## Sunday, August 22, 2010

### Matryoshka Universe

I am currently reading 'Seeing and Believing: How the Telescope Opened our Eyes and Minds to the Heavens" by Richard Panek, and just read the passage "...he calculated...the star at a distance of 657,700 astronomical units, or approximately 61 trillion miles..."

And it got me to thinking about this idea of nestedness, the idea of stars within galaxies and planets within solar systems, molecules within cells and atoms within molecules. We see it even in our numbers-- I suppose because of the very reason that our numbers and our mathematics are lifted from the realities of the physical world-- and so numbers are nested within each other. We can say "657,700 astronomical units", or we can say "61 trillion miles". We can say 12 inches or we can say 1 foot. The number 657,700 has six-hundred fifty-seven thousand, seven-hundred 1's in it.

Also we even have nestedness within infinity, which is an insight that drove mathematician
Georg Cantor to the brink of madness. He had the insight that you can have sets of infinite numbers. How does this make sense? What is infinite encapsulates all, yes? No? Well, it is like two school children boasting in the schoolyard:

"I have infinity!"

"Oh yeah? I have infinity plus one!"

## Tuesday, August 17, 2010

### Overheard in New England

1.
[Beach bathroom scene: Irritated woman waiting for the women's bathroom. People are starting to use the Men's. My turn is up.]

Me to irritated woman: Is the Men's open? Do you want it?
Irritated woman: No, because I want to confront her about why she's taking so long.

Humanity: minus one

2.
Subway conversation:

[group of children]

Girl 1: Hannah Montana always has a sparkly microphone
Girl 2: I'll punch her in the face!
Grown-up leader: Hey don't talk that way
Girl 2: She doesn't believe in God!

## Monday, August 16, 2010

### Cosmic Pinball

The photons that would become the Hubble Deep Field- the HDF--- indivisible packets of energy radiated by innumerable pieces of matter--had begun their journey maybe ten billion years earlier, traveling some sixty sextillion (that's 60,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) miles before reaching the rims of Hubble's 94.5-inch-diameter primary mirror, which focused them onto a 12.2-inch secondary mirror, which redirected them into a host of scientific instruments, which, after translating them into electronic signals of zeros and ones, beamed them to a tracking and data relay satellite, which ricocheted them to a ground station in White Sands, New Mexico, which, after translating them into radio signals, zapped them back up into the stratosphere and toward a communications satellite, which bounced them earthward again to the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, which forwarded them via telephone circuitry to the Space Telescope Science Institute on the Johns Hopkins University campus in Baltimore, Maryland, where they took up residence inside computers until an astronomer called them up on a screen, at which point the zeros and ones regathered themselves into swatches of light and dark that, approximately two feet and 1/500,000,000th of a second later, reached the eyes of astronomers, who could hardly believe what they were seeing.

"As the images have come up on our screens," the director of the Space Telescope Science Institute declared, "we have not been able to keep from wondering if we might somehow be seeing our own origins in all of this." He dubbed the emerging image "the double helix of galaxy formation"; another astronomer likened it to the Dead Sea Scrolls.

--From Richard Panek's "Seeing and Believing: How the Telescope Opened Our Eyes and Minds to the Heavens"

## Sunday, August 1, 2010

### Perspective

Her: Oh look, pretty
Him: Where? All I see is dead leaves