Friday, May 4, 2018

Our Place In The Universe Is Not Very Special But It May Be Understood

I posted this article which has nothing to do with economics, politics or with the behavior of our government that has declared a war on objectivity, when facts do not confirm the falsehoods of our president and his followers, because it describes an effort to demonstrate that the universe is understandable.  We may not be able to understand institutions and systems created by flawed human beings but we might be able to understand the universe.  I welcomed this distraction.

One of the things that we have learned about the universe is the concept of "cosmic inflation".  That is, the universe is growing so fast that there are regions of light that will never reach observers on earth.  Moreover, there may be multiple universes.  If the number of universes is infinite it may spell the end of science as it is understood by physicists.  The implication is that there are phenomena which can never be tested or directly observed.  This article reviews a paper by Steven Hawking which suggests that the number of universes may not be infinite.  Moreover, our universe remains special and is discoverable by scientific method.  It would be nice to believe that even if we don't understand our universe completely,  it is knowable and subject to scientific discovery.

After reading the article I stepped back from the problem of infinite universes, and the end of science, and reflected on the universe which we think we understand.  Our earth is in a galaxy that contains billions of stars like our sun.  Each of these stars has planets in orbit around them and some of them might have the conditions that make life as we know it possible.  Moreover, there are billions of galaxies like the Milky Way which also contain billions of stars.  This means that our planet and the forms of life on it are not unique.  There must be life elsewhere in the universe.  Our planet, and the wars that we have endured during our brief history, have often been about the gods which we have invented to reserve a special place for humans who follow their favorite god, or their favorite version of history and the institutions that we have created.  We lack the humility which physicists and most scientists have about our ability to understand what we don't know.  This gives me some respite from spending too much of my time trying to figure out how we can preserve some of the institutions that have worked better than others over time.  They will prevail despite the attacks against them that we see in Washington and elsewhere.

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