August 13, 2009
Welcome to the Choice Factory
Analogies are like soups.
But, even so, an original, well-crafted analogy is one of the best tools that exist for staking out new mental territory. So, here’s one that just flipped my lid. Kevin Kelly takes us way back:
A few hours after the big bang 14 billion years ago, the total freedom available within the fine mist of light atoms and zipping particles drifting in the universe was stifling narrow. The possible arrangements between them were dreadfully few. You could count the actionable options for a helium atom on one hand. Compare that prison to the universe one billion years ago (at least in the neighborhood of Earth), when life unleashed an overwhelming explosion of freedoms. Millions of species, each of them an engine of options, filled the surface of a planet with staggering choices.
Reasons why this is mind-expanding:
- “A few hours after the big bang 14 billion years ago.” I know cosmologists talk like this all the time, but normal people don’t, and every time I hear it, it’s bracing. Like a glass of cold water in the face.
- “[T]hat prison.” Wow. The primordial universe as a prison! Solitary confinement, with no
foodiron or wateroxygen. And it took us 13 billion years to dig a tunnel (or fashion a shiv?) and make our getaway.
- Earlier he says “[a] mind, of course, is a choice factory” and here he calls a species “an engine of options.” I think that’s such an interesting lens. +10 to the cephalopods, I think.
Can’t get the prison thing out of my head. Maybe the Big Bang itself was the breakout? Jeez. Creation as jailbreak. Evolution as heist movie? I’m taking it too far. Go read Kevin Kelly.