Tag: lightman

Mar 9 2020

Book: Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine

If you are looking for information on the public markets, this is not the blog you should be reading. Instead, I encourage you to go read Fred Wilson’s post Market Meltdowns or Howard Lindzon’s post Momentum Monday – A Panic For The Ages.

Rather than watch the news tonight, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Alan Lightman’s book Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine. I’ve loved Alan Lightman’s writing and the idea of a human that behaves like Alan Lightman since I read his first book Einstein’s Dreams when it came out in 1992.

Lightman is an astrophysicist, novelist, essayist, and educator. He’s been foundational at MIT around all of their creative writing endeavors and is currently Professor of the Practice of the Humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

I don’t know him, but when I think about evolving human journeys, his appeals to me as much as his writing does.

The book starts out strong with a chapter titled “Longing for Absolutes in a Relative World.” For a taste, I loved this paragraph:

On the one hand, such an onslaught of discovery presents a cause for celebration. In fact, the wonders of Einstein’s relativity and the idea of the Big Bang were the engines that propelled me into science decades ago. Is it not a testament to our minds that we little human beings with our limited sensory apparatus and brief lifespans, stuck on our one planet in space, have been able to uncover so much of the workings of nature? On the other hand, we have found no physical evidence for the Absolutes. And just the opposite. All of the new findings suggest that we live in a world of multiplicities, relativities, change, and impermanence. In the physical realm, nothing persists. Nothing lasts. Nothing is indivisible. Even the subatomic particles found in the twentieth century are now thought to be made of even smaller “strings” of energy, in a continuing regression of subatomic Russian dolls. Nothing is a whole. Nothing is indestructible. Nothing is still. If the physical world were a novel, with the business of examining evil and good, it would not have the clear lines of Dickens but the shadowy ambiguities of Dostoevsky.

If you open up any news based website, you are going to get efforts of describing the world in the clear lines of Dickens. Just remember that we are living in the shadowy ambiguities of Dostoevsky. I’m going to happily carry that one around for a while.

Lightman has a long rant on something he calls the Central Doctrine of Science.

Without ever hearing it spoken out loud, we budding scientists simply embraced a principle I call the Central Doctrine of Science: All properties and events in the physical universe are governed by laws, and those laws hold true at every time and place in the universe.

He then unfolds this, using the concept of Absolutes and Relatives, and takes us into an endless, parallel universe of mostly empty space.

I’ve been reading plenty of “things to read after you are 50 about the meaning of life”, which feels like a cliche even as I type it. It’s not the only stuff I’ve been reading (e.g. over the weekend, I finished Jane Against the World: Roe v. Wade and the Fight for Reproductive Rights) but I look forward to gobbling down Lightman’s In Praise of Wasting Time soon.

If you accept that the rest of 2020 will be insane, that a year is a tiny portion of the 13.8 billion years since the big bang, that no one really knows what happened before the big bang, that there might be an infinite number of parallel universes, and that most of everything is just empty space, things might be a little less stressful today. Or not …

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