Sunday, November 22, 2015

Everything, And Our Problem With That

As everyone knows, the universe is expanding at about 200 million kilometers a month, without stop. Put another way, in the three seconds from the beginning of this sentence to here, it has reached another 310 kilometers, or the length of 6000 Olympic swimming pools. It's grown even more since then, to yet unprecedented size.

We need to face it: We are trapped in a place with extremely serious boundary issues.

The universe's cannibal galaxies, its drifting continents, and numerous celebrities only hint at the number and scale of its egotistical need. Just last July - nothing, within the scale of its estimated 13.9 billion years of hungry existence - we had stories of the unprecedentedly small pentaquark, and the incredibly big Hercules-Corona Borealis Great Wall. Even in our novelty-mad culture, there are few guardrails here. The universe gets bored with its old physical models and laws faster than ever.
Some theories say this universe is just one among a billion billion other universes, popping away like bubbles from some endlessly huge, endlessly shook-up can of soda. Even that, according to more thinking, may be some scrawny fraction of all the other universes.  

And yet even among this staggering multitude, our universe seems unable to stop feeling special about itself. We enablers, cheering it on with our science reports, continually guess about where it came from and where it will be going, like it's some incredible, attention-sucking mystery. It’s not healthy for us, nor for All That Ever Was And All That Will Be.

Don't confuse grandeur with a cry for help.
If we could contact the other universes, they might help us trace the roots of this sad case. They’d probably tell us something about its bulbous sibling (perhaps through hyper entangled subatomic quarks, just spitballing here) that comes down to one word: Overachieving.
Even in its initial Planck Epoch our universe was a showoff. Infinitely hot, infinitely dense. Always displaying its command of all the fundamental laws. By the time the universe was the age of typical human, it had already expanded a trillion trillion trillion times over. How is that supposed to make everybody else feel?

Our best radio telescopes and biggest computers say the universe is 56 billion light years across. It has 100 billion galaxies. It has over 300 sextillion stars. Beyond the furthest reach of our instruments, researchers at CalTech theorize, it has collected uncounted millions of designer shoes, most still in their original packaging. The word “enough” does not figure large in its vocabulary -- which, though it contains every word ever said, happens to be just one more of the Universe’s infinite number of other collections. 

Showoff, yes. But even more, needy.

Its official story is that the Universe emerged out of nothing. Just as likely, the universe was left to fend for itself. Somebody couldn’t keep meeting all those demands. Now it’s endlessly searching, endlessly growing in all directions, trying to please everyone all the time. 

That is another way of saying it's endlessly distancing itself from everything, even Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. Dr. Tyson costarred with the universe in a hit television production, and while polite about the experience, seems in no hurry to work with The Whole of Reality again.
Hold a mirror up to it, and the universe may find it fears real structural change. It can’t move away from what it knows to do, or expand a the unthinkable velocities that feel safe. Old habits like over salting popcorn or consisting 73% of dark energy may be bad, but they're still hard to break. Losing those last ten pounds is hard, particularly when you encompass the whole of Nature.
At a density of one hydrogen atom per four cubic meters of volume, the Universe is beyond stretched thin. Even from Earth, supposedly a lesser and more obscure planet, anyone can tell it's had work. Probably a good thing, too – if you rule your existence with physical constants that favor gravity among the four fundamental interactions, you pay a price. Gravity always starts out fun, but long term, gravity is a drag.
Once upon a time, when the Universe had youth, looks, and promise, an eventual heat death of endlessly equivalent mass and energy probably sounded romantic, intriguing – and far, far off. Eventually, though, the quasars and the leptons get tired of the looks and the excitement. Like people, they eventually start looking for something like a plan. 

None of this matters as much as what we must do about it. Even when time and space are relative, winners remain fixed on the future.

Don't expect miracles. According to developmental psychologists working at CERN, if you want an eternal manifestation of reality to change deeply, catch it in the first 3 picoseconds. After that, you’re lucky if you get it to stop chewing gum. 

Even that is progress. Stay positive, focus on the healing, and remember: One planetary rotation at a time.

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