Thursday, April 14, 2011

Self Summary

Consider, if you dare, all of the possible mathematical formulae. Some of them represent trivial truths: 2+2=4. Some of them represent infinite and intricate patterns, like the Mandelbrot fractal. And some of them can be thought of as representing entire universes. There's one in particular, unknown to human minds but probably not all that complicated once it's written out, which unfolds into an ever-expanding cosmos and an infinity of quantum branches.

Inside that cosmos, some regularity emerges. Gravity coalesces the simplest particles into massive stars, within which they fuse into larger elements- and explode into the void in the star's catastrophic demise. These heavier atoms find their way into new accretions, and eventually form planets- and on one in particular, the conditions were just right for some fancy molecule to make use of the regular energy sent out by the local star, and copy itself.

Several billion years later, a particular species of hairless ape became increasingly adept at communication- good enough for social manipulation and deception to arise. Untold generations of Machiavellian strife took their effect on the ape's genes, until they could truly be understood as possessing two brains: the one with which they made basic decisions, essentially unchanged from that of their ancestors, and the one with which they sincerely justified those decisions to their comrades. The latter- which stood to the former essentially in the same relation that the naive press secretary stands to the government official who passes along the talking points- became thought of as the "conscious mind".

But a very curious thing happened then, more quickly than all the previous changes put together. That press secretary, armed with the tools of thought that would make his own flimsy argument stand up straight but reduce his neighbor's to dust, found ways to organize people together in ever-larger bands. Warfare grew, and with it the magnitude of the conquering population- and in the newly defended territories, agriculture blossomed from a hobby to a necessity. Cities, nations, empires rose and fell, and in the concentration of people there was new potential for ideas, technology, culture. Cave paintings and war chants became tapestries and Sophocles, philosophy and music.

And finally, one devious idea took form, in various shadows around the globe before it came together in yet another blink of an eye. Rather than using the argumentative facilities of that clever but capricious conscious mind, why not find a way for Nature to be the judge? And so Science was finally born, and with it technology undreamt of by the civilized world, and the capacity to go beyond what life had ever achieved before, or the capacity to bring a shuddering end to the entire drama; and perhaps, even, the ability to reach back and write down that original equation, folding the cosmos back into that infinitesimal squiggle in the wavefunction that represents a human brain and all its understanding.

It is a strange and wonderful time to be alive.

1 comment:

Sir Marksalot said...

Glad to be reading you again.