A fundamental fear

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Universum

 

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?  

 

Sundrops

Sundrops

 

 

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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Causation

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Causation

 

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. 

I remember words by Zhuangzi, that 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 metals and precious stones 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.

beardtongue

beardtongue

 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?

Yarrow

Yarrow

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

 

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On the terrible doubt of appearances

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

 

Of the terrible doubt of appearances,

Of the uncertainty after all, that we may be deluded,

That may-be reliance and hope are but speculations after all,

That may-be identity beyond the grave is a beautiful fable only,

May-be the things I perceive, the animals, plants, men, hills, shining and flowing waters,

The skies of day and night, colors, densities, forms, may-be these are (as doubtless they are) only apparitions, and the real something has yet to be known,

(How often they dart out of themselves as if to confound me and mock me! How often I think neither I know, nor any man knows, aught of them,)

May-be seeming to me what they are (as doubtless they indeed but seem) as from my present point of view, and might prove (as of course they would) nought of what they appear, or nought anyhow, from entirely changed points of view;

 

(Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass)

 

How many take part in a circle of concepts? My mind feels dizzy circling around with them. Doubts sometimes are stronger than beliefs and cast a shadow on the resolve to carry on, for the mind can’t discriminate fundamentals of reality. When building a model of the Universe, I wonder what input should be prioritized? There never seems to be one particular thing that can synthesize it all.  If information were the “most fundamental aspect of reality” (1), I can’t help but think that it would involve a relationship between an informer and an informed, a sender and a receiver, an agent and a patient, which, in my mind, would bring some sort of consciousness to the forefront before the stirring of energy and the emergence of matter. I somehow see something oddly similar between neuroscience and cosmology, for I am unsure that there would ultimately be a difference between a mathematical model of the Universe and a mathematical model of Consciousness. I still intuitively believe that a dream of a final theory can only include a theory of consciousness.

 

 

 

Information could take the form of a language of geometry and numbers ingrained in the fabric of spacetime, a code to explain the “hidden order”(2)  that stems from the fact that nearly 96% of the total energy density is coming from the dark sector with an hypothetical dark energy -- of which we have very little evidence -- counteracting gravity and hiding in a phantom field. Such information would need to use a shared frequency. In so doing, it would create echo effects and resonance structures. But, to the best of our knowledge, the Universe as a whole doesn’t act that way. If such information were sent, resonance patterns would depend upon the ability to receive it.  Cosmic consciousness could be understood as a web of resonance chains if it were to exist. 

 

How does energy -- that which moves (3) -- fit in the infinite game of time, space, and gravity? Energy is the brisk airflow that enters all the rooms when I open the windows early in the morning. It is the sound of the rain falling. It is the vibrational energy that artists convey in their medium, chased by poets who lose themselves in the moment.  In the flow of spacetime, curls and ripples of energy compete with each other. Energy creates waves, resonance, electrical activity, gamma oscillations, and magnetic signals. There seems to be a continuous transfer of energy and momentum from one event to the next that time carries through space. 

 

About 14 billion years ago, matter, energy, time, and space came into play. “300,000 years after their appearance,” (4) matter and energy started to combine in the canvas of spacetime, making time and energy an interdependent pair within the flow of things and the things that make up the flow. On the matter of energy, frequency, and vibration, Anirban Bandyopadhyay said that the Universe and human minds are frequency fractals that generate frequency wheels and that inside the giant frequency wheel of the universe, our human minds are a simple subset. Twelve different kinds of frequency resonances were identified to create a model of the human mind.

  

The discussion about energy naturally leads to the question of what life is and how life came to be. Living cells are “the outcome of growth and replication, natural selection and evolution, none of which is possible in the absence of a continuous energy”(5). Eukaryotes have up to 200,000 times more energy per gene than prokaryotes, which would explain their leap in evolution. Cells spend as much as 80% of their total energy budget on protein synthesis.  All cells derive their energy from “just one particular type of chemical reaction known as redox reaction in which electrons are transferred from one molecule to another”. Energy is no less present in a leaf of grass than in the journey work of the stars

 

Blue Flag Iris

Blue Flag Iris

The drive to become more conscious is the primary drive in the universe, and this drive to become more conscious thus drives evolution. To be more conscious or more profoundly resonating with the universe is the objective of a living system. This drive results in structural modifications and we call this process evolution.

Anirban Bandyopadhyay

 

The empty space contains an immense background of energy whose density fluctuations contribute to the emergence of gravity. Waves of charged particles battle the Earth’s magnetic field which is currently observed to be weakening in the South Atlantic region. We witness bursts of energy when photons are released in the shape of an aurora borealis and when storms are endlessly raging in the geometrical figure of a six-sided jet stream at Saturn's north pole. They may be stacked haze layers formed by condensation of hydrocarbon ices. Even the ice worlds of Uranus and Neptune, where bands of cool and warmer temperatures are difficult to assess, display deeper mechanisms of energy. The study of weather patterns and energy conversion shows how seemingly alive planets are and how similar they are to Earth. 

 

Saturn's hexagon (photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov)

Saturn's hexagon (photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov)

 

Although pressure varies substantially depending on location, researchers attempt to explain, based on observational data gathered, the complex circulation and distribution patterns of the gas-enriched air, what their source is, and what sustains them. Energy manifests itself in wind speeds, in Rossby waves, in an active plume eruption on Europa, in Hadley-like cells, in optical flashes that illuminate the clouds from below and cyclonic features on giant gas planets associated with upwelling over great depth and a “charge-recharge” cycle for water over multiple years. Lightning, too, is detected in the form of radio emissions and microwave sferics

 

In a March 2020 paper entitled How Well Do We Understand the Belt/Zone Circulation of Giant Planet Atmospheres?, it is said that the transfer of energy takes place from the smallest (eddies) to the largest (zonal) scales. Could it be what is defined as a shared resonance by Tam Hunt and Jonathan W. Schooler? In their paper entitled  The Easy Part of the Hard Problem: A Resonance Theory of Consciousness, they write that, in many circumstances, things resonating in proximity will start resonating together at the same frequency, achieving a shared resonance that is what leads micro-conscious entities to combine into macro-conscious entities

 

Doubt fuels the quest. It gives a boost of energy to the wandering mind.

 

 

(1)Vlatko Vedral, Decoding Reality: The Universe as Quantum Information

(2) Stephen Skinner, Sacred Geometry

(3) Werner Heisenberg, Physics and philosophy

(4)Yuval Noah Harari,  Sapiens

(5) Nick Lane, The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life

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Cosmic Sense

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

 

 

Poetry whispers sounds of freedom, transcends rules, turns ideas upside down, builds connections in the dark holes of one’s mind, and waits for the emergence of new ideas on the horizon. The full moon shined so brightly last week as if she was trying to bring clarity into my mind. But I just kept dreaming. “What does it feel like to be an octopus? To be a jellyfish? Does it feel like anything at all? Which were the first animals whose lives felt like something to them?” * Those questions were asked by Peter Godfrey-Smith. What does it feel like to be a chipmunk in a woodland edge garden? I would add. It has just come out of its burrow under the tree stump after it had hibernated the entire winter to climb up the serviceberry. Is it conscious? As a matter of fact, are an octopus and a dolphin conscious? And what does it feel like to be a butterfly or a bat? An invisible frontier separates them from us.  On the branch of the serviceberry rests the playful chipmunk.

 

 

Chipmunk in serviceberry

Chipmunk in serviceberry

 

 

I wish to be as authentic as I can be in the way I proceed. My thoughts seem to run at different levels of a network of highways. Beyond immediate concerns, pragmatic assessments, it’s almost like unconscious thoughts occupy the back of my mind. They do not reveal themselves and work in the background as if they know what they are searching for while, consciously, I am still struggling to arrive at an endgame. In my personal journey, I find it necessary to read and rethink what I wrote in order to pick up where I left and reattach a few broken thoughts. I feel it is important to go back to the original purpose since I clearly stated for myself the goal to reimagine what cosmic consciousness could be.  So let’s put aside the discussion about the nature of reality that touches the science side of the equation and think of this post as a recap on my quest for cosmic consciousness. 

 

Spiderwort

Spiderwort

 

 

By all appearances, the individual consciousness shrouded by emotions and reason projects its own subjectivity on the circumstances, conditions, and objects by which it is surrounded. I can’t help but think that there is something more to the individual consciousness constrained within the confines of a human body. I rather believe that individuality is an illusion. If indeed it is, how can it be dispelled? How can one see beyond the appearance of disunity? Those questions still linger in my head. 

Green-and-gold

Green-and-gold

 

 If consciousness were coextensive with human life and dependent upon the amount of information that circulates within the species, when there is a breakdown in the way that information spreads, it could result in uneven levels of consciousness. That may be the reason why Stefan Wurm alleges that we “just do not have a species consciousness” **and that only a few of us -- comparatively speaking -- consciously picture ourselves as members of the human species. “We have not learned yet to plan as a species,” he adds. 

 

Ninebark

Ninebark

It could be that what really existed in oneself would be found to exist either consciously or in a latent form in other people. For example, when calling others to show care and compassion towards every being and the Earth, if such a call goes unheeded, it may be that a shared connection is lost, buried in the depth of the Unconscious.  If “Consciousness is fundamentally that which reveals or makes manifest”***, it is not that few have a consciousness or even that there are different levels of consciousness but that there are various degrees of receptivity or sensitivity among the species. 

 

Geranium

Geranium

 

 

Reality is full of shadowy objects caught by the individual eye, which may or may not entail the imprint of an original thought.  Human consciousness evolves through the education of senses and the ability to receive and store information.   Our intent to respond to external and internal stimuli drives its evolutionary nature. As time goes by, human consciousness adds more pieces to the puzzle, one encounter at a time. It lifts the veil of the unknown, expands its horizons, moves to a higher vantage point, away from Earth, beyond physical reach, leaps forward away from the Moon, and escapes from the confinement of the solar system to flee from itself. Distances are everything. They provide clear evidence of the Earth-bound nature of human existence

 

Trillium

Trillium

 

In our eagerness to look beyond,  the instruments we use helped to increase exponentially our insignificant extension in space. To the edge of the solar system, Pluto is now closer to its aphelion point about 1.8 billion miles away from its perihelion. With Triton, Neptune’s Moon, it is thought to have originated in the outer protoplanetary nebula. Many objects beyond the dwarf planet, and Pluto itself, share an orbital resonance with Neptune.  I wonder what, if any, alien life forms would swim and leap in ammonia-rich waters under the cold and rigid ice shell. The existence of a subsurface ocean may explain the large and apparently young normal faults and the putative “cryovolcanic” features observed on Pluto’s surface. 

Pluto Majestic Mountains, Frozen Plains and Foggy Hazes (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

Pluto Majestic Mountains, Frozen Plains and Foggy Hazes (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

 

If cosmic consciousness were the overstory that stands above the canopy of the Universe, it would be coextensive with the Universe. Although hindered in its free flow by an army of armors, shells, and layers,  it would fill the Universe. Caught in the canvas of spacetime, it would communicate in an incoherent language, slipping by unnoticed from the first galaxies to black holes, passing through everywhere. The nagging question here is whether human consciousness is just one of the forms that it has taken over time or whether they constantly come upon each other.  

 

Cosmic consciousness is what binds us with the rest of the Universe. It represents the awareness of this interconnectedness of all people and matter existing in the past, present, and future. In a sense, it is a relational concept fed over time by all the different tracks that every object and every being leaves through the Universe, a collective manifestation of an absolute, impersonal consciousness that may well be transcendentally understandable. For a cognitive revolution to happen, there needs to be a collective awareness that there is something transcendental about the human species.

 

After all, it may be that cosmic consciousness is a conscious choice which casual or fateful encounters in one’s life lead us to make, such as the kindred spirits referred to by Elihu Vedder or the flower seed written about by Zen masters. The study of Walt Whitman’s poetry collection Leaves of Grass was the trigger for Edward Carpenter’s awakening. Cosmic consciousness defines a sense of belonging, a sense of responsibility that we share towards the lands we live on, the Earth, and the Universe. That sense of responsibility and the attachment to Earth and the Universe may be hampered by the extent of our own ignorance.

 

 

Initially, if I came to China,  it was to pass on the teaching and save sentient beings like a flower opening its five petals, whose fruit would ripen naturally. (Bodhidharma)

Because initially there was the soil, from the seed of this Earth was born a flower. If, in the beginning, there was no Earth, where would the flower come from? (Huike)

Although the seed of the flower depends on the soil, it was above ground that the flower was born from the seed. If this flower seed was devoid of its productive nature, there would not be birth on this Earth. (Sengcan)

The seed of the flower was endowed with a productive nature. Thanks to the Earth, the flower was born from the seed. If the previous causes had not been harmoniously combined, of all things, none would have been born. (Daoxin)

A sentient being came to sow a seed, then was born an insensitive flower. If the being had been insensitive and devoid of seed, the spiritual land would not have produced anything either. (Hongren)

White Oak

White Oak

 

 *Peter Godfrey-Smith, Other Minds 

**Stefan Wurm, The Human Condition  

***Evan Thompson, Waking, Dreaming, Being

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Poetry and solitude

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

 

Solitude is sometimes sought after to find peace of mind after becoming disillusioned or to forget our pain. Whether they be Chinese poets Tao Qian 陶潜 and Wang Wei 王维, Japanese artist-monk Fūgai Ekun, German biologist Haeckel and writers Goethe and Thoreau, “forced” or willful solitude resembles more of a nature retreat than a secluded niche in a city dwelling.  To those who may feel the burden of loneliness and regard it as “deadly banishment”, Thoreau’s words may help to alleviate it. As only poets do, he reminds us that the Sun, the Moon, and the starry night are lonely souls too. 

I am no more lonely than the loon in the pond that laughs so loud, or than Walden Pond itself. What company has that lonely lake, I pray? And yet it has not the blue devils, but the blue angels in it, in the azure tint of its waters. The sun is alone, except in thick weather, when there sometimes appear to be two, but one is a mock sun... I am no more lonely than a single mullein or dandelion in a pasture, or a bean leaf, or sorrel, or a horse-fly, or a bumble-bee. I am no more lonely than the Mill Brook, or a weathercock, or the north star, or the south wind, or an April shower, or a January thaw, or the first spider in a new house

Henry David Thoreau

It may well be that we do not submit to being alone and wish to identify ourselves with our surroundings. So let’s remember that we are no more lonely than survivor trees in a city made with concrete and cement. No more lonely than a nautilus swimming in the Pacific Ocean, whose lineage has been able to survive throughout millions of years of environmental changes. No more lonely than an island surrounded by an empty body of water.  No more lonely than our tiny blue planet watched over by the Moon. No more lonely than the rings of Saturn made of orbiting particles of ice and dust and currently tilted towards Earth.  No more lonely than the Sun stripped of its siblings. No more lonely than galaxies separated by the intergalactic medium. No more lonely than the flickering black hole GSN 069 swallowing mass from a star captured into its orbit. No more lonely than the asteroid named Ka‘epaoka‘awela, one of the high-inclination Centaurs whose origin is foreign. Based on simulations of its evolution, the retrograde co-orbital asteroid was probably an early capture from the interstellar medium. We are no more lonely than free-floating objects in interstellar space like Oumuamua and the interstellar comet 21/Borisov which had crossed over to our side of the galaxy.

 

NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley); CC BY 4.0

NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley); CC BY 4.0

The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me

Blaise Pascal

 

We wonder whether the Universe, too, is alone the same way mankind is, and reflect on the uniqueness of life in the emptiness of the Universe. It is not being alone in the Universe that makes us feel uneasy but what comes with it: silence, distances, darkness, and voids, including the largest supervoid -- 1.8 billion light-years wide -- in the Eridanus Constellation. Our limited physical abilities make it so that we can’t hear the sound of gravitational waves with a naked ear and we can’t see beyond the brightest stars with a naked eye. We can’t cross either cosmic distances that separate us from the closest star. Those circumstances emphasize the significance of the Earth-bound nature of human existence

 

As humans are drawn together, so too is matter. It tends to coalesce into nebulae, galaxies, clusters, and filaments as if particles of matter could not bear to have anything to do with the expanding emptiness around. Would we be alone if we lived on one of the seven planets of the Trappist-1 system,  free to hop from one planet to the next?  Could there be poets living on one of them who would describe a lake like a planet’s eye with fluviatile trees for slender eyelashes and wooded hills and cliffs for overhanging brows?  Is there such a lake or a crater left by one of them? Is there somewhere else in the Universe a poet seating next to a pond sending echoes to the Universe? Would we be alone if Everett’s many-worlds image would mean that the splitting “worlds” must be regarded as distinct objects? When tackling the whys and hows of the tragic sense of loneliness, the feeling of isolation from each other and from the rest of the Universe, are our emotions in the way or is our level of reasoning insufficient to dispel that illusion as much as it is with the illusion of time?  

 

But the intergalactic medium is not empty. It is just different, filled with dust, gas, low-density plasma, and floating debris from cataclysmic battles. Waters surrounding an island are not empty either. They are just different, filled with aquatic animals and plants.  There is no solitude when billions of raindrops wash over us, when winds blow through billions of leaves, when birds are chirping in symphony and when memories are flowing through our head.  What matters is not whether we are alone but what function each one of us has and our relationship with the rest of the Universe. Solitary comets are carriers of organic material and prebiotic chemicals. 21/Borisov reportedly contains significantly more CO than H2O gas, with abundances of at least 173%, more than three times higher than previously measured for any comet in the inner solar system.

 

 Loneliness is sometimes a burden for the one who hears a different drummer, who, even if in vain, wishes to see beyond illusions, find the meaning of life, and define the art of being. And it may be that I would rather be a passing comet than a grain in tightly packed sand dunes on Titan or a particle in the Orion Molecular Cloud. Solitude is a necessary time that allows me to attend to my inner child who once was captivated by an illustrated book on Copernicus and a French translation of Daode Jing 道德经. 

 

 

... a fool sees a familiar face in the eccentricity of a comet not bound by the normalcy of life on a planet orbiting the Sun.

Catherine Toulsaly

To go into solitude”, Emerson writes, “a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society”. “But if a man would be alone,” he adds, “let him look at the stars”.  So let’s touch the stars for a moment even if it is with our eyes closed. Let's not become Lamartine for whom nature beauties became vain objects devoid of all charm and grace to the point that he didn't feel anything in common with the Earth. Let’s not carry in our heart a soul so indifferent that it can not be moved. Let’s not lament the past with a “reverted eye” or “stand on tiptoe to foresee the future”. 

 

The white-throated sparrow left a week ago, signaling the coming of warmer days. Its captivating tone is replaced by the beautiful call of the song sparrow. Dozens of white oak sprouts have grown over time where century-old oak trees used to spread their arms before they became casualties of ozone pollution. The ruby-throated hummingbird will return soon as I, too, will go back to Glenstone at the foot of the three stone houses to hear the stream burbling and listen to the Universe breathe.

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Poetry and Emotion

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Michael Heizer, Collapse

Michael Heizer, Collapse

In bed asleep, while they do dream things true

Shakespeare

 

April here in the US is National Poetry Month. It is also in the same month that Shakespeare was born and died. There are writers and artists, poets and philosophers, civil rights activists, and scientists whose words inspire me. I am blown away by the depth of insight they demonstrate and can’t help but want to bring my own perspective.  Through time and space, they are the kindred spirits who haunt my memory. My words are neither to the level of Baudelaire's nor to those by Shakespeare. They are neither poetry nor literature. They are pieces, fragments of thought, breadcrumbs on a trail, sparks of faint light guiding my steps, voices in my head. “Poetry,” Carlo Rovelli writes, “is another science’s deepest roots: the capacity to see beyond the visible” (1). I dreamt a dream in which there were more things in the Universe than seen in reality and conceived mentally

 

 

As some were inclined to do, I think of the Universe in a more abstract sense as if it were a product of our collective consciousness, as if it were only a dream on which the others are grafted. On a stage where dreams and reality mix, in a landscape made in the likeness of the Universe, I once imagined that black holes are memory loss, white holes are sources of bursting ideas, and nebulae are state of mental confusion that precedes clarity.  Heaping dream on dream, I wonder today where I can find the heart of the Universe,  the seat of its emotions, the depository of its soul. If I could uncover it, it sure would take me to the source of consciousness. 

 

Can one truly fathom the underpinning of the Universe, find the key to its workings, and solve the mystery of its evolution without emotion? Can Reason be the only one to explain its riddles? The flow of consciousness made of image and narrative is said to be embodied in poetry. A poet who ventures to say that reality is another kind of dream which we are utterly unaware of will not hesitate to go on this quest. Poets hear a different drummer. They are the channel through which the voice of the Universe can be heard. Following the path laid before me, from stuff dreams are made on to “star stuff” we are made of, stars are dreams and the heart of the Universe is an abstract concept with feeling attached. 

 

Indeed, if, as C.K. Williams writes, even the most abstract idea has a sort of feeling attached to it, and without that feeling, an idea has no resonance for us, no meaning, there can not be a universe without emotion. Our mind does not fully differentiate between emotion and reason. An observer looking over the Universe would experience an emotional reaction that may trigger an internal dialogue ruled by feelings and cognitive processes.  These emotions carry with them a steady stream of information that our brain dissects, digests, and renders analytically.

 

A scientist might understand the poet’s wish to find the heart of the Universe more literally as to locate a particular place and would respond without a doubt that there is no center in the Universe despite what some may have claimed until not too long ago that the Earth was the center. Yet, the abstract concept that I am talking about here isn’t located in any physical place. The heart of the Universe is what, I feel, Carlo Rovelli alluded to as the emotion of time in relation to us.

 

The emotion of time stirs the soul of the Universe, driving it forward. It grows, expands, becomes heavy,  goes up and down the spatial and gravitational scales. For us, emotions are patterns of instinctive behavior with a biological basis. For the Universe, they are basic mechanisms that give tints of light and hues of color to nebulae clouds, planetary soils, skies and oceans, feathers of birds. Fibers that make the fabric of the Universe become torn,  rushed through by the emotion of time, caught in the grip of existential anguish, the kind that I can’t help but think leaves a diffuse sense of “nobodyness” (2).

Double Negative Artwork

There is no object so foul,” Ralph Waldo Emerson writes,” that intense light will not make beautiful. And the stimulus it affords to the sense, and a sort of infinitude which it hath, like space and time, make all matter gay”. The emotion of time incites the Universe the will to persevere. It is a stimulus that brings to being its own physical sensations.  It may not manifest the way human emotions do when we hunch our back, cross our arms,  arch our brows, raise our cheeks, wrinkle our nose bridge, press our lips, bulge our eyes. Its effects may be widespread and vary locally over the Universe.  

 

The emotion of time generates a surface agitation when a cosmic ray particle collides with a dust grain. Molecular chemistry occurs when cosmic rays interact with Earth’s atmosphere and planetary surface, consequently producing a cascade of secondary particles. It pops up to the surface of the Sun, where magnetic fields create dark-colored will-o'-the-wisps in plasma and energy flows. It generates cells’ growth on a planet’s surface. It stirs up upheavals from the depths of the Universe when powerful jets of ionized matter are spewed out by a supermassive black hole as if the original soul of the Universe were making a comeback. It produces multifaceted and widespread ripple effects through a network of invisible conduits that make its reappearance sudden in the fabric of the Universe as if it were dropped right there in the shape of events.

 

Concepts, words, and emotions blend together in my head. Henri Bergson talked about two kinds of emotion: one that generates and the other that is generated. The emotion of time, I believe, is both, one and the same. Although I am still uncertain what exactly generates it, I wonder whether primordial feelings motivated the Universe to act as a resonance chamber for the emotion of time. Who knows what reality would be like without the shadow of time cluttering our consciousness. The emotion of time, clumsy, awkward, is stuck in between, in the interactions we have with the Universe, at the helm of our fate.

 

 

Michael Heizer, Compression Line

Michael Heizer, Compression Line

It is not a speaking soul that the poet prides herself to possess but a listening soul that wishes to invite those who desire to listen to the turbulent emotions of the Universe, the pulsation of its heart, the murmur of its soul. Whether they be young Pascal, Thoreau, Shakespeare, Heizer, King, I wish they get it now and follow in the footsteps of the artist in the city of Kouroo.

 

There was an artist in the city of Kouroo who was disposed to strive after perfection. One day it came into his mind to make a staff. Having considered that in an imperfect work time is an ingredient, but into a perfect work time does not enter, he said to himself, It shall be perfect in all respects, though I should do nothing else in my life. He proceeded instantly to the forest for wood, being resolved that it should not be made of unsuitable material; and as he searched for and rejected stick after stick, his friends gradually deserted him, for they grew old in their works and died, but he grew not older by a moment. His singleness of purpose and resolution, and his elevated piety, endowed him, without his knowledge, with perennial youth. As he made no compromise with Time, Time kept out of his way, and only sighed at a distance because he could not overcome him. Before he had found a stock in all respects suitable the city of Kouroo was a hoary ruin, and he sat on one of its mounds to peel the stick. Before he had given it the proper shape the dynasty of the Candahars was at an end, and with the point of the stick he wrote the name of the last of that race in the sand, and then resumed his work. By the time he had smoothed and polished the staff Kalpa was no longer the pole-star; and ere he had put on the ferrule and the head adorned with precious stones, Brahma had awoke and slumbered many times. But why do I stay to mention these things? When the finishing stroke was put to his work, it suddenly expanded before the eyes of the astonished artist into the fairest of all the creations of Brahma. He had made a new system in making a staff, a world with full and fair proportions; in which, though the old cities and dynasties had passed away, fairer and more glorious ones had taken their places. And now he saw by the heap of shavings still fresh at his feet, that, for him and his work, the former lapse of time had been an illusion, and that no more time had elapsed than is required for a single scintillation from the brain of Brahma to fall on and inflame the tinder of a mortal brain. The material was pure, and his art was pure; how could the result be other than wonderful?

(Henry David Thoreau, Walden)

 

 

(1) Carlo Rovelli, The Order of Time

(2) Martin Luther King, Where do we go from here: Chaos or Community?

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A model of the Universe

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

The naturalist can never be its concept. Once it has become so, it is most likely an idealist. Sentiment, backward looking, attempting to collect what a constant collision has distributed to history; the natural idealist is what it means to be living-torn-apart.

Adam Staley Groves

 

Writing is for me an irrepressible and fragmented journey, the purpose of which is still a mystery. The process may involve picking up bread crumbs dropped along the way in the form of ideas or images. The trail won’t bring me back to where I started but where I can’t yet tell, places I don’t expect. The intertwined, curvy branches of the dead oak tree are whispering a pareidolic message in my ear. I see seeds of truth in a passing cloud, in mirroring rays of sunshine,  in petals of a blossoming redbud. Could a computational model of the Universe recreate the language spoken by nature, a massive siphonophore deep in the blue waters off the coast of Australia, bottlenose dolphins swimming downstream in the Chesapeake Bay, and the rainbows blown by whales? 

Cygnus Loop Nebula ( NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Cygnus Loop Nebula ( NASA/JPL-Caltech)

 

Visual encounters nurture my mind. From the blue Cygnus Loop Nebula to Wolfram’s spatial hypergraph, I see web-like monster structures drawn with three strokes crisscrossing each other endlessly as they create a causal chain of mazes and labyrinths in a seamless information flow through which causation drives the seen and unseen physical motion of an architectonic structure built on the principles of space, time and gravity. 

 

Structures in the Universe are entangled and organized from large scales to small ones.  The distribution of matter in space includes super-clusters, round-shaped galaxy clusters, long-shaped structures of matter named filaments, planar structures dubbed walls which are more extended than filaments, and have overall lower densities -- with some shorter filaments denser and brighter than longer ones -- and voids in between.

 

Computational representations of the Universe could, in theory, decipher the language used by the Universe. The spatial hypergraph may be described as “lines” connecting any number of points, not just one to another. In the constant flow of image and narrative running through my head, it reminds me of the structure of a symmetry group that repeats itself. The points of intersection are sequences of the film of events in spacetime. They embody the primary ontology of the Universe the same way those images and narratives embody the stream of my consciousness.

Spatial Hypergraph

Spatial Hypergraph

 

The Wolfram Physics Project is meant to add a new substrate in an attempt to fit all together existing knowledge about physics. It is intended to be an underlying theory of the whole universe, in perfect detail. The issue is precisely how challenging it would be to mirror every detail of the cosmos. A plethora of theories have spread seeds of truth in the past that computer scientists, mathematicians, and theoretical physicists are attempting to collect. Truth is a participative goal, a collaborative journey. Such an undertaking would benefit from inputs of previous and current simulations and computer models. 

 

Given the fact that most of the Universe is invisible and  95% of its contents consist of dark matter and dark energy, which we do not yet understand, I imagine that other projects such as the EDECS (Exploring Dark Energy through Cosmic Structures) could be of interest. 3-D models for sections of the Universe, such as the model for the Huygens Region of the Orion Nebula, could be combined to create a puzzle-like computational outline of the Universe. Other inputs to this collaboration could also be what we learned from simulations of early planetary migration in regard to our own solar system or models of the magnetic field of the Earth and the Sun.

 

We are learning that metal-enriched material ejected through galaxy formation roughly 10 billion years ago with a decrease toward present-day from supernovae and stellar feedback is deposited into the circumgalactic medium. In a paper last year entitled Voyage through the Hidden Physics of the Cosmic Web, Aurora Simionescu presented a new mission concept for a Cosmic Web Explorer expected to reach unprecedented X-ray sensitivity limits in order to gather data on the variabilities of gas and plasma conditions between, around and within galaxies, on specific measurements of metallicity and on the traceability of light and heavy elements. By measuring how far metals are spread, how many metals escape the halo of their host galaxy, and when this process occurs, and by determining the relative chemical composition between various light and heavy elements, we could in theory map out the chemical evolution of the Universe as a whole

Cosmic microwave background (JPL/ESA and the Planck Collaboration)

Cosmic microwave background (JPL/ESA and the Planck Collaboration)

 

Computational simulations bring me back to Franco Vazza and how he used comparisons to describe the evolution of gas in the cosmic web and estimated the total statistical complexity within the observable Universe. As I mentioned before, he stated that the combination of Information Theory and modern cosmological simulations makes it possible to tackle a challenging question such as the complexity of the Universe we live in. But the Universe, wrote Carlo Rovelli in his book The Order of Time,  is like a superposition of strata that influence and overlap each other. It is not just the flow of things -- gas and plasmas -- but the things that make those flows, their intrinsic complexity and wide range of densities, their granularity which allows them to manifest in the form of elementary particles or quanta. 

 

Those multiple flows within the flow -- streams of electrons, baryons, photons, and neutrinos -- make for the irregular, complex and dynamically evolving structure of spacetime. Deep into the interaction between gravitational and electromagnetic fields, within the texture of time and space and the web of a complex geometry are the things that all those superposed layers are made of.  A complete picture could only be achieved if all the variables are fed bit by bit into such a project.

 

A 2017 paper highlighted as well the need for magneto-hydrodynamical cosmological simulations and ultra-high energy cosmic rays simulations  in order to better understand turbulence, magnetic fields, and cosmic-ray evolution. Future radio observations will offer the chance to measure the magnetization at the outskirts of clusters and in filaments that connect them. Another paper on the current status of astrophysical and cosmological simulations of magnetic field amplification in structure formation addressed in 2018 the successes and limitations of numerical models for predictions of extragalactic magnetic fields.

Randomness has different antipodal relationships to determinism, computability, and compressibility. Factoring it into computational data remains extremely complex.  Nevertheless some give support to the idea that randomness comes as a result of our own ignorance and the limitations of our human condition. Based on a principle of computational equivalence and a deterministic approach to the theory of everything, a model of the Universe could in theory predict layers and layers of seemingly random events.  If one could run the model long enough, then it is intended to reproduce everything about the universe, Computer power, including quantum computing in the future, could crack a code that has been eluding us all along only if there is the necessary amount of computation required to do so. Indeterminacy is where the mystery still lies.

 

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The process of Becoming

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Imagination is a Monastery and I am its Monk

John Keats

 

I have found inspiration in myths and folktales. According to a legend, so “many moons ago” Native American tribes lived underground in total darkness. One of their animals, a ground mole, one day crawled through a hole and saw trees and rivers and the sky! The mole crawled back through the hole as fast as it could and told everyone of the wonders it had seen. Sadly, the light had made it blind. And so everyone climbed through that hole into the wonders of the Earth. 

 

Since I wrote about Ultima Thule over a year ago, the Kuiper Belt object was renamed Arrokoth, a term meaning “sky” in the Powhatan/Algonquian language as if we became the explorers who have sailed off across space and reached the last frontier of the Solar system to gaze at the skyline. The snowman-shaped 21-miles long planetesimal is thought to have formed in place and remained largely undisturbed. Once believed to be composed of two distinct spherical objects, it was shown during the New Horizons flyby last year that it is, in fact, a contact binary made of two lobes formed separately in a collapsing pebble cloud of the protosolar nebula at the time of planetesimal formation until the accretion of the two parts took place over 4 billion years ago

 

Arrokoth reminds me of another Native American tale, this one of Elegant who collected all the rags that he could find, and, kneading snow over a framework of animals' bones, molded it into the shape of a man. The formation process of the geometric, co-joined object appears to be common in the Kuiper belt, based on the abundance of binaries detected there in telescopic surveys. I can’t help but wonder whether Arrokoth is on its way to becoming a passing comet.

 

 

A team of researchers has studied three very different objects of the Solar system: Arrokoth, Saturn's captured moon, Phoebe and Pluton in order to uncover any footprints of their interstellar inheritance and shed light on the composition of the early solar nebula. Another planetary nebula, Helix Nebula (NGC 7293), shows the presence, inside its molecular envelope, of microstructures, those dense clumps of gas and dust known as cometary knots which might have happened after photoionization of the nebula.

Helix Nebula (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ.of Ariz.)

Helix Nebula (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ.of Ariz.)

 

What I see in nebulae is a sense of becoming. In the Ode on the Grecian Urn, the Urn whispered in the poet’s ear that beauty is truth, truth is beauty. Nebulae with gargantuan clouds colliding and burrowing into each other are celestial beauties, striking forms under a veil, entangled gas filaments, ghosts with an ethereal soul. If a collision takes place head-on between two clouds of different sizes, a cavity forms in the larger one through this process, and the larger cloud appears as a ring-like structure on the plane of the sky.

There are many different types of nebulae. We are told that four billion years ago, our place in space resembled the Orion nebula which,  together with its associated Orion Nebula Cluster located within the Orion A molecular cloud, is the closest region of star formation that involves massive stars. The brightest part of the nebula, the Huygens Region, in the northeast corner of the Extended Orion Nebula, comprises the Orion Nebula Cluster and is named after the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens who, in 1659, made a drawing for the first time of the Orion Nebula in his work Systema Saturnium. The densest region in the core of the Orion Nebula Cluster corresponds to the Trapezium cluster, where massive young stars excite and illuminate the nebula

 

Researchers are hoping to figure out at what evolutionary stage nursery stars are. Some are still accreting matter as if they were hiding in a cocoon, larvae in a beehive. For others, the presence of a transitioning disk gives an early clue on the development of future planets. A paper published last month presented an extensive study on protoplanetary Disks in the Orion Nebula Cluster. Another studied the accretion activity in young stellar objects in the Cluster and detected the presence of young transition disks with ages between 1 and 3.5 million years. And yet another paper published in January highlighted the structure of the Orion Nebula and its Interaction with Orion-S.


Interstellar dust plays an essential role within the interstellar medium through a myriad of microphysical processes. In the Horsehead nebula, the dominant process is the exposure of dust grains from the dense molecular cloud to the UV light of the multi-star system Sigma Ori. With dust evolution models, researchers are given the means to study how dust grains fragmentate, coagulate and transform under the thermal processes and UV light of stars depending on the wide range of interstellar medium physical conditions from the formation of icy mantles to the transfer of energy in the form of electromagnetic radiation when heated by photons. 

Carina Nebula (NASA/ESA/STScI)

Carina Nebula (NASA/ESA/STScI)

The Carina Nebula Complex is one of the most active massive-star-forming regions in the Milky Way with approximately 140 massive OB-stars and more than 1400 young stellar objects. In a paper published in March,  it was proposed a scenario wherein the formation of massive stars in the clusters was triggered by a collision between two clouds about one million years ago. Zeta Opiuchi was the subject of another 2020 study aimed at learning more about the nature of dust and magnetic fields in stellar bowshock nebulae, which form at the interface between the interstellar medium and the stellar wind from massive runaway host stars. Another recent paper identified new young stellar objects in the Lagoon Nebula while the Bubble Nebula was reported to be composed of a series of nested shells, some showing blister-like structures.

Lagoon Nebula (NASA, ESA, STScI)

Lagoon Nebula (NASA, ESA, STScI)

The Blue Ring Nebula is a different kind of nebula, the only ultraviolet-emitting nebula discovered to date. A newly released paper explained this relic of an ancient star-companion collision while another reported about the Gum Nebula, home to at least 32 cometary globules, the so-called comet-like clouds. Yet, another kind of nebula is the Pulsar wind nebula with a toroidal magnetic field structure. It is generally believed to be a site generating high energy galactic cosmic rays, like the Crab Nebula.

 

Chandra-crab

The Universe is in a state of becoming. 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, in which recurrence of similar events alternate with thresholds of new unknown. There are “no spatial or numerical boundaries to an infinite game”, wrote James P. Carse, “No world is marked with the barriers of infinite play”. 

 

 

Anak Krakatau erupted two days ago like it has been periodically since it emerged above sea level in 1927 near the site of the great eruption of Krakatau in 1883. History, wrote Sydney J. Harris. "repeats itself, but in such cunning disguise that we never detect the resemblance until the damage is done". Another oak tree has died as I seek comfort in the sky. At least the half-feral cat ran away from under our house where Carolina wrens have taken refuge again.

Anak Krakatau (James D. P. Moore/Earth Observatory of Singapore)

Anak Krakatau (James D. P. Moore/Earth Observatory of Singapore)

 

In the Earth’s outer layer, I see carved human-like figures running toward the source of time and dragon-shaped forms emerging from silvery stagnant waters. But the Moon caught me in my sleep. Her brightness woke me up from my slumber. The next morning, I wonder where she has gone, buried in the clouds as she waits for the strong winds of Spring.

Rio Geba in Guinea-Bissau ( pictured from the International Space Station)

Rio Geba in Guinea-Bissau ( pictured from the International Space Station)

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In search of Time

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Thirty spokes share one hub to make a wheel. 三十辐共一毂,
Through its non-being, 当其无,
There is the use of the carriage 有车之用

Ellen Marie Chen

 

We carry in our bones a foundational understanding of time, space and gravity. I picture them as three lines emerging from a single point of origin to create the geometric shapes of the Universe. The thirteen characters above from Daode Jing 道德经 become entangled in the translator’s mind. Is time a wheel with repetitive patterns of emergence or an invisible carriage taking mankind through infinity and beyond? Time is a tool meant to evaluate the variation of physical quantities. It underlies internal processes which result in macroscopic physical evidence.  The wheel of history is said to have a tendency to repeat itself. Its cyclical nature allows it to circle around. The human mind driven to find meaning has attempted in the past to transcribe those temporal loops into theories. Time is punctuated by events,  “organic” units of change, which stir physical disturbances in the fabric of the Universe. 

Eastern Red Columbine

Eastern Red Columbine

 

Most, however, don’t think of a four-wheeled carriage on an endless road. They think of time like an arrow. Does the arrow have two ends? Contemporary theories governing the dynamics of the Universe are usually assumed to not distinguish one time direction over any other. We see that chemical reactions go forward and backward and wonder why time does not behave the same. A “magical realist” would take time asymmetries as the unreliable appearance of the Universe and the irreversibility of time as a perspectival phenomenon:

Time asymmetry, and therefore “time flow", might be a feature of a subsystem to which we belong, features needed for information gathering creatures like us to exist, not a feature of the universe at large

Carlo Rovelli

 

We grieve its loss as time goes by and wonder where it has gone. How could something unreal be gone anyway? How can we see something that is not there? Ideally, those questions are best to be answered by an outside observer.  The “sense of the world", wrote Ludwig Wittgenstein, “must lie outside the world. In the world, everything is as it is and happens as it does happen. In it, there is no value - and if there were, it would be of no value” ( Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, p.87). If the camera held by Consciousness were to zoom out and survey the Universe from a higher vantage point, would she still see the footprints of time?

Ferns

Ferns

 

Naturally since we have learned to spatialize time, it is impossible to separate time from space and consequently write a story of time that is not the story of the Universe which science describes as a continuous non-equilibrium state of reality in which an element of randomness fuels atomic and molecular motion. From a theoretical perspective, writes Erik Verlinde in a paper published in 2017,  our ‘macroscopic’ notions of spacetime and gravity are emergent from an underlying microscopic description in which they have no a priori meaning. Time may be looked at on two levels. Microscopically, said a paper published this year, time may be discretely distributed in space as the direct carrier of quantized energy. Furthermore it is defined by the photon inflow (and outflow) into the atom and the related irreversibility due to the interaction photon-atomic electron. Macroscopically, time manifests itself in the interaction between matter and thermal radiation: 

...the macroscopic irreversibility is no more than a consequence of the microscopic irreversibility due to the interaction photon-electron, or from a macroscopic point of view between the electromagnetic waves and the matter.

Umberto Lucia & Giulia Grisolia

 

 

If the arrow had two ends, the Universe would be kept within close bounds. If space is a closed system, write the authors of a paper last year titled Death: An Unpredictable Variable of Time - Is the Impossible Possible?, “the future for space does not exist, while for the brain, it could be the path of dialogue towards a dimension out of time and space, to use a term understandably defined in common language, in eternity, that is, in a concept that does not contain the sense of finiteness.” Some doubt indeed, that time did not precede the Big Bang and that it won’t persist beyond a Big Crunch, Rip or freeze. If it is the latter, nothing in the Universe will move around, producing a freezing for all the eternity. Multiple scenarios of cyclic Universe models have been proposed over time. A 2019 paper proposed a  new kind of cyclic universe without a Big Bang.  Another one last year presented a scenario in which the Universe like a beating heart would start from nothing and then expands, contracts and expands again. I still wonder in my mind whether time would go on without disruption or reverse course during contraction. 

Serviceberry

Serviceberry

 

The irreversibility of time refers to the order of events. Umberto Lucia and Giulia Grisolia argue that any completely reversible system should be able to disappear in a space position and to appear in any other space position without spending time. To explain the seemingly irreversible order of time, Yakir Aharonov, Eliahu Cohen and Tomer Landsberger developed an interpretation of the two-state vector formalism and suggested, as I mentioned in an earlier post, the paradox that the past and the future play an equal role in the determination of the quantum state at the intermediate points between the initial and final states.  Within the course of the Universe would run a trail of events, endless middle ways of elements of reality. Another scenario putting into question the irreversibility of time involves a time-reversed antimatter Universe hiding in plain sight. It was proposed that there be two universes both expanding from the point of view of their internal inhabitants, who identify matter with the particles that move in their spacetimes and antimatter with the particles that move in the time reversely symmetric universe

Logic is not a theory but a reflection of the World

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Ludwig Wittgenstein, p.82

 

In a multidimensional continuum, I see time, space and gravity drawing, on their path, flows and loops in the fabric of the Universe. I hear the songs of hidden white-throated sparrows still echoing in surrounding trees. One morning I took a walk and gazed at the sky where moon-like clouds were chasing each other in a long line of white clusters. I can’t tell from here whether space is infinite but since my mind cannot realistically consider time and space as separate entities, if space is infinite, time surely is too. The infinite, said Louis-Auguste Blanqui, can only present itself in the form of the indefinite. Is that why time seems so elusive? 

Virginia bluebells

Virginia bluebells

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Theory of everything

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Boulder, Goldsworthy, Glenstone

Boulder, Goldsworthy, Glenstone

 

The stream is burbling at the bottom of the hill outside the three little pigs houses: one with a globe inside, the other an empty square room and the third with a hole in the wall. The three little pigs listen to the water sounds but their perception of reality differs. When Einstein met Tagore, when Bohm met Krishnamurti, did they agree on what universe we live in? 

 

 

I read Lee Smolin’s book like a journey into reality, a historical search for answers, an invitation to take a pause and dwell on a theory of everything. With remarkable clarity of expression, he urges us to demonstrate the utmost lucidity when tackling the idea of a theory of everything, Einstein’s unfinished revolution. Are we the ones who will figure it out or is the dream beyond today’s reach? “There is,” Smolin writes, “a subtle but key difference between the idea that quantum mechanics is the theory of everything, and the hope of extending quantum theory to include the whole universe.” (p. 27). 

 

Holes, Goldsworthy, Glenstone

Holes, Goldsworthy, Glenstone

 

As I alluded in the introductory remarks, I think of this blog as a notepad meant to gather my own stream of consciousness. My thought process needs a lot of unwinding and rewinding in order to move forward, like the story of The Little Engine That Could. And so I took another look at earlier posts in light of Smolin’s book and recall Helmut Fink and Hajo Leshcke conclusions that the existence of a quantum state of the whole universe can only be a metaphysical idea

 

 

Claude Shannon, writes Smolin, defined information as a channel that carries “a message from a sender to a receiver”. “The Universe as a whole is not such a channel of information”  (p.189). In a highly compartmentalized Universe, cut into pieces, we are acutely aware of our tragic sense of isolation as individual beings and as a collective whole. In order for the sender and the receiver to communicate with each other, they need to share the same “language, by means of which they give meaning to a sequence of symbols” and therefore, the shared semantics need in a way to operate on the same frequency.

 

 

“In principle,” writes Smolin “system quantum mechanics applies to must be a subsystem of a larger system” (p.26) and given “the quantum state of an isolated system at one time, there is a law that will predict the precise quantum state of that system at any other time” (p.31). In his own search for a new theory, he writes that “we need to back off from our models, postpone conjectures about constituents, and begin again by talking about principles” (p.227). With that in mind, he identifies five principles and proposes three hypotheses, one being the irreversibility of time. 

 

Realists show a willingness to accept what is. Somehow I can’t. Drawn by the unexplainable and the theoretical pathways I forget to bring my feet back on the ground as I dream of hidden variables and what lies beyond. Against all odds, I am still struggling with the overarching principle of time.  I see time as having no independent reality. It is neither an absolute nor a universal constant. Since time is relative, its raison d'être disappears. Time is non-existent. Each moment in time offers its own version of reality as if space-time were cut into slices and each slice represented a universe. For us, humans, the intangible past is relegated to the archives of our selective memory and our vanished memories are signals sent in the present moment by our brain cells. Could we call into question even the principle of temporal locality?

...temporal locality is deeply woven into many of the key results on which our present understanding of the interpretation of quantum theory is founded, and unpicking it would require a radical reinterpretation of the significance of those results.

Emily Adlam

Room, Goldsworthy, Glenstone

Room, Goldsworthy, Glenstone

 

Smolin mentions Julian Barbour’s proposal that “Reality is just the vast collection of moments” (p.202). But that vast collection of moments -- the collective whole -- are loops of temporalities incorporated in some more stringent actual conditions such as the setting of our own solar system which displays neither the compactness of many Kepler planetary systems nor planets intermediate in size between Earth and Neptune. There is a gap -- whether it be temporal, physical or conceptual -- between the observable reality and the unobservables. “Science” which “sees itself as an actor in the interplay between man and nature” (p.92) attempts to fill the gap by making us realize what actually is. 


The universe consists of nothing but views of itself, each from an event in its history, and the laws act to make these views as diverse as possible.

Einstein's Unfinished Revolution, Lee Smolin, p.271

 

In his defense of realism, Smolin cites Roger Penrose. “The sudden change of the wave function is not, as some hold, due to an update in our knowledge of where the particle is; it is a genuine physical process” (p.139), an effect of gravity. But for Bohr, neither particles nor waves are attributes of nature. “They are no more than ideas in our minds, which we impose on the natural world”(p.84).  Science is not about nature. “It does not and cannot give us an objective picture of what nature is like” (p.85). In a sense, science translates reality using “tables of numbers which represent the interactions with the atom, but not the atom directly” (p.89). 

Each picture is legitimate when used in the right place, but the different pictures are contradictory and therefore we call them mutually complementary

Einstein's Unfinished Revolution, Lee Smolin, p.93

Against the proponents of an anti-realist view of the Universe, Smolin quotes another realist Carlo Rovelli for whom“reality consists of the sequence of events by means of which a system on one side of a boundary may gain information about the part of the world on the other side” (p.198) as if a narrow window could be opened from one level to the next of a structured reality. 

...once we accept that the universe may be generically nonlocal across both time and space, it becomes at least plausible that quantum theory as we know it is simply the local limit of a global theory which applies constraints across the whole of space and time.

Emily Adlam

 

Historians have a deterministic approach to History. Scientists have a deterministic view of the physical world. Theorists, for their part, have a probabilistic vision of the future. Clueless about our distant past and future, we remain all the more convinced of the interconnectedness of the universe.  Should a theory of everything be deterministic? A theory that would create a picture of an integrated and interconnected Universe may well be deterministic. But if randomness were a quintessential part of the Universe, a theory of everything would ultimately be probabilistic. 

...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?

Randomness

 

If we take a realist approach to the workings of the Universe, Smolin concludes that so far, none of the well-developed options such as the pilot wave theory, the wave function collapse, retrocausality and superdeterminism are “convincing” (p.205). The thing is that in order to invent a theory of everything, we ought to go deeper and the further we travel in time and space, the deeper we need to go as if we were extending our arms hoping to catch something that still remains beyond our reach. A theory of everything may in a sense be in constant evolution.

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.

Realism

 

Self-reflection takes the form of a dialogue between an eagle and a condor on ways to close the communication gap between the different elements of reality. Have we become the people we have been waiting for and the keepers of the dream

The history of the universe, according to an energetic causal set model, consists of events which are each the causes of future events, to which they transfer some energy and momentum.

Einstein's Unfinished Revolution, Lee Smolin, p.261

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