The demise of hope

I can recall as a child my unshakeable belief in a whole host of magical things: kingdoms in the sky, underground cities, yetis, and so many more we know and love. There comes a point though when that belief turns to doubt. For a while, there lingered; or at least it did for me, a strand of hope; a belief that the world was more magical than my developing logical brain was beginning to tell me. I have a suspicion too, that this stage might last longer than most of us care to admit. Hope keeps us going, gets us up in the morning, gives us something to cling to when things aren’t going well. What’s wrong with that?

Stephen Hawking is a remarkable man. He has endured the most extreme physical challenges with great courage and dignity. He has given us insights into things hitherto unknown. The universe is expanding. Into what, I’m not sure. I guess if I asked him, Stephen could tell me in great detail. We are I understand, a product of a series of explosions creating matter. There may be as I speak, scientists shaking their heads at my limited knowledge, but I’m sure you get my point. I’m not advocating that we shouldn’t strive to understand more. But is there a threshold where our understanding of the universe, the mathematical principles that allegedly govern it, their assumptions and the brilliant minds behind them, take away the possibility of hope? How ridiculous is that I hear you say. Yet I wonder if the vast equations that most of us don’t understand, give our existence no more than an empirical basis, a quadratic on which stand our fragile lives.

I will be the first to agree that medical advances have given people enormous reason to hope. Just last week, the pioneering work that can now eradicate mitochondrial disease in certain children gives hope. Our understanding of genetics has taken us further along the road to discover the origins and the subsequent cure for many life-threatening diseases. This is all good, and continues to support the case for further investigation.

I know it sounds a bit daft to suggest that ignorance is bliss; especially when Hawking’s findings might save the planet from imminent demise. But aren’t all theories based on assumptions? When the assumption is disproved, then a new one must be found using the knowledge learnt from the first. The margins are becoming narrower, and eventually that little flicker of hope for the magical could be so tiny that we might no longer be able to see it.

I personally don’t believe that consciousness continues after death. I’d like to think it does, as long as we aren’t trapped inside our mortal bodies. There are those who tell us of ‘after life’ experiences. Maybe soon we will know for sure that this isn’t the case. Perhaps not. I’m not advocating the cessation of our investigation into the origins of the universe. After all we are human and we are curious. But curiosity has consequences, and I wonder if our hunger for ultimate knowledge and the eradication of any sense of magic, might leave us all a little less hopeful.