On Atoms and Demons

When I’m feeling particularly cantankerous and willing to question just about everything we think we know, I wonder if an atom is just a mathematically sophisticated demon. I wonder if the most fundamental ways we think about the world around us are just as wrong now as ever. Perhaps we should wonder if knowledge of atoms will be considered on par with knowledge of demons a thousand years from now. It is true that thinking ‘atomically’ has a greater propensity for achieving precise results, but, to say that there is something more basic than the atom is not all that substantively different from saying that the things which cause illness or delusion are more concrete than demons. Both demons and atoms carry great explanatory power in the minds in which they make sense and I don’t think it’s too crazy to wonder if the distinction between atoms and demons is more in a particular form of precision than in kind. The effort to explain the things people see is present in both, and I wonder if history will look upon us more kindly than we look upon the ‘absurdity’ we find in superstition and myth.

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