Saturday, August 16, 2008

Deep Thoughts

So I was recently loaned an Organic Chemistry textbook by my brother-in-law who teaches the same at Ball State in Indiana. It happens to be a topic I have wanted to pursue ever since I figured out I wouldn't have enough credits (or money, or time) to learn it in school. That's what's great about having brainiac brother-in-laws (brothers-in-law? see...).

Point being, it's deep stuff. I like, no *love* deep stuff. I like to graze around in the depths of topics that are, as a whole, mostly beyond me. I figure that by doing so I might somehow coddle together a vague idea of what life is all about. Along the way perhaps, I'll also bring some of that knowledge into my head and keep it warm for a little while until I leave [Paul Erdos -- thanks for the book, Mom!].

Here's an example of deep stuff I enjoy...more on Organic Chemistry later:

I recently read "The Big Bang Never Happened: A Startling Refutation of the Dominant Theory of the Origin of the Universe" by Eric J. Lerner. Yeeesh, what a title! It describes an alternative theory to the origin of the Universe. Plasma cosmology theory basically states that everything formed from electromagnetic vortices and plasma interacting in ways that makes them twist and spin together tightly enough to form universes of stars, galaxies, super-cluster galaxies, etc. It postulates that the Universe is far older than the 14billion-or-so years the Big Bang theorists propose. Evidence of this, so it goes, is in the sheer immensity of some of the large-scale structures observable in our Universe, such as super-cluster galaxies. In fact, the author proposes an evolutionary model of the Universe that "has no beginning or end". The Universe is just a constantly evolving entity.

No sooner had I put this down, convinced that the Big Bang theory was dead [while also making a mental note to check recent events as the book was published back in 1992], when I picked up and read "Atom: A Single Oxygen Atom's Journey from the Big Bang to Life On Earth and Beyond" by Lawrence M. Krauss. Yeeesh, what a title! This is a story of, as you would hopefully expect, a single oxygen atom's...well...okay. The basic premise is that atoms are born but very rarely die. So rarely in fact that we will probably never see one before the Universe goes belly-up (or so I gathered). And, how are atoms born? From the fiery-yet-ever-so-tiny furnace that was the Big Bang, of course. From there they are spewed outward and form clusters of what will become stars; inside the stars they begin to clump together more protons/neutrons and form higher elements; lather, rinse, and repeat, and we are. It was a very interesting journey, I've never really thought about atoms as things that persist. I never thought about atoms dying. When I die, my atoms will become part of something else. Now that, they teach you in church.

So I read these two books and am still totally confused, but that is a good feeling. Did the Big Bang happen or not? I'd like to think not. If the Universe was born it has to die. Are atoms born? If so, they too must die. But we haven't seen one die yet. Do we know what we are looking for?

Perhaps the birth of a Universe is something we just can't (yet?) grasp. We cuddle up to the Big Bang theory because it sounds cool and gives us a point (literally) of reference. But then again, it also alludes to possible points of exit (ie. Universe death). The Universe will die, either by continued expansion leading to heat death (every atom in the Universe separated by such a great distance that there is minimal interaction between them and thus no heat generated to perform work or sustain life, or at least nowhere near enough to fire up another atom-forming star cauldron), or by a crunch back down to the singularity-sized Big Bang predecessor. But if you believe Eric J. Lerner you will wonder if we're making our observations match the Big Bang theory just because that's what we want to believe happened.

So if there was a Big But what caused it? If the Universe is a continually evolving and even-more-gigantic/old-than-we-can-fathom But what caused it?

It's this kind of mess that keeps me on my toes.

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