Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Final Frontier


Today was the last space shuttle launch. It intrigues me that such an historic moment does not feel like something different. The world just continues. It is as the lady on LSD says, “the air, the room, everything, I am part of it, can't you see it?”

The world keeps spinning. My Uncle Harry explained to me that at the edge where oil and water merge there is not the defined line that we believe in. The particles are intermingling minutely. We cannot possibly observe these interactions on a singular level. Suffice it to say that the line is more of a fuzzy haze at the appropriate scale. This intermingling is actually more bizarre than that. Nothing in this universe is actually touching anything else. The majority of an atom is empty space. And there is always a repulsion of electrons in an atom. Nothing touches anything else. Bill Bryson, “When you sit in a chair, you are not actually sitting there, but levitating above it at a height of one angstrom (a hundred millionth of a centimeter), your electrons and its electrons implacably opposed to any closer intimacy.” And electrons do not have a set position. If you were able to look at an atom you would see only a hazy cloud, something hinting at the possible locations of the electrons.

If you were to 'track' the electron's movement, it would appear to be in many places at once. Even, in the laws of probability flitting in and out of existence occasionally—very occasionally. And if one were to zoom in closer and try to 'see' any particle that is smaller—a quark for example—we would be colossally disappointed to find that it appears to be more a disturbance in the fabric of time than something we consider solid. The best way to represent these things in our very 'solid' world is by applying probability to the situation. There is a huge probability that the laws of physics will continue to hold as we know them, and that a particle's position is 'here'. That is the general thrust of our experiments and knowledge. It is based on what we think is probably there (based off rigorous scientific experimentation of course, but a probability nonetheless).

The point is that what is here and what is not, what is real and what is imagined, are almost indistinguishable. In fact, the laws of probability and our odd universe make it possible for the laws of thermodynamics—all physical laws really—to be broken on a regular basis. As far as we can tell though, those transgressions exist for such brief moments that they can be disregarded. Or can they? The lines that we see, the distinct rights and wrongs, the boundaries, are mere creations that our brains have developed.

A moss can grow on a rock on a barren cliff for decades. It will do nothing other than live. “It lives. Its very reason for living is life; it enjoys and relishes life.” Ray Bradbury said that. And so what is history? We are intellectual creatures, given the gift of thought at the expense of relishing life for itself. The question is not the answer in our world. We detached from what felt like one—the universe—and instead we found our individuality and use our science and our technology to find it again. History is but the passing of time recorded as if it will help us find what we have lost.

But we are one, and the space shuttle missions end an era of science and exploration. One that was enlightening and inspiring yet largely ignored. Let's hope that the next era captivates us wholly. The next era must encompass the deep inquiry of the mind, the purity of living, and the art of the soul. Once we sufficiently blur everything, only then can we find real clarity and purpose.