Thursday, July 22, 2010

An Enormously Complicated Topic: Part One

For some reason, I've been thinking an awful lot lately about science and physics.  This is odd for me, as usually the things I think a lot about are related to music, talking puppets, or my wife's expanding belly.  And further, if it's something serious and not one of those things, it's something like leadership and marketing, as you may have noticed in this blog.  But recently my mind has been going off on weird and headache-inducing tangents into the realms of theoretical physics and infinity paradoxes.  Along the way, I've thought my way through something that seems to imply that the universe and everything around us is not really what we think it is.  More likely than not, my conclusions are a direct result of me not sufficiently understanding that which I'm thinking about.  But indulge me.  Maybe it'll be educational for both of us.

I suppose I should predicate this discussion with an admission that I am a Christian.  Some people would likely say that my religious nature makes it impossible for me to rationally discuss science; however, I humbly submit that I am a Christian because of science, not in spite of science. 
Like many young indoctrinated religious folk, I found myself questioning my faith when I arrived at university.  So I embarked on a journey of scientific exploration, attempting to decipher what I could of the truth behind the Bible.  When I emerged from my research and reflection, I was surprised to find I was still a Christian, a much stronger one, and perhaps I hadn't even truly been a Christian before my studies.  I found that if you approach science without any bias, the facts supported the existence of God, and a historical and especially political examination of the Bible supported the story of Jesus.  The fact that I'm a Christian doesn't make me less of a realistic science explorer, but the fact that I'm a junior science explorer does make me a better Christian, I think.  I didn't and don't approach science seeking to specifically prove or disprove religion; I approached and approach it to discover the truth, whatever it may be.  The only question you should have is whether or not you can believe my claims of impartiality.

Premise #1:  The universe is infinite.  The two most popular theories of the creation of the universe are currently (a) the Big God Theory, and (b) the Big Bang Theory.  The second theory states that about 13 billion years ago, the universe was nothing but a (relatively) small hot ball of matter, one that exploded outwards, expanding as it went and continuing to move to this day, creating the universe as we know it.  The first theory states that God created the universe, mostly out of boredom and creative impulse (as far as we know).  And then there's the Big GodBang Theory (or the Big BangGod Theory, a name I don't personally like because it sounds too much like a dubious city in Thailand), which points out that the two really aren't mutually exclusive, wondering if God perhaps caused a Big Bang, or if a Big Bang created God.

As a tangent, I'd like to point out that all theories display our true human ignorance, as neither really identifies a root beginning.  In the Big Bang Theory, how was that initial small hot ball of matter created?  And in the Big God Theory, where'd God come from?  In the former case, our science is woefully incomplete, and in the second, our deity has chosen not to share some of the details with us (which is that deity's right, certainly!).  Obviously, there's a lot more to God and creation than any of us know.

At this point in our study, it doesn't really matter which theory you believe, if either of them.  That comes later.  The point is, in both theories the universe is created and it is infinite.  The infinity is assumed, as there's only so far we can see with our best telescopes... but it's hard to imagine something other than infinity.  What are the alternatives?  Is there a huge wall of some sort out there boxing the universe in?  Or is it like a video game where you warp around to the other side when you get to the edge?  Both of those are difficult to believe, and there is no evidence to support either.  It's equally likely that the entire universe is enclosed in a barrier composed of trillions and trillions of acres of lemon custard ice cream.  Which would be kind of nice, actually, since it's my favorite.

It's difficult to imagine infinity, because our brains aren't equipped to handle it.  It means that the universe goes on and on forever, without end.  Say I were to chain Kenny Chesney to a rocket with unlimited fuel, and then have it blast off from earth.  If Kenny and his rocket were to move in a straight line, and if I were to time it just right so that Kenny's rocket never hit any planets, stars, comets, black holes, or other galactic debris... they'd just go on forever.  Kenny wouldn't hit a wall or impenetrable barrier of any kind, and he wouldn't somehow "wrap around" to the other end of the universe (like Pac-Man going off the edge of the maze, or flying around the entire earth back to where you started).  Kenny would go forever, ever farther and farther away from the Earth, and he'd always see new things and never cross his own path.  Infinity goes on infinitely.  As Douglas Adams once said, space is staggeringly huge, and Kenny would just keep on getting further and further away from us.

Premise #2:  Matter in the universe is infinite, too.  And because the universe is infinite, many theories postulate that matter is likely infinite as well.  This isn't as solid a belief as an infinite universe, mind you, but it seems likely.  One of the most basic principles of cosmology is that matter is distributed evenly throughout the universe.  If that's true, and if it's true that the universe goes on infinitely, then the matter within it would have to be pretty infinite too.  So what this means is that Kenny Chesney's rocket would continue to pass new stars, planets, asteroids, comets, and other astronomical bodies as he continued on his journey into infinity (and, by happy coincidence, farther and farther away from me).

This means that there are an infinite number of planets out there, an infinite number of stars, and an infinite number of... well, everything. And I do mean everything.  Do you see where I'm going with this?

If not, I'll keep this chain of thought going next time by explaining how you can write Shakespeare with an infinite number of monkeys, shotguns, and stop signs.  It'll be fun.  Or boring.  All depends on how you look at it.

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