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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Contemplating the debris

I took a walk this evening with a flashlight, and the full moon, and my breath guiding my way, it was cold. And I didn't look up much at first, for I read once about the dark matter of that overhead in the night sky, the great majority of the universe, that called the dark matter (or dark matter and dark energy), accounts for 97 percent of all the universe, yet even calling it dark matter is a bit misleading, for the term "dark matter" is really a place holder, it is a made up term to describe that which cannot be described. Dark matter really means, "I don't know." Plain and simply. The great "huh?" that we dignify with "dark matter." After all the calculations are done, we are left with a remainder of 96% unaccounted for. Meaning that everything we see, the material world (which includes a whole bunch that our eyes don't see, such as infrared light, but with instruments we can "see") is 4% of the whole. Four percent! (give or take a few percent, depending on where you gather these kinds of facts). But what is 4% of anything? Not very much. Fill a glass with 96% water and 4% sand. Stir it up and see the bits swirl about the great volume of water, all the stars and galaxies of the universe swirling about in that glass nearly full of water. One cosmos theorist calls the 4% of the known universe the debris. He calls it something so unimportant that when you remove it, you will not miss it. Huh? Okay, take our glass of water with the bits of sand swirling in it, now with a filter, filter out all the sand, the 4% of the total volume. Now hold up the glass of water, the glass 96% full. Nearly full. All the stars and the galaxies and you and me gone. Yet the glass doesn't even seem to miss them. It still looks full. That is why the theorist laughs when someone looks up into the night sky and makes poetic statements about looking into the universe. He laughs because what you really are seeing is the "mere" 4% of the total. That night sky ablaze with countless stars. Is the mere 4% of the total. So tonight as I was walking in the moon lit desert, with flashlight in hand, I was thinking about the 96% that my eyes couldn't see. I switched off the flashlight and even with the full moon, the landscape was still dark, dark enough that the difference between noontime and full moon time were, I think, similar to the 96% and 4%. I then looked straight up and as always, the desert night sky is a blaze of twinkles, and I had a hard time thinking this but 4% of the whole. And of course I had to include myself and the surrounding desert in that 4%. Yes, everything on this planet Earth is included in the 4%. Then I reached down, the flashlight beam making a yellow circle on the sand, and I took a handful of sand, cold in my clenched hand, and flung it into the air, and with the beam of the flashlight watched the grains of sand interrupt the darkness, for without the sand in the air, my flashlight beam had nothing to deflect the photons. Are the stars about just so much sand flung across the universe? Or simply, as the theorist said, mere debris? We too the debris of the universe? Turning back, with the flashlight beam sweeping the path before me, I thought of the 4% as not debris, but that little of great value. And why? For hidden inside this 4% is what I think of as potential. That mysterious force call potential. And it is this force that breaks through the unknown to become ...

2 comments:

jzr said...

A very inspiring and mind-bending post! I had no idea. This is one that will take a long time to digest!!
That all we see, including us, is only 4% of the whole leaves me breathless. And why can't we see the rest?? Are we untrained? totally unable?? need a instrument to see it?? is it that we just cannot recognize what the 96% is because we've never imagined anything like it?? The potential is amazing!!

Bro. Bartleby said...

To answer your question about the 96% "other," here is a quote from NY Time science writer Richard Panek, " 'Dark,' as cosmologists call it, in what could go down in history as the ultimate semantic surrender. This is not 'dark' as in distant or invisible. This is 'dark' as in unknown for now, and possibly forever."