Saturday, December 19, 2009

God's Debris

My colleague forwarded the e-book of Scott Adam's God Debris with a note which read: "A mother of a thought experiment mate! Do read this one." He seldom 'praises' anything like this. When I finished reading God's Debris, I could understand why.

God's Debris stands out from the list of books I've read. It is a thought experiment. A delivery man goes to an address in San Francisco to deliver a package. He meets an old man in the house. The whole book is based on the conversation between them. The author states the old man literally knows everything. He has radical and non-traditional views on God, universe, evolution, science, humanity etc. His theories arise from 'sceptic's creed' - the simplest explanation is usually right. Philosophy and simplicity don't always go together. Philosophy is known for its complex sentences and incomprehensible words. I adore simplicity. Even though some of the old man's theories/views were flawed, I found the simplicity and clarity in his explanation very refreshing.

The crux of the old man's philosophy is that God is omnipotent and He knows everything. So what would actually challenge God? God knows answers to every question except one: What would happen if he ceases to exist. The old man say this is the one & only challenge that would interest God i.e. to destroy Himself. The result of this challenge is the reason for everything there is - all matter in this universe - that exists in its current form. Everything. Everything including us is the result of God's effort to maintain his omniscience. This notion also gives the book its title. We are God's Debris.

Using the above philosophy, the old man makes interesting correlations to many things. Natural phenomena like gravity he says is nothing more than simplified illusion created by human brain since it cannot comprehend the actual description of reality. Scientific terms such as infinity, electromagnetic field and words like dimension, horizon are conveniences created by scientists to mask holes in their understanding. I was tempted to know what he thought of zero. Let's say if God does not exist, we have nothing. Our fancy word for 'nothing' is zero. The old man may have explained that with yet another audacious theory that would've made Aryabhata turn in his grave. The engineer in me was mildly taken aback with his explanations. But I liked it. The book is a thought experiment and there was feast for thought. Even though most of explanations appeared logical, some seemed obvious, there was nagging feeling of something amiss. There is little bit of bull excreta in the old man's exquisite gourmet meal. The tricky bit is to differentiate between the two.

The old man bases explanation of the concept of probability. Every other question has an answer to why. Only probability is inexplicable. STAT101 taught us that probability works on the law of averages. The probability of heads or tails when tossing a coin is 1/2. That does not mean when we toss the coin, we are guaranteed to get head once and tail once. If we toss the coin 100 times, we are likely to get head 50 times and tails 50 times. Toss it 1000 times, we are very likely to get heads 500 times and tails 500 times. Probability tends to become eventuality in the average case. Life, too, is like that. It is a probability distribution. We can make efforts to maximize the expectation of an event, but we can never assure the outcome of any sporadic event. Probability, like God, is omnipotent and omnipresent. The old man refers to probability and normal distribution curves to explain creation. He weaves a transitive relation between creation, luck, probability and God. Based on this philosophy, he puts a interesting explanation that there is an equivalence relation between God and probability.

The old man discusses many topics - Relationships, intelligence, quantum physics, will power, extra sensory perception etc. Even if you don't agree or fully understand the old fella's views his explanations makes a compelling read. He bullies your thoughts and your grounded understanding. In the book's introduction, Scott Adams specifies his target audience as those people who enjoy having their brain spun around inside their skulls. Well, after reading the old man I begin to wonder what spun what in reality. Hmm.

Awesome read. Do check it out.

Thanks for this, Marcus :-)


  1. Everything including us is the result of God's effort to maintain his omniscience. Interesting thought! The weaving of probability and God and the way the old man arrived to that destination/conclusion is thought-provoking Sriram. I guess that's why this 'thought experiment' is definitely worth a read. I will read it and discuss with you in more detail :) Btw, I'm slightly poor in maths, so you have to explain what transitive relation is. lol. If it is related to maths that is.Nice review Sri. Will take your word for it. :-)

  2. It left me with the same feelings that it has left you with ! Although it was about a year back, i think !

    And i wondered, what would some of the fanatics do if they read this book ?!?!

    Perhaps they would issue a fatwa or start a riot. God cannot be an old man or something like that would be an ostensible reason !

  3. Awsome, book review.

    I wd certainly read the book.

    //The old man say this is the one & only challenge that would interest God i.e. to destroy Himself// ...pretty interesting & questions the conventional wisdom.

    The probability theory is too good....we all know either it's head or tail...but can never be 100% sure, which one!!!!!

  4. wish i had as much free time as you.. ya bastard

  5. I read it a while ago when you recommended to me and thoroughly enjoyed it! I am very into philosophy but I find the reading really dry. This was definitely an interesting twist. I was lured in by the intro itself!

    Awesome review too :)

    (Also, to Kumanan the book is actually VERY short... a pretty quick read :) )