Charlotte Low Allen’s review of George Gilder’s Microcosm (January 1990) seems to miss the book’s most obvious point. Perhaps that is because it is Allen’s purpose to attack Gilder’s message. She is a member of the revolt against the microcosm, a revolt widespread across the political spectrum.
Microcosm dives into an esoteric technology to uncover how that technology was advanced. It reveals the emergence of a powerful law of nature now at work in our world, one that has already changed us in ways we do not fully comprehend, yet one whose true impact has only begun to be felt. As Carver Mead puts it in the book’s preface, “Listen to the technology and find out what it is telling you.” That means burrowing into the subatomic realm, where a world is uncovered that defies our senses.
The discovery and application of quantum principles “converge in one epochal event, the overthrow of matter,” that is, materialism. The central feature is the law of the microcosm: decisions, and thus power, rather than being pushed up through a hierarchy, are pulled- “remorselessly down to the individual.”
Allen perceives Gilder’s law of the microcosm as a metaphor, perhaps a justification for unbridled capitalism and globalism. But the dynamics of the microcosm bear witness to capitalism’s most prominent feature: capitalism is a mind-centered system where laws of thought supercede the laws of matter, where ideas can be implemented, tested, and used to free us from the constraints of the material world.
The technology resulting from the application of quantum theory is now catapulting us into an “information age.” The microprocessor is empowering individuals and unleasing human creativity even as it renders natural resources and material wealth less valuable every year. Value-added is coming to mean ideas, whether they be in the more than ninety thousand lines of computer code imbedded in the 1990 Lincoln Continental or the details of a computer-aided engineering design for a jet engine.
Throughout history, wealth and power have accrued to those who controlled physical resources, power flowing from the top down. The law of the microcosm, which works in the opposite direction to the usual laws of matter, is destroying superfluous hierarchy and unnatural barriers. Just as it is cutting a swath through General Motors, it is felling the Berlin Wall and making obsolete merchantilist trade policies designed to protect physical assets.
This means that many of the fundamental assumptions about our world must be reexamined. The key to the future is the supremacy of ideas and their application, a higher order of activity that yields “information.” The leaders of tomorrow’s world will control information, not assets, territories, or people. Their leadership will be characterized by the empowerment of others.
The law of the microcosm demands that we eschew all forms of materialism. Conservatives in Galileo’s day revolted against his discovery, a response rooted in the materialistic notion that the Earth, somehow, must be at the center of God’s creation. Many of today’s conservatives (especially those, like Allen, who are frightened of “neo-Jeffersonian visions of equality”) are making the same error.
Quantum physics in the 20th century has revealed to us that our universe is truly made of things we cannot see, nor ultimately perceive. Final (material) reality, at its most base level, consists of non-observable elements that exist as probabilities. They represent ideas and are, in essence, a form of thought—a mystery that many of the world’s greatest minds have grappled with for almost a century.
Gilder informs us that we, too, must grapple with this mystery, because the laws of the microcosm lead us to a higher truth. He is not attempting to prove, as Allen asserts, the existence of God in all of this, but reminding us that since the creation of the world His invisible attributes. His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made.
The word “macrocosm” was inadvertently printed as “microcosm” in the last line of Charlotte Low Allen’s January review of George Gilder’s Microcosm. The editors regret the error.