I’m constantly bemused by the Universe. Why are some things the way they are? What is the Big Bang all about? Why Quantum? Why do people seemingly like to kill other people? Obviously on average this last is untrue, but that’s little comfort when a significant portion appears to be inflicting mayhem, in the forms of wars, terrorism, traffic accidents and even simple murder, on other people.
But let’s not get too serious. One quirk of the universe caught my eye in the supermarket. No, it wasn’t the solid wall of fizzy and sugary drinks. It wasn’t the half wall of cotton wool masquerading as bread. It wasn’t even the rows of vegetables liberally sprayed to make them look fresh, or the wall of salty crunchy snacks indistinguishable in look and taste to everyone except teenage boys who are picky connoisseurs of the things.
No, it was a humble object, a truncated ice cream cone shaped in plastic containing a small bag of hair ties, the sort of thing that girls use to put their hair in bunches. At first sight a good idea. It can sit on the dressing table, resting on the flat base, and the owner can remove one or two ties as required and replace them in due course.
Except – The truncated cone didn’t look very stable and the ball just rested on the cone, and would presumably roll away if the cone was upset. And the ball. In my limited experience of hair ties, they end up capturing loose hairs, the sparkly sheath snaps exposing the elastic core, or the elastic core breaks rendering them useless. They don’t have a long life.
In addition they get lost. Just like the planet of lost pens there is a planet of lost hair ties. Like the pens the hair ties rings around the planet just as ice and rocks form rings around Saturn. Just like a pen you can put one down anywhere and when you come back the hair tie has completely disappeared. Because of some law of probability or something sometimes there’s a pen in its place bearing the logo of some firm that you’ve never heard of and which operates in a different area to the one that you live in.
So after a while the semi stable holder of a ball of hair ties becomes a depleted bunch of hairy broken hair ties and a tipped over holder which has rolled off under the bed. I admit that much of the above is speculation. I’m not a girl, don’t wear hair ties, and I’m not an astronomer or statistician. But I suggest you try the experiment. Buy an ice cream holder and hair tie ball set and observe what happens. I reckon that it will be uncannily like the scenario I suggest above.
But think of all the unlikely things that had to happen to create that unlikely supermarket item. Firstly we had to have the Big Bang. But not just any Big Bang. This one. A slightly different Big Bang may not have resulted in a liveable Universe. The Big Bang might also have created a liveable Universe but not one where life evolved.
Life evolves on planets. Planets revolve around stars. Stars and planets have to be of right sort that life can evolve on. One of the things that is essential is a mix of elements which can only be created in the heart of a star. You see, the Universe is mostly hydrogen, as free protons, the occasional hydrogen atom, and the even rarer hydrogen molecules.
And that would be it, but some of the hydrogen/protons condensed into clumps or clouds, which grew until gravity compressed the hydrogen atoms to the point where they fused and produced helium and gave off energy. Stars. Generation I stars. Eventually pressures increased to the point where other elements started to be produced, and finally the stars exploded!
The Big Bang that started all this is the precise one that embodied or encoded all the nuclear interactions that I’ve just mentioned. Oh, there is a possibility that there was only one possible Big Bang – the one that led to us, but that doesn’t explain why all the universal constants have the values that they do. If any had been slightly different we wouldn’t be here.
When the stars exploded all the elements necessary to life were blasted into space. Over billions of years these very rare elements condensed to become our sun, and our earth. The earth and any rocky earthlike planet consists of a vast collection very rare atoms. We consist of a vast collection of very rare atoms that have somehow sprung to life. You can almost see the point of that religionists make when they say that such happenings as you and I could not have occurred by chance.
But of course they are wrong. Chance is the only reason for things happening, and it is so long since the Big Bang that unusual clusters of rare atoms, such as us, even though they are of very low probability, have come to pass, and all this was implicit in the Big Bang.
By some chance some collection of very rare elements sat down one day and thought about hair ties and how to keep them tidy and protect them from being lost and came up with the ice creme cone concept. I’ve wondered about the concept above, and whether or not it is in fact a useful one. My feeling is that the flaws outweigh the advantages, but of course I may be wrong.
For all I know, the concept works fine, and is the greatest advance in hair tie technology since someone had the original concept of a hair tie. When you think about it, it is a pretty cool technology which does away with the need for ribbons and strings, and the difficulties of tying and adjusting them. The ice cream cone holder concept could be the next step in the evolution of hair technology.
The truly wondrous thing though, is that the ice cream cone hair tie holder concept and its execution and appearance on the supermarket shelves is implicit in the Big Bang. The Big Bang led to stars, supernovas, more stars, planets, life, supermarkets and ice cream cone hair tie holders, and that is truly amazing.