Friday, January 4, 2008

Steven Weinberg


It is almost irresistible for humans to believe that we have some special relation to the universe, that human life is not just a more-or-less farcical outcome of a chain of accidents reaching back to the first three minutes, but that we were somehow built in from the beginning. As I write this I happen to be in an airplane at 30,000 feet, flying over Wyoming en route home from San Francisco to Boston. Below, the earth looks very soft and comfortable — fluffy clouds here and there, snow turning pink as the sun sets, roads stretching straight across the country from one town to another. It is very hard for us to realize that all this is just a tiny part of an overwhelmingly hostile universe. It is even harder to realize that this present universe has evolved from an unspeakably unfamiliar early condition, and faces a future extinction of endless cold or intolorable heat. The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.

But if there is no solace in the fruits of our research, there is at least some consolation in the research itself. Men and women are not content to comfort themselves with tales of god and giants, or to confine their thoughts to the daily affairs of life; they also build telescopes and satellites and accelerators, and sit at their desks for endless hours working out the meaning of the data they gather. The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts[sic] human life a little above the level of farce, and gives [sic] it some of the grace of tragedy.

— Steven Weinberg, The First Three Minutes, 1993, pp. 154–155.

If the universe is overwhelmingly hostile, then our present situation is fortunate, and our belief in our special relation to our little part of it justified. And are there so very few things that lift human life above the level of farce? And is not farce itself above the level of an overwhelmingly hostile universe?

And if the universe is not overwhelmingly hostile? May look at Stephen M. Barr, Modern Physics and Ancient Faith.