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I finished reading G.K. Chesterton’s “The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare” I loved it and here is a short plot preview (with no spoilers) and a few observations.

It rotates about the adventures of one Mr. Syme in London at the turn of the twentieth century. It was a time when dynamite was the bomb and the anarchists were the axis of evil. It starts by following Syme’s steps into the anarchist underground and it is mainly built on the characters he meets, who are very charismatic, symbolic, and surreal.
Especially the dreadful yet cheerful Sunday, which funnily enough has a very ubtiqous role in Chesterston’s novel. He is the driving force of the whole while always remaining hidden. His actions are as clear as it can be, yet his motives and thoughts are nothing less than mysteriously opaque. Deciphering his motives and plans throughout the book is pure suspense by itself. He is seen as a child, a clown, a beast, a landscape, even sometimes as imaginary yet at the same time he is unknown -in one word, an enigma.

The book is also full of discussions of philosophical viewpoints on various issues. Through the characters, I met a “nihilist” (at the least the closest thing to a nihilist), a poet, a scientist, a philosopher, a child, lots and lots of impostors and of course the fallen angel himself, the prince of darkness, Satan. The ending is very original and it is nice that it concludes semi-epically yet with glamour and direction(s) for thought. I must tell though that some of the philosophical issues the novel goes through might seem just too old or plainly silly today.

It is definitely an enjoyable read, even if you don’t find its basic philosophical showcase too interesting , the beautiful writing and plot progress creates a wonderful atmosphere of another time to escape to.
For a while.
It is nice if you don’t get dizzy time traveling.


Should the “final” step in the march of science ultimately mark a turn to religion?

Let’s take a trip into the future of science, the farthest future imaginable by us here and now in 2007 with all our cosmology, ontology and our religions. When our experiments would (as many astrophysicists today believe, rather reasonably believe) lead to a coherent theory of cosmic evolution, by this I mean a physical theory (stemming from observations) and containing a finite number of elementary particles with a small handbook of the rules of their interaction with each other. Such is the dream of physicists everywhere, sometimes even called TOE : the Theory Of Everything, meaning that given enough time (and patience) a physicist would be able with the help of this acheivement to calculate the results of any conciveable experiment, and that his calculations would agree with experiments, if he/she was given the resources (and diligence) to set up such experiments. That would be cool, wouldn’t it? But currently physics and cosmology can’t boast such a full theory, as the foundations of Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity don’t agree (also their results disagree in certain situations where both theories are expected to be applicable).

Let’s imagine, as most physicists like to imagine (and aim to realize), that we have arrived at the day when we do have a successful TOE. Our observations would tell what were the initial conditions (IC) of this system (i.e. the initial values for the variables that this particular TOE has for the cosmos). On the other hand, this TOE would provide us with a non-contradictory outline of the system’s evolution. But can our TOE tell us anything about why the IC of our cosmos had the certain values and not any other values? Can there be a TOE which tells us how the IC must take a certain set of values? For example, let’s say our cosmic IC were that the cosmos was a 1 meter sphere and it contained only 2 electrons and 20 photons, with the electrons all at rest with respect to each other and with the photons all in the same directions moving with some speed c. Also, for example, our TOE says that electrons and photons interact in a very precise manner via a force with one coupling parameter P whose value is experimentally determined to a certain number of decimal places. Can our TOE explain why our cosmos began with 20 and not 21 photons, or why were all the electrons at rest , or why is P equal to 1.256 and not 1.29 in some systems of units? (In the rest of this piece, I will ignore the implications of the ability of our TOE to derive the values of coupling constants like P. I must also add that our current cosmic model leads us to the fact that the set of coupling constants and the masses of the elementary particles were chosen with amazing precision to support the emergence of life in our cosmos. If any of them were changed a very very tiny amount, the universe would produce no stars and therefore no planets with a stable temperature. The Anthropic Principle says that this cosmic fine-tuning of IC for life is the reason why we are able to observe this fine-tuning! )

A particular value of the cosmic IC tests the human faith in the ability of science to explain everything around us (i.e. to describe everything as a rational process). This business of having a particular set of IC almost brings back memories of the hand of a creator armed with a choice (or in the least memories of a mysterious initial cosmic manipulator). This is what I mean by the end of science in my title, and the idea of choice going into the cosmic IC is what I mean by the turn to religion. As far as my gaze takes my confident insights, I have no answer for the title question. But I have at the least a view of the different answers. A hope, that science (somehow and one day) will expand its borders and be able to at least provide an insight into this IC problem. is optimistic and is backed up by the constant past expansion of science. On the other hand, a reliance on non-testable theories (metaphysics or religion) for an explanation of the cosmic IC is a form of blind faith in time-bound and highly culture-influenced human stories , which have proved to be a very bad strategy to uncover (or rather cover) cosmic mysteries since the time of Galileo’s heliocentric universe till our present day’s marvelous cosmic model.