December 9, 2010

Science via Dean Koontz

In 2000, Dean Koontz wrote a great book called From the Corner of His Eye. If you haven't read it, pick up a copy. It's right up there with his best five books. (How many has he written? About a thousand or so, right? So being in the top five is saying a lot.)

After presenting a wild idea in the book -- that there are other universes where we also exist -- and carrying it off beautifully (they need to make a movie out of this one) he ended the book with a note saying that there was actual science that said this wild idea might be true, that we might have zillions of duplicates, living lives as real as our own in other universes.

I couldn't get over it: this was real? So I followed up by reading science books. Little did I know that science would soon take over my life. I cannot believe how gorgeous physics is. It's one of the main highlights of my mental existence. I revel in physics. On the tiniest levels there is so much is going on. And those itsy bits are what our reality is made of. The macroscopic world is built on a wild framework of active, constantly moving, sub-microscopic ingredients. We don't think about what's "down there" but it counts.

One of the best things I ever did was read Brian Greene's Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory. It's not light reading but it's well worth the effort. This author has an uncanny knack for explaining things. With his help you can pretty much understand everything. Because that's what physics is about: everything. There is nothing in the universe that doesn't obey the laws of physics (at least, as far out as we can see).

I followed Greene's book up by reading Daniel Dennet's "Darwin's Dangerous Idea". He's a philosopher of science, which means it's his job to put together the understanding that emerges from science. While scientists discover the facts, Dennett talks about what it means, what science is telling us. One of the most intriguing things he taught me is how our minds work. "Consciousness Explained" is another of his books and I highly recommend it. Fair warning: the book will immolate your concept of "self". It's like having the rug pulled out from under you -- but it's exciting because you can feel that it's true -- he's talking about what goes on in your head all the time. We are not what we think we are.

My science reading went on and on for years. I read just about everything I could get my hands on. Where before I devoured fiction, now I would read only science books. At the tail end of this process, I now have a tall bookcase completely filled with science books and I've read almost every one of them. The understanding I obtained from these guys -- as well as from Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose and Janna Levin and Victor Stenger and David Deutsch and a ton of others -- served to define reality for me. I can never see things the old way anymore. Post-science, I'm aware of the splendor all around me. Each instant seems like a perfect, eternal thing (and it actually is; more on that in a later post).

Science transformed my life and I guess I've got Dean Kontz to thank for it. I did, too. I wrote him a nice email telling him that he'd altered my life in a very positive way. He did and that's the truth.

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