Three circles of dance

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

Burnt Norton (No. 1 of 'Four Quartets'), T.S. Eliot

Representational models of the cosmic velocity help to better understand the motion of the main structures in the local Universe. Those images trigger stories and connections in my head and open the gate to a new string of pictorial brain representations.  For the past few years, major discoveries have been made in the field of cosmography. Unanticipated discoveries have entered our frame of reference and changed the landscape of the known Universe in ways that we could not have predicted.


There is no well-motivated common framework to objectively define the constituents of the cosmic web, so there is no way of judging which methods are successful or which ones are - in some objective way - “better”.

Tracing the Cosmic Web

In our neck of the woods, the Local Void has a substantial dynamical effect. It pushes toward us the Maffei Group while members of the Local Group are drifting away in a well-established direction toward the south supergalactic pole.  Although our mapping of the Zone of Avoidance is incomplete, what we have so far observed is the combined perturbations due to repulsion from the Local Void and attraction toward the Virgo Cluster.  


Maffei 1 and 2 ( NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA)

Maffei 1 and 2 ( NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA)

Despite how critical the two videos included in this post are for our understanding of the cosmic web, cosmic flows in our larger vicinity appear today to show not one but two repulsion patterns. The one convergence point is the Great Attractor, an extension of the Shapley concentration of galaxies. In the ‘immense heaven’ named Laniakea Supercluster, motions are directed inwards, as water streams follow descending paths toward a valley at the bottom of which lies the Great Attractor



Repellers are much harder to identify than attractors.  They are the Dipole Repeller whose repulsion mechanism may be associated with a void, and further away from us, outside the range of our current observation capabilities, the Cold Spot Repeller recently identified in the proximate direction toward the Cold Spot that is a dominant-negative density feature of the cosmic microwave background. There appears to be increased evidence of a substantial void or succession of voids in that direction. 


The two visual representations of the cosmic velocity also included in this post show the flow streamlines seeded in the Dipole and Cold Spot repellers converging predominantly onto the Shapley and Perseus–Pisces attractors while anti-flow streamlines are seeded in the Shapley attractor, with flows traveling to the Cold Spot and Dipole repellers. The lines represent transport channels. They display the journey taken by large scale structures as if they had somewhere to go. Those rotational flows dance before my eyes. 


Three circles of dance

A gravitational tug-of-war is taking place. Inside the invisible celestial Sphere, plates-like walls and filaments slide as if they were running on a gravitational energy source. They move away from oceans of space and close in on other parts of the sky. They are migration streams,  flowing waters to a point of no return, primordial waves engulfing curls, and ripples of energy. They are timeflows. 


Three circles of dance

It is truly an immense background of energy. To the question “What sort of things flow?”: Star systems, galaxies, clusters, superclusters, walls, and filaments all flow. They are inflows and outflows of time. It isn’t just the flow of things but the things that make the flow, the cold accretion delivering fuel for star formation from cosmic web filaments to galactic disks. Those multiple flows within one flow trace the motion of time between the two very large underdensity areas of the sky -- The Dipole Repeller and the Cold Spot Repeller -- and the Great Attractor. 


We make our mind about the outside world within the confines of our head and look at the Universe from the vantage point of the Earth. We extend our rules of engagement to our local galaxy population and apply our lessons learned on the traffic flow of our local sheets and walls to the rest of the Universe. The thing about observation is the two steps we take: perception and differentiation. Multiple flows within one flow mean that we focus on motion rather than on matter to see the whole Universe. 


The alternative description from the velocity field independent of information about the distribution of galaxies is complementary.

Tracing the Cosmic Web

Grounded to the Earth as if she were solidly in place, matter feels more familiar to us. Even particles of dark matter, we expect them to be of a physical nature. But as it is for time, motion is an abstract, insubstantial concept. Depending on the way we look at it, is it that we are participating in the void expansion or responding to multiple overdensities outside the void? All is flux. My steps on the ground, the music in my ears, the traffic in the streets, the wheels turning, the clouds moving closer, the spreading of the morning light, the rain falling. All is energy-content flows within an unknown and undefinable totality of flowing movement. 


The poet is drawn to invisible flows rather than to physical entities and she responds to them by writing down words. Those rounds and circles, streams and rivers as if they were pulled by invisible strings of dark energy suggest the existence of a time that prevails over ours, outside of our immediate experience. Such a field of near-infinite potential energy could be thought of in connection with what Gregory Nixon called an ‘unknowable eternal Now’.  He suggested that a universal creative and conscious Now encompasses all the fragmented, monadological nows and that it hosts the passage of time. 




I saw a chipmunk on the porch, a chipmunk hidden in the trumpet vine climbing the wood trellis, a chipmunk walking on the fence, a chipmunk in the gutters sitting on the edge of the roof looking over the native plant garden. Can my observation of all those events truly be random? Serendipity becomes the value that we attach to them. But, for now, I wish I could watch the setting and rising of the sun from the Tip of the Castles.




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Published on by Catherine Toulsaly


I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o'er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.


Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the milky way,

They stretched in never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.


The waves beside them danced; but they

Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:

A poet could not but be gay,

In such a jocund company:

I gazed—and gazed—but little thought

What wealth the show to me had brought:


For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.

 (I wandered lonely as cloud, William Wordsworth)

I will try to walk very slowly and follow the path I chose as I wish not to break away from my initial motivations. So let me backtrack and reassess my earlier statements before moving on. The Universe, I feel, is busy expressing itself while Consciousness stays a step behind.  If there is such a thing as cosmic consciousness, somehow we feel cut off. Omniscience is not a thing either as far as we can tell. Our individual or human consciousness suffers from amnesia. Information flows drip by drip as our consciousness rises and grows in its struggling attempt to reach the far edges of the Universe.


Magnetars are neutron stars powered by an extremely powerful magnetic field. Among hundreds of billions of stars in the Milky Way and the Magellanic Clouds, only 30 are currently known. Moreover, we do not know of any magnetar outside of that region of the sky. I wonder how many of them may be accounted for among the 2.6 million galaxies cataloged in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Their low number could be explained by the fact that only a small proportion of neutron stars form and live briefly as magnetars, and that they usually remain hidden except if they exhibit a strong magnetic field. 


Magnetar 3XMM J185246.6+003317 near Supernova remnant Kesteven 79 (ESA/XMM-Newton/ Ping Zhou, Nanjing University, China)

Magnetar 3XMM J185246.6+003317 near Supernova remnant Kesteven 79 (ESA/XMM-Newton/ Ping Zhou, Nanjing University, China)


Fast Radio Bursts are millisecond-duration impulses. They allow us to figure out what to make of the unseen matter. Out of the thirty magnetars, only five were observed to have exhibited transient radio pulsations. The most radio-luminous event from any galactic magnetar -- SGR 1935+2154 in the constellation of Vulpecula -- was detected in April and is considered the first-ever observational connection between magnetars and Fast Radio Bursts. A new uncatalogued source -- Swift J1818.0−1607 -- discovered in March by the Swift X-ray telescope belongs to the small group of young neutron stars with properties straddling those of rotationally and magnetically powered pulsars. Its magnetic field is 70 quadrillion times stronger than that of Earth. In 2008, SGR 0501+4516 became the first recorded outburst from the first new SGR discovered in a decade. SGR stands for ‘soft gamma-ray repeaters’. 

...the frequent short bursts are associated with small cracks in the neutron star crust, driven by magnetic diffusion, or, alternatively, with the sudden loss of magnetic equilibrium through the development of a tearing instability, while the giant flares would be linked to global rearrangements of the magnetic field in the neutron stars magnetosphere and interior.

The first outburst of the new magnetar candidate SGR 0501+4516

Time rules over our understanding and knowledge of the Laws of Nature. Our observations appear to follow a particular timeline. In the world of science, we wonder whether accidental discoveries obey to a preexisting order, and how to “make sense out of their occurrence” *?  Unanticipated discoveries shake the foundations of our fragile system of rules and conventions. Whether it is scientific experiments unveiling unanticipated results or astronomical instruments uncovering strange sightings and new findings, what we can’t predict plays an important role in scientific discoveries. 


I wish to know what astronomers who work with Hubble for the past thirty years would say looking back about unsought findings. I am not talking about the unexpected surface of Asteroid Bennu that will render the sampling by OSIRIS-REx all the more challenging. What I am talking about is when macroscopic objects with not yet determined properties, such as asteroids, comets, and magnetars appear, I wonder about their timely discovery. Why were those 30 magnetars the first ones to be spotted? Even if I imagined a scenario in which the Universe is a clueless thing that reveals itself by expressing itself, still there is ‘order’ in how it shows itself.  What is the nature of that order? What makes those events unfold before our eyes the way they do? Science is left to write a discourse on the method used by the Universe to manifest itself before our eyes and our debate around the fire under our simmering pot of fundamentals and concepts amounts to a discussion on the principal rules of the method at hand. 


If, as James Baldwin was quoted as saying, “the great force of history comes from the fact that... we are unconsciously controlled by it”, could it mean that every random discovery is part of a larger scheme of things meant to guide us through the maze of the unknowable?


Blue mistflower

Blue mistflower

If the Universe were a macro-state, new comets and asteroids would be "hidden variables" coming into play, whose measurements are pieces of a puzzle. Consciousness is set to understand whether those encounters are the result of true randomness or the outcome of a deterministic pattern.



“An uncomfortable puzzle”, Robert Friedel writes, “is presented by the role of accident and chance”. Those unexpected ‘encounters’ may even be serendipitous.  First, when one is looking for one thing but finds another thing of value. Second, when one finds sought-for results, although by routes not logically deduced but luckily observed. Third, when one discovers things unsought and recognizes them for what they mean. The discovery of astronomical objects such as magnetars seems to fall into the third category. 

The quintessential joy of serendipitous science lies in its capacity to remind us that, as much as we know, we know only a fraction of what is to be known. As the accidents tell us and the sagacity to use them confirms, we do not even truly know what it is we do not know.

Robert Friedel

Some may not quite agree with the serendipitous nature of such events. According to Joseph Henry’s writings; the seeds of insights and discoveries “are constantly floating around us”, but they “only take root and germinate in minds well prepared to receive them”. Anecdotally his words are reminiscent of the story of the seeds and the Zen masters. Being well prepared and alert and taking advantage of relevant data and powerful instruments create the conditions for a serendipitous outcome. Discoveries tend to follow technical innovation, not theoretical predictions


Experience shows that when telescopes enter unexplored areas of observational phase space, they make unexpected discoveries, and these discoveries often outshine the specific goals for which the telescope was built.

The SKA Mid-frequency All-sky Continuum Survey: Discovering the unexpected and transforming radio-astronomy


Gilbert Murray, skeptical of the fact that an artistic creation could happen on the spur of the moment,  would object to Alexander by saying that preparation does not need to be ‘conscious’ and that the mind has by some process of thinking and feeling been prepared for it. What it sounds like is that in hindsight we may say that it is simply the outcome of favorable conditions but no one could foresee, even artists and poets, what the final shape of the creation would be. Allen Foster and Nigel Ford take the middle road by adding that the notion of serendipity arises from both conditions and strategies and should be regarded as both a purposive and a non‐purposive component of information seeking and related knowledge acquisition. It remains unclear to me to what extent and how ‘unconscious’ behavior plays a role in unsought findings.




Magnetars tell a story of stars’ life after death. What does it feel like to be a dead core of a once-massive star?  We’re told that we are made of star stuff.  Should we take comfort in knowing that there’s life after death?  Could we assume that we, too, will decay into another form of matter and energy?  Could that question be, in the back of my mind, the unconscious intent that drives me forward, softly patting me on the back and nudging me towards an answer? I heard that some thoughts are like comets, but others, I fear, are like tick trefoil seeds that you can’t get rid of. 

Is every step I make part of an already defined course of events or a truly random balancing act between non-locality and causality?

On the nature of metaphors

Ghostly ring around magnetar SGR 1900+14 (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Ghostly ring around magnetar SGR 1900+14 (NASA/JPL-Caltech)


The clouds were holding the Moon to prevent her from falling down. She played hide-and-seek, watched over by Jupiter shining above. She was round and foggy as if she were wrapped with a white cloth like the Veiled Nun. Words disappear and only ideas, I hope, stick. Odd shapes and exotic objects, comets ‘eccentric behavior, and magnetars’ unusual character are stuff poets are made of. What separates a scientist from a poet? Serendipity explains poets' urge to follow their intuition. They do not hesitate to embrace the influence of Providence, and to go against any method to reach their goals. I have been prone in the past to brush off unexpected occurrences in my life. I have learned lately to not dismiss them and keep my eyes open for serendipitous moments to occur. These days, I follow my intuition wherever it takes, pushing away boundaries. 

Golden rod

Golden rod


The structure of landscape is infinitesimal,

Like the structure of music,

seamless, invisible.

Even the rain has larger sutures.

What holds the landscape together, and what holds music together,

Is faith, it appears--faith of the eye, faith of the ear.

Nothing like that in language,

However, clouds chugging from west to east like blossoms

Blown by the wind.

April, and anything's possible.


Here is the story of Hsuan Tsang.

A Buddhist monk, he went from Xian to southern India

And back--on horseback, on camel-back, on elephant-back, and on


Ten thousand miles it took him, from 29 to 645,

Mountains and deserts,

In search of the Truth,

the heart of the heart of Reality,

The Law that would help him escape it,

And all its attendant and inescapable suffering.

And he found it.


These days, I look at things, not through them,

And sit down low, as far away from the sky as I can get.

The reef of the weeping cherry flourishes coral,

The neighbor's back porch light bulbs glow like anemones.

Squid-eyed Venus floats forth overhead.

This is the half hour, half-light, half-dark,

when everything starts to shine out,

And aphorisms skulk in the trees,

Their wings folded, their heads bowed.


Every true poem is a spark,

and aspires to the condition of the original fire

Arising out of the emptiness.

It is that same emptiness it wants to reignite.

It is that same engendering it wants to be re-engendered by.

Shooting stars.

April's identical,

celestial, wordless, burning down.

Its light is the light we commune by.

Its destination's our own, its hope is the hope we live with.


Wang Wei, on the other hand,

Before he was 30 years old bought his famous estate on the Wang River

Just east of the east end of the Southern Mountains,

and lived there,

Off and on, for the rest of his life.

He never travelled the landscape, but stayed inside it,

A part of nature himself, he thought.

And who would say no

To someone so bound up in solitude,

in failure, he thought, and suffering.


Afternoon sky the color of Cream of Wheat, a small

Dollop of butter hazily at the western edge.

Getting too old and lazy to write poems,

I watch the snowfall

From the apple trees.

Landscape, as Wang Wei says, softens the sharp edges of isolation.


(Body and Soul II, Charles Wright) 


Red lobelia

Red lobelia


* Robert K. Merton, The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity: A Study in Sociological Semantics 

Swamp milkweed

Swamp milkweed

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The Distance Revolution

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Who is crying in the distance?
Why is it so sad?
Ride a golden horse and see
That it's the past

Who is crying in the distance?
Why is it so sad?
Ride a gray horse and see
That it's the future

Who is crying in the distance?
Why is it so sad?
Ride a white horse and see
That it's Love

Who is crying in the distance?
Why is it so sad?
Ride a black horse and see
That it's Death

Song in Abyss by Ya Hsien, translated by John Balcom

The initial motivations for a theory, writes Chris Smeenk, are sometimes rendered dubious or superfluous by later work. In my own journey that began with a wish to define a relationship between Consciousness and the Universe, I agree that the above statement might be true given all the relevant issues that need to be considered in that relationship. Will my initial purpose be swamped by unforeseen ideas, washed away down the road by what I will end up expressing, clueless now of what it will be?   I would say no, but in the network of highways that cross through my mind, I am not conscious of what I will write till I have written it, and what it entails comes as a revelation even to me. For now, this is how I learn the ropes as I am jotting notes into my notepad.


In the past few decades, cosmology has become a precise science. Since History inconspicuously displaces itself in time and space, today’s explorers and cartographers are discovering stars and galaxies of a Whole New World separated by voids like lands are by seas. The Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS)  has created the most detailed three-dimensional maps of the Universe ever made. SDSS began with data collection from Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico and added that from the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile three years ago. Over the past 20 years, it has gone through various phases of operation. 




Galaxy redshift surveys, including SDSS I and II, BOSS, and eBOSS, measure three-dimensional positions of millions of galaxies in redshift space. In its 4th phase, SDSS has provided spectra for around 2.6 million unique galaxies covering over 11 billion years of cosmic time. In 2012, it started to include data of the spectra from the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS) which mapped the Universe on the largest scales. Its successor eBOSS focused on a cosmological survey of quasars and galaxies. In so doing, it has created the largest spectroscopic sample to date with 173 736 star-forming emission-line galaxies, half a million luminous red galaxies, and 330 000 quasars. Although quasi-stellar objects -- commonly known as quasars -- appear to shine like stars, they are not. They are phenomena powered by the accretion disks of active galactic nuclei. Due to their high intrinsic luminosity, they can be used as tracers of the large scale structure at high redshifts. 


Quasar 3C 273 (ESA/Hubble & NASA)

Quasar 3C 273 (ESA/Hubble & NASA)

I mentioned previously that we find ourselves in the center of an imaginary celestial Sphere, and our body seems to elongate itself, stretching its arms to reach beyond. I think that the distance revolution touches upon one of the most significant themes that I pursue, that is the idea of universalization. We are not anymore reaching by land and sea one continent after the other. We are set to conquer the Universe not physically but with our minds. When we talk about distance revolution, what it means is that by the mere fact that we are able to pinpoint the location of astronomical objects on a celestial map, our Universe becomes a more familiar face and appears closer to us. And those markers -- newly identified objects -- become themselves landmarks on our journey,  ports on a portolan chart that show us the way to future discoveries.



Waldseemüller's 1516 Carta Marina with possible contribution by the artist Albrecht Dürer

Waldseemüller's 1516 Carta Marina with possible contribution by the artist Albrecht Dürer


As I once wrote, poets imagine connections between almost everything.  I see the expansion of the celestial Sphere happening the way tectonic plates move apart, except that galaxies are not like crust anchored to a ‘solid’ space but floating on an invisible mantle. Their movement is not due to convection but to an invisible gravitational force. Shadowy points in the night sky like uncharted lands on the horizon are brought out of the darkness to tell a totally different story from what we expect.



Cosmologists look for clues to interpret celestial signs. Ingenuity allows them to find all sorts of ways to explain the unexplained. They look at the emission and absorption lines of galaxies,  measure baryon acoustic oscillations, and use to their advantage galaxy-scale strong gravitational lensing. The observation of the emission and absorption lines of galaxies gives an indication of their evolution phase, Clusters of galaxies are located at the intersection of filaments (and sheets) which radiate radio synchrotron emission, powered by the infall shocks of baryons. SDSS has been instrumental in the way we are increasingly using those  ‘frozen relics’ that are the baryon acoustic oscillations (BAO). 


BAO leave their imprint on the distribution of matter in the Universe as a characteristic separation scale between matter over-densities. This distance is found in the separation of gravitationally collapsed structures such as galaxies and quasars and can be used as a `standard ruler' by large-scale surveys to measure the evolution of the expansion of the Universe at different epochs.

The Completed SDSS-IV extended Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey: BAO and RSD measurements from the anisotropic power spectrum of the Quasar sample between redshift 0.8 and 2.2

 The eBOSS team’s measurement of the current rate of expansion of the Universe has confirmed that it is about 10 percent lower than the value found from distances to nearby galaxies. The study of the cosmic web and in particular the collection, analysis, and interpretation of the statistics pertaining to galaxy clustering, have fostered the publication of a great number of scientific papers. Large Scale Structure catalogs have become the basis for testing cosmological models. One research paper released a Spectroscopic Identification of Lensing Objects candidates. Another reported on the Halo Occupation Distribution model of Emission Line Galaxies. As part of the eBOSS program, the  Lyman-alpha forest is a probe that measured early structure in an equatorial region of the celestial Sphere -- the Stripe 82 field. Using those results, a paper presented a 3D map of large-scale matter fluctuations. The distribution of matter provided by the probe consists of absorptions in the electromagnetic spectrum of bright and distant sources such as quasars. 


The distance revolution is about how much more we can stretch ourselves to grasp, through a telescope’s lens or a radio receiver, the four corners of the Universe.  Our brain is a screening room where images and stories are projected onto the walls of our minds. Those images and stories in the form of 3D maps allow us to understand the workings of the Universe better than we would, have we only had at our disposal abstract thinking and mathematics.



Distance revolution also means taking down walls, popping each other’s bubble to remove the distance that separates us. Our extended mind rises to a new level, transcending what we understand by 'being human’.


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The Reign of Bubbles and Particles

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

The Reign of Bubbles and Particles

The legend says that since Portland’s founding, sightings of small green archers have been reported throughout downtown. Along with the archers, a celestial stag, a phantom building, and a huge tree have been spotted, time-to-time, throughout Old Portland.

The Green Man of Portland, Daniel Duford


A strange feeling washes over me when I travel from town to town. My body and mind seem bewildered as if they are trying to adjust to another universe. With its nonconformism, its Reedies gifted with an unusually independent mind and its community credit unions and low-cost cinemas, Portland holds a special place in my memory. From the ‘little green men’ to the Green Man of Portland.

To think is difficult. To think about nothing is more difficult than about something.

Lev Okun



A few days after I wrote Universalis Cosmographia -- a post on data visualization --  the most comprehensive 3D mapping of the Universe from 300 000 years on was released. I’ll dig into it next. But first, because of my deep interest in topics such as ‘time before time’, nothingness, or the essence of ‘being’, I am using this post as an opportunity to read a bit about the growing and ever-more complex world of particles.  


The spread of information depends upon the extent to which it is neither filtered, stopped nor altered as it bumps into the bubbles we, communities and individuals alike, live in.  My mind draws a parallel with the distant past and sets the stage of our preexistence. In a multiverse of bubbles only protected by the thickness of their walls, is our Universe bound to collapse or relatively stable? Lev Okun explained that what ‘primordial vacuum’ refers to is certain virtual states of particles



Turning to the multi-leveled stage of bubbles and elementary particles, from larger to smaller scales, could they too communicate with each other?  We paint a picture of their rise and fall. As our holobiont-like Universe enters infancy, its own army of bubbles burst, sending sound and gravitational waves. And when blisters of ionized hydrogen swell and start to proliferate and merge, they too are overshadowed by pockets of new stars and quasars which, themselves, interconnect.  


The Reign of Bubbles and Particles


A model of the Universe starts with a model of particles and works its way forward. I understand the concept of ‘superposition’ in the context of a universe of particles overlapping ours. Physicists have so far identified 57 species of elementary particles, but describe the number of hadrons -- which include mesons and baryons -- as limitless. Within the classification of mesons there are pions, while neutrons and protons are baryons.  Most of the baryons in the Universe are not found in stars, but rather they are in the form of a hot intracluster gas of hydrogen and helium.  A paper has just reported the direct measurement of the baryon content of the Universe. Hadrons are made of two or more quarks which come in six different flavors with their own mass --  up, down, top, bottom, charm, and strange. 


By studying charmed particles– particles containing charm quarks –, physicists can learn more about hadrons, in which quarks are bound by gluons, as well as the quark–gluon plasma which is thought to have existed in the early universe and can be recreated in heavy-ion collisions at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).


In addition to a series of novel states consistent with containing four quarks that have been discovered in the past, the LHCb detector -- the single-arm forward spectrometer at the LHC -- has recently observed resonances interpreted to be pentaquark states. It is by sifting through the full LHCb datasets that a new particle structure was identified. It could originate from a hadron state consisting of four charm quarks but other interpretations cannot presently be ruled out. That said, not only there are hundreds of particles but theorists predict hypothetical ones such as sterile neutrinos, neutralinos, inflatons and axions. 


 Xc1(3872) hadron (CERN)

Xc1(3872) hadron (CERN)

Particles’ inherent differences and multicombinations point to the distinctive character of their function and remind me of bees in a beehive. Defining their individual function is key to our understanding of fundamental questions such as those related to dark matter and the early Universe. How do all those particles get along? We know that the early universe was filled with hot plasma whose turbulence and related processes were induced by the presence of particles and by their collisions, but we still wonder how all the actors got involved and played their part in the formation of the Universe.  


The majority of a hadron’s mass actually comes from the energy of the gluons that bind quarks together but exactly how the energy of gluons translates to the mass of hadrons is a question physicists are still trying to answer.

Cesar Luis Da Silva

I see experiments in particle physics, in particular with the use of powerful particle colliders, as the backdrop for our never-ending stream of questions. Those experiments are a bit like a time machine whose goal is to reveal one new particle after another that may have taken part in the making of matter. Experiments highlight the process and timeframe of decay that not only depends on the mass of the particle but on the force that impacts them.  In doing so, they draw a picture of how it all happened although no one has ever observed a proton decay. The question lingers as to what other forms of matter and energy protons decay into. As we peel layers after layers, when will we reach the bottom layer? When will we say that this amounts to ‘nothingness’? Convinced that we will find a way, that we will build more advanced, more powerful instruments to see the unseen, we brush off the idea that nothingness exists.  

We tell the story of a hot Big Bang at millions of millions of degrees when gravity was not alone but together with the weak force, electromagnetism and the strong force that governs the dynamics of quarks and gluons. Magnetic fields originated at some point from the early universe and evolved as they interacted with the primordial plasma. Today we even contemplate the possibility that there may be a fifth force. Within the dynamics of bubble nucleation and growth, it is as much the frictional motion of the bubbles as they detonate and deflagrate as it is the interactions between particles in the plasma that matters. As the Universe expanded and cooled down, it underwent a series of phase transitions. A paper has proposed a hybrid model to probe the extraordinarily rapid and unstable conditions pertained to early-time dynamics and quark-gluon plasma.


As the color deconfined quark-gluon plasma cools below the critical temperature, it becomes energetically favorable to form color confined hadrons (primarily pions and a tiny amount of neutrons and protons due to the conserved net baryon number)

Michael B. Christiansen and Jes Madsen

During the quark-hadron transition, things cooled down even more in an area of roughly a thousand times the size of our Solar System where the quark-gluon was transformed into hadron gas. During the primordial nucleosynthesis, neutrons and protons combined to form the first nuclei. As the Universe kept on expanding and electrons interacted with photons, the cosmic microwave background was encoded with valuable information. 


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Universalis Cosmographia

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

I am the statistician of insomnia,
under my eyelids tallies grow.

In recent additions an armada
of icebergs invades the slow speed

of night and leads the counting
to calculations of length, width

and projected direction. This new
territory travelled does little to assist

the salvage of sleep until a sheep
appears, out of the blue.

A frozen lamb drifting on ice,
leading a flock in a floe of white

on white. Sheep and sleep float
on a fleet of Antarctic bergs,

a flow of white on white
in rows of sheep and sleep,

sheep sleeping, sheep sleeping
sheep slipping into the sea.

Jenny Powell, Counting Sheep

The ultimate unknown is a tough one to follow. I’ll give it a rest, leave it alone in the simmering pot of fundamentals and concepts. As we passed Earth’s aphelion, time feels cyclical more than ever. By the next full moon,  August 3rd, time will have slipped through our fingers a little bit more. Six months from now, we will be three million miles closer to the Sun. In the grand scheme of the Universe, does it really matter? Distances vary. Nothing seems to be quite the same as we live through the cycle of time and the seasons of life.  I still haven't caught sight of NEOWISE but I saw once the fireflies twinkling like stars between branches of the Catalpa. From the top of the hill, I tried to see her with my naked eye but trees and clouds were blocking my view every time.  At least, Saturn and Jupiter are shining in tandem in my southern sky. 


Waldseemuller map 2

Words and thoughts force their way out, rushing through in disarray. If Chaos doesn't tell the story of the Universe, data visualization will.  Let’s imagine the Earth at the center of the Universe and extend a line through the Earth from the North Pole to an imaginary point in space named the celestial North Pole and from the South Pole to the celestial South Pole and, in so doing, we create a much larger and invisible globe -- the celestial Sphere -- that is not empty but full of objects hanging and floating in space. While sketches and images of the Universe are more common, 3-D visualization techniques bring us a new perspective and remind us of ancient armillary spheres and  Ptolemaeus geocentric model. As it was the case when maps of the world were improved with the addition of newly discovered lands such as the New World, so is the mapping of the celestial Sphere changing with the finding by Waldseemüller-like cosmographers of new galaxies, walls, and filaments. 



Cosmography, the study and making of maps of the universe or cosmos, is a field where visual representation benefits from modern three-dimensional visualization techniques and media. At the extragalactic distance scales, visualization is contributing in understanding the complex structure of the local universe, in terms of spatial distribution and flows of galaxies and dark matter.

Daniel Pomarède, Hélène Courtois, Yehuda Hoffman, R. Brent Tully


The mere mention of an imaginary point in the sky called the "celestial South Pole’ brings me back to the threatened ecosystem of Antarctica and how poetry is put to good use to prevent its collapse. If any extraterrestrial life forms has ever passed by and watched from above ice retreating on the Earth’s surface, would they have said, “this is a normal evolution for societies to ravage everything on their path”? The discovery today of the South Pole Wall sifting through the Cosmicflows database constitutes in my mind what the 1911 expedition by Roald Amundsen represented then. 


Our insignificant extension in space is remediated by the various resources at our disposal. Cosmicflows-3 is by far the largest collection of distances as pertained to the local universe with some 18,000 entries. Given that the goal of the Cosmicflows program is to understand the motion of our galaxy with respect to the cosmic microwave background and provide a near-field measurement of basic parameters such as the Hubble Constant, I feel that the Wolfram’s spatial hypergraph would benefit from its data to build a model of the Universe that includes the distribution of matter and the flows of the Universe. 


It’s mindboggling how intrinsically complex the cosmic web is,  how walls and filaments are woven into it, and how galaxies are distributed through it. Walls are found to be unlikely to rotate as substantially and coherently as filaments. They form regions that have gravitationally contracted into one dimension. A team of cosmographers led by Daniel Pomarède was able to delineate the morphology of a new structure. The South Pole Wall is adjacent to the Zone of Avoidance, hidden beyond the clouds of the Chamaeleon complex as if it were avoiding the spying eye of men. Its discovery has now outranked the Sloan Great Wall as the richest nearby galaxy system since it is twice as close. 

Star formation in the Chamaeleon (ESA/Herschel; acknowledgement: Á. Ribas)

Star formation in the Chamaeleon (ESA/Herschel; acknowledgement: Á. Ribas)

A strength of the Cosmicflows program is that it provides a reconstruction of the structures lying within the Zone of Avoidance using the gravitational influence they exert on galaxies lying nearby.

Daniel Pomarède, Hélène Courtois, Yehuda Hoffman, R. Brent Tully


Words cast a spell on me every time. They are my strengths and my weaknesses. Some more than others. The word ‘avoidance’ would be on the top of my list along with ‘nothingness’. ‘Avoidance’ may refer to our reluctance to use a term or face a situation. It may imply that an overwhelming feeling restricts us or prohibits our actions. In this case, it defines our sense of powerlessness. It is our incapacity to see the unseen that we define as the Zone of Avoidance. Coincidentally, the Zone is where the Local Void largely lies. 

Most of the matter that makes up our galaxy and that of our neighbors must have come out of the Local Void.

R. Brent Tully, Daniel Pomarède, Romain Graziani, Hélène Courtois, Yehuda Hoffman, Edward J. Shaya

Entire patches of the sky may still be unexplored since they are obscured by galactic dust and star crowding. It is as if a city dweller was trying to watch the night sky. Even if obscured, I noticed that at least two papers last year, one published in August, the other in October, reported new detections in the Zone. There appear to be a filament connecting groups of galaxies into and possibly across the Zone of Avoidance towards the south. 


In this place, silence has a voice
wide-ranging as the continent.
Some say it’s on the cusp
of madness, the way it hums
and stutters, mutters to itself
in quietest tones.

In this place, the universe brims.
Inside absence, presence.
Inside distance, dust
and our sleeping earth
dreaming beneath her thin blue
mask of ice.

In this place, the necessity
of memory, recollections
of a loved one’s face, shape
of laughter, weight of breath.

In this place, nostalgia
roams patient as slow
hands on skin transparent
as melt-water. Nights are light
and long. Shadows settle
on the shoulders of air.

Time steps out of line
here stops to thaw
the frozen hearts of icebergs.
Sleep isn’t always easy in this place
where the sun stays up all night
and silence has a voice.

At Home in Antartica, Claire Beynon


Voids are surprisingly interconnected. Since we know that substantial overdensities tend to be adjacent to voids, it isn't surprising that the Sculptor Void lies to the near side of the South Pole Wall and the Eridanus Void on the far side. With its core in the Chamaeleon constellation, the new population of stars in the southern celestial sky is likely the largest planar structure ever to be observed. 

Plate 6: Centaurus, Indus, Chamaeleon and other constellations by Ignace Gaston Pardies, 1636-1673

Plate 6: Centaurus, Indus, Chamaeleon and other constellations by Ignace Gaston Pardies, 1636-1673


Constellations are arbitrary groups of stars known for centuries. The Chamaeleon constellation, in particular, has been known and its location revealed on maps for four hundred years.  If indeed, the name of constellations hints at their shape, does it really look like a chameleon that blends into its spatial environment, camouflaged in plain sight like a wall in a cloud, a quark at LHC, or time itself? And, by the way, from the South Pole could I slide down the sphere to the other side?

Universalis Cosmographia

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Prologue to all the possibles

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book, and summer night
Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,
Wanted to lean, wanted much most to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom
The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.
The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.
And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself
Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.

The House Was Quiet and The World Was Calm, Wallace Stevens

Georges Lemaître describes a point of origin that challenges our imagination and our reason by raising a barrier that they cannot cross. Our thoughts cannot conceive a preexistence, he writes, since it is space itself which begins and that we cannot conceive anything without space. The generation of space from 'zero time' takes the form of an extremely rapid inflation process. It is with the expansion of space that the principle of locality is born. And so a point of origin becomes a sort of singularity whose whereabouts are linked to the propagation of space itself.


Stars Spring up Out of the Darkness, Artist Concept (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Stars Spring up Out of the Darkness, Artist Concept (NASA/JPL-Caltech)


We know we are on unsteady ground when artists come to the rescue and attempt to represent the unseen. It may be that the first stars sprung up out of the Dark Ages the way the earliest single light in the evening sky, in spring, creates a fresh universe out of nothingness by adding itself. Alfred North Whitehead writes about the four creative stages in which the Universe accomplishes its actuality. Thinking of the very first moments of the Universe, I wonder how his philosophical view could apply. Two points stand out from what I read: the notions of “conceptual origination” and “antecedent universe”.


The question of whether there is an antecedent Universe highlights an old debate over opposing views. If some argue that the Universe is a creation ex-nihilo as if a flash appeared from nothing, others favor diverse scenarios of cyclic Universe models. It seems that those different views are there to ease our puzzlement as to whether time preceded space or was conceived with it.  The mere possibility that the Universe came out from nothingness goes against our natural inclination for “something” and so that “something” may be defined as a primordial vacuum, whose information has made the universe by condensing and igniting

One is seeking something that is impossible to find or about which nothing is known. In such moments all well-meant, sensible advice is completely useless – advice that urges one to try to be responsible, to take a holiday, not to work so hard (or to work harder), to have more (or less) human contact, or to take up a hobby. None of that helps, or at best only rarely. There is only one thing that seems to work; and that is to turn directly toward the approaching darkness without prejudice and totally naïvely, and to try to find out what its secret aim is and what it wants from you… All the contents are blurred and merge into one another, and one never knows exactly what or where anything is, or where one thing begins and ends.

Man and his symbols: The process of individuation, Marie-Louise von Franz


Regardless of whether our fine-tuned universe is among others swimming in the bubbly realm of a multiverse,  it may have started with a single quantum state. The existence of pre-Big Bang quantum fluctuations.that have tunneled into our Universe may explain how “the antecedent universe” entered into the constitution of our own, “so as to constitute the basis of its nascent individuality”.  What was that initial quantum state then? Somehow I linked the notion of “antecedent Universe” with that of  “conceptual origination”. 

If possibles are outside of space but inside of time, res potentia can have existed before the Big Bang, opening new ways to think about the origin of the universe.

Stuart Kauffman, Humanity in a Creative Universe


At the precise beginning of our Universe, the question “what sort of a thing the world is in its ultimate and simplest nature?” pertains to quantum ontology. We struggle with the question of what makes real “what was antecedently merely potential” and whether or not it involved, in its very first mode of origination, some form of consciousness. Philosophy steps in where doubts linger.  


Science answers questions about the physical origination of the Universe with a timeframe of how the rapid cosmic inflation occurs as if we were there to witness every second, every minute of it. A tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang, all the particles in the Standard Model were present, When the Universe expanded and the temperature dropped, the heaviest particle we know about, the top quark and its antiparticle, started to disappear just one picosecond after the Big Bang. During the next minutes, essentially all the particle species except for photons and neutrinos vanished one by one. Only a very tiny fraction of protons, neutrons, and electrons, what makes up all the matter in the Universe today, survived. While science tells and builds on the story of how the “atomization of the extensive continuum” takes place, we are left to wonder what the simplest representational repertoire of our Universe is. Its conceptual origination -- what is merely potential -- is the ultimate unknowable. 

...every time you point out as first cause something as vague as information, the question will not still silence: but what caused it?

Cláudio Nassif Cruz and Fernando Antônio da Silva


What lies in the middle between the idea and its physicality between possibility and reality?  Information appears to be a prerequisite for a conceptual origination to happen. It may take the form of a conceptual Universe that precedes the physical Universe and may even overlap it. It may involve a  process in which information is converted into energy. The collapse of wave-function has captured my mind. I picture quantum fluctuations piloting virtual particles in a nascent and ever-growing quantum field leading to the superposition of both, the virtual and real universes. There is but a single (quantum) world, with its universal wave function.  

... is it real? Is it only in our mind? Does it have a reality only temporary or transitory? Is it, for lack of a better, a provisional representation? Nobody knows, and the theory of universal wave function, contrary to what one might think if we follow the popular presentation of DeWitt, does not clarify much.

Daniel Parrochia


Information as a fundamental of reality appears to be a partial answer since it brushes off the related issue of where the information comes from. Faced with the ontological abyss that is the prospect of nothingness, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote about the slippery slope of an “infinite regression” as if we had opened a Pandora’s box from which a neverending series of related questions spill one after the other. Nevertheless, our reason doesn’t satisfy itself with the concept of nothingness. While some have conceived the possibility that we are caught in a virtual or a holographic Universe,  others may speculate that we are moving thoughts inside a cosmic ‘mind’ out of which we've never escaped since the conceptual origination of the Universe. Could our physical death occur when those wavelike thoughts vanish? 



A fool on the hill, drawing on what Alexander wrote, would rather shy away from determinism in any shape or form and imagine a scenario in which information reveals itself by expressing itself and, in so doing, it gives rise to consciousness. As for the poet, she only sees the Universe as a symphony of lights and sounds played on the keyboard of time.

A Journey of Light Through Space and Time (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A Journey of Light Through Space and Time (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Silver linings (Ollie Taylor, ESA)

Silver linings (Ollie Taylor, ESA)


The pursuit of writing begs the question “why?”. I feel a constant need to better grasp all the ramifications within the framework of my own intent. No meaningful voice, I believe, can transpire without facing the question of why. I found myself going through posts written in the past ten years. Consciousness, I feel, runs through a multilayered spacetime. We are left to wonder where exactly it resides from atom to stratum. On an individual level, it is the ability to reflect on one's own thoughts. A pause involves the act of metacognition. It means to ​​step aside, as it were, from oneself and analyze and judge the operations of one’s mind. The same image appears again and again in my head of my own self drifting away. Each step forward initiates a necessary halt and so begins another round of reflective bits. 

I have followed the wise advice to read Whitehead’s writings. For him, consciousness “enlightens experience which precedes it” (1). There can not be any consciousness without past -- individual or collective -- experience. The “residual trace” spoken of by Utpaladeva sends an echo when I read Whitehead on the question of memory.  There are some elements of recollection in consciousness, sparks from the “dim recesses of the Unconscious”. But the Unconscious is a labyrinth. Lost in the maze of a dream-like reality we follow breadcrumbs that guide us to sprinkles of light and fragments of memory. It is oblivion that motivates our quest.


We are who we are in large part because of what we have learned and what we remember...The human memory system forms abstract internal representations that arise from previous exposure to similar images or experiences.

The Age of insight, Eric R. Kandel, 2012

 From William James to Alfred North Whitehead, drops of perception to drops of experience, the mechanism that we observe from smaller to larger scales is the ultimate notion embodied in the term 'concrescence’ that is a never-ending process of becoming in a seamless flow. Whitehead talked about the creative action of the Universe that is “always becoming one in a particular unity of self-experience and thereby adding to the multiplicity” which is the Universe as many. The primary stage in the concrescence of an actual entity is the way in which the antecedent Universe “enters into the constitution of the entity in question, so as to constitute the basis of its nascent individuality”.


To be is only to be an avatar allowing the transmission of information, an archive of the past concealed within. From the first cell, a clock hides in the Unconscious. Memory is in the cloud. As we wonder how matter came into being the first hundreds of million years, how particles clustered to give rise to the first stars, some find an analogy between artistic creation and cosmic creation. One thing led to another, from Whitehead’s essay in cosmology, I stumbled upon Samuel Alexander’s works. The question raised in my previous post by John Archibald Wheeler,  “How did the Universe come into being?” may not be properly asked, he argued. It should be“what sort of a thing the world is in its ultimate and simplest nature?”. He explained that “just as the object known is revealed through the ordinary reaction to it; so the work of art is revealed to the artist himself through the productive act wrung from him in his excitement over the subject-matter” (2).


In a conceptual reality filled with the emotion of time, I find it telling that Whitehead uses repeatedly such a subjective and evocative word as “feeling”  while David Bohm talks about small, ‘quantized’ wavelike excitations on top of an immense background of spatial energy. Although common words like emotion, feeling, and excitation may be borrowed, I would agree that it is because we feel more than we can know.  A feeling, Whitehead writes, is “the appropriation of some elements in the Universe to be components in the real internal constitution of its subject”. For him, all actual entities, including electrons, atoms, and molecules enjoy a little bit of feeling “at least in rudimentary forms” (3).



It may be that my perspective on cosmic consciousness is not only a choice but a conceptual feeling that has “found integration with other feelings” (1) which poets are fond of, thrive on, and are nurtured by. The question that emerged from Whitehead’s reading is whether consciousness can be without its subjective form. Can there be objectively something beyond ourselves, a consciousness beyond individuality? For him, feelings “taken in their original purity devoid of accretions from later integrations” do not involve consciousness because consciousness is a “subjective form arising in the higher phases of concrescence”, It “primarily illuminates the higher phase in which it arises”, and only “illuminates earlier phases derivatively”. 


Whitehead’s take on feelings is to be examined in the light of other contemporary statements pertaining to the psychology of emotions. To the question “Is there pure states of feeling?”, if we reply in the affirmative, writes Ribot, “then the state of feeling is considered as having at least sometimes an independent existence of its own and not as condemned to play forever the part of acolyte or parasite” (4). And if we pursue the analogy between the mind and the Universe, we could think of the emotion of time as an “organized manifestation of the life of” feelings as defined by Whitehead.


Poets feel with their intuitional mind. I imagine cosmic consciousness to be the gathering of a higher order in which “floating” parts of ourselves meet “floating” parts of others. It is by feeling that poets understand as they engage in a dialogue with the Universe. It may be that cosmic consciousness is but a shadow for the growth of feelings is to be “distinguished from the objects to which those feelings relate”(5). In both instances -- cosmic creation and artistic creation -- we may say that creativity is a state of feeling that feeds on itself and its environment. Poets who wander in reverie are sensitive souls whose doubts time will answer. Will intuition triumph over the anguish that uncertainty has thrown us in? For we may conclude that there are feeling-like “phenomena” (6) in organic and inorganic matter alike.

And when we wonder about the accidental nature of the Universe, whether it has risen from free will or in a superdeterministic way,  we may dwell upon Alexander’s description of an artist or a poet who may not, systematically,  first form an image. To paraphrase Alexander, they may be clueless of what they want to express, but find out what they wanted to express by expressing it for they have, in general, no precedent image of their work and don’t know what they will say till they have said it, and it comes as a revelation even to themselves. Writing and direct carving are, I feel, an irrepressible and fragmented journey, the purpose of which is still a mystery. Its key, I hope, will help me escape the labyrinth of my own twists and turns. But some mysteries may be beyond the reach of imagination.


In progress

In progress

When the instinct of constructiveness seeks not practical gratification but is satisfied for its own sake; when the maker beholds his work and sees that it is good, the constructive instinct has become aesthetic and the work which satisfies it is beautiful.

Artistic Creation and Cosmic Creation, Samuel Alexander

  1. Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality
  2. Samuel Alexander, Artistic Creation and Cosmic Creation
  3. John Burdon Sanderson Haldane, The inequality of man
  4. Theodule Armand Ribot, The psychology of emotions
  5. Samuel Alexander, Space, Time and Deity
  6. John Burdon Sanderson Haldane, The philosophy of a biologist

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Out of the Dark Ages

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Out of the Dark Ages


“How did the Universe come into being?” asked John Archibald Wheeler, “ Is that some strange, far-off process, beyond hope of analysis? Or is the mechanism that came into play one which all the time shows itself?” We understand, though, that first star-forming clumps were much warmer than the molecular gas clouds in which most stars currently form and that the stars that arise from molecular gas clouds are born in complex environments that have been altered by the effects of previous star formation, And so, one wonders how, out of the Dark Ages, density fluctuations drew upward on the fabric of spacetime like “tent cloths” or “anthills”* to evolve into the first stars and what the reign of particles looked like then. 

After the Cosmic Microwave Background photons decoupled from baryons, the Dark Ages epoch began: density fluctuations grew under the influence of gravity, eventually collapsing into the first stars and galaxies during the subsequent Cosmic Dawn.

Dark Cosmology: Investigating Dark Matter & Exotic Physics in the Dark Ages using the Redshifted 21-cm Global Spectrum

Out of the Dark Ages

Zooming out, feet off the ground, sharing thoughts and ideas, mixing a melting pot of sources in a simmering soup with one underlying theme: The quest for a cosmic sense. From a statistical perspective, trying to figure out whether there are intelligent life forms out there is one of the most challenging undertakings since all we can do is attempt to learn from a single known data point (ourselves). Not only the search for alien life forms in the multidimensional cosmic haystack has been so far insufficient and incomplete, but it still would take, in the best-case scenario, a minimum of 1030 years for us to communicate with an equally intelligent life form and the same amount of time for them to answer. 


Out of the Dark Ages


Regardless, let’s imagine, for the sake of this post, the chance encounter with one of the Communicating Extra-Terrestrial Intelligent (CETI) civilizations in our Galaxy --meaning those with the capabilities to use radio frequencies to communicate over large distances. My first question to them would be whether they figured out how it all started and whether they were able to probe the feeble glow of the Dark Ages. While likely beyond the capabilities of instruments available in the next decade, we, humans, plan in the future to place a low radio frequency interferometric array on the far side of the Moon to measure the redshifted Dark Ages global 21-cm signal. Did they beat us to it and catch the faint signals of the neutral hydrogen's footprints, their “spin-flip” transition

Can the humans cure racism, end poverty, and stop climate change in time? Tune in next week to find out. (New Yorker)

Can the humans cure racism, end poverty, and stop climate change in time? Tune in next week to find out. (New Yorker)

Another discussion that might come up in my encounter with an extraterrestrial intelligent life form is the state of humanity. I would want to know whether they were able to move away from their Stone Age emotions. Would I complain to them in self-pity or simply highlight the beauty of our world?  I'd rather tell them about the wakening of bee balms, how I wait every year with excitement for those intrinsically complicated flowers to unfold methodically as the buds swell and appear to burst out purple powder over the leaves. Although our flowers on Earth are immovable, for they are stuck to the ground,  artists in the past drew celestial bodies like flowers of the sky. And I would want to know whether artists on their planet do the same. I would want also to tell them about poets and albatrosses and how they are very much the same.


Often, to amuse themselves, the men of a crew
Catch albatrosses, those vast sea birds
That indolently follow a ship
As it glides over the deep, briny sea.

Scarcely have they placed them on the deck
Than these kings of the sky, clumsy, ashamed,
Pathetically let their great white wings
Drag beside them like oars.

That winged voyager, how weak and gauche he is,
So beautiful before, now comic and ugly!
One man worries his beak with a stubby clay pipe;
Another limps, mimics the cripple who once flew!

The poet resembles this prince of cloud and sky
Who frequents the tempest and laughs at the bowman;
When exiled on the earth, the butt of hoots and jeers,
His giant wings prevent him from walking.

The Albatross, Baudelaire

With an optimistic outlook on human life, I would tell them that we are the synthesis of past and present undercurrents reaching another stage on a multidimensional continuum that appears to flow in one direction. Endowed with free will, universalization becomes a promising principle. It refers to our increasing awareness of our close relationship with each other and with the Universe as a whole, a relationship that, in my mind, has been there all along. Ground and sea roads crisscrossing Earth east to west, south to north have spread treasures of civilization, vessels of knowledge, receptacles of wisdom. There is no doubt that a deep connection binds us to all the places I visited from Lascaux Cave to the mortuary chambers in Gansu province for I realized along the Silk Road in the middle of Gaochang ruins and the painted grottoes and relics of Dunhuang that human nature is not much different wherever we go. Universalization means that, by an odd chance of meeting them, I would talk about what binds us and our common origins.


Out of the Dark Ages


Every culture, every human being, has been struggling with hows and whys. If it were not for nothing and every word spoken and written were not in vain, why are oral histories forgotten? I would tell them about rock art paintings of heavenly bodies and lost reports of long stars and celestial objects fastened to invisible ropes. I would tell them that it is not in space that I wish to travel but in time to dig out the buried memories of our past and learn more about our previously mentioned fragmentary comet known by the lost name of Matsya Avatara which was small, to begin with, but grew as it neared the Sun and at the end crashed into the Indian Ocean resulting in floods and tsunamis five thousand years ago.

Out of the Dark Ages

The Sun and the Moon, solar and lunar eclipses, planets, and passing comets have been observed from the ground throughout history, with the possibly earliest written recording of a comet by the Chinese in 1059 BCE. In our neck of the woods, some comets approached Earth as close as within 40 lunar distances. The closest recorded was Lexell in 1770 less than 6 lunar distances away. Except when they elude man’s predictions like the Great Comet of 1264, the regularity with which fiery apparitions such as that of Haley’s Comet occur has made it possible to retrace their previous passages in our skies and place their visits backward in time. With computer models that helped to retrodict comets’ visits, Halley’s Comet appearances were extended back as far as into the third century BC and possibly associated with the meteor of Aegospotami in Greece in 467/6 BC. Based on two apparitions of three periodic comets, including the Comet of 1500 that came back around in 1861, Ichiro Hasagewa and Syuichi Nakano were able to identify them. The Comet of 1499 is possibly identical to Comet Levy of 1991 which has an orbital period of just over 50 years, and when that object returns in 2042 it should be possible to confirm (or disprove) that identity.  One of the largest comets, Swift-Tuttle, that appeared in 1992 also was seen in 1862 and 1737. Others like the Great Comets of 1843, 1901, 1910, and 1927 have yet to come back around. I wish they would tell me the names and the stories of their comets and whether they'd happen to know if one of the visiting exocomets trespassing our shores belongs to them. 


Out of the Dark Ages

I would tell them about the co-emergence of fundamentals of reality as I understand it. Whether they be time, space, gravity, and energy,  they are intertwined concepts as crucial as the four major features of a human face - nose, ears, eyes, mouth. The exchange between the Universe and human consciousness takes place between those two sets of quadruple elements. I would confess to them that our limited window into the Universe is somewhat similar to an ethnographic account. Although it is with minimum manipulation by scientists, they still rely heavily on observer-participancy. I would want them to tell me whether they agree that the fundamentals of reality only adds another screen of naive realism in front of the screen filter that is our human perception. They are not the whole story. 


Out of the Dark Ages

*Laird Scranton, China’s Cosmological Prehistory: The Sophisticated Science Encoded in Civilization’s Earliest Symbols 

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A fundamental fear

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly



Outside the one coherent and public spacetime, there is an element of darkness, a field that sets the limits of our reach. Human consciousness stands on the edge staring into oblivion before crossing over the four corners of reality. As it pushes the frontiers of human knowledge, fundamentals of reality dependently co-arise. One may wonder what is left to believe in. After all, what is fundamental? If that which knows, moves and exists in the Universe is part of a resonance chains, everything -- from Titan drifting away to atoms, nematic liquid crystals to sundrops and Phobos to Proxima Centauri -- is fundamentally necessary to create the reality we know.  As we consider the possibility of a theory of everything, won’t it be incomplete if any part of the package is missing?  That which is indispensable to a theory is fundamental to it, writes Aditya Dwarkesh. In an interconnected Universe, how do we know which part is expendable? Aren’t all things, past and present, necessary to create the future?  






We attach different meanings to the word “fundamental”. On the one hand, it means what is necessary. On the other hand, it refers to whatever everything else derives from. Yet, what everything derives from is beyond our understanding. In a discussion written by Mozibur Rahman Ullah, Socrates asks whether the whole is not prior to the part. It remains to be seen how many players take part in the circle of concepts and whether or not some, if not all of them, are co-emergent. 



Serpiente alquimica


The Universe seems to have grown and in time has given rise to observer-participancy which in turn imparts tangible reality to even the earliest day of the Universe. It brings to mind the image of a snake eating its tail. What’s fundamental? The observer or the Universe that is observed? As physicists travel to the deepest level, our framework of reality evolves. One wonders whether ideas and, to a larger extent, theories, are more fundamental than substances and whether abstract notions, such as change, freedom, fear or causality are less or more fundamental than concrete entities?



Wheeler's Universe

Wheeler's Universe


If all starts in the mental realm, nonlocality becomes fundamental too. Time and consciousness are drawing upon a derivative concept of “location” in a relational space. They are intangibles by means of which we interact with the Universe and the source of our true identity. They too are fundamental. And what about change? If change is fundamental, why are we so afraid of it? Caught in the unrelenting movement of life, fears originate from our own intolerance of uncertainty, that is our dispositional incapacity to endure the aversive response triggered by the perceived absence of salient, key, or sufficient information

One fear to rule them all, one fear to find them, one fear to bring them all and in the black box bind them.

Nicholas Carleton


Some fears are based on known facts, others on the unknown. Because of its non-derivative aspect, the fear of the unknown is considered to be a fundamental fear and describes an individual’s propensity to experience fear caused by the perceived absence of information at any level of consciousness or point of processing. Between imagination and reality, we ought to discriminate those fearful and angry voices from the actual danger that a threat may pose.  As we doubt the positive course of events and the gradual decline of passions, we hang on to the past. What probability should we attach to the object of our fears? 

Certain types of probabilities are clearly ‘subjective’, meaning that they can be understood as a description of our own ignorance about the true facts.

Emily Adlam



A Buddhist monk, however, may say that there are three kinds of fears. The first is based on hatred. The second is a reaction to a moral crisis such as the fear we feel when our values are under attack and when we fail to handle self-doubt. The third stems from our human condition, of which old age, sickness, and death are only the manifestations. Of those three fears, it is the first one -- the ego-driven fear -- that we need to overcome. Hatred manifests itself through anger, fear, and discontent when we are afraid to lose our own identity and at the thought of being deprived of our material possessions. It feeds the internal dread inside us. 


 Fear,  directly and indirectly learned, is an emotional state of consciousness. It may be the legacy of the individual or collective odyssey,  an inherited behavior passed on by our ancestors. Against ourselves,  our fears grow and become at times echoes of an atrocious and despotic anguish as the muddy waters of the Unconscious bring to the surface oppressive visions. They trigger a defensive response, giving rise to divisions between individuals or groups of people. 


On the day of the full moon, I dreamt that I entered a room and read a sentence on a card stuck on a wall. I did not like what I read, so I walked away. Reading actual words in a dream is uncommon. Only a small class of people overwhelmingly made up of writers -- especially poets -- use language in a meaningful way when they sleep. Are the words I read in my dream the projection of my own insecurities? Between existential anxiety and our struggle for freedom, we can't dissociate what we do from who we are as the story of the butterfly and the mole  goes:


One day, a butterfly, perplexed, asks a mole: "How do you manage to live underground?" "I don't know anything else," replies the mole, "I'm happy to be who I am. Is living above ground and living underground that much different?" "The difference is the light. In the heat of the sun, the wind carries my wings," says the butterfly. "Darkness," says the mole, "helps me face my fears. My blind eyes give my paws the freedom to explore on their own journey to the center of the Earth."


A fundamental fear


 Memories paint the present with the colors of the past. While we are trapped within the bounds of a spatiotemporal location, History displaces itself in time and space. Thirty-one years ago, I was in Beijing. In me lingers the memory of the turmoil I witnessed. Seeing the military trucks and humvees in the streets of D.C. brought back images from that time. As I watched political figures marching with protesters, I remembered Zhao Ziyang walking through the crowd of students in 1989. As the corner of 16th Street & H was renamed and three words of protest were painted in yellow on the roadway, I remembered the Goddess of democracy standing in the middle of Tiananmen Square. What I see unfolding in the streets of the Capital reminds me of the early days of the student protest that led to the Tiananmen crackdown. Uncertainty plays right into the hands of my own fear of the unknown. 

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley, Invictus


There is light in the dark, blue skies in the clouds, rays of sunshine peeking through above the dead branches of the oak tree.

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Published on by Catherine Toulsaly



The playful chipmunk with a mind of its own has come out of its burrow. Does a cicada know when it’s time to break out of its shell? Does a star know when it’s time to burst out of its collapsing cloud?  In the Garden of Forking Paths, a game forbids the use of the word ‘time’. In the game played in real life, time stays hidden in plain sight. And the wrenching part of it is that our individual consciousness does not exist during most of it.  


Cicada and its empty shell

Cicada and its empty shell


Writing could become an infinite game too. One day I see time as having no independent reality. The next I feel its tangibility in the way it divides itself in both ways, past and future, when catalpa flowers still rain on the garden but oaks dropping acorns becomes a memory. More than just an abstract concept, it becomes a finite extension of ourselves intertwined with the Universe.  As my own consciousness has reached the last frontier of the solar system to gaze at the horizon, it feels the need to step back on the edge of the intergalactic medium as if it has reached its own limit and is too afraid to jump into a no man's land. 


A crow flew over the dead oak, and then another. Was the tree a marker for birds’ flight path in much the same way as words spoken to me years ago took me to the pathway I am walking on today?  The words I heard, the people I met I know they had an influence on me.  The idea that time can, in a sense, still live on regardless of our own existence resonates with me and may through me have an impact on someone else, like a chain of seed sowers. 


Poets, too, have a mind of their own, always playing with words and ideas. They see connections between almost everything and give a soul to whatever they please. They see actions at a temporal distance. Concepts build upon each other. In a ripple through time, words leave an indelible mark. Whether it be about life and death, being and nothingness, the occurrence and the nonoccurrence of events, fundamental questions haunt the human mind. 

Borrowing words by  Zhuangzi, the flow of the Universe is“so deep and clear that metals and precious stones resonate through it. Although they have the ability to make a sound, they cannot resonate without being struck”. How essential the causal role of the one who strikes them is! By measuring how far they spread, we, observers, could map out the evolution of the Universe.  But for most, Aristotle and the story of the sea battle would instead come to mind.

Everything must either be or not be, whether in the present or in the future, but it is not always possible to distinguish and state determinately which of these alternatives must necessarily come about. Let me illustrate. A sea-fight must either take place tomorrow or not, but it is not necessary that it should take place tomorrow, neither is it necessary that it should not take place, yet it is necessary that it either should or should not take place tomorrow. Since propositions correspond with facts, it is evident that when in future events there is a real alternative and a potentiality in contrary directions, the corresponding affirmation and denial have the same character. This is the case with regard to that which is not always existent or not always nonexistent. One of the two propositions in such instances must be true and the other false, but we cannot say determinately that this or that is false but must leave the alternative undecided. One may indeed be more likely to be true than the other, but it cannot be either actually true or actually false. It is therefore plain that it is not necessary that of an affirmation and a denial one should be true and the other false. For in the case of that which exists potentially, but not actually, the rule which applies to that which exists actually does not hold good. The case is rather as we have indicated. (Aristotle, On Interpretation, Part 9)


Indigo bush

Indigo bush


 Causation is in the eye of the beholder. If I single out a particular event in time, highlight an idea to the detriment of another, give the preference to one writer rather than another,  I know that subjectivity colors my train of thought. Limiting ourselves to a single spatiotemporal location runs the risk of failing to notice that “there is always the chance of some ‘interference’ from outside the local area”. Our urge to find a theory of everything stems from the fact that we want to ensure that the cause guarantees the occurrence of the effect and every new piece of information becomes part of the whole past cone of potential causal influence on the effect


Locality should remain an essential ingredient of a theory of everything, says Gerard ‘t Hooft and if we don’t assume such a thing, then it gets a lot harder to understand how laws of nature are working. But if there is no theory capable of predicting each single choice, argues Antoine Suarez, then there is no theory of everything. In our search for spatiotemporal connectability, we have become constrained by causality. Our requirement for a coarse graining, namely a “choice” of macroscopic observables, has introduced a curious element of subjectivity.   


As we struggle with the evolutive interpretation of a theory of everything, what we have found so far are theories allowing us to predict statistical distribution of outcomes.  But the concept of probability is a philosophical one. What is metaphysically primary is the multiplicity of causal connections, rather than some uniform notion of causation that is supposed to apply to all cases. Antoine Suarez concludes that if such a theory includes the quantum world, a mathematical quantum reality can only exist in a mental realm we cannot access with our senses

What of the types of event? The most helpful way to view them is as coarsegraining the space of possible events. They are the union of a lot of different ways of some description of an event being satisfied. There is another sense of type here, that may also have a role: this is that any particular event may be an instance of a lot of different coarse-grained events.

Antony Eagle


Nonlocality refers to events outside spacetime. As such, those events are probabilities of outcome, the same way, I feel, comets are outside the framework of our observable Universe before they materialize.  In the seemingly reciprocal causation of the nonlocal action at a distance, the “before-after” relationship is a quality inaccessible to real measurement. If nonlocality is necessary to preserve such a fundamental principle as energy conservation, does that mean that there is a conservation law that we don’t know yet about? 


From the smallest to the largest scales, locally to globally, the Universe stretches and curls its tentacles covered with quantized wavelike excitations. In our observable Universe, the passing of a comet could unwrap a chain of events in time and space. I think of the story of comet ATLAS. Five thousand years ago, a split happened to its parent comet from which ATLAS and the Great Comet of 1844 Y1 were born.  It occurred around the previous perihelion passage of the progenitor. The event suggested by a study in April sheds light on the evolutionary causation of our newly discovered comet. While the Great Comet was spotted with a naked eye at the Cape of Good Hope (South Africa) in December 1844  and was reported to be as bright as Comet Halley, its sibling was still out of the picture, not even the object of a thought. 


Our long-period comet seems to have entered our consciousness at the end of last year although it may have been a tale lost between the lines of a myth or kept between members of an aboriginal community. While we may expect interstellar Comet 2I/Borisov to disintegrate in the future, ATLAS fragmented into multiple pieces in front of our eyes, reflecting on and off sunlight. Splits are remarkable because they bear a historical value and mark the spot in our collective memory of a spatiotemporal event with long-term repercussions. I found it compelling that the two comets --  176 years apart --  could share a common progenitor the same way we are able to retrace the genetic relationship between us and our ancestors. 


There are periodically reports of possible evidence for giant impacts on planets. One cosmic event of dramatic proportions has reportedly made Uranus rotate sideways. Another, 12,900 years ago may have contributed to the megafaunal extinctions and the Younger Dryas cooling. Yet another, some 5,000 years ago, may have occurred in the Indian Ocean. Could the latter have been part of our original fragmentary comet? Comets with a tale of their own offer an account of events that constitutes the foundation of their historicity as they fragment into the pieces they become.



 My words offer no certainty, for my mind still wanders. If it all starts in the mental realm,  how can the human mind fathom the possibility that local events could make an impact regardless of time and space as if a hidden butterfly had made the flapping of its wings felt across spacetime or the effect of an invisible ripple of energy was felt throughout the Universe?  Our mind can’t stop asking questions, for causation is nowhere to be found. 

False solomon's-seal

False solomon's-seal


One thing that is rather uneasy for us to achieve is to not let our internal demons shape our intellectual ideas and to guard ourselves against the color of time. I would fall short, anyway, have I not said a word about social causation. We wonder why events happen on a global scale and we wonder when the death of a black man will matter. “The cause of a demonstration,” Martin Luther King* writes, “is the existence of some form of exploitation or oppression that has made it necessary for men of courage and goodwill to protest the evil”. “Through the skills and discipline of direct action,” he adds, “we reveal that there is a dangerous cancer of hatred and racism in our society. We did not cause the cancer; we merely exposed it”. 


Those who start behind in the pursuit of the American Dream “must forever remain behind or run faster than those in front. It is a call to do the impossible”. It is enough to cause people to give up in despair. When patience is no longer an option to win, when will we rally the cause of justice? When will we question the fairness and justice of our policies?



*Martin Luther King, Where do we go from here: Chaos or Community?


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