Saturday, January 16, 2010

More Mysteries of the Universe

The other day, when I wrote about A Unified Theory of Everything, I mentioned that I've been listening to The Compleat Idiot's Guide to String Theory. If nothing else, books like this are a good reminder of how little we know about the universe we inhabit. It's humbling. But the mental stimulation is fun, too.

For example, what if at it's basic essence the universe is digital and everything is simply binary code? And what if this code was being stored on a hard drive somewhere, and backup copies of the code were being stored on backup drives? And what if we were living in a universe that had been stored on a backup with a corrupted drive, which explains why so many things are so messed up? This could also explain the feeling that there are parallel universes.

No, that wasn't in the book. But there are a lot of things here that are hard to get your head around. Like Black Holes. Or the idea that the universe is expanding and actually has an outer edge. This concept is just too much.

Einstein's efforts to explain everything kept running into mysteries like Black Holes. And what is dark matter? How do scientists come up with this stuff? Here's an explanation from the superstringtheory website:

According to estimates of how much mass would actually be needed to keep the average galaxy from flying apart, it is now widely believed by physicists and astronomers that most of the matter in the Universe is invisible. This matter is called dark matter, and it's important for cosmology.

If there is dark matter, then what could it be made of? If it were made of quarks like ordinary matter, then in the early Universe, more helium and deuterium would have been produced than could exist in the Universe today.

It amazes me how scientists can talk so authoritatively about such esoteric knowledge.

One section of the book was throwing around numbers about the size of the universe and this itself escapes comprehension. If light travels 186,000 miles per second, think how far does it go in a year? Now imagine 47 billion light years. Sounds pretty far out, doesn't it? If you travelled half way to the end of everything, you might start feeling pretty lonely out there.

The Milky Way alone is but one whirling galaxy of 100 billion or more stars and there are more galaxies out beyond this than we can count. Current estimates hover around 10 Catiline, or 10 trillion billion, give or take a few. And all of it is in motion, even though those stars we can seem pretty fixed from where we sit, moving so fast away from one another that even this is incomprehensible.

Mix in questions about quantum gravity, 6-dimensional Calabi-Yau space, brane collisions, Ekpyrotic Theory and the Big Splat, spacetime, event horizons and supersymmetry and what is going on here?

At the end of the day there are more important questions, the kind that make pop music a great source of comfort, questions like, "Will you still love me tomorrow?" and "How can I be sure?"

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