I was so ready to condem Greg Egan, in his novel Distress, of manipulating all these intersting cosmological discussions into just another “it's all in our subjective experience” type of metaphysical doctrines.
But, he managed to create a philosophically intersting theory of cosmology. But,one thing I can feel safe in disliking is modern intellectuals' continued elevation of “information” to a metaphysical status.
Modeling our understanding on metaphors or analogies has never been more than a temporary advantage, allowing us to see phenomena in a new perspective, emphasize a new aspect, and thus give us and increasingly integrated, and dynamic view of existence.
The problem is that intellectuals confuse the metaphor for the phenomena it describes. This is what produces such ideas as The Universe is Information. In Distress, this causes the theory that humans can 'mix with information.'
Thinking of 'information' more than the actual phenomena, that is, discussing the category 'information' as a set referent, almost as a substance, encourages people to forget that they are actually describing discrete occurrences of discrete entities. Thus the category is emphasized and over emphasized, until a new model attains popularity.
The over-emphasis on the category is what causes it's overthrow. For example, Meachanism came about around the time when machines started gaining prevalence in Europe.
Then, and on through the Industrial Revolution, it became more and more interesting and useful to talk of the body as a machine, the natural world as a machine, the cosmos as a machine, with great wheels and pullies, with each part doing its part for the greater process.
But, in its way, this also led to the excesses of Behaviorism, which tried to reduce human behavior to something comparable to the simple machines our species produced in the last five hundred years or so.
But, Behaviorism, and the Vitalism-Mechanism debate, along with Bergson, our no longer much thought of.
Now, all the denial of consciousness and innate cognitive functions has created the new paradigm, which is often modeled on the new, dominant machine: the computer.
Anyways, the universe is not a huge information system. It is a bunch of different things which we can sometimes regard as single and sometimes as several.
But, aside from Egan's causing me to rant on the above topic, he made me happy with Distress.
The cool things are as follows:
-He puts the distress illness up front and then gets the reader focused on the final theory of everything being debated at a T.O.E. Conference, and the plot to attack the most prominent theorist.
There's a bunch of back story too, then, after all this theory and action, he ties in Distress with all these silly radical physics/mystical groups, and the T.O.E.
-He didn't make the anarchist utopia aspect two prominent. Once in a while, I go back and read The Disposessed to partake of that beautiful hierarchy free society, or The Cassini Division with the even better abundance-economy based on an anarcho-capitalism gotten from egoist-materialist philosophy.
But, usually I'm more concerned with new ways of seeing things, and understanding new ideas. So, for me, authors don't need to do the Bellamy trip. And I think most serious readers don't need to be pitched on the benefits of utopia. It's more comfortable to deal with the problems with one's own ideas (that is what's good about Macleods Fall Revolution series.)
Thats what Egan gets right in this one. I tried another one of his books, in audio form, but I couldn't get into it. I forgot the name, but the beginning had a glossary. It was all on .mp3 file, so I had to skip past it and when I got to the actual story, it was a bit confusing.
-This book helped me to get a better sense about what might be the significant part of modern physics. Usually, it's hard for me to get into strings and all that, and I just think: Structurally, we are no further than Democritus and Zoroaster, in as much as we still down to the ultimate substance of reality being smaller smaller composite elements (atoms, strings) or a bigger version of us (god).