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.

Chaos surfing is difficult, but it’s the only sport there is

Happy Labor Day to those of my readers who live in the United States.  If any other countries celebrate a similar holiday on the same day, well, happy holiday to you as well.  And to everyone, Happy Monday.

At my office, we’re celebrating workers’ rights by working a half day today, and based on the fact that quite a few other people are at the train station already—though it’s operating today on a weekend schedule—we’re not the only ones.

It’s just another case of competition leading to inadequate equilibria of over-exertion, to the relative detriment of everyone in the system, like trees in a forest having to compete against each other for light, so they all have to keep getting taller, even though it would be saner if they could somehow agree to stay shorter and collect the light of the sun without wasting so many resources on competing with each other.  But they can’t and even if some of them could, they would be vulnerable to any mutant tree that grew taller than the others, and then that one would outcompete and out-reproduce, until all the trees got taller again, until they reached the point where the costs of getting taller were greater than the benefits, on average, and they would level off there, in a state of mutual strain.

Evolution is a bitch goddess, that’s for sure.  But trees are very pretty and majestic, so there are at least minor compensations.

As with trees, human businesses compete with each other, and the ones that stayed open on holidays had advantages over ones that did not, until a great many businesses—ones not constrained by laws forbidding it, otherwise, or union rules and agreements—stayed open on holidays, and ultimately, there are essentially no holidays on which everything is pretty much closed, when everyone stays home with their families.

That’s assuming, of course, that people have families with whom to stay home.  As for me, the only people I really interact with personally anymore are the people at work, so going in to work is my only serious socialization.  When I had my family around, I would have been happy to stay home; my family was probably an equivalent to one of my “special interests”, as they describe it for people with the Syndrome Formerly Known as Asperger’s and related disorders.  Now, though, I mainly just loll about on days when I don’t work.  If I didn’t have my chronic back pain problem, I might feel like doing other things—maybe going to bookstores or something similar.  But as it is, I just try to rest and not pay attention to how utterly empty and pointless my life is.

Hopefully, most of you who are celebrating this holiday are going to spend time with your families and/or friends, maybe having a cookout or something.  That’s the way it was when I was a kid.  Most of the people in my family worked for General Motors and related businesses, so they had the day off, thanks largely to union efforts and the like, such as—I believe—are celebrated by Labor Day.

However, businesses obviously lost money by having their factories idle when they could otherwise be productive, and so once they could transfer at least some of their manufacturing to other countries, they did, and got more work with less cost, and then so did all the other companies, and the equilibrium led to anyone who wanted to stay competitive keeping their businesses open as often as they could for as long as the costs of staying open were lower than the costs of being closed.  And the wheel turned, grinding ordinary lives into powder underneath it.

Okay, that’s a bit melodramatic, but it still does in fact suck.  In the past, there were those who predicted that rising technology would lead to people having more and more leisure time, and yet still being able to produce more than ever in the past.  These people had never studied evolution and natural selection carefully enough, it seems.  Success is always relative to other success in the environment; there’s always an arms race.  Now we work longer hours than ever before, and the most successful people are often the people with the least leisure time as opposed to the other way around.

That’s a bit ironic, I guess.  Success breeds more work rather than less, and the society it creates is so mind-numbing and stressful that hundreds of thousands of people every year die prematurely simply from drug overdoses, because drugs are the only reliable source of any solace or escape many people are able to find.  This is, of course, one of the reasons drugs are illegal; they harm productivity.  Why else would a society be against people doing something to their own bodies, as long as they don’t directly harm others by doing so?  The most popular drug in the world by far—caffeine—increases people’s productivity, at least temporarily, and there is no serious thought of restricting it.

Many of the costs of people’s drug problems are entirely due to the fact that some drugs are illegal.  In many cases, having been convicted of a felony related to drugs makes a person less able to get gainful future employment such as they might otherwise be able to do.  It likewise affects what kind of housing they can get.  And so, far from having “paid their debt to society”, these people never stop paying, for the rest of their foreshortened lives.  Why would one not be willing to risk death by taking unregulated drugs, when life is an empty competition without any good reward even for the most successful?

Then again, life has never really promised any good and lasting reward.  Any creature that found truly lasting satisfaction in a meal, for instance, would live a happy but short and less-reproductive life.  Lions and gazelles don’t have job security, and they don’t get to take vacations from each other.  Every day is a struggle to survive and if possible reproduce, no matter what or who you are.

Economies no more have souls than ecosystems do, because they are both spontaneously self-assembled systems in which whatever survives is just, well, whatever survives and becomes self-sustaining.  They’re conspiracies without conspirators.  There is no master plan behind it all.  Most conspiracies—even ones that would be recognized by all as such—were not nefariously planned by any cabal behind the scenes.  They just happen, and the ones that persist do so because they become self-sustaining, like bureaucracies and governments and businesses and whatnot.

It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that we aren’t able (so far) to throw off such self-created situations.  Each person and thing can only act in response to the vector sum of all the forces acting on it locally.  Even the laws of physics only act locally.  Gravity doesn’t actually reach across the universe; each change in a local bit of the gravitational manifold affects the bit next to it, which affects the bits next to it, and so on, spreading out at the speed of light as it changes.  This is why there are gravitational waves, and why black holes continue to gravitate even though nothing can actually pass through the event horizon outwards.

Likewise, each bit of the electromagnetic field influences the next bit, which influences the next bit, and spreads along, again, at the speed of light.  That speed of propagation can fool people, whose reactions happen at most at a few meters a second, into thinking that things are truly and directly interconnected instantaneously, but they are not.  Every point in spacetime is influenced directly—as far as we know—only by the points immediately around it at any given time.  The universe itself is, in a sense, just a spontaneously self-assembled system, an unplanned conspiracy.

Humans have the advantage of being able to think about such things and their implications more deeply, and a few of them even do so.  But it’s hard for one bit of water in the middle of an ocean to deliberately change the specific configuration of the world’s seas by the effects of what it can do locally.  A butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon Rainforest™ may indeed affect whether a tornado happens somewhere thousands of miles away months later…but the butterfly doesn’t know this, nor does it know how to flap its wings in just the right way at just the right time to cause or prevent any weather formation.  It just flutters around looking for nectar and looking to mate and lay eggs and so on.

Humans are more sophisticated than butterflies, but the equations that govern the interactions of the world are generally higher-order, emergent equations that cannot be solved even in simplified forms, not within the lifetime of the universe.  Only the universe itself has the processing power to compute them, and even it can do so only by enacting them.

And while the Schrodinger equation is, apparently, a linear equation, and remains so in perpetuity, it’s still not readily solvable for anything beyond the simplest of systems.  And anyway, people are not completely sure what it really represents, they just know that it works really well.

Oh, well.  What are you gonna do?  Have a hamburger or a hot dog or some potato salad today with your family if you can.  Give a hug to someone you love and who loves you.  The chaos may be inescapable, but there are still benefits that can be squeezed out of it, if you can learn to surf it for a while.  You might even be able to have fun doing it.

“I’d give you everything I’ve got for a little peace of mind.”

It’s Tuesday morning, in case you somehow didn’t know—or, I guess, in case you’re reading this at some time in the future, six sevenths of which will not be on a Tuesday.  Actually, in the long future, presumably, the concept of Tuesday will cease to be relevant; indeed, it will cease to exist, and certainly once the Earth has been incinerated by the sun when it goes red giant, such things won’t matter.  But then again, presumably no one will be reading this blog at that point.  It’s hard to consider seriously the possibility that my blog might outlive the very Earth itself.  It’s not impossible in the sense of being against the laws of physics, but it seems vanishingly unlikely.

Of course, if the Many Worlds (or as I like to say, the Everettian) interpretation of quantum mechanics is correct, then in some branches of the future my blog will probably still be read even beyond the days after the Earth in incinerated.  Perhaps this will be because, in that branch (or, rather, that particular subset of the branches of the Everettian Multiverse) I am considered the savior of the human race, or the prophet of some new religion or something.

Now that’s a dystopian future!

As for the here and now, in case it’s not evident, I had a worse sleep last night even than I normally do.  I feel vaguely as if I’m living in more than one of the many worlds of quantum mechanics at once as it is; certainly everything seems quite surreal and slightly distorted.  I’m reminded of the line from Fight Club (the movie) in which the narrator says that, with insomnia, everything is a copy of a copy of a copy of itself.  It’s not quite exactly the way I feel, but it captures some of the spirit of it.  Anyway, I’m very foggy and ever-so-slightly delirious—more so than usual, I mean.  So please excuse me if I seem even more absurd than usual.

If I seem less absurd than usual, then, well, I don’t know what that might indicate.  I doubt that it would imply in any way that insomnia is good for me.  More likely it would just highlight the chaotic nature of its effects on my nervous system and the rest of my body, giving superficial outcomes that might, on initial inspection, seem to be an improvement.

Believe me, though, they are not.

It would be one thing if I were going to eventually get the ability to see all the colors and auras and everything in the world, like in the Stephen King book Insomnia, including getting the ability to suck excess, unused energy from people and get healthier and “younger”.  But, of course, I suppose then I’d probably be caught up in events that threatened the fate of all realities or something, and that would just be annoying.

Not that the real world is mundane or anything, except perhaps in the literal definition of the word*.  The laws of physics, mathematics, the facts of chemistry and biology, astronomy, cosmology…these things are all quite amazing.  It’s too bad so much of human history, and the human race in general, doesn’t quite live up to the universe.

Okay, well, I guess that’s a bit unfair.  Humanity is whatever it is in the universe, and it could not be otherwise than it is, by the laws of physics.  Everettian Many Worlds might seem to make things a bit questionable here, but General Relativity (which has a much more confirmed status) certainly seems to show that the past, the present, and the future** all already exist, or still exist, or “always” exist, whatever that even means when you’re talking about the totality of space and time itself.

And, yes, this implies that free will, in the purest sense, does not exist.  But then again, how could it?  It’s not even coherent from a philosophical or psychological point of view, let alone from that of physics.  If you think you have free will that somehow rises above the laws of physics, then try drinking three martinis within the course of an hour on an empty stomach and choose not to be drunk.  Your brain is a physical organ, and your personality, your alertness, your willpower, your self-control are all dependent on the state of that brain—indeed, they are part of the state of that brain.

For that matter, try having long-term insomnia and a neurodevelopmental disorder and chronic mood disorder and and see if it doesn’t affect your outlook and your ability to tolerate and deal with the slings and arrows of day to day life.  Try not to be grumpy and impatient and diffident and anxious and stressed-out.  Maybe the insomnia will be part of the cause of a chronic mood disorder for you; or maybe the chronic mood disorder causes it.  Or, more likely, the things feed back on each other in the ridiculously complex system that is the brain, like a hurricane that becomes self-sustaining in the right conditions.  Anyway, it’ll make you think and feel stupid things that will make you hate yourself even more than you already do, believe me.

At least, that’s the way it’ll work if you’re identical to me.  Which you’re not, of course.  Unless you are me, from the future, looking back and rereading this former blog post at some later time.  But then, of course, you still won’t be identical to the me that’s writing this, will you?  You’ll be a future version of me, later in my timeline, in the one future that exists, if there is only one, or in some subset of the many worlds of quantum mechanics, if that is the correct description of quantum mechanics.  But whatever that future is or is not, whether there are many versions of it or just one, it will be whatever it will be, and the nature of it is and will be whatever it is and will be, and I do not have any choice in that matter.

Neither do you.

*From the Latin mundus for “the world”.

**Which, by the way, are not universal concepts but are applicable only with reference to any given world line, and any point, arbitrarily chosen, in spacetime.  What’s past to some might be future to others, yet they all might be thought to be simultaneous to yet a third observer.

It blinded me…with science!

It’s Saturday morning, and I’m at the train station quite a bit too early for the first northbound train of the day.  I woke up much earlier yet, quite a bit earlier than I would need to wake up to get even to the train I usually take in the morning during the week.  Yet the office opens for business an hour later on Saturdays than during the week, so there’s no office-related reason for me to get up or leave so early.  I just can’t seem to sleep all the way through the night.

This morning, I woke up at about 2:30 am, and I couldn’t get back to sleep after that.  This isn’t unusual.  I do go to bed relatively early—starting to wrap things up about 9 pm, most nights—because even if I don’t get to sleep early, I still tend to wake up early, so if I want to get at least some sleep, I need to go to bed early.  Then I can wind down and relax a bit, watch a few videos I’ve seen before*, and hopefully drop off before eleven.

Last night I was able to do that, but I woke up unable to relax again, so I decided to watch a video I had marked for myself to check out.  It’s about the basic math and ideas regarding the strong nuclear force and “color” charge, as it relates to spin, and to regular charge, and to the Pauli exclusion principle.

It sounds dense, I know, but it’s actually quite fun—I’ll embed the video below, because I think anyone interested in such things might enjoy it.  The guy speaking just obviously loves his subject, and even gets transported with delight in explaining the analogy to the way our eyes process “real” color out in the world, and how color television and monitors work.  This analogy is, evidently, why physicists used the term “color” to describe the interactions in the strong nuclear force, which has nothing to do with actual colors as we normally use the term.

There are some vectors and ket notation stuff in the video, but it’s not really necessary to understand it specifically.  The presenter does a good job of conveying the gist, and it’s quite wonderful.  After watching it, I felt that I understood the strong force significantly better than I had before, and that’s one of those rare, reliable good feelings.

I often wish I had stuck with my original intent to go into Physics as a career.  Unfortunately, my path was derailed when I was found to have a congenital heart defect** that had to be surgically corrected.  Heart-lung bypass, such as happens when one has open-heart surgery, has cerebral effects because of the “unnatural” way the brain is perfused with blood during the process, and it often causes transient cognitive deficits.

This is not the only cerebral dysfunction that can manifest.   I realized only in retrospect that I had another one as well—for the first few hours after I awakened from my surgery, I was blind.  At the time I just assumed something was covering my eyes, in addition to the ventilator in my mouth, the three chest tubes, the straps holding both of my wrists, and the more-than-one IV line I had.  I didn’t think much of the blindness because I had other things on my mind.  It was very painful to have open-heart surgery, surprisingly enough.

Anyway, being 18 years old at the time, I recovered from a lot of the other stuff pretty quickly.  But I had a a temporary cognitive deficit.  It was not enough to make me need to take a year off college or anything—it never would have occurred to me even to consider such a show of “weakness”.  I did, however, find the calculus and physics classes in second year as a physics major too difficult to keep up with, and that was frustrating.

It was not helped by the fact that I had been triggered—again, not at all an unusual effect of heart-lung bypass—to have a significant exacerbation of my dysthymia into what was probably my first real, full-blown bout of major depression.

Faced with my difficulties, and at that time thinking I would be in the Navy after college anyway, I had to switch majors to English.  This is not a horrible thing, obviously.  I love English—the language and the literature in general—and I love to read, and obviously I’m a writer.  My overall GPA did, however, go down slightly compared to Physics (not counting the first semester after my surgery), and it turns out this was probably at least partly due to my other ASD.  I had a terrible time in those small-group classes because I did not know when to comment, when to ask questions, or even where people were getting their thoughts and ideas about the various things we were reading.  I liked the stories, and I liked wordplay and intricate language, but the process of discussion and interpretation and interaction about it all was thoroughly puzzling to me.  And needless to say, writing essays that would please the professors was a tall order; I had no idea what they might want.

Obviously I got through the rest of college, though not without lots of heart-rending things happening—personal, familial, career-wise, psychiatric/psychological, physical***—and found myself deciding to go to medical school because I had to do something, I had relevant personal experience, and I love Biology almost as much as Physics.  Medicine was a career in which I could do a lot of good, and it was basically zero risk.

By “zero risk” I mean, I knew that I could get into and pass medical school.  The sorts of things required are right in my wheelhouse:  standardized tests, Chemistry, Biology, dealing with things other people think are “gross”, remembering and understanding complex systems and their interactions—things with actual, concrete answers.  And I’m actually pretty good at caring for other people.  It’s not that it wasn’t hard work, don’t get me wrong.  But it was work I knew that I could do, unlike—for instance—understanding what I should write to get an A on an essay about The Faerie Queene.

Of course, had I not gone into medicine, other things would not have happened that have been thoroughly catastrophic for my life, from which I have not even come close to recovering.  But I cannot and will not ever truly regret anything that happened before the birth of children, so I don’t truly regret not going into Physics as a career.

But it would be nice to have someone around in my actual life with whom I could have conversations about stuff that really interests me, apart from stories, which I seem to have lost my knack for enjoying.  At best, I can sometimes tell the other people around me about some interesting fact or concept, and sometimes they’ll appreciate how cool it is, but then that’s that.  Anyway, I seem to have lost most, if not all, of the social skills I’d had in the past, so it’s hard even to imagine seeking out someplace to interact with such people.

Oh, well.  No one (with authority to do so) ever promised that life would be satisfying, and many smart people have reckoned that life is inherently unsatisfying, so I have no one but myself with whom to lodge any complaints.  The universe is the way it is.  We were not asked for input when it came into existence, and we do not have veto power over any of the facts of nature.

I won’t endorse the old tee-shirt slogan, “There is no gravity—the Earth sucks”.  But I will rather cheerily say, “There is no gravity—the universe is just warped.”  It’s a nerd joke I came up with myself (though others probably have done so also), and so I like it.  It’s also, basically, true.

*I watch previously seen ones so that I don’t get engaged in thinking about new things too late at night, because that can keep me up even more than usual.

**An atrial septal defect, shortened to ASD, but not to be confused with the more commonly seen modern acronym for Autism Spectrum Disorder, which I seem also to have.  So, interestingly, I was born with two ASDs, one discovered at age 18 and surgically corrected, the other discovered or realized (by me, anyway) when I was just over 50, and it cannot be corrected, per se.  I’ve done a literature search and skimmed through some papers, and it seems there is a higher incidence of such cardiac defects in people with Autism Spectrum Disorders, but the reason for the correlation is not at all clear.

***No one goes through open heart surgery without some physical sequelae.

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.

You Were and Have Been Warned

Well, as I warned you would happen, it’s Saturday, and I’m doing a blog post, because I work today.  And, as I also warned you, I did in fact post my video The Superman Neutrino Hypothesis to YouTube yesterday afternoon, and I’ll embed it here, below this sentence.

As you’ll see when you watch it (or have seen, if you’ve already watched it), it’s just a bit of meandering, rather silly stuff, with me applying scientifically valid physical thoughts and questions (and making a few arithmetic errors along the way) to the nature of a comic book hero—the most archetypal comic book hero, though never one of my personal favorites—whose powers have always been rather puzzling to me.

Not that such puzzlement is surprising or unusual.  There’s no good explanation for most of the many powers superheroes have.  I think the closest I’ve seen to someone trying to give a “mundane” physical explanation for a superpower was when, in the first Spider-Man movie, they zoomed in on Peter Parker’s fingers and we saw squillions of tiny little gripping projections growing out of his fingers.  Presumably the same thing was happening with his toes.

But then, if that’s the explanation for his ability to stick to and climb walls, how does it work when he’s wearing gloves and boots?  Did he somehow design a special fabric so fine and porous that it would let this “stickiness” come through, undiminished?  How in the world did a teenager from Queens, however brilliant he might be, come up with such a thing?

At least Sam Raimi had the sense not to have Peter Parker just invent his webbing—which would be an almost Nobel-worthy breakthrough in materials science and engineering and possibly condensed matter physics—in his little house in a poor neighborhood in Queens.  Then again, Raimi still had to make the webbing come from Peter’s wrists, for valid, story-based reasons, but that fact is rather odd.  No spider secretes web from near the ends of its legs, but rather from glands in its posterior (or “abdomen”).

If Peter had developed a more natural bodily location for the production of his webbing, that would have made for an awkward superhero, huh?  Raimi was probably right not to do that.

Anyway, that’s pretty much all I have to talk about for today.  This is quite a departure for me in terms of post length, and I don’t know if people in general will be happy or disappointed that it’s so comparatively short.  It doesn’t matter much, either way, though.  I’m just not interested in writing much, today.  I’m not interested in doing much.  My back and legs have been acting up even worse than usual these past several days, and that’s saying something.  In addition, and possibly exacerbated by that pain, I’m almost always stressed out, whether at work or at the house or even during my commute, though the latter is perhaps the least stressful time.

It really gets old.  I’ve got to do something about all this; it’s just not worth the effort to keep going, especially when there’s really nothing at all to which to look forward.  My “epic quest” looks harder to carry out when my pain is so severe, though I’m trying to find ways to counter that.  Otherwise, I feel like just giving up on it, and on everything else, and just shutting down the game.

I guess we’ll see what happens.

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.

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.