Friday, March 28, 2014

We Are Stardust?

As much as I like the music of Joni Mitchell, the fact that I am made of stardust makes no emotional impact on me.  But in the spirit of that oh-so reasonable one, Mr. Spock, I do find certain things about that fact interesting. First, the fact that the universe has stars at all strikes me as very curious.  Amongst the many things required for a star to exists, one is that the ratio of the strength of gravity to the strength of the electromagnetic force has to be roughly in the proportion that it is -- the electromagnetic force is roughly 38 magnitudes stronger than gravity.  Thirty-eight magnitudes is a huge number – something in the order of the number of atoms in the planet earth.  Of all the proportions available to nature, that it should have that particular one is certainly interesting.

Even more interesting, perhaps, is what happens after you gather enough gravity together to overwhelm the electromagnetic force.  New elements are forged, and huge quantities of energy are released via E=MC2.  But for new elements to be forged, there must be available another force strong enough to overcome the relatively powerful repulsion that protons feel for one another. The strong nuclear force, which is roughly 137 times more powerful than the electromagnetic force, allows this, and allows nature to develop about 90 stable elements. 

What use the universe has for so many elements is anybody’s guess, but without a rich diversity of elements, we wouldn’t be here.  Being so powerfully attractive, you would think the strong nuclear force would pull everything together in one big lump.  But despite its great strength, the range of that strength drops off steeply, so steeply that it is not felt beyond the atomic nucleus.  Could a force be designed with more perfect specifications for the task of creating a multitude of different kinds of elements?  That, of course, is a terribly unscientific way to frame the question.  Nonetheless, I think it is just the kind of question that a curious person might be inclined to ask.

Our universe seems to have been born (if one can be permitted poetic language here) with the proportions of its forces already set – we might even think these forces are something of an analog to the genes that guide the development of an embryo into a fully realized creature.  Why these proportions?  There are many theories (though I don’t believe any of them are either falsifiable or provable). 

One such theory that currently is popular is the idea of infinite inflation.  To give the briefest sketch of the theory, it posits that the so-called big bang and ensuing period of inflation that created our universe is just one of countless such periods of universe creation.  Most such periods result in a sterile univerese, but by the sheer force of numbers, some of them have what it takes to create interesting universes and even beings that find such universes interesting.

Note that this theory (and I believe all such theories that involve a multiverse) requires an infinitely potent entity, the multiverse, to create an infinite quantity of universes.  Consequently, the multiverse must not be subject to entropy, indeed must be dis-entropic.  But if it is, than we simply cannot assume it is naturalistic in any sense we understand that term, for entropy is absolutely core to our own understanding of nature.  How the multiverse operates is beyond anything we currently can understand.  It is pure mystery.

Now I find all this very interesting, and I do not draw any conclusions from it.  But it does strike me that an omni-potent multiverse has something of the characteristic of a God.    I might even say that when it comes to the great mystery of the source of it all, theism and atheism have about equal status, which is to say they both purport to say more than a reasonable person ought to say. 

So I'll leave the rest to silence...

No comments:

Post a Comment