As an undergraduate liberal arts professor, I'm often asked how one knows what's really true. After all, isn't that what undergraduate college is all about -- critical thinking -- knowing what's true without needing the help of a professor? The answer is a simple, "Yes." Four years of undergraduate study (1/25th of one's life) and about $120,000 (the price of a starter house) buys an American college student one thing: critical thinking (critical reading, listening, writing and speaking). But it's one thing to think critically, and quite another to "prove" something is true. How does one ever know something is true?

For 3,000 years, academicians have recognized the value of "authority" as proof. Authority means searching out someone who is especially knowledgeable in the area under consideration. After all, asking someone who's been studying and critically thinking about whether a particular thing is true or not for many months, years, even a lifetime, is a reasonable thing to do when truth is in question. For centuries, authority served as the one way to prove something was true. If an authority agreed something was true, then it had to be. Authority, however, came into serious question in the 1600's when members of the Church -- then considered the authorities -- erroneously held the earth was flat, that the earth was the center of the solar system, and humans were God's best and highest creation. It was during these darkest of dark ages that the Renaissance occurred and a new way to prove things emerged. 

For 300 years, the scientific method has been regarded as a second way to prove something is true. Essentially, one states the conditions under which an experiment is to be performed, and as long as every time the experiment is repeated the results are the same, then the premise (hypothesis) is assumed to be true. Science was at first a mysterious, almost magical way to prove things. Later it became regarded as equal and in many instances even more powerful than authority. Some even elevated science above the Church and thereby even God. The problem with science, however, was that not everything was always perfectly repeatable. For example, if one created an experiment where the experimenter yelled "FIRE!" inside a theater, and several assistants recorded the exact actions of everyone in the theater, the results, when the experiment was repeated, were rarely exactly the same. Another way of stating this "problem" was that systems that were highly complex, like human thinking, rarely resulted in the same actions each time. This "failure" of science, led to the search for a new way to prove complex things. 

For 30 years now, with the advent of Newton's calculus, probability theory, Einstein's Theories of General and Special Relativity, and finally computers, academicians have come to recognize a third way to prove something, namely, through determining it's statistical relevance. I recall in the 1970's having to report the "statistical significance" of every experimental result I published. For many, statistics became the newest, best, and, because of the power and indifference of computers in calculation, more trusted than authority or science. That is, more trusted until it became clear that while a statistic might be consistently true, on the average, for many complex systems taken together, it was rarely if ever true for any one such system individually. If the "mean number of children born to families in the USA is 2.5, does that mean that each American family has 2.5 children? Soon afterward, the "darker side" of statistics was revealed. Nowadays, people like to say that it takes a computer and statistics to really lie and lie big-time. 

For the past three years, a fourth way to prove things has been slowly emerging. Based on physics' M-Superstring Theory, it is postulated that reality exists in more than three physical dimensions (length, width and depth) and one temporal dimension (time). In fact, M-Superstring Theory posits exactly 11 dimensions, and, even stranger, an unlimited number of parallel universes. How exactly one uses M-Superstring Theory to "prove" a broad range of things is not yet fully apparent, but so far, it appears to be applicable to both really BIG things, like cosmology, as well as very little things, like quantum physics. The problem has been how to apply it to things "in the middle" like neurobiology, spirituality, consciousness and psychology.

I don't usually make predictions, but I'd like to make two here. First, if M-Superstring Theory is eventually applied to "middle-sized" things, it going to entirely re-write the way we think, live and most likely evolve. Second, I'm always intrigued by the 3000/300/30/3 sequence in discovering new ways to prove things, and I think it reasonable to infer from this progression that we may be living on the cusp of not just a fourth way of proving things, but maybe a fifth, six, seventh or higher number more ways of proving things, if we can just understand M-Superstring Theory and it's ramifications.

If there's some things particularly important things to take away from this blog entry, I think it's that there are surprisingly few ways to prove anything, that each approach thus far has both limited application and its own inherent limitations, and that we may be on the cusp of the most exciting era in understanding life, the universe and everything ever. It very well may be that we will soon begin to comprehend critical thinking, truth and proof in a totally new way, yielding a totally new point-of-viewing of this amazing world.