Once upon a time, before the telescope, we thought all the stars you could see at night, and you could see many more then, were the same. We know better now.
There are actually more galaxies visible–certainly if we use telescopes to view them–than stars. Well, okay, that’s probably oxymoronic, since every galaxy is a conglomerate of billions of stars.
We’re already into heady stuff here.
Anyway, let’s imagine for a moment that this hints at a problem innate in our perception of scale. At first we thought all those things sparkling in the sky were just stars. We didn’t really know what that meant, but we assumed they were the same kinds of things. With the telescope we began to realize just how wrong that assumption was.
Our view was obscured mainly because of the magnitude of difference in the scale of the heavens and the scale of ourselves. In ascending order, our view of “what is” began with the individual (you), jumped to the species (humanity), to the visible and tactile part of Earth, to planets, to the solar system, then stars, then milky way (our galaxy), then other galaxies, and then universe.
At first, using only the naked eye, we could hardly distinguish any one of these from another, let alone understand any of them.
As our tools have become more sophisticated and refined, we’ve come to be able to differentiate many of these that were once one and the same. From inside the milky way what once appeared to be all of “heaven” was eventually resolved into planets, sun, solar system, etc., ending in a universe beyond whose edge we’ve not yet been able to delve.
The same kind of perception horizon, and the progressive ability to dissect reality, is evident in the opposite direction of scale. What was once mere substance has been increasingly resolved into smaller and/or more refined entities: solid, liquid and gas are now molecules, atoms, electrons, protons, neutrons, quarks, muons, and who knows what else, as the horizon in that direction recedes from view.
The dimension of scale, although not quantified in modern physics so far as I’ve noticed, is undeniable and obvious. But I’ll leave that subject to the minds of the next generation, for they’re the only ones with enough time to give it anything like adequate justice.
What I want to talk about today is a “what if” scenario.
What if our inability to distinguish stars from galaxies without superhuman (in the sense of biologically natural) tools is similarly reflected in our inability to see inside an atom.
Perhaps the atom is as richly composed as is our own galaxy, or even as the universe in which we reside and whose boundaries we’ve yet to see beyond?
Or, in the other direction, when our astronomers gaze at the infrared boundary of our universe, supposedly created by the “big bang,” how do we know we’re not just seeing the inner side of the atom in which we, ourselves, reside?
Atoms as universes; universes as atoms!
I think I might be on a roll here.
If our existence on this planet in this solar system in this galaxy in this universe, is replicated in the form of some other existence in some other planet in some other galaxy, in that single atom under your electron microscope, which is, itself, composed of trillions and trillions of atoms, we’re looking at parallel universes in a venue we can at least almost imagine.
And parallel universes are all the rage, I understand, at campus cocktail parties right now. I can feel the ole moxie coming back! Wooooo, wooooooo.
Still, I can’t help wondering at what chutzpah we have in trying to describe a God in whose image we think we’ve been created, and who has great interest in what we say and do.
Or, for that matter, what chutzpah the atheists have in saying there is no God, or that we weren’t created in His/Her/It’s image and He/She/It isn’t interested, anyway.
What part of “mystery” do we not understand?
What part do we not accept?
Perhaps I should await death to find out.
AAAAAAAAGGH! Stop, brain. Stop!