DAVELEY: I have this little dream whereby there’s this whole village of reanimated corpses, and if you like, a kind of control tower at the centre of that village with a bank of monitors, and I control all the corpses.
WINTERGREEN: Why use corpses? Why not normal people? Why don’t you just leave things the way they are?
DAVELEY: Because… because normal people… because I wouldn’t have my tower! I want a tower.
Steve Coogan and Rebecca Front, The Day Today
He’d wanted to create something that would evolve. He’d hoped for a surprising pattern, an outcome not programmed, an unexpected turn of events, like the lovely life-forms that had emerged from Conway’s world. Each time he brought the simulation back onto the screen, he’d have a moment of jittery anticipation. Maybe this time he’d see a leap. Maybe this would be the day when he’d bring the program out of the machine’s internals to find a self-directing universe, a world that ran itself without the hand of the programmer. But except for the bug that once wiped the screen clean, it was always as it was now: a dull, repetitive place, a universe created by a not very imaginative God.
Ellen Ullman, The Bug
A story is told of several Rabbis, arguing over an abstruse point of law. One of them, Rabbi Eliezer, vehemently disagreed with the other sages. After long debate, he at last said, “If the law is as I say, may this carob tree prove it!” And the carob tree uprooted itself from its place. But the sages said, “No proof can be brought from the carob tree.”
And Rabbi Eliezer said, “If the law is as I say, may the walls of the study house prove it!” And the walls of the study house began to bend inwards. But Rabbi Joshua rebuked them, saying, “When the sages debate, what right have you to interfere?” So, out of respect for Rabbi Joshua, the walls did not fall, but out of respect for Rabbi Eliezer they did not return to their place; hence they are still bent to this day.
And Rabbi Eliezer said, “If the law is as I say, may Heaven prove it!” And a voice came from Heaven, saying, “Why do you disagree with Rabbi Eliezer, seeing the law is always as he says?” And Rabbi Joshua stood up and said, “It is not in Heaven! It is not for a divine voice to decide the law, for in the Torah it is written that the majority opinion shall prevail.” And the sages followed the majority opinion in their ruling, and not the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer.
And from this we learn that we are not to look to Heaven to solve the difficulties of our lives; that we are not to interpret signs and wonders to live our lives by them. We learn that there is value in making our own choices, even if God Himself communicates clearly that the choices we make are wrong. We learn that we may argue with God, that we may disobey His direct commandments and yet delight Him with our actions. We learn of God’s compassion for us; in the end, broader than we can understand.
We read that, later, Rabbi Nathan met the prophet Elijah in a dream. And he said to the prophet, “What did the Almighty do, when Rabbi Joshua said, ‘It is not in Heaven!’?” And Elijah replied, “At that moment, God laughed with joy, saying, ‘My children have defeated Me, My children have defeated Me.’”
Naomi Alderman, Disobedience, quoting the Talmud (Tractate Bava Metzia)
Those of us who create giant, complex new worlds – worlds both totally imaginary and partially real – are often seen as megalomaniacs, control freaks, people who “want their towers”. There is a germ of truth in this, but not nearly as much as there is in the total opposite: we also want our creations to be out of control. We want to create something that grows far bigger and wilder than we could ever be, than we could ever imagine, that leaves us merely gasping in its wake. We don’t want to specify down to the last detail and be permanently at the controls; we want to create the tiniest seed and then let go, just watch. We want pride, but more than that, we want astonishment.
My son was born yesterday at 9:24pm. I don’t know what he will grow to be. I will try to guide him and give him everything I can, but I am under no illusions about my ability to fine-tune a volcano. I wish for him to have the wildest dreams, and have the desire and ability to chase them. I may have other desires and hopes for him along the way, but the most important of them all is that he be able to choose for himself. All I can do is help him in every way I can. Every time he astonishes and surprises me, as I’m sure he will, it will make me happier than anything else.
If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.