Phil Scanlan - The Self-Writing Universe

After 70 pages I thought that things better start getting better soon as I didn't feel like I had gained anything to that point. After 90 I became very frustrated. After 100 I couldn't take it anymore so I skimmed the rest to make sure I wasn't missing something, realized I wasn't from my quick skim job, and shut the book forevermore.

The premise is interesting; the book is not.

from the publisher:
Who says there's no such thing as an answer to “How is there anything at all”? Not Phil Scanlan.

In his intriguing new book, The Self-Writing Universe, he suggests viewing the beginnings of creation (pre-possibility of quantum fluctuations) as if it were a computer's start-up script. As strange as that may sound, stranger still is that it ends up making quite a bit of sense.

The Self-Writing Universe considers the most confounding puzzle we can ask ourselves – how and why is there anything at all instead of simply nothingness? This is the classical puzzle of existence. Generations of human thought has thus far produced the following stalemate: belief in an irrational endless regress or belief in an impossible beginning. Either way, there is no satisfying answer. Perhaps it's time for a fresh take?

The Self-Writing Universe offers just that. Written by a network administrator, the book offers an insightful twist on an age-old problem by asking: “Why not view the puzzle as though it were a computer script that managed to write itself and see what happens?” The Self-Writing Universe distinguishes between “theories of existence” and “theories of the big bang”, with the conclusion that “theories of the big bang” are inadequate to resolve the paradox of existence. That's because all versions of the big bang theory rely on an initial something, typically a “quantum vacuum”, that explains the rest. From a logical standpoint, this is plainly contradictory and ultimately unsatisfying. For the big bang to actually explain existence it can't first presume the very quantum realm that needs explaining! In contrast, The Self-Writing Universe views existence as a script, a script that is logically forced to write itself, the behavior of which is metaphorically said to be like that of a script found in a computer.

A computer script is a list of commands that can be executed on a computer without user interaction. Network administrators use scripts all the time to automate various tasks in a networked environment. Such scripts do not write themselves, however, so the idea of a self-writing computer script is being used as an analogy to help demonstrate how the universe could have self-started.

According to The Self-Writing Universe, the fact that there's existence and not non-existence is merely due to some line (or more) of executable code that makes existence inevitable. So The Self-Writing Universe considers what that code must be like. The book asks how that code got there and how it avoids the fallacy of explaining existence by first assuming an existing thing (in this case, a line of executable code!). The answers to those questions may surprise you and may just tickle your brain in a most agreeable way.

While acknowledging that the question posed is empirically unanswerable, The Self-Writing Universe nevertheless introduces a satisfying way of looking at an ancient imponderable, shedding light as well as comprehensibility on a topic that has long been thought about only in shadows.

A computer network administrator with going on ten years experience battling worms and viruses, Phil Scanlan has woven the computer metaphor deeply into one of the primary passions of his life: the understanding and elucidation of the how behind existence. The resulting insight is as unique as it is powerful. Phil Scanlan lives in Madison, Wisconsin.