Saturday, November 03, 2007

A COLD SORT OF COMFORT: HINTING AT THE POSSIBLE

Try to follow these words, from Japanese-American physicist Michio Kaku:

Hyperspace is space beyond three dimensions of space and one dimension of time. Historically, scientists thought that Hyperspace did not exist. Now we believe that that in Hyperspace there is enough room to unify all fundamental forces. Four dimensions of space-time are too small to unify the four fundamental forces.

Got that?

How about this:

Time is like a river. It bends and flows around the universe. Time may also have whirlpools and also may fork into two rivers. In this way, time-travel may be possible. However, you have to have the Plank energy to create a time machine or the energy of a Black Hole. That is far beyond our technology.

And what about this:

We believe that a multiverse of universes exist like bubbles floating in Nothing. Each bubble forms a quantum fluctuation in Nothing. We feel that as this bubble forms, its matter is dominated by strings and membranes which create musical notes which we see as particles of the universe.

Do you get all that?

I sure as hell don't.

But I love, love, fucking love reading about it. Thinking about it. Thinking about why I love reading and thinking about it. (Because it hints at the possible, damn it! All around us is negativity and despair and cynicism, but this has the freedom and energy of possibility! Gleaming like the shiniest and most noble of my childhood marbles. 'Steelies', we used to call them. The giant ones, the ones we horded, even treasured.)

I don't understand most of what he talks about, but that's what gives me glee. I very recently enjoyed reading his non-fiction, science-for-the-masses book, Hyperspace, from the early 1990's, but I could hardly even comprehend the gist of it. Kaku talks about wormholes and other dimensions, the possibilities of travelling forward into the future or backward into the past, the nature of blackholes and the uncertainty surrounding the fundamentals of string theory. All of which is beyond me. (And maybe you, too, though I won't presume to judge.)

Nevertheless, it gets me thinking.

Fantastic images and notions to consider, chew over, ruminate upon. Our universe as one of many soap bubbles, say, floating next to another soap-bubble universe, each independent, each isolated, never to be linked.

Unless...

Wormholes. Wormholes hold the key. (Perhaps.) Wormholes are how we will travel between alternate dimensions and universes that may lay little more than a centimetre next to our own. (Maybe). Literally, a centimetre, or a millimetre, separates us from another, floating universe. The problem, as alluded to in one of the quotes listed above, is that man, at the moment, at the present, at this very second, does not have the technology or energy necessary to even begin contemplating accessing or creating such a wicked-cool wormhole. (Check back with me in a couple of hundred thousand years, and we'll talk.)

What's wonderful, though, about Kaku's book, and his theories in general, is that they are based in reality. (A reality that I don't understand.) And in science. (A science that I don't understand.) Theories of reality, perhaps, but nevertheless: these are not merely science-fiction fantasies. They contain, if not depth, at the least the possibly of weight.

Crude distillations of some of his thoughts follow below:

Why haven't we encountered aliens? Or, to take a different, more intriguing tack: why haven't they contacted us?

Kaku offers some novel scenarios.

Despite the meticulously intricate nature of the cosmos, and its enormity, and its complexity, and even given the randomness of evolution, and even given all of these complicated factors, the scientific odds indicate that we should have been able to find traces of extraterrestrial life out there somewhere. The fact that we haven't indicates:

1) Perhaps another alien civilization, much older than our own, has simply blown itself up. Obliberated itself. If such a civilization were to have developed along similar lines as our own, they may very well have created nuclear-type devices; and, if they were as short-sighted and animalistic as we appear to be, they may have warred with one another and decimated one another eons ago, even before the Big Bang. (Oh, which reminds me: Kaku has some really cool stuff to say about the Big Bang. Everybody always asks: "What happened before the Big Bang? Nothing can come from nothing!" True. But perhaps the Big Bang was the result of, and had a relationship with, another, neighbouring universe. Or dimension. Our universe may be just another fold in a very complicated, very layered ensemble, so its formation, our formation, could just be another wrinkle in that fold...)

2) Perhaps there are other, alien beings out there, but they are on a different evolutionary timeline than our own. Meaning, it is very, very, very unlikely that a different, distinct form of life would have evolved at exactly the same pace as we did (Or are still doing.) Impossible, actually, for alien creatures in vastly different and diverging parts and points of space to evolve simultaneously, and at the same rate. So perhaps evolution is taking place elsewhere, in other galaxies, but these creatures are doing so at a considerable distance and at a rapidly slower (or faster) rate than us, us being humans; perhaps they are still nothing more than the cosmic dust that we once were, moments after the Big Bang, or perhaps they evolved light years before us and are undectable, or simply distant, to our humble humans.

3) Perhaps, and this is my favorite, we are simply not that interesting to aliens. Kaku has a wonderful analogy: When we see a family of ants merrily traipsing along the dirt, do we, as humans, feel compelled to bend down and say: "Here here, little fellas! You young chaps are so primitive! Let us share with you our industrial engineering designs and our computer networks! Let us teach you about YouTube and cameraphones! Let us debate the traumatic replacement of Bob Barker over on The Price is Right. Let us discuss irrigation techniques and their applicability to your daily life!" No. What do we do? We either a) ignore ants, because, after all, they're creepy little buggers, insignificant insects that hold little charm or allure, or b) we kick the ants into the dirt and watch them die.

So, and this is the interesting part, and the humbling part: perhaps there are, indeed, alien entities out there in the cosmos that are so far advanced in their development that our puny attempts at cosmic communication are nothing more than the barely-audible squeal of ants to their elevated intellectual ears. They see us, perhaps; they know we're here, quite possibly. They just don't give a shit. We are ants beneath their rapid and rumbling footsteps...

I find that notion both wildly amusing and disturbingly possible.

And that what Kaku is alluding to: the possible. Not even the probable, really: only the possible.

Another analogy he offers is that of a school of fish merrily swimming in the water, not realizing that they are in water, not knowing what water is, thinking that the ocean is the world, and they are the masters of the current. Suddenly one of their members is plucked by a giant, well, something out of their world and into another universe, one that had scarcely been contemplated even moments before. Where did their friend the fish go? Who took him? The universe of the fish had come undone, utterly and completely.

We are the fish (perhaps). The possibilities inherent in hyperspace (or the presence of aliens) are the equivalent to the human hand grasping the fish from its lair (perhaps).

When you think about it, it reduces us. And yet, at the same time, it's wonderfully liberating.

All our concerns, our foibles, our problems with the boss, the faucet that won't quit dripping, the noisy neighbour next door, the dude with b.o. in line at the bank, the fridge that won't freeze, all of that shit, is happening in a place and a realm that may be merely one fragment of a piece of a segment of a universe that exists in a floating-space bubble that, if properly utilizied, could eventually serve as a bridge between our dimension and the other ten. (Yes, apparently there are, like, ten fucking dimensions. As I said before: I don't get it. But that's the charm...)

In our smallness we can thereby better grasp the infinite.

Time-travel, alternate dimensions, different planes of reality: all may be happening, now, as we speak (and as I write), but technology hinders us from accessing such information until a few more thousands of years have passed.

Given my adolescent (and ongoing, truth be told) obsession with the Back To The Future trilogy, it's no surprise that my favorite parts of Kaku's book have to do with his speculations about time-travel, but he has a section near the end of the book that kind of chilled me. Kind of floored me.

In the past two or three years, the debate around global warming, the elevation of Al Gore to a messiah status, the realization that we may be doing irreparable harm to our plant, somewhat overshadows Kaku's ultimate conclusion regarding humanity: In the end, the ultimate end, the universe's end, we're all fucked anyways. (My words, not his.)

Consider this, from an interview with Kaku:

Our universe will die in ice rather than fire. Our universe, eventually, trillions and trillions of years from now, will reach near absolute zero, making intelligent life impossible. Therefore, we may have to escape into Hyperspace if we are to survive the death of the universe.

If I'm understanding correctly (which is never a sure thing with me, having barely survived Grade 12 Physics), Kaku is stating that the universe, our universe, which means Earth, our Earth, including your house, is doomed. Not now, of course; not even millenia from now. Trillions of years from now, the entire universe will chill out, literally, and die. Finding a way to access the upper ten dimensions of Hyperspace -- perhaps through wormholes, perhaps through technology that will exist in a trillion years -- will be humanity's only hope.

Now, I'm not knocking Al Gore. He's doing a lot of good. But perhaps the most inconvenient truth is the one stated above, that the universe, eventually, will go away. Freeze up. Crack apart. And everything in it will be gone. No matter how much we protect our planet in order to pass it on in one piece to our great-great-grandkids, it is, our planet, in the end, a goner. So saving our earth for generations a century from now, even a millenium from now, is all well and good, but the humans inhabiting earth a trillion years from now will die anyways. (Just as you and I will.) So saving the environment of the earth is not enough; for the sake of our descendants a trillion years from now, we have to figure out how to not only save the planet, not only escape the planet, but also how to escape the universe and access higher dimensions.

It all makes my head spin.

As Marty McFly said so eloquently: "Whoa. This is heavy."

But it gives me a cold sort of comfort.

Being an agnostic-bordering-on-atheist, I sometimes wonder what the point of it all is. This life. This world. So much senseless pain. Such a finite time.

But Fuku's speculations hint at other worlds, and other realms, and other dimensions. Time is not a straight line, but curve upon curve. Time is linked to how and where we are going. We may, someday, thousands of years from now, be able to go forward and back. Parallel universes might be possible -- where there might very well be another me, and another you. The road taken was took, in essence, somewhere else. Somewhere close. (Only a bubble away!)

Silly, really, but I feel less alone, considering these possibilities. I may be small, but there is much out there, elsewhere. Our time may be short, but larger avenues await us, should we dare. I feel comforted, even warmed, by talk of the universe disappearing in ice. By almost-ludicrous suggestions of accessing higher dimensions as are only way out.

I'm not sure why this is. Sometimes I'm riding home on the train, surrounded by sleeping salarymen, in a country far from home, trying to read a language not my own, and I feel: This is not where I'm supposed to be. (Where that is, I'm not sure.)

But then I think of Hyperspace, and the possibilities of realm upon realm upon realm, and Fuku's observations that all we have learned since World War II is more knowledge than that which has ever been learned in the history of humanity up until that point, and I think about his assertions that the future is vastly unpredictable, historically unextrapolatable, because who, after all, predicted the internet twenty years ago, or YouTube five years ago, and by thinking these thoughts, and by realizing the smallness of myself in the enormity of space, I can feel comfortably contained in my sleek Japanese train, sailing through the Tokyo suburbs. I can marvel at our capacity to grow. I can believe that we may destroy ourselves and our world, yes, and perhaps soon, certainly, but I can also choose to believe that we might, given time, given a trillion years or two, finally begin to understand what else is out there, and save ourselves, if we are brave enough and patient enough and pass on what we know. Hoping against hope that it will lead to the next growth, and the next, and the one after that. That my touch and your words are somehow linked in a chain that will elevate us, eventually, to higher, other realms, should we give as gifts to others the knowledge that we know.

Thinking such thoughts, as the day comes to a close and the sky grows dark, I look out the window, at the passing houses, the drifting stations, sometimes snatching a glimpse of our small and glowing moon, mine and yours. The size of a quarter, strangely hovering in the sky. Given the enormity of space, and the proximity of other dimensions a soap-bubble away, Canada suddenly seems not so far; the moon itself seems not so distant. (It fits in my palm! I think, looking through the window.) The universe may dissolve in ice at the end of time, but we are also here, now, and the moon's silver glow somehow seems to warm me more than I can say.

1 comment:

Noi said...

I really liked this entry "too much" as one might say in Cambodia. Makes me want to go back and re-read and ponder, and then drive out into the country and stare up at the starry sky. Thanks.