a candle continues to burn.
Jason Watkins has provided some comments on this document here that make an interesting read.
Iain Davies has also provided some interesting notes here that also make for interesting reading.