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WALLY'S WORLD: Numbers are just too big to comprehend
Continued from last week.
My previous column dealt with astronomy and the universe. Mainly, it described the gigantic numbers and distances necessary when considering the subject – numbers and distances you can print on newspaper, but numbers and distances that still remain incomprehensible.
To recall one example: A light-year – that is, the distance light travels in one year – is roughly 6 trillion miles. Can any of us really get a clear picture of that distance? Personally, I’ve always had difficulty conceiving precisely how far a single miles is, let alone 6 trillion of them. If you can, well than, the Hubble telescope is gazing at stars (suns) that are 84 sextillion miles from Earth – that’s an 84 followed by 21 zeroes. Can you get a clear conception of that? I think not. It’s just a big number on paper.
And can we really imagine 100 billion stars in a galaxy? Or then, 100 billion galaxies? We’re speaking now of a 100 sillion, octillion, zillion stars. Can you get a handle on that? Of course not. It’s just another big number.
However, such figures are enough to spark a sense of wonder and awe in many of us. When considering such immensity, many of us understandably ask: “Where did this all come from?” Well, as mentioned last week, many astronomers and physicists say it originated with a Big Bang about 15 billion years ago.
The question is ridiculous and irrelevant if you happen to be an atheist. An atheist, you see, doesn’t believe the universe came from anything. It wasn’t created. It has simply always been. (Eternity is another idea we humans have a difficult time with; i.e., can anyone clearly conceive of something without a beginning or end?)
But than, how does an atheist account for the fact that our universe seems to have originated with a Big Bang? Well, he either rejects that idea or else he suggests there have been an endless series of Big Bangs. The galaxies simply expand to a certain point and then collapse back upon themselves, creating another Big Bang. It’s an oscillating universe that’s always been.
Some atheists imagine there are other universes outside our own. Perhaps, even an infinite number of them.
Could be. But to contemplate such a thing is a bit absurd. Trying to comprehend one universe is more than any of us can handle.
Of course, those among us with religious convictions feel the universe was created by God, who is infinite and eternal. But the atheist will immediately ask why an eternal god is any more reasonable or acceptable than an eternal universe.
And what can you say about that? Well, not much.
Of only one thing we can be certain: something, whether material or spiritual, has always been here because if there was ever “nothing,” then there wouldn’t ever be anything (nothing can’t create something).
It’s true, though, that atheists are a rarity among cutting-edge physicists and cosmologists. Indeed, every day they work with several “spiritual” realms. In fact – if that expression has any credence in their far-out equations – algebraic calculations indicate the existence of 14 different dimensions in the time/space continuum; that is, length, height, width, time, and 10 other ones. No one pretends to fully understand any of the last 10 and they’re mostly illogical as hell.
So, make out of that whatever you will.