I was given an occasion to pick mathematics again and as I read through my physics, calculus and linear algebra texts once more, I remembered why I tried to go into mathematics in the first place.
I love this stuff. I am not saying that I am good at it; in fact I’m quite terrible at it. But I cannot help but be possessed by the wonder of how such abstract pristine concepts like mathematics can so miraculously order an empirical reality buzzing full with a cacophony of confusing blooming phenomena.
I think this has something to do with being an arts and humanities person. In the arts, you rarely, if ever, read a text thinking that there is some “objective” fact or order to be discovered anterior to your understanding or will. Writers on topics of humanities can be confused, unclear and sometimes wrong about what they are talking about; their concepts are nebulous, amorphous, etc. A humanities student does not merely receive an objective meaning in a text of literature because really isn’t any, in reading a text he *recreates* it as well by an act of will. He simply takes whatever exists in a text which corresponds to his own understanding and reconstructs a meaning out of it, by an act of will he reorders the cacophony of meanings, shades of implications, the ever shifting boundaries of conceptual distinction according to his own purposes and understanding. (Of course I am not as postmodern as I sound, there is an analytic sense-reference distinction where the former is “subjective” dependent and the latter is not, but which I won’t go into here)
But with mathematics and physics, you can’t do that and you don’t have to. There is already an objective fact and conceptual structure anterior to your will and understanding. You do not “re-order” the meaning according to your own will or thinking but submit to its inherent order and system.
For someone who is so used to constantly “re-ordering” and manipulating the concepts of humanities and the arts, there is the weariness of solipsism; the burden of being responsible for one’s entire understanding of a text is too much to bear when every act of reading is an act of the exercise of the will. To be confronted with a reality, a conceptual system which doesn’t depend upon my will, which is true and false independently of my understanding and my decision, is a welcome relief, a catharsis, even an escape, from the infinite burdens of taking responsibility for recreating the whole of reality. Either my proof or answer to this mathematical/physics problem is true or false, it is not up to me to make up and sustain by an act of will the answer, but rather I am merely to pay attention to the reality which holds anterior to my will. It is a passive reception not an active reconstruction.
Related to this weariness of the subjective is the fear of confusion, of disorder, of chaos. Not merely the realities of texts but the reality of the world itself, is it the product of my will, my decisions and choices, and my actions? Am I forced to “recreate” my entire life and place in this empirical world by a human fiat? One of the theories of physics which continues to amaze me is the Kinetic Theory of Heat. It is astounding how such disparate physical phenomenon, pressure, temperature, and other “macroscopic” phenomenon, etc, which formulas are derived from crude and plain empirical observations, can somehow be so miraculously and elegantly fitting into a general theory of heat whereby the formulas miraculously with mathematical precision correspond to “microscopic” formulas of kinetic energy, speed and mass of the gas particles, etc. Heat is simply a matter of the kinetic energy of the particles.
Most people who study physics are fascinated by the “cool stuff”, Einstein’s Relativity, Quantum, etc. But the Kinetic Theory of Heat is the one that holds my fascination, how can a phenomenon like heat, so utterly unrelated to another phenomenon or experience like velocity or kinetic energy, be so miraculously strung together into a single mathematical formula? Whence comes this order, this system, etc?
A friend of mine who is a physics graduate once told me that in effect, a lot of “solid” objects are composed mostly of empty spaces, and the “feeling” of solidity is simply the electrostatic forces between the “physical” objects repelling each other. Whatwe often think of “solidity” as a matter of “stuffness” or “substance”, when in effect, what we call “solidity” is itself a matter of laws and regulation, the laws of physics which regulates matter and repels each object from each other according to the formula of electrostatics.
I guess I’ve been thinking about my “Barthian” denial of “natural theology”, and that I cannot practice a faith which has purely as its object the events of a distant past. Natural theology makes present the reality of God in the works of creation. In a sense, faith cannot be sustained in those moments of recall of the events of salvation history alone or some esoteric mystical experience (which I utterly despise anyway), it needs sustenance and confirmation in every waking moment and hour.
As someone steeped in philosophy and stuff, one is always acutely aware and anxious of the fact that faith might simply be a psychological projection, a wish-fulfilment, a human invention. Is there truly a God, or is it simply a product of my imagination or human psychology? But every time I press my fingers against the wall, the table or even the ground, and feel the normal force repelling against me, I know and am confronted with a reality anterior my will, anterior to my psychology, which operates according to a rigorous order and system which precedes my will, and I know that I do not live in a reality of my own invention, but in a reality which has existed long before I have and will go on long after I am gone, rooted upon a divine order, in the creative act of God himself.
For a more rigorous and detailed argument for the existence of God based on the mathematical order of the universe, you can see here.