It is neither a universe pure and simple nor a multiverse pure and simple. — William James, Pragmatism
Is the universe one or many? Or to put it another way, are we hedgehogs or foxes? Isaiah Berlin, philosopher, cultural critic, and wise man, wrote an essay years ago about this with the focus on Tolstoy’s view of history. It has taken on a life of its own over the years, known mostly for the first few pages where Berlin sets the context. “There is a line among the fragments of the Greek poet Archilochus,” he writes, ‘The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.’ ” If we take the line figuratively it divides the world up into two groups: those who relate everything to one single, unifying vision, overarching everything and giving meaning to all things, down to the minutest detail. Those are the hedgehogs, and Berlin counts among their august company such figures as Dante, Plato, Lucretius, Pascal, Hegel, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, and Proust.
On the other side, across the vast chasm that divides the two, are the foxes, those who pursue many ends, related or not, usually contradictory in their purposes, and connected only in some de facto way. Their ideas, notes Berlin, are centrifugal rather than centripetal, flying outward unencumbered by any “fanatical, unitary inner vision.” Shakespeare, according to Berlin, is just such an animal, as is Herodotus, Aristotle, Montaigne, Erasmus, Moliere, Goethe, Pushkin, and Joyce. And maybe we could add Woody Allen, John Lennon, Jack Kerouac, Susan Sontag, and Robin Williams.