Stephen Hawking, born on Galileo’s 300th birthday, is 74 today. He says “we should never stop trying to tell these extraordinary stories from science,” one of which concerns the “information paradox” of what happens to information that is absorbed by black holes.
He’s not speaking metaphorically, or not intending to. He means of course the collapsed and dying stars that suck up all the adjoining light. But in this age of information overload it’s hard to hear that question without extending it to include everything we’re exposed to, constantly, but fail to retain. There seems to be more and more of it all the time. It would be nice to believe it’s still out there somewhere, creating worlds.
Meanwhile, in the ambit of our middling star that’s not dead yet, I’m seeking a hook to snag in the textual information of John Lachs’s Stoic Pragmatism. Lachs is among the most generous and sensible scholars I’ve known, kind, endlessly giving, humane. I’m hard-pressed to identify points of fundamental difference.
But, because Lachs writes with panache and daring, in the spirit of William James’s admonition that we ought never take ourselves so seriously as to fear committing an error or two – “Our errors are surely not such awfully solemn things” – his texts always offer useful provocation and inspired instigation.
And so, in this region of space-time where our errors also shed informing light, I will attempt to proceed with the same lightness of heart that’s always been Lachs’s healthy example. Excessive nervousness in this enterprise would be misplaced.
The Lachs texts currently provoking me include a statement to the effect that the distant future of life is of no relevance to our lives, in the present. “Our goals must not be cosmic,” though our perspective should be, but we must not “waste our energy wondering what might happen a million years from now.”
What would Stephen Hawking say about that? Does he agree with Alvy Singer’s (Woody Allen’s) Dr. Flicker, that the universe “won’t be expanding for billions of years yet, Alvy. And we’ve gotta try to enjoy
ourselves while we’re here”? I do. But I also think the remote future is profoundly relevant. In trying to say why, perhaps light will be shed. Or errors will be committed. Or, most likely, both. I’ll enjoy it.
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