Monday, May 31, 2010

Eternal Return

With my contract at Cable & Wireless now completed I'm back home in Wells and catching up on my reading.

In my own version of the 'Pygmalion Project' I bought for Adrian Milan Kundera's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" which I first read maybe 20 years ago. The novel is suffused with Nietzsche's concept of "eternal recurrence" which seems to have entered late nineteenth century cultural thought from then-contemporary physics: Ludwig Boltzmann was developing statistical mechanics which had the notion of infinite recurrence (in a finite universe) built-in.

So what is "eternal recurrence"? All quotes from the Wikipedia article.

"Eternal return (also known as "eternal recurrence") is a concept which posits that the universe has been recurring, and will continue to recur in a self-similar form an infinite number of times. The concept initially inherent in Indian philosophy was later found in ancient Egypt, and was subsequently taken up by the Pythagoreans and Stoics. With the decline of antiquity and the spread of Christianity, the concept fell into disuse, though Friedrich Nietzsche resurrected it on the grounds that it provides a reason for affirming life after the decline of theism."

The physics is captured in this quote.

"Related to the concept of eternal return is the Poincaré recurrence theorem in mathematics. It states that a system whose dynamics are volume-preserving and which is confined to a finite spatial volume will, after a sufficiently long time, return to an arbitrarily small neighborhood of its initial state. It should be noted that "a sufficiently long time" could be much longer than the predicted lifetime of the universe."

While Adrian is hopefully getting down with Milan, I'm reading Sean Carroll's book about time "From Eternity to Here" which is pre-occupied with similar matters: entropy and the reason for the 'arrow of time'.

Alex is here too this bank-holiday weekend and we were reminiscing about David Mace's military SF novel "Firelance", which describes a nuclear-hardened battleship in a post-nuclear war apocalypse. The dilemma of the novel is whether the warship should complete the destruction of the biosphere by unleashing its cargo of nuclear cruise missiles in a final counterforce strike against Russia. The Russians are understandably keen to destroy the ship before this mission can be accomplished. The story starts grim and relentlessly gets grimmer.

Sadly the book is out-of-print but Amazon points to resellers and a cheap, used but good quality version is winging its way to me as I write.

We're still living in a building site.