Scientific. Philosophical. Well-written. Creative. Mind-expanding.
I've believed this for my entire adult life. But for most of that time I thought that the Secret of the Cosmos could only be revealed through mysticism, meditation, philosophical contemplation, enlightenment, psychedelics.
At the same time, I've always adored science.
I've read countless (almost) books about quantum mechanics, cosmology, neuroscience, cutting edge physics, systems theory, evolution, and such. But I figured that scientific thinking could only go so far, and it was necessary to break out of its boundaries to approach the Meaning of It All.
Well, Coryat has done a damn fine job of melding the facts of modern science with a consciousness-expanding view of what lies at the core of reality.
And he does this without resorting to supernaturalism, religion, God, or anything in the realm of woo-woo -- which is why I like his approach so much better than the many authors like Deepak Chopra who try to make quantum theory into New Age'y "create your own reality" ridiculousness.
Coryat's basis thesis is that the universe is made of information, not stuff.
Physicist John Wheeler's "it from bit" hypothesis supports this contention, but this book goes further than any other scientific writing I've come across in ferreting out the implications of information being the root of reality.
For example, we assume that photons reaching us from a star a billion light years away have been doing their electromagnetic thing for that length of time. Meaning, the photons have been objectively real across that immense span of space-time. However, Coryat persuasively argues that an act of observation essentially brings the photons into being.
This seems counter-intuitive and wrong.
Yet if all we know about the world comes from information, what reason is there to posit a realm of stuff that somehow is both itself and also a source of information about itself? The simplest case scenario, as Coryat puts it, is to understand that "When you look at an object, you aren't actually looking at the object. You're looking at information about the object."
From this simple thread of a premise, the book spins some marvelous webs of conclusions in a convincing manner. My knowledge of quantum mechanics and other scientific subjects is greater than that of most people, but nowhere near professional level.
Still, I feel like I have a pretty good ability to sense bullshit in books that purport to explain the rock-bottom nature of reality, even if I can't pinpoint the factual reasons for my skepticism.
It is a tribute to Coryat's writing ability and obvious extensive background research that my copy of "The Simplest Case Scenario" only contains a few marginal question marks penned in by my highlighter.
I found his treatment of free will to be overly simplistic and out-of-touch with how this supposed human quality should be defined. Namely, as the ability to choose to act differently even if every particle in the universe, including those that comprise the willing brain, were in exactly the same condition.
In other words, genuine free will requires some sort of supernatural assumption, a liberation of consciousness from universal laws of nature. Coryat doesn't believe such exists, yet he argues for the appearance of intentionality in complex informational systems. Yes, but this isn't free will.
I also couldn't follow his contention that a universe comprised of information, rather than stuff, leaves little or no room for the possibility of advanced alien life forms. He says, "The stumbling block for finding truly alien life is that the history of any other informational systems needs to be consistent with our techno-biological history."
There's a good chance I don't understand the subtlety of Coryat's thinking in this regard.
However, it seems to me that while being able to understand or communicate with an alien life form requires some form of cognitive/perceptual commonality, I don't get why a informational universe demands that only one basic type of observer exist within it.
This isn't a perfect analogy, but whenever I go on a walk with our dog and she spends several minutes avidly sniffing some blades of grass that hold no interest for me, I'm reminded that she and I exist in the same world, but perceive it in very different ways.
And what Coryat said in his entry in a Foundational Essays contest -- which formed the basis of this book -- seems at odds with his current position: "Perhaps for an alien race with its own origin and history, the universe would reveal an entirely different set of constants and laws. Indeed, it would be a different universe."
These are minor quibbles, though, and like I said, they might arise from misunderstandings on my part.
My book review bottom line is: READ IT.
Appealingly, to do this you don't even have to buy "The Simplest Case Scenario," though as a habitual reader of printed books, I recommend that you get an Amazon copy on real paper. Alternatively, Coryat is offering a free PDF download of his book at simplestcasescenario.com
Karl Coryat is an interesting guy. Check out his minimalist web site: http://www.pisspoor.com/coryat.html He's a music journalist, a successful Jeopardy contestant, and a comedian.
He also just might have figured out the Secret of the Universe. Or, not. Read his book and make up your own mind.