Thinking Inside of the Box

Illustration of the expansion of the Universe ...
Illustration of the expansion of the Universe after the Big bang. In Bulgarian. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Science aims to explain things, and by extension to explain everything. Is this even possible? Suppose the Universe consisted of a box, 20 million metres in each direction. Scientists inside this box could investigate this universe, but could they explain everything about this universal Box?

Suppose that the Box had impenetrable walls, so scientists could not probe outside of it. So they could say that the width, height, depth of the universe was 20 million metres and they could describe what was in it. They could also say that one side of the cube attracted everything in the Box and that side could be labelled “down” and the opposite side “up”.

English: Snapshot from a simulation of large s...
English: Snapshot from a simulation of large scale structure formation in a ΛCDM universe. The size of the box is (50 h -1 Mpc) 3 . Run using GADGET (GPL software) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There also might be statistical laws, so that the temperature, on average, might be 20 degrees Celsius, but could differ from that norm from place to place and from time to time. Box scientists might determine that everything appeared to be made up of tiny indivisible particles. Box atoms.

Some Box philosophers might ponder what was beyond the limits of the Box. They’d ponder the fact that starting from one side of the Box, one could travel 20 million metres in a perpendicular direction, but one could not travel 20 million and one metres. Why not?

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I’m sure that they would have plenty of theories. For instance, one philosopher might contend that the Box was embedded in an infinite impenetrable bedrock, while another might say that it was obvious – the Box was embedded in nothing. No space, no time, no thing!

Meanwhile scientists probing the Box atoms might split them and discover a whole new world of sub-atomic particles. Others might conceive of space in the Box as being a seething mass of pairs of virtual particles, being created and moving apart for a brief instant and then merging into nothing, no thing, again.

English: Tracks of ionizing radiation in a clo...
English: Tracks of ionizing radiation in a cloud chamber (thick, short: alpha particles; long, thin: beta particles). Français : Traces d’ionisation matérialisées sous forme de micro-trainées de condensation par des particules radioactives dans une chambre à brouillard ; Les trainées épaisses et courtes signalent des particules alpha ; les longues et files matérialisent le passage de particules beta). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But, says one bright spark, what about a particle pair created on the boundary of the Box? One particle would enter the Box, and the other would travel somewhere else! This would lead to other speculation – if the second particle travelled in another Box, then that other Box would presumably be a mirror image of our Box!

Such speculation would wait on experimentation by the Box scientists and I’m aware that I cannot push the Box analogy too far with out it breaking. But, just as in the case of the Box scientists, philosophers and scientists in this Universe have similar issue.

An illustration of a ramified analogy, one com...
An illustration of a ramified analogy, one component of Gordon Pask’s Conversation Theory. Self-made (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In our Universe there are no bounds (under current theories, I believe) but that doesn’t mean that we can’t speculate about what is beyond our Universe, whatever “beyond” may mean in this context.

The Box scientists could potentially explain every thing in the Box, maybe even the fact that it had existed, pretty much unchanged (on average) for all time, and that is periodically, over astronomically long time scale is doomed to repeat itself, time and time again.

Mesquita, repeat ad infinitum
Mesquita, repeat ad infinitum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When they go further than that, it is pure speculation, as all the data that they have relates to the Box. They have no data from outside of the Box. All the waves and particles that are observed originate in the Box. All the forces and fields are part of the Box. While scientists may speculate about “other Boxes”, that is all that they can do.

That’s the problem. The Box scientists, and the scientists from our Universe, can only observe events in the Universe in which they are embedded. Observations relate only to events in the local Universe.

English: Multiverse, a light sculpture by Leo ...
English: Multiverse, a light sculpture by Leo Villareal featuring 41,000 computer-programmed LED nodes, located between the National Gallery of Art’s East and West Buildings, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some conjectures suggest that our Universe is one of many universes all linked together in some way. Some conjectures suggest that the laws of our Universe apply in many other similar universes separate from ours. Some people conjecture that universes may exist where there are no laws or the laws that there are have no similarity in any way to the laws of our Universe.

In the Box universe these conjecture would amount to ideas that there may be other Box universes out there with similar laws to the Box universe, maybe linked in some way to the hypothetical Box universe. There may even be universes which have laws which are not at all similar to those of the Box universe. For instance a universe which springs from a single point in a vast explosion and expands at a vast rate either forever or to a certain point only to collapse once again. How bizarre!

The Big Bang era of the universe, presented as...
The Big Bang era of the universe, presented as a manifold in two dimensions (1-space and time); the shape is right (approximately), but it’s not to scale. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Box scientists would not have any way to decide whether or not their were any other Boxes as their observations would only observe events in their own Box. The only way that events in one Box could possibly affect the events in another Box would be if there was a link between them in some way.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the event would be observable as the effect of one universe on the other universe. It would just appear as an event in each universe as it transpires as a result of the laws of the universe in question.

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The theory may posit a link between two universes but the events in one universe can only result from events within that universe. If this were not so, the event in the universe would appear to happen without any causation in the universe. In other words it would be an anomaly or a miracle.

In other words, suppose a scientist in one universe knows of a law where he can cause an effect in another universe. If he can cause this effect in his universe then in the other universe something will also appear to cause this effect. Maybe this cause will be a scientist in the other universe trying to create an effect in the first universe!

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This possible symmetry of cause and effect across more than one universe would mean that it would be difficult if not impossible to detect the presence of another universe by its effects on our universe.

The person in the Box universe would likely be in the same position. This means that he would never know if there were anything outside of his 20 million metre cube. He could postulate an infinite series of Boxes stacked like bricks in an endless array. Or he could postulate Boxes grouped into “houses”. Or he could postulate that his was the only Box and that speculations about universes started from “Big Bang” explosions are mere fiction.

Detail of the bricks in the Great Wall at Muti...
Detail of the bricks in the Great Wall at Mutianyu. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


A New World Department Store located at New Wo...
A New World Department Store located at New World Centre Shopping Mall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I do practically anything, I tend to muse about the origins of whatever it is I am doing. This is my way of looking at something in a different way. So today I’m going to think about shopping.

In the days before money, people would presumably have gone around trading for the things that they needed, which makes shopping in the way we understand it difficult and complicated. Role specialisations (butcher, baker, candlestick maker) would probably have arisen well before money was invented and shops as we know then would be unlikely to have existed.

English: Traditional Butcher Shop in Abbotsbury.
English: Traditional Butcher Shop in Abbotsbury. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Trade would have been, for example, a barrel of apples for a side of pork, and complex networks of obligations would have arisen as Peter owes Paul a dozen eggs, while Paul owes Saul a side of pork, who owes Roger a hour or so labour to repair a pig byre, and Roger owes the blacksmith some wheat for his knives, and so on.

Once the human race invented money, this would all have become a lot easier. The value of the side of pork or the labour to repair the pig byre  could be assessed and indebtedness could be quantified more accurately. The advantages were obvious. Instead of passing around obligations, one could use money to pay for things.

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Of course, the underlying principle is the same, the exchange of one thing of value for another thing of value, but the big advantage was the decoupling of the direct “thing for a thing”. An intermediate “thing of value” or money, enabled the keeping track of indebtedness much easier.

A smithy would be naturally located in a central position, as would the mill. Other suppliers would maybe not be so central – the proto-butcher might travel around the countryside killing and butchering animals, and the proto-baker probably worked from home and may have dealt with the passing trade and also delivered. Perhaps the proto-milkman might have distributed his spare milk and butter around the countryside too.

Bread rolls
Bread rolls (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s likely that market places existed before money was invented, as places for people to trade their surpluses for other people’s surpluses, but the invention of money would probably have boosted the use of market places, and specialist traders would turn from prototypes to more specific traders.

And a retail/wholesale split may have happened pretty much as a result of the invention of money. The beef and pig farmer may have completely dropped any attempt to grow grain, or to keep a milk cow, if he could sell all his animals to the butcher and buy bread, grain, milk and cheese and butter from similar specialists.

English: Office candlestick in brass, made by ...
English: Office candlestick in brass, made by Skultuna mässingsbruk, Sweden. Svenska: Kontorsljusstake i mässing från Skultuna mässingsbruk. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, the market place may have started out as place to trade produce, but it would have swiftly changed to a place where one could buy stuff. Pretty soon it would have occurred to the market traders that the hassle of setting up stalls and taking them down each day was a waste of time. They would use the new money to buy a house in or near the market, not to live in, but to store and even market their goods.

From the point of view of the customers, as well as the new class of merchants, this was a great move. Instead of travelling to the butcher, the baker, and indeed the candlestick maker, they only had to go to one place, the new expanded market. It would not be long before the houses around the market were modified to make buying and selling easy and for merchants to display their wares. Shops were invented.

English: Mindpro_Citinall_Giordano_Shop
English: Mindpro_Citinall_Giordano_Shop (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

More exotic products, such as spices from abroad and fabrics from other parts of the country would have started to make their way in to the market places as distant merchants could send large quantities of their goods and would know that a local trader could buy them, and sell them on to local people. Of course, a profit was to be had at each stage of the process.

Shops would naturally tend to arise near the market (which would still be used for livestock and work fairs), so shopping areas would have arisen, well placed in the town centres.

Oskargallerian, a shopping mall in Örnsköldsvi...
Oskargallerian, a shopping mall in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the largest centres of all, the cities, this concentration of shopping gave rise to problems for the shopkeepers, such as where to store one’s wares, and, inevitably, how to attract customers. Attractive shops help with the attraction, as does a large range of wares. Warehouses slightly out of town and large storeroom solve some of the other problems.

A larger range of wares means that some shops would have started to sell multiple types of wares. A clothier may sell clothes for all purposes, gender and ages, and may also sell raw materials for clothes making and the tools for making clothes. A hatter may also start to sell suits, maybe from the clothier, wholesale.

The Milliner (hat maker)
The Milliner (hat maker) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some time  in the 20th century the so called department stores became popular. These store sold wide ranges of things for as many household needs as possible. They were called department stores as they were divided up into departments – clothes here, crockery and other cooking equipment there, haberdashery here, gardening requisites there. Even jewelry would perhaps be found over there.

We are seeing the ultimate in bricks and mortar shopping these days, in the big shopping malls. These are usually based around a supermarket or a department store and contain many smaller speciality stores. Since they are truly “single places to shop” or “one stop shopping” they can be locates away from the town or city centres, to the detriment of any remaining city centre shops.

English: Bentalls Kingston department store wh...
English: Bentalls Kingston department store which is now incorporated into the Bentalls centre shopping mall. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But in this virtual age, virtual shopping is becoming more important. You can buy almost anything that you can think of on line these days, even your daily groceries, and it is usually cheaper. However, there may be a limit to this, as many people like to touch and feel and pick and choose what they purchase, and clothes often need to be tried on. So while the on line trend in shopping is gathering pace, it is probable that bricks and mortar shops will survive, in some form, at least for a moderate amount of time.

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