Last fall, as I went on leave from grad school frustrated with my lack of progress and unsure whether I would return, I acquired Neal Stephenson’s then-brand-new novel Anathem. He writes what are probably my favorite fiction books, particularly his latest works (starting with Cryptonomicon). On his website, Stephenson has a lengthy page of acknowledgments for Anathem with the following disclaimer:
If Anathem were nonfiction, the parts of it where philosophy and science are being discussed would be spattered with footnotes in which I would express my indebtedness to the thinkers of Earth who originated the ideas under discussion. Each of these footnotes would be carefully hedged, in roughly the following manner:
“…. Dear reader, please know that this footnote serves only to acknowledge an intellectual debt and to give fair credit to Person X; if you really want to understand Idea Y, please buy and read Book Z.”
Keeping that general framework in mind, here are the Xs and Ys and Zs.
One of the Zs was The Trouble with Physics by Lee Smolin, and I soon had it from the library. It was reading Smolin’s book that reminded me why I enjoyed studying physics so very much, and ultimately led me to return to school in January to finish my PhD program.
The only problem is that the physics that most interests me (and of which Smolin reminded me) isn’t at all related to what I’m researching for my dissertation. That’s fine for now, as I believe that my current research will prove valuable to me (and hopefully to someone else!) in the future. However, recent developments have led me to once again think deeply about the work I’d like to do following graduation.
Two weeks ago I was at Half Price Books in Seattle, and I saw, in a box on the floor, The Road to Reality by Roger Penrose. I picked it up and felt a thrill go through me. This was another of Stephenson’s Zs. Soon I saw yet another on the shelf: The End of Time by Julian Barbour. Besides being referenced for Stephenson’s novel, Smolin’s discussions of the work of these two men had strongly affected me. I skipped buying some fiction books I wanted in order to buy these two books instead. In the ensuing weeks I’ve had the odd sensation of pieces moving into place, setting up for something wonderful.
So from time to time I’ll be sharing some of my thoughts on some physical and metaphysical ideas here on M*, particularly as they relate to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as I understand it. I will welcome your contributions.
In the meantime it should be clear that the novels of Neal Stephenson have had a profound effect on the direction of my life. What works of fiction have changed the course of your life, and how?