martes, noviembre 10, 2009

The Onion Theory (I): which scale are we in?

Last sunday I had the chance to see again the film "Men in Black". To me, the best part of this film is its brilliant ending (spoiler alert!) in which, after the good guys get rid of the bad ones, the camera moves far away from the protagonists, showing us first The Earth, then the Solar System, then the Milky way, etc... finally the conclusion of this trip is to show us that our Universe is actually embedded in a marble that is used by an ET to play games. (end of spoiler) If I am not mistaken this idea was also mentioned in the book series "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams, though I had never the chance to read them (yet...).

Back to reality (or at least what we consider reality) I am absolutely overwhelmed when watching Astronomy documentaries or news, because of the huge magnitudes of the distances that the Astronomers use like e.g. one light-year. A distance covered by light during one entire year! I can barely imagine those distances! A human being will not be able to travel those distances to see different realities, at least until wormholes (or other similar phenomena) are discovered and usable. Anyway, once the human being can travel through wormholes I am sure there will appear a bigger distance scale that will prevent the wormholes (or other similar phenomena) from being used. Frankly speaking, this is a bit discouraging and this feeling is a bit unconfortable to me. But I guess that we have to live with that. At least we can count on technological devices such as the Hubble telescope that show us amazing things that took place milion years ago!

Can you see the end of our universe scale (i.e. the dark greenish wall of the ET marble we are enclosed in)? It is right after the Pillars of Creation! (foto taken by the Hubble telescope, courtesy of NASA)

Changing the scale radically, I recently learned that the CERN started a set of experiments with the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), in an effort to better understand the origins of our universe. My absolutely limited understanding of these experiements is that atomic particles are accelerated so that they collide and smaller particles appear. Now, the question that comes to my mind is: where is the limit? Long time ago it was assumed that the atoms were indivisible, but it is well known that the atoms are actually formed by hadrons that are constituted by quarks, leptons and bosons (actually the experiments in the LHC are bound to proof the existence of the so called Higgs boson). Nevertheless, since we have no technology by means of which we can separate these smaller fundamental particles, we do believe that these are the ultimate elementary particles that can not be splitted into smaller ones. But I am sure that, in the future, the humankind will develop a quark-splitter theory and its associated technology, entering into the next iteration of what it seems to me an endless loop. Could it be possible that these quarks, fermions, etc... are actually like the marbles that the ET in "Men in black" was playing with? Do these elementary particles hide inside another universe? It is funny to think that we could be considered infinite for some entity that is in a much smaller scale than ours (i.e. in the universe within one of one of these quarks).

Closely linked to this "universe" and "elementary particle" discussion are the ideas of infinite and infinitesimal respectively. It is interesting to check that the ethimology of the word infinite is actually the same in such a different old languages like Latin, Japanese or Chinese. The word infinite comes from infinitas which means "unboundedness". Curiously enough, the words for infinite in Japanese and Chinese are 無限 (read "mugen") and 无穷 (read "wú qióng") respectively, both words are formed by the ideograms "No" and "Limit". They have exactly the same meaning that the Latin word! So are we in a boundless universe with an infinite number of larger scales? Since there are no bounds, would this mean that there are no bounds neither in the smaller scales? And one more, could it be that in fact infinity (i.e. large scales) and infinitesimal (i.e. small scales) are synonims and represent actually the same thing? In any case, to me the idea of infinity is unconfortable, so allow me to say that the word infinite is actually used to explain things that we have no explanation for. Then it would basically mean "I do not know".

Concluding, I am tempted to think that were we live is a huge onion in which one layer is embedded into another one. The only difference is that there is no limit in neither the small scale nor the large scale. In any case, it does not really matter in which layer (or scale) we are in, there will always be an embedding larger onion layer and a nested smaller onion layer.

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