Saturday, 3 October 2009

Why is the universe SO BIG?

Why is the universe SO BIG?

Apart from the obvious answer, because that's how big it is, lets consider for a moment.

In his "An Introduction to Metaphysics", 1935, Martin Heidegger boldly asserts that the fundamental mystery of being, or being human, is this: Why is there ANYTHING rather than nothing? He was writing in German and sometimes it gets translated as "Why are there beings rather than nothing?" but I don’t think that is an especially good translation. In any case we know what he means, right? It’s a mystery. It is the fundamental question that no one knows the answer to.

(For sure some people pretend they know the answer but the honest truth, at least as at the date of today’s blog entry and the risk that some breaking news headline on the 24 hour news channel being that someone just found out the answer, is that nobody knows. If you are a high-school student reading this blog, and you have a teacher who has convinced you that someone knows the answer, or you’ll understand when you get older or any of that other nonsense let me give you the treat of honesty: they are lying to you. Nobody knows. Adults are often embarrassed to admit there is something they don’t know, so if you are wondering why it is not breaking news that nobody knows the answer to the most fundamental question of being, the reason is that for the most part people don’t like talking about it.)

If I was given the opportunity to contribute to the design of a historic monument, a huge Palace of Westminster type building or building of state such as the Whitehouse, or the Capitol building in Washington D.C., above the plinth over the main entrance doorway I would propose to have this question CAST IN STONE. It is the fundamental question that lies at the root of human ignorance, and whether we consciously notice it or not, we live are lives against the background of our ignorance as to the answer. If indeed there is an answer. If indeed the question is answerable or unanswerable or ultimately nonsensical and meaningless, all this aside, we as human beings cannot help but live our lives against a background of this question’s mystery and majesty. It is a question that lurks there in the dark places, and quietly in the stillnesses waiting for us to fall in to its web.

However for those of us who are willing to consider the question, there is these days another question that starts to present itself. In 1935 Heidegger did not have at his disposal all of the latest information cosmologists and spectroscopists and theoretical physicists have been giving us about how utterly huge and extraordinary the universe is.

The universe is utterly extraordinary. Garik Israelian predicts that within the next 20 years we will have unequivocal proof of other earth-like planets around sun-like stars – in other words proof that the conditions for life as we know it exist in other places in our universe besides the one we happen to find ourselves on.



As I start to consider the question in the light of our more recent discoveries, the question that dawns in my mind is not merely why is there anything rather than nothing. The question is rather how did there get to be SO MUCH of everything. Not merely why is there anything rather than nothing but why is there SO MUCH?

There’s a lot of stuff in the universe. A LOT of stuff. If someone was trying to make some kind of spiritual statement about the validity of the whole creation project they could have achieved it completely without having made so much stuff. Even if the universe was half the size, or a quarter of the size, or a hundredth or a thousandth of the size, as far as we are concerned here on planet earth going about our day to day lives nothing would be obviously a lot different, and the whole sky at night thing would still be just as for the most part impressive as it is. Why go to the bother of creating all that dark matter and dark energy which together apparently account for 96% of the known the universe ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_matter )? This is stuff which we know must be there otherwise our theories of gravity are wrong, but on the other hand thus far we have not been able to get any direct evidence for it. Is god doing this just to give physicists a question that they can’t answer? As if there aren’t enough of those with trying to get the science of quantum mechanics and relativity to fit together in the same universe. Any way enough about the science, my point is really just that the creator god, as far as we know, has gone to an awful lot more trouble than she really needed to if she was simply trying to prove a point about her capacity for creativity. Why make all of this stuff, just for us?

Anyone who isn’t completely blinkered must be starting to take seriously the prospect that the earth and the life on it are just one of the creator god’s many projects, and possibly not even a particularly favorite one. Perhaps one that she put together in passing, an early draft version of something she went on to do much better somewhere else.


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