Stephen Hawking has ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Did I just blow your mind? Discovering this bit of information was actually somewhat exciting for me, as I have always thought of the disease to be an absolute guarantee of death within a few years. I realize that a lot of people that I know do not like Mr. Hawking, and you don’t have to (no one can make you), but it is probably worth at least learning his story, and what makes him significant (other than the fact that he’s survived having ALS for half of a century). It will probably comfort a lot of my friends at least somewhat to know that Mr. Hawking isn’t as militant an atheist as some. He has actually been quoted saying:
“An expanding universe does not preclude a creator, but it does place limits on when he might have carried out his job!” – Stephen Hawking
The recent ALS Ice Bucket Challenge campaign has been unbelievably successful. Much of the success of this campaign is probably correlated with the fact that there seemed to be a very simple, and kind of fun activity that tangibly allows people to at least do something, other than give money. The other side of the campaign that is probably responsible for having raised $94.3 million, in less than a month (as opposed to $2.7 million in the same time period the previous year) is the outpouring of personal stories. I recently read the book “You Are Now Less Dumb”, and in this book David McRaney attempts to establish that the most basic of human instincts is to have a narrative – we must make sense of it all. He tries to explain how we tell ourselves simple lies sometimes just to make sense of our environment. It might seem like I’m bringing this up to say that religion is an opiate, but that is not my intent. I simply want to describe the importance in the human condition of relating to others. This is what Stephen looked like before ALS took over his body:
SO, here is my challenge to you: I challenge you to watch this and try to address your prejudices against Mr. Hawking, be they ideological or biological – or simply watch it and enjoy it. I believe there is a God, and that in principle is why I would want to hear as much from someone like Hawking as possible. If you don’t have time for the video I at least urge you to read about some of Mr. Hawking’s discoveries and theories, he is a pretty smart fellow. Now I think I’ll go listen to the audiobook for his record breaking best selling book “A Brief History of Time”.
So in the last couple weeks there has been a lot of talk about the resurrection of the show “Cosmos“, with Neil DeGrasse Tyson replacing Carl Sagan, who many still feel is irreplaceable. But Carl himself with his fascination with the universe would take offense with the notion that he is the best their will ever be, at least I would imagine. He was ever the optimist.
Well, with many people seeming to feel re-energized with the new beginning of the show it comes at a perfect time that there be a marvelous discovery of evidence for the existence of a Big Bang event. As I am no scientist I am just going to post an article about the discovery, a video about it, and also I am adding the first episode of “Cosmos” with Carl Sagan. I hope you enjoy.
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — One night late in 1979, an itinerant young physicist named Alan Guth, with a new son and a year’s appointment at Stanford, stayed up late with his notebook and equations, venturing far beyond the world of known physics.
He was trying to understand why there was no trace of some exotic particles that should have been created in the Big Bang. Instead he discovered what might have made the universe bang to begin with. A potential hitch in the presumed course of cosmic evolution could have infused space itself with a special energy that exerted a repulsive force, causing the universe to swell faster than the speed of light for a prodigiously violent instant.
If true, the rapid engorgement would solve paradoxes like why the heavens look uniform from pole to pole and not like a jagged, warped mess. The enormous ballooning would iron out all the wrinkles and irregularities. Those particles were not missing, but would be diluted beyond detection, like spit in the ocean.
“SPECTACULAR REALIZATION,” Dr. Guth wrote across the top of the page and drew a double box around it.
On Monday, Dr. Guth’s starship came in. Radio astronomers reported that they had seen the beginning of the Big Bang, and that his hypothesis, known undramatically as inflation, looked right.
Reaching back across 13.8 billion years to the first sliver of cosmic time with telescopes at the South Pole, a team of astronomers led by John M. Kovac of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics detected ripples in the fabric of space-time — so-called gravitational waves — the signature of a universe being wrenched violently apart when it was roughly a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second old. They are the long-sought smoking-gun evidence of inflation, proof, Dr. Kovac and his colleagues say, that Dr. Guth was correct.
Inflation has been the workhorse of cosmology for 35 years, though many, including Dr. Guth, wondered whether it could ever be proved.
If corroborated, Dr. Kovac’s work will stand as a landmark in science comparable to the recent discovery of dark energy pushing the universe apart, or of the Big Bang itself. It would open vast realms of time and space and energy to science and speculation.
Confirming inflation would mean that the universe we see, extending 14 billion light-years in space with its hundreds of billions of galaxies, is only an infinitesimal patch in a larger cosmos whose extent, architecture and fate are unknowable. Moreover, beyond our own universe there might be an endless number of other universes bubbling into frothy eternity, like a pot of pasta water boiling over.
‘As Big as It Gets’
In our own universe, it would serve as a window into the forces operating at energies forever beyond the reach of particle accelerators on Earth and yield new insights into gravity itself. Dr. Kovac’s ripples would be the first direct observation of gravitational waves, which, according to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, should ruffle space-time.
Marc Kamionkowski of Johns Hopkins University, an early-universe expert who was not part of the team, said, “This is huge, as big as it gets.”
He continued, “This is a signal from the very earliest universe, sending a telegram encoded in gravitational waves.”
The ripples manifested themselves as faint spiral patterns in a bath of microwave radiation that permeates space and preserves a picture of the universe when it was 380,000 years old and as hot as the surface of the sun.
Dr. Kovac and his collaborators, working in an experiment known as Bicep, for Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization, reported their results in a scientific briefing at the Center for Astrophysics here on Monday and in a set of papers submitted to The Astrophysical Journal.
Dr. Kovac said the chance that the results were a fluke was only one in 10 million.
Dr. Guth, now 67, pronounced himself “bowled over,” saying he had not expected such a definite confirmation in his lifetime.
“With nature, you have to be lucky,” he said. “Apparently we have been lucky.”
The results are the closely guarded distillation of three years’ worth of observations and analysis. Eschewing email for fear of a leak, Dr. Kovac personally delivered drafts of his work to a select few, meeting with Dr. Guth, who is now a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (as is his son, Larry, who was sleeping that night in 1979), in his office last week.
“It was a very special moment, and one we took very seriously as scientists,” said Dr. Kovac, who chose his words as carefully as he tended his radio telescopes.
Andrei Linde of Stanford, a prolific theorist who first described the most popular variant of inflation, known as chaotic inflation, in 1983, was about to go on vacation in the Caribbean last week when Chao-Lin Kuo, a Stanford colleague and a member of Dr. Kovac’s team, knocked on his door with a bottle of Champagne to tell him the news.
Confused, Dr. Linde called out to his wife, asking if she had ordered anything.
“And then I told him that in the beginning we thought that this was a delivery but we did not think that we ordered anything, but I simply forgot that actually I did order it, 30 years ago,” Dr. Linde wrote in an email.
Calling from Bonaire, the Dutch Caribbean island, Dr. Linde said he was still hyperventilating. “Having news like this is the best way of spoiling a vacation,” he said.
By last weekend, as social media was buzzing with rumors that inflation had been seen and news spread, astrophysicists responded with a mixture of jubilation and caution.
Max Tegmark, a cosmologist at M.I.T., wrote in an email, “I think that if this stays true, it will go down as one of the greatest discoveries in the history of science.”
John E. Carlstrom of the University of Chicago, Dr. Kovac’s mentor and head of a competing project called the South Pole Telescope, pronounced himself deeply impressed. “I think the results are beautiful and very convincing,” he said.
Paul J. Steinhardt of Princeton, author of a competitor to inflation that posits the clash of a pair of universes as the cause of genesis, said that if true, the Bicep result would eliminate his model, but he expressed reservations about inflation.
Lawrence M. Krauss of Arizona State and others also emphasized the need for confirmation, noting that the new results exceeded earlier estimates based on temperature maps of the cosmic background by the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite and other assumptions about the universe.
“So we will need to wait and see before we jump up and down,” Dr. Krauss said.
Corroboration might not be long in coming. The Planck spacecraft will report its own findings this year. At least a dozen other teams are trying similar measurements from balloons, mountaintops and space.
Spirals in the Sky
Gravity waves are the latest and deepest secret yet pried out of the cosmic microwaves, which were discovered accidentally by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson at Bell Labs 50 years ago. They won the Nobel Prize.
Dr. Kovac has spent his career trying to read the secrets of these waves. He is one of four leaders of Bicep, which has operated a series of increasingly sensitive radio telescopes at the South Pole, where the thin, dry air creates ideal observing conditions. The others are Clement Pryke of the University of Minnesota, Jamie Bock of the California Institute of Technology and Dr. Kuo of Stanford.
“The South Pole is the closest you can get to space and still be on the ground,” Dr. Kovac said. He has been there 23 times, he said, wintering over in 1994. “I’ve been hooked ever since,” he said.
In 2002, he was part of a team that discovered that the microwave radiation was polarized, meaning the light waves had a slight preference to vibrate in one direction rather than another.
This was a step toward the ultimate goal of detecting the gravitational waves from inflation. Such waves, squeezing space in one direction and stretching it in another as they go by, would twist the direction of polarization of the microwaves, theorists said. As a result, maps of the polarization in the sky should have little arrows going in spirals.
Detecting those spirals required measuring infinitesimally small differences in the temperature of the microwaves. The group’s telescope, Bicep2, is basically a giant superconducting thermometer.
“We had no expectations what we would see,” Dr. Kovac said.
The strength of the signal surprised the researchers, and they spent a year burning up time on a Harvard supercomputer, making sure they had things right and worrying that competitors might beat them to the breakthrough.
A Special Time
The data traced the onset of inflation to a time that physicists like Dr. Guth, staying up late in his Palo Alto house 35 years ago, suspected was a special break point in the evolution of the universe.
Physicists recognize four forces at work in the world today: gravity, electromagnetism, and strong and weak nuclear forces. But they have long suspected that those are simply different manifestations of a single unified force that ruled the universe in its earliest, hottest moments.
As the universe cooled, according to this theory, there was a fall from grace, like some old folk mythology of gods or brothers falling out with each other. The laws of physics evolved, with one force after another splitting away.
That was where Dr. Guth came in.
Under some circumstances, a glass of water can stay liquid as the temperature falls below 32 degrees, until it is disturbed, at which point it will rapidly freeze, releasing latent heat.
Similarly, the universe could “supercool” and stay in a unified state too long. In that case, space itself would become imbued with a mysterious latent energy.
Inserted into Einstein’s equations, the latent energy would act as a kind of antigravity, and the universe would blow itself up. Since it was space itself supplying the repulsive force, the more space was created, the harder it pushed apart.
What would become our observable universe mushroomed in size at least a trillion trillionfold — from a submicroscopic speck of primordial energy to the size of a grapefruit — in less than a cosmic eye-blink.
Almost as quickly, this pulse would subside, relaxing into ordinary particles and radiation. All of normal cosmic history was still ahead, resulting in today’s observable universe, a patch of sky and stars billions of light-years across. “It’s often said that there is no such thing as a free lunch,” Dr. Guth likes to say, “but the universe might be the ultimate free lunch.”
Make that free lunches. Most of the hundred or so models resulting from Dr. Guth’s original vision suggest that inflation, once started, is eternal. Even as our own universe settled down to a comfortable homey expansion, the rest of the cosmos will continue blowing up, spinning off other bubbles endlessly, a concept known as the multiverse.
So the future of the cosmos is perhaps bright and fecund, but do not bother asking about going any deeper into the past.
We might never know what happened before inflation, at the very beginning, because inflation erases everything that came before it. All the chaos and randomness of the primordial moment are swept away, forever out of our view.
“If you trace your cosmic roots,” said Abraham Loeb, a Harvard-Smithsonian astronomer who was not part of the team, “you wind up at inflation.”
Last week I was at home and I stumbled across the Military Channel, which I’ve discovered is the most underrated channel, and just so happened to turn it on in time to find a show with interviews and live footage of astronauts on the moon. I found this show to be absolutely magical, and I couldn’t stop thinking about being in space all week. 4 days after watching this show I decided to go with some friends to see the new movie “Gravity” in IMAX 3D, and it just further inspired my mind to constantly be considering what it means that we are hurling through space all of the time! I recommend going to see “Gravity”, and I recommend watching that marvelous show that I happened to stumble upon, so I decided to find it and post it. It’s called “In the Shadow of the Moon”, and I encourage you to watch the whole thing by yourself in a dark room, and then encourage others to do the same.
The picture and the article linked above, as well as the video below, were created by people much smarter than I – so feel free to skip the rambling of this madman if you don’t have too much time. But reading/writing this post is/was fun for me, because it makes me feel enormous, and microscopic at the same time – and suddenly my day is more interesting, and hopefully more meaningful. I hope that this post can challenge/bless you, as these things do me.
I have had this thought for several years now, and as often well intended people try to impress me (not just me) with big gargantuan measurements and calculations about how things are and will be I try to repeatedly remind myself that not only am I not grasping this, but the person “blowing my mind” doesn’t understand what they are saying either. Please don’t take that statement as a condemnation of people trying to know things, I think that trying to know things is wonderful, but actually knowing and understanding many things might be harder than we tend to think. It seems to me that the ideas in our brains reach a critical mass that we don’t seem capable of truly understanding, at least not in the terms in which we tend to think that we can understand them.
The Arabic Numeral System (the one that we use that goes from 0 to 9, and then repeats it’s self) is a brilliant design that allows us to use our nostalgic brains to consider and relate quantities in relation to the number 10. 10 versus 100 is relatively simple for people to understand. One hundred is ten ten’s. Wasn’t it weird that I switched from the numbers to the letters? It was for me. Anyway, the point is that these numbers that we use repeatedly to quantify different things or ideas often to compare to one another can be great for our brains on a relatively small scale. I mean, I can count to 10 and then 100 relatively quickly, and I think that I get the difference in terms of consequence from one rather than the other. Say I have $100, rather than $10, I understand how much stuff I can get for that money. And I’m sorry if this feels silly, I’m trying to get to the point, I just think that it’s important to consider understanding the ACTUAL difference in these amounts.
Ok, now let’s keep with talking about money, because it’s way more interesting than most things that you might try to quantify because you can get stuff with it. I know that I think that I can understand the numbers 1,000,000 and 1,000,000,000, and the scale of both in comparison to one another. However, I’ve come to believe that this is just my ego and some basic comparison skills thanks to the Arabic Numeral System, and that I actually don’t get the comparison (and I don’t think that you probably do either). I am not saying that we can’t use the ideas of these numbers to compute and calculate, i just mean that i believe that our brains cannot full grasp the scale and impact of these kinds of numbers. I don’t mean to offend you if you think that you can and do fully understand these larger numbers, but I’m just being honest. Here are a few little tests to see how you feel about what I’m talking about, and again we’ll stick to money.
In this last Presidential election Sheldon Adelson was in the news for donating $10 million dollars several times to different campaigns. In the end he paid over $100 million to super pacs in the 2012 election. Now, that is simply a lot of money, but lets consider his net wealth really quickly. Mr. Adelson is worth roughly $25 billion, so as a percentage of his wealth his donations were about .4% of what he had to offer. In other words, if Mr. Adelson had $25,000 in the bank he offered $10 ten different times. Having that kind of influence for such a small portion of your wealth is a pretty wild thing, even though all of his candidates eventually lost. Ok, let’s try another example.
How long does it take you to run a mile? And there are 5,280 feet in a mile. Look at something that’s about a foot, and then count to 5,280. Ok, you don’t have to do that, but try to picture how big a mile is to you. Well in 1 second light goes 186,000 miles (imagine getting that many dollars in one second). And don’t forget those are miles, not feet. Light is so fast… I mean, in one second light could go across the united states about 60 times. Are you getting this? Me neither. We are talking about light in one second.
Alright, so as light travels 186,000 miles (not feet!) per second if you do the math light travels about 5.8 trillion miles in a year. I mean, 5,800,000,000,000. Or 5.8 x 100 x 100 x 100 x 100 x 100 x 100. Surely you understand that, I used 100’s. Ok, I’m kidding because you can’t, and I can’t either. But there is the connection, if we try to break things down so that we can understand them then we just use a bunch of 100’s, and thus 5.8 trillion no longer feels so big. I mean, imagine going across the United States in a car. Now imagine doing it sixty times… Now imagine doing that every second of the day for 365 days…. I know, you can’t, neither can I. But that number is about 5.8 trillion…
Our national debt is about $17 trillion. That’s three times as many dollars in our debt as there are miles in a light year. And this isn’t just about debt, it’s about profits that reflect wealthy disparity that we can’t comprehend.
We live in a society with businesses and government which enact policies and creates profits that measure up to this scale – and we are then asked to vote with our ballots and wallets as if we understand what we are doing… I don’t mean to be a glum, but we really can’t… So, with that in mind it might be helpful when listening to people who seem to be trying to sell you a bill of goods so that you can acknowledge your own very necessary skepticism. This doesn’t mean that we can’t compute, test, and challenge ideas (we can), but when the scale is so large you might ask yourself why. Could it be so that those who maybe should be outraged wont know to be? I’m not sure, but it’s hard not to consider all of our worlds inflationary parts without thinking that it might be sick.
Part of having a blog for me is realizing what my ego looks like. As I post about different ideas, and I know that it takes some level of self importance and self involvement that I might know about something that I think more people need to know or hear about, I understand thinking I’m a know it all. But trust me, I don’t know it all, and I’m well aware.
Well, since I don’t know how to be 100% without ego I will keep posting things that fascinate me. And lately my biggest obsession has moved back to space videos, and this one is great.
I used to have all kinds of theories about outer space and other dimensions, mostly so that I could better rationalize the possibilities of my own religious ideas. Over the years this connection between thinking that we exist within multiple dimensions but can only perceive up to the third dimension has lead to a lot of fun in watching videos like this one. My theories have long been based around the idea that we exist at least within a fourth dimension, so that time might not constrain us and we might live forever (since it’s suspected that beyond the third dimension time may no longer be a constraint). Well thinking about time/space, matter/energy, and how exactly light and gravity work is enough to make my head spin completely out of control. Adding the ideas of anti-matter or dark-matter usually ends up with me re-watching videos multiple times… So if you’re like me and will likely watch this video multiple times then I’ll stop delaying you. If you have anything comparable to this video please feel free to share it with me.
Wow… I wonder if he considered doing any other songs, like maybe “The Joker” (Space Cowboy), or the Space Jam Theme Song, “Rocket Man”, or pretty much anything by Pink Floyd. I can’t wait until somebody goes to space and recreates the entire Dark Side of the Moon album… Someday my friends, someday. Until then we’ll have to enjoy this great little ditty from Commander Chris Hadfield.
I saw this video recently while I was at the Apple Store just looking for cool videos to test out their pretty screens. I found it to be way worth posting. And I just have to say that regardless of ideology I kind of love the idea that we are made up of “star stuff”. That doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in God (as saying stuff like that seems to make some people who follow my blog very upset with me), it just means that matter, as energy, is all connected at some level, and I love that…