Playing Favorites 4/29/2022

What a great look back on some of the great duets of our time!

Older Eyes

roy and kdI try to be scrupulously honest here on Bud’s Blog … except, of course, for those times where my tongue is firmly in cheek or my Inner Curmudgeon has taken control of the keyboard.  So I have to admit that when I decided to post my favorite duet, I knew exactly where I was headed.   That’s probably a bit surprising since I’ve been listening to pop music for over sixty years during which I suspect hundreds … if not thousands … of duets have made it to the charts.  And thousands more have appeared on duets album by artists like Frank Sinatra and Kenny G that featured an assortment of vocal stars singing with the top-billed artist.    There were duet groups like Sonny and Cher or Peaches and Herb, and one-time duet hits like Endless Love by Diana Ross and Lionel Ritchie or We’ve Got Tonight by Kenny Rogers and…

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Here’s a bucket list item for you!

To big for my bucket but certainly amazing.

Robby Robin's Journey

Admiration, astonishment, envy, or just utter disbelief.  The quest just begun by Italian hiker and grandmother Vienna Cammarota might inspire any or all of these feelings.

As reported in several news sources this week, Vienna Cammarota left Venice on Tuesday (April 26, 2022) to begin her planned walk of Marco Polo’s Silk Road.  To be clear, this is a 22,000 kms (13,670 miles) route that goes through 15 countries, starting in Venice and ending in Beijing. To be even clearer, Ms. Cammarota is 72 years old.  OK, it’s true that she’s 4 years younger than I am – a mere stripling – but, wow! This is where the admiration, astonishment, envy, and utter disbelief start to kick in!

Vienna will be carrying Italian and Ukrainian flags with her as she makes this trek, which she has called a Walk for Peace, attempting to encourage understanding and peace among…

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Happy? Happy? Happy? or Why Ain’t I Happier?

Just a few thoughts on Happiness.

Aging Capriciously

Key-to-Happiness (1)

We all feel that we are entitled to be happy.  The Bill of Rights lists happiness as one of our inalienable rights.  Actually, it lists the “pursuit of happiness.”  Just like chasing a rabbit or health or winning the lottery, you are assured of no guarantee that you will catch happiness.  But that won’t stop most of us from trying.  The sad part is that most of us will probably fail.

Failure in any endeavor is always assured if you don’t know what you are doing or if you don’t have a strategy.  But voila, that is where John and his Magic Blog come in.  I am here to give you six methods for catching happiness.  Furthermore, I will not charge you one cent for learning how you can be happy for the rest of your life.  So, listen closely, pay attention, and take notes if you have to.  I…

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If I could turn back time – for peace, for love, …, for dinosaurs?

A little something to while away a few hours thinking how different the world might be if a particular event hadn’t happened.

Robby Robin's Journey

At the beginning of this year I accepted a challenge from fellow blogger John Persico, who writes the thought-provoking blog, Aging Capriciously.  I committed to writing on 3 topics of John’s choosing, and in return he’d write on 3 that I chose for him.

His first topic for me I didn’t find too difficult: What is the difference between wisdom and knowledge.  However, I have been struggling with his second topic for some time now. It’s time to at least make a start. I’m going to go through all the options I’ve thought about as possible choices so far and you can think about how you might answer this question yourself.

Challenge question #2: If you could go back in time and change 1 thing in the world, what would it be? Why would you change it? What difference would it make?

Maybe you can already see why…

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I Don’t Understand Anything Anymore

Collage of images of flower sprouting star imploding cell dividing and lightning
APR 20, 2022 9:00 AM

The sense of overwhelming muchness is chaotic and confusing. That’s all right by me.

I USED TO think “I don’t understand anything anymore” was old-people-speak—right up there with “Who the &@^%* are all these people?” and “Get the &@^%* off my lawn!”

Today, I hear it even from the young, a kind of universal mantra of malaise. We feel at a loss even though we don’t understand what we’re losing, try to make sense of things that can’t make sense, wondering how we got here, where “here” is, what’s up with that anyway? “That” could be war or coronavirus, climate or the proper way to address people, how to be good, whether to be good, the promiscuous proliferation of podcasts, avalanche of apps, swell of streaming services, firehose of fitness tools, flood of bottled water brands—the copious stores of stuff that overwhelm our feeds, inboxes, attention spans.

“Who ordered this?” asked the physicist II Rabi in the late 1930s, when elementary particles seemed to be appearing out of nowhere far faster than theorists could explain.

I sometimes ask myself that when I find a grinning package on my doorstep I can’t remember wanting, or why. When shopping is friction-free, it’s easy to slip. When reaching vast audiences or bombing cities is a no-brainer, anyone can do anything and probably will.

Not understanding makes bad things happen. When we don’t understand why lightning strikes or ships sink or babies die, sacrificing virgins might seem a viable approach. As the Roman Lucretius wrote some millennia ago, “The reason why all mortals are so gripped by fear is that they see all sorts of things happening in the earth and sky with no discernible cause.”

Nobody understands war, so we’re left with what looks a lot like virgin sacrifice. Try anything and everything. Threats and peace talks, economic aid and sanctions, arms and disarmament; we give and we take away, stumbling toward some often obscure goal with the accuracy of a kid trying to pin a tail on a donkey. We’ve managed to dodge nuclear war for nearly eight decades, but we haven’t the slightest idea what parts of our elaborate (and contradictory) rituals work, so we don’t dare abandon any part of them. As one prominent bomb scientist put it at the dawn of the nuclear age: “Fear becomes the cocked hair-trigger of our silos that could start the futile agony of a World War.”

That was nearly 80 years ago. Nothing has changed. I don’t understand why.

THE ANTIDOTE TO fear is understanding. But I don’t think anyone understands much anymore.

Myself, I don’t understand getting old—why I’ve acquired a diameter where my waistline used to be (it’s going around) or why people tell me I’m not really old. I am old! So what? I’ve got great company. Jane Goodall and Sylvia Earle, in their late eighties, still working nonstop to protect the Earth and oceans. Think of Harry Belafonte (95), Yoko Ono (89), Rita Moreno (90), Willie Nelson (88), James Earl Jones (91), Norman Lear (99), Gloria Steinem (88), Noam Chomsky (93).

FEATURED VIDEOUnderstanding Algorithms With Sinead Bovell

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I admit my feathers got ruffled at first when people stopped telling me I didn’t look my age (75). When I whined to a friend about this, she suggested I tell people I’m 85. Works like a charm!

My young friends tell me that one reason they feel like they don’t understand anything is that there’s too much of everything to understand.

Science shares your pain.

Consider the astronomers and physicists who’ve harvested such an abundance of data that their signal/noise problems are out of control. Imagine what it’s like to know that the vast majority of the treasures obtained by your gazillion-dollar particle accelerator or telescope will never be looked at by anybody! Cosmic-scale FOMO!

Most of the information won’t get past the first or even the second or third round of automatic filtering systems, which behave like bouncers making sure scientists don’t waste time on anything that’s not important. How do they know what’s important? Ah, there’s the rub.

AI can assist, but the answers that machines give don’t help much if we don’t understand how they came to that conclusion. (Show your work!) This worrisome hitch is explored in a remarkably readable 60-page paper by quantum chemists Roald Hoffmann (Nobel laureate) and Jean-Paul Malrieu. Answers aren’t the same as understanding. One illustration they cite comes from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency—about the military’s need for “explainable” AI. Modern weapons are designed to think for themselves, but their usefulness is severely limited “by the machine’s current inability to explain their decisions and actions to human users,” the DARPA paper explains. That makes it difficult for “future warfighters” to trust them.

We all depend on AIs (willingly or not) to distill signal from noise in every aspect of our lives, helpfully narrowing our choices of news, footwear, political opinions, TV shows, word choice, friends. The “noise” is everything else you never see, everything else you never know you never see. Toss the bathwater, never mind the baby.

Separating signal from static is tricky, though. Is that crystal clear blue sky “noise”? It is if you’re trying to see a star. We sense there’s so much more out there. There is! It’s unnerving.

It doesn’t help that the whole “how things work” aspect of most things is hidden behind digital displays. I had a come-to-Jesus moment recently when I got a new digital thermostat and the technician told me to just discard the old one. Surely he jests. An analog thermostat is a thing of beauty! A small spiral of melded metal strips unwinds (or winds) as the one material expands more quickly than the other due to the increased jostling of its atoms—in other words, heat. The tiny winding metal snake flips a tiny plastic lever, which completes (or breaks) a circuit. Heat doing its thing!

That I understand.

My analog watch (analogously) clocks time directly; time is motion in our world, the rotation of Earth, its regular-as-clockwork orbit round the sun. What does your digital timepiece measure? Quantum jumps of cesium atoms absorbing microwaves (at a frequency of 9,192,631,770 cycles per second, if you must know). This has nothing to do with the human experience.

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The meaning of time is lost in the measurement. Besides, at some point precision measurements run into the uncertainty principle, which tells us you can’t know everything—certainly not at once.

Now isn’t that a relief?

UNDERSTANDING HOW THINGS actually work explains so much of why too-muchness is so disorienting.

It’s just not natural. Nature relies on physical and biological thermostats to detect when things get too hot or too big or too much. Stars that get too big for their own gravity collapse and are reborn in ever-evolving forms. Predators and prey keep checks on each other over the long term to reach a balance sustainable to both. Our microbes, electrolytes, blood sugar, cell metabolism—anything can kill you that’s too much or too little, so balance is essential.

Ursula Le Guin, reflecting on age among other things, described a questionnaire she received from her alma mater, Harvard, on the occasion of the 60th reunion of her graduating class. (Of course, her college was Radcliffe, she points out, the product of gender exclusion, a “detail” Harvard overlooks.) One query asks: “What will improve the quality of life for the future generations of your family?” The second choice is “economic stability and growth for the US.”

“That stymied me totally,” Le Guin wrote. “You can’t have both.”

Growth is good to a point. Beyond that, it leads babies to obesity, multiplying cells to cancer; it leads us to ignore the well-known fact that organisms and societies have an optimum size, can only exist in homeostasis with the earth, oceans, atmosphere. What’s more, she points out, uncontrolled growth as the single survival stratagem is bound to fail if only because it limits our ability to adapt, to consider alternatives.

The great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy (who knew a thing or two about war and peace) wrote a morality tale titled “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” It’s a great story, so spoiler alert: In the end, the answer is simple and unsurprising: 6 feet.

Nature doesn’t generate fresh spreads of stuff from whole cloth. It recycles: water, air, mountains, energy, matter.

When old(ish) people like me attain too many years to sustain, we get recycled too. My atoms will form new collectives, use good old E = mc2 to turn energy into matter, who knows what? Nature will decide what it needs to keep things in balance. Death is life’s thermostat shutting down your circuits.

You could argue (and I will) that the confusion and chaos of overwhelming muchness is caused in part by lack of functioning thermostats. The settings are stuck at more more more. More precision, more speed, more land, more people, more bathrooms, more bounty, more booty, bigger bonuses, more stuff to binge. We’re bursting at the seams.

And let’s not forget more friends, more likes, more followers, more opinions. When did crowdsourcing (more voices) become accepted as the best way to get accurate results? As opposed to, say, informed voices? Experienced voices? I don’t understand that.

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I don’t understand why “winners” are so often defined as those who have, simply, more. Or why winner-take-all is even a thing. Nature isn’t a zero-sum game. The winner who takes all leaves nothing. What sense does that make?

One thing I love about science is that much of what’s true, what’s interesting, makes no sense (to us) at all. All of life encoded in some silly spiral ladder of molecules that spells out how to grow, when to stop, whether to flower or swim or study the universe? Give me a break. Curved spacetime doesn’t make sense; time dilation doesn’t make sense; quantum mechanics isn’t even supposed to make sense.

So what? They work. Just like evolution. Maybe understanding is knowing what works and what doesn’t—including what works to tame pandemics, put a lid on global warming, better manage war. It is clear that what we are doing isn’t working.

But understanding is more. It’s a basic need, like breathing, an urge that all (human) beings share. It’s not information. It’s not description. It’s not even explanation. It requires imagination, awareness, recognition. It’s a feeling as much as anything. I like how it feels to comprehend, in some rough sense, how DNA makes tulips out of dirt and sun. what makes the Milky Way’s arms spiral, why rain falls but clouds and airplanes (generally) don’t.

A lot remains uncertain, ambiguous, unknown. That’s fine. I can feel lost and still remain connected, still admire, acknowledge—give my regards!

What if the antidote to fear isn’t understanding?

What if it’s appreciation?

What if it’s beauty?

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KC Cole is WIRED’s senior senior correspondent and the author of eight nonfiction books, including The Universe and the Teacup: The Mathematics of Truth and Beauty, a national best seller.




The inflation monster is baaaaaaack

A sober look at the menace of inflaation.

Matthew Wright

This week New Zealand’s inflation hit a 31-year high after decades when the spectre of relentlessly rising consumer prices seemed to have been conquered forever. What happened can only partly be blamed on domestic issues – a 32 percent rise in the price of fuel, for instance, simply had to be accepted. Although that last issue is, at least in part, an ‘own goal’ given that the neo-liberal ‘reformers’ of the late 1980s abandoned plans to make the country 50-percent self sufficient in petrol, handed much of the infrastructure over to private enterprise at bargain basement prices, and – just this year – that same private enterprise has closed the only refinery in the country. But I digress.

Why has the old twentieth century monster, inflation, suddenly exploded into life? Surely it had been beaten, thrashed to within an inch of its life a generation ago by draconian economic policies…

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Why You Should Believe Nothing You Read or Hear in the News!

Ah yes the concepts of truth!

Aging Capriciously

news-icons (1)I want to make an argument as to why most of what you hear or read is biased, prejudiced and based on narrow minded thinking.  Most of what you read will not lead you to the truth but will take you down a path away from the truth.  My argument will also apply to what you are about to read.  I am biased, narrow minded and prejudiced.  So why should you read or listen to what I am about to write?  Well, let’s start at the beginning.

Like many of you reading this, I consider myself somewhat of a truth seeker.  Although, I believe few if any “absolute” truths actually exist.  Nevertheless, I read a wide variety of books and magazines.  I listen to many different sources including TV, Radio, Podcasts, TED Talks, documentaries, and YouTube videos.  I attend training sessions, conferences, and talks by noted experts whenever possible.  I…

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As Creation Stories Go, the Big Bang Is a Good One

How science is like mythology when it pushes the boundaries of the known.

  • April 15, 2022
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Deep in the depths of time, there was the Ocean of Milk. The gods and demons both desired amrita, the nectar of immortal life, which could only be obtained from the great ocean. The supreme god Vishnu told them to use Mount Mandara as a churning stick, and to rotate the mountain with the giant serpent, Vasuki, as a rope. For a thousand years, they churned until amrita emerged. The gods and demons fought and quarreled over amrita until the gods prevailed. The churning produced other wonders: the physician of the gods Dhanvantari, the goddess of riches Lakshmi, the goddess of misfortune Jyestha, the white elephant, the seven-headed horse Uchchaisrava, and a wish-granting tree. And finally came the moon, Chandra.

More recently, modern scientists are churning the universe for another treasure. They are searching for the ripples in spacetime, known as gravitational waves, leftover from the primordial big bang. Scientists believe that when our universe was less than a second old, it underwent a radical phase transition, dramatically inflating in size. That event shaped the future evolution of the cosmos, planting the seeds that would one day grow to become galaxies and clusters. That cataclysmic event, perhaps the most powerful episode the universe has ever experienced, left nothing else behind but the most subtle churning of gravitational waves. Scientists hope to find these gravitational waves because the earliest moments of the Big Bang are shrouded in mystery, and perhaps the only relics of that era are those faint whispers of gravity.

“Why is there something rather than nothing?”

The first story comes to us from the Hindu mythological tradition, and the second from modern cosmology. Both are creation stories, the story that defines how everything—literally, everything—came into being. Creation stories are perhaps the most important stories of all. As the great German philosopher Martin Heidegger pointedly asked, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” The creation story explains why there is this rather than not-this. It separates us from the unknown, from the dark. Without creation, without cosmology, we are lost.

You might think the two stories don’t merit comparison. One is a legend handed down through time, and one is based on the observational study of our cosmos. But the stories have more in common than we may want to let on. In particular, both propose some entity or act or form that already exists, and through some process the world as we know it emerges. In other words, all creation stories make some assumption about the (primordial) cosmos, and the story goes from there. This is as true for the Hindu tradition as it is for Big Bang cosmology, and all the stories struggle to move to a point before the beginning.

Viewed through the lens of this commonality—this struggle to explain the most primordial of primordials—the ideas in physical cosmology, which are technical and mathematical, take on a new character: They can be viewed as rehashes of the old mythological stories. Scientists are human, and they are all drawing from the same well of inspiration as everybody else. Mythological creation stories and the scientific Big Bang theory aren’t in competition; in their shared attempts to explain the before-the-beginning, they are intertwined at a fundamental, human level, and it’s here where science can gain its greatest inspiration.

CREATION: In a Hindu creation story, gods and demons churn the Ocean of Milk to bring forth amrita, the nectar of immortal life. The churning also gives life to the gods and goddesses of healing, riches, and misfortune. Photo by V&A Museum / Wikimedia.

Historians and anthropologists have attempted to categorize the world’s many creation stories, with some success. One category describes the universe as having come into its present form from some sort of primordial void or chaos, often by the will or actions of a divine being. The classic example is the story of Genesis in the Bible. In the beginning, there were two entities: the all-powerful God that initiated the act of creation, and the formless void-like “nothing” from which He could work from. In these stories, there was a point in time in which our universe (as we know it) did not exist, and another point in time in which it did. From then, the usual machinations of nature led to the present day.

Another category sees the creation of our universe as merely the latest act in an infinitely long chain stretching back to eternity. As espoused in many Hindu mythologies, the destruction of the universe follows from its creation, and the cycle starts again. There may be variations—the present iteration of the universe isn’t always like the last—and various divine agents may be involved in the act, but the cycle itself simply exists, a fact of reality, that enables the creation/destruction process to unfold.

Still other myths, such as many Native American stories, feature a diving creature swimming into a vast and featureless primordial ocean that draws up bits of land and flesh, or a divine being that divides itself into the components of the universe, or a primitive seed that bears the universe as its fruit.

Ideas in cosmology can be viewed as sequels to mythology.

The same themes played out when a new creation story emerged in the early 1900s, one born from modern science. Scientists were not the first ones to attempt to put cosmology—the study of the universe—on empirical grounds (science does not hold a monopoly on empiricism), but they were the first to utilize the machinery of modern astronomy to the study of the whole cosmos.

Most scientists in early modern Europe followed the prevailing religious views on creation: Genesis, Adam and Eve, a cunning serpent. But in the late 1800s evidence began to paint a different picture. The evolution of species, the formation of sedimentary layers, the existence of fossils, and even the first attempts to estimate the age of the sun all pointed to a universe far, far older than anyone had imagined.

At the turn of the 20th century, most scientists believed that the universe was simply old, possibly eternally so, and had not significantly changed in all that time. Sure, stars could move around and maybe even explode, species could appear or disappear, and the forces of wind and water could reshape the surface of our planet. But on the big—cosmological—scales, everything that is, has always been.

This view was so dominant that when Albert Einstein took his newly minted equations of general relativity and applied them to the whole entire universe (because why not), he found himself in a bit of a pickle. His equations naturally predicted a dynamic, evolving universe—one that changed with time—but this ran counter to his intuitions that the universe was static. He added a little fixer, an additional term to the equations known as the cosmological constant, to balance everything out and keep a static cosmos.

WHAT CAME BEFORE? The Big Bang theory, for all its observational successes over the past century, can’t escape the question of what came before. That question has inspired theories that represent science at its boldest. Photo by NASA.

A few years later, in the late 1920s, the Belgian scientist and Catholic priest Georges Lemaître looked at that same set of equations and proposed the earliest version of what we now call the Big Bang theory: That our universe started as a small “primaeval atom” which expanded and cooled into its present form. Most scientists at the time rejected Lemaître’s idea—it smelled a little too biblical for their tastes.

The debate simmered for a few more years until Edwin Hubble clearly demonstrated the expansion of the universe. Through careful observations he found that at the very largest scales, all galaxies, on average, are moving away from all other galaxies.

Lemaître’s math came in handy to explain these observations. This was no trick of light. No alternative theory could account for all the data. Even Einstein dropped the cosmological constant from his equations (calling it his “greatest blunder”). The verdict was in: Our universe is getting bigger with time. And if it’s getting bigger with time, that means that in the past it was smaller.

The Big Bang was off to a momentous start. Here we have the most modern creation story of all, the one told by physical cosmology, and it contains some wonderful and powerful statements. Statements like:

• We live in a dynamic, evolving cosmos, ruled by a set of physical laws that we can understand. The universe changes with time at the very largest scales. Nothing is fixed. The only constant is change.

• Approximately 13.8 billion years ago, our entire observable universe— every galaxy, every star, the entire contents of the cosmos—was crammed into a volume no bigger than a peach with a temperature of over a quadrillion degrees.

• When our universe was only 380,000 years old, the first atoms formed. The process released an invisible form of radiation that permeates the cosmos to this day.

• In its earliest moments, microscopic fluctuations—random wiggles in the quantum fields that suffuse all reality—imprinted themselves in spacetime, forming the seeds that would eventually grow to become the largest structures in the universe.

As creation stories go, it’s a good one. And like all other creation stories, the Big Bang struggles with the beginning. As Lemaître put it, the primeval atom of his theory started with the existence of “a day without yesterday,” which was the aspect of his theory that most troubled his fellow scientists, because it implied an act of creation from nothing, which was decidedly not a very scientific-sounding idea.

And yet the Big Bang theory, for all its observational successes over the past century, cannot escape that conclusion. This is a feature of the mathematics of general relativity used to describe the very early universe. We now have a well-motivated and well-tested physical understanding of the universe when it was merely a few minutes old. At that age, the universe was hot enough and dense enough to fuse the first elements (mostly hydrogen and helium) with abundances that match observations.

Pushing earlier into the Big Bang, however, brings us deeper into the mists of unknown physics. Whether through the observations of the cosmos, the collisions of our most powerful particle colliders, or the most arcane mathematics of the chalkboard, we have little useful tools to understand the earliest moments of the history of our universe.

Perhaps the big bang never ended … and never started.

At the heart of it all lies the singularity. In general relativity, at one specific moment in our past, everything was crammed into an infinitely tiny point. We know that the singularity did not actually exist; it’s an artifact of the math of general relativity, informing us that the theory is breaking down. To tell us what actually happened requires a theory of quantum gravity (a workable theory of strong gravity at very small scales), which we currently lack.

Put another way, we have no physical theory of the initial moments of the Big Bang. Indeed, since our understanding of the passage of time and the breadth of space is rooted in those very same theories, we have no way yet of knowing if our conceptions of spacetime even make sense at such extreme scales. It could be that our naive ideas like “before” or “beginning” simply don’t apply.

It’s here where speculation gets really wild. Perhaps there is some fundamental unit of spacetime—a chunk that represents the smallest possible four-dimensional volume—and that at one time our universe contracted and “bounced” at the scale of that chunk, repeating a never-ending cycle of Big Bangs.

Perhaps our cosmos is embedded in a higher-dimensional structure, with esoteric objects, known as branes, occasionally colliding. When they collide, their intersection point triggers a new Big Bang in that region of spacetime.

Perhaps the Big Bang never ended … and never started. Maybe the universe is far larger than we thought—perhaps infinitely large. And maybe the universe at those grand scales has never stopped expanding, but pieces of that “multiverse” can pinch off, isolating themselves as island bubbles adrift in an eternal ocean of the cosmos.

Modern cosmologists are dreamers and storytellers.

Lemaître, though he espoused a view that religion and science shouldn’t mix, was certainly inspired by the creation story he was most familiar with. Repeated cycles of Big Bangs, stretching forward and backward to eternity, look a lot like many Hindu versions of cosmology. Extra-dimensional entities that interact, and through their interactions build a universe, would find welcome reception to cultures around the world.

This isn’t a bad thing. Scientists are the latest in a long line of thinkers, mystics, philosophers, poets, and more who have interrogated the very nature of existence. The parallels and connections are manifest because they all spring from the same font of human creativity and ingenuity. And while scientists have learned a lot, they run into the same headaches as everyone else; namely, trying to explain what came before what-started-it-all.

In the millennia of recorded human history, we’ve asked a lot of questions and managed to come up with many answers. But some questions—like the ultimate origins of the universe—always seem to be just out of grasp. Perhaps this is the best we’ll ever get: concrete, testable ideas going back to some finite point in our past, speculation beyond that, and unanswerable questions behind everything.

Or perhaps not. Modern cosmologists are currently trying to tackle some of the most perplexing aspects of the Big Bang theory, attempting to push past the point of the “primaeval atom” and into the deepest origins of the universe. They are trying to determine if time itself has an origin or is simply a manifestation of some other process. They are trying to find experimental clues to pre-Big Bang processes whose artifacts might remain in our contemporary cosmos, such as those effervescent gravitational waves that cosmologists eagerly hunt for. They are trying to discover a more fundamental set of universal laws that naturally give rise to the physics that we know and love.

Modern cosmologists are dreamers and storytellers. They are grounding their story of the Big Bang in evidence and reason, but they are seeking the same answers as all the dreamers and storytellers who came before them. They are trying to explain why there is something rather than nothing, and whether they know it or not, they are drawing from the stories and myths that surround them in the world.

Here is where science can be its most beautiful, when it pulls hungrily from any source for a spark of inspiration to inform our knowledge of the universe, giving us a new tale to delight in. And here too is where science can be its most bold, when it finds the utmost boundaries of the known, a line once marked as impossible, and pushes unafraid into the dark. 

Paul M. Sutter is a research professor in astrophysics at the Institute for Advanced Computational Science at Stony Brook University and a guest researcher at the Flatiron Institute in New York City. He is the author of Your Place in the Universe: Understanding our Big, Messy Existence.

Lead photo: Andrea Danti / Shutterstock

Easter, Passover, and Ramadan are aligning in 2022, but their underlying messages aren’t getting out!.

Ah the ages old story of Peace.

Robby Robin's Journey

For people celebrating Easter and Passover this weekend, it’s unusual for these two important religious celebrations to have the same dates, but fairly common for them to occur in close proximity. The dates for both are tied to the beginning of spring. Don’t forget, Jesus’ Last Supper was a Passover (Pesach) Seder meal that Jesus and his disciples had to celebrate that holiday. But it is very unusual for them to occur while Ramadan is being celebrated as well. This year the three major “Western” religions, all of which began in the same part of the world, mark their celebrations of hope and renewal at the same time.

This is meant to be a time of joy, reflection, and messages of hope within each religion community, both in family units and in places of worship. Interestingly and encouragingly, the messages are similar. They are similar and they convey compassion and…

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Trying to start a positivity train

Just say Hi to people you meet and thank you to every cashier.

Robby Robin's Journey

Whether due to the overwhelming political and climatic upheavals we see in the world or because of significant personal upheavals, staying positive has been a challenge for many/most of us these days. There are no easy answers.  More and more of us are feeling powerless to effect change.  These quotes express what may be our very best tool: the act of kindness.

Kindness-BobKerreyKindness-MarkTwainKindness-AesopKindness-BoLozoffImage sources: Readers Digest,,

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