Max Tegmark: Our Universe Has Finally Awoken

Every year the editor and agent John Brockman, who specializes in works by scientists, hosts an annual question at, soliciting hundreds of brief essay responses, and then publishing them in a book. The responses are also posted on the site, but the books are great browsing material, terrific ways to sample many different brilliant thinkers, far far away from the mire of political fake news.

The latest book is Know This: Today’s Most Interesting and Important Scientific Ideas, Discoveries, and Developments, which suggested to me a few days ago and which I bought, for browsing.

One of the first essays that caught my eye is this one by MIT physicist Max Tegmark, The Wisdom Race Is Heating Up, which is generally about the ever-expanding scope of technological progress (c.f.), but with this central perspective:

From my perspective as a cosmologist, something remarkable has just happened: after 13.8 billion years, our universe has finally awoken, with small parts of it becoming self-aware, marveling at the beauty around them, and beginning to decipher how their universe works. We, these self-aware life forms, are using our new-found knowledge to build technology and modify our universe on ever grander scales.

This is one of those stories where we get to pick our own ending, and there are two obvious ones for humanity to choose between: either win the wisdom race and enable life to flourish for billions of years, or lose the race and go extinct. To me, the most important scientific news is that after 13.8 billion years, we finally get to decide—probably within centuries or even decades.

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