Extreme Thinkover Reaches 40,000-View Milestone

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On March 7, 2012, Extreme Thinkover reached a great milestone by crossing the 40,000 views mark.  I want to express my appreciation to all my readers and subscribers, along with those who just happen to stop by and check out the blog.  Last year was an eventful year for me and I didn’t post as many articles as I have in past years.  But to those of you who have hung in there with me, I extend my special thanks!  So keep checking on the blog site.  There are some new plans in the offing that should not only generate more posts but also provide some great reading.

All my best,

David

P.S., Just for fun here are three photos of my vacation at Mt Wilson Observatory, near Pasadena, California.  And thanks to Bruce and Mimi for the invitation!

I'm standing next to the 60" Hale Telescope. It's over 30 feet tall. Photo Credit: John Bogen

When the Hale saw first light in December 1908, it was the largest telescope in the world. George Ellery Hale, who later financed the 200 inch Hale Telescope on Mt Palomar near Pasadena, named the telescope after himself.

This is the chair Albert Einstein sat in when he visited Mt Wilson on January 29, 1931. Note the hair. Photo Credit: John Bogen.

Einstein and the Senior Astronomers (Edwin Hubble is standing directly behind Einstein. Jan 29, 1931. Photo Courtesy of Mt Wilson Observatory.

Hail Endeavour and Her Crew!

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At this moment I’m sitting in my living room watching the coverage of the final launch of Endeavour.  What a magnificent craft she is!  I salute her and all those brave souls who have entrusted her to carry them to the threshold of the universe. God speed, Endeavour!

Space Shuttle Endeavour Landing with Drogue Chute Deployed. Photo: Nasa.gov

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The Final Launch of the Orbiter Endeavour

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Endeavour in Her Element...And Hard at Work. Photo: JPL/NASA

And here is a nice photo of the replica of the HMS Bark Endeavour, Captain Cook’s ship under full sail.  It looks large because of the tall masts and the sails, but in reality, the original was 106 ft (32 m).  By way of comparison, Orbiter Endeavour is 122 ft/37 m long (not counting the main external tank, which is 154 ft/47 m).  A number of years ago I had the chance to tour the replica of the HMS Endeavour.  It is a wonderful ship and a fascinating look at history and brings home how difficult the crew’s life was day after day.  No real amenities.  No mission control, and years at sea to circumnavigate the earth instead of 90 minutes.

The HMS Bark Endeavour, Full Size Sailing Replica. Photo Courtesy: thevilloz.com

Correction Update: Much to my embarrassment in my original post, I misspelled “Endeavour.”

Quantum Hope

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Oh, no, not THAT word!

Put the word “quantum” in a title or sentence and people get nervous.  Perhaps their eyes glaze over and they hope that it will go away.  Some stop reading and skip to another article.  Others are so disconcerted by the mere appearance of the term they can’t read another word and turn on their TVs, frantically looking for reruns of The Simpsons, or Family Guy, or better yet, Oprah.  Comfort food delivered by cable. Having placed “quantum” in both the title and the first sentence, however, those folks won’t have gotten this far.

So if you are still reading, you are among a small minority who are surprisingly brave and tenacious.  For most of you, however, I still need to allay one other fear: math.  Take a deep breath.  No math.  Please, though, don’t turn off your brain.  I’m going to suggest something that is indeed within the realm of quantum theory, but from a perspective few quantum physicists would entertain.

Consider this a treat.

If you aren’t sure what the quantum in quantum physics entails, I can provide a basic definition by offering a simple word picture.  It’s a matter of scale to describe the universe.  On the very big end is cosmology.  That’s what the giant earth-based observatories,  optical, radio telescopes, and space telescopes (like the Hubble, and the Kepler and the soon to be launched James Webb), look deep into space to better understand.  Cosmologists are interested in our  Milky Way galaxy, the galaxies in our neighborhood (we have a really BIG neighborhood) and further out from there to the whole universe.  Astronomers and astrophysicists study the cosmos, the biggest stuff out there.

Quantum physics studies the small end of the universe, smaller than atoms: subatomic particles with great names like quarks, Fermions, leptons and bosons, down to the smallest of the small, called a “bit” (The bit is still theoretical and is also considered a function of entropy. Click here for an explanation [Warning: Contains math formulas]).  They also study how those subatomic particles fit together and work to make the matter we can see.  And that is what a particle accelerator like the Large Hadron Collider at CERN straddling the border of France and Switzerland is designed to do.  Remember in The DaVinci Code, where the story starts in this giant underground building?  That’s CERN.  Particle physicists and quantum physicists study the small stuff and the forces that make them work.

What does this have to do with hope?  Everything, actually, but you’ll have to read just a bit more.

Quantum physics and cosmology have one goal in common.  They both want to figure out how the very large relates to the very small.  They want to discover how the smallest quantum bit is the building block for the universe (and maybe a whole bunch of other universes, too, but we’re not going there in this post).  This great quest is called the search for the Theory of Everything, or for short, The Big TOE.  Seriously.  Yeah, you can laugh.

Everything, however, is not scientifically measurable.  Life is one of those things.  I know we can create machines that can detect life and perhaps how much life exists a one place, but life as a phenomenon in the Universe is not measurable.

The whole notion is confounding, and has been the topic of debate among we humans well before the beginning of the Scientific Revolution with the publication in 1543 of Copernicus‘ manuscript, “On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres.”   For example, Aristarchus of Samos, who lived CA 310-230 BCE, published the first treatise on the heliocentric model of the solar system, On the Sizes and Distances of Sun and Moon, which was then suppressed by the Greek religious authorities of his time because it did not match their beliefs about their gods and life in the universe.  That has a familiar ring to it.

For Half a Millennium…

The past half a millennium, from Copernicus to the present, we have struggled to decide not just what the universe is made of, but what it is at all.  It is the driving force in cosmology and quantum physics.

For those of us who are people of faith, we have also struggled to decide not just what life is made of, but have equally struggled to assign meaning to a concept that seems pervasive to all humans that we label spirituality.  And the greater challenge has been to assign meaning to our religious beliefs and their long-held sacred foundations.   As our understanding of both the Universe and Life have changed (yes, I am deliberately capitalizing both words to communicate that in this context I am seeking to convey a sense of cosmic wholeness) our search for meaning has not gotten any easier.  Why after thousands of years of consciousness in this earthly setting, do we still not understand either?

Diarmuid O’Murcho, who has written extensively about defining a “quantum theology“, states,

The universe knows what it’s about.  That it does not make sense to us humans, that it often baffles us to extremes and undermines all our theories and expectations, is not a problem for the universe; it is a problem for us.  We, therefore, impetuously conclude that the universe does not care about us or about anything else…Instead of viewing it all as mindless, why not work with the idea that it is mindful? (Evolutionary Faith, p. 199).

Even as I write the words of O’Murcho’s quote, I admit they sound strange, foreign, even counter-intuitive to me.  My intellectual world has never regarded the universe as mindful.  Neither has my theological world.  Perhaps, though, that has been the problem, my problem: I have viewed these two worlds as separate, distinct, and although I may have been able to conceptualize them as meeting, like two pieces of plate glass. When pressed against each other they have a cohesiveness, but they are still to pieces of glass stuck together.  In the world of the quantum reality, there is no reason for that to always be so.  In fact, it may be that it is only rarely so, because in quantum theory, boundaries and internal existence are not bounded or exist in the way I perceive them.

Spirituality, Cosmology & the Quantum Conundrum…

I come, then, to my most difficult and confounding question.  If I can believe in a mindful God who created a quantum universe, why do I assume that this mindful Creator did not create a mindful Universe in the same way that humans (therefore, me) were created: In the image of God?

If I allow myself to just for a moment to adjust my reality to that perspective, I realize that I see, though in a glass darkly as St. Paul says when he talks about hope (not just love, 1 Co. 13:15), a reason for hope in a universe otherwise devoid and incapable of such mindfulness:

Life is the universe’s sole expression of hope, for without life the universe cannot contemplate its existence, and without hope the universe does not exist.

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The First Image of the Universe as We Never Can See It, Because Our Eyes Cannot See in Microwave Wavelengths. Image: COBE, Goddard Space Flight Center, http://mather.gsfc.nasa.gov/cobe/science.html