Tags: hawking | lorenz | satori

Imperfections, Chaos Add Beauty to Universe

Imperfections, Chaos Add Beauty to Universe
(Lim Seng Kui/Dreamstime) 

By Monday, 20 November 2017 04:13 PM Current | Bio | Archive

It was meteorologist and mathematician Edward Lorenz’s allusion that the flap of a butterfly’s wing could be the incipient cause of a hurricane some weeks later.

This American pioneer of chaos theory held that small initial changes in systems can grow causing very slight discrepancies to produce rather stupendous events — including cyclones.

There is a natural inclination nonetheless to abhor such a world since it’s comforting to imagine the universe instead as a dazzlingly impressive display of clockwork precision — laws of motion, orbits, conservation of energym and angular momentum and everything else working like a divine machine.

That view may be the incorrect one though, for since Lorenz’s famous butterfly question was laid before science 45 years ago physics has come to realize that the foundations of the cosmos don’t rest on order but rather on its nemesis, disorder and chaos.

What is known now about space itself, the seemingly infinite nothingness that goes on forever in every direction, exposes even this basic emptiness as hardly the simple void we always assumed it must be.

As observations pass into the most impossibly tiny distances of this nothingness beyond the Plank length — smaller than one thousandth of a millionth of a trillionth of a centimeter — we find that the vacuum is a roiling, bursting, energetic "quantum foam."

Far from being a dead and immobile place, empty space turns out to be a realm where anything, everything and nothing happens, and simultaneously, a domain of pure chaos, impervious to any semblance of scientific or mathematical order.

Virtual sub-atomic particle pairs — one of matter the other of antimatter — come pouring forth out of this effervescent quantum foam by the uncountable trillions, everywhere, all over the universe, at every moment.

This creation can only last for the blink of an eye however — for a billionth of a trillionth of second — before the two particles reunite, annihilating each other, going back to nothingness and keeping the energy ledger of the universe in balance.

Such bending of the rules of nature doesn’t result in the avoidance of fouls all the time though and certainly not in the vicinity of another great exemplar of chaos in the cosmos: black holes. Virtual particles, enjoying reality for such briefest of snippets of time, can be promoted to real matter near the event horizon of black holes.

Stephen Hawking was first to predict what would happen when these motes burst from the void on the exact razor’s edge of a black hole’s gravitational demarcation line, and the astounding happenstance of one virtual particle straying onto the wrong side while its partner doesn’t.

The result is that the planned mutual annihilation can’t occur; both matter and anti-matter particles merging and cancelling each other are required for that. In essence, the black hole — where time, distance, physics and mathematics cease — plays creator for something that comes from nothing.

A halo of these virtual particles turned newly-minted real particles should hang about the periphery of all black holes everywhere, eponymous Hawking radiation.

Searches for perfection and order in the most primal places in the cosmos unfailingly turn up error and defect instead. There can be, for example, no such thing as a flawless sphere, either natural or artificial. And this legacy of blemish and imperfection goes back to just before even the very first second of time passed.

During a phase known as baryogenesis, the incomprehensible energy of the big bang created innumerable pairs of quarks and antiquarks, the first matter in the universe. These particles promptly annihilated each other, producing quite a secondary bang as well.

The astounding problem in all this is that there shouldn’t be any matter left remaining, since all pairs should have gone up in primordial smoke. Cosmologists have discovered a slight and yet very fortunate error here too, since it’s calculated that one billion anti-particles matched up with every one billion — and one!  — motes of matter, leaving the trace residue of that great destruction as all the stuff that exists in the universe today.

How it is that such an incomprehensible miscount on the part of existence could even take place requires arcane knowledge of CP violation, Majorana fermions (a violation of CP-symmetry: the combination of C-symmetry and P-symmetry), and the PMNS (Pontecorvo–Maki–Nakagawa–Sakata) matrix, but occur it must have since otherwise there would be nothing to see, touch, feel, and smell in all of creation.

In traditional Japanese wabi-sabi aesthetics, beauty embraces the imperfect, the asymmetric, the slightly blemished. Appreciating this "flawed beauty" is considered the first step to satori, or enlightenment, finding one’s place in a world where nothing endures, nothing is complete, nothing is perfect.

This tradition, formalized among Japanese nobility seven centuries ago, might be right after all — but just not too correct however, since as we are forced to admit, nothing can accede to that quality.

David Nabhan is a science writer, the author of "Earthquake Prediction: Dawn of the New Seismology" (2017) and three previous books on earthquakes. Nabhan is also a science fiction writer ("Pilots of Borealis," 2015) and the author of many scores of newspaper and magazine op-eds. Nabhan has been featured on television and talk radio all over the world. His website is www.earthquakepredictors.com. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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Appreciating flawed beauty is considered the first step to enlightenment, finding one’s place in a world where nothing endures, nothing is complete, nothing is perfect. This tradition might be right after all.
hawking, lorenz, satori
Monday, 20 November 2017 04:13 PM
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