The Beautiful Everything.

January 11, 2014

It is most difficult to conceive of a more humbling experience in life than to lay and stare at the stars on a clear night. Our place within the grand everything seems in equal parts so small and wonderful. Each of our lives are permitted to take up just a split second within the vastness of time before those atoms that make you – and that have always existed – move on to form something new and equally as unique. But for a brief moment those atoms from every corner of space and time, from the explosion of stars billions of year back, became self aware, they became rational, they became the universe trying to comprehend itself, they became you. You are unique. The atoms have always existed. It is only since your birth, that those atoms became self aware. This is life. The collection of atoms that – after billions of years flying aimlessly through the cosmos – became the people that you love and are unique and will continue to exist until the moment time itself comes to an end. It is therefore true that the connection between you is so thoroughly unique and wonderful that it becomes simply impossible to describe. So cherish it. Let it devour you.

I am quite certain that this is the most awe inspiring and beautiful image mankind has ever taken or witnessed. It is one of very few objects in my life that make my heart race just by looking at it for a brief moment.

– This is the Hubble Extreme Deep Field. Every object you see is a galaxy. It shows one section of the night sky. tells us that this image is just one piece in a jigsaw of 30,000,000 more images like it. As if zooming in on one pixel in a grand image. This one piece of the jigsaw shows around 5,500 galaxies. The redder galaxies are the most distant ever recorded. The image shows galaxies from as far back as 13.2 billion years ago. This means that the light collected by Hubble that you now see on that image above, began its journey before the Earth itself existed. What a phenomenal human achievement. A testament to the brilliant curiosity of our species.

Further, our home galaxy, the Milky Way contains around 200 billion stars, with perhaps as many planets, if not billions more. Many of which will exist in the habitable zone of their system. In one galaxy alone. Andromeda has perhaps one trillion stars. Those are just two galaxies. Imagine, as you look at the picture above, how many planets you must be looking at. How many potential lives, events and species you are witnessing. How many beautiful sceneries you are not even aware exist. How many traditions and philosophies that have never been seen on Earth. The potential is almost too incomprehensible to consider.

The brilliant Carl Sagan once reminded us that every name of every great sports person, military general, singer, religious prophet, politician, and scientist, every species, every book, every ocean, every period of history, every discovery, every Rosa Parks, every Isaac Newton, every Socrates, every explorer and every artist that has ever existed is known only to us on our one tiny planet. Our knowledge is inconceivably vast, and yet inconceivably limited to our little ball in a tiny obscure region of the universe. Indeed, the history of our species alone is perhaps less than a quarter of a million years. Imagine the scale and varieties of ideologies, of species, of creativity, of discovery, of tribes, of literature, of war, of festivals, of Paris’ and Beijing’s, of love, of heroes and rulers, of Hemingway’s and Brontë’s, of conversation and music, that you could potentially be looking directly at when you look at that image. At that one single, seemingly limitless image.

Quite amazingly – and even more likely to melt your brain – if we assume a very conservative estimate of 100 billion stars per galaxy, on the scale used to estimate the size of the Hubble Extreme Deep Field, the observable universe would contain 123,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars. That’s 123 billion billion stars. Consider that for a second. Try to rationalise that number in your mind. And then perhaps marvel at the beauty of the simple fact that your mind – an assortment of atoms no different to those that make up the stars you look upon, nor those that make up the clothes that you wear – even has the wonderful ability to try to rationalise that number.

In 2018, the James Webb Space Telescope is set to launch. It is the successor to Hubble. It is expected to go far beyond the capability of Hubble, around 100x more powerful, producing images of galaxies forming and formed just a couple of hundred million years after the big bang. The farthest we have ever glimpsed into our past. It will achieve this in hours. How incredible it is to be human, and to be able to try to comprehend our origins. So when you next have five minutes to spare one evening, lay and stare at the stars. Really consider what it is you are staring in to. It is an overwhelmingly emotional connection, and experience. It is so humbling. The beautiful everything.

The immortal man

August 3, 2010

I have been reading up on Hugh Everett’s interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, recently. A scientist named John Von Neumann predicted that possibilities are condensed down to one single point, at every level, as seen by us, humanity. Simplistically, what it means is for every decision we make, that is the only decision possible. Almost a hard determinist view of Quantum Mechanics. It is known as wavefunction collapse.

Everett however suggested otherwise; his theory has become known as the many Worlds theory, which states that for every choice, there is an infinite number of universes that presuppose you took a different choice. An infinite number. Meaning limitless. Now it’s easy to sit and say “Wow, that means there’s a universe where I didn’t read this blog entry”. It’s true. But look at the larger picture. It would mean that there exists universes in which the Nazis successfully invaded Britain; and universes in which we have evolved to a level that means Religion is unnecessary; and universes where Pharmaceutical companies and health insurance providers are not indirectly responsible for millions of preventable deaths; and universes in which the Feudal system never died; and universes in which Republican-American is a synonym for Oxygen-thief. Endless possibilities.

There is one aspect of the Many World Theory that strikes me as bewildering. If I go by the logic of Everett, and accept that I therefore exist in many different universes, and every choice I make is replicated but with both large and small tweaks depending on the universe, is it therefore logically impossible to kill oneself? But then, if it is logically impossible to kill oneself, it wouldn’t be impossible (obviously) for others to perceive that I had killed myself? Are you following? Here’s a scenario;

If I were to stand in a group of people, and hold a fully loaded gun to my head, according to Everett’s logic, the gun would never kill me. I would never die. I could keep pulling the trigger, but nothing would happen. I would keep existing in universes that the gun jammed, or the mechanism was broke. I would never know what it was like to die. I would be forever conscious. This presents a problem though, because with a fully loaded gun, if I pointed it at my head and pulled the trigger, there would be no jamming of the mechanism to others around me. They would perceive me as having just killed myself, the moment I pulled the trigger. To everyone else, I would be dead. To me, I would be alive. It is a similar idea to Schrödinger’s cat-in-a-box, in that I would be both alive and dead. In this universe, to everyone else, I would be dead. To me, I would never die. David Lewis, the late philosopher from the US, points out that if one were to try this particular experiment, one could end up in a universe in which the gun went off, but left you facially disfigured, or one in which you missed, and hit someone else. There are endless possibilities as to which universe you could find yourself in, relating entirely to the very second you pull that trigger. You wouldn’t find yourself in a universe entirely different to our own, the universe you found yourself in, would be identical to the one you just left in which everyone around you saw you kill yourself, yet the one you just entered would be different at the very point that the trigger was pulled.

To take that point to it’s reasonable conclusion, we must be able to say that using Everett’s logic, the first person is immortal, but the third is mortal. So, to me I am immortal. I am unable to die. Because there will always be a universe that I exist, and that will be the only universe that I am able to observe. But to you, I can die, because you are not existing in a universe that can prevent however it is I died, and you would still be conscious in the universe you exist. However, to you, you are immortal. Meaning, you would be both alive and dead at the same time. The many-Worlds theory proposed by Everett, directly implies immorality, because one can never stop existing.

Does an infinite number of universes also imply that there is at least one (and that’s an optimistic estimate) in which U2 are a good band?

My mind, is well and truly boggled.