Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Universe and Everything

Parental Advisory: Last Paragraph May Not Be Suitable For Children.

The universe, you’ve got to love it. That’s the big show right there, the Biggest Top, the trillion-ring circus. And the people who study it, ain’t they something! Some of them say there are one hundred billion galaxies; other insist, no, there’s one hundred and twenty five billion. Where do they come up with these things? That guy Carl Sagan said it best, in the correct pseudo-religious tones of incredulity, “billions and billions . . .” with eyes cast up to the ceiling, who knew what he was seeing, but there was a lot of it.

Somehow they all seem to agree now that it all started out as one small thing, a “singularity.” Was it as big as a golf ball? . . . tennis ball? . . . basketball? They argue about that too, and unfortunately there are no eye-witnesses. And some small thing it was, too, containing all of the mass and all of the energy, and I suppose all of the time, and of course all of the light, in the universe, all of the everything that became our “billions and billions.” Where would you keep such a thing? And what would the dimensions of that space be? Boy, what if there was another one somewhere? I guess it would have to be pretty far away. Like a trillion miles to the trillionth power. Get out all the zeros, we’re going to need them all. I don’t know, with mass like that, and gravity being what it is, probably couldn’t even put it far enough away. And if they crashed together, what a crash that would be! Two of them knocking heads! Probably cover the distance in a trillionth of a second or so.

Whatever, somehow the little thing blew up, a Big Bang, that they all agree on. And wow, that was some explosion right there. I guess technically it’s still happening, everything is still zooming away from the explosion. It was only fourteen billion years ago, that’s a pretty easy number to get your head around. A million is only a thousand thousand, lots of us have houses now that are worth that in dollars, or they were until the last year anyway, either way, we know it’s not that much any more. And a billion is only a thousand of those, like a thousand houses in Santa Monica, how hard was that to imagine? Now fourteen of those. You’re not even halfway to downtown L.A.

Sometimes I imagine that I am at the edge of this explosion of matter and energy, looking out in the direction that it’s all traveling into, traveling away from the explosion. Looking out, as it were, into where it’s all going. Can I assume that so far there’s nothing there? And all of this matter, our matter, is expanding into this empty space very, very quickly, exponentially quickly. How far will it go? . . . can it go? Is there any end to that great nothing at all out where it’s going? Our universe is exploring it, and inquiring minds want to know.

That bubble of crap racing away from the first explosion occupies quite a little space itself. Fourteen billion years from the middle, the radius, so the diameter of the stuff that’s ours to see is probably twenty-eight billion somethings across, depends on how fast it’s all going. It’s less than the speed of light, because we can still see it. Let’s just say it’s a big bubble, and growing, and it’s taking up space where? How big is the where? I have a hunch we’ll never figure that one out.

Now there’s a big argument among the geniuses as to whether or not the whole thing will sometime stop expanding and begin contracting under the irresistible force of gravity. Lots of things are contracting already, like into Black Holes. Those are some big gravimetric generators right there, they get big enough and I’ll wager they’ll start to attract each other. I’m on the side of the contraction argument. The other side thinks that the expansion will go on “forever.” Well, Virginia, there ain’t no Santee-Claus, forget forever right now. That’s a creationist argument; if there’s no end to it, the first little thing must have been put there somehow. Just to consider the term “forever” as part of the mix is a little naïve, “forever” and “infinity” are impossibilities that have no place in rational argument. We are somewhere, and somewhen, and something, we just don’t know what. Just because we don’t understand it, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

The smart money says it’s a closed system, it’s a little thing that blows up and then it all reaches the end of it’s tether and starts to come back together into another little thing, the identical little thing actually, in every way, in exactly the same place it was too, I’ll bet.

How long would that take? Nothing is yet showing any indication that the expansion phase is about to end. Quite the opposite, the expansion seems quite content now, quite confident, rushing along quite sure of itself. Another ten billion “years?” Twenty? Fifty? And then another fifty billion years to collapse again? The collapse phase should be rather shorter, actually, at some point it should all start to happen really, really fast, as gravity gets a full wind in its sails and rushes to a final solution.

I am a lawyer, and we like round numbers, so lets say the whole process, from singularity to singularity takes one hundred billion years. That’s still only a small fraction of “forever,” if there ever could be such a thing. Then how long could the little ball of everything remain intact before the next Big Bang? That’s probably another very long time, that much stuff all in one place would be pretty cozy. I have no guess or speculation about the forces that it would take to cause another Big Bang, but I do think it’s all part of a closed system.

So many questions. Is there only one of these things? Or are there “billions” of singularities out there Big Banging and expanding and contracting and settling down and then Big Banging again and etc. Even ten of them would take ten times more space than we can even begin to imagine. But why should there be only one? That would be quite the little leap of faith right there, even a little egocentric, our singularity must be unique! I don’t think ego or faith have anything to do with any part of this inquiry.

It’s all jaw-dropping wonder, clueless mystery mongering, it stuns the mind, our minds anyway, there’s no shame in it. No need to jump into mythical speculations of just what it is that we are inferior to. Our inferiority is a nameless, unquantifiable reality. Deal with it.

It’s enough to know that there is more to all of this than we can claim responsibility for. There is more to all of this than we can possibly understand. There are dimensions here that we cannot give names or faces to, and that fact should not trouble us at all. It all simply is, and so are we. We must be, because we are. So what is our role in all of this? There is little we can do except try to make life on earth a little easier for everybody. By doing that we make it easier for ourselves too. Doesn’t that make sense?

There’s a moral to this tale, my babies. Don’t worry about who we have to thank for all of this, who we must adore, or for whom we must be good, don’t give it a thought. There is no man at a desk with a book. Atheists and theologists all agree on that now. Call it “the ultimate mystery,” or call it god, or gods, or goddess for that matter, call it anything at all, it doesn’t change anything.

So what now? Well, help the women with the starving babies just because it’s obviously the right thing to do. And so on, right down the line. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It’s not religion; it’s common sense, common-fucking-sense. You don’t need books, or priests, you don’t need interpreters to show you the way, you don’t need gods. You have it in you, you know what’s right, just fucking do it.

And if your leaders, your elected officials, don’t seem to know the right thing from a hole in the ground, if they seem like all then can think about is their own prosperity, if they’re holding up the black thing that they’ve done, and telling you that they did it for you, and that it’s a white thing after all, no matter what you can see with your own eyes, well they are lying to you, and they do not have your best interests in their plans. That being the case, you should un-elect them, and if that doesn’t work, seriously considering separating them from their heads, it’s been done before, and god and the universe and all of the saints and angels of all religions and all of the dead of all time and all races will only cheer as the blood spurts from their necks, and the dull film covers their still open eyes.

So there. Now you know how I really feel.


Anonymous said...

Fine post. A little loose on the latest thinking, however. It's understandable...you're a lawyer, not a scientist.
First, the Universe is not expanding into some other space, it *IS* all space. Its expansion creates the very fabric of space and time. Very difficult to visualize, I know, since we are only equipped to deal with 3 dimensions. It is now believed there are 10 dimensions, maybe more (see String Theory).
Second, there are probably an infinite number of Universes--it's called the Multiverse theory. Each one has a slightly different set of laws of Physics. But it has me and you doing everything we ever did.
A good writer on these subjects is Bill Bryson--The Elegant Universe and A brief History of Nearly Everything. But you did pretty good for a non-techy guy.

fred c said...

Ed, I'm kind of anti-empirical. Think of me like you would one of those Greeks who thought salamanders could live in fire, without ever having actually tried it.

As a lawyer, I respect scientists but I resist the forced reality of two plus two equals four. I can tell you from bitter experience, in Court two plus two can be anywhere from three to six or seven, it depends on the judge and his or her mood.

I prefer mystery, it's more romantic. I'll stand by the "closed system" idea though. If there was a Big Bang, that was some kind of beginning, and if the universe has only one beginning and either one, or no ending, I'm a monkey's uncle. Where did the singularity come from? Always there? I like the expansion and contraction idea. But I don't care if I'm wrong. The lawyers truth is what suits him best.

(I do love to read about astrophysics, and the sub-particle stuff turns me on, I'm way into the new collider at CERN. It's reassuring to watch geniuses be boggled.)