Thursday, January 21, 2016

God-Fearin' and Cosmic Horror

Over the last year or two, my writing on faith and multiversal cosmologies has splashed out into a couple of short stories, both of which involve evolved artificial intelligences and cosmic horror.

One of those was just published in the webzine-reboot of the classic sci-fi mag OMNI, and it's pretty cool seeing it there.

[update: the webzine reboot failed, and was morphed into a blog platform. The story is now there...but it ain't OMNI.  Sigh.]

It takes a lot to scare a spacefaring AI, but I figure the terrifying immensity of the multiverse just might do it.

Cosmic horror, as a genre, was pretty much defined by H.P. Lovecraft, whose feverish, clammy mythopoetics gave narrative form to the human encounter with the reality of the depth of the universe.  He wrote at a time when human beings were realizing that the scope of our history was essentially meaningless.  Our world was not six thousand years old, but billions of years old.  The space we inhabit was not defined by our planet, or our sun, but by a vastness that yawned out into mindbending and inhuman distance.

From this new understanding of existence, the "monsters" of Lovecraft's storytelling were not the demons of human myth, but the alien and ancient things that he imagined existing in a universe that was dizzyingly deeper than human comprehension.

That depth is, I think, one of the reasons that so many "faithful" retreated into fundamentalism rather than allow themselves to stand in honest encounter with the work of the Creator.  The scale of things was just too shattering.

But where traditionalists struggled, science imagined it had caught up during the 20th century.  The boundaries of our inflating bubble of spacetime became more clearly understood.  The Big Bang seemed more and more self-evident, the age and scale of things comprehensible. The dynamics of physics down to the subatomic level slowly came into view.  A grand unified theory of everything seemed within reach.

And then the Creator smirked, and drew back the veil a bit more.

What scientists encounter, as they consider multiversal existence, is a creation so vast that it defies measurement.  It cannot be known.  It is, for lack of a better word, Numinous.  And that's intimidating.

How intimidating?  There's a wonderful, comprehensive recent essay at, written by neurologist and thought leader Robert Lawrence Kuhn, that lays out our best understandings of the dynamics of a multiversal creation.  Kuhn concludes thusly:
"If, from this essay I seem rational, coolheaded and self-assured about multiple universes, then I have been unintentionally deceptive. I am intimidated by the ineffable endlessness of an overarching, overwhelming multiverse. I shrink before the terrifying vision of the 17th century philosopher Blaise Pascal: 'The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me.'"
He doesn't use Lovecraft's favorite word "eldritch," sure.  But Kuhn's reaction, as a scientist, is the reaction of a Lovecraftian protagonist.  The reasoned, structured, empirical mind reels in the face of a reality that inherently cannot be grasped.

Which is why faith..real faith, not the comfortable delusion of so very necessary for our sanity in this wild new cosmos.