Reality is Much Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Book Review of Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch
I took a chance on this new (for me) author, and I ended up reading the last 130 pages of this book without getting up from my seat. So if you’re looking for a page-turner, you’ve found one. Even if you’re not even that into science fiction, there’s plenty of “thriller” here for you too.
If you’d rather watch my book review, you can do so here. Plus, if you subscribe to my YouTube channel, I will donate $1 to the children’s educational charity First Book.
Alright, so let’s talk about this book. Blake Crouch doesn’t hit you over the head with the science, although you’ll have to get down with the multiverse and alternate realities if you want to get into this one. The basic storyline — minus the spoilers — is that the main character, Jason Dessen, at one point in his life turned down a potentially groundbreaking physics career in order to start a family instead. That’s one version of his life.
But there’s another version of Jason Dessen (enter the multiverse!) who never got married, never had a son — and probably never had any fun at all — and ended up solving the problem of quantum super-positioning, enabling him to travel between alternate realities. One night after a celebration at a bar, the first Jason Dessen is kidnapped at gunpoint (this happens in the first chapter, so I’m not giving away too much!), and wakes up living the other Jason Dessen’s life.
“Then I think of all the possible events that could have stopped this moment from ever happening.”
So, right away we notice that Dark Matter is all about choices. We’re constantly opening up possibilities for our lives, creating the path by walking. As we move forward in life, there are doors opening, windows closing. Most of the time we’re unaware of this dynamic, but what if we were forced to pay very close attention to this?
What if we had to figure out how our choices affect our current reality if we ever wanted to see our families again? That’s the predicament Jason Dessen finds himself in, and his desperate search drives a lot of the action within the novel, along with unraveling the identify of the mysterious kidnapper and trying to escape a possible future that he does not want to live in.
“In the evening, I’m still sitting on the bench on Eleanor Street across from the brownstone that isn’t mine, watching our neighbors arrive home from work and school. What a miracle it is to have people to come home to every day. To be loved. To be expected. I thought I appreciated every moment, but sitting here in the cold, I know I took it all for granted. And how could I not? Until everything topples, we have no idea what we actually have, how precariously and perfectly it all hangs together. The sky darkens.”
But here’s the thing about choices: even not choosing is a choice, and none of us can escape our responsibility to choose. Turns out Sartre was right after all: we are condemned to be free.
To take a random example: You were born in a particular city through (probably) no choice of your own. Moving away is a choice; staying is a choice. Working at a particular job is a choice. Seeing one group of friends and not another is a choice. Attending one kind of concert and not another is a choice. If you were to switch coffee shops, you’d run into a completely different set of people, one of whom could be extraordinarily attractive, causing you to spill your coffee all over your copy of Infinite Jest and mumble something about a phone number. You marry this person and move to Delaware because that’s where her family is and you’re so smitten that you decide to upend everything and spend the rest of your life with this person. In Delaware, a state you never would have visited otherwise…you get the idea.
We’re doing this all the time! Every single moment of every single day we’re making choices about what kind of future we are going to create for ourselves. The probabilities and possibilities, connections and courses are so diverse and wide-ranging that it’s damn near impossible to predict what your life will look like in ten months, let alone ten years!
“We live in a state of decoherence, in one reality, because we’re constantly observing our environment and collapsing our own wave function.”
I think the one major thing to take away from all this is that everything you do matters. Smiling at strangers matters, donating to worthwhile charities matters, reading the best books first matters, consciously directing your own life matters.
Right now, you stand at the beginning of the “adjacent possible.” Your next decision will open you up to your next set of choices, and the choice you make next will influence which choices you’re presented with first. This is a big responsibility, but if I were to offer you some friendly advice, it would be that taking the more difficult path — expending more effort and care — will lead you to be a better life. Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life.
“We all live day to day completely oblivious to the fact that we’re a part of a much larger and stranger reality than we can possibly imagine.”
This all may seem rather abstract, but Dark Matter definitely serves to put these massive existential questions into sharp focus, all while giving you a reading experience you won’t soon forget.
All that being said, I think that three of the most fascinating questions anyone can ever ask themselves are, “Who am I? Am I who I was supposed to be? Is this the life I was meant to be living?”
If you ask — and answer — those questions honestly, and diligently pursue the answer, then I think that your life is going to turn out just fine.
And remember, if you want to check out my video review of this book, it’s on my YouTube channel. I’m also donating $1 to the children’s charity First Book for every new subscriber. Hope to see you there!
All the best,
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