This introduction comes from Catherine Keller.
Mary Jane Rubenstein’s
Worlds Without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse
There are many second books that this multigifted philosopher of religion might have written. Why this one? Mary-Jane Rubenstein could have staged another round of the dazzling conversation staged in her first, Strange Wonder: The Closure of Metaphysics and the Opening of Awe. With Derrida, Heidegger, Nancy she had probed Western philosophy’s tendency to parlay its initiating wonder into a calculating certainty: that is, to shut down the wonder that provokes philosophy in the first place. She reopens awe—and so philosophy itself: just where it reveals the extraordinary in the ordinary. Just where, tinged with Kierkegaardian fear and trembling, ethics and theology enter the dance. But then why has she escaped the universe of continental philosophy of religion for the physics of the multiverse?
Or has she? For here, the most everyday—the matter of any material world—turns almost unthinkably strange. Speaking of incalculability: our home universe of 15 billion galaxies each with about that many stars is already unheimisch. But now a growing number of astrophysicists postulate an infinite universe—worse, a possible infinity of universes. Rubenstein lays out for us—any of us who might follow An Und Fur Sich, for instance–the multiplicity of these new theories, and at the same time, because she is a nosy philosopher, an entire genealogy of multiverse theories that includes atomists, stoics, Aquinas, Cusa, Bruno, Kant…
If it is the wondrous weirdness and the irreducible multiplicity that had attracted her—cosmic support for the boundless pluralism and the ethical indeterminism wanted now, wanted philosophically—she delivers it. But what she discovered at the very apex of multiverse theory is quite the opposite: the same old drive to free the world of mystery, to render it transparently knowable and calculable. Yet this time to liberate it also from philosophy and religion for
good. The suspenseful proposition of Bernard Carr captures our suspense from the start: “If you don’t want God, you’d better have a multiverse.” For it turns out that physics now recognizes such an extraordinary level of fine-tuning of the parameters that permit the emergence of this universe—the universe that did not blow apart at the big bang, the one that allows us to hang around arguing about its origins—that it cannot have arisen by accident. Or rather that a chance origin of the world is just as likely to as is a monkey at a typewriter to have banged out King Lear. Uh oh. “God” stops sounding quite so stupid. Ah, but if there are zillions of universes, maybe zillions happening every moment, then surely one of them would have banged out: us.
This is the motivation? Getting rid and ridder of God? Not just the anthropocentric creator omnipotens, some extra-worldly intelligent designer: but any haunting remainder of an enfolding complicatio, any reminder of some theos of or in or like ho pan? As a thinker so finely tuned to wonder, she tracks both the thinking that the mysterious multiplicity of world opens– and also the totalizing version that circles back to shut it down. True to Western form, to transcend again the chaotic and uncertain excess. And in so doing concocts the “multiverse with a vengeance” [Paul Davies], surely no more incredible than the God it supersedes. Well you see why Mary Jane Rubenstein blasted off into the multiverse. But she always returns, and she returns to us a world actually multiple and after all, darkly glowing.
This book exposes grippingly the “view from nowhere that gets rid of God and accounts for every possible everything.” The irony of such promises of “the ultimate scientific vision of reality” is breathtaking: ‘it once again becomes very hard to argue that any of these visions of reality genuinely frees modern science from philosophy and religion—not least because they all seek the ultimate, objective truth of creation” . And it is the truth of a multiverse of infinitely, drearily separate universes, all the more knowable, it seems, in their utter disconnection one from another.
Yet Rubenstein only lures us onto this journey because at its current reaches she has found not just the hyper-order of the Tegmarkian “multiverse of multiverses.” She has found also an adventurous, entangling, darkly beautiful modeling of the multiverse: a thinking that does not replace conversation with final truth but to the contrary, offers cosmogonic accounts “whose very multiplicity signal a persistence of chaos amid anything that looks like order.” And this is a chaos that not only deconstructs closed order but also refreshes our urgent questions, our embodied imaginations. Her account of for instance Laura Mersini Houghton’s “multiversal bath” puts me of course in mind of creation in and from the oceanic deep.
One may still wonder, though, why Mary Jane Rubenstein did write this this achingly delightful interdisciplinary narrative. Why this grand effort to call not just the specialists of religious dialogue with science to care about these worlds without end? Does it have something to do with our own particular world, which threatens us each and now altogether with quite mortal endings? In a time of looming climate catastrophe, mere panic about limits isn’t helping. Do we need cosmology that will galvanize the infinity of our finitudes? That will stir passion for our bottomlessly mysterious materiality? That lets us join this “cosmic loafer” in meditation on a fragile, responsive world? Rather than proposing which theory of the multiverse she thinks is “true,” she brings this responsiveness home, all the way home to the ends of the world. “In other words, the shape, number and character of the cosmos might well depend on the question we ask it” . This doesn’t mean that any science or theology will do. It might mean that those theories mindful of their entanglement in the worlds’ multiplicity will foster the many lives of the living ecology of their own world. Worlds Without End—amen.