Sunday, April 22, 2012
THE CASE FOR CARBON, aka, You're star material!
I just love my new telescope, compliments of my gems (my kids). I think about how cool and neato it will be to look at constellations with greater magnification. My big goal this summer…on a clear night, is to observe the moon’s terrain. It is theoretically possible with the type of telly I have, but in Pittsburgh it may be, well, problematic. Anyway, I want to talk about an element – carbon. Don’t act so bored (Lydia). Let’s do this again. Drum roll, please…………….I AM HERE TO DISCUSS THE STUFF STARS ARE MADE OF…THE FOURTH MOST COMMON ELEMENT IN THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE….AN ELEMENT THAT CAN BE FOUND A BILLION LIGHT YEARS AWAY, YET EXISTS IN YOU AS WELL. IT IS THE MOST ACTIVE ELEMENT ON THE PERIODIC TABLE, AND IS COMMONLY RECOGNIZED AS UNIVERSALLY INHERENT IN LIFE AS WE KNOW IT. YOU KNOW IT. YOU LOVE IT. CARBON. BOOM! Now I have your attention. The word “carbon” is something you folks my age or older may remember from school (where you sometimes used carbon paper). The word carbon immediately brings to mind boot camp on Parris Island. If carbon was found in the barrel of your rifle, well, you would have a really bad day. No, I want to discuss carbon as purported to be inherent in “intelligent life”. My son-in-law, Dr. Jared Wilson, kindly posted a video of a discussion featuring astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. I have seen him on TV before. He is a great communicator, and a big “Thinking Outside the Box” kind of guy. I have posted it below, but want to make a couple of observations. Jared is scientifically trained. Neils obviously is obviously so, as well as Dr. Leonard Susskind (more about him in a minute). I am just, well, a salesman. Sorry about that. But, anyway, this blog is simply meant to provoke some thought on the part of everyday people, while at the same time offering some compelling (yes, compelling!) satire. Dr. Tyson makes the point that we are made out of the same elements, in the same proportion, as is the universe. OK. Cool. The idea is that we are actually residue of the big bang. Now, this is not a criticism just but an observation: Tyson makes a hip, quasi-spiritual observation regarding the fact that everything in the universe, including us, is made of the same stuff. It was almost pantheistic, i.e. “Wow, we are one with the universe. Doesn’t it make you all tingly?” (Incidentally, learning of the universe and skywatching is indeed thrilling). However, I know the Big Bang was simply our Creator speaking our reality into existence. Neil also make explains that our DNA is over 98 percent identical to that of a chimpanzee (which of course can be extrapolated to support the Theory of Evolution). He used this information to deliver a compellingly cogent monologue about the extremely high plausibility of other life in the universe. Here is MY “however”…however. Dr. Leonard Susskind is a renowned astrophysicist at Stanford University. How renowned? Well, he is a perennial nemesis (in a collegial, academic sense only) of Steven Hawking, and he is very much Dr. Hawking’s intellectual equal. Anway, Leonard’s lectures may be found online, and I have listened to a couple of them. In one such lecture, he discusses the history of particle physics. He describes in detail how earlier physics theorists were divided between those who thought matter was comprised of particles. Their rivals contended that matter was solid and continuous. The particle people won the day. Well, there was then a period of time where atoms were considered to be the smallest element that existed. This continued for a long time, until the discovery of sub-atomic particles created the field of quantum physics. Also, scientists used to think our solar system was the end of cosmic reality, until they found out we are part of a greater galaxy. Then, we learned there are many galaxies. When I was just a pup, I was taught in school that the universe was unending. Now, enter “string theory”. There is serious data supporting the idea that our universe is one of many. Add to this some additional information: Our galaxy along is estimated to be 2.3 million light years in breadth, which is quite impressive when we consider that light travels at approximately 186,000 miles/second. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity indicates that matter, when it reaches the speed of light, ceases to exist, becomes pure energy. Conclusion: We can never travel outside of our solar system….ever. But, guess what? Let’s bust some narrow minded paradigms! Copernicus, Bacon, and a whole bunch of other pioneers succeeded because they knew there was more to learn. My Savior, Jesus, was the master paradigm buster. He destroyed dogma and ignorance. So, here’s the bottom line: How on Earth can we be sure that there are not things SMALLER than quarks, neutrinos, leptons, muons, and the gigantic number of yet undiscovered subatomic particles? Perhaps they, themselves, can be subdivided into entire universes that are again divisible, ad nauseum. What is beyond a universe or a string of universes? Even more compelling: Do other universes and realities exist AMONG us, but we do not know it because they function by an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT PHYSICS…not our physics of the periodic table elements, but a physics predicated on totally different concepts about which we cannot even speculate because we have no frame of reference? We commonly recognize three dimensions, although it is hypothesized that there could be eleven (read about The Universal Theory). So, another reality could exist among us, but since it uses a different physics, it exists in a way that we cannot recognize it with our limited physical senses that operate with OUR physics. OR, we do not have the intelligence to even recognize the existence of advanced lifeforms around us? Back to carbon – Why do we only think about intelligent life in terms of “carbon-based life forms”? Is it because that is the only frame of reference our science can muster? Why can’t life exist in the form of a gas, or a hard mineral, or in a form invisible or which our senses or low intelligence level preclude us from detecting? Why carbon? Because it is one of the elements that is ubiquitous in our universe? Let’s get out of that paradigm and think outside the box. That is a good rule of thumb for life in general, not just for science, in my view.