Thursday, August 18, 2005

66. how I worship

Near the end of my short story thing titled "String Theory," (blog 64) I describe a guy descending down into the subatomic. That came out of a fascination that I have with cosmology - a branch of physics (astrophysics to be more precise) that deals with theories relating to the universe - how it came about, how it's held together, how it works, etc. I appreciate this study on the most basic level (and even that is overstating the case) but even the tiny bit that I can understand fascinates me to no end. The thing that amazes me even more is that the scientists who are on the cutting edge of this field describe a cosmos that would be laughable if it were passed off as fiction. What I mean is, the scientists who work in this field are coming up with a theory of the cosmos that is so bizarre and unimaginable that the scientists themselves can hardly believe it. In describing one facet of this grand study, Richard Feynman (one of the pioneers of Quantum Mechanics) said, "...the only thing that quantum theory has going for it, in fact, is that it is unquestionably correct." What he meant was, their discoveries are painting a picture of the universe that is so odd that the only reason they still believe they're on the right track is because the theories hold up so well under experimental scrutiny.

Look, here are a few things that amaze me:

1. If you remember any of your high school science, you know that everything we see is made up of atoms. These atoms are made up of a nucleus (which contains protons and neutrons) and electrons, which "orbit" the nucleus. Now here's the part that blows my mind. Take the nucleus of an atom and blow it up to the size of a grape seed and put it in the center of a football stadium. The nearest electron will be eating a hot-dog in the last row up in the cheap seats. That's a lot of empty space isn't it? So if my fingers are made up of atoms and this keyboard I'm typing on is made up of atoms and atoms are mostly empty space, why aren't my fingers passing straight through the keys?

2. Let's say you're driving a Ferrari (any one will do) down the H3. You're being good and driving the speed limit until some dweeb in a souped up Honda CRX passes you, giving you the finger as he does. He drives by too quickly for you to get a good look at him so you step on the gas and catch up to him and you see that it's your punk cousin.
Now let's change it up a bit. Let's say you're the pilot of the fastest spaceship ever created. You're flying from planet to planet when you see your cousin whip by you, riding on a beam of light. You're tired of his antics so you open up the thrusters on your spaceship and try to catch up to him. But then you discover something very strange. No matter how fast you push your spaceship, your cousin is traveling away from you at the exact same rate. Even as you approach the speed of light (the same speed your cousin was traveling) he's still zipping away from the speed of light.
I'm probably completely screwing up the example but ask your resident geek astrophysicist (or channel Einstein who discovered this phenomenon) and they'll tell you that it's basically correct.

3. The bits of the universe that we can observe with telescopes and microscopes only accounts for about five percent of what the universe is made of. The other ninety five percent is made up of dark matter (20 percent) and dark energy (75 percent). No one has ever seen either dark matter or dark energy but it's pretty much settled that it exists. If it didn't, the galaxy our solar system lives in would rip itself apart like pizza dough that's being spun too fast. And the last time I looked up in the sky, the milky way seemed pretty stable.

4. We normally measure the world in three dimensions - left/right, forwards/back, up/down. We navigate this way. For example, I work at Altres Staffing which is on the corner of Kapiolani Blvd (one dimension) and Ward Ave (a second dimension), up on the second floor (third dimension). Einstein introduced time as a fourth dimension, which makes sense if you consider that I schedule people for interviews at my office all the time. I give them directions to the office in three dimensions but I also have to tell them when to be there.
Okay, common sense right? Well some of the most popular models (theories) of the cosmos include up to twenty six dimensions (although the most popular model makes do with a mere eleven). Can't picture that? No one can, it's impossible for us because all we've ever known is our measly four dimensions.

Now I've limited myself to physics. but our world is littered with everyday astonishments like these:

1. You listen to CDs? Well every second of sound you hear off of your CD player has been pieced together from 44,100 little pieces of information. Each piece can have one of 65,536 values. All of that information is stored on that little disc.

2. The computer you're using to read this blog? Let's say you've got an old crappy computer like mine and your processor speed is around 1GHz. That means, the chip at the center of your computer is making 1,000,000,000 little calculations every second. Massively parallel supercomputers are thousands of times faster than that.

And the most amazing fact of them all?

3. The uber-stud, Randall has been single for thirty three years.

And even more amazing that that?

4. You're still reading this damn blog...get to the point already!

Okay, okay, the point of all this geeky information:

One could look at all of these facts and figures and say, "wow, humans are pretty smart huh?" But we aren't. Most of these advancements and discoveries have occurred in the last couple centuries. In the grand scheme of things, it was only yesterday that we as a species thought the world was flat. And besides, we're only discovering what's already there, what's already been created. Here's a great story I heard once that illustrates how limited our understanding is:

A group of scientists discovered a process by which they could take a cup of dirt, run it through a complex series of electro-chemical reactions and end up with simple single-celled organisms - in short, they were able to create life from dirt. They were so impressed by this feat that they took their accomplishment to God saying, "look what we can do. We can create life from dirt just like you did." God nods his head then says, "yeah, but first you gotta make your own dirt."

See, when I read about all of these mind-blowing theories of the universe and all the other minor miracles that man has made, I don't wonder at the power of the human mind, I stand in awe of the one who created it all. Columbus didn't discover America - it was already there for the finding. In the same way, all these discoveries about the nature of the universe, we're just finding what God has already put in place. And the more we explore, the more we learn, the more we realize how little we know.

Those theories about the cosmos that I started talking about? There are maybe a couple dozen people in the entire world who are smart enough to work in that field. And that's just one field of study. There are only a handful of biologists who know how to turn a stem cell into a nerve cell. There are chess players who know that one push of a pawn can win the game twenty moves later. There are computer hackers who use just a few lines of code to crash computers all over the world (bastards...but then again, I'm an Mac guy - ask me the last time I updated my virus software...oops, what virus software?).

All of these people devote their entire lives to understanding just a tiny piece of what God has created, and there's still so much to be learned, to be discovered, to be calculated. There are over 18 million books in the Library of Congress and even if one were to read and understand them all, you'd still only grasp an ounce of the universe that God has created.

This is how I worship.

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