Science is once again flexing its muscles. The announcement by NASA that it is expanding its reach towards the earliest moments of the universe, with its new (James Webb) telescope, gets my younger brothers buzzing.
And they’re not satisfied with knowing that, at the beginning of all things, there was a “singularity” – a single point with no dimensions but possessing enormous mass and thus infinite density – that we call the “Big Bang.” Even the discovery of gigantic lumps of “dark matter,” or so called “super-heavy black holes,” appearing in the middle of most galaxies early in the life of the universe, does not quench their curiosity.
They are not satisfied with infinite and near-infinite forces at the beginning of time; instead, they want to know more about the future.
The family mathematician asks: “What is on the other side of the known universe?” The MIT engineer chimes in that scientists are on the verge of accelerating space vehicles to one-tenth the speed of light, using a phenomenon known as “solar winds,” which are streams of particles, mixed with photons, emitted by the sun.
Science cannot help much in discoveries outside the known universe. The reason is simple. Before the Big Bang (about 13.8 billion years ago), there was nothing – no mass, space or time. The same is true on the other side of space-time. We can only speculate.
In the last century, thanks mostly to a rotund Belgian priest named Georges Lemaitre, we have come to understand two incredibly interesting things about the physical universe: (1) that it had a beginning and (2) that immediately afterwards, in a very small fraction of a second called a “quantum,” a unit of space-time was formed that required imponderably enormous force and apparently left in place the four essential laws of physics, namely: the weak nuclear force, the strong nuclear force, electric charges and gravity.
Princeton physicist Brian Greene, who holds the Albert Einstein chair in theoretical physics, refers to that smidgeon of time as entailing the creation of a well crafted clock, followed by the winding of it such that it would start the billions of stars and galaxies on their way with amazing precision, allowing the original elements to mix in a way that would eventually be conducive to life in one little planet we call Earth.
The late Lynn Margulis, in her book What is Life? takes over the analysis at the time of “biogenesis,” or the point at which organic life became apparent on our planet, perhaps four billion years ago.
By chance, or by design, our instruments in space are able to detect and analyze light emitted all the way back to the first 360,000 years after the Big Bang. From little platforms beyond our atmosphere, we are able to see into the past quite nicely.
But we cannot see one iota of what is on the other side of the physical universe, and the reason is quite clear: because it doesn’t exist. Not yet.
Space-time only exists in the past and present. The future must await existential occurrence before we can measure it.
And so, in the final analysis, our thoughts on what is beyond our physical reality must focus on the past, in an effort to decipher what the Big Banger had in mind when he/she/it created the little clock at the beginning of time.
Those of us blessed with an abundance of goodness easily reach the conclusion that the Big Banger must have something good in mind for us on the other side of our physical existence. And, if we have but a little generosity of spirit, we also conclude that all of our peers must be equally entitled to share in that goodness.
It’s a task that begins in the present, which is the only part of space-time that we can control.
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