I blog not you, you elements, with unkindness

Hello and good morning.  It’s Thursday, February 2nd, and the day of the week on which I’ve long done my semi-traditional blog posting.

I don’t know whether I have the energy to hunt for a Shakespeare quote to alter and/or a picture to put at the bottom, both vaguely related to whatever “subject” I address in the blog.  But, of course, by now, you readers will know what decision I, the writer, will have made, even as you read the words I’m writing while I do not know.

It’s a bit wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey, isn’t it?

Of course, the biological experience of time is much more malleable and irregular than the actual nature of time, but time is not a simple, straight, linear dimension.  It’s warped by the planet beneath your feet, among many other things.  Your physical body’s tendency to want to follow the most “direct” path through it‒and the fact that the planet is in the way, preventing you from following that path‒creates what we call gravity, locally.

When you’re free-falling, you’re coasting through time (and space, of course), and it’s the ground that actually accelerates you once you reach it.  It’s a hell of an acceleration if you’ve been pursuing your geodesic unimpeded for long by the time the ground throws itself into your path.  Human’s aren’t built to withstand that kind of acceleration.

I’m writing with my smartphone again, today, by the way.  It’s just too annoying to deal with the laptop at the bus stop.  I also wrote more words than I really had meant to write yesterday, probably because I type faster on the laptop, but I don’t think the increased number of words was associated with an increase in actual content.  I think the signal-to-noise ratio, if you will, of my blog post yesterday was lower than it has tended to be with the phone.  That’s not an objective measure, however, and others may disagree.

As for my thumbs, they already feel a bit better than they did, and they’re not giving me too much trouble now.  I have some Voltaren cream (or is it an ointment?) that I can apply to the joints if necessary, though I already take round-the-clock NSAIDs every day for my chronic pain, so it’s not really recommended that I add the Voltaren, a strong NSAID in it’s own right.  It increases the risk for kidney damage and liver damage and stomach issues and so on.  But I’m already at risk for those things (though I take Omeprazole for my stomach protection) and I don’t see easy short-term solutions to the problem.

This is one of the conundrums (conundra?  Probably not) that make opiates and opioids both necessary and yet culturally difficult‒our non-psychoactive pain medications are literally toxic to our bodies above a quite low threshold relative to their analgesic powers.  Yet pain does not easily just go away on its own in many cases‒biology is subject to much stronger pressures for pain to persist than to allow it easily to be relieved, and those incentives will remain so in any evolutionarily stable form of life.

Opiates and the like can work against nearly any degree of pain with limited direct toxicity, but with diminishing success and tolerance, requiring increasing doses over time*.  But they do affect neural circuitry, reward, and motivation, among other things, and so their use is complicated‒and it’s additionally complicated by the fact that the treatment of pain, physical and psychological, is somewhat taboo in our society.

The use of various substances in one’s own body is even criminalized, and so black markets arise to take advantage of the inevitable demand.  And without matters being out in the open and subject to expert scrutiny and monitoring and education, various abuses and issues relating to lack of access to appropriate guidance and treatment and support arise and worsen.

And they will persist.

Do you think continuing to criminalize the use of drugs of various kinds will decrease abuse and death and even violence related to the drugs?  You hypocrites!  I say to you that it is the criminalization of that use that created the black markets and abuse and danger and sordidness‒and, indeed, the majority of the deaths‒in the first place!

You punish people for trying, however imperfectly, to treat chronic pain and those who suffer from it from addressing it, and are surprised that sufferers turn to the market you have created for illicit meds.  You have the temerity to be “shocked” that people die from the unmonitored, unregulated, inexpert use and manufacture of these things which you have removed from the bailiwick of expert awareness and oversight and monitoring.  You took an area that should have been medical and made it criminal and are stupid enough to be surprised that opportunistic criminals (whether they be gangs or governments or otherwise) are not as careful and caring as actual medical professionals.

And sometimes you are so hopelessly moronic as to imagine that further punishments of both producers and suppliers‒and even users‒of drugs will change the problem or decrease it or make it go away.  As if making an already suffering person’s life even more difficult and miserable is going to diminish their urge for relief and escape from at least some forms of pain, and their willingness to risk the permanent end to their pain that is death by overdose.  I’d need to exist macroscopically in all the ten spatial dimensions of M Theory to be able to give that the eye roll that nonsense deserves.

Phew.  That was a heckuva tangent.

I don’t actually use opioids or related medications, though I have been prescribed them in the past.  They interact with my rather peculiar nervous system in ways I find truly unpleasant, though they can help with pain.  So, instead, I suffer constant daily assaults on my kidneys and GI tract and my liver, and I accept that.

It’s not as though I will seek treatment if my organs fail.  I have no insurance, for one thing, but also, I just don’t see any point in trying to preserve my existence.  Heck, I’ve been told I have a possible recurrence or deterioration of my congenital heart problem‒I’m not fully convinced that it’s really any kind of recurrence‒for which I had heart surgery when I was 18, but I have no interest in pursuing possible further exploration or treatment of it, anyway.

Let my kidneys fail, let my liver fail, let my heart fail!  Blow, wind, and crack your cheeks!  Why would I try to preserve or prolong my existence when I don’t even like myself, let alone have anyone else nearby who likes me and spends time with me***?

Anyway, that went off the rails pretty quickly, didn’t it?  It also got longer than I expected.  Sorry.

I still don’t know the answer to my initial wondering about titles and pictures‒but you all do.  And I love you for it.



*Though at least they don’t directly poison livers and kidneys, and the needed doses don’t keep going up without limit, though they are nevertheless often higher than most doctors are willing to prescribe.  This is largely because doctors fear having what happened to me happen to them, and who can blame them?  The only exception to this general hesitancy is with cancer.  People with cancer are allowed to be treated with whatever level of pain medicine it takes to reduce their pain, because in the typical human “mind” having cancer pain is different, and people with cancer are special.  They’re allowed to be dependent on pain medications, because surely they have the only type of pain that can go on and on without resolving and can steal all the joy from their lives, eventually killing them.  Anyone else is just a disgusting drug addict, a scum of the Earth, and deserves merely contempt**.

**The latter portion of the above paragraph is sarcastic.

***I cannot blame them, so don’t be defensive on my behalf.  I find myself infuriating and disgusting.

Wandering through fields of deer

I work in a city in Florida called Deerfield Beach.  People often refer to it simply as “Deerfield”.  Being who I am, I can almost never hear or see that word without thinking something along the lines of “What kind of field is a deer field?”. Then I usually begin some lighthearted speculations on the matter.

I will now share some of these with you, because why should I be the only one to suffer from such stupidity?

I often speculate to myself that perhaps the deer field is a recently discovered quantum field, along the lines of the electron field and the gluon field and all the rest.  If that is the case, what we see as “deer” would be, fundamentally, just local disturbances or vibrations in the “deer field”.

Obviously the deer field interacts with the Higgs field, because although deer can be quite speedy, they never move anything close to the speed of light, and they can even be at rest; they clearly have a rest mass.  As everyone knows, “massless” particles, the ones that don’t interact with the Higgs, always travel at the speed of light*, which is just another term for the speed of causality.

Speaking of which, of course, an individual deer is very massive for a fundamental particle.  The median mass of a deer is around 50 kg.  Putting that in terms more typical of particle physics, it’s roughly 3 x 10^30 eV**.

To give you some perspective, the most massive of the quarks, the top quark, which is (I think) the most massive previously recognized fundamental particle is about 170 GeV (giga-electron-volts).  That’s 170 billion eV, or 170 x 10^9 eV, or 1.7 x 10^11 eV.  That would make a typical deer particle nearly 2 x 10^19 times as massive as a top quark.  Writing that out in terms that might hit home more powerfully, that’s 20,000,000,000,000,000,000 times as massive.

No wonder it’s never been produced in any of our particle accelerators!

Yet the deer field must have very weak coupling with other fields, because individual deer particles are extremely stable.  We can feel reasonably confident that not one single deer particle has decayed spontaneously into other, less massive particles in all of human history, because if it did, the energy released would dwarf the largest nuclear explosion ever set off by humans.

Recall that the explosive force of the original atom bombs at Trinity, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki was produced by the conversion of less than a gram of matter into radiant energy, yielding a blast equivalent to the explosion of about 20 thousand tons (aka 20 kilotons) of TNT.  The energy released by the “decay” of a single deer particle would be about 100,000 times as great, if my figuring is right, or 2 gigatons.  I’m sure you’re all aware that the Tsar Bomba, the largest ever nuclear explosion set off by humans, was “only” about fifty megatons, or about one fortieth as large.

So, don’t stand too close to a decaying deer…and “too close” would probably be “within a few hundred kilometers”.

All this leads me to speculate, given their mass and stability, that perhaps the deer is one of the theorized “supersymmetric” particles, thought to be paired with each of the more “typical” particles of the Standard Model, but which have not yet been detected in any particle accelerators‒again, given the rest mass of a deer, we should not be surprised.

I don’t know whether deer are fermions or bosons; my initial thought is that they would be spin-zero, since I’m not aware of deer showing, for instance, any tendency to align with magnetic fields.  Then again, maybe they’re too massive for spin-related magnetic alignment to be detectable.  They certainly appear to be electrically neutral, though again, if they had a charge comparable to an electron or proton, its effects might hardly be noticeable given their mass.

I would hope that particle physicists would flock‒or perhaps “herd” would be a better term‒to the places where these amazingly stable particles are plentiful, the better to study their characteristics.  Ironically, although I work in Deerfield, I have never seen a single deer particle there, but up north‒particularly in New Jersey‒I’ve seen many.

What is it about New Jersey and similar locales that leads to the local aggregation of so many of these ultra-massive “particles”, which seem likely to be primordial remnants of the big bang***?  Is it perhaps that they interact somewhat strongly with the prominent local corn fields?

Wait a minute!  Corn field?  What’s the nature of that quantum field and particle?!?!?

Anyway, this is the sort of shit that goes through my mind almost every time I see or hear the word “Deerfield”, and it’s only one example of that sort of thing.  There are countless others.

Just in case you ever wonder why I’m always so depressed.


*The two most well-known such “massless” particles are the photon and the graviton.  Of course, the graviton has not ever been measured as an individual particle, but it has been confirmed‒as expected‒by LIGO, VIRGO, et al, that gravitational waves travel at the speed of light, and so are massless.  I can’t help think that’s a good thing, because if gravitons had/have mass, there would be what I would assume to be some quite complicated self-interactions‒gravitons would themselves interact strongly with the gravitational field‒that would make their theoretical characteristics and so on quite complicated.  The very fact that they carry energy means they must self-interact at some level, since energy interacts with gravity, but they are expected individually to have very low energy, gravity being far weaker than the other “forces” of nature.  Of course, gravity is in some ways not quite like the other forces in character, but don’t get me started on that.

**Short for electron volts, defined as the amount of energy gained by an electron from being accelerated through a potential difference of one volt.  It’s a measure of energy, and it’s used as a measure of mass as well, because in the realm of fundamental particles, E=mc2 really comes into its own.

***It’s hard to imagine any subsequent processes generating such particles, though perhaps supernovae could occasionally create a few.

Cycles both vicious and viscous

It’s Monday again, the start of a new work week.  I guess this must be the 4th week of the year, since Saturday was January 21st, and 21 is 3 times 7, and this year and month started on a Sunday.  I’m at the bus stop again, writing this on my phone again while waiting for the first bus.  It’s generally better, for me at least, to wait somewhere to which I’ve already traveled, rather than waiting before I travel.  That way I can just sit still until the next stage of my journey.

Unfortunately, this bus stop has a strong smell of human urine this morning.  I don’t know if that’s because the weekend just passed, and people get drunk and pee in inappropriate places on the weekend sometimes, or if that homeless person spent more time here than expected and had to pee during that time.  I’ve not noticed the smell before, so it doesn’t seem to be a frequent thing.  I suppose if it had rained there would probably not be any residual odor, but it’s not the rainy part of the year down here in south Florida.

I had thought to myself, if the homeless person were to have been lying out at the bus stop again, I would go to the other nearby stop that I had (internally) recommended to her a few days ago.  That’s where I usually get off the bus at the end of the day, so it wouldn’t be a strange one for me to use.

It is curious‒I don’t know if other people do this or notice it or what have you, but I often take slightly different routes when going to and from a place.  Some of that is probably just a byproduct of perception, in that certain paths look or seem easier from one angle compared to another.  They can even be easier to see from one direction compared to another.

Sometimes it’s a matter of lighting and timing, such as the fact that, on my way back to the train after work, I take a slightly parallel portion of the route (which in the morning just goes on down the main road) because there’s a nice, quieter, tree-lined block behind the regional courthouse, and in the evening, when there’s light and I’m done with the work day, it’s more pleasant to walk there.  It also goes directly to the side of the tracks where I catch the train in the evening, whereas when I’m getting off the train, it would require a significant detour.

All this is trivia, but my point is that having these different routes when going one direction compared to another seems to be ubiquitous, at least for me, and I suspect I’m not alone in this.  This means, of course, that the routes become a kind of circle, rather than simply a reversible, oscillating process.

Of course no macroscopic processes of that sort are actually reversible, anyway, because of friction and the creation of increasing entropy, but even if one could eliminate such things, a to-and-from trip that takes different routes could have a net gain or loss*‒I think loss would be most likely‒and this loss could be perpetual and steady.

It’s a bit like that economics or game theory or decision theory idea whereby if someone prefers place A to place B, and prefers place B to place C, but prefers place C to place A, one could effectively be induced to pay to go in an endless cycle, from A to C to B to A to C to B, etc.  Of course, it would be profoundly irrational for someone to do such a thing, but people get caught in even stupider cycles all the time, which are even more costly, but because they rarely pay attention to the nature of their actions as if from the outside, they often don’t even realize they’re doing something thoroughly irrational.

I return again to my musings on the myth of Sisyphus‒the actual myth, not the book by Camus, though I still haven’t answered his main question to my own satisfaction‒and how horrifying it is that Sisyphus is the one doing his own punishing.

Say what you will about the horrors of Prometheus’s fate, at least he was the passive, chained victim of it**.  That may not make it better, and it may indeed be worse, but it is different.  Sisyphus’s very mind has been changed, so that he feels an irresistible urge, or drive, to push his boulder, despite the fact that he never gets it to the top of the hill (or mountain or whatever) without it rolling back down again.

But, of course, we all do very similar things all the time.  We eat to stay alive, and that eating gives us some pleasure, but the pleasure is transitory (as it must be) so soon we feel the urge to seek food again, and continue the cycle, which just spirals its way from bassinet to coffin, with the only certain outcome being that entropy in the universe will have been increased as part of the process.

Of course, the very universe itself may well be Sisyphean in nature‒see for instance my musing on Conformal Cyclic Cosmology, though even Inflationary cosmology can produce endless recurrences and infinite repetition.  Heck, even the old-school Boltzmann type of heat death of a universe implicitly produced endless cycles as, eventually, entropy would occasionally dip low enough to regenerate all the “stuff” in a universe, before making its way back up again.

And, of course, if the universe were “closed”, which it doesn’t seem to be, it could expand, collapse, “bounce”, reexpand, etc.  And if some of the “braneworld” scenarios in M Theory are right, there’s a cycle of brane-universes smacking into one another, restarting the hot Big Bang conditions over and over as they do***.

I don’t know where I’m going with this discussion, but in a way, that demonstrates my point.  I write my blog post every workday, for no particular reason, but because various confluent and complex drives in my nervous system lead me to do it.  Lather, rinse, repeat as needed.

Except, it’s not really “needed” in any deep sense.  It’s just an urge.  Even life itself is just a habit.  And it’s not always a good one, is it?

*Of course, one’s potential energy returning to it’s original point in a reversible system means that no net “work” has been done, no matter what path has been followed, but I’m leaving aside such idealized systems…though at the tiniest level they may be more accurate representations of reality than any more “realistic” macroscopic analogy.

**Who else thought of The Big Lewbowski when reading that line?

***This is the sort of “collision” to which the title of The Chasm and the Collision refers.

Another restless wind inside a letter box

Okay, well, it’s Saturday, and I’m now, more or less, at the bus stop, waiting for the bus.

It’s mildly interesting that the Saturday schedule for my first bus of the day is the same as its weekday schedule.  That will get me to the Tri Rail station in time for the second train of the day‒they run on a reduced schedule on Saturdays‒which will board only about 20 minutes later than the one I’ve been catching during the week.  So that’s rather nice.  I don’t even really have to change my commuting schedule, even though it’s Saturday.

I appreciate not having to change my routine.

Speaking of not having to change my routine‒and of being “more or less” at the bus stop‒I’m not sitting down to write this because someone is using the bus stop bench as a place to lie down, or at least to recline.  I think it might be that shouty lady from earlier this week.

I’m quite frustrated that anyone is using a public spot, paid for to at least some degree by the people who ride the bus, as a place to lay out, but when I calm myself down, I can sympathize with the fact that she doesn’t have anyplace to go.  Still, why lie out at the bus stop at an intersection that’s busy even on Saturday mornings?

The main road is six lanes wide here, and though the crossroad is not as big, it’s still a pretty busy road.  I would think it would be preferable to go someplace where there was greater peace and quiet.

I suppose one might be more vulnerable in more secluded places, but one could pick a spot with relative care, and I would think it would be more pleasant.  Heck, just on the other side of the crossroad, there’s another stop with a bigger bench and a better shelter, where one would still be close to the intersection and protected by the relatively high traffic from at least any unobserved crime.

Sigh.  It’s so wonderful to have worked hard all one’s life and tried to do the right thing and be very highly educated and to have striven to be a benefit to the world and then be stuck at age 53 not being able to sit at the bus stop early Saturday morning because a homeless person is using it to recline…and to muse about the ins and outs and safety concerns for such a homeless person, because it’s not completely impossible one might be such oneself (I have been in close to that situation, sleeping in the back of a rental vehicle for which I was not paying on a few nights while out on bail).

I know that the universe promises us one thing and one thing only, and it certainly doesn’t make bargains or special deals with anyone.  But it’s still frustrating.  I feel like I’ve wasted so much time and effort.  I feel like I’m still wasting time and effort.

Of course, all time is wasted in some sense; in any case, it passes‒or we pass through it, or whatever‒no matter what we do in it.  And, of course, even the nature of time itself is unclear.  It certainly isn’t one vast, monolithic, singular thing that is the same for everyone in the universe.  As I’ve speculated before, it may even have more than one past-future orientation, just as up-down changes depending where you are on the surface of the Earth.

It’s partly because of that fact of time’s locality that one can actually model a universe that begins at a finite place‒say, the isolated collapse of a hypothetical inflaton field‒and yet becomes an infinite space to those within that bubble.  Because time is local and causality only proceeds at the speed of light, at least in our part of the universe, it can all depend on one’s point of view.

Of course, it’s by no means certain that inflationary cosmology describes the way our universe came to be, though it is internally consistent.  Other possible models include Roger Penrose’s Conformal Cyclic Cosmology‒which I like a lot, aesthetically*‒in which the accelerating expansion in a universe, leading to eventual increase of entropy to where nothing can really exist any longer, leads to or simply becomes the highly uniform, comparatively low entropy state of the next universe, just on locally small scales.  Entropy, after all, is not necessarily on a fixed, absolute measure, nor is space itself.  Entropy can be small in a tiny region that then expands to become a much larger one, still with low local entropy.

It’s a bit analogous, I think, to taking a number line and multiplying everything in it by two, so that the space between any two previously chosen points on the line is doubled, but the number line itself is just as infinite as it was before.

The nature of the real numbers being what it is, there’s an uncountable infinity of numbers between any two points on the real number line, and so there’s room to grow a universe of any size you might like from the space between any two locations on a number line‒or in a 4-D spacetime.

Penrose has posited that it would be conceivable for the residents of such a universe, if they knew and understood the kind of universe they were in, to leave behind messages in the very fabric of mass and energy arrangement in their universe for the people in the next universe‒nothing very complex, I would guess, but maybe just enough to make it clear that they had existed.

I’m not sure why people who were approaching the heat death of their particular universal iteration would bother with doing that, but maybe they would.  A bigger question to me would be, how would they target it?  If spacetime were expanding exponentially, as it seems to be doing even now, then every future “observable” universe would lie only within a tiny tiny tiny chunk of what was left of the previous universe.  So how would a previous universe’s intelligent life choose where to leave the message?  Would they try to encode it in every possible tiny region of their spacetime?  That would require engineering on a cosmic (but highly detailed) scale, and if you can do that, why not alter the expansion of the universe in the first place?

Of course, that’s not relevant to whether the notion of CCC is correct, just to the question of if such messages would be possible and how they might be carried out.  My more itchy question is, whence would the energy and particles of each new iteration of the ever-expanding universe arise?

In the Inflationary model of cosmology, all the immense energy that suffused our early universe was “created” when the hypothetical inflaton field underwent a phase transition and dropped to a lower energy state, so the local inflaton particles quickly decayed into all the particles of our more familiar quantum fields.

Inflation is not universally (ha ha) accepted, but certain aspects of it are certainly plausible and are supported by at least some data.  For instance, our universe is currently inflating, based on our best data and understanding.  That’s the Dark Energy stuff about which you’ve probably heard.

Exponential expansion is exponential expansion.  The doubling rate can change, but it still blows up at ever-increasing speeds.  If you compress or stretch your time axis, all exponential growth curves look the same.  It’s a little like that Conformal Cyclic Cosmology notion.

Anyway, as far as the source of the “reheating” of the universe in CCC as opposed to inflation, I doubt that Sir Roger Penrose has overlooked or missed that question.  He frikking brilliant‒even when he’s wrong he’s smarter than most of us are when we’re as right as we ever get**.  I just need to read a little more deeply into his model to figure out where that comes from.

Perhaps that will also allay my puzzlement about the “leaving a message” notion.  I simply haven’t finished his book on the subject.  It didn’t help that, as of last check, it wasn’t available in e-book format, and so I only have the paperback.  Not that there’s anything wrong with paperbacks, but it’s less convenient to carry 400+ of them around with you at any given time than Kindle format books, and so you’re less likely to have any one of them with you on any given day.

Oh, well.  I’ll see what I can do about learning more.  That’s rarely a waste of time, at least.

Wow, this post has really meandered from one thought to another, going truly across the universe‒and beyond, depending on how you define the word “universe”.  Perhaps it would be best to use “Omniverse” when describing the totality of all possible realities, as the wizard does in DFandD.

Speaking thereof, if any of you have read it and would like to make any comments about it, I’d be delighted to receive them, either here or on the blog post proper that entails my sharing of that story (so far).

In the meantime, my train should be here in 5 minutes (I rode the bus in between these two times).  My estimate of the schedule was correct, as is usually the case when I bother to check and when people and organizations keep to their own, voluntarily chosen schedules, on which numerous people act in reliance.  Don’t get me started on that topic.  I’ve already written way more than I would have expected from such inauspicious beginnings.

Have a nice weekend, all.  I won’t be posting tomorrow, barring the unforeseen, but I will be back on Monday‒again, barring the unforeseen.  Those unknown unknowns can strike at any time.  Take care, and be as prepared as you can reasonably be.

penrose by any other name

*This is no reason to think it’s more likely to be correct than any less aesthetically pleasing model, but it keeps it fun.

**He also looks rather a lot like my former Uncle Barney.  That’s neither here nor there, but I wanted to make sure I said it at some point.  So, there, now I have.

Introspection, Extrospection, Emergence, Reductionism…let’s call the whole thing off.

I’m sorry about how long yesterday’s post was.  It’s amazing, as I think I’ve mentioned before, just how much I can write‒on my phone, no less‒when I literally have nothing planned about which to write.  Small wonder that, when I do have a subject, or a story to tell, I tend to write perhaps too much.  Though I guess that assessment is really the individual reader’s to make.  Some may think I’ve written too much, and some may think too little.  Most will never know because very few people know about my books at all, and I have no knack, nor money, for self-promotion.

Speaking of stories, some woman was standing in the street median across from the bus stop, screaming as if in heated conversation at 5:20 this morning (just now, in other words) about someone having cheated on her after having gotten her pregnant.  If this were twenty years ago, I would have thought she was psychotic.  Nowadays it seems safe to draw the tentative conclusion that she is actually talking to someone on her smartphone‒though perhaps that’s a misnomer for such devices when they are used for such purposes.  Honestly, why do people even want to be with other people?  Everyone is so pathetic, and I’m certainly no exception.

There are those who say that an appetite for delusion is necessary for people to find any will to live at all‒from delusions about their driving abilities and personal attractiveness to delusions about meaning in the universe.  And there are those who speculate that one of the hallmarks of clinical depression is a diminution of that ability to delude oneself, particularly about oneself.  Perhaps.  It’s probably not quite so simple as that, but that does capture at least part of the character of the experience.

Oh, well.  It is whatever it is at root.  The underlying causal structure may have little resemblance to the overarching phenomenon.  Nerve cells don’t resemble little brains, individual starlings don’t have the appearance of tiny murmurations, and water molecules do not in any way resemble ultra miniaturized oceans.

The materials to which the laws of quantum mechanics directly apply do not behave in ways that are analogous to any “large” phenomenon which they engender when gathered together and interacting in their trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions, etc.  Anyone who finds this surprising at all has really not thought about things very hard or very clearly.

It may be fallacious to imagine that a wave function collapses when measured, or when it interacts with other “particles” and decoheres; it may be that our experiments of such things are simply too artificial to capture the nuances of the immensely common submicroscopic interactions of such fundamental things (though I don’t doubt that they actually have bearing on how quantum mechanics behaves).

The problem with concepts like imagining that, for instance, the Copenhagen Interpretation is “correct”, and that measurement and observation is what causes the wave function to “collapse” is its implicit assumption that if we cannot “see” something in any strong sense, it can’t be considered “real”.  To me that seems an astonishing level of hubris and narcissism, especially from a species as pathetic and benighted as humans.

By this I do not, by the way‒and this is very important‒mean to open the door to subjectivism and any relativism of objective facts, or any version of the “perception is reality” bullshit.  There is all the evidence anyone might need that there is an external reality, utterly independent of any consciousness that might or might not perceive it.  But its nature is not necessarily directly perceivable all at once, or understood at first glance.  It requires rigorous detective work.

How did I get on that subject?  By stream of consciousness, I suppose…or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it was by the stream of the unconscious, bubbling away and spilling over onto the surface of thought.

That stream is not like a stream of clear water, though.  Perhaps it might be said to resemble turbid water, but often it seems more like thick paint.  We can only see the surface of the stuff, but that doesn’t in any way imply that the interior doesn’t exist.  It’s merely not directly accessible to our eyes.

Then again‒and this applies also to what I was writing earlier‒the process of seeing and experiencing that sight is a neurologic process that is constrained by inputs from sense organs, not a direct, unmediated apprehension of the world outside.  Mere photons, unprocessed, can only deliver chaos to any random bits of photosensitive material they might encounter.

Thought‒of some form or other‒is required for sight to be in any way useful, or even actual, to any organism.  A closed-circuit TV camera and monitor do nothing but send signals, and cannot interpret or act upon the information.  If no one, or no program, or no other mechanism is being influenced by the information in any sensible way that affects its outcome, it might as well be a camera pointed at the surface of an uninhabited planet and sending those signals to a screen on some other uninhabited planet.

Again‒or still‒I don’t know what, if any, point I’m trying to make.  Probably nothing worth delving into too deeply, so I won’t bother with it much more, I think.  Instead, I’ll switch topics.

In the past, I’ve asked about whether people would want to have me write more of Outlaw’s Mind or The Dark Fairy and the Desperado.  One particularly astute reader pointed out that it was impossible to make any reasonable judgment without having the opportunity to read any of the latter story.  So, I think I’ll post that story here, all in one go, if I can fit it.

Don’t worry, I’ll insert one of those “continue reading” clickable thingies after the first few paragraphs.  Otherwise, it would be a ridiculously long blog post to get past if one wanted to scroll down to the previous one.

This doesn’t mean I promise to write more of it or of Outlaw’s Mind, or to write Changeling in a Shadow World, for that matter.  I haven’t yet figured out even how to check the results of my poll, and I’m pretty sure that it can’t be all that difficult, so don’t expect much.

Hell, I don’t even promise to keep writing this blog.  I’m getting tired of it, as I’m getting tired of pretty much everything, and particularly of myself.  There’s very little to be gained by pursuing anything at all.  But, perhaps, by posting DFandD, I’ll at least create the pseudo-closure of having all of my fiction to date be out there somewhere to read.  In case anyone wants to read it.

So, either I’ll post that later today, or I’ll just use it as my post for tomorrow.  I guess you’ll find out, if you care to look.

One Stone to bring them all and in Dark Energy bind them

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?

For a minute there, I found myself

Wow, I’m really tired.  I had a terrible time falling asleep last night, even though, once again, I was tired and “shagged out” as if after a long squawk, in the words of Michael Palin’s pet shop owner from the dead parrot sketch.  And then, of course, when I finally did get to sleep, I didn’t even come close to sleeping through until my alarm‒though, rather amusingly, I fell back to sleep about half an hour before my alarm was due to go off, so I got to enjoy being awakened by it when I was thoroughly mired in unconsciousness and confusion.  Nevertheless, I did still get up and do three quick sets of (bad) pull-ups before taking my shower, getting dressed, and so on.  And here I am at the train station, waiting for the second train of the day.

I know all this must make for incredibly tedious reading, and for that I am truly sorry.  I’d prefer to write more about potential stories, and which ones, if any, my readers prefer, and about potential “podcasts”*, and all that stuff, with an eye to the future.  But when I revert to insomnia‒after an all-too-brief respite caused by a rather severe illness, the remnants of which are not even gone‒it’s just terribly discouraging.  It’s a special kind of teasing furlough, like getting a weekend off from being in prison, but having to go right back up the road after the weekend, for a sentence the length of which you don’t even know.  And there’s only one reliable way to escape.

It makes it hard to think about any future whatsoever.

Ah, well, it probably really doesn’t matter.  What do I want with a future, anyway?  I don’t have “a life” at all in any appreciable sense.  I can’t even read fiction‒including even comic books and manga for the most part‒anymore, and that’s long been one of the highlights of my life.

I’ve occasionally been able to watch some shows, most recently Wednesday, and I’ve even gotten through five episodes of The Rings of Power, the latter while I was sick.  And, of course, I’ve watched all of the episodes of the modern Doctor Who, most of them more than once, but these are the sorts of things that in the past I had always done with other people, with whom I could share the enjoyment, and even talk about the shows and so on.  It’s just not as much fun to do by myself, even when I watch some of the “reaction” videos of other people watching the shows for the first time, which is almost like watching with a friend, but not quite.

Even the prospects of getting healthier, sleeping better, trying to conquer dysthymia and to integrate into my self-understanding a probable diagnosis of Asperger’s all seem pretty unmotivating.  What’s the point, for instance, of seeking out an official, confirmatory diagnosis of the Syndrome Formerly Known As Asperger’s, at significant personal time and expense?  What, ultimately, would this even do for me?

What’s the point of trying to find a therapist with whom I can work, and that I can work into my schedule‒perhaps through BetterHelp or similar‒to try to mitigate my dysthymia/depression?  It feels better, so to speak, just to feel horrible constantly rather than to have brief respites of feeling a bit better, a bit more “normal”, only to have that feeling slip away again.

It’s even hard to pursue further learning in mathematics and physics, both of which I find deeply interesting.  I have tried to use Brilliant to work on my skills, but though their interactive, stepwise, animated approach is interesting, and I can see why it would appeal to many people, I find it boring after a very short time after I start to use it.  I think I just do better with textbooks, and with problem sets.  I even bought a copy of one of my old college calculus textbooks, the Thomas and Finney one, and started working through it to re-hone and improve my mathematics skills, with an eye toward moving to higher level mathematics after that.  But I haven’t gotten very far.

I also got a copy of Sean Carroll’s Spacetime and Geometry, and the huge tome Gravitation, by Misner, Thorne, Wheeler, et al, which not only is the bible of General Relativity, but is also an excellent demonstration of its own subject.  This is all in an attempt to improve my formal understanding, at the mathematical level, of General Relativity.  Special Relativity is pretty easy, and the mathematics to deal with it formally is/are rather straightforward.  But I don’t have a deep handle on tensors and matrices and higher dimensional geometries‒not at the mathematical level, anyway‒which I’d like to have to be able to approach the subject at a real, quasi-professional level.

I’d also like to be able to do the same thing for quantum mechanics, which is at some levels more straightforward than GR.  I got Susskind’s Theoretical Minimum book on that, but haven’t been able to sustain my attention for it.  That’s my fault, not the writers’.  Anyway, I really want more than the “minimum”; I want to get deeper into the subject, mathematically, because the concepts are all reasonably clear‒although often explained in rather wooly terms by many popularizers‒and I would like to be more formally and mathematically adept at the subject.

And I deeply regret not having done more in pursuit of furthering my pretty good initial exposure to computer science, both at the software and hardware levels.  Related to that, I would like to have done more in circuit theory and more general electrical engineering.

Of course, I did have a lot of my time and energy taken up by biology, chemistry, organic chemistry and the other subjects related to becoming a doctor.  And, of course, “helping” my now-ex-wife study (to the extent she needed help, which was, let’s face it, not very much) when she was in law school was quite fun.  But the time and effort put into both medicine and my marriage have turned out now to be moot and pointless, though they were worth the cost due to the fact that my children are here in the world now.

That fact would be worth almost anything.

Anyway, I don’t have any point** here with all this, and I’ve gone on long enough today.  I’m just tired, and if I can’t find a way to stop being so tired all the time, I really don’t see any good reason to try to keep slogging forward.  All the way up until my next birthday, my age and the two digit number for this year are both prime, and it’s sometimes better to leave while still in one’s prime than afterward, as I mentioned in a previous post.  Meanwhile, though, I’ll see if I can find any other answers.

Oh, P.S.:  Does anyone know off the top of your head how one checks the results (so far) of a poll one has arranged on WordPress?  I’m sure the answer is somewhere in the WordPress “help” functions, but it’s not amenable to a superficial and obvious search, and I’d rather not have to “chat” with one of their “happiness engineers”.  It doesn’t matter much, but if you know,  would you please leave a comment below?  Thanks.

*That’s one of those amazing terms that was a brand new thing based on an entirely new and revolutionary technology, but now that technology itself is already obsolete, but the term lives on.  I think the closest similar thing that readily comes to mind right now is the expression “running out of steam”, which I would guess arose from the era of steam engines, which are quite obsolete, but the expression remains common.

**Now there’s a pithy summary of a life 

Great Hypnos, child of Nyx and Erebus and twin brother of Thanatos, why keeps’t thou thyself thus so strange from me?

Well, I have my laptop with me today, and I’m at the train station even earlier than I was yesterday.  This is related to the fact that I woke up even earlier today than yesterday, though I didn’t go to bed or to sleep any earlier.

It is 12-20-2022 on a Tuesday, which is kind of fun—because there are a lot of 2s in today’s date.  I don’t mind the zeroes, but I wish we didn’t have that numeral one in today’s date.  I do remember that the Tuesday on which fell, using the European date writing system, the twenty-second of February of this year was 22-02-2022, which is about as palindromic as such dates can get*, and the ultimate twos-day.  Matt Parker did a video a few years ago about February 2, 2020 for Stand-up Maths, claiming it was the most palindromic, because it worked in European or American dating order.  He had a point; I’ll put a link here if I remember.  But that date did not fall on a Tuesday.

I had to check online to confirm the days on which the dates above fell.  I could probably have worked it out for myself with a bit of figuring.  If I had plenty of energy, it’s the sort of thing I might do—but not right now.  Right now I have almost no energy.  I’m frankly exhausted at nearly every level, though perhaps not according to the literal definition of the word, since it implies something that is fully empty (is that an oxymoron?) in the literal sense.

I feel like I am very close to that point, though.  I’m so tired of doing what I do every day, just to maintain the various functions of life that continue to require maintenance, from eating, to brushing teeth, to working, to buying food, to getting to and from work, to doing laundry, to all those other things that are just repetitive maintenance for a life that I don’t even want to keep doing.

There’s a famous fact of physics that, if there were an airless hole straight through the middle of the Earth**, and if one jumped into the hole, it would take—if memory serves—forty-two minutes to get to the other side of the planet.  I believe Newton figured this out, himself.  Of course, this is highly counterfactual, since there would be air resistance and worse in such a hole, and a large portion of the Earth isn’t even really solid, so you couldn’t maintain a hole, and the Earth’s interior is far too hot to survive passing through even at high speeds.  But still, it seems like it would be nice just to jump into such a hole and fall, going back and forth through the planet without stopping, forever, or at least for the rest of one’s life.

Actually, come to think of it, that’s an experience that’s the same as any form of free-fall.  Anytime one is moving unimpeded along a geodesic in spacetime, one is in the same circumstance.  That was Einstein’s great insight that I believe he described as the happiest thought of his life:  when he realized that a man falling from a high roof would effectively experience no forces whatsoever while falling, and it led him to the principle of equivalence—that acceleration and gravitation are locally indistinguishable—which then led him down the path to General Relativity.  So, just being an astronaut on the ISS would be the same experience, internally, as falling through such a hole in the Earth, though I doubt they’d send me up there just so I could get a break.

Maybe someday there will be free-fall vacations, where a person can book a flight to be put in orbit for a bit, with no engineered gravity, and just allowed to go to sleep.  Maybe one could even climb into a sensory deprivation tank during that time, and the lack of gravitational acceleration would truly allow them not even to experience proprioception related to gravity.  It seems like it would beat just floating in a bath of Epsom salts.

Anyway, I guess what I’m saying is that I’d like to get away from it all, and I do mean from it all.  I can’t relax my mind, I can’t relax my body, but both of them are just achy and tired all the time.  And everything I do is utterly without a point.  I mean, from a certain point of view, everything anyone ever does is without a point, but people can at least have their own, internal purpose, the things that give their lives and deeds meaning to them.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  It’s even rather admirable and heroic and beautiful in its way.

But I don’t have any purpose.  I don’t even have a dugong***.  I’m not going anywhere, I’m not achieving anything, and I don’t get any satisfaction out of anything that I do.  I really am like someone who has kept a Great Ring.

I need just to give up.  I don’t know what I’m achieving by any of this, but I’m pretty sure it’s nothing.  Not that I’m achieving “nothingness”, mind you.  That would, in a sense, be an achievement (ironically).  I’m just achieving nothing, by which I mean not achieving anything.  I guess that’s probably obvious.  Sorry.

I wonder if Michael Jackson’s old doctor makes house calls, if he even is allowed to practice medicine after finishing his remarkably short (shorter than mine) prison term..

I’ll bet he’s not commuting on a train to and from work, living in a single bedroom in the back of an old, cinderblock house, not doing anything for fun, not spending time with his kids or any friends or anything.  And, above all, if he has trouble sleeping, we know he has some tricks to take care of that problem.

Oh, well.


*Speaking of palindromes, yesterday we missed the last possible palindromic recording number for the year in doing our verification recordings at work, which was what I had set as a deciding factor regarding my future plans.  So, the universe has sent me no positive message.  Not that I was expecting it to do so.  The universe could hardly care whether I live or die.

**Actually, straight through any two places on the surface of the Earth would give the same basic result, but I’m going to keep things simple.

***Get it?

Then there’s hope a great man’s memory may outlive his blog half a year.

Hello and good morning.  It’s Thursday, the day of the week on which I wrote my blog post even when I was writing fiction every other day of the week—well, apart from Sundays and the Saturdays when I  didn’t work.  I have not been writing any fiction recently.

I toyed with the idea the other day, but there doesn’t seem to be much enthusiasm for the notion, which I suppose is mirrored by my own lack of energy, or perhaps has its source in my lack of energy.  Or maybe they come from disparate but merely coincidentally parallel sources.  I don’t know, and though it’s mildly interesting, I don’t have energy or interest enough to try to figure it out.

I did work a bit on a new song yesterday, the one for which I had jotted down some lyrics a while back.  I have lost utterly the original tune, but I worked out a new one of sorts, and it seems okay.  I then worked out some chords for the first stanza, including some relatively sophisticated major sevenths and then major sixths of a minor chord that sounded nice, and which made me at least feel that I really have learned a little bit about guitar chords.  Then I figured out at least the chords I want for the chorus, which, among other things, throw a little dissonance in briefly, which is nice to up the tension.

I don’t know if I’ll get any further with it or not; I may just stop and let it lie.  It’s only perhaps the third time I’ve even picked up the guitar in months.  I was at least able to show myself that I can still play Julia, and Wish You Were Here, and Pigs on the Wing.  I had to fiddle a little to remind myself how to play Blackbird, but after a brief time I was able to bring it back, too.

So, it’s not all atrophied.  And I can still play the opening riff to my own song, Catechism, which I think is my best stand-alone riff.  My other guitar solos are mainly just recapitulations of the melody of the verse or chorus in their respective songs, but the one for Catechism is a separate little melody.

Actually, it occurs to me that I initially did a voice recording of the lyrics to the newish song as I thought of them, and when I did, I probably sang a bit of the tune that had come to my head.  Maybe I should listen to that and see if I like that melody better than the new one I came up with.  That would be a bit funny, if after the effort from yesterday to do a melody and chords I remembered the old one and just threw the new one away.

I suppose it really doesn’t matter much.  Even if I were to work out and record the song, and do accompanying parts and all that stuff, and publish it, I don’t think anyone is likely ever to listen to it much.  Maybe someday in the distant future, some equivalent of an archaeologist who unearths things lost in the web and internet will find the lost traces of my books or music or something, and they’ll be catalogued in some future equivalent of a virtual museum, among trillions of other collections of data that are recorded on line, but which will never seen by anyone for whom they might mean anything at all.

People sometimes say things like “what happens online is forever”, but as I’ve discussed before (I think), even if it’s true that things stored online remain and avoid simple deterioration of data thanks to the redundancy in the system, it doesn’t matter.  In principle, the sound of every tree falling in every wood has left its trace in the vibrational patterns of the world, and according to quantum mechanics, quantum information is never permanently lost, even if things fall into black holes*.

But of course, all that is irrelevant in practice, and comes back to collide with the nature of entropy and the degree to which most large-scale descriptions of a system are indistinguishable.  That picture of you with a funny face at that event years ago, which you tried to have a friend take down, but which had already been shared to a few other people, may in principle always be out there in the archives of Facebook or Twitter or whatever, but it doesn’t matter.  No one will ever notice it or probably even see it among the deluge of petabytes of data whipping around cyberspace every second.  You might as well worry about people being able to reconstruct the sound waves from when you sang Happy Birthday out of tune at your nephew’s fifth birthday party from the information left over in the state of all the atoms and molecules upon which the sound waves impinged.

It’s one of those seemingly paradoxical situations, rather like being in Manhattan.  There are very few places in New York City, and particularly in Manhattan, where one can actually be alone—even most apartments are tiny, and have windows that look out into dozens to hundreds of other people’s windows.  And yet, in a way, you are more or less always alone in Manhattan, or at least you are unobserved, because you are just one of an incomprehensible mass of indistinguishable humans.

Even “celebrities” and political figures, so-called leaders and statespeople, will all fade from memory with astonishing rapidity.  When was the last time you thought about Tip O’Neill?  And yet, for a while, he was prominent in the news more or less every day.  Do you remember where you were when William McKinley was assassinated?  No, because you were nowhere.  None of you existed in any sense when that happened, let alone when, for instance, Julius Caesar was murdered.

And what of the many millions of other people in the world at the time of McKinley or Caesar or Cyrus the Great or Ramses II?  We know nothing whatsoever of them as individuals.  Even the famous names I’m mentioning are really just names for most people.  There’s no real awareness of identity or contributions, especially for the ones who existed before any current people were born.

Last Thursday, I wrote “RIP John Lennon” and put a picture of him up on the board on which we post ongoing sales and the like.  The youngest member of our group, who is in his twenties, asked, “Who is John Lennon?”

He was not joking.

If John Lennon can be unknown to members of a generation less than fifty years after his death, what are the odds that anything any of us does will ever be remembered?

Kansas (the group, not the state) had it right:  “All we are is dust in the wind.  Everything is dust in the wind.”  The only bit they missed was that even the Earth will not last forever, and as for the sky…well, that depends on what you mean by the sky, I suppose.  The blue sky of the Earth, made so by light scattering off Nitrogen and Oxygen molecules, will not outlast the Earth, though there may be other blue skies on other planets.  But planets will not always exist.

As for the black night sky of space, well, that may well last “forever”, for what it’s worth.  But it will not contain anything worth seeing.



*Leonard Susskind famously convinced Stephen Hawking that this was the case—and even won a bet in the process—though other luminaries were of course involved, including Kip Thorne, I believe, one of the masters of General Relativity.

Never seem to find the time…

It’s Tuesday now, and I’m writing this post on my smartphone, because I couldn’t be arsed to bring my laptop back from work with me last night.  Perhaps this entry will therefore be more concise than usual, but I wouldn’t lay heavy money on it.  It’s more likely than winning the $1.9 billion Powerball Con Game, but that’s not saying much.  Getting struck by lightning during a shark attack is probably more likely than that.

There’s a full lunar eclipse in progress as I write this, and the umbra has about halfway covered the moon.  I took a snap with my smartphone as I left the house and then more when I got here to the train platform.  I’ll share some of them below.  They are not of very good quality‒and the first one is just streaks of light, because apparently I was too excited to keep my phone still while taking the picture‒but then again, in the days before smartphones, I wouldn’t have been able to take such a picture at all.

The last time I recall watching a lunar eclipse with any degree of attention was back when I was in either junior high or high school, and I had a very cheap telescope on our back deck (This was quite a bit later than the reminiscence I described yesterday).  I have to say, the one happening now is quite a bit more impressive than the one I remember.  The shadowed portion of the moon is almost completely black, and the encroaching edge of the Earth’s shadow is quite, quite different than the usual arc of the moon’s own phases.  It’s fascinating.

I forgot again to work on editing my audio recording of thoughts about time yesterday.  I feel like I want to make some excuse, and there are surely reasons, or at least causes, but it doesn’t really matter what they are.  So, now I’m going to try to rehash those verbal thoughts to give you all either a preview or‒more likely‒a replacement for the posting of those spoken words.

I was triggered to talk about time when watching a science video in which someone pointed out, as people often do, that we are able to travel rather freely in any of the three dimensions of space, but that our direction in time seems entirely one dimensional, and we don’t seem able to choose our direction or speed through it.  But this is a slightly misleading characterization of the situation, I thought, and that thought is not entirely original nor unique to me, but this is my way of thinking about it.

It’s true that, if we were in deep space, especially in one of the gargantuan intergalactic voids (where light from all the surrounding galaxies would be too faint to be visible), there would literally be nothing to differentiate up from down, left from right, forward from backward, or indeed, any of these axes of motion from the others.  But that’s not the situation in which we find ourselves.  We are on the surface of a planet, in the presence of a rather strong gravity “well”, and that changes very much the way we experience the three dimensions of space.

Ignoring the facts of terrain, and thinking back to before we had modern technology, it’s clear that, while we are basically free to move forward and back and left and right‒and indeed, we can swap those axes out arbitrarily‒we are not free to move up and down at will.

Even birds and insects and bats cannot freely move through the up-down dimension, not in the way they can move along the curved plane of the surface of the Earth.  It requires great effort for them to change their height, and they are limited by that effort and by the density of the air through which they swim.  Because we are near a source of strong gravity, there is a clear directionality to one of the dimensions of space, and the only reason we don’t keep falling down is that there’s a planet in the way, but if it weren’t there would be nothing pulling us in one direction.

In a somewhat analogous sense, the only reason there seems to be a directionality to time is that we are near (in time) the presence of a region of very low entropy:  The Big Bang.  Since that time, about 13.8 billion years ago, entropy has been steadily increasing, as is its tendency, for fairly simple, mathematical reasons that make the 2nd law of thermodynamics among the most unassailable of all principles of physics.

All the processes that cause us to experience a directionality to time are driven by the tendency for entropy to increase, and that includes the clumping of matter under gravity, the growth of biological organisms, the accumulation of memory, and the development of technology.  Increasing entropy‒on the largest scales‒is all that allows temporary decreases of entropy locally.  Put poetically, it is only the inevitability of death that allows life to exist at all.

But of course, in the future, as entropy increases, life and local order will be no more possible than they would be in intergalactic space.  Once entropy increases enough‒and the vast majority of the existence of our universe will be in such a state, just as most of space is not near the surface of a planet‒there will be no way even to know which direction of time would have corresponded to what we now think of as past and future, because the laws of physics are locally time-reversible.  Time in that epoch would be no more uni-directional than space is in the vastness of an intergalactic void.

What’s more, it’s clear based on special and general relativity that time is not purely one dimensional.  Time and space bleed into each other depending on relative motion and local spacetime curvature.  That which can curve is not, strictly speaking, entirely one-dimensional in a Euclidean sense.

All this makes me wonder if, perhaps, the Big Bang era is not strictly a “plane” orthogonal to the time dimension, but might in fact be the surface of a sphere…or, well, some manner of hypersphere in space time, the surface of which is all at one “moment” just as the surface of a planet is all‒more or less‒the same distance from its center.

If so, then the Big Bang need not have happened merely in one direction in time.  Others have toyed with ideas like this*, with the thought that there might be a sort of mirror image universe to ours, extending the other direction in time from us, its future analogous to our past.  I’ve even occasionally wondered if the (very slight) relative abundance of matter over antimatter in our direction of time would be mirrored by a relative abundance of antimatter in that universe**.

But on further thought, I’m led to wonder if there need be merely two mirror universes, delineated by the Big Bang, heading in opposite directions.  Perhaps there is a continuum of such directions, just as there is a continuum of “up” directions from the surface of the Earth.  Perhaps our expanding universe has more in common with the expanding size of a sphere around the Earth’s center, which gets larger and larger as one moves away from it, and the Big Bang is not so much a beginning of time or the universe as it is a local area of low entropy in time, allowing the existence of phenomena‒including life‒near its surface that experience a difference locally between past and future only because they exist in an entropy gradient.

Perhaps, far out in the “future” of the universe, there might exist other local entropy minima, in any direction in time from us‒directly ahead or even at right angles in time to us, or any combination thereof.  Of course, “reaching” them would be harder than traveling out into intergalactic space, given that they would probably exist across unguessable gulfs of timeless “time”***.

How would we even measure or pass through time in a region in which entropy was near-maximal and time was without any inherent direction?  Perhaps if it were possible to accelerate continuously to near enough the speed of light that one’s personal time slowed ever more and more, one could survive to arrive at a place where entropy would begin to decrease.  But what would that even be like?  Would one enter such a realm as if a traveler from its future, moving‒to any local residents‒backward through time?

I could go on and on about these ideas, and maybe I’ll explore them more in future (ha) posts, but for now, I’ve taken enough time (ha ha).  This was certainly not a concise blog post, but I hope it was at least intriguing.  I’d be interested to hear your own thoughts on such matters.

In closing, I’ll just ask the following thoroughly fanciful question that just popped into my head:  What would happen to a werewolf during a lunar eclipse?

*For instance, The Janus Point by Julian Barbour, deals with some similar concepts.  I haven’t finished reading the book, but I thought of the ideas I’m discussing before I’d encountered it, and my ideas are somewhat different, though far less expert than his.

**Though they would surely switch the terms, calling our antimatter their matter.

***And reaching the portion of our universe that heads in the opposite direction in time would seem to require exceeding the speed of light, which appears to be impossible‒though perhaps wormholes might lead to such places, if they in fact exist.