The Power of Reading

In an earlier post, I examined what would happen ‘If All the Books Disappeared.’ Ricky Gervais pointed out that science is the axiom the universe, an unchanging constant that would be discovered again and again should we lose all knowledge and records of learning. He contrasted this to religion which would reappear in a different form because it is couched in culture, language, and context.

For Gervais, science is worth believing in. Religion was not.

In contrast, C. S. Lewis an atheist until his early 30s, described himself as a “reluctant convert” to Christianity,  because as an intellectual, he found he had no choice but to accept what he clearly saw to be truth.

In his essay ‘Is Theology Poetry’ he mused,

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it, I see everything else.

C. S. Lewis

This little comic articulates the importance of ideas to shape the way we see the world. Should we lose all books, humanity would have to reprocess the fundamentals of ‘knowing’ and ‘seeing’ the world, in order to test, examine and rediscover science.

Without ideas of being, notions of truth and identity, we would in fact ‘see’ the world very differently. Science would not only have to be relearned but would have to in fact be ‘re-seen.’

This process of epistemology, the process of ‘knowing’ is philosophical and tied to notions of belief, truth, and identity. This is why humanity are story tellers, and our narratives of identity which form the basis of religious beliefs run parallel to, and indeed fundamental to, the scientific process.

The Man Who Knew Infinity

Srinivasa Ramanujan [1887-1920] was a Tamil Indian mathematician, who in relative isolation and without almost any formal training, made extraordinary contributions to mathematical analysis, number theory, infinite series, and continued fractions.

200px-Csvenkataraman

In 1913, he wrote a series of letters to scholars at Cambridge University and caught the attention of British mathematician G. H. Hardy, who realized that Ramanujan had rediscovered previously known theorems in addition to producing new ones.

The Man Who Knew Infinity” is a 2015  British film made about his life. It was based on the 1991 novel of the same name by Robert Kanigal and focuses on the tension Ramanujan faced being accepted by the academic elite due to his foreign birth and lack of training.

R

This academic reserve was only compounded by Ramanujan’s devout religious fervor and confessions that he felt the revelations of mathematical proofs that came to his intuition, were from God.

He famously stated: 

An equation for me has no meaning unless it represents a thought of God.

Hardy, an avowed atheist, opposed Ramanujan’s intuitive methods throughout their relationship, demanding of him proofs to establish the validity of this theories. A dyed-in-the-wool modernist, Hardy could not but maintain a dry tolerance for Ramanujan’s strange, eastern, mystical ways.

raman

However, across the course of the film Hardy changes his views and in the closing scenes Hardy, played by Jeremy Irons, admits before his peers at the Mathematical Society:

We are merely explorers of infinity in the pursuit of absolute perfection.

His conclusion: maybe, somewhere beyond his world of scientific proofs, there is something that explains the existence of the beautiful patterns of the mathematical world. Maybe there is something or someone that can only be discerned by intuition, not by proofs, but by reveling in the marvelous fingerprints of mathematical equations which exist in all their elegance, to be discovered by subtle minds like Ramanujan’s.

Rams

Maybe, just maybe, as a civilization we grow in our scientific knowledge, we are not growing out of a belief in God, but only moving deeper in our wonder and awe of the world, deeper towards a knowledge of God.