Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Alan Lightman

I don't know why it's taken me so long to discover the writing of humanist/physicist Alan Lightman, a native Tennessean whose grandfather (I learn from his memoir Screening Room) opened the old Hillsboro Theater (now the Belcourt) in Nashville in the '20s, and who wonderfully expresses a sense of secular spirituality I share - and in the voice (no less!) of the Creator!
Rationality and logic can be spiritual. What's more, there [is] still plenty of room for the mysterious. Because even if a very intelligent creature within this universe could trace each event to a previous event, and trace that event to a previous event to a previous event, and so on,  back and back, the creature could not penetrate earlier than the First Event. So my universe would have logic and rationality and organizational principles, but it would also have spirituality and mystery. Mr. g: A Novel about the Creation
Lightman's fictional Creator/narrator is the only kind of god, decidedly lower-case and constrained by nature, I could ever consider "believing in": a well-intentioned and compassionate but considerably less-than-omnipotent lesser god, regretful of the suffering of his animate creatures, unwilling to concede suffering's necessity, but ultimately incapable of eliminating it all by fiat. This is one of William James's speculative deities, needful and solicitous of a co-creative alliance against evil with suffering humanity. (Note to self: this might be a good text to use in CoPhi.)

Lightman's Accidental Universe includes an honest and unflinching concession to our mortality that still respects the ubiquitous impulse for "more life." a few short years, my atoms will be scattered in wind and soil, my mind and  thoughts gone, my pleasures and joys vanished, my “I-ness” dissolved in an  infinite cavern of nothingness. But I cannot accept that fate even though I  believe it to be true...“A man can do what he wants,” said Schopenhauer, “but not want what he wants."
Suppose I ask a different kind of question: If against our wishes and hopes, we are  stuck with mortality, does mortality grant a beauty and grandeur all its own? Even though we struggle and howl against the brief flash of our lives, might  we find something majestic in that brevity? Could there be a preciousness and  value to existence stemming from the very fact of its temporary duration?
 Yes there could, Lightman affirms. Can't wait to follow the trail of that message through the rest of his ouvre, beginning with Einstein's Dreams.

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