Monday 15 June 2009

The Total Perspective Vortex

How arrogant and conceited do you have to be to believe that the entire universe, our small bluey-green planet, and all its complex ecological systems of diverse flora and fauna, where created for the sole benefit of one random species?

Religions have frequently started off with a geocentric view of the universe, with a special place in creation for humanity. However, as reality dawns, our position in the universe must be revaluated. Science is continually humbling us as we begin to realise that our short existence is merely a brief fart of cosmic time in an unimaginably large galaxy spinning gently for aeons hence in a universe larger than the English language can accurately describe.

Failure to accept this reality in favour of an indefensible and deluded religious view of ones own importance in the cosmic scheme of things is a fairly loathsome trait.

I believe that this was the inspiration for Douglas Adams’ “Total Perspective Vortex” that was invented primarily to annoy his wife, much like my incentive for blogging.

Here’s a description in Douglas’ own words:

The Total Perspective Vortex derives its picture of the whole Universe on the principle of extrapolated matter analyses. Since every piece of matter in the Universe is in some way affected by every other piece of matter in the Universe, it is in theory possible to extrapolate the whole of creation; every sun, every planet, their orbits, their composition and their economic and social history from, say, one small piece of fairy cake.

The man who invented the Total Perspective Vortex did so basically in order to annoy his wife.

Trin Tragula, for that was his name, was a dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher or, as his wife would have it, an idiot. She would nag him incessantly about the utterly inordinate amount of time he spent staring out into space, or mulling over the mechanics of safety pins, or doing spectrographic analyses of pieces of fairy cake.

“Have some sense of proportion!” she would say, sometimes as often as thirty-eight times in a single day.

And so he built the Total Perspective Vortex, just to show her. Into one end he plugged the whole of reality as extrapolated from a piece of fairy cake, and into the other end he plugged his wife: so that when he turned it on she saw in one instant the whole infinity of creation and herself in relation to it.

To Trin Tragula’s horror, the shock completely annihilated her brain; but to his satisfaction he realized that he had proved conclusively that if life is going to exist in a Universe of this size, then the one thing it cannot have is a sense of proportion.

I can easily relate to Trin, but I have no desire to annihilate the religious meme infected brains of the faithful. It would however be nice to give them a little perspective of how humanity really fits in with the rest of the galaxy. Of course I realise that this is a futile attempt as if your arguments are not restricted by reality, than an answer to any criticism can be simply plucked from the arsehole of your chosen authority.

Regardless, I have harvested this short YouTube video from Phil Plait’s excellent Bad Astronomy blog that is the closest thing I have seen yet to the Total Perspective Vortex.

I don’t intend to promote a meaningless and futile existence, which is how the atheistic viewpoint is frequently misinterpreted by the religious, merely help appreciate and make the most of the briefest spark of consciousness that we are so incredibly lucky to savour.


Unknown said...

Hi crispian !

I quite often think on similar lines as you did while posting this one.

The quotation was indeed as interesting as your own write-up.
Thought you might like to have a look at my own blog :

Crispian Jago said...

I'm impressed you managed to comment seconds after posting this blog.

Thanks for the link to your blog. I liked the poem.


Paul S. Jenkins said...

I began reading this post and thought, "That video the Bad Astronomer posted recently is perfect for this...."

I should have known :-)

John said...

Just becuase the religious are very probably wrong about our significance, doesn't mean the opposite is necessarily true.

We could well be the only reasonably intelligent race there is.

And lets not forget, the whole point of the vortex was to illustrate that the truth can drive you nuts, whilst conceited delusion can keep you sane. There are sound evolutionary reasons why the religious exist....

Paul S. Jenkins said...

One thing to remember about Zaphod Beeblebrox's uncanny survival of the TPV is that it wasn't real. He had been tricked into virtual reality and didn't experience the real vortex at all.

"It doesn't look like any kind of a Vortex to me."

"It isn't. It's just the lift."

In some ways the religious environment some of us were born into could be considered a kind of mental virtual reality. But by and by we come to see it as ... just a lift.

John said...

Is belief in anthropological global warming an example of this conceit?

Just thought I'd that one in there for a giggle...

Crispian Jago said...

I concede your comment about the point of the TPV being to drive you nuts, and therefore promoting blissful ignorance. I realised this when posting, but Adams’ prose is so sublime I thought I’d squeeze it in anyway even though it didn’t perfectly align with the point I was making.

I agree that we may well be the only intelligence there is. I’ve blogged about this here:
But that doesn’t alter the size of the Universe and our relationship to it.

If my memory serves me correctly Zaphod left the head offices of the HHGTG on Frogstar B via the window, not the door, and hence remained in the virtual world created for him where he was indeed the most important thing, and therefore immune to the effect of the TPV. Nice comparison with the religous living in a seperate bubble equivalant to Zaphod's virtual reality.

Thanks for knowing where your towels are and taking the time to comment

Sean Ellis said...

I would like to also remind you of the Oglaroonians:

"In one corner of the galaxy lies the large planetOglaroon, the entire "intelligent" population of which lives permanently in one fairly small and crowded nut tree. In which tree they are born, live, fall in love, carve tiny speculative articles in the bark on the meaning of life, the futility of death, and the importance of birth control, fight a few extremely minor wars and eventually die strapped to the underside of some of the less accessible outer branches."

"In fact the only Oglaroonians who ever leave their tree are those who are hurled out of it for the heinous crime of wondering whether any of the other trees might be capable of supporting life at all, or indeed whether the other trees are anything other than illusions brought on by eating too many Oglanuts."

Alice said...

Highly late in the year to leave a reply now, but no, I don't think it's conceited to anthropomorphisise global warming - a bit of late school level maths and chemistry make it clear that the changes in carbon dioxide at least really are caused by industry. In fact, if you add up how much CO2 is released by human activity (I don't mean breathing!), there should be more than there is now - the oceans have absorbed half of it! Any chemical system is extremely sensitive to the slightest changes - look at microscopic amounts of plutonium in Litvinenko, or the fact that 1 drop of seawater in a pint of fresh changes the behaviour of the fresh water completely.

In any case, global warming is human responsibility and within our powers to change - not a gift we've been given by the creator of the universe who thinks we're supremely important but doesn't admit we could change anything.