Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Three Follow-Up Notes


My post on “diamond bodies” could have mentioned the legendary Empedocles, a pre-Socratic Greek (around about 490-430 BC) who, in the Graeco-Roman-Western line of civilization was the first to concern himself with the origin of elements (or the first of whom something survives). It is from him that we have the core elements—fire, air, water, and earth—and theories of how these fundamentals generate all else. The western world embraced this classification.

If we permit ourselves patronizing chuckles in looking back at this sort of thought, we shall be viewed as very naïve and backward when we arrive in heaven. This was serious thought, on Empedocles’ part as well as on the part of those who found merit in it later. These words were technical concepts (or so we would call them today); they referred to certain fundamental qualities that fire, air, water, and earth brought to mind—rather than the actual phenomenon of oxidation, gas mixtures, H2O, or a mixture of minerals and organics. Great thinkers are never stupid; but those who dismiss them inevitably are.

In the early, creative stages of civilization the sage-scientist-poet-mystic is one complete personality; in late stages comes specialization. Newton engaged in biblical commentary, indeed spent much of his time on it. Einstein, the latecomer, only permitted himself some few expressions of not-quite-mathematical wonder. Empedocles was a wizard, you might, say—and expressed himself in verse. Here are the first lines of his poem, one of two we know of, called Hymns of Purification. We have this fragment thanks to Diogenes Laertios who wrote about Greek philosophers in the third century of our era. I've rendered this fragment in my own words to heighten its effect a little. The translation is referenced below. The lines produce the aura of its author:

To friends who live near mighty, tawny Acragas,
To those who love good deeds in the proud citadel
Crowning its noble height—my greetings to you send.
Amongst you I wander, an immortal I am,
Death have I conquered, am honored by all, adorned
With holy diadems; blooming garlands cover me.
No matter what illustrious towns I visit,
Men and women merge their praises and follow
In my steps by thousands thirsting for deliverance.
Some ask for prophecies, some beg for remedies
Against a swarm, a pest of all kinds of disease.

In the above I don’t rely on my “learning,” which is conspicuous mostly by absence, but on the Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion, edited by William L. Reese, Humanities Press, 1980. The original of the edited fragment courtesy of Wikipedia here.

Dark Matter

In waxing eloquent on elements two posts back and above, I failed altogether to mention the latest fly in the ointment, namely dark matter. Dark matter is a latecomer too, like Einstein. It was first postulated the other day, as it were, in 1934, two years before I came screaming into the world one stormy night in July. With such a theory already in the air, I had reason to be displeased!

Here is my understanding of the (dark) matter in a thimble. Dark matter—you cannot see or weigh it; it is transparent and seems to have no mass—is stipulated to exist for a reason. And the reason is? The reason is that the rotation of stars on the outer fringe of galaxies takes place at a slower, a much too stately, pace than it ought to based on the laws of gravitation as propounded by the above mentioned Newton. This gravitational anomaly forces the conclusion that there is much, much more matter in the cosmos than we can actually detect. The issue really is the gravitational anomaly as such. Dark matter is the hypothesized cause.  One possible alternative explanation of this anomaly is that gravitation diminishes in force over very great distances. Now we have a description of gravitation, not really an explanation of it. We have yet to detect particles that are exchanged (gravitons, as it were). Our explanation is that mass distorts space—a theory at least as marvelous as dark matter itself. If we understood gravitation better, the anomaly might disappear. Since that problem—gravitation—is thought to be settled by space-time equations, it is, as it were, no longer on the table, hence we reach for dark matter.

I detect the seeds of a quite different explanation in the work of David Bohm (1917-1992), particularly in his book, The Undivided Universe: An ontological interpretation of quantum theory. He wrote it with B.J. Hiley. Bohm’s very novel theory is that our universe is a tiny part of a greater cosmos that has been unfolded (explicated) from a greater whole, the implicate (enfolded) cosmos. Thus what we call the universe is a minute little bubble of expansion within a vastly more compressed surround. The seed notion here (it’s mine, not one that Bohm proposed) is that gravitational anomalies may be due to the presence of the greater whole as a container—and that this influence is detectable only in very large segments of space, not in the local, e.g., the solar system.

Undivided Universe is very tough reading. It took me years to get used to its premise—and never mind the thick bristling of equations. A more accessible book is Bohm’s Wholeness and the Implicate Order, Routledge, 1996.

Inspired on Tuesday by Monday

This third note to tip my hat to a fellow blogger and reader of Ghulf Genes who styles himself Montag, which happens to mean Monday in German. His blog is here. Montag made some comments yesterday elsewhere. He mentioned both Empedocles and dark matter—and these annotations made me reflect this morning and thus led to the above.

Books mentioned at Amazon:

The Undivided Universe: An ontological interpretation of quantum theory.
Wholeness and the Implicate Order.

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