Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sean Carroll, Caltech Cosmologist, On Escalating Chaos



I heard this guy on a TED talk last week, and, man, the shit that came out of his mouth...! 

(And when I say that, I mean 'shit' in the best possible sense.  IT TAKES A LOT OF MANURE TO MAKE THE FLOWERS GROW.  He sure made me think.  the results, I'm sorry to say, were about as usual.)

He talks about the EMISSIONS from black holes, for instance, which I understood ALWAYS SUCK, and NEVER BLOW.  How can there be emissions from black holes?

He said, in the manner we've become accustomed to, that what is happening now will go on happening forever.  Specifically (as regards that night's TED talk), the universe will keep expanding forever.  That process will keep speeding up forever.  How do we know?  Because for the couple of decades we've been measuring it, it's been expanding and speeding up.  Think of any sci-fi movie you've ever seen:  nothing can ever happen to interrupt a trend in these films (except sometimes a really good-looking guy in a space suit), and this guy seems to be thinking along the same lines.  In a sci-fi movie, for instance, global warming -- uninterrupted by the natural ability of the ozone layer to rebuild itself and chuckling at out trifling emissions policies -- gets so bad that the planet cracks in two like an old plate and we all die.  The crop blight spreads from wheat to rice to okra to tomatilloes, and before you know it, every edible vegetation on the earth turns into dust, and there will be no survivors resistant to that blight that will rebuild the okra population.  Ever.  Overpopulation increases until we are all eating each other, because no birth control method or commonsense self-control comes along to rein it in. 
 
BUT THOSE ARE ONLY MOVIES, PEOPLE.

And here's what seemed to be the thesis of this TED talk:  Chaos always increases.  That's a nice, hopeful statement for a Discordian to hear, but check out how he backs it up:  He says WE NOW KNOW that at the time of the Big Bang, everything was COMPLETELY ORDERLY (he keeps using the word "smooth") and that after the aforesaid bang, everything got more and more DISORDERLY.   And that this will continue, like an arrow on a straight trajectory, forever.  His explanation made more sense after I pictured what would happen in a bank vault, full of neatly-stacked paper money, if you went in and set off a grenade.  The grenade makes a big mess, right?  But according to this guy, it's a mess that will CONTINUE TO GET MESSIER FOREVER.  The dust never settles.  The firemen never arrive and put out the blaze.  The cleaning lady never shows up with a whisk broom to set things right.  The FDIC never reimburses anyone for the damage.  AM I SUPPOSED TO JUST BELIEVE THAT?  Yeah, because he's a cosmologist who teaches at Caltech and I'm just some schmo with the wrong qualifications to allow me to understand.
 
Even an arrow finally hits its target, or simply runs out of energy and lands on the ground.  That's my impression, anyway.
 
Here's another idea that helps this guy's word-picture make sense:  Karma.  The word only means "action," and for every action -- in eastern religions, as in physics -- there is a reaction.  So the Big Bang makes ripples.  OK, fine.  But forever?  Honestly, now?  Forever???  Or -- let's be real -- ripples that eventually settle down but which are still much longer-lasting than a human can imagine?
 
Sometimes I just wonder if these guys really see what they're saying.  It just reminds me of the bad old days when polio was common, and a doctor could look at a polio patient and really believe that what he was seeing was a problem caused by flaccid muscles -- not muscles in violent spasm.  And he would deliver a Mickey Finn and put the kid in a body cast, and when the patient woke up the screaming would start -- because of the violent spasms happening right in front of the eyes of a doctor who couldn't see them.  WHEN REALITY VIOLATES THE CURRENT SCIENTIFIC THEORY, YOU'RE TOLD TO DITCH THE REALITY AND STICK WITH THE THEORY.
 
Carroll also talks about the MULTIVERSE, that curious concept in which the UNIVERSE, which I gather is INFINITE, is not SO infinite that there isn't an INFINITE NUMBER of universes.  How does that work?  If it's INFINITE how is there room for more than one, huh?  It's a short talk -- TED talks always are -- but he keeps throwing these great curveballs at you that leave you blinking and saying "Wait, what?"

Here's something he said on that subject.  I love it.  He points out that an egg is a low-entropy system and dares us to imagine how that can be in an increasingly chaotic universe.  Quoth Carroll:  "An egg is not a closed system.  It comes out of a chicken.  Maybe the universe comes out of a universal chicken."
 
CLICK HERE to hear and see the whole TED talk. Maybe you can make better sense of it. 
 
But maybe making sense of it will spoil the whole thing. 

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