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.

24 comments:

Margaret Pangert said...

Hi Dan~ You've opened some very interesting doors of thought. There are stories of identical twins separated at birth. Growing up in very different circumstances, their similarities remain striking. In this version, though, if my doppelganger is truly I, we would have grown up in the same family, etc. I just think the universe has an infinite supply of versions to create without all these duplicates! I wish we could start our world over from day 1 and do it right.

Dan Gurney said...

Yes, Margaret. In an infinite universe, there would be an infinite number of "earths" exactly like our own, and also an infinite number of ones almost exactly like ours except for that one Margaret who just did something slightly differently than you.

Thing is, we can "start over" in the very this very moment. That's somehow reassuring, especially just now.

Robyn said...

I like this way of thinking very much. Endless possibilities.
Most likely your choices are aligned with your values... the trick is to really know your true values, as it is your values that motivate your choices.

I wonder if we would recognise a perfect world.
I have no desire for our world to start over as mentioned by Margaret.
It is our mistakes that help up improve.

Great post and now I want to read the book.

best wishes
Robyn

Robyn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robyn said...

oops that was me... meant to read us not up... ;-)

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, Robyn, at least in my case, a lot of my choices (the things I actually do) seem to arise from my unconscious mind. Too often, I feel like I'm acting out of impulse rather than intention. Thinking about how my "unmindful" behaviors send me off into less desirable realms helps me resist acting without consideration and deliberation. (Not to denigrate spontaneity and improvisation which certainly has their proper place in my world.)

neighbor said...

It's delightful to contemplate things like this! Maybe time is fuzzy (and then creates infinite space) in that every moment does go an infinite number of ways differently so that, like that delightful Billy Collins* poem, there's some of ourselves ahead and some behind and others on other trajectories, just as is speculated in Greene's book.

I think that's nifty, as is knowing about how vast the universe might be.

I would like to think that as more and more people make choices toward the good and mindful and the beautiful, that we are gradually aligning our world back toward a right path.

*if you're not sure which poem I mean, let me know and I'll post it :-)

steven said...

dan i very like reading with the pacific (?) in the background. i am intrigued by the thinking you ahre here if only because i've wondered about it myself and my wondering stops when i start to separate the material world from the soul. infinite variations on steven and dan - are they material or do they include infinite iterations of soul? my own knowing at this point is no. i thibk that the iterations emanate from soul like the hairs on a dandelion clock. why? i don't know. what do you think? steven

Ruth said...

I like your conclusion. That you want to choose what aligns with your values.

I wonder though about all those me's out there. I feel that even one different choice would shape me differently. I remember reading somewhere that Eckhart Tolle said that if you were born with the same genes and into the same circumstances as any other person you would make the same choices. I like how that is nonjudgmental, and for that reason alone, I embrace it to some degree. But I also feel that if I made different choices, I might not be me in the same way.

Have you heard of the book called "The Other Wes Moore?" It's about two guys named Wes Moore who grew up in the same urban neighborhood, with very similar circumstances. But one had a mother who loved her Wes so much, it shaped his life, and he became a successful attorney. The other Wes Moore ended up dealing drugs, killing someone, and in prison. The attorney heard about him and went and interviewed him, then they wrote a book together. It's a powerful story, though I haven't read the book. When I heard the piece on NPR, the point the attorney made was that he wanted to please his mother, who loved him. The other Wes wanted to please the drug dealers, who loved him. I find this so compelling! Even if we make mistakes as parents and leaders, guides of children, if we love them, they will hopefully look to us for relationship!

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, neighbor, I haven't seen that Billy Collins poem, so, yes, post it! I'd love to read it, he being among of my favs.

Greene talks about time in this book, too, much of it familiar if you've read about time as Einstein understood it. A subject for another post, I suppose....

But the main point is tantalizing: that our choices will realign the world in whatever direction we choose. Cultivating our goodness and love IS always an option we have available. It's as if we're gardeners. We can live in a desert, we can live in Eden.

Dan Gurney said...

steven you bring up a point that Greene addresses in his book. He declares himself to believe that who we are is completely contained in the stuff from which we are made. So, collect each atom, arrange them just so, and you've got another steven or Dan.

I'm not so sure that I agree with Greene on this point. I simply don't know. I don't disagree, but I'm agnostic with regard to this point.

For me, the point is this: regardless of whether there is a soul or not, I want to align my energy so as to "let the beauty we love be what we do" (to borrow a phrase from a blogger I enjoy).

Dan Gurney said...

Ruth with regard your observation about how just one small choice would alter that world and make it different (and no longer a copy of this one) is exactly the point.

So that makes each choice pregnant with meaning. To carry that awareness with us opens the possibility of creating a more aware, more loving, more beautiful world.

You point to exactly what I think is missing in Greene's view of a world that can be reduced to atoms. What is missing is love, soul, call it what you will. Perhaps mathematics is a tool blind to it? I would guess that blue whales with their VW sized hearts know what love is. I think love is perceived by coronary neurons.

Whitney Lee said...

I have wondered what happened to that girl I once was, the one who made different choices than I did. I have believed that she is out there on some alternate plain, living out the life I am not.

This is fascinating and thought provoking.

neighbor said...

ok! done! :-)

Dan Gurney said...

Whitney, she's out there, that's what the math of infinity would say, she and a whole bunch of others who are very much like her/you.

Dan Gurney said...

Thanks neighbor! I saw it there. I see why you were reminded of it. Sorry, I can't leave a comment on TR unless you change it to one of those pop-up window comment formats, like the one I've picked for this blog.

Sarah Lulu said...

SO interesting I think I might buy the book!

Teresa Evangeline said...

I'm very intrigued by this book. I have long believed in the ideas he sets forth, alternate universes created out of our decisions. I have had "visions" in which I see my alternate selves and often they are with others with whom I share this life, but definitely in another "place." Dreams have lately become a vehicle for this same notion. Fascinating stuff and all Very plausible. It feels right to me. I'm glad I stopped by. Very interesting.

Dan Gurney said...

Hi Sarah Lulu! If you like reading about cosmology and so on, I think you'll like it. He's aiming for regular audiences and you don't have to have a lot of background in math (I don't) to enjoy it.

Dan Gurney said...

Hi Theresa Evangeline, I think that the alternate universes he's talking about are not created by our decisions, but simply would exist in an infinite universe. They would have to exist in a universe that was truly infinite. But I know what you mean about seeing alternate selves in visions. I think many of us have that experience. There are even movies (It's a Wonderful Life comes to mind) that have been made around this idea.

I am glad you enjoyed your visit to this page.

Brenda said...

I have read nearly all of the Seth books by Jane Roberts and he says the same thing. He calls them probable selves and probable realities. I can't wait to read the book you mentioned. Oh, and I'm interested in that Billy Collins poem as well.
Thanks!
Brenda

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, Brenda, thanks for stopping by. My friend, neighbor posted it on her blog, Temporary Reality. You can find a link to her blog on my sidebar. She posted the Collins poem a couple of days ago.

Sabio Lantz said...

I am not too up on my physics, but I know there are lots of contenders out there. Greene, for example, I think is a quantum gravity guy (as opposed to standard string theory, I think). I like some of the theories that quantumize space (these are testable and results should be in soon, I think, as opposed to string theory stuff).

Anyway, I think the multiple universes composed of the various decisions you make is one of the wrong options. It is interesting to watch WHY people are drawn to it though. [of course, like many times before, I could be wrong]

Dan Gurney said...

Hi Sabio, well it sounds like you do know a thing or two about physics to me! I agree with you. I don't think there could be any causal connection between our choices and alternate universes out there based on them. (Gasp, what if there were?) But the implications of an infinite universe drawn fully out guarantees an infinite number of universes with planets very much like ours. Greene explains it it terms of the number of particles in the known universe (10 raised to the 122 power) and points out that there is a finite number of ways to arrange that number or any number of particles.