Monday, January 16, 2006

A sense of scale.

Where is the centre of the universe?

Having read that article I was left with a sense of the scale of just how much we not only do not know about the universe around us, but how much we simply have no way of knowing... for instance, even if we could see to the edge of the universe, even if there is an edge... the fact is that light had a limiting speed... and can only travel just so far in a given amount of time. If the universe is infinite, or bigger than the distance light from the edge could travel to us in the intervening 10 or 20 billion years... we simply would not be able to see it. The farther we looked, the further back into time we would be looking, as the light would have taken longer and longer to reach our eyes.

Which brings me to another thought I've often had... that if we could travel instantly hundreds of millions of light years from earth, and with a telescope so powerful as to be able to clearly view the surface of earth down to a millimeter scale... we would clearly be able to watch and study the dinosaurs.

The point of all this being that as I read the article... I was left with a daunting feeling of just how little we understand... and how miraculous and simply mindbending it all seems... it makes it a little easier to understand how man would continue to have to come up with explanations for the unknown such as the gods and godesses that litter our history. Even with the countless advancements and discoveries that we've made over the centuries, we are still left with a knowledge of our universe infinitesimally miniscule in comparison with the sheer scale of the universe as we even know it.

Why make up men in the clouds when there are such daunting mysteries to be explained here in the real physical world around us? I am stunned by the grandeur of the universe... and my dream is that one day our descendants might be able to travel to other galaxies... to discover and communicate with other life forms... to answer some of the greatest mysteries we know... and the only way our progeny will be able to accomplish those things, is with the work of their forefathers... us.

And so, as I wish that my forefathers had pressed forward and not been held back by such things as the Catholic Church and the Christians burning the libraries of Alexandria to ensure the ignorance of the masses to preserve a belief system built thereupon... things that lead me to despair sometimes on thinking where humanity might be otherwise.... I hope to at least give future generations the best chance I can by working towards a few more stepping stones in my lifetime and promoting the mindset of a people who want to bring us into the future and all the wonders that it holds, and not chain us to a superstitious and ignorant past.


After writing that, I tried to edit a comment above that touched on what started this whole line of study, but it started growing beyond the scope of my original posts intention, so I'm relegating it to a footnote.

This all came about after a discussion I had with my boss the other day where he insisted that galaxies are formed by big clumps of matter spinning so fast that they throw off pieces and create the spiral shape of galaxies... and that the universe's expansion is slowing down and will eventually collapse back in upon itself, and being only about 4 billion years old (which is actually a little younger than even the earth itself), will only last about 8 billion years total, which the universe is already much older than, and both dates which his own religion contradicts, and for which contradiction the only explanation the bible has leads to a final contradiction that shoots the very foundation of Christianity all to hell... Ideas I had to disagree with him on, based on the studying I had done, but which left me wanting to study more.

To touch more on that chain of contradictions... there are a number of fundamentalist christians known at the Young Earthers etc... who have reached their own idea of the age of the earth by adding up the ages of all the people listed in the bible since the creation story... believing the universe to have been created in 7 days by god, and Adam, the first man, being created during those 7 days. They come up with a number somewhere around 10,000 years rather than the several billion science has come up with by much more reliable means, with actual hard evidence and independant confirmation etc etc. The contradiction lies in the fact that he believes science over religion in this instance... and the only explanation for this contradiction deals with undermining the very belief that Adam and Eve were the first man and woman... by taking a more literal interpretation of the creation stories and accepting the parts where "man" was created before Adam and Eve were created... and that these people were the people that Adam and Eve's children went out to and married and had children with after they were kicked out of the garden of Eden, thus avoiding all humankind on earth being the result of incest.

Sometimes I have to laugh at how far we go to pick apart fiction. ;-)

Anyway... another line of thought that came out of this was the difference between religious belief and scientific belief... and how someone might think that there isn't much difference in coming up with the explanations that science has versus the explanations given by religion. And it only took me a moment to answer that question for myself...

Science is based upon the constant revision of explanation based on critical thinking, skeptical study and testing, and independant confirmation leading to predictable results based on laws and theories... things which have to be testably disprovable. When these are shown to correctly predict actual events and physical behaviors in the world around us, they are given provisional credibility as fact until a possibly more refined explanation can be given etc.

Religion on the other hand is based upon stories told by a bunch of people thousands of years ago... and gain credence only by being "old". They are not revised, at least not in many many centuries, and cannot be proven. As a matter of fact, many portions of them are routinely disproven by science, moreso every day in the intervening centuries since they were written... in which time we have discovered things like the dinosaurs, and the truth about the Earth revolving around the Sun, and what the sun in fact is... and that it is in fact the same as stars... and how plants survive, and how animals procreate... and how even our own bodies actually function... and that the earth is round and why the sky looks as it does in the day and night and what clouds are and what lies beneath our feet... all things which are described completely wrong in the bible... because they simply didn't know any better. And while a portion of humanity has used it's brain and questioned the world around itself and answered many of those questions and revised and moved forward our understanding of the universe around us, leading to medical breakthroughs, space travel and countless other advancements... religion has been a constant nemesis to the advancement of humankind... fervently working to destroy the work of those men of intellect... a mission born of the desire to protect an outdated, primitive and superstitious belief which can only survive in the absence of knowledge and understanding.

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