If you are like me, you have felt it before. I still remember, on that next-to-last day, Mr. Burge reciting in his gentle voice what in that moment became my favourite line of my favourite poem – it is

to catch the heart off guard and blow it open

It is the huge distracting glimpse of something so compelling, so beyond ordinary experience and yet intrinsic to it, that the response is rapture – although not loud, but rather quiet, and even more satisfying for being quiet, like some delicious secret kept between yourself and your self. Perhaps it is nothing so extravagant as Heaney’s fleeting impression of the swans’ earthed lightning; rather, like all love, it is a latch clicking into place: that sense of satisfaction that fastens when a difficult problem you’ve wrestled with and pondered in your mind suddenly flashes into resolution. It is motivated by intellectual inquiry, both playful and unflinching, gently curious and yet relentlessly severe: It is the love of the beautiful idea.

– myself, on introductory spiel for an old blog.


“Einstein demonstrated in his busy year of 1905 that this microscopic jiggle is actually caused by the impact of randomly dancing molecules. It was the first proof of the venerable Greek notion that matter is composed of impossibly tiny particles – and it also showed that those particles simply cannot be still. Electron microscopy delved more deeply, violating the privacy of the molecule itself, bringing us visions of a miniature cosmos deep inside all matter. And those uncertain electrons whirling somewhere in Zen emptiness have made us realize that the very stones beneath our feet are as loosely woven as lace.”

– Apollo’s Fire, Michael Sims


“Look!” whispered Julia.

A thrush had alighted on a bough not five meters away, almost at the level of their faces. Perhaps it had not seen them. It was in the sun, they in the shade. It spread out its wings, fitted them carefully into place again, ducked its head for a moment, as though making a sort of obeisance to the sun, and then began to pour forth a torrent of song. In the afternoon hush the volume of sound was startling. Winston and Julia clung together, fascinated. The music went on and on, minute after minute, with astonishing variations, never once repeating itself, almost as though the bird were deliberately showing off its virtuosity. Sometimes it stopped for a few seconds, spread out and resettled its wings, then swelled its speckled breast and again burst into song. Winston watched it with a sort of vague reverence. For whom, for what, was that bird singing? No mate, no rival was watching it. What made it sit at the edge of the lonely wood and pour its music into nothingness? He wondered whether after all there was a microphone hidden somewhere near. He and Julia had only spoken in low whispers, and it would not pick up what they had said, but it would pick up the thrush. Perhaps at the other end of the instrument some small, beetlelike man was listening intently – listening to that. But by degrees the flood of music drove all speculations out of his mind. It was as though it were a kind of liquid stuff that poured all over him and got mixed up with the sunlight that filtered through the leaves. He stopped thinking and merely felt. The girl’s waist in the bend of his arm was soft and warm. He pulled her round so that they were breast to breast; her body seemed to melt into his. Wherever his hands moved it was all as yielding as water. Their mouths clung togther; it was quite different from the hard kisses they had exchanged earlier. When they moved their faces apart again both of them sighed deeply. The bird took fright and fled with a clatter of wings.

Winston put his lips against her ear. “Now,” he whispered.

– 1984, George Orwell


One possible answer was developed as an attempt to solve the “fine-tuning problem” – the enigma of why the fundamental laws and parameters of the universe seem to be fine-tuned to support the emergence of life, with even slight changes leading to a universe in which life is unlikely to emerge. Supposing the trajectory of evolution eventually produces life and intelligence with sufficient power and knowledge to reproduce the universe itself? This intelligent universe would fine-tune “offspring” universes so that they are even more conducive to the emergence and development of life and intelligence. And so on.

According to this scenario, our universe itself is embedded in larger evolutionary processes that shape universes. And life (including humanity) has a function and purpose within these larger processes in the same sense that our eyes have a purpose within the evolutionary processes that have shaped humanity.