Saturday, December 31, 2011

17.) The Tidal Theory of the Universe Revisited

In a previous entry, (about a year ago), I discussed my theory of the origin and fate of the universe, Donkey's "Tidal Theory of the Universe". I have since learned that my theory is actually nothing new and that most of what I put forward is contained in a theory cosmologists refer to as the "Big Crunch".

Basically, the universe starts with "Big Bang" and expands rapidly. Gravity and other forces cause matter to clump together forming the stars, planets, asteroids, comets and whatever else there is out there. Though it is currently expanding, eventually that expansion will slow down and the universe will begin to contract, collapsing in onto itself, (a process known as the "Big Crunch"), causing another "Big Bang". This will start the whole process over again. I compared it to the tide rising and falling. Knowing that others, far more educated and experienced than I, believe as I do is good news for a donkey. Perhaps my first guess was not as far off as I thought.

Unfortunately, the news is not all good. In a recent television broadcast, (I'm sorry, I can't remember exactly which one), Dr. Michio Kaku explained simply and elegantly why he doesn't currently hold to the "Big Crunch" theory, but instead favors one referred to as the "Big Freeze". This theory is based on the fact that the Universe is expanding and that this expansion is accelerating. It asserts that as it gets larger and larger, matter is becoming increasingly dispersed and randomized, (scientists refer to this as entropy).

According to this theory, "The future of an expanding universe is bleak." "The space between clusters of galaxies will grow at an increasing rate." "Stars are expected to form normally for 1,000,000,000,000 to 100,000,000,000,000 years, but eventually the supply of gas needed for star formation will be exhausted. Once the last star has exhausted its fuel, stars will cease to shine. According to theories that predict proton decay, the stellar remnants left behind would disappear, leaving behind only black holes which themselves eventually disappear as they emit Hawking radiation. Ultimately, if the universe reaches a state in which the temperature approaches a uniform value, no further work will be possible, resulting in a final heat death of the universe", the "Big Freeze". (from "Future of an expanding universe" at Wikipedia:

Please recall that I wrote the following before presenting my theory: "I doubt that I am correct about what follows and I am sure that, as I become more educated on the subject, my views will change. In fact I'll be disappointed if they don't. I am much more likely to be wrong than right. I am also not concerned that "making a guess" will influence what I learn. On the contrary, I will be looking to challenge and refute these ideas at every step along the way." I like to think of it as having a sort of Socratic dialogue with myself.

Let's begin that process by examining the ways that Dr. Kaku's theory differs from mine. I recall that he mentioned that the "Big Crunch" theory violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and "That", he said, "is a big no-no". It is true that in describing my theory I stated that our universe is "finite and closed" and that if that were true it is both reasonable and accurate to predict, as Dr. Kaku did, that the Second Law of Thermodynamics would lead eventually to a "Big Freeze", (the theory he favors), rather than a "Big Crunch" as my current theory proposes.

Though my initial reaction is to agree with him and revise my theory, as I look back I see that in describing the universe as being "finite and closed" I was referring more specifically to the amounts of matter and energy that the universe contains, and that this description was incomplete, at best. Please accept the apology of this humble donkey.

Einstein described the universe we occupy more completely as "Spacetime". In my "Tidal Theory of the Universe", the universe has always existed and always will exist. It just changes forms. While I consider the amounts of matter, energy and whatever else it may contain to be finite and closed, the "time" part of Spacetime, (as I think about it), is infinite. Therefore, the universe as described by my theory is actually, by definition, not finite and closed, but infinite. I am comfortable therefore that, because the Second Law of Thermodynamics only applies to closed systems, it does not apply to my theory.

In the same telecast Dr. Kaku also stated that he felt that gravity was "too weak a force" to slow and eventually reverse the expansion the universe. This assertion poses a much more troublesome challenge to my theory and must be carefully considered. Is the amount of matter that currently exists already too spread out to have enough gravitational attraction to slow down and eventually reverse the Universe's expansion? Dr. Kaku mentioned that calculations had been done. Before I can concede this point and modify my theory I'll need to understand how those calculations were made and what they were based on. Were they based on the luminous and non-luminous matter that comprises about 4% of the matter in the Universe? Did they account for Dark Matter, which comprises about 23%? What about Dark Energy, (the other 73%)?

It's reasonable to assume that his calculations included Dark Matter and Dark Energy, after all the main reason we know that they exist is by noting the gravitational effect they have on objects we can see, but I should verify that. You might remember that in a previous entry I speculated that Dark Matter is not some form of exotic matter, but just the nuclei of regular matter whose electrons are "else-where-when", (meaning they don't currently share spacetime with us). I wonder how he sees it?

In my theory I also stated that, though the universe is currently expanding at an accelerated rate, it may not always expand at an accelerated rate. What might cause its rate of expansion to change? I have speculated that this accelerating expansion may be caused by the anti-gravitational effect of anti-matter. I think of the universe as being composed of matter, energy, anti-matter and other things that are currently unknown. For the sake of simplicity, please allow me to set aside that which unknown to us. This leaves us for discussion purposes with a universe that is theoretically composed of matter, energy and anti-matter.

For the universe to be expanding at an accelerated rate, (currently estimated at 74.2 plus or minus 3.6 kilometers/second/megaparsec, a megaparsec being about 3 million light years). We would postulate that currently:

The amount of Anti-Matter is greater than the amount of Matter + Energy

The anti-gravitational effect of abundant anti-matter is overcoming the gravitational effect of matter and energy at a constant, (Hubble Constant), rate. What could change this? We don't know, because it hasn't happened yet. It could be some unknown and/or unforeseen natural phenomena or it may have something to do with life.

In my simple donkey way, I view Life as an exception to the rules that govern the universe. It temporarily defies gravity, (the older I get, the more acutely I recognize that). It uses the energy it borrows to temporarily defy the Second Law of Thermodynamics and create order amidst the chaos that appears to reign throughout the universe. It overcomes its temporal nature by replicating itself, (the basic definition of life). Whether you believe it's the result of intelligent design or a cosmic accident that was bound to happen eventually, you must admit that when you carefully consider the facts, life seems pretty unlikely. You might even call it a miracle. I believe that life exists or has existed elsewhere, but I don't believe that it is either very common or very abundant. While it seems unlikely to me that we are completely alone, it also appears that we are currently very isolated by the vastness of space and time and may continue to be that way for a long time to come.

Let's imagine that an intelligent form of this exceptional thing called life figures out how to harness and control the process of converting matter and anti-matter into energy, (somewhere this may have already happened). Two things may result. The first is that the energy released will include heat, creating a kind of "Universal Warming", (like Global Warming, but on a much more massive scale). The second is that as matter and anti-matter are annihilated, the anti-gravitational effect anti-matter creates will decrease, and the rate of the expansion of the universe will slow. Even if these life forms do not follow our historical pattern of not conserving our resources, eventually, (in a very, very long time), as anti-matter and matter are depleted, the universe will begin to contract and heat up rather than expand and cool, (as it is now). Eventually:

The amount of Anti-Matter will be less than the amount of Matter + Energy

Like the rapid population increase on the Earth that the cheap conversion of oil into energy has fueled, life may use Matter/Anti-Matter technology to temporarily prevail. We may live to populate and colonize the universe, only to be destroyed in the end in the "Big Crunch" that my "Tidal Theory of the Universe" describes. Of course I don't know if this is even possible and cannot even speculate about the probability that it will happen. It's also possible that there are other stronger forces at work in ways that we are unaware of. These forces, which are currently overcoming gravity, may also somehow eventually become reversed. Electromagnetism comes to mind as a possibility, but ... I must honestly admit that my theory now seems much less likely than that of the "Big Freeze". Yet the very existence of life indicates that, however unlikely, I still cannot yet totally rule out the "Big Crunch". Will we learn somehow to balance the Cosmic Eco-system and avoid extinction altogether? Will we, (or someone or something else), learn to reverse the process and convert energy back into matter and anti-matter? Can the universe and the living organisms it contains become eternally sustainable?

Regardless of how it all ends, my experiences of the past year have lead me to make an important personal decision. I've decided that despite the consequences, and no matter how difficult it may become, I will strive to "affirm and celebrate life". If life is not a miracle, it is at least extraordinary. Yep, it has become my simple "acid test" and "guiding principal". I simply ask myself, "Does this person, object, or activity affirm and celebrate life?" I wonder where that will lead me in 2012? Hee Haw!

Monday, August 29, 2011

16.) LISA

We all know that the human race has difficult challenges that need to be faced and overcome. An ever increasing number of people are continually competing for a finite amount of resources. They "borrow entropy", and by that I mean that to create and sustain the order necessary to support life as we know it, people create a lot of chaos elsewhere. Currently, elsewhere is the planet we all inhabit.

Even a simple donkey like myself can see that something must change; that humans can't continue as they are for long. To do that they will have to move beyond our cozy little planet and adapt in ways not previously imagined.

Much like the Europeans in the middle ages who believed the world was flat, humans have yet to venture far from shores of Earth. They have been to the Moon, but even in terms of our tiny solar system, that could be compared to sailing to an island that can be clearly seen from the mainland.

People have never journeyed outside of the protection of the Earth's magnetosphere. They might have to generate their own "portable magnetic field" to do that safely. Yup, they are going to need a lot of energy and sooner would be better than later. Their current reliance on fossil fuels cannot sustain them, and it certainly can't take them where they need to go.

Of course, many smart people are working very hard on this, but there are still some fundamental things that we all don't understand about how the universe works. We are surrounded by energy, heck we are made of it, but the current methods of harvesting and using it are primitive and wasteful.

Many experts believe that the answer lies in "the world of the small". Billions are being spent on the Large Hadron Collider and much is being learned, but I believe that the answer may actually lie in the vast and seemingly infinite. The universe currently appears to be expanding at an ever-accelerating rate. Something is counteracting and overcoming the force of gravity, but what would have such an anti-gravitational effect? Anti-matter would.

The idea is not new. It's part of what's being studied at the Hadron Collider and others. It was featured on Star Trek in the 1970's. Put just a tiny amount matter and anti-matter together and boom! A lot of energy is released.

I believe that like the reserves of coal, oil and natural gas that the Vikings were completely unaware of, a vast ocean of anti-matter is waiting to be explored and harvested. That's the kind of energy that humans need. It doesn't exist in infinite quantities, but there's more of it than can currently be measured, or even imagined. Like the wind that propelled explorers to the new world, energy released by matter/anti-matter annihilation may some day propel humans, ( and who knows, maybe even donkeys! ), to the stars.

But, before that can happen, people will need to understand much more about exactly how the universe works, (like gravity for instance). Much can and will be learned in the world of the small, but as Darwin and Humboldt understood, the key to understanding how complex systems work often involves a bigger and broader understanding. It's the kind of understanding that can only be gained through a thorough, detailed, ongoing and hands-on study of the huge and the vast.

NASA was involved in a project like that called LISA.

"The Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) is a planned space mission to detect and accurately measure gravitational waves from astronomical sources. LISA was originally conceived as a joint effort between the United States space agency NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). However, on April 8th 2011, NASA announced that it would likely be unable to continue its LISA partnership with the European Space Agency, due to funding limitations. ESA is planning to begin a full revision of the mission's concept commencing in February 2012.

If launched, LISA will be the first dedicated space-based gravitational-wave detector." (Wikipedia, "Laser Interferometer Space Antenna",

NASA recently cut the budget for the LISA Mission, putting some of America's best scientists out of work, ( at least temporarily ). If I were you, ( a person, not a humble donkey), I would hope that ESA is going to "pick up the ball."

Christopher Columbus had a money problem. He wanted to sail three sturdy ships out into the Atlantic, to search for a western route to the Orient. In 1482 he presented the idea to King John II of Portugal. The King submitted the proposal to "his experts", who rejected the idea. He pitched the idea in Italy and England, but was also rejected. In 1486 he presented his idea to Queen Isabella of Spain. She referred it to her "panel of experts" and he was turned down again.

Columbus kept lobbying anyone who would listen. He came up with half of the money for his mission through a group of private Italian investors and eventually he convinced Ferdinand and Isabella to take a big risk. Spain was broke after just fighting a war to conquer Granada, but the monarchs chose to ignore their "experts" and "committees". They looked at the big picture and ordered their treasurer to, "shift funds amongst various royal accounts". (Wikipedia, "Christopher Columbus",

The rest, is history.

Yes money is tight, but what might be learned by missions like LISA could actually save the planet and change the course of human history. Humans must explore and learn and adapt to survive. Short-sightedness could prove fatal in the long run.

Friday, February 11, 2011

15.) Discouragement

I've been gone for a while. I became discouraged. It's nobody's fault but mine. Nobody tried to dissuade or deter me, at least not overtly or deliberately. I just temporarily gave up.

I have been going through some things personally which have forced me to take a hard look at myself and my life. As painful, and in some ways destructive, as this has been, I believe it has also been very beneficial. It forced me to see what is important to me and helped me know and understand myself better. One thing it did was lead me right back here ... to my quest to solve the riddle of gravitation.

In order to move forward, there are some things that I am going to have to accept :
  • I have aged and that my ability to remember and apply information has diminished. I used to see or hear something and just know it after that. I never had to study or practice. I never had to review, ( why go back over something you already know? ), but that has changed. I now need to be more patient and more disciplined. Hard work good study habits are now more important.
  • I do not have the energy I once did. I now need to pace myself and be more patient.
  • I often lose my objectivity by dwelling on the negative aspects of things. I am always hardest on myself, but I can be hard on others as well. I need to be less of an "Eeyore" and more of a "Donkey Hoteee".
  • I often don't communicate as I should. As a result, I am often misunderstood. This comes from my negative and cynical view that people just believe what they want to believe, so communication is basically a waste of time. It sells everyone short before they've even had a chance.
  • I have difficulty trusting people. After all, if you are critical enough, you'll find a flaw in everyone. I need to change that as well. An important aspect of the scientific endeavour is being part of a community.
  • I like to think of myself as a brave and bold person, but I am afraid of failing. I need to just accept that failure is in fact an important and integral part of the scientific process.
  • I like to think that I don't care what people think about me. The truth is that I've let what others think influence me far more than I should. In a recent interview on Superbowl Sunday, Bill O'Reilly asked President Obama how it felt to be hated by so many people. President Obama replied, "The people who dislike you don't know you." and "What they hate is whatever funhouse mirror image of you that's out there. And they don't know you. And so, you don't take it personally." He also mentioned having a "thick skin". I need to grow one.
Basically I need to stop dwelling on negative circumstances and focus more on the positive aspects of things.

One of the things I became discouraged about was the Einstein at Home project. Yes I was aiding in the search for gravitational waves, but my role was a passive one. I was just donating an old computer and some electricity. Wasn't it just another clever way for someone to pick my pocket? I now see clearly that this is the worst possible way of looking at it. In order to "mend my ways", I took my new Toshiba Satellite C655 notebook, loaded the Windows 7 version of BOINC on it and rejoined the project. I am assisting in the hunt for gravitational waves once again and considering it a privilege. I am also feeling better about using a lot less electricity.

In addition, I'm considering participating in a less passive "citizen science project". Zooniverse, ( ), offers several different opportunities. The NASA Kepler Mission recently released an enormous amount of data on exoplanets. It turns out that the human brain excels at pattern recognition and is often able to detect very subtle differences, while there continues to be room for improvement for computers in that area. There are still some things that humans can do better than computers.

Follow up on goals that I set in my last blog entry:

1.) Enlist my wife's support and assistance
She continues to be very positive and supportive. She wants to be more involved. We visited the Academy of Sciences in San Francisco yesterday. They have the world's largest digital planetarium there, along with many other great exhibits. My wife enjoyed it and we learned a lot.

2.) Library access
We finally went! Henry Madden Library is open from 2:00 to 10:00 PM on Sundays. We had brunch at Huckleberry's and did some research. We need to make it a habit.

3.) Develop a TV/Movie Schedule
We haven't stuck to a schedule, but we are watching a lot less TV.

5.) Take notes that are accessible on-line.
I am using my blog and Google bookmarks. I'm also creating and using flashcards in Quizlet again. I found a great iPhone App called Flashcardlet to use with my Quizlet Flashcards.

6.) Community College, State College and on-line classes.
I have started again to complete all related UCCP Open Access courses. I have been reading Einstein for Dummies, but I need to read more and eventually pursue the course of study outlined in my earlier blog entry, "A Degree in Gravity".

7.) Scheduled exercise to keep the energy level up.
I haven't kept to a schedule, but I have been going to the gym at least once a week. My wife and I have been walking together.

8.) Find out if there is a local astronomy club.
The Downing Planetareum at CSU Fresno has weekly shows that are open to the public. They also offer free "star gazing" on Friday nights. I am sure they can direct us to a local club, if necessary. The Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland has weekly shows called "Dinner, a Movie and the Universe" as well. I still need to do this.

10.) Obtain and use an "always on" Internet access device.
I have an iPhone 4 now and can tether my notebook to it, if necessary.

11.) Ergonomics
The iPhone and notebook provide most of the options I need.

My time away has not been a total loss. I have made some progress. Now it's time to get back to the nuts and bolts on a daily basis.

My next blog entry: "LISA".

Saturday, June 12, 2010

14.) What's Happened So Far (Two)

It's been almost six months since my quest to solve the riddle of gravitation began and it's time to assess my progress. When I began last December I contemplated three possible outcomes:

Worst Case Scenario: Cracked-pot weir-do
Intermediate: I inspire and/or help others to reach the goal.
Desired: I postulate and prove a unified and complete theory of gravitation.

I am happy and proud to have already achieved an intermediate level outcome by setting up and using an old computer to assist in conducting scientific research.
  • Einstein@Home
As I type this, scientists at the Arecibo Observatory are using my old computer, (a Celeron clone that was just collecting dust), along with thousands of others "to search data collected by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and GEO 600 for gravitational waves." "About 39,000 active", (volunteer), "users contribute about 220 teraFLOPS of computational power, which ranks Einstein@Home among the top 20 on the TOP500 list of supercomputers.

The Einstein@Home project searches for continuous wave sources of gravitational radiation via an "all-sky search", including gravitational radiation from pulsars. The project may result in the first confirmed direct detection of a gravitational wave. A successful detection of gravitational waves would constitute a significant milestone in physics, as it would be the first detection of a previously unknown astronomical object by means of gravitational radiation alone." From Wikipedia, "Einstein@Home",

To set it all up I installed the Ubuntu 10.04 operating system. Then I used the Ubuntu Software Center to install the BOINC Manager. When I started the BOINC Manager application it prompted me to select a project, so I selected Einstein@Home. The next thing I knew, my old computer was part of one of the twenty largest supercomputers in the world! I also set up remote desktop via VNC over SSL so that my little server can run "headless", (without a monitor, keyboard, etc. connected to it).

A little research lead me to take some basic security precautions. On my router I blocked FTP, TFTP, TELNET, SSH and some other protocols that I don't use. On my little server I set a password for VNC remote access. I installed GUFW, a GUI for Uncomplicated Firewall, and blocked incoming connections, (BOINC makes its own connections outgoing). I made exceptions so that I could still access the server through TCP Port 5900 (VNC) and 443 (SSL) from my local network.

All of the software is open source and available for free and I already had the old computer. The only cost is the electricity. I calculated that the 250 Watt power supply costs me between $ 15.00 and $ 30.00 a month to run 24/7. It seems like a small price to pay in order to help, (even in this small way), to solve the riddle of gravitation. I'm already thinking about upgrading or adding another server. HP offers some good deals on reconditioned servers.
  • Other Goals I Set
1.) Enlist my wife's support and assistance
She continues to be very positive and supportive. She proofreads the blog and recently helped me enhance and polish the design. Follow Up: Continue to solicit feedback and bring her along on outings

2.) Library access
Wednesday Library Nights never got off the ground. My wife and I are both too tired on weeknights and a weekly visit is more often than is necessary. Henry Madden Library is open from 1:00 to 5:00 PM on Sundays. We'll go to brunch and then to the library once or twice a month. Follow Up: Visit next Sunday.

3.) Develop a TV/Movie Schedule
A schedule may be confining, but it appears to be necessary. I will only watch TV on Friday nights and Sunday mornings. Follow Up: Stick to the schedule.

5.) Take notes that are accessible on-line.
I am using my blog and Google bookmarks, (you can create "Public" lists now). I am also creating and using flashcards in Quizlet. Follow Up: Continue to use these tools frequently and effectively.

6.) Community College, State College and on-line classes.
I have made significant progress. The University of California's UCCP Open Access site, (see the shortcut in my "Useful Links"), offers free on-line high school courses, (including AP courses), in the areas that I need them. The course outlines numerically indicate which objectives in the California State Curriculum are being addressed. I can use that information to access related video resources in Cosmeo. My self-study course is in place. Follow Up: Complete all related UCCP Open Access courses. Read all the related For Dummies books. Then pursue the course of study outlined in my earlier blog entry, "A Degree in Gravity".

7.) Scheduled exercise to keep the energy level up.
My recent foot surgery hurt this program in the short term, but I believe it will help it in the long run.
Gym for Stretching, Heavy Weight Lifting and Martial Arts
Stretching, Pilates, Calesthenics, Light Weight Lifting
Swimming and Tanning
Mon through Fri - Ride bus to work, walk to and from bus stops. Follow Up: Monitor weekly

8.) Find out if there is a local astronomy club.
The Downing Planetareum at CSU Fresno has weekly shows that are open to the public. They also offer free "star gazing" on Friday nights. I am sure they can direct us to a local club, if necessary. The Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland has weekly shows called "Dinner, a Movie and the Universe" as well. Follow Up: Plan an outing.

10.) Obtain and use an "always on" Internet access device.
Strides have been made with the I-Pad and new Droid. In my area a laptop tethered to a Blackberry through T-Mobile seems to currently be the best and most cost effective option. Follow Up: Continue to research options.

11.) Ergonomics
I've purchased portable reading lights. One attaches to my ear and the other clips onto a book. I need a way to comfortably and easily access the Internet while lying down with my foot elevated. This is especially important in the evening. Follow Up: Continue to research options.

My next blog entry: "Discouragement".

Saturday, April 17, 2010

13.) Thanks and Apologies

  • Thanks
It's time to give credit where credit is due. Einstein's theory of General Relativity and how we think about time were presented and explored beautifully in a television show I saw recently. It was an episode of Horizon called "Do You Know What Time It Is ?", presented by Dr. Brian Cox. It presented very complex concepts and ideas in a way that even a simple donkey like myself could understand. The world seems full of erudite experts expounding useless rubbish. Great teachers and communicators are able to "put the cookies on the bottom shelf". That's just what this show did. It wasn't terribly clear in the credits who wrote the episode, so I'll thank Dr. Cox at the University of Manchester, his wife and whomever else may have assisted in the creation and production of the program.

In the same program Dr. Fay Dowker at Imperial College in England spoke of the "granularity of time", which I found very intriguing. She said that time may be "bitty" and therefore could "grow". I have a lot more to learn before I could present a hypothesis on "Quantum Time", but my donkey instincts tell me she's on the right track. For some strange reason I also believe that further clues to a clear understanding of time lie in music and the concept of beats per measure. The same piece of music can easily be played in 3/4 time or 3/8 time. This somehow relates in my mind to the Doppler Effect and time. Alas, my slow donkey brain has not quite put it all together. Hopefully some thought and a lot more knowledge of physics will help.
  • More thanks
To Carl Sagan, Robert Zemeckis, Jodie Foster and her fellow cast members for the movie Contact. This lead me to the writings of Carl Sagan, which encouraged my interest in Astronomy and Astrophysics.

To Julie Powell, Nora Ephron, Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and their fellow cast members for the movie Julie and Julia, which taught me how a blog might be useful.

To Dr. Michio Kaku for the way he enumerates, explains and explores the questions of science and the universe which remain unanswered.

And finally to Dr. Amy Mainzer whose enthusiasm, warmth and humor on episodes of The Universe demonstrated that scientists are people too.
  • Two Apologies
The media in America, (everything I see and hear that is synthetic), is owned and controlled by a group of corporations that I can count on my fingers without using them all. Their goal sometimes seems to be to enslave rather than to inform. As modern American life becomes more and more adverse, (more and more like slavery), we are constantly bombarded with images of people "overcoming adversity" and, (my favorite), "doing more with less". Unfortunately my awareness of and distaste for this kind of propaganda has led me to commit an error in judgement.

About ten years ago I was talking with a very smart man, the late Dr. Dennis Ramsey. We were just idly chatting one day when the subject of aliens and UFO's came up. He asked me if I believed we had ever been visited by aliens from other planets. I said I did not and explained why. I asked him to picture what follows.

Imagine time and space on two lines. 200,000 years of human history occupy about ten centimeters on the time line. The volume of the Earth, (approximately 1,097,509,500,000,000,000 cubic kilometers), occupies about a meter on the space line. Now picture these two lines extending in both directions out of the room you're in, across the town you're in, across the country you're in, across our solar system, across our galaxy and beyond. Try to imagine these two infinite lines. Anybody who knows statistics would say that the chances of two sets of intelligent beings somehow ending up on the same point on both lines is virtually impossible. Even if, defying astronomical odds, they happened to appear on part of the same meter on the space line, they might miss on the time line by a few meters or kilometers, (millions or billions of years). We may be unique in spacetime.

I went on to discuss the odds against other life forms being enough like us for us to even recognise them as alive, let alone communicate with them. Our planet is unique in our solar system. It appears to be fairly unique in the space we can see beyond our solar system. Even if, against all reasonable odds, there were beings almost exactly like us, there could be many things preventing any kind of contact.

There could be beings that:
  1. Don't see visible light or don't see at all and are simply unaware of anything beyond what they can sense
  2. Never developed technology
  3. Don't imagine
  4. Are microscopic
  5. Are pure energy
  6. Move too quickly for us to see them and visa-versa
  7. Live on a planet like Venus, which is covered by clouds, making them unaware of anything beyond.
  8. Live on a planet where curiosity and exploration are fatal, causing them to evolve into the ultimate "homebodies"
  9. Are too complex to be interested in us
  10. Are too simple to be aware of us
  11. Live on a planet where it is so difficult to survive they are too busy to care
  12. Are so different we would not recognize them as alive and visa-versa
I could go on and on. The number of variables is infinite. Odds are very great against us being visited by little green men, little green women or even rainbow colored hermaphrodites.

The source of my apologies relates to the way that Dr. Ramsey concluded our discussion. "Are you familiar with a scientist by the name of Stephen Hawking? I think you would find some of his work interesting.", he said. I told him that I didn't know who he was, but that I'd check him out.

Unfortunately, finding out that Hawking was a disabled man who'd written some very popular best-selling books led me to mistakenly prejudge him. I dismissed him as a product of the media, a poster-boy for "overcoming obstacles" and "doing more with less". If I have learned anything in my brief four months on this journey, it's that I was greatly mistaken.

I offer my humble apologies to both Doctor Ramsey and Doctor Hawking. It just proves that "mules are fools". I started my journey with the desire to become familiar with and conversant in the work of Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. I've quickly learned that if I am to make any progress at all I will also become very familiar with and conversant in the work of Stephen Hawking. Fay Dowker, whom I mentioned earlier, was a student of his. At present, the road to solving the Riddle of Gravitation clearly leads to and through Einstein and Hawking along with many others. I anticipate with relish a time when I will read and analyze their work in depth.

Next blog entry: "What's Happened So Far (Two)"

Sunday, April 4, 2010

12.) Anecdotal, Pseudo-Scientific Psychobabble

Sometime during the year 2000 or 2001 I had this dream. I was recently divorced and living by myself in an apartment in Fresno. It was a two bedroom, two bath upstairs unit with about 1,200 square feet of space. Think of it as like two roughly equal size boxes connected by one hallway. One box contains a living room, dining room and kitchen. The other contains two bedrooms and two bathrooms.

During that time I had the most unusual dream.

Before I continue, I should explain a few things about myself. I don't remember most of my dreams. Most of them are not that remarkable. I have gone to bed thinking about a problem and awakened in the morning with a solution, which is interesting, but not that unusual. I sometimes dream that I am working or flying. I dream that I'm walking through my childhood home or revisiting some other place that I've been or some person that I've known. I dream that I'm fighting, or running, or falling, or making love. Most of my dreams are pretty run of the mill. I don't spend much time thinking about them.

On rare occasions in my fifty four years, (only three come to mind), I have had unusual dreams that caught my attention enough for me to remember and think carefully about them. Why did I dream that? Two of them were fairly easily explained.

One time, when I was about 17, I dreamt that a man was chasing me with a razor and slashing at my upper back. It was an unusually vivid and disturbing dream. When I awoke, I found that I had slept in a strange position, which had caused my shoulder and upper back to "fall asleep", (become numb and tingly).

Another time, in 1980, when I was about 25, I dreamt that I was metamorphosing into a beautiful and colorful butterfly. The colors were stunning and the details amazing. At the time I was hospitalized and recovering from serious injuries I'd sustained while falling from a cliff in Yosemite. I had several broken bones and damaged joints, which required more than a couple of surgeries. I was taking Percodan for pain and the powerful narcotics it contained had clearly influenced my dream.

The third of these memorable dreams, my dream of 2000 - 2001, was the most unusual and the most puzzling. At the time I had a Hoover upright vacuum that I used to vacuum my apartment, (I still have it). In my dream, for some reason, I was unable to vacuum a little less than two feet of the hallway. About halfway down the hallway dust and dirt were gathering on this one to two foot band. I was trying to figure out how to vacuum it. I awoke, got up, went to the hallway and stared at the floor. What a strange dream! What could possibly keep me from vacuuming that one part of the hallway?

By 2003 I was remarried to my current wife. We moved to New York, leaving Fresno and the apartment behind for what I thought was forever. We lived in New York for almost two years, but my injuries of 1980 began to catch up with me. I needed to have surgery, which required time off from work. New York is an expensive place to live on one income, so my wife and I decided to return to Fresno. Though we ended up in a different upstairs unit in the same apartment complex, it had exactly the same floor plan as my old apartment.

In 2007, once again, I headed for New York, (the other place I know well beside California, the place where I grew up). I believed again that I had left Fresno and the apartment behind forever, but in early 2008 circumstances lead me back to Fresno and back to the apartment.

During Christmas season in 2008 I was walking through Costco and spotted Roombas on sale. It was a good price and these were the sixth generation of the little vacuum cleaning robots. I figured they'd worked out most of the bugs. I read the specs and decided that to clean an apartment of my size thoroughly would require two of them. I bought them.

I took them home and turned them loose. It was fun to watch them propel themselves around, vacuuming away. I was delighted. After all they were my first, very own robots. I set one on one side of the apartment and the other on the other side. Pretty soon, after watching them scoot around bumping into things and mapping their surroundings, it became apparent that I would have to separate them with a barrier. If I didn't, they would wander to the other side of the apartment. This would prevent them from finding their way back to their base units, where they charge their batteries once they've finished their work.

They come with little infrared lighthouses that can be used to create just such barriers. I placed one in the center of the hallway to divide the apartment roughly in half. This worked well, but there was a slight problem. Both robots would approach the barrier from either side and turn back before coming right up to it. They turned back eight to twelve inches before actually reaching exactly where the lighthouse was placed. This left a little less than two feet of the hallway that they were unable to vacuum.

After giving it a little thought, I thought I had solved the problem of vacuuming the hallway pretty easily. I placed a lighthouse barrier at the far end of the hallway for each Roomba. Now their work areas intersected and overlapped. The hallway would now get vacuumed more than the other parts of the apartment. Unfortunately, this didn't work for long. They seemed to get confused about which lighthouse was theirs. Sometimes they would overlap and at other times they would stop at the near lighthouse, which meant the hallway wouldn't get vacuumed at all. Frustrated, I went back to using one lighthouse and I still have a little less than two feet of the hallway that they are unable to vacuum.

I should probably contact Roomba Tech Support and solve the problem, I just haven't done it yet. I am currently more interested in the problem of my dream.

One might say that my dream lead to some sort of subconscious self-fulfilling prophecy, but let's carefully consider the facts.
  • I had no sense at the time that the dream was at all significant or important. It only stood out at all, because it seemed to make no sense.
  • I had no feeling at the time that the dream was about the future. In fact the problem seemed very much like a present one in my dream, which is why it puzzled me. Why couldn't I use my vacuum to clean that part of my hallway?
  • This is the only dream like it that I can ever remember having.
  • I left Fresno twice in the interim, believing I would not return.
There are many possible explanations.
  • Psychological Explanation : We are ruled by our subconscious mind and the power of suggestion in ways that we do not fully understand and are not fully aware of.
This is definitely true and I am not ruling it out as a possible explanation. Guerrilla Marketing, hypnosis and many forms of advertising are based on this, but there are two things about my dream that make me uncomfortable with this explanation. Let's do a little math. I am 54 years old. 54 years multiplied by 365 nights = 19,710. Since this is an estimate and I am going to be 55 in September, we'll round off to 20,000.

"Most people over the age of 10 dream at least 4 to 6 times per night during a stage of sleep called REM (for Rapid Eye Movements, a distinguishing characteristic of this stage of sleep). During REM periods our brains become as active as they are during waking." (, "Frequently Asked Questions",

For the purpose of my estimate: 20,000 nights multiplied by 5 dreams a night = 100,000 dreams. My dream could be said to be one in one hundred thousand. It seems to me, (a simple donkey), that if the explanation was psychological, my dream would not be that unique. I would have experienced something similar at least one other time in my life.

The other thing that bothers me about the psychological explanation relates to the power of suggestion. I have one important question; where would such a suggestion come from? It just seems so random.
  • Scientific Explanation : A unique, (to my location on this planet and in my lifetime), cosmic event took place which warped spacetime to the point that my dreaming mind, (or more specifically, the energy in my dreaming mind), found itself, for some reason, for a brief period, in what we think of as a future time. Though most people would call it science fiction, this possible explanation is based on Einstein's work and our current understanding of the universe.
What could cause such a thing? As I understand it, it would have to be something very massive. Additional clues are provided by something called the "Shapiro Effect", or gravitational time dilation.

In the 1960's astronomer, (and now professor at Harvard), Irwin Shapiro wanted to test Einstein's theory of General Relativity. He did it by bouncing radar beams off of the planet Mercury to track it. Radar beams travel at the speed of light, but he hypothesized that as mercury orbited the Sun and his radar beams got closer to the Sun, it would take longer than it should for them to reach Mercury. This would happen because, according to Einstein, the gravity of the massive sun distorts spacetime, and the closer you get to a massive object like the Sun, the more gravity distorts it.

It turned out that both Einstein and Shapiro were correct. As he tracked Mercury in its elliptical orbit around the Sun, when it got close to the Sun, (from his vantage point on Earth), Mercury appeared to suddenly move farther away. It's orbit appeared to have a "spike in it", which scientists know it doesn't have. "The first test, using the MIT Haystack radar antenna, was successful, matching the predicted amount of time delay. The experiments have been repeated many times since, with increasing accuracy." (Wikipedia, "Shapiro effect", There are many other ways that Einstein's Theory of Relativity has been successfully tested.

What's this got to do with my dream? What cosmic event could have caused it? What massive things are near me that would affect me? I am nearest to the Earth and the Moon, but by far, the most massive thing near me is the Sun. Could the Sun have something to do with it?

The little knowledge that a donkey such as myself has recently been able to acquire indicates that it is possible that a solar wind storm caused my dream. Extreme space weather may create distortions in spacetime, which might cause something like the phenomena of my dream. I know this all sounds completely and utterly insane, but please bear with me and think about it for a moment.

The Sun emits particles regularly in massive amounts. We call this Solar Wind. How much mass are we talking about? "The total number of particles carried away from the Sun by the solar wind is about 6.7 billion tons per hour." (Wikipedia, "Solar Wind", That's pretty massive.

The Sun also experiences a Solar Cycle, which affects Space Weather and Solar Wind. "The Solar Cycle, or the Solar Magnetic Activity Cycle, is the main source of periodic solar variation, (changing the level of irradiation experienced on Earth), which drives variations in space weather". "The cycle is observed by counting the frequency and placement of sunspots visible on the Sun." (Wikipedia, "Solar cycle", "Sunspot activity cycles about every eleven years. The point of highest sunspot activity during this cycle is known as Solar Maximum, and the point of lowest activity is Solar Minimum." (Wikipedia, "Sunspot",

I found myself staring at a hyperlink to a table that lists when solar maximums occur. I hesitated for a moment before clicking on it. Skeptical donkey that I am, I wanted to find out that there was little or no solar activity around the time of my dream. Then I could dismiss my wild theory as pure rubbish, the product of too much caffeine, science fiction and an overactive imagination.

As it turns out, the last Solar Maximum was in March of 2000. It seems that there was an abundance of "geoeffective solar eruptive phenomena" taking place around the time of my dream.

Unfortunately at present, the mathematics and science of all of this is well out of my reach, but I'm working on it. I am looking for a PBS documentary called Solar Blast. It's not available at, but I'll probably get it from a library. I did recently watch a documentary called Solarmax, available from Netflix. Most of it taught the kind of basic Solar Science that I already know. There was some really spectacular video, which was unfortunately set to some really cheesy, (to the point of being distracting), music, but I did learn one very interesting, important and pertinent fact.
  • NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO)
My recent curiosity about the Sun has naturally led me to NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) homepage, (see it under "Astronomy Portals" in my "Useful Links"). It's the site to visit if you want to learn about the nearest star, (only approximately 8 light-minutes away). In Solarmax, the filmakers mention something that isn't easily found at NASA's site. The film states that this event took place in the year 2000, but my research indicates differently.

It appears that on June 25, 1998, all of SOHO's power, communications, and telemetry were lost. SOHO became "Lost in Space". I believe it could be more accurately described as "Lost in Spacetime". The next 3 months were spent on a massive, labor-intensive recovery of the $1 billion joint project between NASA and ESA.

If you are interested in more details, there are numerous news stories and documents on the web. The point is that for about a month, (in our "spacetime zone"), SOHO vanished. When the observatory was eventually found, frozen and lifeless, NASA and the ESA were able to, almost "miraculously", bring it back to life. The official SOHO Mission Interruption Joint NASA/ESA Investigation Board's Final Report on the incident can be found at The official explanation is that human error caused SOHO's solar arrays to be pointed in the wrong direction. As a result it lost power and they lost contact. This explanation makes perfect sense, even to a donkey.

Being a humble, but curious, donkey, I have only one question that remains glaringly unanswered by the report. Why couldn't they even find SOHO for a month? Please allow me to offer one of my stupid, over-simplified donkey theories.

It is possible that severe Space Weather caused distortions in spacetime affecting SOHO. This caused the energy part of the matter that SOHO is composed of to be "elsewhere-when" for a while, (like the energy in my mind during my dream). Since no energy was present in the spacetime zone that we share, (its matter had gone "dark"), there was nothing for the radio waves to interact with and reflect off of. For about a month, (who knows how long it seemed to SOHO, it's all relative), it became transparent to radar. Once the space storm subsided and spacetime returned to a less distorted shape ... okay I don't know if it was less distorted, more homogenous, more common or what shape it actually returned to ... but once the energy in SOHO's atoms returned to the spacetime that we share, it reappeared.

Naturally, when they found it, it was frozen, (quite near absolute zero I suspect), but had sustained surprisingly little damage. It was of course located quite close to where it was supposed to be. That's where I believe the non-energy portion of it's matter had been all along.
  • More Hints, Clues and Inklings
When I was about 17, I liked poetry, (surprise, surprise). I had good English teachers who had introduced me to Shakespere, Emerson, Frost and Dickinson. The music and lyrics of Simon and Garfunkle lead me to Edward Arlington Robinson and other, more contemporary poets. My friend Bill had a book of poetry, (it was his mother's actually), by a poet named Edgar Guest. Knowing that I was becoming interested in poetry, he showed it to me one day.

At that age, Guest's poems about hearth and home seemed so corny to me, yet I was strangely taken by them. My fascination with them was incongruous and inexplicable. I felt practically compelled to read them. The first gift my first wife ever gave me was the Collected Verse of Edgar Guest.

"Edgar Albert Guest (August 20, 1881, Birmingham, England – August 5, 1959, Detroit, Michigan) was a prolific American poet who was popular in the first half of the 20th Century and became known as the People’s Poet." "For 40 years, Guest was widely read throughout North America." His sentimental and optimistic poems were very popular.

"From his first published work in the Detroit Free Press until his death in 1959, Guest penned some 11,000 poems which were syndicated in some 300 newspapers and collected in more than 20 books." (Wikipedia, "Edgar Guest",

Here's a sample:

"A Song" by Edgar Guest

"None knows the day that friends must part
None knows how near is sorrow;
If there be laughter in your heart,
Don't hold it for to-morrow.
Smile all the smiles you can to-day;
Grief waits for all along the way.

To-day is ours for joy and mirth;
We may be sad to-morrow;
Then let us sing for all we're worth,
Nor give a thought to sorrow.
None knows what lies along the way;
Let's smile what smiles we can to-day."

I spent many hours reading what I consider to be the trite and cliched verse of Edgar Guest. I assumed it was the result of a previously unexpressed corny and sentimental side to my personality. The book sat on the shelf for many years, but once in while, in difficult times I felt myself drawn back to it. I somehow always found that reading the folksy poetry was oddly comforting.

About three years ago I went to visit my mother in North Carolina. My father had died about a year before that. When I called my mother, she just didn't sound right, so I decided to make the trip across the country to see her. While I was there she asked me what I would like to do. "Do you have any old family photos or memorabilia that I haven't already seen?", I asked. "Have I ever shown you any of your great grandfather McKernan's stuff?", she inquired. "I don't know anything about him, other than that he was your mother's father", I said. She dug through a closet and brought out an old box.

As she sorted through old letters and clippings, she began to explain, "Your great grandfather was a newspaper editor for the New York World." She began to carefully unfold and hand me some very old and disintegrating newspaper clippings. I was fascinated.

It turns out that, "The New York World was a newspaper published in New York from 1860 until 1931. The paper played a major role in the history of American newspapers." "It was purchased by Joseph Pulitzer in 1883 and a new, aggressive era of circulation building began. Reporter Nellie Bly became one of America's first investigative journalists, often working undercover." "In 1890, Pulitzer built the New York World Building, the tallest office building in the world at the time." (Wikipedia, "New York World", That's where my great grandfather worked. This was very interesting, to me, but it was what came next that stunned me.

"Your great grandfather also wrote some poetry that was frequently published in the paper", my mother said. "Do you have any? I'd love to see it!", I exclaimed. She shuffled further through letters and clippings. "Oh, here's a few", she said and handed me the old faded clippings. I began to quietly read. My mother was quiet too, though I sensed she noticed my strange reaction. Finally I said, "Mom ... these poems read exactly like the poems of Edgar Guest. Are you sure that McKernan actually wrote them?". She responded, "It's my understanding that the style is not very original. The genre was very popular in the thirties, all the papers published that kind of sentimental stuff".

I felt as if I'd been struck by lightning. "You could have knocked me over with a feather". My strange affinity for the poetry of Edgar Guest no longer seemed strange at all.
  • What does all this anecdotal, pseudo-scientific psychobabble mean?
I saw an interview once with Robert Duvall. He had recently spent some time doing research for his 1997 movie The Apostle. He wrote the movie, directed it and played the lead role of a charismatic Pentecostal Christian preacher. His extensive research for the project had exposed him to things like Pentecostal faith healing and miracles. The interviewer asked him what he thought about all of that, his tone betraying the fact that he expected Duvall to dismiss it all as hillbilly hogwash. I've always loved Duvall's thoughtful and diplomatic response.

"There will always be that which we do not understand." Robert Duvall

I could go on and on, but to this donkey, one thing seems clear.
  • We don't fully and correctly understand time.
In fact my donkey instincts tell me that time, as we currently understand and think about it, may not exist. It may just be a convenient concept that helps us to understand movement and change. Time may be a Babylonian myth.

There's so much I need to learn, but clearly I need to understand more about time if I am to get anywhere on this journey.

Soon I'll talk about why I think Einstein's work might not be finished. "Cassius: The fault dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves", (Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare) Please allow me to paraphrase: The fault dear friends is not in the stars, it is in our math. I'll address this in a future blog entry, "Math from Scratch". But first ...

Next blog entry: "Thanks and Apologies"

Saturday, February 27, 2010

11.) Why Study Gravity?

Why do I, a simple beast of burden, want to study gravity? I am, if nothing else, a curious donkey. Gravitation seems to cause what would otherwise be randomly dispersed matter to coalesce and form into everything we see and know ... it's right at the heart of it all. It's the glue that holds everything together. It affects and governs how everything moves. It's vital to the process of nuclear fusion that powers the sun and the stars. Though this elemental, underlying and invisible force is at the very core of what we perceive as our physical reality, we do not completely understand it.

Aristotle and others introduced us to the concept of gravity. Galileo, Newton and many others brought us to a much higher level of understanding. More recently, Einstein and countless others have brought our comprehension to an even higher level, but there's a problem.
  • A Problem: Einstein's theories have held up very well for many years. Many of the behaviors of the universe, (at least those which we are currently able to observe), appear to support his theories. The problem lies in what many believe may be limits to Einstein's theories called "singularities".
  • Gravitational Singularity: "A point in spacetime in which gravitational forces cause matter to have an infinite density and zero volume." (Wikipedia, "Gravitational singularity",
This concept applies to widely held theories that are predicted by Einstein's Theory of general relativity; cosmological theories like the "Big Bang" and astrophysical theories about "Black Holes". I have heard it stated that these singularities are said to be places and times where "the laws of physics break down or don't apply".

"Many theories in physics have mathematical singularities of one kind or another. Equations for these physical theories predict that the rate of change of some quantity becomes infinite or increases without limit. This is generally a sign of a missing piece in the theory." (Wikipedia, "Gravitational singularity",

Now you're talking like a donkey. Perhaps Einstein's work was not done.
  • Another Problem: Currently accepted theories of quantum mechanics and general relativity are difficult to combine.
"Even with the defining postulates of both Einstein's theory of general relativity and quantum theory being indisputably supported by rigorous and repeated empirical evidence and while they do not directly contradict each other theoretically, (at least with regard to primary claims), they are resistant to being incorporated within one cohesive model." In donkey language this means that our understanding is either incorrect, incomplete or both.

"Einstein himself is well known for rejecting some of the claims of quantum mechanics. While clearly contributing to the field, he did not accept the more philosophical consequences and interpretations of quantum mechanics."

"The lack of a correct theory of quantum gravity is an important issue in cosmology and physicists' search for an elegant "theory of everything". Thus, resolving the inconsistencies between both theories has been a major goal of twentieth- and twenty-first-century physics. Many prominent physicists, including Stephen Hawking, have labored in the attempt to discover a theory underlying everything, combining not only different models of subatomic physics, but also deriving the universe's four forces —the strong force, electromagnetism, weak force, and gravity— from a single force or phenomenon." (from Wikipedia "Quantum mechanics" at

Before continuing, please allow me to clarify and emphasize an important point. I am a poor, humble and ignorant donkey. What I am about to propose reflects a completely unqualified opinion, to say the least. Think of it as like a fan trying to predict who will win a football game before it starts. It reflects my current, vastly undereducated view of the universe.

I doubt that I am correct about what follows and I am sure that, as I become more educated on the subject, my views will change. In fact I'll be disappointed if they don't. I am much more likely to be wrong than right. I am also not concerned that "making a guess" will influence what I learn. On the contrary, I will be looking to challenge and refute these ideas at every step along the way. Think of it as like having a Socratic dialogue with myself.

Please recall that my strengths include skepticism and open-mindedness, and realize that along with ignorance comes a certain amount of objectivity. I have not yet become indoctrinated in a particular theory or school of thought, which is why I think this exercise is valuable. It also gives me a reference point later, in the event that I need to remember exactly where I began.
  • The Tidal Theory of the Universe: by Donkey Hoteee.
The universe is in a state of constant motion and change. Though the space the universe occupies is infinite, I believe there is a finite amount of matter and energy in our universe. After all, the space the universe occupies is nothing and you can have an infinite amount of nothing. There's more than enough to go around! But, I don't believe there is an infinite amount of something, (matter, energy, and ?), in the universe. Though there may be other universes, from this simple donkey's point of view, ours is finite and closed.

I also do not believe that the "laws of physics break down or don't apply", but only that our understanding of them does, because it is not complete and / or possibly not correct.

In my theory the universe is not "ever expanding", it is only currently expanding. To say that it is ever expanding is like watching the tide come in at the beach and believing that the ocean is "ever expanding".

I also don't believe that the universe is "ever accelerating", but instead that it is only currently accelerating. To say that it is ever accelerating is like watching a car accelerate as it goes by and believing that it is "ever accelerating". I am puzzled by theories about the universe being accelerated by "Dark Energy". Though cosmologists admit this is another way of saying, "we don't know yet", it sounds a lot like saying thunder is caused by Thor and his hammer to a simple donkey.

I believe a "Big Bang" took place. It did not begin with a "singularity". It was not THE "Big Bang", but A "Big Bang". It was one of many, (perhaps an infinite number), of the biggest hypernovae there can be in our universe. The universe wasn't created by the most recent "Big Bang", it was just rearranged.

Look at the life cycle of a star.
  • A Star is Born.
1.) "New stars form from large, cold, (10 degrees Kelvin), clouds of dust and gas (mostly hydrogen).

2.) Gravity or other forces, (like the passage of a nearby star or the shock wave from an exploding supernova), cause "clumps to form inside the cloud.

3.) The clumps collapse inward drawing gas inward by gravity."

4.) The collapsing and compressed clumps form one larger clump, which heats up.

5.) "This hot and collapsing clump begins to rotate and flatten out into a disc.

6.) The disc continues to rotate faster, draw more gas and dust inward, and heat up," even more.

7.) "After about a million years or so, a small, hot, (1500 degrees Kelvin), dense core forms in the disc's center called a protostar.

8.) As gas and dust continue to fall inward in the disc, they give up energy to the protostar, which heats up more" and more.

9.) "When the temperature of the protostar reaches about 7 million degrees Kelvin, hydrogen begins to fuse to make helium and release energy", (nuclear fusion takes place).

10.) "Material continues to fall into the young star for millions of years because the collapse due to gravity is greater than the outward pressure exerted by nuclear fusion. Therefore, the protostar's internal temperature increases.

11.) If sufficient mass, (0.1 solar mass or greater), collapses into the protostar and the temperature gets hot enough for sustained fusion, then the protostar has a massive release of gas in the form of a jet called a bipolar flow. If the mass is not sufficient, the star will not form, but instead become a brown dwarf.

12.) The bipolar flow clears away gas and dust from the young star. Some of this gas and dust may later collect to form planets.

The young star is now stable. The outward pressure from hydrogen fusion balances the inward pull of gravity. The star enters what is called the main sequence." What happens next depends largely upon its mass.
  • Life on the Main Sequence
"Stars on the main sequence burn by fusing hydrogen into helium. Large stars tend to have higher core temperatures than smaller stars. Therefore, large stars burn the hydrogen fuel in the core quickly, whereas, small stars burn it more slowly. The length of time that they spend on the main sequence depends upon how quickly the hydrogen gets used up. Therefore, massive stars have shorter lifetimes, (the Sun will burn for approximately 10 billion years). What happens once the hydrogen in the core is gone depends upon the mass of the star.
  • The Death of a Star
Several billion years after its life starts, a star will die. How the star dies, however, depends on what type of star it is," or to be more specific, how massive it is.

Stars Like the Sun: When the core runs out of hydrogen fuel, it will contract under the weight of gravity. However, some hydrogen fusion will occur in the upper layers. As the core contracts, it heats up. This heats the upper layers, causing them to expand. As the outer layers expand, the radius of the star will increase and it will become a red giant."

"At some point after this, the core will become hot enough to cause the helium to fuse into carbon. When the helium fuel runs out, the core will expand and cool. The upper layers will expand and eject material that will collect around the dying star to form a planetary nebula. Finally, the core will cool into a white dwarf and then eventually into a black dwarf. This entire process will take a few billion years.

Stars More Massive Than the Sun: When the core runs out of hydrogen, these stars fuse helium into carbon just like the Sun. However, after the helium is gone, their mass is enough to fuse carbon into heavier elements such as oxygen, neon, silicon, magnesium, sulfur and iron.

Once the core has turned to iron, it can burn no longer. The star collapses by its own gravity and the iron core heats up. The core becomes so tightly packed that protons and electrons merge to form neutrons. In less than a second, the iron core shrinks to a neutron core. The outer layers of the star fall inward on the neutron core, thereby crushing it further. The core heats to billions of degrees and explodes, (a supernova), thereby releasing large amounts of energy and material into space.

The shock wave from the supernova can initiate star formation in other interstellar clouds. The remains of the core can form a neutron star or a black hole depending upon the mass of the original star." (from "How Stars Work" from How Stuff Works at
  • Many Big Bangs - The Tidal Theory
At the center of my theory is the most massive proton star you can imagine. Actually it's probably more massive than any of us can imagine. I'll call it Alpha Infinity. Alpha Infinity, because of it's unimaginable mass, lives an dies very quickly, causing the hypernova to end all hypernovae, an enormous explosion, a really "Big Bang". Elements such as oxygen, neon, silicon, magnesium, sulfur and iron, (and many or perhaps most of the others on the Periodic Table), are scattered, creating our current known universe in its current form.

With nothing to obstruct or influence it but itself, our universe is expanding at an accelerated rate. But eventually, (we're talking a really, really long time here), all of matter's own gravity slows the expansion and the universe begins to contract, (cosmologists call this the "Big Crunch"), until it eventually forms the most massive proton star you can imagine, Alpha Infinity, which goes hypernova and ... well, you get the idea. A "Big Bang" happens over and over again.

"The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

"The tide rises, the tide falls,
The twilight darkens, the curlew calls;
Along the sea-sands damp and brown
The traveller hastens toward the town,
And the tide rises, the tide falls.

Darkness settles on roofs and walls,
But the sea, the sea in the darkness calls;
The little waves, with their soft, white hands,
Efface the footprints in the sands,
And the tide rises, the tide falls.

The morning breaks; the steeds in their stalls
Stamp and neigh, as the hostler calls;
The day returns, but nevermore
Returns the traveller to the shore,
And the tide rises, the tide falls."

I have no idea what shape the universe takes, and will have to study a lot more chemistry, physics, astrophysics, mathematics and, of course, gravity to form an opinion. Red Shift phenomena, fluid dynamics, (specifically how they behave in a vacuum), and the study of time will also be critical to my understanding. Does a colossal super nova like that of Alpha Infinity radiate matter outwardly and equally in all directions to form a perfect sphere? Even if there is no other matter present to assert its gravitational influence, my guess is no.

With sincere and humble apologies to Edward Witten and many others, my simple donkey instincts also tell me that the universe, (like the world), is not flat! It's not a "membrane" or "parallel" to anything. It is three dimensional, (at least). There may be more dimensions, but my guess is that dimensions are actually just ideas that help us understand things. There is very little about the universe that is flat or linear, other than how we are taught to think about it. Also, I love rock and roll as much as anyone, but String Theory? Let's just say that I am open, but very skeptical.
  • Please remember what theories are like ... even donkeys have one.
Talk is cheap. The hard part is doing the science. Galileo, Kepler and Newton didn't just theorize. They set out to prove their theories. They practiced science. They used scientific methods.
  • I have begun to look up again.
I have begun to look up again with a purpose beyond just admiring the twinkly lights. Like Galileo, Kepler, Humboldt, Darwin and countless others I will study what I am able to observe. I will happily study our planet and the heavens beyond.

I'll study rivers, oceans, the atmosphere, (don't galaxies look a lot like hurricanes suspended in space?), and of course, the heavens. I'll study what others have learned and use that along with my observations to guess at what I am not able to observe directly. I will practice science. I will solve the riddle of gravitation.

I bought a poster today, a black and white portrait of Sir Isaac Newton. It displays a brief description of his accomplishments and a time line, (ironic, since I don't think time is linear). In fact I think that linear and two dimensional thinking and learning obfuscate our understanding of the universe in general, and time in particular.

What caught my attention and inspired me to purchase and display this poster was the quote at the top:

"If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient attention than any other talent." Isaac Newton

Next blog entry: "Anecdotal, Pseudo-Scientific Psychobabble"

Saturday, February 6, 2010

10.) Beginning at the Beginning

All journeys must have a beginning. Journeys of the mind should begin with a firm and thorough grasp of the fundamentals.

Tim Thompson and Ivan Viehoff have provided me with a road map; the curriculum for the equivalent of an undergraduate degree in gravity. But before I begin that journey, a humble donkey like myself should ask an obvious and important question. Do I possess the prerequisite knowledge and skills needed to begin that journey?
  • Do I have the equivalent of a High School Degree in Gravity?
That's a good question, so I checked the the website for the local High School to see what was being taught these days. I was hoping to find a simple flow chart or list that would indicate what levels of mathematics and science were being taught at each grade level, so that I could assess exactly where I needed to begin my studies. I quickly moved to Fresno Unified School District's Curriculum website, where I downloaded and scanned a wordy .PDF file. There was a lot of language about "units" and "discipline", but not much about what exactly is being taught at what grade level.

I have even less patience than usual when I've had my morning two cups of "cowboy coffee", (I grind the beans and percolate it on the stove - low heat for 10 minutes), so I took a break and watched some astronomy videos on the Astronomy Channel at "". There I found a link to Discovery Channel's K-12 educational site "", but alas they wanted $ 9.95 a month to subscribe. Being a curious donkey, I started a thirty day free trial and logged in anyway. Bingo! I quickly found what I needed. I just entered the the state that I live in, the subject and the grade level and suddenly I was looking at exactly what I needed. Before me was a list of learning objectives with links to videos and other learning materials.

I quickly realized that they incorporate math and science into the curriculum much earlier in school these days. After all, I spent most of the fourth grade listening to Mrs. Freeman read Charlotte's Web. "Start at the beginning.", I thought. I found that as part of the second grade curriculum students are introduced to simple machines, (levers, wheels, screws, etc.). Oh yeah, I remember, leverage and Archimedes and all that. I'll just check this video out, after all it's a good place to start when you're thinking about gravity.

The video began by defining a set of learning objectives, which involved the different classes of levers, wheels and different types of pulleys.
  • The Donkey Club
Do you remember what the three classes of levers are? Can you identify them in the world around you? Can you give me examples? Do you know exactly what a fixed pulley does? Can you tell me exactly how much force is required to raise a ten pound object with a fixed pulley? How much would be required to raise it with a movable pulley? Why?

If you know the answers to all of the above questions, I'm proud of you. You know as much about simple machines as a middle school student in California is supposed to. But if you hesitated, or flat-assed didn't know or remember ... welcome to the "Donkey Club".

(Music : Jimmy Van Heusen / Words : Johnny Burke)
Bing Crosby

"Would you like to swing on a star?
Carry moonbeams home in a jar?
And be better off than you are?

Or would you rather be a mule?

A mule is an animal with long funny ears
Kicks up at anything he hears
His back is brawny but his brain is weak
He's just plain stupid with a stubborn streak
And by the way, if you hate to go to school
You may grow up to be a mule

Would you like to swing on a star?
Carry moonbeams home in a jar?
And be better off than you are?

Or would you rather be a pig?

A pig is an animal with dirt on his face
His shoes are a terrible disgrace
He has no manners when he eats his food
He's fat and lazy and extremely rude
But if you don't care a feather or a fig
You may grow up to be a pig

Would you like to swing on a star?
Carry moonbeams home in a jar?
And be better off than you are?

Or would you rather be a fish?

A fish won't do anything, but swim in a brook
He can't write his name or read a book
To fool the people is his only thought
And though he's slippery, he still gets caught
But then if that sort of life is what you wish
You may grow up to be a fish
A new kind of jumped-up slippery fish

And all the monkeys aren't in the zoo
Every day you meet quite a few
So you see it's all up to you
You can be better than you are
You could be swingin' on a star"

It hit me like a brick! First Donkey's going to get a thorough and current grammar school education in math and science. Then I'll move to the middle school and eventually to the high school level. Only then will I be ready to begin working on my undergraduate degree in gravity. My journey must begin at the beginning.

You might think that I would be discouraged this revelation, but I'm completely undaunted. I've decided and I'm in this for the long haul. I'm ready and willing to begin my quest at the beginning.

From the Musical "Man Of La Mancha" (1965)
(Joe Darion / Mitch Leigh)

Recorded by:
Richard Kiley - 1965
Jack Jones - 1966
Johnny Mathis - 1966
Frank Sinatra - 1966
Keith Michell - 1968
Florence Ballard - 1968
Glen Campbell - 1968
Ray Conniff Singers - 1968
Diana Ross & The Supremes & The Temptations - 1968
Roberta Flack - 1970
Simon Gilbert (Dubbing Peter O'Toole) - 1972
Elvis Presley - 1972
Jim Nabors - 1972
José Carreras - 1984
Luther Vandross - 1994
Ton Raines - 1998
David Barrus - 2000
Ronan Tynan - 2002
Linda Eder - 2003

Also recorded by: Robert Goulet; Tom Jones; Steve Lawrence;
John Raitt; Ethan Freeman; Frank Patterson; Gordon MacRae;
Dick Merrick; Lena Martell; Brian Blessed; Daniel Narducci;
John MacNally; Buddy Merrill; Roger Whittaker; Stig Rossen;
Craig Rubano; Wayne Newton; Albertina Walker; Samuel Ramey;
Caroline O'Connor; Glen Yarbrough; Andy Williams; Liberace;
Colm Wilkinson; Roger Williams.

"To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go

To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star

This is my quest, to follow that star
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far
To fight for the right, without question or pause
To be willing to march into Hell for a heavenly cause

And I know if I'll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I'm laid to my rest

And the world will be better for this
That one man scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star!"

After all, I'm Donkey Hoteee, Lord of La Mancha.

My next blog entry: "Why Study Gravity?"

Sunday, January 24, 2010

9.) "A Degree in Gravity"

The following is quoted from an excellent and very pertinent blog entry I found on the "Bad Astronomy and Universe Today Forum". I preserve it here for reference purposes and in case it is moved or becomes unavailable later.

What course would a donkey like me follow in order to "earn an equivalent to an undergraduate degree in gravity"?

Excepts from "A Degree in Gravity" by Tim Thompson and Ivan Viehoff

From Tim Thompson: "You simply cannot pick and choose which part of physics you want to study. It doesn't work. However, a personal study program does not need to match the same depth of preparation as one would find in a formal program. So one can, rather then study lots of prerequisites first, simply establish a light but broad foundation, and then concentrate on "prerequisite" topics as they come along. That way one does not lose patience by studying something that seems irrelevant; you only study what you need to study to handle the matter at hand.

Before I go on to describe how I think this personal study program should look, let me add that a strong understanding of basic algebra and calculus, up to and including differential equations is an absolute prerequisite for any "advanced" study of any topic in physics, where by "advanced" I mean anything roughly equal to a bachelor's degree. The better your foundation in mathematics is, the easier it will be to handle the topics in physics which make use of it.

"How to create your own "B.S. degree" in Gravity":
  • Step 1 - "Mathematical Foundation
First and foremost, before you do anything else, establish the mathematical foundations by studying algebra, calculus and differential equations.

One does not need to spend time studying mathematics on its own as a prerequisite. Rather, the practical way to proceed is to be prepared to cover the topics needed as they come up, with the idea in mind that studying gravity specifically is the ultimate goal. So, here is my advice on a list of mathematical reference books one should have at hand which are most likely to support the primary goal.

Explorations in Mathematical Physics: The Concepts Behind an Elegant Language by Don Koks; Springer, 2006. This 529 page book should be the primary reference. It includes special emphasis on special & general relativity, along with differential geometry, tensor calculus, and specific tools for solving covariant field equations.

Mathematics for Physics & Physicists by Walter Appel; Princeton University Press, 2007 (originally published in French in 2001). This 626 page book covers the more general mathematics not necessarily found in Kok's book; i.e., complex analysis & conformal mapping, Laplace & Fourier transforms & etc. A good supplement to Kok's book.

Mathematical Perspectives on Theoretical Physics: A Journey from Black Holes to Superstrings by Nirmala Prakash; Tata McGraw Hill, 2000. Don't be put off by the emphasis on string theory in the title. This 802 page book includes advanced topics crucial to understanding gravity, such as conformal field theory, symmetry & supersymmetry, quantum theory, group theory, Yang-mills theory and special emphasis on general relativity & gravitation
  • Step 2 - Physical Foundation
Before doing any other advanced study, read this book:

The Six Core Theories of Modern Physics
by Charles F. Stevens; MIT Press, 1995 (I have the 6th printing from 2002). This 221 page book has brief review chapters on classical mechanics, electricity and magnetism, quantum mechanics, statistical physics, special relativity and quantum field theory. It does not replace a few years of concentrated study in specialized formal course, but it does get the points across quickly. It does establish an appreciation for what it important and what is not, an appreciation that will be valuable later on as a guide to where one should focus personal effort.

Obviously, one does not replace all of the basic foundations in physics by one book. To supplement this book, if one later needs more in depth treatment, I recommend:

The Feynman Lectures on Physics
by Richard Feynman; Addison-Wesley, 2005 (originally published in 1963). Basic physics is basic physics, it's the same now as it was 5 years ago. Feynman's books really are both educational & relatively easy to read, and the 3 volume set covers all of the classical physics in Stevens' book, but in much more detail.
  • Step 3 - Astrophysics
Gravity is a topic of special interest in astrophysics and cosmology. Rather than concentrate on studies of basic physics, it seems more appropriate to get straight to the heart of the matter through basic astrophysics. You will learn the basic physics as you need it for specific applications to astrophysics. Indeed, the astrophysics texts will mostly cover that material without the need for extensive additional references. This way you get into learning about gravity fairly quickly, by studying how the universe behaves under the influence of gravity. Here's my reading list:

Theoretical Astrophysics: Volume 1, Astrophysical Processes
Theoretical Astrophysics: Volume 2, Stars and Stellar Systems
Theoretical Astrophysics: Volume 3, Galaxies and Cosmology
This 3 volume set is by Thanu Padmanabhan; Cambridge University Press, 2000, 2001, 2002. This is your primary reference for astrophysics. The set is extensive and covers the basics of any topic you are going to run in to. The final volume has worked its way to the primary topics of gravitational interest, galaxy formation and cosmology. If you successfully plow through all 3 volumes, you will know more about astrophysics that anyone you are likely to meet. Volume I includes a chapter in general relativity. Volume II concentrates on stars, you could go lightly or skip it, but there will be a hole in your knowledge if you do. After all, Volume III goes in to galaxies, and galaxies evolve because the stars in them do.

You should be able to get the physics you need from these books, and the mathematical references.
  • Step 4 - Gravity
We are now ready to hit gravity as a special topic. As for a primary reference, there is really only one, obvious choice:

Gravitation by Misner, Thorne & Wheeler; W.H. Freeman, 1973. Don't be put off by the fact the book is 35 years old. There is a reason it is still in print. It remains the primary reference to the basic study of gravity and general relativity. You want to use this 1216 page book as a reference, rather than as a working text book, though there will doubtless be places you want to work through. This is where you will need the deepest mathematical preparation.

As a working textbook, I recommend:

Spacetime and Geometry: An Introduction to General Relativity
by Sean Carroll; Pearson Education & Addison-Wesley, 2004. This 499 page book, (I don't include index pages), covers general relativity and gravitation directly, and is a textbook with problems, exercises, etc. Chapters include special and general relativity, gravitation, manifolds, curvature, and gravitational radiation. This is your main goal. Work through this book, and you will know gravity.

You may find additional references to be useful here, aside from Carroll's text book, and the massive tome by Misner, Thorne & Wheeler. So, along those lines, I recommend:

Gravity: An Introduction to Einstein's General Relativity
by James B. Hartle; Pearson Education & Addison-Wesley, 2003. This 567 page book could be used as the working text instead of Carroll. The goal is the same, but the layout is different. Hartle emphasizes geometry & geodesics in spacetime, and includes additional material on black holes & gravitational collapse.

Gravitation and Cosmology: Principles and Applications of the General Theory of Relativity
by Steven Weinberg; John Wiley & Sons, 1972. Another oldie still in print for good reasons. Like Misner, Thorne & Wheeler, it's age means the approach is different, and a lot of newer material found in Hartle & Caroll won't be there. Nevertheless, this is one of the classic introductions to the field. It's 631 pages concentrate on applications in cosmology, with very little astrophysics. So there is a much greater emphasis on geometry, curvature, and the mathematical basis of the field equations of pure general relativity.

Of course, I left out huge chunks of physics that somebody else might want to include. But the point was to create an abbreviated rather than comprehensive course of study. There is plenty of Newtonian gravity in Six Core Theories, Feynman's Lectures, Padmanabhan's trilogy, and Gravitation. The latter book includes extensive treatments of post-Newtonian formalism, as does Weinberg's book.

I am not such a big fan of the post-Newtonian formalism for understanding gravity or general relativity. Obviously, this is an opinion open to considerable debate. But I find the post-Newtonian formalism to be more confusing than enlightening. It is found in the older books, but not much in the newer books, and I suspect that's because others are of the same opinion. The modern methods are easier for me to understand.

Certainly, a deep understanding of Newtonian gravity can't hurt. I simply decided that it was not necessary to go deeply into orbital mechanics or central force problems as separate topics, because they are all treated well enough (I think) in the books I reference, for the task at hand. Remember, even in the case of a formal program of study, the "degree" is where you start studying, not where you stop studying. So my only goal is to get the "student" up to speed on the basics as quickly as reasonable. I assume the "student" will proceed to work on these ideas for the rest of their lives, leaving plenty of time to pick up the more arcane aspects of gravitational physics, or a broader understanding of applications like radiative transfer in collapsing giant molecular clouds.

Finally, I don't think studying the Principia itself is of any value in the context of the question at hand, namely a modern understanding of gravity in cosmology and astrophysics. I have several editions of Newton's Principia; its geometric formalism is so arcane it is almost unreadable. That's why Chandrasekhar decided to translate parts of the Principia into modern mathematical notation:

Newton's Principia for the Common Reader
by Chandrasekhar. After seeing his book I can say I admire Chandrasekhar's notion of what constitutes a "common" reader. He translates Newtonian geometry into differential equations, which are much easier for modern readers to understand, assuming that the "common" reader commonly studies differential equations. But so much work has gone into classical mechanics and classical Newtonian gravity as to render the Principia itself of purely historical interest, in my opinion.
  • Step 5 - Newtonian Gravity
Having said all that, you may want more Newtonian gravity. Indeed, supplemental reading in classical mechanics is probably most rewarding and interesting. So I recommend ...

Classical and Celestial Mechanics: The Recife Lectures , edited by Hilberto Cabral & Florin Daciu; Princeton University Press, 2002. This book concentrates on gravity in classical mechanics. It is a good reference I think.

Classical Dynamics: A Contemporary Approach
by José & Saletan, Cambridge University Press, 1998 (reprint 2002). This 668 page book concentrates on Hamiltonian & Lagrangian mechanics. These methods are key to understanding the field theory approach to gravity.

The Classical Theory of Fields
by Landau & Lifshitz; Elsevier, 1975 (first edition 1951). Volume 4 of their multi-volume set on theoretical physics. This is of course the classical text on classical field theory, which obviously does include a field theory discussion of both Newtonian gravity and general relativity.

If you want to get into Newtonian gravity specifically, there's three ways to do it.

Final Comments
All of the books I recommend here are books I have in my own library of a few thousand books on mathematics and physics. But this message is clearly biased by my own thinking about how I teach myself from my own resources. Others may find other paths to learning more efficient. Some people prefer to take formal courses, others do better on their own. And some of us are just too old and lazy to work to somebody else's formal class schedule. I decided to write this message because the more I thought about it, I was struck by the challenge. How does one go about self teaching a complex topic like this? This is the answer I came up with for myself." Tim Thompson

From Ivan Viehoff: "I wonder if you could shorten the reading list by buying this one:

The Road to Reality,
A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe, by Roger Penrose. The first part of the book includes all the relevant mathematics you need. It also has all the quantum stuff, but I think it is arranged so that you can concentrate on gravity, etc.

Mathematics isn't just something you learn, it is something you understand. While I was doing my Mathematics degree, some of my colleagues reached a ceiling of understanding. They were very conscientious, hard-working students, but they had just reached their limit. I reached my own ceiling of understanding in one or two branches. You'd reach a point where I just no longer had a sufficient complete grasp of what was going on to understand how the next statement came out of the preceding, or how to move the argument on myself. One of these branches was classical mechanics.

My point is that a great number of students can read course material in a subject like gravity, without actually being able to truly grasp it, even though they may think they do.

Another important aspect of it involves the interpretation of a models. The mathematics in basic special relativity is quite simple. It is simple enough that I was taught it in high school. Understanding what it means, and knowing how to apply it, is very difficult." Ivan Viehoff

Donkey logged onto the forum and thanked all involved for their valuable insight and wisdom. I thank them again here.

I may not yet know exactly how to get where I want to go, but I am beginning to see how I might get there and how to know that I have arrived. There will be many obstacles, (donkeys aren't known to be very smart ya' know), but now Donkey has a road map ... Hee Haw!

Next blog entry: "Beginning at the Beginning": Back to Grade School