What is the Meaning of Life? No. 13
Order and Design in the World Around Us
by Ernest O'Neill
What is the meaning of life? We've been saying that there is meaning in the universe that we find ourselves in. We have been examining the world itself and trying to see if there is any meaning in the very material substance of the world that we find around us.
You know that we have discovered an amazing amount of evidence that there is order and design... if we just think of the seasons and the way they follow each other regularly, due of course to the regular orbiting of the earth around the sun. Or, if we think of day and night and the way we set our watches by the regular rotation of our earth on its own axis.
Or, if we think of the amazing phenomena of the circulation of the blood, or the incredible operation of the heart that pumps so many pounds of blood around the body every few minutes, we realize very quickly that there is a lot of order and a lot of design and a lot of meaning in our world.
Of course, one of the most impressive thing to any student of chemistry is what we call the elements. We have, from the very beginning, tried to identify what elements make up our world. Early philosophers like Heraclitus came out, of course, with rather crude lists. He said that earth, air, fire and water... those are the basic elements out of which everything else is made up in our world. For some centuries, philosophers, because it was a philosophically-based definition, philosophers followed that kind of theory.
Of course, as we got into modern science, we realized very quickly that those were not the basic elements of which the world is made up at all. For instance, smoke or fire itself is made up of a combination of vibrations and smoke. Earth is certainly material, but it's made up of thousands of substances and a great number of different elements. Air is made up mainly of oxygen and nitrogen. Water is a compound of oxygen and hydrogen. So, very quickly, we began to realize that there are elements that are more basic than earth, air, fire and water.
We came to define an element as a substance which cannot, by any chemical process, be farther analyzed. On the basis of that, we started to identify certain elements: elements like hydrogen and oxygen; elements like carbon; elements like radium; elements like uranium. We started to list these elements as the basic elements out which our world was made.
As we listed them, we suddenly saw that there was an amazing pattern in the way they were related to each other. For instance, as we began to try to establish their weight and to list them from the lightest element to the heaviest, we saw that they were related to each other much in the same way as if you had a string of beads with a red one followed by a black one followed by a yellow one followed by a blue one. You began to see that one was bigger than the one next to it and the one next to it was bigger than the one next to it and that the relationship of the largeness to the smallness was the same. It kept repeating itself.
In other words, we began to notice that the weights of the elements were related to each other in an orderly way. As they gradually increased in weight, so the series of elements and their weights and the relationship of their weights to each other were the same.
So much so, that just as if you had beads arranged in ascending order of size, and they did come in the colors red, black, yellow and blue, you noticed that after the series had been repeated five times, that there was a yellow one missing, and you were able to tell that. You were able to point out and say, now we want to look for a bead that is exactly this size and its color is yellow and it ought to be found exactly here.
Now, that's exactly what began to happen in modern chemistry. We had only discovered perhaps eighty or ninety elements earlier on in this century, but we knew there were other elements that were in existence and we could not only tell that they were there, but we could actually tell what weight they would be and what characteristics they would have and where they would fit in to what we call the periodic chart of the elements, or the periodic system of the elements.
So, we came into unusual situations as scientists. We started to tell other scientists what they ought to be able to find. So, several men and women were able to determine "there should be an element here" and it should be this weight; it should be element #32. This should be its weight and this should be its position and this should be its characteristics, and when you discover it, it will fit exactly into this position. This, of course, seems unusual to us for scientists, because it seems like faith. It seems like them saying, "This must exist because there is a place for it in the periodic chart of the elements." That is exactly what happened. So much so that several scientists like Nadak and Takae realized that there has to be certain elements of a certain weight and a certain characteristic and they began to assume the existence of that element exactly as they had supposed it to be.
Now, if you ask what was the basis of such certainty that has led to the discovery of well over one hundred elements from just a few at the beginning, (what was the basis of that certainty), that basis was an orderly relationship of the basic elements or substances in our world to each other. So sure of this basic order and relationship did they become that they were able to assume that certain elements were there existed even before they had discovered them. That's why all scientists, who are real scientists, will agree, "Of course, science proceeds by faith, hypothesis, by faith in the order of universe.
That's the only thing that makes scientific research possible. We assume that there is order and design because we have found so many evidences of that order and design in what we understand so far. So, actually, all scientific endeavor is based on that belief, that there is order, or if there is any deviation from that order, that deviation can be calculated. As Einstein showed, even the relativity can be understood and brought into order because even that is governed by certain set and fixed relationships.
This is one of the amazing evidences of meaning in our world today...that each basic element in our present universe is related to every other basic element in an orderly way in virtue of its weight and the relationship of its weight and its position to the other elements.
What is the meaning of life? Whatever it is, it is built into the very material substance of our world.
TO BE CONTINUED