The Brooklyn Rail

APR 2012

All Issues
APR 2012 Issue

Divine Error

Alan Lightman
Mr g: A Novel About the Creation
(Pantheon, 2012)

Alan Lightman’s Mr g is a brilliant philosophical play on creation told through the eyes of God himself. The end is also the beginning. Quoting Buddha, Lightman acknowledges “A wise man, recognizing that the world is but an illusion, does not act as if it is real, so he escapes the suffering.” And so it goes that in recognizing the grand illusion of all that is, one may grasp the only key to avoid the inevitable that comes with life—suffering.

Mr g begins with “everything” asleep in an infinite torpor of potentiality, including Mr g, and the only “others,” his Aunt Penelope and Uncle Deva, all three living in the Void. Mr g is struck with boundless indecision because of the unlimited possibilities available to him in a task he has assigned himself. Thus begins Mr g’s deluge into the biggest project of them all, Creation. And so, Mr g creates Aalam-104729, a universe. He quickly discerns that with the creation of more things, both physical and metaphysical, more problems ensue. And so he begins with the creation of the concept of time. When Mr g creates time, Aunt Deva suddenly also develops consciousness and thus the “beginning of something and probably all for the best.”

Lightman cleverly gives Mr g fallible characteristics and flaws, including the need to “meditate” to enhance a sense of calm, as well as a limited capacity for patience. He is noted to be too hurried and even greedy, almost insatiable in his desire to have “more.” He also has regrets. Mr g is inherently flawed.

It is Mr g’s opposite, Behlor, the thin black line, and Lightman’s representation of the inverse of Mr g’s “all good,” who brings up the most interesting questions in both the book and in life. The reader realizes without one, you cannot have the other. Behlor questions Mr g by asking, “Do you think it is possible for a thing and its opposite both to be true?” Behlor points out that it is irrational thoughts that lead to new experiences and without them, rational thought would only lead to further rational thought. It is Behlor who also instigates consideration of whether animate beings should have free will and encourages it. He convinces Mr g that they cannot spend their time involved nor intervening with individuals. And it is Behlor who explains that suffering is inevitable in all living things, especially creatures with minds. “The higher the intelligence, the greater the capacity for suffering.”

Behlor’s questions, statements, and considerations force the reader to consider: Is it really good or is it evil, God or its inverse, that makes us ponder and then realize our purpose and how things fit together? Is it good or its inverse that, in the end, provides us with Meaning? What really gives legitimacy to life and where do reason and explanation fall short?

Mr g himself leaves much to be desired in both intellectual consideration and answers. This makes sense considering Lightman’s background as a theoretical physicist with dual faculty appointments at MIT and Harvard in both the sciences and humanities. It is Mr g who behaves “without any thought” at times and who frequently falls short in providing answers to the questions of the infinite. He provides no solace but instead creates a law where there are no absolutes, only relatives, and one can see that the explanation for everything is that every event should be caused by some previous event, other than the very first event which will always remain unknowable and mysterious. Mr g encourages rationality and logic to be considered spiritual. He insists upon “cause and effect, cause and effect” in an almost mundane, rigid chain of events from which he can dissociate himself, noting that attachment only creates disappointment, impliedly even for himself.

Mr g also gives himself the out of providing explanation or solace for humanity’s enduring suffering by stating he was, and is, only a mere spectator in creation and could not possibly intervene lest things really go awry. Although admitting he was responsible for the few initial parameters and is also all-powerful, Mr g concludes he could only be a mere spectator in all things. Once he set “the thing” in motion, it was really proceeding without any direction from him. And he also insists that living one’s life unconsciously and failing to obtain total consciousness of the cause of being is what will provide comfort to the masses. If we knew it all, we’d really be upset.

By the end of the book, the reader realizes that nearly all things are partly conception, partly things of the mind. “The mind is its own place,” “the mind can contrive its reality,” and “the mind makes its own rules.” If this is true, can there be meaning in anything if all of existence is self-created in one’s mind? Is it all an illusion? Is simply creating coherence and harmony the purpose for all of life? Are there truly any absolutes? Is “it” all for the amusement of Mr g? One also realizes that nothing lasts forever, and there is a dark foreshadowing of future events for Aalam-104729 and for every “thing.” There is always a beginning and an end for the material. But the interconnectedness of it all lives infinitely.


Neale Bachmann Gold


The Brooklyn Rail

APR 2012

All Issues