Wednesday, March 30, 2011
A More Mindful World
My father was a rocket scientist who, quite literally, worked on—among other things—the earliest missions to the moon. My boyhood was richly steeped in a culture of astronomy and cosmology. Even today I find the cosmos fascinating.
I have just started reading a recently published book about cosmology, The Hidden Reality by Brian Greene who is one of today’s leading interpreters of this branch of science. It’s an exhilarating and mind-expanding ride.
Let me share with you a tiny morsel of this exciting adventure. Greene opens the second chapter of this book with these two paragraphs:
“If you were to head out into the cosmos, traveling ever farther, would you find that space goes on indefinitely, or that it abruptly ends? Or, perhaps, would you ultimately circle back to your starting point, like Sir Francis Drake when he circumnavigated the earth? Both possibilities—a cosmos that stretches infinitely far, and one that is huge but finite—are compatible with all our observations, and over the past few decades leading researches have vigorously studied each. But for all that detailed scrutiny, if the universe is infinite there’s a breathtaking conclusion that has received relatively scant attention.
In the far reaches of an infinite cosmos, there’s a galaxy that looks just like the Milky Way, with a solar system that’s the spitting image of ours, with a planet that’s a dead ringer for earth, with a house that’s indistinguishable from yours, inhabited by someone who looks just like you, who is right now reading this very book and imagining you, in a distant galaxy, just reaching the end of this sentence. And there’s not just one such copy. In an infinite universe, there are infinitely many. In some, you doppelgänger is now reading this sentence, along with you. In others, he or she has skipped ahead, or feels in need of a snack and has put to book down. In others still he or she has, well, a less than felicitous disposition and is someone you’d rather not meet in a dark alley.
—Brian Greene, The Hidden Reality
Think about implications of this: there are an infinite number of copies of you out there. Each copy veers off to into a different reality whenever he or she makes a choice that differs from your choices.
In a very real sense, every single decision you make aligns you to a new universe of possibilities. You will have the company of the other infinite other versions of “you” who choose as you do. (But you’ll never get to meet them. That’s okay. You already know what they’d be like. They’d be just like you.)
Assuming the universe is infinite, this conclusion is inescapable. Knowing that awakens in me a new desire to align my choices more carefully with my values.
I want to live in one of the more mindful worlds, one that is kinder and more lovely for the attention it receives from the likes of me.