Here's an excerpt from a story in the most recent issue of TIME magazine about physicist Brian Greene and his new book, Until the End of Time. (I've ordered it, naturally.)
I get hugely more inspiration from science books like this one, because they're founded in reality, not fantasy, as religious writings are. I've been there and done that. Now, like Greene, I embrace the cold, cruel, wondrous universe.
There's a lot of satisfaction in such neat solutions 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 universe, 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 universe 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 reductionist, 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 universal morality,' 'Damn, there's no universal consciousness,'" 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 produce 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.