Sources of inspiration, crafting development of the Evolved Universe.
It didn’t take long after I started writing that I figured out if I was going to set the story in the distant future, I needed to understand some of the theories about the universe. After reading many books on bubble universes, multi-universes, and string theory, I found Dr. Randall’s theories most satisfying. Her book, Warped Passages, was one of the first books I read and is filled with my notes, underlines, and turned-down pages. What made her views click is that she is a “model builder.” She builds theories from the bottom up. This means she starts with observable scientific facts in particle physics, within the framework of the Standard Model, and attempts to extrapolate from a firm footing. For a former financial analyst who modeled out the finances of public companies, I very much appreciated the methodology.
Her book is an effort to tie particle physics with string theory. String theory is elegant mathematics but has also been portrayed as “castles in the sky” due to its lack of relationship to anything observable. Dr. Randall developed the theory of branes, named after their membrane-like structure. Basically, the theory argues our three or four (if you include time) dimensional reality is a brane within a multi-dimensional bulk. This allowed Dr. Randall to explain why gravity is so weak in our universe, when the standard model argues it should be much stronger.
As a writer, this theory literally gave me a rich topography of the universe with which to play. It also was a very approachable theory for someone who is not a mathematician, offering an easy way to visualize the universe. To recognize the book’s impact on my writing, I named the main ship in the story the USS Randall.
From Eternity to Here by Sean Carroll was one of the first books I read on time. It provided a good framework for thinking about time, introducing to me concepts such as the second law of thermodynamics of entropy. Entropy is a measure of disorder and within a closed system remains neutral or increases over time. An example of entropy is how an egg breaks when drops, you never see it reform itself.
Dr. Carroll also presented the Past Hypothesis, which argues the universe started in a lower entropy state than the present. This characteristic of time defines its asymmetric nature, or in other words, time only goes in one direction as far as we can tell. From this book the idea of an “Entropy Barrier” developed in the manuscript. This concept basically is the point past which life must either devolve or cease to exist. It created a clock for humanity, urgency in the story.
Max Tegmark in Our Mathematical Universe argues basically that math completely explains our reality in a multiverse. It is interesting but suffers from a relatively narrow view of the world, in my mind. A college class called “Thinking About Thinking,” taught by Harvey Cox, Stephen Jay Gould, and Alan Dershowitz, taught me the bias in the questions asked affects the ultimate answers offered. Dr. Tegmark is no doubt a brilliant mathematician, and seeing the world through his eyes is quite intriguing, but I found his arguments narrow and bias in their application.
The light bulb that did go off in my mind was his point that from your perspective entropy decreases when an object interacts with you because you gain information, as opposed to entropy increasing when an object interacts with its environment because information is lost to you. Entropy in this sense can be thought of the amount of information required to explain a system, the flip side of a measure of its disorder. This beautifully set-up Kairos in Evolved and literally breathed life into it. It also began an on-going debate about the definition of life in my mind. One that I continue to work through, as you will see in Evolved between silicon life and organic life.
Dr. Lisa Randall also wrote Knocking of Heaven’s Door, updating her thoughts in light of the Higgs discovery. Again I found her writing clear and quite approachable, she has a very nice way of explaining complicated concepts to the lay person. However, I found it somewhat repetitive relative to Warped Passages.
The book did help firm up my basic understanding of particle physics, which led me down the road into quantum mechanics and fields.
Time philosophy became a huge component of the research, a truly fascinating subject. Time and Chance by David Albert was the first serious book I read about time, and I must have read it at least five times before I understood it. His style of writing is difficult and he writes for a sophisticated audience of masters and PhD students, as well as peers. Reading the work of professors is a slog, largely because they need to first point out all the problems with other theories before offering their own. Reading how other theories, of which I was unfamiliar, were flawed was somewhat tedious. That said, I believe my understanding of chance and quantum physics were significantly enhanced by this book. Dr. Albert’s argument laid the foundation for how I thought about deterministic versus in-deterministic universe, which sets-up some really interesting discussions in Evolved.
It became obvious I needed to understand quantum theory, or at least understand the basics of it. The Quantum World was good introduction that I continue to refer back to in order to understand decoherence and the standard model. There may be better introductions, but most books on quantum theory either assume you are fairly advanced mathematically, or don’t really have much depth to them.
Quantum physics kept coming up from the neurological, cosmological and philosophical perspectives. So finding a book that explained the basics was invaluable.
Since I had already one helpful book by Sean Carroll, I also read The Particle at the End of the Universe. Much like Lisa Randall’s book, I found it relatively thin on new material and insight, but having physics explained a couple different ways helped to round out my understanding on basic concepts. That said, it is an easy read and Dr. Carroll does a good job at explaining complicated concepts to us mere mortals.
Beyond the God Particle was the book that resonated with me as it explained the Higgs boson. Leon Lederman and Christopher Hill do a great job building up your understanding in order to appreciate the importance of the discovery of the Higgs boson. It also sparked an appreciation for mass as a measure of resistance, which began to open up other ideas as I contemplated a brane filled universe. I believe it was during the reading of this book I began contemplating whether the Big Bang was the interaction of a resistance field with a singularity, suggesting multiple branes and other macro objects floating around in the bulk of the universe. This train of thought was where the theory of an initial splitting of the singularity, or “The One,” occurring and creating our reality attached to one brane separated from many other dimensions.
As topographically textured branes floated through my mind I began searching for ways to communicate that could seem faster than light. After reading the above books the neutrino interested me due to its weak interaction with mass in our reality. I began to play with the idea that if a brane had an asymmetrical negative charge to it, which created ridges like mountain ranges on it, information could possibly be sent off our brane, through the bulk, and received back on the brane. It would be the equivalent of digging a tunnel through a mountain to avoid walking up and over it. Photons would need to remain on the brane and go up and over the ridge, but neutrinos might possibly pass through the ridge. This theory may not stand up in the world of science, but I think it has enough intelligence to put into science fiction.
The Perfect Wave by Heinrich Pas was the perfect introductory book to help me understand neutrinos. I thank him for writing such an approachable book on a truly bizarre little corner of physics.
After Physics was another book by Dr. Albert, who I felt reading over again would be helpful. Basically he argues that any chance associated with quantum physics is exclusively with measurement, not a true indication that something randomly could happen. He methodically goes through recent arguments about chance and arrives at a similar conclusion as his first book, which is the only means for chance to exist in our world, and therefore allow for an indeterminate universe, is if the GRW theory is proven true. The GRW theory argues there is a randomness inherent in the wave length itself, causing it to collapse randomly on its own. The GRW theory also suggests there are many more dimensions than we perceive.
Given that the protagonist, Amos Hare, is the product of a managed evolution program that has developed new mental and physical capabilities into humans for hundreds of years, I had to learn about neurology. Connectome by Sebastian Seung offered a great introduction into how the brain develops and operates. It also introduced me to the plasticity of the brain and the concept of a hive mind, or collective consciousness. This idea sparked quite a few avenues for stories within Evolved, again setting up an organic versus silicon brain function.
Physics in Mind provided a good overview of how the brain worked at the quantum level. It was a good way of continuing to learn about quantum physics after studying it from the cosmology and particle physics perspectives. It also asked questions that I found interesting to explore further in Evolved. What is consciousness? How are we aware of what surrounds us, and how realistic is our awareness? After all, most of the space surrounding us is empty. How does our mind fill in the gaps? This realization that the reality we perceive is highly subjective was, well, eye-opening. In another life I hope to be a mind specialist, because it touches on the essence of what it means to be human.
Michio Kaku’s The Future of the Mind was another wonderful resource for the average person to understand how the mind works and what the potential might be for it. It also sparked the idea of managed evolution as a logical step from human enhancements that are becoming so prevalent in our society.
A thrilling takeaway from the book was the integration of quantum physics within the brain, including decoherence. It also made the point that neurologists are moving towards the belief that free will does not exist. This set-up beautifully in Evolved as the protagonist must first figure out how to by-pass a deterministic universe before even considering how to overcome the Entropy Barrier.
As I dove into “hive minds” it became apparent I needed to work out the psychology a bit. The subconscious became a focal point for research, trying to figure out how the mind operates at different levels. The King Within by Robert Moore, a Jungian psychoanalyst, and Douglas Gillette, a mythologist, offered rich imagery to explore for the book. The framework also began to set up key differences between silicon minds and organic minds. After a few revisions of the manuscript much of the original influence of this book was filtered out, but its influence remains as the portal Amos must pass through to enter the subconscious.
The unconscious became a focal point as Evolved delved into a subconscious connection among humans. I’ve since found a term for this connection, the supraconscious, but at the time I was drilling into the psychology of it. Lacan – The Unconscious Reinvented by Colette Soler was a counter-point in many ways to the Jungian school. It pulled me into theories about the essence of a person deep in the unconscious, as opposed to the ego at the surface. It was while reading this book that I began to formulate the imagery of “The Real,” deep inside a person and which mapped well to the cosmology imagery already in Evolved.
After a minister read the manuscript he suggested I read I and Thou by Martin Buber, a Jewish philosopher. While odd for a christian minister to point to a Jewish source, while reading I was dumb struck by how closely the book resembled the world I had created in Evolved. Mr. Buber argues that God is within us and it is through our relationships to one another that we find the true essence of ourselves. One must evolve from seeing people as simply objects with characteristics, but actually see the person themselves, the You. The argument collapsed everything I had been trying to explain into a simple and powerful message, grounding the world of Evolved deeply in spiritual teachings. In short, after walking a path through all the books above, and more, this book transformed me and clarified the world.
Once the breakthrough occurred on the spiritual side, I began looking into religious history, trying to understand how the various religions changed and split over the years. The Perennial Tradition by Norman D. Livergood was quite helpful because he approached it from a consciousness perspective. At some point the idea of “being present” circled back to me. Neurology shows that a conscious decision is typically at least a half second after the unconscious has already decided. In essence, our consciousness is living in the past, a past where only deterministic objects exist. In order to exert free will we first need to become present, that all important moment when the opportunity of the future intersects with the knowledge of the past. Jewish religion translates YHWH, or God, as “I am,” which implies presence both spatially and in time. This was an interesting aspect to work into Evolved.
Immortal Diamond by Richard Rohr reinforced all that had been swirling around in my mind. This book was the final keystone put in place for Evolved, all other stones reliant on it without understanding. I find his teachings to provide great clarity now, explaining the world in a completeness that is profound.
Consciousness: An Introduction by Dr. Susan Blackmore is used in a Philosophy class at Harvard University. It has proven an excellent introduction that covers the basics theories about consciousness. The material is a lot to digest but it also made clear how confusing the notion of consciousness is to us.