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Darling's Newsletter #2
July 13, 2002
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
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 . . .
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.
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,