Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Significance Of Our Insignificance-Part 3

The Significance Of Our Insignificance-Part 3

The Fermi paradox essentially states that: “Given the size and age of the universe, the probability is high that intelligent life exists, and should be rampant across the universe, and that we should at least witness its signature; and yet, there is no evidence of intelligent life currently detected”. To date, there is no evidence that life exists, intelligent or not, off our little point of a planet. This fact has led to the thinking that perhaps we are an anomaly, an incredible statistical improbability that earth is the sole and lonely home of intelligent life in the vast fabric of our universe. Probability is probability though. Considering the scale of the universe as previously discussed coupled with the sheer improbability that we are 1 in a trillion, life simply has to be out there. The idea that we are unique to the universe, and that we are the only intelligent life that exists within it is as self-arrogant and ignorant as the idea that the sun and stars revolved around the earth. That geo-centric thinking was disproved through our ever expanding intelligence, and so will the idea that intelligence only exists within tiny motes on a speck on a single grain of sand among all the grains of sand on the beaches of earth.

Now, there are a lot of possible reasons why we have found no evidence of intelligent life. The reality is that it is probably a combination of all the various stated and researchable reasons-radio signals haven’t had the time to travel; life exists elsewhere, but simply has not evolved intelligently ; intelligent civilizations have destroyed themselves or discovered that their pursuit of knowledge of intelligent life elsewhere is a low priority, or nonsensical. All of these reasons are plausible, and may at some point in the future, prove true. We also have to consider that the reason why we have not detected signs of intelligent life is simply due to scale. In fact, the most logical reason we haven’t detected life is scale. To use the sandbox analogy, we are expecting to find intelligent life orbiting a grain of sand adjacent to our own grain of sand, in our particular sandbox. The odds of that happening are….well, astronomical. Again, our comprehension, our understanding, our intelligence is simply out of scale with the totality of reality. In the vast all-encompassing ocean of everything, we are but one insignificant thread of existence among countless others. That is a humbling realization, and human nature tries to put observations, realizations and phenomena into comprehendible packets appropriate to our scale. Therein lies the problem. The scale of the reality within which we exist, is not compatible with our abilities to perceive it.

To the vast majority of people, the universe is simply planets and stars that they can see in the night sky and galaxies that are far away. Their understanding of the universe is pedestrian in nature as they go about living the hectic day to day hustle and bustle of their existence. The understanding and comprehension of the scale of the universe is an incredibly difficult task, and it eludes most of those who experience it in such a pedestrian nature. Ask yourself, “what is a million?” We all answer intuitively “a lot”, but we can’t visualize that quantity. Most people can only visualize quantities that they have experience visualizing. When asked to visualize 100,000 people, most people can comprehend that number because of their experience at a live sporting event held in a large stadium, for example. Some people can extrude that visualization to 100,000 people in 2 or 3 stadiums. Past that, it becomes an abstract number representing a large quantity. With that in mind, consider the sandbox analogy used previously. Each sandbox is a single galaxy containing billions (a number in itself that cannot be visualized) of stars that in all likelihood, have probably 6-10 planets (the specks of dust in the analogy) orbiting it. To simplify the analogy, let’s eliminate the planets (the specks of dust) and consider the quantity of intelligent life in a single galaxy (each sandbox). For visualization sake, let’s assume that just 1 sandbox out of 1 million sandboxes has intelligent life. To help with this visualization, think of 1 second out of every 11 ½ days. The result of this assumption is that there is intelligent life in1out of 1million galaxies, with the total number of galaxies (assume 1 billion from the analogy) containing intelligent life being one thousand (1 billion divided by 1,000,000). Now, take those 1,000 sandboxes and disperse them evenly around the globe, and you would have a 1,000 circles with their centers being located 14,000 miles from each other. At the center of each of those circles is a sandbox representing a galaxy within which intelligent life exists. What does this mean? It means that if you are in a sandbox with moist enough sand to form a sandcastle, the next closest sandbox with just enough moisture is 14,000 miles away. If you decided to walk to the next sandbox capable of constructing a sandbox, it would take you 1.65 years of continuous walking. Along the way, you would pass about 700 other sandboxes in which you could not build a sandcastle. Again, remember that each sandbox represents a galaxy containing billons of stars with orbiting planets, and we have said that 1 out of 1million galaxies contain intelligent life. The analogy works on two separate levels: first, it gives you an idea of the scale of the universe and the vastness through which galaxies dilute the universe, and secondly, just how spread out the galaxies could be that contain intelligent life. Raise or lower the original assumption of 1 in a million, which I believe to a conservative estimate, and you either decrease or increase the number of galaxies containing intelligence. Keep in mind we are talking galaxies with intelligent life, not stars with planets that have intelligent life. Could there be one intelligent species in each galaxy, which contains billions of stars with almost complete certainty that some of those stars have planets a similar distance from their host sun and similar enough planetary conditions and environment to harbor life? Simple probability says yes. One last thing: if you look more closely at the sandbox analogy, it says “….billions (with an s) of other sandboxes each representing other galaxies, each containing billions of stars.” In the thought exercise, I assumed one billion galaxies, because I didn’t know how to interpret billions. That means at least two billion, but is it three, 4 or 50 billion? Finally, according to Nasa, regarding the latest estimate for the number of galaxies……..

“One of the most fundamental questions in astronomy is that of just how many galaxies the universe contains. The landmark Hubble Deep Field, taken in the mid-1990s, gave the first real insight into the universe's galaxy population. Subsequent sensitive observations such as Hubble's Ultra Deep Field revealed a myriad of faint galaxies. This led to an estimate that the observable universe contained about 200 billion galaxies. The new research shows that this estimate is at least 10 times too low.”

So, to be clear that would be 200 billion x 10……I think that’s in the range of 2 trillion galaxies (I assumed 1 billion for visualization purposes) in the observable universe, which blows out of the water the assumptions made in the little thought experiment we just did. It is thoroughly inconceivable that we are a single unique intelligent species within the vast cosmos as we know it. More importantly, as I think I tried to show, just because there is life, perhaps abundant life within our universe, it doesn’t mean that those intelligent lifeforms have to be close enough to detect the signature of life. These observations are coming from a single human of a species who hasn’t even traveled beyond our moon.

Furthermore and at some point this question has to enter the discussion: In such a vast realm, isn’t it a little arrogant to think that the human definition of life, of intelligence, of existence….has to apply to the entirety of the physical realm? One could make the analogy that’s like an infinitesimally small insect stating that physical reality has to fall within the parameters of its experience. Our observational capabilities and inferences made from those capabilities, is rapidly approaching the point where the scale of the physical realm is simply incomprehensible-and trying to interpret those observations and inferences is beyond the scale of our experiential understanding.

At the beginning of this article, I asked you to keep in mind that that in the vast fabric of our universe, humanity has, never stepped on another planet. If we were trying to measure the footprint of humanity relative to the overall size and scale of the universe, you might think it would be the distance that man has traveled from planet earth. That distance is from the earth to the moon which is 238,900 miles and it took about three days to get there. If we could travel at the speed of light (approximately 6 trillion miles in a year) from the earth to the moon, it would take us about 1.25 seconds to get there. To travel across the milky way galaxy edge to edge at the speed of light, it would take 100,000 light years. Upon arrival at the distant edge of the galaxy, the date would February 9, 102,018. Again, It is an almost incomprehensible distance and time that is for all intents and purpose, beyond our scale of understanding. Consider this: Light is taking a trip across the galaxy, and after 6 trillion miles, it has to take a break and get a hotel, get refreshed, grab a meal, and refuel before the next 6 trillion miles. It would have to stop 100,000 times before it arrived at its destination on the other side of just the single galaxy within which we exist. Should light decide that trip wasn’t long enough, and decided to go on a trip from one edge of the universe to the other, it would have to stop 93,000,000 billion times traveling 6 trillion miles each time. One last point is that this is only our observable universe-the unobservable universe, while it really is unknown and subjective to measurement methodology, could be about 6 sextillion times as large as the observable universe. Lastly, there are currently many plausible theories out there regarding the existence of other universes, and if any of them overcome the verifiable hurdles which they currently face, then our universe may be only one of many that are all similarly sized. When considering that humanity has only traveled 238,900 miles from earth, it gives a truly overwhelming impression of just how insignificant we truly are in the overall scale of the cosmos.

Perhaps a better measure of that insignificance is the measure of our footprint via our communication. Radio waves travel at the speed of light. Thus, our first communications via radio have been traveling for about 100 years, and at the speed of light have radiated out from earth to a distance from earth of about 200 light years. Sounds like a huge distance right? That 200 light year distance includes other stars (the nearest star is about 4.6 light years away) as well as their orbiting planets. Take a look at the image below, which is an image of a galaxy similar in size to the Milky Way. It is an image of another galaxy similar in size because we simply cannot take a galaxial selfie since we don’t have the technical means to do so(imagine taking a selfie holding the phone 1/16” from your face).The image represents the extent of human radio broadcasts and shows the distance covered by 200 light years of travel. To be clear, 200 light years is not the enlarged box…., but rather it is the highlighted blue point within the enlarged box.

The image represents the furthest extent of our galaxial footprint, within a universe containing perhaps a trillion or more galaxies. We may never be able to overcome the distances and sheer overwhelming scale of the universe to witness and comprehend our existence within it. Given the insignificance of the human footprint in one galaxy among billions, perhaps trillions, I think we need to ask ourselves-what is the significance of our insignificance?

I am one person out of 7.6 billion people that are alive at this very instant on planet earth. Out of those 7.6 billion people, not one person has my exact eye and hair color; not one person thinks exactly like I do or have the thoughts that I have; not one person has the same experiences that I have or have contributed the children that I have to that population. Not one other person on the face of the globe has in their possession an authentic U.S. 1dollar bill with the serial number J 21132796 D. My existence is singular among 7.6 billion other singularities. More specifically, that existence is singular among all the people that have ever lived-a number somewhere over 100 billion. My very existence, while I might wax poetically about the value of a single life, is physically insignificant to more than 99.99% of the earth’s population currently alive. And yet….

Here I am, pondering the universe with its unfathomable size and humanities' infinitesimal contribution to it. These thoughts now exist, and through their existence prove that although singular, I am singular among 7.6 other singularities-each of which is creating and contributing to the fabric of our human existence. While my contribution to the footprint of humanity is immeasurable small, it does exist, it does have a value, and that value is a non-zero number. Similarly, however vast and infinite our universe appears to be, and however insignificant our footprint within it seems to be-there is indeed a footprint. That footprint, the singular mark and reality of humanities' identity does exist. And although it may appear insignificant, consider this: The reality within which we exist has been defined, described, observed and recorded….by an insignificant life form residing in an insignificant galaxy among an uncountable collection of insignificant galaxies. Is our reality the singular reality, or is it one singular reality among many? That is the significance of our insignificance.

RBP/ 02/09/2018

The Significance Of Our Insignificance-Part 2

The Significance Of Our Insignificance-Part 2 

Right now, at this particular moment in the evolutionary history of mankind, the limit of our physical reality is the vastness and incomprehensible size of our observable universe and the complexity of its construction at the quantum level. We have mathematical equations and theoretical explanations that define our physical reality-as we know it. Think of the non-vision enabled human species standing on the shore of the ocean before him. He can hear it, he can feel it, and he can even taste and smell it. With that knowledge, he can make some inferences and deductions about its existence-but he cannot see it. He can’t tell you what color it is. He might be able to infer that there are land masses that exist within the ocean since through trial and error they have discovered an island, and if one island exists, there must be others. But he can’t see them. He cannot prove that they exist until his fellow man gets in a ship, roams around them and discovers them through exploration and accidental discovery. What we have in common with the fictional human species is that the limits of our reality are defined and confined by the tools with which we can observe it and explore it and because of that, is beyond our scale of comprehension.

The idea that we are going to grow a third eye that somehow enables us to see into the vast regions of the universe, or develop a 6th sense through which we can sense hidden universes (if there are any) is absurd fantasy. It is a fantasy not because it can’t happen, but because it won’t have enough time to happen. 3,000 to 5,000 years from now, without any technological advancement, one could argue that the evolutionary process may bequeath upon humanity the gift of remote viewing, or the ability to see the currently hidden dimensions of parallel universes. That is an absolute eternity when compared to the rapidity through which we increase our observational abilities through scientific and technological revolutions. The process of evolution bequeaths upon us the necessary tools for us to adapt and survive to an ever-changing environment, but it can’t happen overnight. Evolution occurs with minute changes over generations to adapt to conditions that threaten the survival of the species, or to adapt to changing patterns of functionary skills. Over a large period of time and due to a relatively static and unchanging challenge, the evolutionary process will recognize, adapt and overcome those challenges. In other words, the known environment within which we exist, and its challenges has to remain fixed for the evolutionary process to respond to it. The rapidity through which our observable universe is expanding due to our increasing intelligence and technological revolutions has for all practical purposes, rendered the evolutionary process moot. Put another way, evolution is no longer reactionary, but pro-active. The evolution of the human species is no longer a multi-generational response to external environmental challenges, it is the aggressive intelligent pursuit of all that is not known, and the act of manipulating that discovered information with purpose and intent. Perhaps, intelligence itself will evolve from being an analytical tool through which we process information into an observational tool through which we receive information. We have to ask –Has the natural process of evolution given way to the intelligent process of evolution, and if so, is intelligence itself the next conduit through which we receive information? It’s an interesting thread to consider, and requires further consideration that is outside the parameters of this discourse. What is pertinent is that the pace of intelligent evolution is only limited by our ability to process (and perhaps receive) the information gained through ever expanding observation. To date, our observational abilities are, well mind numbing.

Our cosmic horizon, that is to say the limits of our observational horizon is about 46 billion light years away, yielding a sphere with a diameter of 91 billion light years. Consider this analogy obtained from Charleston Lake Astronomy in order to get a sense of the scale of the observable universe:

“we can see that our earth is but a speck of dust on the side of a grain of sand (the sun), in a sandbox ( the milky way galaxy)that is about 20 feet in diameter, with the closest sandbox (the Andromeda galaxy) being about 1/3 mile away, and our local group of galaxies (3 to 5 galaxies)would be but a collection of sandboxes in a space about the size of a small city, and that there are other cities with groups of sandboxes as well, expanding out to the whole earth, with billions of other sandboxes each representing other galaxies, each containing billions of stars.” 

According to this analogy, if the planet earth is a “speck of dust on the side of a grain of sand” then the observable universe is the size of planet earth. Furthermore, a human with all of its intelligence, mathematical skills, theoretical thinking and observational tools…is a miniscule small point on the side of that speck. And yet, from the human perspective (the point on the speck), the visible universe is just as small as it is large, if not smaller. It is an absolutely stunning and awe inspiring feat that the human species has garnered the ability to observe objects and phenomena within that incredible range. To be clear, that’s just the size of the observable universe. Beyond that lays a theoretical expanse, both figuratively and literally, that will only be able to be accessed through mathematical exercise, scientific modeling and considered thought.

This is the realm of parallel universes, multiverses and branes. This is the realm of the infinite, and all things that can occur in an infinite domain. This is the realm of the cosmological constant, of zeros and non zeros. This is the realm of numbers (a 10 with 500 zeros after it) so large they cannot be comprehended. Bubble universes that are fixed and static when viewed from the outside, but from within appears infinite. This is the unapproachable ocean we stand on the edge of, and we can only ponder it’s complexity through our curiosity and our inherent drive to know the unknowable. The question becomes in the expansive and infinitely unknowable realm of our perceivable reality…..Where do we stand, and do we stand alone? be continued.
RBP/ 02/09/2018

The Significance Of Our Insignificance-Part 1

The Significance Of Our Insignificance-Part 1

The universe keeps me up at night. More specifically, it’s not the universe that is keeping me up, but our understanding of it. The universe is tangled up in all of our internal questions: who we are, what we are, why we are, and where we are? We have wrestled with these questions ever since we have been able to think about them. As I think about the universe, I seem to always come back to one inescapable conclusion: We simply cannot comprehend the whole of our reality, because it is outside of our scale of understanding and ability. Essentially, the limits of its size, both small and large, are inherently confined not by our observational abilities but our ability to comprehend those limits. Put another way, It is the significance of our insignificance that keeps me up at night. With that, I offer the following thoughts for your consideration and please keep in mind; I am not a scientist and my math skills are limited at best, so please read with that knowledge in mind.

Our intelligence as a species has out grown our visual capacity to observe. We have invented technology that is allowing us to see farther and farther, as well as smaller and smaller. It is an impressive and awe-inspiring feat that we have expanded the limits of our observation to what they are today. With that said, the sheer scale of the realm within which we exist is overwhelming that technology, as well as our ability to comprehend it. We are relying more and more on mathematical theories and scientific experimentation as our understanding and observational capabilities are stretched to their limits. The universe (s?), to put it bluntly, is beginning to appear as if it is simply too vast for human comprehension. Mathematical experimentation and exercise is yielding results that point to a universe or potential parallel and multi-universes that are simply beyond our scale of understanding. I want to be clear about that point. It’s not the size of the universe that is beyond our comprehension, it is the scale of it. Humanity has made great leaps forward in the effort and sheer compulsion to understand reality as we know it to exist, but that very reality is beginning to appear as if it has a limit that ultimately and perhaps infinitely-is unknowable. As you read this, keep in the back of your mind that in the vast fabric of our universe, humanity has, to date, never stepped on another planet. The farthest man has ever traveled from our home planet is to our moon which is 238,900 miles, and it took about three days.

The human species Homo sapiens diverged from the species Homo Neanderthal about 500,000 years ago. In other words, man became wise (sapience is derived from the Latin apientia, meaning "wisdom")…..a half a million years ago, or 498,000 years before the birth of Jesus. This is when, according to definitions and interpretations, humans began to interact with their environment with judgment. Humans transitioned from a species responding to simple sensation and need (hot, cold, hunger and biological function) to a species that applied intent, purpose and reason to those sensations and needs. To put it simply, humans began to use the tools in their evolutionary tool box. The most important tool in that tool box was the brain, and its capacity to process, analyze and utilize information received through the second most important tool in the tool box, the eyes. The eyes act as the conduit between the external environment and the internal world of the growing sapience of those early humans. Evolution has given the gift of sight to countless species, but few have been given intelligence to process and act on the information received through those eyes. Because of this, it is our sight, and our intelligence that have allowed us to evolve into a species that peers into the farthest regions of the universe analyzing distant galaxies, pondering the origin of the universe and the future of humanity. Perhaps most importantly, and maybe even unique to the human species, is the ability to ask questions. So I’ll ask one. What would the human reality be-if-humans evolved without the gift of eyes?

If humans evolved with all of the evolutionary tools we have today except the tool of eyesight, what would the human reality be? To be clear, there is a very good chance that humans, Homo sapiens would be an extinct species. Without the ability to see, the species very well might have never evolved to be at the very top of the food chain. But we are in the land of ifs….and the land of ifs allow us a lot of flexibility in this little thought experiment. Let’s say that humans, with no eyesight and the same capacity for intelligence that we currently have, adapted and overcame all the trials and tribulations of the environment and sightless humans still emerged as the dominant species of the earth.

A fictional human species, without vision (let’s call them Homo nonaspectus) would have to access the environment within which they exist, through the other senses-touch, taste, smell, and hear. If no other tool evolves to replace the tool of eyesight, then the knowledge and awareness of the reality through which they exist would be extremely limited. Intelligence is a powerful tool, even without eyesight, humans would learn and intelligence would no doubt increase. But it would increase at a much slower rate. Think of the eyes as conduits with an almost limitless bandwidth, and the other senses having an extremely limited bandwidth. The external information and data of the environment simply would take longer to reach the internal world of intelligence. The other senses would adapt and improve to compensate for the lack of the fifth sense, and my guess is that our auditory perception of the world around us would be quite different. But just imagine human beings first experiencing the edge of water, regardless of whether it’s a river, lake or ocean. A river and a lake they may be able to discern its limits and complexity through measurement and experience, but what about the ocean? Without vision and at that particular point in the evolution of the species, there is a very good chance that exploration would stop at that seemingly insurmountable hurdle. Also, without eyesight, the observational horizon of the species would be at worst, fixed and at best, quite limited. With intelligence, it is likely that there would be some awareness of the larger universe that contains their world, but it would almost certainly be smaller, if not much smaller than the universe that Homo sapiens are currently trying to comprehend.

So much of what we as Homo sapiens have learned about the whole of our reality within which we exist is dependent upon our ability to see. We use telescopes to see extremely far distances, and even back in time. We use microscopes to see the very small. Even the stuff that we can’t see, both large and distant, and extremely small and close, is inferred knowledge from what we can observe. Although possible, it’s hard to imagine that the intellectual gains we have achieved with our ability to see and observe would exist in a human species without vision. Their lack of vision severely limits their comprehension of reality, and conversely, reality is confined or limited by their scale of comprehension. Even if we give the Homo nonaspectus species the benefit of doubt, it would take thousands of years longer to reach our current intelligence level-and the current evolutionary state of Homo sapiens. The species of Homo nonaspectus simply would not have the right tools necessary to advance their intelligence as rapidly as Homo sapiens have. This leads to the inevitable comparison of our species to the fictional Homo nonaspectus. Do we as a species, have the right evolutionary tools to comprehend the reality within which we exist, and the physical realm that we observe and occupy?

.....To be continued.

RBP/ 2-9-2018