Update on the Universe; or, Where we “canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth”

Box seat holders at the Toads know that periodically we like to drop in on the physicists to see how the universe is progressing. Though it may be some 14 billion years old, fans will be happy to know that the universe is still in its early innings. Time for a hot dog and a bottle of that dark matter earthlings call beer.

But why can’t we enjoy the universe without the polemic diatribes of the scientists who must wear their atheist merit badges on their sleeves? In the most recent example, Lawrence Krauss’s A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing, Richard Dawkins comes out of the bullpen to write the afterword, and we find ourselves trying to stay afloat in some deep, dark matter, but it’s not beer.

“Over the course of the history of our galaxy,” Krauss writes, “about 200 million stars have exploded. These myriad stars sacrificed themselves, if you wish, so that one day you could be born. I suppose that qualifies them as much as anything else for the role of saviors.” But is Jesus about being born, or about the existential possibility of being reborn?* To get this, one must imagine a universe without shame. It doesn’t matter where you come from, who your parents were, the color of your collar. The universe does not come into play. Krauss has hit a foul ball.

Why the scientists can’t stick to scientific writing is one of the mysteries of the universe that neither Krauss nor Dawkins unravel. Consider, for example, Dawkins’s afterward. After a couple hundred pages of Krauss blowing winds and cracking cheeks in which he attempts to explain that King Lear was wrong when he said “nothing will come of nothing,” we find that indeed nothing has come of nothing, but that it may amount to the same thing as something coming from nothing, or the other way around. In any case, as early as 14 billion years ago, which is to say, in his preface, Krauss has already admitted, “we simply don’t know” and probably never will. As it turns out, the universe is really about funding.

We’ve never doubted, here at the Toads, that something can come from nothing (witness the 1969 Mets); neither have we doubted the reverse, that nothing can come from something. We’re going back to casting out 9’s, dividing the universe into 9 inning segments.

“We may not understand quantum theory,” Dawkins writes in his afterward, but then says, parenthetically and inexplicably religiously, “[heaven knows, I don’t] but a theory that predicts the world to ten decimal places cannot in any straightforward sense be wrong. Theology not only lacks decimal places: it lacks even the smallest hint of connection with the real world.” Yes, but why “heaven knows”? Is Dawkins kidding here? Or is this a slip of the atheist pen? And what about those ten decimal places? In a universe as old and big as Krauss has described, ten decimal places hardly seems significant at all. The assumptions of the argument lose their scientific credibility the moment its purpose is revealed to be conversion: it’s an argument of conversion, and it’s trying and tiring.

Note: For information about the universe, the Toads still recommends Robert B. Laughlin’s A Different Universe.

*“Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:7-8, KJV).

Related:

David Albert’s New York Times book review of Krauss’s A Universe from Nothing.

Sea Monsters in A. C. Grayling’s Secular Bible; or, Humanity’s Greatest Endeavor

Progress Report: Our Disappearing World

On Universe: A Conversation Between Thoreau and Bucky

Thoreau: “What distant and different beings in the various mansions of the universe are contemplating the same one at the same moment!”

Fuller: “Man seems unique as the comprehensive comprehender and co-ordinator of local universe affairs.”

Thoreau: “Probably I should not consciously and deliberately forsake my particular calling to do the good which society demands of me, to save the universe from annihilation; and I believe that a like but infinitely greater steadfastness elsewhere is all that now preserves it.”

Fuller: “This is the essence of human evolution upon Spaceship Earth. If the present planting of humanity upon Spaceship Earth cannot comprehend this inexorable process and discipline itself to serve exclusively that function of metaphysical mastering of the physical it will be discontinued, and its potential mission in universe will be carried on by the metaphysically endowed capabilities of other beings on other spaceship planets of universe.”

Thoreau: “I discovered that my house actually had its site in such a withdrawn, but forever new and unprofaned, part of the universe.”

Fuller: “Coping with the totality of Spaceship Earth and universe is ahead for all of us.”

Thoreau: “The universe constantly and obediently answers to our conceptions.”

Fuller: “Only as he learned to generalize fundamental principles of physical universe did man learn to use his intellect effectively.”

Thoreau: “The harp is the travelling patterer for the Universe’s Insurance Company, recommending its laws, and our little goodness is all the assessment that we pay.”

Fuller: “We are faced with an entirely new relationship to the universe.”

Thoreau: “Though the youth at last grows indifferent, the laws of the universe are not indifferent, but are forever on the side of the most sensitive.”

Fuller: “Can we think of, and state adequately and incisively, what we mean by universe?”

Thoreau: “Nature puts no question and answers none which we mortals ask.”

Fuller: “But the finite physical universe did not include the metaphysical weightless experiences of universe.”

Thoreau: “The universe is wider than our views of it.”

Fuller: “The universe is the aggregate of all of humanity’s consciously-apprehended and communicated experience with the nonsimultaneous, nonidentical, and only partially overlapping, always complementary, weighable and unweighable, ever omnitransforming, event sequences.”

Thoreau: “In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

All quotes, juxtapositions around universe, taken from Thoreau’s Walden and Fuller’s Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth.

Fuller, R. Buckminster. Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth. First published, 1969. New edition, Baden/Switzerland: Lars Muller Publishers, 2008/2011 [Edited with Introduction by Jaime Snyder]. Print.

Thoreau, Henry David. Walden. 1854. Boston: Beacon Press, July 15, 2004 [Introduction and Annotations by Bill McKibben]. Print.

Related: