Tuesday, April 12, 2005

On Being and Nonbeing

To be read from the bottom, up, in this order:

The Universe is Actually Shrinking

The Truth About Space And Time

The Vast Balloon

The Universal Balloon

Popping the Balloon

On Being and Nonbeing

We can't escape our own minds. We accumulate evidence and then try to fit it into a model, plug in all the parts and hope it runs. As astronomers struggled to incorperate the evidence brought before their eyes, far from leaping to conclusions, they hunt carefully, even fearfully, for the import of what they seek is very dangerous. This is why the word "revolution" was coined to cover all disorder, but it came from Corpurnicus. Hundreds of years ago, he overturned how we saw reality.

The fate of the universe, we have no say in. We can't change it nor can we influence it at all, not even slightly. Our puny powers will never be up to the task. Contemplating this easily can lead to suicide. I have known astronomers to commit suicide or to go simply mad, my grandfather and grandmother went insane.

It is a struggle.

But understanding time and space is the true religion. All religions sprang from the stars. Our most distant ancestors looked up at the stars as the cold winds of the brutal Ice Age swept the night, and they wondered about the stars. Distant, cold, brilliant yet faint. Inscrutible yet with pattern and form and shape if only the watchers could figure the riddle out.

This will never change. We will always be struggling, trying to put the mystery of time and space into words, into graspable concepts. This is probably our greatest task. If ever there are aliens seeking others, this is probably what would be their first question: "What do you think the Universe is?"

Popping the Balloon

Pretend you have this immensely huge balloon. And each galaxy is a finger pressing into the surface of this balloon. As you travel along the outside skin of this balloon, it looks, as you POKE EVER DEEPER, that the time to pass out of the indentation you are in, travel around the balloon and then travel down into the indentation on the other side of the balloon, it is a great distance. Huge. Amazing. As you slide down the side of the opposite indentation, you speed up and it looks like your home indentation is truly traveling away from you at an increasingly accelerating speed.

Now, pretend you are God sitting in the middle of this balloon.

You can see the fingers indenting the balloon all at once, they are all coming closer together, the greater the weight, the closer to the center of the balloon they go.

All the smaller fingers are slipping along the surface of the balloon towards the two main fingers pressing in the hardest. Eventually after sitting there for 20 billion+ years, the fingers on either side of the balloon are the only ones left and they touch in the center.

And merge.

This will be called, "The Big Bang" by some future organism that figures out something is afoot.

The Universal Balloon

Why would Nature and random chance want to rip apart the Universe? It seems to me to be an awful waste. Usually, big things eat smaller things. You might call this a Law of Nature, red in tooth and claw. Seems to be the order of the day, here on earth. Little things eat big things, too. Germs and worms and vultures dine on the dead. Matter breaks down and is remade over and over again.

Why would Nature do otherwise?

Let's look at the balloon caused by the Singularity. The force of the explosion caused all the possible matter in the Universe to flow outwards since it was released...oh, from the prison of nothingness where it was boxed in so utterly. Ahem.

The force of the explosion carries all before it, the balloon moves into the vacuum of nothingness pushing all matter outwards. But smaller singularities form nearly immediately because of the density of matter, it tends to fall INTO EACH OTHER rather than repulsed away from each other. The energy to repulse starts when the first stars began to shine, the departing photon units have some force behind them.

I know this is bad physics, but bear with me for you are traveling through the thought patterns of a child, this is how I reasoned out things as a child.

It isn't one or two or twenty or fifty galaxies falling into each other, EVERY galaxy is falling into each other all the time. Each one has a gravitational pool. Each pool is as deep as each galaxy's mass can create on the surface of the space/time continuum. The great galaxies that are surrounded by hundreds or thousands of captive galaxies have deeeep indentations in the space/time balloon's surface. So deep, light from galaxies behind these monsters is multiplied and warped hugely, unimaginably hugely.

So, if all galaxies are falling INTO each other, how can the Universe be expanding rapidly and forever? What about red shift?

The Vast Balloon

I was told, the universe is a vast balloon and all the matter rides on the outside membrane of this balloon. When we use the Hubble Space Telescope to look back in time, we see galaxies from all the way back to nearly the very beginning when light began to shine because we can only look backwards in time. As the balloon expands, the various galaxies race away from each other and soon enough, all will spin off into the eternal darkness, never to see each other again, to dwindle into cold pieces of stone...what a delightful idea...not.

I couldn't accept this fatalistic vision. It clashed with too many things, especially the idea that things are born, mature, die and then are reborn in a new form or shape. Nature has a tendency to create as well as destroy.

So I held my tongue for years until the Hubble Space Telescope began to reveal to us the true nature of the Universe. The joy with which I greeted each revelation is inexpressible. I still tear up when I look at some of the mind numbingly beautiful visions.

And I started counting.

How many galaxies are crashing into each other. Great grinding wheels, sliding into each other. "Maybe there is only a few", astronomers said when I was very little. As the clustering of galaxies became more and more obvious, string theory was created to explain this strange thing. Maybe they like string out, only to move away from each other, forever?

Then, in recent years, astronomers began to realize, galaxies slide into each other...a lot. And that we are sliding into Andromeda. And Andromeda and we are sliding along with the Local Group of galaxies into the Great Attractor.

Interacting Galaxies

Fossil Galaxies 'Eat Their Neigbors'

This BBC story is particularily funny because it is full of ideas that are not only half baked, but downright insane. Why would anyone call this giant conglamoration of a star system a "fossil" is beyond belief! It isn't dead yet. Nor dying. Nor going away, for that matter. It is FEEDING. Anything coming near their gravitational pools which should be called gravitational seas, slides helplessly down the maw of these beasts.

It would be like watching a living Tyrannasaurus Rex eat and saying, "It is a fossil" just because we see the results of its dinner 2 million years in the past. As granddaddy would say, "How do you know what it is doing today? There is no way of telling".

Then along comes this attempt at explaining things:

Black Holes 'Do Not Exist'
By Philip Ball © ESA/NASA
Black holes are staples of science fiction and many think astronomers have observed them indirectly. But according to a physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, these awesome breaches in space-time do not and indeed cannot exist.

Over the past few years, observations of the motions of galaxies have shown that some 70% the Universe seems to be composed of a strange 'dark energy' that is driving the Universe's accelerating expansion.
George Chapline thinks that the collapse of the massive stars, which was long believed to generate black holes, actually leads to the formation of stars that contain dark energy. "It's a near certainty that black holes don't exist," he claims.
Black holes are one of the most celebrated predictions of Einstein's general theory of relativity, which explains gravity as the warping of space-time caused by massive objects. The theory suggests that a sufficiently massive star, when it dies, will collapse under its own gravity to a single point.
But Einstein didn't believe in black holes, Chapline argues. "Unfortunately", he adds, "he couldn't articulate why." At the root of the problem is the other revolutionary theory of twentieth-century physics, which Einstein also helped to formulate: quantum mechanics.

Ah, someone is treading nearby, but then misses:

He also thinks that the Universe could be filled with 'primordial' dark-energy stars. These are formed not by stellar collapse but by fluctuations of space-time itself, like blobs of liquid condensing spontaneously out of a cooling gas. These, he suggests, could be stuff that has the same gravitational effect as normal matter, but cannot be seen: the elusive substance known as dark matter.
Chapline G. Arxiv, http://xxx.arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0503200 (2005).
Bill Hamilton AstroScience Research Network http://www.astrosciences.info/ "I don't see the logic of rejecting data just because they seem incredible." Fred Hoyle

OK. The "in" thing today is "dark matter". This is the aether of the 21st Century. The mysterious force that "explains" everything. Only....it is a duex ex machina concocted to keep us from thinking about the Tyrannasaurus Rex galaxies happily munching on smaller galaxies.

Cute but no Kuiper doll.

The Truth About Space and Time

Unlike most children, I grew up in a universe that was not only fluid but very tenuous. My grandfather instilled into my mind at a very early age, the idea that what you see now isn't what is now, it is only the past and the past is only a clue as to what is happening now. The sun, even as it shone upon my curious face, was something in the past, the sun was forever eight or more minutes ahead of me.

The confusions of Einsteinian space was normalacy for me. Aside from the fact that grandpa hung out with Einstein, both my parents allowed me to hang out in the observatories where they worked as well as free access to their offices. Like a cloud of chicks surrounding a clucking hen, my mother kept us within yelling distance of herself as she worked as an astronomer. I noticed, over the years, virtually no other astronomers did this.

When the Big Bang theory was born, I freaked out. "How can this happen?" I asked, over and over. "It was a Singularity", said my dad. "A miracle". This made him believe in "God". But it did the opposite for me. Traveling in the mind back to the beginning of it all, one has to understand the impossible.

So I built up a mental structure to explain this.

There are many laws of nature. There is gravity, there is conservation of energy, there is quantum mechanics and so on. Then there is random chance.

All my life, people talk about random chance. The favorite example used nearly universally is "'X' chances of being hit by lightning twice' or 'once'". I have been hit by lightning three times, directly, all indoors and all times, I took all possible measures to avoid being hit. What are the random chances of that? Not even in the same state, much less, building, too.

The number is so off the scale, perhaps, no human has ever won this record. Some have been hit several times, in the same place which is where lightning often hits. But I have been hit in odd places, never the same one. So I am a Singularity.

Thinking about Singularities amuses me. Imagine space and time when there was nothing there. Time was eternal since nothing degraded, there were no laws of nature because there was nothing to act out the laws, ergo, the laws were null and void. In this state of nonbeing, something had to be working, it had to have no physical features because this required something existing. What exists in nothingness?

Random chance.

What is random chance under these circumstances? Since there is nothing, it happens without anything acting out because of randomosity. This means, the only thing that is possible at all times is nothing. Head hurt yet? Well, when all possible chances are exhausted, there are other chances, more improbable like five Republicans winning in an election, all of them getting 18181 as the vote total? It "happened" here in America but I doubt it was due to random chance. Nonetheless, random chance silently and invisibly deals with such improbabilities and they are done, and it continues with contemplation of all possibilities. Eventually, there being no time, glitches in randomness occur as the improbable folds back into itself into such contortions that all possible improbabilities are now on top of each other and crushed together and then the only thing left is the impossible: a true Singularity.

This moment is amazingly explosive. All the laws of Nature are born simultaneously. Time begins.

Archives: Why I am Mad at the New York Times...and Media in General:

The 2000 Election and How the Media Utterly Failed Us All

Columbia Journalism Review,  Mar/Apr 2001  


Thanks to Christopher Hanson for "All the News That Fits the Myth" (CJR, January/February). I used to be so proud of America's free press. Then I found myself reading lie after easily detectable lie. There would have been no election coup if the press had told the truth.

Christopher Hanson, thank you for calling a spade a spade. Unfortunately, it's a bloody shovel.

ABIGAIL QUART New York, New York

The overall problem with the press coverage - or should we say noncoverage - of Bush's many chunks of hidden history ("Missing the DUI Story," CJR, January/February) is that, unlike any previous politician or even celebrity, there was no media storm demanding he release his medical or school or military or criminal records.

This was and is unprecedented. I belonged to a team of concerned citizens who researched the missing years and when we talked to The New York Times and George magazine about this matter, both admitted that Bush and his people in Texas were stonewalling the press and refusing even minimal cooperation with normal everyday questions.

So I wrote to both publications and requested that they have headlines saying BUSH CONCEALS QUESTIONABLE PAST and then detail the stonewalling coupled with cries for release of records, especially the missing military records we needed.

They bluntly refused. I couldn't figure out why. Tompaine.com also tried to budge our media into at least pressuring Bush to come clean, but they were all intent on figuring out if Gore really said he was in Love Story. When we got under their skins, they told us that the missing two years of 1972-1973 were too long ago. They also said no one cared, yet whenever we polled the public on our own always there was intense interest in the information concerning the missing military years. So the real question here is why our media suddenly got cold feet whenever any subject of Bush's malfeasance arose.

And why the press changed the explosive DUI story from questions about Bush's past, one that has more than three arrests, to who revealed this essential information.

We smelled a rat here and the corpse still stinks.

ELAINE SUPKIS Berlin, New York

The mass moaning over the missed George Bush DUI story is all well and good, but it is a minor aspect of campaign coverage of Bush. A larger story that had been studiously avoided during the campaign despite the pleas of informed citizens was set to break in a big way on the Friday before the election. Medal of Honor winners Senators Kerrey and Inouye had conducted a press conference calling attention to George W. Bush's year-- long absence from his post of duty with the Texas Air National Guard during wartime - a charge that could have resonated with millions of veterans poised to vote. That scandal was obliterated by the lesser DUI story within just a couple of hours.

Over six months prior to the election, the AWOL story was addressed only minimally by a few media outlets, despite the fact that thousands of e-mails, faxes, and phone calls had been made to members of the press and to members of Congress providing careful detail and documentation, including his own damning records that were obtained through FOIA by a citizen activist. Additionally, hundreds of thousands of flyers had been distributed, demonstrations held, and call-ins made to talk radio.

And yet, like so many other aspects of the unexamined George, the national press for reasons we can only assume were sloth, cowardice, or collusion - was mostly silent. In any other profession this would be malfeasance.

We won't be making the mistake again of trying to convince established news outlets to properly inform the American people. We will simply develop more avenues that go above and around the print and broadcast media. Eliminate the irrelevant middleman. (That would be you all.)

Too often now we are seeing citizen activists who are ahead of the pundits and the reporters, who simply burp up superficial stories provided by the spinners. You all can pay attention and catch up, or you can be in the dustbin.

EILEEN SMITH Salem, Oregon

Historical note: all three of us worked online on investigating Bush during the election. Our headquarters was at the Salon Table Talk forums. I was the one who went to and from DC during this time.

Archives: Power For the People ABC News Interview

By Lee Dye March, 2004 interview with ABC

March 4  To pioneering astronomer Aden Meinel, the message was loud and clear decades ago. The flow of oil from the Middle East to the United States had slowed to a trickle, bringing this country to its knees and sounding what should have been a rousing wake up call.

President Jimmy Carter had chosen Meinel to lead a group of fellow scientists on an important investigation. Carter wanted the answer to a basic question: Could solar energy help free the nation from its growing and alarming dependence on foreign oil?

Meinel had all the right credentials to answer that question. He and his wife, Marjorie, also an astronomer, had developed telescopic instruments that are still in use to this day, and as the founder of the Kitt Peak National Observatories in Arizona, he helped bring his science to the masses. So in a report to the president, and later in a book, the Meinel's argued that the country could not afford to lose any time in developing a broad-based national solar energy program.

But somewhere along the way the oil spigots were turned on again, and the long lines at the gas stations disappeared, and the report from Meinel's committee began collecting dust. The husband and wife team, who hold many of the top prizes in astronomy and optics, campaigned across the country to try to get their message across, but fewer and fewer people seemed to be listening.

Now, they are both elderly and in poor health. Meinel is so distressed over a recent surgery on his wife that he could not even talk on the telephone.

But the torch has been picked up by a woman who grew up "eating science for dinner." Their daughter, one of seven children Marjorie raised while working alongside her husband, has made solar energy her own passion. And she has come up with an intriguing concept.

Home Ownership Model

The idea came to Elaine Supkis while advising someone on how to get a home loan through the Federal Housing Administration, which made home ownership possible for millions of Americans.

"I thought, I'm a dummy," Supkis says. "We could do this for solar energy, too."

Supkis had powered her own home for years with solar cells on the roof, so she knew first hand that the technology works. Even in upstate New York, there was enough sunlight to meet her needs throughout the year. In the nation's sun belt, including places like Arizona, where she played on the summit of Kitt Peak as a child, gigawatts of potential electricity were going unused.

As with any new technology, the roadblocks to solar energy are primarily economic. Solar cells, which convert sunlight to electricity through photovoltaics, are more expensive than cheap oil. So there is little incentive for a homeowner to spend thousands on a solar system when a power line runs just outside the door.

"Right now, energy is cheap," Supkis says. "But it's not going to be cheap in the future. That we can absolutely guarantee. So we have to prepare today for the time when it will not be cheap."

But there's that old problem again. Expensive systems can't compete with cheap systems, at least not in the marketplace.

So Supkis's solution is to make solar systems pay for themselves
"In the Great Depression, Roosevelt started home loans for people because you couldn't buy a house unless you had a lot of cash to put down," Supkis says. FHA loans closed much of the gap between the rich and the poor, making it possible for most Americans to own their own homes.

Supkis is campaigning for the federal government to create a solar energy program based on the FHA format. The program would initially be funded by the government, with perhaps about $100 billion in "seed" money. That money would be loaned to people who want to install solar cells on their homes or businesses, and it would be paid back, with interest, on a schedule based on the income of the applicant.

The payments would be "recycled" as loans to new applicants, thus producing a self-sustaining system.

"It needs to be self perpetuating," she adds.

Good Idea, But…

One way to make it palatable would be to make the payments the same as the applicant pays for electricity through the local utility. And if the system produces more electricity than the home owner needs, the excess could be sold to the utility.

Eventually, when the loan is paid off, the system will provide "free" electricity to the home, and the sale of excess energy could provide a little cash, thus stimulating the need to exercise restraint in energy usage.

Supkis says she picked the figure of $100 billion "out of my hat," but she notes it's about what the United States plans to spend in the effort to rebuild Iraq.

Unfortunately, like so many timely ideas these days, this one probably won't go anywhere either. As long as energy remains relatively cheap, it's easy to put this aside, ignoring a problem that isn't going to go away.

But photovoltaic systems have vastly improved over the past few years, and more and more public utility companies and government agencies are launching efforts to tap into a resource that won't run dry. Imagine how far that technology would advance if there was a viable marketplace filled with home owners eager to buy the latest system, with just a little help from Uncle Sam.

Nothing stimulates progress like money.

Lee Dye’s column appears weekly on ABCNEWS.com. A former science writer for the Los Angeles Times, he now lives in Juneau, Alaska.

NOTE TO READERS: I was emailed later and told, "No one is interested in this stuff. Energy won't be expensive that soon, anyway, we won't need your services again". Heh. As always, I am right and everyone else has their head in the sand...