When I was a kid, I tried to imagine absolutely nothing. That was impossible. It still is. I close my eyes and all I get is an abstract sense of the ‘contraction of space’ and total darkness, failed images which are in themselves proof that I cannot imagine absolutely nothing. Contraction implies existence, and darkness is nothing more than the absence of light. ‘Nothing’ would not include space itself, so even darkness would not exist. Trying to imagine nothingness is like trying to remember a dreamless sleep.
On the other hand, there is a level of cognition that recognizes the validity of concepts well within the scope of reality although it’s impossible to imagine them in concrete terms. A few obvious examples of what we know but cannot imagine are: the speed of light; the star, Eta Carinae, is 100 times larger and 4 million times brighter than the sun; a neutron star is so dense that a teaspoonful of its matter weighs 1 to 100 billion tons depending on whether the sample is ‘taken’ from the star’s surface or its core (my favorite teaspoonful equivalents are Mount Everest or 900 Giza Pyramids); an item just a few feet above the surface of a neutron star would drop at 4.3 million miles per hour; and there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on all the beaches and deserts on earth.
Some cosmological concepts endure, others are altered or discarded depending on technological or methodological advances in measurement, theoretical refinement, or new discoveries, but those updates (sometimes controversial) have no effect on our imagination. In cosmological terms, dropping a few zeroes here or there is not registered by our already boggled imagination. I can’t imagine the density of 6 billion people or 12 million elephants in their natural state, let alone when they are hypothetically scrunched into a teaspoon—can you? I find those density metaphors more difficult to imagine than the phenomenon itself wherein subatomic particles are compacted to unimaginable density.
Modern cosmology and I were born in 1927 when Hubble discovered galaxies other than ours and introduced the world to an exponential enlargement of the macrocosmic world. In that same year, the Copenhagen Interpretation (led by Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg) revealed a profound schism between classical science and quantum mechanics, i.e., a fundamental difference between the macrocosmic and microcosmic worlds. Since then, theoretical physicists and cosmologists have been dealing with an Alice in Wonderland universe. In the sub-atomic world the clean-cut precision of classical physics yielded to the uncertainty principle of complimentarity and the uncertainty principle.
[Bohr’s principle of complimentarity: In classical physics, experimental results are not altered by the devices used to study them. In quantum physics, the very act of observing an electron affects the results. An analogy to this is that the presence of news media changes an event being reported because people behave differently when they know they are being observed. Bohr designated particle and wave phenomenon as complementary concepts, i.e., they exclude each other.
Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle: This principle states that precise measurements are meaningless in the quantum world. We can only determine a statistical distribution of measurements. That is, it’s impossible to know at the same time the position and velocity of an electron. Measuring one affects the other. Therefore, you can only know the position or velocity, not both at the same time.]
However complex the mathematical equations of classical science are, including Einstein’s famous E=MC2 counter-intuitive concept of space-time, they have been translated into words and graphics by authors, many of whom are cosmologists themselves. Einstein’s discovery of a fourth dimension and the curvature of space have been definitively demonstrated, as have been many concepts in the discipline of classical science. Amazing counter-intuitive concepts in the realm of quantum mechanics have also been firmly established since the 60s.
Whatever discrepancies in mathematical details may be and however vehemently theoretical physicists and cosmologists may argue about them, we can all understand that stars are born, have life spans, and die quietly or violently depending on their birth size. We cannot imagine the final collapse of a gigantic star into a neutron star or a black hole in a matter of seconds, but we can understand those events without understanding the equations that describe them. I am excited by astrophysical play-by-play descriptions of stars—their formation in the nebula nursery, nucleosynthesis, equilibrium, red giant phase, onion rings, degeneration into neutron stars or black holes, and their replenishment of star material for the birth of new stars.
Since the atom is at the crossroads of the macrocosmic and microcosmic realms of the universe, both realms are interlocked with the whole of reality. Nuclear physicists and cosmologists are engaged in a frenzied search for TOE (Theory of Everything). Since I am not a scientist, I don’t have to worry about a reputation in science, so I can freely coin an acronym of my own: SIP.
SIP is my protest against the use of three words: Singularity, Infinity, and Point. When the Second Law of Thermodynamics or the curvature of space are described, there are no linguistic ambiguities that jar understanding or, for that matter, credibility. I have no problem with non-intuitive concepts, including the possibility of neutrons vanishing under extreme pressure or particles flashing in and out of existence. But I do mind the vagueness of SIP to describe them. Photosynthesis is just as intangible as those concepts, but the word is linguistically unambiguous. It always means the same thing.
Whatever the equations may be, exactly what am I to infer by “a point of infinite density and zero volume?” I have yet to find a credible explanation for the use of those all-purpose words. After all, we are dealing with concepts, not detergents.
SIPs are used to describe phenomenon dealing with temperature, density, black holes, the collapse of massive stars, and the Big Bang itself. Of course I’m aware that some concepts cannot be expressed in any language other than that of mathematics, but how am I expected to believe that the singularity associated with the collapse of a single star is equivalent to the singularity of the universe at its inception! ‘Infinite’ mass for various phenomena doesn’t cut it for me, at least not as far as the word is concerned.
I’m also baffled by the claim that there is no need for a singularity if alleged random ‘brane’ collisions chaotically create baby universes in a multiverse of branes—a form of cosmological sex, I suppose. That idea blatantly places the cart before the horse. To put it another way: if you can’t explain an initial singularity at the inception of the universe, invent a theory and words that can! Your reputation is safe because there can never be a way to confirm the existence of branes anyway, let alone the multiple universes each of them is purported to contain, each of those new universes with its unique universal laws.
I recognize that complex mathematics and equations are very often the only coinage with which cosmologists and theoretical physicists can express complex concepts. Their ‘cool’ acronyms are usually appropriate and often amusing, but I do hope they’ll put brakes on SIPs.