Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Seeking Truth, Accepting Vastness

March 22nd's post told why I'm not upset by folks seeking truth. It also included news about a map of the Cosmic Background Radiation:


(from ESA and the Planck Collaboration, via Space.com, used w/o permission)

As I said then, some possible explanations for features in this universe's earliest radiation involve our space-time colliding with another universe: a continuum that isn't ours.

Knowing more about creation's order and beauty doesn't bother me, because "...the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God...." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 159)

Neither does learning that this vast and ancient universe may be just one of many. I think a sense of awe, and a desire for knowledge, are invitations to deeper faith:
"...Our own age, poised at the edge of perhaps even greater and more far-ranging scientific discoveries, would benefit from that same sense of awe and the desire to attain a truly humanistic synthesis of knowledge which inspired the fathers of modern science. ... the great scientists of the age of discovery remind us also that true knowledge is always directed to wisdom, and, rather than restricting the eyes of the mind, it invites us to lift our gaze to the higher realm of the spirit...."
(Benedict XVI (October 30, 2009))

Sailor Moon, Star Trek, and Reality

There's no apparent reason to think that the universe we're in is the only one. Cosmologists and theoretical physicists trying to make sense of data uncovered over the last few decades are finding that other space-time continua probably exist.

The question seems to be which of the explanations for observed phenomena can be confirmed.

I'm not talking about the sort of stuff seen in "Invasion from an Alternate Dimension!..." or "Prisoners of the Lost Universe." Although stories like "In a Mirror, Darkly" are entertaining: Reality is probably much stranger.

Physical Constants - Aren't?

Some things in this universe change, like air pressure or temperature, depending on where and when you are.

Other things, like speed of light in a vacuum, don't change.1 They're called physical constants.

For example, 1.60217646 x 10-19 coulombs is the elementary charge's value. The number seems to be arbitrary. Equations involving the elementary charge work just fine with different values, but we wouldn't.

Elementary charge helps define forces that make atoms and molecules stick together: just enough for solids and liquids to form, without keeping chemical reactions from happening.

If the elementary charge or other physical constants changed, life wouldn't be possible. Matter itself might not exist in solid or liquid form.

Planets, Physics, and God

Many, if not most, of those other universes may not be habitable: not because they lack planets like Earth, but because the processes we call life can't work there.

We could be living in a statistical fluke, but I don' t think so. I've posted about intelligent design and random pocket watches before. (March 5, 2009)

Speculation about why universes where life couldn't exist might be fascinating. Based on what's happened over the last few generations, though, I think folks could come up with odd conclusions. (March 20, 2009)

Even if I somehow learned every reason for God's creation of this universe, and apparently others: I'm confident that I wouldn't understand. God's God, I'm not. Besides, I've read what happened after Job demanded an explanation. (Job 31:37; 38:1-26)

Not expecting to fully understand God's motivations isn't the same as thinking that we're supposed to cultivate ignorance of this astonishing creation. We're designed to learn. It's the kind of creature we are. (March 17, 2013; January 27, 2013)

Seeking Truth

New data from Planck, and discussions of what it shows, are no more than a few weeks old.2 So far, I haven't run into anyone who says either that talk of other universes is a Satanic lie; or that since cosmic background radiation exists, God doesn't.

Both notions are, in my considered opinion, silly. But I won't be surprised if I run into both over the next few months.

I think I understand why dedicated secularists insist that faith and reason don't get along, and that religion is for ignoramuses. Painfully 'religious' folks proclaiming the same thing, although using different catch phrases, may be sincere: but support their detractors. (March 13, 2013)

I don't think it helps that discussions of cosmology and related topics sometimes include words like "eternal inflation" and "apocalypse."

Adding drama and flair are fine: but I suspect that some folks who see those words grab their assumptions and jump to to a conclusion: straight over the edge of reason.

Seeking truth and seeking God are as compatible as are faith and reason. I thought this was true before I became a Catholic, and still do. More importantly, that's what the Church says. (Catechism, 35, 2104)

Related posts:
Background:

1Actually, physical constants may not have been quite the same when this universe was very new, and that's almost another topic.

2 Excerpts from the news:
"New Map of Big Bang Light Hints at Exotic Physics"
Clara Moskowitz, Space.com (March 21, 2013)

"Europe's Planck spacecraft has revealed the most detailed map yet of the earliest light in the universe, which reveals some tantalizing anomalies that could point toward new physics.

"The new map tracks small temperature variations in the glow pervading space called the cosmic microwave background (CMB). This light was released just 380,000 years after the Big Bang, and contains a record of how our universe came to be....

"...But where the basic models of inflation say this expansion should have happened uniformly in all directions, the new Planck results suggest that might not have been the case. [Universe's CMB Radiation Explained (Infographic)]...


"... And getting to the bottom of the other anomalies in the Planck data may point to even more radical conclusions, such as the idea of multiple universes and bubble universes created by areas of the primordial universe that inflated at different rates.

"It turns out that collisions between these bubbles of space-time are one possible explanation for why inflation might not have proceeded uniformly in all directions.

" 'The fact that these anomalies not only exist but exist on the very largest scales gives us some hope that we may be actually able to say something in the future about a multiverse,' Kamionkowski said."
(Clara Moskowitz, Space.com (March 21, 2013)

"5 Reasons We May Live in a Multiverse"
Clara Moskowitz, Space.com December 7, 2012)

"The universe we live in may not be the only one out there. In fact, our universe could be just one of an infinite number of universes making up a 'multiverse.'

"Though the concept may stretch credulity, there's good physics behind it. And there's not just one way to get to a multiverse - numerous physics theories independently point to such a conclusion. In fact, some experts think the existence of hidden universes is more likely than not...."

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