Asking the right questions

Soon, I plan to publish an article in which I’m going to try to persuade you to consider something that you may well find unbelievable. Before I do that, I think it might be helpful to ask you to think about some other incredible concepts.

In the clip above (taken from a TED talk ‘Why is our universe fine-tuned for life?‘) , Brian Greene explains how it is that we live on a planet that is just the right distance from our sun to sustain life as we know it; not too close, and not too far away — the ‘Goldilocks principle‘. But he does more than just this: he talks about how Johannes Kepler spent a great deal of time trying to figure out why it is that the Earth is 93 million miles from the Sun — which turns out to be the wrong question.

question-mark-150x167The right question is: “Why do we humans find ourselves on a planet at this particular distance instead of any of the other possibilities?”. The answer turns out to be, quite naturally, “it yields conditions vital to our form of life”. (This is the anthropic principle.)

Hold on to your hat: the rabbit hole goes deeper.

(Our current understanding is that) our universe is expanding. But even more importantly: the rate at which it is expanding is accelerating. At some point in the far distant future, all of the other galaxies in our universe will have receded from us so far, and so fast, that it will be impossible for anyone to perceive them. As Brian Greene says in the same TED talk:

… because the expansion is speeding up, in the very far future, those galaxies will rush away so far and so fast that we won’t be able to see them; not because of technological limitations but because of the laws of physics. The light those galaxies emit — even travelling at the fastest speed, the speed of light — will not be able to overcome the ever-widening gulf between us.

So astronomers in the far future, looking out into deep space, will see nothing but an endless stretch of static, inky, black, stillness. And they will conclude that the universe is static and unchanging and populated by a single central oasis of matter that they inhabit: a picture of the cosmos that we definitively know to be wrong.

Now, maybe those future astronomers will have records handed down from an earlier era, like ours, attesting to an expanding cosmos teeming with galaxies, but: would those future astronomers believe such ancient knowledge? Or would they believe in the black, static, empty universe that their own state of the art observations reveal? I suspect the latter.

Which means that we are living through a remarkably privileged era when certain deep truths about the Cosmos are still within reach…

So we are alive at a point in both space and time that allows us to examine the Cosmos in a particular way — that may, or may not, represent the ‘truth’. Brian admits:

… when we learn that astronomers of the far future may not have enough information to figure things out, the natural question is: “maybe we’re already in that position”.

It does my head in :)

Here’s that TED talk in full. It’s 22 minutes long, and I found parts of it quite difficult to follow, but well worth the time.

About peNdantry

Phlyarologist (part-time) and pendant. Campaigner for action against anthropogenic global warming (AGW) and injustice in all its forms. Humanist, atheist, notoftenpist. Wannabe poet, writer and astronaut.
This entry was posted in ... wait, what?, Core thought, Education, Environment, History, People, Science and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Asking the right questions

  1. You touch on a very strange philosophical process. Sort of like me being told after my brain surgery that the one person that cannot sense the growing mental confusion associated with a brain injury is that confused person!

    As you write, it does our heads in!

    Sorry, what was the question? 😎


  2. Eric Alagan says:

    If man depends on the speed of light – sight – he will have a hard time keeping up with the expanding universe. The key is – the speed of thought.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A great Post Pendantry, and nothing is by Chance.. :-)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Total solar eclipse: coincidence? | Wibble

  5. Thank you for taking the time to spread a different perspective. It’s important and necessary. Looking forward for more posts in the subject.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. We have to be careful of the human-centric view. Planets that are capable of supporting life are the only places in the universe that could evolve life with the intelligence to be aware of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. tigre23 says:

    Energies, universes and multiverses – very intriguing! Who says that is the ‘right’ question? All a matter of perception! Thanks for sharing, peace and blessings! :)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This idea is very important from a Buddhist prospective. Sometimes an answer cannot be given because the question is wrong. When asked a question in this way the Buddha would often answer by being silent pointing out that the question as asked can not be answered because the questioner has a wrong understanding about the subject. Later in the Zen tradition they would respond to a question like this by asking their own unanswerable question such as “How long are the horns on a rabbit”? Thanks for the article!

    Liked by 1 person

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