Universal Stuff

Life, The Universe and Everything...

planet earthIt's amazing to think that as you sit reading this on your computer screen, you are actually whizzing through space at 67,500 mph on a speck of cosmic dust orbitting a very ordinary star. It is even more amazing to consider that we are created from "star dust". The elements created in the big bang did not include those required to form life as we know it. It was necessary for stars to form, evolve through their entire life cycle and in their dying gasp, explode, and in doing so form the elements from which we are created. Next time someone asks you how old you are, just say "fifteen billion or thereabouts" and you won't be far wrong. It has often been suggested that this is the only planet with intelligent life. Well, this is the planet that gave the Universe the worst TV soap opera in the world (allegedly) called "Crossroads", so case proven I'd say. Surely no other civilisation could have reached such dizzying heights of sophistication as the warm loving peaceful people of planet Earth. I personally believe the Universe is teeming with life but not necessarily as we know it. Next time you're standing at a busstop wondering when the 21B is going to show up, pause and ponder what's going on all around you and the late arrival of a bus will fade into insignificance. I remember one time in the Sudan on a dark moonless night, out in the desert, no towns or villages with electric power for many many miles. I was one of a small group travelling back to Khartoum in an open landrover. We stopped for a break and sat looking up at the night sky. After half an hour, my eyes had become accustomed to the darkness and the sky was a blaze of light, uncountable numbers of stars in every direction. Whenever confronted by some infuriating problem or difficulty, it helps me to think back to that night to bring things into perspective.

It's also interesting to consider that the world "out there" isn't actually out there at all, or rather it's an interpretation of simultaneous sensory inputs which are combined in your head to form your own personal version of reality. For example, no two people actually see the same colours; the colours you see are your own personal interpretation of the "frequencies" being processed. When you type on a keyboard and feel the keys, you actually "feel" them in your head. Everything is an illusion! Try these two simple tests to find out how fragile reality really is...

  • pick a word, any word, and repeat it out loud to yourself for a minute or two and see what happens.
  • look at your face in a mirror for a while and see what happens to the image. (if you look like me, this can be a real ordeal...)

If you often remember your dreams, you will already know that your brain is capable of creating a whole other world for itself which may, or may not seem as real as everyday life at the time. I suspect that the sensory areas of the brain act like receivers, decoding signals and generating an image (whether visual, auditory, whiffy, whatever...) and are not fussy as to where the signal originates. It could be external as in day-to-day life, or internal as the brain reorganises information (when dreaming?) and in doing so, passes it through those same receivers. One possible theory is that dreams occur as the brain reorganises information to recover valuable storage capacity and in doing so, passes it through the "receivers" - a kind of biological DEFRAG C: /F command. Anyway, I'd be really interested to hear any thoughts you have on such matters so please send me a message with your own ideas on what it's all about.

Please explain Quantum Theory to me in 50 words or less...

Please explain Quantum Theory to me in 50 words or less... Free me from the endless nights of worrying about how a photon can exhibit both particle and wave behaviour. Quantum theory is very very worrying. If it didn't work, your computer, television and radio wouldn't work, and there would be a large puddle under the washing machine in the kitchen.The kind of ideas expressed operate at the sub-atomic level and to give you but one example, state things like, "if you fire a gun, you can say where the bullet started from, you can say where it ended up, but you can't say how it got there - it could have taken an infinite (or very large anyway) number of routes in passing from the gun to the target. Now you know, and I know, that in the real world, the bullet traversed a parabola in its journey, but at the level of quantum theory, this is not the case.

There are several different interpretations to explain quantum theory. As John Gribbin states in his book, "Schrodinger's Kittens", ("Schrödinger's Kittens And The Search For Reality" by John Gribbin, 261 pages, Phoenix Paperback, ISBN-1-85799-402-7)

"each of the interpretations is a viable model ...all models of the world beyond the reach of our immediate senses are fictions... all such interpretations are myths, crutches to help us imagine what is going on at the quantum level and to make testable predictions. They are not, any of them, uniquely 'the truth'; rather they are all 'real', even where they disagree with one another."

In other words, you can interpret what seems to be reality in many different incompatible ways and run tests to show it's how you think it should be, but noone really knows for sure what's going on. As individuals, we all have our own unique reality which is created for us by our brains in response to sensory inputs. Our reality is an interpretation of the very limited ranges of frequencies we can decode. Who knows what else is around us right now that we cannot perceive because we don't have the right "equipment" to decode it?

I can highly recommend a book which I have read called "The Ghost In The Atom", editted by P.C.W.Davies and J.R.Brown, 156 pages, Cambridge University Press (Canto), ISBN-0-521-45728-9, for a completely mind-blasting read. Alternatively, try "Quantum Theory For Beginners" (- lots of cartoons to help explain what it's all about in this one -) byJ.P.McEvoy and Oscar Zarate, Icon Books, ISBN 1-874166-37-4.

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