Time International - 02.03.2020

(Jacob Rumans) #1
thermodynamics—the broad truth that all systems
tend to disorder, which is often used to challenge
the truth of evolution itself: that profoundly com-
plex order can emerge from the chaos.
“I resolve that tension in Chapter 3,” Greene
says, a boast that could pass as arrogant except
that, well, he does resolve the tension in Chapter 3.
“It relies on the force of gravity. Without gravity,
everything just spreads out, diffuses, and that’s all
there would be. But gravity has this wonderful ca-
pacity as a universally inward- pulling force which
can undertake the following magic trick: it can pull
things together, making it more orderly here, at the
expense of releasing heat that makes it more dis-
orderly out there. I call it ‘the entropic two-step.’ ”
There’s a lot of satisfaction in such neat solu-
tions to head- cracking problems. But there is an
equivalent neatness to the ostensibly dispiriting
conclusions Greene reaches in his books and in
his research: that unhappy business of a cold uni-
verse, an insentient universe, of the individual as
just a quantum contraption, behaving as a product
not of choice but of probabilities and randomness.

It’s where the free-will thing comes in: the uni-
verse is guided by quantum probabilities, and your
“choices” are simply a part of that, the way a local
breeze is part of the global weather system.
“My feeling is that the reductionist, materialist,
physicalist approach to the world is the right one,”
Greene says. “There isn’t anything else; these grand
mysteries will evaporate over time.” But despite
such empirical bravado, Greene says more too—
and whether he likes it or not, it’s not reduction-
ist, and if it’s written in a book like Until the End of
Time, it could be written in the Vedas as well.
“Rather than feeling, ‘Damn, there’s no uni-
versal morality,’ ‘Damn, there’s no universal con-
sciousness,’ ” he says, “how wondrous is it that I
am able to have this conscious experience and it’s
nothing more than stuff? That stuff can produce
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, that stuff can pro-
duce the Mona Lisa, that stuff can produce Romeo
and Juliet? Holy smokes, that’s wondrous.” The
rational physicist with the deeply spiritual brother
surely meant the holy as just a figure of speech—
but if so, he picked an apt one. □

‘It’s fine to
have your
The pieces
may fall
back in
the end ...
and they
may not.’



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