Randomness

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

...probability is not a physical energy. Probability is an operational concept that can be held by a conscious mind, a philosophical category that is distinct from physical energy.

Christopher W. Tyler

 

Randomnicity is in the eye of the beholder. In order to gain a better understanding, humans struggle to measure probabilities and use statistics to prove theories. Time and time again, randomness may reveal its mystery.  Imagination advances inch by inch into a maze of impasses, around standing walls ready to crumble. It carries humanity forward even though, at times, through falsehood and controversies. Words and images are used for support like a staff would be used by a pilgrim to assist in walking. One of the greatest painters, Leonardo da Vinci, studied fluid dynamics, the nature of waves, even the sun glitter on the terrestrial seas. “Forms”, I read in French while walking through Le Louvre exhibit, “are an illusion the Universe by its unceasing movement keeps on stripping away”. 

Leonardo da Vinci, Le Louvre, Paris
Leonardo da Vinci, Le Louvre, Paris

Leonardo da Vinci, Le Louvre, Paris

Poets, go to the ocean shore. You will sing the mystery of the infinite. You will feel the power of solitude out on the coastline

Odilon Redon

 

Flying over Charlie Gibbs fracture zone where polar and southern waters meet, I wonder whether randomness plays a role in waves’ formation. The word “randomness” implies that time exists. It means that something is unpredictable. Earth may well be a pantheon which holds the thoughts and ideas of the Universe.  Anastasios Tsonis, better known for his controversial views on climate change, wrote a book that caught my eye, entitled Randomnicity: Rules and Randomness in the Realm of the Infinite (2008). If it is easy to speak in general terms of the unitary system that is the Universe, it is in the details, in the complexity of the interactions compartmentalized in an infinite number of structures and at unlimited spatio-temporal levels that the difficulty of our observation lies. I mentioned in my previous post the idea that loops of temporalities seem to hang from the linear representation of time and that’s what makes a prediction so problematic. Statistical inference of causal interactions and synchronization between dynamical phenomena evolving on different temporal scales is of vital importance for better understanding and prediction of complex systems. 

 

 

Time-domain astrophysics is a new field of observational astronomy that studies the universe on all timescales from less than milliseconds to more than decades, and at all wavelengths.

Phil Charles and Aarran Shaw

Orion A and the role of magnetic field (ESA/Herschel/Planck; J. D. Soler, MPIA)

Orion A and the role of magnetic field (ESA/Herschel/Planck; J. D. Soler, MPIA)

 

 

Randomness conveys a sense of disorder. It challenges us to find order in chaos, to devise theories and laws in the hope to explain what drives those forces of chaos. It refers to the occurrence of transient events such as bursts of energy in patchy molecular clouds. The rate at which stars form is a pivotal quantity in tracing a galaxy’s fundamental properties and distribution of matter and activity. Gravitational instability is controlled by turbulent velocity rather than by the temperature In a 2019 study pertaining to the evolution of molecular clouds in the central region of giant galaxies, Suman Paul and Tanuka Chattopadhyay developed a time-dependent random fragmentation model with turbulence as one of the key parameters.

 

Solar wind (NASA)

Solar wind (NASA)

 

When our observation remains inconclusive and events appear inconsistent with our prior knowledge, we suspend our judgment until more information becomes available. Randomness makes us feel unsteady. It may refer to an event intermittent at best, erratic at worst, whether it be the outflow of solar material streaming out from the Sun, the irregular noise that the electromagnetic waves make rippling around the Earth, the incoherence in the quantum fluctuations. or the sunflower patterns. The Polarimeter to Unify the Corona and Heliosphere (PUNCH) mission was selected by NASA this year to study solar winds and coronal mass ejections with the goal of understanding how solar particles interact with Earth’s magnetic field. A 2019 paper on the sunflower lemma is said to be an important step aimed at finding meaning in randomness.

If you have a large enough mathematical object of some nature, there has to be some hidden structure inside it.

Shachar Lovett

 

In their respective mediums, artists and mathematicians alike are embarked on a similar quest to identify patterns and structures out of otherwise random systems. Mystery rises again and again to the surface. The moment we begin to really look at what is, we also begin to imagine what it might be. I flew back over Deer Lake, Labrador City and Caribou and saw the silvery reflection of the sun glitter on the ocean cast by the hazy sun along the shores of Long Island, like a slow, almost static flow of thick liquid silver. “Mystery”, Odilon Redon said, “ is all the time ambiguous, open to double, triple interpretations, hints of appearance, forms coming into being and forms being revealed based on the observer’s state of mind”. Within the Universe lies random bits of mystery. 

 

 

The randomness of historical findings, such as the discovery of a giant planet orbiting a low-mass star, raises in my mind the question of their timing. Almost 4000 exoplanets have been discovered to date, but largely because of their intrinsic faintness,  only 10% have been found so far orbiting low-mass M dwarf stars, in spite of this stellar type being the most numerous in the Galaxy. GJ 3512 b has a minimum mass of 0.46 times that of Jupiter. Two years ago, another odd couple was found. It involved a planet called NGTS-1b about the size of Jupiter. If, as James Baldwin was quoted as saying, “the great force of history comes from the fact that... we are unconsciously controlled by it”, could it mean that every random discovery is part of a larger scheme of things meant to guide us through the maze of the unknowable?

 

 

Questions arise like waves in the ocean. Hundreds, if not thousands, of substellar objects have been found so far.  Is there a bridge between the least massive stars and the most massive planets?   Is there a mass limit for the least luminous stars? In the mix, the peculiar substellar objects, named brown dwarfs with the same temperature range and many physical properties shared by giant exoplanets, add to the mystery surrounding our Universe.

 

 

Randomness conveys a lingering sense of uncertainty. In a new Renaissance era, I wish to find peace in Edward O. Wilson’s call for consilience. The Gaia hypothesis implies that every form of life interacts in manifold ways with its biotic and abiotic environments and that these interactions form a multilevel network from which higher-level properties can emerge  If Earth is a global living system, it begs the question of how many planets like ours are out there. Can those holobiont-like systems communicate with each other, even separated by a large distance, in some quantum entanglement-like conditions that only poets would dare to dream of? 

 

 

51 Eri b is the first planet discovered by the Gemini Planet Imager Exoplanet Survey. It rotates around a star, part of a moving group that is about 26 to 29 million years old. It seems to have a cloudy atmosphere with patchy clouds. Does she know that Earth is about 100 light-years away from her?  The mind of the poet remains irresistibly drawn to lonely travelers, free-floating objects, faint shadows in the interstellar space like CFBDSIR 2149 of the size of Jupiter that may be a young isolated planetary-mass object possibly similar to the exoplanet 51 Eri b, or perhaps an older brown dwarf.

 

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Cosmic Web

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

We feel clearly that we are only now beginning to acquire reliable material for welding together the sum total of all that is known into a whole; but, on the other hand, it has become next to impossible for a single mind fully to command more than a small specialized portion of it.

Schrödinger, What is life?

 

Words form a circle dance in my head. If cognition is construed as an interaction between and mutual definition of a living unit and its environment, I am a “living unit” and the Universe is my environment. In the midst of it all, I feel free to reflect on the mirroring nature of words. Caught in the threads of my own thought, the self-made web of my imagination, I am entangled in the places I go, the things I do, the people I meet. I am entangled in my daily life, confronted with the needs of my inescapable body. Am I a physical resonance of the Universe? 

 

Reading about comets and biology gave me a peculiar perspective. A dormant comet, a planet or a star is a complexity-based system governed by organizational and variational rules. They bear comparison with a biological organism that exhibits at times different degrees in their capacity to move. They are intrinsically teleological objects with a tale of their own, an account of random events that constitutes the foundation of their historicity. Life is a sequence of events, a suspended period of extended criticality. It is a process during which a “living unit” finds itself in a constant struggle to reaffirm its runaway identity. 

 

A physicist and a biologist study the whys and the hows. As I walk on the tightrope that separates the two, I draw a parallel between a particle that remains a wave of probability until it is detected and a historical object that takes a particular path among several possible paths through time and cannot all be described ahead of time. Through time and space, I see the Universe unfolding its networks of relationships between “local” and “global”. Can a fugitive interstellar object be a triggering factor of the propagation of some unknown variation to our indefinite future? 

 

 

Crab Nebula. Credits: NASA, ESA, J. Hester and A. Loll (Arizona State University)

Crab Nebula. Credits: NASA, ESA, J. Hester and A. Loll (Arizona State University)

I imagine evolution as a series of starting points at which a convergence of objects or events takes place and of finishing lines where signs of divergence appear. The temporal dimension of a historical split in a phylogenetic tree reminds me of the spatial representation of a tree when its limbs diverge, of the nodes in a spiderweb as if a fractal-like structure was replicating itself through time and space. As I look outside my window at the naked branches of the elderberry bush, the dried leaves of the young red oak and the Purple love grass in the Fall landscape, I think of the Universe ruled by a divergent force up to its own expansion. 

 

Living systems, when compared to inert matter, are “coherent structures” in a continual (extended) critical transition. Planets, comets, and stars too are extended criticalities on their own time frame, which may be billions of years. Other temporalities seem to hang onto the linear representation of time, molded into spacetime. Francis Bailly, Giuseppe Longo and Maël Montévil proposed that physical and biological cyclicities account for another dimension of time. I see various examples of cyclicities on display in our Universe, including tidal, orbital, reproductive and climate cycles.  The Sun too presents cyclic activity. Giuseppe Longo and Maël Montévil argue that the temporality of extended criticality involves protention (i.e. pre-conscious expectation) and retention (i. e. pre-conscious memory), with the understanding that protention and retention are a sort of present which is extended in both directions


 

Organisms and species do not have cosmological life spans. Gaia does, and this is perhaps a general property of living worlds

David Grinspoon

Life with or without cognition appears within the bounds of self-organized systems governed by seemingly distinct operational principles. The debate around what qualifies as life and what defines mind has brought us to question whether the mind can manifest itself beyond the enclosure of the individual body. I wonder whether the newly described choanoflagellate species which form cup-shaped colonies that reversibly invert their curvature in response to light,  the Physarum polycephalum that preceded humans on Earth by 500 million years and the trilobites, known as Ampyx, whose fossils suggested that they intentionally formed a queue are living systems with cognition. We tell the story of a bacterium in our distant past which was “captured and domesticated inside another cell, a host, where it became a mitochondrion”*. Was it a result of a cognitive process involving free will and volition? 

 

Humans are haunted by “ghosts of other life-forms” * since the eukaryotic cell whose lineage eventually led to “humans and every other creature we can see” *. In a universe bursting with biological and gravitational resonance, autopoiesis** refers to the process of self-creation that allows a system to reproduce and maintain itself. Michel Bitbol and Pier Luigi Luisi in a 2004 paper arrived at the conclusion that the very lowest level of cognition is the condition for life, and the lowest level of cognition does not reduce to the lowest level of autopoiesis. When eukaryotes formed in warm liquid waters on the early planet Earth, did they also exist at the same time on Mars when volcanoes erupted and on Venus when a shallow ocean covered its surface? 

... a living creature “makes sense” of the world through affectively motivated action-as-perception and, in the process, constructs a viable niche

Dylan van der Schyff and Andrea Schiavio

Picture of the galaxy distribution (The Millennium Simulation Project)

Picture of the galaxy distribution (The Millennium Simulation Project)

Living units are shells protecting the many levels of biological “resonance”.  Each level, past and future, brings variation to the whole system, allowing it to maintain and adapt over time. The oldest common ancestor of a flea and a human being still lies in me. Is it the result of enaction? As waves of “resonance” spread through the cosmic web, they break new ground. Their fractal-like dynamics filter through the cracks of the threshold between levels of organization. From the inert to the living state of matter, the nothingness to being, they provide a conduit for free information flow. 

 

The impalpable wind blew down the rustling leaves and chased away the Indian summer heat. It scattered the circling words away. Will it blow in the answer I seek? For me, “embodied consciousness” means that our body is the host of consciousness. Through a conscious and intentional grasp of our surroundings, we find purpose in our function. A satellite view of the Chesapeake Watershed has the appearance of limbs branching off a tree trunk. Up close, instead of rising through the streams and tributaries, the river’s sap flows downstream into the ocean. Time and space are woven into the cosmic spiderweb.  Is time a matter of perspective emerging like the river from a hidden divide?

 

*David Quammen, The Tangled Tree

**H.R. Maturana, F. J. Varela, Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living, 

Chesapeake Watershed (Landsat Image)

Chesapeake Watershed (Landsat Image)

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A fool on the hill

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

The Ghost of a Flea, William Blake

The Ghost of a Flea, William Blake

 

Comets have made their appearance in works of art and literature. They left their mark in our collective memory. William Blake's portrayal of the Ghost of a Flea shows the attempt by an artist to capture the eerie moment in time of a passing comet.  I have a foggy memory in my head of Haley’s Comet on an early morning moon in Shanghai’s skies while she was on her 1986 journey through the solar system. She seemed as much as I was in a hurry to grow old and reach the shore of a haven of peace. By now, she is near her unseeable aphelion, unafraid to turn around and see her mass vanish in the Sun’s radiation.

 

 In the case of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, visited by ESA mission Rosetta, the effect of erosion through the sublimation of volatiles ranged from meters to tens of meters per apparition. Cliff collapsed and larger chunks of material such as one named ‘Churymoon’ separated from the surface. Although large, loose boulders were around one hundred times weaker than freshly packed snow. Yet, as it is observed on the distant C/2017 K2 (PANSTARRS), the loss of mass isn't just triggered near perihelion.

 

Distant active comet C/2017 K2 (PANSTARRS)  (NASA, ESA, and D. Jewitt (UCLA))

Distant active comet C/2017 K2 (PANSTARRS) (NASA, ESA, and D. Jewitt (UCLA))

Consciousness implies a willingness to interact with our surroundings. It means opening our senses and our mind to embrace the Universe. When Gregory Matloff asks whether stars’ motion is volitional, I wonder whether comets too have a mind of their own. Formed in the very distant regions of the protosolar nebula, they are a common feature of most, if not all stellar systems. Exocomets, interstellar comets or comets orbiting our Sun, they are travelers with their ‘head in the clouds’, called coma, set out on a journey from a storage zone, the Oort Cloud, or from the Kuiper Belt or the region in between giant planets in the form of Centaurs, planetesimals waiting to be transformed, or from the main asteroid belt, such as Comet Elst–Pizarro, target of the proposed Castalia mission, except that not all of the main-belt comets can repeat activity during orbit passages

 

Comet 67P (ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM, CC BY-SA IGO 3.0)

Comet 67P (ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM, CC BY-SA IGO 3.0)

 

Comets are oddly stretched bodies displaying evidence for nearly all fundamental geological processes. With their bright light, they are showing the way to new frontiers. Two categories have been established: the short-period comets whose orbit time is less than 200 years, such as Comet Holmes and 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and the long-period comets whose orbital rotation may take up to several million years, such as the Great Comet of 1997 - Comet Hale-Bopp - and C/2017 K2 (PANSTARRS) which has been outside the planetary region of the solar system for the past three million years.

 

The orbital distribution of short-period comets shows clear evidence for two populations known as Jupiter-family comets and Haley-type comets. Based on simulations of early planetary migration, it appears that the Haley-type comets are an extension of the population of returning Oort-cloud comets to shorter orbital periods. Unless they are somehow resupplied from external reservoirs, comets do not survive. Their physical lifetime may depend on their nuclear size.  

 

Comet Hale-Bopp (E. Kolmhofer, H. Raab; Johannes-Kepler-Observatory, Linz, Austria)

Comet Hale-Bopp (E. Kolmhofer, H. Raab; Johannes-Kepler-Observatory, Linz, Austria)

 

Haley’s Comet hasn’t yet collided with a planet as did Shoemaker-Levy 9 which orbited Jupiter for most of last century, and possibly longer before taking a plunge 25 years ago. Her path is surprisingly impacted not by the big planet Jupiter but the small Venus that is the dominant perturber until Jupiter takes over after about 3000 years from now. She hasn’t collided yet either with Earth, like 1864 meteorite Orgueil that fell near Montauban, France, and whose orbit is compatible with that of a Jupiter-family comet, although an Halley-type comet cannot be excluded. She wasn’t either torn apart by her own gravity like comet ISON in 2013.

 

Numerous studies have suggested the possibility that our giant planets have ejected debris and larger bodies out of the solar system throughout history. I wonder whether any of those objects ever reached another star system or whether they remain dormant in the dark and icy forest of interstellar space.  Malena Rice and Gregory Laughlin discussed that scenario in the context of exoplanets that may not have been discovered yet but may be capable of efficiently ejecting debris from their environments. The discovery of Oumuamua and C/2019 Q4 (Borisov) reveals the possibility of an abundance of free-floating small bodies ejected into galactic space. 

The nature and the origin of Oumuamua remain unclear. Was it an asteroid,  an interstellar probe or a piece of debris of a dwarf interstellar comet? It may have been a dormant comet whose nucleus was reactivated after millions of years in interstellar space, propelled by water ice sublimation as a result of its perihelion passage. Before being caught in the interstellar limbo, our dormant comet may have been cut from its original host system during intra-cluster interactions that lasted tens to hundreds of million years. As for the interstellar comet C/2019 Q4 discovered on August 30, a paper published a few days ago identifies a double star named Kruger 60 as a plausible home system. The object is on its inbound leg and will be the closest to the Sun on December 8.

 

There’s a patchwork of concepts in my mind spelled out not in words but in a series of images.  As a possible carrier of viruses, the round and elongated shape of a comet reminds me of a bacteria with a flagellum to help with swimming in outer space. In our paramount need to meet the set of prerequisites for the development of life, the study of comets takes Biology at the forefront of our quest. What is life? And can life be devoid of consciousness? I wonder whether the future still has to offer new and distinct forms of life. 

 

Scheduled to be launched in 2028, the Comet Interceptor mission will look for a pristine comet in the goal of analyzing its chemical composition, identifying its organic compounds and finding clues for microbial life. Information hidden in molecules, drifting in space, may tell us about a lost phylogenetic event under the shell of an interstellar comet and even the time of existence and lines of descent of ancient molecules in the early solar system formation. Those newly found molecules of life might give us a renewed sense of belonging to a single connected biosphere

 

Castalia, the proposed mission that will rendezvous with Elst-Pizarro, will test whether a main belt comet is a viable source for Earth’s water. For now, scientists caution that the detection of abundant amounts of oxygen in the coma of two comets, namely Halley’s Comet and 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, does not imply that it is necessarily a sign of biological activity and that the gas-grain chemistries of even simple molecules such as oxygen and water are still highly uncertain and subject to debate. In addition, whether the observed ‎oxygen in both comets was formed in the ices of the pre- and protosolar nebula before the comets’ formation remains to be confirmed. 

One important detection was that of the simple amino acid glycine (top, C2H5NO2), a biologically important organic compound commonly found in proteins. Phosphorus was also detected (bottom, P), a key element in all living organisms. It is found in the backbone of DNA and RNA, in cell membranes, and in adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which transports chemical energy within cells for metabolism.

http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2016/05/Rosetta_s_comet_contains_ingredients_for_life

 

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. At the edge of the solar system, she goes on roaming between the stars.

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Kindred spirits

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Certainly, three kindred spirits have here encountered each other; and although the first two missed each other on earth by eight centuries and the last two by twelve months, still in the heart of the survivor lingers the hope that in the life 'sans end' they may all yet meet…Thus was the seed of Omar planted in a soil peculiarly adapted to its growth, and it grew and took to itself all of sorrow and of mirth that it could assimilate, and blossomed out into the drawings.

Elihu Vedder

 

The vision of the extraordinary may occur along a winding road through a maze searching for a way out to new wonders. Ideas are seeds that we pass on to each other. In order to evolve,  they need the right environment and must carry the quintessential aspect of what they are yet to become. A seed planted in my head by Elihu Vedder, peculiarly adapted to its growth, grew and took to itself all of William Wordsworth’s romantic spirit and Charles Baudelaire’s sorrow, and blossomed out into a wave of imaginative power that other sensitive beings and creative souls will harness in an effort to urge humankind to look into its own consciousness. 

Fermi Bubbles (NASA Goddard)

Fermi Bubbles (NASA Goddard)

 

Time is an intangible concept shredded into intertwined layers. On one level,  it may be that Sahelanthropus, ancestral to later hominins, stood upright to gaze at the sky, startled by the muffled echo of an explosive outburst from Sagittarius A* burping up giant lobes of plasma. On another, it may be that Psyche, the spacecraft, will reach in 2026 Psyche, the exposed nickel-iron core of a disrupted planetesimal, in the hope to map it and study its properties. On yet another level, the rings of Saturn will be gone in 292 million years. Meanwhile, I stand in the midst of scorched plants and dying trees, wary of the drought of the late summer.  

 

There are countless of asteroids and not just located in the asteroid belt like metallic Psyche. There are Trojan asteroids that share a planet’s orbit,  7113 as of today, most on Jupiter’s path. Asteroids collide with each other, creating more fragments along the way that may escape their natural home and reach a planet’s shore. A global collaboration is underway with the goal to assess threats posed by near-Earth objects, including comets, and find ways to deflect them. If 879 as of today have a non-zero probability to hit Earth, other asteroids offer future mining opportunities and a great insight into planet formation.  Radio telescope observations have indicated that Psyche mainly consists of iron and nickel metal, the same key ingredients that sunk into Earth’s interior in the process of core formation and play a role in generating the Earth’s magnetic field

A look at Psyche (NASA/JPL/JHUAPL)

A look at Psyche (NASA/JPL/JHUAPL)

 

I enjoy listening to the sound of the waves crashing onto the river shore. If it were not for Earth’s magnetic field, the ground and everything down here would be, as it is for the river shore, battled by the flow of electrically charged particles streaming from the Sun. Instead,  their journey ends in the form of a bow shock in front of the magnetosphere. The universe is magnetized, from the Earth, the Sun, and other stars to disk galaxies, galaxy clusters, and perhaps also the intergalactic medium in voids. A 2019 study entitled From Primordial Seed Magnetic Fields to the Galactic Dynamo traced the generation of magnetic fields right from the early universe to their subsequent amplification by turbulent dynamos in the later universe.  The magnetic field plays a role in the evolution of planetary discs and may define criteria for habitability.

The magnetic field along the Galactic plane (ESA/Planck Collaboration. Acknowledgment: M.-A. Miville-Deschênes, CNRS – Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale, Université Paris-XI, Orsay, France)

The magnetic field along the Galactic plane (ESA/Planck Collaboration. Acknowledgment: M.-A. Miville-Deschênes, CNRS – Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale, Université Paris-XI, Orsay, France)

 

While theorists press ahead with new studies on Quantum Teleportation,  my mind is drawn to the bird’s magnetic compass. I wonder whether the magnetic field is rooted in my soul as I wait for the return outside my door of the mesmerizing whistle of the white-throated sparrow. A 2019 study on human magnetoreception found that two classes of ecologically-relevant rotations of Earth-strength magnetic fields produce strong, specific and repeatable effects on human brainwave activity. If there is such a thing that resonates inside me and lies within the dynamic interaction with our physical Universe, why does my individual consciousness feel isolated? The research suggests the loss of a shared, ancestral magnetosensory system, or the possibility that the system lacks a conscious component with detectable neural activity but no apparent perceptual awareness by us


At the crossroads of science and philosophy, my quest turns to cosmic Consciousness. From nebulae to stars, from gaseous ring to planets, from fluid-like bodies to the formation of rigid bodies, this is how the process unfolds. The word ‘accretion’ refers, in my mind, to a symbiosis of matter and time that allows the blending of one layer with another from the planet’s core to its atmosphere. Between shredded layers, the information get lost, scrambled. Could the cause-effect power of conscious mechanisms be extended to the overall structure of the Universal Consciousness outside the limitations of our own individual self? To this question, Julio Tononi and Christof Koch answer that the Integrated Information Theory can not be applied to aggregates and complicated systems. 

...for integrated information theory, the spatiotemporal maximum of integrated information fixes the spatiotemporal scale of consciousness

Erik P. Hoel, Larissa Albantakis, William Marshall, Giulio Tononi

 

Time, as we experience it, is a complex and multi-layered web of geometry intertwined with that of space (Carlo Rovelli, The order of time) and provides the pulse, like a rhythmic flow,  to the interplay between Consciousness and the Universe. In the remote past, the prelinguistic mind drew its artistic drive from the well of the Unconscious. In a distant future, Consciousness may dive into the depth of the Unconscious and uncover what was once lost. How can one see beyond the appearance of disunity and discontinuity? Life and consciousness go hand in hand. I imagine they extend from the beginning of time to the other side of the Universe. Life chemistry occurs on Earth from its seemingly spontaneous emergence to the driving force it has become, as a result of thermodynamic processes.

The emergence of chaos is the most plausible explanation for the thermalization of closed quantum manybody systems

Markus J. Klug, Mathias S. Scheurer and Jörg Schmalian

 

Is there in the Universe, billions of light-years away, a biochemistry different from the one we know at the origin of life on Earth?  And could it be paired with another level of consciousness? Ideas may grow, mature, or become obsolete and sometimes reappear as they are picked apart and further interpreted. The vision of the extraordinary makes us wonder what the difference is between a ‘break-through’ and a ‘breakdown’. I imagine the flow of nothingness that has its own usefulness,  in which all things are connected through a set of complex, and yet unseen, interactions.  And as I start reading David Quammen’s book The tangled tree, I see the Universe full of chimerical beings, may they be stars, planets, human beings, assembled in the course of time, transmogrified into what is yet to be discovered.

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Collide

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

When two great masses come into collision in space, it is certain that a large part of each is melted, but it seems also quite certain that in many cases a large quantity of debris must be shot forth in all directions

Presidential Address to the British Association, Edinburgh, 1971, Popular Lectures and Addresses, William Thomson, Baron Kelvin, Cambridge University Press, 2011

Crescent-shaped Earth and Moon (NASA/JPL)

Crescent-shaped Earth and Moon (NASA/JPL)

 

As I, too, view the Moon as a font of dreams and myths, and poetry, I wonder about her life path. Giant collisions have an impact on the trajectory and formation of planets and their satellites. Based on recent simulations, two roughly half-Earth-sized impactors may have collided, resulting in not one but two dominant moons orbiting the Earth for an extended period of time. One of the moons may have driven the other inside Earth’s Roche limit where it was ripped apart by Earth’s gravity unless the two did collide. Martin Jutzi and Erik Asphaug described how the lunar farside highlands were formed by accretion of a companion moon. Yet, a study last year emphasizes the role of multiple giant impacts in the formation of the Earth-Moon system and suggests that the Earth experienced many smaller impacts, producing smaller satellites that potentially coevolved.

 

On the implications of Captured Interstellar Objects for Panspermia and Extraterrestrial Life,  Manasvi Lingam and Abraham Loeb theorized that tens of millions of interstellar objects may have been captured over the history of the Solar system. About 400 of them with a radius of less than 0.1 km could have struck Earth prior to abiogenesis and about 10 of km-sized, confirming the possibility that life may have been transferred to Earth by means of lithopanspermia. Although not all of those interstellar objects  remain in bound orbits, the authors estimate that thousands are expected to be present in the Solar system at any given time, such as the asteroid (514107) 2015 BZ509 that is thought to have been captured from the interstellar medium 4.5 billion years ago, which coincidentally seems to be around the time of Earth formation. According to the study, the capture of Earth-sized interstellar objects would offer an alternative to conventional planet formation through accretion. And if those objects have already developed life, they could spread it to other planets by means of interplanetary panspermia. They may not ultimately impact a planet in a direct collision, but serve as the carrier, with smaller impactors being sufficient to produce ejecta and consequently enable interstellar lithopanspermia. Life may have been transferred via grains propelled by collisions with space dust or by means of radiation pressure and therefore enabling “spores” to escape. Arjun Berera in his paper on Space dust collisions as a planetary escape mechanism focused on the possibility that such collisions can give particles in the atmosphere the necessary escape velocity and upward trajectory to escape Earth’s gravity.  

 

 

Planets rotate around stars. Moons revolve around planets. "Do moons have moons too?" I ask... Martian Moons eXplorer  is scheduled to be launched by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency in 2024  to explore  Phobos (and/or Deimos), the two moons of Mars. Uranus has a regular set of satellites, suggesting their accretion from a disk. The inner Saturnian moons, too, may have been formed near the outer edge of the Roche limit by accretion of icy ring material.While Neptune’s moons are thought to be captured objects as a result of gas-drag, collisions, exchange action or during a  planetary flyby in the early solar system evolution, a 2019 study suggests that all satellites of large trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs)  were formed via giant impacts in the early stage of solar system formation, before the outward migration of Neptune, and that they were fully or partially molten during the giant impact era. 

 

Sun up close (	ESA/ESAC/CESAR – A. de Burgos )

Sun up close ( ESA/ESAC/CESAR – A. de Burgos )

 

Gravity emerges from a microscopic description that doesn’t know about its existence. Its speed is the speed at which matter - space including - is brought to “light”... I see spots popping up to the surface of the Sun as if it were a pot of boiling gas. On a solitary journey far from his birthplace, the Sun has lost his siblings formed with him in the same cluster. They have spread throughout the Milky Way. Last year, the search for the closest solar siblings - the AMBRE project - resulted in the identification of 4 candidates, with HD 176535 being the least likely and HD 186302 the most. I wonder whether HD 186302 has met the same fate as the Sun and if an Earth-like planet is revolving around it. Based on a 2012 paper, lithopanspermia could have allowed the transfer of solid material between two planetary systems embedded in a cluster. If life arose in any of these systems before the cluster dispersed - and there seems to be some indication that liquid water may have been present on Earth during the solar system’s first hundred million years -, this mechanism may have allowed the exchange of life-bearing rocks amongst the planetary systems in the cluster. Given that even a few kilograms of microbe-bearing fragments may suffice to seed the target planetary systems with life, Idan Ginsburg, Manasvi Lingam, Abraham Loeb showed in a 2018 paper on Galactic panspermia that the entire Milky Way could potentially be exchanging biotic components across vast distances.  The transfer of microbes from Mars to Earth is regarded as highly probable, inferring the possibility that rocky material may be exchanged between nearby planets, which may very well be the case of exoplanets in other planetary systems such as the TRAPPIST-1 system.  Furthermore, a 2004 study suggested that an ejection mechanism involving microorganisms may be common in other planetary systems environmentally capable of supporting life, creating a ‘chain reaction’ that may seed the disc of a galaxy within a few billion years. I picture a three-stage process - escape, capture, collide -  within the limits of planetary systems and beyond and the life forms that appear simultaneously or subsequently in recurring chains of events. 

Galactic duo UGC 2369 (ESA/Hubble & NASA, A. Evans; CC BY 4.0)

Galactic duo UGC 2369 (ESA/Hubble & NASA, A. Evans; CC BY 4.0)

I see in action the power of a collective consciousness heightened by new ideas and new forms of cooperation in the search for a deeper understanding of both the outer as well as the inner worldCaught in a cloud of subjectiveness, the mind wonders whether life spread from Earth to other planets and exoplanetary systems or from Europa,  Ceres or from anywhere else for that matter. Ceres, for instance, is the largest body in the asteroid belt and the most water‐rich inner solar system body after Earth. It was explored by the Dawn mission set to understand the abundance, distribution, and phase partitioning of water in the subsurface. It may be that icy moons, terrestrial planets, comets, and asteroids that share geophysical characteristics play an essential role in the spread of life throughout the Universe. In a 2018 paper on Subsurface Exolife, Manasvi Lingam and Abraham Loeb quantified the energy resources available to icy worlds like Ceres that may contain subsurface oceans for ice is believed to be one of the possible sites for abiogenesis to take place and since ecosystems may not always be dependent on photosynthesis but may draw upon alternative sources of energy - such as thermal gradients, magnetic fields, and gravitation.  Surprisingly, on our Moon, too, there is ice. A team of scientists, led by Shuai Li of the University of Hawaii and Brown University, found direct and definitive evidence for surface-exposed water ice in the lunar polar regions. The abundance and distribution of ice on the Moon are distinct from those on other airless bodies in the inner solar system such as Mercury and Ceres, which may be associated with the unique formation and evolution process of our Moon.

 

Occator Crater on Ceres limb (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

Occator Crater on Ceres limb (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

Large block along the ridge of Urvara Crater (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

Large block along the ridge of Urvara Crater (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

 

One wonders whether the shaping of planetary systems leaves behind belts of smaller bodies or whether those are more specific to our solar system. It was suggested that those belts may be one of the prerequisites for the origin of complex life and that such belts are not common in our Universe. For systems without such belts, the impacts from interstellar objects might be more conducive to macroevolutionary processes. Nevertheless, as Biologist Nick Lane concluded that complex life will be rare in the universe and that it is far more likely to get stuck at the bacterial level of complexity, Manasvi Lingam and Abraham Loeb who also wrote a paper on the habitability of M-dwarf exoplanets concur in the opinion that the majority of the higher evolutionary transitions might not occur on planets with (sub)surface oceans. Another paper shows as well that the habitability zone for complex aerobic life is likely limited relative to that for microbial life.

 

Storytelling, may it be done by a poet or a scientist, weaves our earthly footprints in the canvas of the Universe while words wrap our minds in a blanket of memory, knowledge, and imagination. Words like synestiasploonets, and blazars... As new stories are written, they shed light on past events. The multimessenger observation of blazar TXS 0506+056 has prompted scientists to investigate reports of earlier blazar flares, that were also detectable by the Icecube Neutrino Observatory.  Indeed, the past expands as a spectrum of possibilities. The Universe bursts with complex adaptative systems that evolve to the edge of chaos or somewhere near the edge of chaos “because evolution takes them there. Chaos is not to be afraid of for chaos brings something anew. But I rather hear the sound of the word “collide” instead. 

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On the manifold ways of being

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Let us note first that there is a being of the thing perceived - as perceived

Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, Introduction

 

The word ‘being’ is often used followed by another word to specify a property as if just ‘being’ was not enough. On the Art of being, I mean “to exist”, I see the Universe through the eyes of a child. It is said that true happiness is the Art of being present. As I witness the universality of being, I am conscious of the fact that the Universe is and all things, including celestial objects, are, regardless of whether they are observable to us. I stumbled upon a roadblock and found myself unsure of how to proceed. I raised the question of ‘being’, sensing the presence of the surrounding Universe. Asking the question of ‘being” raises the concept of individual entities with specified properties.  On that early evening of July, I asked myself, as in the story of the falling tree, whether the Moon still swung by Jupiter in the sky when I closed my eyes. Nevermind my own five senses, the Moon, Jupiter, Saturn, and all the unseen heavenly bodies exist, setting off in my own mind a diffuse sense of being spreading out over all things in the Universe. 

 

There are many ways to be. Since the first detection of 51 Pegasi b in 1995, 4,016 exoplanets have been confirmed while a comparable number of candidates are yet to be defined as such. Sofar, fifty-two are deemed to be potentially habitable. Some revolve around a red dwarf star, others are in orbit around a triple star system, such as  GJ 667 C fGJ 667 C c, and  GJ 667 C e as well as  Proxima Cen b. If they could sustain life, what would it be like to stare at the sky? For Poetry senses that being is plural, it does not shy away from expressing universality with a bundle of analogies as a means to capture the ontological structure of the Universe.  What we call ‘being’ may be a transitory process through which, in 5 billion years, Titan will be the habitable one for the Sun will grow into an even more massive fireball. 

What does ‘being’ mean? philosophers ask. Information defines the act of ‘being’, Scientists answer. In search of mental clarity,  they see the Universe as a causal chain in a seamless information flow. All finite things are ‘conditioned’, we are told. In a universal balance between agents and patients, subjects and objects reality emerges and in reality, causation drives the seen and unseen physical motion of all things in the Universe. We have formed in our mind a mental picture of what we know of the Universe, and so creating an architectonic structure built on the principle of information-based causality. Information, and in particular quantum information, is the most fundamental aspect of reality, and not energy or matter (Vlatko Vedral, Decoding Reality: The Universe as Quantum Information, OUP, 2012).  As we confront the observable Universe, we may be tempted to take a reductionist approach. 

 

 

If there is an infinite number of parallel worlds all encompassed in a single quantum state of the Universe and if we apply the theory of double causality upon which the past and the future play an equal role in the determination of that single quantum state, may we ultimately say that the “final cause” of every one of them is evidently that which it was determined to be? Against this backdrop, I wish to know what ‘being’ is. To be is a state of ‘being singular’ in a multitudinous way. It is a ‘singular state’ of quantum information whose physical and biological evolution we can not say. Should we genuinely infer the existence of general patterns in the nature of ‘being’? With my eyes closed, I feel the moon and the Sun and in the July sky Jupiter and Saturn and the drifting asteroids, and I begin to think of the next chapter and what ‘teleology’ means.

I read about the protoplanetary disk of PDS 70 and the subsequent discovery of its planets PDS 70b and c as well as a the circumplanetary disk around PDS 70c showing signs of moon-forming. The observation of planets in their formation stage is a crucial, but very challenging step in understanding when, how and where planets form. From child to adult, the planetesimals undergo inside-out growth amplified by the combined effects of collisional evolution of solid bodies and interactions with a dissipating gas disk. I imagine their embryonary consciousness plagued with “clouds of inferiority”* in their mental skies. I read about a so-called ploonet when large regular exomoons escape the pull of their parent planet, becoming small planets by themselves. If some of them survive to the almost unavoidable fate of colliding with the planet or the absorption by the host star, a late-type of planetary embryos around the star, or even fully-fledged small planets on their own, may arise

 

 

It is this inside-out growth that differentiates planets from each other, like Earth from Mars and when we see Mars depleted of its magnetic field 2.6 billion years ago, we imagine what Earth may look like in a distant future. A process that seems to contradict any form of free will on the part of planets but reinforce the assumption of a cosmological natural selection. If "man’s inhumanity to man"* is a reflection of the Universe in the way that Antennae Galaxies are clashing, the Polar-ring galaxy NGC 660 shows signs of victory in its belt of gas and stars around its center ripped from a near neighbor during a clash about one billion years ago and when asteroids or other planetesimals are relentlessly bumping each other in a solar-type system like BD+20 307, what does it say about the cosmological natural selection?

Antennae Galaxies reloaded
NGC 660 9 (NASA Goddard)

NGC 660 9 (NASA Goddard)

 

I wonder whether there is in all things a tug-of-war between positive and negative forces, like when two neutron stars collide or in the case of an interacting pair of disk galaxies. "The line of progress is never straight"*. I wonder what the nature of ‘being’ is and where "we go from here"*. 

Interacting galaxies NGC 3921 (NASA Goddard)

Interacting galaxies NGC 3921 (NASA Goddard)

 

 

As we debate about the physical nature and historical origins of Consciousness in human evolution, our reason leads us to believe that life preceded consciousness.  If ‘being’ is another word for life, I imagine life with its share of inner and outer suffering and if we grant some level of consciousness to stars and other celestial bodies, I wonder whether the compact yet massive, fast-spinning, disk-shaped galaxy MACS2129−1 that stopped making stars only a few billion years after the big bang could be holding on to “physical life amid psychological death”*, and whether a dying star, like T Ursae Minoris in the midst of thermal pulses, an asteroid 6478 Gault whose self-destruction we witness or even our struggling planet could be haunted “by a nagging sense of nobodyness and constantly fighting to be saved from the poison of bitterness”*. I dig deeper into the well of imagination and feel the need to paint the astronomical objects with the same brush used 50 years ago to describe our human existence. I can’t help but wonder whether the act of ‘being’ and misery go hand in hand in the Universe.  Such a reckoning would presuppose an even higher development of Consciousness**.

 

*Martin Luther King, Where do we go from here: Chaos or Community? (1968, Beacon Press)

 

**Linda Nochlin, Misère: The Visual Representation of Misery in the 19th Century, (2018, Thames & Hudson) 

Eugène Buret, De la Misère des classes laborieuses en Angleterre et en France : de la nature de la misère, de son existence, de ses effets, de ses causes, et de l'insuffisance des remèdes qu'on lui a opposés jusqu'ici, avec les moyens propres à en affranchir les sociétés, 1840

Hubble Watches Spun-Up Asteroid Coming Apart (47435507852)
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Stories of the Universe

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Science in Poetry. Poetry in Science... In a collision between poetry and science, I have a recurring image in my head of the monk Bodhidharma floating in space, facing the arc of the Universe and staring at the horizon. I see him stretching his arm to reach to the stars and galaxies that hang on the starry wall. Some ideas linger more than others. One is the nature of historical causation in the context of the Universe. If some of us agree, as I do, that there is no predetermined outcome to cosmic and life events, we should nevertheless agree on the importance of the concept of causation in the history of the Universe.

 

 

... there is no total opposition between a deterministic universe and free
will. In particular, it is possible to freely act in a deterministic world.

Eric Sanchis

Galaxies – with a chance of asteroids (NASA, ESA, and B. Sunnquist and J. Mack (STScI); CC BY 4.0; Acknowledgment: NASA, ESA, and J. Lotz (STScI) and the HFF Team)

Galaxies – with a chance of asteroids (NASA, ESA, and B. Sunnquist and J. Mack (STScI); CC BY 4.0; Acknowledgment: NASA, ESA, and J. Lotz (STScI) and the HFF Team)

I wish the Moon would tell us how she feels when, on her surface, spacecrafts are landing, men are walking and Chang’E 4 is stepping into her dark side. I wish a novelist would tell the story of Matter falling into the breach of a black hole into another Universe.  I wish a composer would create a melody about a mathematical cul-de-sac called singularity.  I wish a Freud-like scientist would convince us that a cosmological black hole mirrors our own demise and echoes the unknown in the genome and in our collective and individual memory. Under the dictates of my own reason, I can only see Matter's ending where existence ceases. 

 

 

I wish a wandering minstrel would recite a never-ending hymn about our Universe whose expanding waist is fed by microscopic degrees of freedom. I wish a balladeer would compose a ballad involving characters such as the dark-matter dominated dwarf galaxy Antlia 2  that crashed unto the barred spiral galaxy, that is our Milky Way. Since the first symbiotic stars discovered in 1932, we realized how not so common is the solitary nature of our Sun. I wonder what chain of events forbade it to pair with a fiery companion. Nevermind the turbulent fragmentation model that might explain how binary systems are formed, I wish a fiction writer would imagine a scenario in which an Antlia 2 like galaxy would collide with our end of the Milky Way and take away from the Sun his binary friend. 

 

I wish a troubadour would perform a song about how galaxies die,  how active galactic nuclei quench star formation by consuming, heating, sweeping out and/or disrupting gas, how quasar-driven outflows from cold quasars powered by the accretion of matter onto a supermassive black hole are still affecting the host galaxies enabling them in their last breath to form stars. I wish a serenader would compose a serenade about a golden ring whose whereabouts is found in collapsars. I wish a film director would hold Voyager 2’s camera and take us away from the heliosphere on a one-way journey. I wish a filmmaker would make a movie about those animated characters, planet-hunting heroes named Kepler, TESS and Gemini.

 

I wish a poet would write a swan song about Opportunity’s passing a year ago in Mars’ Perseverance Valley. I wish a muse would tell the story of Icarus probing Earth’s atmosphere, crossing into the magnetosphere on his way to the solar flares and as he turned around one last time looking at Earth, he wondered what made a planet spherical. I wish a bard would recount the tale of invisible giants who propelled themselves,  jumped in with both feet from one exoplanet unto another making the planets shake and who juggled with asteroids throwing toward the Sun’s quarters Bennu to attract OSIRIS-Rex as if they were a family of saltimbanques. As they explore life-bearing planets like Earth, they breathe air and whisper winds as the only proof that they are here. 

A sea of galaxies (NASA, ESA & M. Mutchler (STScI), CC BY 4.0)

A sea of galaxies (NASA, ESA & M. Mutchler (STScI), CC BY 4.0)

I wish a historian would take on the task to tell us more about the epic battle between galaxies, how binary stars interact in symbiotic novae. I wish a wise man would explain what the Gaia hypothesis really means,  that we are germs in the ecosystem spreading on Earth, cells that grow abnormally on the surface of a living planet. Back to Bodhidharma, from his vantage point, I imagine him watching over the waltz of galaxies spinning with their binary stars. I wish a historian when writing about the Universe would not forget to describe with great details how star formation begins at different times at different locations within nebulae like the Carina Nebula Complex, producing a stellar population with a hierarchical, multi-clustered structure

Southern Crab Nebula (NASA, ESA, and STScI)

Southern Crab Nebula (NASA, ESA, and STScI)

Galaxy NGC 2903 (ESA/Hubble & NASA, L. Ho et al.; CC BY 4.0)

Galaxy NGC 2903 (ESA/Hubble & NASA, L. Ho et al.; CC BY 4.0)

Would a stargazer be able to express with words the mesmerizing beauty of the spiral galaxy NGC 2903? As Bodhidharma faced the starry wall in silence for nine years, doing nothing, totally inactive, he sat quietly, unable to truly depict the meaning behind our Universe. With his eyes spotting at the furthest object in the far end of the Universe, I see him staring at where it all begins. Would an astronomer tell me how a galaxy named SPT0615-JD fits in the cosmological history? Less than five hundred million years after the Big Bang, what did our young Universe whose relic radiation we inheritated look like? If we all come from Chaos and Chaos is an immortal, I wish he would come out and give us some answers.

 

 

Galaxy cluster SPT0615 (ESA/Hubble & NASA, I. Karachentsev et al., F. High et al.CC BY 4.0)

Galaxy cluster SPT0615 (ESA/Hubble & NASA, I. Karachentsev et al., F. High et al.CC BY 4.0)

If Chaos were an immortal, he would know how it started.  I hope he took the time to travel around the billions of galaxies giving him the knowledge to write the story of the Universe, for I imagine him to be the one through whom information is transmitted for eternity. I wish a life scientist of a Matloff type would demonstrate to us that stars are living organisms invested with the gift of free will. 

 

Be that as it may, it seems that one does not have to be a fiction writer, a poet or a film director to come up with the most interesting theories as I mentioned in earlier posts Verlinde's idea that space emerges together with gravity or Robles-Pérez’ suggestion that there may be two expanding universes from the point of view of their internal inhabitants, who identify matter with the particles that move in their spacetime and antimatter with the particles that move in the symmetric universe. I wish I could, even for a brief moment or in my dream, come face to face with the other side.

 

I wish Consciousness would gather all the stories of the Universe from past, present, and future and write the whole tale in the starry sky that all the scientists, historians, and poets would together be able to decipher.

Bertrand Russell once said that the concept of causation, ‘like much that passes muster among philosophers, is a relic of a bygone age, surviving, like the monarchy, only because it is erroneously supposed to do no harm’. Russell was probably wrong about causation. But his strictures apply perfectly to the concept of knowledge.

David Papineau

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Why is the Universe the way it is?

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

 

If thinking is hard, how to fight my own bias. If thinking is hard, should I stop my inquiry and throw in the towel? If thinking is hard, should I be afraid to make a mistake? Our view of the Universe is shaped by our perception. Asking why the Universe is the way it is underscores the fact that what unfolds before our eyes is based on our limited window of understanding. We ought to strike a balance between what the observer’s Consciousness knows and what might still be beyond the spatiotemporal horizon of the Universe. It appears that we are all in awe of so much beauty: “Why do galaxies exist at all? Why do the basic laws of nature come together to produce a Universe filled with these ridiculously vast – and incomparably beautiful – structures?” From the blindness of our eyes to the blindness of our brain, beyond distance, time and complexity, why would we find beauty in the Universe? I believe that it is our anthropocentric feeling of empathy towards the life cycle of a galaxy, a star or a thimbleweed flower... that allows us to be filled with wonder.

NGC 7773 (ESA/Hubble & NASA, J. Walsh)

NGC 7773 (ESA/Hubble & NASA, J. Walsh)

Thimbleweed

Thimbleweed

 

 

Some of my bias include my taste for the exotic and my obsession for impenetrable walls. No matter how interesting are the countless details put into the new Deep Time exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History in D.C., I can't stop going back to the very beginning when the first life form produced a proton gradient and even before when the first abiotic processes occurred. The Universe is an existential structure. Its horizon is a line drawn in time and space. To paraphrase Karl Löwith, only as history can the Universe be related directly to man and his purposes. Causality is key to understanding life in the Universe. Out of the 13.7 billion years, the Deep Time exhibit on view in the newly renovated Hall of Fossils has chosen to narrow its focus on the 3.7 billion years that separate us from the long beginning to our present times.

We are accustomed to the idea of geology and astronomy speaking the secrets of ‘deep time,’ the immense arc of non-human history that shaped the world as we perceive it

David Farrier

 

Surprisingly this Deep Time exhibit does not simply stick to its subject displaying some 700 fossil specimens, it looks back to previous mass extinctions and highlights warning signs in the Anthropocene, even posting a quote from biology expert E.O. Wilson on a wall in the back of the exhibit – “If we were to wipe out insects alone...the rest of life and humanity with it would mostly disappear from the land. And within a few months”.  How can we tell what is looming on the horizon? Over the course of evolution, the mind developed an ability to see patterns and so we are searching for similarities in the past with the aim of reframing the story of humanity into the “logos of the kosmos”.  How far away can we see in time and space?

...our patch of the universe has only existed for fifteen billion years; consequently, the maximum distance that can be observed is about fifteen billion light-years, referred to as the “horizon distance”. Most likely, the space within our horizon is only a tiny, infinitesimal corner of a much larger universe...Is it really possible to understand the universe entire when we are constrained by causality from observing most of it?

P.J. Steinhardt,“Cosmological Challenges for the 21st Century”, Critical Problems in Physics:Proceedings of a Conference Celebrating the 250th Anniversary of Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, October 31, November 1, November 2, 1996, edited by V.L. Fitch and R. Marlow, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1997 , p.125-126

 

The horizon slowly moves away, for space is infinite. We’re told that the farthest we can observe is in fact 42 billion light-years, greater than 14-15 billion light-years because cosmic expansion has lengthened distances. Beyond the horizon and back, I found myself wondering about cosmic coincidences. They are numbers in the world of statistics, collected after-the-fact in the vast volumes of data, labeled as such for lack of better understanding. When it comes to the cosmological coincidence,  researchers imagine new physics beyond the standard cosmological model in order to answer the why and when. I found myself bouncing back and forth between the bio-logical possibility of unlikely events to happen within the theory of a multiverse and the alternative of a Universe upon which free will is bestowed, that would explain the ”reasons not understood” why our universe “began to expand and cool” (P.J. Steinhardt, ibid., p.124).

 

In our Universe, the Hubble constant - that is the rate at which the Universe is expanding - is somehow intrinsically connected to the division of cosmic history into three epochs. The initial state of the Universe was determined by the radiation component which dominated the total energy content. When the equality of radiation and matter densities occurs, the matter-dominated epoch begun.

... the Universe made use of this matter dominance to form structures like stars, galaxies and galaxy clusters by gravitational instability. This process would be endless if a third epoch had not arrived “recently”. This is the current dark-energy phase which started at the moment where the matter density had dropped to the same value as the dark-energy density... Since then the Universe experiences an accelerated expansion phase where gravity is no longer able to efficiently form super-galaxy clusters.

H. E. S. Velten, R. F. vom Marttens, W. Zimdah

According to a paper published in March 2019,  the Universe is expanding at present about 9% faster than inferred from the cosmic microwave background. Another paper suggests that early dark energy  that behaves like a cosmological constant at early times and then decays away like radiation or faster at later times may solve the discrepancy.

Interestingly, the time scale defined by the (effective) cosmological constant is not only of the order of the present age of the Universe but also of the same order as the scale that is relevant for heavier elements being produced. So, anthropic arguments necessarily enter the discussion.

H. E. S. Velten, R. F. vom Marttens, W. Zimdah

The anthropic arguments relate to the observer’s point of view that “Time is bio-logical - completely subjective and invariably emergent from a unitary co-relative process. All knowledge amounts to relationships of information, with the observer alone imparting spatio-temporal meaning.” (Robert Lanza, Beyond Biocentrism, p.155, BenBella Books, Inc., 2016). Why the Universe is the way it is leads to why life is the way it is. When biochemist Nick Lane asserts that “we can reasonably conclude that complex life will be rare in the universe - there is no innate tendency in natural selection to give rise to humans or any other form of complex life. It is far more likely to get stuck at the bacterial level of complexity “ (The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life, p.289. Norton & Company, 2015), is such a claim an anthropic view of the Universe or an objective conclusion?

 

Why ask why questions? I have borrowed the title of this post from Steinhardt’s 1996 talk on the cosmological challenges for the 21st Century, not realizing at the time that it became the title of a book by Hugh Ross in 2010. Among the many whys,  Hugh asked a question that never really crossed my mind before: why such a dark Universe?

 

 

Would a blind mouse wonder why there is darkness in the universe?

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The Law of Freedom

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Finding E.T., David Curtis

Finding E.T., David Curtis

 

While attending the 105th Commencement at Reed College, Portland, Oregon, I gained a deeper appreciation for the wide range of subjects touched upon by students in their bachelor's thesis and for the extent to which they were free to choose any topic they please.

 

Subjects include, to cite a few, Labor Protest and State Response in Mainland China; Voter Suppression; French-Oriented Identity in Lebanese Arabic; Metaphysics of Personal Identarian  Facts; Behavioral Investigation of Crossmodal Correspondences between Chords and Geometric Forms; Effect of perspective-taking on implicit and explicit bias towards exotic dancers; an interdisciplinary approach to Psychedelic Therapy; Effects of Microaggressions on Predictors of Academic Success; Relationship Between Academic Social Norms and Faculty Members’Perceptions of Conducting Race Talk in College Classroom; Islam and Public Discourse in France; Human Blueprint for the Construction of Justice, Computing the Language of Life; Human Cannibalism in the works of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries; Empirics of the Draft on GDP Growth; Economic Analysis of How Los Angeles Black Beauty Firms Affect The Communities They Inhabit; Inter-relational History of the Treatment of Epilepsy and the American Eugenics Movement; Exploring the Possibility of a Moral and Epistemological Foundation for Local Democracy; Growth and Greed in the Marketplace; Economic Case for Mandate Corporate Sustainability Disclosures; Redistribution in the Wake of Crisis; Immigration Practices on the US-Mexico Border and the Violence of Liberalism; Structural Analysis of American Post-War Reconstruction Efforts in Iraq by the Coalition Provisional Authority; Black Queerness and Transness, and Surviving The Carceral State; Making Monsters: RightWing Creation of the Liberal Enemy.

The Monsters We Make, Akim Farrow, 2019 (Reed College)

The Monsters We Make, Akim Farrow, 2019 (Reed College)

Free will is the shadow of an impulse freely acted upon. It is a sparkle of light freely released. I see free will in the Universe’s self-expression. I see free will in the pairing of an asteroid and its moon. I see free will in students’ quest for answers when they ask whether Outflows from Supermassive Black Holes suppress Star Formation in Galaxies, whether there are potentially habitable exoplanets near the Center of Active, Milky Way-like Galaxies, What grounds the Direction of Time and How to detect exoplanets in Kepler data. As we reflect on our place in the Universe, we regard Copernicus’image of planets orbiting the Sun and the photograph taken of Earthrise as milestones that helped shape and redirect our understanding of the Universe in the course of humanity.  We rely on intuition and cognitive perception in our exploration of the Universe up until we are faced with a new reality. Meanwhile, our imagination does its best to fill the gaps from an Artist's impression of a black hole accretion disc to the first image of a black hole, using Event Horizon Telescope observations of the center of the galaxy M87.

 

The Law of Freedom
The Law of Freedom

 

I was struck by some of the comments that were reportedly made during a discussion last month at the Library of Congress on the legacy of the Earthrise photo by the participants: Bruce Clarke, the 2019 Baruch  S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology, Anne Collins Goodyear of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art and David McConville, a media artist, and educator.“Earthrise has been invented as much as it has been discovered and captured. When the picture was originally taken, the moon’s horizon runs from top to bottom, which is not an angle readily found on planet Earth. Rotating the photo 90 degrees put the moon’s surface as the ground and framed the Earth as rising above the horizon”.  Imagination is a floor-less well capped by a mirroring surface. She is a double-edged sword, lighting up the path to reality and distorting it at the same time. As time passes, Consciousness seems to hold a camera, slowly zooming out from Earth beyond the bounds of our physical reach from an infinitesimal corner of the skies unveiled by NASA’s Kepler mission to more than three-quarters of the Universe yet to be revealed by the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite  (TESS), launched on April 18th, 2018 for a 2-year survey, and to an ever greater definition to be achieved by the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST). These giant steps are mapping the Universe and marking the spots for potential new worlds.

 

Consciousness widens and adjusts her angle of view, taking full advantage of her freedom to explore. Sartre said that there can be knowledge only to the extent that there is freedom and that the very idea of knowing, of unveiling can have meaning only for a freedom (Truth and Existence, p.16, Jean-Paul Sartre, Arlette Elkaïm-Sartre, University of Chicago Press, 1995). In the light of a deeper reflection on the question of freedom, some have wondered whether there is an order relation between freedom, existence, and essence. If events precede effects and occur in relation to each other, does freedom precede existence? Or does essence precede existence? Or, as Sartre claimed, is freedom existence, “and in it existence precedes essence”? I imagine essence to be dark energy weaved by hidden internal degrees of freedom in its physical structure. In the cosmic existential reality, being has become what is knowable to us. Upon reality depends our existence while eroding our freedom, “for a materialistic conception of the universe is radically incompatible with the idea of a free man: more precisely, that in a society ruled by materialistic principles, freedom is transmuted into its opposite”(Gabriel Marcel's Ethics of Hope: Evil, God and Virtue, Jill Graper Hernandez, A&C Black, Oct 13, 2011, p.16).  

 

Freedom varies degree by degree. “Degrees of freedom” applies to a number of parameters that may fluctuate independently. The term refers to the freedom of movement, translation, mutation... Freedom allows those not yet defined parameters to emerge into existence through a free process of self-organized criticality. When the greatest degree of freedom is achieved, the least objectified becomes any entity. Freedom is the aptitude to bring absolute indeterminacy to reality even as it is transcending existence. I understand those degrees of freedom to be unseen framing entities in the canvas of spacetime.

Spacetime consists of some microscopic degrees of freedom (“atoms of spacetime”) the dynamics of which will be governed by — as yet unknown — laws of quantum gravity.... spacetime has certain number density of microscopic degrees of freedom...Any operationally meaningful assertion about spacetime is therefore intrinsic to the degrees of freedom of the matter (i.e. nongravitational) fields…

T. Padmanabhan

 

One may wonder what role played freedom at the beginning of the Universe. In the universal dance lies the law of entropy. A research paper studied the effective degrees of freedom one quadrillionth of a second after the Big Bang until the last positrons disappeared a few minutes later. In an effort to explain what happened in the early Universe, the concept of entropies per particle is introduced, meaning the number of accessible microstates in macroscopic physical systems…

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A phenomenological inquiry

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Shooting stars fall to Earth...

Shooting stars fall to Earth...

Essentially phenomenology is a product of the transcendental subject, whereas science in the ordinary sense is a product of the mundane subject. Yet phenomenology necessary “appears” as the product of the mundane subject.

Conversations with Husserl and Fink, p.93, Dorion Cairns, Springer Science & Business Media, Jun 29, 2013

 

Let’s say that we, Homo Sapiens, do not have the ability to see reality as it is. So can a phenomenological philosophy help us understand what lies beneath the veneer of appearances? Sartre calls phenomenology a scientific, and not critical, study of consciousness. Quoting Martin Heidegger, Ingrid Leman-Stefanovic wrote that a phenomenology of death means: “to let death, as that which shows itself, be seen from itself in the very way in which it shows itself from itself” (The Event of Death: a Phenomenological Enquiry,  Ingrid Leman-Stefanovic, Springer Science & Business Media, Dec 6, 2012). As I started this post, I was waiting in Grenoble to host the funeral of my father, wondering about the meaning of life and asking myself, perplexed, whether it was real. What are we really? I wish to believe in an absolute Consciousness beyond each one of us and that my dad’s breath had evaporated into some other place I can not see.

 

To me, phenomenology means watching a loved one breath air in and out, one day, and touching the coldness of his body, another day, in a moment of sudden realization that a loss of consciousness has occurred. It’s in those moments in life that we wonder whether consciousness, too, “is a product of the transcendental subject” that only appears to be sprung from the mundane subject. If some argue that consciousness can only refer to individual consciousness, so where does it disappear when a loved one passes away? I rather believe that the very last breath of life is held by the wind and rides the cosmic waves to the Moon, planets and stars that my eyes catch a glimpse of in the early morning sky. I rather believe that I will fly with the wind and join others who preceded me in the eternal dance of the Universe.

 

As I go down the stream of consciousness, I look upstream hoping to gain a more comprehensive understanding of our universal landscape. I read that Sartre’s central concern was the relationship between Consciousness and the world. He wrote that The World did not create the me, the me did not create the World, They are two objects for the absolute, impersonal consciousness, and it is through that consciousness that they are linked together. This absolute consciousness, when it is purified of the I, is no longer in any way a subject, nor is it a collection of representations; it is quite simply a precondition and an absolute source of existence. Sartre’s poetically phrased claim that Consciousness “imprisons itself in the World in order to flee from itself” strikes me as intuitively true as if there were a standoff between empirical and transcendental consciousnesses. 

 

Many of my readings are meant to deepen my learning. Some may get me off-track, others bring me right back where I want to be and may simultaneously occur at a time of my life when I physically and emotionally experience them. In 1972, Edwin Fink wrote that “The authentic and central meaning of Edmund Husserl’s philosophy is today unknown” and that every interpretation is capable “of proving itself from his writings”. As my own subjectivity echoes that of others, I carry their words down the stream of consciousness. The “epistemic fetters” alluded by Robert Arp hinder Homo Sapiens’ awakening.

One must finally achieve the insight that no objective science, no matter how exact, explains or ever can explain anything in a serious sense. To deduce is not to explain. To predict, or to recognize the objective forms of the composition of physical or chemical bodies and to predict accordingly — all this explains nothing but is in need of explanation. The only true way to explain is to make transcendentally understandable.

The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy, p.189, Edmund Husserl, Northwestern University Press, 1970

 

The main question that is raised in the quote at the start of this post is where science fits in reality. What is the essence of phenomenology? I have wondered about a phenomenological theory of sciences and noticed that the concept of phenomenology is used in regard to high energy colliders or in the framework of a phenomenological basis for Modified Newtonian Dynamics. On the one hand, claiming that a phenomenological theory might assume that the orbits of planets are circles, since they are observed to be roughly circles (But we know that with sufficiently accurate observations the orbits are actually ellipses, and the circle model is an over-simplification) would imply that phenomenology should not be taken as reality but as the unreliable appearance of the Universe. On the other hand, saying that collider phenomenology plays a pivotal role in building the bridge between theory and experiments would emphasize the importance of the world-phenomenon as a “test ride” in our understanding of the Universe.

Vesica piscis

Vesica piscis

 

At the intersection of the Transcendental and Mundane Spheres lies science, and so creating in my mind an image that mirrors the mathematical shape of vesica piscis. I once wondered what it means when scientists say “this or that agrees with intuition” as if science were entrenching on the realm of the transcendental sphere. I don’t know whether it is possible to differentiate an empirical intuition from a transcendental one.  Husserl talked about the transcendental ego and “the correlation between the world and transcendental subjectivity as objectified in mankind” (Edmund Husserl, ibid., p.187). In the Husserlian phenomenological methodology, the ego demerges from epistemological level to level until finally achieving universal consciousness.  Phenomenologists refer to our life-world as a Platonic cave that keeps us in jail. How to escape from imprisonment is a matter of debate among philosophers and scientists.

The temptation of the Victor, 1949, Ernst Fuchs

The temptation of the Victor, 1949, Ernst Fuchs

 

At that very moment, my autobiographical self jumps in to remind me of the legendary account of the Zen Patriarch Bodhidharma facing at a cave wall for nine years as if the cave is no longer a prison but, on the contrary, a ground for enlightenment. Viewed from the vantage point where East and West meet, there is an antinomy between Science’s constant wiping of our mirroring reality and the phenomenological epoche that defines the spiritual and radical act of “unchaining,”tearing oneself free,”stepping-forth.” From phenomenology to absolute being, does our consciousness would benefit to land on the South Pole of the Moon in order to leap forward, or can it achieve self-realization, still entangled in earthly fetters?

 

I wish to hold on to the movement of the air and the flow of the whispering consciousness. Just as I was finishing this post, last night I dreamt about my father...

 

Bodhidharma
Bodhidharma

Bodhidharma

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