Tag: dark matter
“Oh, I LOVE winter,” younger me used to say. “It’s so much fun, you can cross country ski, and snowshoe and make snowmen and it’s so cozy.”
I suppose it was last winter that did me in. So now, winter has become my time for escape. And my escape in winter is reading about physics and astronomy. As the white stuff piles up and daily living is more of a chore of shoveling snow and hauling wood, to curl up and read about the tiny world of quarks or the vast world of galaxies is delicious.
Right now I am reading Lisa Randall’s new book Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs (selected by Maria Popova of Brain Pickings as one of the top 15 books she has read this year—a list, BTW, guaranteed to make you feel inadequate.)
Randall talks about dark matter, the concept of which I couldn’t quite grasp for a long time, but now I do. We can’t see dark matter because it doesn’t reflect light and we can’t feel it because its force is too weak to have an effect on us at its level in our everyday lives. But we know it exists because in greater densities it exerts a gravitational force. And not only that, but there is much more of it than the matter we can see. So the truth is, we are literally surrounded by dark matter.
As I grow older, more experienced, less sanguine, and more settled into convenience, the awareness of the vast mystery of our Universe is a tonic. And that, perhaps, is the real fountain of youth.
What if the world of life on Earth is just a lucky accident brought about by a confluence of lucky coincidences: just the right distance from the Sun, just the right amount of gravitational force, just the right combination of elements to create water, just the right amount of star dust to initiate the complex molecules necessary to create life. What if all this came about because there are billions of universes, so the chance of a planet existing with all the criteria to create life is tiny, but possible.
What if, indeed.
This is what I have been reading in Accidental Universe, by Alan Lightman—who is not a science fiction author, but a physicist (and creative writer) at MIT, outlining the latest theories in quantum physics.
For all of my life, I have wondered about the meaning of our brief existence. I’ve meditated, converted to Zen Buddhism, paid attention and thought, thought, thought. But now if, as Lightman postulates, life may be not a divine occurrence fraught with baffling meaning, but is instead a random coming together of chance—well then heck, I’m off the hook. Life and its meaning, the universe and its meaning, our Earth and its meaning—the meaning part becomes optional.
I went for a walk down my dirt road after I finished the book to digest this revolutionary idea. As I looked at the familiar trees and stone wall, rather giddy thoughts were racing through my brain: Just an accident! led to Don’t have to figure it out! which became the inevitable, I can just experience it! A weight I didn’t know existed lifted and in the new freedom of just experiencing I saw the trees with clarity, as if for the first time.
And it was then that all my Buddhist beliefs and training slipped alongside this new physics: When you take away the meaning, life becomes profound.