乔纳森 · 库克 2021年4月19日

Back in the 1880s, the mathematician and theologian Edwin Abbott tried to help us better understand our world by describing a very different one he called Flatland.

早在19世纪80年代,数学家和神学家埃德温 · 阿博特试图帮助我们更好地理解我们的世界,他描述了一个非常不同的世界,他称之为“平面国”(Flatland)。

Imagine a world that is not a sphere moving through space like our own planet, but more like a vast sheet of paper inhabited by conscious, flat geometric shapes. These shape-people can move forwards and backwards, and they can turn left and right. But they have no sense of up or down. The very idea of a tree, or a well, or a mountain makes no sense to them because they lack the concepts and experiences of height and depth. They cannot imagine, let alone describe, obxts familiar to us.


In this two-dimensional world, the closest scientists can come to comprehending a third dimension are the baffling gaps in measurements that register on their most sophisticated equipment. They sense the shadows cast by a larger universe outside Flatland. The best brains infer that there must be more to the universe than can be observed but they have no way of knowing what it is they don’t know.


Paradox and mystery


Science has sought to shrink the realm of the inexplicable. We now understand – at least approximately – the laws of nature that govern the weather and catastrophic events like an earthquake. Telescopes and rocket-ships have also allowed us to probe deeper into the heavens to make a little more sense of the universe outside our tiny corner of it.

科学试图缩小无法解释的领域,我们现在至少大致了解了支配天气和灾难性事件 (如地震) 的自然法则,望远镜、火箭、飞船也使我们能够更深入地探索宇宙,让我们对我们这个小角落之外的宇宙有更多的了解。

But the more we investigate the universe the more rigid appear the limits to our knowledge. Like the shape-people of Flatland, our ability to understand is constrained by the dimensions we can observe and experience: in our case, the three dimensions of space and the additional one of time. Influential “string theory” posits another six dimensions, though we would be unlikely to ever sense them in any more detail than the shadows almost-detected by the scientists of Flatland.

但是,我们对宇宙研究得越多,我们的知识就显得越有限,就像“平面国”的二维类人体一样,我们的理解能力也受到我们可以观察和体验的维度的限制 :
对我们来说,是三维空间和时间这一额外维度,颇具影响力的“弦理论”假设了另外的六个维度,就像平面国的科学家们探测到的阴影一样,我们几乎不太可能在任何细节上感觉到它们 。

The deeper we peer into the big universe of the night sky and our cosmic past, and the deeper we peer into the small universe inside the atom and our personal past, the greater the sense of mystery and wonder.
At the sub-atomic level, the normal laws of physics break down. Quantum mechanics is a best-guess attempt to explain the mysteries of movement of the tiniest particles we can observe, which appear to be operating, at least in part, in a dimension we cannot observe directly.


And most cosmologists, looking outwards rather inwards, have long known that there are questions we are unlikely ever to answer: not least what exists outside our universe – or expressed another way, what existed before the Big Bang. For some time, dark matter and black holes have baffled the best minds. This month scientists conceded to the New York Times that there are forms of matter and energy unknown to science but which can be inferred because they disrupt the known laws of physics.
Inside and outside the atom, our world is full of paradox and mystery.

大多数的宇宙学家都是向外看,而不是向内看,他们早就知道有一些问题我们可能永远无法回答 :
—— 在原子内外,我们的世界充满了悖论和神秘。

Conceit and humility


The greatest scientists do not make this mistake. As an avid viewer of science programmes like the BBC’s Horizon, I am always struck by the number of cosmologists who openly speak of their religious belief. Carl Sagan, the most famous cosmologist, never lost his sense of awestruck wonder as he examined the universe. Outside the lab, his was not the language of hard, cold, calculating science. He described the universe in the language of poetry. He understood the necessary limits of science. Rather than being threatened by the universe’s mysteries and paradoxes, he celebrated them.

最伟大的科学家不会犯这样的错误,作为一个BBC《地平线》( Horizon ) 等科学节目的忠实观众,我时常为这么多公开谈论自己宗教信仰的宇宙学家所震撼。卡尔·萨根,最著名的宇宙学家,他在研究宇宙时从未失去敬畏之心,在实验室之外,他并不是用冷酷无情、精于计算的科学语言而是诗歌的语言来描绘宇宙,他理解科学的局限性,他没有被宇宙的神秘和悖论所威胁,而是赞美它们。

When in 1990, for example, space probe Voyager 1 showed us for the first time our planet from 6 billion km away, Sagan did not mistake himself or his fellow NASA scientists for gods. He saw “a pale blue dot” and marvelled at a planet reduced to a “mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam”. Humility was his response to the vast scale of the universe, our fleeting place within it, and our struggle to grapple with “the great enveloping cosmic dark”.

例如,当1990年航天探测器旅行者1号第一次从60亿公里外向我们展示我们的星球时,萨根并没有把他自己或他的 NASA 科学家同事误当成上帝,他看到了“一个淡蓝色的小点”,惊叹于一颗行星竟然变成了“悬浮在阳光中的一粒尘埃”,谦逊是他对浩瀚宇宙的回应,是对我们在宇宙中短暂的存在的回应,是对我们与“浩瀚宇宙的黑暗”搏斗的回应。

Mind and matter


Until relatively recently, science, philosophy and theology sought to investigate the same mysteries and answer the same existential questions. Through much of history, they were seen as complementary, not in competition. Abbott, remember, was a mathematician and theologian, and Flatland was his attempt to explain the nature of faith. Similarly, the man who has perhaps most shaped the paradigm within which much western science still operates was a French philosopher using the scientific methods of the time to prove the existence of God.

直到不久以前,科学、哲学和神学都试图探索同样的奥秘,回答同样的存在主义问题,纵观历史,它们被视为互补,而不是竞争。埃德温 · 阿博特,是一位数学家和神学家,他试图以二维的“平面国”来解释信仰的本质,同样地,也许最能体现这一点的是一位法国哲学家,他塑造了众多如今西方科学仍在运作的范式,他用当时的科学方法来证明上帝的存在。

Hearing a Native American or an Australian Aboriginal speak of the sacred significance of a river or a rock – or about their ancestors – is to become suddenly aware of how alien their thinking sounds to our “modern” ears. It is the moment when we are likely to respond in one of two ways: either to smirk internally at their childish ignorance, or to gulp at a wisdom that seems to fill a yawning emptiness in our own lives.


Science and power


Descartes’ legacy – a dualism that assumes separation between soul and body, mind and matter – has in many ways proved a poisonous one for western societies. An impoverished, mechanistic worldview treats both the planet and our bodies primarily as material obxts: one a plaything for our greed, the other a canvas for our insecurities.

笛卡尔的遗产——假定灵魂与身体、精神与物质分离的二元论——在许多方面被证明对西方社会是有害的,一个贫穷、机械的世界观把我们的星球和我们的身体主要当作物质对象: 一个是我们贪婪的玩物,另一个是描述我们不安全感的画布。

Few listened to Lovelock. Our god-complex got the better of us. And now, as the bees and other insects disappear, everything he warned of decades ago seems far more urgent. Through our arrogance, we are destroying the conditions for advanced life. If we don’t stop soon, the planet will dispose of us and return to an earlier stage of its evolution. It will begin again, without us, as simple flora and microbes once again begin recreating gradually – measured in aeons – the conditions favourable to higher life forms.


In part, the medical establishment, like all establishments, has been corrupted by the desire for power and enrichment. Science is not some pristine discipline, free from real-world pressures. Scientists need funding for research, they have mortgages to pay, and they crave status and career advancement like everyone else.


Kamran Abbasi, executive editor of the British Medical Journal, wrote an editorial last November warning of British state corruption that had been unleashed on a grand scale by covid-19. But it was not just politicians responsible. Scientists and health experts had been implicated too: “The pandemic has revealed how the medical-political complex can be manipulated in an emergency.”

去年11月,《英国医学杂志》(British Medical Journal) 的执行编辑卡姆阿巴西去年11月在一篇社论中警告称,Covid19引发了英国政府的大规模腐败,但这不仅仅是政客们的责任,科学家和健康专家也牵涉其中: “疫情暴露了一个在紧急情况下操纵医学和政治复合体。”

He added: “The UK’s pandemic response relies too heavily on scientists and other government appointees with worrying competing interests, including shareholdings in companies that manufacture covid-19 diagnostic tests, treatments, and vaccines.”

他补充说: “英国的疫情应对措施过于依赖科学家和其他政府官员,他们存在令人担忧的利益冲突,包括在生产Covid19诊断检测、治疗和疫苗的公司的股份。”

Doctors and clerics


But in some ways Abbasi is too generous. Scientists haven’t only corrupted science by prioritising their personal, political and commercial interests. Science itself is shaped and swayed by the ideological assumptions of scientists and the wider societies to which they belong. For centuries, Descartes’ dualism has provided the lens through which scientists have often developed and justified medical treatments and procedures. Medicine has its fashions too, even if they tend to be longer-lived – and more dangerous – than the ones of the clothing industry.


But the mechanistic view of health has been hard to shake off, even as scientific understanding – and exposure to non-western medical traditions – should have made it seem ever less credible. Cartesian dualism reigns to this day, seen in the supposedly strict separation of physical and mental health. To treat the mind and body as indivisible, as two sides of the same coin, is to risk being accused of quackery. “Holistic” medicine still struggles to be taken seriously.


Faced with a fear-inducing pandemic, the medical establishment has inevitably reverted even more strongly to type. The virus has been viewed through a single lens: as an invader seeking to overwhelm our defences, while we are seen as vulnerable patients in desperate need of an extra battalion of soldiers who can help us to fight it off. With this as the dominant frxwork, it has fallen to Big Pharma – the medical corporations with the greatest firepower – to ride to our rescue.


Vaccines are part of an emergency solution, of course. They will help save lives among the most vulnerable. But the reliance on vaccines, to the exclusion of everything else, is a sign that once again we are being lured back to viewing our bodies as machines. We are being told by the medical establishment we can ride out this war with some armour-plating from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca. We can all be Robocop in the battle against Covid-19.


But there are others ways to view health than as an expensive, resource-depleting technological battle against virus-warriors. Where is the focus on improving the ever-more nutrient-deficient, processed, pesticide-laden, and sugar and chemical-rich diets most of us consume? How do we address the plague of stress and anxiety we all endure in a competitive, digitally connected, no-rest world stripped of all spiritual meaning? What do we do about the cosseted lifestyles we prefer, where exertion is a lifestyle choice renamed as exercise rather than integral to our working day, and where regular exposure to sunshine, outside of a beach vacation, is all but impossible in our office-bound schedules?

我们大多数人的饮食越来越缺乏营养,我们的食物是加工过的、含农药的、富含糖和化学物质的,我们如何改善这些饮食?在一个竞争激烈、数字化连接、没有休息的世界里,我们如何应对压力和焦虑的瘟疫?对于我们喜欢的那种娇惯的生活方式,我们该怎么办? 在这样的生活方式下,运动是一种选择,被重新命名为锻炼,而不是我们日常生活不可或缺的一部分,在这样的生活方式下,除了海滩度假,经常接触阳光几乎不可能出现在我们的办公室日程表上?

Fear and quick-fixes


For much of human history, our chief concern was the fight for survival – against animals and other humans, against the elements, against natural disasters. Technological developments proved invaluable in making our lives safer and easier, whether it was flint axes and domesticated animals, wheels and combustion engines, medicines and mass communications. Our brains now seem hardwired to look to technological innovation to address even the smallest inconvenience, to allay even our wildest fears.


So, of course, we have invested our hopes, and sacrificed our economies, in finding a technological fix to the pandemic. But does this exclusive fixation on technology to solve the current health crisis not have a parallel with the similar, quick-fix technological remedies we keep seeking for the many ecological crises we have created?


Global warming? We can create an even whiter paint to reflect back the sun’s heat. Plastics in every corner of our oceans? We can build giant vacuum-cleaners that will suck it all out. Vanishing bee populations? We can invent pollinator drones to take their place. A dying planet? Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk will fly millions of us to space colonies.

塑料遍布我们海洋的每一个角落 ?我们可以造一个巨大的真空吸尘器把它吸走。
星球濒临灭绝 ?杰夫 · 贝佐斯和埃隆 · 马斯克将带我们飞往太空殖民地。

Were we not so technology obsessed, were we not so greedy, were we not so terrified of insecurity and death, if we did not see our bodies and minds as separate, and humans as separate from everything else, we might pause to ponder whether our approach is not a little misguided.


Science and technology can be wonderful things. They can advance our knowledge of ourselves and the world we inhabit. But they need to be conducted with a sense of humility we increasingly seem incapable of. We are not conquerors of our bodies, or the planet, or the universe – and if we imagine we are, we will soon find out that the battle we are waging is one we can never hope to win.