Heisenberg God at the Bottom of the Glass!

Augustine Pamplany CST

“The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.” These are the words of the renowned German physicist, Werner Heisenberg. Heisenberg, born in 1901, is considered one of the most celebrated high priests of quantum physics. He won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1932.

Heisenberg does not see any real conflict between science and religion. He wrote in one of his papers, “Although I am now convinced that scientific truth is unassailable in its own field, I have never found it possible to dismiss the content of religious thinking as simply part of an outmoded phase in the consciousness of mankind, a part we should have to give up from now on. Thus in the course of my life, I have repeatedly been compelled to ponder on the relationship of these two regions of thought, for I have never been able to doubt the reality of that to which they point.” In his view, human societies cannot live a sharply compartmentalized life. Heisenberg saw the advent of quantum physics as only strengthening the relationship between science and religion. The tensions between science and religion are constructive tensions. As regards God, Heisenberg refers to “a central order whose existence seems beyond doubt, who can be reached as directly as you can reach the soul of another human being. The Biblical notion of God as Spirit was much appealing to him.

Heisenberg had a long conversation with Tagore in 1929 about science and Indian philosophy. His introduction to Indian thought seems to have given him much comfort with regard to the strange notions of relativity, interconnectedness, and impermanence physical reality, with which he had struggled long as a physicist. In his conversations with Fritjof Capra, Heisenberg recollected: “After these conversations with Tagore, some of the ideas that had seemed so crazy suddenly made much more sense. That was a great help for me.”

He also saw God and religion as providing the ground for values and morality: “Where no guiding ideals are left to point the way, the scale of values disappears and with it the meaning of our deeds and sufferings, and at the end can lie only negation and despair. Religion is therefore the foundation of ethics, and ethics the presupposition of life.”

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