Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Cosmology and Conceit

Ok, I've got no real justification for getting so annoyed, but I've been reading yet another Introduction to Quantum Physics and "popular" science type book and I'm getting a little bit worked up by the tendency that writers have to veer towards the clumsily poetic. There's a bit in this book where they try to point out that every breath you take includes atoms that would have been Marilyn Monroe.

All this makes me think of is the crowd of worried family members gasping in horror as the Space Shuttle Challenger was vapourised. Marilyn Monroe breathed some of that same air and so were her breasts, the air that accidentally went up her skirt and so were the bits of spacecraft, technical instruments and beloved astro-noughts.

I really dislike the way theorists still veer towards a bit of anthropomorphism. Sure, as the universe unfolds before our deep space telescopes, dual-state kittens die half of the time and live the other and in the same way, the mutable universe becomes less ethereal and far less exciting as the possible becomes the actual. The poor universe, losing all its magic because we're being arrogant. Of course, we don't have to be so anthropocentric about it and we could say that the more we learn facts about the universe, we drive our particular strand of reality away from magic, divinity and possibility born of faith not belief.

Sooner or later, we'll be able to look far enough into the past to watch that miraculous moment where nothing became something and, well, I expect we'll be a bit disappointed with whatever we find. There's bound to be some smug satisfaction that we can observe (and presumably keep observing once we can look far enough) the instant where a void avoided itself and everything appeared at once. All matter (at least all that matters to us) we'll be able to peek at and nothing else will ever have existed.

Sure, the air we breathe contains atoms that were once Sylvester Stallone's dandruff, Prince Albert's pubic hair, but the more we understand, the less that's possible. The air contains no unicorn poop, no fairy farts, no dragon-ravished princess' froggy toes, so I guess it's only fair that they veer towards the most poetic options that they can, but making the cosmos romantic makes it a little less Romantic if you ask me.

We are all made of stars, cars, men called Lars, parallel bars, czars, guitars, cigars, bras, long lost Renoirs and most definitely, we are all made of scars.

1 comment:

Daniel said...

Surely we've got an insanely long way to go before such ultimate mysteries are unravelled? Even if this civilisation has such longevity I wonder if our collective curiosity will remain long enough to ever reach that point, if such a thing is possible. How could something the first cause paradox be resolved?? I think there's plenty mystery to go around.