The real meaning of enlightenment is to gaze with undimmed eyes on all darkness. – Nikos Kazantzakis


Stardust and Strings Pt.1

Every little carbon, hydrogen, oxygen atom coursing through your body came from a star’s death.  The cycle of life rolls on, and in death comes not only our birth, but also the birth of new, baby stars.  What grand epochs these atoms have lived through–the singularity, the Big Bang, the rapid expansion of our almost 14 billion year old universe, the irreversible increasing entropy of the cosmos, and the death of huge stars in a final fire show of exploding gases and fanfare.  And the pinpricks of light receding into the black background, the cold static of microwave radiation, the fatal, elegant dance of binary galaxy systems. And the unseen terror of supermassive black holes and the veiled, mysterious “center” of the universe from which we all radiate outwards.  And the cacophonous muteness of the ancient night sky.

And the strings.  Everywhere.
According to superstring theory, the little atoms we are made of are made of subatomic particles like protons and neutrons which in turn are made up of quarks, which in turn are posited as strings of energy (electrons are strings as well).  So why in the world would scientists make up this crazy theory about little strings of energy vibrating all around us?

It starts with our man, Sir Isaac Newton.   He was a pretty cool guy.  You know, just invented calculus, discovered the law of universal gravitation, and created classical mechanics, all before the age of 26.  Yeah, he was alright.

Then comes along another guy named Albert Einstein.  He thought that Newton’s ideas were pretty cool, but they just needed a bit of tweaking.  Voilà, theory of special and general relativity.  Now both Newton and Einstein were scientists of the macroverse–that which can be easily seen, measured, and quantified.  They sought to unravel the inner designs of our waking world.

Enter Bohr, Heisenberg, Schrödinger, Born, de Broglie, Fermi, Planck, and a whole slew of other quantum physicists who turned the physics world upside down.  They were the ones who shook their heads when the naive classical physicists of their time said, “That’s all, folks.”  And so, they discovered the marvelous, unseen world of quantum mechanics, the elusive electrons, and the very core of reality as we know it today.  Who knew that our own arm was mostly just empty space?  That parts of it flit in and out of existence?

So the question becomes, how do you reconcile the theory of horrible immensities with the theory of the unthinkable minutiae?  How do you fit gravity into the quantum world, and how do you fit wave function collapse into the fabric of the planets?  Einstein spent the good beginning of his career fitting together Newtonian physics with electromagnetic physics in his theory of special relativity.  Einstein shifted his attention to particles and developed a theory for photons called the photoelectric effect, giving wings to the fledgling quantum physicists who then explored deeper than ever before in the land of the atoms.  The one thing that bothered him until the end of his life was the diametrically opposed nature of the laws of the big and the laws of the small.  If he could just unify it all into one elegant mathematical equation to calculate the universe on any level…that was his dream.

This was the theory of everything, lost to Einstein and still lost to us today, and it still remains the question to answer.  In the true spirit of Einstein’s originality, scientists now declare that string theory is the answer.

Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.  – Carl Sagan

 – Beyond Apathy


What if we lived in a hypothetical universe? Pt.2

This part is going to take a slightly different, more, dare I say, philosophical view on quantum mechanics and how this applies to the world.

Warning–the following paragraphs contain a staggering amount of mind-bogglement.  If you like having a sense of sanity, some semblance of self-worth, and a cozy, dark, little hole in the ground to live in, do not read on.

The universe as a whole, the Existence as a whole, it’s a thought that nobody likes to think about.  And deep inside, each of us know why.  From a purely scientific standpoint, we don’t matter.  From a philosophical standpoint, it is impossible to comprehend it.  From a religious standpoint, there is so much to doubt and so little to believe in.  From a normal standpoint, it is a sense of loneliness and cold, and we as humans tend to stay away from that.  And to think about it all is overwhelming.  If you don’t think it’s overwhelming, you’re not thinking about it.  When these thoughts flood your brain, there is little else that can function, so this is why we keep it locked away, deep in the crevices of our mind so we don’t have to deal with it.

So you never have to think about it if you don’t want to.  But one must, for it is the question that has haunted all life since its beginning.

“Why do we exist?”

Mind bogglement: What if there were others, just like us, but not in our plane of existence?  What if there was a different me or you going, “Why do we exist?”

Would you like a cold cup of perspective?

It’s an amazing, beautiful universe, and if you don’t think so, that’s pretty short-sighted and narrow-minded of you.  The Existence is a terrible/awe-inspiring, both at the same time, and it transcends every thought that you thought you knew.

Now getting to the point, there is a different interpretation of quantum mechanics that allows for a whole different type of reality, philosophy, time, and choice.  That very interpretation is the Many-Worlds Interpretation.  Its implications are staggering.  If it were proved to be true, then for every moment in our lives, there is an infinite number of different universes that spring from that moment, and the choice we make at the moment is the reality that we live in.  The other infinite choices that we possibly could have made are actual realities in parallel universes.  Sounds sci-fi, right?

Well, put into scientific terms, what happens at the point at which we observe electrons is the key.  The Copenhagen interpretation asserts that electrons undergo wavefunction collapse and become what we see.  Many-worlds interpretation states that electrons do NOT undergo wavefunction collapse and instead split into separate realities.

Each of these realities is as real as the next.  There is another you and another me in another universe, exactly the same except for a minor change in the flow of our lives.  And another you and me in another universe.  And a universe in which we never existed in the first place.  There is a reality for everything.

This is like the equivalent of freaking Sparta in science.

So this universe…it could very well be that it is unremarkable.  Indistinguishable.  One among infinite.  One universe in the entire multiverse.

Many-worlds interpretation tries to explain Schrödinger’s Cat with the idea that in our universe, the cat is dead, but the alternate reality of it living splits off into another universe.  We’d never know because we only exist in one plane of reality.

Most people perceive the flow of life as one continuous river, and maybe determinists see it as the only river.  The introduction of this interpretation means that time and reality is more like an infinitely forked road at every moment in our lives.  So what is time?  Just a bunch of choices that we make that keeps reality in motion?  Does this affirm the existence of free will and choice?  Are those separate universes impossible to reach?  What does this mean for what’s beyond us?

These questions are some that should address the implications of this theory.  Yes, it is a little spine-chilling, yet awesome at the same time.

Well, thanks for reading!  Yes, this is what I read about in my free time.

Everything you’ve learned in school as “obvious” becomes less and less obvious as you begin to study the universe. For example, there are no solids in the universe. There’s not even a suggestion of a solid. There are no absolute continuums. There are no surfaces. There are no straight lines.— R. Buckminster Fuller – Beyond Apathy

The answer to life, the universe, and everything

Forty-two.  Actually, I lied.  I’m actually only going to talk about the universe.  Which I suppose includes everything which includes life.  So I guess I didn’t exactly lie.

If you enjoyed my previous post on time, this one is going to take it a whole step beyond that.

So let’s start at the beginning.  The beginning of our universe, that is.
The beginning is really quite simple in what happened, but rather ambiguous in why.  The commonly accepted theory, yes, you’ve all heard of it, the Big Bang, is what happened.  A single point, a singularity, exploded and created the universe which infinitely expands in all directions (or does it?  More on that later!), might have become a supermassive blackhole, blah blah blah…that’s the boring stuff.  As for what caused the Big Bang and how could something like that happen, well, there’s more fun in describing that.

Think of our universe as a little fold in existence.  It’s just a little wobbling sheet (a flat universe–more explanation later) that exists somehow, somewhere in something even grader than the pitiful human brain can imagine.  This place is called the multiverse.  It is where all the universes in existence reside, and it is where new universes are formed.  Imagine if you can, a time where there was no universe of ours.  Hah, of course, time started in our own universe when the universe started, so rather, it’s just the nonexistence of our universe.  Anyways, there’s a theory that our universe was formed when two sheets of universes collided together at a single point, our singularity, and that collision is basically what we call the Big Bang.  Exactly how did that trigger a giant explosion?  Well, a tough question to answer because of the small mental capabilities of a human brain, but I’ll try.
I’m going to start assuming a lot of things, but for the sake of the argument/discussion, accept them as truths for now.
Our universe is infinitely expanding.  Wow, that just sent shivers up my spine.
Anyways, if our universe is infinitely expanding, there must have been an infinitely dense point from which the universe originated from.  And if every time two folds of a universe collide, they make a new universe, then there must be an infinite number of singularities present in the multiverse.  From one of these points of infinite mass, the Big Bang occured.

How is a point of infinite mass possible?
The answer is very simple in idea: there is something and nothing within that point.  The something is easy to understand, you see somethings everyday.  The something is the mass and objects and stardust that exist in our universe in the traditional sense.  We ourselves are made of stardust, bits of exploded star, and that in the clearest sense is just absolutely astounding and beautiful at the same time.  The elements that make us up–they weren’t present when the universe started out, when the Big Bang occurred.  No, the compounds and elements that our bodies are comprised of…they were made in stars.  Awe-inspiring, is it not?
The nothing on the other hand…well, it is what it is.  Nothing.  So define nothing.  Nothing – the nonexistence of something.  So if there’s nothing there, then it should weigh nothing, right?  Actually, no, due to quantum mechanics…in quantum mechanics, essentially, everything can come from nothing and miniscule particles that did not exist a few milliseconds ago exist, then pop back out of existence.  It is this popping in and out of existence that gives nothing its very very tiny mass/weight.  And this is the ever-so-famous “dark matter”.  We’ll get back to that in a moment.

There are three main geometric shapes of the universe that any aspiring cosmologist/avid astronomer/bored reader should know about.  They are
1. Open
2. Closed
3. Flat
The shape of the universe can quite easily be figured out by a simple ratio that cosmologists have dubbed “omega”.  It’s looks like this –>Ω (ohmyOHMS!  But we’re not dealing with that type of physics here.)
Ω = total mass of universe  (matter and dark matter) / amount of mass needed for a flat universe.
If Ω = 1 , the universe is flat (simply beautiful, isn’t it?).
If Ω > 1 , the universe is closed.
If Ω < 1 , the universe is open.

In a flat universe, the universe keeps expanding, slows down, but ultimately never stops, leading to a cold, sparsely populated death by maxing out the universe’s entropy.  In a closed universe, ah, you probably aren’t going to like this, but the world ends with a highly satisfying, extremely heated “Big Crunch”.  In an open universe, the same thing as the flat universe occurs, but expansion never slows down.

As of now, the shape of the universe that most cosmologists tend to favor is the flat universe.  It is only in this type of universe that a universe can come from nothing!  Say thanks to quantum mechanics for that.  Actually, you can thank quantum mechanics for allowing you to exist too.  It has been found that in a proton, about 90% of it is actually made up of dark matter.  And well, you’re made up of a lot of protons, which means that basically, you’re 90% dark matter too.
Going back to the flat universe though, it is this universe that corresponds with most atheists’/agnostics’ view of the start of the universe.  There is no need for a God to create this universe anymore–there is no need for a deity to shout out “Let there be light!” into the nothingness and suddenly illuminate the universe.  A flat universe can just start…with quantum mechanics at work.  It is this very nothingness, the dark matter as I said above, that contains no energy, that quantum fluctuations can unleash in a Big Bang to create the universe.

Ah, gravity at work in the universe.  gmrk1 requested that I talk about this, however, I do not know in which direction you want me to elaborate in.  So here’s a quick overview (there probably will be a separate post about it in the future).  Gravity is easily interpreted as a force on a small scale.  For example, we drop a glass vase, it comes crashing to the floor along with your fleeting sense of panic which is then replaced by dread as you wonder what your mother is going to say.  It is, in a colloquial manner, “what keeps our feet on the ground”.  Take gravity into space, however, and it becomes something that probably makes a lot more sense as a curvature in space-time.  What?  To be frank, gravity is actually a very, very weak “force”.  The other three forces, weak force, strong force, and electromagnetic force, are ridiculously powerful compared to gravity.  Looking at the Sun pulling on gigantic rocks in space and keeping them in orbit makes one dubious of what I just said, but a curvature in space-time is something that makes a lot more sense considering that gravity is weak.  Any object that exerts gravity is actually just creating a dent in space-time, sort of like a Temperpedic pillow and your head, and it is in this little sinkhole that objects circle around, like one of those plastic things where you roll a penny on its side and it goes around and around in a giant circle, slowly drawing closer and closer to the gaping hole in the middle.  The idea of gravity is actually a difficult topic to cover in just one paragraph, but here’s an ending remark on that for now: both Newton and Einstein came up with theories that can be reconciled with each other, and it does make sense on a large scale, but both of these giants in physics still couldn’t come up with a theory that can be fitted with quantum mechanics to create what scientists call “quantum gravity”.  The search is still on-going.

Err, I realize that this is an extremely random post, but the universe is quite a large place to cover.  In fact, the human brain cannot comprehend it, so no use trying to really imagine it.  But here’s something extremely important to try to understand.  You and I are just a couple of humans in a sea of over 6 billion others.  This in itself is hard to imagine, if not impossible for most people.  And 6 billion people live on one planet out of eight (poor Pluto) in this solar system.  And there are millions of solar systems in this arm of the Milky Way galaxy alone.  And the Milky Way galaxy is a spiral galaxy, meaning that it has multiple arms, plus an extremely populated center, probably dominated by a supermassive blackhole.  And when you look up in the sky, a one degree by one degree square of the sky contains up to 500,000 galaxies (visible by the CFH Telescope, excluding those hidden behind dust clouds, nebulas, dark areas, etc.).  And well, multiply that by the total number of those squares in the galaxy, and you get….a staggering number.  An unimaginable number.
Go on playing your videogames.  Go on rick-rolling people.  Go on debating about bioterrorism.  Just remember that when you’re hit with the overwhelming, helpless feeling of isolation and insignificance, and you curl up in your bed and start shivering uncontrollably, that human ego will override that moment and you can go on killing your slimes, attatching captions to cats (no staples please), and poring over evidence.

Have a good day.

Forget Jesus–the stars died for us!  – Lawrence Krauss

We are bits of stellar matter that got cold by accident, bits of a star gone wrong. – Sir Arthur Eddington

 – Beyond Apathy

Time flows on–an idiom explained

Sorry about the delay in posting!  It’s been a busy past week as most of you well know.  I suppose I’ll miss you all during the summer unless I happen to see you over summer.  In that case, yay for those of you out there.

So!  The topic of this post…yes, you guessed it: time.  One clap for you.

And by delving into time, some philosophy and some physics will be brought in, so leave while you still can.

Or stay.  Staying and reading would be good too.

Time continuum sounds like something to do with scientifiction (nod to Hugo), but really, this is probably the generally most accepted version of time theory out there, the official creation credit going to Mr. Albert Einstein.  As most of you all know, there are three dimensions (in the traditional sense): length, width, and depth.  Now apply Einstein to the world, and voilà, you get four dimensions after adding in time.

Some of you may argue that time is not a dimension.  The tangible world around you, your chair, your desk, whatever you can touch in this reality is length, width, and depth.  If that object, let’s say a pencil, occupies a certain place in this plane, then it is tangible. So if it’s tangible, it must have dimensions.  But what if it’s not there at a certain point in time?  You couldn’t possible touch a pencil if it doesn’t exist in it’s place in space.  This means that time is indeed a dimension, allowing an object to exist in space while the other three dimensions mold its form.

Now that we’ve established that there are (at least) four dimensions in this universe, let’s focus in on the nature of time.  As described by Einstein, when all four dimensions are applied, it is called space-time.  This space-time could be what some call “the fabric of the universe”.  Imagine space infinitely stretching out in all directions.  Trick statement, it’s impossible to even fathom it.  Anyways, think of a table cloth, stretched out parallel to the ground in the air.  This table cloth is our very puny universe.  Drop a bowling ba–no, that’d induce the “Big Crunch” of our universe or rip a hole in its space-time…  Fine, a marble.  That small indentation in the cloth surrounding the marble is what gravity really is–a slight curvature of our universe.  Thus, the large/more mass an object has, the larger and deeper the area of indentation is.  Basically, this is why Jupiter has a truckload of satellites.

In order for space-time to be an accurate representation of the universe, it has to be a continuum.  Continuum in a mathematical sense is: Range = (-∞, ∞).  Discrete on the other hand is: Range = {…-3,-2,-1,0,1,2,3…}.  Good if you got that.  If you didn’t…sigh.

What if the universe was discrete?  That is one big “what-if”.  Time would not “flow” as it does in a continuum.  Between two points in time, there would be no essential “middle” that connects the two points in time.  If you’ve ever put a camera on the multi-shot option, discrete time would be somewhat like those pictures.  Snap shots in reality is what time would become with no existence between those pictures.  Really, we would not exist.

And here lies fault with determinism as well.  To the determinist, there is no choice nor reason in this universe for everything happens as it will predestined to.  Predestination indicates some planning, and if there are points in our life that we are to follow with no choice between those separate points in time, then, with the lack of the essential middle ground, one can infer that a determinist inadvertently (or mindfully) believes in the discrete version of time.  Which was concluded to be impossible in the previous paragraph.

Time travel is a tricky thing to envision, but again, only possible in the continuum theory of time.  So say Einstein’s “thought experiments” were not for naught, and that at the speed of light, everything freezes (if what we see is light, and light obviously travels at the speed of light, then we, moving at the speed of light, should see only one point in time, frozen.  This also leads to the conclusion that the speed of time and light are the same).  Go faster and the idea is that it would allow you to go back in time.  Of course, with light being the universal speed limit (for now), this is impossible to prove.

But to go forward in time, that requires a whole new set of rules.  To go forward in time indicates that there is something that already happened in the future, that there is something that exists in the future.  AGH, those darned determinists.

And this is why time theory is all still a theory.

No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it. – Albert Einstein

– Beyond Apathy