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David Darling's Newsletter #2


July 13, 2002


1. Meanderings
2. Beginnings
3. Bookends

1. Meanderings

I love the Internet. Not because I care much for computers or sitting in front of a screen -- I don't -- it just happens to be part of my job. But I love the organic nature of the Net, the way ideas grow and link together and produce surprising results. Trolling around recently I was amazed and delighted to find that a book I wrote a few years ago, called "Equations of Eternity," had been used by a heavy metal band for the lyrics to one of its songs. The band's name is Destiny's End (hmm, not a bad title for a book). And here's the interview with them.

Intrigued by what else this little volume had got up to since we parted company, I clicked a few more clicks and came across this page on which the author relates his experiences of reading "Equations" while under the influence of morning glory seeds!

Incidentally, "Equations," which the NYT was kind enough to make one of their notable books of the year, has just been reissued by MJF books. If anyone comes across it or has any mystical experiences while reading it, I'd be interested to hear . . .

2. Beginnings

The simplest questions always turn out to be the stickiest. Who am I? Where did I come from? Where did the universe come from? I wrote an article for New Scientist magazine quite a few moons ago titled "On creating something from nothing." Here's a web copy of it.

I'm surprised New Scientist printed it actually because it's pretty controversial stuff. The creationists loved it, as you can see here, which is a wonderful irony since I'm always giving creationists a hard time (as in "Life Everywhere"). But the article raises two issues which I think are giving science a pretty hard time: the origin of the universe and the origin of consciousness. Let's leave consciousness for now – I'll come back to that thorny little issue in a future letter. Consider cosmic origins. The great question is: What came first? The usual way to answer this today is to say that the universe came from nothing – creation ex nihilo. All of a sudden, space, time, matter, and energy just burst into being. And then all hell broke lose and we're into Big Bang physics, and the various eras of particle creation, and so forth. Here's a neat little reprise of the standard Big Bang scenario.

Well, frankly, all of this doesn't interest me nearly as much as the simple question of the very first event, because that tells us what kind of reality we live in. It seems to me that time is at the heart of the conundrum. Time isn't something that can be created in the physical sense, because the act of something coming into being takes time! To put it another way, it's logically contradictory to say that there can be a transition from a state of timelessness to one of timefulness. It almost isn't fair to expect science to come up with a solution to this one. I know some cosmologists, like Hawking, have tried. But when you peel away all the marvels of imaginary time and the no-boundary boundary condition and so forth, you still get back to that little question of what exactly was the first step. Here is one philosopher's take on the issue.

As you can see, he takes the theologians to task but then fails himself to get to grips with the central conundrum, simply repeating the current cosmological party line. Well, cosmologists can argue all they like about the universe having started as a quantum fluctuation – a spontaneous jump, or tunneling, from a vacuum state into materiality. But any fluctuation or jump, quantum or otherwise, is a temporal event. Without time to begin with, it can't get off the ground. No, I'm afraid I can't accept creation ex nihilo as a scientific theory because it will always be forced to fudge that initial step of jumping from no-time to time outside of time. Which leaves, I think, two possibilities: either there never was a first step or there was one that lies beyond science and human comprehension. The second, being human, I can't address, though I'm perfectly prepared to believe it might be true. The first I dealt with in "Deep Time" (Delacorte, 1989) and, to a more extreme degree, in "Equations of Eternity" (Hyperion, 1993) – it's a closed loop in time, based on John Wheeler's participatory anthropic principle, in which the universe, through consciousness, acquires the means for its own creation. That is, through more and more detailed observations that collapse wave functions, we – and other conscious beings – select and create the universe that had to exist in order that we could evolve and . . . well, you get the picture. Perhaps it makes more sense with morning glory seeds. Personally, I recommend a walk through the woods.

3. Bookends

I was very excited last week to see the first page proofs for "The Complete Book of Spaceflight: From Apollo 1 to Zero Gravity," which is now moving swiftly through the various stages of production before hitting the bookstores in November. It's the first chance to see the text and pictures laid out as they will be in the finished articles. And very nice they look. I'll be posting a list of all the 2,000+ entry headings, together with a few sample entries, over the next few weeks.

Until next time,
All the best,
David Darling