Theoreticians are idealists who fight each other with their dreams. Do we believe that our brain holds the key to that which unites the infinitely large and the infinitely small? While some puzzles are better left to state-of-the-art computations, tucked away in a mathematical code, locked in geometrical patterns, poets attempt to keep a record of vanishing thoughts and translate the beat of those dreams with an eye to find a common purpose. The abyss, Lucien Braun writes, between the expression of what is and what is left unexpressed commands the “awkwardness” of thought. Beyond stating similarities and identifying connections, we hardly grasp all the nuances of meaning in one single concept. There exists a struggle in our brain with the verb to make it say the unspeakable.
It would seem easier to transpose philosophical ideas into the field of science than the other way around. A “crucial part of developing scientific theories,” James Owen Weatherall writes, “is to take basic concepts and make them precise enough to support scientific inquiry. But this process of adapting our intuitive ideas to the more rigorous demands of science can result in radical changes to our conception of reality.” If space and time can be curved even when there is nothing, can it be called nothingness?
Voids appear to be the most dark energy dominated regions in the cosmic web. If they are filled with that sort of vacuum energyfree to interact with dark matter, shouldn’t it be part of the solution to find the beginning of time? Time is born in a void, lost in a black hole. Whether there exist patches of antimatter, dark energy puppeteers, shadows of dark matter halos, gushing white holes, and gobbling black holes, these are theories that may help one day to make sense of time.
I struggle to imagine what it is like to be a space devoid of matter. Stillness, silence, and invisibility are its attributes. It is inconsistent, in my mind, with black holes drawing matter in and voids clearing it out. That which unites the infinitely large and the infinitely small emerges and builds up over time out of intemporal voids whose bodies shrink and expand. We don’t just live on the outside limit of the Local Void, but inside the perimeter of a large underdensity around the Local Group, known as theKeenan–Barger–Cowie Void. It implies the necessity for a radical change in our conception of reality, a void-centered view of our neck of the woods, a revolution in our frame of reference.
I pause and dwell a moment on the nature of light, the soul of the Universe, and the earthly things.Light passes towards our eyes through the air and other transparent bodies in the same way, Descartes writes, that the movement or the resistance of bodies, which a blind man meets, passes towards his hand, through his staff. Light, Maxwell argues, is an “electromagnetic phenomenon the laws of which can be deduced from those of electricity and magnetism, on the theory that all these phenomena are affections of one and the same medium.” We have privileged all along a substance named luminiferous aether that is the energy distribution of photons in cosmic lights.
We see farther by standing on the shoulders of those who came before us, by climbing invisible steps up into space and pulling strings attached to spacecrafts as far away asinterstellar space. One must bear in mind the possibility, however, “that it might be the presence of a gravitational field that takes the description of a physical system out of the realm of pure quantum physics,” Roger Penrose writes. We have learned that astronomical bodies exert a gravitational force on one another and affect one another by changing the geometrical structure of space and time. Nothingness is the background of the gravitational field in which aphoton-graviton conversion may occur throughstrong primordial magnetic fields.
Not only do we believe that primordial magnetic fields were generated through magnetogenesis during inflation and post-inflation, but it is suggested thatquantum magnetic monopoles were created during preinflation. Barbour writes that those magnetic monopoles might be today so widely spread out through the Universe that we cannot reasonably expect to observe any. Suppose they played a role asdark matter candidates through their connection with (hidden) dark sectors. In that case, I wonder how the study of dark matter and the investigation into the properties of primordial magnetic fields are related.
Mission drift describes the path taken by my wandering mind. In the search for an absolute vacuum, a perfect void, we are left to accept Descartes’ definition of an extension as the necessary existence of a substance. We realize that even voids and black holes have shapes and magnetic fields. While the essence of information on the origin, nature, and existence of matter travels at the speed of light, such a thing as nothingness is nowhere to be found in our four-dimensional reality.
The unspeakable is what occurs behind a veil of darkness. Voids in our heads mirror voids in space. The elusive quality of timelessness creates images of a time void from which countless subjective experiences arise. If the Universe is a mismatch of past and future subsystems, the rear end of the arrow is born out of a nothingness hidden in the heart of a time void behind the moving walls of a void in space.
Poets use images like walking sticks to help ease their mental and physical journey. Words are multidimensional. They change forms and transpose themselves from one field to the next. They are like point particles in which internal strings vibrate. How far can we reach collectively and individually? Our existence woven into the fabric of time conceals aspects we have yet to discover.
The hypothesis that the Big Bang came out of a quantum fluctuation from avery specific prior state opens the door to more questions. If timelessness involves an infinite timeline or an endless bouncing process, why does our brain only make sense of boundaries? Mine feels the reach of its own limit and hesitates to jump ahead. A system may be symmetric to the extent that it is made of one part moving forward, the other going backward. What remains confusing to me is whether a time divide lies inside the box crisscrossed by circles or lines of past and future subsystems or outside in a larger timeless state. New pocket universes are brought into being while chains of events happen both to the past and the future, either in a multiverse or a subsystems-made universe.
When it comes to time’s arrow, we tend to look for answers “into the box and not out into the Universe.” We know its shape and its age, but what we know of its size is limited to what we are able to observe: 46.5 billion light-years in radius, which is 93 billion light-years in diameter. While knowledge increases with time and new technical capabilities, the Universe will continue its expansion as if to stay out of our reach. Unable to explore its boundaries, we assume its existence to be unaffected by ‘exterior’ influence. In the realm of analogies, the brain is an entryway between what is and what is not in a similar way, I feel, that the Big Bang is aphase through which the universe passes.
This pastOctober, I asked to be corrected when I wrote that “our present is as much part of the past as it is part of the future for the observer who would look out into space from the other side of the Universe”. As far as they can determine, both observers think of each other as living in the “past.” Today, we have detected the most distant quasar yet known J0313-1806 as it would have appeared more than 13 billion years ago. Its collapsed structure contains a supermassive black hole that came into being just670 million years after the Big Bang. We have also discovered the protocluster LAGER-z7OD1when the Universe was only770 million years old.
Let’s imagine a second that an observer stargazes from their end in their ownfuture— whether it be a disembodied brain or a celestial object endowed with a soul. They would see what was anterior to the Earth, three billion years before Gaia-Enceladus dwarf galaxy and the progenitor of our Milky Way collided. They would catch a glimpse of the reign of bubbles during cosmic reionization.
The epoch of reionization is a bridge between the cosmology that we can theoretically calculate from first principles and the astrophysics we observe today and try to understand.
By the end of the year, the James Webb Spatial Telescope, our latest time-machine, will finally be launched. It will be operational by mid-2022. In our mind, a clear milestone in the macroscopic nature of spacetime is the unveiling of the first lights. If there is a Janus Point, the universe on the other side isn’t an “exact mirror reflection,” Barbour stresses. There is a single past for two distinct futures emerging from it. We live in a universe that is time-symmetric on ultra-large scales. What we see in those early structures is a mirroring image of ourselves, a fractal memory. Quasars and dwarf galaxies played an essential role in the build-up of massive galaxies and the reionization process. The initial conditions surrounding the formation of the first celestial objects bring back in my mind the image ofdwarf galaxies that have been observed to be moving out of the Local Void.
If inflation is to play a role in explaining the initial conditions of the universe, we need to understand how it arises from some specific condition, rather than simply appealing to randomness.
But then, if the Big Bang isn't a unique event, how to reconcile eternal inflation or bounce cosmology with a reversed arrow of time? The Universe hasn’t followed a path of unitary evolution. I suppose it is unlikely that it could recollapse into the exact shape of its initial conditions. Janus-point systems may not be subject to recurrence — they are not in a ‘box’. The arrows exist “not because of statistical fluctuations but because of dynamical necessity.”
Information flows drip by drip into my brain as I attempt to reach the far edges of the unknown. I thought I would roam between stars. I swapped them for concepts instead. On the outskirts of the solar system, a planetoid labeled 2018 AG37 stands four times farther away from the Sun than Pluto. Its nicknameFarfarout appears to be coming out of the Shrek Universe. Although it depends on its one-thousand-year orbit, which takes it from time to time closer than Neptune to the Sun, it has become the last frontier of the solar system along the rim of nothingness. Spotted for the first time in 2018, it unseats Farout, aka 2018 VG18.
I wish nicknames to convey a poetic, historical or cultural message. I hope for names likeOumuamua andArrokoth and wonder whether the next minor planet will be dubbed Farfarfarout. If indeed, asKepler suggested, there exists a bond of sympathy between heavenly and earthy things, Farfarout might know best how the Earth feels about the relentless environmental degradation that its two-legged tenants impose on the planet.
Holding my notebook in which I write a neverending list of whys, I wish to ask an alien lifeform on an interstellar spacecraft passing nearby. I would not refrain from reading aloud my latest rant on infinite ways to explain hows. I would take a leap of faith, drawn by eerie sounds of resonance orbits from the faraway systemTOI-178 in the Sculptor constellation. Could human anguish be caused by our greatly elongated form stretching even more over the spatial-temporal grid?
Stars and galaxies are seen as exaptations – structures that have found a use other than that for which they were originally developed by evolution.
The word 'conundrum' isn'tmusic in my ear, but it describes how I feel as I move forward. Crawling through Barbour’s book, I circle back into the intricacy of entropy. Within the observable patch, what is measured as the entropy is dominated by photons and neutrinos. An increase in the entropy, I gather, relates to photons and neutrinos energy distribution. Barbour explains that “the direction of entropy increase is the direction of time.” They are one and the same. “A single direction had been mistaken for two.”
Along with the Universe, we, too, are gifted with an emotional keyboard, but we don't play it the same way. Concepts, words, and emotions blend together. They, too, have a life of their own. Reading about the genetic diversity among sequoias created in my mind the visual metaphor of a forest of walking brains. The unsettling concept of disembodied brains has taken me back to that analogy. ‘Boltzmann brains’ are observers stripped to an absolute bare minimum — their consciousness.
What is a brain anyway? A tool conceptually and causally integrated into a physical state with the ability to sense and adapt, an entryway between what is and what is not. I have another image in my head: that of cephalopod-like giant brains propelling their appendages bestowed with a sense of beauty and complexity. Boltzmann brains may be pair-produced from photons and gravitons, provided that the existence of an elementary graviton particle is verified.
A Boltzmann Brain is a configuration of matter that is (along with its local environment) as close as possible to thermal equilibrium, while still qualifying as an intelligent observer
If we understand processes to be going forward and backward in time, Boltzmann brains could reach consciousness both ways and experience the flow of time when it goes forward and when it is reversed. To bring them to life, we would only need local subsystems to behave ergodically, not the universe as a whole. Sean Carroll wrote the following dialogue between two scientists on why Boltzmann brains are bad:
W : I am worried that our best cosmological model predicts that typical observers are Boltzmann Brains.
S: Why? Sure, there may be a huge number of BBs in this universe, but I’m not one of them, so what do I care?
W : How do you know you’re not a Boltzmann Brain?
S: I don’t seem very brain-like. I have arms, legs, etc. The environment around me seems pretty dramatically far from equilibrium.
W : Fine. But in a large, randomly-fluctuating universe, even if you are not a minimal-fluctuation observer (a BB), it’s overwhelmingly likely that you are in a state that represents the minimum possible fluctuation away from equilibrium, conditioned on whatever features your local environment has. Call these “Boltzmann Observers” (BOs). Even granting that you have arms and legs and are sitting in an office, it’s still overwhelmingly likely that all of that has randomly fluctuated into existence out of equilibrium. How do you know you’re not a Boltzmann Observer?
S: Because I can see that I’m not! I can go out and, for example, observe the cosmic microwave background, which is evidence that the universe was in a much lower-entropy state several billion years ago, which isn’t what I would expect if I were a BO.
W : But even if you are observing the microwave background, you’re not necessarily seeing the leftover photons from the Big Bang. You’re seeing a radiation field entering your telescope right here in your nearby environment. In a fluctuating-universe scenario, it’s certainly possible to see such photons, but it’s overwhelmingly likely that they randomly fluctuated into existence, without any connection to an earlier low-entropy state.
S: Well, that scenario makes a very reliable prediction, as Feynman basically pointed out: all I have to do is look in my radio telescope again, and see whether 16 or not the background radiation is still there. If what I observed already is just a random fluctuation, there’s no reason for it to persist over time; in fact it’s incredibly unlikely. So let me wait a second before checking again and... Nope. There’s the microwave background. I still seem to be in a thermodynamically sensible environment. I am not a BO.
W : You don’t have the right to conclude that. In a randomly-fluctuating universe, just as almost all observers are minimal-fluctuation BBs, and almost all observers with arms and legs and microwave backgrounds are minimal-fluctuation BOs subject to those macroscopic constraints, it’s also the case that almost all of the observers with arms etc. who believe they have just waited a few seconds and failed to observe any evidence of the surrounding equilibrium are also random fluctuations with just those properties. You can conditionalize on any macroscopic information you like: in a randomly-fluctuating universe, it remains overwhelmingly likely that you are at a local minimum of entropy that evolved by chance out of equilibrium.
S: But everything I know and feel and think about the world is what I would expect if I were an ordinary observer who has arisen in the aftermath of a low-entropy Big Bang, and nothing that I perceive is what I would expect if I were a random fluctuation.
W : And in a randomly-fluctuating universe, the overwhelming majority of people who would say exactly that are, as a matter of fact, random fluctuations. That’s why those kinds of cosmological models are bad.
Although the existence of Boltzmann brains may be vastly improbable, it doesn’t make it impossible. They may inhabit one part of the Universe while we, walking brains, live in another. There may be other scenarios. Could the extremely rare occurrence of random fluctuations have resulted in the formation of only one Boltzmann brain that has given shape to all matter?
If ultimately, the sort of thing that the Universe holds within is a brain with furrows and ridges where signals ricochet, one might also ask where the rest of the body is. If even the most abstract idea has a sort of feeling attached to it, and without it, an idea has no resonance, no meaning, the organized manifestation of the life of feelings might as well have resulted in the shaping of a Boltzmann heart.
Are we, ourselves, part of a simulated reality or born out of a Boltzmann fluctuation? We would then expect not just Boltzmann brains, Boltzmann hearts, Boltzmann galaxies, and, who knows, Boltzmann universes to eventually fluctuate into existence. Such a suggestion would put us on even shakier ground. Therefore it should be rejected, Sean Carroll argues, because it is cognitively unstable.
The nightmare in the most extreme case envisaged is that exactly what you firmly believe yourself to be doing now, in this very instant and in every last detail, is being replicated infinitely many times by infinitely many identical avatars of yourself scattered around the infinite multiverse, every one of them believing themselves to be the one and only true you. What is more, each of them including almost certainly you, consists of nothing more than a disembodied brain that exists fleetingly in what is otherwise fluctuating chaos.
Julian Barbour, The Janus Point, p.77
This is not much different from the uneasiness felt by philosophers in the past. Long ago, the Chinese philosopher Zhuang Zi dreamt that he was a fluttering butterfly (needless to say that a butterfly strikes me as a better alternative than a disembodied brain). When he woke up, he felt suddenly lost. He no longer knew if he had dreamt that he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreamt that it was he. For all that we know, we could be frogs in a meditative state, dreaming that they are humans, looking for ways to jump out and escape their unavoidable environment.
All this flow of time that we experience and these various bodies that we feel, these different thoughts that agitate us, are perhaps only illusions. We believe we see spaces, figures, movements in our dreams. Who knows if this other half of life where we think we are awake, the French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote, is not another sleep a little different from the first, from which we wake up when we feel we are sleeping?
If we are allowed to dream that we are butterflies and live our waking lives as human beings, I feel there is more to us than our physicality. The stuff that we are made of is a kinetically nonlocal energy that transcends dreams and reality. In the end, we are left to wonder whether stars, galaxies, filaments are pictorial representations of a Boltzmann brain or physical manifestations that do not presuppose the existence of a brain. At the basis of it all lies the fundamental question of quantum ontology. It appears more likely that our thoughts randomly fluctuate in our heads. We are quantum-theoretical beings, not randomly-fluctuated physical observers.
My brain keeps hidden, in its folds, metapatterns, circles, and lines moving poetically, enigmas that do not lend themselves to reason, leaps forward and beyond. Circles contract and expand. They regulate the flow of my thoughts, forming snakes eating tails, drawing the start and end of Wheeler’s Universe. Inside circles, the snow falls into eternity, making the Universe quieter. Wells, too, are circles opening their mouth into the bowels of the Earth. What’s an idea whose time has come? Ensō.
(Quote by Thich Nhat Hank)
Humankind is not a circle with a single center but an ellipse with two focal points: facts are one, and ideas are the other.
Titan's many layers (NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)
Very well, you may smile at this; but you must admit that the model of the world developed here is at least a possible one… It also gives an incentive, not only to speculation but also to experiments…
Ludwig Boltzmann, Lectures on Gas theory
I have felt before that imagination is a double-edged sword, lighting up the path to reality and distorting it at the same time. While we may feel mesmerized by the imaginative power of others, we know our own to be involved in a tug-of-war with reason.
The back-and-forth between attractors and repellers in the three circles of dance left in my mind the image of individual streams of time, each with their own sense of being. While we follow a time path toward the Great Attractor, those in the zone of influence of the Dipole Repeller, who feel the repulsion of the Cold Spot Repeller, may be embarked in a time channel flowing in the opposite direction. Ludwig Boltzmann alluded briefly to a scenario in which processes would go in the opposite direction and living beings separated from us by aeons of time and spatial distances would feel the passing of time differently from us.
Hans Reichenbach contemplated in more detail the possibility that after “reaching a high-entropy state and staying in it for a long time," during which “living organisms cannot exist," the Universe would enter a “long downgrade of the entropy curve, then, for this section, time would have the opposite direction.” He defined supertime in a similar way as Kerri Welch writes about timelessness. It has no direction, “only an order, whereas it contains individual sections that have a direction, though these directions alternate from section to section.” It would forever be unknown to the inhabitants caught in individual sections that their direction is different from ours. For all that we know, we could be unaware that such fated circumstances occurred before us. That no living organisms had existed in the time gap prior to our existence would explain the memory loss of a time in the opposite direction, wiped out from the conscious realm.
Time, a recurrent subject in the dialogue between Consciousness and the Universe, is deeply embedded in our intuition. If the concept of existence cannot be applied to the quantum Universe where there is no “either-or,” I can’t imagine time being part of the picture either. If we could perceive nonclassical superpositions, we would see that any quantum state is a correlation of another. Timelessness and nonlocality paint in words the quantum Universe. Probabilities are the currency in which information circulates.
At the intersection of the quantum world and the macroscopic Universe is the field of statistics. If we look at the essence of life, it is a statistical improbability on a colossal scale.“The true explanation for the existence of life,” Richard Dawkins writes, “must embody the very antithesis of chance.” It doesn’t mean that we need to look for answers in the realm of the improbable, but to ‘tame’ chance means to break down the very improbable into less improbable small components. Peter Hertel argues, “There are no hidden variables”. The more we break down the very improbable, the more we mate quantum events to respect certain probabilities. When we say that quantum processes are ruled by probability, there appears to be a probability scale or distribution that we are made aware of. But if such a scale or distribution exists, it may be all about our own expectations.
Calculating expectation values is the task of quantum theory, not more, not less.
Peter Hertel, Quantum Theory and Statistical Thermodynamics
While probability, I recall, is said to be an operational concept, a philosophical category, decoherence and collapse represent, on the other hand, a technical approach more than a philosophical point of view. They are key concepts in the quantum-to-classical transition. Decoherence serves as a human tool that allows the conscious mind to determine how and when the quantum probability distributions approach the classically expected distributions. I will come back to the concept of collapse at some point in the future. But for the time being, I’ll focus on what decoherence means.
Wojciech H. Zurek, Decoherence and the Transition from Quantum to Classical—Revisited
Decoherence, Dieter Zeh writes, is the dynamical dislocalization of quantum mechanical superpositions — of what is “somehow all at once” — through the formation of entanglement of any system with its unavoidable environment. It describes, Maximilian Schlosshauer adds, how entangling interactions with the environment influence the statistics of results of future measurements on the system. However, entanglement isn’t just a statistical correlation between local objects. It becomes reality itself.
Environmental interferences bind together time and phenomena. Because quantum systems are never completely isolated from their environment, Schlosshauerexplains, when a quantum system interacts with it, what it becomes entangled with is a large number of environmental degrees of freedom. This entanglement influences what we can locally observe upon measuring the system. In the interactions with the unavoidable environment, not just matter and the conscious mind exist, but the information channel — part of past and present information on which path was taken — is also known.
Bits of time perspectives tenaciously endure. If it were not for the second law of thermodynamics under which the Universe operates and without causality, will time still slip away in the macroscopic Universe? The term coarse-graining was introduced by Boltzmann in 1872 in the context of thermodynamics. While quantum phenomena provide a source of entropy — defined as entanglement entropy — it is distinct from the classical one generated by coarse-graining. Any particular event may be an instance of a lot of different coarse-grained events, Antony Eagle argues. Carlo Rovelli uses the concept of coarse-graining to highlight how interactions within the Universe creates the perspectival aspect of time.
Arrows of perspectival time derive from the quantum Universe. Superpositions, though, do not cease to exist, even though they are not there anymore. From neither-nor, coherence and decoherence take turns in harmony. My mind wanders as it visualizes layers of time and space, all at different decay times. In the kinematically nonlocal Universe where time-dependent scenarios emerge, the collective kinetic energy bounces around and back.
Do processes like fractals mirror each other from one end of the Universe to the other? Stars springing out of darkness is a metaphor for ourselves. Complexity tells the continued story of a behavioral trait that spreads from the Big Bang to the fabric of our societies. It appears, though, impossible to predict based on its main build blocks alone the observable clustering properties of the Universe. How small variations on the set of cosmological parameters could produce a more complex evolution of large-scale structures remains one of the main issues for astrophysicists like Franco Vazza.
…any physical phenomenon can be regarded as an information processing device, whose evolution produces a sequence of outputs (e.g. energy states), which can be analysed through symbolic analysis.
For scientists like Julian Barbour, stars are fossil-like objects. For me, they are living things. I cannot look at the night sky and think it is an archeological field. Barbour asserts that entropy is better defined as a measure of complexity rather than of disorder. One does not exclude the other, I suppose. “This is perfectly true at the microscopic level,” explains Barbour, but not at macroscopic scale. Complexity appears messy, chaotic at first as an evolving system enters a new threshold. Its complexity grows inwards and outwards.
Guided by a thread of hope on the outside and a sense of harmony within, I wrestle with the words ‘darkness’ and ‘complexity’ as if they ought to say something more. Darkness is sadness that’s slowly sinking in once anger and uproar have settled. “Violence, ” writes Martin Luther King, “is the antithesis of creativity and wholeness.” We are blind moles weighted down by the burden of ignorance, hoping to see in the mirror that stands at the Janus point the reflection of our wings. Within darkness and complexity lies the essence of information, a path to differentiate all aspects of reality.
I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish'd, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went—and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill'd into a selfish prayer for light:
And they did live by watchfires—and the thrones,
The palaces of crowned kings—the huts,
The habitations of all things which dwell,
Were burnt for beacons; cities were consum'd,
And men were gather'd round their blazing homes
To look once more into each other's face;
Happy were those who dwelt within the eye
Of the volcanos, and their mountain-torch:
A fearful hope was all the world contain'd;
Forests were set on fire—but hour by hour
They fell and faded—and the crackling trunks
Extinguish'd with a crash—and all was black.
The brows of men by the despairing light
Wore an unearthly aspect, as by fits
The flashes fell upon them; some lay down
And hid their eyes and wept; and some did rest
Their chins upon their clenched hands, and smil'd;
And others hurried to and fro, and fed
Their funeral piles with fuel, and look'd up
With mad disquietude on the dull sky,
The pall of a past world; and then again
With curses cast them down upon the dust,
And gnash'd their teeth and howl'd: the wild birds shriek'd
And, terrified, did flutter on the ground,
And flap their useless wings; the wildest brutes
Came tame and tremulous; and vipers crawl'd
And twin'd themselves among the multitude,
Hissing, but stingless—they were slain for food.
And War, which for a moment was no more,
Did glut himself again: a meal was bought
With blood, and each sate sullenly apart
Gorging himself in gloom: no love was left;
All earth was but one thought—and that was death
Immediate and inglorious; and the pang
Of famine fed upon all entrails—men
Died, and their bones were tombless as their flesh;
The meagre by the meagre were devour'd,
Even dogs assail'd their masters, all save one,
And he was faithful to a corse, and kept
The birds and beasts and famish'd men at bay,
Till hunger clung them, or the dropping dead
Lur'd their lank jaws; himself sought out no food,
But with a piteous and perpetual moan,
And a quick desolate cry, licking the hand
Which answer'd not with a caress—he died.
The crowd was famish'd by degrees; but two
Of an enormous city did survive,
And they were enemies: they met beside
The dying embers of an altar-place
Where had been heap'd a mass of holy things
For an unholy usage; they rak'd up,
And shivering scrap'd with their cold skeleton hands
Words are chained to each other. Concepts circle in my head. I wonder whether they intersect. The infinite game of space, time, and gravity has formed the first circle. The past discussion on freedom, existence, and essence has created another. A post on agency, sentience, and consciousness has added a third. Since Rudolf Claudius invented the word entropy so as to be as similar as possible to the word energy, I imagine a fourth circle that naturally brings together entropy, energy, and information. We see the Universe as “a succession of snapshots that you might take on a walk through the countryside,” while the quantum Universe forces you to consider “somehow all at once,” writes Barbour. In a way, the table below is the first step I take to rearrange snapshots in my head.
Information is a bottomless ocean where it is easy to get lost. On the one hand, we are swept away by currents; on the other, we can’t discriminate between all the many sources. We know too well that it is above all important to learn to think, reflect, and reason. This is what Benjamin Franklin worked on at an early age with the reading of two fundamental works: The essay on human understanding by John Locke and The logic, or, art of thinking by Antoine Arnaud and Pierre Nicole.
More than 300 years later, it is even harder to find our way through the labyrinth of ideas and concepts. The information philosopher Kun Wu (邬焜) divides information into three different forms: information-in-itself, information-for-itself, and regenerated information. Concepts belong to the third category. Not only do circles intersect with each other, but they collapse into three new interconnected groups that help reconfigure in my head bridges between concepts.
Simplicity is not a winding road,
nor else a bridge across a river's span;
the days do tell of mysteries to decode,
which you and I must tackle, as we can.
The winter snow's no longer pure and white,
and season's, too, are strikers to the core:
sometimes it seems our world is one of spite,
we're afterthoughts in life and little more.
Complexity's an awkward kind of coil,
and narrow minds will often miss the gap;
the fool will fail, himself become the foil,
his flexuous foot that often springs the trap.
I have reflected in the past on the Universe’s expanding waist fed by microscopic degrees of freedom. They are spatiotemporal parameters that emerge into existence. If all other arrows could be derived from one arrow of expansion, writes Dieter Zeh, a physical observer would experience the direction of expansion as her future — which cannot be consistently remembered in contrast to part of her past. Degrees of freedom imply an element of free will. Could they be explained by process of give-and-take with the other side of the Janus Point?
Entropy describes the overall degree of energy spreading for the benefit of the Universe's own maintenance and its capacity to grow in an unexpectedly similar and/or differentiated manner. It measures its own agency. Could it be determined to be at “the same magnitude” consistently? While the uniformity of the Universe “at this scale in its current epoch is undoubtedly a significant fact,” writes Barbour, if one looks on smaller scales, the matter distribution in the Universe is “very far from uniform.”
Whether it be matter, consciousness, or information, there is, I feel, existence only in time. Time, writes John Peter Arendzen, is but the measure of phenomena, and by abstracting from phenomena, time ceases to be. Only then space and darkness remain. Because darkness is conceived as the “fluid filling the vessel” of space, it too could be abstracted. Only Void therefore remains.
The difficulty with information comes from our inability to conceive that it exists on its own. In-itself information stresses that there is matter there is structure and there is information. If the existence of information implies the presence under a veil of form and content of indirect existence, only Void, indeed, remains in the absence of information. In this tightly woven web of concepts, freedom describes the distinctive nature of the existential field. In it, existence precedes the essence of information.
Information is what Bateson calls “difference which makes a difference” born out of the process of info-autopoiesis. That which moves, including quantum fluctuations, leads conversely to that which exists from the mere existence of information to the rise of the sentient Universe. A cloud in the sky, a planet with a crystalline mantle, feel the push and pull of gravity. Could they, too, be sentient beings? From existence to sentience, it is a matter of information.
If there is a Janus Point, what binds us to the mirroring Universe on the other side? A negative-mass fluid or dark energy lies in the shadow of the open and public Universe. Barbour points out that the quest for quantum gravity is almost entirely bereft of experimental support. “In its absence, theoreticians can only fall back on whatever principles seem sound and come to hand.” Information entropy describes a degree of randomness. What has yet to know about its own existence reveals itself by expressing itself. A paper last year describes cosmic inflation in terms of a time-dependent quantum density matrix with time playing the role of a stochastic variable.
Conscious beings have found themselves amid fundamental processes that underpin the observed richness of the large-scale cosmic structures. Is humankind the only entity to display such a conscious awareness? I don’t know. But what I know is that we are bound to make tracks and leave footprints in time, taking part in the difference that makes a difference. And so doing, we participate in the complexification process.
When day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry. A sea we must wade.
We braved the belly of the beast.
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the norms and notions of what “just” is isn’t always justice.
And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.
Somehow we do it.
Somehow we weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.
We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.
And, yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect.
We are striving to forge our union with purpose.
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.
And so we lift our gaze, not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.
We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true.
That even as we grieved, we grew.
That even as we hurt, we hoped.
That even as we tired, we tried.
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.
Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.
Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.
If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made.
That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb, if only we dare.
It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit.
It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation, rather than share it.
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth, in this faith we trust, for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.
This is the era of just redemption.
We feared at its inception.
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour.
But within it we found the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves.
So, while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe, now we assert, how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be: a country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.
We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation, become the future.
Our blunders become their burdens.
But one thing is certain.
If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.
So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left.
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.
We will rise from the golden hills of the West.
We will rise from the windswept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states.
We will rise from the sun-baked South.
We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.
And every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful, will emerge battered and beautiful.
When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid.
The new dawn balloons as we free it.
For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.
What I see is four temporal dimensions: that which is, that which has passed, that which will be, and that which is always in the state of becoming. The first three are subjective. The latter is timelessness.
This past October, Imentioned that I would read Julian Barbour’s latest work.Lee Smolin is quoted to have said that it is simply the most important book he has read on cosmology in several years. What I appreciate in anyone’s writing — and I am only at the beginning of it — is the wealth and the extent of information that creates a sense of harmony. Barbour reminds us that Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, known for his insightful description of individuals as four-dimensional objects of greatly elongated form with “considerable extension in time and insignificant extension in space,” coined the expression ‘arrow of time.’ At this juncture, I feel the need to write another series of transitional thoughts triggered by the start of Barbour’s essential work. They will help, I hope, with reorganizing concepts and ideas in my head. Needless to say that I will devote the next few posts to it.
My previous article on Neptune brought me back to the utmost importance of the act of experiencing. Barbour lost his wife and daughter in the midst of writing his latest book on time. I can’t imagine that those tragic events did not mold his personal view of both worlds, the physical and the experiential. It is not that we need to paint the Universe with one brush instead of the other. We need both for the picture to be whole and complete. We feel so powerless as we experience the passage of time on a one-way ticket to a point of no return, whether that be nothingness or whatever we call the other side. The bond between Consciousness and the Physical Universe is, I feel, the most important subject within the mystery of time.
The signs of age are on the moon. It seems pitted, torn, and rent by the past action of long-dead fires, till its surface is like a piece of porous cinder of a planet, which rolls through the void like a ruin of what has been...
How the “arrow of time gets into things so profoundly” is as much a scientific puzzle as it is a philosophical enigma. Scientists struggle to reconcile symmetric laws with irreversible series of events that produce asymmetric results. Janus point — that is the title of Barbour’s book — refers to the Big Bang “on either side of which the universe’s size increases.” Barbour seems to point to a process that happens simultaneously. Time no longer has one direction, but instead has two “from a common past at the Janus point to two futures in the two directions away from it.”The laws of Nature, writes Vlatko Vedral, are information about information, and outside of it, there is darkness. In a way, Barbour is investigating what ‘darkness’ may be. The reason why it feels like time is unidirectional is the seemingly infinite length of the arrow we stand on, which left us unable to fathom what the other side looks like.
Barbour introduces an entropy-like quantity called entaxy that reflects the growth of complexity. The expansion of the Universe seems concomitant with the increase of its complexity. The thing with complexity is that it lacks uniformity across the Universe. From our limited observational capabilities, life as we know it is far more likely to get stuck at the bacterial level of complexity, asserts Nick Lane. We could allow our poetic selves to compare complexity-based systems such as a comet, a planet, or a star with Earth-based biological organisms, but that would not be the same. Complexity is darkness.
The planets must find their way through the void like the birds through the air.
Reading gives me a chance to look through an optical prism from a different angle, with each time a new sense of wonder. Astronomers, writes Barbour, “do not see the Universe expanding; they see it changing its shape and from that deduce its expansion.” It reminds me of what Sharon Glotzer said, that there’s “something much more fundamental to understand about the organization of matter, and by focusing on shape and entropy, we’re getting to the core of that.”Since entropy is, along with agency, one of the most difficult terms to understand, I’d like to review what ‘entropy’ means. As time emerges from timelessness at the Big Bang andevery time a particle/antiparticle pair is created or a new life begins, writes Kerri Welch, gravity emerges from a microscopic description “that doesn’t know about its existence,” adds Erik Verlinde so eloquently. The link between the Universe without gravity and the Universe with gravity is information “measured in terms of entropy.” Gravity is not an entropic force but it behaves in a somewhat anomalous way with regard to entropy, underlying a relationship between gravitational clumping and the entropy increase.The expansion of the Universe reveals three intertwined fundamentals: gravity, information, and entropy in a process that has allowed the synchronic conversion of information into energy.
I have intentionally formed the word entropy so as to be as similar as possible to the word energy; for the two magnitudes to be denoted by these words are so nearly allied in their physical significance that a certain similarity in designation appears to be desirable.
Rudolf Claudius, quotation from Janus Point, p.40
On the one hand, if entropy is a transformation value, shouldn’t it imply a primary focus on processes rather than on entities? Flows within one flow are processes occurring in the phenomenological realm of the Universe from one given time to the next. In the discussion on content and process, the avant-gardist Carlo Rovelli seems to be instinctively aware that there is neither space nor time, only processes that transform physical quantities. If entropy is indeed so abstract and difficult to visualize, it may be because, in the organized manifestation of thelife of feelings, there is not just a difference of form but also content. We can think of the state of a system in the past as a 'preparation' and the future as the outcome, hoping to predict what ‘darkness’ or ’complexity’ is. On the other hand, if entropy is regarded as aprobability of particle arrangement, it relates to a state of arrangement and particle movement and, in that sense, reminds me of what agency means, that is thesetting of physical associations and the implied ability to make choices from one given time to the next.
With that being said, entaxy refers to the growth of complexity in the Universe that includes “the formation of previously nonexistent subsystems that become effectively self-confined,” writes Barbour. Even those subsystems appear to form in the two directions simultaneously. Barbour not only follows Ludwig Wittgenstein’s footsteps for whom the “sense” of the Universe lies outside the reality of the one coherent and public Universe where “everything is as it is and happens as it does happen.” As he zooms out of the Universe and surveys it from a higher vantage point, what he has done is following thefootprints of time. Events still occur within some form or another of space or/and time. It appears to differ from what Stuart Kauffman defines as res potentia that is before the Big Bang outside of any space but inside of time.
Could an observer, convinced that the “sense” of the Universe must lie beyond, crawl outside and come back with the tale of the zygote constrained within the walls of a transparent membrane? If space-time is the record of physical reality, it is only one aspect of reality in the infinite game of space, time, and gravity.
Never mind Rovelli and others’ idealism. Reason had become our chief instinct and caused us to act as transcendental correlationists for whom what exists outside the correlation is nothing but indeterminacy, as Alexander Wilson noted. Blurred vision, when faced with the absence of spacetime, explains our failure to distinguish not just what is unknown but what is unimaginable. If time existed on the other side of a cosmological singularity, no matter which fundamentals of reality take part in the circle of concepts and whether some are co-emergent, it would bring me to the same conclusion of my firsttransitional thoughts that time comes first. Timelessness hosts the passage of time. From a point in the past — a pre-big-bang phase — remnants of a black hole gave birth to a primordial white hole bursting at once in a bouncing scenario.
Human consciousness, when it stands on the edge staring into oblivion, still can’t quite conceive any notion beyond spacetime. If neither space nor time exists, then can our experiential selves be the only ones to know? I remain cautious, once again, keeping in mind that I ought to go deeper. Barbour’s book provides me with the opportunity to do so. I’ll see what his take is on matters such as white holes crossing over through spacetime or from one universe to the next, wormhole structure between a black hole and a white hole, and the role of dark matter in the Early Universe.
Using predictions made by the French Urbain Le Verrier, Johann Galle at the Berlin Observatory discovered Neptune in 1846. The amateur astronomer William Lassell spotted one of its Moon, Triton, 17 days after Neptune’s discovery. Which pitch would have Boethius assigned to Neptune, had he known about the blue planet? Today Neptune is said to have 14 moons, all captured objects. Would the existence of Neptune, Uranus, and Pluto have transformed Kepler’s musical composition? Has anyone tried since to build on his original work? Beyond what can be reasonably thought, beyond consciousness, Neptune already existed in the background, waiting to be spotted to join the symphony.
Neptune and Triton (NASA/JPL/USGS)
Johannes Kepler lived at a time when astronomy and astrology collided. He was a proponent of a “theory of astrology freed from superstition”. He lived coincidently through another great conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter. I wonder how astrology relates to astronomy. Can the Sun and other celestial objects revolving around it have an impact on humans’ behavior? The late integration of Uranus, followed by Neptune and Pluto to the astrological discourse and the reverse status of Pluto —which is no longer recognized as a main planet but rather as a Kuiper belt object— makes it all the more doubtful that astrology could be a reliable system of knowledge.
If, for example, Pluto’s influence is based on its size, it is actually less massive than Jupiterian moons Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto, Neptune's Triton, and Saturn's Titan. If it is because it revolves around the Sun, it begs the question of whether the addition of all the Trans-Neptunian Objects and comets would make astrological data more accurate. To keep up with the flow of astronomical discoveries, Ceres, Chiron, Pallas, and Juno were later added to the astrological discourse.
Maybe the difference between astronomy and astrology stems from the difference between the physical world and the experiential world. Because of its lack of operational efficiency, we have assumed that astrology doesn’t work. As a scientific study, astronomy explains the cosmos’ physical characteristics, while astrology intends to frame how we experience it. In her 2018 book entitled Error and Loss, Ashley Curtis outlined her intuitive approach to reality and claimed that “reason has become our chief instinct”, but “not because it leads to knowledge of an objective reality, but simply because it works”. This “idea of reason as so transparently truth-delivering that it needs no justification” is an evolutionary advantage that we have embraced. The problem with reason is that it reflects our assumptions about what we consider reasonable more than reality itself. She concludes that “our real search for truth and meaning cannot but be experiential.”
I usually shy away from words like truth, for I am unsure that there is an ultimate truth, and I believe in myriads of bits of experience and feeling in the Universe, each with their own subjective view. Truth isn’t on the list of words, like avoidance, nothingness, and beyond, that cast a spell on me, for my truth is beyond. Beyond distance, beyond the horizon. Beyond the reach of imagination, beyond the heliosphere. Beyond appearance, beyond physical reach. Beyond the known world, beyond our earthly life. Beyond ourselves, beyond the grave. Beyond reality, beyond possibility. Beyond hope, beyond illusions. Beyond limits, beyond understanding. Beyond individual needs, concerns, bubbles, and beyond the visible.
But I agree with Ashley Curtis’ conclusion that to satisfy our search for answers, “rather than reasoning towards ultimate propositions” with a mathematical or philosophical language, “we need to experience as deeply, richly, fully as we can.” And that’s where I sense Thomas’ experience with consciousness comes in if we are to believe that within ourselves lies a blueprint of the solar system, if not the Universe. If there is such a thing that resonates inside us and lies within the dynamic interaction with the physical Universe, the individual consciousness may feel isolated because reasoning has drifted apart from feeling. That resonance might help explain the nature of astrological influence.
We are left with a licence to enchantment.
Ashley Curtis, Error and Loss
Still soaked in a Keplerian atmosphere, I wonder about the Universe's sense of harmony. In astrological terms, I am Neptunian for my love of the unknown and my exploration of the foreign. Neptune is the eighth and most distant planet of the solar system. It may have been formedby core accretion much closer to the Sun,in a colder part of the solar nebula than Jupiter and Saturn. It may even have switched position with its companion Uranus. Now located at around 930 million miles away from Uranus, 30 times as far from the Sun as Earth, it takes 165 Earth years to orbit the Sun.
Mercury, Venus, Earth and Moon, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune (NASA/JPL)
Neptune, whose apparent size in our sky isroughly a factor of 10 smaller than Jupiter and Saturn, has at least five main rings and four more ring arcs, which areclumps of dust and debris likely formed by the gravity of a nearby moon. It experiences seasons just like Earth does. Are they seasons of feeling such as those painted by Frank Weston Benson (in the circular panels on the South wall of the Library of Congress building)? Does Neptune feel the joy of anticipation during spring and the urge to possess in summer? Is its joy waning in the fall? And does it learn to embrace acceptance in winter? Each of the four seasons lasts for over 40 years.
Overall, many questions remain notably about the nature of the interaction between Neptune's very shallow ionosphere, its thermosphere, and magnetosphere and about the processresponsible for the elevated temperatures observed in the upper atmosphere. We may have to wait until the 2030s or beyond for ESA or NASA to send a spacecraft with anatmospheric probeto orbit the sub-giant. Until then, next-generation telescopes like the James Webb will provide more clues. So far, we have remotely observed that its envelope possesses highly supersolar metallicities. It is made up mostly of hydrogen and helium with smaller fractions of heavy elements such as carbon in the form of methane. In1991, it was determined that Neptune emits around 2.6 times the energy it receives from the Sun, which is the highest of any planet in the solar system. That is what gives it that overluminous appearance. Methane, in particular, gives Neptune its blue color. After all, I may be Neptunian, for blue is the color of my heart.
The three rings of Love and Light. Each for a maiden so pure and bright. Winter, Spring, and Fall.
Happy is the Lady of Flowers to have the man of her dreams, her hair like black silk, her skin like golden sun flowers, her words that flow like crystal clear rivers, her smell is lilacs and honey. Sweet to taste. Luscious is she.
Precious is the Lady of Snow. So fragile and clean. Pure in heart and clearly serene, her pale white skin twinkles in the night, her hair is curly. Love at first sight of the Stellar star night. Her words are cold but her heart is warm enough to kindle a fire. Her lips enticing to love. To welcome new life and Spring.
How great is the Lady of Colors to hold all three rings. Of Love and Light. To give them out and not think twice. Her voice is Music to Ones ears to make a Man fall head over heels. She knows the time to love and she knows the time of fear. She paints the leaves and the sky. She moves like a beautiful dance. She knows the time to be cold; she knows the time to be lukewarm. Her hair is of burning fire. Lovely is she and always in my heart is tied with three rings. Platinum, diamond, and gold.
I give to One of them. Never to part. The One I love across the hall left her clothes in my heart. The One that walks in the nights hall hides to Ones dismay. I look for the One I love just to find there all from Heaven above. I can smell the One in my dreams. At first sight is everything. How can I love another so beautiful and stellar? Free me from these earthly desires with a halo above my head. I pick the One in Heaven instead even though he hides in the dark, dying from a broken heart...
Three rings of Love by Hunter Anderson
Melancholy, or the Spirit of Man in Search of the Secret of the Universe. This Dürer’s etching, dating from 1514 according to the numbers in the square in the top right corner, depicts man contemplating the nature of the world in the state of melancholy, which in medieval times was associated with black bile and the planet Saturn. The winged man prefigures Johannes Kepler’s interrogations as he calculates how to express the underlying harmony of the cosmos using spheres and polyhedra. The bright light in the sky is the great comet that was observed in the winter of 1513-1514 (Jean-Pierre Luminet, Science, Art and Geometrical Imagination)
I do prefer poetry, for poets are drawn to sensible harmonies. Poetry senses bits of feeling, describes what the eyes of the mind see, turns ideas on their heads, and whispers sounds of freedom. To the caterpillars unaware of butterflyhood who believe that all experiences can be explained rationally, the irreverence of poetry leads the way. In the midst of fragmented reality where everything we encounter becomes one thing or another, with each thing outside the other, and all things separate from one another, authentic wholeness flows into the whole through the parts and back again.
This two-year blog has been an interstice of unreason and will be briefly felt, then passing in the timeless Universe. It has undertaken a long work of understanding and incorporating an infinite number of points of view on the nature of the bond between the Universe and Consciousness. It is meant to initiate a dialogue with sensitive beings and creative souls and will continue to unfold like an imaginal puzzle that makes sense on one level, nonsense on another. I let readers decide where reality hides and fiction lies and I thank those who have joined this dialogue. Your perspective on the subject is inspiring.
Allen Ginsberg entered a state of reverie while reading William Blake’s poem ‘Ah Sunflower’ in his New York apartment. The atmosphere changed and he heard the voice of Blake read out the verse. He spent his life trying to recapture that feeling through poetry, altered states and spiritual practices, recognizing that Blake was his guru.
Lately, I wonder whether the Universe communicates with sounds of music, sounds that cannot be uttered in words. As with Boethius who assigned a specific pitch to each planet, could the Earth be a soundscape made of ringing rocks responding to echoes of singing stars and faraway planets? There is a buzzing in our ears of multiple flows into one flow, strings of the Universe. Our inner infinity, endless depth within, reflects the endless depth of the Universe. Human Consciousness meets that of the Earth and the Sun and the Universe in the imaginal realm where imagination takes on genuinely transcendental capacities that allow making contact with what appears to be an entirely different order of mind or consciousness.
The Earth is one whole, living system: aspects of its cosmic environment impinge upon it, and effects in the terrestrial geology create further effects in its meteorology. Changes in its magnetic envelope can funnel further influences back to its geology. The whole system, as it resonates. All those forces and reactions play back and forth, creating responses, changes and echoes in all terrestrial structures and processes, from the most dense to the most subtle.
To Eduard Heyning, the idea of ‘star music’ is a gateway to a different understanding of the Universe and a vehicle for a shift to another level of consciousness. In our search for the heart of the Universe, the depository of its soul, one fundamental principle of Pythagorean thought is the music of the spheres connecting music, mathematics, and celestial phenomena. Do stars, galaxies, and other bodies and aggregates like filaments make noise by friction as those emanations of light and sound rub on particles moving through the medium of spacetime?
Ptolemy’s Harmonicssynthesized musical learning on a scale comparable to his astronomical work. Boethius bespoke a philosophy of number that seeks to describe the order of the Universe as it was known at the time in its most basic terms. When we talk about fundamentals of reality, it seems that we have been looking for them all along. Today, what we call theory of everything was yesterday a theory of harmony whose goal was to combine mathematics, geometry, music, astronomy, and philosophy. The growing knowledge of our ever-expanding spatiotemporal surroundings has, continually, shifted the focus of our attention, but our intent remains the same. Poets and musicians alike rather have the expression of this order rendered into musical terminology while mathematicians, and scientists in general, wish to transcribe it into mathematical terms. The ultimate question is whether we all are fools trying to find order in the workings of a clueless Universe that reveals itself by expressing itself. Idealists look for harmony; realists just want to make sense of it all. I wish to go back to that sort of authentic wholeness in our search for answers.
Figure of Lady Philosophy crowned and seated on a throne with seven maidens who represent the disciplines of dialectic, rhetoric, grammar, music, arithmetic, geometry and astronomy (Herrad of Landsberg Hortus Deliciarium, f.32)
Boethius distinguished three forms of harmony. The first kind, musica mundana, derives from the heavenly bodies’ harmonious movements, the balance of the four elements, and the seasons’ cyclical succession. Later on, in the footsteps of his predecessors, Kepler intended to reveal the harmonies in nature and in the motions of what was known at the time of the Universe. He proposed elaborate theories, beyond counting numbers, that connect geometry to music. He defined a string (chord) to be “not the line subtended by an arc of a circle, as in geometry, but any length which is capable of emitting a sound.” As a sound is elicited by motion, he added, a string is “to be understood in the abstract in reference to the length of any motion whatever, or to any other length whatever, even if it is conceived in the mind.” He asserted the necessity of the soul in order to establish the essence of harmony. Therefore, Kepler instilled a metaphysical ingredient in the relationship between numbers, geometry, and music.
For it is indeed difficult to abstract mentally the distinctions, types, and modes of the harmonic proportions from musical notes and sounds, since the only vocabulary which comes to our aid, as is necessary to expound matters, is the musical one.
Johannes Kepler, The Harmony of the World
During the Romantic era, absolute music was defined as something that “cannot be heard with the ears, because it is pure form.” It is an abstract construct, “an idea that can be imposed on any object.” Eduard Hanslick writes that in the psyche of the one who listens, the beautiful in music unites “with all other grand and beautiful ideas.” Music affects the psyche as a “sounding reflection of the great motions of the cosmos.” And as Arthur Schopenhauer pointed out, we may regard the phenomenal Universe and music "as two different expressions of the same thing, which is therefore itself the only medium of their analogy, so that a knowledge of it is demanded in order to understand that analogy.” If regarded as an expression of the Universe, music “is in the highest degree a universal language, which is related indeed to the universality of concepts, much as they are related to the particular things.” Schopenhauer went on to say that music is the direct copy of the will itself. We might just as well call the Universe “embodied music as embodied will.”
…the sound of ‘star music’ will always elude rules, notation, recording, or reflection, because its truly magical, extratemporal quality is only present in the moment of its performance, and in the awareness of those who are really present.
Cosmic consciousness is a shadow inside the Universe. It defines the vibratory nature of all the bits of experience that compose its music. Musicians like Eduard Heyning bent an ear to hear sounds of harmony externally and echoes within. How to make music in tune with the cosmos is their neverending quest. While, for some, the Universe displays a geometric structure, shaped like a dodecahedron with flat mirrors reflecting endlessly, for poets who are tamers of imagination, the Universe is a poem and humankind, a forest of walking brains.
Nice complementary article by EarthSky posted on January 25th, 2021 with an artist's animation posted on YouTube from the Southern European Observatory.
If I was to say what you seek is already here. What you have longed for is written in every star and planet. Every mountain and valley. Your self-conscious thought bound to the light that it has seen when in your mind was manifested in a very majestic scene the image of every single thing. Everything has its place and its time like clockwork in thought that preexisted time. Consciousness is only after the sub-thought that you exist and I am existing, for I am implicit. “I don’t remember how I got here. I don’t remember where I came from. But when I get to where I am going, I will remember to hold my head up high. I may remember my birth, my life and death... but you will recall all the rest. Has this dream stopped?”
Mircea Eliade, Two Tales of the Occult
Kripal, Authors of the Impossible on Frederick W. H. Myers
Johannes Kepler, The Harmony of the World, translated by Alistair Matheson Duncan, E. J. Aiton, Judith Veronica Field
Boethius, Boethian Number Theory, A Translation of the De Institutione Arithmetica by Michael Masi
Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Idea
Eduard Hanslick's On the Musically Beautiful, A New Translation by Lee Rothfarb
The overview presented in the previous post has set the stage for our next inquiry into our part of the Solar system. As we wait for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope to be operational, the vast majority of Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) are presently discovered by a small number of dedicated surveys such as NEOWISE, the Catalina Sky Survey, and Pan-STARRS. The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico that is now permanently closing played a big part in the planetary defence since it contributed to monitoring the close approach of asteroids, along with Goldstone DSS-14 and DARPA’s Space Surveillance Telescope. Coincidently, the Spitzer Telescope, whose mission included the study of asteroids, was also decommissioned earlier this year in anticipation of the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope in 2021.
Approximately 50 % of the objects are discovered before the closest approach and 50 % afterwards, primarily as the objects are approaching from the direction of the Sun and are not observable in the day-lit hemisphere using telescopic surveys.
The current rate of discovery is far exceeding progress in physical characterization that is essential to help inform hazard assessment. The Solar system’s small bodies are often regarded as more primitive relics dating back to the early stages of the Solar system. The Near-Earth Objects, whose number is -- I recall -- at around 24 000, are predominantly replenished by leakage from the main asteroid belt. The threat posed by asteroid families is mitigated by the fact that the large icy-body reservoir of the Kuiper belt is bounded on the inside by Neptune’s ability to keep asteroids at bay, while objects in the main asteroid belt may be subject to minor dynamical erosion and potentially destructive collisional activity.
Dedicated algorithms are in charge of orbit determination and risk assessment for any detected NEO, but their efficiency is limited in cases in which the object has been observed for a short period of time, as is the case with newly discovered asteroids and imminent impactors.
Beyond the mere possibility of an asteroid falling on our heads, there seems to be a legitimate concern regarding the instability of the asteroid families. A disruption within one of them could have repercussions on the future of humankind. The problem is that each time an asteroid experiences a close encounter with another object, it impacts its path and evolution. Although a cataclysmic event on a global scale is unlikely, it is anticipated that small impactors rushing through the atmosphere in the form of fireballs will continue to occur.
Given the current data, it is estimated that a space object sized between 1.5 and 2 km represents a threshold for a global catastrophe, which could result in the death of even a quarter of the world’s population.
A paper by Radosław Bielawski, published this year in Security & Defence Quarterly, observes that asteroids less than 50 to 100 meters across rarely impact the Earth as a single body. They instead explode in the atmosphere. Nevertheless, their detonation can still cause substantial damage. During the entry phase, the atmospheric friction causes objects to decelerate and pick up temperature. Owing to their insufficient size, they enter the atmosphere as fireballs whose fragments may occasionally be found on the ground.
Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs) are asteroids at a distance equal or less than 0.05 au, which is about twice the distance to the Moon. Apophis appears to hold a special status among potentially hazardous asteroids. On April 13th, 2029, it will pass at about 0.0002561 au, which is 1/10of the distance to the Moon, less than 24 000 miles from the Earth, according to NEODyS-2 and JPL Small body database. For sure, it will be an amazing opportunity to watch and study a passing asteroid since it will be visible to the naked eye in Europe, Africa, and West Asia.
In a white paper published this year, Richard Binzel of MIT and over 40 scientists urge NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office to plan for the appropriate investigations of Apophis during its flyby of the Earth. An asteroid as large as Apophis coming that close to the Earth is, on average, a once-per-thousand-year event. It is estimated to be 5000 times more massive than the Chelyabinsk meteor that caused damage to nearly 7 500 buildings in 2013.
Apophis with a diameter of about 370 meters will be closer to us than orbiting geosynchronous satellites. While it is expected to pass by the Earth and the Moon safely, weather satellites and NASA observatories will be in the front row. Not only launcher stages and inactive spacecraft that are often left into orbits could pose the risk of impacting and contaminating celestial bodies such as Apophis, but the asteroid could potentially bump into space debris, setting off a chain of reaction.
The blue dots are the many man-made satellites that orbit the Earth (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Furthermore, the crumbling asteroid designated P/2013 R3 -- whose picture I published in my previous post -- got me wondering whether Apophis could break up and throw a few meteorites in our way. P/2013 R3 disintegration may have been caused by the effect of sunlight and internal fractures that were the result of past collisions. A paper suggested that a fireball observed over Kyoto on April 28th, 2018 was indeed produced by the nearby binary near-Earth asteroid (164121) 2003 YT.
P/2013 R3 (NASA, ESA, D. Jewitt (UCLA))
Measuring seismic vibrations inside Apophis might warn us of any threat in that regard. We are -- as it was clearly stressed by the authors of the white paper -- still ill-informed of what impact, if any, Earth’s physical interactions could have on Apophis. Could they trigger a change in its orbit? The greatest uncertainty lies in our lack of knowledge of the internal structure of potentially hazardous asteroids. In order to measure seismic activity, plans should be made to place a seismometer on Apophis.
Beyond Apophis, among worldwide efforts to address space threats in the future, a 2019 paper reports the design, construction, and training of a relatively simple neural network aimed at classifying asteroids with the potential to impact the Earth over the coming 20 000 years. Another study evaluates the observability of Near-Earth Objects with the EISCAT 3D radar currently under construction in Northern Scandinavia, in particular for the detection and observation of mini-moons.
The Near-Earth Object Surveillance Mission (NEOSM) is another NASA mission concept in the formulation phase designed to find and characterize the majority of NEOs that could cause severe regional damage. ESA is also developing the infrastructure for the NEOSTEL Fly-eye telescope that will provide by 2030 early warning for hazardous asteroids. Finally, a paper last month outlined a mission concept aiming to perform close flybys of a series of NEOs with a camera and a LIDAR on board of spacecrafts. Could such a concept be implemented by 2029?
Although the sky falling on our heads is not of immediate concern, fragments of comets and asteroids continuously bombard our planet. As of today, there are over 24 000 Near-Earth asteroids. Of those, less than 10 000 are larger than 140 meters in size and 891 are larger than 1 kilometer in diameter. On its Earth Impact Monitoring page, NASA lists the impact probability for some known objects that may pose a threat. In the near future, 2009 JF1’s trajectory is predicted to be the closest to Earth in May 2022. It is a small asteroid about 13 meters in diameter whose odds to hit Earth are calculated at 0.026%. While Bennu poses a threat 150 years from now, its diameter is half a kilometer, and its chance of Earth impact is higher at 0.037%. In the goal to demonstrate asteroid deflection for the first time, the binary near-Earth asteroid (65803) Didymos is the target of the DART spacecraft. The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission will be launched in the summer of 2021 and will deliberately crash into the binary’s moonlet Dimorphos a year later to alter its speed. As a result, it is expected to change the binary’s trajectory.
NEODyS is an ESA-sponsored site with a risk list of 1128 Near-Earth asteroids. Just in the next 30 days, 20 known asteroids will move closer to the Earth. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a national research center managed for NASA by Caltech, provides orbit diagrams for their trajectory. Most objects today burn up in our atmosphere. Some, however, particularly those larger than a few meters, could pose a threat not only to the Earth but to other planets of the solar system. Every two years, asteroid experts from across the globe come together to simulate a fictional but plausible imminent asteroid impact on Earth.
2014 AA (NASA/JPL-Caltech/CSS-Univ. of Arizona)
While some disintegrate before our eyes, there are still objects unaccounted for that may be outside the range of observation, the limit of detection or the capabilities for identification, such as 2014 AA that hit the Earth’s atmosphere over the Atlantic Ocean about 20 hours after its discovery. While four, including 2014 AA, have reached the Earth’s surface over the past ten years, the asteroid named 2020 HS7 came close to the geostationary ring. Since the 14th of November 2020, another small asteroid, about 10-meter long, now designated 2020 VT4, holds the record of the closest non-impacting asteroid. Its closest approach happened about 370 km above the Pacific Ocean to the East of French Polynesia.
Hubble Witnesses an Asteroid Mysteriously Disintegrating ( NASA Goddard)
An asteroid’s brightness results from the scattering of sunlight by its surface. How bright the asteroid truly is depends on its size, shape, orientation, and surface scattering properties.
I have previously mentioned that asteroids are an incredible source of information in regard to any elemental and molecular signatures of life. Terrestrial impacts are believed to occur before the onset of significant environmental and biological changes. Most asteroids have irregular shapes. Scientists evaluate their brightness, geometric form, diameter and rotation period. The Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) conducts an all-sky infrared survey to gather data for the past seven years. Some objects, though, have dynamical properties that fall outside the window detectable to NEOWISE. A manual search through over five years of NEOWISE survey data has resulted in the discovery of 299 more Near-Earth objects.
… our new finding suggests that the flux of extra-terrestrial bioavailable elements might also have influenced marine biogeochemical cycles, marine redox states, severe perturbations to Earth’s climate system, and the emergence of animals.
Evidence of cataclysmic events on the Earth fades away because of weathering and erosion. A massive global-scale erosion event coincident with major episodes of globally extensive “Snowball Earth” glaciation resulted in the almost complete absence of terrestrial craters older than 650 million years. Since the Earth-Moon system has been co-evolving over 4.5 billion years, asteroid showers have occurred not only on the Earth but also on the Moon. Traces of meteorites and lunar craters are evidence of those past events. Asteroid evolution models suggest that the contribution of kilometer-sized impactors from a large parent-body disruption would have reached their new level within a few tens of millions of years of the breakup events, with the wave of bodies perhaps receding after hundreds of millions of years. Disrupted asteroids within families provide opportunities to study disruption processes for which real-time observations are relatively lacking.
Locations of the 102 validated flashes observed by the NELIOTA project (ESA, NELIOTA)
Since March 2017, ESA’s Near-Earth object Lunar Impacts and Optical TrAnsients (NELIOTA) has detected over one hundred flashes of light produced when asteroids collide with the lunar surface, where they are easiest to observe -- on the dark side of the Moon not illuminated by the Sun. A 2020 report studied 59 lunar craters whose production stretches over 3 billion years based on two models. The Eulalia family, considered to be the parent body of asteroids Bennu and Ryugu27, could have produced an impact spike between 830 and 800 million years ago, resulting in the formation of small lunar craters as well as on other terrestrial planets and satellites inside the asteroid belt. The paper concludes that an object 30 to 60 times greater in mass than the Chicxulub asteroid impactor -- that changed the course of our planet history 66 million years ago -- must have collided on the Earth around 800 million years ago. However, the report raises the possibility that some lunar craters, including Copernicus named after the famous astronomer, were actually formed around 660 million years ago when sporadic meteorite bombardment occurred across the whole Moon, possibly due to the disruption of asteroids.
Not all end up passing by or burning up in the atmosphere. A tiny fraction of asteroids sticks around as they become temporarily captured by the gravity of Earth-Moon system. The capture is always temporary due to interactions with the gravity of the Sun and other massive solar system bodies. An asteroid --known as Minimoon 2020 CD3 -- was captured by the gravitational field for two years until it appeared to have left the Earth-Moon system in mid-2020. It had a longer duration than the 9-month capture duration averaged over the minimoon population. Determining its origin remains unclear. 2020 CD3 may have been the product of the fragmentation of a larger parent asteroid from the inner Main Belt.