SYW: On the Nature of the Universe and Balloons

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


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.

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.

SYW: On families, rooms, olives, and space travel


I like to participate in Cee’s weekly Share Your World, that is, if I can think of something interesting to say! So here goes…

Which tastes better: black or green olives?
Neither – I don’t like olives. This may sound weird, but the “best” olive I ever ate was a raw one, right from the tree! When I lived in Northeastern Brazil, we had an olive tree in the yard of our rental house. When the olives ripened, I decided to taste one to see if it was any better than the ones that have been pickled. It was a little better, but it was very fibrous and bitter and I would never eat another one. Now at least I understand why olives have to be pickled to be palatable to most people.olive trees

What’s your favorite room in your home?
Either my “office” – messy as it is – or the deck in back of the house. The deck isn’t really a “room” but it’s my custom to sit out there in the morning with my coffee and read. (I love retirement!) I do this every morning if the weather is dry and not too cold. Over my head are large branches of a silver maple. I like to look up into the leaves or watch the squirrels.

My office is where I do most of the things I like to do – write, organize and edit my photos, blog (all on my computer) and work on other projects, such as painting or coloring intricate patterns in a coloring book. I keep all of my writing projects here – my travel journals, my collection of my dad’s World War II letters to my mom, the research for my book about my ancestors – as well as my art projects and my books (I have shelves of books I haven’t read yet). My office represents my world of opportunities!


My shelf of children’s books I can’t bear to part with!

What fictional family would you be a member of?
A happy one! Most fiction deals with some sort of conflict, so often the families in stories are dysfunctional. No family can compare with the real one I am lucky to have.

I think it would be exciting to be on the Starship Enterprise from Star Trek Next Generation. That isn’t exactly a family in the traditional sense, but the Enterprise is large and there are many people living there that we don’t see on the screen. There are whole families – children, parents, and grandparents. I imagine what it would be like to live, study and work on a spaceship with the type of advanced technology that you can get everything you need and want on board. You can create entire environments on the holodecks to explore and provide entertainment. You can “beam” down to different worlds and then rematerialize safely back on board the Enterprise if your life is threatened down there! I truly believe there is advanced life on other planets and like to fantasize about meeting them (I hope they’re friendly)! Maybe I should try to learn Klingon…Star_Trek_The_Next_Generation_365_cover

What did you appreciate or what made you smile this past week?
My son came over this past week, in a happy frame of mind! It’s rare to see him so calm and attentive. He needed some medications and finally got to see a new doctor so he could refill the prescriptions. We were able to have a nice conversation about things other than being broke and asking for money! He is an Uber driver and is making goals for himself to work more hours and other things in his life. He finally is used to living in an apartment alone, which was very stressful for him at first. It was good to see him being so positive!


Jayme on Mother’s Day