This may be a meeting point of science and myth ; who can say ? Tagore’s is not a smoky abstraction. At least one gets the impression when reading the views of John A. Wheeler, Professor at Princeton University and currently Director of the Centre for Theoretical Physics at the University of Texas, who in a seminal book Gravitational Theory and Gravitational Collapse gave it the name “black hole” – to a miniscule object hugely dense and “yet invisible because nothing, not even light, could escape its stupendous gravity”.
“Is man an unimportant bit of dust or an important galaxy somewhere in the vastness of space ?” asks Wheeler. And his answer is no – not on the basis of religious faith but on scientific argument. “The strongest feature of Quantum Mechanics, the foundation of modern physics, is the discovery that it is impossible to measure more than one quantity (such as position or momentum) of sub-atomic particles at a time ; measuring the one prevents us from measuring the other…..This ‘uncertainty principle’ stood for forty years as a paradox and an apparent limit to human knowledge.” The words are John Boslough’s, who also explains how Wheeler takes up this strange uncertainty principle and concludes that “what we can say about the universe as a whole depends on the means we use to discover it. If to measure a particle is to decide which of its properties has a tangible reality, then a physicist is not simply an observer – but an active participant ! Man by exploring the universe, plays a part in bringing into being something of what he sees. This was a modification of the ‘anthropic principle’ first advanced by physicist Robert Dicke. The universe is the way it is because we are in it. Wheeler pushed the idea to its limits, to a principle cutting both ways ; that the concept of a universe is meaningless unless there is a community of thinkers to observe it, and that community is impossible unless the universe is adapted form the start to giving rise to life and mind.