Wednesday, May 8, 2013

nagging questions

Did you ever have one of those back-of-the-mind questions that simultaneously is not terribly important and yet nags gently, seeking some release?

Yesterday, in a move that was palpably ridiculous, I gave vent to one of mine and wrote a letter to Michio Kaku, a high-profile theoretical physicist who has appeared on TV and written a bunch of books. The ridiculousness lay in asking some top-gun the answer to questions he might have the answers to ... but I have learned from hard experience that if you want an answer, never ask anyone who is prominent in the field: Don't ask the president of the United States a question about the country ... ask one of his minions who may have some on-the-ground experience and is less concerned with image.

Anyway, I sent the letter because the questions had been rolling around in my mind for some time. They were based on the assertion (perhaps I even heard Kaku make it) that the universe is expanding. Additionally, however, it needs to be understood that it's not just the stars and galaxies that are expanding -- everything is expanding at the same time ... you, me and the kitchen sink.

I made it plain in the letter that I was curious enough about all this to write a letter and ask, but I was not curious enough to be referred to some very good book on the topic. The importance of the questions was about as great as asking a neighbor what the garbage pick-up schedule was this week or how the high school baseball team had done ... conversational. I feel no impetus to inform myself at any foot-noted depth. I asked Kaku because a man or woman who really knows his/her shit is capable of explaining it simply. Beware of ornate complexity ... it's a sure sign of uncertainty.

Anyway, the questions were these:

1. If everything is expanding at the same time, how do we know it?
2. If we do know (i.e. have some intellectual basis for asserting its truth), what use is the information?
3. The word "expand" relates grammatically to a fixed point -- i.e. it has no meaning unless, either implicitly or explicitly, there is something that is not-expanding. Even if the fixed point were taken as the perception of the one asserting expansion, still, according to the premise, that perception is likewise expanding.
Of course, the assumptions and premises of my questions may be wrong and I am content to be wrong. Just sending the letter helped to ease the small nagging in my mind.
Maybe I'll never know or understand.
Some shit is like that. 


  1. If he answers Adam I hope you will share...although it will probably go whistling over my head...

  2. Peter -- I mentioned this to Janet Asimov, Isaac's widow and a retired psychiatrist, and she sent the following response. I'm not sure if it answers the questions or just ships them to a different orbit.

    I can’t answer #1 because I can’t remember how they know, but they do. Something to do with the background microwave radiation and red shifts and things like that there.

    #2 ---humans (at least scientists) want to know what’s going to happen. And acquiring information is what the human brain does.

    #3---think of a dotted balloon expanding, so that all the dots move away from each other but there’s no fixed point.

  3. Well I've fed it in the Peter Computer and its cogitating a limping kind of fashion..:)
    The dotted balloon idea I can get a bit of purchase on.

  4. I thought I could too ... until I realized that the purchase was likewise expanding. If everything gets bigger simultaneously, does "bigger" have any meaning?

  5. Every point in the universe sees itself as the center...

  6. I will be extremely interested to see if you get a reply :-)

  7. I feel bigger already.

  8. It's easy:

    Throw your limited 4 denominational mind in the trash

    Understand that there wasn't one place where the big bang erupted

    It's not like one balloon expanding but a trillion

    Realize that your limited mind is incapable of making an image that even comes close to what is really happening. It can barely picture what happened yesterday.

    Go for a walk.

  9. BH -- I am more than willing to credit what you say, even if I don't understand it.

    But can you suggest some usefulness that the information you depict might have? And from what starting point does anyone begin in order to reach your conclusions?

    I will now, as directed, go for a walk.