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by J.R. Mooneyham
(previously under the pseudonym M. Godswell)
REVISED 6-20-2000

a - j r m o o n e y h a m . c o m - o r i g i n a l

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This page last updated on or about 4-15-08

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In the Beginning...

...there was literally nothing-- or nothing like what we'd recognize today. We couldn't have existed physically in the Beginning for there were no atoms or space available to support anything remotely resembling the reality we play and die in today. Imagine something so small it could be to a single atom as that atom is to us in size, and you have just visualized the size of the Universe before the Beginning-- almost literally a mathematical point, as described to many of us by our calculus teachers in college.

I'd like to say this point was floating in something-- some sort of primordial cosmic media-- but it wasn't. There was nothing outside the point to support or house it, for everything about the Universe we are aware of today-- the vast expanse of vacuum, billions upon billions of stars, black holes, planets, everything, was inside the point, while outside was -- simply nonexistent. There was no outside. Dimensions, distance, space-- everything required to define an 'outside' or 'inside'-- hadn't been invented yet.

This strange point-universe could have sat there doing nothing for all eternity, with not a care in the world. For time hadn't been invented yet either. But however long it sat there, it suddenly changed anyway, for some reason. Changed by exploding with a violence and magnitude the most insane or brilliant among us could not possibly imagine. Exploded with such force you could have simultaneously detonated a trillion trillions of our own nuclear weapons alongside it and never noticed the blast of our war toys. The explosion was so awful debris is still flying outwards today, considerably more than ten billion years after the event. In the terrible natural cold of space, there remains a few degrees of heat left over from the explosion that haven't yet dissipated.

But for all its ferocity, the Big Bang is responsible for practically everything we perceive today. The hundreds of billions of solar systems that comprise our galaxy, as well as the hundred billion or so other galaxies we can detect or theorize about-- cascaded out of the Big Bang like candy from a burst piñata at a child's birthday party. Being somewhat presumptuous beings, some of us have dared to speculate on the matter of where the original Point-Universe came from. Or what reality may have been like prior to the Big Bang. One of the more interesting ideas is that our dear Point actually was a piece of a whole other Universe that fell into a black hole, became too outrageous to continue existing under its native physical laws, and was 'pinched off' to create its own rules, forming a whole new reality-- our own. Sort of a dangerous radical Universe that was forced to leave home to find its own niche in the scheme of things. Then again, it could be none of this really happened at all, and the world is nothing more than a very elaborate computer simulation being run by some curious god-like being somewhere, exploring what would result if they did initiate a Big Bang....Can I prove this? No. But neither can anyone else disprove it.

The literal End of the World...

...could occur over a wide band of time, depending on your definition of the end. If the end for you is the extinction of the human race, then you should expect the End to come anytime between now and 150,000,000 A.D. (This estimate takes into account the fact that we could suicide as a race via nuclear armageddon anytime, and some of the most successful species to date dominated the planet no longer than 150 million years-- the dinosaurs). If your preferred ending is the death of the biosphere (resulting in a lifeless Earth consisting of little more than sterile desert and rocky expanses) then it won't arrive for at least another billion years (according to page 24 of the May 93 issue of Discover magazine), or until about 1,000,000,000 A.D. If your desired end coincides with the death of our sun, as it expands in its death thros to consume the Earth, the end will be around 5,000,000,000 A.D. Entering into speculations about cessation of the cosmos itself necessitates a jump into scientific notation, as the numbers are so very large. The death of the Milky Way Galaxy, ten to the 18th power A.D, and beyond. The death of the entire Universe, between 10 to the 32nd power and 10 to the 1600th power, A.D. I'd give you the date of the End of the World as prophesied in the Bible, but it's not there. I can't even give you the date the evangelists claim the Bible gives them via E.S.P. or some such thing, because they keep changing the numbers like small time con artists plying their trade. So all I can give you is a rolling estimate: according to generation after generation of Christian evangelists, the End of the World will come sometime soon, just a few years down the road-- so you'd better donate all your money for Brother Jones' new Cadillac quick, or else risk your personal representative to the Lord looking shameful in the parade of Saints, driving that old Dodge of his.

Plancktime and Planckspace...

...both refer to the granularity of our universe. Don't bother looking these up in a dictionary, as they're both just slang terms at the moment. In a way they speak of the very resolution of reality itself, much as we might refer to the resolution of a computer monitor.

As you might imagine, the resolution of reality is extremely fine; so fine as to boggle the imagination.

So far as we may ascertain today, our universe cannot be affected in a volume smaller than a single Planckspace or within a time period shorter than a single unit of Plancktime.

Planckspace is about 10 to the minus thirty-second power millimeters. By comparison, an atomic nucleus may be ten to the minus twelveth power in diameter-- an enormous difference in size. If there were worlds of a scale conveniently measurable in Planckspace units, you could fit a small galaxy of them (60 billion solar systems worth) inside the volume of a single atomic nucleus.

Plancktime is around ten to the negative forty-third seconds. Or, so tiny a time unit each second contains trillions upon trillions of the buggers.

If it were possible for you to do anything in the period of a few Plancktime units, you'd be so damned fast you could pick Superman's pocket a thousand times and he'd still be too slow to notice.

A region no larger than one Planckspace may itself qualify as a singularity, as we can't be sure known physical laws operate normally within it.

Beyond genetic engineering, out past the molecular manipulation of nanotechnology, deeper into the mystery of the Universe itself, lies the frontier of Planck scale physics. Gaining the capability to modify physical reality at this level would likely be one prerequisite for a race to achieve true Godhood.


is the completely unhindered velocity of radiant energy throughout our universe (i.e., the speed of light through a vacuum). In the benchmark environment of vacuum unafflicted by significant gravity wells, light can neither move slower or faster than lightspeed. Lightspeed is of considerable importance since it appears to be the Universe's own maximum speed limit. That is, there is no obvious way either natural or artificial means could be devised to supersede that velocity. Lightspeed is approximately 671 million miles per hour. If we could travel at lightspeed without the need for acceleration or deceleration, we could travel to the Moon in just over one second, to the Sun in eight minutes, and the next closest star in a bit over four years. Theoretical explorations of environments of lightspeed (or just below or above the threshold) show them to be completely alien to our everyday existence, and utterly unintuitive in regards to cause and effect. One interesting facet of lightspeed is that close proximity to it can slow time passage to a crawl. In other words, the faster you go, the slower time passes for you. Another interesting point is that although nothing in space may be able to move faster than light, the medium of space itself may be able to do so-- nothing in Einstein's Theory of Relativity prevents space from breaking the cosmic speed limit (indeed, the expansion of space after the Big Bang could well have performed so).

6-20-2000 UPDATE: Recent lab experiments have thrown doubt on the traditional value of lightspeed as a constant, or maximum limit, velocity-wise. Some scientists claim to have been able to achieve speedups of anywhere from 25% over traditional lightspeed, to 300 times lightspeed, over very short distances. The element moving at such speeds? Light itself. END UPDATE.


...is the fabric of our existence, literally. The word spacetime means what it looks like: space and time are two facets of the same thing. Spacetime is always changing in some way; growing, expanding, or decaying. The growth may be the high speed expansion we perceive as having begun with the Big Bang. The decay may be the unidirectional nature of time, as it seems to proceed mercilessly into the future, and the natural consequence of infinite expansion, known as 'heat death', or the eventual winding down of the whole enchilada due to the gas finally running out. Kaput. In this ultimate theoretical end all the energy will be gone and the whole Universe nothing but a widely dispersed body of burnt out embers and cold rocks, when all is said and done. No stars, no shining galaxies, just total, utter blackness, and absolute cold.

Fortunately the heat death of the Universe, if it happens, will occur so far into the future that no human beings need worry about it; for a thousand entirely new species could evolve in sequence after our own extinction, requiring a thousand billion years to do so, and the last intelligent race in line still would not see this End to All Things. Our Universe is an unimaginably long-lived beast, you see. And it's but an infant at the moment (as Universes go), at only some 12 to 15 billion years old!

Absolute Zero...

...is minus 460 degrees Farenheit, or minus 273.18 degrees Celcius. The absence of heat is the absence of energy, and absolute zero implies conditions under which there's barely enough energy for individual molecules to wiggle occasionally, and not nearly enough for them to roughhouse or otherwise play as molecules are wont to do.

Theoretically, if you wanted to place something in reliable storage for, say, eternity, and had to abide by normal physical laws in the doing, absolute zero temperature would be one factor you'd want included in the process. Of course, in practical terms many substances-- especially organic ones-- would fracture or burst various cell membranes and more at much higher temperatures, thereby being ruined for later use long before chilled down to 460 degrees F. So that little problem would have to licked before you could reliably freeze something like a human being and expect to bring them back to life again later.


...is literally just a distortion of spacetime, due directly or indirectly to local mass densities. The analogy of a rubber sheet stretched horizontally flat by its four corners, suffering heavy balls placed upon its expanse, is commonly used to illustrate the relationship between spacetime, mass, and gravity. The circular depressions the weights cause in the rubber sheet correspond to local gravity wells in spacetime. The closer a smaller body-- such as a marble or ball bearing-- comes to such a depression, the greater the acceleration the smaller body experiences towards the larger resting in the pit. This is much like what occurs around planets and stars in space. If a smaller body such as a spacecraft comes too close, it falls in towards the larger mass, spiraling downwards into the gravity well. If instead the small body avoids more than a slight deflection of its course, it may continue on past the gravity well, although on a somewhat different heading than what it possessed on approach. If the small body doesn't fall straight into the gravity well, but is 'captured' by it, the smaller object may instead circle or orbit the larger body indefinitely-- so long as the smaller body's velocity remains sufficiently high to keep it from taking the downward plunge.

How big is the Universe? And what's beyond the edge?

Our Universe is so big we mortals could literally go bonkers trying to comprehend its size. And the thing is still growing. If the Universe is heavy enough (possesses sufficient mass) it'll eventually slow down, stop expanding, and begin shrinking back towards its original, pre-Big Bang size of a pimple on the pimple of a single atom's nucleus. At which point all the critical variables will be reset (in order to overcome all the entropy previously accumulated), and it'll explode again, creating an all new Universe, conceivably with an entirely new set of physical laws to bedevil the next crowd that awakens in our place. Yes, it sounds suspiciously like a cosmic practical joke. But I don't think God is really Eddie Haskell, as some suspect.

6-20-2000 UPDATE: Recent discoveries seem to prove the Universe will continue to expand forever. END UPDATE.

At present we can only guess about the size of the Universe, since we can only see to the horizon. Yes, Virginia, there is a horizon in space-- it's the limit of how much of the Universe we can see. Large sections (possibly the majority of the Universe!) may be permanently out of our visual range, since they're moving away from us very near the speed of light-- which means their image might never make it back to us to see. How far out is the horizon? Maybe four billion lightyears, until Hubble is fixed or replaced. Then our horizon will expand to ten or twelve billion lightyears out. We'd need to see at least as far as fourteen to fifteen billion lightyears out to observe aspects of the Big Bang itself (looking into space is very nearly the same as looking back in time).

What's beyond the edge of the Universe? Dragons. Turtles. Whatever you want to imagine to be there. You can write your own version because it's unlikely anything remotely human will ever manage to plumb that particular mystery. We'll have to achieve near God status just to see a good part of what there is inside our own galaxy, let alone the other 100 billion galaxies in view, and the other hundreds of billions possibly beyond the horizon. What's beyond all this? Does it matter? Will it ever matter? Let sleeping dragons and turtles lie.

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle...

...states that an observer may know the speed or the position of an electron, but not both simultaneously. To my own mind this principle seems closely related to Gödel's Theorem, which essentially explains why we'll never be able to learn the answers to all our questions. Uncertainty is an essential element to this Universe, for it is a large part of what allows us free choice as to our individual fates. Uncertainty gives birth to hope for change, and offers a potentially infinite, open-ended destiny for those beings capable of fully exploiting the opportunity it represents.

Superstrings and the Grand Unified Theory...

...are just two of many ideas vying for the title "Secret of the Universe". Both subjects defy simple and straightforward definition, but I'll give it a try here. Superstring theory likens spacetime to a fine fabric, of which the basic constituents (like quarks) are really "knots" tying together our own four comfortable, full-size dimensions with a number of infinitesimally smaller dimensions which, like Peter Pan, never grew up. These immature dimensions are similar to strings with diameters of Planckspace scale (please refer to Planckspace elsewhere in this piece). There's some argument over how many different kinds of immature dimensions there are. Maybe six, maybe more. In some remote corner of the future it might be possible to find a way to exploit these other dimensions (if they exist) to attain shortcuts across normal spacetime, or at least increase the velocities at our command.


...are essentially Point-Universes in their own right, within which our own physical laws may or may not apply. Black holes fall into this category. Singularities may be of almost any size detection-wise, and vary in appearance and local influence greatly, depending partially on the local terrain of spacetime (i.e., are there planets or stars close by? If so, what's the population density of such bodies in the vicinity?). Singularities are fascinating to those of us with a scientific bent, for the potential cheating they might allow us to do in regards to the normal laws of our Universe. Yes, that's correct. Scientists and engineers too in their heart of hearts would dearly love to hoodwink the teacher. But after all, isn't the hallmark of a great teacher students who surpass him in brilliance? Perhaps we are meant to cheat in such a manner, in order to prove we qualify for graduation.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics...

...essentially tells us there is no 'free lunch' in a closed system. In other words, we pay a price for everything we get in this universe, and usually that price is a lump of permanent chaos for every lump of temporary order we produce.

Many environmental scholars (and economists of a Republican bent) enjoy pulling this physical law out of their hat to make it appear some higher authority has decreed their way to be the 'right' way, when they oppose new construction or industries, or argue against new government programs of various kinds. These fellows usually neglect to mention that while the universe as a whole may well be a closed system, and so must ultimately adhere to this rule, the Earth itself has never been so closed, and indeed, would never have developed life itself if the 'no free lunch' rule were enforced to the letter.

The key is the difference between a 'closed' and an 'open' system. Though the universe as a whole will someday have to balance its books so-to-speak, the Earth and the life upon it have so far lived very nicely thank you on a set of books which have never and will never be balanced. Someone or something else is paying our tab. This is not to imply the existence of a divine benefactor or helpful aliens, but only to emphasize the fact that we have always lived beyond our means on this little planet, and always will (no matter how high in recycling efficiency we get, or how well we perfect our political and economic systems).

It's simply a fact of life that an unimaginable amount of raw energy is being 'wasted' every second in this universe, and a small part of it just happens to be landing on us, enabling us to evolve from an algae-like muck to an uncertain naked ape, spending much of our lives trying to make a deal with one another in order to survive.

Earth is an open system because it gets tremendous amounts of energy from the Sun that it doesn't have to pay for, in the form of light and heat. It also gets considerable water from comets every twenty-five thousand years or so, and a constant rain of fine and valuable dust from space debris that disintegrates in our atmosphere.

If Earth were a closed system, we'd have to pay something for all this light, heat, water, and minerals.

But Earth is not a closed system, so we don't pay for these things (except amongst ourselves; there's no cosmic landlord or power company sending us a bill from the void).

Even when we exchange our personal toil for the light, heat, and water in our homes, and the soil upon which we live, we are not paying for these items per se, but rather for the delivery systems that allow us to use these elements at our convenience or necessity. One example would be the light and heat we routinely switch on and off in our homes. That light and heat is (as of 1993), one way or the other produced from underground hydrocarbon deposits left over from the formation of our planet, or created over time by decaying organic matter (which itself was produced by chemical reactions dependent on sunlight or geothermal heat). Or by the concentration of radioactive elements originally produced within a completely foreign star, somewhere else, which only later settled here in our Earth during formation.

In summary, while the Second Law of Thermodynamics does merit respect for its cosmic truth, in some very substantial areas of our day-to-day life it simply isn't relevant, and is routinely ignored by the living creatures on our planet, since Earth is not a closed system.

What all this means is there may well be many ways to thumb our nose at the Second Law, similar to those methods discovered by our slimy ancestors in the primordial goo. Heck, those most ancient of our living predecessors didn't even have brains, and they figured out how to get a free lunch anyway! After three billion years of evolution we became smart enough to figure out a reason why our ancestors should have failed miserably, and then complain about all the limitations we find ourselves saddled with.

All we have to do is follow the lead of our protoplasmic forefathers, and find more ways to garner benefits from the existing universe while shifting the costs to the rest of the system.

Not only is a "free lunch" readily available in an open system such as ours, it's more than a lunch-- it's a great feast.

It's just that so far we've been unable to match the achievements of our pond scum forebears in tapping this cornucopia of delights.

It might help if we had fewer folks constantly misguiding us about such matters, tirelessly working to convince us all that resources are (and must remain) in short supply for everyone but the wealthy.

The Law of Conservation of Energy...

...tells us that energy can neither be created or destroyed. Since matter is only energy solidified, this means matter too is ultimately immune to creation or destruction (the best you can do is either disintegrate matter into bits too small to see, or vaporize it into its energy form). However, as pointed out previously in the reference to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, for all practical purposes the law of conservation of energy is wrong, since energy and matter, when used in most any desirable manner, usually become useless to us thereafter, as one by-product (the technical term is entropy). Ergo, in terms of day-to-day operations it is effectively destroyed, since it becomes nothing more than trash for us to bury, burn, diffuse, or push over to the side as we move on to other things. In this way does the Law of Conservation of Energy resemble the Second Law of Thermodynamics, in that it too is primarily useful only in a theoretical vein, and doesn't necessarily apply in any practical manner to our normal lives.

Fractal Geometry/Fractal Logic...

...are essentially two sides of the same coin. Fractal Geometry refers to the visible display of fractal logic in action. The science of fractals refers to one of the primary systems of self reference utilized by our universe. Fractal logic is an ingenious method of information storage, compression, transfer, and indexing that allows nature to make maximum cost-effective use of each of the smallest units of reality, much as compression utilities and operating systems on our personal computers allow us to make practical use of the relatively limited resources in our desktop systems.

Our present (1993) physical limitations...

...(beyond which we cannot survive) vary significantly from individual to individual, but in general they include: We can survive unprotected in the vacuum of space no longer than thirty to sixty seconds. We may sustain G-forces (gravity inspired multiplying of our own weight, commonly experienced by fighter jet pilots and astronauts) of not more than about 9 Gees for brief times before losing consciousness, and much above that kills us within minutes of exposure. We can survive extended periods (hours) of G-forces in the two to six range. The near zero G-forces of typical Earth orbit tends to weaken us physically by draining calcium from our bones and stealing the resilience and strength of our muscles, due to the absence of normal Earth gravity to work against. Though maximum limits are as yet unknown, it could be zero gravity can be fatal with durations of much over a year, given the current state of our abilities to cope with it. Death would come from a slow and gradual physical weakening of several critical parts of our bodies, with a heart attack or stroke possibly marking the end. We can survive without breathing for no longer than three to four minutes (though some children have displayed the ability to recover from as much as an hour drowned in very cold water-- this may be some remnant of an ancient mammalian trait shared with seals and sea lions). Naked, we will die of exposure within hours if trapped in sustained temperatures above 120 degrees or below 32 degrees Fahrenheit (freezing point). Submersion in water of these temperatures only hastens the end. If denied drinking water, we die of thirst in around three to four days. It's common for us to perversely die of thirst while drifting at sea awaiting rescue, because sea water is too salty to sustain us-- it is poison to our constitution. We cannot survive total sleep deprivation for longer than ten days. Denial of food results in death by starvation in something between three to six weeks. Our maximum possible lifespan appears to be about 120 years of age.

(Many of the human limits listed above are average or typical restrictions; some may be exceeded slightly for brief periods by luck or training or superb physical condition).

The Human Psyche...

...may well be the greatest and most formidable limit we face in our endeavors. Sometime after we make the transition to inorganic cognitive foundations we might actually overcome this structural limit; but that remains perhaps several centuries into the future. In the near term we suffer many of the same obstacles to progress faced by our forebears, such as pride, prejudice, ignorance, and fear. Though these may seem trifling items to some of you out there, believe me, they are not. The greatest wars, most terrible weapons, and worst mistakes ever made can all be traced directly back to these human frailties.

In the centuries to come our mental and physical capacities will be sorely taxed by the new options and decisions made possible or necessary by our leap-frogging technologies. We are already drunk with change, having leapt from grunting, running apes in Africa to airplane riding businessmen and tourists world-wide, in less than five hundred generations.

The jump from ground hugging bird watchers to hang gliding clubs and private planes required only four generations.

We first hurled our heroes from air to space less than two generations ago.

The strain is showing on our genetic formula, as dreams become reality at an ever faster clip. My own parents as children saw 20 mph, one and two horse drawn wagons still in wide use, yet by my own adolescence a powerful automobile of hundreds of horsepower, capable of 125 mph speeds, was not an uncommon purchase for a high school student.

Some of the toughest psychological obstacles to overcome may be instinctive fears, such as fear of falling and heights, fear of drowning, fear of darkness, fears of insects and snakes, and, of course, fear of death. How might these elements prevent us from exploiting our full potential? Well, a few examples would be a fear of falling preventing many folks from ever using the new personal jet belts or anti-grav harnesses when they come along. Fear of drowning will be a big nuisance for those moving to fluid breathing colonies deep beneath the sea (refer to the film "The Abyss" for a great visual on this). Fear of insects will be very cumbersome once insect-like robots are ubiquitous features of our surroundings, for cleaning and maintenance purposes. Fear of death will stymie a great many of the first attempts by the public to use a "Star Trek" style transporter system, once it becomes available.

Even at this early date, our internal biological clocks interfere tremendously with our goals of becoming a 24 hour a day global society, by making life harder and more dangerous for those of us who must work the late shifts, and especially for those who regularly cycle through all three different eight hour shifts for their jobs. The mental, emotional, and physical inertia enforced on us by our biological clocks play havoc with the long distance travelers among us too, in the form of "jet lag". Our internal clocks make it difficult for us to adjust, interfering with our rest, leaving us groggy and prone to accident under all these conditions.

Being social animals, we are highly susceptible to social manipulation. Constant bombardment by love songs, advertising that preys on our desire for acceptance, and films and stories which present idealized scenarios of love and romance all tend to damage or warp our own self-esteem, personal expectations, and individual goals in life. Pressures from ideologues and social predators for conformity or subservience also affect us. Our vulnerability to these elements may only increase in the foreseeable future. Our only defenses against such things? Education, experience, familiarity with history and our own inner nature, fierce independence, and good, strong relationships with high quality friends and family members.

Copyright © 1993-2008 by J.R. Mooneyham. All rights reserved.