The extreme fringes of the physical universe ultimately produce black holes where matter destroys itself. Based on Einstein’s calculations in the theory of relativity, Oppenheimer and Snyder presented theoretical proof of the existence of these imploded galaxies in 1939. In 1970, the first location of a black hole, Cygnus X-1, was determined to be 7000 light-years from earth.
Even before that, the intense scientific ciphering following Einstein’s 1915 general relativity theory had wrought a cosmological epiphany in 1919. That’s when scientists monitoring a solar eclipse were able to determine by observation and calculation that Einstein’s theory of relativity is correct. The “red shift” of light waves emanating from objects in distant space indicated that the light waves had “‘bent” around the sun as they had passed it in their traveling toward earth. This red shift was the evidence by which physicists could conclude that, indeed, gravitational force from large objects has the power to bend light waves.
One of the many surprising facts that mathematicians learn from relativity calculations is that space is curved, and guess what, so is time! This whole development initiated a revolution in the way scientists conceptualize the universe and the physics within it. But hey, it’s all theoretical. It’s not that relativity isn’t actually having enormous effects out there in the cosmos in real space and time. What Einstein described with his theory of relativity is actually happening,
But it really doesn’t have much to do with the way things happen on earth, or the way we do things here. (Don’t confuse this relativity thing with Einstein’s other famous theory, E=mc2, which definitely has intense consequences for real life on earth, such as what happened at Hiroshima, or what’s now taking place at your local nuclear power plant, or within Iranian clandestinery and North Korean obstinance.)
When you get right down to it, the whole relativity revelation is irrelevant in the sense that it is meaningful only to scientists and mathematicians; they are the only people whose work is noticably affected by it. They are the only ones who truly understand it and converse about it. Relativity in the cosmos won’t amount to a hill of beans in everyday life for most of us for a very long, long, long time. Newtonian physics still reigns supreme in all our familiar venues of terra firma.
So, this expansive thinking about the universe as a macro-entity is one thing. Here’s another, and it is definitely something that we need to think about. It’s at the other extreme of considering the cosmos: the micro-universe–the secret life of cells, molecules, atoms, electrons. protons, neutrons, even quarks and neutrinos. I’m not going to write much about that mysterious nano-world now, except to say that the ramifications of scientific exploration within it are HUGE; experiments are now being conducted, and will be conducted from now into perpetuity, under electron microscopes and other high-tech equipment. These micro-explorations and ventures will have a big impact on the way we live in the future.
Will you be able to follow all these changes in microbiology and nanotechnology in the days ahead? Probably not; you’re too busy doing other things, just livin’ life. Me too. Ditto for the getting the big picture on the universe and relativity.
So here is what I want to communicate to you:
The practice of science is becoming, and will become even more, inaccessible and incomprehensible to general humanity. Newtonian physics– where moving object A strikes stationary object B and has a certain predictable effect–is not what science is about any more; we’ve already figured out all the basics, and we’re teaching them in schools.
More and more, science is about stuff that you will never see, and perhaps never understand. I hate to say it, but as a consequence of this general incomprehensibility we could be entering, God forbid, another dark ages, in spite of all the light waving around in our universe.
Example: John Doe is accused of murdering his neighbor. But the verdict revolves not around fingerprints and eyewitnesses. It’s not about John doing this that or the other to his neighbor and we know that to be true because the other neighbor saw it happen.
It’s about John’s DNA, and whether it matches a hair sample found at the scene of the crime. It’s about what a lab technician sees, and how he/she interprets it when he/she analyzes microscopically-obtained genetic information. John Doe’s fate hangs on the testimony of an expert witness.
There’s nothing wrong with this refinement of criminal justice. It’s just an example of the way our life is changing because of science. So many future determinations will be made, not according to what we see, hear, taste, or smell, but according to what the experts find in their investigations. To the uneducated it may even seem like hocus-pocus.
Remember the swine flu of 2009, that never really got a hold of us in large numbers? Was it because our spotty vaccinations worked preventively as they were intended to? Or because there was no significant risk to begin with? Who knows? We just have to trust the CDC and NIH on our decisions about such precautions.
The former Treasurer of the United States, Hank Paulson–did he and Bernanke and the bankers and Congress save us with their bank bailout from having another “great depression?” We’ll never know for sure. Only the statisticians and economists can sort all those numbers out, and by the time they do, we’ve all gone on to the next crisis, or the next car payment or whatever.
Scientific truth and technical data is becoming less and less accessible to regular people all the time.
So…what does this have to do with relativity?
Looking back for a moment into the arcane, expanding realm of Einstein’s relative universe, our following of his theory leads ultimately to, among many other phenomena, those black holes. Knowledge is as virtually infinite as the universe itself, and our pursuit of its extremes brings us to the discovery of these strange, vacuous phenomena–imploded galaxies–that draw everything in their vicinity into themselves with a kind of super-gravity. . These black holes are extremely dangerous. God help the first adventurers who volunteer to explore them. As it turns out, the universe sucks.
Moses had a flash of truth regarding this situation long ago, and wrote about it in his best seller, Genesis. He depicts therein the account of Eve, who ambled right by the Tree of Life one day, and lingered at the tree of knowledge, until someone handed her a sample from it. She bit into a black hole. Sometimes we know more than we want or need to.
The further we get along that deathly curved vector of space and time, the better appears to be the Tree of Life when compared to the Tree of Knowledge.