In humanity’s quest to know ‘Why?’

The quest to know the world in all of its unknowable dimensions is as old as the moment the human mind first fused itself with the human spirit.

My preliminary research failed to identify the precise point this happened, but we know anecdotally that it was sometime before the birth of Einstein or Galileo. Also before the Ancients.

The human mind, that symphony of 20-billion neurons that communicate back and forth along protoplasmic broadband lines as a means of creating smell, taste, balance and reason, is an awe-inspiring contraption, designed with such elegant know-how and horse-power that some say it proves the very existence of God. (Such a contraption couldn’t be the stuff of primordial happenstance, it is argued).

One need not accept the theory of the brain as proof of God to appreciate the raw force of that pile of tissue and cells between our ears. It is the super computer that processes, aggregates, disaggregates, correlates and churns through information in our quest to understand the world.

The human spirit is a little more difficult to describe, but it’s just as powerful. The 16th Century physicist Paracelsus mused, “The human spirit is so great a thing that no man can express it.” But let’s try anyway.

The human spirit is that hidden force that compels us and instructs along the boundaries of right and wrong. In our search for a fuller understanding of the world, the human spirit compels us to inquire.

The tandem of the human mind and spirit have netted Planet Earth some neat advances through the millennia: Harnessing fire. The wheel. Ladders. Plywood. Manifest destiny. Internal combustion engines. Tape measures. Super Bowl half-time shows. Nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. Chain-link fences. The whole enchilada of human development is possible because the human spirit asked “Why?” and the human mind found answers.

It isn’t only human development that the mind and spirit have catapulted. All of human discovery they are responsible for, too. The Earth is round, space and time should be considered in relation to each other, the existence of gravity, the non-existence of zero divisors — all of these were discovered when the human spirit sent a text to the human brain with the message: Hey, what’s the deal with that?

The quest to answer “Why?” has taken humans to almost impossible discoveries. Just this month, researchers at a laboratory along the French-Swiss border discovered something so grandiose that the layman has taken to calling it the “God particle.” Scientists prefer to call it, dryly, the Higgs boson.

Whatever name you prefer, the discovery is the stuff of Futurama film festivals. Physicists and philosophers have long hypothesized the existence of a basic, elemental force in the space beneath electrons, protons, neutrons and indivisible nano-specs of matter called quarks.

It is the Higgs boson — an invisible field that acts on matter to give it mass, before — poof! — disappearing to places unknown in, as one scientist put it, one billionth of one billionth of a second. The Higgs boson is everywhere, before it is nowhere, giving mass to everything around us all the while. Ergo, the God particle — another pelt on the wall of human discovery.

And yet, when compared to what is still unknown about the cosmos and its formation, the Higgs boson pales. Importantly, scientists still have no explanation for dark matter, which we are told constitutes the vast majority of the universe around us. Black holes, white dwarfs, the invisible hand that rotates the galaxies — all are example of dark matter, for which there is no accredited explanation. A serving of humble pie, ye humanity?

Will scientists ever fully complete the information circle and discover the properties of dark matter? Maybe not. Maybe for all the force and effect of the human mind and will, there could be things in this world that are so dark, so black, so remote from consciousness, so removed from the mores and sensibilities of our humanity that they transcend our ability to know or even fathom.

Of these things, we will still ask “Why?” But in the end, we may only find that, for all the light, the world is full of dark matter too. This will not satisfy those who search. But it may be the best answer we find. For all of the conquests of the human mind and will, perhaps there are some “whys” that simply cannot be answered — at least not here, not now, and not by us.

Josh Penry is a former minority leader of the Colorado Senate. He is a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.


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