4 April 2005
I am not a physicist, nor particularly intelligent but I have always taken a real interest in science and cosmology in general and studied the mathematics of probability in college but with all that said and done, I don’t get it. Whenever I open I eyes, all I seem to see is impossible events, things all around me, which from a probability point of view, or at least my understand of probabilities, I can only be described as miracles, impossibilities.
Now I am aware that most folks do not see the world this way and although I have never really been a protestor or one to carry a banner or flag and wave it for any one cause, be it saving the whales or protesting a war, I think I really need to start a campaign to make people understand and see what an incredible, miraculous place we call living really is.
Perhaps the first step to seeing what I see is to take a step back. If there ever was a case of not being able to see the forest for the trees, it is in the case of everyone taking the world around them for granted. How many people give the weeds growing along a highway any thought at all or even notices them or a spider’s web in a window or shadows? But if all about us was once all compressed into the space of about a grapefruit and that is what scientists now say the initial point was of the big bang (really the big expansion), then how did all the stuff around us come to be? Doesn’t it seem impossible that out of nothing but energy, evolution, even given 14 billion years or however the universe is old, would result in a spider web or a chrome bummer on a car, or an oak tree or the little finger on my left hand? If you could stand at a point, on that grapefruit and look out, you would say that the of odds of a chrome car bumper ever appearing in the universe would be infinitely small. The Las Vegas odds would have to be billions and billions to one. I mean how could just quarks, atoms, etc make there way into chrome bummers or happy meals at McDonald’s? Just not possible using any sort of logic or probability theory at all and yet, no denying that chrome bumpers or happy meals exist.
I reach for a set of headphones and the wire, which attaches the headphones to the CD player, gets caught on the bed frame or the coat cuff caught on a doorknob as you exit. Could move either another 1 million times and would never get caught again, yet it happened. And what would be the Vegas odds of that happening be? And yet, things like this happen all the time.
I watch a tree leaf let go from a limb and drift slowly down, only to land in a spider’s web some enterprising spider has built in one corner of the garage. One leaf falls and hits a spider web and gets caught. 100,000,000 to one odds on that happening and yet, there it is, right in front of my eyes. To my way of thinking, the probability, the odds of that leaf falling right into that spider’s web has to be millions to one and yet it happened. Miracles all around me.
Now recently in my science readings, I came across the concept that the universe is infinite and thus the probability of any thing happening which no specific physical law of the universe rules out, is exactly one. That is, if it is possible it will happen! Ok. Then why don’t I hit the lottery every time I play or get struck by lightening whenever there is a lightening storm? Certainly there is some time element to probability and I understand that if I stand long enough in an open field, I could well be hit by lightening although it might take many, many years before the first hit. But the fact that anything, which is not physical law impossible, will happen with 100 percent certainty does not take the edge off my amazement with this earth, sky, and living.
Think of any one thing; make it easy like a hair comb. Suppose one of our space probes landed on some planet and immediately found a comb lying there on the ground. What a freak show that would be for all the scientists of the world trying to explain that one and yet, right here, right now, you can get a plastic comb for a dollar just about around any corner. And consider the comb and its life. First it is probably plastic and thus based on oil and so oil had to be found, then pumped out of the ground, then transported over seas, land, etc to some refinery where the liquid oil was converted to some sort of raw stock plastic which was then transported to another factory where the comb was actually made and packaged which then was sent on down the distribution system until it finally appear in your local store. How many people where involved from start to finish in the making one a comb? Insurances on the boats, trucks used to transport, the building of the machines to refine oil into plastic, etc. and in the end, you have this funny shaped thing, which somehow came into existence after 14 billion universe years. If one steps back and looks at the comb, it would seem impossible that the universe could evolve such a thing in no matter how much time. Just a miracle and only a comb at that.
I am not doing a good job of waving my banner.
Moisture is drawn up from the oceans and moved around the globe to fall on my lawn and nourish in the form of rain. Take some sun, dirt and some invisible chemical forces and you have the miracle of an apple or pear. Again, step back. From just some much energy, after 14 billion years, an apple hanging on a tree.
So ok, one aspect of this must be creationism versus evolution. One answer which dims my miracle view is that God created everything and there is no magic, miracle to anything. On the other hand, evolution says that from organization, comes more organization and as organization progresses, changes are made which allow for environment adaptation. I seem to have problems with both explanations. For sure, God could surely have created everything we see and that is amazing in itself. On the other hand, it seems hard to accept that through evolution we would “end” up with 5 fingers on one hand. What environment would result in 5 fingers instead of 4 or not 10?
The banner, the flag, the cause.
Flip a switch and there is light. Coal dug from some deep mine and transported and burned and converted to electricity, sent down wires strung along streets and into your house and connected to that switch and light and at your command. Think of anyone 100, 200 years ago and how improbable that would have seemed to him or her. Light at the flip of a switch.
14 Billion years and it all from something the size of a grapefruit and from what I can tell, when this “grapefruit” exploded, expanded, had it been a little bit hotter, it would have expanded so fast that stuff could never have collected into stars and galaxies and planets or if a little bit and I mean a little bit too cool to start with, it would not have expanded fast enough to over come gravity and would have simply contracted back into the grapefruit thing again, again without forming the universe we now see all around us. Just a very little bit change one-way or the other, and this place, all of it, does not exist. A miracle to me although some say, no miracle at all, as lots of grapefruit things around all the time and like cherry bombs going “off”, some too hot and some too cool and some just right like in the Goldie Locks and the Three Bears story and we in a “just right” grapefruit expansion. OK. Sort of like the “give a million monkeys typewriters a million years and they will eventually write all the works of Shakespeare”. Ever hear that one? Have trouble believing it but then again, do not know of any physical law, which rules it out and thus, “they” say probability is exactly one that it will or could happen.
Waving the banner now for all it is worth.
Now I know it is asking a lot, but step outside yourself for a moment and imagine being in far, far away in the universe, distant from any star or planet, where it is very, very dark. Now hold there for a moment in the emptiness and nothingness of that space and time.
Now, bring yourself back. Back to the blue sky, clouds, trees, grass, weeds, birds, animals, rain, snow, wind and yourself here, here on this bright blue ball we call home, earth. Doesn’t all this seem like the most complex place in the universe? So much complexity. So much diversity. So many miracles, improbabilities.
And we speak, communicate, write books to be shared, move about despite the laws of gravity, ponder all sorts of questions, peer into the depths of the universe, shake each other’s hands, grow vegetables, ride subways, build subways, love each other and kill each other.
What a place this living is. Waving and waving in the summer’s sun. So happy to be here and you should be too. A miracle that either of us is here, even for the few universe moments we have to breath in and out.
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