There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Einstein on the bus

Finished reading "Einstein: His Life and Universe" while riding to and from work on the bus. Walter Isaacson's biography is fascinating, full of rich details that reveal the human being who was Albert Einstein.

Personally, I've never forgiven Einstein for proving that nothing can go faster than the speed of light.

For purposes of argument, I'll accept Einstein's view that a supreme being created the universe. Einstein's scientific work saw the handiwork of this creator in the laws that govern the way things work. For Einstein, everything was by design. He was famous for refusing to believe this supreme being played games of chance with its creation.

So while reading this book I came to my own epiphany: Mankind has been placed in a jail, confined to the boundaries of the cell.

Outside the jail, through the small window in the wall, we can see the far reaches of the universe, the beauty of nebulae, the birth and death of entire solar systems, the glory of distant galaxies. But we cannot visit. We cannot reach anything outside the jail. We are locked behind the requirement that nothing can travel faster than light.

Perhaps that's by design.

Einstein lived through two world wars and well into the worst of the Cold War. He abhorred authoritarian governments, from the strict German schools of his youth to the atrocious behavior of the Nazis to Soviet repression. His nonconformist nature was part of his genius, something that freed him to imagine what others hesitated to consider. While a pacifist before and during the First World War, he eventually arrived at the understanding that mankind needed to shed its tribal nationalist identities and embrace a world government that would be granted enough power to prevent tyrants from coming to power.

"If the idea of world government is not realistic," he said in 1948, "then there is only one realistic view of our future: wholesale destruction of man by man."

When I first started writing this blog post I placed mankind in a crib rather than a jail. After all, mankind is very, very young. The National Geographic Genographic project suggests everyone alive today is descended from an African man and woman who lived just 60,000 years ago.

But, like Einstein, I don't favor the theory that this is all random. Mankind has conquered the world with the speed of a virus ravaging its victim. In the blink of a cosmic eye, the world today teeters on the edge of balance.

Perhaps the universe has been made safe from us.

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