The Universe: About Theories

I define the physical universe as all that I observe and experience, which I perceive to be outside of and beyond my conscious being. Its effects and impositions invoke within me a burning curiosity that compels me to const­ruct theories about what it is and how it works. [Portugu√™s]

HH11K14L nebula used to represent the vastness of the universe. The act of studying the physical universe is call­ed science. Science reveals that the physical universe comprises phenomena which may be experienced by humans. The effects of such phenomena are conveyed to the human consciousness either dir­ectly via the 5 human senses, or indirectly by way of instruments able to transduce effects that can­not be sensed dire­ctly by humans into effects that can. There is no good reason to suppose that the physical universe be all that exists. Discontin­uities and singularities, seen within the physical univer­se, strongly suggest that the physical uni­verse is only part of a continuum, which extends into a hyper reality which is fundamentally beyond the reach of human senses or any possible kind of sci­entific instrumentation.

My view of the physical universe is necessarily imperfect. I cannot see it as a whole from some celestial vantage point outside it. I can only view it from what must be a very disadvantageous peripheral position in space and time. My view is also ham­pered by the severe limitations of my five human senses. I have no all-seeing eye able to afford me a clear vision of the whole of reality. My view is also blurred by im­perfections in my perception of what the inputs from my physical senses are telling me. Finally, my consciousness is able to perceive of and construct realms of the imagination, which are beyond reality. Such realms may, on occasions, cause my rigorous observations of the real world to be subconsciously coloured by wishful thinking.

All this means that, no matter how rigorous my observations may be, my view of the universe is necessarily subjective. The objective scientific view is an illusion. Bearing this in mind, my conscious perception of the universe seems, in its most general sense, to comprise notions of time, space, objects, motion, forces and waves. Theories are an attempt to understand the complex ways in which these basic notions relate.

Suppose we are scientists. We observe the wonders of nature. We then mentally separate what we see into phenomena. We speculate about what underlying mech­anism is producing a particular phenomenon. In so doing, we need to make some initial assumptions. We then test our assumptions by making controlled experi­ments in which aspects of the phenomenon can be more rigorously observed. We thereby verify — or at least substantiate — some of our assumptions. We now have an embry­onic theory about how nature produces the phenomenon we see. We cre­ate more specialized and precisely tuned experiments. The data from these allows us to put more and more flesh on the bones of our theory. Our theory thus con­tinues to develop, expand and mature until we can finally call it established.

Somewhere along the way, we encode our ideas in mathematical terms. This pro­vides us with a far more precise and efficient language in which to "discuss" our ideas. We name variables to represent the natural quantities involved. We relate these quantities with equations which represent how the different natural quant­it­ies affect or depend on each other. We may even have to invent some new mathe­matical notations and operations in order to be able to write down our ideas about the structure and behaviour of a new phenomenon. However, once we have done all this, we can subsequently derive — by mathematical manipulation — other con­se­quences of what we have observed. We then construct specialized experiments to explore, test and verify these mathematically predicted consequences.

Notwithstanding, there are three fundamental problems with all this.

The first is that we cannot verify all of our most fundamental assumptions. We can only verify the consistency of what is built upon them. For example, Maxwell's equ­a­tions substantiate very strongly the universal constant velocity c with which elect­ro­magnetic waves must diverge from a source. But that they also arrive at an ob­server at the same velocity c, independently of his speed relative to the source, is an assumption we cannot prove. This is because the velocity of light from an origin to a destination cannot be measured. We can only measure the velocity of light over a round trip. This has far-reaching implications.

The second problem is to do with mathematics. The act of codifying a theory in mathematical terms gives it an air of unquestionable validity, causing us to spend many years deriving consequential predictions with a misplaced sense of security. This is because any error in a fundamental assumption becomes propagated para­sitically throughout all our mathematical derivations.

The third problem is to do with verifying our theory. A theory is really a description of the underlying mechanism that we think is responsible for the phenomenon we have been observing. However, it is usually possible to construct many different theoretical mechanisms that would produce exactly the same observations. So the mechanism that is really producing what we see could be any one of the many we have thought of, or perhaps — indeed most probably — one we haven't yet thought of. This is well evinced by how uneasily Quantum Mechanics and Einsteinian Relat­ivity sit together as purported descriptions of nature. Yet each has an uncanny dex­terity at predicting what has been later observed within its own jurisdiction.

Underlying all three of the above problems is the fallibility of our human perception. Our human perception is built from our elemental experiences of being and seeing, all of which take place exclusively within the confines of the terrestrial biosphere. Consequently, anything we may try to understand about the universe beyond — from the very small to the very large — can only be perceived in terms of our ter­restrial experiences. Even the most ambitious abstractions can only be expressed in terms of — or by analogy with — elemental experiences we have had as macro­scopic beings living on the surface of the Earth.

We cannot directly sense or experience an electron. We can only know about its ex­istence indirectly via consequential macroscopic experiences brought to us via sci­entific apparatus. So, in terms of what elemental terrestrial experiences can we possibly acquire a perception of an electron? Is it a super-miniature billiard ball? Is it a centre of stress within a field of force? Is it a fleeting vortex within an ætherial multi-dimensional fluid? Is it a thin atmosphere of negativity surrounding the nu­cleus of an atom? Is it a standing wave reflected to and fro within a quantum cavity in space-time? Is it all or none of these?

All our perceptions can be constructed only from the elements of our macroscopic terrestrial experience. These elements form the only language in which we can express or conceptualise anything. But we are trying to visualise concepts for which the language of our terrestrial experience contains no elemental notions through which these concepts may be adequately visualised. The language of our experi­ence within the terrestrial biosphere is only a minuscule sub-set of the language of the universe. In our end­eavour to understand the universe, we are therefore hope­lessly trapped within a superlative manifestation of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.

It is with these problems in mind that I venture to construct an alternative yet al­most equally plausible perception of the universe. It is built from an even more restricted sub-set of elemental human experiences, namely, mine. Notwith­stand­ing, it demonstrates that there is always, necessarily, more than one way of per­ceiving something that is outside the jurisdiction of direct human experience.

My alternative perception of the universe is necessarily subjective. The only engine of my perception is information flowing convergently towards the seat of my con­sciousness. Consequently, my only speculative construct is an abstr­act mechanism which brings that information to me. Mentally, I give substance to this abstract mechanism as an in-flowing æther. This I visualise, in my mind's eye, as what I call a velocity fluid. This can only exist while travelling inwards towards me, from all directions, at the speed of light. If it ceases to flow, it ceases to exist. It is concept­ually synonymous with the flow of time, which is not the same thing as a period of time that we measure in hours, minutes and seconds. It is instead the flow of the dynamic present.

I do not mandate that this æther must be real. It may not exist at all. Notwith­stand­ing, neither may any of the cherished mechanisms of mainstream science. None of them explains the universe completely or even acceptably. What is really going on out there in 'objective reality' may be — and probably is — something totally differ­ent, which is — and will forever remain — unknown, unknow­able and unimaginable. My view thus cannot be other than one of a cacophony of incompatible bedfellows. But it is my best shot at getting a handle of understanding upon the existence in which I find myself. It has no qualification other than that 'it works for me'.

However deeply scientists may probe down towards the final floor of reality, what they see must necessarily become ever more distorted by the increasingly long and tenuous channels through which they are constrained to observe it. Even if they could somehow obtain a clear view of the fundamental fabric of space-time, what would it be like? An orgasmic revelation of purity and beauty? I think not. I wager that it would be something disappointingly bland and uninteresting. Without form and void. A black line on a blank canvas. A melody played on a sine wave oscillator in place of a Stradivarius.

I do not think the pinnacle of scientific endeavour lies at the nanoscopic limits. Nor do I think that it is floating way beyond the outer reaches of the cosmos. I think that where it's at is right here at our macroscopic level of the terrestrial bio­sphere. Specifically, within the mind of man. Consequently, I see the universe merely as a simple catalytic framework upon which human minds are able to construct superior internal universes of beauty and diversity and as a channel through which these human minds can exchange ideas about their respective superior internal universes with each other in a perpetual endeavour of mutual betterment.

© 06 October 2006 Robert John Morton | NEXT