April 30, 2009

Pessimistic Reading of Physical Renderings

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Society teaches us that science has no limits; that you and I can be whatever we want to be, do whatever we want to do, and that scientists are nothing but an utter bouquet of bright minds moving from grass to grace, sharing their knowledge with all and sundry, passing on the ‘Universalistic’ torch inscribed with the message: all is possible in the name of science. True to its nature, the more we learn about the physical world the smaller it gets, the more justifications we come up with for branching out of our egg-shell shaped Earth, for exploring the Moon, the stars, the Milky Way, the Universe. But whence come our limit, if any? When will the knowledge we’ve garnered tell us: “this is the end [of the road] for you my friend?” When do we know we have to asymptote — get closer and closer to a point — but never attain its true meaning? When?

Answer: When the real science comes in; when we fathom that the world, the Universe, is more complicated than it is, and that the body of science that is socially constructed to explore the massive earth and its surroundings is limited by our own nature and the knowledge we’ve created. So that when mom and dad say, “Daughter, you can be whatever you want to be,” the best follow-up is, “Ah no! Not that easy, at least according to the physical world, which suggests that:

1) You and I can create racing machines (rockets, space ships) and speed them up (accelerate) for as fast as we wish, but never reach 300,000,000 meters-per-second or about 670,000,000 miles-per-hour, the speed of light (c), talk less of exceeding that number.

2) That being massive — having weight — limits us to how fast we can go, how far we can get.

At least those were (and are) the suggestions that propped up after thousands of years of ‘classical physics.’ And before this form of ‘pessimistic’ science came into being, our physicist-ancestors believed that, with the power of the mathematical equations, all things were known, that they could foretell the future of the planet, and that the past determined the present. But they were wrong; ends didn’t justify the means, light-dating only told us what happened zillions of years ago and not what would happen today, tomorrow, Slope Day or 2012. They were also wrong. Their study of the physical world was far too simplistic to attain such a comfortable generalization — too many variables existed, yet very few represented in their happy-go-lucky formulas.

And over time scientists, so-named by virtue of their knowledge when compared against the standards of their society, noticed that, all things being equal, the physical world is relative. This didn’t disrupt so much of traditional way of thinking until around 1900, when two Alberts — one an Einstein and the other a Michelson — and E. W. Morley turned the table around, leading to several chains of reactions and the birth of uncertainty. Through them (and others, of course) — for better or for worse — we forwent the absolute truth of physics and invited in pessimistic language like: ‘relativity’ in space (size) and time, ‘threshold’ frequency, the ‘forbidden’ zone, the Ultraviolet catastrophe, the ‘Uncertainty’ Principle, and probability (chance)!

What they taught us:

1. Aim for what you can. You can’t have it all! There’s a lot you can never touch, never see, never feel. For all they cared, we could invest billions and billions of dollars into the creation of spaceships that would fly at ultra-fast speeds, but we’d always fall short, and the best we can get each time is adding yet another 9 to the laundry list of 99.9999Xxxdjxmsls percent of c. Add to that, we have to sacrifice one thing for another, for all they cared. We can locate X but the more we know about the position, the less we can tell about the momentum (nature of the force-ish) of the object, the more we know about the time it takes complete a job, the less we can draw out about the energy required. In fact, most things that matter are governed by probability. There’s no certainty that X will happen at place Y in time T with Z horsepower. In a way, we (will/can only) know very little.

2. You could be 5’ 4” and 4’ 11” at the same time depending on whether you’re flying or standing. I can be slow and fast at the same time, depending on who’s racing with me. And Sarah can be 80 while her twin sister is 60 years-old, depending on where each of them live. In other words, the word ‘absolute’ seem a bit unfathomable even after a millennia of studying the physical world. Pointblank: dualities must exist. And as illogical as it may sound, you can be on the fence and simultaneously be decided by the dictates of the laws of relativity, depending on who is judging you.

3. Indirectly, light dictates life. Light sets the rule, the standards, the limit, the knowledge, the civilization, the power, the fourth-dimension — time! In fact, light is godlike and we’re but defined under its reign. We’re like its worshiper, its servant. We will never be free of its influence — at least through the food chain, with the exception of bacteria inhabiting the deepest depths of the ocean floor.

To wring everything we’ve known for thousands of years just to fit-in with a single theory, seemed nothing less of a revolution. So, what lies ahead? (Oops, I forgot we can’t be deterministic). Carl Sagan would say (if I had the chance of interviewing him on this topic) that we can’t escape our 3-dimensional-space world for a plethora-dimensional one. Are we then blinded from extraterrestrial (ET) objects because they have more spatial dimensions than we do? Can they see us without us seeing them just like we observe 1-D or 2-D materials/living things/without the subjects noticing us, having had no prior experience of the meaning of up or down? Could the answer to our limited world, Universal, view be hanging on this note? Does this mean all that begins has an end (in a Black Hole) since there’s a limit to everything in life? Or is there no vestige of a beginning no prospect of an end (James Hutton)? I invite you to visit these points.

Bon Voyage!