Another strand of my writing is the importance of the idea. If you think about fiction writing as a spectrum, where at one end of the spectrum in the infrared, are the story tellers, and the people for whom creation of wonderful characters and telling a good story is the most important thing.
Originality is also very important to a writer. And all of the writers I've mentioned, of course, are original, but it's important to me that every book that I do be really a completely fresh and new look at the world. And of course, that makes it frightening to start a new book because you can't really depend upon what you've done with previous books.
I picked such seemingly disparate essays, I thought it was important to say what was the guiding principle in the selection rather than focus on any one essay. I reached for some principle that had been subconscious in me and lifted it into consciousness. Authenticity and sincerity were the most important unifying principles of all these apparently different essays.
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We've lost our way, we have lost our centeredness. We don't have the time, literally, to think during the day. To listen to ourselves think. To think about where we are going, who we are, what's important. I would bet most people don't have thirty minutes in a day where they can just sit down and think. Or maybe they don't have to be sitting, they can be walking.
Science is an intellectual journey, and to me, it's not the destination, it's the journeyto get there. It's a way of thinking and it's an intellectual curiosity, a desire to know how the world works, and to know what the fundamental principles of the world are, and to know our place in it. I think once we stop asking questions like "what is the age of the universe," or "how are the instructions of DNA carried out on a microscopic level," once we stop asking questions like that, we're dead.
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I have no opposition at all to technology. I think technology is a wonderful thing that has to be used thoughtfully, and we can't just assume that every bit of new technology improvesthe quality of life; it's really in how the technology is used. What I am very disturbed about is this trend of everything happening faster and faster and faster and there being more and more general noise in the world, and less and less time for quiet reflection on who we are, and where we're going.
It's exciting having a student who is not used to expressing their emotional side and bringing that out in them and see that developing and helping to nurture that. That's an exciting thing. In a class of fifteen there are usually two very good writers, equal to good student writers anywhere in the country. Those two make the class wonderful.
One metaphor for how we are living is that you see so may people with cell phones. In restaurants, walking, they have cell phones clamped to their to heads. When they are on their cell phones they are not where their bodies are...they are somewhere else in hyperspace. They are not grounded. We have become disembodied. By being always somewhere else we are nowhere.
I think people all over the institution recognize that different ways of understanding are valuable. Artists may think in a different way than biologists or chemists, but you can learn something from that. It is true that the arts at MIT don't have the same amount of funding or same status as the sciences or engineering.
Some say it is best not to go near the center of time. Life is a vessel of sadness, but is noble to live life and without time there is no life. Others disagree. They would rather have an eternity of contentment, even if that eternity were fixed and frozen, like a butterfly mounted in a case.
In a world of fixed future, life is an infinite corridor of rooms, one room lit at each moment, the next room dark but prepared. We walk from room to room, look into the room that is lit, the present moment, then walk on. We do not know the rooms ahead, but we know we cannot change them. We are spectators of our lives.
I think that the scienti?c way of looking at the world, and the humanistic way of looking at the world are complementary. There are important differences which should be preserved, and in trying to do away with those differences we would lose something the same way as if we tried to make all religions one religion or all races one race. There is a cultural diversity that's very valuable, and it's valuable to have different ways of looking at the world.
Two men who had never seen each other before and would not likely see each other again. But their sincerity and sweetness, their sharing an instant in a fleeting life. It was almost as if a secret had passed between them. Was this some kind of love? I wanted to follow them, to touch them, to tell them of my happiness. I wanted to whisper to them: 'This is it. This is it'".
Will these millions of children, for generations upon future generations, know that some of their atoms cycled through this woman? [... ] Will they feel what she felt in her life, will their memories have flickering strokes of her memories, will they recall that moment long ago when she stood by the window, guilt ridden and confused, and watched as the tadr bird circled the cistern? No, it is not possible. [... ] But I will let them have their own brief glimpse of the Void, just at that moment they pass from living to dead, from animate to inanimate, from consciousness to that which has no consciousness. For a moment, they will understand infinity.
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When a traveler from the future must talk, he does not talk but whimpers. He whispers tortured sounds. He is agonized. For if he makes the slightest alteration in anything, he may destroy the future. At the same time, he is forced to witness events without being part of them, without changing them. He envies the people who live in their own time, who can act at will, oblivious of the future, ignorant of the effects of their actions. But he cannot act. He is an inert gas, a ghost, a sheet without soul. He has lost his personhood. He is an exile of time.
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Human beings consider themselves satisfied only compared to some other condition. A man who has owned nothing but a bicycle all of his life feels suddenly wealthy the moment he buys an automobile... But this happy sensation wears off. After a while the car becomes just another thing that he owns. Moreover, when his neighbor next door buys two cars, in an instant our man feels wretchedly poor and deprived.
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Unconditional love. That's what he wants to give her and what he wants from her. People should give without wanting anything in return. All other giving is selfish. But he is being selfish a little, isn't he, by wanting her to love him in return? He hopes that she loves him in return. Is it possible for a person to love without wanting love back? Is anything so pure? Or is love, by its nature, a reciprocity, like oceans and clouds, an evaporating of seawater and a replenishing of rain?
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Something else gets under your skin, keeps you working days and nights at the sacrifice of your sleeping and eating and attention to your family and friends, something beyond the love of puzzle solving. And that other force is the anticipation of understanding something about the world that no one has ever understood before you. Einstein wrote that when he first realized that gravity was equivalent to acceleration - an idea that would underlie his new theory of gravity - it was the "happiest thought of my life." On projects of far smaller weight, I have experienced that pleasure of discovering something new. It is an exquisite sensation, a feeling of power, a rush of the blood, a sense of living forever. To be the first vessel to hold this new thing. All of the scientists I've known have at least one more quality in common: they do what they do because they love it, and because they cannot imagine doing anything else. In a sense, this is the real reason a scientist does science. Because the scientist must. Such a compulsion is both blessing and burden. A blessing because the creative life, in any endeavor, is a gift filled with beauty and not given to everyone, a burden because the call is unrelenting and can drown out the rest of life. This mixed blessing and burden must be why the astrophysicist Chandrasekhar continued working until his mid-80's, why a visitor to Einstein's apartment in Bern found the young physicist rocking his infant with one hand while doing mathematical calculations with the other. This mixed blessing and burden must have been the "sweet hell" that Walt Whitman referred to when he realized at a young age that he was destined to be a poet. "Never more," he wrote, "shall I escape.
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And at the place where time stands still, one sees lovers kissing in the shadows of buildings, in a frozen embrace that will never let go. The loved one will never take his arms from where they are now, will never give back the bracelet of memories, will never journey afar from his lover, will never place himself in danger of self-sacrifice, will never fail to show his love, will never become jealous, will never fall in love with someone else, will never lose the passion of this instant of time.
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Some make light of decisions, arguing that all possible decisions will occur. In such a world, how could one be responsible for his actions? Others hold that each decision must be considered and committed to, that without commitment there is chaos. Such people are content to live in contradictory worlds, so long as they know the reason for each.
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Some few people are born without any sense of time.As consequence, their sense of place becomes heightened to an excruciating degree. They lie in tall grass and are questioned by poets and painters from all over the world. These time-deaf are beseeched to describe the precise placement of trees in the spring, the shape of snow on the Alps, the angle of sun on a church, the position of rivers, the location of moss, the pattern of birds in a flock. Yet the time-deaf are unable to speak what they know. For speech needs a sequence of words, spoken in time.
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In this world, there are two times. There is mechanical time and there is body time... Where the two times meet, desperation. Where the two times go their separate ways, contentment. For, miraculously, a barrister, a nurse, a baker can make a world in either time, but not in both times. Each time is true, but the truths are not the same.
Children grow rapidly, forget the centuries-long embrace from their parents, which to them lasted but seconds. Children become adults, live far from their parents, live their own houses, learn ways of their own, suffer pain, grow old. Children curse their parents for their wrinkled skin and hoarse voices. Those now old children also want to stop time, but at another time. They want to freeze their own children at the center of time.
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One cannot walk down an avenue, converse with a friend, enter a building, browse beneath the sandstone arches of an old arcade without meeting an instrument of time. Time is visible in all places. Clock towers, wristwatches, church bells divide years into months, months into days, days into hours, hours into seconds, each increment of time marching after the other in perfect succession. And beyond any particular clock, a vast scaffold of time, stretching across the universe, lays down the law of time equally for all.
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Don't you feel something magical when you're in love?... I do, I certainly do ... but I think that feeling of magic is a hardwired psychological response. It's a chemical thing in the brain. It's a flow of chemicals and electrical currents, and it developed over millions of years in the process of evolution to aid in the procreation of the species.
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I have a family and you know very well the time that that takes. That's good time. I have a couple hobbies. I'm a runner and play tennis. In the summer my family and I uproot ourselves and go live in Maine for the summer. We have a house on a very tiny island in Maine. Which is really my spiritual center. We've been going there for ten years, and it has no ferry service, no bridges, no telephone service. It's really isolated.
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The Diagnosis is by far my most ambitious book. I such great hopes for it... there was so much I wanted to do with the book. I was extremely insecure about it for several years. Just didn't know whether I would finish the book much less for it to come close to what I intended. I think that for any novel you never know exactly how the book is going to turn out...
The Diagnosis had ten drafts of very significant changing, where I went through the whole book, wholesale and changed everything. Then the last year or so it was making small changes. I would do something and let it sit for three months... just brood about and decide I needed to slightly change something here or there. Or one character wasn't quite right. But I think everybody goes through this.
In this acausal world, scientists are helpless. Their predictions become postdictions- Their equations become justifications, their logic, illogic. Scientists turn reckless and mutter like gamblers who cannot stop betting. Scientists are buffoons, not because they are rational but because the cosmos is irrational. Or perhaps it is not because the cosmos is irrational but because they are rational. Who can say which, in an acausal world?
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Thoughts are no more than electrical surges in the brain. Sexual arousal is no more than a flow of chemicals to certain nerve endings. Sadness is no more than a bit of acid transfixed in the cerebellum. In short, the body is a machine, subject to the same laws of electricity and mechanics as an electron or clock.
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When the first mechanical clocks were invented, marking off time in crisp, regular intervals, it must have surprised people to discover that time flowed outside their own mental and physiological processes. Body time flows at its own variable rate, oblivious to the most precise hydrogen master clocks in the laboratory. In fact, the human body contains its own exquisite time-pieces, all with their separate rhythms. There are the alpha waves in the brain; another clock is the heart. And all the while tick the mysterious, ruthless clocks that regulate aging.
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With infinite life comes an infinite list of relatives. Grandparents never die, nor do great grandparents, great-aunts... and so on, back through the generations, all alive and offering advice. Sons never escape from the shadows of their fathers. Nor do daughters of their mothers. No one ever comes into his own... Such is the cost of immortality. No person is whole. No person is free.
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That has been the great achievement of our age: to so thoroughly flood the planet with megabits that every image and fact has become a digitized disembodied nothingness. With magnificent determination, our species has advanced from Stone Age to Industrial Revolution to Digital Emptiness. We've become weightless, in the bad sense of the word.
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A world in which time is absolute is a world of consolation. For while the movements of people are unpredictable, the movement of time is predictable. While people can be doubted, time cannot be doubted. While people brood, time skips ahead without looking back. In the coffee houses, in the government buildings, in boats of Lake Geneva, people look at their watches and take refuge in time. Each person knows that somewhere is recorded the moment she was born, the moment she took her first step, the moment of her first passion, the moment she said goodbye to her parents.
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For me, consciousness is the most interesting unsolved problem of science, and, in fact, we may never know what it is about a particular arrangement of neurons that gives rise to consciousness. Our consciousness, like the air we breathe or like the passage of time, is central to our existence as intelligent beings.
The book is finished by the reader. A good novel should invite the reader in and let the reader participate in the creative experience and bring their own life experiences to it, interpret with their own individual life experiences. Every reader gets something different from a book and every reader, in a sense, completes it in a different way.
The relationship between science and the humanities is two-way. Science changes our view of the world and our place in it. In the other direction, the humanities provide the store of ideas and images and language available to us in understanding the world. The exploding star of A.D. 1054, the Crab Nebula, was sighted and documented by the Chinese, but nowhere mentioned in the West, where the Aristotelian notion of the immortality of stars still held sway. We often do not see what we do not expect to see.
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In this world, time has three dimensions, like space. Just as an object may move in three perpendicular directions, corresponding to horizontal, vertical, and longitudinal, so an object may participate in three perpendicular futures. Each future moves in a different direction of time. Each future is real. At every point of decision, the world splits into three worlds, each with the same people, but different fates for those people. In time, there are an infinity of worlds.
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In this world, there are two times. There is mechanical time and there is body time." "They do not keep clocks in their houses. Instead, they listen to their heartbeats. They feel the rhythms of their moods and desires." "Then there are those who think their bodies don't exist. They live by mechanical time. They rise at seven o'clock in the morning. They eat their lunch at noon and their supper at six. They arrive at their appointments on time, precisely by the clock.
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Nature is purposeless. Nature simply is. We may find nature beautiful or terrible, but those feelings are human constructions. Such utter and complete mindlessness is hard for us to accept. We feel such a strong connection to nature. But the relationship between nature and us is one-sided. There is no reciprocity. There is no mind on the other side of the wall.
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Most people have learned to live in the moment. The argument goes that if the past has uncertain effect on the present, there is no need to dwell on the past. And if the present has little effect on the future, present actions need not be weighed for their consequence. Rather, each act is an island in time, to be judged on its own. ... It is a world of impulse. It is a world of sincerity. It is a world in which every word spoken speaks just to that moment, every glance given has only one meaning.
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Human beings consider themselves satisfied only compared to some other condition. A man who has owned nothing but a bicycle all of his life feels suddenly wealthy the moment he buys an automobile...But this happy sensation wears off. After a while the car becomes just another thing that he owns. Moreover, when his neighbor next door buys two cars, in an instant our man feels wretchedly poor and deprived.
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