Size Matters

Carl Sagan and the Cosmos

Size Matters. I might have chosen a subtitle, something of the gist, “A Universe of Endless Possibilities,” which is, after all, the intended message of the post. But I wanted to relish the endless puns inherent in the chosen title.

Let us imagine a world of people not unlike us, a young race brimming with curiosity and innovation, riddled with naivete and ignorance. The Uriyons we could call them, paralleling our own development rather exactly. They are both very near to us and very far because their world is actually composed of us. They are beings that span the cosmos, each one the size of our universe. In fact, you can imagine that each being is actually a separate universe, that our universe as a whole actually forms a conscious being with a body that seems solid and physical to him much like our own does to us. We shall call our universe Blake Blorks, for the hell of it, and treat him as a member of his own society—to us cosmic, to him mundane. It is through the looking glass of his knowledge of Uriyon history and science that we shall peer.

The Uriyons did not know much about the nature or composition of matter until the first microscope was invented. With it they observed cells for the first time and came to understand that there were “building blocks” which composed living things. Later advances in chemistry allowed them to infer “molecular” interactions and predict the presence of subunits of which all matter was made, the smallest building blocks of matter: “atoms.” They discovered odd spiral-shaped structures that had unique properties, and named them “molecules.” With the beginnings of the Uriyon version of “quantum mechanics” they came to better understand that molecules were made up of “atoms” which had a concentrated, tiny center mass surrounded by orbiting bodies of much smaller mass, namely the “nucleus” and “electrons.” These “atoms” presented the smallest known occurrences of matter and appeared indivisible.

As Uriyon “quantum mechanics” triumphed and “computers” and “particle accelerators” were invented, it was discovered that what was previously thought to be the end-all-be-all of matter, the “atom,” was in fact composed of subatomic particles for which a myriad of names were invented. They called these inconceivably small particles things like “up boulder” and “down boulder,” and “strange gas cloud” and “charm gas cloud.” They could crash the nuclei of atoms into each other and tiny things flew out that they called “asteroids” and “comets.” The physicists could hardly keep up with the experimentalists.

Now that the “true” nature of matter has been explored, the Uriyons feel pretty confident that they are just about finished unearthing the size scale of their universe. After all, they can’t see anything smaller. There’s no reason to predict the existence of anything smaller. Surely thinking about such particles as point-like, solid, uniform, and indivisible is the most correct and proper way of thinking.

Then some Uriyon fellow called Blake Blorks comes along and suggests that anything and everything could be hidden from us within the as yet undiscoverable sub-particle realm. He argues that Uriyon physics only goes as far as the laboratory, that we can only model what we can detect with our instruments, but that there is no reason not to believe that fantastically small worlds could exist in this realm. His peers laugh at his notions and smile knowingly amongst each other that such ideas are nonsensical, but Blake knows all too well that the reactions of this contemporaries are the result of ignorance.

Blake goes on to conjecture that deep within atoms there could be worlds not unlike Uriyon on which people, called Earthlings, could live. Such people and their worlds could themselves be composed of cells and molecules and atoms, and those atoms could be composed of worlds, and how could we know when it would ever stop? It’s all a matter of how big our magnifying glass is. These Earthlings may not know that Uriyons exist at all because their figurative field of vision does not extend that far. Instead, they would have their own naming scheme for appearances of matter. Instead of molecules, they would call the spirals “galaxies.” Instead of atoms, they would say “solar-systems” and call the nucleus and orbiting electrons the “sun” and “planets” respectively.

Let us emerge now from our allegory to the final point of the discussion, which hopefully you’ve figured out by now. I cannot stress enough the over-arching message that will envelope many of my writings. That is, just because we haven’t seen it does not mean it doesn’t exist. Just because we haven’t witnessed it does not mean it’s impossible. Just because we don’t understand it does not mean it’s ludicrous.

Let us refer to Star Wars as a fun way to close the idea. For those who have seen Episode I, you may remember reference to “midichlorians.” You can follow the link on your own, but basically they are fantasized to be microscopic life forms residing inside our cells, and those of all living things, that we have some sort of symbiotic and communicative relationship with (ie., they tell us of “the Force”). Of course, I do not claim to personally believe or disbelieve this kind of supposition, but part of the reason it is nice to mention is because of the general and overwhelming opinion that such an idea is complete rubbish and is obviously false. If you learned anything from this article, you should be in a position to retort, “who are you to say it’s false? We actually have no way of knowing that it isn’t true and, furthermore, there is no reason to believe it isn’t true!”

Surprisingly, one could use a variety of phenomenon to argue the existence of midichlorians. Whenever people feel intuition or premonition, this could be the midichlorians. Whenever people experience deja-vu or have dreams about the future, this could be the midichlorians. Whenever people claim to have preternatural abilities or experiences such as telepathy, telekinesis, gut-feelings, or manifestation, this could be the midichlorians. Whenever people feel the “spirit of mother nature” or interconnected or talk about feeling “energy…,” well, you get the idea. Doesn’t sound so ridiculous when you think about it. We just don’t know enough yet about the universe.

And for any of you physics people out there, I offer this joke:

“Truth decays into beauty, while beauty soon becomes merely charm. Charm ends up as strangeness, and even that doesn’t last, but up and down are forever.” – The Laws of Physics

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