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A veteran journalist's take on such diverse subjects as religion and religious violence, democracy, freedom of expression, sociology, journalism, criticism, travel, philosophy, Southeast Asia, politics,economics, and even parenthood, the supernatural, film criticism, and cooking. Please don't hesitate to participate by starting a comment thread if you have an interest in any of these subjects...or anything else, for that matter... p.write@gmail.com

More musings

Utterly pointless thoughts
Pagun

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – The previous post’s brief mention, at the end of the piece, of the notion of infinity, led me to think about the concept and the notion of time itself. Therefore, what follows is some pretty amateur speculation on the subject and if you’re an expert, or it doesn’t interest you, or you have your own firm grasp on the subject, please stop here. Go to the previous post, perhaps. It’s interesting, plus if you look for it, you’ll find a picture of my dick. In context, of course, and not just for gratuitous exhibitionism.infinity

Infinity, or if you are of a religious bent; eternity. If you’ve ever been subjected to a Catholic education you have probably been exposed to most of the metaphors. The metaphors are intended, of course, for children and do nothing at all to convey the idea of actual infinity to our finite minds; they just instil a sense of a very, very long time. You know the kind of thing I’m talking about; if a tiny bird flies by a mountain every hundred years and brushes a wing against it, by the time the mountain has been worn completely away, infinity is just getting started. Of course these metaphors are generally employed to convey a sense of how long you will undergo the tortures of hell if you succumb to the urge to touch your own genitals; I don’t think I’ve ever heard them used to describe the eternal bliss of heaven.

But maybe we’re not talking about an infinite time, an eternity. The universe had a beginning…the Big Bang…and is still expanding from that. Moreover the general scientific consensus is that as the universe reaches a point of maximum expansion, it will reverse itself and start to shrink again, resulting in what they like to call the Big Crunch. Presumably that will be the end of time. Who knows? (If so, those poor bastards who traded their lives and others’ for an eternity of lounging about with a flagon of wine and an indefinite number of nubile virgins will either be pretty pissed off at being short-changed, or, more likely, mightily relieved at having come to an end of the monotony).

Of course the obvious answer to the Big Crunch signifying the end of time would be that since conditions are now the same as those that prevailed at the Big Bang, the cycle would repeat itself. There you go. Infinity. At least infinite time or eternity.

Now the physical universe is in constant flux; there is always movement, with atoms and molecules bouncing around and chemical reactions occurring constantly. Infinity, therefore, as I mentioned in the last essay, can then be defined as that period of time in which anything that can happen does happen. In fact, it will happen an infinite number of times. And since infinity, by definition, has no beginning or end, everything possible has happened an infinite number of times, and will again.

MangoesThat means that there has been a previous existence that was exactly like this one, except that in a market in Shanghai, there was a mango with a slightly larger brown spot on the tail end. There has occurred another universe in which you were reading this post on a computer screen but the walls of the room you were in were slightly paler. One universe was identical in every particular except for a single grain of sand on a beach in Madagascar having a slightly different orientation to all the other grains of sand. You get the idea.

But just as those infinitesimally small differences actually form an entirely different universe, other manifestations throughout infinity of the universe would necessarily involve much larger differences. In some versions, our galaxy would never have coalesced, the earth wouldn’t have formed and life would never have evolved. In yet another, Earth would have formed, but the meteor or meteors that spelled the extinction of the dinosaurs would have missed, and they continued to thrive, perhaps evolving intelligence and populating the planet with a race of intelligent reptiles, a sort of Rupert Murdoch Planet. Any configuration rupertor possibility that is within the laws of physical possibility would have occurred and will occur again, an infinite number of times.

Einstein-But one thing we have learned about time is that it is not linear in the sense that we experience it. That was demonstrated by Einstein when he proposed the relativity of time. This suggests that there is every possibility that the different universes are not sequential, but rather, parallel. This is a little more satisfying because, with an infinite number of sequential universes, it would seem to make sense that in at least one of them there would exist a me who remembers all of his other existences. I don’t. If they run parallel, it’s easier to accept that I don’t remember something contemporaneous in another, presumably inaccessible universe.

Once one starts to put any kind of thought into this kind of cosmology and then expand one’s thinking to include the infinite or bounded nature of space, and then, further, recognises that making that kind of distinction is fatuous and inaccurate to begin with, since space and time are different aspects of the same thing: spacetime, it becomes increasingly clear why human beings have created gods and mythologies to explain the inexplicable.

How much easier it is to postulate a super-being at the pleasure of whom the entire system runs and which can be shut off in a moment of caprice. How much easier it is to justify morality, if one also postulates that the super-being also created and imposed a code of explicit morals – inconsistent, self-contradictory, unethical, silly, irrelevant, misogynist, racist, pointless, xenophobic – but nevertheless inflexible.

angrybirdThere is obviously a great deal more to speculate upon once this can of worms has been opened, and I will if the feedback I receive suggests that my readers are interested. For now, however, JJ (my four-year-old) wants me to play Angry Birds with him. And, as I like smashing stuff by hurling birds as much as the next guy, I’m going. Besides…it’s become clear to me that I have a very limited time with my son and I do NOT intend to waste any of it!

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