Sometimes the world just doesn’t make sense. This is true not only about the way things are done, but the official historical record of how they came to be done that way. One thing I have observed is that numerous sayings with one meaning today allegedly originated with a very dissimilar meaning totally unrelated that could never have evolved into its current one. Am I being lied to?
Mind Your Ps And Qs
The only way I have ever heard this phrase used is to tell people (especially children) to behave themselves and mind their manners, which is largely another way of telling them not to roughhouse and to say “please” and “thank you.” My parents told me to mind my Ps and Qs before leaving me with the babysitter. I understood P to stand for “please” and Q to stand for “thank you” (ten-Q). This was a common way of saying it in my household. It was a clever pun. On Sesame Street, Ernie once had the same idea.
Only in my early twenties did I read that the saying originated from the time of early typesetting. Those setting up the printing press had to be careful not to confuse lowercase p with lowercase q. Saying “mind your ps and qs” was a way of telling someone to pay attention to detail. How this very different meaning evolved into the modern one is a total mystery.
Later, I read another origin story. This one claimed that in English taverns, ale was sold in pints and quarts. When patrons became rowdy from too much alcohol, they were told to “mind your pints and quarts.” This was eventually shortened to “mind your Ps and Qs.” This explanation makes slightly more sense than the other.
How is it possible to have two completely different origin stories? Historians should either know or not know! Why the controversy? Could this be a macroscopic manifestation of the “multiple histories” of quantum mechanics?
Almost every television detective is stonewalled at some point by someone they are trying to get information from. Usually it means that someone won’t answer their phone or moves slowly in supplying documents. In the general case, stonewalling is what one does when they simply fail to respond to inquiry rather than explicitly declare they won’t cooperate. When a big company never returns your messages, they are stonewalling. Getting questions answered is like interviewing a stone wall. This is a common word used this way and only this way (to my knowledge).
Later in life, I read that the origin of the word had nothing to do with stone walls or failing to answer questions. Allegedly, there was once a gay bar by the name of Stonewall. There had been a fight inside, but some patrons blocked the police from entering. It was a big event and made the national news. Because their lack of cooperation was active and explicit, it is not the same as how the word is now used.
I’m not buying it. Even if the original meaning of the word meant any sort of blocking of access, it’s kind of a strange coincidence that the name of the bar was so fitting, isn’t it?
From my very first day on the world wide web, I kept hearing about something called spam. This was not canned meat, but unsolicited mass emails. How did this slang begin? Only in my late twenties did I find out. Multiple sources say that the word comes from a Flying Circus skit. In it, a couple stops at a restaurant where every item on the menu contains spam. “I don’t like spam!” the lady (played by Graham Chapman) says. Then, the origin story skips what must be at least a half-dozen steps to say that now we refer to junk email as spam.
Why? What’s the connection? The story explains absolutely nothing. It’s like explaining human embryology by explaining how egg and sperm form a zygote and then saying, “And then out pops a successful banker with a house, three kids, two dogs, and a convertible he takes to church on Sundays.” What happened in between? How did the two totally unrelated concepts of canned meat and junk email become linked in enough minds that the meme caught on?
None of these stories make any sense. Even if they are partly true, they leave too much unaccounted for. This must be maddening to sociologists. Why is human culture so confusing and unpredictable?
At least the story of how s’mores got their name makes sense. Believe in s’mores.
BeeHavenAcres.blogspot.com is the blog of Bev, a farmer in Pennsylvania, who takes care of donkeys, ducks, dogs, sheep, chickens, and cats while photographing and commenting on some of their antics. There is rarely a dull day. In addition to supporting her family, the farm produces honey, eggs, and sometimes extra vegetables for sale. Bev has also dabbled in creating hand-made aprons and jewelry.
I’ve been learning a lot lately. Data points that were gradually building up for years have finally reached critical mass, resulting in a new world view. I am almost continually surprised by hearing things I had never heard before that one would think were important to mention.
Nobody Tells Me Anything
History: How is it that with my ability to soak up trivia like a sponge, and my interest in space exploration, that I don’t remember hearing about the five other moon landings that happened after the first? With all those telling the story of how the USA won the space race, those lamenting the fact that we no longer maintain a shuttle and never went back to the moon, those who suggest that the whole trip was faked, and those who debunk such suggestions, I find it extremely shocking that not one of them mentioned any subsequent trips!
Biology: I almost can’t believe that with my interest in biology and all the things I have read, that I have never until recently heard that some mammals have penis bones and that most have penis spines! I do remember hearing on TV many years ago that cats had penis spines, but I was led to believe that they were unique! How did I not know something so basic about mammals?
Ever since a very young age I had always been told that the reason insects (and other arthropods) never got very big compared to vertebrates was because exoskeletons were inherently inferior to endoskeletons. Insects any bigger than those giant rainforest beetles would collapse under their own weight, while vertebrates could be as big as dinosaurs or bigger (none of this applies underwater, where buoyancy cancels gravity). When I was much older, I discovered that vertebrate lungs were much more efficient than the trachea of insects, the “book lungs” of arachnids, and the gills of land crabs. Larger insects require higher oxygen levels. During the Devonian and Carboniferous, when oxygen levels were higher, dragonflies reached wingspans of more than a meter, while millipedes reached three meters long! These days, absolutely nobody mentions the structural limitations of insects. It’s all about oxygen. How did I not know something so basic about insects?
Physics: I can’t believe that with all the books and magazine articles I have read on the subject, just how many aspects of particle physics I was unaware of. Particle physics is incredibly complex and much of the details are incomprehensible to those outside the field, but I thought I had a pretty decent overview of how matter worked. Suddenly, I am hearing of things that are more than details:
Quantum Mechanics is based on the idea that all matter is actually waves that only manifest as particles with actual locations in order to interact with other waves/particles. The locations of these particles are probabilistic – the probability of finding one being the square of the amplitude of the wave, and that at any moment there is a non-zero probability of finding the particle elsewhere – or so I thought. Now I am told that observing the particle “resets” it, adding to the time it needs to transition into a different quantum state (such as location) in accordance with the quantum Zeno effect. I am also told that the probability is not the square of the amplitude, but the sum of the squares of the “real” and “imaginary” parts of the wave function – the imaginary wave being just slightly out of phase with the real one.
Another big part of quantum mechanics is that energy comes in discrete units such that electron orbitals are separated from each other by gaps of non-existence. It is impossible for any electron to be found in these gaps because there exists no partial energy to get them there. I have been told that if energy were continuous it would mean that electrons would simply spiral into the nucleus while continually radiating. The idea of discrete orbitals came from Neils Bohr’s atomic model based on the ideas already described by Max Planck and Albert Einstein. Last year I heard for the first time that while lower orbitals are indeed discrete, some of the higher ones are continuous. That’s kind of a big thing not to mention – especially since it may be the link between the quantum microscopic world and the seemingly-classical macroscopic world.
I was also told for the first time that the weak nuclear force only interacts with “left-handed” particles, which is the idea behind the proposed “sterile neutrino.” The theory is that “right-handed” neutrinos could exist that are impossible to detect because they do not interact with the weak nuclear force. That’s kind of a big thing not to mention when telling me that all neutrinos spin one way!
These are the things nobody bothered to tell me. Then there are the things I was taught wrong:
Everything I've Been Taught Is Wrong
Air: Ever since a very young age I had always been taught that meteors heat up due to air resistance – the same thing that holds back airplanes and race cars – and that air resistance is nothing more than friction. In recent years I have been told that what heats up meteors is almost certainly the compression of air in front of them rather than friction with the sides. This makes much more sense and I’m surprised I didn’t think of it myself before, but I’m even more surprised that for so many decades nobody else thought of it either.
Ever since a very young age I had always been told that airplane wings generated lift by being curved, forcing air to move faster over the top than the bottom, creating negative pressure that pulled the wing upwards. No mention of qualifications or controversy was ever mentioned. Now I am told that the real answer is several interwoven factors together and that lift could never be generated by any of them alone.
Water: Ever since a very young age I had always been taught that water makes our skin wrinkly due to turgor pressure brought on by osmosis. The higher concentration of ions inside our cells relative to outside causes moisture to seep in. High school biology reinforced this idea. Now I am hearing from multiple sources that it is thought that our skin muscles contract, giving our skin greater surface area and therefore better gripping power in a wet environment.
Electricity: Ever since a very young age I had always been told that lightning did not come down from the clouds (a common myth based on the fact that lightning only appears when clouds are present), but upward from the Earth. Later I was told that some aspects of the process moved upwards while others moved downwards. Later I was told exactly how lightning worked step-by-step and I don’t recall any part of it moving upwards at all – only downwards. Later I was told that it actually moves upwards but only looks to move downwards due to an optical illusion – but I have never perceived lightning to move at all. To my eyes, it simply exists all along its path in an instant. I don’t know what to think now.
Ever since a very young age I have known of nuclear fusion: It’s what keeps the sun shining. The first astronomy book I ever had gave the following story: Temperature and pressure in the sun’s core drive protons (hydrogen nuclei) together against their mutual electrostatic repulsion. When two protons come together like this, one of them “somehow” becomes a neutron. When there are enough proton-neutron pairs bouncing around, two of them would then be forced together to become a helium nucleus.
Years later, I read another book, mentioning that it was not expected to be hot enough in the center of the sun for outright fusion, so the process required carbon catalysts. Hydrogen would fuse with carbon to produce nitrogen, which would then fuse with more hydrogen to make oxygen, which would then undergo alpha-decay and spit out helium, becoming carbon and restarting the cycle. Electron capture events turned protons into neutrons somewhere along the way.
This story has even come up in the origins debates, with some asking: Since the big bang only produced hydrogen, helium, and negligible amounts of lithium, where did the carbon come from to jump-start hydrogen fusion in the first generation of stars? Since then, every explanation of fusion I have encountered invokes the idea of quantum tunneling to bring protons together that otherwise shouldn’t be.
It was only in adulthood that I heard about Hawking radiation: It was described by saying that pairs of particles – one partner with positive mass and the other with negative mass – pop in and out of the vacuum all the time. When this happens on the edge of an event horizon, they can become separated. For reasons never clear to me, the negative mass particle has a greater chance of falling in while the positive mass particle escapes. In any case, the end result is that the black hole gets lighter while particles escape from its surface.
Later, another explanation surfaced: It was said that since position and momentum cannot both be known with precision, any particle known to be inside the black hole might have enough momentum to escape, and any particle known to have low momentum might already be outside the black hole.
Only recently have I been given the explanation that the event horizon essentially casts a shadow blocking the omnipresent vacuum fluctuation waves, in a manner akin to the Casimir effect. I still don’t totally get it.
I am also told that serious physicists frown on the idea of negative mass and do not accept that pairs of particles could pop out of the vacuum, one with positive mass and on with negative mass, since this would allow an infinite amount of stuff to enter existence every moment – even though I have read in multiple books that this is exactly how some cosmologists have suggested the big bang happened!
Everything Else: I’ve recently been told that tides don’t work the way I was taught, that particle chirality is not the same as particle helicity, that porcupines do sort-of shoot their quills after all (by wagging their tails and flinging them), that margarine isn’t made of what I thought it was, and several different conflicting accounts of how the legend of Atlantis originated. At this point, I’m thinking that I have to go back to first grade and learn everything over. I can’t trust anything.
Everything You've Been Taught Is Wrong
At the same time I’ve been learning just how badly I’ve been mistaught, I have also learned just how badly others have been mistaught. Their stories are much like mine.
Blue Skies: I was always taught that the sky was blue because shorter wavelengths of light from the sun scattered in all directions and thus entered our eyes from around the sun after refracting through the air. Red wavelengths of light followed straighter paths and could penetrate more air, which is why the sun appears redder at sunrise or sunset when the light has to pass through more atmosphere to reach us. Apparently, this is still considered true.
I was extremely shocked to hear that some people report being taught as children (even going so far to assume that all children are taught the same) that the sky is blue because it reflects the sea. Why isn’t the sky brown over the deserts then? Only once have I ever heard such an absurd explanation – and that was from a woman who told me all kinds of nutty things, such as the difference between mammals and animals being that mammals live in the water and animals live on land. I confirmed from her that she believed starfish were mammals and wolves were not. Crazy!
Seasons: I have also heard people claiming that the Earth is cooler in the winter and warmer in the summer because the Earth is farther from the sun in winter and closer in summer. How do they explain that winter in one hemisphere is summer in the other then? How do they explain that the sun never changes apparent size, as it would if we were moving toward or away from it? How do they explain the seasonal change in day length and the changing arc the sun makes across the sky?
I was always taught from the youngest age that the tilt of Earth’s axis caused sunlight to be spread over a larger area in one hemisphere and a smaller area in the opposite hemisphere, causing winter on one side and summer on the other. I am shocked that not everyone knows this.
Everything Else: I have also heard people claiming they were always taught that cars keep us safe from lightning because of the rubber tires on the ground, not from the Faraday-cage properties of the metal roof and sides as I was told.
I have heard people claim they were taught that a hierarchy existed to evolution, with organisms always striving toward more complex forms, finally reaching humans, rather than organisms simply adapting in unpredictable ways to whatever environment they happen to be in, even if it means getting simpler, as in the case of echinoderms (“simple” and “complex” are poorly defined concepts anyways).
I have heard people claim that they were always taught that humans use only ten percent of their brains, hinting at untapped potential or even a sixth sense, rather than less than ten percent of brain cells firing at any given moment - all of them firing at once destroying the possibility of any coherent thought or motion and being almost the definition of a seizure.
I have also heard people claiming they were taught that Jupiter’s red spot is a volcano, rather than a storm on a planet with no solid surface!
Who is teaching kids this garbage? No wonder we have so many scientifically illiterate adults!
I Give Up: I can’t tell who the crackpots are anymore. When even well-respected scientists propose that we likely live in a simulation, that all matter might be conscious, that white holes (requiring negative mass) are real, or really wild ideas like top-down cosmology, I start seriously wondering about reincarnation, telepathy, astrology, and whether the Earth is actually flat.
Remember, the wisest man is the one who knows he knows nothing.
It never ceases to amaze me how badly people misinterpret my words – even when using common phrases on which society has already agreed upon the meaning!
A Bird In The Hand Is Worth Two In The Bush
I had always taken this to mean that something you have is worth more than something you merely know about. For example, the television you own can be watched anytime, from the comfort of your living room, and on whatever channel you like, and is therefore worth more than thirty televisions in the store display window.
A bird in the hand can be pet and observed in detail. The birds in the bush can only be heard. Since a bird in the hand is worth more than two in the bush, three birds in the hand must be worth more than zero in the bush! Birds are worth more in the hand. I use the expression to tell people to go get their hands on those bush-birds.
I recently discovered that there is another way to take the same expression. For some people, the bird in the hand is worth more only because it is certain, whereas the two in the bush are uncertain. Since it is likely one has to let go of (and lose) the certain possession for the uncertain gain of additional possessions (unlike televisions, birds fly away), this expression is used to tell others to be content with what they have and not go after the bush-birds. It is the exact opposite of how I use the expression.
800-Pound Gorilla In The Room
I have always seen this expression to refer to something that is undeniably on everyone’s minds, but nobody wants to talk about. There is even a television commercial that makes use of this, and for years it ran so often that I find it hard to believe anyone missed it.
Now I find that some take this to mean merely the dominant force in some setting, such as an industry. While the dominant force is certainly undeniable, something does not have to be dominant to be undeniable, and even if it is, it doesn’t mean that no one wants to talk about it. Usually, the opposite is true. Thus, this usage is very different than mine, overlapping in only a very tiny point.
Take This With A Grain Of Salt
I had always understood this to mean that the following information was from an unreliable source and was likely exaggerated, though it still might have a grain of truth to it. This is what I was told and it is the only way I have ever heard it used. One day, I read an article wherein the author assumed it to mean that the following information was merely something the listener would not want to hear (thus why it needs salt to make it “palatable”), the expression indicating nothing of its reliability.
Bees – like insects in general – fly erratically and seemingly indecisively. They take indirect paths. When I read of someone making a beeline, they are usually being pursued and dodging sniper fire or keeping their pursuers guessing where they will be one second in the future. Thus, a beeline is an indirect route. If it were a direct route, it would simply be called a line.
Now I hear that a beeline is the exact opposite of this. A beeline is instead a direct route. This makes no sense to me at all. Am I the only one that has ever observed how bees actually fly?
One Man’s Buck Is Another Man’s Buck
This is not even ten percent of the common sayings that have multiple meanings that only I seem to be aware of. Most people are only aware of one meaning even though they aren’t in agreement with each other. We all live in our tiny little bubbles and assume the rest of the world is the same way. This is why there is so much misunderstanding when it comes to the meaning of common words, idioms, and jokes. Often the same word can have very different meanings depending on who uses it, and one man’s buck is another man’s buck (this means that two people can take the same message differently – e.g. buck=deer versus buck=money – just in case you were thinking something else).
Related Post: People Are Different
WeirdUniverse.net is a blog of news articles present and past about aliens, ghosts, cannibals, strange superstitions, freaks of nature, industrial accidents and mistakes, odd fashion choices, and a vast hodgepodge of other subjects. It’s a place to keep updated on what happens on the fringe of normal.
Needing to kill some time before the store opened, I visited Shady Lea in North Kingstown, Rhode Island on the last day of November. It consists of a small pond next to an even smaller parking lot immediately adjacent to busy route four where it meets route one. In addition to the scattering of picnic tables and fire pits, there is a small brook running around the perimeter and a pretty nice boulder to sit on and watch the ducks. At least, I think they were ducks. It was hard to tell at that distance. I began writing my account while I was still there:
I hear birds in the trees. Birds are often surprisingly hard to find. I can hear them and narrow down their location by sound alone to within a ten-foot radius, but sometimes I still can’t see them. I don’t understand. There are practically no leaves here for them to hide behind. The trees are very nearly bare. Maybe the birds are invisible. Oh, I see them now.
This is a simple place. There are no mysteries here – no great discoveries to be made. Everything is out in the open. There is nothing but trees and stones.
I walk around. The ground is covered in a thick layer of oak leaves. What is underneath? I suddenly step into a depression in the ground and feel my foot go down into the leaves. The leaves are eight inches deep here!
I must know what hides underneath! Treasure? Lost cities? Monsters? Something killed that deer. I have found a mystery at last! I clear the leaves away with my foot. Slowly but surely, I get closer to the underlying substrate. Finally, I see it. Under the leaves are mud and roots. I have solved the mystery!
The greater mystery now is what lies under the mud and roots…
Sometimes we must go backwards to go forwards.
Chocolate chip cookies were invented by mistake. They were a failed attempt to make chocolate cookies, but Mrs. Toll made the best out of the situation and introduced to the world a new favorite.
Sometimes when doodling alien creatures I mess up. When this happens, I can usually think up a way to salvage the picture and make it more interesting than it would have been originally. Could those stray marks on its back be gills? Genitals? External parasites? Some of my most creative ideas have been mistakes.
The ancient Israelites failed to take the city of Ai because of the sin of one man. Once dealt with, they attempted again to take the city, pretending to retreat and leading the enemy into an ambush. Winning this way would have been unlikely had they not lost the first time.
When I was nineteen I unwittingly insulted a friend of mine and she was rude to me in response. Unable to bring myself to apologize first, she did, I returned the favor, and our friendship was stronger after that than it would have ever been otherwise.
When things go wrong, don’t be discouraged. Instead ask yourself, “If this had been my plan all along, what would my next step be?” There is a way to fix any mistake. All things can work out for good. Even when we fail to do this, God can fix anything. It is never too late.
So, if your current situation had been your plan all along, what would your next step be?
Beavertail Park covers the southern tip of Conanicut Island. Over the years, I have been there several times with family. It is a fantastic place full of geological oddities, including an arch and pools full of pebbles. Water leaks from the sides of cliffs and rocks come in every color and texture imaginable. To the north of the park are trails cut through the woods, sometimes in the form of tunnels with branches wrapped overhead. It is often windy and this is the place I once saw a bird flying perfectly sideways, unable to move forward against the wind. There are also some grassy areas, a lighthouse, and the remains of a fort or something.
I had planned all year to visit, but never got around to it, so when my aunt and mother invited me in September, I tagged along, hoping to get pictures of all these things for the first time. Unfortunately, the problem of going with other people is that nobody ever wants to stay long enough for me to see everything. I left early before I had covered more than a third of the place. Here is what I saw:
Purple And Green Protists:
This Impassible Gorge:
And This Path Leading Out Of The Park Altogether:
Where does it go?
Well, I didn't go as many places as I wanted, but it was still an interesting year. My grandfather had me trim the hedge, which is how I found all kinds of new insect friends. At different times, I saw a caterpillar, a dragonfly, and a praying mantis. In the flower garden was another dragonfly.
I also found evidence of other potential friends.
There are so many wonders around us that are hidden unless we cut things open. Trimming the hedge is how I discovered that yellow wood really does exist.
One day I saw patches of frost in the grass - even though it was late July. The ground below was black. What is that stuff? Mold? It was gone days later.
Another day I discovered a patch of wild mint on the edge of the yard. At first, it smelled and tasted exactly like basil before it matured and became mintier. I put it on my noodles.
The neighbor's yard developed several gigantic growths of fungi in a matter of only four days! I photographed the first to come up from the south and north and then again at the end of the four days when it had matured.
Then I saw a bunch of other stuff:
Even when I stay inside I see interesting things. This intruder was resting on the screen of the guest room window:
This one was in a gas station:
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!!!!
Disclaimer: The following is my analysis based on dozens of books and magazines I have read and pieced together over the years. Most of the concepts I’ve never seen related together before. Most of it I think I understand pretty well, but I have been wrong before. Some of it I know I don’t understand. Input and corrections are welcome.
No one likes to die. Humans take grand steps to avoid being killed. Most religions hold that some form of consciousness outlasts the death of the body and that the soul lives for eternity. How might such a thing work? It would seem to violate physics.
Medical science may one day progress to the point that the physical body can be protected from aging and almost any disease or injury. It might also be possible to upload copies of our minds onto more durable, artificial bodies, or onto multiple, wirelessly connected bodies in case one of them is completely obliterated by a bomb or something. To avoid supernova-sized catastrophes, our bodies could be spread across multiple star systems. This way, something of us would always survive.
If possible, these methods might keep us alive for billions of years. However, we would eventually run into the problem of entropy and heat death. One day, all useable energy will be gone; everything will be homogenous and uniformly heated. Then nothing will ever happen again. By carefully slowing our rate of energy consumption, we could theoretically extend our lives indefinitely – but could our state then legitimately be called life? Awareness requires thoughts, and thinking uses energy. Slowing our energy consumption also slows our thinking. It is not enough for us to live forever in time on a finite amount of energy if our thoughts also become finite.
No one really knows how consciousness works, but one Scientific American article I read long ago suggested that thought rate was proportional to the volume of the brain, while energy use was proportional to the surface area, meaning that we could in fact experience an infinite number of thoughts on a finite reservoir or energy – albeit at a progressively retarded rate. This is very encouraging.
Unfortunately, there was a catch. Heat loss is also proportional to the surface area, meaning that a continually-running brain will heat up. It must be periodically shut down so it can cool. Since the rate of heat dispersion depends on the difference in temperature with the surrounding environment, as the brain uses up energy, the universe will become even closer to equilibrium, and the cooling time will become progressively longer. This requires some sort of “alarm clock” to wake the brain at the appropriate time and no such mechanism is 100% reliable. Given an infinite amount of time, it would eventually fail us and we would never wake again.
There are other limits on time as well. In accordance with the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, there is always a non-zero probability of measuring any object to be in a different position than where it was previously measured to be. On the scale of atoms, this manifests as a lot of “jumpiness.” On the scale of people, planets, and galaxies, it means that given enough time there is a statistical certainty that one day they will simply leap across the universe far away. It is much more likely still that only small parts of them will be similarly transported, which in the case of humans can be deadly (imagine if your heart suddenly vanished). This is called quantum tunneling. On infinite timescales, the entire universe could suddenly pop into a different configuration, with a new arrangement of matter and new laws of physics. There would be no way to survive.
There are also limits on space. It is not good enough that we have an infinite number of thoughts if we do not retain them as memories. Is it really life to just have the same two thoughts over and over? What are we if not our unique path through history? If the original body is not important, and memory is not important, what is to separate us as individuals? Otherwise it could be said that we have survived so long as someone else survives. Who is to say it isn’t us? Memory storage requires space. Even with combinatorics, infinite memory storage requires infinite space.
Even assuming the universe to be infinite in volume, we know from observation that it is expanding. Matter is thinning. The farther away a galaxy is, the faster it recedes. Galaxies far enough away recede faster than the speed of light. Light from those galaxies can never reach us even in principle. Nothing can go faster than light in space (the receding galaxies are following the flow of space, not moving in it). This means that an infinitely-sized (or at least continually-growing) brain will eventually be pulled apart by the expansion of the universe and its various parts will lose contact with each other. The only ways around this problem are to use faster-than-light communication (impossible), reverse the expansion of space (good luck with that), or to find ways to store ever-more information in an ever-smaller volume.
Unfortunately, there is a maximum limit on how much information can be packed into a given space. Counterintuitively, this limit is proportional not to the volume it is packed into, but to the surface area of a sphere with that volume. It is called the holographic bound. Holograms have some weird properties. Information in holograms is spread around such that a small part of the hologram can be used to recreate the whole picture – though at a lower resolution. They are also able to hold in only two dimensions the information to recreate a three-dimensional image. I don’t understand very well myself how this works, but it is made possible by quantum entanglement. Since every particle in the universe has interacted directly or indirectly with every other part, in a sense the entire universe is entangled and therefore should also have holographic properties. This is why some physicists have suggested that our four-dimensional spacetime might be a “simulation” running on a computer in a three-dimensional spacetime. Thus, the amount of storage space available is proportional to a two-dimensional area and not a three-dimensional volume.
Probably not coincidentally, the holographic bound of a cache of information is the same as its Schwarzschild radius. Information is stored on matter and increasing the information density to its maximum can only be done by increasing the density of the material. Squash a material enough, and it will collapse into a black hole. The volume of a black hole is not proportional to its mass, but rather needs to be ever larger with every addition to still be called a black hole. A black hole with the mass of the Earth needs to be roughly the size of a golf ball and therefore very dense, but a black hole the size of the solar system need be only as dense as water. The observable universe is so big that to be a black hole it need be only as dense as roughly what we measure it to be. We might be inside a black hole now! To retain an infinite memory, we must grow an ever-larger brain that also grows ever-thinner to prevent gravitational collapse.
Even assuming we find a way to halt the expansion of the universe or a way to send signals faster than light in order to keep different parts of our brain in constant communication (or both), we will eventually run into a math problem. Any finite set of matter only has so many possible configurations. Given an infinite amount of time, something must repeat. Given an infinite extension in space, this means our superbrain will be filled with copies of the same sequence over and over. Some of these sequences will be whole universes just like ours and contain fully functioning organisms with brains themselves – believing themselves individuals distinct from their surroundings. Maybe that’s what we are. Maybe we are already part of a superbrain that has already lived forever.
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My name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small.