Tag: Universe

Day 1000: How It Ends

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Inside this cubicle the air is thick as honey, with asphyxiating flecks of the mundane bracing against the irrefutable promise of a golden weekend. Outside these pin-cushion partitions – and indeed inside as well – every tiny molecule in the universe is saying its goodbyes to its neighbors and preparing to splash into the unknown permutations of a distant someday. My fingers hammer at these tiny plastic letters, fully ignorant of what’s to come.

Or are they? The hallowed fingers of esteemed science – no doubt similar in size and shape to my own, only tasked with a far more specific purpose – have combed back the hair of the observable now and picked at the scalp-nits of projection. The fields of astronomy, physics, mathematics, and a cabinet full of –ologies have given us a map of what’s to come. A timeline of time’s last hurrah.

And the best part? If any of these predictions are wrong, every record of them will likely be destroyed before anyone finds out. That’s my kind of science.

Genetics-1

Within 10,000 years, human genetic variation will no longer be regionalized. This won’t mean we’ll all look the same – the blonde gene will still speckle crowds and set up offensive jokes, but it will be distributed equally worldwide. This forecasted panmixia is far more optimistic than astrophysicist Brandon Carter’s Doomsday Argument, which places our present at roughly the halfway point of humankind’s civilized journey, and projects a 95% likelihood that we’ll be wholly extinct in 10,000 years.

If global warming hasn’t already soaked us into a Kevin Costner-esque hellscape by then, we may also be facing the melting of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, which will raise the sea levels by 3 or 4 meters above wherever it will be once we lose the rest of the polar ice caps, which should happen long before then.

Long term forecast: buy a big-ass boat. Read more…

Day 941: Welcoming Our Alien Friends. Or Perhaps Overlords.

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Presently, our only tangible research into the cultural and societal impacts of extra-terrestrial life arriving on Earth seems limited to the fanciful concoctions from the Hollywood daydream machine. Will aliens greet us with a peaceful hand-gesture like they did to that pig-owner guy in the Star Trek movie? Will they fire up the blasters and devastate our cities like that movie where the Fresh Prince teams up with that jazz singer?

Actually, people – and I’m talking about educated people who probably wear business attire to work – have put time and effort into calculating precisely how our society would react to a party of interstellar visitors. Given the unlikelihood of this ever occurring, one could make the argument that the dude who stacks salad plates at your local Sizzler is contributing more to the smooth functioning of society than these educated folks, but I’m not here to make that argument. I’m just the messenger.

When it comes to the purported existence of our little green friends, I find it unfathomably selfish to believe we’re the only slabs of meat who have put together a society in this vast universe. I also believe it likely that someone else has fashioned some sort of tin can (or whatever they have in place of tin) and blasted into space. But to believe they’ll stumble upon us, or even care to say hi if they do? That’s where my credulity glides off the track. Still, it’s fun to daydream.

And always smart to keep some just-in-case signage lying around.

And always smart to keep some just-in-case signage lying around.

For thirty years, the SETI Institute (that’s Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence for you acronym-lovers) has been using science, research and speculation to look into the likelihood and nature of possible ETs who might drop by unannounced. The first part of the discussion centers around how they contact us. Do they send us a coded message like the ones we’ve launched into deep space? Do they take over our computer systems and implant a digital hello on Google’s front page? Or will they do a pop-in, no prior call, completely oblivious to the fact that we already made plans to watch the game with some old friends from college? Read more…

Day 845: The Red Side Of The Moon

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Stargazers with a curious mind, a tolerance for late night wakefulness and who weren’t locked beneath the astronomical cock-block of an overcast sky got to witness a spectacular lunar eclipse last week. It was a crimson marvel, a humbling reminder of a universe beyond petulant cat videos and the frustrating television antics of Jon Cryer, Ashton Kutcher and the Halfling they keep chained up in their basement (I’ve never actually seen the show). But was it simply a glorious spectacle, or did it *mean* something?

If you’ve spent any time among the amply-zealotted nutjob crowd then you know that someone must have ascribed some catastrophic significance to the eclipse, in particular because it was the first in a tetrad – a quartet of full-on lunar eclipses that will take place between now and September 2015.

Four full eclipses in two years? Surely that must be an occurrence so fantastically rare that even the most jaded and skeptical among us should pull ourselves up from our hearty breakfast of Sugar-Frosted Reason-O’s and smoked logic-sausage and take note, right?

Actually, there will be eight tetrads occurring throughout the 21st century. But once you slap the obsidian tarp of unflinching dogma overtop these eclipses, it’s easy to spot the deeper meaning.

Also, it's a good excuse to get funky with Photoshop.

Also, it’s a good excuse to get funky with Photoshop.

If you’re the type who believes our species should be beyond ascribing prophecies to the fact that shorter light wavelengths get dispersed while longer ones refract through the earth’s atmosphere to cast a red glow on an eclipsed moon, then congratulations! You have a firmer grasp on logic than pastors John Hagee and Mark Biltz. Read more…

Day 818: Brother Can You Spare Infinity Monkeys?

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Every so often I encounter one of those weary, soggy mornings when the lazy sun can’t seem to prop my fingers upon their ASDF-JKL; thrones to do their little thousand-word dance. Artificial stimulation helps – sometimes a throttle-jolt of caffeine, perhaps a bursting platter of bratwurst eggs benedict, even one of those nefarious little energy shots can bump the words past my grimy fingerprints. But what I really need?

Monkeys.

An infinite number of monkeys huffing an infinite amount of jenkem in front of an infinite number of typewriters could eventually produce something close to an acceptable article. Probably not within my one-day deadline, but you never know.

Actually, the infinite-monkeys cliché usually posits a loftier result, either the complete works of Shakespeare or at least one of his plays. People have crunched this hypothesis into a briny pulp, sorting through the ramifications of infinity and trying to use math to uncover just how much time we’re talking about. One school even attempted a practical re-enactment of the theory. That’s good – that deposits this topic just deep enough into the Realm of Weird to warrant my attention.

EmileBorel

Aristotle contemplated the random combinations of atoms that make up the universe, and pointed out that the only difference between a comedy and a tragedy is the arrangement of its “atoms” (meaning letters). It was French mathematician Emile Borel who first used the infinite-monkeys concept in his 1913 paper “Mécanique Statistique et Irréversibilité”. Emile’s monkeys serve as a metaphor to help us wrap our imaginations around the idea of producing a massive, random string of letters. Read more…

Day 777: 7

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What is your favorite number?

It’s an odd question, if you really stop to think about it. Why have a favorite number? Okay, maybe it’s the number that was splashed across your jersey when you played high school basketball. Perhaps you hit it big with a fortuitous spin of the roulette wheel once. Maybe you met the love of your life on a bus with that number, on the street with that number, at precisely that number o’clock, on that number’s day of the month. If so, please tell me about it; that’s a great story.

Mathematician Alex Bellos is conducting a survey to figure out what’s the most common favorite (or, I suppose, lucky) number. I entered my pick, but found myself torn. While I am a firm believer in the notion of luck, inasmuch as the universe seems to unfold in a fortuitous manner some days, I don’t cling to a specific digit. What would I pick? My daughter was born on the 26th, I met my wife in ’95, my favorite childhood football player wore 33… it all seems so arbitrary and unnecessary.

The current front-runner in Bellos’s survey is seven. This comes as no surprise; with its omnipresent visage in all forms of gambling, from seven-digit lotto games to the most dreaded and praised roll in a game of craps, seven is the smoke-choked caterpillar on life’s giant toadstool. Seven sees all, man.

Religious

Any integer housed in that exclusive neighborhood of Single-Digitsville is going to find itself wrought with significance throughout religious and secular history. But there’s a special pedestal reserved for seven. Not only has this digit turned more fortunes than any other in the hallowed halls of Vegas casinos, but it has found itself firmly entrenched within the spirit of humanity. Why do we love seven so? Maybe because it’s a prime number, mighty and indivisible. Yet seven fits into logic’s keyhole with a crooked and devilish squeak. Read more…

Day 765: Only 682 Days To Go…

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For those of you who are already sick of hearing Star Wars news, I’ve got bad news for you: that incessant buzz is only going to get louder over the next 22 months. Also, what the hell is wrong with you? It’s Star Wars! My inner 8-year-old, the one who was allowed to cut school in the third grade to see Return of the Jedi at the old Westmount Theater will remain clasped between the sweaty palms of anticipation and hope until the opening swell of John Williams’ score blasts into my ears on opening night.

After that moment, it doesn’t matter. The prequel trilogy taught me that nothing is going to match the quasi-religious power those initial three films had on me as a child. And if you take out that floppy-eared Gungan and the insipid discussion of how sand gets everywhere, there’s a lot to enjoy in those prequels: the three-way lightsaber duel in Part I, watching Yoda kick some ass in Part II and the devastating Jedi slaughter in Part III for example. And J.J. Abrams has already given me the Star Trek films I always wanted to see – taffy-thick with action, thrills and explosions.

So I will line up for Episode VII tickets, and I will do so without expectation that it will bump in front of The Empire Strikes Back on my all-time list. I offer no apologies to you philistines whose eyes are straining mid-roll as I add to the noise of the pre-pre-pre-film hype. I’ve waited a long time for this.

George&Mark-First

While shooting the first film in Tunisia in 1976, George Lucas confided in Mark Hamill that he planned to shoot four trilogies. Lucas had already spliced his initial script into three movies, and had received a guarantee from 20th Century Fox that he’d get to make the two sequels for them. When Mark asked what his involvement would be in the later films, George told him he might have a cameo role as Old Luke in Episode IX, which George anticipated might shoot around 2011. Read more…

Day 747: Holding Your Breath For Immortality

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We’re all looking for the answers.

In this chemically-saturated culture of corruption and perpetual impurity, we have a seemingly unending array of potential branches with which we can hoist ourselves a little closer to salvation, to spiritual enlightenment, to… dare I say it?… immortality. So which do we grab? Which branches will support our karmic weight and which ones will snap off, covering our hands and wrists in the sap of disappointment and astral imbalance?

Many follow the security of age-old religion, the oft-translated texts and teachings that have comforted and confounded terrestrial travellers for several millennia. Others opt for less-encompassing and more specifically focussed tenets, such as Transcendental Meditation or staunch veganism. Some folks allow themselves to drift upon the waters of rampant materialism and pop-cultural chew-toys, believing the truth will wash us all clean in the end anyway.

Then there are those who feel the road to the soul’s sustentation runs right through the County of Weird, never intersecting with Reason Street or Common-Sense Boulevard. These are fun people to know, but only if you keep one eye on the nearest exit. Buckle up – you’re about to take a Thursday cruise with the Breatharians.

Breatharianism

Breatharianism is the belief that food and water are unnecessary, that human beings can exist solely on light and the Hindu energy of prana, that which binds the universe together. It’s a beautiful and peaceful construct, one which promises a wholly clean and unfettered life, ensconced in the aura of awakening and light, except for that tiny little asterisk because THIS IS ENTIRELY BOGUS AND MORE THAN A LITTLE BAGEL-HUMPINGLY INSANE! Read more…

Day 714: The Great & Noble 42

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Mr. Foster, my fifth grade teacher, was the most feared educator at Laurier Heights Elementary/Jr. High school. He had a surly demeanor, a purposeful beard, and an affinity for Slim Whitman yodelling records: a sure sign of mental instability. He was also known for breaking wooden meter sticks in fits of rage when his class wouldn’t settle down. When you’re ten years old, just the suggestion of a rumor that a certain teacher could be prone to rage-soaked violence was sufficient to earn him a reputation.

I saw him do this only once that year, and it was a stomp with his shoe that splintered the wood, not a mighty saber-swing upon an unruly child’s desk. But you can be certain, our entire class immediately shut the fuck up. And we enhanced the story to the quivering grade fours at recess.

But despite his perpetual scowl, Mr. Foster made a powerful impression on me, and I’m certainly grateful for having braved the lore of his unquelchable temper. He also steered me toward my first experience with grown-up comedy in the form of a novel, Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy series. In these books – as any well-read geek will tell you – the Great Answer to the Great Question of life, the universe and everything is revealed to be 42.

And since today is Day 714, which is 42×17, I thought I’d see what else was so special about that number.42

  •     42 is a Pronic number. This means it can be attained by multiplying two consecutive integers, in this case 6 and 7.
  •     It is also an abundant number, meaning the sum of its proper divisors (1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 14, 21) is greater than the number itself.
  •     It’s also a Catalan, Stǿrmer, Harshad, self, repdigit, primary pseudoperfect, super-multiperfect and sphenic number. It’s also a perfect score for the USA Math Olympiad, so maybe we’ll drop the math crap and let those people sort through whatever the hell all of that means. Read more…

Day 649: Looking For That Lucky Number

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For the record, should anyone feel to compelled to keep such statements in some sort of record, I do not believe I will ever win the lottery. I say this with the utmost confidence and a wry awareness that the universe has gone out of its way to prove me wrong on an incalculable number of occasions in the past. Why not this one? Come on… daddy needs a new fur-lined stapler.

Playing the lotto takes a decidedly different mind-set than any other form of traditional gambling. You aren’t asserting your confidence in a sports franchise’s chances of success on Sunday, nor are you seeking a favorable roll of the dice or turn of a card. No, the odds of victory in this scenario are so astronomical, it’s laughable. To invest $1 or $10 or whatever in a lotto ticket is akin to deciding that you have that amount of money to throw away.

And yet we continue to play, millions of us every week. It’s that wispy dream of an endlessly overstuffed wallet; even those of us with enough sense to know that a few million in the bank will not absolve us of all future problems still want to experience that hypothesis first-hand. And so we crumple up a few bucks and turn to the magic numbers of the lottery.

GreatWallConstruction

There is evidence of keno (known today as the most boring game in Vegas) being played in China during the Han Dynasty, most likely as a way for the government to pay for that gigantic wall. Augustus Caesar gathered some trinkets that he deemed too valuable for a garage sale and gave them away as prizes in a Roman lottery that aimed to pay for repairs in the grand City of Rome. Read more…

Day 576: Fermi-ing La Porte On The Little Green Men

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“Where is everybody?”

So declared physicist Enrico Fermi over lunch with some colleagues in the midst of a discussion about the possibility of extra-terrestrial life on other planets. The ensuing talk led Fermi to conclude that by now (or, by then, in 1951) our planet should be splattered with the tentacle-prints of far-off civilizations, or at least a minor tourist stop on the side of some interstellar highway. Here’s Fermi’s logic:

The sun is pretty young; there are billions of stars that are billions of years older than our little yellow sky-ball. Some of those stars will have planets, and assuming Earth is typical and not a one-in-infinity happenstance, some of those planets may develop intelligent life. Since we’re looking into interstellar travel as the next (some would say ‘final’) frontier, we can assume folks on other worlds would feel the same. And once the hurdle of interstellar travel is conquered, the galaxy should be totally colonized in a few tens of millions of years.

So where the hell is everybody?

This is what Earl Holliman wanted to know in the first episode of The Twilight Zone

This is what Earl Holliman wanted to know in the first episode of The Twilight Zone

With all our years of star-scoping and Hubbling, we have yet to find any evidence of life elsewhere in the universe, and apart from the tales of some anally-probed farmers in the American Midwest, we have no trace of their presence here on earth. This is the heart of the Fermi Paradox – given the size and age of the universe, there should be a heap of intelligent beings scooting around, yet there is no evidence to support it. Read more…