The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul: What Gnarly Computation Taught Me About Ultimate Reality, the Meaning of Life, and How to Be Happy

Rudy Rucker, Author . Thunder's Mouth $35 (564p) ISBN 978-1-56025-722-6

Timothy Leary meets Bill Gates in this muddled book, part memoir of a life spent teaching mathematical logic, part history of computer science, but mostly a long, strange quest for the meaning of life. UC-San Jose computer scientist Rucker argues that all of reality is a mathematical computation. Like most computation, physical reality—such as the wind driving leaves on a tree—produces "gnarly," interacting and nonrepeating patterns. Moreover, even human consciousness is computation, as shown by the lifebox. A device Rucker invented in one of his science fiction novels, it's a gadget that preserves an individual's life; to Rucker, a lifebox reduces a person simply to a computerlike device that uses software to access the personality. Yet, by the end, he decides that gnarly computation, though it might be the key to reality, doesn't hold the meaning of life, which is beauty and love. And individuals, he concludes, can be happy by "turning off the machine" and "opening their hearts." Rucker blissfully spouts his facile pop psychology, but most readers will be lost in the gnarled prose of computer science and bogs of poorly explained mathematical logic. Agent, Russell Weinberger. (Oct. 15)

Reviewed on: 07/18/2005
Release date: 09/01/2005
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 558 pages - 978-1-56025-898-8
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