“I understand the universe,” wrote one student in his exercise book; an interesting assertion, given the utter randomness of the cosmos in which we inhabit. It was dark by the time I had finished marking a pile of books, the office was reflected in the window, beyond it the car park outside was beginning to empty
Perhaps the student could have explained why I could see both the office, and the black Mini convertible owned by one of the teachers. Seeing both is possible because of the random nature of particles of light – 95% of the light passes through the glass of the window, but 5% is reflected; which particles are reflected and which pass through is a matter of complete unpredictability, as is the behaviour of many atoms in our universe.
Staring at the glass recalled the opening lines of Mandy, a Barry Manilow song:
I remember all my life
Rainin’ down as cold as ice
Shadows of a man, a face through a window
Cryin’ in the night, the night goes into
Set in the context of the complete unpredictability of things, how does the broken relationship with Mandy appear?
“I remember all my life,” but it is only one of many possible lives that could have happened in a random universe; one decision differently taken could have set off an altogether different chain of events.
“Rainin’ down as cold as ice:” clearly, the perception is that the life has not been what it might have been, but if life is utterly random, in the way sub-atomic physics suggests, then it is pointless complaining about the outcome; it might become something completely different tomorrow.
“Shadows of a man, a face through a window:” ah, that would be those light particles and their refusal to behave in any reasonable manner. It’s impossible to know which of them will come through the window.
“Cryin’ in the night, the night goes into:” while understanding that the man is not feeling in a very positive frame of mind, if things happen for no reason at all at a cosmic level, then tears about Mandy are probably not going to achieve very much.
Which universe do I prefer? One that is capricious, utterly random, defying prediction, or one that has a deeper meaning, one that has purpose in the unfolding of events, even when such meaning and purpose is difficult to discern? Einstein’s belief that God does not play dice seems undermined by more recent physics which suggests that he not only plays dice, but does so with dice that have an infinite number of sides, making the prediction of any outcome impossible. Perhaps the plaintive cry to Mandy is evidence of a human willingness to seek a desired outcome; in the face of the idea that things happen for no reason at all, to find a purpose that brings happiness. Perhaps the student would offer an explanation.