My heroes are all dead: 1. DNA

And by DNA I don’t mean deoxyribonucleic acid, I mean Douglas Noel Adams, whom you probably know as the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.

There are only two people that I didn’t know, whose death made me cry: Pierre Desproges and Douglas Adams. Both wrote prodigious comedy with surprising depth, but Adams was also an outspoken Atheist, and used science as a foundation of his storytelling. Preferably weird science, like quantum mechanics.

The Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency series for example can be read as relying on the interconnectedness of the universe’s wave function, quantum uncertainty, and spooky action at a distance.

The Total Perspective Vortex from the Hitchhiker’s Guide series can drive anyone insane by showing them their insignificance. It does so based on the principle that boundary conditions, any boundary conditions, such as the surface of a piece of fruit cake, could contain all the information you need about the rest of the universe. Enough to show it all in its glorious infinity, with you in it, “a tiny little mark, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, which says, "You are here."”

One of my favorite passages shows the futility of all arguments based on “pure logic” for or against the existence of God:

`I refuse to prove that I exist,' says God, `for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.'
`But,' says Man, `The Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED.'
`Oh dear,' says God, `I hadn't thought of that,' and promptly disappears in a puff of logic.
`Oh, that was easy,' says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.

Or on fine-tuning arguments, when a puddle thinks:

This is […] an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!"

And finally, this nugget on the role of science:

There are some oddities in the perspective with which we see the world. The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be, but we have done various things over intellectual history to slowly correct some of our misapprehensions.

I miss you, Mr. Adams.

Tags: Book, Science, Religion

Oct 2 2012 11:50 PM