You are on page 1of 115

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

Contact Us Reader Services Advertising Services Subscribe Now Select a Publication or Site Daily Publications Chicago Sun-Times The Beacon News The Courier News The Herald News Lake County News-Sun The Naperville Sun Post-Tribune The SouthtownStar Pioneer Press - Pioneer Local PioneerLocal.com Barrington Courier Review Buffalo Grove Countryside The Doings Claredon Hills Edition The Doings Hinsdale Edition The Doings La Grange Edition The Doings Oak Brook Edition The Doings Weekly Edition The Doings Western Springs Edition Deerfield Review Elm Leaves Evanston Review Forest Leaves Franklin Park Herald - Journal Glencoe News Glenview Announcements Highland Park News Lake Forester Lake Zurich Courier Libertyville Review Lincolnshire Review Lincolnwood Review Morton Grove Champion Mundelein Review Niles Herald-Spectator Norridge-Harwood Heights News Northbrook Star Oak Leaves Park Ridge Herald-Advocate Skokie Review Vernon Hills Review Wilmette Life Winnetka Talk Search Search Search GO
Site YAHOO!

46F
Partly Sunny

Home News Sports Business

1 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

Opinions Lifestyles Blogs Entertainment Ebert Marketplace Obits Classifieds

ROGER EBERT'S JOURNAL


A quintessence of dust
By Roger Ebert on March 30, 2011 7:21 PM | 364 Comments

Click for RogerEbert.com

Advertise Here

An idle comment caught my eye: "After all, no one saw the Big Bang." Somewhere else I read, "The universe has no opinion." Then I read that the next Hubble telescope will be able to peer six times as far into space and time as the one now in orbit. An issue of Discover magazine arrived with a cover story about astronomers struggling with the problem of information overload. The new telescopes have moved far beyond visual images, and monitor a flood of information picked up on many wave lengths. Not even super computers can adequately organize and assess their vast findings. Amazing discoveries may be buried within the data. The universe is too large for me to comprehend how large that really might be. I've seen those animations where Earth shrinks to a pin point, and then the sun shrinks to a pin point, and then the Milky Way shrinks to a pin point. The whole map might as well shrink to a pin point, along with the horse it rode on. None of this immensity is affected by what I think about it. It doesn't depend on being thought about. If it is true that our galaxy alone might contain 30 to 80 million earth-like planets, and if every one of them were occupied by sentient beings, it doesn't depend on what they're thinking, either. It all simply exists. That is why the process of evolution is so compelling to me. On this planet, and probably countless more, inanimate atoms became molecules which formed cells and over billions of years those cells evolved into complex organisms which finally became viruses, plants, animals, salamanders, banyan trees and human beings. Without giving it any thought, with no way to think it, the universe brought into existence a way of making itself seen.

The Webby Awards Person of the Year Best Blog: Natl. Soc. of Newspaper Columnists One of the year's best blogs -- Time Last 12 months, 106 million views at RogerEbert.com. Year's best blog: Am. Assn. of Sunday and Feature Editors

ROGER EBERT

Ebert's latest books are "The Great Movies III," "Roger Ebert's Movie Yearbook 2010" and "The Pot and How to Use It." Volumes I and II of "The Great Movies" and "Awake in the Dark: The Best of Roger Ebert" can also be ordered via the links in the right column of rogerebert.com.

SEARCH

Search

ABOUT THIS ENTRY


This page contains a single entry by Roger Ebert published on March 30, 2011 7:21 PM. My career in retailing was

2 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

the previous entry in this blog. The One-Percenters is the next entry in this blog. Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

There is more than one way to see. A leaf turns to the light. A chimpanzee selects a piece of fruit. A fish sees a smaller fish. An eagle sees a rabbit. A dolphin rescues a sailor. A dog welcomes us home. While all of these actions are guided by a process falling under the general heading of Intelligence, humans seem to be fairly unique in our ability for conscious thought. We see, we know, and we know we know. This is a blessing and it carries a price. To know you live is to know you die. Having studied several cats at close range over a period of years, I've concluded they don't give it a moment's notice. They know they want to live, which is why they get out of trouble as fast as they can. Then they take a nap. Buy from Amazon.com Buy from Barnes & Noble Buy from Borders ___________________

I read articles about astronomy and physics. It doesn't matter to me how much I understand. Their buried message is always the same: Somewhere out there, or somewhere deep inside, there are mysteries of which we perceive only vague shadows, and there are possibly more mysteries within those shadows, continuing indefinitely. Dark matter was a secret to us. Now we know it exists. Does it have its own secrets? We speak of quantum particles. They are below atoms. Do they contain levels beneath? When we get to the quantum particle, have we reached the bottom, or only the deepest point to which we can penetrate? The further we peer into space, the further we are peering into the past. Although I have no realistic grasp of the distance represented in a "light year," I understand what the words indicate. Still less do I comprehend "a billion light years," but I understand that Hubble is looking further and further back into the immensity of time.

Buy from Amazon.com Buy from Barnes & Noble Buy from Borders ___________________

TWEET / FACEBOOK
Share |

Subscribe to this blog's feed

PAGES
"Anna Nicole The Opera" ~ Covent Garden's cups runneth over A Monty Python Christmas Guys: Danger signals on a date

3 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

Japan in the catacombs of Paris recent Two Thumbs Up reviews The birthday of the cinema The long-lost 1970 reunion video of the "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" director, cast and writer the Your Movie Sucks files Who goes there? A map of science-fiction Animation Aaargh! I'm turning into a monster! Archives Hef goes West Art in many forms "I don't know anything about architecture, but I know Brutalism when I see it" I'll draw you if you'll draw me Is The Phantom the only sexually-active superhero? The world's largest indoor photo in 360 degrees Being here "Best Society," by Philip Larkin

I'm going downtown to see a movie today. I understand that the screening is distant from me in space and time. I know why we see lightning before we hear thunder. I understand why a foreign correspondent for CNN pauses before answering a question; the question must reach and the answer must return. I have some idea of how many "miles" away the planet Mars may be. I understand its reflected light reaches us after a delay of some minutes. But when we see light from a star that has journeyed four million light years, all I really understand is that the star is forever out of the reach of my species. What we are left with are the cosmic shadows on the wall of Plato's cave. Ultimately the images from Hubble will give us a glimpse of conditions that existed an infinitesimal instant after the Big Bang. There will never be an image of the Big Bang itself, because it had no image. There was Nothing, and then there was Something, and all we can hope is to see that Something as soon as possible after it became.

If the matter in the universe has organized itself into you and me and Stephen Hawking, I can think of no reason why the same organizational principles wouldn't apply everywhere. In the night sky we look at the suns of a multitude of planets that might harbor forms of intelligence that look back at our sun. Astronomers search for "earth-like" planets because they know life is possible on a planet like ours. They start with what they know. Every day we read speculation about new forms of life. I don't know why it cheers me to learn that a buried sea on Europa, a moon of Jupiter, could harbor "a form of life," but it does. It isn't necessary for me to understand much more about science than what I read in magazines like New Scientist, Scientific American, Discover, or in the daily newspaper. It isn't necessary for me to understand about movies, either, but that's the direction life has taken me. Socrates told us, "the unexamined life is not worth living." I think he's calling for curiosity, more than knowledge. In every human society at all times and at all levels, the curious are at the leading edge.

A photo of a little girl, and memories of two beloved aunts Bruce Lee's Definite Chief Aim Hitchens is eloquent in the face of death How to be alone My master thinks this is art Oprah remembers our big date Talking to people on the subway To be young and mixed in America West Virginia 8th grade test in 1931 C'est moi Best films 1967-2009: Siskel & Ebert & Scorsese Helicopter crashes in our house! I didn't notice that was Ron Galella. Is he everywhere? I have no arms and I must play I read these in my

4 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

bedazzed youth. Now it's the covers I love. I will never, ever, ever, do this I'll be honest and fight sqare If you were a kid in the 1950s, you remember...

But what good does it do me to think of the universe as an unthinking mechanism vast beyond comprehension? It gives me the consolation of believing I conceive it as it really is. It makes me thankful that I can conceive it at all. I could have been a pair of ragged claws, scuttling across the floors of silent seas. In this connection I find the Theory of Evolution a great consolation. It helps me understand how life came about and how I came to be. It reveals a logical principle I believe applies everywhere in the universe and at all levels: Of all the things that exist, animate and inanimate, some will be more successful than others at continuing to exist. Of those, some will evolve into greater complexity. This isn't "progress," it is simply the way things work. On this dot of space and in this instant of time, the human mind is a great success story, and I am fortunate to possess one. No, even that's not true, because a goldfish isn't unfortunate to lack one. It's just that knowing what I know, I would rather be a human than a goldfish. Some reject the Theory of Evolution because it offers no consolation in the face of death. They might just as well blame it for explaining why minds can conceive of death. Living things must die. That I can plainly see. That we are aware of our inevitable death is the price we must pay for being aware at all. On the whole, I think we're getting a good deal. When I die, what happens? Nothing much. Every atom of my body will continue to exist. The sum of the universe will be the same. The universe will not know or care. But think of it another way. Take a moment to study this illustration:

It's hard to believe it's been 12 years, Gene. I miss you. It's like so uncool to like sound like you know what you're like talking about Matinees and horse manure My darlin' Chaz was on TV this morning My drinking days, recalled in a noirish oil My other neighborhood on Red Arrow Highway My talk at TED 2011 Oprah remembers our first date Portrait of the critic at home Reflections after 25 years in the dark Shel Silverstein wrote my own damn song Siskel & Ebert & Stern Siskel & Ebert's 1980s Holiday Gift Guides Cooking Marilyn Monroe's dressing recipe Sauce for the goose The secrets of The Pot CyberWorld I don't think I could do this Wikileaks the Movie: the Social Leak Your handy internet flowchart Directors A conversation with Atom Egoyan Claude Chabrol, RIP. The master at midpoint Herzog looks ahead to the Cave Jason Reitman in conversation Louis Malle: A do-ityourself interview Manuel de Oliveira is 102: A tribute The heart of the world and other organs: The singular cinema of Guy Maddin

The graphic was created by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to represent 1,235 planets we know to exist, and the suns they orbit. Each planet is a black dot. Our sun is below the top row at the right. It's estimated that millions of such planets exist in our galaxy alone. On some of those dots, or smaller ones we haven't seen yet, it's possible that evolution has produced minds capable of self-awareness. Those minds belong to beings who think, and ergo know they exist. Some of them wonder why they exist. Some of them look into the night sky and ask the same questions we ask. On every planet where a sufficient degree of intelligence has developed,

5 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

the Theory of Evolution must eventually be discovered. It helps those beings understand how they are. It doesn't explain why they are. There is no reason the universe "needed" to evolve intelligent beings, but it has. It might have been inevitable because of the fact of Natural Selection.

The secret of Jacques Tati Ebert Club A Holiday Present for Readers Public Edition #1 Public Edition #2 Public Edition #3 Halloween Special Public Edition #4 Public Edition #5 Public Edition #7 The Ebert Club's post-Christmas Special Ebert Presents Ebert presents at the movies Ephemera Hanging up is one way of saying "goodbye" The evolution of the Batmobile The movie alphabet, blah blah blah, if you'll excuse me Film Festivals Starry midnight in Paris The art of the title Film classics The "Potemkin" restoration They shot horses, didn't they? Funny A personal letter from Steve Martin Aid rushed to movie overdose victims At this point, we all need a good laugh Attack of the Second-Rate Monsters Avengers Assemble! Superheroes need health care Bill O'Reilly teaches grade school science Buddy Hackett: Up at drama, down at comedy. Dan and Dan: The Daily Mail Song David Mamet's "Lost Masterpieces of Porn," with your host, Ricky Jay Do the Creep! Down memory lane: Nic Cage goes batshit Dr. Tongue's Evil House of Wax in 3D George W. Bush and Mike Tyson in "The President's Speech"

My curiosity leads me to science, my admiration for logic leads me to the Theory of Evolution, my pride rejects simplistic fables to describe the facts I observe. Where do I find my consolations? There are many ways to be consoled. Everyone deserves to find their own way, and find such peace as they can. I find my greatest consolations come from Art. An artist can express my feelings in the same way as an intelligent signal received from one of those 1,235 dots. Such a signal might translate as, "Yes, I exist, and I want to shout to you across space and time that we are not alone." A message from light years away would probably miss me in my box of space and time, but I find that Art can shout to me across a few years or centuries, and it carries the same message: "Yes, I exist, and you are not alone." What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals-and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me--nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so. That's what we are, a quintessence of dust. That Shakespeare could so conclude, and then end with a little joke is, to me, a great comfort.

6 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

Harpo Marx, the most articulate brother Haven't I seen him somewhere before? Helen Mirren's breasts are the answer to everything Henny Youngman: "Doctor, it hurts when I do this!" How Michael Caine Speaks How to fill a glass with water How to get a guy to notice you during sex (nsfw) I don't know WTF it's saying, but thumbs up! I know every single word. So do you. I love it when I'm quoted correctly Laurel & Hardy & The Gap Band My entry in New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest #282 Push the dragon's head, and the marble runs down here, and... The 1982 Tron Holiday Special The helpful Robert Benchley Walken the Walk, by Walkin' Walken When Harry met Sally 2, with Billy Crystal and Helen Mirren Who cut the cheese? Literature "Fight Club," by Jane Austen "In Love with Raymond Chandler," by Margaret Atwood "The Premature Burial," by Edgar Allan Poe Gatsby in Scott Fitzgerald's handwriting In memory of the memories of W. G. Sebald Jack Kerouac: 3/12/22 - 10/21/69 On 4/13/1906, Samuel Beckett started waiting Studs and Algren and Patterson, N.J. The Black Mask Boys The books everyone should read The enigmatic case of

Find us on Facebook Sign Up


Create an account or log in to see what your friends like.

Roger Ebert
Like 46,809

Roger Ebert Today is the birthday of Jennifer Garner, who went on a blind date with Ricky Gervais. The Invention of Lying :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews bit.ly In its amiable, quiet, PG-13 way, "The Invention of Lying" is a remarkably radical comedy. It opens with a series of funny, relentlessly logical episodes in a world where everyone always tells the truth, and then slips in the implication that religion is possible only in a world that h 3 hours ago Roger Ebert This is by Olivia Collette, who is one of my Far-Flung Correspondents. Strange Movie Conventions: The Pre-Battle
Facebook social plugin

Categories: The Immensity

364 Comments
MuckrakerAP | March 30, 2011 9:06 PM | Reply

Well, personally, I just think it's turtles, turtles, turtles, all the way down. Ebert: It took me a certain effort to keep the turtles out of this entry.
Felicity Lingle | March 30, 2011 9:06 PM | Reply

This was one of those articles that lured me in 6 inches closer to my computer monitor- completely riveting! And "it's just that knowing what I know, I would rather be a human than a goldfish," that's pretty funny! : )
Barry McCormick | March 30, 2011 9:10 PM | Reply

terrific stuff. one small nit - captions on the images would have been nice.
chris maytag | March 30, 2011 9:15 PM | Reply

Roger, you delight me, as always.


Julie | March 30, 2011 9:19 PM | Reply

Thank you for sharing your gift of awe with us in your poignant writing, Roger. Somehow, reading your words and viewing the known universe video, I feel more grounded than ever.
Al | March 30, 2011 9:22 PM | Reply

"I find that Art can shout to me across a few years or centuries, and it carries the same message: 'Yes, I exist, and you are not alone.' " I think I love you.
David Ashton | March 30, 2011 9:28 PM | Reply

Nice post - kinda leaves you speechless. Trying to comprehend it intellectually just seems to end up in creating mental fractals. One way of looking at evolution is the universe becoming self-aware through sentient beings. Another is that I know absolutely nothing. Beautiful pictures!

7 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

Cyberquill | March 30, 2011 9:28 PM | Reply

the oddly persistent mystery writer Walt Kelly, an immortal Why is film criticism important? Deck us all with Boston Charlie London "London Moods," a 1961 short by Ken Russell "Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life." ~ Dr. Johnson The delightful Mr. Pepys Meaning of it All A cry from alone Grandpa Joe and Secretariat: A Christmas story The Nutcracker Cheat This is a dog What to do when meeting an alien Movies "As Penny Chenery's youngest son..." "Man in a Blizzard," by Jamie Stuart "Rosebud" was a rather tawdry device "The most beautiful film ever made" "Whose birthday, Lou?" "Yours, Bud!" "Mine?!? Waitaminit! You were born before me." "That's why your birthday is first." "Who's second?" "You. I was born first." 100 Great Moments in the Movies 36 Hitchcock death scenes all at once A double feature every day! Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! I could watch a Fellini film on the radio If Hitchcock had made the trailer for "Inception" Jeff Bridges: The Starman within John Waters Unplugged: The Transcript Marni Nixon: The secret voice of Hollywood NYFF48: Film's evolution and man's

Yeah, it's all a big mystery. Everything is caused by something which preceded it ... but what caused the first thing, that first quantum fluctuation which caused the Big Bang? Ay, there's the rub. What puzzles me the most is that when we imagine the Big Bang, we imagine this infinitesimally small singularity sitting there in the vastness of space, waiting to blow up. Trouble is, science tells us that time and space actually came out of the Big Bang. So there was nothing "around" this singularity, not even empty space, as all space was inside the singularity. Likewise, there was no such thing as a "before" the Big Bang, because that which we call "time" was trapped inside this singularity as well, only to be released, so to speak, once the Big Bang occurred. I don't know about you, but I find it very difficult to picture something that has no before and is surrounded by nothing, not even space. Then I figure that right after we die, the whole mystery will instantly become clear to us, because we won't be constrained by human thought patterns anymore, such as our inability to visualize hyperspace. Ebert: Encouraging, if we can indeed still visualize. I believe thought is a function limited to our present our equipment.
Liz Hill | March 30, 2011 9:41 PM | Reply

Thank you for this piece of art *smile*


Randy Masters | March 30, 2011 9:41 PM | Reply

Ah, thank you for this post Roger. So much here to contemplate. So eloquently written and argued. A treat for us. With such awe-inspiring photos too. Science is a wonder. The concepts truly are beyond comprehension at times. Not only spatially, as in comprehending "light years" when I've just driven 1000 miles this week and thought that was pretty far. But time as well. Can I really comprehend thousands or millions or billions of years when my personal experience is limited to my 70 or so years plus my parent's years plus my grandparent's years? I'm just going to enjoy the scope of wonder and amazement that you've expressed in this excellent article on my first pass through, and agree with that sentiment generally. I reach different conclusions than you do with those observations, granted. For example, what jumps out at me first is your observation of what is uniquely human: We see, we know, and we know we know. It's more than that, to me. As I've argued before, we uniquely have the capacity to know that we know about the divine. To ponder the infinite and the transcendent. To ponder not just our intelligence, but if that is the product of an intelligent transcendent creator. To ponder not just the creation, but the creator. But, I'll come back to parsing the differences. First pass, I'll just revel in our shared amazment at the vastness. And I'll enjoy the eloquence of your expression of the questions. Beautifully written.
Jack H | March 30, 2011 9:45 PM | Reply

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pfwY2TNehw Carl Sagans pale blue dot. I thought of this the whole time as I read.
Greg | March 30, 2011 9:48 PM | Reply

With the numbers we're confronted with in the Universe, if something like intelligent life can exist one place, then it exits in many, many places. And given the infinite vastness and sizes we're confronted with, size means nothing. To what Hubble sees, we're dust. To a neutrino, we're an entire universe. Pascal noted that

8 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

we're caught between two infinities. We are not small. Not large. Given all the information we've gathered about the universe, the holy grail of discovery is still life. I no longer feel small nor insignificant when I look into the night sky. Of all the things we've discovered in the Universe, Earth remains the true wonder. And Man the most fascinating. I'd rather be a human than a goldfish...or a quasar. Great read. Thanks, Roger.
Adam L. Cox | March 30, 2011 9:52 PM | Reply

progress. Nick & Nora's hangover cure Revenge on "Revenge of the Sith" Richard Harris: Don't let it be forgot Robert Duvall: "Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that" Rock Hudson's secret S&E review River Phoenix's last film Siskel & Ebert on how to be a film critic Street scene: Movie theater, snow, rain, promise The Akira Kurosawa Song The Bechtel Test The Blanche DuBois Death Match: Vivien Leigh v. Woody Allen The Duke on Rooster: "My first good part in 20 years" The Kowalski Smackdown: Marlon Brando v. Diane Keaton The shower scene When Lynch met Lucas & Werner saved Joaquin Why Pauline Kael never saw a movie twice Movies free online "Alma," award-winning short by Rodrigo Blaas "Breathless:" Modern movies begin here "Inspired by Bret Easton Ellis," by Matthew Ross "Magritte Moment," by Ian Fischer "Out of Sight." A magical anime "The Kid," by Charlie Chaplin "The Whales of August" Buster Chaplin: "The Circus," "The Kid" and "The Gold Rush" Chuck Jones: That's not all, folks! Cocteau's "Beauty and the Beast" Freddie Mercury: The Untold Story Harold Lloyd in "An Eastern Westerner" Pauline Kael's favorite

Thanks for this elegant article, Roger. It articulates many things that I feel quite nicely. A lot of people can't understand how someone can go through life without the consolation of believing in divine guidance, or life after death, but I think the wonder of living in this universe and being able to discover it is consolation enough. Personally, I view an infinite universe full of new discoveries just like I view a well-stocked library. There are more wonders in the world than I can hope to discover and more books in the world than I can hope to read--which is just the way I like it. Always something new. Thanks again.
Ryan M. Eft | March 30, 2011 9:54 PM | Reply

The need for humans to compress their understanding of existence into something small enough for them to easily understand and explain will sadly keep most people from ever accepting that firstly, there are things about the universe that make sense but perhaps not to us, and second, that not knowing everything about the way the universe works is not necessarily a bad thing. We place vast importance on explaining everything, which is motivation for a portion of believers in both religion and science. Another thing that is very galling is to have it explained to me that I must be missing the wonder of existence in order to subject things to the logic of scientific explanation. Can I not see wonder in the photosynthesis of a flower, in the course of the Mississippi, in the life and death of stars, without believing a supreme being created it all? I accept that I cannot explain everything, but that doesn't mean I will accept an answer that does not make sense.
Dion Detterer | March 30, 2011 9:55 PM | Reply

I'm a computer science student, and next year I'll be doing my PhD in astroinformatics, which aims to discover the knowledge hidden within the masses of data being now generated by telescopes. The universe is elegant and beautiful, and science reveals that beauty. Frankly, I don't need an explanation beyond that. Indeed, what science has revealed is stranger (and more wonderous) than the cosmology of any religious text. I have muscular dystrophy, and I'd much rather think that the world just is - we can understand its mechanisms, but the "why" is something we need to bring to the table. How is it comforting to think a God has knowingly let so many people suffer? I'm just happy to be a part of this great cosmic dance. And my life has the meaning I've attached to it--no more, no less.
jibanez | March 30, 2011 10:00 PM | Reply

Beautifully written! While you and I don't share the same point of view, I always appreciate the way you express yourself on such matters. I began following you years ago for the movie reviews and you've been a wonderful source of inspiration on so many other topics ever since. You're a credit to your profession!
Doug Daluga | March 30, 2011 10:01 PM | Reply

Thank you, Roger. Beautifully written. I hope you are doing well.
Bobbo | March 30, 2011 10:02 PM | Reply

9 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

"Yes, I exist, and you are not alone. " Have you read (or less ideally, seen the Twilight Zone 1986 episode of) Theodore Sturgeon's "A Saucer of Loneliness?" Sturgeon had a way of speaking across the immensities between one human mind and another. It's a sweet telling of this desire.
Eric | March 30, 2011 10:09 PM | Reply

film: "Menilmontant" Peter Cook and Dudley Moore in Richard Lester's "The Bed-Sitting Room" Some documentaries of Werner Herzog Ten great films about horror The Haunted World of Ed Wood, Jr. The Naked Civil Servant: John Hurt as Quentin Crisp Music :) "Chanda Mama" around the world "Making Giant Hands," by Dog and Panther "Redemption Song" around the world "Swan Lake" by the Great Chinese Circus "What'll I do?" by Julie London A Farm Aid concert from 1985 A Labor Day concert A xylophone in a forest Arrow: In Memory. "Hot! Hot! Hot!" Bob Dylan must be Santa Concert for an uncertain world Did Leonard Cohen save my life? Do you know the wonderful Lucy Foley? Esperanza Spalding. Yes. Four-year-old Jonathan conducts conducts the Chandler Symphony Orchestra Freddie Mercury vs. the Platters & Wayne's World Gene Siskel covers Paul McCartney in 1976 George Shearing, 1919-2011 Happiness is being on the road again I went to school with Andy Cohen I'll never smoke weed with Willie again Jammin' cellos: Stjepan Hauser and Luka Sulic Joan Baez: There is a clearing where one is almost happy John Prine: A concert

Thank you for this. It seems difficult to speak of our present condition and safer to be in the history of our planet's past or in the future of sci-fi wherein we have already made the choices needed to become a spacefaring species. I wonder if this is our moment of evolutionary breakthrough. Seeing images like the video posted at the end makes me pleasantly humbled in thinking that humanity is just beginning. Is evolution, and the expansion of the universe, conspiring to pull us off of Earth and into our galactic neighborhood? Kubrick seems to think so and I'm inclined to agree with him.
Bob | March 30, 2011 10:13 PM | Reply

Even though it was written in jest, I still think one of the best descriptions of the incredible size of the universe and how we perceive it is by the late Douglas Adams in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. "Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space." It is a form of "chauvinism" to depict the universe as we do. As beings composed of matter made of the most unlikely of elements from the most unlikely of circumstances (a star literally had to explode for us to exist - talk about winning the lottery). Even if there are 80 million or 80 million million Earth like planets, we and everything like us will always be the exception to the rule. As your video shows, the vast overwhelming majority of the universe is cold, dark and empty.
Andy Jarema | March 30, 2011 10:14 PM | Reply

Dear Roger, I especially connected with your last section regarding "consolations". My greatest passion is music, so I am similar to you in that I also connect with art to find my consolation. But much of what you were saying reminded me of this excellent quote from Einstein. It has almost become a mantra for me, and it taps into what you were talking about with curiosity: "The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science".
David D. | March 30, 2011 10:17 PM | Reply

Thinking about the infinite, it makes me feel like a jerk for pointing out a typo in the second sentence of the eighth paragraph: s/b "me" and not "be". Awesome. Ebert: Blast! I corrected that but it didn't take. Thanks!
Mike | March 30, 2011 10:32 PM | Reply

"Yes, I exist, and you are not alone." Next time someone on one of the fanboy movie sites where I chat asks me why I prefer Ozu to Nolan, Fellini to J.J. Abrams, Bergman to Spielberg, I will paraphrase this quotation. I will explain that I cannot imagine myself believing it if it were spoken by a robot, a superhero, or a hobbit. How I long, now, for my pet goldfish to tell me, though, "Oh, you dummy. Didn't you read what Roger wrote?"
Stefan Jones | March 30, 2011 10:34 PM | Reply

The scope of this piece reminds me of an essay by the naturalist Loren Eiseley, who wrote great, deep things about evolution and nature and our place in it. The

10 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

conclusion: "In a universe whose size is beyond human imagining, where our world floats like a dust mote in the void of night, men have grown inconceivably lonely. We scan the time scale and the mechanism of life itself for portents and signs of the invisible. As the only thinking mammals on the planet -- perhaps the only thinking animals in the entire sidereal universe -- the burden of consciousness has grown heavy upon us. We watch the stars, but the signs are uncertain. We uncover the bones of the past and seek for our origins. There is a path there, but it appears to wander. The vagaries of the road may have a meaning, however; it is thus we torture ourselves." "Lights come and go in the night sky. Men, troubled at last by the things they build, may toss in their sleep and dream bad dreams, or lie awake while the meteors whisper greenly overhead. But nowhere in all space or on a thousand worlds will there be men to share our loneliness. There may be wisdom; there may be power; somewhere across space great instruments, handled by strange manipulative organs, may stare vainly at our floating cloud wrack, their owners yearning as we yearn. Nevertheless, in the nature of life and in the principles of evolution we have had our answer. Of men elsewhere, and beyond, there will be none forever." -- Loren Eiseley, "Little Men and Flying Saucers," The Immense Journey
jrdeaver | March 30, 2011 10:37 PM | Reply

in Ireland John Prine: American Legend Jonathan is three and loves great music Joni MItchell: "Big Yellow Taxi" Julie London: The torch is burning New Year's with Steve: In tribute to a great heart Nikki Janofsky: The future is hers Que sera, sera Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee Still Bill: The life and songs of Bill Withers Sweet Dreams, Baby: For Patsy Cline The Platters perform "The Twist" The night Hank Williams came to town The ukulele orchestra of Great Britain Tom Waits serenades New York harbor We need Punk Vaudeville. Jarmean? Won't you ride in my little red wagon? Your Christmas morning concert Don't know much about history... My funny valentine, sweet comic valentine, you make me smile with my Nestor Torres and the spirit in the music Newspapers O'Rourke's magazine "Blemished, Perfection," a story by Grace Wang "Calcuttan Cats," by H. W. Cimmerian "One autumn evening in Peshewar" by Larry J. Kolb "Sonoran Duende," by Tracey Durgan "Sorrows and Joys of the Desert," by Tom Dark Two short stories by H. W. Cimmerian Oscars Pages for Twitter "Injun Summer," by John T. McCutcheon "The most beautiful thing I've ever seen"

But I'm not so sure cats can't comprehend the universe. Mine seem to think they are the center of it... ^..^
greg | March 30, 2011 10:53 PM | Reply

You refer to time. Maybe this is a fruitful concept or thing to examine for a ray of hope or shred of doubt.
Obi | March 30, 2011 10:56 PM | Reply

Awesome post. Glad you wrote it and it glad I read it. Who needs an afterlife when it's such a wondrous miracle and mystery to have been blessed with even a glimpse of this one?
Dan L | March 30, 2011 11:09 PM | Reply

You said that you admire the fact that you can conceive the universe at all. Have you read Douglas Adams's book The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy? That's the work that made me start realizing humanity's position in an infinite universe. If you are interested, I suggest the "Ultimate" version, it has all five books and all have their own wonder and creativity in it, albeit satirically scathing. I am reminded of one of the parts in the book: "Population: None. 'It is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them to be in. However, not every one of them is inhabited. Therefore, there must be a finite number of inhabited worlds. Any finite number divided by infinity is as near to nothing as makes no odds, so the average population of all the planets in the Universe can be said to be zero. From this it follows that the population of the whole Universe is also zero, and that any people you may meet from time to time are merely the products of a deranged imagination.'"
scott | March 30, 2011 11:09 PM | Reply

And you dont think there is just a wee bit of centrist sentiment in the assertion that the universe created something to be its witness? A wee bit of anthropomorphising the universe? A bit selective re what you choose as examples of this "seeing" (I believe you meant experiencing)? Certainly the leaf beatifically turning towards the sun shares in the great experience. Does the doe being ripped apart by jaws revel in the splendour also? Ancient societies knew enough that nature was red in tooth and claw. Only we who are so removed feign to wax poetically, ad nauseam. I too catch myself meditating on the sheer wonder of existence. However, a reflection that is not tempered by awareness of the horror and ultimate futility of

11 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

all suffering is simply dishonest and so much populist chatter... secular sermonizing. Try a little thought experiment - imagine if you were omniscient and eternal. You saw all for many many lifetimes. Do you think that would be endlessly fascinating? Or hellishly monotonous? In reality, unless one was an utter imbecile, the experience would resemble the latter. Now, expand this experiment into the wild ether yonder. Do you not think that life, say even a universe teaming with the stuff, would not simply be essentially the same - a struggle for survival, simply because that is how the organism works? Knowing that no matter how high the climb it inevitably would be doomed. Over and over and over again - times 30 to 80 million, locally. And is this not the flip side of the bane of eternal life - knowing that no matter what one did, what risks one took, life would simply go on. Ebert: I stated that badly. Rather than say the universe "created," I should have said, "it happened that organisms developed by random mutation that were able to observe the universe."
Kevin | March 30, 2011 11:11 PM | Reply

Are you smart enough to teach grade school? February 3, 1959: The day the music died People "It's not like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," Cher said. Bill Mauldin, American Bronson: Coming of age in Scoop Town Dorothy Dandridge: In Memory Falling in Love Again: Marlene Dietrich Keanu thought his two years were running out Kirk Douglas: I've killed so many Romans, so many Vikings, so many Indians... Leslie Nielsen, RIP. "And don't call me Shirley" Liza, when all was still ahead Mae West and Rock Hudson: "Baby, It's Cold Outside!" Maria Schneider comes to America On the 69th birthday of the greatest Pete Postlethwaite: 1946-2011 Robert Mitchum remembers Marilyn Monroe Some Robert De Niro gossip I hadn't heard Susannah York, 1939-2011 The last days of Tiny Tim What Oscar Wilde taught Stephen Fry Zuppke of Illinois: A football coach Photos in need of a caption Photos in need of comment Oddly suggestive photo taken by an electron microscope for 4/16 Photo of Spider-Man underfoot for 4/12 Photo of a bird with feet more blue than yesterday's bird for 4/14 Photo of an airplane without a fuselage for 4/6 Photo of an insectoid spherical object beneath a bird for

Thank you for your post. I'm glad I found it. I especially liked your take on art: "Yes, I exist, and you are not alone." It made me think about what psychologist Erich Fromm says intrinsically drives people -- faced with the scariness of vast emptiness, we do a million things, directly and indirectly, to be close and fuse with one another -- to not feel alone. If evolution led to that, I like to think that underneath the chaos, there's something good -- and there's reason to be optimistic about what happens to our atoms, through the rest of infinity. But who knows.
Ben H. | March 30, 2011 11:12 PM | Reply

Great article, and the video took me back to my childhood; I have never forgotten "Powers of 10", and the impact it had on me in grade school in the '60's. I've introduced my own son to it, and I'll show him this video as well ... what a marvel. Thank you.
Darren Whitney | March 30, 2011 11:17 PM | Reply

"It doesn't depend on being thought about" Nice one. ;)


NeverNude | March 30, 2011 11:22 PM | Reply

Great article, intriguing and certainly piqued my curiosity. However, knowing what you know about the universe/earth/science in general. You still refer to evolution as a "theory." Why is this? Are you just being politically correct or is this what you truly believe? Ebert: That's the correct term. A scientific theory is a carefully defined matter. Science is wisely wary of "laws."
Michael | March 30, 2011 11:32 PM | Reply

The 2nd law of Thermo Dynamics dispels the theory of evolution. Quit buying into this pseudo science BS! Ebert: Sorry, but actually, no it doesn't. That's an Urban Legend not even believed by proponents of Intelligent Design: http://bit.ly/gyFH0C http://bit.ly/g8DCBt
Fduquette | March 30, 2011 11:46 PM | Reply

If science could avert a single earthquake or tsunami, I'd accept the Theory of Evolution. We experience nature and react by naming and classifying, attempting to give it form, as if to lull her into passivity. Alien life? Evolution. 9 letters to decode a mystery. Adam did science, in Genesis 2:19-20, naming and classifying every created thing, yet it was not enough; so a further mystery was added: Eve. Woman is a far greater mystery, one that can be talked to, sometimes.
Cyberquill replied to comment from Cyberquill | March 30, 2011 11:54 PM | Reply

12 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

Thought and visualization may be limited to our present equipment, but upon death, new equipment may replace our present one. Just as one cannot explain the concept of color to a blind man or sound to a deaf person, there may exist an entire assortment of phenomena which our mortal coil not only cannot perceive but actually prevents us from perceiving.
Solomon Wakeling | March 30, 2011 11:57 PM | Reply

4/13 Photo of someone looking at him for 4/17 Photo of the batcave for 4/15 Poetry "Hollywood Jabberwocky," by Frank Jacobs "The Charge of the Light Brigade," by Tennyson "The Day the Saucers Landed," by Neil Gaiman "The Machines Mourn the Passing of People" by Alicia E Stallings "You being in love," by e. e. cummings 'Twas the Night Before Pogo Dylan Thomas goes not gently Emily Dickinson: My life closed twice before its close Good-bye to All That Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" I love this sweet grandmother In Just-Spring, when the world is mud-luscious... Marilyn Monroe and Carl Sandburg On the worthlessness of internet snipers Remembering Bukowski Samuel Taylor Coleridge Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? So anyway, Charles Bukowski, Errol Morris and Roger Ebert walk into this bar... So much depends upon a red wheel barrow When icicles hang by the wall William Blake: Of innocence and experience e. e. cummings lives in a pretty how heaven e. e. cummings talks dirty (nsfw) Politics "If you think it's a socialist plot, give up your federal health care" A trek into darkest

Echoes here of Nabokov's 'Ada'*:Terra dimly perceived from Anti-Terra, in dreams and by the insane. *His greatest novel, despite what people say.
Marley | March 31, 2011 12:24 AM | Reply

I feel like a jerk, too, but two sentences picked me up and threw me right out of this post, which was otherwise completely engrossing. "I have some idea of how many 'miles' away the planet Mars may be. I understand its light reaches us after a delay of some minutes." I realize Roger must know that Mars is not the source of the light, but the phrase "its light" suggests otherwise. It gave me pause as I analyzed what I was reading. "But when we see light from a star that has journeyed four million light years, all I really understand is that the star is forever out of the reach of my species." If you could go back a couple hundred years and tell people that someday soon we'll be able to fly from New York to California in a few hours, with luck everyone would give you a wide berth--the alternative would be to lock you up as a raving madman. We won't begin preparations to travel to those stars in my lifetime, but we may manage it someday, using methods that would look like magic to you and me. I have to hope we'll try, anyway.
Marie Haws | March 31, 2011 12:26 AM | Reply

My all-time favorite irony is as follows: "You need to exist in order to experience the disappointment of discovering there's no after-life." Meaning if Death is indeed THE END and all she wrote, you won't ever know. Unless the last thought you have before you die, is "there's no after-life" and you believe it to be true, despite confirmation beforehand. Then, yes, you will get to experience a massive bummer - but for reaching for it now. "Hah! Take that, smug cosmic forces! I embraced it! I died in a self-made pool of my own disappointment! You're not foolin' me... I'm not getting sucked into your lie!" foolish person Whereas... "Oooo! Death is approaching! Hello..? Over here! Totally excited and ready to see cool stuff, dude..." - and then the lights go out. You fall into the truth smiling either way. However it turns out. You'll either find yourself starting a new journey, or never realize there isn't one. How perfect is that?! Which for me, takes all the scariness out of death to replace it with wonder... and the tantalizing prospect of getting to snoop around and explore and see loved ones again. Kitties and puppies too. :-)
Richard Drumm The Astronomy Bum | March 31, 2011 12:29 AM | Reply

Very Saganesque post! One minor quibble, though. "These are planets that scientists believe are at such a distance from their suns that earth-like life is possible." isn't exactly correct. The graphic represents the Kepler mission's findings so far. None of the exoplanets is both Earth-sized and in the "habitable zone" of its star. I fully expect that such planets will be found, it's just that we haven't detected the first one quite yet. Soon, grasshopper, soon! :^)

13 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

Wisconsin

Ebert: Oops.I've corrected that. Actually, I read that the discovery of such planets was thought to be inevitable.
Joe inTEXAS | March 31, 2011 12:32 AM | Reply

Christopher Hitchens at length on BBC's Newsnight Pogo says it for the very first time Saul Alinsky comes to the Tea Party Tea Party leadership gets a fresh face The Battle Hymn of the Tea Party The financial crisis explained (nsfw) The politically corrected Huckleberry Finn The rich are waging war on America This man is very upset about the nuclear crisis (nsfw) Update on the TSA breast milk incident Will Rogers on unemployment Science and not A reality far beyond my imagination Ants have built-in pedometers Do Creationists make good science students? Drive a car with the power of your mind Jeez, Dr. Feynman, I'm sorry I asked Memo to RMN: In the event of a moon disaster Our beautiful, awesome, terrifying universe Snakes on mathematical planes Starting with one cell, we arrive at Prof. Hawking The God Gene. A breakthrough The python's dinner We are part of all worlds Why HAL 9000 sang "Daisy" Strange "Jean-Luc," a cartoon not about Godard (I think) "The Tell-Tale Heart," by Edgar Allan Poe At last, a trailer that doesn't give away the whole story Do I dare to eat a peach?

Thats is unpossible. Everybody knows that the world and its space is only 6400 years and 6-7 days old. The teaparty knowed me that.
Deacon Godsey | March 31, 2011 12:34 AM | Reply

Roger, As always, I find your pieces imminently readable & thoroughly engaging. Alas, when it comes to reading your thoughts on this subject, I feel more sad & confused than anything. I'm assuming I represent the minority of my fellow readers when it comes to all this, & that's okay...And please believe that my sadness & confusion doesn't come from a place of pride or condescension as one who disagrees, but from a genuine place of, "I just don't get it & I so desperately want to..." Now, it's not so much the scientific specifics I'm referring to - I freely admit to much of it being over my head, through general ignorance or otherwise - but it's the conclusions made by those who lean so heavily on scientific observation that gets me. You, Hitchens, Sagan, Dawkins & so many of the readers of your blog clearly hold a genuine conviction that it's logic/reason alone that guides your conclusions, with "faith" being completely removed from the picture. It seems to me, though, that your conclusions are just as much a faith-based conclusion as mine (as a follower or Jesus) are. We both hold conclusions which we strongly believed are backed by solid evidence, on a number of levels; we both hold conclusions, however, that cannot be unequivocally "proven" through scientific method. I cannot "prove" the existence of the God I believe in & have dedicated my life to (as a full-time pastor in a local church), nor can you disprove His existence; I cannot "prove" that Jesus is "the agent of creation," the one through whom God created the universe & the one Who continues to hold it together, but neither can you "prove" that He isn't. Both viewpoints are backed by solid observation at certain levels, & those observations can carry you pretty far along in either direction, depending on how you approach or interpret them; but at some point you're left with questions that cannot be answered through scientific observation alone & you have to exercise a certain level of faith in something. If Immanuel Kant is right - & in this regard, I think he is - there are two main "boxes" involved here: (1) the "natural" world, with the things we can observe, test, make factual conclusions on, etc. & (2) the "spiritual" world, made up of things we can't normally observe with our five senses, or test through the scientific method. From my perspective, it seems like you, Hitchens, Sagan (etc.) become annoyed by (or simply disagree with) people who try to use information/opinion rooted in Box #2 to make demands on things in Box #1, or to use their views related to Box #2 as an excuse for ignoring evidence/facts from Box #1. (Personally, I admit to doing the former, while trying to never do the latter.) I would argue, though, that the same is true in the opposite direction. It seems to me that Dawkins (& others) try to take evidence/facts from Box #1 & make definitive conclusions about the ultimate non-existence of something (or Someone) in Box #2, when such definitive conclusions are impossible to make. There's nothing in Box #1 that can lead to a definitive, scientifically provable conclusion about anything in Box #2...thoughts, opinions, general observations? Absolutely. Verifiable, conclusive scientific facts? Absolutely not. Which gets me back to the issue of faith & my feelings of sadness & confusion. From the "spiritual" side of things,your conclusions obviously bring about a level of sadness in me (as they should, given what I profess to believe & the life I've chosen to live...I'd make a pretty poor pastor or follower of Jesus if they didn't effect me on that level.) From the "intellectual" side of things, I become genuinely confused as to how people who so strongly champion logic & reason can't (or won't, in some cases) exercise that same logic & reason to recognize the inherent element of faith in the conclusions they've chosen to make. It's clearly not faith in God or some other

14 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

"spiritual" reality, but it's faith nonetheless: faith in science, faith in observation, faith in our human faculties, etc. We're both putting our faith in something, it just seems like I (& those like me) are the only ones openly admitting or acknowledging it. As I mentioned, I realize I'm likely in the minority when it comes to your primary audience, & that's okay. I truly am curious about the perspectives others have on the subject & would love to receive honest feedback on it. I genuinely want to understand where you & others are coming from, whether we ultimately agree or not... With much respect, deacon godsey lawrence, ks Ebert: Thanks for your care and thoughtfulness. With me, it's a matter of description. I attempt to describe what I can perceive and learn about without involving additional explanations which may be arbitrary. Is it possible that when Jesus said he was the son of God, he was a man using the term God as symbolic? Why does what he said prove the existence of God?
S M Rana | March 31, 2011 12:45 AM | Reply

Fifteen minutes of my life, gone forever Forms of sychronized swimming without water Sigmund Freud's friendly couch Take my hand, I'm a stranger in Paradise The Man Who Foretold the Future Top 10 reasons I want to be cremated Worth it for Sam Elliott's hair Television "I Love Lucy:" The long-lost pilot Jack Benny, 1894-1974: The man who was funny just by standing there Jones, Jonze, Spike & Co. Letterman: "The lovely & talented Siskel & Ebert" OK, already! I PLAYED a video game! Now are you happy? Playboy After Dark was pretty good. Yes. Siskel & Ebert on home video in 1988 Tom Shales lunches with Siskel & Ebert When Siskel & Ebert were on "Sneak Previews" Young Jon Stewart interviews George Carlin (1997) Videos "A beautiful movie about the end of the world" Australians are so much better at this Idiot with an iPhone What could go wrong? Racer's eye-view of a downhill stunt bike race

"Not a whit, we defy augury: there's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all:" ..
DB | March 31, 2011 12:49 AM | Reply

I was reading another religion argument on some message board and a religious guy was saying that atheists "believe in nothing, no purpose, no meaning -- the ultimate sadness." He said this in a quite hostile way, as if the emotional effect of a belief had any impact on its validity. No one corrected him. They just continued to find ways to make atheism more appealing to him by saying how it's MORE beautiful than the Christian belief, how its MORE emotionally satisfying... I felt that they were wrong as well. If I had an account for that particular site, I would have told the man that according to what we know so far, existence is rather sad and meaningless. And sometimes, people want to believe in something good and powerful watching over them. But that still doesn't prove that God's listening to our prayers. Last time I checked, good things were happening to bad people, and bad things were happening to good people... That religious man on the message board was just being dumb, trying to persuade others that God exists because the alternative is "sad." Anyways, before I knew the true meaning of Deus Ex Machina (that it was a theater reference), all I knew was that it meant "God from the Machine." At the time, I took it to mean that all the matter and particles which make up our universe were the "machine," so to speak, the inanimate parts which acted and reacted together, and that God or consciousness came from them... came from a particular arrangement of necessary parts. AKA the brain. Or, any system which generates what could be considered life (an organism, I guess would be the correct term). And then I thought, my brain is generating my consciousness (which I am currently using), but my brain is not the same brain that I had five years ago... Cells died, new ones took their place.... Over that time period, my brain must have undergone quite the overhaul. And yet here I am, the same person... I am alive in a different body. All it took to get here was time. When I die, who knows, maybe some other formation of materials will be suitable for my soul to continue its expression. Maybe when my brain can no longer hold what I consider Me, maybe that part blasts off into another dimension.... As opposed to simply ceasing to exist. But again who knows? The universe appears to be an infinitely regressing mandelbrot, nothing more, nothing less. Humans are still mortal, still confused, and still alone. If some great breakthrough comes about to transform our species, or if we make contact with another, I'll probably be dead by then. So I guess it'd be nice if nature had a back-up plan for me... Somewhere I could go other than my brain that could perform the necessary computations for me to continue existing. I guess that leaves the door open for all sorts of spirituality and religion and God

TWITTER

15 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

talk. But hey, that's life. Death, after all, is "the great mystery."
S M Rana | March 31, 2011 12:50 AM | Reply

The quote I just sent is Hamlet becoming Hamlet. You seem closer to the quote you quoted.
Spelt | March 31, 2011 1:06 AM | Reply

Mr. Ebert, I've never commented before, though your essays have often moved me. I simply want to say how beautiful this is. I wept the whole way through.
Sandra Fitzgerald | March 31, 2011 1:17 AM | Reply

I am. Whether I understand why or how, it does not matter. I am and I see and hear and touch and love. I am blessed by nature to have been me. And I constantly am awed by the miracle that has allowed me to be. Thank you for your wonderful article -- you have reinforced my belief that I don't have to know why...I just need to know everything I can.
Dennis Hibbard | March 31, 2011 1:18 AM | Reply

Dear Mr Ebert Are you sure its Evolutionary accomplishments Contest for Truth, since anybody can say or write anything, who's telling the Truth, for the Bottom Line World View. Demonstrate with a piece of paper by simply folding and cutting to reveal words and images, the Bottom Line, consistent with history be it political, religious or scientific or ? Await your demonstration! Thank you!
David McGee | March 31, 2011 2:18 AM | Reply

CATEGORIES
3D (2) Best film lists--and worst (12) Books and reading (2) Books and such (2) Cannes 2009 (10) Cannes 2010 (10) Darwin, My Hero (9) Deeper into movies (26) Film festivals (1) Just for Twitter (1) My Life and Times (41) My Old Gang (13) People (23) Political (22) Popular entries (17) Specific films (26) Supposedly funny (12) The Immensity (23) The Seasons (3) The Webopolis (5) The show (3) Toronto 2009 (11) Toronto 2010 (3)

Your writing is compelling, poignant, and thought-provoking, but I have to be the stick in the mud: "There was Nothing, and then there was Something." The thing is, the concept of Something arising from Nothing is a physical and philosophical impossibility. Nothing that exists in the universe appeared out of Nothing; why should have the universe itself? Mustn't the whole abide by the laws that govern the parts? You point out that "Some reject the Theory of Evolution because it offers no consolation in the face of death," but I think that's incorrect. I believe it's more accurate to say that they reject the theory of evolution because it offers no explanation for Something arising from Nothing. This is, I think, where we have to come back to your theory of the Causer. If you see a work of art that cries out, "Yes, I exist, and you are not alone," the only logical conclusion is that somewhere, sometime, there was an artist who wanted you to know that. Your words paint a beautiful picture, but it would be madness to suppose that they came together because the printer exploded.
John Kruckenberg | March 31, 2011 2:25 AM | Reply

You seem to keep referring to the "Theory of Evolution" and the "Big Bang Theory" as one in the same. You do realize that the "Theory of Evolution" is a biological theory, and that the "Big Bang Theory" is a cosmological theory. They are two independent and unique theories; granted they are often accepted in conjunction with one another, they are NOT one in the same, as it seems you keep referring to them as. Ebert: You are correct, and I did not intend to give that impression.
Radovan | March 31, 2011 2:26 AM | Reply

MONTHLY ARCHIVES
April 2011 (2) March 2011 (4) February 2011 (4) January 2011 (7) December 2010 (6) November 2010 (4) October 2010 (7) September 2010 (12)

Something that has always bothered me about the Big Bang is how casually so many of us accept that it arose out of nothing. How do we know that? We don't. It is entirely more rational to assume that something existed before the big bang, even though it may currently lie out of our reach of understanding. When one has established with a fair degree of certainty that matter can neither be created nor destroyed, how does one reconcile this fact with the assumption that nothing preceded the Big Bang? Basic logic dictates that this is nonsense.

16 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

Why is it so inconceivable to think of the universe as infinite? Believers in god refuse to imagine a universe that has always existed, in one form or another, yet they have no issue with assigning a state of infinity to the alleged creator. (If one ascribes validity to the concept of creationism, one logically has to assume that god himself had a creator, who had a creator, etc. etc, and onward into... there's that word again... infinity.) In this sense many proponents of a finite universe have struck me as somewhat religiously inclined in their thinking, whether they believe in god or not, based on how easily they are willing to ignore or bypass this fundamental gap in our knowledge. Until we discover any inkling of a hint as to what caused the Big Bang to occur, we must be left to contend with the anxiety of leaving that question unanswered, unless we are prepared to rewrite the laws of physics altogether, relegating the nature of matter and the principle of cause and effect to mere arbitrary superstitions. An understanding I have come to over the years is that the concepts of a beginning and an end have no meaning outside of human consciousness. It is only because our minds are finite, and we experience time as having discernible limits, that we feel compelled to project that fact onto the universe as a whole. I once came across a diagram used in a physics lecture (the name of the physicist escapes me) illustrating an infinite chain of expanding and contracting universes, with each link representing a Big Bang. Now there's an idea I can wrap my mind around. It may be pure speculation, but at least it doesn't contradict or ignore one of the well-established and basic laws of existence. Ebert: There is of course the Lee Smolin hypothesis that universes are created on the other side, so to speak, of Black Holes. That universes evolve. That those with more Black Holes reproduce more successfully. That could account for a given Big Bang. Of course it still leaves you with turtles at the bottom.
Martn Abresch | March 31, 2011 2:36 AM | Reply

August 2010 (5) July 2010 (5) June 2010 (5) May 2010 (13) April 2010 (6) March 2010 (5) February 2010 (4) January 2010 (7) December 2009 (9) November 2009 (4) October 2009 (7) September 2009 (15) August 2009 (9) July 2009 (7) June 2009 (6) May 2009 (13) April 2009 (7) March 2009 (7) February 2009 (10) January 2009 (6) December 2008 (6) November 2008 (8) October 2008 (6) September 2008 (6) August 2008 (6) July 2008 (4) June 2008 (5) May 2008 (11) April 2008 (4)

I particularly liked the paragraph that began "Some reject the Theory of Evolution because it offers no consolation in the face of death. . . ."
oneofus | March 31, 2011 3:33 AM | Reply

| The Ebert Store Mon Oncle Antoine Jacques Gagnon, Ly... New $35.99 Best $10.50 Groundhog Day Carol Bivins, Rick... New $12.73 Best $8.93

But way deep down, way deep inside you, you know that God is the answer.
Andrew | March 31, 2011 4:22 AM | Reply

Great post! And while I largely agree with most of your points I just have one point to make. You say: "But what good does it do me to think of the universe as an unthinking mechanism vast beyond comprehension?" and "When I die, what happens?...The universe will not know or care." Perhaps this is nitpicking, but I work in the field of Neuroscience, though not in Evolutionary Neuroscience. However, I have done a great deal of reading on the field and it has led me to a great revelation. As Carl Sagan once said, "We are star stuff," meaning that humans can trace their beginnings all the way back to the big bang and the particles created at that time. My point is that humans are the universe, too. It is not the case that the universe is only all of the stuff out there and we are but voyagers traveling through and pondering it. We are a part of it because we were born by it. And so we are simply the universe experiencing itself. The universe is a thinking mechanism because it has evolved into the human brain. And when you and I are gone the universe will know and care because everyone you know and love is the universe too. On a certain level it all sounds like hippie BS, but if you follow the logic I believe it to be sound. Keep up the interest in the sciences! We all have great interest in the arts as well! Ebert: This I like. I always rather thought of myself as Star Stuff, but feared it would be immodest to share that.

The Ingmar Bergman Trilogy Ingrid Thulin, Gun... New $69.99 Best $47.50

The Godfather The Coppola Restorat... Marlon Brando, Al ... New $32.49 Best $22.43 A Prairie Home Companion Lily Tomlin, Meryl... New $6.49 Best $0.01

Privacy Information

17 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

John Gilbert | March 31, 2011 4:26 AM | Reply

One of the best posts I've read in a long time. Roger Ebert nails it; a must-read, I say. And the video at the end is both humbling and inspiring. Makes you want to go give all seven billion fellow inhabitants of this third stone from the sun a big hug.
Laura | March 31, 2011 4:35 AM | Reply

You are a wonderful man, Mr. Ebert.


Michael | March 31, 2011 4:44 AM | Reply

A quintessence of dust would be a good title for the next James Bond film.
nsw replied to comment from Randy Masters | March 31, 2011 5:34 AM | Reply

What a wonderful supplement to Mr. Ebert's fantastic article! :)


Steve Prarlman | March 31, 2011 6:00 AM | Reply

How about them Yankees


Lynn McKenzie | March 31, 2011 7:08 AM | Reply

A truly inspiring article. Just yesterday I was musing about the vastness of space, and wondering how on Earth scientists have been able to see so much. Even with high-powered telescopes sent into space, to actually see distant galaxes and millions of stars, and to be able to map them! My brain reels at the sheer complexity and enormity of it. But for all we know, goldfish may prefer being goldfish to human.
Jeff Swim | March 31, 2011 7:19 AM | Reply

Wow, this really struck a chord. I read those science magazines as well and just read that article in Discover a couple of days ago. Often I cannot fully comprehend some of the scientific concepts but it fascinates me endlessly. In a previous issue of Discover there were a number of stories dealing with "The End" of various things. One comment in an article about the inevitability of death really intrigued me. Consider when life first began. A form of single cell life came into being when something clicked into place in it's chemistry. If it were possible you could trace a direct path from that cell over the billions of years it took to evolve to your own body. When you die it will be the end of the line for all the cells descended from that first one. This simple concept is mind boggling. On the other end of the scientific spectrum consider when you are out at night looking at a star. Why can you see it? Because your eyes are capturing photons that originated in that star thousands or millions of years before. How is this possible? I ask that for a reason that's not so obvious. Take a step to the left. You still see the star. Take another step any other direction and you still see it. How is it possible the star is generating so many photons it can be seen anywhere in the universe within seeing distance of it's birth, ignoring dust or other celestial bodies that might get in the way. And not only that star, but every star. A scientific concept that has been debated many times is that if the universe is infinite, wouldn't there be an infinite number of photons resulting in a sky that is never black at night?
Jim | March 31, 2011 7:28 AM | Reply

Absolutely LOVED this article. I'd like to disagree with one aspect, though: ////On every planet where a sufficient degree of intelligence has developed, the Theory of Evolution must eventually be discovered. It helps those beings understand how they are. It doesn't explain why they are. There is no reason the universe "needed" to evolve intelligent beings, but it has. It might have been inevitable because of the fact of Natural Selection.//// I am reminded of a quote by Hans Zinnser's wonderful book, "Rats, Lice, and History": "It is only too painfully obvious, moreover, that neither the scientist nor the artist is ever a 'creator.' .... The most that the scientist and the artist accomplish is new understanding of things that have always been. They 'create' a clearer perception." Evolution is only "true" in that it describes the workings of our universe in a way that makes sense to our limited modes of understanding. There's no reason to assume

18 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

that other life forms, in completely different environments, possibly with completely different types of intelligence, would arrive at the same models of perception that we would. Actually, I think it's almost certain that they wouldn't. This isn't a creationist or anti-Darwinist position. I'm just saying that natural selection is not The Truth, but rather the best model yet devised for describing the truth to a human mind. Ebert: It appears to me that Natural Selection describes the way life works, and therefore would apply universally. That it is not unfortunately "the best model yet devised for describing the truth to a human mind" is indicated by the fact that something like 50 percent of the American population doesn't subscribe to it. However, more than 99% of all the earth's scientists do. I am assuming a fair degree of intelligence in my model.
John Panagopoulos, Malden, MA | March 31, 2011 7:47 AM | Reply

Mr. Ebert, I am gratified and heartened to learn that you have attuned your consciousness to hear the cosmic Who.
DarkMatter2525 | March 31, 2011 8:11 AM | Reply

Thanks for this piece, Roger. The universe and our origins are so awe inspiring; it breaks my heart when people can't believe it, when they cling to the comforting fables they grew up with, and then call us liars. It's like we're all sitting in a grand movie theater, engrossed as the universe and all its exciting secrets are revealed on the big screen. We're fully enveloped in the drama when the creationist's cell phone rings, and her baby starts crying. They shout "This sucks!" They talk during the best parts. They kick your seat. Why did they even come? Perhaps they wanted to see the fantasy flick, but walked into the wrong theater. If only they could appreciate what they were watching, but that takes a certain degree of patience, experience, intellect, empathy, and humility...whereas the fantasy offers instant gratification for the unthinking mind. I don't mean to oversimplify or generalize; I understand that there are nuances and varying degrees of religiosity, but I've had to deal with the most rabid of willfully ignorant creationists you could imagine. I fear that they are affecting educations. Science is as entwined with our culture as art was with ancient Rome. After Rome fell, however, art declined for a thousand years.
Kelly Davis | March 31, 2011 8:14 AM | Reply

Have you read Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's 'The Phenomenon of Man'? His assertion is that evolution does have a direction and that is greater complexity and consciousness. The matter of the universe is becoming conscious. He influenced Marshall McLuhan with his idea of a noosphere. http://en.wikipedia.org /wiki/Pierre_Teilhard_de_Chardin
DarkMatter2525 replied to comment from Cyberquill | March 31, 2011 8:20 AM | Reply

But that's pure speculation with absolute zero evidence. In fact, the evidence is to the contrary. Do you think all the info in our brains is backed up on an intangible hard drive? It seems a lot like wishful thinking in the face of death. Ebert: No, I believe the information in our brain dies along with it.
entity r | March 31, 2011 8:46 AM | Reply

I don't quite understand these notions of the universe being an unthinking mechanism or "having no opinion". It does, and that opinion is your opinion, or mine. We are not only the thinking arm of the universe, not only a vessel through which it can perceive itself, but we are IT itself, the big bang, and forever before, and forever after. Our consciousness does not have concrete boundaries, or even depth. It is itself the universe, an "I" that is as significant as any part or parts of the whole caboodle. After all, infinity divided by even the largest finite number imaginable is still infinity. This is my consolation. Ebert: I know there is a theory that something doesn't exist until it is observed. In local terms, until we evolved, strictly speaking nothing existed. I guess I'd like that message from the stars to say, "Hey, I see it too!"

19 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

Dustin Hiser | March 31, 2011 8:51 AM | Reply

"An artist can express my feelings as in the same way as an intelligent signal received from one of those 1,235 dots." Then you, sir, are an artist. You nailed it. You took three of my most obsessed over mental topics (evolution, astronomy, and What-does-it-all-mean? musings) and congealed them into this beautiful bit of writing. Thank you, sir. Regarding the usage of "theory of" versus "the law of" in conjunction with "evolution," my understanding is that it's both, or at least should be. It's like gravity: there's the law of gravity and there's the theory of gravity. It's a law because, drop an apple, it falls. It exists. It's also a theory because we are still working out the mechanics of why the apple falls and why the hell we can't see dark matter? why does it never touch anything? or seem to even exist at all except as a gravitational effect? Such should be Evolution. Ebert: I see what you mean. Confusion arises because of the vernacular use of the word "theory." A scientific theory is a hypothesis subject to continual testing and refinement. Darwin's original theory of evolution was a brilliant insight, but has undergone great modification in the years since--and still is.
rationalrevolution | March 31, 2011 8:52 AM | Reply

What is more interesting than these observations, is knowing that people over 2,000 years ago already understood this, before their views were declared heresy by Christians and destroyed. "[T]he world was produced by the working of nature, without there having been any need for a process of manufacture, and that what your school declares to be capable of accomplishment only by means of divine intelligence is a thing so easy that nature will produce, and is producing, and has produced worlds without end. It is because you do not see how nature can accomplish this without the help of some kind of mind that, like the tragic poets, in your inability to bring the plot to a smooth conclusion, you have recourse to a god. Yet you would certainly feel no need for his agency if you had before your eyes the expanse of region, unmeasured and on every side unbounded, upon which the mind may fasten and concentrate itself, and where it may wander far and wide without seeing any farthermost limit upon which to be able to rest. Now in this immensity of length and breadth and height there floats an infinite quantity of innumerable atoms which, in spite of the intervening void, nevertheless join together, and through one seizing upon one, and another upon another, form themselves into connected wholes, by which means are produced those forms and outlines of the material world which your school is of opinion cannot be produced without bellows and anvils. You have therefore placed our necks beneath the yoke of a perpetual tyrant, of whom we are to go in fear by day and night, for who would not fear a god who foresaw everything, considered everything, noted everything, and looked upon himself as concerned in everything,a busy and prying god? From this has come, in the first place, your idea of preordained necessity, which you call , meaning by the term that every event that occurs had its origin in eternal truth and the chain of causation(though what is to be thought of a philosophy that holds the ignorant old crones belief that everything happens by destiny?)and secondly your art of , or divinatio, as it is called in Latin, which, if we were willing to listen to you, would imbue us with such superstition that we should have to pay regard to soothsayers, augurs, diviners, prophets, and interpreters of dreams. From these terrors we have been released by Epicurus, and claimed for freedom; we do not fear beings of whom we understand that they neither create trouble for themselves, nor seek it for others, and we worship, in piety and holiness, a sublime and exalted nature." - The Nature of the Gods; Cicero, 45 BCE Ebert: That is inspiring.
Kristen | March 31, 2011 9:01 AM | Reply

Thank you. I really enjoyed reading this, as I do all of your posts.


Rory | March 31, 2011 9:04 AM | Reply

I won't say this nearly as well as you, as I am not a trained writer. Nor am I a Biblethumper, though my post may make me appear that I am. But I didn't see God anywhere in that post. It had to be intentional. In speaking of

20 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

something so vast, incomprehensible, incalculable, one would have to strain themselves not to mention God. Some call this a crutch. I disagree. Philosphy 101 talks about the '1st mover,' and I'm sure you are familar with it. I personally believe in the theory of evolution - you'd have to be daft not to - but at some point a molecule became a cell, which is akin to a stalk of wheat becoming a sandwich at Subway. I'm not aware of matter/molecules that are in a struggle akin to the 'survival of the fittest.' To put it another way, a 1st year grad student could put together the carbon and trace elements identical to a oak seed ... but it wouldn't sprout. There is a spark of life somewhere that makes these things exist, that '1st mover.' That thing is a God. For me it is Jesus, and his father. In your intellectual pursuits don't make the possible mistake of intellectual conceit. Human kind will learn amazing things and never know even half of our universe, our world, our earth. Perhaps that was for a reason. Ebert: You are free to name it as God. But given the existence of matter, we now understand how life could have arisen. In my mind, I push it further back, to the creation of matter. The Big Bang is inexplicable, and we are free to attribute it to anything we choose.
ShallowRed replied to comment from Cyberquill | March 31, 2011 9:08 AM | Reply

@Cyberquill. What would that equipment be made of? Absence of electric pulse? I would stick to known facts. Or at least come up with a theory that would not collide so badly with knowledge. No hint of your ghostly apparatus has ever made it's way to the phenomenological layer yet. @Ebert. Beautiful. I'd still rather be a planet than a human. If we get as creative as Cyberquill then Gaia could also be a conscious entity.
Tracy | March 31, 2011 9:15 AM | Reply

I love, love, love this. I live with a five-year-old astrophysicist who watched the short film "Powers of Ten" when he was two, loves Hubble images more than cartoon characters and investigates these questions daily until my brain hurts. We sang Monty Python's "Galaxy Song" on the way to school this morning. I never expected these things from motherhood. I try to connect his love for the infinite with art wherever I can, because as huge as science is, it has certain scary, unyielding qualities. Thank you for giving me a new way to consider it.
Matt Ference | March 31, 2011 9:23 AM | Reply

A "law" in science is a rule - a simple statement that expresses a fundamental principle, as in Newton's laws of motion, or the laws of thermodynamics. Newton's second law of motion, Force = mass x acceleration, doesn't explain WHY this is the way it is, but it tells us that everywhere in the universe, force will ALWAYS equal mass times acceleration, and successfully predicts the outcome of experiments. A "theory", as scientists use the term, is an explanation of the relationships between phenomena, as in the theory of relativity, or the theory of evolution. Darwin's theory explains many different phenomena, and shows how they are all interrelated, but it cannot be condensed into a single concise statement or formula. [It needs to be emphasized that a scientific theory has been thoroughly reviewed and critiqued and is almost universally accepted. The terminology for anything that has not been as deeply tested is a CONJECTURE or a HYPOTHESIS.]
Christopher Hoover | March 31, 2011 9:26 AM | Reply

Bobbo, that passage in Roger's beautiful essay made me think immediately of "A Saucer of Loneliness" as well. One of the finest things Sturgeon ever wrote. It captures the same sense of consolation of which Roger speaks. It's comforting, imagining that there could be such messages in bottles, cast upon the cosmic sea. Full disclosure: I was led to Sturgeon's story by the New Twilight Zone version, which like many other stories in that first season or two ("Paladin of the Lost Hour," "Her Pilgrim Soul," "The Star," "Time and Teresa Golowitz," "One Life, Furnished in Early

21 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

Poverty") was a thing of aching beauty in its own right. TNTZ is (or at least was) available on DVD. Much recommended. And in some ways "The Star" is a different riff on some of the same themes we're discussing here today. Both the NTZ adaptation and Clarke's original story are well worthy of a visit.
Arizona Jack | March 31, 2011 9:27 AM | Reply

suntimesonline.com
Blogs Send Feedback Contact Us About Us Advertise with Us Newsletters

Chicago Sun-Times
Subscribe Reader Services Online Photo Store

An astronomer told me this: Imagine the rim of your coffee cup as the orbit of Pluto -- six billion miles in diameter. At that scale you'd need an electron microscope to see Earth. Our galaxy would then extend from the Aleutian Islands to the Yucatan Peninsula. The rest of the universe doesn't even start there. Now it's hard to drink my coffee and not ponder infinity.
Gregg | March 31, 2011 9:33 AM | Reply

Affiliates
YourSeason.com RogerEbert.com Public Record Search

Interesting and thought provoking. Also, it might give an understanding of Curly's declaration, "I'm trying to think but nothing is happening!"
Sean Dugan | March 31, 2011 9:50 AM | Reply

Rog, Thanks for this wonderful entry. It brought me back to my days as a philosophy student at Loyola University Chicago, where these sorts of discussions were not anecdotes, but course material to be carefully studied and considered. It also reminded me of Albert Camus' last few lines in "The Myth of Sisyphus": "All Sisyphus' silent joy is contained therein. His fate belongs to him. His rock is his thing. Likewise, the absurd man, when he contemplates his torment, silences all the idols. In the universe suddenly restored to its silence, the myriad wondering little voices of the earth rise up. Unconscious, secret calls, invitations from all the faces, they are the necessary reverse and price of victory. There is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night. The absurd man says yes and his efforts will henceforth be unceasing. If there is a personal fate, there is no higher destiny, or at least there is, but one which he concludes is inevitable and despicable. For the rest, he knows himself to be the master of his days. At that subtle moment when man glances backward over his life, Sisyphus returning toward his rock, in that slight pivoting he contemplates that series of unrelated actions which become his fate, created by him, combined under his memory's eye and soon sealed by his death. Thus, convinced of the wholly human origin of all that is human, a blind man eager to see who knows that the night has no end, he is still on the go. The rock is still rolling. I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one's burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy." When I get home from work this evening, I think I'll throw on a DVD that has collected dust since I graduated from college: "2001: A Space Odyssey." Or maybe "Contact."
Rory | March 31, 2011 9:57 AM | Reply

Express Links
Obituaries Blogs Video Yellow Pages Photo Store The Fixer Form

Copyright 2010 Sun-Times Media, LLC SearchChicago Terms of Use Directories Privacy Policy Centerstage Submission Guidelines About Partners Our Ads Media Blockshopper.com Kit
SearchChicago - Homes SearchChicago - Autos Legacy.com BooCoo Zip2Save nbcchicago Timelines.com

Ebert: "You are free to name it as God. But given the existence of matter, we now understand how life could have arisen. " I must have missed that. And I have actively searched for it, including demanding an explanation from biology professors at my university. I'm open to learning more. Could you, or one of your readers post links that describe how matter can turn into life? As a reference, here is the point I made that Mr. Ebert was referring to: "Philosphy 101 talks about the '1st mover,' and I'm sure you are familar with it. I personally believe in the theory of evolution - you'd have to be daft not to - but at some point a molecule became a cell, which is akin to a stalk of wheat becoming a sandwich at Subway. I'm not aware of matter/molecules that are in a struggle akin to the 'survival of the fittest.'

22 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

To put it another way, a 1st year grad student could put together the carbon and trace elements identical to a oak seed ... but it wouldn't sprout. There is a spark of life somewhere that makes these things exist, that '1st mover.' That thing is a God. For me it is Jesus, and his father."
merryjman | March 31, 2011 10:01 AM | Reply

I"d love to believe that there are other civilizations, but the so-called Fermi Paradox made me wonder. After all, the Earth has only been around for a third of the Universe's lifetime, and the Universe has been cool enough to support (e.g.) carbon-based life for quite some time now. With a hundred billion stars in each of a hundred billion galaxies, you'd think somewhere life had developed, and did it much earlier. So why haven't we seen it?
Don Tingle | March 31, 2011 10:19 AM | Reply

Great article. I tried to find this last night when I read your article, but only just now found it - an article titled: "Death anxiety linked to acceptance of intelligent design: study" at http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2011/03/30/death-anxiety-linked-to-acceptanceof-intelligent-design-study/ "Our results suggest that when confronted with existential concerns, people respond by searching for a sense of meaning and purpose in life," Tracy said. "For many, it appears that evolutionary theory doesn't offer enough of a compelling answer to deal with these big questions." And 'they' say: "Ignorance is bliss."
Bud Simpson | March 31, 2011 10:19 AM | Reply

Wonderful post. It goes up on my refrigerator alongside the yellowed and brittle clipped column by the WaPo's Joel Achenbach from some years back. Termite Hindguts and the Copernican Principle It's very important to remember that our place in the Universe is not privileged, nor is our very existence important in any way. The unlikelihood of our time here is what makes it so remarkable and valuable.
Paul | March 31, 2011 10:22 AM | Reply

I must have read this differently than most readers. Upon finishing, I came to the conclusion that you were definitely agnostic.
Chuck Vekert | March 31, 2011 10:26 AM | Reply

In this essay you assume that the human mind is an emergent property of matter--that you (and I) are conscious of our existence because of some complex interaction of the neurons that comprise our brains. Therefore, when we die our mind/consciousness ends as our brains dissolve. This may very well be true. Certainly the majority of scientists, regardless whether they study the brain, believe so. But I would maintain that they believe this largely on faith, not because there is any real evidence to support it. Science has a very good track record at discovering material explanations for phenomena that were once thought to be the action of a god or gods. Most thinking people assume that mind/consciousness will be explained in good time. Again, they may be right. But at present, on the relationship of mind to brain there is no evidence whatsoever. We are all in the position of trying to answer a question like this: There is a box. What is in the box? Without more information there is no way to even begin to exclude items or classes of items from the box. Pure ignorance reigns. Consider this: solipsism is irrefutable. If I wish to claim that I am the only existing thing and that you and the rest of the universe are simply a product of my imagination, there is no way you can refute my claim. Nor could I refute your claim. Knowing that I have tried and failed to learn to juggle three balls at a time makes me wary of claiming that the whole universe is in my head, yet I cannot disprove it. On the other hand, I know the universe is not just in your mind. With you, I assume, it is the exact opposite.

23 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

So far at least, no theory of the brain needs the concept of mind. Indeed, science tends to reduce mind/thought/emotions to physical processes in the brain. There is nothing science knows or can know about you that requires that you have consciousness and a mind. It is no more necessary that Zeus to explain thunderbolts. Since we don't have the slightest scientific understanding of the relationship of brain to mind, it is a little premature to assume that the end of one is the end of the other. Toss a coin.
Brad Hoehne | March 31, 2011 10:29 AM | Reply

Please excuse the pedantry in the midst of wonderful poetry- I, too, I'm enraptured by the poetry and wonder of the cosmos- but there's a few small, slight misunderstandings that I'd like to attempt to address... and isn't it nice to base one's wonder and speculation on the best available information? First, the statement "Then I read that the next Hubble telescope will be able to peer six times as far into space and time as the one now in orbit" is a bit off the mark. The "replacement" for the Hubble Space Telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope, will have a mirror (actually an array of mirrors) that is roughly 6 times the area of the HST providing, at a baseline, six times greater sensitivity to light. Moreover, the JWSTs cameras have been designed to operate in redder wavelengths of light than the HST, that will allow see more clearly into the earliest region of the universe where red-shifted galaxies are flying away from us at very nearly the speed of light. These galaxies won't be appreciably more distant than the most distant things we've seen with the HST, they'll just appear brighter and clearer. Any distance records that are set with the JWST will be somewhat more incremental. Moreover, the JWST will not push our imaging of the universe any closer to the Big Bang than we've already accomplished with very sensitive microwave space telescopes such as the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) or the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP). With these scopes, we've peered at something called the Cosmic Background Radiation (CMB), which is basically the light that was "set free" when the comic soup of matter in the earliest universe finally cooled enough for electrons to be scooped up into atoms thus allowing photons (that is, light) to fly freely. This light originated so far away, and so long ago, that the expansion of the universe has stretched it from visible light in to microwaves. It's not possible to peer any further than this- roughly 300,000 years after the big bang, because, before that, the universe was too hot, too ionized, and too opaque. Amazingly, however, careful measurement the slight variations in the CMB reveal the effect of the quantum fluctuation that existed in the first fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a second- a fluctuation that left its imprint on the shape of the CMB and, eventually, the shape of the universe itself. These fluctations started off smaller than atoms and were stretched to cosmic scale. So, not only do we already have a tool for looking back right to the beginning of the Big Bang, but we know that the very small (quantum fluctuations) have an effect on the very large (the overall mass distribution of galaxies in the universe.) Everything is connected!
Dave Wittekind | March 31, 2011 10:38 AM | Reply

Thought provoking post, Roger. How can any intelligent/curious person today not be excited by recent advances in astrophysics? What's piqued my interest most lately is information theory and how it may provide the answers to the quest for the one unifying equation to explain how and why thing ARE. In a nutshell the theory, originated by Claude E. Shannon in the late 40's, postulates that information is a real and quantitative thing that forms the basic building blocks of everything in the universe. Astrophysicists today (even the stubborn Steven Hawking) have concluded that all information sucked into a black hole still exists on the surface of the hole's "event horizon". Several mind-blowing books have explored the topic, the most recent being "The Information" by noted science author James Gleick. There was a good article about it in the latest issue of WIRED.
Liza K | March 31, 2011 10:39 AM | Reply

Fabulous. I couldn't agree more with your sentiment. You really should check out the BBC series "Wonders of the Universe" if you can - I'm pretty sure you'll love it. I have

24 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

practically no astonomical knowledge but am absolutely hooked - I never thought that I could understand Einstein's Theory of Relativity, but it makes sense to me now! Check out http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00zdhtg, and I'm sure you can find it on youtube too. Enjoy!
Cody Jarrett | March 31, 2011 10:51 AM | Reply

I'm reminded of Studs' epitaph, "curiosity didn't kill this cat". Also, for a film critic, you do a better Carl Sagan than Sagan did.
Greg | March 31, 2011 11:01 AM | Reply

I am a biological sciences senior at LSU. For four years my professors have preached the theory of evolution as if they know for certain it is responsible for the origin of life. As you wrote, it seems logical. However, I do not find it logical that organisms evolved from different atoms somehow enclosed in a membrane. It is said that DNA contains more information then the largest libraries on the planet. How can you spontaneously create information to build an organisms by mixing atoms together? That is like taking the pieces of a car, putting them in a box, shaking them around, and expecting a functioning automobile to come out. Study any function of a cell and you will see that the precision and purpose in the mechanism is too perfect to have resulted form chance. When you consider that a singe liver cell is far more complex than any computer chip man has created it becomes increasingly ILLOGICAL to imagine that we were formed from the random conglomeration of elemental atoms. My point is, its time to start recognizing that the THEORY of evolution is just a theory. Ebert: With all due respect, I do not believe you are a biological science major. If you were, you would understand what a Scientific Theory is, and could not have written your final sentence. You have fatally confused the scientific and vernacular definitions of "theory."
scott | March 31, 2011 11:07 AM | Reply

@ deacon godsey, You suggest that science and religion are similar in that neither can completely prove nor disprove, and thus are faith-based. A few observations and points -You do not value the processes of each. Reason occurs through discussion; it is self-critical. Faith occurs through receiving; it is self-referential. The value of reason is that it is most likely to correct stagnation and dogma in the pursuit of progress or best-practices. Faith cannot. Nor does faith need to, for should faith appear to be totally inadequate in the physical realm well, there are "after-lifes" as consolations. An irrefutable, non-false logic. On the same level, though, with any other gods or deities, or fantastic beliefs. Also, one should not (as our good friend Roger) make a fetish out of the physical sciences. Science is not the only alternative to faith/religion. The humanities also inform and nurture the soul, even the soul that values reason. The arts, philosophy. These also express essentials about life, I would suggest even more so than physical sciences. Again, reason, ideally, is a discussion, an ongoing dialogue open to being informed. When it does not perform ideally it begins to become faith. Faith, performed badly, wanders towards reason. Finally, faith and reason are like oil and water. So because reason cannot make much use of faith, you consider it to be as non-porous - that is, as selective - as faith, and therefore, like faith. Try thinking in terms of where each one leads, rather than what their absolute properties are. Personally, I think it comes down to hardwiring/personality. Similar perhaps to things like sexual orientation.
Frank | March 31, 2011 11:44 AM | Reply

Unfortunately, I think that the use of 'logic' or trying to make sense of things might be useless when pondering things outside of this universe or "before time". For all we know, the entire concept of 'logic' may actually be part of this universe, and

25 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

anything outside of it (like God, or perhaps something else that we don't understand) is completely outside of 'logic' and totally beyond our comprehension. This is why it (somewhat) puzzles me when people try to use logic to explain why they do or don't think that God exists. (Of course, I concede there may not be anything outside of this universe.) Neverlethess, it is still interesting to think about it and theorize. And right now, logic is all we have.
scott | March 31, 2011 11:55 AM | Reply

You're not telling me anything, Roger. No wonder you attract the absolutists: because neither of you are able to qualify your absolutes, you quibble over preferences. You have a firm grasp of the finality of death and the immensity of the cosmos (as we know them). How the latter is qualified by what goes on between the cradle and the grave is beyond your calling. Your solution is merely "more". I actually detect at least a latent cynicism in the notion that other planets with life is somehow comforting. We are surrounded by the stuff here and now. Problem is, its reality is in our face. Better to dream. I used to wonder why such notions of universe-deism found a natural voice in (pseudo)science. Now I know. You are much more comfortable discussing the mysterious and vagarious as though their splendour and contribution to the soul were self-evident. No wonder your religious brethren are puzzled over why you hold your viewpoint to be unique, even different than theirs. Too bad that, for many here, your brand of reasoning (such as it has appeared thus far) is as close as they will apparently stray. You speak French. Read any...? Best, Scott
Brian A. Oard | March 31, 2011 12:26 PM | Reply

By an amazing coincidence--call it synchronicity--just last night I watched Godard's Two or Three Things I Know About Her with its brief but screen-filling close up of cream swirling in a coffee cup, the tendrils of the stirred liquid spinning into spirals that mimic both galaxies and fractal geometry, the infinite and the infinitessimal. It's one of cinema's great "world in a grain of sand" moments, showing us that we don't need a Hubble telescope to blow our minds. All we need is a pair of eyes that can truly see the things we merely look at every day. About the possibility of sentient life on other worlds: I've always found the thought that we are alone in the universe a symptom of the same kind of human arrogance that gave us the Earth-centered Ptolomaic theory. There is probably life out there, but I hope it never notices us. Reasoning from the only basis of reason we have--the history of our own species--it seems at least possible that members of any 'intelligent' alien race, upon first sighting human beings, might say to themselves, "Hmmm...I wonder what that tastes like with barbeque sauce..." What I'm saying is that alien visitors might be more Gork than Klatu, and To Serve Man might turn out to be a cookbook after all.
paul rodriguez | March 31, 2011 12:28 PM | Reply

It's so interesting how the theory of how life, stars and planets began and how it intertwindes with 'why are we here?' I have often wondered HOW or even IF they are connected and if so, why? Someone posted earlier about our brains being backed up on a sort of internal hard drive and that when we die, what happens. Roger, you wrote that you believe this particular information dies along with our body. So, then I have to ask myself 'what's the point in all of this?' What are we to learn here if, in the end, we all die and lose the knowledge we gained? Buddhists speak of rebirth (reincarnation; cyclic existence), that we are here to learn something. Perhaps we're given more opportunities to 'get it right'. Obviously, there are various perspectives on Buddha's beliefs of rebirth in modern times but if it were true, I'd see nothing gained by continually dying and losing everything. I do believe that space, time and 'why we are here' are one in the same question. The more we discover, the more we continually baffle ourselves with more questions. I suppose if rebirth is untrue, the only real way we can continually learn is to traditionally pass off information as we go along. I'm not even sure that as we strive to understand the universe and why things exist, that we're getting any closer.

26 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

Perhaps space grows a long side of us; we're constantly playing catch-up. I realize that you didn't draw religion into this article. I'm not even a deeply religious individual. However, I feel like it has a place in this article because all religions seem to base their foundation on faith and cause us to ask ourselves the question 'why are we here and where did this all come from?' I'd be intrigued to get your feedback on this thought.
S M Rana | March 31, 2011 12:34 PM | Reply

When you say death is the end of life, is that what you prefer to belief, or something you are sure about? Ebert: It's not what I prefer, and not something I am sure about. It simply seems self-evident.
Mickey Thompson | March 31, 2011 12:48 PM | Reply

As a Christian and a person that respects science, I am just not certain how God/the Big Bang Theory/the Theory of Evolution are incompatible. While all things are possible with God, I certainly would not expect an omnipotent deity to create a physical/natural world all made from different things. If humanity was created to be the masters of the natural world, I would think that God would want us to understand the rules in short order. How else would the species propagate if not for instinct and later higher cognitive process which would lead to understanding the fundamental nature of life and the physical world. Given everything we know and do not know, I certainly do not understand how to prove or disprove love and faith. Both often have no measure, sometimes overwhelm logic and reason, yet seldom exist without the other. Also, I do not profess to be concerned about the beliefs of anyone else. While 99% of scientists believe in science, I am sure 99% of doctors believe in medicine, 99% of artists believe in art, 99% of teachers believe in education, etc. It's who we are and I am glad in it. God bless, Roger as I am sure you wish good fortune on us.
Sam E. | March 31, 2011 12:55 PM | Reply

Even though I do not believe in reincarnation in a literal sense, I believe there is a truth in the idea that whatever part of myself that existed before me existed in some other person. In times when Ive felt depressed or lonely it has given me great comfort to picture in my mind the thoughts and feelings others might have had when facing similar struggles. I think one of the great blessings of religious traditions and liberal arts more broadly is that they connect people to the story of history in a human sense not just to raw facts but the entire human experience; a story of endurance despite struggle and disappointment. In some ways, I find it not so different than the story of evolution. P.S. As an aside I'm not sure how related to your post these comments were but they are the response that was elicited none the less.
S M Rana | March 31, 2011 12:56 PM | Reply

Do you think the question (of the persistence of life after death) has been scientifically answered, or can be answered in the future, or a meaningful question at all?
John | March 31, 2011 12:57 PM | Reply

This almost made me forget how mad I was that this week's reviews aren't up yet.
Mark Lancaster | March 31, 2011 12:59 PM | Reply

Great post, Roger. I love it when you ramble beautifully through the cosmos! You speak of grasping the distance of a light year. I've found a way to think about that that works for me pretty well. An inch is to a mile, as an astronomical unit, (that is, the earth-sun distance), is to a light year. I look at my thumb, which is an inch wide, and I can ponder just how much bigger a mile is. Then I consider the distance to the sun. Light takes about eight minutes to travel that distance. A light year is as much bigger than that as a mile is to my thumb.

27 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

Another thought: If I build a tiny model of the solar system, with a little dot for the Sun about 1/100 inch in diameter, and an invisibly small Earth 1/10,000 inch in diameter an inch away from the Sun, the closest star would be over four miles distant. Thanks again for the reminder of just how awesome a universe it is that we live in!

matt beasley | March 31, 2011 1:14 PM | Reply

Although your post dances around the Theism/Evolution controversy, you seem to want sidestep it in favor of merely articulating your awe of the grandeur of space. Though Im a Christian who doesnt see Evolution as mutually exclusive from my faith, Ill refrain from delving into that topic here, and simply join you in your wonderment. The universe is absolutely perplexingly amazing, and the more we learn about it, the more it challenges our understanding of just about everything. The size of it alone boggles the imagination. Consider a moment the following. When we look in one direction, we see at the furthest regions of space stars nearly 45 billion light years away. This is derived by calculating the speed with which light travels and taking into consideration the expansion of space itself. We also see similar stars in the completely opposite direction from where we are. Now, any sentient being on the first set of stars would see us as we see them. However, they would not be able to see the second set of stars, as the expansion of space and the limited speed of light would forever keep this parcel of the universe outside of their observable eye. Every point in the universe has a diameter that extends from it in which they can observe anything. Outside of that, nothing can be observed. So, while we see the universe as being 45 billion light years from us, this is merely the limits of our observable universe. The actual universe is many, many times bigger. How much bigger? Well, from my understanding, if you were to take everything in our observable universe, including all of the 100s of billions of galaxies and what not, and compress that to the size of the earth, the actual universe would be comparable to the size of our observable universe. Copernicus, eat your heart out. Although the size of the universe is bewildering in and of itself, it is at least conceivable to understand. We get the idea of big. However, there is a great quantity of the universe that lies outside our comprehension. Dark matter is something that cannot be seen, felt of heard, but can affect gravity. Dark energy is something that produces a negative gravitational effect on the universe, causing it to expand. However, with each bit of space it creates through expansion, it also fills, further accelerating the expansion of the universe. Adding just these two elements together, they actually compose 96% of the material in the universe. At best, we know and understand a mere 4% of the universe. Digging deeper, we look at the real consequences of trying to harmonize the strangeness of quantum mechanics with general relativity. Doing so forces physicists, mathematicians and cosmologists to posit seemingly impossible scenarios in which an infinite number of universes coexist of which we are one. A conclusion drawn from such a scenario would be that not only is it possible for Elvis to still be alive, it is inescapable. This is not a thought experiment going wrong, but a real, tangible truth. A quote attributed to Einstein is, The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible. I wonder if a line should be drawn and defined between comprehension and apprehension. Allow me to elaborate. A group of scientists invented a machine that could measure data and then create logical ties between the data. The group attached one pendulum to another and had it dangle in front of the machine. The machine calculated the erratic behavior of this double-mass object over a period of time and then, without prompt, spit out a formula to describe what it saw: F=ma. It was an astonishing feat which circled the scientific globe. This machine was then used to correlate the impossibly difficult interactions within a cell. It did, and came up with alarmingly powerful equations that tied the data together. However, the paper remains unpublished. Why? Well, the scientists apprehend the data in front of them, but they cannot comprehend it. Theres no reason backing up their data.

28 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

In a sense, String Theory (or M-Theory), which is today the best theory available to potentially harmonize quantum mechanics with general relativity, was similarly developed. String theory was more or less an accidental discovery, and not just the next step in a series of rational thought processes. But it was a fortunate accident, in so far as it seems to be right. But, like given a formula without the reason on how we got there, were becoming further removed from comprehension. At the end of the day, when the scientists can step back and agree on a Unified Field Theory that successfully ties all the loose ends together, will it be anything that we can really comprehend? Or, will it just be a series of equations, featuring derivatives of intangible concepts without any 'why' in its backbone? How perplexing would it be if our best attempts to demystify the universe was itself a mystery?
Jason Peterson | March 31, 2011 1:14 PM | Reply

Roger great post. I love the Plato and Socrates references because my belief In God came from those two. I read Plato's Phaedo and Plato's Republic and new upon reading that the soul was logically reasonable and made perfect sense. I have no scientific proof, faith is a tricky thing like that. I was a complete non believer and science was where I layed my claim. However reading the above pieces I could not deny what now I believe to be true. That we are souls having human experiences. That our soul was prior to us and will "live" on after us. I like the phrase that we our souls having a human experience, and the human experience is like a veil masking things. Some people's veils thicker than others. I did not find God in the bible, but in philosophy of those two. This was only a Month ago and maybe the feelings will dissipate, but I can not deny the absolute confirmation I experience in my brain. I would have to deny myself. Again awesome post. Funny thing this came out on Descartes birthday too.
Bill Hays | March 31, 2011 1:15 PM | Reply

I was watching the BBC News. A Muslim in London said, "The Qur'an contains such insights into science that it could only come from God." I wondered if that was right. Thought I would check it out. Tabari I:219 "When Allah wanted to create the creation, He brought forth smoke from the water. The smoke hovered loftily over it. He called it 'heaven.' Then He dried out the water and made it earth. He split it and made it seven earths on Sunday. He created the earth upon a big fish, that being the fish mentioned in the Qur'an. By the Pen, the fish was in the water. The water was upon the back of a small rock. The rock was on the back of an angel. The angel was on a big rock. The big rock was in the wind. The fish became agitated. As a result, the earth quaked, so Allah anchored the mountains and made it stable. This is why the Qur'an says, 'Allah made for the earth firmly anchored mountains, lest it shake you up.'" Bukhari:V4B54N421 "I walked hand in hand with the Prophet when the sun was about to set. We did not stop looking at it. The Prophet asked, 'Do you know where the sun goes at sunset?' I replied, 'Allah and His Apostle know better.' He said, 'It travels until it falls down and prostrates Itself underneath the Throne. The angels who are in charge of the sun prostrate themselves, also. The sun asks permission to rise again. It is permitted. Then it will prostrate itself again but this prostration will not be accepted. The sun then says, "My Lord, where do You command me to rise, from where I set or from where I rose?" Allah will order the sun to return whence it has come and so the sun will rise in the west. And that is the interpretation of the statement of Allah in the Qur'an.'" My theory is, Mohammed was a Terrorist, and he made up the nonsense to create a phony religion that justifies his acts of terror. The angels who are in charge of the sun lay down on the ground to obtain the favor of Allah... then the sun waits for Allah to give the command to rise in the west.... which is just puffery to prove that Muslims need to obey the commands of Allah without question... and those commands come from men, not God, who think the spread of Islam means more than individual human life. The statement that Allah created the Earth upon a big fish... the water was on the back of a rock... and the rock was on the back of an angel? My point is, there are half a billion people in the world that honestly think this

29 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

nonsense passes for "science." And they want to brand anyone who tries to tell them different as a "hater" and "Islamophobic."
Jordan N. | March 31, 2011 1:16 PM | Reply

In the latest version of his "A Brief History Of Time", Hawking offers up an alternate theory to the Big Bang - one that doesn't require a Bang or Crunch, and instead posits a possibility where the universe has simply always existed, similar to the rubber-band hypothesis.
Angel Djambazov | March 31, 2011 1:28 PM | Reply

I used to read your writing just for the reviews. While I did not often agree with your opinion toward a film, I did overtime come to understand how your viewpoint compared to mine and what aspects of cinema we mutually enjoyed. Had I not stumbled on the ideas you express in your opinion columns I would have still thought you a good writer. Thus it has been a joy to discover your other writing. There are times when I can hear Ray Bradbury in your voice. This piece for instance reminds me of Dandelion Wine. The sensation it gave me was the same one I had when when I first read the awakening Douglas experienced after his nose was bloodied wrestling with his brother; the sudden self-awareness that he is alive.
Collin Ferry | March 31, 2011 1:50 PM | Reply

Verisimilitude!
KWJ | March 31, 2011 1:54 PM | Reply

Wonderful as always, Roger, thanks for this. I love how you can examine what we perceive and our theories that arise from those perceptions, finding beauty as you do so, and keeping an open mind.
Mike | March 31, 2011 1:59 PM | Reply

The dear Deacon Godsey writes very eloquently above about his sense --- he calls it "sadness" --- of logic and reason at odds with faith. As if admitting my faith (that is, my belief system designed to incorporate those things I can't prove) in science were equal to his faith in religion would somehow validate one or the other. Science represents man's explanations of the natural world, based on observation of things as they are. Religion represents man's explanations of the ultra-natural world based on assumptions of things that cannot be observed. One may not disprove the other, but each of us much choose if both are relevant or one is more-so than the other. Sadness exists when there is a stake. As if science or religion must compete, and a winner can bask in glory while the loser sulks away, defeated. Truth is, the faiths --scientific, religious, and any or all others --- are collaborative. You might want to stick one in Box #1 and the other in Box #2. That's fine, if you are a librarian or a file clerk. I'm not that organized. The boxes are usually tipped over, and it all spills out all over the floor.
Lorenzo Pangelinan | March 31, 2011 2:08 PM | Reply

Mr. Ebert, In all of your entries that I have read over the past year or so, this is the one that has finally compelled me to respond, if only because it give me a little joy in knowing that you will have had the opportunity to have read it. What you have written here has struck me deeply, as it reflects exactly what has been preoccupying my thoughts and musings for these past six months or so, though it isn't so much your thoughts on Evolution and The Big Bang (though it is with those perspectives I find myself aligned); the words that I found myself so emotionally affected by were these: "A message from light years away would probably miss me in my box of space and time, but I find that Art can shout to me across a few years or centuries, and it

30 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

carries the same message: "Yes, I exist, and you are not alone." Allow me to backpedal a bit and provide some context:From the age of roughly seven to the final year of high-school I identified myself with varying stages of conviction as a Christian; I attended Church every week, studied the bible with my father, et cetera. I am now nearing the end of my first year in college, and over the course of the past few months I have essentially shed that particular distinction, finding myself gravitating more and more towards atheism, or at the very least a skeptical agnosticism. It was not a sudden, "Now I'm in College and Should Follow the Non-Theist Trend Stereotypical of College Intellectuals" decision; I had been grappling with my loss of faith for a little over two years, and only in entering college did I finally feel comfortable in declaring my conscious rejection of the religion that previously dominated my opinion of life, death, and whatever may come afterwards. I needed no knowledge of some benevolent deity or life-affirming mission of faith in order to feel secure in my life; I was and continue to be perfectly content to enjoy my life here on Earth with the family and friends I love. But as I lay in bed every night there was was thing that I couldn't shake, one fear ingrained in me from birth that even now offers my breath cause to hitch in my lungs: What about when I die? For weeks and weeks I have been grappling with this existential dilemma, what many say is THE dilemma. For all of my confidence in my choice to reject organized faith, I had no idea how to grapple with the notion that when I die there may or may not very well be Nothing. No pearly gates, nobody to assure me that I am no longer alone. Nothing. As the weeks have turned into months, I still find myself afraid, but I believe I am beginning to gain some comfort, and this is where all of my youthful existential ramblings actually achieve a kind of relevance to your above quote, Mr. Ebert: "Yes, I exist, and you are not alone." I am a lover of the arts, sir, a passionate advocate of film and theatre and literature and (and I know you disagree with this) even the artistic possibilities of video-games. But that's a different blog, heh heh. I am not only a lover of the arts, but an aspiring practitioner of them as well. I wrote and directed a few plays in high-school, and I have loved reading and writing for as long as I can remember. I am even trying to learn how to draw so that I may add a bit of visual flair to the stories and characters that populate my mind (and might I say your previous blog about drawing was quite encouraging in that regard). But I am in danger of rambling again; the point is this: I wish to create, to express myself as an artist in some way, because I have so deeply been affected by the works of others myself. The films, books, cartoons, et cetera that have so shaped the way I see the world mean much more to me than any Bible ever could, because you are right, sir, in what are it all about. "Yes, I am here, and you are not alone." And as I contemplate my place on the earth, on the nature of life and death, I am coming to an understanding. This completeness that has come from the complementation of art and my own experiences as an individual is the essence of being that all art essentially strives to communicate. Transferrence is possible, in that way; where I have been, changed, comforted, educated and made more aware, so can I do the same thing with my work. And that, at the very least, is what I know will happen when I someday die. Somewhere, somewhen, somebody will pick up a book or turn a channel and encounter my art. Hopefully they will be touched by it. Hopefully they will be comforted in knowing that they are not alone. I apologize for rambling; concision is not my strong point and I am admittedly a little nervous to be expressing myself in such an honest manner on the internet blog of an artist who has been very influential in my ongoing development into an adult. I admire your film reviews and your eloquence, if I may be frank, and I do not wish to make a poor impression. But back to it. I simply wished to express, in my own obtuse and perhaps self-consciously eloquent way, an empathy and admiration for what you have communicated today. It has brought this reader a little joy in reading, knowing that someone I respect believes power of Art as I do. As I look out into the sky I have a very hard time believing that there is some benevolent creator figure watching out over all of us. I get scared, at night, when my thoughts drift to how time will shape and mold to its own ends my dreams of the future. I don't know if I will ever be a

31 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

great artist, and the challenges of rising to my own lofty ambitions are often overwhelming. It is so easy to think of myself as alone. But then I read Joyce or Vonnegut, or even my favorite comic book or perhaps a particularly insightful internet blog, and I know that isn't the case. With every word writ to page or image drawn to ink or thought made digital so as to share it with the world I see the works of human beings who are just like me: Filled with happiness, joy, humor and curiosity and, yes, fear and sadness and longing too. But it is good to feel, if only for a moment or two, that yes, I do exist. And no, I am not alone.
Pat C. | March 31, 2011 2:39 PM | Reply

So, the spaces in the "Captcha" are not supposed to be entered? (My attempted comment was brilliant, but I failed the Captcha test; the comment was thrown away, and I haven't the heart to retype it)
Graziano -aged 24- from Italy | March 31, 2011 3:26 PM | Reply

Hi Roger. Forgive my bad English. First of all I've got to say I consider you my guide line in movies matters. Ebert's reviews always fulfill my heart and my brain. I think that using reason should lead to the awarness that not the whole matter can be exploited. Even if it does not mean we have to stop our investigation.Einstein said we're in a closed box we can't open. So, in a certain way, why should we deny each possibility? I think that my brain has to consider every kind of possible solution. Why universal gravitation follows the law we all know and not a different one? Why we do not have innumerable states of aggregation? All questions that do not have a real answer. Just because we have to go back and back and stop down there where we can't accede. Sciences concern a logical deductive-descriptive process. Maybe randomness is the key. We got multiverse in which each possibility become real, so gravity works in different ways according to different universe. Is that possible? Can each universe allow life? I don't know. We don't know. We know we don't know. And this is worthy according to Socrate. I consider fables maybe everything related to god. Whether is the Catholic one or not. But I consider the idea of a God a possiblity. I have to. Just because there is not something taking it off of my range of possibilites. I separate god from god's common conception. I think at Darwin evolutionism as factual but this not avoid me that I have to consider god as a possibility. Then the big matter related to faith. I consider my faith as a hope. I have no faith. I simply hope that there will be something more after death. It's just a hope. Is there really anyone saying: Well, i don't hope any kind of place in which justice and joy are forever? Definitely I not (ahah). My mum last year had a stomach cancer. I know you can understand me. So my hope is that each suffering is not vain. I have no faith it will be. Just an hope. Ok, so my curiostiy push me now to ask you why "Where the wild thing are" got only 3 stars. But as a real good guy I'll not ask (ahah). I think at you as one of the few persons I would like to pass a time with to stimulate my brain. Bye
Philippe | March 31, 2011 3:27 PM | Reply

Roger, You seem to think only in three or four dimensions, what about the other 6-7? Spare 11 minutes of your time and watch this. Be ready to be blown away though :) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCQx9U6awFw Philippe
Alex Grosko | March 31, 2011 3:35 PM | Reply

32 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

Without giving it any thought, with no way to think it, the universe brought into existence a way of making itself seen. For me, that is the most intriguing sentence in the entire post. (Ill even forgive you for anthropomorphizing the universe a little bit.) It got me thinking that perhaps an essential component of existence is awareness, and not in the philosophical sense. What if: Existence = Time + Space + Awareness And awareness is as different from time and space as they are from each other, but equally intertwined. Im not ready to assign it special powers like omniscience or omnipotence or give it a name like god. I like the idea that given enough time and space it could manifest itself in any number of ways that we cannot yet observe or measure but which our consciousness is one.
Chris | March 31, 2011 3:37 PM | Reply

Dear Roger, So, to believe that nothing brought forth something, which went from non-living matter to living, which became sentient beings fluent in language, art, science, love, meaning, longing that's more plausible and preferable to believing in God? And less magical thinking in the face of leaps that remain incomprehensible to science and philosophy? ?" PS- I've always loved your thoughtful movie reviews so I hope you don't find my question offensive. Ebert: I don't know the answer to the statement, "Why is there something instead of nothing?" I do believe scientists have a pretty good idea of how life came to be. I don't believe in things I prefer to believe in, I believe in what I am led to believe in by my ability to reason.
Mancuso replied to comment from Barry McCormick | March 31, 2011 4:10 PM | Reply

That's where Tineye comes in handy.


Jeff | March 31, 2011 4:11 PM | Reply

Hi Roger, I enjoyed reading your post. Whenever I think about mankinds increasing ability to peer deeper and deeper into the vastness of space I have to keep in mind that what we are peering into is actually the past. What we see when we look further and further beyond is not what is there now, but what it was billions of years ago. As Spock would sayFascinating. I wonder what it actually looks like at this very moment in time. I bet it would look very different indeed. And speaking of Space. We used to think of Space as sort of a giant, dark, empty vacuum that was populated with stars, planets, comets and asteroids, black holes etc.. Everything is just kind of floating out there with only the energy, such as gravity, from all those billions and billions of bodies acting upon each other. But we now think that space itself is actually tangible not empty at all. And we know this not because what we can see, but because of what we cannot see. We used to believe that after the initial eruption of The Big Bang, all the Galaxies, Stars, Planets and various other detectable bodies created in the Universe would eventually start to slow down or even come back together by sheer loss of momentum and gravitational forces. Sort of a future Big Crunch if you will. But to the utter astonishment of Astronomers and Physicists, the exact opposite is taking place. All the detectable bodies in the Universe are actually speeding away from each other at a greatly accelerated rate. What is causing this? There has to be something in all that Space, that we cant actually see or even detect, creating this tremendous force. And this is where Dark Matter and Dark Energy come into play. Think of it this way. If you scatter a bunch of M&Ms in what we once thought was

33 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

Space just a weightless vacuum - they will float there for a while, but eventually they will be pulled together by their Gravitational attraction. But sprinkle the same M&Ms on the surface material of something like a balloon, then stretch that balloon from every angle. What happens? It creates a greater distance between the M&Ms dotted throughout the surface of that balloon material. But at the same time the stretching is pushing the M&Ms further apart, they are also trying to come back together, albeit in a minuscule way, by the pull of Gravity. As Space is Stretched caused by this Dark Matter and Dark Energy - there is now more and more Space. And with more Space, more Dark Matter. And with more Dark Matter, more Dark Energy. Most Astronomers and Physicists believe that this is what is causing the Universe to speed apart at a faster and faster rate. Greater than the effects of energy like gravity from all the known and detectable bodies in the Universe can withstand. And no one knows what the effect of all that 'Stretching" will be. But I can't believe it will be pleasant. But many Astronomers now believe that when the decedents of mankind look up from the earth and into the night sky, in a billion years or so, all that they will see is darkness with only few specks of distant light. Come to think of it, maybe that is what is actually up there now but it wont be visible on Earth for a long time to come
Nugget | March 31, 2011 4:13 PM | Reply

Excellent essay, Roger. In case you haven't seen this before, I'd suggest watching "Science Saved My Soul" by Phil Hellenes. It touches on many of the same themes you've addressed in your essay in a very touching way. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6w2M50_Xdk It's definitely worth the 15 minutes. When I watched it for the first time, as soon as it was over I watched it again.
Bill Hays replied to comment from Rory | March 31, 2011 4:21 PM | Reply

Reply to: That thing is a God. For me it is Jesus, and his father. In your intellectual pursuits don't make the possible mistake of intellectual conceit. Human kind will learn amazing things and never know even half of our universe, our world, our earth. Perhaps that was for a reason. Hilarious. After all these centuries, the Christian nonsense still cripples us. Jesus had a father. He wasn't a God. Or a Son of God. IThe size of the universe... I can understand why your mind won't accept it, why you think a word like "God" makes a good replacement for thinking. I think we need to talk about Jesus. And we never should be afraid to tell the Truth, that Jesus was an ordinary mortal and the stories about being resurrected from the dead are the stories that con men still tell today, in various forms. God wants you to kill his enemies... is the most common form.
Gary in Phoenix, Arizona | March 31, 2011 5:02 PM | Reply

If Ray Kurzweil is right, in 2045 or thereabouts we'll achieve virtual immortality with the human-computer meld. Undoubtedly that would lead to a diasporadic exploration of galactic proportions, interaction with other-origined awarenesses, and more natural selection than you can shake a celestial stick at. Far-fetched? So's a flash drive, thirty-four years ago.
Al | March 31, 2011 5:34 PM | Reply

A man said to the universe: "Sir, I exist" "However", replied the universe, "The fact creates in me no sense of obligation." Stephen Crane
Sean Dugan | March 31, 2011 7:03 PM | Reply

In your piece you mention the universe as having no opinion. Not to sound too much like an existentialist, but what is the universe? Is the universe the space and time in

34 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

which matter exists, or is it the sum total of its parts? If the latter is true, and we acknowledge that we are both its parts and opinionated through our self-reflexivity, I would say the universe is very opinionated, and very aware of itself through its human and possible other alien extensions. Just something I was thinking about. And now, to "Contact."
Blake S. | March 31, 2011 7:09 PM | Reply

Nice post again Roger. I love it when you get existential. Infinite depth down into each atom, infinite depth up into space. ps Wow, Mr. Parsons really needed you to like Battle: Los Angeles. I mean NEEDED it. Good lord.
Bisbo, Ruler of Zingabob | March 31, 2011 7:28 PM | Reply

You earthlings have a problem with reality. It appears from up here you're afraid to leave it be... always trying to concoct new PILLS to make yourselves happy. We tune into your planet several times a day. We study your reality in many different ways. We conclude if you'd leave things alone, they would be okay -probably. But we see you have plans now to colonize space. We do not want a visit from your poor puny race: for on your own planet, you can't get along with your birds OR your bees. Stay down there until you learn how to face REALITY. Thank you. Bisbo, Ruler of planet Zignabob PS how one can find an endlessly varying, spectacularly complicated, wordlessly delicate, unimaginably balanced and ultimately unfathomable limitless multiconscious entity "comforting" because it doesn't mean a god damned thing also escapes us up here on Zignabob.
Alamanach | March 31, 2011 7:35 PM | Reply

"None of this immensity is affected by what I think about it. It doesn't depend on being thought about. If it is true that our galaxy alone might contain 30 to 80 million earth-like planets, and if every one of them were occupied by sentient beings, it doesn't depend on what they're thinking, either." Sure it does. The universe is vast, but the portion of it you need to be most concerned about is quite small, and much of it is within your sphere of influence. If you push, it has to push back. Surely you've had times in life where you chose to trust that things would go in a favorable direction, and the world came through for you. If you hadn't trusted, where would you be now? And just as surely, you must have at some time presumed to much, and suffered a loss that a more skeptical person would have avoided. Hope lies between presumption and despair, and the lives that we build for ourselves-the universe we live in-- get shaped by the beliefs we bring with us; despairing people end up in despairing worlds. What you think about the far-off Andromeda Galaxy may have no impact on something so unimaginably remote, but what's that to you? The part of the universe that has the most impact on you cares very much what you think.
spaceterrorsaur | March 31, 2011 8:09 PM | Reply

Ebert, stop getting trolled by the creationists There's no need to educate these people or explain rationality to them. Nice article btw.
Marie Haws replied to comment from Lynn McKenzie | March 31, 2011 8:16 PM | Reply

"But for all we know, goldfish may prefer being goldfish to human." What if every goldfish was previously a human who'd flushed a goldfish down a toilet, after failing to properly take care of it? Aka: "Karma". :-)

35 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

@ rationalrevolution - "What is more interesting than these observations, is knowing that people over 2,000 years ago already understood this, before their views were declared heresy by Christians and destroyed." Cat nurses puppies! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3TirG8IE5RA Dog nurses kittens! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0txbXX7u5Sw Nature is a better teacher than Religion will ever be. As seen above. :-)
Sean Roberts | March 31, 2011 8:22 PM | Reply

Reading stuff like this always reminds me of this Lovecraft quote: "The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age." The first sentence in particular has always stuck with me (the rest might be a little too gloomy/paranoid). From the sound of a lot of Lovecraft's writing I think he might have been truly frightened by the unknown.
John Bradley | March 31, 2011 9:10 PM | Reply

Here's my thought. The universe is about 13 billion years old. Many billions were spend creating heavier elements that would allow for planets. That gave us the ability to have an Earth, which is about 4.5 billions years old. So, it took 4.5 billion years for life to evolve on Earth to get an Ebert. Well worth the wait! Now, how long until the next Ebert script is brought to the silver screen?
FellowIllini | March 31, 2011 9:30 PM | Reply

Darwin's theory was meant to describe biological processes, though it certainly appears to be at work more broadly in the Universe. Some combination of the existence of randomness, motion, time, and whatever the opposite of randomness is. Would what we call life and intelligence be inevitable on other worlds, or merely probable enough that it is likely? We'll know if and when we can observe it, or (as in the case of many discovered planets) the effects of it. But even beyond life itself, there is a beauty to it all, and it all seems to make sense to minds that did, after all, evolve from it. Does it just come down to "things are the way they are because they got that way"?
EricJ | March 31, 2011 11:21 PM | Reply

Although your post dances around the Theism/Evolution controversy, "Dances"? How about "Clogs bad Riverdance imitations, until the 2nd floor neighbors complain"? ;) Once again, we get all the earmarks of the Atheist Who Wants to Start Up the Conversation Again Because Nobody Else Was: The attempt to sound Deep, as this will give the same old ideas Creativity...Blithely ignoring the fact that more general the Deep Thoughts Go, the wider and wider paintbrushes are being swept, until we're back in the "safe territory" of Good People Believe Science, and Bad People Are Scary. And once again...it's fear. Not fear, so much as insecurity--Insecurity that unless the discussion was on no less important and indisputable a scale than THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE, some nasty person might bring it back to personal issues again...And strip aside the facade to reveal that dangerous little notion that the author's attempt to show what a Deep Rational Thinker, Unaffected by Two Thousand Years of Deluded Civilization, might in fact be (heavens) an opinion, which like all opinions held by mere mortal human beings, can be WRONG. Allow me to be nasty....So, slow week, was it then, Roger?
Deacon | March 31, 2011 11:32 PM | Reply

36 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

Roger, You know how most of the time, when someone says, "With all due respect...",/i> it's typically followed by a statement veiled under the guise of respect, but it's actually a sarcastic criticism or spiteful personal remark? In all honesty, this is NOT one of those times...I very much respect you as a person, writer, thinker, etc. I also very much respect the other thought posters on your blog. As such, I would like to respectfully respond to the statement/question you posed at the end of my original post... First you stated/asked, "With me, it's a matter of description. I attempt to describe what I can perceive and learn about without involving additional explanations which may be arbitrary. Is it possible that when Jesus said he was the son of God, he was a man using the term God as symbolic? Why does what he said prove the existence of God?" I think we likely disagree on what is actually "arbitrary" & what isn't. For me, I don't view my faith in the existence of God - or His role as the Creator of the universe - as "arbitrary" in the sense of being plucked randomly out of thin air, or as being removed from thoughtful reflection about what I see, experience & observe. My faith, by its very nature, is not inextricably "dependent" on the "physical/observable evidence" involved, but neither is it completely devoid of evidence on its behalf. RE: Jesus...the question shouldn't be whether or not it was "possible" if Jesus was speaking symbolically when identifying Himself as the Son of God - of course, anything is "possible." The bigger issue, I think, is what was He likely saying/intending based on the best available historical evidence - of which there is a significant amount to draw from & what were those around Him at the time perceiving Him to say/mean. It seems highly unlikely that the Jewish leaders of the day would have been the least bit threatened by someone they thought to be "symbolically" referring to themselves as a general "son of god." It's much more likely that they believed He was actually claiming to be the Messiah & identifying Himself as uniquely connected to the One they identified as the one true God of the universe - & as such, they vehemently accused Him of blasphemy & succeeded in having Him crucified. Then there's the question of how the Roman leaders viewed Him, & the threat they perceived Him to be in terms of His claims to be the "King of Kings" & "Lord of Lords" - a direct challenge the divine claims of the Roman Caesar - either pre-crucifixion or post-resurrection (which, contrary to the opinions of some, has a significant amount of solid, historical evidence in its favor & no equivalent claims or explanations to the contrary that hold any historical water. I would specifically point you to the work of the widely respected historian & scholar N.T. Wright & his books Surprised By Hope & The Resurrection of The Son of God.) Finally, re: your question...I don't believe anything anyone says "proves" the existence of God; I do believe, however, that there is a significant amount of evidence to point in that direction, not the least of which is - as I mentioned above - Jesus' resurrection from the dead. I guess what I'm trying to say - albeit poorly, I'm sure - is that I don't believe "faith" & "science" are "at odds with" or "in competition with" one another, or are "mutually exclusive" from one another. I genuinely believe they can & should interact & inform one another. Ultimately, though, I do believe that when it comes to the origins of the universe, the purpose of man's existence, what happens when we die, how to understand & address the problem of genuine evil, etc., scientific observation is insufficient for making definitive statements/claims about the non-existence of a divinity of any kind (whether it's the God of the Bible or otherwise) & intellectual integrity demands acknowledging a certain level of faith in the process of forming our conclusions/beliefs/opinions, one way or the other. With continued respect, deacon godsey Ebert: I agree in theory, but am wary of believing something just because it is said to be true, absent testing by the scientific method.
Daniel Kazmer | March 31, 2011 11:53 PM | Reply

37 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

Thumbs up to this entry! Currently reading The Grand Design.


jasonS. | April 1, 2011 12:26 AM | Reply

Roger, ever hear of Nick Bostrom? Supposed to be a super-duper genius. Not a regular, run of the mill genius. Bostrom convinced me that humans finding life or proof of it's existence outside Earth is real bad news for the species. I'd prefer to let him explain but it is fairly simple insofar as it goes. Question is: Where is the great filter? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GnkAcdRgcI&feature=channel_video_title (FYI: At 6:28 in the clip they get into this question.)
S M Rana | April 1, 2011 1:28 AM | Reply

Ebert: "It's not what I prefer, and not something I am sure about. It simply seems self-evident."(..that dead is indeed dead..) As self evident as that a feather and a stone, dropped from atop a leaning tower, would reach the ground at different times; or that time is absolute, not relative; or that the complexity of life requires intelligence to create it?
Larry Koehn | April 1, 2011 2:42 AM | Reply

Matter changing to intelligent matter over the course of time to look back upon itself and its surroundings with a sense of awe!
EricJ | April 1, 2011 3:29 AM | Reply

You're not telling me anything, Roger. No wonder you attract the absolutists: because neither of you are able to qualify your absolutes, you quibble over preferences. Basically, because an athie believes himself to be Absolutely Right, he must go out and find someone to by symbolically Absolutely Wrong, and hold them up in front of the rest of the reasonable moderate population and say "booga-booga!" to show how scary it is not to be Absolutely Right. This is presumably to show that Athies are Normal People, because they're not Scary Book-Burning Religious Extremists/Creationists They Saw on CNN. At least, that's the message they hope to project...What it instead projects is the image that Athies are cynical bigots who would rather be paranoid of the entire world around them rather than reach out to them. When the attempt to show themselves as Normal and Deserving of Sympathy backfires, they try to reason that yes, they may be arrogant cynics, but well, what does cynicism matter, when we're all just Dust In The Wind, Dudes? (To borrow Bill & Ted's philosophizing with Socrates.) Nice try, Carl Sagan...But it don't work. A cynic is a cynic, and a paranoid bigot is a paranoid bigot. They don't get sympathy no mater how many volumes of SCIENCE! (insert Thomas Dolby riff here) they throw at the rest of the belief-balanced world...But heavens, I must be an Evil Creationist for saying it! No. I'm just a person who gets out his door once in a while, says "hi" to people on the street, and holds doors open for little old ladies. Your fears of the "unknown" are the people you see on the bus and the subway. Try conquering those fears, and you'll understand a lot more of the universe. Bill Hays wrote: I was watching the BBC News. (I rather suspected as much.) A Muslim in London said: Something Evil and Extreme, I'll be bound. Instead of pretending you've expressed any actual opinion here, Billy-boy, let's familiarize ourselves with a few Internet terms: What is a Kook? Here's a term that's been around for a good twelve years or longer, since the very invention of the Internet, and yet has deeply specific meanings: It's said that every forum and board--and even Usenet groups, back when such things existed--had at least one Kook, never less than one, and rarely more than two or three. Like the Court Jester or Village Idiot, they had to form a single minority, to symbolize what the rest of the court or village was NOT...Ie., that the rest of the forum or board could live their lives comfortably in the assurance that they were not. And over the life of the Internet, the aspects of Kook-dom started taking on specific

38 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

recognizable aspects: - The Kook could be recognized in that he lived to post on only ONE subject, no matter what the conversation was. Either the Kook posted post after post on his own area of interest, while the rest of the group ignored or laughed at it, or he could steer any conversation topic back to his own area of interest, lest there be someone who hadn't read it yet, or that he was "just starting to make progress" in new converts. - The Kook believed entirely in his own popularity, indeed, necessity to the group, in that he was its intellectual life and soul, and would never be so disloyal as to LEAVE it, even though the rest of the group loudly wished it. - When faced with the idea that he was not the popular life and soul of the board, the Kook often went into conspiracy-theory mode, first believing that one lone meanie lived to torment him...And then, when it turned out more than one tomato was flying, believed that that same meanie had "poisoned" the regular readers against his poor, innocent outspoken First-Amendment views. (Which aren't, btw, but that's another thread.) There are a dozen other Audubon Spotter's Guides, Bill, but you get the basic drift: You wear the gold-plated tin badge of Official Kook, First Class on this board, because there's always one, and if there was another one, we'd have noticed by now. Nobody wants to hear about the Evil Muslims who Want to Blow Up the World, Because They're Crazy. Believe me, when you post five times in the same thread, we should know Crazy by now. I'd say it was doing a public service in helping prove the "Paranoid bigot" theory in full-color illustration, but frankly, we've had a bit too much of it already for it to be any new thrill. And the reason I point this is out, on a side note to Roger is, if you're going to keep beating this dead horse in an attempt to look Right...you DESERVE to have The Kook keep darkening your virtual doorstep, believing that you're his bestest war-buddy-pal in the revolution. It's not our name on the blog. I wish I had the chance to go into further detail, however, I have already gone against agreed-upon net-protocol by making the Kook aware of his own recognition in the first place. On Usenet, we used to say "Play with trolls and you get to keep them; play with Kooks, and you get to keep them forever. As you might expect, the rest of us don't particularly want to. If you don't want the dog to follow you, don't keep throwing him scraps of meat.
Sagramore | April 1, 2011 3:40 AM | Reply

Great article; thanks for sharing your views on the universe! One question though...do you think somewhere, on one of those 30 to 80 million possible earth-like planets out there, someone has created a video game that could be considered art?
Joe Young replied to comment from Cyberquill | April 1, 2011 4:26 AM | Reply

This is my second time trying to respond to Cyberquill. I tried yesterday, but kept getting faults. Basically, if you accept traditional big bang theory, the universe was infinitesimally small, but still finite. Time and space in that extremely high energy and pressure universe would not exist as we perceive it, but the universe still existed. I never accepted that because I tended to believe it was extrapolation based on interpretation of the evidence around us now. Other theories now such as M theory, and the infaltionary theory of expansion offer alternatives. I actually think the oscillating universe is more logical.
Joe Young | April 1, 2011 4:34 AM | Reply

Roger, I find it a little ironic that you write so eloquently on this subject, but when it comes to science fiction films, you believe raise questions that the creators didn't ask. Often, an answer to these questions is fairly obvious to me or becomes obvious if you think in the context of the environment in which the characters operate. I always got the impression you liked science fiction as a kid and then decided you outgrew it at some point.

39 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

Mr. Phillips replied to comment from oneofus | April 1, 2011 4:50 AM | Reply

LOL, yeah, because he was raised and brainwashed as a Christian, right? It's only natural. I was raised to believe that there's a God and Jesus and all, it's embedded in my deepest childhood memories. Oh yes, that good ol' terrifying fear of God. I prefer to call it "The Unknown". But when my time comes, if I had a few seconds to spare I would make a prayer "just to make sure" in case there's actually a God out there. I'm not replying to you personally, because I actually agree with you in my case. You needn't read anything beyond this point, and probably shouldn't. It's all beliefs and faith, anyway. Monkeys can't understand more advanced concepts, maybe that's the case with us. Roger has a point - we spend too much time worrying about the unknown, about an afterlife, and we forget to just LIVE. I do that a lot. We humans have a tendency to overrate ourselves as a species, maybe because we are "the most evolved" on this particular planet. Are we, really? Do we know that for sure? We don't see or hear the same things animals do. I think it should be pretty clear by now that just because something is "invisible" to us, if we cannot perceive it, then it doesn't exist. What if ants have telepathic powers we don't know about? Ridiculous idea, but really, how much do we know about communication, human and non-human? Studies have shown that your language affects the way you think, the way you look at the world. The Pirah Tribe in the Amazon, for instance, are an interesting challenge to one of Chomsky's main arguments. Those people only know the jungle, it's their home, but they know that there are outsiders and will trade and communicate with them on a very basic level. Yet they have no curiosity whatsoever in entering "our world", they cannot count more than two because they don't have the same concept of "numbers" that we have - no need for numbers in the jungle. They have no myths of creation nor history of ancestors, they live in the present. They don't worry about "oh, what if I die?", "oh god/sun/unknown will judge me and punish me", torturing themselves like we do. They just say that they don't know, it doesn't matter to them, it doesn't interest them. Of course surviving in such a harsh (to us) environment would affect my thinking and therefore my language. If this is true, it demonstrates that language and thought are very closely connected. Sorry, I was ranting about linguistics, but I think it's nice to realize that we, the human race, are very biased in our thoughts. It's inherent, it's natural (is it?) - I'm doing it right now. To me, faith in science is the same as faith in whatever religion. The Bible says one very interesting thing - basically, that we should imagine how is it to be another person in order to better understand their thoughts and forgive them. This is incredibly difficult for most of us, if not impossible. We are very selfish and because of that, eager to sacrifice and dedicate our lives to anything that will get rid of the guilt caused by selfishness. Hence, science, religion... I'm demonstrating all of these things in my own writing. It's just my beliefs/morals. Me, me, me. Let's try something different in the world/life since this is not working. Or maybe the Bible was wrong on this too... There's too much we don't know yet we will gladly and readily accept myths and legends as the ultimate truth. That's okay, but since I believe and disbelieve religion and science by the same measure, we would be better off just enjoying ourselves and the company of others rather than worrying about something that is utterly pointless. But I'm doing it anyway. That's the point, there is no point. We just invented many, so that life and suffering can (and does) become more bearable. Without those beliefs, one can't fit into the so-called in normal, modern society. But then you have the benefit of making up your own story/illusion/myth/religion/explanation, or not believing anything. Anyway, just exposing a different viewpoint. MINE. Which may be "right" or "wrong", or in between. No point in arguing. It's just a distraction, it doesn't matter one bit. Nobody will read this anyway. I do it for fun. For myself. Obviously, it's a dog-eat-dog world. Does survival have a point when death looms around all life forms? Some go first, some leave later. But they will all leave anyway - or will they? I wonder if we are here to change this (human superiority concept), or if this is beyond our ability. I hope our species can evolve enough to achieve the former, although I don't think we will last that long the way things are going. I admit to believing that I'm an ignorant who knows nothing, but still clings to the

40 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

notion that I CAN know. Well, maybe I can't and honestly, I'm happier believing that I can't and just enjoying what there is. I'd sooner be a happy ignorant than an unhappy "thinker". This whole post is a contradiction. (fallacy warning) Life has whatever meaning you may like. Therefore, life makes no sense at all. "Says who?"
jrdeaver | April 1, 2011 6:16 AM | Reply

I often think of Carl Sagan's book, "The Demon-Haunted World, Science as a Candle in the Dark." He offers this quote by Samuel Butler (1667): "A credulous mind...finds most delight in believing strange things, and the stranger they are, the easier they pass with him; but never regards those that are plain and feasible, for every man can believe such."
Somniferous | April 1, 2011 6:17 AM | Reply

Every atom in us--every atom on Earth--was borne by supernovae: the elements essential for life's genesis and evolution were forged in distant, long-dead stellar furnaces; jetted into the lonely void by a star's violent death, these elements glided through the cosmos for eons before coalescing with other nomadic atoms into a solar nebula around our newborn sun. Guided by gravity, an embryonic Earth formed inside that solar nebula; after a magmatic childhood, life developed on that adolescent Earth. Almost four billion years have passed since life emerged: billions of species have struggled into existence, only to be eternally erased by evolutionary whims: large-body collisions, anoxic holocausts, climatic catastrophes, etc. But throughout this flux, there has been one constant: the atoms borne by supernovae. Again: every atom in us--every atom on Earth--was star-forged. Look at your hands: the atoms in your hands were born in ancient, long-dead stars; the atoms in each hand--each finger--are from different stars. Millions of light years were traveled by these dispossessed atoms; when two people hold hands, they bring the cosmos together. I can't express how I feel when I consider the distance and time traveled by my atoms--traveled by me, in a trillion pieces. http://tiny.cc/k17ic
Pedro | April 1, 2011 7:38 AM | Reply

Superb article Roger. Its a golden age for 'pop science' readers. Anybody can now (try to) get to grips with the basic outlines of numerous beautiful ideas. Ideas that thousands of intelligent people have dedicated their lives and careers to investigating. We owe a great debt to the scientific writers who see the importance in explaining complex ideas to the lay person. For all those on this thread who embarrass themselves with naive questions and petty religious-flavoured quibbles: READ. Read about science and REALITY. We are not long for this world, so lets try and learn as much as we can about it, while we're here. Otherwise, we might just as well have been goldfish.
Keith Carrizosa | April 1, 2011 8:10 AM | Reply

To me the message of great art is, "Here's how you live; you need emotional distance between you and the person you live with in order to live together; you are two individuals living together." I don't know if "You are not alone" is the message of art, because that goes without saying; I didn't create the art, so someone else must have. So, I think art is the illusion of spontaneity, and that the nature of spontaneity tells us how to live with each other with that distance to let us be individuals and art is to, perhaps among other things, to translate that message, or nature's message, of how to live with each other from within nature; so, in a sense artists are translators of the universe, and spontaneity is also kind of the infinite energy, behind that message: and I think the nature of spontaneity is a sudden yet gentle energy.
Rory | April 1, 2011 8:31 AM | Reply

Roger said: "But given the existence of matter, we now understand how life could have arisen."

41 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

I'm open to being educated. Can your or one of your readers that are so hostile to religion point out to me where I can learn more about how matter evolved into life? I subscribe to evolution, and single cell organisims evolving into more complex organisms. But I haven't found where it explains how carbon soup becomes a cell. You seem pretty certain of it, so 'link' me. Ebert: This may be of assistance: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abiogenesis
Richard Mavers | April 1, 2011 9:03 AM | Reply

I'm not 100% sure about this, but I heard that the patterns in the universe are very similar to those found in brain cells (look at this picture) http://sprott.physics.wisc.edu/pickover/pc/neuron-galaxy.jpg There are some who believe the universe is all the part of a brain/mind of something greater.
Josh | April 1, 2011 9:33 AM | Reply

Hi Roger, Excellent post! I really enjoyed it. As a Christian, I don't believe the universe thinks either. But that isn't an argument against the philosophy that the universe is itself the creative product of rational thought. It's not an argument against the philosophy which says mind preceded matter and not the other way around. I've always found it interesting that so many people can look at a painting of nature and describe it as a creative work of art, but when they look at nature itself, they scoff at the idea that a reasonable and intelligent person should use the same description for nature.
Randy Masters | April 1, 2011 9:36 AM | Reply

Ebert:...is indicated by the fact that something like 50 percent of the American population doesn't subscribe to it. However, more than 99% of all the earth's scientists do. That 99% is a fairly self-selecting population, don't you think? If you sat through your undergraduate classes and were not sufficiently persuaded by the arguments for the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection, how likely would it be that you would go on to become a professional believer-in-the-orthodoxy ("earth scientist") rather than say a quality engineer at a manufacturing plant like the larger percentage of the American population do? Ebert: Not many Americans are either scientists or engineers. In the matter of evolution, they believe what they have been told. Although very few followers of mainstream Christianity and Judaism believe in the literal truth of the Bible regarding Creation, depressing numbers of Christian and Muslim fundamentalists do. That their beliefs fly in the face of reason and show disrespect to their own intelligence is quite sad to me.
Dud the Luddite | April 1, 2011 9:58 AM | Reply

Snooki says the universe is just one big baddass badong. Study it hard, but party harder. She knows.
Ray | April 1, 2011 10:01 AM | Reply

When it comes to the Big Questions, I find myself constantly having to balance my cold rationality with my equally cold experience (dare I call it "evidence"?). For example, my rational side says we may well be little more than a quintessence of dust--I have no problem with that idea. But on the other hand, I somehow have to square that with the fact that when I was sixteen years old, spending the summer in an old European home, I saw an apparition that was clearly human-like in form, and persisted long enough for me to see it clearly (this, just a few days after my closest friend at the time tragically died of spinal meningitis, by the way; that may or may not be relevant, but I bring it up because--well, because you just never know.). I'm not prone to hallucinations, rest assured, I was wide awake, and most importantly, held no prior beliefs one way or another about such things as "ghosts"; yet this fell squarely into that general

42 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

description. (It scared me nearly to death, by the way.) I've had a number of puzzling experiences like this through the years, almost as dramatic, and all totally uninvited. So while my rationality wants to simply dismiss these experiences as nothing more than anecdotal, I also know that's not an entirely "rational" approach to take either--after all, stories of rocks falling from the sky were considered anecdotal or hallucinations until Ernst Chladni came along and branded them as "meteorites." Sure, the senses can be fallible--just as they can be reliable sometimes, too. So where does that leave me? Simply, I've learned to keep an open mind about such things, and not simply subscribe to what the "experts" proclaim--be they scientific or religious in nature. I'm as skeptical of the skeptics these days as I am of the preachers and true believers. I try to think for myself, and balance what I read with what I've experienced. That's all.
Rob | April 1, 2011 10:32 AM | Reply

Thank you for a thoughtful article, Mr. Ebert. As a teacher of English Literature, what excites me about the possibility of other intelligent life in the universe is that an alien species would have so much art and literature of their own to share with us if we ever met. I find one of the greatest joys of living in being able to read the literature of people who lived in vastly different cultures and time periods than my own. Not only is that experience enjoyable, but it rewards me by opening my worldview and increasing my empathy for humans who are strangers to me. Imagine meeting an alien species and gaining access to an entire civilization's worth of new history, art, and literature. What a mind-blowing experience that would be. An a completely separate note, I like this passage by Carl Sagan from his book "Pale Blue Dot." It's his reflection on a picture that the Voyager probe took of Earth from about four billion miles away. I like the humanity of Sagan's perspective here. "Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam." -Carl Sagan
john in denver | April 1, 2011 10:38 AM | Reply

Einstein once said only two things are infinite, the Universe and human stupidity. And he wasn't completely sure about the Universe.
Willa (forgot my old handle) | April 1, 2011 10:41 AM | Reply

Roger Ebert wrote: "What we are left with are the cosmic shadows on the wall of Plato's cave." That is a lovely sentence. Great post. Another poster wrote: "Adam did science, in Genesis 2:19-20, naming and classifying every created thing, yet it was not enough; so a further mystery was added: Eve. Woman is a far greater mystery, one that can be talked to, sometimes." Now that is just silly. Why do people enjoy statements like that? Is it the search for an adversarial relationship? Is it the desire to not try very hard to communicate with objects of affection or desire? Meh.
Rodney C. Dukes | April 1, 2011 10:53 AM | Reply

Excellent and thought provoking as always. A friend of mine lost her mother and will lay her to rest today. I think I will send this article to her. I think we all fail to see the wonder of how we came to be and are at a lost when we discover how short our lives are when it's over. Thanks Roger.
Joe rodriguez | April 1, 2011 10:58 AM | Reply

Two comments:

43 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

1) Roger, you haven't explained well how do you think two inanimate atoms or particles can come together and form what would be a cell or a basic unit of life. I do think that this mystery is not that yet cleared for today's scientists but I'd like to see your sources for whatever you have or can gather. I think it should have that kind of Big Bang mystery attribute where you could have different explanations in term of what caused it and how. 2) Whoever answers God as the reason for the beginning of life, has just renamed the mystery at hand and give it another name. Its purpose is to satisfy curiosity and ignore intrigue. Ebert: This may be helpful: http://thetim.es/ea2WI2 Or would you prefer I tell you it was magic?
John Panagopoulos, Malden, MA | April 1, 2011 11:18 AM | Reply

I believe that we should remember that the true path and purpose (if you ascribe a purpose) of biological evolution is not a linearly upward progression towards perfection, whatever that is. Rather, the purpose of evolution is developing at least a serviceable adaptation to one's environment so that one can survive. Evolution can oscillate and twist forward and back to achieve that adaptation. Darwin himself stated that it isn't the strongest or smartest organism that will ultimately survive, but the most adaptable. The human is not the acme of evolution, and is not "superior" to his/her fellow creatures. He/she is merely adapted to a particular environment, just as other animals are adapted to theirs. Like any other creature, if the human fails to adapt, he/she will perish. I remember a comment from actor John Cleese, after the premiere of "A Fish Called Wanda", where he stated something to the effect that we really shouldn't denigrate (gold)fish, because they can breathe underwater without artificial aid, and we cannot.
Joe | April 1, 2011 11:32 AM | Reply

Thank God for Roger Ebert!


Daniel Caux | April 1, 2011 12:10 PM | Reply

Great article, could it be that the recent far-flung Contact "review" was the inspiration for this one? Just a minor correction here though: "On every planet where a sufficient degree of intelligence has developed, the Theory of Evolution must eventually be discovered." Theories aren't "discovered", they are "postulated". Facts and processes are discovered, so perhaps it would be better to say that the aliens would eventually discover the proscess of evolution. Take care!
Chris | April 1, 2011 12:11 PM | Reply

Roger Ebert wrote: "I do believe scientists have a pretty good idea of how life came to be." The Wikipedia article on Abiogenesis highlights the myriad models and hypothesis out there, along with the problems with each one. The most that science can say is that life "may" have come about this way or that, but so far the models don't even come close to solving the complexity of the problems involved.
Roger Bacon | April 1, 2011 12:20 PM | Reply

I enjoyed thought about the moon on Jupiter potentially containing life. You asked yourself why you would care about such a thing, you simply do. I feel it is a basic human nature to find validity within the natural world, to believe that we are simply not alone. It doesn't matter that there will never be a realistic way of reaching out physically interacting with such life, but rather to simply know that we are not in this fight alone, that existence (be it conscious or not) of some kind is out there, and that we are not alone, marooned in the dark.

44 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

I am currently taking a class in college that I believe you would find interesting. It is about human morality and how the idea of death affects our action. That the acceptance of death specifically in those that are terminally ill allows for the individual to lead the life they truly desire. What I see however is that humans will always be in search; searching for a hand to pull us out of the void. Would you agree?
S M Rana | April 1, 2011 1:12 PM | Reply

Ebert: "It's not what I prefer, and not something I am sure about. It simply seems self-evident." As evident as the earth is flat and the sun goes around the earth? Ebert: No, as self-evident as that all men are created equal. Besides, the Earth is not self-evidently flat, if you give it some thought.
Harold | April 1, 2011 1:37 PM | Reply

A wonderful post, yet again. We can neither prove or disprove... nonsense. Change the definition, the postulates, you'll be surprised at what you prove. There are 4 bases in DNA. The order, the construction, determines the information of the gene, of the chromosomes, of the organism. All life. The placement of two atoms also contain information. Distance, gravitation-mass, charge, et al, are the information. As there are more than two atoms, there is much more information to be had. The telescope can only collect the information impinging on its sensors, though. It is all about the advance of information. As yet, one organism dies, and information passes in generations or in context. You are responsible for the information you pass. What will it be, gloom, confusing sadness, hate derision? Or will it be of love, of the pursuit of something grander. You live on in the wine that is poured, lo the grape was crushed. It is 2011, I will not see a hundred years on, but I can see thousands of years back because the information was shared. We are but links in an evolution of information. And what of consolation? Our years are as small to time as your dust to the universe. The consolation is in what you share, in what you love and the pursuit of something grander. To me, there is no greater joy than seeing someone helped along the way.
Byron Adams | April 1, 2011 1:48 PM | Reply

Roger, Thank you for all your articles. They have made me realize that I haven't really taken the time to know what I really think about these issues (ie. God, the meaning of life if there is no God, what it means to be human, what art is, ect). I think, as someone that was raised very religious and was given a double helping of fear towards the concept of burning in hell for being bad and being an unbeliever, that the implications of there not being a God really scare me. What if there is no God? What if there is nobody waiting for me after I die to pat me on the head and tell me that I was a good boy. When I first started to really think about that the thought so terrified me that my mind refused to accept it. My brain just sort of did a whiteout. I think that what your articles have done is give me the courage to honestly examine who I am and what I really believe. And I think that is what art really is. Maybe art is different for everyone but your art has touched me. For that I thank you. This is just a side note but every time I see something about how big the Universe is I think of the scene in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy where, as a form of torture, these aliens would put someone in a chair and with some kind of technology would force into the mind of their victim a true knowledge of just how vast the Universe is and how small they were in it. So in their mind the person knew how truly small they were. Imagine how awful that would be.
Andy | April 1, 2011 2:12 PM | Reply

This is one of your most brilliant and eloquent posts. The thought that there are 30 to 80 million earth-like planets in our galaxy alone is incredibly inspiring and tragic.

45 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

Like you, I simply can't comprehend the vastness of space. What if we find a planet that harbors life one billion light years away? How would we ever communicate with them? How long would it take to send them a message? Could their civilization even survive long enough to receive it? It's overwhelming enough the learn about the vastness of our own human history, all of 5000 years or so. What will human our society look like in 1 million years? Eventually, our sun will die. At some point, all of the human race must pack onto some giant spaceship and venture off into the universe looking for another planet on which to survive. Imagine how many human lifetimes it would take to reach such a destination, one billion light years away! It is known that nothing can go faster than the speed of light, and I doubt that the human body could survive under such conditions. What will become of us? While I can't see a solution now, I can only hope that millions of years of an ever-growing base of scientific knowledge will provide an answer. It would take a round trip of more than two million years to change a message with a source a million light years away. We have no reason to believe an organix civilization can exist even for a tiny fraction of that time.
Murphy | April 1, 2011 2:17 PM | Reply

Hi Roger, Thanks for the excellent article. A question: how large is the universe, in your opinion? Because if it is infinitely large, then if we look hard enough, we should be able to find planets that are exact copies of this one. If the universe is finite, then that implies the universe has outer boundaries. However, this wouldn't rule out infinitely many other bounded universes, at least one of which should have a copy of our planet. Therefore, not only do I think we are not alone, I also think we are not unique. Just thought I'd share. Ebert: The universe has no boundaries because it is curved.
Tom Dark | April 1, 2011 2:23 PM | Reply

Fact: Atheists have to pay for sex or they never get any. That's why they're always so grumpy. ...and tootling obsessively about what they are afraid really does exist. There is a special hell for cheap government spies, though. Been in bed too much lately, myself. Not for getting laid, the exuberant exercise exempts that otherwise horizontal sloth. It's windy season here and I've got a bed on the deck upstairs. When I'm not on it, there are usually a couple of dogs snoozing on it. When I am, they're still there. If I had to choose between a night at Hef's mansion with all those genetically sculpted blondes or one on that outdoor bed in the Spring wind with a couple of warm, fuzzy dogs... well... sorry girls, but you talk too much. It's pretty close to a primeval sky here. A moonless night casts starlight visible on the ground. I see what the ancients saw from high towers in Babylon. They made use of the stars in ways that we don't and not for modern-style astrology. The sight is an awe realer and more vivid on the emotional Richter scale than photos, or attempts to wow oneself artificially by dutifully imagining some "Big Bang" -- which never happened anyhow. If you happen to be a child, pretending about Santa Claus is more fun (I knew there was no Santa. I had to grow up some to realize there was no "Big Bang" and no "entropy"). I can see three-dimensional relationships among the celestial clusters, the planets plainly a hand's reach away, the wind blowing dramatically across the surface of the earth where I lie. There are different colors. There are "dark" areas. There are foggy luminous areas, stars so numerous they outnumber the sand grains blowing across this valley, the whole Great American Desert, Mongolia's and Africa's sand grains combined. Leaning deeper into what I'm looking at, these staggering areas of individual suns look like part of a powder. Squint and concentrate on those distant fog-beds and one can sense them moving in some way. Maybe my mind is anticipating their movements, moving like clouds, but in a trillion of our puny years' time, aware of their own sensations among themselves, perhaps electromagnetically like the minute components of an earthly

46 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

cloudy sky. I close my eyes and can feel those sensations in myself. I'm making them myself. They're not being made by some biological brain-glitch predetermined by imaginary genetic goblins. I'm quite conscious that I'm imagining this. Open my eyes again and there are the stars again, and the wind blowing away every other consideration but this one. This little part of the universe I'm seeing, an instant googol perplex of matter and space visible by eyes inner and outer, is my creation. I feel it the same way one feels his pulse and the actions of various organs moving through his body. ...you can sense these things while in the city, too, if your mind isn't habitually noisy with fragmented gobs of undigested thought. "Do the noises in my head bother you?" Isn't a groundless joke in this society. The dogs hear coyotes a-hooting and have to join in too. You city gringos would probably run for a big hotel to get away from these canine songs. But so intent am I and the gorgeous, enormous vitality of this night sky on each other, the high decibels of the dogs seem just fine. The congress of consciousness between me and these star-fogs "billions of light years away" continues, kindly encloaking the enthusiastic melodies of the dogs on my bed. What's the difference between reading studies about sex and having sex? If during the act all you can do is think about what you read in a study, you've got a little problem with reality, there, bud. You're out of touch with your own. Literally, you're out of your senses. So too with these obsessive arguments banging an imaginary "Religious Truth" against an imaginary "Scientific Truth" like a toddler banging alphabet blocks together who doesn't understand the letters on them. You bang heated meaningless words against one another. It's a substitute for acquiescing to the validity of one's own mind and inner sensations. These need no justification from the flapping corrosions of religions or sciences as society presently tries so dutifully to continue to believe in. Try not to let these tales get you into trouble. Religious fanaticism is boiling even in this country and "evolutionary theory" has allowed justifications for people to extinct whole masses of each other. It's just that people who fear the independent sensations of their own minds may cling to decorations that meet with social approval instead. Science? Theology? Fiddle faddle. I see so many sentences that go "I use reason." There's usually such a martial stiffness to them, a parrot would be ashamed to imitate reasoning that badly. An individual's conscious sensations are data. What reason arbitrarily deletes data that doesn't fit a theory? That's "Truth-making," the quickest road to Falsehood there is. (Fewer than half of my postings have shown up on your blog the past few months, Rodge. Don't know why that should be, unless this new improved format was government-designed.)
Tom Dark | April 1, 2011 2:25 PM | Reply

Fact: Atheists have to pay for sex or they never get any. That's why they're always so grumpy. ...and tootling obsessively about what they are afraid really does exist. There is a special hell for cheap government spies, though. Been in bed too much lately, myself. Not for getting laid, the exuberant exercise exempts that otherwise horizontal sloth. It's windy season here and I've got a bed on the deck upstairs. When I'm not on it, there are usually a couple of dogs snoozing on it. When I am, they're still there. If I had to choose between a night at Hef's mansion with all those genetically sculpted blondes or one on that outdoor bed in the Spring wind with a couple of warm, fuzzy dogs... well... sorry girls, but you talk too much. You'd drown out the wind bitching about it. It's pretty close to a primeval sky here. A moonless night casts starlight visible on the ground. I see what the ancients saw from high towers in Babylon. They made use of the stars in ways that we don't and not for modern-style astrology.

47 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

The sight is an awe realer and more vivid on the emotional Richter scale than photos, or attempts to wow oneself artificially by dutifully imagining some "Big Bang" -- which never happened anyhow. If you happen to be a child, pretending about Santa Claus is more fun (I knew there was no Santa. I had to grow up some to realize there was no "Big Bang" and no "entropy"). I can see three-dimensional relationships among the celestial clusters, the planets plainly a hand's reach away, the wind blowing dramatically across the surface of the earth where I lie. There are different colors. There are "dark" areas. There are foggy luminous areas, stars so numerous they outnumber the sand grains blowing across this valley, the whole Great American Desert, Mongolia's and Africa's sand grains combined. Leaning deeper into what I'm looking at, these staggering areas of individual suns look like part of a powder. Squint and concentrate on those distant fog-beds and one can sense them moving in some way. Maybe my mind is anticipating their movements, moving like clouds, but in a trillion of our puny years' time, aware of their own sensations among themselves, perhaps electromagnetically like the minute components of an earthly cloudy sky. I close my eyes and can feel those sensations in myself. I'm making them myself. They're not being made by some biological brain-glitch predetermined by imaginary genetic goblins. I'm quite conscious that I'm imagining this. Open my eyes again and there are the stars again, and the wind blowing away every other consideration but this one. This little part of the universe I'm seeing, an instant googol perplex of matter and space visible by eyes inner and outer, is my creation. I feel it the same way one feels his pulse and the actions of various organs moving through his body. ...you can sense these things while in the city, too, if your mind isn't habitually noisy with fragmented gobs of undigested thought. "Do the noises in my head bother you?" Isn't a groundless joke in this society. The dogs hear coyotes a-hooting and have to join in too. You city gringos would probably run for a big hotel to get away from these canine songs. But so intent am I and the gorgeous, enormous vitality of this night sky on each other, the high decibels of the dogs seem just fine. The congress of consciousness between me and these star-fogs "billions of light years away" continues, kindly encloaking the enthusiastic melodies of the dogs on my bed. What's the difference between reading studies about sex and having sex? If during the act all you can do is think about what you read in a study, you've got a little problem with reality, there, bud. You're out of touch with your own. Literally, you're out of your senses. So too with these obsessive arguments banging an imaginary "Religious Truth" against an imaginary "Scientific Truth" like a toddler banging alphabet blocks together who doesn't understand the letters on them. You bang heated meaningless words against one another. It's a substitute for acquiescing to the validity of one's own mind and inner sensations. These need no justification from the flapping corrosions of religions or sciences as society presently tries so dutifully to continue to believe in. Try not to let these tales get you into trouble. Religious fanaticism is boiling even in this country and "evolutionary theory" has allowed justifications for people to extinct whole masses of each other. It's just that people who fear the independent sensations of their own minds may cling to decorations that meet with social approval instead. Science? Theology? Fiddle faddle. I see so many sentences that go "I use reason." There's usually such a martial stiffness to them, a parrot would be ashamed to imitate reasoning that badly. An individual's conscious sensations are data. What reason arbitrarily deletes data that doesn't fit a theory? That's "Truth-making," the quickest road to Falsehood there is. (Fewer than half of my postings have shown up on your blog the past few months, Rodge. Don't know why that should be, unless this new improved format was government-designed.)
Markus J. Grindleblatt | April 1, 2011 2:38 PM | Reply

48 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

In various regions of the Congo, there are currently women whose faces are blotted with acid. Fathers are forced to rape their daughters. Children are turned into soldiers. How many people in Africa are dying from AIDS? How many children are forced into prostitution in the Red Light District of India? At this very moment, how many husbands are beating their wives for not putting away the dishes on time? How many people are in prison in Houston, Texas? How many homeless are wandering in New York City? How many business executives are stealing from their minimum wage employees? How many dictators are ordering genocide from their air conditioned palaces? How many nuclear weapons are stock piled in this country? I see the arguments posted in this blog, and I think you've all forgotten how many problems exist right before our eyes. All this quibbling about the creation of life, about the mysteries of the universe, can wait a couple centuries.
Ken Neely | April 1, 2011 2:54 PM | Reply

"Not even super computers can adequately organize and assess their vast findings. Amazing discoveries may be buried within the data." I'd like to add a tantalizing thought to this statement. Computers never sleep. They never get tired and they never get bored. We may provide them with data we have gathered, tell them how to analyze the data, and then stand back and see what they find. It matters not that it may take a long time, nor even that many iterations of new instructions may be needed to make use of the data. Discovery will occur. What do you suppose it will look like ? Ebert: If all the data from the Hubbles is crunched, I would except some information to be discovered that apparently was sentient in origin. If none does, that would prove nothing, since Hubble at every distance is only receiving the transmissions from a tiny wedge of time. The closer a source is to us, the better the chance of it coinciding.
Eric | April 1, 2011 3:00 PM | Reply

I believe that most people that do not believe in evolution simply do so because of a lack of understanding of the theory. To all those people I recommend Richard Dawkin's book called The Greatest Show on Earth. It explains in great, easily understandable details what is evolution, how it works, how it started, etc.. It also compares natural selection, which drives evolution, with artificial selection like all the new breeds of dogs created by man over generations by careful selection of mating partners.

Derek in Indiana | April 1, 2011 3:28 PM | Reply

While reading this, I couldn't help but think of the film adaptation of Carl Sagan's wondrous novel Contact, and the line spoken by the great David Morse near the beginning of the film. His character's daughter, Ellie, asks if he thinks there are people on other planets, to which he replies, "I dunno, Sparks. I guess I'd say, if it is just us.......seems like an awful waste of space." Truer words have never been spoken
Fduquette replied to comment from Willa (forgot my old handle) | April 1, 2011 4:20 PM | Reply

" "Adam did science, in Genesis 2:19-20, naming and classifying every created thing, yet it was not enough; so a further mystery was added: Eve. Woman is a far greater mystery, one that can be talked to, sometimes." Now that is just silly. Why do people enjoy statements like that? Is it the search for an adversarial relationship? Is it the desire to not try very hard to communicate with objects of affection or desire? Meh."

49 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

It appears many on this blog are disposed to censoring religious references, and evidently, our replies. Rather than dealing with my argument, biblical reference or exegesis, you instead claim "silliness", ad hominem. Then my sincerity is in doubt, in not trying very hard. I note you use the word "object" to classify one's aimed "affection or desire". That it my point; by objectifying what you perceive, by naming, you create the illusion of mastery and power. Whether you name her Eve or evolution, you avert your stare from the eruption. Avert an earthquake? If science could even predict an earthquake, I'd accept that as an improvement, beyond the "every 300 years" forecast. Physics rediscovered Heraclitus, that what appears as material is in rampant motion, energy.There is no thing, law or object, undermining the entire basis for science. What is true today is nonsense tomorrow, nature will not be ruled, no more than women are willing, for which we have only our sentimental attempt to be freed by naming her.
Randy Masters | April 1, 2011 4:31 PM | Reply

Hi Roger, Regarding where we spend eternity when it's our time, I am of a mind with Frisbeeology. We believe that when you die, your soul goes up on the roof and you can't get it down. Ta-dum. Okay, bad April Fools Day joke. Credit to some comedian or other long ago on the Tonight Show. Back to serious discussion of your excellent topic...
Tim | April 1, 2011 4:42 PM | Reply

Dear Roger, I highly recommend you read the short story called 'The Last Question' by Isaac Asimov, which can be found in his collection "Nine Tomorrows", if you haven't already (it's only about 13 pages long). It will give you a greater vision of the universe and tie it up nicely with the idea of 'God'. Asimov himself once called it The Greatest Science Fiction Story Every Written, so if you don't like it, you only have him and me to blame. Cheers!
Tim | April 1, 2011 4:53 PM | Reply

Oh one other thing: Although I still can't really grasp how 'something' can come from 'nothing' (perhaps it is merely a problem of meaning and linguistics), I can at least begin to accept it when I hear the Buddhists say that essentially something and nothing are the SAME thing. However, I find it harder to believe that intelligence can come from nothing. I refuse to believe that intelligence can develop from an entirely materialistic evolutionary process. The great amount of intelligence that exists on our world in animals, plants, and so forth, as well as in the universe at large, would seem to imply some kind of greater intelligence behind it. You can tell me that if you have enough monkeys typing in a room, eventually you will have Hamlet, but who can honestly have 'faith' in that?? To do so would seem just as preposterous and unlikely as it would be to believe in a 'God' (if not moreso!), don't you think?
keith carrizosa replied to comment from Keith Carrizosa | April 1, 2011 5:02 PM | Reply

In case anyone didn't get the profoundness of that, it is, as spontaneity is a sudden yet gentle energy, it seems that is the reason it has created gentle creatures (I'm tired of spoon-feeding now, so I hope everyone gets it; I'm getting weary of simplifying).
keith carrizosa | April 1, 2011 5:09 PM | Reply

I wrote that in a comment earlier that didn't get published, but it said that it is ironic that the indifferent without-opinion-universe created, or happened, intelligent life, but it is the stupid the insisting on being judgemental that often create geniuses, as Einsteing also said "success is the greatest revenge", no doubt

50 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

thinking of the anti-semitic teacher who said he would never amount to anything.
keith carrizosa replied to comment from Randy Masters | April 1, 2011 5:15 PM | Reply

With regard to what Roger said in this comment (or perhaps to the other people concerned with other people's intelligence as a result of the consequence of merely saying they believe in God...ahem, Bill Hays), I think there is perhaps the possibility that people are just saying that are believing in a lot of these things, like say, heaven, just to have something to talk about, or Largely to have something to talk about. Talking about being rich and so forth can really keep a stifling conversation from boredom. Also, a lot of Hollywood movies would also seem to fall into this fantasizing type of thinking.
keith carrizosa | April 1, 2011 5:28 PM | Reply

So I say let all the believers in shallabaloo have their conversation just for the sake of conversation; I mean, I know I don't always have conversations that aren't less than essential. (and for the people who are going to interpret this comment as saying that these type of beliefs affect public policy, I say I can't hear your face in Bill Maher's a*s.)
Kate | April 1, 2011 6:09 PM | Reply

Actually, interesting as these musings are, one of the conclusions of the theory of quantum mechanics is that an observer is *required* for existence - nothing can exist without someone/thing actually being aware of it. Maybe counterintuitive, especially for those of an existentialist bent, but it does seem from the evidence that yes, the Universe does need us, or someone like us, in order to exist at all.
Paul | April 1, 2011 6:36 PM | Reply

Hi Roger, A favorite quote of mine: "Either you believe that everything is a Miracle, or that nothing is." Albert Einstein. That represents a choice which everyone must make. Either you believe that God (pick your own definition) is the Creator, or that Mufasa had it right and we are all merely part of the Great Circle of Life. Also, any argument which elevates Intelligent Design by comparing the works of Humanity to the grand machinations of the Universe is inherently flawed. Humans are a work approximately 14 billion years in the making, but we've only existed for something like 0.00005% of that time. That's about how much the current rate of inflation is devaluing your money every minute; so small you don't even notice it. It's been 7 decades since the first computer, 20 centuries since Jesus was born, and maybe 1500 generations since our parents were neanderthals. The objects and knowledge Humanity has built in that time cannot be compared to the processes which Nature has wrought during the life of the universe. Give us another billion years, and let's see if we can build something comparable to the workings of the stars. We do not even know how complicated the universe is. Every time we look into it's mysteries, new ones unfold. Intelligent Design proponents will always be able to use the mystery and wonder of the Universe to close their eyes and loudly proclaim that they see farther than everyone who doesn't hold their beliefs about how and why we exist. Science is not a religion, and Religion is not a science. The boundary is drawn between an idea that can be tested against the physical world, and an idea that can only be believed. We will never see an article in the journal "Science" about a daring new idea on the cutting edge of Intelligent Design, or a mathematical proof of Belief in the Bible. How cruel would God be to give us a life without discovery, where everything was understood, where there was no room for new ideas? Why would faith matter to Him, or to you? We need the unknown to find purpose, to remind us to be humble, and to give us hope. "To the well organized mind, death is merely the next great adventure" Dumbledore

51 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

"Blessed are they who don't see, and still believe" - Jesus P.S. For the record, I'm Catholic, so my ideas are framed around Christianity. I'd like to see some input from Hindu and Buddhist backgrounds here, but unfortunately that task must be left to someone else.
Bill Hays replied to comment from Richard Mavers | April 1, 2011 6:50 PM | Reply

There is no similarity between the human brain and the pattern of galaxies in the universe. If the Hubble is tightly focused on one area, you might see a connection. but for the most part, galaxies are enormous distances apart. A brain depends on the rapid transfer of information. Not possible between galaxies. This is the FOURTH time that i have typed the correct characters into the Captcha and it refused to accept them.
several | April 1, 2011 9:31 PM | Reply

You should understand at least one thing very clearly; everything you've just said depends on thought. Therefore, it should be obvious that thought is the creator of the universe. Thought plays a trick and tells you that the universe and all its objects exist independently "out there," and you fall for it hook, line, and sinker. This is the primary delusion of science and materialism. But when thought is in abeyance, as in sleep or profound meditation, there is no talk of a universe out there and no experience of one, either. So if you wish to actually measure something, measure a thought, its length, breadth, and duration. But you cannot use another thought to do so, which would be absurd and would defeat the exercise. Of course it cannot be done, and furthermore, it's not worth doing. Ebert: That thought has been created in the universe is beyond useful discussion. That it created the universe seems paradoxical.
S M Rana | April 1, 2011 10:30 PM | Reply

Ebert: "No, as self-evident as that all men are created equal." With due apologies to Thomas Jefferson, (and my own skepticism about the word "created"), this is the truth which history continues tragically to prove to have been the least self evident of all. In any case, far less so than that death is the "be all and end all." Furthermore, the two statements are on contradictory poles.
Nathan | April 1, 2011 10:34 PM | Reply

Heya Roger, I wish I could read all of the comments, and perhaps my sentiments have been expressed already. Your wonderful article touches on this, and I find a lot of spiritual satisfaction in this observation by Carl Sagan... I'm paraphrasing, but Sagan says "we are made of stars and we are a way for the cosmos to know itself." I'm an ex-Catholic, now atheist, and I find that to be the most poetic, meaningful, and spiritually uplifting thought I've ever encountered.
Lane Campbell | April 2, 2011 12:13 AM | Reply

Hmmm. Beautifully written, beautifully illustrated with reminders of the vastness in which our tiny Earth exists. Yet ... I sense something missing. Yes, evolution exists. Does that mean that God does not exist? If it's stipulated that we humans have the relatively rare (stipulated, not unique in the universe) intellectual ability to consider the nature of the universe and our place in it ... then what's the next step? Speaking as an old backsliding Presbyterian, I submit that the next step is to admit that we, for all our intellectual hubris, are not the pinnacle of creation -- and that there are entities, and planes of existence, that are still beyond our comprehension. Why not? Look at what we've learned in just the last 50 years that was previously beyond our comprehension! If anything, what we learn just tells us how much we have yet to discover! So what is religion, really? Some pass it off as just dogma to be rejected and overturned with new knowledge. I say, start by looking at the Bible as an evolving document -- one that was started by a bunch of semi-literate sheepherders and finished by the restive subjects of the Roman Empire. Really study it, not as some

52 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

Absolute Word, but as a chronicle of the evolving relationship between Humankind and ... something we don't understand but choose to call God. So... is religion all that different than science? Both are forms of inquiry that may never be "finished" in any ultimate sense of the word. As we probe the universe with our physical tools, we assimilate the images with our senses and emotions. Are we so hide-bound that we are afraid to probe that which we CAN'T sense, physically? Just a 70-year-old, backsliding Presbyterian, engineer, programmer, ex-motorcycle racer --- askin' Ebert: I'm with you in the concept of our Search. But I'm uneasy with Searches that commence with a priori assumptions.
Zeiram | April 2, 2011 1:12 AM | Reply

Time doesn't seem to carry much meaning when measured against space. A second can be thought of as a fraction of moment, small when compared to the time it takes for light to travel. Within that second are infinitesimal measurements of time that can be reduced to an arch approaching an absolute zero or no value. I don't doubt it exists but it is difficult to imagine. I would have to forgo all usual visualization in place of ways to look at life I don't possess (and probably never will). There is something to be said about the Mozarts who seem to tap into something you and I don't. Imagine what is possible if we used all our brains? Is zero or nothingness of mass, distance or time possible? I don't know. Some people think the universe isn't expanding but just getting smaller and smaller. Imagine an infinite vacuum that gradually approaches "zero". Temperature probably has no meaning there nor does distance or light. Since light cannot escape what's on the other side? The ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey is as good a guess at any at this point. Roger, as for my comfort I suppose I haven't found it. I would have to say it comes from love... Indeed, what greater aspect of all creation could there possibly be?... out there. You'd be hard pressed to find something more unique and meaningful than that. I don't think that requires expert opinion or analysis. ...You explained how cats were a certain way. I will say I believe more people to be like cats than I think we know of. I wouldn't trade places with any of them. However, I do envy them sometimes. Sometimes its better not knowing. But if I didn't know things, how would I know that someone like you exists for instance?... I wouldn't want to live in a universe like that. Ebert: "I believe more people to be like cats than I think we know of." And perhaps, for that matter, More people should be.
ABT | April 2, 2011 3:01 AM | Reply

I'd like to throw a relevant bit from a movie in to the discussion. I had a mortality crisis at 10 that was ugly. At about 11 I came across "Houseboat" with Cary Grant & Sophia Lauren on TV. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMs_NGPKlXw There's a scene where a father explains to his son, whose mother has died not too long ago, why there is death, and why there is nothing to fear about death. His sentiments seem remarkably similar to yours. There are two places where words in his speech imply some religiosity, but I think that had to be included because it was 1958. :) This clip consoled me greatly at 11, and it still does now.
Karl | April 2, 2011 3:21 AM | Reply

Several people have mentioned the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The closest I have come to a Total Perspective Vortex moment was seeing the Hubble Ultra Deep Field photo. It's a shot of a very small patch of sky (supposed to be the equivalent of about 1 mm square at a distance of 1 meter), and being so small there are only seven stars (they appear to have crosses over them in the picture). But it's competely covered with spots of light - everything else, large and small, is a galaxy,

53 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

about 10,000 of them in this little tiny piece of sky. The immensity of the universe is truly mind-boggling.
private | April 2, 2011 4:33 AM | Reply

The only thing that happens by itself is degradation and destruction. To look at the methods by which things happend, such as the Big Bang and Evolution (which are in the end unprovable as they are unobservable) and use them as a final explanation is silly. Science is nothing more than glorified Journalism. Scientists can never explain why something happened; their cause and effect is a sham. Scientists are simply reportors who record Ad Hoc evidence. "I saw this, then I saw this." Can't say why or how really. I could weave a wonderful story that no one could ever prove wrong for how existence came into being. The Big Bang and Evolution are examples. Nobody sees evolution happening; there are no monkey men; no between species. All you really have to do is give folks a reason to write a higher being out of the equation and they'll jump all over it, Westerners in particular. It's easier to live a life you know is wrong when you convince yourself that you make your own right...ofcourse that only works until you crash and burn and America is owned by the Chinese because we all vote people into office who promise to give us money for nothing, but that's another story. If you can't see this for Science Fiction I think you'd make a great Scientologist. I'm sure Tom Cruise would welcome you with open arms. Ebert: Evolution has in fact been observed. The Theory of Evolution is not a final explanation, nor has it been proposed as one. It is a hypothesis that grows from observable facts. It has nothing to do with politics, which is why Chinese and American scientists, and virtually all scientists, subscribe to it.
steve shilstone | April 2, 2011 10:13 AM | Reply

Things beyond human understanding are beyond human understanding.


Fduquette | April 2, 2011 12:08 PM | Reply

"Ebert: Evolution has in fact been observed. The Theory of Evolution is not a final explanation, nor has it been proposed as one. It is a hypothesis that grows from observable facts. It has nothing to do with politics, which is why Chinese and American scientists, and virtually all scientists, subscribe to it." The observation of evolution (in a laboratory) has one appalling 'a priori' assumption: the conditions/environment that lead to the observation would be carefully created and designed by an intelligent being outside of the system i.e., intelligent design. Most theories in the physical sciences have predictive power, however limited, a feature not shared by evolution. Id like to say we will evolve into beings that can breath carbon monoxide and greenhouse gases but is anyone predicting this reliably? The claim "all scientists" should be read as all "biologists". Its like lumping philosophers in with sociologists..If we take the "all scientists" argument as true, then science is a collective judgment, that the majority holds truth. So when 150 years ago a majority of scientists believed the biblical account of Creation, that was true because of the infallibility of the majority. Ebert: What's your opinion of Creationism nowadays?
Chris | April 2, 2011 12:09 PM | Reply

Roger, meaning is paramount to me as an artist (and to you as a writer I would think). I can't fathom meaning, or any other non-physical reality (love, beauty, ingenuity, truth), emerging from mere matter alone any more than I can fathom a film review emerging from ink and newspaper, or light on a computer screen. Nor can I imagine our DNA coding, enough information to fill 400 volumes the size of an Encyclopedia Britanica, arising solely from the matter that holds it. You may have reconciled these issues to your satisfaction but it seems to me intelligent skepticism is no less logical or justified a response.

54 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

Richard Nanian | April 2, 2011 12:42 PM | Reply

Inspired by Roger's use of Hamlet, I'm little more today than a bunch of quotations buzzing around my head and colliding as if bounded in a nutshell. Emerson cantankerously wrote that he didn't care for quotations: "tell me what you know," he said. Yet he quoted frequently. No wonder he said "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Then again, if curiosity is inevitably the desire for a change in one's understanding, it is wise to have as few consistencies (in terms of belief, not actions) as possible. The cosmological questions are worth asking, no matter how many comparatively mundane (serious, but mundane) problems we face. "All of us are in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." (Oscar Wilde) And now some are looking even beyond them. Wallace Stevens puts forth the most stunning answer to the existential age in his essay called "The Necessary Angel." He basically accepted the existential premise, but he argues that the human creative imagination, in all its forms, has the power to give meaning to that which is otherwise essentially meaningless. Philosophers, poets, composers: these create meaning, and meaning that can be real to us. Moreover, because the universe either had no higher meaning or has none that is directly accessible to our senses, nothing can overrule it. That is what he is talking about in "The Idea of Order at Key West." In it, a woman sings next to the sea, and the speaker who is watching her is trying to figure out the connection between her and nature. They seem to have some connection, but he knows that the sea is not a spirit that can inspire her, and that her song, which is language, has no essential connection to the sounds of the natural world. Yet her song changes the perception of the world that the speaker and his friends have: It was her voice that made The sky acutest at its vanishing. She measured to the hour its solitude. She was the single artificer of the world In which she sang. And when she sang, the sea, Whatever self it had, became the self That was her song, for she was the maker. Then we, As we beheld her striding there alone, Knew that there never was a world for her Except the one she sang and, singing, made. Ramon Fernandez, tell me, if you know, Why, when the singing ended and we turned Toward the town, tell why the glassy lights, The lights in the fishing boats at anchor there, As the night descended, tilting in the air, Mastered the night and portioned out the sea, Fixing emblazoned zones and fiery poles, Arranging, deepening, enchanting night. Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon, The maker's rage to order words of the sea, Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred, And of ourselves and of our origins, In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds. That blessed rage for order is the insistence human beings have that the world mean something, for all meaning is a kind of order, a protest against randomness. And it is a blessing (not a word Stevens used often), for in seeking meaning, we make meaning. That is why the speaker, after the woman's song ends, perceives the world as something more arranged, something deeper, something enchanted. Plato's cave notwithstanding, we live a rhetorical existence, not an idealist one. The world we live in is the one we define. We operate from certain assumptions, until experience (broadly defined) forces us to modify them. When that happens, the world changes for us. (I speak here both of individual experience and for our collective scientific knowledge.) Thus, I am happy to accept all certainties as provisional. As someone who regularly teaches logic, I view absolute arguments with a gimlet eye. Keats had it right when he defined the highest genius, one "Shakespeare possessed so enormously," as "Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in

55 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason." Note the key word irritable. Facts and reason are wonderful things, and often or even usually worth reaching for, but they have their limitations. Years ago, a commercial used to run for Tootsie-Pops. In it, a child brings a Tootsie-Pop to a supposedly wise owl and asked it how many licks it would take to get to the center. The owl tears off the wrapper and begins to lick, "One . . . two . . . three -- [kraaaaaccckk]" -- he bites it. "Three," he answers, apparently not recognizing the question as a Zen koan. That is how I feel whenever I see anyone try to settle the metaphysical questions in absolute terms, either by pointing to some supposedly holy text or by insisting that all metaphysical speculation can be answered by science, or if it can't that that proves it's a delusion. Neither position seems defensible to me. The older I get, the more I come back to Whitman. Funny, because I loathed him when I was twenty. By the time I was thirty, I grudgingly admitted there was something to him. By thirty-five, I was writing about him. Now, in my forties, I recognize that if I am still reading poetry on my deathbed, it will be him or Keats. Specifically the 1855 Leaves of Grass speaks to me. The 1855 first edition is Whitman at his peak; almost every revision in later editions (and he revised those published poems constantly) is a retreat. Here is Whitman on science (the ellipses are his): Hurrah for positive science! Long live exact demonstration! Fetch stonecrop and mix it with cedar and branches of lilac; This is the lexicographer or chemist . . . . this made a grammar of the old cartouches, These mariners put the ship through dangerous unknown seas, This is the geologist, and this works with the scalpel, and this is a mathematician. Gentlemen I receive you, and attach and clasp hands with you, The facts are useful and real . . . . they are not my dwelling . . . . I enter by them to an area of the dwelling. Facts are information, but art and genius lie in ideas, not information. Human knowledge is like a suspension bridge: the facts are the secondary cables that hold up the road, but the main cables from which those cables hang and the towers that hold them up are, respectively, the ideas that connect those facts and the assumptions we begin with. Without all three -- facts, ideas, and assumptions (preferably assumptions of which we are aware and that we acknowledge) -- we get nowhere. Here is Whitman on the ineffability of experience and awareness contrasted with the limitations of language: My voice goes after what my eyes cannot reach, With the twirl of my tongue I encompass worlds and volumes of worlds. Speech is the twin of my vision . . . . it is unequal to measure itself. It provokes me forever, It says sarcastically, Walt, you understand enough . . . . why don't you let it out then? Come now I will not be tantalized . . . . you conceive too much of articulation. Not all human knowledge submits to articulation, or even to reason. And I say this as someone who depends on my reason every day as a scholar and teacher and writer, and who frequently has been charged with being too rational, too logical. I've often had a sarcastic "Okay, Spock" (or "Data," depending on the era) lobbed my way. But to think that our limited brains -- wonderful and awe-inspiring in many ways, but limited in the sense of not infinite -- can encompass all possible truth is self-aggrandizing in a way that would amuse even Whitman, who literally saw himself as infinite. And finally, here is Whitman on cosmology: I open my scuttle at night and see the far-sprinkled systems, And all I see, multiplied as high as I can cipher, edge but the rim of the farther systems. Wider and wider they spread, expanding and always expanding, Outward and outward and forever outward.

56 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

I am convinced that nothing the Hubble has allowed us to look at would have surprised him.
Bill Hays | April 2, 2011 1:18 PM | Reply

God does not exist. the term "God" is just a placeholder for things we haven't figured out yet. Before 1800, the Special Creation in Genesis was a perfectly good explanation for humanity. After Darwin, it was laughable. If you look at the universe as a whole, there is no thought, no purpose. It's just there. Humans MAKE purpose. without the human brain, there is no purpose. check my hypothesis by looking at the wall chart showing the entire universe, and which parts have been photographed by Hubble. A whole lot of empty space out there going to waste because there is no purpose. If you believe in a God, then explain the meaning of 9hfdmv in the Captcha. You can pretend there's a meaning to any random sequence. The fact that it ends in DMA means Roger should buy me a new car? that's as good a guess as "God."
Mark Stevens | April 2, 2011 1:27 PM | Reply

Temperatures in the universe range from absolute zero to millions of degrees (take your pick of what scale you want to use - it doesn't matter). Life on earth lives at near the very bottom of the entire range of temperatures. Below where we are comfortable, chemical reactions slow and stop and nothing happens. Life is impossible because chemistry is impossible. Go a hundred degrees F higher and our blood is boiling and chemistry is going on so fast that the chemistry which supports life is impossible. Go even higher and 'stuff' simply breaks down, vaporizes and is radiated off to wherever it goes. We simply could not be in any other narrow range of temperatures, not in this universe anyway. It is a miracle we are here, however we happen to be here. From zero to millions of degrees of heat we live down at the bottom in a range so narrow it could be thought of as a razor thin slice which could not happen by accident anywhere, let alone here. So here we are, the luckiest things in the universe (along with your cats and my dogs).
David Moutrie | April 2, 2011 2:14 PM | Reply

Thank you for this article Roger, I enjoyed reading it very much. However, I feel I must take issue with one item: To suggest that humans are unique in their ability to be aware of their own mortality is factually incorrect. It is well established that elephants mourn their dead and can recognise their own reflection in a mirror. They can also use tools, learn from one another and have a well developed language. See this link for further information: http://www.andrews-elephants.com/elephant-intelligence.html
john in denver | April 2, 2011 3:41 PM | Reply

If the Universe is infinitely expanding, what is it expanding into? A Void? Another Universe? The ultimate McDonalds? Seems each hypothesis is equally valid. The latest theories indicate the Universe is expanding faster than the speed of light. Seems there is this mysterious chimera know as 'Dark Energy' that is overcoming its counterpart "Dark Matter' and everything is racing out of control in all directions. Wonder though what that would like in the rear view mirror? Guess we'll never know. We are hopeless trapped in a Cosmos governed by certain rules, like the Laws of Physics, and exceeding light speed pretty much breaks one basic tenet all to hell. You break one rule, you render useless all the rest. This then ends any chance of our ever finding out what's up at the ultimate Outer Limits. This expanded Macrocosm is operating under guidelines alien and unknowable to all things sentient and subject to the existing laws of Nature. And how do we comprehend the boundaries of a place with no center - again it's expanding everywhere at the same time simultaneously? How do we perceive it's

57 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

shape - an edgeless phantasm which dooms us to circle about inside forever? Huh? Reader Kate speaks of Quantum Mechanics. That would have no more relevance here than the fundamental theory of Special Relativity. How do you make sense of a world where all atomic and subatomic precepts break down? I remember Heisenberg's Uncertainty principle - the impossibility of measuring space and time with absolute certainty at any given instance. Strikes me this confounding Universe turns that old chestnut on its heels. This is the realm of Absolute Uncertainty. So I guess if you could somehow manage to escape our little ordered Cosmos into this strange new Macrocosm, you'd have an even chance disappearing to Nothingness, morphing into something subject to a whole new Cosmic rulebook, or evolving into a Royale with cheese. Ebert: As I understand it, the universe isn't expanding "into" anything; it is simply expanding. There is nothing for it to expand into, because it is all there is.

58 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

EricJ | April 2, 2011 5:33 PM | Reply

Tom Dark wrote: So too with these obsessive arguments banging an imaginary "Religious Truth" against an imaginary "Scientific Truth" like a toddler banging alphabet blocks together who doesn't understand the letters on them. You bang heated meaningless words against one another. It's a substitute for acquiescing to the validity of one's own mind and inner sensations. These need no justification from the flapping corrosions of religions or sciences as society presently tries so dutifully to continue to believe in. Exactly: The Athie is, if nothing else, a master of self-justification, and knows a hundred escape routes to run away from his own personal public image...After first, of course, dropping a useful smokescreen, like the escaping ninja of a Japanese epic. The Athie searches to schoolyard-offend and find sympathy at the same time: He wants to eat the cake of public shock, and attack the nasty unreasonable goblins causing those headlines he fears from his CNN every night, and he wants to have the cake of being considered Just A Nice Average Guy, too: If the Athie is accused of not being public sweetness and light, he will bring up harrowing poor-chidhood tales of fundamentalist parents and Catholic school teachers hammering hellfire dogma into his head, while the violins play. If the Athie is accused of throwing stones at his neighbor's glass houses, he will immediately grab the most extreme example and say "Yes, but look how SCARY my neighbors are!" And if the Athie is accused of adding 2+2 to equal a smug and rather badly researched 7, he will immediately leap on the shoulders of giants to say that well, it's not his opinions that might seem strange to us, it's SCIENCE! It must be true if it's in a book! (And how familiar does that sound?) The Athie uses his faith in The Religion of Science not only as his sword, but as his shield (to hide behind): It rarely matters what scientific facts are cherrypicked, from astronomy to anthropology, just so long as one can be found to twist a rather poorly and overgenerously misinterpreted passage of scripture that the Athie believes is at fault of two thousand years of thinking...At which point, such validation offers the Athie the Get Out of Arguments Free card, with which he may attack and all of his imagined enemies at will, abandon and, of course, personal glee. Well, there it is you see, you wouldn't argue with Stephen Hawkings, would you, Voodoo Doctor Mbumbwe?--Now go sacrifice some more chickens and scare some more children, while we SMART people rule the world! ...Roger, Einstein never even freakin' knew you. If the desire to Shock and Awe us with the science of the cosmos is "revenge" for an earlier generation trying to shock and awe you with Hellfire or Crucifixion Guilt, well, then you should know by now how resistant some reasonable people can be to the propagandic power of shock and awe. If the larger cosmic issues seem to escape us, then it's probably because we're still looking the more detailed image of a narcissistic jackass trying to avoid, belittle, scapegoat and second-class his neighbors with what he clings to believing is complete, holy and indisputable moral impunity. Where I come from, there ain't no such thing.
Consolation Prize | April 2, 2011 5:56 PM | Reply

"There are many ways to be consoled. Everyone deserves to find their own way, and find such peace as they can." Yes, and so I seek consolation. I write in the small hope that you, a man whose insight I respect, might have some response for me. I'm a born again atheist with a Christian wife who doesn't know my recent change of beliefs. Every argument you present in this post I believe as well. If she knew I shared your views on life, the universe and everything, she would leave me and take our son with her. And honestly, I don't fault her for that; that's what a Christian ought to do in this circumstance. But what does the protagonist of my story do? Lie to preserve the family? Tell the truth and lose it? Somehow fool myself back into the fold? It's reminiscent of the Hell scene from What Dreams May Come. Do I choose to stay in the pit with her rather than lose her? If that was the only way to save us, and it was possible, I

59 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

would do it. Is there a way for everyone here to have a shared peace? I'm not asking you to make the decision for me. I know the choice is mine. But as you say, we seek our own consolation and peace, and my search has brought me here. I've always valued the clarity of your thinking, and my clarity is in short supply right now.
David | April 2, 2011 6:40 PM | Reply

Two items: 1) I tend to lean toward the view Robert Wright states in his book "Nonzero" (last chapter). It's not crazy to ask that there may be a direction/goal/point to the universe/life. 2) Roger, I value your movie reviews. I find that my taste in movies is very close to yours. So, as long as the atoms making up your existence stay organized, please continue to review movies.
GrahamZ | April 2, 2011 11:37 PM | Reply

The more we understand about the universe, the smaller it seems we are. I think that is the true consolation of religion, that it makes man important in the story of everything. Not that we need it to do so, just that I can understand why it is comforting. To me, it's more comforting, though, that the universe is logical, that it has physical laws that govern what happens and what cannot happen. A world without such laws, to me, simply does not make sense. And I always see religion as striving to say that there are no laws, that anything can happen if God wills it. That, to me is a universe without order, and in such a universe there cannot be physical laws.
john in denver | April 3, 2011 12:26 AM | Reply

Ebert: The universe is not expanding 'into' anything; it is simply expanding. There is nothing for it expand into. Aha, a proponent of the Nothingness Principle. I associate the nothingness hypothesis with void theory. Contemporary theoretical physicist and Nobel Laureate (Physics), Steven Weinberg, says, "The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it seems pointless." Maybe the Pointlessness Principle is more appropriate. I don't know. Anyhow the topic sure is fun to think about. Great entry and comments. First heady one I'm reading all the way through in awhile.
jasonS. replied to comment from Bill Hays | April 3, 2011 1:31 AM | Reply

takin' about purpose. These atheists sure are smart! Man, YOU don't KNOW there isn't purpose to the Universe. People don't know everything about the Universe. People will NEVER know everything. People are limited by their evolutionarily designed bodies and our organs of perception. The basic Kantian insight is right. We are condemned to live in human world.
EricJ replied to comment from Consolation Prize | April 3, 2011 4:14 AM | Reply

But what does the protagonist of my story do? Lie to preserve the family? Tell the truth and lose it? Somehow fool myself back into the fold? Offhand, I'd say you were faced with the Athie's choice of being "Right", or being Human....Hurts, don't it? Choose well, most of them don't.
KWJ | April 3, 2011 8:52 AM | Reply

You know, Roger, whenever I say anything that I think might tempt fate, I always knock wood. Do I really think there's a dryad left in there that can help me avert misfortune? Of course not. It's a superstition, and I know it, I just do it because it makes me feel better. Keep pushing your "evolution agenda." People can believe whatever they want, but

60 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

that's no excuse not to think things through. Evolution makes sense based on immense amounts of evidence. The theory keeps getting tweaked as more and more is discovered. If people don't want to believe in evolution, moon landings, or whatever, that's fine, but they need to realize that everyone else is likely to. For good reason.
Lee | April 3, 2011 9:01 AM | Reply

Roger, you are the only writer whose articles I read based solely on the fact of you writing them. I would dearly love to engage in discussion on what you have given us but frankly there is just too much meat in this meal to know where to begin. However I would like to comment on a comment. Your comment was that you believed that the information in our brains died with us. I am not convinced that that is even possible. Information cannot be destroyed. Matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed. That means that everything that exists now has always existed and always will exist as long as the Universe exists. Just maybe not in its original form. The Universe is expert at recycling. Everything gets broken down and used again. Including the energy that made up our personality. But it isn't ever lost. In a way even death is ultimately meaningless. Ebert: Information as a concept is a different matter than the information arranged as my memory. And if the universe expands indefinitely, eventually won't each atom be alone in a void? What happens then?
Mikki Saturn | April 3, 2011 9:24 AM | Reply

Excellent post Roger. The universe is interesting and I love what you say about art at the end there.
keith carrizosa replied to comment from Bill Hays | April 3, 2011 9:34 AM | Reply

Go to preview and type the captcha in there when it doesn't work.


Randy Masters | April 3, 2011 9:35 AM | Reply

Ebert: As I understand it, the universe isn't expanding "into" anything; it is simply expanding. There is nothing for it to expand into, because it is all there is. Now how does that idea make any sense at all? With respect, that idea reminds me of the quote Dennis Prager uses a lot when discussing the ivory tower of the university: "Some ideas are so stupid that only an intellectual will believe them." - George Orwell I prefer "foolish" to "stupid" if I was writing the quote, but I think that quote stands up well to experience. Speaking of experience, do you have any human experience of something physical expanding that did not expand "into" an adjacent space or medium? Ebert: Actually, it makes perfect sense. From your point of view, how would you describe or explain what you believe it is expanding into?

keith carrizosa | April 3, 2011 9:44 AM | Reply

I'd just like to say that I agree with the message of this blog (read the tweet), because if we figured everything out, we wouldn't be human anymore: which is why "intelligent design" is a form of atheism; it's saying "here's the designer, Steve, so there's no reason to have faith anymore; just blindly follow....Steve is his name." But, as I said, I'm for letting people believe what they want so they can keep the conversation going and oh, lord, can buy them a Mercedez Benz....or Steve...and he's right here, if the IDer's have their way.
Mitchell109 | April 3, 2011 11:03 AM | Reply

Very good article. When I read your musings, I'm often reminded of your original review of Kieslowski's 'Red'.

61 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

'Think about these things, reader. Don't sigh and turn the page. Think that I have written them and you have read them, and the odds against either of us ever having existed are greater by far than one to all of the atoms in creation.'
Chris | April 3, 2011 11:49 AM | Reply

Dear Richard Nanian, A brief response to your lengthy post. Or rather a staring point for these thoughts. I strongly relate to much of what you wrote, but only because I believe the meaning we traffic in is distinct from, and as vital as, physical matter. After all, if our ideas and passions are merely chemical reactions and the firing of neurons then why bother writing and reading these posts? How can we assign any weight to such reactions in and of themselves. They are devoid of significance. Can a meaningless universe give rise to creatures capable of creating meaning out of meaninglessness? Isn't that a self-evident contradiction? Obviously there is meaning. We can't exist without it anymore than we can go without water or air (a scientifically proven reality). Do you honestly believe (do your neuron's affirm) it's all self manufactured in an otherwise meaningless universe? PS: I'm wrestling with these ideas myself, not trying to be offensive.
Bryce Zabel | April 3, 2011 4:49 PM | Reply

It's a great essay, and I won't repeat what praise others have given, other than to state that I agree. Yet, in your review of "Source Code" you state: After all, space travel beyond the solar system is preposterous, and yet we couldn't do without "Star Trek." Why does the man who wrote this brilliant essay that has generated so much wonderful debate and comment feel that way? Many, many esteemed scientists do not at all think it is preposterous. And many of those other life forms you think are probable out there may have a thousand or a million years more experience in understanding science than we do. Why is it preposterous? I wonder if it is the opposite. Maybe it is common.
EricJ replied to comment from Consolation Prize | April 3, 2011 4:57 PM | Reply

I'm a born again atheist with a Christian wife who doesn't know my recent change of beliefs. Every argument you present in this post I believe as well. If she knew I shared your views on life, the universe and everything, she would leave me and take our son with her. And honestly, I don't fault her for that; that's what a Christian ought to do in this circumstance. So, for the Junior Detective Badge prize of declaring yourself One of the Brave Few With the Higher Answer, you're willing to mindlessly objectify and de-personify the woman you married and had a child with as "a Christian"--clearly an alien creature you can have no hope of common communication with, and who, for her ignorance and superstition, would surely be always plotting behind your back to "convert" you back to the safety of antediluvian ritual, out of her primal fear of the evolved creature beyond her primitive understanding you had become--and imply that she "should" leave you to find other creatures of her own kind, rather than run the fraught perils of trying to cross-pollinate? ...Oooo-kay. Good luck with that. Nice building blocks to create a better universe with. Faith involves not so much the willingness to say "I don't know", but conquering the FEAR of saying "I don't know"...Also the even greater fear of saying "I'm not the most perfect genetic/intellectual specimen who ever deserved to be raised above his fellow creatures in the slime, by some undefined status of society that has entitled me to deserve it." If you woke up one morning and realized that every status you had worked so hard to earn had left you with nothing, you would have only the ground to build from. We seek what will bring us happiness, even if it exposes what we think makes us "comfortable". Probably because happiness, for some odd, ancient reason, drives us to bring it to others who don't have it.

62 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

With apologies to Chinese proverbs: The man who isn't a jerk and knows he isn't a jerk is wise...Listen to him. The man who isn't a jerk, and does not know he isn't a jerk is asleep...Wake him. The man who is a jerk, and knows he is a jerk, is a student...Teach him. The man who is a jerk, and does not know he is a jerk, is a jerk...Slap him. :) Ebert: I would work on growing closer to your wife and avoiding a confrontation on dogma. It is more important for your son to have a family life than for you or she to be right or wrong.
Tom Dark | April 3, 2011 5:00 PM | Reply

Well, yeah, Eric. I thought I came close enough with that posting to merit a rewrite of it for my blog, which I did, click on my name for it. For you lazy minded, the whole of my message is "pay attention to your own senses. Stop obeying magazines that tell you not to." As these pot-bangings of the self-righteous Lilliputians against the forever faithful stalwarts of Blefescu wear on, I'm pleased to see a little increase in postings of the more intelligent opinion, namely, both kingdoms are fulla crap, holes, and bass-ackward cocksurety blanketing both nations like Japanese nuclear radiation the papers are telling you is nothing to worry about lately. Noting over the couple years of arguing here that vanity has forced the cocksure junior scientists to allow a little lip service to duh, er, we don't know everything... but ANY DAY NOW we will, an' you tea-pottiers shore are stoopid, a-hyolt. Us science types kin pernounce werds like "immense body of evidence," a-hyolt. Of course "thought forms the universe," Rodge. Unless you're thinking bass-ackward, in which case, it looks the other way around. You yourself are "a thought." I'm not REAL certain, but didn't Einstein theorize that people think things, then go do some of them? Or is that still too controversial to consider regarding the origins of anything? I don't find the direction this line of reasoning goes comforting at all. But I do find Lilliputian and Blefescuan intellectuality alike highly stultifying. It's like whizzing around on a mental mobius strip all one's life, greatly excited about the same sights over and over and over and over and... No, there hasn't been any observation of Darwin's evolution taking place in any laboratory. There are thoughts that say this is what's been observed. There are more perspicacious thoughts, such as conduct the behavior of these words trotting out of my keyboard here, which say there hasn't been. ...if somebody clocked the Amazin' Randi with a hammer in the right spot so he had an "NDE" and turned to Jeeeeeezus, he would now be exposing how these wicked scientists make it look like evolution is happening under their microscopes. As I've been saying from the start, this stuff is on the way out anyhow. You're looking at fluff pieces in magazines. Adding an "agenda" to this fluff, despite whoever slobbered out a compliement for it, doesn't do Lilliput any good nor make the stalwarts of Blefescu any smarter. But I hope soooooooome liiiittle teeeeeeeny crack opens up here by way of my postings and of those who endeavor to perservere similar among these know-"almost"-everythings in their little beaver hats.
Bill Hays | April 3, 2011 5:28 PM | Reply

Reply to: I write in the small hope that you, a man whose insight I respect, might have some response for me. I'm a born again atheist with a Christian wife who doesn't know my recent change of beliefs. If she knew I shared your views, she would leave me and take our son with her. Lie to preserve the family? Tell the truth and lose it? My answer (not Roger's) is "Courage." If you keep your new beliefs secret, it won't be much of a marriage. You have to work hard at a marriage, and every person has the right to be in a happy marriage. So, give your wife some respect. Challenge her to give up her Christian beliefs and her Imaginary Friends and move into the 21st Century with you. Work on your arguments. Learn more. Expect her to do the same.

63 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

If she tries to take your children, go to court and stop her. and, if she can't join you, say good-bye and move on to your Next Life. In our society, people get divorced all the time. You don't realize that a Christian wife is holding you hostage, holding you back, until you've left her behind. then, you find it's actually a Better Place to be in. It's traumatic to say goodbye to Imaginary Friends, or an old car, or to watch a house burn to the ground with all your possessions. And yet, life goes on. find the courage to move forward. Maybe you can lend her some of your courage. On Google News, there are 4,300 newspaper articles about Terry Jones burning a Koran. Muslims are trying to fight America's Freedom to attack religion. Let me quote a Guardian article: .... Staffan de Mistura, the top U.N. envoy in Afghanistan, placed direct blame on those who burned a copy of the Muslim holy book in Gainesville, Florida, last month, stoking anti-foreign sentiment/ "The demonstration was meant to protest against the insane and totally despicable gesture by one person who burned the holy Quran," he said. "Freedom of speech does not mean freedom of offending culture, religion or traditions," de Mistura said. "Those who entered our building were actually furiously angry about the issue about the Quran. There was nothing political there." (end) My question is, IFf Freedom of Speech doesn't mean the freedom to offend established religions or traditions, what does it mean? Talking to your wife... and asking her to grow and learn... might take courage. But the concept of marriage would seem to require you to talk to her about it..
Frank | April 3, 2011 6:58 PM | Reply

There are great civilizations spread across the Universe . . . but have they visited us? That's actually a more pressing question. http://ufopartisan.blogspot.com/
EricJ | April 3, 2011 7:23 PM | Reply

...if somebody clocked the Amazin' Randi with a hammer in the right spot so he had an "NDE" and turned to Jeeeeeezus, he would now be exposing how these wicked scientists make it look like evolution is happening under their microscopes. BUT, as it so happens, one of the Evil Bible-Thumpers Out There (namely, Peter Popoff, who sued Randi for telling the world he used an earphone, thus inventing the whole cliche' we now see in movies, and basically sucked away all of Randi's genius-grant million before he could enjoy it) had Persecuted Him In Public--Proving that anyone with anything resembling some denomination of faith was clearly Vindictive, Fundamentalist, Jealous of Smarter People's Attention, and Out To Get Him. Ran across a bumper sticker the other day: "Militant Agnostic: I Don't Know, and You Don't Know Either." If that sounds a tad, erm, familiar, it should--I'm not sure whether the maker of the bumper sticker thought he'd made it up, or was so under the revolutionary-fervor spell of St. Bill that he/she thought his spirit had entered them to be but one follower of His Anointed Word. (And, as Keith says, it's hard to hear with his/her face in Maher's a*s.) Evidently, they were so scared by documentary movies about red-state kids praying to George Bush, that they themselves were willing to pray to a cable-network comic to relieve their fears. Was also struck, however, by why an Agnostic (who, by Webster's, is willing to admit they're not sure, as opposed to having Figured It All Out) felt such need to assure the rest of the entire world that they were militant about it. If armies have massed for war, who are we fighting? Are we using guns? Have they reinstated the draft? Will I have to learn to like Canadian beer? Well, have to admit, it's certainly a change from all those sneaky world-domination church-going folk talking about "loving your neighbor".. If you were to ask such "militant" folk, you would find out they DO have an enemy: All those People Out There that they see on the news. Like the survivalist still getting into his camos and fighting paintball wars every Saturday, the Militant

64 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

Athie/Aggie(?) has his guns polished and ready for all those hordes of "teabag Christians" ready to storm his front porch and convert his wife, loved one, or children...Even your friends or neighbors could be one! Practically every Athie poster here so far has felt a need to come forward and TELL us that they are one. (And, to prove how much they don't need a deity figure, say "Bless you, Mr. Ebert, I'll follow you to the mountaintop.") Telling someone else you are one seems to be the most holy sacrament of the practice, whether you actually believe in it or not. Now (as opposed to the equally buffoonish Fundamentalist folk, who have the need to put "Christian Plumbing Service" on their trucks) the New Testament has a very clear stance about whether or not you should need to tell someone what belief system you belong to: Mr. J was of the opinion, that, frankly, you shouldn't have to--What you believe in should be perfectly obvious from the acts you do for others. Or to put it simply, who is the showoff trying so hard to convince with their membership badge?...Me? ;)
Peter Callan replied to comment from merryjman | April 3, 2011 7:39 PM | Reply

To paraphrase Father Ted: "because we are very small and they are far away." We are only just beginning to find evidence of planets around some of the closest suns to us, planets that probably don't contain life as we are familiar with it. It is unfortunate, but Hubble hasn't been able to take live action footage of aliens in glistening cities on distant worlds. They probably haven't seen us either. What confuses me is the certainty people seem to have concerning the non-existence of alien life. If it is out there (and it probably is - to deny it smacks of pre-Copernican thinking), then it will not be like us, it will see the universe in ways we can't imagine, and will have as many problems in understanding us as we will in understanding them. They will simply be different. Not human. Separate entites. Whole new species. They will not be made in our image. And they may have no interest in us at all. Or they may be looking in another direction. The arrogance to believe that we are all there is. And that we are important enough to anything outside our small sphere of influence to even register on another consciousness. And to believe that all the answers to these questions lie in a single book written before there were even telescopes or the knowledge that the world was round.
JimV | April 3, 2011 7:44 PM | Reply

RE: "Matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed." With a slight re-wording, say "matter-energy" instead of "matter and energy" that would be true on a local scale, but it is false as worded since matter can be turned into other forms of energy, as in a fusion reaction, and vice-versa. On a grander scale, according to General Relativity, it is not true even with my re-wording. I am not an expert in GR, but physist Sean Carroll of the blog "Cosmic Variance" is, and that's what he says. For those who don't believe in General Relativity, its predictions, such as the precession of Mercury and gravitational lensing, have been confirmed, and your GPS devices would not work accurately if they did not take it into account. I know it's hopeless to argue with those who won't accept anything outside their immediate experience; they should have enough historical awareness to know that the same arguments of personal incredulity were (and are) made by those who thought the Earth was flat and that the Sun revolves around it, but they don't; however, when people are wrong on the Internet someone should point it out. (Yes, it has happened to me on occasion also.) As for the article here which generated the comment which I quoted, paradoxically it made sense to me and it didn't. It made sense because it described many of the same feelings I have, and it didn't make sense because the universe is probably a bit too complex for us apes to understand it. Anyway, I liked the article.
Michael | April 3, 2011 9:03 PM | Reply

65 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

If you want to read something beautiful regarding the inception of the Universe and Mankind from an Orthodox Christian's perspective, check this out: zephyr.gr/stjohn/sixdawn1.htm I know you are not religious... but for some reason the way you spoke here reminded me of this.
Teddy C.D. replied to comment from Randy Masters | April 3, 2011 10:34 PM | Reply

There must have been something before the Big Bang. We just don't know what it is exactly. I think it's ridiculous to assume that we had nothing until the Big Bang came along; the problem is, all the rules we have in our world today--every principle of physics--wouldn't apply. Also, the universe has to be expanding into something, I suppose. It's expanding into... another universe. ;)
Richard R. | April 3, 2011 10:50 PM | Reply

Thank you, sir, for an exceptionally fine piece (which is saying a great deal when it comes to your work). You echo my own thoughts to a great extent, except for one subject. As much as I have always sought consolation in the fact that I *am* when faced with the fact that I eventually *will not be*, I've never been able to find any there. Ever since I first grasped as a child that there would come a time when I would end, it's remained a cold terror in the back of my thoughts. As near as I've been able to determine, no one else I know lives with this particular sort of dread. Some rely on belief in an afterlife, but most of my like-minded friends and family basically shrug at the topic. "What are you gonna do?" They're right, of course. It isn't useful to worry about something so absolute and unavoidable. But that knowledge hasn't made the fear any easier to manage. I'm glad that knowledge of the self makes knowledge of the annihilation of the self worthwhile for you. Unfortunately, it's never been true for me. I would that I had never existed at all if I am to return to non-existence. Of course, wishing I'd never been born is even less useful than wishing I wouldn't die. Both desires are equally futile, no matter how frightened I may be. It may be the height of cowardice to fear that which every other living thing on this world (and incalculable others) has faced, but there it is. Be all that as it may, thank you again for sharing this.
Sam Longoria | April 4, 2011 12:07 AM | Reply

Thank you Roger! I find it comforting that you are still there. Another guy who loves movies, and wonders about it all. You're a good guy, Roger. And you are not alone! Sam Longoria Filmmaker Hollywood CA USA
Sam replied to comment from Consolation Prize | April 4, 2011 1:06 AM | Reply

I come from a mixed marriage. My father was Jewish, my mother Methodist. Neither parent attempted to convert the other, and they raised me to make up my own mind about religion, including the option of no religion, which is what I eventually chose. Thus, the idea of a spouse who would leave you and take your child with her for simply disagreeing with her religion, and that "that's what a Christian ought to do in this circumstance," is alien to my family experience. It is, however, consistent with run-ins I've had with 'my way or the highway' religionists, whose attempts at conversion had the opposite effect. I would fault her, if she really is that intolerant. I'm hoping that she's not; that you can tell her the truth, and though it would be unlikely to change her beliefs, she would at least acknowledge your right to disagree with them.
EricJ replied to comment from Dion Detterer | April 4, 2011 4:09 AM | Reply

I have muscular dystrophy, and I'd much rather think that the world just is - we can understand its mechanisms, but the "why" is something we need to bring to the table. How is it comforting to think a God has knowingly let so many people suffer?

66 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

Well, funny you should mention that (albeit a few posts back), as I happen to have a touch of MD too-So did painters, concert violinists, US presidents on coins (who started medical charities), even--heavens--theoretical astronomers....But me, I'm neither, I'm only in the humble position of calling the argument Horatio Q. Crap. :) So I guess I only have the better examples of my fellow sufferers to draw from to say that the suffering itself is not the point, it's what human beings are INSPIRED to do about/with/against the suffering, because they believe in something bigger than their own need for self-pity that will matter. Just what that bigger thing is depends on the individual conscience; the point is that it is something with the power to make us put our own tantrums and our search for blame back in the playpen where it belongs. Some would feel it would be a better use of their time and intellectual energy to throw disgruntled punches at a concept that neither hits back nor feels the compelling need to, and declare that whew, it's okay, it didn't exist anyway. Had fun?--Good. Guess where you are now for accomplishing such a brave feat: EXACTLY in the same position you were before you started. Whose life have you made better by demanding a beer to cry in? God does not scope us out with a sniper rifle, nor does he "test" us with cosmic Beat the Clock stunts...He wants to see us clean up our own messes, thus leaving fewer messes to clean up. Here's a scoop: Like your mom refusing to clean up your room for you (why could I never get her to do it?), He happens to hate miracles; they're showy, disruptive, always misinterpreted, and promote superstition--It's more useful on the longrun scale to create Smart people who have the basic will to follow a larger moral direction, and who are much less high-maintenance, and prone to finding creative solutions without constant supervision.
John Panagopoulos, Malden, MA | April 4, 2011 7:24 AM | Reply

Ebert: No, as self-evident as that all men are created equal. Again, not to be impertinent, but how, precisely, are all men (and women) "created equal"? Even at the embryonic or fetal stage, for example, some latent biological defects and handicaps occur in some future humans and not in others. Ebert: I was not speaking in a literal sense.
Keith Noll | April 4, 2011 7:29 AM | Reply

As a long-time fan, I was delighted to see many of the images that my small team produces from Hubble in your article ( http://heritage.stsci.edu ). We scientists usually pursue narrow, focused problems, but the Hubble Heritage project has a different aim. We try to bridge the gap between art and science using Hubble to make images designed as much for aesthetic appeal as for scientific utility. Seeing them illustrate your article is one more bit of evidence that we have done what we set out to do. While the details of dark energy, the expansion of the universe, etc., can be mind-bending, it also seems true that the language of images enables everyone to reach an intuitive degree of understanding that is more sophisticated than you might imagine. Those spires of dust that look like eroding landforms and the butterfly shaped explosion of material really are being shaped by very analogous processes, just on different scales of time and space. The wonderful thing about the human mind is that it is hard to contain the scope of its curiosity. I've learned of many more new 'worlds' from your writing over that years than I ever will from science alone. Thank you for being you. Ebert: I'm honored to have you as a reader! Keep looking...

John Panagopoulos, Malden, MA | April 4, 2011 7:42 AM | Reply

Infinity ensures that the universe never becomes boring or meaningless.


keith carrizosa | April 4, 2011 7:56 AM | Reply

I'm not sure if this relates to the subject I'm about to discuss (although I think it

67 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

might) and that relates to what, I think Eric J and probably many others believe, and that is that people only believe in religion because it makes them "comfortable." Brushing aside the theory that man needs to do this or that to deal with his own mortality or what have you, I think it might be necessary, and I'll choose not to say what it is, for us to not to go into a kind of meaningless void, or actually, a kind of forced (meaning not geniune) meaninglessness because I think it might cause cancer (yes, among factors like genetics and what is being absorbed into the body); we can kind, I think possibly, use reason to give ourselves cancer (no, I'm not saying reason causes cancer). I mean, I really don't like to say it, because people will think I'm talking like Pat Robertson or something. I'm not. Also, I'd like to say, that it doesn't have to come from ourselves. I think there are people out there who can kind of psychically take you into this mindset. Perhaps an example of this might be some of the reality-show characters, if you just kind of follow the "logic" that is in their "heads" all the way. Or actually, probably the Nazis, or the prevailing mindset in German over hundreds of years that set the groundwork for such a thing to happen; if the Nazis had won, I bet cancer would have gone up too; perhaps might have been the thing that ended the world. I'm just saying perhaps there's a connection to thought and our bodies, and I think this thought might perhaps be, you know, or maybe it isn't. I think that's the thing about religion and why it's so hard to talk about is that it is a name for something that has no business having a name but it had to have one because he we have words, or we had to have words because we had to name it, whatever it is, the somethingness.
Joe Young replied to comment from Tom Dark | April 4, 2011 9:11 AM | Reply

Tom, Continuing to be proud of your ignorance. Keep up the good work you pseudointellectual you.
Darren Pardee | April 4, 2011 10:50 AM | Reply

A friend sent me this in an email long ago. I love holding on to these things: "I love something Freeman Dyson once wrote. He was asked about SETI, the project to communicate with alien intelligences, extraterrestrials, and what we should beam back if we ever heard a signal from out there. He said something like: 'If we want to get their attention, we should stream Bach, all of Bach, out into the universe. Of course, we would be bragging.'" In response to the great RANDY MASTERS: I couldn't find confirmation that that's an Orwell quote, it appears to be by someone named Michael Levine. I don't think anyone "believes" in the hypothesis you think is foolish, but scientific minds are often keen to hear every possibility. One thing they don't do, however, is fill in the gaps of their knowledge by assuming God did everything. The basic motivating force behind all scientific inquiry is that all of existence, no matter how mysterious, can eventually be explained in scientific terms. It may be an adventure of infinite discoveries, and that is the fun. There is a lot in the universe which defies our ability to make sense of it all. Just ask Einstein what sort of criticism he got when he first proposed his discoveries. Maybe everything will make sense one day, or maybe each discovery will only reveal new mysteries, mystery upon mystery, like the proverbial turtles. Some hope for the former, but I pray for the latter! What I won't do is write off the motivational forces of the universe as supernatural. If God did pop his big shaggy gray head out from a tear in the fabric of the cosmos to say hello, I would hope scientists scramble to study the phenomena of his existence. I would hope he doesn't divulge the secrets to the universe, of course, that would be no fun, but at the very least he holds the cure for cancer.
CarolCola | April 4, 2011 11:21 AM | Reply

Thanks. I have given lots of thought to these issues and come to the conclusion that death is on the same plane as the time before birth. Other than Shirley Maclaine, most folk have no memory of individual existence prior to birth. It seems logical to me that death will be similar. You are then you are not. I like your thought that awareness of death is the price for sentience. My inability to understand the universe is , I suspect, the human condition and has no effect on the existence of the universe, thank goodness! Cheers.

68 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

Eric G. | April 4, 2011 12:58 PM | Reply

Very interesting post and like some others I was a little surprised that not one mention of God or creation was discussed. I realize that comes from a continually growing tend of secularism in our culture. I did notice, though, plenty of faith expressed in the post (as did others): Faith in science and in humans' ability to interpret the universe and comment on it. I am a Christian, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, aka Mormon. I would just like to add that my personal experiences lead me to conclude that spiritual law and scientific findings can agree and are in actuality one and the same. In the same way that scientists, through the scientific process, work to describe theories that explain natural phenomena which they believe to be laws so can we follow a scientific process of spiritual discovery. Theories describe the law of gravity and through time and experimentation we learn when it applies and doesn't, but it is always limited by our ability to observe. As more experimentation is done and the scientific process applied, we feel we come closer to understanding the unwritten, invisible rules of nature that just are. It takes some faith to start the process, faith that science can lead to an explanation. That faith is probably based on the continued observation of said phenomenon. In the same way we observe spiritual phenomenon. This probably comes in the form of feelings, emotions, and other metaphysical stimulation that are experienced on a personal level and therefore can only truly be understood and interpreted on a personal level. I've read enough of your great reviews, Mr. Ebert, to know that you have some sense of spirit or emotion beyond just neurological messages sent through the body (correct me if I'm wrong). Indeed such signs may hint at spirit, emotion, etc., but most of us have a sense they are that and something more. I think an experimentation upon this spiritual side of things can lead to a knowledge of and faith in God. When we do something considered wrong we may feel guilty. I'm a student of the social sciences in Graduate School and am very away that socialization, psychology, and culture play a part in this. But there are spiritual observations which, on a personal level, cause me to affirm the existence of God. Spiritual laws are universal and there is a level of humanity that goes beyond socialization. These laws are universal just like the laws of nature scientists attempt to interpret and I think they are all one big set of laws that guide existence as we know it. I appreciate your open-minded consideration of this concept.
Brad replied to comment from Deacon Godsey | April 4, 2011 1:44 PM | Reply

Roger you said, regarding the universe, "It doesn't depend on being thought about"... Thankfully, neither does God and His truth. By the way, Deacon Godsey's premise was that neither of you could convince the other, right? Therefore he sdmits that Jesus' words won't convince you short of some shift of mind or act of faith on your part, right? Regardless, many many thanks for the writing and the thoughtful and reflective work it represents. Your blog is one of my favorites in all the ever expanding blog-overse(s).
john in denver | April 4, 2011 1:58 PM | Reply

"the Five Ages of the Universe" - Void Theory There are only star cinders, husks of planets, stagnant anti gravity snippets, and black holes left in the Universe. The cosmic vacuum cleaners sweep up all the remnants. Sometime later the black holes themselves disintegrate, morph into individual, universe sized, "atoms." These jumbo end particles decay and disappear. The Cosmos ends a cold and lightless void. And at that very instant, Jack Benny turns 40.
David Jerome | April 4, 2011 3:14 PM | Reply

Recently, you've uploaded a blog countering your long-held claim that video games aren't art; then you post a letter with a scathing---I mean vicious--- rebuttle to one of your reviews (the I'm An Idiot, You're An Asshole letter).

69 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

Could it be that this humility you're showing is reflected by this blog, an acknowledgement that (like the rest of us) you're just one infinitesmal speck of dust in the face of awesome and epic cosmos?
Cassandra | April 4, 2011 4:51 PM | Reply

Ebert says Darwin's original theory has undergone great 'modifications.' Did you not mean EVOLUTIONS?! Gotcha. . . ! Be well, Dear Ebert. Cassandra
Randy Masters | April 4, 2011 5:50 PM | Reply

Ebert: Actually, it makes perfect sense. From your point of view, how would you describe or explain what you believe it is expanding into? Now now. You have to answer my excellent question - which you totally ducked first. My answer to your question lies in my question. Everything physical in our human experience has a boundary, out to "the universe". Why would the universe not? If it started with the Big Bang and a point singularity, that singularity had, and still has, a boundary. What is beyond that boundary that the universe is expanding "into" is so far outside of my human experience that I have no idea. I can only understand that it has a boundary. Answer my question, please. :) Ebert: I did. It is not expanding "into" anything because it is itself everything. In your terms: What could God expand into?
Muse | April 4, 2011 9:13 PM | Reply

Beginnings and endings are just constructs in our minds. The Big Bang is us trying to make the existence of something that has just always been, never beginning or ending, fit into our circuitry. How could something just ALWAYS be? I have no clue, nor can I fit it into my logic. Having had several out-of-body experiences, and conscious experiences in the dream world, along with all the anecdotal evidence from people who have been dead, then revived, and have reported experiences, I believe there is something in our being that also will always be, and always has been. I've experienced it, but cannot put the experience into words. The instant. The is. The alone superdude that is everywhere and nowhere. Like I said...words and logic come to an end. I realized a long time ago that I am a unique observer, alone in my own experience and, if you will, in my own universe. A friend of mine once looked at me and said "when I die, the universe disappears." Well, that scared me--don't like the idea of being trapped in a black nothing, or that there is just a void. Then I realized that my friend's idea was just an idea. To think that everything ceases to exist when I die is a narcissistic idea. I think, yes, I will no longer be in this dimension, I will no longer be in this body, I will be someplace else, and this world will disappear in the same way America disappears when you travel to Europe, or when the idea of being a particular nationality disappears when you wake up and realize that it's just role-playing. Something falls away, but something remains. Death has to exist in this world. If it didn't there would be no freedom. The universe would be a prison, and there would be never be any good tables left at the Chinese BBQ. Ramble on...ramble on...
Richard Todd | April 4, 2011 9:56 PM | Reply

"I think it's ridiculous to assume that we had nothing until the Big Bang came along; the problem is, all the rules we have in our world today--every principle of physics-wouldn't apply." I think your second clause negates your first. Although we can't conceive of something coming out of nothing, the Big Bang is a singularity and no rules that we can deduce apply. There is probably nothing about it that we can conceive of. Logic and experience teach us that nothing can come out of nothing, but at the instant of the Big Bang, logic and experience lay somewhere in the future. I';m going to stop now before I have a big bang between my ears.

70 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

EricJ replied to comment from keith carrizosa | April 5, 2011 2:55 AM | Reply

I think Eric J and probably many others believe, and that is that people only believe in religion because it makes them "comfortable." No, quite the opposite: I was saying that man feels "comfortable" in what he can build for himself and ascribe symbolic ritual meanings to through manipulating the games that society has built for itself ("Og have more coconuts than you!"): Money. Status. Job perks, SUV's and power desks. The appearance of being concerned about world headlines--ie, the fear-driven "Conscience-porn" of wringing one's hands in public--while preserving the selfish safety to retreat from them. And if religion makes him "uncomfortable" by telling him nagging little reminders that he is imperfect, or that he is hypocritical where he believes he is not, that he commits grievous sins intentionally and unintentionally against his fellow man and that a poor childhood of his own is no excuse to whitewash him from it, that no man can run too far from the price of his own selfishness or self-indulgence, that the world is HIS place to fix, not his invisible neighbor's next door, and that a God might exist even though he didn't personally show up in the hospital room and cure his mother's cancer overnight like a snapped-for headwaiter, he can simply resolve any negative aspersions this might cast on his conscience by snapping his fingers, shifting blame onto an imaginary enemy and saying "Well, they were probably old/crazy and made you up, not me!--There: Now you don't exist anymore!" It don't work that way. At least, it didn't the last time I tried to recreate the universe with the power of my imagination. It's very easy to throw tantrums, claim the world is a "meanie" and "always hated you" because it won't let you do things, plug your ears and go "lalala". Too easy. Why, even your three-year-old can do it, and with no practice, too! It's the easiest thing in the world when we don't face the consequences of our actions, or see ourselves as others see us. We can make up a hundred boogeymen, of every color, size, headline fear and political ethnicity to be More Right than, to our heart and self-image's content, as long as reality does not intrude. There is also, however, the question of what makes us happy, after we have gorged ourselves on the candy we thought made us "comfortable": There's the old bumpersticker joke "My wife told me to quit drinking or she'd leave me--I'm going to miss her." CP, above, was faced with EXACTLY that dilemma, and hinted that he would happily choose said bottle. (The Kook even went as far as to turn it into Sally Field's "Not Without My Daughter", and warned him that The Creature would even come back to steal the children into religious sanctuary, like the towelheaded goblins of his own nightmares...) Some, however, would choose to stay married, because that is what makes them happy: Human companionship, and such a silly thing as that. It's an odd choice, and one we would nonsensically make the most intrusive sacrifices on our own status and self-importance for, but go figure...Something in our own nature tells us now and again that we achieve something higher than ourselves by looking for it. If you think you have a hint what that is, keep looking, you're almost there: It's the first hint to why you can't ever quite feel 100% good about Winning Your Arguments.
Evan Wade | April 5, 2011 5:15 AM | Reply

I find it fascinating that I run to your reviews when I want to find opinion. I am a student of film, currently working in corporate broadcasting as an overnight Master Control Operator, and aim to, with luck, hard work, and relationships, work in film as my full-time job sometime soon. The reason I find it fascinating (and very worthwhile) that I race for your reviews, is that recently I've realized that without opinion, news is useless. This is extremely evident on the major networks on American television. This medium has some power to investigate, but mostly justifies its existence with advertising and shock. I appreciate your reviews Roger. I especially appreciate your search for truth. Others have compared this post to Sagan, whose "Cosmos" series I feel is one the best pieces of art ever. Your writing has the power of great art to change consciousness. When I read the quote from Shakespeare at the end, I found meaning in every line. Thank you.
Rick | April 5, 2011 6:42 AM | Reply

71 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

Maybe the "simplistic fable" is the theory of evolution... "One must conclude that ... a scenario describing the genesis of life on Earth by chance and natural causes which can be accepted on the basis of fact and not faith has not yet been written." (Dr. H.P. Yockey, physicist, information theorist and contributor to the Manhattan Project) "Suppose you took scrabble sets, or any word game sets, blocks with letters containing every language on Earth and you heap them together, and then you took a scoop and you scooped into that heap, and you flung it out on the lawn there and the letters fell into a line which contained the words, 'to be or not to be that is the question,' that is roughly the odds of an RNA molecule appearing on the Earth." (Dr. Robert Shapiro, Professor Emeritus and Senior Research Scientist in the Department of Chemistry at New York University) Ebert: You cherry-pick the Shapiro statement out of context, as you found it on Creationism sites. His actual argument is for a more likely scenario: http://bit.ly/i0r6XC
Steve | April 5, 2011 7:58 AM | Reply

Sorry, but there was no Big Bang. The universe has simply always existed. Dont you see how the Big Bang and Evolution are diametrically opposed and incompatible? The universe has always existed, and evolution has always been occurring. Thats a more compatible statement. Time is infinite in every direction. Just because we small creatures see beginnings and endings in everything around us doesnt mean that the universe operates to please us or our assumptions. Matter can be neither created nor destroyed, right? So why introduce a Big Bang? Fundamentally, as a theory, it just makes no sense! Just because were ingenious enough to come up with complex explanations for what we think we see doesnt make those explanations right. Hasnt every explanation of the universe in history been found to be wrong? Ptolemy, Aristotle, Descartes, Newton and now Einstein. Even now there are parts of the explanation that dont work, right? Have we harmonized General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics yet? When we do, it may require a totally different explanation of the universe, and the Big Bang will be seen as laughable. And then that explanation will need correction someday. Our hubris in assuming we NOW know the explanation is amusing for the historian. On another track, can you see how the Big Bang plays into Creationism? Where did the singularity come from? Why did it go bang? Those questions still allow for god to play a role. Recognizing that the universe has always existed removes the idea of creation. Once you understand and accept eternity, its easy. We still will need an explanation for gravity, time, big and small, but if we start from this premise the answers may be easier to find. As far as other life out there, read Sagan and Shklovskiis book, Intelligent Life in the Universe. Good analysis of infinity and why the universe isnt infinite and therefore why there doesnt necessarily have to be intelligent life out there. Seems he changed his mind to write Contact, but I dont mind since that film made some good points.
Joe Young replied to comment from Richard Todd | April 5, 2011 8:14 AM | Reply

"Although we can't conceive of something coming out of nothing, the Big Bang is a singularity and no rules that we can deduce apply." There are alternative theories that are just as compelling. And while we do not have testable theories for what could have happened in such an infinitesimally small universe, we could theoretically have theories describing the behavior inside such a universe.
John Panagopoulos, Malden, MA | April 5, 2011 8:30 AM | Reply

Ebert: No, as self-evident as that all men are created equal. Again, not to be impertinent, but how, precisely, are all men (and women) "created equal"? Even at the embryonic or fetal stage, for example, some latent biological defects and handicaps occur in some future humans and not in others. Ebert: I was not speaking in a literal sense. Of course not, Mr. Ebert. Still, I have always found the statement a maddening pseudo-tautology. As far as I am aware, no one has attempted even a half-hearted

72 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

explanation of it. Perhaps our equality lies in the cosmos's same arguable indifference to all of us (to Gulliver, all Lilliputians look alike), or more likely in our common susceptibility to death. My late father commented that "We are all equal after death." Whether or not we retain consciousness after death, I think he is correct.
John Panagopoulos, Malden, MA | April 5, 2011 8:46 AM | Reply

In my opinion, trying to determine the time of the universe's origin is as fruitless a task as trying to find the starting point on a circle. I believe that space is curved and that the universe is a circle (or maybe an ellipse) of infinite circumference. The circle has always been and always will be. Ebert: I agree that space is surved. You want to be careful with that word "infinite."
Tom Dark | April 5, 2011 12:12 PM | Reply

So! Joe Young again, the smartest hod carrier in all of England, on the attack! Yes folks, here's a fair specimen of one of those Lilliputians I was writing you about. U not b'leeve da TROOF. You DUM. STOOPIT. MORAN. Bplbplbplffft! But me talk good, that make Joe feel funny 'bout evolushun after all. Me must be dum. Crazy. Joe fight back. Use word "pseudo-intellectual." Save it for your war on Blefescu. Git. So long as I'm back, what else is going on around here... Hmmm... not much... the usual congress between opposed mobius strips. Are these repetitious arguments predetermined by God, or by genes? Oh. Yeh. Reminds me. Years ago I used to get frequent 20-page letters from this grunt-level engineer at a factory a couple thousand miles from my home in California. He wrote me things like, he'd hide in the restroom at his workplace 3 or 4 hours a day, masturbate, and feed his semen to his old cat. He was single and lived alone in a house full of stacks of old magazines and oddities such as mannequin parts. Most of his 20-page letters were taken up with whining about not having a girlfriend. He never would take my advice; instead, he even asked me if he asked my wife, from whom I was about to separate, for a date. What, no other women within a 2,000 mile radius? Not for him. He gave women the creeps. Joe Young could identify. 3 or 4 years of this was above and beyond the call of duty. He had some kind of obsessive disorder. One woman to whom I showed his writing said it gave her a tummy ache to read it. One day I wrote him "Cap'n, we appear to have reached a repeating decimal in this equation" -- seeking a kindlier fashion of alerting him to the fact he needed a bit of self-inspection not at the expense of my time. Some of you, if not Joe Young, know the term "repeating decimal" from elementary school math. It's when you divide one number into another and come up with a decimal that keeps repeating itself. Like, the fraction 2/3 = 66.66666666666666, forever. Such a fraction, if carried out to its conclusion, wouldn't fit in a universe a mere 14 billion light years across. Nay. "Forever" is even bigger than that! And no fair trying to stuff pieces of it into a black hole, either. Now then. The young engineer, never taking my advice, kept repeating his problem over and over, apparently until this day. I happened to run across his name and address on the internet. 30 years later he still hasn't found a girlfriend. 30 years later he still portrays himself as something he isn't. He may never find a girlfriend. He will die a "confirmed bachelor," as they used to call them. That's because he has ignored huge, if simple, parts of his own equation, just as the Creationists do, and just as the Darwinists do. Mark, was the engineer's name, neglected to notice that he was writing a grown man, me, 20 page letters all about unrequited sex. He took considerable energy to neglect to notice this. For you who have wisdom, I'll add that Mark once wrote me a dream he had where he was under attack for being a homosexual. In his dream, I

73 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

came to his rescue, chasing his attackers away for him. Rather than admit that ...something... was missing from his own equation, Mark carried on with these annoyingly repetitious letters, one after the other, to handsome, two-fisted me -- courageous in the face of women myself, even boldly married. Well I'd had enough, thanks. Yet, not so long ago, years and years after I'd told him bluntly to keep the frag away, he harassed me at my job. So I called the cops, and also called his workplace -- the one where, 30 years later, he still hides in the men's room. It's a weird game then, in which I am mistaken for being part of the "other side," just as Joe Young is trying to do to me here. "Evolutionists" vs "Creationists" are like poor Mark, unable to make any headway beyond these repeating decimals of argumentation. It doesn't matter to me who is gay or straight (even tho' must point out the obvious, these repeating-decimal arguments are far more populated by males, like "Spinal Tap" concerts.) In the way Mark has been forlornly trying to argue himself into heterosexuality for decades, both sides of this... er, "pseudointellectual"... argument the origins of the Whole Universe are sorely missing some truly basic components. One is a reasonable acceptance of the fact that popular science is limited to data obtained by the physical senses (gizmoes, number-crunching and all) and another is the nature of time itself. There is more, but with too few exceptions it seems I may as well be explaining the purpose of a hatchet to a bunch of chickens (have tried that. They just look at you, then are very surprised). The hell of it is, it's not even complicated. Not to start with anyway. .666666666666666666666666666666666666666666666666666666666666666666666666666666666666666 ...
Harold | April 5, 2011 12:37 PM | Reply

The universe by definition is the 'all together'. When it expands, it is more. When it shrinks, it is less. Whatever, it is never less than all. What it is not, is not. Kinda omnipotent, ya' think? In a previous post: "I could weave a wonderful story that no one could ever prove wrong for how existence came into being." Of course you could write it. Would it last? Unless it contains some truth of our human travail, it will be discarded and dissipate in the void. It is the truth that is in art that prevails. It is that information, reinforced, rediscovered, that survives us. The pursuit of that truth, reveals its own truth, which is the art that shares information.
Randy Masters | April 5, 2011 12:48 PM | Reply

Ebert: I did... Actually, my question was: do YOU have any personal experience or observation of anything physical that is boundary-less, or that does not expand "into" some other space or medium when it expands? If not, and you do not, then how can you relate to the idea of something that does not expand into anything? It is not expanding "into" anything because it is itself everything. In your terms: What could God expand into? They are not the same concepts. I'll come back to that... First, maybe the problem lies with the statement of the old joke: If the universe is everything, and the universe is expanding, then what is it expanding into? But, is the problem the word "into"? Is the problem the word "everything"? Or is the problem the word "expanding"? A puzzle. Now. "God" and "the universe" are not the same concepts just by other names. One is

74 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

the creator, the other the creation. - assuming that you allow for the possibility of God, as I do. The issue is not boundary, it is transcendence. I have no problem with both God and the universe having boundaries. As for God: I did, after all, grow up with the concept of "our Father who art in Heaven. Father has a boundary. Heaven - if a physical place - has a boundary. I've never thought of God as anything other than boundaried. Which means, I guess, that I'm not buying "omni-present". The issue is "transcendent". A creator must necessarily be transcend, or be apart from, the creation. Which is all the word "supernatural" implies. Nature is the physical tangible creation. The creator would then be transcendent to nature. Super-natural. How transcendent? Well, outside of me. Outside of my physical environment. Outside of the Earth. Outside of the Solar System? Outside of the galaxy? Outside of the universe? Are there many creators, each one transcendent to their creation - whatever scope that is? I don't have a problem with that. But, it seems to me, the issue is transcendence - not boundary-less. Ebert: If God is in Heaven, a place with limits, how does that work? I believe many things exist of which I have no experience. The far side of teh moon, for example.
Paul J. Marasa | April 5, 2011 3:22 PM | Reply

Ebert: "My curiosity leads me to science, my admiration for logic leads me to the Theory of Evolution, my pride rejects simplistic fables to describe the facts I observe." I always tell my students that "'satiable curiosity" (as Kipling describes his little elephant's character in the Just-So Story) is the greatest strength of the human mind. All that blather about hard work and discipline is the invention of the non-curious, who must labor mightily to maintain their focus on life, lest they lose interest. But simply exercise curiosity, and all the "work" one must do to know doesn't feel like work, needs no discipline--these things will follow with no discernible effort in service to curiosity's insatiable appetite. As for the other two: Well, be careful of too much logic--it will reduce your beliefs to absurdity, until you can assert nothing. Of course, you defend yourself against this by an attention to facts--but your wording reminded me of Milton's Satan (no offense intended, promise), who also looked at the facts, combined it with logic, and concluded, "The mind is its own place." Ironic, aint it? A creature who wants to see as clearly as God blinds himself in the effort, fools around with the things in front of him long enough until, like the guests at the Mad Hatter's tea party, they change places. Pride sure goeth, don't it? (I don't mean to sound smarmy or snarky or slimy--or whatever--but that crack about "simplistic fables" smarted. I can't think of a single fable worth one's attention that is simplistic. The ones I love are as true as Evolution and astronomy, excellent at explaining the world.) Ebert: Simplistic fables. As in, turtles, turtles, turtles, all the way down.
Dext | April 5, 2011 3:31 PM | Reply

Mister Ebert, I have not read all of the comments that you have received on your article here (and might I say, what a good article it is, sir), so I do not know whether or no this has been pointed out, but I'd like to draw your attention to a notion that was brought to my attention by the writer Peter Watts. As I understand it, he seems to suggest that our "self awareness", and our capacity to consciously contemplate both ourselves and the Universe around us, is in no way necessary for the development of "sentience" (by which I, for one, understand the capacity to make reasoned decisions, plan and intelligently analyze one's situation in the Universe). I might be losing myself in too many words here, but what I mean to say is that it seems counter-productive for an intelligent mind to have notions of beauty, morality, mercy or love. In the end, they seem to sabotage progress and the

75 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

survival of both the individual and the species much more than they help it. I want to make it clear that I am in NO way opposed to those notions, and see myself as a bit of a romantic, actually. However, upon rational analysis, there really seems to be no reason for the "sapience-sentience" association that we're always making. One could easily envision a civilization of beings which, lacking the emotional, self (or otherwise) contemplative nature of the human mind, but sharing with it its capacity for rational thought, could advance at a more rapid, efficient pace, having internal conflicts based solely on resource management issues, rather than the additional ideological or ambition-based wars of our past. I could reference Peter Watts' book, "Blindsight", here, if you are a fan of the Science Fictional literature. I am saying these things because your article seems to suggest that intelligence and self-awareness are mutually dependent, and I have recently come to question this idea. One could say, in more spiritual terms, that I no longer see it as a certainty that beings as intellectually advanced as us would have "souls" (please don't take this as a religious statement; a religious discussion is not my goal here) that have notions of beauty, goodness, or value (in anything other than the material sense). I would quite like it if you could answer me with your thoughts on these ideas, even though I realize that not only is my comment overly long, but that it is also at the bottom of an ever-increasing list of probably related comments, and that you might not be reading or answering them all. I wish you a good day, sir! Ebert: How would that civilization differ in its function from an advanced computer? Would its "mind" never think about the fact that it was thinking?
Mark Hughes | April 5, 2011 6:08 PM | Reply

"What we are left with are the cosmic shadows on the wall of Plato's cave." That may be my favorite sentence I've ever read in you writing, and that's saying something. And this is perhaps my favorite of your journal entries, although again that's a pretty hard call. I find it interesting, Mr. Ebert, that so many people criticize and scoff at things supposedly "not making sense" or insist on literal natural limitations to the size and scope of the universe, all as part of their insistence that the only logical answer is a bearded magical man with no beginning or ending and for whom no natural laws or science has to apply. The problem is, of course, that those who apply their own personal context on their perception of reality to the extent they imagine an all-powerful magical God who still looks like them, are not people who will readily comprehend or accept frames of reference not defined by their own limited experiences as a human -- thus their inability to grasp the true concept of a universe expanding without expanding "into" things, or how life could arise from "nothingness" etc. Anyway, it was a great article, and I loved the choice of images to accompany it as well. I'd only add that next time someone insists on asking what came before there was a Big Bang or how something came from nothing, tell them it all probably came through our singularity from another universe, and that our own black holes likely lead to singularities that are birthing new universes as well, in a perpetual cycle sharing natural law and forever furthering the processes that bring reality into being time and again. If they ask "but where did it all start?" tell them, "Hey, I don't insist on a beginning for your God, so don't you come around insisting on a beginning for my universe." Ebert: Your theory has been proposed by the scientist/philosopher Lee Smolin.
Howard Bond | April 5, 2011 6:59 PM | Reply

Roger, your words are profound and really capture what we astronomers feel when we look at the Hubble images. Howard Bond (U of Illinois Class of 1964!) Space Telescope Science Institute Ebert: I am honored to hear from an astronomer...and a fellow member of the class of 1964!
d | April 5, 2011 10:20 PM | Reply

76 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

That's great you wonder and are taken aback by the universe. When the theory of evolution is examined however, it is not as wondrous. There are too many holes. I agree that fables most commonly found in religion are not helpful but don't make the common mistake of making evolution your equally unbelievable faith. I think staying in "wonder" of creation etc is what will yield the best evolution of our thinking. There is tons of proof around me that is happening. Enjoyed your post today.
Matt Beasley | April 6, 2011 12:11 AM | Reply

Ebert said, "And if the universe expands indefinitely, eventually won't each atom be alone in a void? What happens then?" --Actually, the "Big Rip" conjecture is junk science. I know, crazy right? You want the details? Check out Susskind's lecture on General Relativity from Stanford in the following link. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8UrYIZhm60 He spends the first 15 minutes off topic talking about the Big Rip in terms a layman can understand. Enjoy. --If this ends up being a double post, I apologize.
Dahlia | April 6, 2011 1:00 AM | Reply

You are so goddamn interesting.


Todd | April 6, 2011 5:04 AM | Reply

Dext, sentience is likely just a side effect of advanced communication. As more sophisticated communication develops between a species, the brain evolves to process it, which allows you to identify yourself in relation to others. I don't think it's a coincidence that bottlenose dolphins and elephants are self-aware, and both have complex communication systems that we don't even fully understand yet.
John Panagopoulos, Malden, MA | April 6, 2011 7:14 AM | Reply

In my opinion, trying to determine the time of the universe's origin is as fruitless a task as trying to find the starting point on a circle. I believe that space is curved and that the universe is a circle (or maybe an ellipse) of infinite circumference. The circle has always been and always will be. Ebert: I agree that space is surved. You want to be careful with that word "infinite." Perhaps "near-infinite"? Ebert: "Near-infinite." Sort of like "approximately exact."
John Panagopoulos, Malden, MA | April 6, 2011 9:37 AM | Reply

Ebert: "Near-infinite." Sort of like "approximately exact." Hee-hee. Words, even oxymoronic ones, must ultimately fail us when contemplating the universe and everything. "The stars are not for Man", indeed.
Paul J. Marasa | April 6, 2011 10:24 AM | Reply

Ebert: "Ebert: Simplistic fables. As in, turtles, turtles, turtles, all the way down." Not to belabor the point, but even the infinite turtles fable warrants our attention--and not just because it's funny-silly. Our friends at Wikipedia remind me that this kind of infinite regression is related to Baron Munchausen's tale of pulling himself and his horse out a swamp by his own hair--which further reminds me of an expression used by a German friend of mine (Hey there, Gerhard, wherever you are) whenever he did something particularly stupid: "I could bite myself in my own ass!" The images alone are worth hours of reflection--at least they were when I was younger, and had a clearer sense of my priorities. Such dilemmas and paradoxes may not explain "facts" (the true but trite), but they

77 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

certainly capture the unique (and marvelous/perilous) human ability to hold contradictory ideas simultaneously (just read Jefferson on slavery HERE). The result of such hair-raising (so to speak) juggling is often a truth--and by this we can mean a synthesis of fact and judgment born out of necessity--that can be quite helpful (just read the Declaration of Independence). For my money, facts are useless--unless we use them. And it seems one has to do some damage (to logic, to observations, to experience) before that use is useful, for "nothing can be sole or whole / That has not been rent."
Matt Ellison | April 6, 2011 10:44 AM | Reply

Hi Roger, This is completely off topic, but I saw this early this morning and immediately thought of you. I hope you get a kick out of it (you have to wait until almost the end of the video for the fun part). http://blog.movies.yahoo.com/blog/1061-a-bill-ted-sequel-is-starting-to-soundvery-possible
Joe Young replied to comment from Tom Dark | April 6, 2011 10:56 AM | Reply

Tom Dark, Let's be clear, I called you ignorant and not a Creationist. You are arguing that Creationists and Darwinists have beliefs that have (or lack) equal merit. My point was Evolution is evidence and logic-based and therefore a better theory. No one here has argued that the Theory of Evolution is fact. It's just the simplest logical theory that fits all the available evidence. It has also evolved over time to fit data and experiment. I also want to distinguish the Theory of Evolution to from actual evolution some species which has been observed - evolution in fact. It is indisputable that it has been observed in the real world as well as the laboratory. If you have a competing theory of the origin of life, let's here it and if you buried it in your "witty" non-"literal" verbal diarrhea, please try to be succinct, as I am not going to read that twaddle.
Bruco | April 6, 2011 11:34 AM | Reply

Very nice piece. You've captured what can be the greatest despair for those of us who have cast aside fables and embraced rationalism - the quest for meaning. I can't speak for everyone with similar views, but I don't think we choose to not believe. We simply cannot. Whether that is pride, intellect, or a casting aside by some great deity, we have no option. And that leaves us pondering what meaning or purpose there is to find. For you, it is art, the expression of feeling and intelligence. And that's a damn fine thing. Worthy, I think.
John Panagopoulos, Malden, MA | April 6, 2011 12:32 PM | Reply

Infinity exists, even if only in Arabic numeral mathematics.


Dext | April 6, 2011 1:03 PM | Reply

You are correct, I would imagine there would be little difference, and your example is spot-on. This conclusion is obvious, given that the human brain itself has a construction (architecture? I'm not sure as to what term I should use) comparable, if not similar, to a computer (albeit one that is enormously advanced). Just as there's no reason to assume that a very advanced computer would become self-contemplative, I don't think there'd be a reason to assume this for a biological mind. I look to eusocial insects for a clear example of how a group can be adaptive and successful without significant intelligence (let alone sentience) invested in individuals. It is an example that can be expanded to larger, more biologically complex creatures. This might sound like a science-fiction cliche, but I'd say that that doesn't affect its validity.
Jambalaya Crawfish Pie (aka John Galt, Dagney Taggart, etc) | April 6, 2011 4:59 PM | Reply

The big bang is a reasonable theory used by scientists to explain the available

78 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

empirical evidence. There may be other possibilities, but the big bang best fits the current observable data. I never hear any good explanations from creationists to explain the doppler effect or red shift which shows that the universe is expanding outward like a balloon from a single central point. The big bang is the only reasonable explanation. I used to debate these theories endlessly, in classrooms, and in writings, but alas I grow so weary. Personally, I could care less if the big bang is true, if its not true who cares, I would be glad to adopt another better explanation. Thats precisely what people who are religious dogmatists dont comprehend. Scientific exploration involves a constant shedding of old explanations, when new and better ones come about. (They should correctly teach reason, analysis, logic, and the scientific method in schools, that would solve many of our problems) Because theories can be revised or discarded doesnt mean science is flawed! The problem is religious dogmatists have a personal stake in their own infallable explanations, and its impossible to argue with people who want religious certitude and through blindness and arrogance and lack of curiosity have clung to beliefs that can never be wrong. (I refer to these as the "How do I know its true? Well the bible tells me so," circular reasoning crowd). The fact that science accomodates changing data is whats so amazing about it.
Darren Hutchinson | April 6, 2011 6:22 PM | Reply

Even if we were to somehow discover (perhaps as future technology helps us to modify our perceptual apparatus) that our current representations of the universe(s) are as deficient as the sea slug's representations of the planet on which it lives, there will always be the unbounded possibility to improve our representations, even from that point. There will never be a "final" theory of the universe: to that extent, it is "infinite." (the indeterminate infinity of ellipses . . . ) Not only are there turtles all the way down, there are turtles all the way up. Perhaps, this even means that it makes no sense to think of exploration as an asymptote towards a final truth, since the beginnings and ends of the line will never be assessable. Perhaps, our discoveries are better thought of as products of a meandering voyage of self-perfection. Thanks for your article. Your recommendations of philosophically themed movies such as those by Wenders and Herzog played a significant role in my becoming an academic philosopher. Your writing made a difference in my life.
keith carrizosa replied to comment from Randy Masters | April 6, 2011 6:45 PM | Reply

Regard this expanding universe, I think life is all about limits (metaphorically and literally), and light never stops traveling, yet it has a speed limit. So, it keeps going and going and at a limited speed and then it will just bounce and change direction if it hits something. So, there is a way for something to keep going as long as it has a kind of speed limit. So, as far as metaphorically, that's kind of what humans are. We exist within limitations and then we could transcend those limitations to where there are no limitations. We humans have a dark side and a light side, and we can transcend them just as light can transcend its limited speed.
Norman York | April 6, 2011 8:40 PM | Reply

Roger, evolution does not exist. You keep repeating it like a mantra and in that you underline how much it is more of a religion than logic and science. Protein is the mega molecule necessary for life. There are hundreds of types of proteins. The only place a protein can be produced in the universe is a perfect and complete living cell through a mind-blowing series of processes. The living cell cannot exist without countless proteins working together. No protein without a perfect cell. No cell without countless perfect proteins. And none of them without perfect DNA molecules. Probability for formation of a single protein from amino acids by accident is almost zero. But even if it had, you need other proteins for them to work together, and they must have accidentally appeared at the same time and at the same precise location, with also the DNA appearing the same location and time and with other parts all necessary. Protein does not replicate itself either. So when all

79 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

the necessary proteins, DNA and all other parts accidentally formed, they needed to instantly form a perfect cell. Probability of this is so small, that it is impossible for a 15 billion year old universe. Theory of Evolution is the dominant religion and mantra of this time and has no scientific basis. Ebert: Evolution exists, has been observed and studied. Your fable about the impossibility of protein molecules evolving has been disproved countless times. It is one of the tirelessly recyled arguments of Creationists, and can be found here on an Islamic site about science in the Quron. Thank God will live in a nation where such religious beliefs cannot be taught in public schools. http://bit.ly/h8f4ws
Scott | April 6, 2011 9:51 PM | Reply

Ebert: I believe many things exist of which I have no experience. The far side of teh moon, for example. ==== I see you are still holding court LOL. No, Roger, you do NOT believe "the far side of teh moon...." Simply because, though you have not seen the far side of the moon (other than perhaps metaphorically, and havent we all) faith is not required to accept its existence. Simple reason eliminates all reasonable doubt as to its existence. I have never seen the Eiffel Tower in person. But I do not "believe" the Effiel Tower exists. Reason is quite sufficient in removing all reasonable doubt. Now, it would require faith to accept there is an Eiffel Tower on the far side of the moon because such a thing would be beyond reason, unreasonable. And here we have arrived at the difference between "faith" and "reason" - the former takes over where the latter leaves off: the more unreasonable a thing is the more faith is required to believe it. This observation is quite sincere: I have noticed that religious folk tend to have little grasp of the terminologies and concepts they invest in.
keith carrizosa replied to comment from Keith Carrizosa | April 7, 2011 6:58 AM | Reply

I meant to say this in the classical music blog, but it applies to what I said here, which is, that if art is a living-together philosophy (needing distance to live together) then one might be able to argue that art, like music or movies etc., that are sentimental, or where the artist is too involved, might be a cause of problems in our world of people not knowing how to live together. The music, say, is noisey and kind of overwhelms you and there's not enough distance; it's like "ok, you're crowding me; give me some space." If you must have an example of this--which is really everywhere you look, unfortunately--, then, there's that new Lady Gaga song "Born This Way"; and maybe you'll see what I mean (if sentimental film music didnt do it for you) where you're just thinking "ok, back up, give me some space." I mean we live in a culture of abuse, for whatever reason, which reality shows seem to perpetuate more than most. I think perhaps the pop music has something to do with it and the sentimental etc. I think perhaps art is kind of telling us how to live/we're as good as our art; and our art is bad.
Norman York | April 7, 2011 8:19 AM | Reply

Ebert: Evolution exists, has been observed and studied. Your fable about the impossibility of protein molecules evolving has been disproved countless times. It is one of the tirelessly recyled arguments of Creationists, and can be found here on an Islamic site about science in the Quron. Thank God will live in a nation where such religious beliefs cannot be taught in public schools. http://bit.ly/h8f4ws Roger, by religiously wishing that evolution is observed, studied and disproved, which is not, and calling rational argument as fable, you are not disproving anything. (If you mean Miller experiment that amino acids can be sythesized, it has nothing with the giant protein molecules that need to be mass produced.) I checked the link you gave, it is copied from Harun Yahya organisation, and it too supports my argument in a conclusive fashion. Does not matter if written by Muslim, Jew or Transylvanian because the link you gave does not base its argument on religion or culture - only observations: Proteins can only be manufactured by a perfect cell

80 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

with perfectly formed organels and systems. (Actually, through hundreds of processes you just produced 2000 giant proteins in this second by each of the 100 trillions cells in your body. They are produced with techniques the most creative Hollywood script writer cannot visualise.) A cell can only function with an average 15 billion proteins in 200 different types, apart from many other things. Logic and scientific facts dictate a self-replicating cell can only be formed with all its proteins at the same moment and at the same point (and with the DNA and all manufacturing plant organels). This means end of any scientific possibility for Evolutionary emergence of life. Isn't to repeat this mantra "shut up, it just evolved, it just evolved" beyond the most extreme religious fanaticism? If you or any believer of Evolution cannot explain the existance of single protein, it is madness that you are proposing a cosmological phiolosophy based on this irrational belief. Ebert: If it is irrational, why has every serious scientist in all lands and cultures subscribed to it for the last century?
Paul J. Marasa | April 7, 2011 10:01 AM | Reply

Oh happy day: another Evolution knock-down-drag-out! I've been waiting to "settle this case without a fuss or fight"--and, as always, the best way to do that is with a Springsteen song. Part man, part monkey--baby, that's me.
Amy Beange | April 7, 2011 12:07 PM | Reply

Ebert: If it is irrational, why has every serious scientist in all lands and cultures subscribed to it for the last century? That's an argument ad populum and therefore invalid. Norman York in the comment above is correct. Proteins come from proteins according to observation. Evolution says proteins make themselves according to speculation. The theory is irrational so why DOES the majority (not all) of scientists subscribe to it? The issue is not the evidence, it is the interpretation of that evidence and who wouldn't want a theory that allows them the authority to determine what kind of consolation they can find when facing their own demise whether it be art or anarchy? Ebert: A theory shouldn't allow you the authority to find consolation. That is the business of a faith. The job of a scientific theory is to reflect fact as accurately as it can. There is little consolation in the fact that we will all die, but it is a fact. You are free to believe anything you wish about what happens then.
EricJ | April 7, 2011 1:16 PM | Reply

Ebert: It is one of the tirelessly recyled arguments of Creationists, and can be found here on an Islamic site about science in the Quron. Thank God we live in a nation where such religious beliefs cannot be taught in public schools. So....something vaguely faith-associated must therefore be evil, Creationist, and world-domination-plotting if The Muslims Do It Too? ...Er, hope you'll take this in the spirit it's meant, Roger, but whose posts MIGHT we have been reading a little too much of lately? 9_9 Ebert: Not at all. I was just pointing to the common practice of Creationists to bust a gut in trying to find flaws in the Theory of Evolution, when their own theory doesn't stand up to a moment's serious consideration. What they don't seem to understand is that the T of E is not a fixed dogma, but a work under constant improvement by the Scientific Method.
Barb | April 7, 2011 1:34 PM | Reply

Beautiful and eloquent. Thank you!


John Panagopoulos, Malden, MA | April 7, 2011 1:51 PM | Reply

Ebert: Some reject the Theory of Evolution because it offers no consolation in the face of death. Yes. Those "some" are probably those who subscribe to a religion or belief system that assures them of life everlasting (whether through reincarnation, resurrection, or an afterlife) regardless of who they are, provided they complete a few arguably doable requirements. In other words, everybody can potentially "live on". Evolution,

81 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

at least at times, is not egalitarian. Sometimes you are not suited to your environment through no fault of your own, and you may die as a result, and there's nothing you can do about it. Too bad, so sad. It's not surprising that religion harbors great antipathy towards Evolution; Evolution puts the fear of death into its followers.
John Panagopoulos, Malden, MA | April 7, 2011 2:13 PM | Reply

Ebert: If the matter in the universe has organized itself into you and me and Stephen Hawking, I can think of no reason why the same organizational principles wouldn't apply everywhere. I wouldn't be so sure. Perhaps there are planets that follow the physical "laws" of a Warner Bros. cartoon. Bugs Bunny quote: I know this violates the law of gravity, but then again, I never studied law.
Bill Hays replied to comment from Norman York | April 7, 2011 5:44 PM | Reply

Reply to: Logic and scientific facts dictate a self-replicating cell can only be formed with all its proteins at the same moment and at the same point (and with the DNA and all manufacturing plant organels). This means end of any scientific possibility for Evolutionary emergence of life. I- NY We talked about this a few months ago. Statistics is a mathematical way of describing something that exists in the real world. Don't make the mistake of thinking the odds controls anything. The Megamillions Lotto has odds of 141 million to one against matching the numbers. yet it happens every three weeks or so. The fact that life on this planet shares a common core of DNA suggests that it happened ONCE. Statistically speaking, anything can happen once. That's why we say the odds are 141 million to ONE there's always ONE chance that it happened... in what, 500 million years? We have fossilized remains of bacteria going back over 3 billion years... but what we don't see are several different strains of life competing for space on our planet. The observed aspects of life on our planet... agree with there being incredible odds against it happening even once.... But it did happen once. And if you know anything about life, you know that a complete cell didn't have to happen. Early life forms ate other life forms, adding the contents together. Do that 500 or 100,000 times and what you described as unlikely just isn't unlikely at all.
Norman York | April 7, 2011 6:44 PM | Reply

Dear Roger, I know this reply is a bit long. So I would understand if you decide not to publish it. Ebert: If it is irrational, why has every serious scientist in all lands and cultures subscribed to it for the last century? Why did every serious scientist in the Soviet bloc subscribe to Marxism? Not to lose his status, his living, his wife and his life. Why vast majority of renaissence European scholars rallied against heliocentrism? Why for three thousand years serious Egyptian scholars believed their laughable cosmology? Institutionalized propaganda and ideology. Example: Israel's chief government scientist called for reevaluation of the infallibility of the Theory of Evolution last year, as any rational open-minded man of science should, and what happened? He is given time to backtrack and apologize and when he insisted he was kicked out of his job and disgraced. Question Evolution and you will be fired from Biology departments, not even admitted to postgraduate studies. See what will happen if an academic at a prestigious institute, selected for his belief in Evolution, blindly parroted the ideological dogma for decades, comes to his senses and say evolution is a fake theory. Just as a Scientologist decides to leave, he will instantly lose everything, his tenure, his friends, his memberships. You

82 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

cannot defend an illogical argument based on the zeitgeist or that the men of power decided so. Do they say anything about the emergence of protein? Anything about how the cell came to being? Anything about how and where viruses came from? Any observation about the most fundamental mechanism in their theory: organism altering favorable mutation? Anything about why all plants or animals suddenly appear in fossil records and stay the same for tens or hundreds of millions of years with no change? Evolutionist priesthood do not have a leg to stand. But even then I can give you list of serious scientists; award winning academics and man of knowledge just say the obvious despite all the pressures and propaganda. You dont have to be genius to see how corrupt and fake this dogma is. It is hocus pocus bad. It is Plan 9 from Outer Space bad. Roger; no need to go into fossil records showing species suddenly appearing and staying the same for tens or hundreds of millions of years, or that there is not a single mutation found to form a new organism in the millions of experiments last 70 years apart from mutant superhero flicks --- just look at proteins. Probabilistically, you cannot have a single protein in any part of the universe since its formation 15 billion years ago, but even if you had, you need other proteins at the same moment and at the same place and the DNA and the organelles. Evolution says first proteins and they came together and formed the cell. It is irrational and pure blind faith, not even hocus pocus. Truth is none of these pieces can exist and mean anything without the others, and without the others with precise functions. And to say that these things happened and happened in knowledge that they would work together, is plain religious zealotry. Before speculating on the universe and if it has mind and all, lets all just concentrate on the marvelous microcosm of cells and molecules, that actually are us. 15 billion proteins from 200 different professions in complex cooperation on cellular megacity-planet run by DNA overlord laws and 100 trillion of them in complex federations and confederations and special connections. Then the space robots in the form of viruses, not alive, conquering the planets, destroying them or using them for their purposes. With a system and design that even the tiniest change can destroy the galactic organism. A theory can be proven with various methods. Induction is the way for this one: prove it for the 1st case, assume Nth case is true and prove it for N+1st case. They need to prove that the first cell came to being with Evolution (they cannot and actually it can be proven otherwise), and then they need to prove that life can and did transform to different life with random mutations (no evidence for that, actually complexity of systems does not allow that). Then you have a proven theory. We are not even remotely near there and the more we learn about life since Darwin, the further we sail away from that theory. Ebert: To make a long reply short, yes, students of evolution have a great deal to say about all of the topics you list. The Theory of Evolution is a work in progress, constantly being tested and improved. Questions about the fossil record are being asked every day. What is your theory? Are you a Creationist? How do you believe your theory would stand up to that sort of questioning?
Guillermo Lande replied to comment from Norman York | April 7, 2011 7:56 PM | Reply

Hello, Norman York. With regard to: "and [Ebert's link pointing to a site that says the odds of accidentally spawning a complete 280 part protein molecule from scratch] too supports my argument [that evolution cannot spawn life] in a conclusive fashion." You've been tricked by bad teachers, good Norman. What makes you think life requires 280 part protein molecules? What makes you think life requires complex organs like human eyeballs in multi-celled organisms. Let's go further than that, what makes you think intelligence requires a brain? What a lot of people fail to understand is that one would no more expect an amino acid pool to create complex organisms in one hop anymore than one would expect a single celled organism to evolve into a tree without many stages. Don't think of DNA as a requirement of life. Instead think of it as a form of memory. Intelligence is a capacity to learn, but it does not require that learning be

83 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

immediate. As humans (relatively highly developed organisms) we have three kinds of memory: 1. Super long term memory (DNA) 2. Long term memory (lasts most of or all a lifetime and could to some minor degree over many generations influence super long term memory) 3. Short term memory (lasts about 17 seconds but can be transferred to long term memry) Long and short term memory didn't spawn immediately from super long term memory. Instead, over time super long term memory itself progressed, then eventually (gradually) became single celled organisms which in turn learned to work together and eventually became some of the more symbiotic systems we have now like plants and animals. The site you list as arguing on your behalf, Norman, is a site that skips straight to 280 part organisms from nothing. Why would organisms start at 280 parts. Why not 1 part or 2. Why not stuff that we would not even recognize as life because it works on such a slow scale? I was taught in school that clay is alive, for instance. I know most people don't believe it (I don't care one way or the other), but I do know it's a reasonable interpretation of life. Anyway, Norman, don't listen to teachers that have you jump from a pool of amino acids to an eyeball. Those are, quite frankly, imbeciles. Instead step back yourself and think outside their boxes.
Fern replied to comment from Norman York | April 7, 2011 8:01 PM | Reply

Norman York, you are confusing the scientific community's consensus on evolution with abiogenesis. While evolution does imply that abiogenesis occurred at some point in the past, evolution's focus is in the central hypothesis that organisms have changed over time. This scientists accept based on extensive evidence. I agree with you that abiogenesis is a very hot topic in biology. However, you are very mistaken in asserting that protein synthesis can only occur in a "perfect" cell. What do you mean by perfect anyway? It is common practice for biologists to knock out genes (and thus proteins) within the cell. Sometimes the cells can't grow and replicate, but oftentimes they still can, even with obvious defects. Certainly the cell doesn't need ALL of its proteins to survive. Biologists deduce what the cell needs by observing and perturbing the system, generally with a hypothesis in mind that the perturbation will test. This is what science is all about. It is true that cells require certain parts and machinery to synthesize proteins. For example, they require mRNA, tRNA, the ribosome, and a pool of amino acids; however, the process of synthesizing protein doesn't require much beyond that. With this understanding, scientists have developed in vitro protein translation kits that are completely cell-free. Just add a mRNA of interest (which you can also synthesize cell-free in a tube) and it will produce the corresponding protein. But scientists can do even better than that. We don't technically even need mRNA, tRNA, or the ribosome anymore. All we require are the amino acids (which by definition proteins are made up of and you yourself acknowledge may be synthesized cell-free) and some elegant chemistry. Through solid-phase peptide synthesis you can generate a protein purely from scratch and it is just as functional as the same protein produced within the cell. Acceptance of evolution is not an irrational belief. Scientists do not accept the mantra "shut up, it just evolved, it just evolved." Instead, we hunt for the underlying mechanisms through which evolution can occur: gene duplications, gene translocations, mutations, selective pressure, etc. And like you, we are also not satisfied with our current understanding into the origins of life. This is why we continue to study it. My mentor once told me that the entire exercise of science is the attempt to prove ourselves wrong. It's only when we are unable to do so, because of reproducible and physically observable evidence, can we even begin to form a theory. Scientists do not religiously follow anything other than the scientific method. Ebert: It's precisely testing by the scientific method that Creationism fails.
Andrew | April 7, 2011 9:11 PM | Reply

84 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

Thanks Ebert, I didn't even have to click on your review to have "Super" spoiled for me. Geez. Ebert: Huh?
Andy | April 7, 2011 10:26 PM | Reply

Roger: your belief that humans are just a bunch of atoms would only be believable if you don't believe in ethics or morals. Why would you care about a person's life if they are just a bunch of physical atoms? It would be like caring about a pet rock. The big bang has the serious problem of not having a cause. Not only that, but why would a random explosion cause so much order and complexity in the world? It's ludicrous if you really thought about it. I've seen you argue with people in the comments by basically saying that most scientists believe in such-and-such and therefor it is true. 99% of scientists thought that ulcers were caused by stress 30 years ago. That has proven to be wrong. And by using your logic, most serious film critics thought that Gladiator was a great movie. So does that mean you were wrong about it? Ebert: We are indeed a bunch of atoms, as you will agree. We are not "just" a bunch of atoms. We have evolved into a wondrous complexity. Thanks to the Scientific Method, we now know more about ulcers. And the Theory of Evolution is in a process of testing and improvement. It is not a matter of faith.
Todd Simmons | April 8, 2011 12:16 AM | Reply

Truly, there is not much in all the wondrous, staggering galaxy worse than spoiling a movie in the first paragraph of a review.
'Lev Bronstein' | April 8, 2011 1:49 AM | Reply

I have throughly enjoyed your blogs Roger and continue to do so. I particularly enjoyed this blog however because in the past it seemed as if your philosophical reasoning on creation was shaped by an anger and cynicism with religion, This has a sense of hope that is almost never seen in writings on debate of creation.
Mightythor | April 8, 2011 3:14 AM | Reply

Roger, are you familiar with Loren Eiseley's meditation on evolution, "The Immense Journey"? If not, you should check it out. Some of the science is out of date (it was written in the '50s), but no more beautiful prose has ever been committed to paper by a scientist, or anyone else for that matter. Ebert: I am. I hold Eiseley in awe.
John Panagopoulos, Malden, MA | April 8, 2011 7:50 AM | Reply

With very few exceptions ("2001" being a notable example), movies seem to take a patronizing, blase attitude towards space and the universe. As the "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" franchises have amply demonstrated, space is just another pesky frontier to subjugate, compartmentalize, and administrate. "Star Trek"'s partition of the vast universe into "quadrants" is especially risible. Oh, we get impressive CGI depictions of technical hardware and civilizations. However, space movies seldom take the time to appreciate the immense grandeur of a planet, a star, a nova, a galaxy. Perhaps it is unreasonable to ask for a space movie whose objective is simply to discover and explore its wonders, without regard to business, taxes, politics, and hostile aliens consumed with "ruling the universe". Must be ever mindful of the movie till.
keith carrizosa replied to comment from EricJ | April 8, 2011 7:53 AM | Reply

I guess I misunderstood your comment, then, but there are those who feel that way; so I just used your quote to go off in another direction;sorry about the misunderstanding.
Andrew | April 8, 2011 8:14 AM | Reply

""Super" is being sold as a comedy...It begins as the portrait of a lovable loser named Frank, and as it ends, we're pretty sure he's an insane ruthless killer. That's not a joke. Maybe writer-director James Gunn intended it as a joke, but after the camera

85 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

lingers on the young heroine with a third of her face blown off, it's hard to laugh." You give away the protagonist's whole character arch AND the fate of another major character (whose identity I'm able to infer by your use of the word "young"). I'm not a professional critic, but I would think the first paragraph of any review should not contain the words "as it ends." Have some respect for your audience, man. Maybe you didn't like the movie you were paid to see, but some of us - myself included are actually looking forward to it. PS. I know this has nothing to do with this blog entry. But at least I got through to you.
FelixH | April 8, 2011 8:49 AM | Reply

There's no objective argument for a god. If there was, it would be part of scientific research (which is nothing else than an extension of human consciousness, which is joined by the arts, by the way). This is trivial, and I think can even be admitted by many believers, if they stop to think about it. If you find some value in ancient esoteric, folkloric writings, from a time when mankind had hardly a choice than to resort to such simple models, this is your thing. Or maybe you regard it with an anthropological, historical, poetological curiosity. And then it could join a still larger variety of cultural accumulation. What it doesn't do is provide the beauty, complexity, meaning to a reasonable model which it would otherwise be lacking. You may find that faith is itself accompanied with a constant struggle with meaning. This is the human trait of reason, and which has its most unaltered forms in science and philosophy (which have a common origin). Religion can then be complementary as human culture and all the things that make up life, but it is not secret truth in a struggle with science where there can be only one winner. They are in different leagues, as it were.
Virginia Lathan replied to comment from Felicity Lingle | April 8, 2011 11:30 AM | Reply

"Knowing what I know now, I'd rather be a human than a goldfish" (or words to that effect) is a statement that I also focused on in this article. At first I thought, yep, I agree. But then I thought about having to deal with my car not running right and maybe not being able to get it fixed immediately, so I started to envy the smallminded goldfish that could just easily swim to the next place it goes. So right now I'm envious of that scaley, infintestimal dust-brained creature. It's all relative.
Chuck Vekert replied to comment from Greg | April 8, 2011 12:37 PM | Reply

I am not so sure that Greg's problem is that he does not know the technical meaning of "theory." Following Karl Popper (the only philosopher to have SOLVED a philosophical problem since Socrates started asking them), a scientific theory is a theory that is capable of being falsified by empirical evidence. "All swans are white." is a scientific theory since it can be disproved by coming up with one black swan. "God is good." may be true but it is not a scientific theory because it cannot be disproved. Real theories about anything, scientific or not, always have more than one declaratory sentence, but the principle is the same. I do not see that Greg offends against this. Creationists like Greg always seem to say, one way or another: Science cannot explain (whatever). Therefore God must have done (whatever) by a miraculous intervention circumventing the natural laws that He Himself created. I find it amusing that these people do not seem to realize that they assume that God was not smart enough to make natural laws that work well enough to bring about the world He wants without His constant fiddling with them. There are two broad categories of what "science cannot explain." The first is phenomena that in all likelihood will be explained as science progresses. Creationists always seem to think science ended last Thursday. Greg claims that you can't put chemicals together and get something organized out of it--just like you can't build a car by mixing the parts together in a great jug. But everyone who has baked a cake can see the analogy is false. And in fact we have known for 50 years that mixing chemicals together in conditions similar to the early earth will produce amino acids and lipids. On the other hand, only in the last twenty years has the important of archaea in the development of eukaryotes been discovered. Scientists do not know how life developed, but every year they learn a little more and are closer to an explanation.

86 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

Creationists have an advantage in that it is much easier to say "science can't explain" than it is to give the explanation, particularly since many people are not used to thinking hard about anything--a true failure of our educational system. The other category is made up of things that science will probably never explain because we will never have enough information. Science will never explain what caused the rather sudden death of Alexander the Great because the medical record is too sparse. Doubtless biologists will not ever know that exact evolutionary pathway of every plant and animal because the evolutionary record is too sparse. But ignorance of facts does not imply a miracle. Sarah Palins' ignorance of biology is not miraculous, at least not in my opinion. I know I am preaching to the choir here, (perhaps not the best metaphor), but I found it fun to work out some of my ideas.
Steve O'Rourke | April 8, 2011 12:43 PM | Reply

For those who just don't get it ( or refuse to), here's the difference: An hypothesis is an educated guess, emphasis on the word educated. There may be a little or a lot of wiggle room to bring it into acceptable shape, or the hypothesis may be scrapped altogether. Think of this of making a clay pot, which the sculptor may decide is just not working out. A theory is an hypothesis that has a number of proofs to support it, and although it may have been or needs to be tweaked from time to time, it has met any number of challenges and has stood the test of time. Think of this as a car engine or computer that needs to be cleaned, serviced, or tinkered with to keep it running at top performance. Don't make me come back here and say it again.
Bill Hays | April 8, 2011 3:43 PM | Reply

Reply to: A cell can only function with an average 15 billion proteins in 200 different types, apart from many other things. How did life begin? Obviously, a question about a cell in a modern human body isn't the right question. IF a human cell had formed spontaneously in its current form, it would have required an incredible combination of factors. But it didn't happen that way. The earliest biological systems capable of independent life were bacteria. Bacterial cells are prokaryotes, cells without nuclei that contain a single long strand of DNA with several thousand genes. Indirect evidence of bacteria has been found in the Earths oldest rocks. The evidence consists of carbon isotopes of possible biological origin found in a 3.8-billion-year-old rock from western Greenland. The earliest "probable" evidence for life is a colony of stromatolites cabbage-like mats of sediment rimmed with bacteria and blue-green algae. These primitive life forms date from 3.5 to 3.6 billion years ago and have been found in Africa and Australia. Animal life is relatively recent in the history of life on earth. If you are trying to impress us with the odds of protein formation, you must use these early life form to compute your odds. Not modern animal cells.
Norman York | April 8, 2011 3:50 PM | Reply

Dear Roger, Guillermo and Fern; points taken but do not answer the central questions. First, Guillermo states that some simple form could have been there prior to life as we know it: What makes you think life requires 280 part protein molecules? What makes you think life requires complex organs like human eyeballs in multi-celled organisms. Let's go further than that, what makes you think intelligence requires a brain? I was taught in school that clay is alive, for instance. I know most people don't believe it but I do know it's a reasonable interpretation of life. Fern also starts with a similar view. I think clay is life is philosophic escapism from a very scientific question. But the central argument you present, says that there would have been an intermediate life form, actually several layers of intermediate life forms, that are between non-life and the life as we know it. Life on earth is only there with giant interlocking molecules, higher systems called organelles, and the ribonucleic acids; there is no other way. So, Guillermo and Fern say that if there were life that we dont know

87 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

and estimate today, and they can be intermediary forms, hence possibility for molecular evolution. The point is not completely worthless and would have merit, had there been any scientific evidence towards these non-DNA, non-RNA, non-Protein, non-cell intermediary life forms. In a way it is saying what if there is life without carbon or what if Hitler had won the war or what if we can build a mobile phone without electronics. They are all worth speculating and thought provocative but not scientific, empirical and logical. Life without carbon or its neighbor downstairs is unthinkable because carbon alone allows super complex molecules. There is no evidence of life without proteins, giant nucleic acids and cells. (This statement oversimplifies biology, actually a cell is as complex as a science fiction megacity-planet of 15 billion citizens and countless cultural, institutional structures it makes me shiver. Just look at the story of how cell membrane works, let alone protein production, and never mind self duplication.) And if there were, with similar complexity, other life forms as you argued, which we do not observe and find evidence for, therefore is but empty speculation, that life form would have as complex mechanisms as the life as we know it: it had to self duplicate. No complex structure self replicates other than life. A functional protein might have appeared probabilistically once in the last 15 billion years in the universe. But it cannot duplicate itself. So it just appears and sometime later disappears. One exception that is scientifically observed as to stay outside of life as we know it is of course the virus, which had been for a long time a darling of molecular evolutionists, as it is not a cell, does not have organelles, no self manufacturing systems, it is neither life as we know it nor non-life. The fact is virus makes things much more complicated for evolutionists and the omnipresent evolutionary philosophers: virus cannot exist without perfect cells (Fern: perfect cell means cell, which is perfect and not non-cell or damaged non-functioning cell like trash or malfunctioning mad cell destroying all around). It needs the cell to conquer its command structure, and replicate itself. To do this requires so many attributes in the virus, a complex design with the knowledge of the cell structures, even properties to fool the cells defense mechanisms as well as the organisms immune systems. Therefore virus does not help Evolution at all, it makes it much more difficult because cell could not have gradually evolved from virus (as virus is useless without cell) and virus could not have evolved from cell (as cell needs to gradually leave all its systems and processes without having the virus attributes on the way it does not possess any competitive advantage.). So add to the necessity of various types of proteins and their manufacturing mechanisms and nucleic acids appearing at the same microscopic point and same millisecond to complement each other, but also the weird but complex machines of viruses, with the knowledge of cells and organisms appearing out of nowhere in similar fashion. Virus is part of the cell life and not a primitive form or advanced form. Look, dont you feel much more excitement here than the greatest movie masterpiece: a complex mechanism in the cell triggers the urge to manufacture proteins, several complex organic molecules enter the nucleus through severe security checks of the nuclear membrane (in some cells there is no membrane but other security systems), they go directly to the right chromosome and the precise location of the DNA as if finding a paragraph in an encyclopedia, learn the exact amino acid molecules needed for a protein as if procurement precisely of all car parts to make a car from exhaust to front signal lights, array them for transportation in a molecular train, then ask the membrane again for permission to go back to the cellular ocean, find their way back to the manufacturing plant and synthesize the car parts with perfection and precision, then transport them to the assembly plant for three dimensional and perfect protein molecule as if like a car. This is done tens of billions of times by each and every cell. This is so accurate, precise; any mistake in the parts or the assembly of the parts makes the car not even useless but harmful or even lethal such as in the mad cow disease. But there is almost never. When there is an error due to this reason or that, it kills the cell or, worse, makes it malfunction and kills the organism as it does in cancer. This mind-blowing perfection and precision means if you tamper with it, as in the case of mutations (the engine of the modern, second incarnation of [non-Darwinian] Evolution) either has no effect on it, in very few cases, or it destroys the whole systems, as in most cases. This is life as we know it, mind blowing, impossibly precise, with thousands of processes needed at the same time. If you are saying it came to existence from

88 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

somewhere, it deserves respect for your courage and determination, but we need results, maybe not proof, but at least evidence, something. We have nothing other than imagination and speculation for an intermediary system for us to assume there is no jump. We keep looking as our religion dictates us everything must have been evolved, gradual evolution is the principle in the universe. (Big Bang betrays it as it is developed by inspiration of another religion, monotheism of Monsignor Lemaitre, we had to accept it because it was too powerful to reject just as Gregor Mendels Genetics, which was dismissed as a monks wishful thinking because it opposed Darwins Lamarckist Theory of Evolution.) Then we hope for something that proves our religion of evolution. It never comes. Other points: Fern says Certainly the cell doesn't need ALL of its proteins to survive. Even this had been true, and it is true, there may sometimes be more proteins needed in the cell than necessary, it certainly needs proteins and complex systems and structures built with proteins. A cell may be artificially kept alive without some structures but that is like farming with artificial chemicals, turning fish and men infertile, creating cancer, destroying species, etc. Keeping an isolated cell alive in an environment for some time is not the same thing as that the cell is as good. For example, they require mRNA, tRNA, the ribosome, and a pool of amino acids; however, the process of synthesizing protein doesn't require much beyond that. These things you list are very very complex structures. Furthermore, they need to have design that will make them work together with an exact protocol. So actually, they are parts of a holistic system or structure. And dont forget numerous enzymes, other molecular syntheses, cell structures for triggering action and communication as well as logistics. All are needed for protein synthesis. But if these are not enough, allow me remind you that protein synthesis is not the only thing that the cell does, there are other even more complex mechanisms. And without those mechanisms cell (life) cannot exist, which means they are also needed for the protein synthesis not for the process itself but for all the manufacturing systems to work. Without all of them in the cell no protein. Without protein none of them. With this understanding, scientists have developed in vitro protein translation kits that are completely cell-free. I know, they are actually doing it just below my office. But you are worse off here because you need much more than a perfect cell in this case: a laboratory, special equipment, sophisticated electronics design, a tribe of full grown Homo Sapiens Sapiens in white, led by a beautiful young lady in our case (I know, Norman, many things dont make sense, but I am just at the engineering side), consciousness, and modern understanding of science for selection of amino acids for the right proteins in the same form found in nature. Take any of those from protein synthesis and you have nothing. Ebert says: What is your theory? Are you a Creationist? How do you believe your theory would stand up to that sort of questioning? What is your theory? Are you a Creationist? How do you believe your theory would stand up to that sort of questioning? Notwithsanding your proven democratic set of mind, this is exactly what the priesthood say in oppressive regimes. Questioning the unquestionable Marxism demanded that you prove otherwise and at the same time declare for which foreign enemies you are working for. Here, they want proof that Evolution is false and proof that there is no subscription to enemies of modern Darwinism. The protein or the cell alone is enough for ruling out gradual evolution, but, in science, it is the evolutionists job to prove their theory. - Prove that proteins can happen by themselves naturally. - Prove that cells fully-functioning and duplicating gradually evolved. - Prove there are species transforming wonderful accidents in the cell in the form of mutations. - Prove that sharks, bugs, ferns, any species did not stay the same with no change for hundreds of million years in fossils but transformed gradually, slowly to other species. These are the central pillars of the theory. Prove them. The rest is religious speculation. I respect feelings, traditions, civilizational tendencies, massive investment and inventive efforts in propaganda, but they are not science, sound human reasoning or logic. It is not my or any doubters responsibility to build, prove and propagate a theory to dethrone this belief. In science, if something is incorrect, you dont say we know but we need to wait until

89 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

something right (and consistent with out lifelong beliefs) comes. Maxist-LeninistStalinist science defended Darwinist-Lamarckist version of evolution against the Nazi Geneticist-Mutationist version because there was simply too much propaganda material based on it including texts from Engels. It threatened their special denomination and they needed 30 more years to join the mainstream religion. Developing scientific theories and making leaps with inspiration from religion is OK. After all mechanics, the Set Theory, Genetics, modern cosmology are results of individual scientists religious worldviews. But then they were not accepted based on religious inspiration but based on observation. You cannot push a philosophy, politics and modern world religion into the debate and fight scientific doubt with TV propaganda and compulsory textbooks for kids, which is the case now. Why nobody is giving fight for Newtonian Mechanics, Mendelian Genetics, Big Bang, or the more disturbing Quantum Theory and Relativity Theory. Because they are scientifically sound, badly needed for advancement of science, therefore overcame opposition in a couple of decades easily. Apart from its own evolution from Darwinist-Lamarckist pseudoscience to modern Mutant Ninja Turtle version, Evolution still does not stand after nearly two centuries. If it had proof for molecular evolution or interspecies evolution, monotheistic religions would not question it as they did not question Newtonian clockwork universe and say that their creator created the universe with a evolution mechanism. So we need to concentrate on the science and arguments themselves and not on what the motives of the people, which affiliation they have, if they love their country and so on. And if you have dedicated people, most of them very nice very good very hardworking very intellectual people, just as Soviet peoples were just as Nazi Germans were just as Egyptians were and just as medieval Europeans were, to passionately defend a set of beliefs with no rational or, let us say, scientifically proven basis, we have a case of religion here with a lot of hocus pocus, a lot of Darwin says to us, a lot of we dont need to think how the first cell came appeared, or even might have come from space perhaps, aliens?, those who question it, question us, and they are the enemy, retards, needing psychiatric gulags, and mantras, mantras, mantras. Just turn on Discovery, History or Nat Geographic, and start counting the references to evolution and erase them or even replace them with our creator and see it is just superfluous repetition that has nothing with scientific enquiry. Wake up, men of intellect; we are in cloud cuckoo land. Ebert: Oh, dear. One species does not change into another species. Two different species may share a common line of descent. You seem very intelligent, but you resist the clear and well-known answers to your questions. Regarding the protein molecule, I just posted a comment by Bill Hays that I think addresses your problems on that issue. The Theory of Evolution is not perfect, nor is it complete or finished. It provides powerful and useful insights into the development of life on earth. Science believes it knows why there are protein molecules. Just tell me this: How do you explain the existence of the protein molecule?
oliver | April 8, 2011 6:16 PM | Reply

"Big Bang" is sort of a misnomer nowadays, I think. Cosmologists talk about expansions and not-so expansive transformational epochs that followed in the instants after the singularity came into being, but then what really got the cosmos up to size--and gets referred to as the "(great cosmic) inflation (event)"--is a lagging event that happened...a whole lot...later. Minutes? Seconds? O.K. so maybe "Big Bang" is close enough for horseshoe conversation. Except that microwave measurements might well get us an image of the universe before inflation--a snapshot of before or during the "Big Bang" ostensibly. Meanwhile, I admire you for proclaiming such a broad and deep commitment to scientific naturalism.
Andy | April 8, 2011 7:09 PM | Reply

Ebert: "We are indeed a bunch of atoms, as you will agree. We are not "just" a bunch of atoms. We have evolved into a wondrous complexity." But that means you still think of humans as consisting of only atoms, which means that there would be no difference compared to a highly sophisticated robot. In your

90 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

review of "A.I.", you spent the whole time talking about how you did not care whether the machines lived or died no matter how complex they were. You wrote, "because the robot does not genuinely love. It genuinely only seems to love." So why does a human "genuinely love" if we are supposedly just physical atoms much like robots? Here's a thought experiment: if all the people in La Dolce Vita were actually artificial intelligence, would it change your empathy for the characters? The scientific method also believes that humans have no free will. Do you have faith to disagree with it? Personally, I love the scientific method and think that it has created astounding results, but it also has certain limitations on things that are not readily testable. Ebert: Our particular bunch of atoms evolved the ability to think, and to know they think. There's the wonder. I don't think the Scientific Method believes anything about free will or anything else. It is simply a method for arriving at a useful hypothesis. It has no opinion. That is its whole point.
oliver | April 8, 2011 7:12 PM | Reply

I like that you use "Theory of Evolution," because it suggests an explanation, while "evolution" by itself allows disparagers to suppose and insinuate otherwise. I'd like to see more use of "common descent," which invokes Darwin and Wallace's radical insight more specifically ("evolution" refers equally to Lamarck's theory), is an explanation in itself and I'd say closer to the crux of the matter.
David M. Anderson | April 8, 2011 7:35 PM | Reply

Dear Roger, I came upon your post late last evening and wept at its eloquence. I am an amateur astronomer who shares your wonder and joy in thinking about our place in the cosmos. I also want to thank the many readers who have added thoughtful and eloquent comments. Like you, I don't fear death because there is no discomfort in non-existence, as we know from the time before our birth. I do fear dying because I am descended from beings whose survival depended on instinctively avoiding anything close to it at nearly any cost. (But not at any cost, thankfully, or there wouldn't be the altruistic heroes risking their lives at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant or fighting tyranny in Egypt and Libya.) I do hate death, however, because it robs us of loved ones near and far, and though we've never met, your advice and reflections on life and art have enriched my life for many years and I resent the fact that you will probably shuffle off this mortal coil (since we are in a Hamlet mood on this thread) too soon. I want to offer three further thoughts. The first is a reply to those who insist that the Big Bang must have a cause of its own. This is only true if we maintain an old-fashioned (Newtonian) concept of time. But space-time (and the extra dimensions currently conjectured) are in fact contingent aspects of our universe. There is no logical requirement for a time before the Big Bang, any more than there is for a temperature below absolute zero. (It is also logically possible that this isn't the whole story. It may be, for example, that time does extend infinitely in both directions, just as there may be multiverses ad infinitum. But that also wouldn't require a "first cause" because there would be nothing before t=-infinity. If a god can be infinitely old, so can a godless cosmos.) Second, I believe current thinking is that the universe isn't curved on its largest scale. Mass causes local curvature, in the formulation of General Relativity, but the universe as a whole seems to be very flat. When I was studying astrophysics in the 1970s one of the key questions was whether the universe was "open" or "closed". Both empirical evidence and current theory--inflation, etc.--suggest it's pretty much right on the knife edge. There remains a limit to the observable universe, of course, because of its finite age. Oh, also, the expansion only separates masses that are too far apart to be held together by gravity. The galaxies and galaxy clusters are bound tightly enough that they aren't flying apart. So each atom isn't destined to be alone. In the end that's no solace, though, since all of the stars will eventually die, black holes will evaporate, and even protons may decay. We have a long time to come to terms with all of this, thankfully. Finally, now that our technology has advanced enough to take SETI seriously, there is understandable excitement about the possibility of contacting other intelligent

91 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

civilizations. While I encourage this research, I suspect that its findings will be negative. I am sure you've heard of Fermi's paradox. Here's the way I describe it: In the few decades since we began flying and then launching rockets we already have a clear understanding of the technology needed to colonize space and travel to the stars. (See, among others, the work of Gerard O'Neill in the 1970s.) Within a century or so, I'm sure we will do so. We will begin to spread out, building and occupying every habitable niche, as life always does, humanity not excepted. (I don't think we'll inhabit planets primarily. They are good incubators for life, but not our destination. I am hopeful that Earth and other planets will eventually be restored and cared for as natural parks and gardens.) We won't develop faster-than-light travel, but will happily live in huge cities that travel between the stars. That it might take thousands of years for such journeys is no problem: we've been content to spend many generations on a spaceship that just goes in circles without going completely crazy. At, say, 1/1000 the speed of light, we will still be able to cross our galaxy in a few tens of millions of years, spreading settlers to many of its stellar systems. Any intelligent, tool-using life-form would do the same (or at least some significant fraction of them), and if there are others out there, they are probably a few billion years old, on average, given the age of the galaxies. (It would be an odd coincidence if they all evolved just now.) So if intelligent life is at all common, some forms would probably have spread far and wide. If we didn't observe them visiting us--and, no, we haven't--I think we'd probably observe the results of their industry. (For one thing, energy will always be valuable, so I think they'd probably be building lots of Dyson spheres or the equivalent.) And we haven't. An excellent account of the Fermi paradox and 50 possible answers is Stephen Webb's "Where Are They?" You'll find it very enjoyable even if you don't reach the same conclusion I do. While I think we may be alone in all of this, I don't find that any more bothersome than the lack of a heavenly father watching over us. We give meaning to each other's life, and that has to be enough. It does give me a heightened sense of responsibility, perhaps. I want to make sure the life that has developed here on our blue planet continues to survive and prosper, because it is so precious, even if only to us. Ebert: Yes, but I think it sad that generations of humans would live and die with no sense experience of Earth.
keith carrizosa | April 8, 2011 9:35 PM | Reply

About the question of the origin of life, we will never know the whole story, I think, because viruses played a vital role in the development of early life: and viruses leave no fossil records. http://www.bookrags.com/research/evolutionary-origin-of-bacteria-and-wmi/
Guillermo Lande | April 8, 2011 10:20 PM | Reply

Norman York, thank you for your most excellent and enjoyable disagreement. I must first begin by saying that I disagree to at least some degree with both you and Roger in this topic. I disagree with anti-evolution, but I also disagree with big bang. And I'm very excited that your excellent explanation of your beliefs allows me to tie in the one thing I feel both you and Roger are missing: scale. The theory of the big bang is that all the universe at some point was crushed into a naked singularity and then blew up. It's a theory that requires a bounded space and a center of gravity for all of space. I absolutely do not believe in bounded space. What's on the other side of the boundary? It just doesn't make sense. So what happens if we expand the scale to such a large size that our sun and solar system become the equivalent of an atom. What happens if the whole galaxy becomes the equivalent of an atom. What happens if all our perceived galaxies become the equivalent of the atom. If we change the scale that far, then we have an empirical correlation to what people think is the big bang: A nuclear explosion. What's to say that when we explode an atom--or a star compresses an atom or there's any kind of nuclear reaction, that there aren't tiny, tiny (tiny) worlds with their own scale of life in them, developing, exploring, learning and eventually being obliterated as their own galaxies are blown up in what we see as relatively minor explosions.

92 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

What if our big bang were just a minor explosion in a much bigger cosmos. And this is why I say you and I may not empirically recognize life when it's there. The life could be on such a huge scale that we're less than one organelle in a multigalaxy organism. The life could also be on such a tiny scale that each of our organelles is a whole galaxy with our atoms as their solar systems and our electrons as planets. What happens when humanity develops nano life to do our work for us. What if humans and ants and birds are the nano life of a child scientist so big that we can't even perceive one whole cell because it's so big. Norman, I don't think it's necessary that we, in our 100 years of life and 15 thousand or so years since we walked across the joined continents, perceive the scale of life, the origin of life or chain of life. All I contend is that it's not magic. Whether life as we experience it was developed from an invisibly small scale, way smaller than atoms, or whether it's developed on a massively large scale too big for us to see, or whether it's developed gradually on our scale over such a long time we don't see the steps yet, all I contend is that it's natural. It's the way of the world, and just like a squamous cell in my mouth doesn't have to understand its place in my body, we don't have to understand our place in the smaller and bigger universe. We simply are, and we do our best to learn and get better. :)
Robert | April 8, 2011 10:22 PM | Reply

Roger, Another thought-provoking posting. I also very much liked the comment (I forget whose) that pointed out that since we are material of the universe and we are aware of the universe, we can say the universe is aware of itself. Cool.
David M. Anderson | April 8, 2011 11:05 PM | Reply

Dear Roger, I, too, feel a bit sad about many of our descendants living and dying far from Earth, but I'm sure my ancestors felt the same way about their children never returning from the New World to see lovely Norway and Scotland. Nor have many of us seen the Great Rift Valley and even if we went there it would have changed, I'm sure, since those bygone days. You can never go home again. I love Earth enough that I hope someday we can move most of our industry off of it, leaving behind a few billion caretakers who keep their population controlled and live sustainably, and restore and maintain as much of its beauty as possible, including the best of mankind's monuments, architecture, and cave paintings. Meanwhile I trust that our descendants, no matter what stars they orbit, will learn to love better and continue to create art and ideas.
Norman York | April 8, 2011 11:12 PM | Reply

Ebert: Oh, dear. One species does not change into another species. Two different species may share a common line of descent. That is again high-brow holier-than-thou talk of the Darwinist priesthood. We all know Darwinist mantras, each and every one of us has grown up with it. Yes, and those common lines of descent disappear after doing the job, while everything else stay the same. Earths environment, conditions, rival animals changed several times during the last 200 million years but sharks did not get the message. They are still at it with no change, just as insects, plants, mammals. Actually they changed, they must have become other fish, although there is no flicker of evidence for it and, frankly, it is not possible. Change anything on any shark with any mutation you dont get hard skeleton or several other non-shark fish attributes. Change them half-way, you have a deadly burden on the poor freak of nature in the competition of survival, and it has to mate with an exact replica too, so you need two exactly same freaks of nature exactly same areas with impossible accidents. OK, lets say, dinosaurs did not evolve into some other things and disappeared because of the meteorite, fine. What about the Cambrian Explosion, when all species most of which disappeared suddenly appear in fossil records with their perfect forms with eyes and sophisticated systems. Explain it with evolution. There is variation but no interspecies evolution.

93 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

If there had been evolution, the fossil records would have been full of intermediary half-done life forms, gradually evolving organs, and actually in numbers much greatly exceeding perfect and known species. Where is the crawling fish, lung developing fish, bear in the process of becoming seal and whale, the common carnivore becoming gradually bear at the same time gradually becoming cat while gradually becoming wolf. A single fossil would have been good. Some evolutionists of revolutionary persuasion address this with a wilder theory called punctuated equilibrium where there are pockets of radiation and mutation, as in the deep valley of the King Kong, animals get in them, metamorphosis quickly in no time, and get out as a new member of the fossil world. These places are so few they cannot be found. This and many other Amazing Stories. Unfortunately no evidence at all. You seem very intelligent, but you resist the clear and well-known answers to your questions. Regarding the protein molecule, I just posted a comment by Bill Hays that I think addresses your problems on that issue. Thanks for the compliment, Roger, I will print this out and give it to my girlfriend. I missed Bill Hayss argument and went back and found it. Dear Bill, your argument is based on statistics, although boring as all statistics, certainly right qualitatively. Quantitatively, your argument is incorrect: You give the example of Megamillions Lotto has odds of 141 million to one and then say in the billions of years it could have happened once. The probability of life is much much much much much less than the Lotto: Let us assume we are in a world plenty of amino acids, which is itself almost impossible it is now known today that Miller artificially synthesized amino acids in lab conditions quite different from primordial earth. But let us say Earth was a planet of amino acids. The probability that a giant protein molecule would be synthesized three dimensionally perfect and functional with all the right amino acids making chemical bonds accidentally, is like a car is welded with thousands of its parts in exact angles and positions correctly but accidentally. It is calculated conservatively as one in ten to the power of nine hundred fifty. This is much smaller than one in ten to the power of eight in your Lotto. The word much here is not any much, it needs to be pronounced as a Russ Meyer prologue followed by a scream by Jim Carry followed by a commentary from Orson Welles in triumphant John Williams score. Immaculate Conception, Moses parting seas and all miracles in the Bible and all the other world religious literature written and unwritten put together is probabilistically much closer to having rain in Boston. Put together that one protein is just nothing, and that some other proteins or sophisticated impossibly complex systems must have accidentally emerged at the same microscopic point at the same microsecond, then we are talking about one in ten to the power of sleeping all night with a finger on the keyboards zero. And this is impossible for even the most devout religious zealot to accept. It is so fantastically impossible that it excites me. It just cannot be. Of course, before Big Bang, Evolutionary priesthood argued, impossibility was not a problem at all because universe was infinite and static. In infinity of time, it does not matter how small the probabilities are, anything is possible at some time. So, Evolution was undefeatable (and therefore, as Karl Popper stated, as Chuck Vekert poster reminded us, unscientific) until Big Bang came, which said universe had a life of only 15 billion years, a blink of time. Big Bang did not only made Abrahamic cosmology of creation scientific, it also removed Evolutions main armor, infinity of time. NB - Scientific Prediction also involving Hollywood: As Evolution has always been based on ideological propaganda and a certain worldview, and as the more science advances the more ridiculous it looks in each decade, now the priesthood also see that it is no more tenable with propaganda only, want their infinity armor back, despite that it makes them Karl Popper unscientific. For that, wait for the new, again philosophic demagoguery based, Theory of Infinite Parallel Universes, research of which is being financed in the last twenty years. Infinite Parallel Universes and constant inward inflating Big Bang universes solves the problem brought by Big Bang by making time infinite again and making Bill Hayss argument valid. To prepare the next generation to this non-scientific but philosophic-religious cosmology from their early ages onward, Darwinist priesthood is financing cultural campaigns, childrens novels, Christmas blockbusters, and expect many things with the mantra of parallel universes until the term enters the top list of most frequently used daily life English phrases. I predict by 2025 infinity of universe space-time will be the popular dogma. There is just too much invested in Darwinism, which is not working, and they wont go without putting up a mental fight. They are artful but that one wont

94 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

work either because physicists are too independent an anthropologic entity to be outmaneuvered and there will be too much resistance. And people are not cretins not to understand the old farts are fiddling with cosmology to make their stupid religious faith untouchable again. The Theory of Evolution is not perfect, nor is it complete or finished. It provides powerful and useful insights into the development of life on earth. Roger; the Theories of Evolution, in any of their incarnations, not only do not contribute to the advancement of science and human civilization, but also is actually the greatest barrier before the progress of mankind. It does not contribute to science, because biology is not based on evolution, it is based on genetics and study and observation of life we have. Evolution is considered useful in biology only in taxonomies of species. But that does not count because evolutionary taxonomies are based on similarities of species and with or without it those taxonomies would more or less be the same, or even more accurate. In other fields of science, especially the laughable religious new-age science of Evolutionary Psychology, it is just mantra: You smile, because this evolutionarily gives you social advantage, and evolution put it in your genes, therefore you smile. You love because ... Many people make a living out of this and therefore perform another professional priesthood, but, come on people, we are above this. Elsewhere, computer science had some algorithmic techniques late in 80s in solving some search problems called Genetic Algorithms inspired by Mutant Ninja Turtle variety of Evolution but those are nowadays mostly used only as part of a combination of other algorithms now. Thats about it. But the harm on society is twofold. Number one, it makes scientific debate primitive and reduces it to religious arguments. Many non-religious people are also aware how pseudoscientific this grand theory of everything is. But they dont want to take the side of monotheistic religions and either keep silent or enter the debate with tactical position taking. Therefore a fanatical minority of know-all philosophers or demagogues, actually paid just to do that demagoguery by the best universities in the world since 90s to counter doubt (under names such as chair for the public understanding of science, read Darwinism), push otherwise open-minded critical thinking people to take up a position and better be not the position of the enemy. There is no civilized, fruitful debate on the origin of life or development of it or human nature or anything in the upper layers of the positivist strata of sciences. Hocus pocus against mumbo jumbo. You cannot accuse politicians, artists, musicians, thinkers or opinion leaders getting dumb and dumber. The scientific environment is getting dumb and dumber when you see a theory does not work but cannot question it. A person who sees obvious nonsense but cannot or does not criticize is a malfunctioning unhappy homo sapiens. The second reason is that the theory belittles life and how wonderful it is, regardless of its origin. Life is so impossibly good and magnificent and mind-blowing. Not only the proteins interlock, but cells also do, and actually organisms also do in ecosystems. Insects, animals and especially humans are greatest shows on earth. No life is accidental, half-formed, imperfect, in evolutionary process, could be better without, artificially sustained. We are not only visibly harming the Earth and its species, but we are also harming ourselves. Skinhead, and Nazis, rightly ask, what is all the fuss, we are doing what Darwin says should happen, crush the skull of the lower race in the evolutionary continuum. There is no evolutionary continuum, we were intermarrying Neanderthals, brain size does not matter as it did not in Homo Florensis, and all races on Earth which are mixed are equal as organisms, though social orders, history and worldviews make them act or think different. We kill and commit genocide much easier as we destroy the earth much easier armed with the theory of accidental progress and survival of the fittest. Science believes it knows why there are protein molecules. Just tell me this: How do you explain the existence of the protein molecule? Science believes? At the moment, in this area, science is some ideological overlords running productive lab slaves, who only think of writing another incremental paper to get in the tenure track, and whose work are given meaning by grand philosophers and PR men. First let us get rid of the falsehood, as did masses of people in 1989, and free ourselves with the dogmas of the priesthood. As I explained, at the moment we do not benefit from Darwinism in science, though we benefit from Darwinist scientists whose Darwinist faith does not interfere in their lab work or field digging. So removal of the philosophy will not leave a massive gap that will shatter civilization. Perhaps initially some more people will subscribe to mainstream

95 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

religions and that is all. But with the intellectual discussions and newly opened field of scientific free-thinking, life sciences will be revitalized and new theories will emerge. Even if did not enough reason to uphold an unproven wish. Roger, we all know you have become more religious in your beliefs and increasingly attached to Darwinism. And questioning of this set of beliefs is insecurity and uncomforting for many, but comedy of errors cannot go on forever. Ebert: You are a very good writer. But you remain incurious. All of the problems and objections you state have long since been dealt with by science time and again. As Louis Armstrong once said: "There are some folks who, if they don't know, you can't tell 'em."
Lewis Thomason | April 8, 2011 11:52 PM | Reply

I tried to share this on FaceBook and got the following message. This message contains blocked content that has previously been flagged as abusive or spammy. Let us know if you think this is an error. What is going on ?
Fern replied to comment from Norman York | April 9, 2011 1:14 AM | Reply

Norman, I am glad that you hold an appreciation for the complex machinery of the cell, but I am puzzled why you end at amazement and cease further inquiry into how it works. Yes, it is very complex, but cells are physically in front of us and can be studied. Again, I do not understand what you mean by a perfect cell that is perfect. You provide examples of non-perfect cells as non-cells, non/mal-functional cells, and trash. What about a cell that carries a mutation in it that doesn't turn it into a non-cell, non/mal-functional cell, or trash? You go on and on about how the machinery within the cell is so accurate and precise, that any "mistake" (mutation) in the parts or assembly makes it useless or lethal. This is a major misconception about what a mutation can do. Yes, it can lead to a breakdown in the system, but it can also be neutral and, most importantly, beneficial. This is at the heart of how variation can arise in a population. Going back to the beginning of your post, you argue that there is no evidence of precursors to life and thus it is not scientific, empirical, or logical to propose they ever existed. I disagree with you here, because of two pieces of evidence: (1) life currently exists and (2) there is no fossil record of life prior to about 4 billion years nor was it likely that life could have existed prior to the Earth's formation. Life must have arisen at some point. This is where scientists ask how? Like you, we consider it unlikely that a modern cell randomly came together at that very moment. However, you seem to hold a very specific definition of what constitutes life and that it is unthinkable to think of it any other way. It is this argument that really puzzles me and goes against everything the scientific method teaches. Any understanding we have about life is subject to further scrutiny and can be modified. You touch upon how proteins cannot self-replicate, but who is claiming proteins were the precursors? Or even DNA for that matter? You assert that since we currently don't have a likely candidate we should give up. This is anathema to the scientific process. In light of the evidence that life somehow arose from non-life, we search on. If you believe this to be a fruitless search, that is your prerogative. Finally, you state that it is the evolutionists job to prove their theory. This is not their job and is another misconception on what a theory is. A theory cannot be absolutely proven. To do so would require proving a universal negative: that the theory does not fail under any circumstance. This is impossible because we do not possess the resources or knowledge to test under every circumstance. Thus, the best thing the evolutionist can do is to disprove their theory. Any successful falsification of the theory leads to its modification. The theory of evolution that you are familiar with today is the result from the fruits of that labor and continues to be tested.
Bill Hays replied to comment from David M. Anderson | April 9, 2011 1:34 AM | Reply

Reply to: I want to offer a reply to those who insist that the Big Bang must have a cause of its own. That's me. My logic, my take on it.

96 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

Reply to: This is only true if we maintain an old-fashioned (Newtonian) concept of time. But space-time (and the extra dimensions currently conjectured) are in fact contingent aspects of our universe. There is no logical requirement for a time before the Big Bang, any more than there is for a temperature below absolute zero. Obviously, I'm going to get in trouble for this. Don't care. After the Big Bang, the universe went through a period of inflation. Took physicists a while to come up with that explanation.. The idea of time... stabilized? Our universe went from a period when other conditions applied to one in which current conditions exist, and there doesn't seem to be any way to alter them. Reply to:. It may be that time does extend infinitely in both directions, Well, no. Time doesn't extend. but our universe is one of an infinite number of universes, and some of them existed before ours, and time existed in those universes. To me, it doesn't seem logical that time suddenly appeared in our universe, without anything similar in the source. So, my theory is, the Big Bang came from a place where there was time, which existed before our universe did, and it was part of an infinite series of universes that generated each other... Maybe not infinite. But while space-time in our universe started with the Big Bang, there was already an existing place that had time that was part of its' existence. I'm not sure there was space, but I think there was time. The way to visualize this... would be soap bubbles. A bathtub full of soap bubbles. The bubbles split in half, creating two where there had been one. Our universe is a bubble in a bathtub full of bubbles. Or, bubbles rising from a scuba tank toward the surface. Not sure i can defend this... but there it is.
Aaron | April 9, 2011 1:40 AM | Reply

My perception of the universe is always inverse to the problems directly in front of me. It disappears when I'm distracted by stressful issues, and it only seemed fully present when I was a child looking up at the stars. Letting all this infinity in is a way to clear the head, I guess, no matter how we rationalize why it's working. That some people like to pitch tents around this fundamental of all mysteries, to charge admission, feels like a crime of the spirit to me, and to many other people out there, both atheists and religious, who have their own personal connection with infinity, whether or not they give it a name like God. I believe our differing views, though, show how different we are within this single species, and that infinity out there shows how we are simultaneously pretty much the same. The trick is not to forget the mystery, or its gravity. Though some theories are more likely than others, pretending we have all the answers just distorts that mystery. The sentiment popularized by Carl Sagan, that we, products of star dust, are the universe looking at itself, is some comfort.
Bill Hays replied to comment from Norman York | April 9, 2011 12:11 PM | Reply

Reply to: What about the Cambrian Explosion, when all species most of which disappeared suddenly appear in fossil records with their perfect forms with eyes and sophisticated systems. Explain it with evolution. Actually, that's the easiest one to answer. We KNOW the answer. If you cut your finger, does it bleed forever? No, it heals. Our ancestors won the battle for survival because of Repair Mechanisms. When we break, we don't stay broken. Bones heal. DNA has a repair mechanism, too. It probably started with using the organic chemicals from other living things as food... but it turned into sex.

97 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

Combining the DNA from last night's dinner with the DNA floating around in our nucleus-food protoplasm inside a fragile membrane... turned into a way to add the DNA from our competition into our own. When this happened, life exploded. There weren't any rules for adding this new DNA. Oh, yeah. Symmetry. The left side looked like the right side in a mirror. The writer doesn't seem to understand how primitive the life forms were during the Cambrian Era. But life took off because the DNA inside the cell found a way to shuffle the deck. Using a repair mechanism that said, "If this piece of our DNA isn't working, let's patch it with a piece of yesterday's turkey sandwich." Viola, we're now 10% turkey. It's not sex. When you look at a fossil, you need to see the creature that created the fossil. The Cambrian Explosion came from an ancestor of sexual reproduction, not sexual reproduction. It was closer to digestion than picking up babes at the Mall.
Tom Dark | April 9, 2011 1:50 PM | Reply

That Convy Morgan wrote a darned good paper on this issue, don't you think, Joe? Oh, I'll bet you're ignorant of it. There are so many things of which you really are ignorant, it's not worth the trouble of pointing it out. It WOULD be worth the trouble of your shutting your ignorant yap, though. As you don't understand what I'm talking about -- you show it every time -- you must look to yourself for this "ignorance" that keeps blocking your vision. Now "let's be clear," as you say about your somewhat ornery, humorless murk: You're as I described, one of two "sides." You haven't got a clue what's outside this intellectual box. You are likely less informed on your own "side" than I am. Your posts always show that. You've not only contributed nothing but negative cat-calling to every blog in which Roger can't help but return to this subject, you've done so witlessly; as you point out, you don't approve of wit, should you one day recognize it. So yours are always the words of a humorless cultist scandalized at the thought of what's outside those church doors of truly cheap belief. Like Louie Armstrong said, "They's them who just can't stand the music." Or was that me? Lord knows it was often that way even from big festival stages. By the way, Aaron, when Carl Sagan admitted he was a constant stoner, it made sense to me like nothing else he wrote. What he said makes it obvious he was an obsessive, an addict. I've read nearly all of Velikovsky, some, repeatedly. I read Sagan's take on Velikovsky's stuff. Sagan wrote lie after lie after lie about Velikovsky's work. 700 pages of lies, according to a scholar named Ginenthal, who counted them up. Sagan made things up that Velikovsky never wrote. Sagan's career as a chronically stoned PBS cheerleader for science grants began with his bold, steady libelings of Velikovsky, which were blessed gratefully by Harlow Shapley, Dean of Harvard Astronomy dept., for one of many, who had been frightened senseless at Velikovsky's lending credence to religious myths of any kind as interpretable data toward the physical history of the solar system. They're were scared witless at how popular Velikovsky's work was. They boycotted the publisher. They fired any professors lending a nod to Velikovsky's work. Carl Sagan saw an opportunity for fame, fortune, and weed, wheeling around libeling Velikovsky. Sagan was a liar. I never got to communicate with that liar personally. But I met Carl Sagan's college roommate, who'd spent his own career running an observatory. He showed me that not only had Sagan never even read Velikovsky, neither had he, but "if Carl said it, that's good enough for me." It's important to repeat this story. There are obsessive scientismists here. It's important they allow in even a tiny bit of light hinting at the dishonesty of a closed community that so enjoys worship and government grants and calls anyone differing with their magic show "ignorant," like Joe Young does. There's far more corruption in those halls than "Discover" magazine could hide, or even document. Of course, some who read this may evince exactly the same attitudes as I were a negro in a whites-only diner in 1959, trying to discuss the unreasonableness

98 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

underlying your god damned silly, superstitious sacred cows. NORMAN YORK. That name needs big here. Go Norm go. Show that Roger a thing or two. Norm isn't the only one "incurious" around here. The quality of the reasoning that produces his sentences says calling Norm "incurious" is an attempt at a sucker punch. It just gets wearying calling after those speeding gaily around their mobius strips that their destinations are a bit too obvious. Or, as Louie Armstrong said, "Some turn they volume up so they can't hear nothin' else." Or was that just me noticing how things are in reality again? When cornered these will claim, sometimes belligerently, that everything else "isn't music." Trust me. Chapter, verse, line, punctuation, trust me: there's more music in "the Universe" than some damn fluff-piece magazine can allow. If I am not fascinated hearing that same old smooth-jazz for the 8 millionth time, or "how proteins got there" for the 9 millionth time, I may not be the ignorant one. "Evolving" and "evolution" have long been distorted to mean "growth toward meaningful improvement." That sense is absolutely the opposite of Darwin's postulation and theory. This distorted sense is instead a nod to Lamarckianism, which was "outlawed" 90 years back. "Science" blotted out the possibility of anything but a "meaningless universe" with popular acceptance of this key Darwinian nonsense. It was popular because it blotted out the guilt-grip of aging relgions for "the masses," a quite ignorant lot jazzed up with a way out of them; it is indeed nonsense by intent of the very word games you people keep playing here, pretending these word games are "refinements of a theory." Random IS nonsense. Darwin's universe began with a meaningless, nonsensical bang. Would you mind accepting the so-stated premises, people? it is totally illogical; it is absolutely irrational, to mix "random" and "reasoned" together. Is this a word game too? Because of these noisy snores I went and looked it up. Has it changed since I grew up? Nope. The process called "evolution" is still the random change of something or other over a period of time, which either destroys a species or randomly causes it to be more adaptable to an equally random environment. It was the current teaching, complete with smiley-face cartoon proteins and language even Joe Young could understand. Same old same old round an' round she goes, everything is RANDOM. Oh. Yeh. And then laws got tacked on. By meaningless chance. Some implied "God of Luck." As third grade phonics method would evince, "evolution" means no volition at all. The thing "evolved" can't act. Yet random things happen. And yes, "Evolution" is an "everything" theory, a bad joke trying to fill in with the previous "everything" theory, aka God. E.g., the "Law of Uniformity" -- awww, skip it. What "gene" "evolved," then, to give people the notion that man is somehow the top o' the evolutionary heap? And so on and so on and.... zzzz...zzzzzzz... (And then he fell into a swell Mark-Twain kind of dream about it, with cute round talking peptides'n'stuff, woke up and understood everything.) Let's see now. As to the nature of time, it's absurd to pretend it goes just back and forth. There's a clue. And as Queen Wilhelmina asked reasonably of Descartes, "how do you know you are thinking, and if you are, how do you know you're not crazy?" I'm STILL trying to figure out why, and what use, is "comfort" to physical-science or philosophical, theological or metaphysical enquiry? Doesn't "comfort" really mean one settles into "incurious" after a certain "comforting" point? Doesn't "comfort" breed prejudices? Don't they then turn into a rigid bigotry? Is it like feeling reassured there are no ghosts in one's house after all, or in his head? And how long does this "comfort" last? Longer than would make me cozy, that's for sure.

99 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

Or did Louie Armstrong say that?


Bill Hays replied to comment from Norman York | April 9, 2011 2:09 PM | Reply

One of the major problems with Creationists is confusion over the time line. They think animals appeared in the Cambrian Explosion, or that a modern animal cell suddenly appeared at the wrong place in the time line. Prokaryotes were the ONLY form of life on Earth 34 billion years ago. The eukaryotic cells emerged between 1.6 2.7 billion years ago. The next major change in cell structure came when bacteria were engulfed by eukaryotic cells, in a cooperative association called endosymbiosis. The engulfed bacteria and the host cell then underwent co-evolution,... l "Life" on the planet Earth consisted of the unicellular eukaryotes, prokaryotes, and archaea ....until about 610 million years ago when multicellular organisms began to appear in the oceans in the Ediacaran period. Multicellularity occurred in organisms as diverse as sponges, brown algae, cyanobacteria, slime moulds and myxobacteria.... but not until 610 mya, almost 3 billion years after the earliest life appeared. Soon after the emergence of these first multicellular organisms, a remarkable amount of biological diversity appeared over approximately 10 million years, in an event called the Cambrian explosion. Here, the majority of types of modern animals appeared in the fossil record, (But NOT animals.) About 500 million years ago, plants and fungi colonised the land, Amphibians first appeared around 300 million years ago, followed by early amniotes, then mammals around 200 million years ago and birds around 100 million years ago Now that we have a rough time line, let's ask, At what point did repair mechanism appear? If the history of life starts with very simple, and becomes more complex, when did cells have enough "software" to support a repair mechanism? WIKI: Due to the damaging effects that mutations can have on cells, organisms have evolved mechanisms such as DNA repair to remove mutations. The optimal mutation rate for a species is a trade-off between costs of a high mutation rate, such as deleterious mutations, and the metabolic costs of maintaining systems to reduce the mutation rate, such as DNA repair enzymes. Viruses that use RNA as their genetic material have rapid mutation rates, which can be an advantage since these viruses will evolve constantly and rapidly, Mutations can involve large sections of a chromosome becoming duplicated. Extra copies of genes are a major source of the raw material needed for new genes to evolve. This is important because most new genes evolve within gene families from pre-existing genes that share common ancestors. For example, the human eye uses four genes to make structures that sense light: three for colour vision and one for night vision; all four are descended from a single ancestral gene. If one gene in a pair can acquire a new function while the other copy continues to perform its original function (end) Reply to: I missed Bill Hayss argument and went back and found it. Dear Bill, your argument is right qualitatively. Quantitatively, your argument is incorrect: The probability that a giant protein molecule would be synthesized three dimensionally perfect and functional with all the right amino acids making chemical bonds accidentally, is like a car is welded with thousands of its parts in exact angles and positions correctly but accidentally Actually, that's a great analogy. A cell is a chemical factory. All the repair mechanisms and digestive and transport systems inside a cell are very much like a car assembly line, welding seams and

100 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

making sure the chassis is securely bolted to the unibody. There are many amino acids, but 20 of them appear in "life." They are combined in different ways to create proteins. Once you realize that a cell is a factory that assembles things, and get the time line right... well, the fact that there aren't a hundred different forms of life using different combinations of amino acids than the ones we use.... explains how the process worked. It was like throwing socks into a drier. Once, and only once, did all the matching socks pair up by themselves. Or, several times, and they got eaten by other organisms that didn't appreciate Art.
Randy Masters | April 9, 2011 2:35 PM | Reply

I watched the Star Trek reboot movie last night with my family. Ah, the glories of the Universe. Space, the final frontier. Warp travel around the galaxy and beyond. New civilizations. Such incredible visualization of space and technology. All very exciting stuff to ponder. We are such a small part of it all. Yet, alive and special nonetheless.
David M. Anderson replied to comment from Bill Hays | April 9, 2011 4:25 PM | Reply

Dear Bill, We are mostly in agreement, judging from your several posts here. I am not saying that there was nothing before the Big Bang. I don't know one way or the other. The multiverse theory, which you describe here, is certainly logically possible. Indeed many cosmologists find it an attractive hypothesis. But it is not logically necessary. Stephen Hawking conjectured at one time that space-time could actually be a smooth manifold even at the Big Bang "singularity". (In his formulation, as I understand it, he replaced t with i*t, where i is the imaginary unit. Doing so makes relativity a little neater, though last I looked this convention was going out of fashion. Hawking may also have changed his mind. I don't always keep up.) That's the notion I have in mind when I say that there needn't be a "before". Since, for one thing, we haven't yet reconciled General Relativity with quantum physics, we don't really know with great confidence what the earliest conditions of the universe were. When you state that "our universe is one of an infinite number of universes, and some of them existed before ours, and time existed in those universes," you seem rather sure of yourself. You seem to speak of time as if it were independent of space, whereas time is now understood as one dimension on the four(+)-dimensional manifold on which all events occur. (They are so intertwined that two observers will not agree on them unless they are relatively stationary. Moreover, both are quite intertwined with the mass-energy that clumpily fills our universe.) You acknowledge that "space-time in our universe started with the Big Bang," but somehow insist that there must be some other "time," with or without "space," outside of that. While that may be logically possible, it's certainly not logically necessary. To you, "it doesn't seem logical that time suddenly appeared in our universe, without anything similar in the source." I have little idea what "the source" means, and I am suggesting that it is the result of a logical fallacy. I find that thinking to be perilously close to the cosmological argument for the existence of God, which I know you reject, and which was the intended target of my original comment. The modern notion of time is quite foreign to our everyday experience, since we move at non-relativistic speeds relative to other observers, and since we live in a post-inflation era far from any black hole, so that both our local and possibly our global space-time is pretty flat. Our intuitions, unless we hone them with a lot of study of General Relativity, don't provide us with the best foundation for the study of cosmology.
David M. Anderson replied to comment from Bill Hays | April 9, 2011 4:51 PM | Reply

Thanks, Bill for reminding us of the time-line of evolution as well as your explanation of the types and roles of repair mechanisms. The long time it took to get from prokaryotes to multi-cellular life is one of the things I believe helps explain the Fermi paradox I mentioned earlier. I expect that

101 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

we will find that life is quite common in the universe, but complex life far less so. Creationists make a big deal about the low probability events leading from amino acids soups to us, but they not only underestimate the number of generations of replication that the vast age of the Earth has allowed, they also don't take into account that billions or trillions of planets have been playing this lottery for just as long. (And perhaps many more if we accept the multiverse theory, which makes the anthropic principle appealing.) Their only needed to be, and may only have been, one winner, which calls itself "us".
Karthik Sethuram | April 9, 2011 4:53 PM | Reply

You know Roger, I'm so glad that you've chosen to do this blog. I say "Roger," and not "Mr. Ebert," because these articles have given me a peak into your mind that perhaps I would not have gotten unless we were friends. In this infinity of space, I'm glad I can put you into the category of fellow traveler and friend. This article has moved me in so many ways. Like many of the other commenters, a movie we thought of while reading your words was "Contact." I thought the movie was really good when I first saw it, but as the years have gone by, I've meditated on the nature of the ideas brought forth by this film and the book it is based on. As I've grown into my 20s, the weight of how little our lives mean on a cosmic scale has touched me deeply, and at times, has made me feel sad and hopeless. Everything we desire, hate, struggle for, and love is nothing but the faintest of embers waiting to blink out into nothingness. And then, I also realize the preciousness of that. Yes, our lives may "mean" nothing to the universe. But isn't that also a reason to embrace anything and everything? That the struggles of this life are so miniscule that they can't be overcome by the entirety of one human spirit? A Hindu or a Buddhist might comprehend the transience of life in a way Abrahamic religions don't. But I think both Eastern and Western philosophies value different characteristics of life in a way that astounds me... one emphasizes the treasure that is humanity in this moment of time we call life, the other embraces the awe-inspiring oneness we have with the universe.
Chad Renard | April 9, 2011 10:58 PM | Reply

Mr Ebert, Thank you for taking this broad topic, maybe the broadest of all, and writing about it from a perspective that I could grasp and often wish I could communicate effectively. I've read your articles and reviews for years, and have admired them and the comments from your readers. This one spoke to me, so I felt I had to reach out across the weird distances of the internet and say thanks.
Bill Hays replied to comment from David M. Anderson | April 9, 2011 11:16 PM | Reply

Hello David, I thought I might get some support for my theory by looking at the shape of the universe. Couldn't give me a simple answer, could they? Sometimes you have to state your hypothesis, work out the details, and then look for flaws and inconsistencies. It took geeky math majors a long time to formulate a space-time ... k. Stephen Hawking has a new book out, and I planned to drive to Cal Tech to hear the lecture, but missed it. Hawking wasn't there, but his co-author was. Reply to: somehow insist that there must be some other "time," with or without "space," outside of that. While that may be logically possible, it's certainly not logically necessary. To you, "it doesn't seem logical that time suddenly appeared in our universe, without anything similar in the source." I have little idea what "the source" means, Insist might be a bit strong. A child is like a parent. How's that? The alternative... is the God theory. Really, this is the opposite of the God Theory. According to data received from the WMAP (Wilkinson Microwave Anistropy Probe), the shape of the universe is 'flat' (as opposed to 'open' or ...

102 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

If the density of the universe is less than the critical density, then the geometry of space is open, negatively curved like the surface of a saddle. If the density of the universe exactly equals the critical density, then the geometry of the universe is flat like a sheet of paper. The simplest version of the inflationary theory, an extension of the Big Bang theory, predicts that the density of the universe is very close to the critical density, and that the geometry of the universe is flat, like a sheet of paper. That is the result confirmed by the WMAP science. If our universe was spherical universe, where an airplane sent in one direction ultimately comes back around... Parallel lines ultimately meet, just like two friends walking parallel to each other on their way to the North Pole. Then there's the good, old flat universe, which obeys Euclidean geometry: triangles add up to 180 degrees; parallel lines never meet. (2) there is a 68% confidence level for Omega which is [1.010, 1.041] 68% is not real confident. This is saying with 68% confidence we can EXCLUDE THE FLAT INFINITE CASE. This is not polite to say because a lot of people implicitly assume flat infinite in their work. This year, in January, one of the top cosmologists, Ned Wright,came out with a paper using a number of different data sets and he gave a "best fit" value of Omega of 1.011----in other words the best fit LCDM is not the flat case but rather the positive curved finite "nearly flat" case. Sorry if this is confusing... we have some new data, some new theories... but the reassuring thing is, when we crunch the data, it comes out pretty close to our original "gut feeling." That's reassuring. I have the "gut feeling" that time moves forward... that it didn't suddenly appear in our universe, but was also present in the place the big bang came from.. but I'm perfectly willing to hear semeone argue a different possibility.
Randy Masters replied to comment from Norman York | April 9, 2011 11:43 PM | Reply

@ Norman York May I just say that I am enjoying your comments immensely. Particularly this post of April 8th, which is a virtuoso performance on these evolution threads here on Roger's excellent Journal. @ Roger, if I may jump back in - not wishing to repeat my many arguments for Intelligent Design on other of these evolution threads and yielding to Norman's excellent arguments on this thread - on a different tack, I'd like to dissent from your answer to Norman: All of the problems and objections you state have long since been dealt with by science time and again. Addressed time and again is not the same thing as "dealt with". We disagree on the efficacy of those repeated arguments. I read all of the links that you post on these threads in defense of a particular argument or so. I don't conclued the same proof for ToE that you do. You see a strong argument for Darwin's theory, I see a flawed argument. If we look at 100 such articles, I see 100 individually flawed arguments, and you see overwhelming evidence. Let's take an easy example from this thread - your link on abiogenesis, which you introduced this way: "But given the existence of matter, we now understand how life could have arisen." I read the article on Wikipedia. It does not make the case that you think that it does - that we now understand how life could have arisen". Not only is it chock full of the usual qualifiers like "perhaps" and "can form" and "some theorists suggest", it very explicitly says that we do not now know: There is no truly "standard model" of the origin of life. and

103 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

The sequence of chemical events that led to the first nucleic acids is not known. How do you read that Wikipedia article as being in support of the assertion that "we now understand how life could have arisen"? Do you not read the parts that explicitly say we don't know? So, we both read the same article on the critical topic of abiogenesis. You scored it as +1 in favor of your argument. I scored it as interesting but as -1 in support of your argument. What happens if we each read 100 such articles? I see 100 individual articles chock full of qualifiers and failing to make the point that they are asserted to make. You see overwhelming evidence for the ToE position by virtue of the sheer number of articles out there. It is not overwhelming evidence. It is frequent wishful thinking, repeated in variations 100 times. Test me on this. Re-read the Wikipedia article that you linked as having "dealt with" abiogenesis. Tell me from that article that we "now understand" with any degree of certainty how life begain from non-life purely naturally. We do not. Norman is quite right. And eloquent too. Ebert: I see a nearly universal consensus on behalf of ToE, and tortured special pleading on behalf of ID.
keith carrizosa replied to comment from Randy Masters | April 10, 2011 3:17 AM | Reply

"It does not make the case that you think that it does - that we now understand how life could have arisen". Not only is it chock full of the usual qualifiers like "perhaps" and "can form" and "some theorists suggest" And yet you've said even less than that in favor of ID on this behalf; at least wikipedia had "perhaps" and "can form" and "some theorist suggest."
keith carrizosa | April 10, 2011 3:23 AM | Reply

"Roger, evolution does not exist." You (or creationists, which I assume is you: but it doesn't matter) do realize that we come from stars, right? You do realize that that means that the Earth has not been here forever, right? You do realize that there had to be a way for us to go from being stars to being people, right? There are not people floating around in space; therefore, evolution had to happen for us to go from stars to people.
JimV | April 10, 2011 8:44 AM | Reply

The usual suspects are making the usual arguments. If I could get them to read just one book, it would be Ken Miller's "Finding Darwin's God". It must be well over ten years old now, which is a long time the way biogenetics is developing, but the arguments some are giving here are even older, so I think it answers all of them, with hard data. Take the issue of how many proteins a cell needs. Behe gave the example of the Kreb's Cycle as a case of his "irreducible complexity" (which is the same old same old being argued by some here - the cell is just too darn complex to have evolved): it contains seven different steps, each using different enzymes, and if you take one away, according to Behe ... except, it turns out, Dr. Miller says and cites references, experimenters have disabled as many as four of those seven steps in living cells, and the process still produces energy - the cell still lives. Evolution is like the guys who keep all their old issues of National Geographic in their attics - it never throws anything away that isn't toxic. A cell has incredible redundancy. Yes, some "junk DNA" has functions which haven't yet been determined, but a lot of it is just junk - proved by removing it from mouse gametes and having normal mice develop. Here's a thing the apologists never factor into their back-ofthe-envelope probability calculations: it's hard for something useless to mutate into something more useless; not so hard for it to mutate into something useful, when there is lots of it. Evolution can be measured in the field (samples of Amazonian Guppy genomes,

104 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

taken year after year, cited by Dr. Miller), and has been seen in the lab, in Dr. Lenski's famous experiment. Those who think they can calculate that all those experiments couldn't happen are doing it wrong, like the guy who calculated that bees couldn't fly. (Current, correct calculations show they can.) Not that anybody has done any peer-reviewed, publishable calculation contrary to the ToE. If you think you have one, the line for the Nobel Prize is to the left, but remember, the father of Statistics, Dr. Fisher, was one of those darned evolutionists.
Gary in Phoenix, Arizona | April 10, 2011 11:05 AM | Reply

A few commenters are regarding either scientists or atheists as conspiratorial and cabalistic, and "Science" and "Atheism" as lumpably generalizable as "Big Business." Yet the Scientific Method, requiring hypothesizing and testing and debunkingas-needed and rehypothesizing and retesting, encourages the tearing down of old ideas for new ones. There is a huge incentive for scientists to gain a better understanding of the origin and development of life than is found in the Theory of Evolution. Undoubtedly (ha ha) there are scientists who are also Christians who daydream about doing such. But so far no good. As for Atheism, it is a label misunderstood and miswielded. The closest thing to an atheist mainfesto that I can think of is Betrand Russell's "Why I Am Not a Christian," and it is one man's honest account of how he arrived at his nonbelief. It is logical, easy to read, and every Christian who's read it at my request has not been able to refute it; the effword Faith tends to come into play in discussion. I don't like being labeled an atheist nor an agnostic, and certainly not the ridiculing "Athie." The nearest to my belief system is "Freethinker" but I don't like that either; sounds self-aggrandizing. No label at all suits me best, and I suspect that is true of many people with some atheism or agnosticism in their mindsets.
Bill Hays | April 10, 2011 11:49 AM | Reply

Too many people watch South Park. Here's the proof: On a list of the people with the largest following on Twitter, Taylor Swift come it at No. 8, with her 5,804,661 followers. Film critic Roger Ebert came in at No. 9, and yet he only has around 400,000 followers. Ebert went on his Twitter page earlier this week to say, "I really like Taylor Swift, but with 15 more votes I could pass her and close in on Justin Bieber." Her response? "@ebertchicago thanks! And oh, it's ON!!!" Not sure you appreciate the implications of "It's ON." When Cartman was part of a break dance team, Chef warned him not to openly challenge the teams with members that belonged to gangs. Gangs with connections to Mexican drug cartels. But Cartman said, "It's ON." Kenny wound up getting killed. So, when a femme fatale like Taylor Swift says, "It's ON," there's only one sensible course of action. Send Ignatiy to negotiate a treaty with Taylor. Send him now. Give him a crock pot to give her as a peace offering. A plane ticket to Los Angeles would be a small price to pay to get out of this mess. She obviously has a thing for Ignatiy and won't stop until she has enough dirt for a hit song. Maybe you should refer to her as The Future Ex-Mrs. Vishnevetsky from now on?
Andy | April 10, 2011 2:25 PM | Reply

Ebert: Our particular bunch of atoms evolved the ability to think, and to know they think. There's the wonder. First of all, the robots in "A.I." had the ability to think and knew it too. So why did you not care about them?

105 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

Second of all, there is no evidence using the scienctific method that tells us atoms can think or have consciousness. It tells us that atoms are ruled by cause-and-effect and perhaps randomness only. I bring this up because you imply you only follow the scientific method. Here's something you wrote recently: "Day after day I read stories that make me angry. Wanton consumption is glorified. Corruption is rewarded." Why does corruption being rewarded make you angry? Since you seem to only believe in the physical universe, there would be no such thing as morality. Darwinian evolution is about survival of the fittest.
Joe Young replied to comment from Andy | April 11, 2011 9:21 AM | Reply

Andy, A belief that humans are organic machines and that life has no apparent purpose (Everybody is an accident) does not preclude morality. To quote the TV show Angel - If nothing we do matters, all that matters is what we do. Moreover, empathy and altruism are inherited traits. Why would you have Roger ignore those traits? Also, without giving up my Materialist beliefs I can also say that humans and other living organisms are more than the sum of their parts. You are using a reductionist viewpoint. In some cases a wholistic viewpoint is required. Breaking things down into their constituent parts will not reveal all the information about those parts.
Towers in Babylon are killing USA with microwaves | April 11, 2011 10:36 AM | Reply

Instead of looking at the cosmos,, try looking into how many cell towers of microwaves are looming over your home towns and businesses. The wireless trend is a successful weapons of mass destruction WAR on American citizens. AntennaSearch has revealed the dark ugly truth of how we are being DEADLY_CANCER -ZAPPED without any control whatsoever. Our (bribed by billions)FEDS have given carte blanch to any and all towers and antennas...The family we once knew from San Francisco Bay area has been so hard hit by these weapons that they can no longer speak without pronounced impediments.. This is the most horrific fact we are refusing to face. Children are being targeted with aggressive marketing of cell phones. Our Government has admitted to ZERO health studies on dangers of microwave radiation because they are in bed with evil OIL TOWERS and $$$$$$. Remember that Russia successfully planned and killed our American politicians by BEAMING MICROWAVES into their buildings. They all died of Leukemia. Breast cancer and brain cancer is spiking as the number of towers and antenna permits are being given by the thousands. Do you expect anyone to believe that within a four mile radius we need 180 towers??? WAKE THE F___ UP AMERICA. Take down Cancer bake Microwave OVENS. We need to get out of their ovens in order to talk, think, and live before frying ourselves to cancer-death.
Subtronic | April 11, 2011 5:53 PM | Reply

As a planetary populist, this cosmic inference was beautifully written. The fact that "we know, that we know" is the essence of life and the cosmic vision through a prism of curiosity. I believe that the Cosmos has a collective evolutionary intelligence. After all everything around us is made up of the same quantum particles. Its like waves, whether its neurons and the brain waves or any form of electromagnetism, they all interact and they all evolve. This collective consciousness of our Solar system, or the Milky Way galaxy or even the Virgo Supercluster, perhaps has no purpose, but I would like to think it has an evolutionary direction. Think about it, as a form of energy. Perhaps the "final product" of our universe (among other multiuniverses) is a form of energy which is merely a tiny ingredient in the Cosmic Product. I know its speculative, but the point here is not to say that I am right, but rather the power of imagination among Human Beings that can transcend the "known" and the "visible". Hubble, and the forthcoming James Webb Space Telescope, along with a plethora of other science instruments and computing power are on the verge of ushering us into an era of post planetary existence. Its unfortunate, that our resources, money, intelligence, purpose is expended in a myriad of issues and triviality. When few humans, because of their own intelligence

106 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

and inference gave us mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, just imagine the power of a billion humans who dedicate their energy in this collective science exploration. What we might discover, invent, travel and or experience would be perhaps so stellar that even carbonic stars cant shed that much density on our existence.
Josh | April 11, 2011 10:19 PM | Reply

Roger, I really enjoyed your post, but in your replies, more so than any of your other posts related to this topic, you have revealed a certain trait. You see, there are a good many scientific facts and theories of which I am convinced. I believe the planet is round, I believe the heliocentric model of the solar system, I believe the measurement for the speed of light is correct. The list could go on. However, I have no emotional attachment to them. If tomorrow, someone could show us the planet was actually shaped like an egg (for example) I would gladly accept it. If someone wished to challenge any theory currently in vogue, I should say, "Go on, let us know what you find." But this is not the case with you. For you, Evolution is much more than a scientific fact. If tomorrow, it was shown to be false, it is quite obvious you would be heartbroken. It's not just that you believe it to be a fact, it's that your philosophy demands that it be a fact. Because for you, Evolution has become not just a fact but your Religion. Now, I have no problem with that. I just find it sad that you don't recognize this. If this were a Christian blog, and Norman were writing challenges relating to the reliability of the New Testament or the case for the Resurrection, and the author responded, "Well, the Church believes, uh, that uh, well, the Church's theology is continually developing, and uh, there is consensus within the Church that uh, oh blast it, ", you would scoff. Perhaps rightfully so. Yet, this is you in response to challenges to your Religion. Not only are your answers to Norman non-answers, but your link to abiogenesis failed to provide the answer you seem to believe it does. I'm not convinced you've ever questioned Evolution long enough to actually read the challenges that have been genuinely offered. I believe your dogma is so strong you can't comprehend why one of your fellow humans would even ask such questions, much less come to different conclusions. I would scoff at all of this....if it weren't so sad. I believe it was G.K. Chesterton who once said, "In truth there are only two kinds of people, those who accept dogmas and know it and those who accept dogmas and don't know it." You have made it painfully obvious where you fall. Ebert: Not so. If the T of E were disproven using the Scientific Method, I would be excited by what had replaced it. You see, I don't "believe" in it. I consider it a developing hypothesis that passes all the requirements of the Scientific Method. It is in a constant state of improvement.
Consolation Prize | April 12, 2011 12:19 AM | Reply

EricJ, Thanks for the (Christian? Trolling?) reply. Not quite what I expected, so I thank you for the surprise. Sincerely, not sarcastically. Why the anger? Because I call my wife a Christian? Or because that is the only way I characterize her in this post? She is also compassionate, fun, a wonderful mother, a caring daughter. And while all of these and more are true, none are particularly germane to this conversation. Does my brevity make me seem cold to you, as your sarcasm makes you seem mean to me? I didn't mean to imply that she should leave me because of our epistemological differences -- I meant to say it outright. Perhaps a rereading of my original post will clarify that for you. And I'm not guessing here; she has told me as much in discussions of the meaning of "unequally yoked." Regarding "declaring yourself One of the Brave Few With the Higher Answer," and being willing to mindlessly objectify and de-personify my wife -- sounds like you're upset that I believe I am right? How does one do otherwise? How does one hold a belief that they also believe is wrong? I do not consider myself brave for having a belief. The dilemma is over the right thing to do in response to that belief. I am not willing, mindlessly or otherwise, to do anything other than the right thing, and that

107 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

is the search that led me to post here. You say faith is saying "I don't know," without fear. And I think you also say faith is acknowledging that we don't even deserve to have the right to know. I say faith is saying "when it comes down to it, there's no good reason to believe X, but I'll believe it anyway." So, where do unicorns and invisible elves fall in this faith schema? Surely, we can't know for sure that they don't exist. Is your faith that strong? Mine is not. I'm not quite sure where you were going with the "status" idea, and I'd like to hear a clarification. Is this the "status" of being right, and I'm being prideful by seeking that status instead of the status of "gee, I just don't know nothin' 'bout nothin'?" You and I are totally in agreement on happiness, at least in theory. Which leads me to conclude with this question: if, as you say, happiness "drives us to bring it to others who don't have it," why does your post seem targeted to bringing such suffering to me? And I really hope you don't try to argue that your cruelty will result in a bigger picture of happiness for me. Thank you again for your post.
Consolation Prize | April 12, 2011 12:50 AM | Reply

For some religions, it's much, much more than "simply disagreeing." These are considerations of the eternal soul and what is ultimately and epistemologically true. If I believed that my son's soul were in danger, which I no longer believe, but in any case, I would act on that believed truth here and now. It takes an understanding that these religions view that danger as real as a house on fire. Would it be intolerant to save a child from that fire if the father didn't believe the fire was real? And yes, I realize in that example, the fire was in fact real, but you know, all metaphors break down somewhere. I think what it comes down to is the difficulty of reaching agreement when two people don't share a foundational premise. How hard is it for people to communicate and understand if they don't start from a shared premise? Your parents shared the premise of individual right to belief, and they might have even shared some Jewish/Methodist hybrid belief of the afterlife. For as many premises as my wife and I still share, one fairly large one is now different. Roger suggested we avoid that confrontation, perhaps focusing on some kind of shared premise regarding our son and our relationship as a family. Oh, to be brainwashed and happy! Oh to slip back into the Matrix! Thank you for the reply. Oddly enough, talking it out with complete strangers does help my frame of mind.
Warren-Alex | April 12, 2011 2:18 AM | Reply

Your writing is very uplifting and engages inspiring attributes. Although, I found some of the assumptions.. leaping, the gist of what your idea is, is well conveyed. I just want to add to your continued search for your own truth. Below I list two sites that offer some compelling arguments on this.The Big Bang Theory is disseminated rather well, in these two: http://bigbangneverhappened.org/p25.htm http://www.angelfire.com/az/BIGBANGisWRONG/
Joe Young replied to comment from Tom Dark | April 12, 2011 8:21 AM | Reply

Tom, "You've not only contributed nothing but negative cat-calling" Were you looking in a mirror when you wrote that, because I was nothing but polite to you in my initial responses and rather than provide intelligent responses you chose ad hominem attacks and condescension. Regardless, it is apparent you not only have no understanding of science (which is the opposite of dogma and always doubts itself), but no understanding of wit; that is if you actually believe you demonstrate any in your posts. Since you seem to want to ignore the arguments I make and do not bother to try to support any of your half-assed claims, I see no reason to continue addressing you. In the future, try (1) being more articulate. If you wish to convey a point be as precise and concise as possible and (2) opening your mind to new ideas and not being antagonistic to everyone who disagrees with you.

108 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

Joe Young | April 12, 2011 9:36 AM | Reply

Tom, "You've not only contributed nothing but negative cat-calling" Were you looking in a mirror when you wrote that, because I was nothing but polite to you in my initial responses and rather than provide intelligent responses you chose ad hominem attacks and condescension. Regardless, it is apparent you not only have no understanding of science (which is the opposite of dogma and always doubts itself), but no understanding of wit; that is if you actually believe you demonstrate any in your posts. Since you seem to want to ignore the arguments I make and do not bother to try to support any of your half-assed claims, I see no reason to continue addressing you. In the future, try (1) being more articulate. If you wish to convey a point be as precise and concise as possible and (2) opening your mind to new ideas and not being antagonistic to everyone who disagrees with you.
Bill Hays replied to comment from Consolation Prize | April 12, 2011 11:38 AM | Reply

Reply to; You say faith is saying "I don't know," without fear. And I think you also say faith is acknowledging that we don't even deserve to have the right to know. I say faith is saying "when it comes down to it, there's no good reason to believe X, but I'll believe it anyway." If there's no good reason, why would you believe it anyway? In my experience, religious people are brutal. They want you to believe their stuff. OK, this is when I was growing up, when the power of religion in America was a lot stronger, but the arrogance of "people who believe" is out of place. Why? Because there's no good reason to believe. You might do it anyway, but enough with the arrogance and the insults to people who choose not to follow your path. We ARE right, you ARE wrong, and that's how the conversation should gol Always. Let children know that your "belief" isn't credible up front. Just tell them. Then, they will still respect you in the morning. it's the difference between lying and admitting you're wrong. OK, the site. Eight times, I've typed in the right Captcha and it wouldn't post. There are times when the letters are clear, and I got them right. The text on the entry page covers a very small portion of available space. There is a grey space to the left. Bigger Fonts. Bigger Texts. Give each person who posts an easier way to read his own stuff. That's how you do a great blog. Evolution needs some study. Norman seems quite impressed by the fact Stephen Meyer can't figure out how proteins were formed. Celebrating the fact that an ID guy lacks genius. I mean, I went to Biola, I met Stephen Meyer, he's trying to fool people. I was literally asked to leave because I told someone that I was going to explain why ID is wrong. "I deserve the truth." "You can't handler the truth." OR "I believe in fairy tales and I'm going to stop anyone from telling me It's a scam. I know it's a scam, but it's my scam." Too many people think the second is okay. Evolution is the Truth. You deserve it. If I can't tell the difference between a q and a g, does it mean I'm a spam-bot? No.
John Panagopoulos, Malden, MA | April 12, 2011 2:56 PM | Reply

Ebert: Not so. If the T of E were disproven using the Scientific Method, I would be excited by what had replaced it. You see, I don't "believe" in it. I consider it a developing hypothesis that passes all the requirements of the Scientific Method. It is in a constant state of improvement. In other words, The Theory of Evolution is the worst explanation for the origin of life, except for all the other theories regarding the origin of life.
John Panagopoulos, Malden, MA replied to comment from Karthik Sethuram | April 12, 2011 3:02 PM | Reply

109 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

Karthik, I recommend you watch (or watch again) the movie "It's a Wonderful Life". For all its sentimentality, it is a reassuring affirmation of the vital importance of every human life and how you do matter to the universe, or at least a portion of it.
Gary in Phoenix, Arizona replied to comment from Bill Hays | April 12, 2011 7:46 PM | Reply

To Bill Hays: A previous reader suggested going to Preview before typing the Captcha in. I think it changes every so often, so the Preview is especially valuable for people who go on at great length. I also want to say something about the reduction of Arrogance. Show, don't tell.
Gary in Phoenix, Arizona replied to comment from Joe Young | April 12, 2011 7:48 PM | Reply

To Joe: I feel your pain. I banged my head against the wall long enough with the gentleman with the perpetual Sneer Campaign. No more. One remove; one big relief. Good luck!
Kevin J. Casey | April 13, 2011 3:04 AM | Reply

Dear Roger, Did you deliberately format Hamlet's monologue as an acrostic, or was that yet another cosmic anomaly? K.C. Ebert: All Shakespeare.
Randy Masters replied to comment from Bill Hays | April 13, 2011 12:10 PM | Reply

Hi Bill Hays: I went to Biola, I met Stephen Meyer, he's trying to fool people. I was literally asked to leave because I told someone that I was going to explain why ID is wrong. I've read Stephen Meyer - a PHd in the relevant field with a thoughtful and well-argued published book. I've read you. I'm going with Stephen Meyer. I can imagine you were asked to leave. You came with an agenda of disrupting the lecture. You want to explain why ID is wrong - get published and get invited as a lecturer. Any chance you are going to EbertFest this year? I'll buy you a cup of coffee there and say hi.
keith carrizosa replied to comment from keith carrizosa | April 13, 2011 5:06 PM | Reply

Back in this comment I mostly if not completely talking about just being indifferent with respect to things that are being absorbed into the body, like if someone is out in the sun and it is burning their skin and they are just like "Yeah, that hurts, so what?", which perhaps has something to do with indifference on a higher level.
OliverSudden replied to comment from John Panagopoulos, Malden, MA | April 13, 2011 5:55 PM | Reply

The Theory of Evolution has no opinion about the Origin of Life, in fact, it does not say a single syllable about the origin of life. The Theory of Evolution sets out to explain the vast diversity of life and nothing more. Period. Capice?
John Panagopoulos, Malden, MA | April 14, 2011 9:06 AM | Reply

"The Theory of Evolution has no opinion about the Origin of Life, in fact, it does not say a single syllable about the origin of life. The Theory of Evolution sets out to explain the vast diversity of life and nothing more." Period. Capice?

110 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

True, OliverSudden, as far as explaining life's diversity goes. But also implicit in any discussion of the proliferation of life's diversity are the elements conducive to starting life in different environments. Katalavainis?
John Umana | April 14, 2011 10:51 AM | Reply

Interesting article and photos, Roger. You say, "There is no reason the universe 'needed' to evolve intelligent beings, but it has. It might have been inevitable because of the fact of Natural Selection." Evolving intelligent beings (that is, people) was the plan from the beginning, before the Big Bang. Evolution of the cosmos and of living worlds were not (and are not) a matter of Natural Selection working on random mutations. They are the work of Supernatural Selection, a force or forces external to the physical universe which work upon it-- such as, e.g., dark energy, the repulsive force behind the finely calibrated continuing expansion of the cosmos. There is no other body in this sun system where life has emerged as it did on Earth. But the Milky Way and the cosmos are teeming with life and with intelligent life. Hope this helps.
Jason Maher | April 14, 2011 6:02 PM | Reply

"...all I really understand is that the star is forever out of the reach of my species." This is such a potent statement. It perfectly underlines what Werner Herzog recently said during a discussion on Science and Art on NPR's Science Friday program. I'm paraphrasing but he pointed out that the place of humankind in the Universe is here - on Earth - that every other place in the universe is dangerous and hostile to us. Of course, we may one day develop computers - conscious Artificial Intelligence that are immune to time, disease, the need for sustenance, and death. These beings will surely visit the far reaches of the universe but our species - no. Our place is here.
OliverSudden replied to comment from John Panagopoulos, Malden, MA | April 14, 2011 7:33 PM | Reply

"But also implicit in any discussion of the proliferation of life's diversity are the elements conducive to starting life in different environments. Katalavainis?" No. Well, implicit for *you* perhaps but you'd be wrong to infer such a thing. And you are. Worry not though: science has a theory for the origin of life too. It's called Abiogenesis. Feel free to poke as many holes in that one as you like since it's not nearly as "road-tested" as the T of E is. Words mean things. We can't just decide on our own that apples and oranges will swap nomenclatures. How then will we communicate?
Tom Dark | April 15, 2011 12:58 AM | Reply

Joe Young, Gary in Phoenix, Perhaps rather than "banging your heads" you'd do better to use them in a more appropriate fashion one day. Otherwise go bang them where I don't have to deal with them. I didn't start Joe's rudeness, he never will use anything like "wit," and no argument or address has been offered to my point of view even yet -- with the exception of Dave van Dyke, a year or so ago, who really does do scientific stuff for a living. Joe Young put in writing just how astonishingly off the mark is his ability to read and comprehend what I write. You do remember, don't you, Joe? You have done nearly as badly here. Or does reality not count? Once again I hear how I "know nothing about science." Out here in reality I hear quite differently from real scientists with real credentials. They're not ignoramuses. They believe their own versions in different degrees, differ with me, but don't play the silly games you do. It's my job to temper their thoughts,

111 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

and I'm good at it. I've tried frequently to get any of them here to make something more of these blogs than, as I put it, people "banging ideas against each other like children with alphabet blocks." They apparently don't feel a need for the exercise. Only the most mediocre minds insist on knowing "the Truth," as there isn't any such thing. You're "Truthers." You don't see how religiously dogmatic you are. You nervously project "ignorance" wherever there is disagreement. You do call it "Truth." Evolution is neither a "Truth" nor a reality. It's a one-dimensional method of observation in which the assumption is imposed on all phenomena and facts that don't fit are cast aside. That's usually what a "Truth" is, isn't it. It's a comforting fairy tale for absolutists no differently than the "unmoved mover" ever was for religious sophomores. It's more an indication of a personal emotional insecurity than anything like scientific inquiry. Dawkins "can't explain Creationists" because he is one, obsessed with keeping an enemy to make his own armful of paper details seem more valid than they are. That's why religious intuitives must always be forced into seeming "stupid" to this man, even where he'd be dwarfed in an IQ test. Like Hitchens, and various true ignoramuses on this blog, they are haunted by imaginary enemies which they must continually deny. As Norman York has pointed out -- and it certainly takes far more genuine curiosity to come to such recognitions than merely guzzling the curlicued idiocies of one's favorite TV-science cheerleader -- it is a stultifying idea. You have to go a certain distance, however, to recognize these dead ends. Few here, if any, want to.
John Panagopoulos, Malden, MA replied to comment from OliverSudden | April 15, 2011 7:54 AM | Reply

Then explain to me, OliverSudden, in meticulous detail where I have gone astray. Declaring someone wrong without sustainable proof reeks of unimaginative pomposity. Of course the main thrust of the Theory of Evolution is the origin of diversity of species. But it is also useful for examining at the cellular level which combination of chemical processes in the "primordial soup" were most conducive to life in the first place. Abiogenesis literally means "life from lifelessness" and, without proof, is as useful a theory of the origin of life as the Bible's explanation in the Book of Genesis for how light came out of darkness. Intrinsically, words do NOT mean things, or anything else. They are essentially convenient labels arrived at through consensus and popular use. If words did mean things, then we wouldn't have synonyms.
OliverSudden replied to comment from John Panagopoulos, Malden, MA | April 15, 2011 12:45 PM | Reply

"In other words, The Theory of Evolution is the worst explanation for the origin of life, except for all the other theories regarding the origin of life." Those are your words. Unless you were being ironical, which I fully admit may be a possibility and if so I shall offer sincere apologies, then you have made a simple category error. In casual conversation, the subject of the T of E may very well lead someone, organically you might say, to the origin of life. I fully concede this. But then, you're no longer talking about the T of E, which offers no opinion about life's beginnings. I'm unsure of how to make that point more plain. The Theory of Evolution does as admirable a job of explaining the origin of life as the Theory of Gravity, Germ Theory, Atomic Theory, Plate Tectonics, the Theory of Relativity, or Quantum Field Theory. They all have an equal amount to say about life's humble beginnings. Care to take a guess as to what amount that is? Now do you understand? I'm not suggesting that you cannot criticize the Theory of Evolution. Or any theory. Theories were made to be shot down. Literally. I'm merely suggesting that if you wish to discuss the origin of life, that you not pin that idea to a theory that offers

112 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

no opinion about it. In short: know the theory you're criticizing.


Joseph | April 15, 2011 2:53 PM | Reply

Mr. Ebert I enjoyed the discussion on your post "Win Ben Stein's Mind" a few years ago. I disagreed with your worldview, but it really helped me dig deeper with mine. I think that the problem with modern science, is what might be called an "idolatry of the study". I would at this point like to suggest that you read Owen Barfield's "Saving the Appearances". I don't agree with all of it, but I promise it will challenge you, and will be an enjoyable read. It would be really awesome if you even wrote a post or two about it, because I think your readers would really enjoy it.
Archie from Ottawa | April 15, 2011 3:32 PM | Reply

Well, the way things seem to be going, the next sentient race will be radioactive cockroaches.
Sam replied to comment from Andy | April 15, 2011 10:40 PM | Reply

Reply to: Here's something you wrote recently: "Day after day I read stories that make me angry. Wanton consumption is glorified. Corruption is rewarded." Why does corruption being rewarded make you angry? Since you seem to only believe in the physical universe, there would be no such thing as morality. Darwinian evolution is about survival of the fittest. Because wanton consumption and rewarding of corruption makes an evolved human society less fit to survive. Ebert: Your last sentence is one I agree with, but it demonstrates a woeful ignorance of Darwin's theory.
Fly2thesun replied to comment from Cyberquill | April 16, 2011 9:33 AM | Reply

The "rub" - what came before the big bangand caused time and space to exist is what most people refer to as GOD. Mention of him was conspicuously missing in this article and your post. Ebert: How do you know that?
Fly2thesun replied to comment from Deacon Godsey | April 16, 2011 10:12 AM | Reply

I agreed with what you said about faith and enjoyed reading your post anticipating how it would be answered. Sadly I was disappointed. Roger, after Deacon Godsey plainly stated that he cannot prove that god exisits (nor can you prove he doesn't) why ask how Jesus statement proves it? Did you read his whole post? Did anyone?
Gary in Phoenix, Arizona replied to comment from Fly2thesun | April 16, 2011 1:12 PM | Reply

To Fly2thesun: Yes, at least two people read Deacon Godsey's whole post, I among them. I applaud his solicitation of other points of view, thus: From the "intellectual" side of things, I become genuinely confused as to how people who so strongly champion logic & reason can't (or won't, in some cases) exercise that same logic & reason to recognize the inherent element of faith in the conclusions they've chosen to make. It's clearly not faith in God or some other "spiritual" reality, but it's faith nonetheless: faith in science, faith in observation, faith in our human faculties, etc. We're both putting our faith in something, it just seems like I (& those like me) are the only ones openly admitting or acknowledging it. . As I mentioned, I realize I'm likely in the minority when it comes to your primary audience, & that's okay. I truly am curious about the perspectives others have on the subject & would love to receive honest feedback on it. I genuinely want to understand where you & others are coming from, whether we ultimately agree or not... Where I am coming from is a skeptical point of view. I should have been born in Missouri, the "Show Me" state. I don't believe that not being able to disprove the

113 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

existence of God or Jesus lends validity to the point of view of people who accept God as the Father and Jesus as the Savior. We can't disprove that blue bunnies are having a party in the core of the Sun, either; but we can take a look at physical law and conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that they're not. Recently it was mentioned in the Huffington Post that convincing evidence exists that Peter was not the author of certain epistles attributed to him. That's just the tip of the iceberg, though; the Gospels are not reconcilable as to fact; and the Old Testament is loaded with things impossible beyond a reasonable doubt, including the implication that the Earth is flat. To me it boils down to the notion that Belief is not a vote. The more you learn about Life and the Universe, and decline to ignore things you learn that conflict with what you want to believe, the more valid your Belief becomes.
Sam replied to comment from Sam | April 16, 2011 8:51 PM | Reply

Reply to Ebert: Your last sentence is one I agree with, but it demonstrates a woeful ignorance of Darwin's theory. No it doesn't. I was defending you from someone who claimed that if you subscribe to Darwin's theory, there's no morality, so he doesn't understand why you are angered by wanton consumption and rewarding of corruption. I'm perfectly aware that Darwin was dealing only with biological evolution and did not get into social evolution. I'm also perfectly aware that the "social darwinists" distorted Darwin's theory for malicious ends. That does not mean, however, that one cannot go beyond biological evolution and talk about how societies and morality evolve, in order to show that it is perfectly justified from an evolutionary standpoint for a human being to be angered by wanton consumption and rewarding of corruption.
Alan Mintaka | April 16, 2011 10:28 PM | Reply

Very well done. Unfortunately, the consolation you say you've found from knowing these things eludes me. I should probably change that adverb to "tragically", because I once had that consolation but somehow lost it. Losing something like that after experiencing it is far worse than unfortunate. Well, I'm glad you found it and still have it. I hope that mine returns someday.
richard voza | April 16, 2011 10:34 PM | Reply

it's amazing to me how many of you, especially the guy who claims to be a senior at LSU, don't know the difference between "than" and "then," "further" and "farther," and when to place a comma after a conjunction. yeah, i'm being picky. but to paraphrase nixon, "when you accept lesser standards, you better prepare for lesser results."
Korinthia Klein | April 17, 2011 7:37 AM | Reply

A very interesting post. It reminds me how privileged we are to live at a time where we benefit from centuries of past knowledge and at the brink of new discoveries. I thought this was one of your best. But the main reason I wanted to write is to say I admire the intelligence and care with which you attend the comments you receive. Your connection with your readers takes your blog beyond just your own well written observations and it is one of the main reasons I keep coming back.
D.M. | April 17, 2011 9:34 AM | Reply

Technology has obscured the line between information and its more eloquent cousin," true knowledge", which elevates our current understanding of the universe and existence. However, at the risk of sounding redundant- It has its benefits. The worldwide telescope gives anyone with a computer access to the Hubble online to explore common and unknown matter in space . On youtube you can see an animation of Mandelbrot's fractal that zooms to 10(276), at a time when raw science can only map the number of visible atoms in the universe at roughly around 10(76). These mechanisms allow us to surpass more quickly, present beliefs around the Universe at its quantities and qualities. It makes more of us lay people act like

114 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM

A quintessence of dust - Roger Ebert's Journal

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/03/a_quintessence_of_dust...

'experts'. We theorize on the web on these mathematical mysteries and laws of physics like we are at tea with Neils Bohr hearing about a trip he took to Guilin, China and his ideas of the Tao Te Ching by the World's first great unsung physicistLao Tzu. I think we are getting too comfortable, and it causes social evolution to carry us at times, too far away from a basic scientific analysis of fact. But, I guess it can be fun.

Leave a comment
Name

Email Address

URL

Remember personal info? Comments (You may use HTML tags for style)

Captcha:

Type the characters you see in the picture above. Preview Submit

115 of 115

4/17/11 4:39 PM