Archive for the ‘Cosmology’ Category

Aspirations of Consciousness

February 20, 2014 Leave a comment

Aspirations of Universe's Consciousness

Astrological Outlook, February

February 1, 2014 Leave a comment

A Conversation with a Friend

January 27, 2012 Leave a comment

This conversation grew out of an exchange I had recently with one of the foremost Christian thinkers of our time.

Enjoy. . .

 What do you mean by independent objective reality and is there a reality in which we all participate?

When I said “independent objective reality” I was intending, by the word “independent,” to exclude the notion that error becomes fact merely because someone happens to hold that error…that “what’s true for me is true for me and what’s true for you is true for you, and they’re both true even if the things we’re believing happen to be mutually exclusive.” I wanted, with the word “independent,” to affirm that what is real is real, even if my own wishful thinking or bone hardheadedness happens to think otherwise; reality’s reality is not dependent on me understanding it exactly right in every detail.

So, yes, we participate in that reality. It is, in the sense I described above, independent of us. It is, however, in another sense, dependent on us: By our choices we change the future; our choices have consequences which matter. However small the ripples we make in the Cosmic Ocean, the ripples are there, and however much those ripples have dissipated (in accord, one assumes, with the inverse square law) by the time they reach Alpha Centauri, those ripples are nevertheless real enough to be felt by those close to us. The future does not entirely depend on us — who could bear the weight of that thought — but some part of it does as we and Nature cooperatively form it, and our lives are a subordinate and dependent act of cooperative creation within Creation as a whole.

And also, not only is reality independent of us in the sense of being independent of our error, and dependent on us in the sense of our choices being real choices and not just us living out our lives as deterministic clockwork mechanisms, but we are dependent on it.

And, I would say, “on Him”: For I believe that the root and source of all being is personal. While God is doubtless personal in a sense very different from how we traditionally understand human personalities, and thus conclusions drawn from analogies to persons we know can be misleading; nevertheless, I hold that He is more personal than we; not less. Thus the  visual images of King and Old Man and whatnot, while admittedly crude, are in that sense superior to images which, under the auspices of intellectual-sounding labels like “perfect substance” or “order of the universe,” might leave us imagining the ultimate reality as a diffuse gas or cosmic pudding or universal grid.

Anyway, I believe we are dependent on ultimate reality, and thus on God. Not only is the spinning out of creation through time, and perhaps through different space-time “branes” in a cosmic “loaf,” a miracle which I believe He opted to enact with complete artistic freedom as to whether to do it and all its details…not only that, but I also think our own person-hood is derivative of His. Our own identities are contingent: We are not who we are permanently from the start, but we make ourselves who we ultimately become. Not so for God, I think: I agree with Aquinas (so far as I can follow him, which isn’t far) in saying of God that “His essence is His existence.” Thus also with His personhood: His, I think, is “thicker” and solider and more real than our own, and is for us the source of our person-hood. Our ability to form intent and to comprehend reality and to be creative and to love are all, I think, “talents on loan from God.”

So I think we participate in reality not only because our bodies are like branches growing from material reality, but because our bodies and our personalities are derivative from the source of all reality (material and otherwise).

Can we view reality as a sea of consciousness in which our individual glimmer is but a partial subset?

This is [a position] one where I can’t say for certain whether I can “get behind it” or not.

Our individual glimmer, if by that we mean our grasp of all reality, is certainly a subset of what really IS. (And if we are in error, then some portion of our individual glimmer is not a subset of what is real, but lies outside the set of what is real. We believe a tiny subset of the set of all that is true, and some of what we believe lies outside that set and overlaps the far larger set of all the stuff that isn’t true.)

I am “iffy,” though, about the connotations and implications of “sea of consciousness.” I think that mental image might be helpful in some ways while being misleading in others…kind of like picturing quanta as “particles.”

As we communicate one to another, the notions of which we are conscious spread like molecules of a gas obeying Boyle’s Law, or like a drop of honey dissolving in the ocean. Memes spread and information likes to be free.  In that sense there is a kind of continuity across all minds of the items of which we are conscious. But there is also, I think, a sense in which our “consciousness” is not sea-like but more forest-like. The individual minds brush one another like trees swayed by a breeze, but identity remains intact and distinct, like the trunks. Even our spouses and children remain other than we. Their minds don’t flow through ours in the same sense that two adjacent gallons of seawater are unbounded and indistinguishable.

Could they ever? Is our inability to experience what it is like to be the other person — not merely to be mistaken for them on the basis of outward appearance, as one sees in a Freaky Friday type movie, but to be them — a witness to an indissoluble identity we each have, or is it a mere “failure of technology,” so to speak, because we don’t all have perfect telepathy?

Here we get back to the God thing, I think. I believe the Eastern Orthodox mystics were on to something when they spoke of theosis, of “divinization”: That through communion with God and contemplation of God we, by God’s invitation and assistance, can begin fitfully to participate in the unifying life and love of the Trinity. Their notion is that the end of our existence (“end” in the Aristotelian sense, meaning purpose or ultimate goal toward which our existence does or should tend) is this consummated union, so that we can say not only to Him, but even to everyone else who is “in” Him. “Thou art in me and I in thee,” and love them as we love ourselves.

So that seems like a shared consciousness kind of thing. But I think we become more fully ourselves, somehow, in doing that. Maybe I should say: We become our best selves, the selves not distracted by fear of one another.

Now the alternative view would be one in which communion with one another causes our individuality and personhood to be destroyed or dissolved.  In that picture, all which makes up the “me” loses its distinctiveness and is melted away like a lead figurine into a pot of molten lead.  I think this would make God less of a creator and more of a bloated spider eating its young. So that alternative is, at least when put that way, distasteful or even horrifying.

But I think there is also reason to believe it not to be true on the basis of observable evidence. The evidence I have in mind is the lives of saints, or of exceptionally good and decent people, or even merely exceptional people. They who are living out to the full that spark of divinity within them stand out; they do not get absorbed into the whole lump of humanity. Is any man more distinctly himself than a Francis of Assisi, a Gandhi, an MLK, a Teresa of Calcutta; even a Steve Jobs or a Christopher Hitchens? Would the “sea of consciousness” be better for having merged everyone into a whole?  Would the world have been better if Hitch hadn’t been so damned good at being Christopher Hitchens?

Spiritually speaking, is God your basis for reality and do you view God as in and constituting everything that we can recognize as existing?

God is reality, yes. I can get behind that. And I think that all things are real because He pours His reality into them in order to bring them into reality and to maintain them in reality. They exist because He pours existence into them and they would abruptly fail to exist if they were cut off from the source.
But I believe that God is powerful (if that’s the right word? maybe “creative” is better?) enough to make something (many things) which (while dependent on Him and participating in and with Him as He participates in and with them) are nevertheless other than He.

Why do I believe that? Well, a sort of gut instinct leans me in that direction, firstly, but it isn’t only instinct.

I believe that because I don’t believe that the love of God is masturbatory or narcissistic…or that the best of human love, being derivative of God’s love, is therefore all self-love. If Jim is Fred and Fred is Georgette and Georgette is Sarah and they’re all God, then certainly God (and we, with Him) are all collectively a composite divinity that puts Hindu statues to shame in the matter of having thousands of arms and heads. I can get over my merely artistic distaste for that, if it turns out to be reality.  But then, if that’s the ultimate reality, every last scrap of self-giving love becomes merely more love of self. In that case, why bother loving my neighbor, when I find just loving myself so much easier and instantly gratifying…if it’s all the same?

Of course the riposte to this is to say, “If you realize and become convinced at the gut-level that you are Georgette and Fred, then you don’t find it any easier to love yourself than to love them.” Fair enough, but I worry that that might be only a cheap shortcut to trying to make “love your neighbor as yourself” easier: Rather than overcoming self-centeredness, we try to cram everyone else into my notion of self until my self-centeredness doesn’t leave anyone out. I’m not sure it’ll work; at least, I think we find it impossible to really live with respect to people that aren’t very much like us to begin with. And even with them, the “you are me” approach might lead us to project our own goals and approach to happiness on to them, and just assume they’ll play along. A lot of marriages probably get into trouble that way!

For me, I suspect it works better to respect the other as other, and still try to love them as God does. (Not that I’m terribly good at it even then, but it’s a process.)

Do you think as living beings we are fortunate to have awareness of, and are able to observe only a miniscule fraction of the whole?


Do you think the notion of separateness is our individualization of the grand illusion (not the Styx album)?

Well, as I’ve said in my comments above, I don’t think that individuality is mere illusion. For me, it’s a sign of God’s creativity: He’s not a one-hit-wonder, but a God who keeps churning out the hits, in every genre, with remarkable fecundity.

But I do think that illusion, or delusion, or pigheadedness, or the human condition, or wishful thinking, or refusal to confront reality — all those things that St. Augustine called “original sin” or “concupiscence” until such terms got somehow confused with sex and thereby made useless in conversation — tricks us into a sort of competitive individualism which views the individuality of the other as a threat. That illusion divides us one from another and prevents — not to sound like too much of a hippie — the brotherhood of man from being a happy family! It makes us look more like a dysfunctional, estranged, badger-spit crazy, broken-up shambles of a family.

I don’t think the solution to this is to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony and buy them a Coke. I don’t think, in fact, there’s anything much I can do about it at all in the sense of making grand gestures, let alone forcing a solution on everyone else: That just stomps on their freedom and thus on their identity.

But I can, to some small degree, be less of the problem and be open to the solution. So that goes back to the theosis thing. If I am in increasing union with God, then not only am I not divorced from reality, but I am drawn closer to participation in the love of God, which is not only a participation in Him, but a participation in everyone else who is participating in Him.

Thank you, Cord.

NanoTechnology, NanoBots, and Computer Manufacturing

January 24, 2012 Leave a comment

In the early 1990’s, BASF televised a series of commercials touting their ability to make products stronger, brighter, better. [BASF Commercial on YouTube] BASF claimed this was made possible due to BASF chemical engineering. It turns out this was only partly accurate. In fact, BASF accomplished these feats by ahead-of-their-time product engineering incorporating early implementations of consumer product nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology provides for functional capability in the realm of atoms and contributes intrinsically to the strength, durability, and functional characteristics of molecular structures.

To understand the world of nanotechnology one has to come to an understanding of the units of measurement involved. One centimeter is one-hundredth of a meter, a millimeter is one-thousands of a meter and a micrometer is one millionth of a meter. As small as some of these measurements may seem, they are huge when compared to the nanoscale. A nanometer (nm) is one billionth of a meter which is even smaller than the wavelength of visible light and a hundred-thousandth the width of a human hair.

Wikipedia says this regarding nanotechnology: “Nanotechnology (sometimes shortened to  “nanotech”) is the study of manipulating matter on an atomic and molecular scale. Generally, nanotechnology deals with developing materials, devices, or other structures possessing at least one dimension sized from 1 to 100 nanometers. Quantum mechanical effects are important at this quantum-realm scale.

Nanotechnology is very diverse, ranging from extensions of conventional device physics to completely new approaches based upon molecular self-assembly, from developing new materials with dimensions on the nanoscale to investigating whether we can directly control matter on the atomic scale. Nanotechnology entails the application of fields of science as diverse as surface science, organic chemistry, molecular biology, semiconductor physics, microfabrication, etc.

There is much debate on the future implications of nanotechnology. Nanotechnology may be able to create many new materials and devices with a vast range of applications, such as in medicine, electronics, biomaterials and energy production. On the other hand, nanotechnology raises many of the same issues as any new technology, including concerns about the toxicity and environmental impact of nanomaterials, and their potential effects on global economics, as well as speculation about various doomsday scenarios. These concerns have led to a debate among advocacy groups and governments on whether special regulation of nanotechnology is warranted.”

It appears the field of nanotechnology promises to deliver as much for future product development excitement as it does for concerns about its possibilities and uses.


Graphene is an allotrope of carbon, whose structure is exactly one-atom-thick planar sheets of bonded carbon atoms that are densely packed in a honeycomb crystal lattice. Graphene is most easily visualized as an atomic-scale chicken wire made of carbon atoms.

What graphene nanotechnology can do is that it can replace the silicon transistors which are now in your computer with transistors which are based on nanotubes. It has been discovered that carbon nanotubes can be used to produce smaller and faster components. The idea is that if the silicon in the channel is exchanged with a carbon nanotube then the transistors can be made smaller and faster. By its very nature, graphene contributes a perfect foundational structure for the construction of these nanotubes.

Most recently, nano-physicists in Copenhagen, Denmark have made a discovery which can change the way data is stored on computers. Using graphene slices as “nanotubes”, they have discovered that by placing nanotubes between magnetic electrodes the direction of a single electron spin caught on the nanotube can be controlled by an electric potential. Called “Spintronics”, this new development has already been hailed as the breakthrough sought to re-define the manner with which information is stored, manipulated, and retrieved in future computing devices.

This new discovery will make it possible to combine electricity and magnetism in a new transistor concept. In their experiments the nano-physicists use carbon nanotubes as transistors. This new nanoscale structure will speed up computers, exponentially.

Perhaps the most thrilling future possibility nanotechnology is the creation of the nanobot, a still-hypothetical molecular robot. These nanobots have several key properties. First, they can reproduce themselves. If they can reproduce once, then they can, in principle, create an unlimited number of copies of themselves; it will simply take creating the first. Second, they are capable of identifying molecules and cutting them up at precise points. Third, by following a master code, they are capable of reassembling these atoms into different arrangements. Once constructed, nanobots will provide a means for true automation of manufacturing processes. What will begin with the fabrication and manipulation of molecules will evolve into the replication of larger and larger organic and non-organic systems. Ultimately, nanobots will become the basis of most, if not all, product (including computing devices) manufacturing.

Nanobots do not exist now, and will not until sometime in the future, but once the first nanobot is successfully produced, it will most certainly and fundamentally alter society as we know it.

Whether the impact to society is minimal or substantial, there is no question that nanobot technology will completely transform all types of manufacturing including the manner in which computing devices are designed and built.

Moore’s Law

Moore’s law describes a long-term trend in the history of computing hardware. Simply stated, Moore’s Law asserts that the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. The capabilities of many digital electronic devices are strongly linked to Moore’s law: processing speed, memory capacity, sensors and even the number and size of pixels in digital cameras. An inexplicable effect of the law is that all of these are improving at (roughly) exponential rates as well.This exponential improvement has dramatically enhanced the impact of digital electronics in nearly every segment of the world economy. Accordingly, Moore’s law describes a driving force of technological and social change at play in the global economy in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Though there are those who see the effect of Moore’s Law as having negative consequences for various segments of the world’s environment, the positive effects of the technological, medical, and social engineering breakthroughs resulting from these advancements are legendary.But, we are closing in on the end of this technological watershed. The engineering sciences are in complete agreement: by the year 2020 (some predict as early as 2015), digital manufacturing will reach the point at which further miniaturization of transistors on integrated circuits becomes impossible. Capacity will be reached and exceeded.

Nanotechnology to the rescue! As renowned physicist Richard Feynman suggested in a speech he gave way back in 1959, “there’s plenty of room at the bottom”. Nanotechnology engineering experiments occurring today will take miniaturization to a scale thousands of times smaller than what is currently possible.As the invention of the transistor ushered in our current digital age, nanotechnology will bring about dramatic and far-reaching changes – changes to our technology, our products, and to the way we live.

Truth or Dare

January 10, 2012 Leave a comment

Stephen Hawking at 70

January 7, 2012 Leave a comment

What does he think about all day? (Image: Science Museum/Sarah Lee)

When he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease aged just 21, Stephen Hawking was only expected to live a few years. He will be 70 this month, and in an exclusive interview with New Scientist he looks back on his life and work

 Read more: Hawking highlights

STEPHEN HAWKING is one of the world’s greatest physicists, famous for his work on black holes. His condition means that he can now only communicate by twitching his cheek (see “The man who saves Stephen Hawking’s voice“). His responses to the questions are followed by our own (New Science, “NS”) elaboration of the concepts he describes.

 What has been the most exciting development in physics during the course of your career?

COBE’s discovery of tiny variations in the temperature of the cosmic microwave background and the subsequent confirmation by WMAP that these are in excellent agreement with the predictions of inflation. The Planck satellite may detect the imprint of the gravitational waves predicted by inflation. This would be quantum gravity written across the sky.

New Scientist writes: The COBE and WMAP satellites measured the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the afterglow of the big bang that pervades all of space. Its temperature is almost completely uniform – a big boost to the theory of inflation, which predicts that the universe underwent a period of breakneck expansion shortly after the big bang that would have evened out its wrinkles.

If inflation did happen, it should have sent ripples through space-time – gravitational waves – that would cause variations in the CMB too subtle to have been spotted so far. The Planck satellite, the European Space Agency’s mission to study the CMB even more precisely, could well see them.

Einstein referred to the cosmological constant as his “biggest blunder”. What was yours?

I used to think that information was destroyed in black holes. But the AdS/CFT correspondence led me to change my mind. This was my biggest blunder, or at least my biggest blunder in science.

NS: Black holes consume everything, including information that strays too close. But in 1975, together with the Israeli physicist Jakob Bekenstein, Hawking showed that black holes slowly emit radiation, causing them to evaporate and eventually disappear. So what happens to the information they swallow? Hawking argued for decades that it was destroyed – a major challenge to ideas of continuity, and cause and effect. In 1997, however, theorist Juan Maldacena developed a mathematical shortcut, the “Anti-de-Sitter/conformal field theory correspondence”, or AdS/CFT. This links events within a contorted space-time geometry, such as in a black hole, with simpler physics at that space’s boundary.

In 2004, Hawking used this to show how a black hole’s information leaks back into our universe through quantum-mechanical perturbations at its boundary, or event horizon. The recantation cost Hawking a bet made with fellow theorist John Preskill a decade earlier.

What discovery would do most to revolutionize our understanding of the universe?

The discovery of supersymmetric partners for the known fundamental particles, perhaps at the Large Hadron Collider. This would be strong evidence in favour of M-theory.

NS: The search for supersymmetric particles is a major goal of the LHC at CERN. The standard model of particle physics would be completed by finding the Higgs boson, but has a number of problems that would be solved if all known elementary particles had a heavier “superpartner”. Evidence of supersymmetry would support M-theory, the 11-dimensional version of string theory that is the best stab so far at a “theory of everything“, uniting gravity with the other forces of nature.

If you were a young physicist just starting out today, what would you study?

I would have a new idea that would open up a new field.

What do you think most about during the day?

Women. They are a complete mystery.


To mark Hawking’s birthday, the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology, University of Cambridge, is hosting a symposium entitled “The State of the Universe” on 8 January (watch live at An exhibition of his life and work opens at the Science Museum, London, on 20 January

Variable Dark Energy Could Explain Old Galaxy Clusters

January 6, 2012 Leave a comment
[Re-Print Alert: Original Here]

by Ken Croswell and Maggie McKee 

Does dark energy change over time? An alternative model of the as yet undetected entity that is thought to be accelerating the universe’s expansion could explain some puzzling observations of galaxy clusters. But it will have to jump many more hurdles to compete with the simplest and so far most successful model of the elusive entity.

That model, called the cosmological constant, holds that there is a certain amount of repulsive energy in every cubic centimeter of space, and that amount stays the same over time. As the universe expands, more space exists, and so the expansion accelerates.

Now Edoardo Carlesi of the Autonomous University in Madrid, Spain, and his colleagues have simulated a universe where the amount of repulsive energy per unit of volume changes with time.

They say the model can explain how several galaxy clusters grew to weigh as much as a quadrillion (1015) suns by the time the universe was just 6 billion years old. That’s a puzzle because some researchers say 6 billion years would not have been enough time for gravity to amass such large structures.


Standard recipe

The puzzle arises if the standard “recipe” for the universe is used. The ingredients for that recipe are a large amount of dark energy, in the form of a cosmological constant, and a dollop of matter. Their ratio has been calculated by studying the cosmic microwave background, radiation that reveals the distribution of matter and energy in the early universe.

Looking at the cosmic microwave background data through the lens of a different dark energy model can produce different ratios of ingredients. The cosmological constant model allows for matter to make up 27 per cent of the universe’s energy density, whereas the dark energy model studied by Carlesi’s team provides a more generous helping: 39 per cent.

Massive clusters can form up to 10 times as often using this recipe, the researchers say. “You can explain current observations within a model that allows much more matter,” says Carlesi. As a result, galaxies attract other galaxies through their gravitational pull, so massive clusters form faster.

First hurdle

The cluster problem may not even be a problem, though, says Dragan Huterer at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He says the jury is still out on whether the clusters challenge the leading cosmological model, because there is a lot of uncertainty about their mass, most of which is thought to be tied up in invisible dark matter.

The cosmological constant has so far been able to explain a wide range of observations, so turning to a relatively unproven model to account for a few galaxy clusters that may be heavier than expected “is like using a huge hammer to kill a tiny fly”, he says.

Carlesi says this is just the first test of the model, and Cristian Armendáriz-Picón at Syracuse University in New York agrees. He says the model Carlesi is using should undergo further tests that the cosmological constant has already passed. For example, its effects should be consistent with the integrated Sachs-Wolfe effect, in which photons from the cosmic microwave background experience slight changes in wavelength as they feel the gravity of superclusters of galaxies they pass through.