Monday, March 12, 2007

Earth - middle aged or embryonic?

Now then, if the current age of the Earth is 4.567 billion years, this means that if you translate the age of the Earth to the age of a person it'd be say 45 and a half year old middle aged person. If you extend this analogy we can explore whether this Gaian theory of the planet being a sentient being holds any weight.

Taking the history of Earth as we now understand it in our human timescale: the Earth formed out of the remnants of a supernova explosion as a molten ball of rock about 45 years 6 months ago; the oceans formed 42 years ago; the first replicating molecules appeared 40 years ago, when Earth was 6; the first cell didn’t make an appearance until 11; primitive photosynthesis occurred when Earth was 19 – this is some late developer we’re talking about; but this lead to the oxygen catastrophe at 22, killing off much the previous oxygen intolerant life; the earth was still in a tumultuous state suffering two high speed impacts at 26 and 28 and not settling down with a good ozone layer until 41, just at the time the first vertebrates appeared.

Then at 42 Earth decided to have a mid-life crisis with the Cambrian mass extinction, but this sparked the real rise in productivity with plants colonizing the land and the first arthropods appearing. Amphibians pulled themselves onto the land only 3 years and 9 months ago, shortly followed by plants with seeds to help spread across the planet. Then, after another wobble at 44 which shed 95% of all species and set the stage, the first dinosaurs appeared only 2 years 3 months ago. They reigned through the evolution of the first birds 1 year 6 months ago and the first flowers 3 months later, before being wiped out in the Yucatan Asteroid collision only 7 months ago. Less than a week later, the common ancestor of the primates appeared, with the apes popping up 22 days ago. From then on Earth finally got a bug up its arse, with homo erectus climbing down from the trees in the last week and humans establishing themselves as top dog 3 days ago.

In the last 17 hours cave art appeared and we've been farming the land for the last half hour. Christianity has been around for 10 minutes 31 seconds, the renaissance happened 3 minutes 41 seconds ago and the industrial revolution took hold just over a minute ago. The first computer appeared in the last 15 seconds, connecting together to form the www in just 12 seconds.
If 2012 is the big one, Earth did a lot of pissing about before she became self aware, but maybe we’re not extending enough, maybe this has only been the gestation period – Earth is still embryonic. Our enzyme-like manufacture of the surface of the Earth, is only the beginning. Perhaps the World Wide Web ceaselessly connecting around the surface of the planet is only the first neurons connecting up before the planet finally becomes self aware and teaches everyone a jolly good lesson.

Monday, February 12, 2007

More dimensions, vicar?

The concept of extra dimensions has fascinated me for ages – what would the world be like if we were able to move or see in more than the three spatial dimensions that we appear to be confined to?

The easiest way I’ve found to imagine extra-dimensions, is actually to think of less. Think of a universe where things can only move in two or even one dimension, how would life forms interact and live if they were restricted to a single plane, like stick-men on a piece of paper.

Now, when we think of our child-hood scribbles created on a scrap of paper, we tend to believe they can look out of that world and into ours, but what if they are so completely confined to that page that they have no concept of anything outside it – they live in page-world. All they can see is a line of perceptual experience, as if you were looking at the page edge on. Now consider drawing a line on this page-world, a 2-d being would see it as an impenetrable barrier it would have to move round, by going left or right, there would no concept of going over it – that would be madness.

Once you have this concept you can start expanding it. To create a house or prison for these flat-world beings to live in, you just need to draw a square or any polygon, no need for a roof. Now think about the anatomy of the beings themselves – when we draw them we imagine their skin to cover their entire image as projected into our 3-d world, but all they would need is a single, complete line to encase their internal organs and protect them from the harshness of the external 2-d environment. This is an interesting point as it leads to our first significant limitation for our 2-d life forms. They couldn’t have a complete digestive tract. If they had a mouth and separate anus connected by a tube, that tube would effectively split the creature in two. Only amoebae and cnidarians, (where its gastrovascular cavity functions as both mouth and anus) could exist. The interesting thing is that these beings think the line that makes up their outer skin, is complete and hides and protects their delicate innards from harm and scrutiny, but for us looking from the 3rd dimension they are as obvious and vulnerable as fish in a glass bowl.

Once these differences are appreciated you can start to have fun with them. From their perspective they think they’re pretty safe, living inside their various polygon houses they’ve built for themselves to shut out the dangers and prying eyes of the other two dimensional beings, but from our perspective in the 3rd dimension there is nowhere to hide. We can see both inside and outside their little dwelling, even inside and outside their body at any one instant, which would be baffling for these 2-d life-forms to comprehend, with no concept of an extra dimension. It would be like having the power of a God to these flat-worlders – you could reach into their lives and “magic” a feast on their dinner table, or if feeling malevolent, pluck out one of their internal organs and watch their confused brain and shocked 2-d facial expression as they expired.

Now you can do this again, if you shrink down to one dimension, the 2-d world would look mockingly on these 1-d creatures as they inched up and down their string like world unable to pass by other life forms with their perception reduced to a single point. That’s not very interesting though, I think you know where I’m going with this – what about our 3-d world, imagine applying the concepts we’ve seen in the 2-d world here. Being able to: see inside and outside your body at the same instant; see what is round the next corner or in the bowels of the earth without ever peeking or digging; diagnose and cure illness or cancer without any expensive equipment. Sounds very much like what we understand to be mysticism or shamanism doesn’t it?

Maybe, all we need to do to cure the sickness enveloping this world is to lever ourselves off this piece of 3-d paper and let our multi-dimensional brains acclimatise to the out-of-this-world viewpoint and see what stupid little cube-worlders we are.

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Needle Returns to the start of the song...

Well, the new year seems to have crept up on us again nothing seems to have changed - well that what's you think, but then you reflect on what actually changed during 2006. It was actually pretty exciting - for me anyway.

I realised that the 9-11 malarky was not quite what we had been told it was; how bonkers and draconian our drugs laws are and how thinking these four dimensions we know of three space and one time - if you compress them on to a 2 dimensional world say, like a piece of paper, we are the equivilent of drops of ink spreading and multiplying on that sheet of paper, but with no concept of the ink dropper that is creating them from an alien third dimension.

Imagine being pulled out of our world into a fifth dimemsion - where would you go? There's no where to go in our four dimensions, you're being sucked out of the page, the rest of the ink has no reference point. Think about that - it's f*cking unthinkable - but just think about it.


Monday, December 11, 2006

...And we all sing along like before

I went to Pompeii recently, well I say recently, I mean over the summer. At the time I thought it was awesome - a whole city, buried during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius on August 24th, 79 AD, painstakingly excavated and restored. The most of amazing thing being the petrified forms* of the hapless Pompeians frozen at the moment of death - the face they greeted the reaper with, preserved in terrirfying detail.

But as I walked round the once bustling centre of this ancient city so old, even at the time of the eruption, that the chariot wheels had worn groves in the solid stone streets, it started to dawn on me that we hadn't moved on one bit.

There were court houses, parks, police stations, swimming pools, council offices, stadiums, cemetaries, inner-city slums, rich suburbs all beautifully preserved with their "beware of the dog" mosaics and playboy mansion style erotic art on the walls. I could feel myself slipping deeper and deeper into despair as I realised we're just rolling on in exactly the same fashion - decadent chariots replaced by bazzed-up Subaru's, gladiatorial conflicts replaced by football and tv, law and order all based on the same antiquated system. Unbelievable - how can we live through so many generations and not realise we're making exactly the same mistakes again and again, except now we're doing it on a global stage, with no Britain or Americas to escape to.

Cave Canem - Beware of the Dog

*Actually the bodies weren't found petrified - when Guiseppe Fiorelli was leading the excavations back in the 1860s, his team kept finding voids in the solidified ash filled with human skeletons. Fiorelli noticed that the inside of the voids bore the imprint of the clothing, jewellery and tortured expressions of the victim and therefore gave the order that he was to be informed the moment another such void was discovered. He would then rush off and prepare a vat of plaster, which could be injected into the hole, thus recreating the form of the doomed pompeian in all their petrified befuddlement.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Oh lord, please don't let me be misunderstood

When I was a kid I always thought this was a silly song - my logic went somewhere along the lines of, "well, if they don't understand you, then just explain it again and if they still don't get it, then they're not worth bothering with." But just recently I've come to see what the Nina Simone and Elvis Costello (the version I remember hearing in the car) were on about.

I have always laboured under the belief that actions count for much more than words. As a consequence I have always held contempt for pious people who extol their virtues and talk at great length about their noble beliefs. I have always wanted to shove these people into some dire personal circumstance and see how their high moral values stand up when they're running for their lives in some hellish natural disaster or terrorist attack. My (rather childish) reaction to this has usually been to be derisory about tragic events or environmental disasters, knowing (rather conceitedly) that if I was in a position to help with such events I'd be straight in there with no flannel or debate and at least if I didn't I could comfort myself with the knowledge that I'd never eulogised about how I would get stuck in there*. I could see how this could be misunderstood as an uncaring attitude by outsiders, but I always assumed people close to me would instinctively know my secret hidden agenda to be the unlikely saviour of humanity and take my aspersions with a pinch of salt.

So when I was accused of being heartless about some recent news event by someone I thought should have known better it was a real shock and actually really upset me. I was reduced to citing instances where that blatantly wasn't the case, and exclaiming things like "I thought actions counted for more than words!"

It happened again to lesser extent, when I organised for a few old chums from school to meet up after years of not all seeing each other. As far as I could tell we all had a pretty good time as we quickly overcame the fear of the spatial and temporal gulf and realised none of us had really changed. Though, maybe I was being over-sensitive, I was caught slightly off-guard by a comment as we preparing to go our separate ways: "So was it a success then?" What's that supposed to mean? So you're saying I organised this to gain some personal kudos, rather than just wanting to see a few of my old friends in the same place. Maybe I was guilty of wanting to recreate a bygone time of teenhood and in that case it was a failure - jobs, relationships and inebriants were rarely a feature of the good old days - but to suggest I'd organised it to be like one of those self-satisfied idiots you see on American high school reunion movies was not what I intended at all.

So I've come to see what old Bennie Benjamin was on about when he wrote it - when someone misunderstands what you believe to be part of your core self, it's not that easy just to quietly explain it to them. Or perhaps I'm just confirming my Yesmam status and being an over-sensitive fool.

* although now I have, so I'm kinda making a rod for own back by writing this - bugger.