Well, well, as the oil baron said, it’s Tuesday again, the 10th of January. And two times five makes ten, so I guess this day has something to do with prime numbers other than just the year (the last 2 digits, anyway) and my age.
Of course, all numbers have to do with prime numbers, in a sense. I’ve heard mathematicians say that prime numbers are the “elements” of the numbers (or of the whole numbers, at least, I suppose), comparable in a way to the entries in the periodic table. But 1 (the number of this month, as it were, and surely the more fundamental building block of all the whole numbers) is not considered a prime, because of it were, then every number’s prime factorization could stretch to as long as you like, since any number times one, no matter how often you multiply it, is still the number with which you started.
Mentioning the elements/the periodic table reminds me of a joke that I sometimes see on shirts or mugs or similar that really irritates me every time I encounter it. It might have been appropriate way back when someone first came up with it, but now it’s just too incorrect, given what we know, to be funny. That joke is any version of the line, “Never trust an atom/element…they make up everything.”
It’s a silly little play on words, obviously enough, but the fact is, we know now that the elements/atoms don’t even come close to making up everything, so the joke doesn’t even work as a pseudo-nerdy pun. Atoms, indeed all so-called baryonic matter (which to us might be thought of as “ordinary” matter*) make up only around 5% of the total mass/energy of the universe, according to the latest best estimates.
Another 25% (all these figures are rounded off a bit) of the universe’s mass/energy is so-called Dark Matter (which is dark only in the sense that the Ringwraiths are dark, being invisible, i.e. not interacting at all with light, nor with the strong force, nor (except neutrinos, if you’re counting them) the weak force, as far as anyone can tell). They only definitely interact with gravity. And, of course, according to General Relativity, gravity isn’t technically a force, it’s just the shape of spacetime**.
Speaking of spacetime, the remaining 70% of the mass/energy of the universe is what is called Dark Energy, though really that’s just a name that’s kind of sexy-cool, and it’s only “dark” in that it seems to have nothing to do with the electromagnetic fields (aka light). This stuff, whatever it is, has characteristics consistent with the “cosmological constant” that Einstein supposedly considered his “greatest blunder”, though as it turns out, he was apparently right, albeit for the wrong reasons.
Yes, when you’re Einstein (you’re not, though) even your mistakes are remarkably fruitful, and eightyish years later they can end up being legitimate descriptions of the universe’s large-scale structure, function, and evolution***.
Of course, whether the Dark Energy is really that uniform energy of spacetime itself that creates a negative pressure throughout its reach and thus repulsive gravity, or if it’s some other process with roughly the same overall effect, we know it’s not what scientists had tried to describe using quantum field contributions, because that was too big by (if I remember correctly) about 123 orders of magnitude. That’s a factor of 10 to the 123rd power, or a 1 followed by 123 zeroes. That’s a number so big that if you set it down next to a googol in a form visible to the human eye, you wouldn’t even be able to see the googol. It would be too vanishingly tiny. So that’s not the right answer.
Anyway, that’s why I don’t like that joke about atoms or the elements. It’s just too wrong to be funny. And now that you know why it’s so wrong, you may be able to stop thinking it’s funny, too. Am I not generous? Are you not entertained? I hope you’re not entertained by that joke, anyway. People only tell that joke (or so I suspect) to try to make themselves look vaguely scientifically knowledgeable. But in fact, they do the opposite.
Oh, well, I guess if they’re enjoying themselves…they’re not really doing too much harm…other than spreading misinformation regarding the structure and nature of matter and the cosmos, of course!
Ugh. Why do I care? What’s wrong with me?
Well, I know some of the answers to that last question, but knowing doesn’t help much.
I’m currently on the bus, by the way, approaching the train station. It’s just another day. Obviously, my recent setback has not resolved itself, and indeed, it may never do so to anyone’s satisfaction. But I am at least just about done with this blog post in time for the train, which is now 5 minutes away.
I don’t think I’m going to be writing fiction again after this; I still haven’t even figured out how to check the results of the poll I put up (I haven’t tried, to be fair to me). Oh, well. Life is either so tragic that it’s comical or so comical that it’s tragic. But then, at least, it’s over.
Of course, if the universe is infinite in space or in time (or both) at some level, any given life will just start over again, somewhere, somewhen, somehow, and no matter how big the distance between the two iterations, the individual won’t notice the passage of time. Or it may be that our lives are fixed phenomena in a spacetime block universe as implied at least to some degree by General Relativity, and the instant our lives end, we may just start over again at the beginning, like a DVD (or Blu-ray) played on a loop, never doing anything different, never changing, never learning anything new we hadn’t learned the last time around. It’s possible, in principle. We don’t know if it’s true, though quantum mechanics suggests, at least, that it’s not the full picture.
Like the fella said, ain’t that a kick in the head?
*As you can see, it’s hard to justify calling something that makes up only around a twentieth of the matter and energy in the universe “ordinary”. You could be forgiven for calling it “familiar” matter, I would say. That might be better.
**Maybe M. Night Shyamalan can make that movie.
***It’s a bit like the paper he did with Podolsky and Rosen that was intended to demonstrate that quantum mechanics was incomplete, i.e. that there must be “hidden variables” beneath the seeming randomness, using descriptions of what must happen to two particles produced by the same event but which head off in their usual opposite directions, and whose characteristics, due to conservation of charge, momentum, spin, etc. must be complementary. Years later, J. S. Bell devised a famous theorem, a test by which one could ascertain whether Einstein was right in that there were hidden variables, or that the states of a particle truly happened randomly but that nevertheless the state of one constrained the state of the other of the pair, however distant. And just last year, Alain Aspect et al got the Nobel Prize (it took a while) for their experiments confirming, using polarization of photon pairs produced by single quantum events, via Bell’s theorem, that Einstein was wrong, there are no hidden variables in the sense he suspected. But Einstein’s (and Podolsky’s and Rosen’s) quite legitimate question set into motion the concept of quantum entanglement, a truly important idea in quantum mechanics, just as he had pioneered the early field of quantum mechanics itself in 1905 with his (Nobel Prize winning) paper demonstrating that light comes in what we call photons, the energy of each individual one was described by Planck’s equation of h time the frequency. One of his other papers from that year used Brownian motion to demonstrate that atoms and molecules‒you know, those things that “make up everything”‒really must exist. He also did a few somewhat interesting papers on the nature of the speed of light and how it relates to time and length and distance, and something about the equivalence of mass and energy****. As Sabine Hossenfelder would put it…”Yeah, that guy again.”
****But of course, the paper “On the electrodynamics of moving bodies” didn’t win a Nobel prize, nor did it’s follow-up containing a certain formula relating “rest mass” to energy via the speed of light squared. So those papers couldn’t have been that important. Right?