Considering the Universe

Miss Universe
Miss Universe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(Once again I wrote this on Sunday, but forgot to post it on Monday)

When we are considering the Universe we are considering something that we are part of, and of which we share the characteristics, such as, for example, existence. We can exist only because the Universe exists and the Universe exists, at least in part, because we exist. It is conceivable that in some way a universe could exist with nothing in it, much like a mathematical empty set but it would be pretty boring.

Or would it? Maybe I’m applying some anthropocentric reasoning to that statement. After all, the concept of a mathematical empty set is very useful in mathematics, and but then again, “useful” is a human concept.

"Skeleton of human (1) and gorilla (2), u...
“Skeleton of human (1) and gorilla (2), unnaturally stretched.” Size: 4.9 x 5.5 in² (12.4 x 13.9 cm²) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A universe may be non-empty, but have no life in it. We, from another universe can conceive of such a universe, but there can be no perceiving of that universe if we rule out the possibility of visiting it from our Universe. We can’t even tell if such a universe exists, so some would argue that the question of its existence is meaningless.

That’s a valid argument, but then again, out Universe was not perceived by any entity in the billions of years prior to the evolution of life. Of course the question of the early  existence of our Universe before the coming of life, is not meaningless to us – we know that it must have existed for us to exist.

English: An illustration of the time scales fo...
English: An illustration of the time scales for the history of the universe, the earth, and major events in the evolution of life. The scale on the far left is in billions of years the other scales are numbered in millions of years. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, we can conceive of other universes other than our own, but do other universes exist in any real sense, apart from our own. A universe is self contained in the sense that there is no logical reason to conceive of anything outside of it. It is all of physics, all of existence.

One definition of universe is:

a distinct field or province of thought or reality that forms a closed system or self-inclusive and independent organization

This is a pretty good description of what I am writing about I’d say. The key word for me is “closed”. If something is closed it contains whatever it contains and the outside is irrelevant so far the contents are concerned.

Though now I come to think of it, maybe that is not true. If we have a can of beans, we know what is inside it by the label, and we can open the can with a can opener. Maybe the contents of our Universe are visible on the outside, on the label as it were.


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Our Universe has laws, or appears to have laws. The laws appear to be universal – that is, they apply everywhere in our Universe without exception. An atom here behaves the same as a similar atom here would and conceptually swapping them would make zero difference.

We do not know all the laws but we humans believe that we can know all the laws and I believe this to be true, even if it might take longer than the life of the Universe for use to discover and understand them all. By laws, I mean “how stuff works” and even if the ultimate answer is “because that’s the way the Universe works” and there is no deeper meaning than that, I’d still consider them laws.

One bizarre possibility though, is that there is no order and the Universe is totally random, and only appears to have order. When we look at an expansion of the number Π we mostly find what seems to be random digits. Occasionally however we find runs of digits which look like they are non random, such as a lengthy series of the digit “3”, but eventually the random appearance returns.

This feature of the number Π can be used for amusement, such finding one’s own name “encoded” in Π, or any other string. Maybe our Universe is like a very long encoded string in the number Π, which seems to be ordered but actually isn’t. Maybe at some future instant things will revert to the real random state that the Universe is its real state.

Pi Animation Example
Pi Animation Example (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some physicists and cosmologists postulate alternate universes to account for some of the weirder facets of Quantum Physics, but in the broader sense we can consider universes which are similar but different and unrelated to ours. Would we want to visit such universes? Could we conceivably do so?

It seems to me to be unlikely that we could visit other universes, as the only methods that we could use are physical ones and our Universe encapsulates its physicality. That is, the physical laws pretty much define it. A frog can leap from a pond, since frog, pond, the air and the surroundings of the pond are physical, but simple leaping cannot take the frog to another universe, no matter how hard he jumps. A human can use physics to travel the Universe, but using physical means it doesn’t appear possible for us to jump out of our pond.


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Would we really want to visit other physics-based universes? The other universes would have to be pretty much the same physically, our physical bodies would suffer – imagine for an example a universe where protons decay in minutes instead of in aeons. We would die in seconds.

Our best prospects for universe-hopping would be those universe which are probability neighbours. That is, they share the same physics as our Universe, but some events happened differently. For example, one can contemplate a universe where slaving never happened or where France’s hegemony dominated the early USA and French language and culture dominate in the North Americas.

Non-Native-American Nation's Control over Nort...
Non-Native-American Nation’s Control over North America circe 1750-2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, we are used to a physical Universe, but it is conceivable that other universes may be not physically based. It’s extremely difficult to even talk about such universes, should they (in some sense) exist, and my mind keeps trying to populate such conceptual universes with things, and things are presumably physical entities, and would not be able to exist in a non physical universe. Probably!

Perhaps our physical nature hampers us in understanding the real nature of things. Perhaps we can only conceptualise things based on our nature. After all our thoughts are the end result of physical processes evolving over billions of years and are implicit in the history of our Universe and encoded in a way in the Big Bang.

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field, is an image of a ...
The Hubble Ultra Deep Field, is an image of a small region of space in the constellation Fornax, composited from Hubble Space Telescope data accumulated over a period from September 3, 2003 through January 16, 2004. The patch of sky in which the galaxies reside was chosen because it had a low density of bright stars in the near-field. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fighting Terrorism


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(Second post of Terrorists – this won’t become a theme. At least I will try not to make it a theme).

A terrorist is someone who kills people, often innocent bystanders in an attempt to force his or her views on others. Sometimes the terrorist is part of a persecuted minority, but often he or she is driven by religious fervour. His or her beliefs maybe include the concept of rewards after death and he or she will likely be prepared to lay down his or her life in the furtherance of his or her objectives.

How do you recognise a terrorist? With the current spate of Islamist inspired shootings and bombings many people are looking askance at people with dark skins, beards and who tend to wear a particular style of clothing. To say that this can be misleading is obvious.

Islamic Center of Washington DC
Islamic Center of Washington DC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The case of a Sikh student who was questioned by police when someone suspected that he was a terrorist merely because of his appearance and the wires of his earphones protruding from his bag is a good example. The person who reported him was obviously ignorant of the fact that Sihkism is a religion which is totally different from Islam. This is sad, but not surprising.

So how do you identify a terrorist then? It’s very hard indeed. The young white spotty youth who lives down the road and has taken to calling himself “Jusef” and dressing in Middle Eastern clothing is almost certainly more of a threat than anyone in the area with dark skin and a habit of fasting for a month at certain times of the year.

William Henry Quilliam (April 10, 1856 – 1932)...
William Henry Quilliam (April 10, 1856 – 1932), who changed his name to Abdullah Quilliam, was a 19th century convert from Christianity to Islam, noted for founding England’s first mosque and Islamic centre. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The things that people have done in the name of religion have led to a call for religion to be banned. This obviously won’t work and it would drive religion underground and radicalise it. There are billions of people who do have a religion or belief which they base their life around who would not dream of using violence to further their religion.

Much of the tension between religious groups is the result of ignorance. There are probably as many texts in the Koran which promote peace and harmony as there are in the Christian Bible. There are also likely to be as many violent exhortations as to what to do to non-believers in the Bible as there are in the Koran. After the Bible and the Koran are related documents with the later Koran commenting on the earlier Biblical texts.

English: Handwritten Koran Nederlands: Koran. ...
English: Handwritten Koran Nederlands: Koran. Handgeschreven Koran in donkerbruine lederen band met overslag (afgebroken). Het eerste en laatste dubbele blad zijn versierd, evenals het dubbele blad middenin. . Handgeschreven koran Unknown language: Qoran seunoerat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How can we spot terrorists before they commit their crimes? How do we determine who is a harmless and friendly family man and who is plotting to blow us up? Certainly not be looking at the colour of the skin and the possession of a copy of the Koran. Not by checking if he or she visits the Mosque every week. Even if such a person seems surly and unfriendly, he or she might just be having a bad day. And we cannot decide based on their choice of clothing.

The only real way of detecting a terrorist in our midst is unfortunately by closely watching for them. Of course, we should have our suspicions first, otherwise we would need to track everyone who “looked like a Muslim”. This is unacceptable in a free society.


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We can get better understanding of Muslims and vice versa, by education. One proposal was that religion, all religions, be taught in schools. This is a good idea but will not work unless similar is done in Islamist states and countries, and that will never happen.

One big issue is the case of the alienated white teenager. A certain few will for one reason or another completely flip and commit murder, usually of their contemporaries, and sometimes at random. Any nominal motive would be attributed to anything from white supremacy, to political reason (usually nihilistic), or  to nothing significant.


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It seems that such teenagers are more and more and more being attracted to Islam and the violent side of that religion and we find that atrocities are sometimes being carried out by white boys who have converted to Islam.

I question whether the problem here lies with the religion or in the fact that these kids had easy access to guns and that their alienation was either not recognised or ignored. If they had not had the concept of Islamic jihad to adopt, would they not have found some other cause to espouse?

Arabic script. Eghra, Read. The first Quoranic...
Arabic script. Eghra, Read. The first Quoranic word, in order of arrival. (Letter Qaf eight times, letter ‘Alif sixteen times.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So how do we fight terrorism? Do we suspect our neighbours who have ties to the Middle East, or do we quarantine them, or even deport them? All these solutions are ineffective and some followers of Islam have lived here peacefully for generations. Do we force them to give up their culture and assimilate more closely into the community?

All these options have been tried in the past and historically have shown that these tactics are ineffective, not to mention brutal and demeaning. And that is without considering the case of the alienated white boy.

CCTV cameras
CCTV cameras (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Government would have us believe that the answer is for more surveillance of all citizens. This is certainly effective in some cases, but in the few cases which escape the notice of the authorities, the terrorists can cause untold damage and inflict a large number of deaths on many innocent people. And this still doesn’t really address the issue of the white teenager who typically acts alone and who quite often has no close ties to Islam.

Another option is for retaliatory military raids on the overt face of the organisation that the terrorists are connected with, but this will always happen after an atrocity and merely gives the organisation rhetorical weapons to justify their aims.

English: A payload surveillance camera made by...
English: A payload surveillance camera made by Controp and distributed to the U.S Government by ADI Technologies. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is sad but I don’t believe that things will change until Islam changes. I have high hopes that it will as the adherents of Islam move into non-Moslem countries and integrate with the non-Moslem communities there. Then perhaps the more liberal ideas will filter back to the Moslem counties together with increased prosperity.

After all, the Christian religion mounted the largely ineffective Crusades against Moslems in the Middle East, admittedly as a result of an Islamist expansion and that crusading religious fervour eventually died out in Europe.

English: Saladin
English: Saladin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s a pity that there is no real solution to the problem of terrorists. One can only hope that ultimately people will evolve to be more understanding of their neighbours and that xenophobia will diminish to almost nothing. Until then we will have to live with the inconveniences at airports and the much more significant internal spying of authorities on citizens.

Unfortunately, we will have to read in the papers of atrocities carried out by one group or other against unarmed people for some time to come. I can see no real effective solution.

Crusades Task Force icon
Crusades Task Force icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(I note that I have conflated “terrorist” with the fanatical Moslem activities that we have seen recently. Terrorists however come in all shapes and sizes, all religions. This was not intentional but shows how easy it is to slip into the habit of equating the one with the other).