Saturday, August 13, 2016

Points of light in the night sky I often look up at the night sky. When I look I am more likely to see a tiny array of stars. I would be unlikely to see anything like the image here. (It is a deep field photograph by the Hubble telescope. It shows some of the most distant, and ancient, galaxies in the Universe.) When I look to the sky I cannot see these galaxies. That does not mean that they don't exist. The fact that I can't see them does not mean that they aren't always there. I know that physics tells me that everything I observe is changed by the very act of observation. I wonder if these galaxies have been changed by yourself and myself being able to observe them now. Does the act of observation extend to looking at pixels arranged on a screen? Pixels that are but a representation of these distant objects. It would seem like an unlikely proposition and something that would be impossible to prove in this case. These galaxies are so distant that they would have to be the last possible place that humanity could ever visit to poke, prod, measure, and sample. Logic would deem such a journey as impossible, but then everything we know about the Universe seems to say to us that it is only from the impossible that the possible can spring forth. The unlikeliness of the Universe would make it seem highly unlikely that we should be here at all, and yet here we are. Tiny little creatures with tiny little heads, tiny little eyes, and even tinier little holes that let in the ancient light of the skies…but something amazing happens when this light passes through the lens of our eyes and is inverted. The pin holes that let the Universe into our minds are so very very small when compared to the vastness of the Universe. I wonder if our pupils must be the size that they are because the full power of the Universe cannot be absorbed and understood at any other scale, but that's not the whole story. Once the light enters our heads it falls upon the rods and cones of our retinas. If that's where the journey of these ancient photons were to end then it would seem to be the longest route to the most pointless destination. It's what happens next that is perhaps the most remarkable part of this incredible puzzle. The Universe that enters our eyes is transformed into information that is sent, by the optic nerve, to the back of our brains. It is fitting, perhaps, that our brains are one of the few things in the Universe that have a complexity that can equal (or even surpass) the complexity of the Universe outside. For every star that we know there is a neuron to match it. Perhaps, one day, we will find that the Universe contains more stars than the neurons in just one mind, but we are never just one mind (we never have been). We are a collective of minds, a hive, a network, a community. It shouldn't be surprising that if there were ever to be a chance for the Universe to be understood (assuming that the Universe ever wanted to be understood) then it was always going to take a collective mind that was bigger than the Universe if there was to be any hope of comprehending everything that ever was, everything that is, and everything that ever will be. This is why I greet the world with optimism. I know that there are many things that can make us doubt the wisdom of the human mind. We are simultaneously the most wonderful and the most terrifying of creatures. It could be argued that we are a true reflection of the Universe and that the Universe is the most wonderful and terrifying of places too. We are hot and cold, loving and hateful, wise and na├»ve, old and young, happy and sad, intelligent and stupid, endless and limited. We are both a particle and a wave…and, for the time being, we're the only hope we have to understand the Universe and perhaps the only hope for the Universe to understand itself… If we could just focus our minds. If we could just join together, then if ever there was a chance to achieve the impossible then it would have to be the impossible creatures that we are that are the most likely to achieve the most unlikely of outcomes. Heads up. Look to the stars. Join together. Fingers crossed. Here's hoping our hearts can be as big as our minds and we can go on to be the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to all of ever.