#7 Looking Back & Forward

Posted on March 27, 2019 by Diana Roberts

As we look back at ourselves over hundreds of thousands of years, we see huddled around their fires our ancestors were being transformed. In order to live together amicably, they had no choice but to develop trust. As a result guilt was born, and — as the numbers grew – punishment. Empathy and a sense of communion also molded among many. Slowly the ego made way for the other, in expanding circles, somewhat like the spreading ripples in a pool. As the genes and hormones and physiologies and anatomies evolved, in eternal feedback with culture, the great metamorphoses came dramatically to pass: cognition birthed discourse; togetherness brought mind reading; empathy, morality; memory, the possibility of tomorrow and the idea of somewhere else. With time, philosophy was born, and –on the wings of imagination – literatures and poetry. Technology proliferated to provide the glue to stick together: script and law, religion and currency. Soon the tribe became the village, the city, the nation, the globe. And the little lies of livelihood morphed into grand stories, the ones we would one day call religion.


The popular string theory is a way of explaining mathematically how it all started, but we must be careful. That we should be here at all is a miracle, or so it seems. The “cosmological constant” is technically the value of the energy density of the vacuum of space, but what it actually means is that when the laws of physics are taken into consideration, the chances of us being here to contemplate our own navels is quite small, in fact, practically nonexistent. One way to explain, as we have seen, is this daunting serendipity captured by the “cosmological constant” which is to post a universe made of strings. For an excellent popular exposition of string theory, see Brian Greene, The Elegant Universe: Super Strings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory W> W. Norton, 2004; new ed. 2010). Greene also explains why string theory implies multiverses in The Hidden Realty; Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos (Knopf, 2011), but it’s important to remember that string theory and its multiverse correlate are controversial: they remain in large an elegant but unproven mathematical solution to a real-world problem – maybe the hardest problem we know, alongside the human brain and consciousness. Not to unfairly discount string theory, but speculative cosmological theories don’t have a great track record. For criticism of string theory, you might see Peter Woit’s Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law (Basic, 2006).

Does this mean we should go back to the simple myths that we know are wrong? Of course not. This is the critical thinking and constant intellectual debate that ultimately leads to discovery and truth. It’s painful and tedious, and today, every aspect is changing at a quickening pace of thought and discovery.