After reading Alan Lightman’s Mr g, I tweeted: “Mr g is the story of creation as narrated by Sheldon Cooper. I feel smarter already.” A couple of excited Big Bang Theory fans immediately tweeted me back, wondering where they could find this amazing book. With a twinge of guilt, I realized my tweet had been misleading. Thus, corrected: Mr g is the story of creation as narrated by god, who happens to have Sheldon Cooper’s IQ. (Minor aside – authors, there appears to be a market for novels narrated by Sheldon Cooper. Any takers?)
I don’t know what I expected when I heard Mr g took god’s point of view in telling the story of creation. I knew from the first sentence that I wasn’t in for Biblical language: “As I remember, I had just woken up from a nap when I decided to create the universe.” Still, that led me to expect a tongue-in-cheek Christopher Moore-ish take on a careless, impulsive deity who somehow lucked into creation. Add to that a meddling aunt and uncle, and I figured I was in for a hilarious read.
Mr g does have its humour, but it also presents a god I never would have imagined. Mr g is a nerd, an existentialist, philosophizing nerd. Upon creating the universe, he decrees that it should be governed by three laws: The universe should be simple (symmetry of position and movement). There are no absolutes, only relatives. Finally, every event should be necessarily caused by a previous event. Mr g then explains how his three laws tie time and space together and keep everything moving in a logical, rational order. I was struck by how scientific Mr g’s mind is. A Google search showed me these aren’t the three laws of physics, as I’d originally thought, but does anyone know if they correspond to any current set of scientific laws? Lightman is a physicist and Mr g’s approach to creation strikes me as very scientific.
Most interesting to me is that Mr g applies scientific thought in a creative way. He doesn’t create a hypothesis and perform experiments; rather, he creates the universe on a whim, institutes some basic laws of logic and symmetry, then steps back, cocks his head and observes. He views his creation with wonder, not the excited eyes of a child, but the fascinated view of a scientist. Because of his laws, the evolution of the universe “followed inexorably and irrefutably” and all Mr g had to do was “sit back and watch.” With all the debate about creationism versus evolution, I love how Lightman reconciles both in his novel, and explains this in such a logical manner.
Logic, indeed, is paramount to Mr g. (Perhaps he’s more Mr Spock than Sheldon Cooper?) A fellow supernatural being in the Void, Belhor, asks Mr g if he will create laws of morality for sentient beings. It’s not so much that Mr g says no that I find striking, as that Mr g clearly finds the idea so illogical. Sentient beings will already be governed by the three laws for the natural world; what use is there of creating new laws to constrain behaviour?
Belhor provides an interesting moral contrast to Mr g. For Mr g, sentience and morality both follow naturally from the natural world. He is stricken with guilt when Belhor shows him how people suffer, yet remains firm to his initial promise not to interfere with human affairs. Belhor, of course, has understood the potential for suffering and immorality from the beginning, and has no compulsion about interfering. Lightman provides a fascinating glimpse of the limitations of logic, that cannot fully comprehend the existence of illogic. I wanted to learn more about Belhor’s motivation. The creatures with him, especially, appear petty, almost childish, and while Belhor is clearly intelligent, he is also as inscrutable to us as he is to Mr g. What does Belhor want from the universe? Why does he interfere with human affairs? Mr g doesn’t know, and neither do we.
I especially enjoyed reading about Mr g’s aunt and uncle. They provide humorous, almost human, breaks in the midst of Mr g’s scientific descriptions and his philosophical discussions with Belhor. The aunt’s desire for a pink dress made of stars, for example, is wonderfully whimsical, while her complaint that Mr g’s creation of time forces her to think about something she’d rather forget is a fascinatingly existential take on the actual length of eternity.
I also like the political commentary Lightman makes with one of the other worlds in the universe. In that world, the nerves in women’s hands are severed at an early age, so that they grow up completely dependent on men. Both genders accept this as completely natural, and even though Mr g wonders why the women don’t rebel, he leaves that world’s society alone to its own natural evolution. He does consider what a fascinating case study it would be to have that world with the gender roles reversed, and having the inhabitants of both worlds meet. I love the social commentary in that concept, and think it would make a fascinating novel on its own.
Mr g is a short book, and despite the scientific jargon, a fairly easy read. Things unfold naturally in Mr g’s universe, and, despite Mr g’s occasional flashes of guilt, he mostly rationalizes events as being natural results of the past. In this, while Lightman’s book begins with a lot of questions about the meaning of existence and the consequences of consciousness, it ends up providing more answers than it raises questions, simply because everything, save perhaps Belhor, is logical. Mr g presents a new take on god, and like him, we experience the wonder of the universe without immersing ourselves in it. As Mr Spock would say, fascinating.
* Thanks to Chatelaine Book Club, I was fortunate enough to have met Mr g author Alan Lightman. He’s an intelligent, interesting man. My post here.