Monday, December 5, 2016

Much Ado about Nothing

In his article "Nothing Really Matters," science journalist Adam Hadhazy writes about cosmic voids and how they might explain dark matter. Not being particularly well educated in astronomy, I skimmed the article until finding this gem of a conclusion:

"If current reckonings of dark energy...are right, the universe will keep on expanding at an ever-faster pace. The voids will swell even larger, eventually taking up almost all the space in space. Distant galaxies will slip out of view, and with them the history of the universe.... If any vestige of humanity remains many billions of years from now, and the universe's ciphers remain undecoded, our descendants might have only an all-encompassing abyss to stare into--not just space, but truly, a void." (Discover, Dec. 2016)


That's depressing.

We are running out of time to decode the mysteries of the universe!

Of course, since I can't decode the mysteries of Mr. Hadhazy's article, it's doubtful I'll be much help decoding the mysteries of the universe. But someone needs to get on this. How many billions of years did it take for us to evolve from the primordial soup? How much longer do we have before the endless void is all that remains, especially with the Donald in charge of the nuclear codes?

Let's not think about that.

Demetri Martin, the comedian, has a joke about mysteries. He asks why mysteries are always negative. You know, "Who killed the butler?" Or "Who stole the diamond?" Why can't it be "Who left me cupcakes?"

Wouldn't that be a lovely mystery to solve? A cupcake mystery. Sweet!

Fortunately, the possibility of an all-encompassing abyss billions of years in the future is not a legit problem for homo sapiens, and I doubt Mr. Hadhazy is worried, despite the ominous and dramatic conclusion of his article. I suspect my brain went where it did because it's currently being regulated by the Ministry of Silliness, which happens occasionally.

But when my son Jack was younger, he was worried that the sun would explode and destroy earth, which scientists say will eventually happen...billions of years from now. Jack simply couldn't understand that the sun going supernova is the least of our worries. Time meant nothing to him. Everything--including past and present--was now.

Which, in a sense, it is. Not the supernova thing, of course, but when we live our lives in the past, we stop moving forward. When we live our lives in the future, nothing gets done now. Right now is what we've got. And the now is good enough for Jimmy Buffett, so it's good enough for me.

To solve the mysteries of the universe, science asks lots of questions about what happened in the past, what's going on now, and what will happen in the future. These are fun questions to explore, and I'm in the camp that says God turned primordial soup into sophisticated brains capable of asking these sorts of questions, and it would be disrespectful not to use them. Fortunately, there are lots of different ways to look into the past, to see what's going on now, and to speculate about the future.

And also fortunately, some people actually enjoy speculating about dark matter and the all-encompassing abyss, but I shall not let their speculations make me quiver in existential angst.

Instead, I'll conduct experiments to solve the mystery of the Golden Ratio, which is simply the proper ratio of peppermint to mocha in my favorite seasonal coffee drink from Starbucks. Because that's just the sort of mystery that gives meaning to life right now.

Just like cupcakes.

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