Put your thinking cap on, relax, have a glass of wine, or a beer, and follow my thoughts for a bit. Where are we going? Trust in the lyrics of the cartoon song sung by Bugs Bunny, “You never know where you’re going till you get there.” (Borrowed by Warner Brothers from the 1946 musical film “Cinderella Jones.”) At Mo’s behest, I’ve broken this piece into several sections to keep matters from getting too remote in logical connection. That’s for your benefit. I’m crazy and it all makes sense to me.
Part I – Some thoughts on Big: Bangs, Numbers, Spending and Deal
The problem with law, science, politics, religion and pretty much every human endeavor of any intellectual import is that each and every of them are conceived of, developed and administered by humans, who are, in a word, human! Whether we were divinely created, or merely the highest level to which pond scum has thus far evolved, we humans always have been, and apparently will continue to be, for the foreseeable future, imperfect beings, in a panoply of ways. In the impressively vast universe we inhabit, and all reported UFO sightings and alien abductions put aside for the moment,1 humans are presently the only provable creatures that can actually ponder all of what’s out there, discuss it, examine it, draw inferences from the results and argue about what it means.2 If, as some have postulated, we are all merely electronic impulses in some giant matrix, the rest of what I have to say is utterly irrelevant. Let’s be optimistic and assume we are really here.
If so, my interest is in examining how our very “humanness” affects (as you may see, infects might be the more apt term) everything we touch, intellectually. We live in an age where, thanks to the internet, cell phones, twitter and cable television, we are continuously bombarded with information. My problem with this is that much of what is being communicated is dressed up to look and sound like fact, when, on closer inspection, is merely opinion, often without any means of proving whether it is a majority or minority one, or otherwise flawed to any extent. As a practicing trial lawyer, I am sensitive to the distinction between fact and opinion, as the former is evidence and admissible if, relevant3 material4 and otherwise legally competent.5 On the other hand, opinions are generally not admissible in evidence at trial, unless there is a recognized exception to its exclusion. An expert, properly qualified as such to the trial judge, may offer opinion evidence, upon setting a proper foundation. Admissible lay opinion evidence is rarer, and usually confined to opinions rationally based on the witnesses perception, such as a litigant’s reputation or character.
We are not encumbered by the rules of evidence in our daily discourses, yet the practice of being sentinent to discerning whether we are on the receiving (or sending) end of a fact or opinion, I find efficacious to maintaining an orderly mind and a degree of sanity. In case you missed it, that was an opinion. My goal in the ensuing paragraphs is to look at some law, science, politics and other intellectual endeavors, and point out where some elegantly dressed up opinion is being treated as fact, in the hope of conveying the need for better discernment in our thinking. Prepare yourself for some surprises. I’ll start with some scientific notions, specifically in cosmology, the academic discipline that seeks to understand the origin, evolution, structure and ultimate fate of the Universe.
Humans have gazed upon and wondered about the stars since long before recorded history. It is, well, human, to ponder where we came from, why we’re here and where we might be headed after this life, if anywhere — all notions loaded with mountains of opinion and precious little in the way of actual fact. Bear in mind, what passes for “fact” in science, and all other human intellectual endeavors, should be just that, and often isn’t. It was not that long ago when the “fact” was that the Earth was flat, and if one sailed too close to the edge, would fall off. We will get to the notion (alleged fact) of the sun and rest of the universe revolving around the Earth a bit later, just bear in mind that “fact” was equally wrong. To be worthy of the designation as a “fact” a scientific assertion must be capable of observation and reproduced with unerringly the same result when repeated. Notably, in describing insanity, Einstein expressed it as akin to taking a scientifically established fact, repeating the process that produced it, and expecting a different result. I find Einstein’s rationale apt, and accordingly believe it thrusts the onus on us to make sure what we are talking about is a genuine fact, lest we appear to be insane.
The contemporary, majority, cosmological view is that we humans, the earth we live on, our solar system, our galaxy and all the rest of what’s “out there,” what we generally collectively refer to as the “Universe,” allegedly emanated from something that went “boom,” some 12 to 14 billion years ago. As you will see, I chose my words very carefully in constructing the previous sentence. For starters, I used the term “allegedly” advisedly, because no one ever actually witnessed the “Big Bang6” as it is called — it is a theory, (read opinion) based on the confluence of several of our earthling observations of the cosmos; and, without going into the math, has several “technical” problems that keeps it from being a proven fact.7 I used the term “contemporary” because the notion of an expanding universe, resultant from a Big Bang, is less than a century old. Lastly, I used the term “majority” because the theory competes with other scientific and non-scientific notions (opinions) that run the gamut from instantaneous creationism, to, a panoply of other possible universes, that include, inter alia, steady state, plasma, oscillating and multiple universes, all of which too are theories, as no one yet has complete proof of anything.
Although the notion of an expanding universe, inclusive of an early “inflationary” period, was actually modeled and published in 1917 by Willem de Sitter, as an offshoot of Einstein’s 1916 announcement of his theory of general relativity, the key empirical observation in support of the Big Bang was first made in 1929 by astronomer Edwin Hubble, that the galaxies in our universe are moving away from each other, in all directions, at proportionally greater velocities as their distance from us increases. Until Hubble, it was more or less generally accepted that the “universe” was always out there, at least from whenever God or the gods, take your pick, decided to put it up on the board (and for true non-believers, was just always out there) and was composed only of what we call our own galaxy, the Milky Way. Hubble’s observations were the first empirical proof that the Milky Way was but one of billions of other galaxies, too remote from ours to be part of the same structure. Hubble’s reward for his find was having a very cool telescope named after him that has been shooting back exquisite pictures of the universe since its launch in 1990. He also has a constant, law and sequence named after him.
The Big Bang picked up further support in 1964, in serendipitous fashion, when the horn antenna being used by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson of Bell Laboratories detected what is now called the cosmic microwave background radiation. They initially thought it was static, caused by bird poop on the antenna, but after a number of good scrubbings, and other fine tuning, which failed to abate the static, they learned that a group of theorists at Princeton had predicted such microwave background radiation to be there, as an after-effect of the Big Bang. Penzias and Wilson were rewarded with a Nobel Prize in 1978 for their efforts.
Turned backwards in time, Hubble’s observation of an expanding universe suggests mightily that if you go back far enough, it (the universe) all crunched down into an infinitesimally small point, a “singularity” in cosmological parlance, because the laws of physics, as we purport to know them presently, no longer apply to something that dense. Having grown up in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, when numbers were a lot smaller, I am open mouthed impressed by some of the notions that jump into my head when reflecting on this alleged phenomenon. Get ready for the wormhole, I am about to digress.
First we have to talk a bit about numbers. As regards my assertion that numbers were “smaller” in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s I am simply noting that, relatively speaking, it meant something different back then to be a “millionaire” than it does today. Today, you can be a millionaire by owning a home, car and a decent 401(k) plan — back then, you could have an estate on the North Shore of Long Island, a Fifth Avenue townhouse, live-in servants in both, a chauffeured limousine and enough money in the bank to keep you and several generations of your progeny living in a lifetime of comfort with a million dollars. Today, to be noticed, financially, you have to be a billionaire. I note that the term billion refers to different quantities in American and British parlance. Here in the States, a billion refers to a thousand million, which is a one followed by nine zeros if written out. The Brits call that “a thousand million” and call a billion what we call a trillion, a one followed by twelve zeros if written out. Most of us don’t have a billion dollars, and none of us, as yet, has a trillion. Regardless of whether you use American or British vernacular, presently, we seem to toss around words like billion and trillion as if we actually comprehend the magnitude of such numbers, which I tend to doubt we actually do.
I’m not dissing anybody by saying so, but simply pointing out the sheer magnitude of these numbers is perhaps bigger than what you might think. Some examples may show you what I mean. How much is a million? Well, a million seconds ago was 12 days back — you could probably remember what you did that far back. What were you doing a million minutes ago? That was only 1 year, 329 days, 10 hours and 40 minutes ago, and you can’t remember what you were doing with any degree of precision, can you? Most of us would love to live a million hours, as it would give us a little over 114 years to wander about on this planet. I think most of us can comprehend, in our mind’s eye, a million of something, whether it’s measured in dollars, units of time or marbles (which would fill five boxcars.)
So then, how much is a billion? A billion seconds is a little over 31 years. A billion minutes ago was just after the time of Jesus Christ. A billion hours ago our ancestors were living in the Stone Age. But, a billion dollars ago was only 8 hours and 20 minutes, at the rate our elected officials in Washington spent it, pre-Obama — based on current political dialogue, it may be less presently, go figure. I hasten to note these assertions are all “facts” as they can be verified at a reputable source.
How much is a trillion? A trillion seconds is 31,688 years. See the progression in seconds? 12 days (million) 31 years (billion) 31 millennia (trillion). Let’s do dollars. If you were a millionaire, and your wealth was in the form of nice, crisp, previously unused, $1,000 bills, it would make a stack of a mere 4 inches in height. If, instead, you were a billionaire, your stack would be an impressive 358 feet in height. But if you were a trillionaire, your stack would be 67.9 miles in height, and you would need a space suit to look down from the top of it!
In basic units, our government has managed to become indebted for more money than the age of the universe in years by a factor of 1000 — the National Debt sat at $13 trillion, on June 1, 2010 according to the Treasury Department, versus the mere, average estimate of 13 billion years of age — and did so in only 191 years (if you start counting from the adoption of the Articles of Confederation in 1791) or, if it makes you feel better, in only 224 years (if you start counting from the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.) You do the math. If a trillion seconds is 31,688 years, and we paid back the National Debt at the rate of $1 per second, without interest, how long would it take to pay it all back? That’s right — only 411,944 years! At a payback rate of one thousand dollars a second, it would still take more than twice as long to pay it back as it took to run it up. For those of you out there with an eye for detail, there’s roughly $58.95 trillion of unfunded debt for future medicare, medicaid and social security payments to be made, pre-Obama Care, which the Treasury Department doesn’t count in determining the National Debt, but I digress.
Oddly enough, this diatribe is not about money or politics, I just used some money examples to give you some perspective on really large numbers, because when you talk about the universe, it’s all about incredibly large numbers, and the only human institution that presently can deal with numbers of that magnitude is apparently the Congress of the United States, which is unsettling to me. Why? Because the salary of a rank and file member of the U.S. Congress is a whopping $174,000 per year, but in the 2010 elections, the 30 incumbent Senators up for re-election raised an average of $11.244 million in campaign funds. Why would you raise 100 times the annual salary for a six year seat? There must be some perks we’re not hearing about —oops, I digressed again.
We are talking about the universe. Let’s give it some non-political, numerological perspective. Planet Earth is the third planet in our solar system, which, since the degradation of Pluto to a dwarf planet, contains seven others, two inside our orbit about the Sun — Venus and Mercury — and five outside, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and Uranus. Our Earth has a diameter of roughly 7,926 miles, measured at the equator — measured through the poles, it is slightly less, roughly 7,901 miles, rendering it slightly bulged about the middle, as I am, but let’s not quibble. The diameter of our Sun is roughly 856,000 miles, and, yes, that means it is roughly 109 times as large as the Earth. But that’s just diameter, measured along just one dimension. If you were to compare volume, which takes into account all three physical dimensions, you could fit roughly 1.3 million Earths into the Sun and still have some leg room. Want to talk about mass? The Sun accounts for 99.8% of all the mass in our solar system. In brief, our beloved Earth is a mere bedbug on an elephant when compared to the Sun, but it’s home.
Now let’s talk distance. The Earth is roughly 93 million miles from the Sun. To put that into perspective, if you were to drive there, from here, in a straight line, at 60 miles an hour, it would take you roughly 177 years to get there, if you could afford the gas. Light travels at the rate of roughly 186,282 miles a second, in a vacuum, so it still takes more than 8 minutes for the light from the Sun to hit the Earth. Moving our way to the edge of solar system, Mars is roughly 141 million miles from the Sun, and it takes over twelve and a half minutes for the light from the Sun to hit Mars. Jupiter is roughly 483 million miles from the Sun, and it takes over 43 minutes for the light from the Sun to hit Jupiter. Saturn? Roughly 886 million miles distant and 1 hour and 19 minutes for light to get there. Uranus? Roughly 1,782 million miles distant (that’s 1.782 billion) and 2.66 hours for light to get there. Neptune? Roughly 2,794 million miles distant and 4.17 hours for light to get there. Pluto may have been downgraded in planetary status, but I like it. Roughly 3,666 million miles distant and 5.47 hours for light to get there.
We are still in our own solar system, and have only just begun to get to big numbers. Our Sun is a star. The next closest star to our Sun is Proxima Centauri, a mere 4.3 light years away. A light year? How big is that in miles? Multiply 186,282 miles a second by 60 seconds in a minute, then by 60 minutes in an hour, then by 24 hours in a day, then by 365 days in a year — which works out to be roughly 5,874 trillion miles, which is a number too big for most scientific brains to imagine, so they use the term 4.3 light years instead. We could say it was 5.874 quadrillion miles away, but what have we gained? Not a lot. But that is our closest neighboring star, which makes me feel a little isolated. But are we? Not if you count numbers, not distances.
Our Sun and Proxima Centauri are but two stars in a larger conglomeration of stars which are bound together by gravity to form our galaxy, which is called the Milky Way, not because it resembles a candy bar, but because when viewed through our telescopes, (or more accurately, when gazed upon by ancient Greeks, sans telescopes) it appears as a hazy white band stretching across the celestial sphere. The Milky Way is estimated, by those who purport to be able to calculate these things, to have between 200 billion and 400 billion stars in it. We can’t count them all by sight, because it would take too long, and because we can’t see them all, due to dust and conglomerations of gasses that obstruct our view of the galaxy. The Milky Way is not a giant amongst galaxies either. The next closest galaxy to ours is the Andromeda Galaxy, which is estimated to contain one trillion stars — but I am getting ahead of myself.
The Milky Way is estimated to be 100,000 light years across its stellar disc. We could do that in miles, but what is the point? Does saying it is 587 quintillion miles across give you a better perspective on its size? I doubt it. We are still in our own galaxy and made to feel somewhat minuscule, no? If our Earth were a bedbug on an elephant in comparison to our Sun, what is it in comparison to 200 billion or 400 billion other suns? A mere cell in the bedbug, no?
Our neighboring galaxy, Andromeda is a mere 2.5 million light years from Earth. We are far from alone, galactically speaking. Those who purport to know, estimate there are more than 170 billion galaxies in the observable universe, each galaxy containing between 10 million (dwarf galaxies) to over 100 trillion (giant galaxies) individual stars. I suppose if you get bored, you could put those numbers into a calculator or on a spreadsheet and put a number on how much that might work out to be, but what would it mean? That we are now an atom in the cell of the bedbug on the elephant? Sounds too large to me, if that is possible. Maybe we are now an electron in an atom on the bedbug on the elephant. That’s better! For what it’s worth, someone pounded out the numbers. Based on the foregoing estimates, the number of stars in the observable universe is roughly 70 sextillion (that’s a 7 followed by 22 zeroes.)
That term I used, “observable universe,” has a meaning too. Thanks to Albert Einstein, and his theories on relativity, the observable universe may be smaller than the actual universe. What? Do the math. If, as Albert postulated, nothing can go faster than the speed of light, and it travels a cool 186,282 miles a second in the mostly vacuum that is space, and if you multiply out that the universe is roughly 13 billion years old, the most we can observe presently is light that traveled that amount of time in our direction at that speed. But who said that was the edge of the universe? There could be more universe farther out, the light from which couldn’t hit us because there hasn’t been enough time for it to get to us. Nobody can say definitively one way or another, because nobody can actually see the actual edge of the universe, only the edge of the observable universe. We might be older than we think, as a universe, and bigger too, but we can’t really comprehend what we’ve already got — so why worry?
In May of 2011, the Hubble telescope photographed what is alleged to be the oldest galaxy in the observable universe, calculated to be 13.2 billion light years away. This time I did the math, and it works out to be roughly 7.74 sextillion miles away from Earth, in that direction. If, as the scientists say, there is universe in the exact opposite direction, we live in an incredibly immense place.
Immense though it be, one would think, given the magnitude of the number of stars in general, and in our galaxy in particular, even of intelligent life is a relatively rare occurrence, we should have seen or heard from someone else by now. But, unless they do have some alien carcasses in Roswell, we are still 0 for Big Bang to present. Probabilistically speaking, that makes no sense. Surely in a universe that contains 70 sextillion suns, at least one of them must be orbited by a planet with intelligent life on it comparable to ours; and, likely an older one, whose denizens figured out space travel and came for a visit — or at least invented radio and television and began broadcasting re-runs of the local equivalent of I Love Lucy. Could we possibly be it? That notion is called Fermi’s Paradox, as he (inventor of the atomic bomb) was credited with asking, Where is everyone?”, as part of a conversation with some of his colleagues at Los Alimos National Laboratory in 1950. Part of me believes that all seemingly intelligent life forms, sooner or later invent radio, television; and, unfortunately, texting and the alien equivalents of twitter and facebook, and their societies crumble before they can evolve further. I digress, but we’ll see.
I will stop here and note now that in Part II, the Big Bang will take us to a discussion on faith, the American Revolution and Constitutional construction — they’re all intellectually related, but for now, you’ll have to trust me.
1. In conformity with one of the major premises of this diatribe, until we have a photo op with a being from a different world, or a radio or television signal from an alien civilization, proof of actual extraterrestrial life is presently lacking, rendering their existence opinion.
2. No diss intended on any other creatures of Earth, which may or may not have language, cognitive powers or reason. None of the other creatures have written or otherwise published any of their thoughts, so their ability to do so is presently an opinion.
3. Relevance refers to the propensity of the proffered evidence to prove or disprove one or more of the legal elements of a case. In a trial about whether an assault took pace in the defendant’s home, the offer of proof that it was raining that night, while a fact, would be irrelevant to whether the assault took place or was legally justified.
4. Materiality refers to the proffered evidence being sufficiently significant as to an issue in dispute that it logically would be considered by the trier of fact in reaching a decision. In the same assault trial, the offer of proof that the defendant was late on his mortgage payments, while also a fact, and possibly relevant to the issue of the defendant’s ownership of the premises where the assault was alleged to have taken place, would nevertheless not be material to whether the assault took place or was legally justified (unless the victim of the assault was there to collect the mortgage payment —in the law, everything is relative to the precise situation.)
5. Otherwise relevant and material evidence may nevertheless be excluded at trial because of some other legal impediment to its admission. Classic among the exclusionary rules of evidence are privileges (such as attorney-client, doctor-patient, husband-wife and priest-penitent) which, unless waived by the party who is entitled to the privilege, will keep otherwise competent evidence out. To return to the assault trial one last time, even if the defendant confessed to his wife that he did assault the victim, she cannot be compelled to testify to that admission in the face of an objection based on the husband-wife privilege.
6. This being, in part, a study of humanness, notably, the term Big Bang is attributed to one of its non-believers, Fred Hoyle, an English astronomer and mathematician, who first used the term in a 1949 radio broadcast. Although Fred denied having used the term in a pejorative sense, he was, and remained, until his death in 2001, a proponent of the competing “steady state” cosmological model.
7. There are innumerable web-sites that contain one or more reasonably articulate refutations of one or more elements of the Big Bang theory. I found a collection of 30 such “problems”.