Melanie gives us some philosophical questions for this week on Share Your World!

QUESTIONS

Is there inherent order in nature or is it all chaos and chance?
I believe there is inherent order, in terms of the rules of nature or of the universe, but also chaos, or randomness.

In nature, the main thing that establishes order is adaptability. Tree leaves and humans have visible veins, which are necessary because liquids and nutrients flow through them. There are some really fantastic creatures on this planet who have adapted to their environments in weird ways. In the universe, I believe there is order in terms of rules, although we have not discovered them all yet. It’s amazing how Einstein’s theories – particularly of relativity – have since proven accurate as scientists have developed ways to analyze celestial phenomena.

But there is also chaos. When a star explodes into a supernova, for example, its matter is flung outward in all directions, and where it ends up is random. Sometimes a supernova becomes a quasar. Also, several planets in our solar system have had wayward asteroids crash into them, including Earth, but I find it amazing, or sheer dumb luck, that an asteroid has never landed on a highly populated area. Now scientists can predict asteroid trajectories and may have ways of deflecting them.

Why have so few Milky Way supernovae been observed over the last millennium?
A supernova (Image from Google)

Another random thing that happened was the formation of our solar system and the development of life on Earth. By the method of accretion, the planets were formed (which likely is the order of how planets develop elsewhere as well), but why some matter adhered to one planet or another is somewhat random, and ultimately determined by gravity.

I have seen science programs about the evolution of life on Earth and how it all began. Earth has the right circumstances for life as we define it, due to its optimal position in relation to the sun. Astronomers call this the “Goldilocks zone.” It is located in a zone that the sun’s rays are neither too hot nor too cold for life to develop. At the same time. gravity had to be just right to develop magnetic fields around our planet, which protect us from damage by ultraviolet rays. Using this premise, astronomers a few decades ago (when I studied astronomy) estimated the likelihood of life as we know it developing in other solar systems by discovering whether a planet was in the “Goldilocks” zone.

Since then, however, I have learned that life on Earth got started by a somewhat random process. It is disheartening, in a way, for those of us who would like to know for sure that advanced life forms exist in other solar systems, that life could just as easily have failed to evolve. Fortunately, it did or I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this, and I do believe that whatever chance circumstances existed for life to develop or not, that there must be advanced life on other planets. There are millions of galaxies, all with their own groups of stars and solar systems, so it can’t have been impossible that we are the only “advanced life” in the universe. That is, unless you believe in divine creation, which I do not. (I believe in God, but not as an entity that formed the planets and different life forms. Perhaps “God” helped nudge the unlikelihood of life into the real possibility of life.)

What is infinity?
Infinity is something that human minds can not really conceptualize. If we believe the universe is “infinite,” that means that the universe is never-ending. Theoretically, scientifically, infinity exists, but it is not something that we can fully understand, because humans are limited by experience and the ability of our brains, all based on the finite-ness of life as we know it.

Infinity is most often found in mathematics. Pi, for example, is often expressed as 3.14 but the digits beyond that go on infinitely, with no end. Click on the image below for a link to an interesting article about infinity.

https://www.livescience.com/37077-infinity-existence-debate.html

Does observation alter an event?
It might. Someone may perform a dance or a song perfectly during dress rehearsal, which is supposed to mimic the actual performance, but not perform as well when an audience is looking at them. If we know there is police surveillance on a particular stretch of road, we drive more carefully and observe the speed limit. In physics, which I really don’t understand, according to Wikipedia: the observer effect is the disturbance of an observed system by the act of observation. This is often the result of instruments that, by necessity, alter the state of what they measure in some manner.” The Wikipedia article goes on to mention a common example: when you check the pressure in a tire, you can’t help but release a little bit of the air in the tire, so the pressure slightly changes. No matter how negligible, there is still change. We can’t usually observe it, though!

Do you like balloons? 
Yes and no. Balloons are fun and pretty aesthetically; adding balloons to an event makes it festive. However, they are made of plastic and we have enough plastic pollution already to not justify people releasing a bunch of balloons into the air to memorialize someone, for example. Mylar balloons, in particular, are wasteful both in material and the helium used to make them defy gravity by floating above our heads.

Mylar helium balloons at my niece’s birthday party

However, I am not a curmudgeon. Balloons are not even in the top 1,000 products that produce plastic pollution. I say let’s continue blowing up balloons for fun and celebration! 

I have never ridden in a hot air balloon, although I had the opportunity a couple of times during my travels, and I don’t think I ever will. They don’t feel stable enough. They do look pretty, though!

I could have taken a hot air balloon ride in Tanzania. I opted out.

2 thoughts on “SYW: On the Nature of the Universe and Balloons

  1. Thanks for Sharing Your World Katy! That balloon ride looks amazing, you could see the animals up close, but far enough away that you might not be spotted ‘observing’ them, thereby causing them to run away or hide. 😉 Excellent explanations of the Universe, infinity and the observer theory too! We did a ‘release the ballons’ memorial for a friend of mine in 1997 (ish). Most places won’t allow that kind of thing now of course. Same with scattering ashes. You have to get permission to dispose of the remains that way, it’s not as easy as just showing up at one’s friend or loved one’s favorite spot and dumping the ashes. Things have gotten more complicated, if a bit more hygenic as the years have rolled on. I do agree with the plastic pollution idea, that stuff does not biodegrade (although I’ve seen some packaging “Plastic” that claims to. Maybe plastic had its day, like celluloid from the past and other ways of preserving stuff that are now outdated and not used. Thanks for sharing once again and have a great week!

    1. Thank you, Melanie! I prefer seeing the animals at ground level – it’s safer that way and they are so used to tourists that they don’t react when you get close (inside your vehicle, of course!). A friend of mine scattered her daughter’s ashes at the Grand Canyon – she didn’t get permission or anything. She just went to a favorite spot and I guess no officials were there to tell her no!

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