But I cannot accept a vision of You as an engineer who spends His days maintaining the machine of morality. I cannot take the idea of You as an optimizer, introducing evil into human affairs in an attempt to create the best of all possible worlds. I cannot bear this cold mathematician's God who sees all the universe as nothing more than an elaborate problem to be solved. Such a world is a world with no meaning, one in which one history is no more or less preferable to any other.
Two moral forces shaped how we think and live in this shining twentieth century: the Virgin, and the Dynamo. The Dynamo represents the desire to know; the Virgin represents the freedom not to know.What's the Virgin made of? Things that we think are silly, mostly. The peculiar logic of dreams, or the inexplicable stirring we feel when we look on someone that's beautiful not in a way that we all agree is beautiful, but the unique way in which a single person is. The Virgin is faith and mysticism; miracle and instinct; art and randomness.On the other hand, you have the Dynamo: the unstoppable engine. It finds the logic behind a seeming miracle and explains that miracle away; it finds the order in randomness to which we're blind; it takes the caliper to a young woman's head and quantifies her beauty in terms of pleasing mathematical ratios; it accounts for the secret stirring you felt by discoursing at length on the nervous systems of animals.
First, the idea of the multiverse is essentially the fantasy of preserving perfect information. One of the hard things to deal with in life is the fact that you destroy potential information whenever you make a decision. You could even say that's essentially what regret is: a profound problem of incomplete information. If you select one thing on a diner's menu, you can't know what it would have been like to taste other things on it, right then, right there. When you marry one person, you give up the possibility of knowing what it would have been like to have married any number of others. But if the multiverse exists, you can at least imagine there's another version of you who's eating that other thing you thought about ordering, or who's married to that other man you only went on two dates with. Even if you'll never see all the information for yourself, at least you'll be able to tell yourself that it's
There was a graduate student in my cohort, this guy I dated, who told me he came to realize that doing physics is like this: there's a concrete wall twenty feet thick, and you're on one side, and on the other side is everything worth knowing. And all you have is a spoon. So you just have to take a spoon and start scraping at the wall: no other way. He works in a bookstore now.But I think of it this way. There is a jigsaw puzzle. It's infinitely large, with no edges or corners to help you out. We have to put it together: it's our duty. We will never finish, but we have to find our satisfactions where we can: when we place two pieces together that suggest we may have found the place where the sky touches the sea, or when we discover a piece that is beautiful in and of itself, that has an unusual color or a glimpse of an unexpected pattern. And the pieces that do not join together also tell you something. If there are very few eureka moments, then at least there are a thousand little failures, that point the way toward a hundred little joys.
The scientific method entails two assumptions that are so basic that, even if you spell them out, they are still difficult to keep in mind. First: that the observer stays the same while the world changes. Second: that cause precedes effect.But the very nature of the experiment we are conducting means that the second of these assumptions is thrown into doubt. We are deliberately attempting to engineer an event in which effect chronologically precedes cause.If one of these assumptions is under threat, why not the other?
In fact, although I am not aware of it (and I am never aware of it, no matter how many times I have the dream) her suicide is a foregone conclusion. It is this way in dreams: when decisions are being made, they have already been made.
I have already lost the knowledge of the word whose sound has the shape of a soul. But perhaps it's not too late. Come with me. Hurry now. We still have a chance to be young.
And so Rebecca consigned herself to, not ignorance, but a judicious incuriosity: she decided, for the time being, to live with the constant, cryptic reminders that the scope of another person's soul could never be fully surveyed.
But I can tell you this: that I am deeply proud of Rebecca. That she made a split-second decision to save the life of her son, turning the wheel of her vehicle so that her side of it would be impacted by an oncoming car instead of his. She gave her life in the exercise of the greatest gift that God grants us—the ability to change the trajectory of history.
And just as he said of me, the thing that his heart desired was not the thing that he professed to want.
This is the last moment of contentment untainted by sorrow, when the brain hesitates before delivering the message to the heart that it knows it must.
In the middle of all the world's incessant noise, her message was music, and music was a thing that I'd mostly lived my life without. In the ten years since I'd last seen Miranda she'd come to somehow stand in for all the things I didn't have in life that were thought to make us human, all the absent music and touch and sympathy; in my mind she lived a separate life apart from her real one, and there she grew more pure and perfect with each passing day . . . In my mind Miranda had become a miracle.
Like most modern people, we no longer bothered to make the distinction between events in real life and the dramas of fictional worlds, and so the cliff-hanger that inevitably, reliably ended the hour held just as much or more importance to us as the newspaper that usually went from doorstep to garbage bin unread, and we speculated about the future lives of the characters that populated decayed mansions or desert isles as if they weren't inventions of other human minds.
She drank the glass with breakfast and poured herself another. By the time she'd gotten Sean off to school (second grade) the edges had been taken off her thoughts and the world seemed as it should be: not too real, but real enough.
But life isn't neat the way a story is. And if you try to pretend it is, then you just make yourself unhappy, or screw yourself over.
Think of it. Going to sleep and waking up later in a science fiction future. It'll be fantastic. The shock and the wonder of it.
In the moment when he died at my hand he had his own heart's desire—not the actual future, but a hope for the best possible future, one that he could not himself imagine.
As an act of goodwill you must sacrifice all the futures you might have for the one that he designs for you.
The palimpsests of molecules need not be overwritten, for machines make once-ephemeral words persist: they collect in gutters; they pile up and require sweeping; they hang in air like morning fog.
It is time to put down the pen; time to clear the throat. Speaking is a different thing altogether from writing. The spoken word has different properties, and different powers. If I have learned anything from writing down my own tale, it is this.
At any other time it's better. You can do the things you feel you should; you're an expert at going through the motions. Your handshakes with strangers are firm and your gaze never wavers; you think of steel and diamonds when you stare. In monotone you repeat the legendary words of long-dead lovers to those you claim to love; you take them into bed with you, and you mimic the rhythmic motions you've read of in manuals. When protocol demands it you dutifully drop to your knees and pray to a god who no longer exists. But in this hour you must admit to yourself that this is not enough, that you are not good enough. And when you knock your fist against your chest you hear a hollow ringing echo, and all your thoughts are accompanied by the ticks of clockwork spinning behind your eyes, and everything you eat and drink has the aftertaste of rust.
I like Carson. I really like Carson. I can hand an idea to him that's still a little rough, and he can turn it over and tumble it and hand it back to me shining. And I can do the same for him.
I truly do not know, and that unnameable feeling that comes with not knowing: it must be worse than grief. It must.
This had been happening more and more often: the two of us come upon each other by accident in the early hours of the morning and take solace in each others' company, weathering out the peril of being awake at this time of night, when thoughts that are neatly ordered or justly murdered during the day come loose from their moorings and out of their graves, to tie themselves to each other in new and dangerous ways.
But I was not good enough. You should understand this about me—I am not a hero; not one to tap unknown reserves of courage; not one to rise to circumstance. I am the understudy who chokes on his lines when he is forced onto the stage. I am never, ever good enough.
That friend of hers has got to go, though. You're lucky you got stuck with that Dexter guy instead of
The machines of this place are failing, and the woman and I are here all alone. The perpetual motion engine, as brilliant and beautiful as it is, is running down—nothing lasts forever. But before this little world falls out of the sky there still might be time enough for redemption. There is still time for me to say the words that I should have had the courage to say at the beginning.There is still time, perhaps, for one more miracle.Hello, Miranda.
Soon our culture's oldest dreams will be made real. Even the thought of sending a kind of flying craft to the moon is no longer nothing more than a child's fantasy. At this moment in the cities below us, the first mechanical men are being constructed that will have the capability to pilot the ship on its maiden voyage. But no one has asked if this dream we've had for so long will lose its value once it's realized. What will happen when those mechanical men step out of their ship and onto the surface of this moon, which has served humanity for thousands of years as our principal icon of love and madness? When they touch their hands to the ground and perform their relentless analyses and find no measurable miracles, but a dead gray world of rocks and dust? When they discover that it was the strength of millions of boyhood daydreams that kept the moon aloft, and that without them that murdered world will fall, spiraling slowly down and crashing into the open sea?
She is mad, and I am sane. To speak to her, even the first word, would be an acknowledgement and an acceptance of her madness, and from there I would have no choice but to follow her down the hole until both of us would be here alone in this ship among the clouds, endlessly circling the earth, our needs carefully ministered to by mechanical men, howling ourselves hoarse and counting off the ticks of the clock before the moon falls out of the sky.
That's one of our speculations, by the way. That the prior version of history that this one overwrote was horrible. Complete geopolitical mayhem; half of New York City is underwater. The United States is headed toward civil war, or ruled by an artificial-intelligence construct, or some such other thing. Real end-of-days stuff. That the instances of ourselves who existed in that history figured out what we have: that the invention of the causality violation device was the cause. That in that prior version of history, Rebecca did not die in a car accident. That she went back to the past on a mission, as a volunteer, well aware of her sacrifice.
Best, perhaps to keep one's nickels forever in one's pockets, to savor delicious possibility over mundane experience.
I still have enough faith in language to believe that if I place enough words next to each other on the page, they will start to speak with sounds of their own.
But space shrinks when you get old, and things lose their wonder, and the wisest thing to do then is to try your best to sleep.
And as Sean climbs into bed and closes his eyes, Mother comes, riding astride a lion the size of a house, blowing a clarion from a horn made out of a hollowed-out elephant's tusk. Her eyes have a faint crimson glow from the lasers that are mounted behind her irises, ready to fire at will.'I touched a prince's chest today and made his heart stop,' she says. 'I'll do it again if I have to: they'll see what happens if anyone gets in my way. Good night, my son. Remember that I will always keep you safe; that I am always everywhere and always here.''Good night, Mom,' Sean says, and falls asleep.And Mother recedes, wise and beautiful and strong, a genius and a hero, a punisher of thieves and a slayer of wicked men, to watch over her son in all her different versions.
And yet Rebecca felt that it was hard to tell whether the secret algorithms of Big Data did not so much reveal you to yourself as they tried to dictate to you what you were to be. To accept that the machines knew you better than you knew yourself involved a kind of silent assent: you liked the things Big Data told you you were likely to like, and you loved the people it said you were likely to love. To believe entirely in the data entailed a slight diminishment of the self, small but crucial and, perhaps, irreversible.