Friday, May 06, 2005


I just finished a book by George Johnson, who writes, among other things, science pieces for the NYT. Fire in the Mind. A super read, an in-depth analysis of various scientific theories--math, physics, geology, biology--juxtaposed against native American tales and myths, all with a view to explaining why we seem to have a "fire in the mind" to learn about ourselves and our meaning. He concludes thus (I'm leaving out some really good stuff):

"Sometimes the intelligence of our species seems like a tiny flame
flickering on the periphery of a vast blackness, trying to illuminate the
void. Who gave us this burden? Will anyone or anything beyond our
celestial campsite ever care? If this web is just something we are
spinning for our own amusement, it will die along with its

"...[I]t is hard not to believe that we are all
participating in something universal, something holy, that the pageant must
unfold beyond our planet. Perhaps we are merely one among a myriad of
players--gathering bits, abstracting concepts, building great edifices of
theory, these mathematical Towers of Babel, that reach higher and higher above
the plains. High enough, perhaps, to make out, just barely, the
rhythm of other dancers, the flickering of other fires."

Was that conclusion just Johnson's late-night musing, or perhaps--more cynically--his way of satisfying his editor with a final phrase signaling a role for faith, or at least an instinct for mysticism? I'm not sure, but to me it doesn't matter. While I disagree with some people's interpretation of the quote attributed to Einstein ("God does not play dice with the universe"), namely, that Einstein was expressing a belief that something mystical was at work in the universe, I am coming to believe that we humans aren't anywhere near capable of knowing everything--even of seeing everything. I believe Einstein was saying something like, "We don't know what game is afoot, because we can't see God or the dice, or even ourselves."

That I truly believe, for me anyway. I'll always be playing dice in the dark. The question then becomes, Why play at all?

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