Saturday, May 15, 2021
Thursday, May 13, 2021
I do not believe in miracles. I do not believe in ghosts, nor in any other form of life after death. I do not believe in God. I do not believe that there is a little bit of good in every person. I do not believe in love. I do not subscribe to the myth of individuality. I believe in neither truth, nor justice. I do not believe in the inevitability of either judgment, reward, or punishment. I do not believe in ideas or perceptions. I doubt most of what I see or hear, and I am beginning to wonder about the reality of color.
I do believe in man, woman, birth, death, and infinity, not necessarily in that order.
Monday, May 10, 2021
Saturday, May 8, 2021
Wednesday, May 5, 2021
Tuesday, May 4, 2021
Many academics work on problems related to space and its contents. In overlapping fields like astronomy, cosmology, and theoretical physics, they ponder the big questions. What the hell are we looking at when we look up? What makes it all hang there just so? It's fun to watch them squirm.
They can be an overconfident bunch, but most of them will admit that there is a lot that they do not know. They know an awful lot about our solar system; their knowledge of galaxies near and far is becoming really impressive; when it comes to the universe, the whole magilla, they are still very much in the dark. They like to act like they understand it, and to be fair they have learned a lot about it, but the book of what they do not understand is far bigger than the book of their accomplishments.
It seems to me, a casual reader of science articles in general interest publications, that every question that the scientists answer raises several new questions about which they might not ever have any good guesses.
These scientists are very busy. Almost all of them are in a publish-or-perish situation. So they ponder, and design experiments, and work on math problems that regular people cannot begin to describe. And they write. Their subject matter ranges from the universe itself, down through the largest to the smallest structures and celestial objects in the universe, never stopping in this reduction in focus, down to the smallest sub-atomic component parts of matter and energy.
For me, their fascination is contagious. It's like that game called Kabaddi*, which is extremely popular in India, but which has not penetrated the larger world much beyond Pakistan and perhaps Sri Lanka. I watched games on TV in Asian hotels, but I had absolutely no idea what they were doing. There were men who wore uniforms and looked very athletic, and there was a marked-off surface, They were in a small stadium, and I could see that there was an object to the game, that strategies were being employed, but I could not for the life of me find any purpose to any of it. The announcer would be going nuts, in Urdu, or Hindi, but I didn't see anything happening at all.
And yet, I found the game fascinating, and I very much enjoyed watching the players do whatever it was that they were doing. That's the way I feel about cosmology and theoretical quantum physics. The academics write articles that I do not in any meaningful way understand. I do, however, understand the vague outlines of their subject matter, and I definitely enjoy reading the articles. Well, conditioned, I suppose, on some allowances being made for the casual reader.
Regarding sub-atomic quantum mechanics, I will admit that I lack the beginnings of a license to have any opinion at all. So, on then to the universe.
We live in a solar system, which is already pretty big. I believe that if you count the outer rings of ice chips that mark the outer reaches of our solar system, the whole thing might be one light year “across.” (It's not shaped like a ball, but bear with me here.) Then there are other stars that are only a few light years away, spinning around with their own solar systems. And so forth, with the stars and their entourages. We are part of a galaxy, the Milky Way, that is very average in every particular. A common size; a common shape; made up of common sub-galactic structures and some black holes of unremarkable size and distribution. In the manner of such things, we are probably part of some kind of galactic cluster, or cloud, or something, and when we look up at night, if you can find a place to stand that is clear of pollution by particles or light, you can see, with the naked eye, billions of mostly galaxies, but also a lot of nearby stars, and a handful of planets. This is where it starts to become very interesting.
Those three types of objects, galaxies, stars, and planets, move in relation to each other in ways that are very different, and yet all predictable. This was first noticed without mechanical aid by a few geniuses around the world between thirty and one hundred thousand years ago. This information was very useful in the prediction of weather and animal migration patterns. Stonehenge was an observatory, and for tens of thousands of years before that men almost like us had been creating structures for the same purpose. Wooden posts; mammoth skulls. Materials that could not withstand the wear and tear of the aeons.
Beginning with the Renaissance, telescopes, ever bigger telescopes, orbital telescopes, and radio telescopes, have allowed us to examine more of what we can see on a good night in a clear place. The name for “everything within our personal time/ space continuum” is: the universe. The universe, as anyone could tell you, is large. “How large is it, Johnny?” Well, that's a good question. No one knows.
The academics can now agree that the universe began, all of a sudden, something close to fourteen billion years ago. That is, to me, a disappointingly small number, which seems to indicate that they are not even close to understanding the true origin, age, and nature of this thing of ours.
We are not at the center of the universe, we, here on our little rock, orbiting our little star. I apologize if this knowledge is disappointing to you. We do, however, have the illusion of being the center of the visible universe. This is because all of the galaxies are zooming outward, and away from each other, at a frightening rate. The universe came into existence with a bang at a date certain, and the speed of light being what it is, the most distant objects that we can see are ghosts of what was there fourteen billion years ago. That means that when we look in all directions from our little vantage point and see fourteen billion year old galaxies at every point in the sphere, we are at the center of the OBSERVABLE universe. Since the galaxies are all moving away from us, and each other, galaxies are constantly blinking out as they pass to an area that is more than fourteen billion light years away from us.
This means that an impressive number of galaxies exist beyond the range of our vision, however augmented by science and technology. I would hazard a guess that the number of galaxies that are beyond our vision at least equals the number within our range of vision. We're way up in the trillions now, or multiples of trillions, or trillions to a factor of who knows?
And the space! The size of it! What we can see is already an unfathomably large area. Now it appears that our little corner of space/ time is a great deal larger then we ever imagined, to put it in layman's terms. Where does it end? I had always thought that the four corners at the end of the universe were located in Fort Green, Manitoba. My reading has forced me to make adjustments in this hunch.
There may be a boundary. With merely a layman's intuition it is possible to imagine that there is a place beyond which it is no longer part of our own familiar space/ time. All of the matter and energy that is ours is behind you if you reach this limit. Like passing that outer ring of ice chips allows you to leave, in every meaningful way, our solar system. What are you looking out at when you are standing there?
I know, it is very tempting to say, “a void.” But if modern science has taught us anything, it is that nature never, NEVER, allows a void. There is always some form of matter or energy lurking there in the apparent emptiness.
My hunch is that standing there at the edge, if you looked over your shoulder, you would see our own universe. If you looked outwards, you would see a great deal of darkness, punctuated occasionally by tiny spots of light that would turn out to be other universes. So by now I'm suggesting that there is much more to this reality business than even most of the academics are prepared to allow.
I wish them luck, those academics. Those Ph.Ds in the sciences that are devoted to genuinely tackling subjects like this. Those Sheldons and Leonards and Rajeshes. Those Big Bang Theorists! I salute them. They work hard on problems that really mean something, while I spend my working hours teaching university students subjects that don't really interest them and trying to motivate them to study a language that can help their country's development and definitely make them more money. (That's all a tough sell, I can tell you.)
I would describe my true feelings about the importance of all of this, but that would probably meet the definition of a danger to himself and others.
*Please take some time to Google Kabaddi. Even better, first go to YouTube and watch part of a game. I'll bet you a dollar that you can't figure out what's going on. Then go to Google and read about how the game is played. You will be amazed.