the universe as “temporary”

“I believe the universe wants to be noticed. I think the universe is improbably biased toward consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed. And who am I, living in the middle of history, to tell the universe that it–or my observation of it–is temporary?”

–Hazel’s Father in in John Green’s A Fault in Our Stars

I was puzzled when I first read this. Who on earth thinks that the universe is temporary? From past class readings and bits of NOVA, I got the impression that the universe is infinite and quite the opposite of what we know to be temporary.

And who am I, living in the middle of history, to tell the universe that it…is temporary?”

And then I looked to other meaningful uses of the word “temporary” in the book. It seems that a “temporary universe” is essentially our reality. I get this interpretation from the chapter in which Gus was playing a video game with Isaac and we are given an insight into Gus’s idea about life. In the game, Gus orders his avatar to sacrifice his life. Although the game doesn’t acknowledge it as a win, Gus celebrates:

“Saved the kids,” he said.
“Temporarily, ” I pointed out.

“All salvation is temporary…I bought them a minute. Maybe that’s the minute that buys them an hour, which is the hour that buys them a year. No one’s gonna buy them forever…but my life bought them a minute. And that’s not nothing.”

Here, we see temporary as something that is loosely thought of in relation to infinity, another word that is meaningfully used especially towards the end of the novel. At the end of the novel, it is further explained that our lifetimes are broken down into bits of “infinity.”

So it seems that Hazel’s father meant that we can’t really pin the universe down. The universe is essentially our best impression of it–our reality or call it our lifetime. But reality/lifetime is limited and we should remember that what we experience is an infinity within an infinity.

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