Anathem Revisted

While I wrote about my excitement preceding the release of Anathem, and speak highly of the book, it appears that it has not made it’s way into the Waking Ideas archive.

Below is one of my favorite quotes from the book. It accurately captures the depth of the story:

See, it‘s not just about what is possible — since anything is possible in Hemn space — but what is compossible, meaning all the other things that would have to be true in that universe, to have a block of ice in a star.”

Well, I actually think you could do it,” Emman said. The praxic gears were turning in his head. This was what he did for a living; he‘d been pulled out of his job at a rocket agency to serve as technical advisor to Ignetha Foral. “You could design a rocket—a missile with a warhead made of thick heat-resistant material with a block of ice embedded in it. Make this thing plunge into the star at high velocity. The heat-resistant material would burn away. But just after it did, for a moment, you‘d have a block of ice embedded in a star.

“Okay, that‘s all possible,” I said, “but it‘s a way of answering the question ‘what other things would have to be true about a cosmos that included a block of ice in a star?’ If you were to go to that cosmos and freeze it in that moment of time”

Okay,” he said, “let‘s say the teleporter has a user interface feature that makes it easy to freeze time by looping back to the same point over and over.

“Fine. And if you did that and looked at the region around the ice, you‘d see the heavy nuclei of the melted heat shield swirling around in the star-stuff. You‘d see the trail of rocket exhaust in space, leading all the way back to the scorch marks on the launch pad. That launch pad has to be on a planet capable of supporting life smart enough to build rockets. Around that launch pad you‘d see people who had spent years of their lives designing and building that rocket. Memories of that work, and of the launch, would be encoded in their neurons. Speelies of the launch would be stored in their reticules. And all of those memories and recordings would mostly agree with one another. All of those memories and recordings boil down to positions of atoms in space so—”

So those memories and recordings, you‘re saying, are themselves parts of the configuration encoded by that point in Hemn space,” Emman said, loudly and firmly, as he knew he was getting it. “And that is what you mean about compossibility.”

On my recommendation, my sister read the book and with high praise said, “This is the first book in YEARS I haven’t been able to read all at once, even if I wanted to”.

Two years ago, I described Anathem as such:

Anathem is an epic story, and it takes a little bit to transition into thinking using all alternate vocabulary, but after a while of reading it sinks in and clicks and the rest of the book is very enjoyable.

For bookworms like myself, Anathem is more than an enjoyable story. It serves as the gateway for learning about quantum mechanics, multiple universe theories, the writings of Leibniz, Penrose, Gödel, Plato, and more. This is a thousand page, fictional story that entices people to willingly read tens of thousands of pages of non-fiction.