Tuesday, January 22, 2013

How the Universe Got Its Spot

Hush now and listen to the phantasmagorical tale of how the universe got its spot. For there was not always a spot for our universe. In fact, there was once no space to put anything—not a spoon, nor the moon, nor your grandpa's bass bassoon—if you can imagine it. 

Before the time of tickling and teasing, 
Sunshine and sneezing 
Or anything pleasing…
Before the time of time itself, 
a demiurge—a clever, crafty demiurge—found the Receptacle of Becoming. 

For all the happiness in heaven, I can not properly describe said demiurge, though I might try Divine Suspicion of Artifice. Whereby I mean artifice in the old fashion sense of artistry, not deceit; and divine, of course, as outside time. You may shut up your eyes ever so tight, and shake out your head as well as you might, and then try to purge all thoughts that emerge, but insight eludes us for said demiurge. For even after all that shutting and shaking, to be perfectly perspicuous, a demiurge is closer to what you don't grasp than what you do. However, I have heard on the good authority of antiquarians with beards of all sizes that creativity, goodness and order are not its enemies. 

Despite my reservations and warnings, I must apologize here, for I will treat the demiurge more like your great aunt Beana or uncle Biggs—as if it thinks and acts and likely goes to the store at noon for persimmons—rather than the mysterious premonition it is. While that may add dust to mud, I know no other way to tell such a tale. 

As for the Receptacle of Becoming, its mere mention gives a dervish the most 'crutiating and dizzying headache. Like the demiurge, it lacks form or substance, but does contain a most subtle reflective quality so important in crafting. Nothing in itself, it but holds the gesture of all things. I will not describe it further for fear of twisting myself into a serious and inextricable knot. Others, greater than I, have tried. The sage Plato talks of its dreamlike existence while admitting it is extraordinarily "difficult and obscure", and the poet Milton calls it "the Womb of nature and perhaps her Grave." How could I be expected to improve on them?

But now the Receptacle of Becoming must be forgotten by us and the demiurge. Its articulation subverts its conduct. In like fashion, to best follow a tale you must forget it is being told. 

So, with what is best forgotten, the clever, crafty demiurge could do what he does best—craft. First, he crafted Nothing. If you have ever seen or heard or smelled Nothing, it is ever so empty and pointless—bereft of space and time, and lacking all the essentials. But the clever, crafty demiurge did not stop at Nothing, if you can imagine it. He pondered Nothing and pursued Nothing, probed Nothing and plied Nothing, and finally he positively pulled Nothing until at last it stretched into space, which was something—not much, but something nevertheless. And a very wonderful something it is. You and I could never imagine space from Nothing, but this clever, crafty demiurge could and did.

"Now I have some space to work with," he thought. 

And work he did. His excitement was reflected in his greatest creation—angels, if you can imagine it. But, to be perfectly perspicuous, not the angels which look like people in long robes with wings and nearly universal splendor. Those were created much later. These angels were pure spirit, whereby I mean energy, hustle-bustle, movement. 

And then the most phantasmagorical of events happened. For when the clever, crafty demiurge crafted Nothing with space and angels, time came along for free! For when you supply space and movement, time comes along for free. This so surprised the demiurge that he named it the Big Surprise. 

You may have heard of it. 

And what a surprise! He positively loved his handiwork and graciously gave the angels fields to till. And the fields became the exclusive property of the angels. As you can imagine, or even if you can't, the angels took to the fields like peas to honey; or is it bees to honey? In either case, don't think cabbages or rutabagas or parsnips; or strawberry fields or amber waves of grain. To be perfectly perspicuous, the produce gleaned by those angelic forces surpassed any you can imagine. 

And from that time on, since it came for free, as the angels worked, their fields grew, and space along with them. What had been just a little Nothing-pulled-and-stretched-into-something now began to grow as the energetic angels cultivated their fields. And guess what happened? Why nothing less than this: as the fields and the space for the fields grew, lo and behold, it became the perfectly perspicuous spot for the universe! And so it has remained ever since. 

Just look up at the night sky to see how great the universe has grown from that little stretch of Nothing-into-space and angels. (We even witness the stretch marks which survive as static.) And it only grew because time came along for free. Without all that time the universe could never have grown so large. We still find the fields today and give them the most splendid names to match their angelic hustle-bustle. Not cabbage but magnetic; not rutabaga, but electrical; not parsnip, but gravitational; and we keep discovering new ones all the time. 

But a funny thing happened. As time marched on and Ethiopians and Hibernians and Assyrians and Manchurians and Cro-Magons and Pseudo Europeans and likewise all manner of people populated the world, many confused the angels in long robes with wings and nearly universal splendor with the spirit angels who worked the fields. To end this confusion, it was decided by the Ministry of Culture and Accounts to bypass the angels altogether—to confiscate their fields and give them directly to space itself. So now we say:

fields are properties of any extended part of the universe with well-defined spatial boundaries 

which is fancy parlance for the fields are properties of space. But, if you ask me, that begs more magic than meaning, and more superstition than sense. Ask the Ministry how all these wondrous fields of angelic hustle-bustle, which practically define our universe, all come from properties of empty space? And then, O Best Beloved, you can tell them this story. 

And some say there is another universe in another spot somewhere, and it is more fantastical than this one. But I don't believe it, for what could be more fantastical than you or I. 

Before the temptations of time,
Thinking, becoming, and being,
Nothing was oh, so sublime,
Yet it's hard to confirm without seeing.
All conjectures, as best I can tell
Must agree with advanced mathematics,
It's so useful—predictive as well.
Any story we make must just have it.
And to be mathematically sound
Is the strength every theory enlists,
Though science evidentially found
No empirical proof math exists!


Big Myk said...

Curiously, I have been recently reading up on the work of Edward Tryon and Alexander Vilenkin. I assume that these two fellows may have been part of the inspiration for your piece.

I confess that I can't really understand what they are saying because it all turns on quantum theory and as Richard Feynman observed, "I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics."

Anyway, Tryon says that the universe began as a fluctuation of a vacuum, just as an electron, positron, and photon emerges spontaneously from a perfect vacuum.

Valenkin describes the beginning of the universe as a "quantum tunneling from nothing."

Either way, before the universe there was no space-time, and so a spot for the universe had to arise somehow. Your use of a demiurge is interesting, but Tryon had a simpler explanation: "the Universe is simply one of those things which happens from time to time." Or, perhaps we can just call the universe a free lunch as MIT professor Alan Guth once remarked ("It is often said that there is no such thing as a free lunch. The universe, however,
is a free lunch.")

James R said...

I hadn't heard of Tryon and Vilenkin, but I will explore them, especially after the apparent wink by Tryon going from "no space-time" to "which happens from time to time." Not sure what my original inspiration was other than storytelling. After Christmas I did start reading "The Great Game" by Peter Hopkirk. Maybe that was it.

Big Myk said...

The self-described low-voltage journalist, Jim Holt, has his own explanation for why the universe exists, indeeed, must exist:

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that nothing existed. Then, in particular, there would be no laws. (Laws are something, after all, despite what the nothing theorists seem to think.) If there were no laws, then everything would be permitted. If everything were permitted, then nothing would be forbidden. Therefore, if nothing existed, nothing would be forbidden. Therefore, nothing, if it existed, would forbid itself. Therefore there must be something.

James R said...

St. Anselm on his head. I love it.