Wednesday, 27 January 2016

The deep mystery of existence.7: Ten trillion stars to make you (updated 27 January 2016)

A curious aspect of the universe we live in, i.e. the only one in this dimension, is that it is designed and engineered accurately for the emergence and evolution of civilization.


It was created ex nihilio (out of existential nothingness) 13.8 billion years ago. It had certain starting conditions and physical constants and has proceeded to evolve in a purposeful way, from the first elementary particles to the atoms to the molecules to clouds of gas to stars to galaxies to planets, culminating in intelligent, self-conscious beings on this planet (quite possibly uniquely, judging by observations of exoplanets, stars and galaxies to date) able to peer across space and time to deduce the time and nature of the original creation event. The planet on which this life has emerged is special to say the least, as is the accompanying moon,  the sun, the solar system, its position in  the Milky Way Galaxy and the properties of the MWG itself. 

Our perception is swinging back to a pre-Copernican one. Although we are small and non-central in space as we orbit the sun rather than vice versa, we could well be the centre of consciousness of the universe. It is in a sense like the centre of consciousness of a supertanker being the captain, who is much smaller than the ship and not in a central position, although he has a good view from the bridge just as we have a possibly uniquely good view of the universe.

It is well known that the size of the observable universe is vast, 93  billion light years across,  as is the number of stars it contains (10 with 23 zeros, i.e. 100 billion trillion, is probably on the conservative side). What is not so well known is that for life to be here on this planet now the universe has to be this size and in its present configuration. During its early development its mass had to be what it was then (the same as now in fact) to within the mass of a single coin.

(Incidentally it is not commonly mentioned in the popular science media that had the earth been formed slightly later the sun would have been too hot for life to start and no stars would be visible in the sky any way because the universe would have been expanding too fast. Had the earth started earlier the sun would again be in the wrong part of its cycle and the sky would be one brilliant mass of light with no individual celestial object visible because the stars would have been too closely crammed together at that  time in cosmic history.)

All the atoms, stars and galaxies of stars have to be exactly as they are for us to exist. They have somehow been moved and configured and tuned since the Big Bang to make humankind. If the original mass of the universe had been infinitesimally different there would be no living thing in the cosmos. Every person is totally dependent on whatever agency brought him or her into existence, the parents being just the last link in the chain that 'began' as a  deliberate cosmic manufacturing process by a  Creator, operating from outside of space-time, in another dimension. 

Another startling discovery of modern physics is that every particle in the universe is able to interact with any other particle in the universe - past, present or future. (Quantum entanglement.) So the idea that all that huge expanse is connected with us is made increasingly real, albeit impossible to comprehend. The famous line 'No man is an island' by John Donne (1572-1631) has never been more apt, reflecting poetically something which would not be discovered until 4 centuries later. The old 19th century mechanistic, Newtonian, Darwinian reductionist view of the universe is now seen as an outdated, mentally stifling approximation of what is really there. 

How many of us are there? Rounding up let us say 10 billion.

A simple piece of arithmetic: divide 100 billion trillion (assuming this estimate for the number of stars to be correct - it may be much more) by 10 billion.  The answer is 10 trillion, which, incidentally, is equal to the number of cells in the body  - one star for every cell. In a way this is what one would expect. A body cell comprises trillions of atoms expertly arranged to perform a specific function or range of functions, so vast resources are needed to make the atoms it needs and somehow intelligence is invoked in a way that surpasses understanding.

If, as I believe is the only rational explanation, the Creator has made this universe in order to bring us into being, you may wonder at his wastefulness. But what if there is no other way? Just to make a can for a soft drink or beer takes enormous resources and the most elaborate world communication and transport processes. Large amounts of waste are produced as a by product and have to be disposed of. Even if you divide the total consumption of energy and resources by the number of cans of drink it must still be huge. Similarly with the construction of our planet and its 7 billion inhabitants. Unimaginably large amounts of materials and energy are left over but unless they had been there to be left over, and in the quantities observed, there would be no human civilization. (See story of a drinks can on this blog.)  

Just to make a unicellular organism, an incredibly complex work of engineering, requires an immense amount of organization and bringing together of the right trace elements and building blocks and putting them together in an intelligent way. So is it surprising that it takes a whole universe to produce human civilization?

In a sense the Creator has in  His abundant love and omnipotence made 10 trillion stars (and much else) in order that you can exist in physical form and be conscious of the created order around you  and think, love, hate, create, destroy, perceive beauty and ugliness, seek truth or falsehood, desire justice, practice honesty or dishonesty, forgive or avenge, be loyal or disloyal, proud or humble, and experience a whole spectrum of sensations via the five senses and spiritually.

So when you look at the night sky don’t think you are not important to God.


Monday, 4 January 2016



To simplify the language the word ‘light’ will be used to denote the whole spectrum  of energies of light, ranging from the lowest energy (radiowaves), through microwaves, infrared, visible and ultraviolet to the very highest energy light known as gamma radiation.

From the beginning
Light is made up of photons, the very first stable particles in the Big Bang event 13.8 billion years ago. Photons began only one hundredth of a billionth of a second after the creation of space-time, the very first entities of the natural world, existing before atoms, neutrons, protons and electrons. They are eternal, i.e. they do not decay like other particles, and without mass.

Absolute as a frame of reference
Light is the only real frame of reference in the universe. If you try to measure the speed of anything else you get a result which depends on the relative speed between you and whatever object you are measuring. (Einstein, Special Theory of Relativity, 1905).  This is not so with light. Even if you travel at 99.999% the speed of light in any direction you will still measure the speed of a passing beam of photons as the same speed as if you were completely stationary. This absoluteness of speed, which defies common sense, is the basis of GPS navigation, accurate time keeping and much else upon which the modern world depends.

Wave particle duality
Light behaves in two fundamentally different ways: as particles of electromagnetic energy called photons or waves of energy called electromagnetic waves. Which of these natural forms of energy is observed depends on how they are observed. (This is best illustrated by the double slit experiment but there is no need to go into this here. See this YouTube video .) Beams of other particles, such as electrons, protons, neutrons and molecules also behave in this strange way. It is known as wave-particle duality and is revolutionizing our understanding of the natural world as well as imposing limits on what science can be used to investigate.

Information carrying power
The internet depends very much on the ability of light passing through fibre-optic cables to carry vast amounts of data around the world at the speed of light (8 times round the globe in one second). Telescopes, binoculars, microscopes and fibre optic medical imaging all exploit light’s properties. Microwaves, radar, radio waves, infrared rays, optical light, ultraviolet, gamma rays and X-rays are all forms of light of different wavelengths and energies which carry information as well as energy. We also rely on light to tell us almost everything we know about the history of the universe (e.g. through the cosmic microwave background, radiation from the universe when it was only 1/3rd of a million years old). It is not commonly realized that if the nearest star (alpha centaura proxima, 4.2 light years away) vanished into nothingness we would not know for at least 4.2 years. If the first stars stopped existing now this information would not arrive for over 13 billion years, long after we had become extinct.

Eyes and brains  formed to use light
543 million years ago, as oxygen concentration reached 10% of the atmosphere most of the skeletal architectures  used by organisms of all shapes and sizes today sprung up in what is referred to as the Cambrian explosion. In particular all the forms of eye existing today appeared, including compound eyes, inset eyes and eyes on stalks. Light played a crucial role, in particular because our yellow dwarf sun   emits visible light which is maximally transmitted through water (at other wavelengths than this water is almost opaque, so that underwater information transfer at the rates required for an underwater ecosystem would be impossible).  Once hunter and prey could see each other their hunting and evading behaviour grew rapidly in complexity along with  the neural networks needed to process and respond to the optical information.

Circadian rhythms
These diurnal cycles of biological activity are universal and basic to the whole natural world. They are synchronised to the daily  cycle of light and dark and have been for billions of years, right back to the time when the earth rotated once in 22 hours. No other rhythm in nature is so fundamental in governing the behaviour and well being of an organism.  Each of the 10 trillion cells in the body is governed by it and works in cooperation with all the others, either directly or through a hierarchy of sophisticated networks that sprung up suddenly in the Cambrian explosion.  The whole biosphere is synchronized to it.

The source of all energy and matter
Nothing could exist without light. Not only does it power nature directly through photosynthesis (by which light is captured by leaves and converted to the nutrients and energy sources needed by the plant and animals which eat it) but human civilization depends on it for firewood, fossil fuels, solar generated electricity, wave power (ocean waves owe their existence to radiant heat from the sun), tidal energy (the sun and moon came  from the photons in the Big Bang like everything else) and hydroelectric power (rivers and lakes depend on water evaporated from the sea by the sun). Light preceded matter in the Big Bang so everything of which we are aware ultimately comes from the first photons colliding to produce elementary particles, the constituents of everything we know exists.

And there was light…
So it would seem that the God-inspired writer(s) of the Genesis creation poem had some inkling of light’s crucial role in the history and origin of the universe:
‘And God said let there be light, and there was light, and God saw that it was good.’  Gen 1:3-4. 

 It is not surprising that it was and is to this day  used as a metaphor for the spiritual power which drives away darkness and wins over spiritual evil. Jesus Christ, for instance, is referred to and pronounces himself as the light of the world. 


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