Perspectives

Perspectives have surprised me at many corners, and it frequently demonstrates to me that our minds are simply not well wired for the things we discover via outer-mind processes such as maths, science and history. The problem that arises, is that we assign the problem of the unknown to the things we can know; fear and paranoia. To me, it’s apparent that this is exactly where religion and conspiracy thrives. But that’s for another post.

We cannot possibly know with our brain alone what happened 1,000 years ago. We cannot possibly see the stars behind the sheet we see in the sky, nor can we know what those dots we do see actually are, without science. We cannot fathom almost anything of the modern era without maths propping us up.

It’s really fascinating, and perspectives have given me a new fascination in history.

I was recently discussing and being corrected on some ideas of Russian/Ukranian history including Normans, Vikings, Germans and Mongolians, and to me it was fascinating that the area of Crimea has been interwoven by so many different battles of culture over the centuries, ones you don’t even remotely relate to that area. 

When you see the spread of the Mongol empire, for example, you just have to sit there in awe. You know that massive land called China? Mongol Empire. You know all of those countries ending in -stan that dominate the Middle East? Mongols. You know the entire southern half of Russia, and Eastern Europe? Mongol Empire. 

Talking of perspective, the Roman Empire, an empire we consider one of the greatest due to its duration, at its largest covered a mere 6.5 million square kilometers, or 4.3% of the earth’s land. The Mongols in comparison total a monstrous 22.29% of the world’s land, second only slightly to the British empire at 22.43%, or 33 million square kilometers. 

Over 1/5th of the world, dominated by Mongols at a point in time, and I wasn’t even aware of any mongol empire until some self study occurred a few years ago. It’s surprising something like this just wasn’t mentioned in school (perhaps in later, choice courses of history, prepping for university, who knows).

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Here are some more unreal perspectives:

  • The British Empire was at its Greatest when my granddad was alive and walking around, accounting for 20% of the entire world’s population.
  • To the Romans, Egypt was as Ancient as we consider the Romans ancient to us. We are taught that the Romans came into Egypt and changed things around, and so we (or at least I) get this kind of overlapping feeling that the two ages were at least in the same general area of history, but realistically the Egyptians were just… Before. Before everything. By a long shot.

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  • Except dinosaurs. However, the Stegosaurus was even more ancient to the T-rex than the T-rex is to humans, The T-rex being 65 million years before us, and the Stegosaurus being over 80 million years before the T-rex. Again, school and education from media has shown us that these two walked around hand in hand, had their fair share of rival battles of attack and defense and died together somewhat romantically in a burst of fire. We clearly had no idea.
  • We all know there are perhaps 100 billion galaxies, but what people don’t realise is the sheer size difference in these galaxies. The IC 1101 galaxy is up to 5–6 million light-years across, compared to the milky way, at around 100,000 light years across. That’s 50 times the disc size of our entire galaxy.

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  • A Great Basin bristle-cone pine in North America is a 5,000 year old tree. This single tree, sitting on its roots, unmoved, undisturbed, has watched all the aforementioned empires come and go, rise and fall. It was there to see the Egyptians build their pyramids and it remains today. In fact, its leaves are almost twice my age, at over 4 decades a piece.

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  • There are 10 times more bacteria in you than there are actual cells. That means you, as a person, are a fraction of what you think you are. 90-odd percent of you is foreign species, living rent free off your already 70% water existence. In fact, over 4,000 species of bacteria were found in a few swabs of belly buttons. Over 1,000 of which were likely new, undiscovered species.
  • If the world’s population was equally distributed with a density of New York, the whole 7.1 billion of us could fit into Texas, leaving the rest of the world to vegetate. 
  • Voyager 1 has taken 40 years to leave our solar system at 62,000 kilometers/hour, faster than anything we can even imagine on earth. It will still take another 300 years to reach the Oort cloud – the very outer edge of our solar system, and a further 30,000 years to actually get through it. In 40,000 years, it will reach a mere 1.6 light years from the next star, Gliese 445. If you want to reach the nearest star, Alpha Centauri, it will take a mere 73,000 years at this speed. Unfortunately it’s going the wrong way, so we’re gonna be waiting, probably longer than the material of the satellite can exist without decaying, before reaching anything other than blackness.

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  • The famous Black Death Pandemic was minuscule, if you find the right comparison. Influenza, in a year of The Great War killed more people – up to 40 million – than in five years of the black death – around 25 million.
  • This image is the Hubble eXtreme Deep Field, created in 2012. An enhanced and 20% further zoomed update (using 10 years of previous images) of the Ultra-deep field photo, it shows over 15,000 galaxies across an area of the sky barely 10% the area of a full moon.

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I’m not going to make this become a listical or infographic, I think that’s enough to get my point across. To be honest, The last few months I’ve come across such perspectives magnitudes more ridiculous than any of these may come across as. You can find them all the time if you spend some time listening, watching various documentaries/articles/podcasts. 

We sit here so sure of ourselves all the time. Those slightly more bored than others realise that we are tiny and insignificant when watching Carl Sagan’s ‘Pale Blue Dot’ scene, but really, we have no clue. We sit here acknowledging our hopelessness but somehow, even that just fails to grasp the comparative ineptitude of our minds. It’s not just about size we can’t comprehend, it’s age, variation, numbers, diversity, cause and effect, practically every corner of our life is inconceivable, and we just do our best to live in the little cracks in the walls, away from the light, concerned it will fry us to a crisp of utter confusion.

Awesome.

 

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The entire history and future of The Universe in 999 personified words.

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Peacefully, the three-dimensional universe coalesced into a series of two-dimensional plates. Within those plates, little balls began to form from the debris. Over a little time, oceans and atmospheres formed and life flourished on several particular globes.

Intelligent life came somewhere towards the end of life’s overall run and inevitably ruined it for everyone aside from the resilient few. Ravens – a rather nifty bird, of all things – did pretty well for themselves on Earth, taking advantage of pretty much everything humans threw at them.

Several species of bacterium and smaller creatures had no trouble with adapting to various chemical poisons and radiation, and intelligent life inevitably rose again and again, each time being annihilated by themselves as if it was some sort of tradition.

In the end, however, life just kind of gave up throughout the Universe and left it to the elements to roam free, no longer manipulated by curious minds.

By this point though, the Universe is pretty cold. Mr. Entropy has been messing the place up and causing atomic chaos and now there is so little order that energy has just sort of spread out like a regular tub of butter over 46.6 billion slices of toast.

Since temperature comes from the interaction of atoms, there is no longer any temperature because everyone has isolated themselves in their own little patch of the Universe. There were once good days where atoms would jiggle around together emitting heat, since kinetic energy – movement – is the one true form of energy – but I guess after a while you kind of get bored of each other and drift apart. Eventually you’ll stop expecting Christmas cards altogether. I’m pretty sure that’s what Entropy means.

They are consequently collectively destined to decay into nothingness all by themselves. Galaxies were, are and will continue to be things of the past, and at the end of time – a little before 3 o’clock if I calculated it right – temperatures will reach absolute zero (-273.15°C) and penguins will have to find themselves a new, slightly warmer universe in which to reside.

Atoms are a lot like penguins; without coming together and sharing body heat, the penguins tend to get cold and inevitably die alone. A lonely atom cannot share its kinetic energy with its ‘friends’ once it is isolated, and probably wouldn’t even if it could. I’m pretty sure that’s what the Law of Conservation of Energy means.

Of course, there is a solution to all this. If the atoms could just solve their issues with each other, we might see them starting to group up again and get a few barbeques started. This obviously generates heat and we’ll immediately be getting back on track.

With enough friendly atoms, the combined mass would create gravity. Not much is needed, and since it’s a natural result of their turning up to the party, nobody will really mind. Eventually, the party will be so popular and attractive – so to speak – to others that they will have fellow atoms queuing round the corner. Some particles, like electrons, may even turn up to multiple parties simultaneously.

Perhaps rival parties will form elsewhere and other gravitational sources will attract other extroverts, and perhaps some smaller, introvert-friendly invitations might prop up here and there. Something for everyone.

Without even realizing it, there will be numerous groups forming into various elements again like the good old days as a result of interacting with each other and trading various particles here and there. Helium being the most extraverted of elements was always the most popular, and pretty self-absorbed. So they ended up at pretty much every party along with Hydrogen and to a lesser extent, Lithium and Beryllium. These guys are pretty lightweight and light hearted though, so it took some of the bigger parties to create enough pressure to get the more stubborn, introverted elements like Magnesium and Carbon to come out. They did this by means of a strange ritual of colliding into each other at speeds incomprehensible to intelligent life forms since past. Mg and C tended to hang out with the other 80 or so losers in the bedrooms of these parties, aka, the core of stars and other similarly troublesome places. But given enough time, enough interactions will give them the energy needed to see what all the noise was about outside.

Eventually parties come to an end, often due to the particle police coming about the noise. Given that a typical star party might reach constant volumes of about 290db, this is understandable. So with the police ruining it all, the star will explode. It was getting on a bit anyway. The atoms will have to dash before they get caught and so they will once again get sprawled all over the place.

But wait; now all the introverts are out and about. What will become of them? Well, essentially the same as everyone else. The gravity will be spread out, but not nearly as much as the aforementioned butter scenario, and so it will drag everyone back to what I suppose will be the after party.

Clouds and clouds of atoms will whirl themselves together in renewed two-dimensional plates in a three-dimensional universe – solar systems – and once again clump together in significantly smaller parties, as if to keep from troubling the neighbors – how considerate.

Before we know it, more Earth-like planets will form. Jupiter-like planets were and will be always more common, since Helium and Hydrogen really are the true party goers. But hey, Iron and Carbon don’t mind the occasional chill out session and that is what places like earth will consist of.

In time, carbon will clump together and form life of its own. Carbon has always been the most creative atom in the universe so quite a lot of diversity will come from it, just like last time. But hey, who knows, maybe it will avoid the whole ‘intelligence’ thing and stick with what works; bacteria and, at most, the occasional raven.Image

Aliens; what of them?

Have you ever noticed how rain sounds like a load of dogs running by? You have to imagine thousands of them, mind you. And they’re running through a giant crop field. And it happens to be raining.

There’s a definite similarity.

Anyway, Another thought on a Neil DeGrasse Tyson quote, which I will paraphrase: If you think about humans, and you think about chimps, there is a chasm of difference between us, in particular in terms of intelligence. We have a sophisticated language, we can learn throughout our lives, we can build, innovate, invent, improvise to an extent that puts chimps to shame. We look at them doing ‘clever’ things like poking  a stick into a tree in order to catch ants. Brilliant! It only took the chimp several years to learn. If he started learning it after about the age of 4, however, it would have been futile.

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, they say, and this is literally the case for chimps and most other creatures except the human, who is capable of learning new skills until death, albeit with a declining rate of progress. So we look at them, and we see little children. ‘Aw, that’s adorable, the chimp actually used sign language to say I love you, after years of intense enclosed training! It’s just like my 2 year old daughter =)’ Well, how patronising, right? Where does the difference between us lie?

That 2% did more harm than good.

That 2% did more harm than good.

Well, it entirely lies in a 2% difference in our DNA. That 2% is entirely responsible for chimps being chimps and humans being humans. Space stations, submarines, GPS, Quantum Mechanics, Lasers; all created out of 2% DNA. Seriously, that’s it. Remove it and we’ll be chimp-like creatures again.

What Neil concludes is that, assuming there is other intelligent life in the Universe, who is to say they would have equal DNA to us? What if they are superior. Moreover, what if they are a further 2% superior? They would look at us in the same way we look at chimps: Aww look at these humans, they’re creating mathematical equations! This smart one in a wheelchair even has a rough understanding of black holes, just like my 2 year old daughter =)’ ‘They made a space station that looks almost exactly like my son’s school project!’ That’s the kind of alien we could be dealing with.

Just like the first 2% difference, we will not be able to understand them, in any shape or form. Their way of communication is likely to be so vastly bizarre and advanced that we as comparative chimps would have absolutely no concept of what they are doing, just like the real chimps walk around staring blankly at us, unable to grasp the sounds coming from our mouths. What if, for example, these aliens simply use combinations of light emitted from their foreheads (located on their chest)? If we assume they don’t have any radical tools such as bio-luminescence, how about communicating via a complex process of breath sounds? Each wave of breath is so intricately indented with patterns shaped by their trachea, vocal cords, tongue and mouth that the position of every molecule in the air is equivalent to a word in their vocabulary. A single breath could summarise our own entire understanding of the Universe so far. They could conclude the human race’s level of intelligence with a mere snort from a blocked nose.

Then again, so could I.

Of course, the drawback here would be wind, but in their galaxy I would imagine they would have a symbiotic agreement with nature, in that, providing nature keeps wind consistent and controllable, or permits them to control it, they won’t destroy it. This only makes sense if they implanted sentience into the wind, which again, given the 2% difference, is entirely likely. To communicate on earth they would have to use different methods, at which point they would collectively agree on an entirely new language within a few seconds. Perhaps they will adopt our languages, by listening to a few sentences, getting the general idea and figuring out the rest via common sense and probability in which sounds and words are likely to mean which gesture and object, with a 97% accuracy rate.

Perhaps instead, they were stuck at the bottom of their oceans.

Perhaps instead, they were stuck at the bottom of their oceans.

People often ask ‘why would aliens so capable of travelling such distances even be remotely interested in a planet such as ours?’ Well, why are we interested in a species such as chimps? They are out and about in space because they are either innately curious like us, or very lost, and I can’t imagine an alien so capable to be so useless at navigation at the same time.

Actually I can imagine that.

Trying to find comfort in our sewage system.

Trying to find comfort in our sewage system.

It would be some kind of supremely curious subterranean creature who never, or could never push through the surface. Perhaps in one huge leap, such as our industrial revolution, they designed a sort of space ship powerful enough to protrude the crust of their planet. Given that they had never been in the open atmosphere, they just considered outer space and the surface of the earth to be one of the same, so their ship was capable of whatever the Universe could possibly throw at them.

Upon piercing the crust, they continued onward into space, assuming it was just more of their own planet, continuing for a few weeks before realizing that, whatever they used to live in wasn’t there anymore when they looked back from whence they came.

They attempted to back up and return but navigation wasn’t as simple as following a tunnel you just made. There was no tunnel. The invisible track they formed was affected by the gravitational pull of other planets they passed closely by, but not close enough to see them, until they became utterly lost and ended up on Earth.

Perhaps other launches moments after the initial one succeeded ended up in various other places of the cosmos. This would mean there is a high possibility that they inadvertently colonized much of the galaxy, and so when it comes to a time when we can explore such locations, we will be amazed and blown away by our first intelligent life discovery, confused at the second, then expectant, then hopeful and finally bored.

The entire galaxy has been taken over by utterly lost and probably blind aliens who have no idea what to do without a tunnel system at hand and a sentient wind to manipulate.

Hmm, I’ve kind of lost interest in the idea of exploring the Universe now.

Possible launch site.

Possible launch site.

Perspectives on Evolution.

Not our descendant.

Not our descendant.

I was talking to somebody last night who showed me quite a bit of ignorance when it came to evolution. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with ignorance in most cases, including this one. It doesn’t imply a lack of intelligence or anything like that. All it means is that she hasn’t spend hours upon hours of her life slogging through Wikipedia and YouTube videos, and reading occasional Dawkins books as I have. The problem is when people deny the evidence before them. In this conversation nobody was guilty of that so I don’t need to discuss it.

The interesting part of the conversation was her perspective. Not only was it a creative one, but it was her own and one from angles largely untouched by those obsessed with facts and truth, such as myself. I can debunk ideas as impossible… to an extent – I’m not even a fraction of an expert – but in a way it makes me think ‘why bother?’. Sometimes, facts are not sufficient, knowledge is not suitable.

One of her ideas was that although evolution is believable, human evolution is different and harder to accept – there is too much missing between the ape and the human. I gather this is referring to ‘sentience’. And yes, this is a massive hurdle nobody has yet to cross. There are thousands of books dedicated to Consciousness, all of which conclude with ‘I dunno’.

But, like most frontiers in science, they are eventually broken through and become the norm. Evolution is one example. At one point this idea was taboo and those who supported it were heathen or plain crazy. But over time people just have to accept it when the evidence is shown to be so overwhelming.

Germans and Americans are currently mapping the entire network system of the brain. American’s are mapping it out in all its intricate detail, and Germans are making a detailed model. This I believe will lead to a giant leap in the understandings of consciousness, some years down the line, but who knows.

Myth: we only use 10% of our brains. What would happen if we could unlock the other 90%?.

Nothing. We use all of our brain, it’s just that we don’t use all of it simultaneously. Some parts are used for shopping, other parts are used for figuring out a maths problem, and others are used for deciding whether or not you’re a raging homosexual.

Another idea of hers was that humans did not even come from earth but were simply deposited here from a previous race of humans, or perhaps a far superior civilisation.

This one I think is great. Not only because it’s quite magical in its creativity, but that there may even be truth to it.

The chances are somewhat high that we are in fact martians. It is not uncommon when big space rocks hit planets, and the impact forces planetary rocks into space. Those rocks will go on an indefinite course until they hit something else, such as Earth. We already have rocks proven to be from Mars. Scientists are also certain that water used to run free on Mars. If, at some point before Earth was life sustainable, microbes from mars were blown into space, and landed on Earth, it could have seeded the planet in order to evolve into us.

There are already many examples of microbial life that can survive the harsh, air-less conditions of space for extended periods, so perhaps we are in fact travelers from the red planet.

This doesn’t defy evolution, however, and in fact, Dawkins is practically certain that the way evolution occurred on Earth is probably consistent throughout the Universe (at least, our universe). Of course this leads to an infinite number of combinations to create an explosion of different creatures, but by and large, life will consist of the same basic ingredients.

This belief is for a few reasons. One that Neil DeGrasse Tyson points out is that the most abundant elements in the Universe are: Helium, Hydrogen, Carbon, Oxygen, Nitrogen and various others. Hydrogen and Helium make up the majority of that.
Humans are made from: Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen, Carbon and various others.

Coincidence?

Not only that, but water is the most abundant compound in the Universe (Hydrogen and Oxygen combined), and our entire ecosystem happens to rely entirely on… water.

If we find life, it is very, very likely it will be carbon-based, and water reliant. Carbon is by far the most flexible element in the universe, allowing humans as well as diamonds to form.

So who knows, perhaps we are from Mars, perhaps we came here on a passing comet originating light years away, having picked up tiny specks of life on the way.

Myth: Humans descend from chimps/monkeys.

No, Humans descend from a chimp/monkey-like creature that existed long before chimps/monkeys and humans did, and has since died out. If you picture this chimp/monkey as the trunk of a tree, humans, chimps and monkeys are three separate branches higher up. at no point did we come from one another.

Gravity is a fact, Mars is a fact, Evolution is a fact. I’m grateful for science popularisers such as NDTyson, Dawkins, Kaku, Krauss, Nye and so on, and I think at some point the world will follow the inevitable trend of enlightenment thanks to these people, but for now, we still have to deal with people burning Nepalese women alive for witchcraft, something that will kickstart my next post – http://www.outsideonline.com/news-from-the-field/Nepal-Woman-Accused-of-Witchcraft-Burned-Alive.html