Monthly Archives: January 2012


There is a popular political slogan in circulation that seems somewhat suspect to me. It is designed to support a political notion that has been around for as long as I can remember. Its current form is expressed as simplistically as possible: 99% and 1%. Those percentages represent the ‘non-wealthy’ and the ‘wealthy’ respectively.

On October 28, 2011, The New York Times published the following taxation statistics:

Income starting at        $11 million

Average                             $31 million

Families                                               14,000

Income starting at        $2 million

Average                             $3.9 million

Families                                               135,000

Income starting at        $386,000

Average                             $717,000

Families                                               1.35 million

Income starting at        $108,000

Average                             $167,000

Families                                               13.2 million

Income starting at        $0

Average                             $36,000

Families                                               132 million

According to the slogan, 99% of Americans are being exploited by 1%. We used to hear stories about big Republican money behind presidential campaigns. Now that the Democratic Party has bigger money than its adversary, most media continues to tell us that the Republican Party seeks the votes of their ‘friends,’ the wealthy. What is overlooked is the fact that individual millionaires (and billionaires) have only one vote each, no more or less than every other voter. Even if we round out the top three figures for families to as many as 2 million families, the rest of the voting population overwhelmingly outnumbers them. No political party can survive against those odds by catering to the wealthy. Party platforms based on financial class rather than fiscal responsibility would be political suicide.

Despite significantly differing incomes, we live in a fundamentally classless society. The current slogan is just another way to express the ageless cliché that the Democratic Party is for the poor and the Republican Party for the rich. I am not in favor of any political party, but generalizations are anathema to me. I cringe at expressions like, ‘the party for the poor,‘ ’real people,’ and ‘fair tax.’ I’m equally at odds with Social Conservatives and Limousine Liberals. Their prejudices clutter the paths of objectivity.

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Status Quo

There was a time when the leaders of totalitarian states were able to keep mass murder secret. In order to do so, Nazi Germany had elevated censorship to a fine art. Hushed stories about concentration camps were limited to kitchen tables both abroad and here. The sources of those stories were mainly people who had narrowly escaped the brunt of the Holocaust.

Majdanek, a concentration camp in occupied Poland, was first to be discovered, only ten months before the end of World War ll. It was not until four months before the end of the war that the Auchwitz camp was discovered. The camp at Bergan-Belson was discovered on April 15, 1945, slightly over three weeks before the war ended.

On June 7, 1945, one month after the war, German citizens in the allied occupation zones were made to view piercing black-and-white images of the Holocaust. In the dark, they got their first glimpse of clandestine genocide.

Fast-forwarding to the present: Mass murder no longer requires secrecy. Unprecedented transparency of world events has not inhibited genocide. We sit at our dinner tables and uneasily watch protesters being killed in the streets of Syria. President Bashar al-Assad, like so many other authoritarian leaders- – -past and present- – -continues to have thousands of people killed in broad daylight.

History is replete with mass murder dating from the earliest civilizations. In recent times, ‘purges,’ ‘pogroms,’ and ‘ethnic cleansing,’ are what they always were, except for one startling change: we now helplessly observe genocide while it is being practiced.

That is weird. 

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(Part Three of Three)

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 shells, 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. 

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When Did Yesterday Happen? (Part Two of Three)

While browsing through Stephen Hawking’s twin books (A Brief History of Time and The Universe in a Nutshell (Pages 148/149 and 78/79 respectively), I noticed what I assumed to be a typographical error in respect to time references given for the Electro-weak epoch dominated by quarks and antiquarks. Although the discrepancy between 10-34 and 10-35 seconds is enormous, I am not engaging in a ‘gotcha!’ moment. I never do that. No, the discrepancy cited serves only as an example of the difficulties encountered when we engage in research for cosmological facts.

I highlight this particular discrepancy because precise figures for the determination of timelines for our nascent universe vary from source to source. However, the source of cosmological history in those two books is identical (Gamow, 1948). When I noticed the discrepancy (from memory alone) I thought I’d better check to see if it was just another intended change from source to source so frequently made in that aspect of cosmology. So, I went online to be sure that the beginning of the second epoch was at 10-34 seconds as I remembered it to be. It generally was, but there were variations as well. Checking back to the two books, I searched for a possible explanation for the discrepancy other than a typographical error. There was none. I thought it had to be a typographical error.

However, further research into a paper I had written years ago (The Handyman’s Handbook on Cosmology), revealed a passage that states, ‘the difference between those two points in time (10-34 and 10-35 seconds) determines whether or not life would be possible in our universe!’ Perhaps, then, the difference is intentional. Yet, the text beneath the graphic in the more recently published book, The Universe in a Nutshell (2001), explicitly describes timelines for the epochal evolution of the universe using the Gamow model except for the beginning of that one epoch. Such are the devils that lurk in the dark caverns of research.

Of course 10-43 seconds remains fixed as the beginning of time in accordance to Planck time. Timeline variations beyond that initial figure reflect the diligent study of thousands of theoretical physicists and cosmologists, aided by advanced technology. The rapid advance of technology, swift publication of sprouting theories, controversies, and competition among scientists ironically make research more difficult than ever. But cosmology is intrinsically exciting. The following note is an example of what I enjoy most about cosmology.

[Note: The smallest time measurement to date is twenty times larger than Planck time. Planck time is based on the motion of an atom, hence international atomic clocks. In the remote future, when the temperature of the universe is lower than it is now, Planck time will have changed because atoms will move more slowly than they do now, but the motion of atoms will always be the basis for time measurement unless and until the universe experiences a Big Rip, in which case there won’t be anyone to measure time anyway.]

There is a sharp contrast between the disciplined study of time and the esoteric fantasies about time propagated by pseudo-scientists (a contradiction in terms when applied to science, but it’s the best I can do for the moment). On this side of time, serious cosmologists and physicists have oscillated between hope and despair for centuries. Searching through mathematical labyrinths, they seek unequivocal answers to profound questions about time. Several rational theories have been posited. They are respectable theories, e.g., the proposal that space and time end in a black hole. But not all theories of time are respectable.

Without the restrictions of scientific discipline, just about any fanciful notions about time are fair (or almost fair) game. For me, philosophical contemplation of time is significant only to the extent that it doesn’t violate what is known about time. Any theory of time must include Einstein’s discovery of a fourth dimension. Relativity of time has been proved time and time again with atomic clocks on jet flights and through other unequivocal demonstrations.

There are many proved cosmological facts that are unimaginable. There are also unimaginable concepts that cannot be proved. One of the most popular of those is a universe without a beginning. That concept is usually discussed out of context. Its focus is strictly on the dichotomy of spontaneous generation of the universe vs. its possibly timeless, Steady State existence. Many people make that argument without any distinction between an alleged timeless universe and a temporal planet! If someone who is not familiar with elementary cosmology discusses the abstract concept of infinity combined with temporal human history, how would he provide dates for dinosaurs, the dawn of civilization, or his last birthday? It seems to me that if a discussion of temporal human existence equates a Steady State universe with human history, the discussion itself would have receded into the infinite past before it got started.

Not being omniscient, I have no idea of how the universe began, but I know that it was not always here. I also have a reasonable doubt about brane theory and ‘chaotic inflation,’ neither of which can ever be proved, let alone reveal the truth about time. It’s not only a theory that cannot be tested, but it exponentially exacerbates the conundrum of existence. The improvable concept of exchanging one universe for a multiverse of colliding bubbles creating baby universes leaves me with considerable doubt.

Please stay tuned for Part Three of Three: Disambiguation 

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A Reasonable Doubt (Part One of Three)

There are two groups of people holding their breaths for a definitive resolution to the question of extraterrestrial life: they are, atheists and the religious. They are anxious for the answer to that question for philosophic rather than purely factual reasons. I might add that scientists fall into one of those groups or the other. As far as agnostics are concerned, they are not anxious for the answer to that question unless they allow themselves to fear alien hostility, a non-philosophic anxiety.

The absence or presence of a God is not within the purview of this article. My interest centers on the validity of a philosophic argument posited by both atheists and the religious. Virtually everyone in either group believes that unequivocal evidence of extraterrestrial life would be in itself an answer to the question of whether or not God exists.

On the contrary, I believe that proof of extraterrestrial intelligent life would not provide a conclusive resolution to the question of deity. I base that belief on the premise that if there is an Entity that can create a universe, It can just as well manage an alleged multiverse that includes ETI. If Christians, Jews, Muslims, et al have their details wrong, that doesn’t necessarily prove that there is no God. I am not advocating the existence of God, but I cautiously submit that logic does not sustain the popular argument that ETI precludes the existence of a God.

Coupled with the notion that the discovery of ETI would prove that there is no God, is the argument that a world without religion would release global havoc. That argument is based on the premise that religion is critical as a restraining force against barbaric hedonism. History and logic tell us otherwise. History is replete with religious repression, intolerance, persecution, and wars, and during a purely secular war, religiosity is suspended. Logic goes further by dispelling the notion that news of ETI would inevitably fracture global order (such as it is).

I believe that if ETI is discovered, the overwhelming majority of humanity would go on living as it had before the news of it. Billions of people would not lose their faith in God or cease religious practices. For most people, religion is not at the center of their lives. Those who would lose their faith would not necessarily change the ethic they had derived from religion or some other source. Also (and contrary to popular belief), there are millions of atheists whose non-theological ethic is exquisitely high. They, more than any others, would not make behavioral changes in response to proof of ETI.

But predicting the behavior of masses of people is tricky. For example, if Muslim terrorists were to suddenly lose their faith in God, would they end their Jihad? I think not. I believe they would simply give Jihad another name and continue fighting if only to keep Sharia Law alive. Communists would continue to reinforce their concept of society as a replacement for God. ETI would be good news in atheist North Korea, but not so good for leaders of communist nations where freedom is making some headway, with or without religion.

Religion has taken a big hit in the last century or so. Yet, the global decline of civilization does not appear to be significantly related to the global decline of religion. In the unlikely event that ETI is proved to exist in this corner of the Universe, fear may cause the religious to huddle in places of worship, but I doubt that there’ll be global mayhem then anymore than there is now.

In any case, intergalactic wars are extremely low on my list of potential human catastrophes. There are far more probable and actual events of terrifying hostility to be addressed for the survival of humanity. Arguments about the effect that the discovery of ETI might have on terrestrials pale by comparison.

Please stay tuned for Part Two of Three: When Did Yesterday Happen?   

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