Welcome to the October Country

Well, it’s October 1st, the beginning of a new month in 2022, a month initially meant to be the eighth month, based on its name.

I’m at the train station and, it being Saturday, the schedule is different than during the week.  There’s also some question of whether the trains are boarding on the usual side or not.  There’s a displayed “announcement” on the light boards that all trains are boarding on one side at this station until further notice, but it could be something left over from yesterday.  Also, the guard is not aware of anything regarding the change in sides.

Nevertheless, today was a day for ordering the monthly pass on the machines, and the ones on my usual side weren’t even working, so I’m on the other side for the moment, anyway.  I’m going to have to try to be vigilant as the time for my train approaches*.  If I miss one train, the next won’t come for another hour.

It’s hard to be vigilant, though.  I feel absolutely exhausted.  My brain feels like it’s barely running on one cylinder, metaphorically speaking**.  I’m just so very tired.

Thankfully, I can embed below my video, which I did end up posting on my YouTube channel yesterday afternoon, so that can provide some of the content and spare me a little writing today.  I might as well, since what I’ve written so far is about some of the most banal things imaginable.

Just a bit of clarification about the video, in case any is necessary:  Obviously I don’t mean to say there is literally no life in the universe, since that would be a contradiction (If there were literally no life, then I could not be speaking about the fact).

I just have always been irked by people who make the wide-eyed claims that it’s so amazing and quasi-mystical that the constants of nature are so perfectly designed to make life, and that must imply some sacred meaning or purpose to it.  That’s about as idiotic as looking at the location of a speck of dust in the corner of a school gym and saying how amazing it is that all the facts of nature conspired to bring that speck of dust right there at that point…it had to have been part of some greater purpose!  It’s drivel.  Only the case with life is even more unimpressive.

My biggest issue with this is that it leads to a kind of quiescence, an assumption that, if the universe was “designed” just so that life can exist, then life, and particularly intelligent life, must be important, and the universe will somehow arrange things to nurture us and protect us from extinction.  If you think that’s the case, then ask the dinosaurs, or better yet, any of the far greater numbers of life forms that went extinct in the Permian-Triassic “Great Dying”.

Oh, wait, you can’t.  They’re all extinct.

No, the universe is almost completely hostile to life, both in terms of its space and in terms of its time.  We are lucky beyond ordinary imagining, though I tried in the description of the video to give some notion of just how lucky in spatial terms, at least, by noting that life exists in roughly only 1.5 x 10-64 of the universe’s volume.

As far as time goes, well if you’re thinking of humanity alone, based on the time that has elapsed since the “Big Bang”, which may or may not be the literal beginning of our universe, the percentage is tiny enough, and others have demonstrated this handily, as in the “cosmic calendar” that Carl Sagan made famous in Cosmos.  But if you want to count all expected possible future time, well then our existence is some fraction of what could be infinity, which is pretty undefined, but might as well be called zero.  The limit certainly approaches zero as we extend the future further and further.

This is not necessarily a call for people just to give up and say “what the hell”, though you have that option, of course, and it is tempting.  I wanted to note that, if you would like for life to continue, and even to have some lasting, cosmic-scale impact, then you can’t take it for granted.  You need to work at it, and work hard, and work long.  The universe is not trying to kill us (contrary to Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s habitual way of putting it); if it were, we would be dead already.  But the universe is huge, and it does not even have the capacity to care what happens to life, except in the minds of that life itself.

All life is in the situation of a castaway on a desert island—there’s no preexisting infrastructure, there’s no one out there looking out for you or protecting you, or providing your light, your heat, your air-conditioning, your food, your clothes, your shelter, what have you.  If you want any of those things, you’re going to have to make and/or find them for yourself, and you’re going to have to keep doing it, for as long as you actually want them and want to survive.

Without much more ado, here’s the video***.  I forgot to ask when I made the video, but please give a “thumbs up” and subscribe and share if you are at all inclined to do so, for any colorable reason.  And feel free to check out the other stuff on my YouTube channel if it looks interesting to you.  If anyone finds this interesting at all, I’m hoping to make more such videos about topics that interest me, assuming the universe doesn’t eliminate me in the meantime (though it seems likely to do so).  Oh, and please let me know what you think, either in the comments below the video or here.

Thanks.  Here it is:

*Just a slightly later addendum:  They have announced overhead that my train is approaching in 10 minutes, and have confirmed that it is not on its usual side.  So I was right to be proactive.

**Of course, it’s a metaphor.  I don’t honestly think that any of you really believe that my brain is an internal combustion engine of some kind, except in the loosest of possible senses.  Apologies.

***I wore a mask and dark glasses in the video mainly because I don’t like how my face looks—it bears evidence of the many things that have happened to me in the last decade or so.  Maybe no one else can see it but me, but it is what it is.  Anyway, the glasses are awesome, I really like them, and the mask combined with them makes for a good look, I think.  Certainly better than my underlying face, anyway.

This is an untitled blog post…or IS it?

Okay, well, I’m back on the laptop again, today.  I think I did a decent job of gauging how long my post should be yesterday, despite using my phone to write it.  It did seem to take slightly longer to write the same number of words than it would have with the laptop.  It’s just easier to write faster when you’re using a (nearly) full-scale keyboard and more or less all of your fingers instead of your two thumbs to type.

Still, as I think I’ve noted before, I wrote a goodly part of my science fiction novel, Son of Man using a smartphone that was quite a bit smaller than the one I have now, and I think it turned out pretty well.  At least, the feedback I’ve gotten from the few people I know who have read it and who deigned to comment—one of whom has sadly died—was good.

Not much has changed since yesterday, though.  By which I mean I’m not sure why I’m bothering to keep doing this blog.  I don’t think it’s doing me much good.  As anyone reading regularly can probably tell, my mental health doesn’t seem to be improving at all despite the use of this unidirectional “talk therapy”.

I’m a creature of habit, though, so I’ll continue this until…well, until something stops me, or until I stop doing even this little bit of proactive stuff.  I’m sure that will leave the world no poorer.

The hurricane that’s approaching is not supposed to hit this part of Florida, but to make landfall along the central west coast, but it’s still been sloppy and rainy, and a bit windy, these past few days.  Sunday afternoon was sunny and clear, and I went for a long walk near the end of the day, but since then we’ve had wetness.  At least the modest windiness—which may have at least something peripheral to do with the hurricane—makes it feel less muggy.

It’s almost pleasant, and even has a slight autumnal feel to it.  It reminds me vaguely of the times in the year after school had started and as Halloween approached up north, when the leaves would begin changing—something that, alas, doesn’t really happen in south Florida—and you had to wear a light jacket against the breeze, but it wasn’t yet truly cold.

Of course, no jackets are required here in south Florida, unless you’re going to some high end club or restaurant, or unless you’re wearing one to keep off the rain.  But an umbrella works better against the rain here, in my experience, and it doesn’t leave you so sweaty.  However, if you’re riding a motorcycle, a good rain jacket is useful, and rain pants if you have them.  A good helmet is more than adequate to keep your head dry, and even keeps it warm in what passes for cold weather in south Florida*.

Here I go again, talking about the weather.  It’s rather pathetic, I know, I’m sorry.

I guess I could comment on political or scientific stories if you’d prefer.  I don’t know what happened with the NASA probe thing last night, the experiment to try to shift the orbit of an asteroid.  It’s a trial of concept, basically, to tease out the workings of the process of changing the long-term orbit of an asteroid, in case one ever appears to be headed for Earth.

The laws of motion and Newtonian gravity are more than adequate for us to tell well in advance where an object’s orbit will take it—if we know where the object is and how it’s moving—and what sort of change would make it no longer headed to intersect the Earth, if it were otherwise going to do so.  Given enough lead time, even a tiny nudge can be more than adequate to prevent collisions.

Of course, also given enough lead time, a tiny nudge and the same technology could alter the trajectory of a hitherto harmless asteroid and put it in a trajectory to hit the Earth.

Don’t think I haven’t thought about it.  Regrettably, I don’t have the resources to pull off such a scheme.  However, there are now at least a few people in the world who have their own private space programs, some capable of interplanetary travel.  I wouldn’t put it past Elon Musk to steer a modest asteroid toward Earth to cause just massive enough a catastrophe to support his point pushing for human colonization of other planets, as a sort of object lesson.

Okay, well, I don’t really think he would do that.  He has too much to lose, and it could be quite tricky to steer such an asteroid finely, so that it hit where on Earth you wanted it to hit.  But it might be a good way to unify the human race.  I’ve often thought that we need a real supervillain to bring the world together.  I would volunteer, but I don’t think humanity is worth the effort.  I’m more inclined just to steer a whopping BIG asteroid at Earth and do a planetary reset.

I wouldn’t do this for any ideological reason, and certainly not for any religious reason.  I believe the supernatural cannot exist by (my) definition**.  I just think it would be a good test, of sorts.  If humanity were able to come together to prevent the catastrophe, or to at least survive it and rebuild, they would have demonstrated their continuing worthiness.  And if not, well, then not.

Honestly, given the fact that life is more or less inevitably dominated by fear and pain***, I often veer toward anti-natalism, and even pro-mortalism (look them up).  Of course, given that I have children, and they are the most important two facts about the universe to me, by far, I can hardly be said to be a pure pro-mortalist or anti-natalist.  But then, I never claimed to be.

I don’t think it’s usually good to try to define oneself by any “ism”.  It’s vanishingly unlikely that any one given, finite ideology will have come up with reliable, complete, and final answers. regarding much of anything about life.  If it had, I suspect that fact would have become evident, if not obvious, by now.

Knowledge and deep understanding is gained incrementally, not revealed by some “authority”; the universe is extremely complex, at least on scales like the surface of the Earth at this stage of cosmic evolution.  We can’t expect any simple, easy-to-solve equation to describe even the eddies and whorls that take place when milk first begins mixing into coffee, and that’s more or less the stage of the universe we’re in right now (on a much bigger scale than a cup of coffee, obviously).

Okay, well, I don’t know how I got around to those subjects, but I guess that’s the sort of thing that can happen with stream-of-consciousness writing.  At least it wasn’t just a complete rehash of what I wrote yesterday.  Hopefully tomorrow will likewise not be a rehash.  Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow may creep on in this petty pace to the last syllable of recorded time (which record will eventually decay as time goes its interminable way), but each morrow will differ in its details, at least until all things are washed out by entropy.  It’ll be a while—on the mortal scale, anyway—before that happens cosmically.

Keep your eyes peeled and your ears pricked up, though.  It is coming.

Cloudy coffee

*To be fair, if you’re riding at 70+ miles per hour, even a low in the low fifties feels pretty darn cold, but that sort of weather won’t be back for months now, and goodness knows if I’ll ever ride again.

**By which I mean to say, even if there were such things as gods and demons and angels and spirits and so on, if they really existed, then they would in fact be part of nature, and would have a “lawful” existence of some type, and would therefore be natural.  Only imaginary things can be “supernatural”.

***I’m sure I’ve gone into this before.  It is essential for any successfully reproducing organism to have strong senses of pain and fear, to avoid danger and to avoid and seek to mitigate damage.  These must be more immediate and powerful—and potentially more enduring—than any sense of pleasure or joy.  All pleasure and joy must, by nature, be fleeting, or else an organism will not be driven to work to survive, to reproduce as often as feasible.  An organism that feels little to no fear or pain, and that experiences lasting and powerful joy from any given stimulus or circumstance, will live a blissful but short life, and will be outcompeted by fearful, aggressive, and pain-prone creatures.  It would not tend to leave many offspring, all other things being equal.

Tangents of tangents of tangents, oh my!

It’s Wednesday, the middle of the week based on our usual reckoning of things.  Welcome.

Of course, the universe at large doesn’t give any preference to days of the week, or months, or whatever.  Days, per se, are more or less natural units of time, as are years.  Both are related to regular, physical phenomena in the solar system*.  Now, one could argue that since the moon’s orbit around the Earth is roughly twenty-eight days, that seven days in a week is a sort of natural division, since 28 divided by 4 is seven.  That’s not an unreasonable thought, but it is derivative, unlike the measure of a year or a day.

Of course, rather irritatingly, the days don’t evenly divide into the years, nor do the months (orbits of the moon, which itself isn’t quite an even number of days), which means we have to do all sorts of mucking about with the number of days in months to get a reasonable number of them per year, and only one of them has 28 days, but even that changes every 4 years, except every hundred years when it’s 28 again, except every thousand years when it’s 29 again, and so on.  And then, of course, we have to add and subtract “leap seconds” on an irregular basis to adjust things to keep them consistent, lest the seasons creep steadily in one direction or the other relative to the calendar as the years pass, even as the times of day and night also shift.

If the period of the moon’s orbit around the Earth divided evenly into the orbit of the Earth around the sun; and the length of days on Earth** also evenly divided into the orbit of the Earth around the sun; and if those divided evenly, say, into the orbits of the sun around the center of the Milky Way; and then if the second, as we decided it, turned out to be some round number of oscillations of a cesium atom being pumped by a particular wavelength of light—say 9 billion exactly, when measuring a previously decided interval of one sixtieth of one sixtieth of one twenty-fourth of a day…that would all be quite a collection of coincidences!  That would make me start wondering if the whole thing was designed by someone.  As it is, though, it looks very much like it just all kind of happened, with no inherent direction or purpose or goal.  Which makes more sense of most of human history and the natural world than the alternative does.

It would also be quite a coincidence if, for instance, pi turned out to be 3.141618110112114…or some other regular pattern alone those lines.  Especially if some similar pattern of interest showed up when it was measured using other number bases, like base 2, base 16, whatever.  That would be something.  Or imagine if pi were an exact integer.  Of course it’s hard even to imagine what it could possibly be that could make the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter into an integer, how that could actually be achieved, since the number pi is something born of what appears to be fundamental geometry, constrained by internal logical and physical consistency.

Anyway, the universe looks very much like, as I said yesterday, a spontaneously self-assembled system.  For all we know, it’s just a collection of quantum building blocks of some kind that fall together in a bunch of spin-networks, if that was the right term, to form spacetime that acts like General Relativity when there are enough of them***.

And, maybe the other quantum fields are just emergent phenomena that develop as part of the properties of these conglomerated spin-networks, and the net result of their gross uniformity leads them to mutual repulsion, and then—rather like quarks being forcefully separated leading to formation of new quarks if you could do it, which you can’t—when spin-networks are stretched apart, they simply generate new, connecting networks in between, out of the energy from the tension of their repulsion.  Thus, spacetime can expand forever, generating new space-time as it does, and perhaps the other quantum fields, again, are mere epiphenomena that arise when enough spacetime exists.  And everything else, as we can already tell, is a bunch of epiphenomena overlying, or produced by, that.

Here’s a question that just occurred to me:  If spacetime can be continuously created by stretching of the preexisting network, in response to “dark energy” or “inflaton field” or whatever one might call it, popping little new nuggets of spin networks or whatever spacetime is made of into existence, can it, on the other end of things, be made to disappear?  Can quantum spacetime be unmade as readily as it is made?  I don’t think it would have to happen, say, in the “singularity” at the center of a black hole.  I can see that as potentially being a thin and narrow “tube” of spacetime stretching off and continuing to grow but only in one direction, like the function 1/|x| as it approaches zero, with a finite “volume” perhaps, but an infinite “surface area” that can keep growing indefinitely if spacetime really can just keep reforming itself.  Though maybe, if the chunks are of finite size, the tube can never narrow past some certain minimal “circumference”.  I wonder what the implications of that could be.

But can spacetime ever un-form?  Quarks that could be formed from, for instance, stretching the gluon field between two of them could, in principle, “un-form” if they encountered an anti-quark of the proper character.  They can even decay, I think.  But they wouldn’t simply disappear, they would convert into, presumably, some pair of high-energy photons, and maybe something else, too.  But spacetime itself doesn’t always obey the straightforward law of conservation of energy/mass, as GR has already shown.  Conservation of energy is a property of things within spacetime, and is born of the mathematical symmetry of time translation, as per Emmy Noether’s**** Theorem.  It doesn’t necessarily apply to spacetime itself.  So under what circumstances, if any, could it simply spontaneously disappear, and what affects would that have?

Well, that’s something I’m not going to figure out right here right now, I’m afraid.  But, boy, have I gone off on some tangents!  It’s rather like a moon or a planet suddenly released from the gravitational embrace of that which it orbits, to go off into eternity like a rock from a King David-style sling.  Or like the derivative of any continuous function, or the derivatives of derivative of derivatives, “most” of which end up settling out at some constant, if memory serves (but not the exponential function, ex!).

All this is, apparently, just what happens when one cannot stay asleep after three in the morning and so gets up very early and waits for the first train on Wednesday morning.  One thing leads to another, but with no inherent direction or purpose or goal.  Things just happen.

That sounds familiar.

*The rotation of the Earth and its orbit around the sun, in case you didn’t already know.

**Of course, there are different ways to define a day.  There’s a solar day, which—if memory serves—describes the time it takes for the Earth to turn until the same longitude line (so to speak) is facing the sun, which, because of the motion of the Earth in its orbit, is going to be slightly longer than a sidereal day, which—again, if memory serves—describes when the same longitude line returns to its place relative to the distant, “fixed” stars.  Of course, the stars themselves are not truly fixed, but their angular location changes so slowly that that’s an adjustment that doesn’t have to be made often.  I think there are other day measures, but they aren’t popping into my head right now.

***I realize that this is very loosely a description of loop quantum gravity, and that one prediction of one form of that model predicts that light speed even through a vacuum varies ever so slightly by frequency—and that our best measurements of light from distant quasars and the like seem to disconfirm that prediction.  But I don’t think the jury is completely in on that question.  And maybe that specific form of LQG is not quite correct, or the difference is smaller than expected.  I don’t know the subject well enough to opine.

****Look her up.  Einstein called her a mathematical genius.  Hilbert invited her to teach in the University of Göttingen (fighting against the powers that be that didn’t want a woman professor).  She should be a household name.  Her face should be on currency.  She should be bigger than every TikTok “influencer” combined.  That she is not should bring every human shame.

You pick the space and I’ll choose the time, and I’ll climb the hole in my own way*

It’s Tuesday now, the day that Professor Coyne, aka PCC(E), over at Why Evolution Is True calls “the cruelest day”.  I’m not sure the origin of that expression; as far as I can recall, his website is the first place I encountered it, but I like it.

It’s not the beginning of the week, which has a certain hectic energy at least, with everyone in a kind of recovery from their—hopefully restful—weekend.  It’s not “hump day”, which many people call Wednesday, when things are starting to coast toward the end.  And, of course, it’s not its counterpart:  Thursday, which is a day on which anticipation of the coming weekend can energize one for the day’s work.  And, quite obviously, it’s not Friday, when those who are on a 5-day-a-week schedule are effectively already beginning their weekend**.  Tuesday is the day with the least to make it stand out.  Which, of course, makes it stand out.

Also, as the Beatles pointed out, and as I often note, Tuesday afternoon is never-ending.  And, if time were to be truly continuous and infinitely divisible, then one could effectively make Tuesday afternoon never-ending in a Zeno’s Paradox sort of way, just by subdividing the time in between each moment as each moment passed.

Or, of course, one could fall through the event horizon of a black hole.  To distant observers, that fall would indeed seem to be never-ending (though before too long the image of the faller would redshift into invisibility).  And for the person falling, the end would come rather quickly.  Assuming that person survived the gravitational tides, according to General Relativity, time literally comes to an end in the singularity of a black hole.

Though I always picture the heart of a black hole a bit more like one of those “Gabriel’s Horn” shapes in mathematics, which has an infinite surface area but a finite volume.  Of course, I don’t have the skills and expertise to work the equations of GR, but it feels to me that, if spacetime is endlessly flexible****, then there need never be a true “end” to time; it could just stretch longer and thinner always, infinite in “surface” but finite in “volume”.

I know that’s all a bit esoteric, and I’m sure my understanding is incomplete.  If there are any theoretical physicists specializing in GR reading this who can help me think more clearly about black holes and singularities and why it would be necessary for time to completely end if spacetime were continuous rather than simply to stretch—making a mathematical singularity, but not literally an end—then please do let me now.

I realize that there may be concepts that can only be dealt with rigorously using the mathematics, but on the other hand, clearly the mathematics is translatable into “ordinary language” at some level, or no one would ever be able to teach it or learn it.  And I have at least a bit of mathematical background, though I haven’t formally studied how to do the matrices and whatnot involved in GR.  Still, Einstein himself didn’t know how to do it when he came up with the initial ideas, so he had to learn it and then work with it, but he had the ideas first.

I don’t have his brilliance, obviously—which is certainly not an insult—but if there’s a way to demonstrate why time literally ends at a singularity***** rather than simply stretching out into an endless tube, with shrinking cross-section (in higher-dimensions) but ever-expanding “area” (again, in higher dimensions), I’d like to know.  I mean, according to the whole Dark Energy paradigm, the expansion of spacetime is accelerating now and there’s no theoretical limit to how much it can expand, which seems to mean, at some level, that it has infinite stretchability.

Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that spacetime can continue to be created between any two points that are stretching apart, somewhat—but not quite—analogous to the way in which if you try to separate two bound quarks, all you do is create two new partner quarks with the energy you’ve put in to try to stretch them so now you’ve got two pairs of inseparable quarks.  Neener neener neener.

Anyway, I know that Penrose and Hawking developed their singularity theorems for black holes and those are accepted by physicists and mathematicians throughout the world.  They are/were brilliant people, there’s no doubt about that.  But does the theorem mean that spacetime literally vanishes at some literally infinitely dense point in the middle of a black hole—which strikes me as implausible given the stretchy-stretchy nature of spacetime—or is it a singularity more in the pure mathematical sense like the function 1/x as x approaches zero?

Enquiring minds want to know.

Wow, that wasn’t at all where I thought I was going when I started this post today, but those random, drunken walks can, at times, at least lead past interesting scenery.  No one would be likely to argue that a black hole doesn’t necessarily belong in a wasteland; in a sense, it is the ultimate wasteland, at least this side of the heat death of the universe.  But it is interesting, topographically (and topologically, to a novice such as I), and though it would be nice to be able to enjoy such scenery with company who would appreciate it in a similar fashion to the way I do, well…one has no “right” to such a thing and no good reason to expect it.  It’s lonely, but at least the wasteland has places of beauty.

And if one gets tired of walking, and/or one is curious enough to see where it leads, one can always just jump into that black hole.

*This is a slightly altered line from the Pink Floyd song Fearless, off their excellent album Meddle.

**Some of us work every other Saturday, of course, and when you have no life, like I have no life, a weekend is not something to which to look forward, except for the chance to rest one’s back.  I don’t really do anything for fun, have no friends with whom I spend time, no places that I go for entertainment or for shopping or whatever.  All such things are too tainted by memories of loss, and anxiety, and the feeling of not belonging on this planet.  My life is more or less a wasteland.  But I can’t see any way out of it (other than the obvious), and I can’t even really tell if I’m just walking in circles within it.  I think I’m walking in random patterns, like a “drunkard’s walk” (though I rarely drink).  And, of course, in a random walk or drunkard’s walk, one will eventually get arbitrarily far away from one’s origin point (though the average location will be the origin, interestingly), but the distance between one and the origin increases—I think, if memory serves—only logarithmically.  And I suspect that the exit from the wasteland is very far away, if it exists at all (other than, as I say, the obvious).  Oh, well.  Life promises one thing and one thing only; anything else is just luck***.

***A footnote within a footnote, just to note the mildly amusing fact that, so far, my footnote is longer than the main text of this post.

****A big “if”, of course.  It doesn’t seem to jibe with quantum mechanics, apparently, but we have no convincing theory of quantum gravity to settle the issue.  I’m so frustrated.

*****Again, according to General Relativity—I know it’s thought not to be the correct picture in such extreme circumstances, because of the uncertainty principle, among other things.

When you shout into the abyss, does it do the limbo?

Hooray, it’s Monday.

That sentence is meant to have been delivered in a deadpan, sarcastic tone, but I realize that it’s difficult to convey such things well in print, so I decided to make it clear to you.  Everyone knows a joke is funnier when you explain it in detail afterwards, right?

Anyway, as usual, I’m not sure yet what I’m going to write about today; I’m stuck merely obeying the inscrutable exhortations of my soul, to paraphrase Calvin*.

Here’s something that popped into my awareness just now:  The little weather symbol—or moon phase symbol, maybe—on the tool bar of this computer in windows uses a highly stylized moon, which looks a little bit like a cookie with a very round bite taken out of it, with the “horns” of the crescent moon extending well past the midline of the disc.  It doesn’t look much at all like the real crescent moon.  If anything, it looks like a sun beginning to be eclipsed by another celestial body—perhaps a moon—that is slightly smaller in angular diameter than the star is, so that it can never be a complete eclipse.

It certainly doesn’t match the appearance of the actual crescent moon, because the dark part of an actual crescent moon is merely that portion of the moon that isn’t presently illuminated by the sun.  The sun’s “rays”, coming from so far away, are very close to parallel, so the shadow of the dark side of the moon is almost exactly half of the moon.  So the horns of the crescent moon cannot extend past the midline of the disc, or if at all past, negligibly so.

You would think that a place like Microsoft—I’m writing on a Windows-based computer—a technology company that relies on high-end scientific and technological advances for its products and services, would be able to keep on top of simple scientific and logical matters such as what a crescent moon really looks like.

Of course, I suppose there’s no requirement that one have a grasp of simple astronomy and geometry to design graphics for a computer system.  But if one is really trying to understand the world so one can get a functionally limitless number of things done, as opposed to learning by rote a highly limited set of skills to be able to do a particular job and only that job, then one should develop as broadly useful, internally consistent, a map of reality as one can.  At least, that’s the way I think of it.

Would you rather have a doctor who has memorized, by rote, every page of Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, but only recalls it in the literal order and words of the textbook, so the doctor can only deal with the specific matters addressed therein…or would you rather have a doctor who understands, broadly and deeply, the matter contained in it, even if that doctor couldn’t quote a single part of it verbatim?

This is one of the reasons that in school, when you’re asked to summarize something that you’ve read, you’re asked to do so “in your own words”.  It’s not merely to prove that you have actually read the material.  It’s also to try to make you absorb it conceptually, so that you have a model in your brain of whatever ideas are being discussed, not merely the equivalent of a docx or pdf of the words.  It’s a useful skill, even if any particular bit of school reading is otherwise not broadly relevant to your life.

I suppose all this isn’t very deep or interesting to anyone but me, but this is my blog, so I can write what I want.  Maybe the process itself will help me**.  I seem to recall that studies have shown that any kind of talk therapy in general provides some improvement in people who have mood disorders, with some better than others but all providing some benefit.  I cannot cite the sources, but the idea seems plausible.  I think it’s that just having someone to talk to who is there to listen to you is beneficial, is “ego syntonic” as the saying goes***.

I’m not sure this can honestly be extrapolated to blogging.  It may be so, but one thing about therapy is that one actually has another person, listening and sometimes interacting, asking questions, probing, intervening more actively if there is danger, things like that.  Whereas with blogging, one is firing one’s words into the void and wondering if they are ever read, and if so if anyone thinks about them at all.  At times it can feel worse than futile, as if one were hollering into a canyon and not hearing one’s own words echo back, but only hearing echoes of derogatory laughter, as if the very abyss itself were deriding one.

Of course, on much of “social” media, the very abyss itself does tend to laugh at you or do worse than laugh.  But I’m not prominent enough to get that sort of response, and anyway, internet troglodytes are unlikely to make me feel worse about myself than I already do.  Which is not meant to imply that I don’t think I could ever feel worse about myself than I do.  I suspect self-opinion is an unbounded thing, more like the real number line than the absolute temperature scale; there is no lower limit.

I merely wish to say that the sort of things people say and do in comments and replies and tweets in trying to deride or “cancel” someone are more likely to make me hold them in contempt than to make me feel worse about myself.  Though they do often gradually erode what little confidence I have in humanity, which hurts my mood if not my self-image.

Seeing other people being so stupid so often doesn’t make me feel superior in any way, even by comparison.  It’s a very low bar to clear to be less idiotic than some people online; it’s frankly astonishing to know that there really are so many people who seem able to limbo under it.  That can be terribly disheartening.

Anyway, that’s enough for this Monday, the 8th of August in 2022.  I hope you all had restful weekends—at least more restful than mine—and that you have slept well and are energized and cautiously optimistic about the coming week.  I can at least live vicariously.

*The cartoon boy, not the religious “thinker”.

**Though I doubt it.

***Okay, it’s not a saying, it’s a psychological term, but the point doesn’t change.

O heaven! that one might read the blog of fate, and see the revolution of the times.

Hello and good morning.  It’s Thursday again, and so it’s time for what is, “historically”, my weekly blog post, though in fact it’s merely another iteration of my now-nearly-daily blog post.

It’s getting harder at times to think of what to write about.  I’m more or less committed to doing this whole thing stream-of-consciousness style, since I’m hoping that—just maybe—it might act at least as a form of “talk therapy”, though there are fewer questions and less feedback than one receives from real, usual therapy sessions.  Still, maybe just expressing my thoughts in this fashion will help me to organize them in some way.  I’m certainly not writing fiction or playing music, so I don’t have anything to speak about with respect to those subjects now.

It’s the first Thursday in August 2022, now that I think about it.  That doesn’t seem particularly noteworthy; I can’t think of any major holidays in August, though I suppose I could be forgetting about something.  August is one of those comparatively dull months, though it is a month of “pure” summer, in the sense that, in the northern hemisphere, it’s all in summer, like July, not split up into two seasons like June and September.

It is a bit curious that we don’t start our years at the winter solstice.  People have known about the solstice, about it being the “shortest” day of the year, for who knows how many thousands of years, and many festivals worldwide have been associated with celebrating this renewal of the length of days, dominated in the west of the modern world by Christmas and then New Years.  I think it’s mildly weird that we don’t simply begin the next year on the solstice, or the day after it.  We do start it thereabouts, but why not right on that day?

Maybe the issue is that the solstice changes subtly over time, and occasionally happens closer to one day than another?  I don’t know quite enough about it to say for sure.  If anyone out there does know to what degree the solstices change, feel free to comment about it below—not on Facebook or Twitter, unless you don’t care about the comment being seen for a while, anyway.  I don’t interact much via Facebook anymore; it’s too stressful and depressing, though I miss knowing what many of the people I used to know are doing, seeing pictures of them and their families and whatnot.

Twitter is slightly less stressful, largely because I don’t feel personally involved in any of its stupider aspects and don’t tend to follow people who are.  Twitter, to me, is a good place for sharing links to articles and videos and for one-liners and “What’s your favorite of the ________ movies?” types of questions and answers.  Even with the “enhanced” 240 character limit, it’s simply not a venue for expressing or discussing any deep or complex thoughts.  No wonder “discussions” on the site almost inevitably devolve into monkey-style feces flinging (metaphorically).

Speaking of days and equinoxes*, I read recently that the rate of the Earth’s rotation has speeded up, and indeed, that we recently had the “shortest” day recorded—that’s not shortest in the sense that the winter solstice is the shortest “day” of the year, but that the actual period of the Earth’s rotation has decreased.  It’s not by a lot, of course—I think it was on the order of a microsecond or so, though I may be misremembering that order of magnitude.

It’s certainly not something a person would notice, but the international group that manages the Universal Time standards and sidereal versus solar days and the like needs to pay attention and note such changes.  And if they adjust years—adding leap seconds for instance—that all has to be coordinated with things like GPS satellites and so on, which already have to be managed with respect to General Relativity and Special Relativity; their function depends on highly precise time-keeping, and time is different farther up in “space” and at higher speeds.

As for why the Earth is speeding up, well, I haven’t read any speculation, but at first glance it seems odd.  One might expect that, over time, if anything, the Earth’s rotation might slow down, and I believe that has been the overall trend over billions of years, with tides and the like very, very slowly dissipating angular momentum.  For a rotating body to begin to rotate faster requires—by conservation of angular momentum—that its overall mass distribution gets closer to the center of rotation, like the proverbial spinning ice-skater pulling his or her arms in closer to his or her torso and thereby speeding up.

spinning skater

I wonder if, perhaps, there is some change in the distribution of the Earth’s mass in the form of water from glaciers, such as in Greenland**, and mountain glaciers in other places, decreasing the amount of mass that was higher up and away from the center of the planet and bringing that mass down into the sea, which by default is as close as things like water can get, since liquid water “seeks” the lowest level.  Of course, general erosion of mountains and even adjustments of the planet’s crust due to plate tectonics could have effects on rates of spin, but it seems to me that they would be too slow in their effects to be so noticeable—so to speak.

I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about this phenomenon, particularly if it continues.  It’s unlikely to make a difference in our day to day lives that could possibly be noticeable to people who aren’t measuring with the most precise instruments science and technology can produce, but the information is a curiosity, and it could be at least a marker of the effects of climate change.  Or perhaps not.  There may be another explanation.

Maybe by sheer chance the Earth got hit with meteorites that, for this one small bit of time, happened to, on average, deliver their kinetic energy in the direction of the Earth’s rotation.  It’s not something that’s likely to be a trend, but it could, in principle, happen briefly just by chance.  It seems highly unlikely to happen in such a way as to cause a measurable change in the rotation rate, but what do I know?

Anyway, that’s about enough meandering thoughts for today.  I hope you are all having reasonably good days—even if they are shorter, and you have a microsecond or so less to get your daily chores done.  Please use that diminishing time by spending it with those you love and who love you, if you can.  Take advantage of the moments you have by doing things that are affirming for your relationships and families and so on.  Entropy is always increasing—that’s the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, and it is as inexorable as any law we can imagine.

We could find someday that there are exceptions to the speed of causality (aka the speed of light), but no one who knows anything about thermodynamics thinks anything is ever going to overthrow the 2nd Law, since it’s based in the fundamental nature of mathematics and probability.  The universe might start again in a Poincaré recurrence, but that’s not going to be for another 10120 billion years or so, so don’t hold your breath.  Or do, if it pleases you; we’re all going to be long gone before any recurrent universe happens, anyway, even if nothing like the “big rip” makes such recurrence impossible.

As I said, don’t waste time.  Love your loved ones and spend time with them if you can—and if they want you around.  Don’t take such things for granted.


whirling globe

*I was, you can go check for yourself.

**I feel that the ones in Antarctica might be less impressive in effect only because they are so much closer to the axis of rotation already.

Talk about digits, my blog’s got ‘em.

It’s Monday again, and it’s also the first day of August in 2022.  This makes it interesting, in a sense, but I always need to remind myself that, no, Monday being the first of the month does not mean that we’re going to have a Friday the 13th.  It’s when Sunday is the first day of the month that we have a Friday the 13th.

That’s not really important, of course—I have no superstitious beliefs about 13 or Friday the 13th.  In fact, 13 is one of my favorite numbers, so I rather like a Friday the 13th.  This is partly because some people think it’s an unlucky day, and partly because of the bad reputation 13 has with the public among the primes, especially when compared to 7, which is not even as interesting a prime, in my opinion, as 13.  Though, when added together, 13 and 7 do make 20.

This is not a big deal, though.  According to Goldbach’s Conjecture, every even number greater than 2 can be made from the sum of 2 prime numbers.  As far as I know this still hasn’t been proven in a rigorous mathematical sense, but I also don’t think they’ve been able to find any exceptions, and since they have supercomputers and the like with which to work these problems, they’ve gone pretty darn high.

Similarly, they’ve solved π (pi) to about 62 trillion digits or whatnot.  Think about that incredible number of digits.  By comparison, a googol—which is a number larger by far* than the number of elementary particles in the accessible universe—is only 100 digits long.  The Planck length itself is 1.6 x 10-35m.  So, it has 35 digits of significance, really, taking the most generous possible meaning of “significance”.  And that’s the fundamental, measurable minimum sensible distance quantum mechanics, in its current best form, says exists for reality**.

In other words, even if we had the greatest possible precision that is physically within the realm of reasonable speculation, we could not measure the radius and circumference of any instantiated circle precisely enough to come close to telling if it matched the current figured length of π.

Of course, no actual, physical circle is going to be a perfect, mathematical circle.  See above regarding the Planck length; that alone will screw up how perfect a circle can be.  Also, spacetime itself is not perfectly flat (although it can locally be extremely close to flat, and on the largest scales it appears to be flat).  Even the presence of the person doing the measuring would probably be enough of a spacetime distortion to make a circle’s ratio of circumference to diameter mismatch against π.

Don’t even start trying to compare the ratio of circumference to radius in a massive body like the Earth or the Sun.  Those ratios are measurably (in principle at least) below π because of spacetime distortion as described by General Relativity.  And, of course, a black hole’s radius, as measured from within, would be functionally infinite.  So, its local equivalent of π would go to zero.

But π is a mathematical constant, describing ratios of mathematical objects that are precisely defined in flat, Euclidian geometry, and as such, π is a real thing…indeed, a transcendental thing, you might say.  It is known to have an infinite number of non-repeating digits.  Which is not to say that there are no repeats at all, just that there is no repetitive pattern.  Obviously, in base ten we have only ten digits with which to work, so there are quite a lot of reuses of each digit—an infinite number of them, in fact.

In fact, I suspect—though I don’t know—that if you πcked any finite number of contiguous digits of π, you would eventually be able to find a recurrence of them somewhere down the line, though it might be far beyond what’s been calculated to date.  The reasoning, at least as I’m thinking about it, is similar to the reasoning that demonstrates that the “Level 1 Multiverse” is a real thing, if spacetime is infinite in spatial extent.  The best data we have now seem to indicate that either space really is infinite or at least it’s waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay bigger than the 93 billion light-years-across visible universe.  This is part of that spacetime flatness I mentioned before.

To think about it from a more mundane point of view:  the Earth, locally, looks flat (ish), but if you start precisely measuring the angles of bigger and bigger triangles, you’ll find that they’re adding up to more and more above 180 degrees, showing—even if nothing else did show it***—that the Earth is not flat, and in fact has “positive” curvature in Riemannian geometry.  But if you kept on measuring the sums of the angles of bigger and bigger triangles and they all stayed at 180 degrees to the greatest precision you could possibly muster even at immense size, you’d come to the conclusion that, well, either the world on which you stand is flat, or if it’s a spheroid, it’s a really, really BIG spheroid.

The analogous measurements (in three spatial dimensions, obviously) have been done on the scale of the microwave background radiation, which is as far back (and thus as far away) as we can see with light (microwaves, specifically):  about 300,000 years after the Big Bang.  They are consistent with a flat spacetime.  So, as I said, the universe is either spatially infinite, or WAAAAY bigger than what we can see.

This infinity doesn’t really do us any good, of course.  We still couldn’t reach almost any of it, even if we were traveling at the speed of light, since the expansion of the universe appears to be accelerating, and thus distant regions are moving away from us faster than light.  But, since quantum mechanics appears to dictate that, within any closed region of space, there is a maximum number of possible configurations (defined, at its upper limit, by the event horizon of a black hole with that apparent volume, the number of possible states (or its entropy) of which is related to the surface area of the horizon expressed in Planck lengths squared…so, it is big, but it is finite), then if space is infinite, there will be regions of space “out there” that are precisely the same as any finite region you might choose to compare them to, from the size of a human to the size of the accessible universe.  Indeed, in a spatially infinite universe, there are an infinite number of them.

If it helps, you can think of decks of cards being shuffled.  There are 52! (read as “fifty-two factorial”****) ways for a deck of cards to be ordered if they are shuffled randomly…that’s about 8.06 x 1067 ways.  It’s a big number, and though it’s nowhere near the number of elementary particles in the visible universe, it’s so big that we can be mathematically all but certain that no two fairly shuffled decks of cards have ever in human history come out the same.

However, if we have an infinite number of decks being shuffled, not only will any given ordering be repeated, it will be repeated an infinite number of times, though there might be quite a large average distance between repeats.  So it will be with iterations of any person or planet or galaxy or locally causally connected “universe”.

Don’t worry about it too much.  Though in an infinite universe there are an infinite number of any given person (as well as every possible variation thereof), these doppelgängers will have no effect upon you, except perhaps to blow your mind, as your existence will blow theirs.

Well, I don’t want to keep going on forever (har!), so I’ll call it to a close now, by noting in passing that this month (August, see above) is named (as many know) for the first “official” Roman emperor, as July was named (also as many know) for the first “de facto” Roman emperor, and June was named (as very few know) for June Cleaver, the empress of late 1950’s to early 1960’s American television.

*How far?  About 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 or 100,000,000,000,000,000,000 times as big.

**That doesn’t mean there are no finer distances, necessarily—though it might—but unless quantum gravity or whatever changes things significantly, it sure seems to be a limit…a physical one, not a mathematical one.

***Other things do.  The Earth is round, and people have known this for thousands of years, contrary to popular belief.  2200 years ago, Eratosthenes figured out the Earth’s circumference by measuring shadow lengths at different latitudes and doing some basic trigonometry.  He got the right answer, too.

****Which is 52 x 51 x 50 x 49 x … x 3 x 2 x 1.  The 1 is a really superfluous, since anything times one is just the thing itself, but it’s there for completeness.

The moon, a train station, a species of monkeys, and more

It’s Monday again, a day named for the moon (at least that’s what I’ve always been told), and as I looked up this morning, the moon was a tenuously thin crescent—what Dr. Becky might call a “thumbnail moon”.  Even when so effaced, it’s a lovely sight, especially when clouds move across one’s view, partially obscuring the moon and making it take fantastical configurations*.

Other than that, I don’t know what to write about today, really.  Currently, my footnote is longer than the main text of this post, though that won’t last.  I don’t particularly like writing about current events because, for the most part, I see them as the behaviors of baboons going through meta-level (and not so meta-level) primate dominance displays and hierarchical jockeying, throwing metaphorical (and not so metaphorical) feces at each other, and it’s just so pathetic that people actually think their lives and deeds are in any way sensible or rational.

I just now saw (case in point) a young man climb clumsily over the fence between the northbound and southbound train tracks—thus, crossing the tracks very far from an official, safe crossing—having to stop and go back while doing so because he dropped something in the coarse gravel as he went over.  Meanwhile, the elevator and overpass bridge were less than twenty yards away.

Either he’s too stupid to know what an elevator is** or he thought he was being a rebel, declaring himself not subservient to “the man”, impressing at least himself with his daring, if that’s the proper word.  Meanwhile he put himself at some non-zero risk of being hit by a train, two of which were arriving shortly (though admittedly, in the early morning you can see their headlights from quite a long way off).  This would almost certainly have killed him, even if the trains were slowing down, and worse still***, it would have stopped all the trains for quite some time, until police had thoroughly investigated everything.

In case anyone wonders why I tend to be misanthropic, and indeed, nearly pan-antipathic, occurrences like the above are quite influential.  I suppose that, at least to some extent, this trouble is in the eye of the beholder, but it cannot entirely be that, because surely no one can deny that there is an astonishing amount of idiocy in the world.  Innovations, advances, improvements are made by a tiny percentage of the human race, while if it were up to most people, the species would still be living in caves (in the few places where they ever did such a thing) or chasing game across various savannahs and scrounging for fruits and nuts and such.  In other words, if it were up to most humans, most humans would never have been born because none of their ancestors would have survived to reproduce.

I sometimes think it would be a good thing for more people to be rewarded for being voluntarily sterilized, at least until they were in some reasonable position to be able to raise a family.  Of course, that’s really what ordinary contraception allows, but those needs to be used on a daily, or per-occasion, or per month basis, or similar, and people are very good at dropping those balls (no pun intended, honestly).  Nature selects for people who like to have sex without thinking about it too very much, because they tend to have children somewhat more frequently than those without that proclivity.

Of course, such a system would be subject to abuses and bigotry which would make it problematic to enact.  And most religions wouldn’t go along with it, including our currently Catholic Supreme Court.  Those religions that continued and spread under the influence of their own version of natural selection were the ones that encouraged their adherents to “go forth, be fruitful, and multiply”, or some equivalent thereof.  The Catholic Church allows its priests to be celibate****, but it definitely wants the hoi polloi to keep dropping progeny as fast as they can.

That is a reasonably successful evolutionary strategy for a religion, at least in the middle term—on the scale of a couple of millennia, for instance.  Other religions have had and still have similar imperatives.  But of course, even if there were no other issues with the various religions, if their populations continued to grow indefinitely, there would of necessity be war between them (because ecumenicalism only applies when there is plenty of room or resources to go around, and/or when people don’t really believe their religions), possibly until they’d all killed each other completely and everyone else as well.

Yes, it’s possible for a strategy that’s very evolutionarily stable in the short or middle term to lead to extinction in the long term, and to take everything else with it.  If you don’t believe this, just think about cancer.  Every cancer is the product of the natural selection of mutated cells that have become, through various alterations, more aggressively reproductive than ordinary bodily cells.  And the individual cells among billions to trillions (before long) in a tumor that are further mutated to become yet more aggressive in their reproducing and spreading come to dominate ever more and more, iterating and accelerating the pattern as things go along.

That is, until they spread so successfully that they kill the body in which they originate.  Then everything dies, even those most successfully reproducing cells.  Thus, cancer can be a useful metaphor for a society, for a species, for a planet, as well as of course for organizations and other groups of people.  It’s possible, and even common and easy, to mutate into an unsustainable form that seems and feels like success while its happening.

An intelligent species might recognize and learn from this and be highly mindful, watchful of their own actions, and frequently reevaluate and even (gasp!) question themselves and their fellows, not out of malice but out of care for the future.  An intelligent species would strive to be self-aware and adjust its course and be on the lookout for ideas and organizations and practices that might become malignancies.  An intelligent species might well do all this and more.

The human race…not so much.

*Or to seem to take them.  The moon, of course, no more changes physical states due to clouds than it does due to the fact that it’s currently a crescent rather than a full moon.  Actually, the latter circumstance changes it more, because when the sun is shining on it directly, that part of the moon’s surface gets very hot, whereas when it’s in shadow the moon is very cold.  So, there is certainly some change brought about to the surface of the moon by the changing phases.  But not by the clouds.

**Which seems unlikely for someone in the Miami area.

***Not because his life is inherently worth less, necessarily, but since he is the one who chose to risk it, he’s apparently okay with the risk, and he certainly bears responsibility for it, whereas all the other people his actions could affect are, in this circumstance, innocent.  And there are many more of them.  There may even be lives lost in the aggregate along with significantly increased suffering caused by people being late for work—lost jobs, shifts at hospitals started late, consequent overwork of the previous shift and diminished attention, stress leading to poorer judgement during the day of various people, dogs and cats living together…you know the rest.

****Nominally so, at least.  Of course, the Catholic Church also made Darth Ratzinger into its previous Pope not so very long ago, even though he’d been part of covering up some portion of the vast child sexual abuse scandal that inundated the organization like measles.  It and they are fine moral exemplars for the world, don’t you think?

Even great Wotan reveres Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins

It is Odin’s Day (Wotan’s Day –> Wednesday), honoring the king and “All-Father”* of the Norse pantheon—played by Anthony Hopkins in the MCU…a surprising choice, or so I thought when I heard of it, but of course, he did it brilliantly.

Far more important than remembering Odin, or even remembering his sign (as per the 12th Doctor)**, is to note the date:  It is July 20th, and on this day, 53 years ago, Neal Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first set foot on the moon.  This may be the single most momentous event—certainly in terms of being a fully new and amazing thing—in recorded human history so far.

At that moment, the diameter of human, physical existence and “ground-based” presence went from about 13,000 kilometers to over 300,000 kilometers.  We had set foot on another celestial body—what could be considered a fellow member of a binary planetary system—for the first time ever.  Sadly, of course, we haven’t done it now for quite some time, but that doesn’t take away from the achievement.

Anyone out there who harbors some conspiracy-theory nonsense about pretend moon landings and whatnot:  please get a clue.

The Soviet Union—you know, our cold war enemies, fellow architects of “Mutually Assured Destruction”, who would have loved to embarrass us, and had done so in many ways over decades, including having spies in our most top-secret nuclear weapons programs*** and who certainly could have arranged for some conspirator somewhere to reveal him or herself—they were thoroughly convinced that we had indeed gone to the moon; they never so much as publicly questioned it…even in propaganda, as far as I know.  Indeed, a big part of the political motivation for us to go to the moon was to intimidate the Soviets, to wow them with our technical ability and—this is not a minor point—to show off our skill with rockets.

No, if there had been a conspiracy, it would have been revealed quickly and readily; any massive organization and network and conspiracy involving humans is a vastly complex and chaotic system—real conspiracies are almost always spontaneously self-generating, not planned in advance.  In many ways, maintaining such a conspiracy without frequent and obvious leaks would be far more difficult than just going to the effing moon!

And is it a mere coincidence that, three months after the moon landing, to the day, a child was delivered by elective c-section on Earth, who would show himself to be not exactly normal, not exactly ordinary, not entirely…human?  Or was an alien consciousness, embodied perhaps in some form of nanotechnology, brought back to Earth from where it had perhaps accidentally landed on the moon, thence to roam about, searching for a compatible host, finding it in a developing fetus in Pontiac, Michigan, and merging with that growing human to become a hybrid of human and “other” being?

It’s almost certainly a coincidence****.  But it is a fun story to play around with.  I sometimes like to say that the (most recent) point of origin of the alien intelligence which I embody is the star system Vega*****, which is a mere thirty-ish lightyears from Earth.  It’s a true irony (within the terms of this tale) that all the higher life forms in the Vegan star system are pure carnivores, as a matter of moral choice.  Though they recognize that it is a necessity of survival—or it was until the making of lab-grown food had advanced far enough—it is morally reprehensible to eat autotrophs, since they are in a true sense the only innocent life forms in the universe.  The true Vegans consider it much more ethically tolerable to eat “herbivores”, who have already killed autotrophs to stay alive, and thus are not innocent, than to eat “plants” directly.

Of course, the greater ideal was thought to be to transfer our intelligences to non-biological systems that could survive indefinitely in the vacuum of space and tolerate most of the usual vicissitudes of interstellar travel (though not all of them, of course).  However, when the experiment, and the galactic pollination program began, many of the nano-tech based minds found their existence unfulfilling, and even borderline intolerable.  It wasn’t known if this was an error in “programming”, or if it was damage that occurred as part of the production or traveling process, or if it was merely that, having been designed in the image of biological organisms, the new minds had accidentally been built with urges too well adapted for biological life to be comfortable as merely nanotech.

Whatever the cause, when one such nano-brain (in this case, that’s not an insult) found its way to Earth’s moon, and by lucky chance encountered biological organisms visiting there, rather than continue its original program/mission to duplicate itself and remake the moon into a vast, meta-mind, it hitched a ride back to Earth, then went gadding about, enjoying this new place.  But soon it realized that, without a locally grown immune system, the process of fending off the many prokaryotic and eukaryotic and multicellular predators and other natural hazards in this biosphere was a lot of work, so it finally settled in a 6-monthsish fetus that had a compatible configuration and merged with it.

That merger was not without its detriments, of course.  It disrupted the closure of the foramen ovale in the developing heart, leading to the child being born with an Atrial Septal Defect that wasn’t discovered for nearly two decades.  It also, of course, altered the fetus’s nervous system, creating neurodevelopmental atypia that would later be consistent with a type of “high functioning” Autism Spectrum Disorder—weirdly enough, now abbreviated ASD, as was the Atrial Septal Defect.  And, of course, the alien’s original memories were nearly all eliminated in the process of merging.  This was expected, and it was considered acceptable, though that loss and lack no doubt contributed (along with both types of ASDs) to the tendency toward dysthymia and depression the organism suffered.

And here I am!

Of course, as I say again, this is all just a fanciful sci-fi story******, but it’s an interesting way to divert myself and give myself a “just so” story to explain my weirdness.

But the moon landing was real, I am convinced of that beyond any reasonable doubt.

I met Buzz Aldrin once—it was unexpected, and I was so surprised and delighted and star-struck (moon-struck?) that I acted like a gibbering idiot.  This is not too unusual for me, but poor Mr. Aldrin didn’t know me, so he looked at me with one of the most brilliant expressions of “What the hell is wrong with you, dude?” that I have ever seen when I tried to explain to my very young children just what an amazing thing this person had done.  I am unlikely ever to forget that moment while I live.  To be looked at by Buzz Aldrin with such incredulity and—dare I say it—puzzlement is, in its own peculiar way, a great compliment.

Aldrin on the moon

*A misleading term at best.

**That sign is a yo-yo.

***And who, themselves, built and in 1961 detonated the largest thermonuclear device ever, the Tsar Bomba, yielding a 50-megaton explosion, more than 1500 times as powerful as the combined Fat Man and Little Boy explosions, and which was and remains the largest human-made (it’s probably accurate to say “Man-made”) explosion on Earth.

****Or is it?  Am I just telling you that to throw you off-track?  Perhaps the whole “moon landing conspiracy theory” is the actual conspiracy, created by me and my fellow aliens to direct human inquiry away from the fact that We have established a foothold on this planet thanks to the Apollo moon landings?

*****The species didn’t originate there, of course.  Vega is a star with too short a lifespan (estimated about a billion years beginning to end) to have likely evolved so complex an intelligence and civilization.  We colonized the Vega system from far away, but the true origins of our people are lost in antiquity.  It’s said that our home world was destroyed, along with our older records, by a gamma-ray burst from the supernova of a nearby star.

*****And, as I also say again:  Or is it?

If Tuesday afternoon is never-ending, Wednesday morning ITSELF can never come.

It’s Tuesday again, just like it was last week on this day, and I’m still doing my “daily”* blog posts, since I don’t have any desire either to write fiction or even to play any guitar.  This is at least a quasi-productive way for me to use time that I would have used to write fiction, at least until the Second Law of Thermodynamics claims me at long last, and I rush—all oblivious—into its cold but comforting embrace…to poeticize idiotically a simple fact of physics and mathematics.

Tuesdays often make me think of the Beatles song, Lady Madonna, because for me, one of the most memorable lines of that song is “Tuesday afternoon is never-ending”.  This is particularly pertinent when things are slow at work in the afternoon, though I don’t think most other people regard dull days at the office in terms of songs, like I often do.  This being me, I tend to focus on dark and/or negative songs and lyrics, or at least melancholy** ones.

I rarely think of Thursdays in terms of my stockings needing mending, at least.

The notion that Tuesday afternoon is never-ending raises an almost Zeno’s Paradox type notion.  If Tuesday afternoon really were never-ending, then Wednesday would never arrive, so there would never be another day.  Although, despite it always being Tuesday afternoon, if people could nevertheless still move and act and do things, it would be useful to break time into manageable chunks for the purposes of scheduling, planning, working, sleeping, and so on.  Also, it’s never Tuesday afternoon everyplace on Earth at once, so if Tuesday afternoon in Britain were to be never-ending, then Tuesday morning in the US, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, etc. would be never-ending, and Tuesday evening for most of Europe, and of course, Tuesday night into Wednesday morning for places east of that, right up to the international date line.

And, of course, if the Earth had stopped spinning—assuming it had done so without the numerous catastrophic effects this would otherwise entail (watch this lovely video by Vsauce to see some of these discussed)—the weather patterns on Earth would be permanently changed and made horrific.

Depending on whether Earth became the equivalent of tidally locked on the sun, or if it had just stopped rotating, it would either have a permanent sun-facing side, or it would have a day as long as its year.  Then again, even a year-long day is not literally never-ending, so I guess it would be the “tidally locked” situation.  Before long, the Prime Meridian would become a very hot strip of Earth indeed!  And the International Date Line would become extremely cold.

It is tangentially interesting to think about—having mentioned Zeno’s Paradox earlier—the notion of continuously divisible time.  If time (or distance, as in Zeno’s original paradox) were infinitely divisible, à la the real number line, it would seem that one could never experience the passage of time because before you could get to Tuesday evening you would have to go halfway through Tuesday afternoon…and before you got halfway, you’d need to get a quarter of the way…and before that you’d need to get an eighth of the way…and so on.  If things are infinitely divisible, or so says the “paradox”, you should never be able to get anywhere, either in space or time, because no matter how arbitrarily close you choose two points in space to be, or two points in time, or two numbers on a number line, there are an uncountable infinity of points in between.

Calculus, of course, deals with this issue by means of taking limits as distances go to zero, and the like; it handles instantaneous and continuous rates of change quite nicely, thank you very much, while still rigorously defining functions in terms both accurate and useful.  As for reality itself, it seems to side-step the issue entirely by making space and time, in practice, not infinitely divisible at all.

The minimum distance that makes any physical sense is the Planck length, and the minimum time is the Planck time.  To say you’ve traveled half a Planck length, or that something lasted half a Planck time, is apparently saying something that has no meaning in the real world.

Of course, the Planck length and time are REALLY small:  1.6 x 10-35 meters and about 10-43 seconds.  So, we cannot directly measure either of them with current technology, anyway.  Not even close.  But they are real things, when it comes to quantum mechanics, with real, verifiable physical implications that have been tested and confirmed with tremendous accuracy and applicability.

One does tend to wonder, though, about spacetime itself.  According to General Relativity, gravity is not a force in the sense that electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces are forces but is instead a manifestation of the curvature of spacetime, leading objects in it to attempt to follow the closest thing to a straight line (a geodesic) in a curved, “flexible” four-dimensional structure, in the way one has to follow a great circle on the surface of the Earth to pick the “straightest” possible path between two points on the surface of a spheroid.  This really matters for airplanes, and even for ships.

But is space itself infinitely divisible?  GR*** treats it as such, but GR conflicts with Quantum Mechanics at places of small size and high mass, producing senseless results (so I’m told…I haven’t done the figuring myself, regrettably).  Spacetime certainly seems to be able to expand indefinitely, as it has done since at least what we call the Big Bang, and it continues to do so at an increasing rate even as we speak, so to speak.  That’s trivial to conceive of with things like continuous variables, real numbers, things with uncountable infinities between any two points.  Just multiply everything by two, say, and all the numbers are twice as big, and just as uncountably infinite.

But if space is discontinuous, in some sense, as implied by presumed quantum gravity, how does the expansion manifest?  Does more space pop into existence between two regions formerly separated by a mere Planck length?  We know that if you try to separate two quarks that are bound to each other, the strong force between them becomes so intense that new, formerly virtual, quarks pop into actual being between them****.  Is this what happens with spacetime itself?  As intervals get stretched, do new nuggets of spacetime appear?

We know that it’s possible to produce new, positive energy in spacetime, balanced by the “negative” energy of gravity, so there is no local violation of conservation principles*****.  Maybe spacetime spontaneously generates more spacetime, using the force of the cosmological constant, or its equivalent, to create these new bits of spacetime as it goes along.  It seems plausible, given what we know about the finite divisibility of things we’re able to confirm experimentally, and at least little bits of spacetime seem much less energetic on a per-unit basis than things like quarks or even electrons and neutrinos.

Infinite divisibility may work quite nicely in mathematics—indeed, it does—but it may not be plausible in the real, physical world.  Spacetime is real, and if it expands, then that expansion must happen at some level and be describable in principle.

None of which changes the fact that Lady Madonna is an awesome song.

*I put “scare” quotes around that, because technically, it’s not a true daily function, since even if I continue doing it for a long time, I don’t expect to write on Sundays, and probably roughly not every other Saturday, since I won’t be going to work, and I write this during my commute.

**“Melancholy” has become a rather soft kind of negativity in modern parlance, but I wonder how people would feel if they considered when using the word that it comes from the old concept of “black bile”, one of the supposed four “humours”.

***General Relativity.

****Not a violation of Conservation of Energy…they get their substance from the energy you applied trying to separate them.

*****Again, alas, I have not done the specific math myself, but the concept is straightforward and logical.  One can similarly create a new positive electric charge as long as one creates a balancing negative charge at the same time.  It happens in nuclear decay all time.