Wednesday, September 15, 2010

An Ever-Changing Universe

A few weeks ago, news came out that some constants of Nature were not always the same across different regions of the Cosmos. Apparently, the fine-structure constant--a number that is written into the very behavior of atoms, actually changes!

The variability of this "constant" violates Einstein's equivalence principle, a fundamental tenet of physics that says that the constants of nature must remain the same no matter where or when in the universe.

A team of scientists found that the fine-structure constant appeared to have been smaller in one part of the universe--but larger in another, billions of years ago.

Upon hearing of this, I was dumbstruck. Sure, the universe changed as the fundamental forces of nature fragmented from one single unified force. But I thought that after everything has "unfurled" and settled on to this state that we are familiar with--that was it. As everything settled down, every constant of nature must then be, well...constant!

Or so it seemed.

Again and again, the things i’ve known may be wrong all along. I had to unlearn the familiar concept of a homogenous and isotropic universe.

And if found to be true, a variable fine-structure "constant" has big ramifications to many deeper things that may not seem apparent in our mundane way of life.

And I could not grasp it at all. The symmetry-breaking concept of different realities in different regions of the universe hovered in my mind for several days. I wrote a short story entitled "Phase Change" to help me make sense of this finding, to try to get a glimpse of what it could mean to me personally, and eventually to a wider scope of things.

In the process, my story ended up hinting at a speculative answer to Fermi’s Paradox. Perhaps, an ever-changing universe could be one reason why civilizations never get the chance to come in contact with other civilizations. A universe that has different properties at different times in different regions could pose an “isolation” problem for regional inhabitants.

My story also indirectly refers to the concept of the Phase Transition in the early universe, where the force(s) of nature were still fragmenting. Perhaps the changing values of the fine-structure is an indicator of a weaker form of "Phase Transition" that may still be occuring in many other regions of the universe.

What does it all mean? Well, only then did i realize that it was so simple. Ours is truly an ever-changing universe. And the cliche remains ever so true: Nothing is permanent, except change itself.

Phase Change (The Short Story)
When Fundamental Constants Change
Was Einstein Wrong?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Belief and Unbelief

I was prompted to write this post after i received a reply to my carefree tweet. In the back of my mind, I knew i had it coming (that's why I added the smiley at the last second), but i still sent the tweet. And so here it goes...

Earlier today, I frivolously tweeted that "I respect all beliefs, even unbelief" in which what I had in mind was the loose definition of "belief" as somewhat similar to an "opinion". For example, the context in which I say "i believe there is life on other planets". So i think that someone who "does not believe" in the existence of extra-terrestrial life is entitled to his or her own "belief" or opinion. And i respect that belief, even if it does not agree with my own belief. That was what i meant in my tweet, no offense intended.

But the trouble is, i used the word "belief" instead of "opinion" in my tweet. And for that, it deserves much thought, careful examination, and reflection, especially when "respect" is in the same sentence as "belief".

In the course of writing this post, I came to the conclusion that "belief" is a deeply loaded word where often, when people hear it, what comes to mind is Religion, Christianity, Islam and all the others. So I should expect some reaction from unbelievers if they are grouped together with those who believe in the existence of God, and vise-versa. Atheists do not believe in the existence of god. In that context, Christianity and Islam is under the umbrella of "belief", but Atheism is outside any form of "belief".

Belief and unbelief is as distinctively separate as how light is from dark, how "yes" is distinctively opposite from "no". The non-existence of god is as equally possible as the existence of God. Thus, believing and not believing in God are opposites but equally valid points of view. With neither one under the scope of the other.

To say that "unbelief" is under or within "belief" may be offensive, and perhaps disrespectful to some who feel strongly about it. And thus, I apologize for that statement that seemed to put unbelief as a form of belief. Needless to say, my apology is also for some believers who perhaps were offended by me throwing non-believers in their camp.

Of course, i need to explore a case similar to "zero and one" (binary bits) or "left and right" (chirality) where both states together are described by one word for the purpose of study. In the same manner, is there a 'non-loaded' word that simply includes both "belief in the existence of God" and "unbelief in the existence of god"?

I hope that a word must exist to describe both states where it doesn't evoke strong emotions. Worldview? Whatever it is, i need that word so i can describe what i mean by "belief and unbelief" in my context without running into trouble on twitter or anywhere else.

Oh boy, I just love twitter. It compels me to write. And when i write, it forces me to think!

Well, at least that's what i think!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

My Perception of Inception

The mention of ideas being powerful once it gets in your head was a great way to start "Inception". It rightly set the tone that this movie is cerebral. Indeed, it leaves you thinking about reality and dreams even after the movie has finished.

Dreams are powerful, and essential. Perhaps that’s when and where ideas truly play. And that, I believe, gave Nolan a great focal point for his movie.

I often engaged in conversation with some of my family members--as they talked in their sleep! And I found it funny how senseless the things they talked about. A few times, I actually tried to coax some information from our conversations, so I can tease them the next day. However unfair it seems, I maintain that no one must ever do that to me, for I would never want my wife to uncover secrets from my subconscious!

But I can tell you that it's actually impossible to “extract” any sensible information from sleep-talkers, or sleep-walkers! The best you can do is enjoy that moment and giggle while they murmur incomprehensible sentences.

Perhaps that is the reason why I never thought of injecting some ideas into vulnerable minds as they slept or dreamed. I think that if garbage was coming out, then they’ll perceive incoming ideas as garbage as well.

If I knew that implanting ideas into a sleeping person's mind would work, then i would have tried to trick my dozing Dad (who, at one time--I caught sleep-talking) to increase my college allowance back in those days.

And so, with the thesis of Inception, the “extractor”--whose usual job was to “extract” information--was also hired to “implant” an idea into a person’s mind. All that will be done via “shared dreams”.

That seems like a simple plot, isn’t it? Yes, but there’s more. It also involves layered dreams within a dream within a dream. And the technical aspects of such dream-layers was also accounted for--such as time dilation between each layer of dreams.

All that plot mechanics would’ve been enough for me, and it already is a great movie with that complexity alone. But Nolan overdid it with some snow mountain shooting action sequence which i think was unnecessary.

The movie also failed to tap into the emotion spectrum. Cobb's wife, who i suppose should deliver that part, played the weakest character of them all. The only scene that moved me was the quick flash of an elderly couple (Dobb and his wife) walking together while holding hands.

I also think that the “architect” was not creative enough in conjuring dream settings. Her “powers” were not tapped thoroughly.

Although i liked the scene where she pulled two mirrors facing each other. But then I instinctively looked for the camera (and the cameraman) in that scene, expecting them to be visible to me, as reflected by the mirrors. So in effect, what the scene did was to snap me out from being an "audience". At that moment, I began thinking technical stuff (as if i was part of the movie crew) on how the special effects were being achieved.

There were tropes which were apparent, such as dreams within a dream, as exemplified by “Waking Life”, or shared dreams (people entering the dreams of others) in “Dreamscape”, “The Cell”, and “Nightmare on Elm Street”. But with “Inception”, I give Nolan credit for making a movie that stimulates its viewers to think.

Even up to now, I am still thinking what my "totem" would be. Some little object that'll let me know if i'm within a dream or not.

How about you. What is your totem?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Book Review: A Tear at the Edge of Creation

This book kept me at the edge of my seat. Like an exciting ballgame, "A Tear at the Edge of Creation" kept me in suspense. Who's gonna win? The Unifiers? Or the Breakers? Like an expert commentator, Marcelo Gleiser explained both sides well. However, he has chosen one team to cheer for.

Once, he was a unifier himself. But after a long intellectua-scientific journey, Marcelo Gleiser now argues that the Grand Unified Theory (GUT), or the Final Truth is a construction of the human mind, a monotheistic myth that has inspired brilliant minds like Thales, Kepler, Einstein and so many others, with little support in physical reality.

First he would tell of the wonderful elegant patterns in nature, but then suddenly point out an anti-pattern in the next instant. He would explain the Symmetry of our universe in masterful language and then destroy it with Asymmetries on the next page.

The "Unifiers" are reductionists. They search for a law of nature that is simple and true. The author argues that the notion of a Theory of Everything (TOE) is a cultural one. It is the scientific counterpart of the monotheistic religions. He says, "Why insist on relating Oneness with beauty? Isn't it time to celebrate a different kind of beauty, one inspired by the imperfections of Nature?" This thought somewhat resonated with an old thought I posted a few years ago.

So he proposes on focusing on the imperfections of nature, rather than the search for ultimate harmonies or perfection. He points out the rare circumstances in the universe that led to our existence. That makes us special. It creates a new purpose for humankind. He shouts, "Humans! Wake up and save life with all that you have! Life is rare. Treasure it, worship it, make it last, spread it across the Universe."

This book is great because I've learned so many things from it, and found patterns I never saw before. It gave me insights that give a deeper understanding about some underlying mystery of our universe. Some of them are as follows.

The universe is polarized: There are more right-handed people than left-handed ones (like me and Marcelo). There are more matter versus anti-matter. On a molecular level, Life is left-handed (chirality). Without these imperfections, or imbalance, we would not be here at all. Phase Transition: the universe underwent a phase transition similar to water turning from liquid to ice when the temperature is lowered.

Only one tiny detail bugs me about Marcelo's idea right now. He roots for the absence of Magnetic Monopoles that break Symmetry. But it was finally detected in 2009. So, i guess it's a score for the Unifiers.

What I can say now after reading this book is that, previously I seek for patterns through eyes that are tainted with the Unifier's lens. Now I intend to see things in a more balanced way. Seeing the quips of nature as well, alongside the inherent order and symmetry.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


The famous "Cogito Ergo Sum" of Rene Descartes seem incomplete to me. Somehow, I am tempted to conclude it this way, "I Think Therefore I Am...Gone."
Today, I was reminded of our fleeting existence via this quote from Buckminster Fuller, "What you see is not a hand. It is a pattern integrity, the universe's capability to create hands.”
In a way, our brain itself is a pattern integrity, the universe's capability to create brains. As a matter of fact, Buckminster Fuller puts it more succinctly, "Each individual is a pattern integrity."
Thus I remember, how a physicist/philosopher named Ludwig Boltzmann stumbled upon this concept, which was later called "Boltzmann Brain": It is a fleeting pattern that is briefly given a chance to ruminate "Hey, I exist!" then fades away. In 1906, Boltzmann committed suicide.
How we all are in a sense, like Boltzmann brains is accented when you compare the lifetime of humans to the lifespan of stars. How we are like Mayflies that live for a day and then...gone.

Friday, February 5, 2010

No Paradox in Time Travel

There is no paradox in time-travel. If you went back in time and killed the younger version of yourself, you will not die. However, many folks think otherwise--as it is wrongly depicted by films like "Back to the Future". The apparent paradox that traps so many people is a result of what I call the "Continuity Complex" that plagues the human mind.

The "self" arises because of the "continuity" that we feel of our self moving from the past to the present. But in fact, each instance of us in time is a separate person. We are a new being every second...or every millisecond. We are forever changing. The "me" of this second is not the same as the "me" of the next second.

In a larger cosmological context, the universe of this moment is not the universe of the next second. Thus, if you went back to the past, you did not really go back to the "past"--you just simply went to another separate "place". And in that place, you can do anything you want--without fear of affecting the previous time-place where you came from. It's a whole new world of its own.

Now all this conjecture is simply a play of Gendaken experiment. Thus if I ever get the chance to go back in time, I will definitely kick my younger self in the butt. I deserve it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Rebooted By Nothing

And so I reboot this blog after attending some conferences held by The World Science Festival. First was "Nothing: The Subtle Science of Emptiness."
Paul Davies, one of my favorite authors was one of the panelists, as well as John Barrow.
Of course, the question of "Why is there something instead of nothing?" inevitably came up. Paul Davies shared his answer which rather stuck to my mind. He said that Nothing has only one way, while Something has a lot of ways to come about. So that is why there is something!
I like the last "what if" question of the moderator, where he followed up a question from the audience about the role of consciousness in all there is. What if--he asks while gesturing an inifinitely-scaled universe where the gradient will never be resolved--everything is just a reflection of humanity's yearnings?
I came home in a blank pith of "nothing" for I had a nagging question along the way: When a person dies, does he return to nothingness? Or does he return to Infinity?
It's best, I reckoned to myself--to keep it unanswered. That'll keep me yearning.

My Flickr Photo Set of the Event

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Knowing Self

I can't sleep.
Might as well blog.

More massive than previously known.
That's the latest finding about our very own Milky Way.
How much detail can we find out about our own galaxy?
There is a limit.
Because we live in it.
Can we truly know ourselves with our own efforts?
I think not.
I remember: The very act of observing changes that which is being observed.
The uncertainty is always there, no matter how much detail you gain from observing your own brain.
Do we need someone to tell us about that which we cannot truly know?
Yes? No?
Do we need to get out of the system to see things better from a "bird's eyeview"?
Yes? No?
Certainly someone from outside our galaxy can tell us more details about our Milky way.
Certainly some astronomer from Andromeda can tell us better how many arms our Milky Way has.
Who then can tell us better about our self?
Advanced beings?
What is the only way for man to truly know himself? To "get out of the system", to die?
They say the universe is starting to become aware of itself.
I say the universe can never truly know itself.
Because the universe is itself.

I'm now sleepy.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Words Visualized by Algorithm

I ran Wordle for this archetyper blog and this is what it came up with. Neat. Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds”.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Fireworks, SuperNovae and Legacy

Fireworks ShapeOn the 4th of July, I chanced upon a documentary about fireworks. What caught my attention was the modern technique in crafting specific patterns and shapes of fireworks in the sky (Katamono). Controlled patterns of shapes such as a heart or star can be lit up in the sky by arranging how the explosive pellets are arranged within the shell and its core.Eta Carinae
In essence, the shape of an explosion tells much about the explosive. I call it The Fireworks Principle. If we apply this principle to Astronomy, by examining the shape of a supernova we can probably know much about the qualities of the star that produced it. For example, the polar regions of the star that spawned Eta Carinae can be discerned from the two points where the bulk of stellar mass is ejected.
The Fireworks Principle is the same in terms of life: As we live, we are fashioning the core within that will someday explode as a "lifework" - the patterns will become apparent in due time. Our character and our legacy will persist even as this body, the temporary shell gives up the spark of life.
Each human life is a supernova in the making. The legacy we leave behind - the shapes of our lifesparks will tell much about the very core of our soul.

How Fireworks are made
Eta Carinae

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Fireflies and Suns

Something magical about fireflies on summer nights like these. Watching the flickering of evanescent lights from fireflies has been a wonderful experience for me, a bit spiritual and existential I suppose. Makes me think of how stars are not so different from the fireflies' ephemeral sparks of light.
To us, the Sun means everything for life. Yet from an observer with a relatively longer span of life (perhaps infinite and eternal) a few billion years of a star's lifetime is like a few seconds in time--mere flashes of light--like the sparks from fireflies.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Center of the Whorl

StormThere has always been something mysterious at the center of whorls such as storms, hurricanes, tornadoes and whirlpools. Even more mysterious is that spirals and swirls occur at multiple levels in our universe: Our very own Milky Way galaxy is a spiral whorl; and at the top of your head there is probably an epicenter where your hair pans out in spiral formation.
It is believed that at the center of the Milky Way there is a black hole. You'll be ripped to shreds on your way to the center. Yet, at the core there is probably complete peace and tranquility. I say this because I remember the movie "The Perfect Storm" whereupon the central eye of the storm briefly passed through the stranded fishermen. It was a moment of complete stillness, and the fishermen saw the sun shine through a clear blue sky as their boat momentarily lay within the storm's center.
I never knew that at the eye of a storm there is peace and tranquility until I watched that scene.
Yet as soon as the eye of the storm moved onwards, their boat was left behind to be engulfed by the trailing half of the storm. Chaos resumed with lashing winds and hundred-foot waves..killing all the fishermen.
If the pattern of the whorl is emergent at multiple levels in the universe then it must surely mean something at the level of human life. I can see several meanings from the whorl's archetype:
1) If you are experiencing a life of total ease, with no challenges, no goals, no action, and no struggle whatsoever for an extended time, then you are in big trouble. You are right smack at the center of a storm and it will break you to pieces when it passes you by. A life with no activity, and a life with nothing to keep you busy is a recipe for death.
2) Attack the problem right at the center. It's much effective to dive right in at the root of the problem rather going at the sides and dodging the storm.
3) The Spiral probably means that there's always a center on all things. Surely, your life must be revolving around someone or something (I hope not a 'black hole'). Thus, In life, finding out who, where or what the true center is, and then focusing upon it could probably give you the peace and tranquility that you you live and die.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Evidence of God's Existence is His Coolness

MysteryI thank Atheism because it stirs an honest doubt, without which, faith would be lame. For someone who struggles to know the truth, the tug-of-war between two camps can be sickening at times, yet it can also reveal wonderful insights.
A simple question from a fellow blogger asking for the evidence of the existence of God conjured up in me an idea which I have no name for. Here is my take on that issue:

The evidence for the existence of God is the mystery of His existence itself. It is the mystery of His existence that is an evidence in itself.

It might seem like a circular argument at first, but let me expound. Let's have a Gendanken experiment: Suppose that god revealed himself in a most personal way to each and every human being on earth, such that it is overwhelmingly "convincing" that it was god himself, saying "I AM GOD".
I cannot even imagine how god would do this to cater to each person's unique standard of "convince-ability".
Each person has a unique level of "proof threshold" that must be satisfied before belief can ensue. I doubt if God can accomplish this for each human being, not because of Him, but because the human mind is naturally skeptical, or that because of Free Will - people simply choose not to believe.
But that is not the point. My point is this: if God exposed Himself to me, bare and without any sense of mystery at all, I would start to think that he is lame, boring and uncool. In fact, I would question Him even more to the point of unbelief, and then start to ask who the heck created this weird Being who is exposing himself naked to me. I am sure that I will be thrown into an infinite regress by asking who created him because he is so lame.
I just realized that I do not want a God that has no sense of coolness. I do not want a God that has no sense of mystery.
Perhaps it is just me. Perhaps my own personal "reaction" to this hypothetical "revelation" of God's existence is just unique to me. Other people may rejoice when God reveals Himself to them ever so clearly. But not me. I would find it boring and lame if God did that to me.
Personally, I like a God that makes my hair stand on end at wonderful tidbits of wonder, such as when looking up in the night sky gazing at the stars. I like a God that gives me goosebumps when I realize that perhaps, in some way the Mandelbrot set points to Jesus.
And so, I think God is cool. On this particular issue of "evidence of His existence", I think God is handling it in a hip way, at least for me.
In my opinion, the evidence of God's existence is the coolness of how He decided to handle that issue itself. I do not know a "term" or name for this thought or argument. All I know is that personally I think Mystery is a cool thing.
I love the awe and wonder that this universe brings, and the experience of pausing and wondering "that perhaps God exists", after every new discovery. I love the pieces of clues that is revealed to me each new day. I also now enjoy the challenge of this thought - that maybe God is nothingness. Then onwards I go to seek the Truth.
Some people live their lives content at either of these two camps-- as a firm believer with an immovable faith, or as a staunch atheist with an unbeatable intellectual prowess.
Yet, I prefer myself to be at the gradient of both, in between these two opposing camps.

"I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it."
- Harry Emerson Fosdick

"I don't know where the sunbeams end and the starlight begins...its all a mystery."
- The Flaming Lips (The Fight Test)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Hello Worlds!

Hello WorldsI've now been using "Hello Worlds!" rather than the proverbial "Hello World!" in Java programming. I have adopted that practice to remind myself of the "Plurality of Worlds" that is right before our very eyes. In my opinion, the new generation will wake up to the continued proliferation of Worlds - in the real, virtual, imaginary and theoretical domains.
Let me expound upon this idea by noting the growing discovery of new exoplanets - other planets outside our Solar System. Thanks to the new field of Exoplanetology, we are uncovering new worlds that have now begun to enter the thought-sphere of humanity. Our Earth is just one among billions and billions of other worlds in outer space.
On the other realm, we have Virtual Worlds that may yet still seem crude and "artificial" at this point in time, but nevertheless can be considered as "Worlds" in their own right. We have the Metaverse, as best represented by Second Life. And we have Massive Multiplayer Online Games (MMORPG) best exemplified by World of Warcraft. And as of this writing, I am awaiting the release of Spore, which might introduce a new genre, that between an MMO and a networked game.
We have the so-called "Parallel Worlds" in theoretical physics that seems far-fetched and inaccessible. They are a favorite in Sci-Fi, but who knows what a few decades could have in store for us? Our future progenitors may be crossing them to visit other worlds not only in space, but in time as well.
And last but not the least, I recognize the infinite worlds that are powered by human imagination. Not to mention the wondrous Worlds that privately exist within each human mind, it is time to recognize these beautiful "Worlds" of fiction - as produced by the mind and the collective consciousness of the human race. Why should the digital worlds and the modern new worlds get all the credit?
Hence, 2008 is the year I mark as the "Era of Worlds". And I recognize it as such to introduce "Hello Worlds!" in programming java (at least to start from my own little world of coding). After all, all Worlds - real and imaginary - may not be possible without programming, right? Even our very own universe had to have its Cosmic Laws "programmed".
Who knows, the fractal property of the universe to spawn "worlds within worlds" may be encoded deep within the Laws of the Cosmos.
Well, perhaps in line 777 of The cosmic source code, we may find "Hello Worlds!"

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

By It's Right Name

We all have these "alter-egos" and we like to create names for our alternate identities. In the digital realm, they are represented as Avatars. We live out adventures behind those 'aliases' and seek out worlds for them to inhabit. But in the end, we all come back to reality, back to our rightful place, and come home with our true identity and rightful name.
In the story, Alexander Supertramp journeys into the wild. Survives for a few months in the Alaskan wilderness by living inside a 'magic bus', and succumbs. For two years of running away and not wanting to be found, he breathes his last wanting his corpse to be identified by its right name - Christopher McCandless. For in his dying moments, he realizes that "happiness is only real when shared", and takes solace that his journals, his story of life and death would be shared to others.
Names are so important for it is where our identity and character is attached. Without it, our voices would be lost in the wilderness and never be shared.
The true story of Into the Wild screams of boldness and stupidity, of selflessness and selfishness, of idealism and immaturity, of reaching out and holding back, and of triumph and tragedy. It is a total reflection of what being human is all about, and that's why I love it.
Into the Wild is truly inspirational for bloggers and seekers who want to know the paradox of oneself. The story teaches a lesson and inspires at the same time. A must-see for adventurers of all ages.

Jesus asked, "What is your name?"
- Luke 8:30