Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Dose of Wonder

Just finished Atheist Universe, but in the midst of reading it, I ran across this interesting--among many--paragraph:

Cosmologists have described the sudden appearance of matter out of what appears to e completely empty space. Matter may spontaneously appear in one of two ways: (1) from a preexisting energy field, or (2) from quite literally nothing. The reason why this later appearance of matter--i.e., the zero-state theory--does not violate the mass-energy conservation law is that the matter produced in this way is composed equally of positive and negative energy in the generation of accompanying gravitational fields. When combined mathematically, both forms of energy precisely cancel out each other, resulting in a :zero state". It is quite possible that the universe as a while may have a sum total of zero energy. Vacuum fluctuation physics is an esoteric field of study, but the important point to remember here is that, once again, the universe may be understood and explained through natural science, rather than supernatural mysticism.

(My bold.)

There aren't even enough exclamation points to describe my excitement over this branch of Physics--one that I literally can't quite wrap my brain around yet.

There's something thrilling and delicious about a science that just yesterday, I hadn't even suspected existed. I was literally dancing in my chair to finish the book--which only had, like, twenty pages left at that point--so I could wiki these two new-to-me terms. Didn't find zero-state in the Great Repository of all semi-factual knowledge, but I did find vacuum fluctuations. Well, I was redirected from there to "Virtual Particles".

As predicted, my brain is too confoozled to spasm, too dazzled to even say, "WTF?!"

I'm in love with something I don't understand, simply because there's some hope, however slight, that I may someday understand it, and therefore understand something significant about the way our universe works, and how it got this way.

I'm still new to all this anti-woo, to excercising my brain to understand answers, rather than just taking them on faith, however well-placed. It's kinda bracing to be a little less intellectually lazy.

In not-entirely-unrelated news, watching Cosmos, Sagan does this formula for calculating how many planets in the universe might have intelligent life. It was algebra, of course, my arch-nemesis, and bane of my existence. The thing that toppled me from the honor-roll in junior high and kept me off permanently (though, yeah, physical science kinda helped. It was a tag-team beat-down).

Anyway, I could follow the formula.

It made sense, didn't seem to have all the crazy moving parts that algebra used to when I was in school. It was simple (thankfully, he only used round numbers, no decimals), and yes, elegant. Beautiful.

And not because I suddenly love algebra and wanna marry it, though I'm starting to see the use of it--as opposed to merely being told it's useful. Algebra was used to calculate something I actually enjoy comtemplating, rather than the time of the crash of trains rushing, for no reason I could ever see, toward each other at varying rates of speed.

I'm now firmly of the opinion that, if in school, we'd been shown how to calculate the possibility of intelligent life on other planets instead of the precise time of train crashes, maybe I'd have done better at algebra. Not necessarily Will Hunting-better at it, but at least better than my usual hard-won C-.

Which isn't to say the blame isn't mostly mine--if I can't motivate me to learn, no one else will, corporal punishment quite aside. I decided fairly early that algebra was useless to me, and so never took to it. But everything is marketing. English and history were marketed to me in a way that made them attractive. Why so many teachers drop the ball in math and science is beyond me. Just a little razzmatazz with the numbers and voila! You've made a difference in a young student's life . . . or whatever.

Well, my primary and secondary schools were religious in nature, Baptist then Catholic. I suppose algebra taught as a series of fiery, awful deaths would be more in keeping with the overall themes of the religions themselves. . . .

"If wishes was horses, we'd all be eatin' steak."--Jayne Cobb


  1. Your enthusiasm is always so damn infectious! Good stuff! I've just started the Origin of Species. Love that Victorian prose. I've decided that this year is going to be one of classics. I've lined up the Iliad next. I'm nerdily excited about all this literature.

  2. Your enthusiasm is always so damn infectious! Good stuff!

    You're way too kind . . . or possibly drunk. . . .

    I've just started the Origin of Species. Love that Victorian prose.

    You're doing better than me, then. It's easier reading Shakespeare--which I've long since stopped expecting to be in English--than Victorian prose. Or maybe it's just that it's science-y and Victorian-y.

    I've decided that this year is going to be one of classics.

    I've decided that this year will be one of the Ox.

    Okay, maybe the Chinese contributed a little to that decision. Though on a more personal front, I want this year to be about actually thinking critically about everything--examining everything. And if the year works out, who knows . . . maybe I could even try a lifetime of the same :)

    I've lined up the Iliad next.

    One of my English teachers--not one of the awesome ones--made my seven grade class tackle that, and the Odyssey. I didn't really like either, but I liked the Iliad better than the Odyssey. And Oedipus Rex better than either. Incest and blind psychics really do liven up a yawner of a story.

    I'm nerdily excited about all this literature.

    And I'm excited for you. But in a cool, bad-ass sort of way.
    ::pops collar::

  3. I do tend to drink a fair amount these days. Probably because it's too cold to go outside and exercise, so I have to fill the time I would be running with other meaningful activities.

    Also, I said I just started the Origin. I haven't managed to get much beyond p 30 yet. There's a huge chunk on pigeons. Apparently they were fascinating creatures. I personally hate them, though maybe that's just because I've only come into contact with the garden variety, unlike Darwin.

    I also liked Oedipus. Remind me to tell you about my epiphany some time. It was over the winter holidays. I saw a topless girl on a beach, and she had the biggest nipples I've ever seen. It inspired a realization in me that might go some lengths to explaining the Oedipus complex. But I've had too many beers right now, so it'll have to wait.


    PS - I've never been cool enough to pull off the popped collar. Dammit.