THE GOD PROBLEM
HOW A GODLESS COSMOS CREATES
By HOWARD BLOOM
Copyright © 2012 Howard Bloom
All right reserved.
Chapter One APPETIZERS, CANAPÉS, AND SNACKS
INTRODUCTION: I DARE YOU—THE WEIRDEST RIDE IN THE UNIVERSE
The year was 1961. A dozen freshmen sat around a broad conference table at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Statistics said they were the brightest class of college students in the country. Their median SAT scores were higher than those of the entering classes at Harvard, MIT, and Caltech. Yet what was about to come was a shock. A shock and an almost impossible challenge.
Little did these students know that the math course whose opening session they were about to undergo would dare them to grow an ornately complex and powerful tangle from nearly nothing. It would demand that they grow a vine big enough to house a tribe of giants from a handful of magic beans. It would challenge them to an act of secular sorcery.
And despite their brainpower, only one in ten would be able to handle the task. Only one in ten would be able to extract the entire system of natural numbers from just 165 words mimeographed in blue on a sheet of paper. Only one in ten would be able to find multiplication, addition, subtraction, negative numbers, positive numbers, and rational numbers in just five simple statements, five simple rules that occupied less than twelve lines of space.
But those who were able to successfully tackle this peculiar yearlong homework assignment would win two prizes. They would monopolize the attention of the girls in the class, girls desperate for help with their homework. And that 10 percent of achievers would do something more. They'd uncover a key to a brand-new way of understanding the naked creativity of a very peculiar cosmos.
* * *
God's war crimes, Aristotle's sneaky tricks, Galileo's creationism, Newton's intelligent design, entropy's errors, Einstein's pajamas, John Conway's game of loneliness, information theory's blind spot, Stephen Wolfram's new kind of science, and six monkeys at six typewriters getting it wrong. What do these have to do with the birth of a universe and with your need for meaning? Everything, as you're about to see.
How does the cosmos do something it has long been thought only gods could achieve? How does an inanimate universe generate stunning new forms and unbelievable new powers without a creator? How does the cosmos create? That's the central question of The God Problem.
In The God Problem you'll take a scientific expedition into the secret heart of a cosmos you've never seen. An electrifyingly inventive cosmos. An obsessive-compulsive cosmos. A driven, ambitious cosmos. A cosmos of colossal shocks. A cosmos of screaming, stunning surprise. A cosmos that's the biggest invention engine—the biggest breakthrough maker, the biggest creator—of all time.
For 350 years, science has dodged one of the biggest mysteries in the universe—the God Problem. The God Problem is the simple riddle of how the cosmos hatches explosive novelties, the riddle of how the cosmos creates. How does the universe do what only bearded deities, divine designers, and holy minds in the sky have been thought to do? How does the universe invent a big bang? How does she fashion the first quarks? How does she come up with stars and galaxies? And how does she produce the biggest puzzle of all—the life, the consciousness, and the passion that make your hundred trillion cells you, and my hundred trillion cells me?
How does the universe invent astonishments? And why does a material universe, a universe of mere forces, things, and laws, have creativity at all? That, too, is the God Problem, the problem that the creationists and the intelligent design advocates are trying to rub our noses in. It's the problem that scientific atheists like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris have all too often dodged.
How does a cosmos of elementary particles and gravity turn the impossible into the real, the real into the ordinary, and the ordinary into the raw material of new inventions, new breakthroughs, new astonishments, and new impossibilities? How does the cosmos pull off the act of genesis over and over again? Without a creator?
That's the puzzle of the cosmos into whose heart you are about to dive, the cosmos of which you are a crucial part. It's the mystery of the universe as an invention engine out to surpass herself, setting off new bombshells that shatter every norm. It's the riddle of a cosmos that uses you and me to dream, to fantasize, and to reengineer the very nature of reality.
* * *
To tackle the God Problem, we'll thread our way through an enchanted forest of brain teasers. Why is this a profoundly social cosmos? A cosmos of stimulus and response? A conversational cosmos? A cosmos that outgoogles Google? A cosmos in search of her identity?
Why does this cosmos break some of the most cherished laws of physics? In this universe one plus one does not equal two, x does not equal x, and A does not equal A. Why? Why does this cosmos break the second law of thermodynamics—entropy? Over and over again?
Why does the cosmos shun randomness and laugh at the notion of six monkeys at six typewriters accidentally thumping out the works of Shakespeare, accidentally pounding out stars and galaxies? What does the answer tell us about how the cosmos outengineers human engineers when she generates amazements?
And how does overturning the basic assumptions of science without mercy help us peephole the naked workings of an ingenuity whose secrets this cosmos resolutely hides?
The God Problem will take you on a tour of corollary generator theory—an astonishingly simple way to understand the basics of nature's inventive itch without equations. The God Problem will put you on a train from Poland escaping the threat of Hitler to the questionable safety of Paris with eleven-year-old Benoît Mandelbrot, the father of fractals, and show you how even Mandelbrot was unwittingly following the simple rules of cosmic creativity.
The God Problem will tell you the tale of another thwackingly simple theory that explains the past and future of the universe, including mysteries like dark energy. That theory is the Big Bagel—the toroidal model of the cosmos.
The God Problem will put you smack in the middle of the minds of some of the most interesting humans ever to grace the earth. The God Problem will take you on a journey that covers six thousand years of riddles, puzzles, and paradoxes; six thousand years of bizarre ways of thought; six thousand years of invention and breakthroughs; six thousand years of zigs and zags that reveal how the rules of cosmic creativity work their wonders in human beings. Six thousand years of riddle-solving that have given you and me the tools with which we think every day. And in the process, The God Problem will give you six new thinking tools you've never had before.
The God Problem will show you humanity's ultimate challenge—to save the cosmos that gave us birth. To squeeze all our passion and all our knowledge into one ball and roll it with what the poet Andrew Marvell called "rough strife through the iron gates of life." But this time the iron gateway is the black hole at the end of the universe.
So strap yourself in. If the muses are with us, this will be one of the wildest scientific rides of all time.
But first, a demonstration you can do without leaving your couch. Try poking your right finger through the palm of your left hand. Did your finger go through the skin and bone and come out on the other side? No? Now for a question. How old are you? If you gave a figure under 150, you're wrong. Why? For the answer, try another question: Why didn't your finger go through your palm and come out on the other side of your hand? It's because you're solid, right? And what makes you solid?
The answer is protons. How old are those protons? They're 13.73 billion years old. They were burped forth in the first 10-32 second, the first nanosliver of a second of the big bang.
Is what makes you solid a part of you? If the answer is yes, then you are as old as the universe. If the answer is yes, then you are a child of the big bang and a descendant of explosions, collisions, catastrophes, stars, and galaxies.
The protons in your hand have been through every slam, every bash, every disaster, and every creative crash this cosmos has ever managed to throw their way. And there have been smashups, bashups, and disasters galore. But here's a little secret. The story of those cosmic calamities and material miracles is your biography. The story of the universe—from protons and suns to curiosity—is your history. And the God Problem is the riddle of how you came to be.
THE CAFÉ TABLE AT THE BEGINNING OF THE UNIVERSE
At heart this is a book about shape shock and the riddle of the supersized surprise. What is shape shock and what is the riddle of the supersized surprise? Everything—as you're about to see.
You and I are seated at a café table in the nothingness before the big bang. You are a wildly imaginative visionary and I am a crusty conservative. You have extraordinary visions, and I am a stick-in-the-mud, a crust of toast committed to logic and to common sense. You and I have nothing better to do, so we've been sitting here at our outdoor table sipping one coffee after another ever since the nothingness began.
Absolutely nothing is happening, right? Why? Because there is nothing, no thing, no action, no space, no time, no form, no substance, no shadow, no sunshine, no squirrels, no trees, no planets, no sticks, no stones, no bones, not a single solitary thing. And there never has been.
Suddenly you perk up. You have a nutty vision, an insane daydream. You point to a spot in the blackness a few feet away from our table. And you tell me that if I watch very carefully, I will see a pinprick infinitely smaller than a pinprick smash abruptly from the nothingness, then expand at superspeed. Blowing up like a hyperkinetic balloon. A speed-rush sheet, a manifold, of raw space and time.
The boredom must have gotten to you, I tell you. What you're claiming is loony. What's more, it's impossible. And it defies the laws of logic. I've been sitting here across the table from you for a good long time. I've kept my eyes peeled. And there has never been a pinprick of any kind. What's more, this wacky stuff you call space and time has never existed either. Nor will it ever exist. Why? Because nothing comes from nothing. Zero plus zero equals zero. The idea that this basic fact could ever change is wild-eyed fantasy. And it defies the first law of thermodynamics, the law of the conservation of matter and energy, a law so basic that every respectable twentyfirst-century scientist will someday declare it thoroughly and completely right.
While I, in exasperation, am trying to get simple logic across to you, wham, a pinprick infinitely smaller than a pinprick suddenly shows its head. It's what physicists like Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose will someday call a singularity. I am stunned. This simply does not make sense. But you stay cool and act as if nothing is happening. Meanwhile, that pinprick blows up so fast that it makes me dizzy. And sure enough, it has three properties that have never existed before. Three properties that, if common sense prevailed, should not exist. Those properties are time, space, and speed—time, space, and energy. How in the world did you know this would happen? And how in the nonexistent world did the nothingness pull this off?
The pinprick whooshes outward like the rubber sheet of a trampoline on a growth binge, unfurling as a superspeed space-time manifold. I am stunned. What the heck is space? What in the world is time? And what is powering all this speed? Who in the world invented these peculiar things? And if they weren't invented, how the hell did the utter emptiness burp them out?
While I'm sitting there with my jaw dropping, you are as cool as a scoop of gelato in a block of ice. Finally you open your mouth again. And you make another of your wacky predictions. That unfurling sheet, that giant sail of space and time, you say, is about to produce something called "things." And those things are going to precipitate from the sheet of space, time, and speed the way that raindrops precipitate from a storm cloud.
Now I know you've lost it. You got me with your prediction about the pinprick. But that was beginner's luck—and dumb luck of that kind does not strike twice. Now listen to me very carefully, I tell you. There is no such thing as "things." There have never been things. And there never will be things. That sheet speeding open a few feet away from us has only three properties: space, time, and energy. And those are bizarre enough all on their own. Let's get logical. Everyone knows that one plus one equals two. Add space, time, and speed and what do you get? You get space, time, and speed—period!
Then, far less than a second into the existence of your blasted space-time-speed manifold, there comes a rain, a hail storm, a blizzard. Of what? Of things. Gazillions of them. Roughly 1087 to be a bit more precise. What are they? They're elementary particles—quarks. All popping simultaneously from a mere whoosh. And it makes no sense. In fact, it is impossible. So why in the world have you been right twice? And why is my down-to-earth logic, my sturdy and sober rationality, my clear and sensible thinking, all wrong?
Things will soon get worse. This peculiar rule-breaking and massively innovating cosmos that you and I have been watching from our café table will churn out galaxies, stars, molecules, cells, and DNA. Not to mention thinkers, talkers, lollypops, common sense, croissants, cannibals, café tables, and you and me. But how?
That is the God Problem. But how in the world did the God Problem come to be?
THE PROBLEM WITH GOD: THE TALE OF A TWISTED CONFESSION
Imagine this. You are a twelve-year-old in a godforsaken steel town that once helped suture the Great Lakes to the Atlantic coast of North America and Europe. A city that, for you, is a desert—a wasteland without other minds that welcome you. Buffalo, New York.
Your bar mitzvah is coming up. (Congratulations—you are Jewish for a day.) And you are avoiding a huge confession. One that will utterly change your life. A confession about one of the biggest superstars of human history. God.
You are not a popular kid. In fact, other kids either ignore you or try with all their might to keep you from getting anywhere near their backyard play sessions, their baseball diamonds, their clubs, and their parties. When they do pay attention to you, it's to take aim. They kick soccer balls in your face. They grab your hat and play toss with it over your head while you run back and forth trying to yank it out of the heights above your reach. Or they pry your textbooks from your arms and throw them on a lawn covered with dog droppings.
No one your age wants you in Buffalo, New York.
But at the age of ten you discover a clique that does welcome you. Why? It's a clique of dead men. And dead men have no choice. The two heroes you glue yourself to, two heroes not in a position to object if you tag along and join them in their games, are Galileo and Anton van Leeuwenhoek. These are men who shuffled off this mortal coil roughly three hundred years ago. But they put you on a quest, a mission, an adventure that will last you a lifetime.
Your task? To pursue the truth at any price, including the price of your life. To find things right under your nose, things that you, your parents, and all the kids who shun you take for granted. To look at these everyday things as if you've never seen them before. To look for hidden assumptions and to overturn them. To look for really big questions then to zero in on them. Even if the answers will not arrive in your lifetime.
Why do this? Because your dead companions have lured you into science. And the first two rules of science are:
1. The truth at any price including the price of your life.
2. Look at things right under your nose as if you've never seen them before, then proceed from there.
What's more, in science the next big question can be more important than the next big answer. New questions can produce new scientific leaps. They can tiddlywink new flips of insight and understanding. Big ones. Paradigm shifts.
New questions can even show the people who've rejected you how to think in whole new ways. And that is your mission. Finding the questions that will produce the next big perception shift. Finding the unseen vantage points that will allow others to radically reperceive.
So how does God get into the picture? Remember, you are twelve. Your bar mitzvah is coming up. Your dad is going to throw a party for all the kids you know—for all the kids who humiliate you at Public School 64. And this time you are invited. Yes, your bar mitzvah is the very first time that you will be allowed to attend a celebration with your peers. And it gets better. The center of attention will be, guess who? You.
Excerpted from THE GOD PROBLEM by HOWARD BLOOM Copyright © 2012 by Howard Bloom. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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