Saturday, July 15, 2017

Do We Matter in the Cosmos...

A recent Aeon essay Do we matter in the cosmos  by Nick Hughes opens with several sweeping statements of how insignificant  the matter and action of civilization and earth relative to the total matter and action of the universe. All of civilization is only 5-10,000 years within a universe of billions of years it would seem. It would take 100,000 years to cross our galaxy traveling at the speed of light and so with the limitations of matter and energy, people cannot visit other stars in the galaxy in the same way that people visit other places on earth.

The essay mentions causality briefly and Hughes does not evidently believe in the uncertainty of quantum futures and the fact that our matter is entangled with all of the matter in the universe. Quantum phase noise plays a particular role in our differentiation of a classical determinate reality from the many possible futures of the actual quantum reality in which we actually live.

In the end, though, Hughes essay does conclude that even though civilization is not very massive compared to the universe, the neural resonances and stories of civilization are most of what matters to us here on earth. So even though the size of the universe boggles the mind, so what?

"And whether or not they are objectively valuable, the ends that matter to us, the things that we care about most – our relationships, our projects and goals, our shared experiences, social justice, the pursuit of knowledge, the creation and appreciation of art, music and literature, and the future and fate of ours and other species – do not depend to any considerable extent on our having control over a vast but largely irrelevant Universe...Most of what matters to us is right here on Earth."

The essay argues that the size of the universe makes people seem insignificant in comparison, but does not mention that the size of the atom is part of a microscopic world and we also cannot personally visit the microscopic realm either. We also cannot visit the tens of thousands of miles of the vast matter of inner earth nor can we visit Venus' surface or the surface of the sun. So there are a lot of places that people cannot visit and yet there is no mention of our insignificance as a result of not being able to visit the sun or the inner earth.

People tell stories and share experiences and this storytelling limits the possible futures that people discover. Travel across the universe requires the matter equivalent energy of the universe and a journey to the our galaxy center and back would not take 58,000 years for those travelers. A space ship accelerating at 1 g and then using the supermassive black hole to slingshot a return to earth would only take about 25 years. Of course, during that journey earth would still age 58,000 years according to relativity and the spaceship would return to a very different earth.

Also, the matter equivalent energy needed to maintain 1 g acceleration for 15 years is beyond science today but there might be ways to use galaxy spiral gravity boosts for a journey at this scale. Gravity waves, after all, are something that science is just learning about and so maybe we can catch a gravity wave and surf our way to the galaxy center. It would take the matter equivalent of ~600 MW nuclear reactor to accelerate a 100 MT ship at 1 g for a year.

We do matter in the cosmos since it is us who determines what matters to us and not anybody outside of our own local universe. The definition of a universe is the matter and action that we affect and that affects us during our lives. The universe that we imagine does not exist until we experience that universe and so we are in fact the most important part of our own universe since neither it nor its uncertain future would exist without us.