In The Big Bang and the Birth of Culture, we talked about the beginning of culture long before what anthropologists had previously assumed and discussed why space travel is not only becoming important for ecological reasons, it's part of a universal mandate.
Now we're going to talk about some aspects of galactic order. Infinite monkeys in a random universe? No, more like a railroad train with a lot of ways to get from point A to point B - but it has rails and the universe can never leave them.
In the aftermath of the Big Bang, particles collided and shifted with terrific force - yet protons came out of these crashes intact. This identity retention was a primitive form of memory and it was the foundation of culture.
Then another basic of culture emerged, mass behavior. Particle families ricocheted from one smash-up to another so quickly that the speed of serial ricochets defied belief. We call this form of superspeed bump-em-car behavior a plasma. But despite all the mayhem and non-stop crashes, the plasma showed a form of coordinated social behavior that defies belief. Elbow room between particle gangs was hard to find.
Yet particle clusters in synchronized swaths that went from one end of the cosmos to the other bunched together tightly then parted again. They collaborated in a cosmos-spanning Busby Berkeley style of choreography. When they crowded together, these super-synchronized chorus lines formed the peak of a wave. When the cosmos-spanning chorus lines of particle gangs gave each other just a hint of elbow room, they formed that wave’s trough. These pressure waves(22) washed across the cosmos like tsunamis in the sea.
The physicists who discovered these early surges and swells used another metaphor to describe them — the metaphor of music(23). Thanks to mega-mass behavior, thanks to social behavior on the grandest scale, astrophysicists say this early cosmos and its plasma rang like a massive gong(24) …or, to put it in the words of Science Magazine, “The big bang had set the entire cosmos ringing like a bell.”(25)
Thanks to mega-mass behavior, social behavior, the particles of this cosmos rocked and rolled to their own self-generated beat.
So a mere three hundred thousand years into the universe’s existence, three primitive precursors of culture’s components had emerged:
- a primordial form of memory,
- and coordinated mass behavior.
Had we arrived at culture yet? Not by a long shot. But the first hints of its rudiments arose an astonishingly long time ago.
Culture’s most crucial substrate is sociality. And sociality still had a few more surprises up its sleeve before it would cough out culture.
Three hundred thousand years ABB (after the Big Bang) there came another mass astonishment, another radical act of sociality—The Big Break. The particles in the plasma slowed down (we call that deceleration “cooling”), separated, and gave each other more space(26).
But more space did not mean solitude…it did not mean time off from social gatherings. In fact, it meant the very opposite. Puny particles called electrons discovered for the first time in their 300,000-year existence that they were not satisfied on their own. They had an electromagnetic hunger, an electromagnetic craving for a sort of sociality this universe had never known. And there was another surprise in the offing. The protons at the heart of particle families discovered that they, too, felt they were missing something. They discovered that they, too, had an electromagnetic longing at their core.
The upshot of these longings in the hearts of particles was shocking. If you picture a proton as the size of the Empire State Building, an electron is so small you could hold it in your hand like a baseball. Or, to put it differently, a proton is more than 1,842 times as massive as an electron(27).
So if you and I had been around to bet on the outcome of protons’ and neutrons’ new electromagnetic lusts, the last thing we’d have guessed is that these social drives would bring electrons and protons together in tight synergies. And, even if one proton did manage to hook up with an electron somewhere in this cosmos, we’d have considered it a freak event, a fluke, something that could not and would not ever happen again. But we’d have been dead wrong.
Three hundred thousand years ABB (after the Big Bang), electrons discovered that their needs fit the longings of protons perfectly. No matter where the electron was and no matter what its life history, pick any proton in this universe at random, flip it an electron from anywhere you please, and the fit was more precise than anything even the makers of the ultimate hi-precision scientific device, CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (28), have ever been able to achieve.
In a paper in the physics magazine PhysicaPlus — “The Xerox Effect: On the Importance of Pre-Biotic Evolution”(29) — I called this sort of thing manic mass production and supersynchrony.
Supersynchrony refers to those landmark events in which the same thing happens at the same time all across the face of the cosmos. Supersynchrony was at work when roughly 1088 nearly identical quarks precipitated at precisely the same time from the space-time manifold, from a spreading sheet of speed. Supersynchrony was at work when that vast mob of quarks appeared in every nook, cranny, and wrinkle of this huge unfolding universe.
On the other hand, the amazing number of precipitations of quarks from mere speed is manic mass production. Yes, there was variety among the first quarks. There were between eight and 18 species(30). But only eight to eighteen in a cosmos that is supposedly random? And roughly 10^87 identical copies of each quark type? Manic mass production on a scale that defies belief. Impossible. At least impossible in the eyes of our current assumptions about randomness.
What are our current notions of the role of randomness in the evolution of the universe? The leading expert on cosmic evolution in the astronomical community, Tufts University's Eric Chaisson, writes in his book Cosmic Evolution: The Rise of Complexity in Nature, "Contingency--randomness, chance, stochasticity--pervades all of dynamic change on every spatial and temporal scale, an issue to which this book [Cosmic Evolution] returns repeatedly."(31)
In other words, randomness prevails during every epoch of cosmic evolution from the Big Bang to today. And randomness prevails at every size from multi-galactically gigantic to the impossibly small. What does Chaisson mean by “randomness”? “Disorder”(32) he says. The form of unpredictable chaos known as “entropy”(33).
The concept of entropy was invented by physicists in the 19th century to cope mathematically with the power loss in steam engines. It’s based on the disordered state of water molecules that escape from a steam engine’s cylinders, molecules of that are no longer neatly imprisoned for work in the engine’s chambers.
Instead these molecular escapees—the participants in a leak of steam-- bounce around at “random”. The metaphor that conveys randomness more colorfully to both scientists and to the general public is the image of six monkeys at six typewriters. The monkeys peck away at the keyboard in a thoroughly haphazard manner. But give them enough time, says the six-monkeys-model-of-randomness, and the illiterate beasts will eventually type out the works of Shakespeare. Give them a bit more time, and they’ll randomly peck out the evolution of the cosmos(34).
From utter disorder, order can emerge through a series of arbitrary accidents. But it’s time to toss the current concept of the random away. It’s time to rid ourselves of the “stochasticity” of the six monkeys with six typewriters and to realize that this universe runs like a railroad train. It has a lot of freedom, yet it is rigidly constrained. A locomotive has many routes it can take to get from New York to LA, but it cannot leave the rails.
It cannot plow through pastures of corn, through houses, under oceans, through wormholes, or fly the Jet Stream. A train—and our universe—has a limited number of paths it can take.
Have other instances of supersynchrony and manic mass production appeared in the evolution of the cosmos? Yes. It’s happened at every turn, as we’re about to see. What do supersynchrony, manic mass production and railroad trains have to do with culture and the cosmos? What do they have to do with an evolutionary imperative to take ecosystems off this fragile planet and to seed them in space? Far more than you might think.
In the Big Break approximately years 300,000 ABB (After the Big Bang) the new proton, neutron, and electron teams—atoms of helium, hydrogen, and lithium—discovered yet another social gatherer, a force of mass attraction that had never manifested itself in quite this way before. We call it gravity.
And over the next 200 million years or so(35), this subtle, terribly weak force, gravity, created entirely new forms of sociality. Gravity swept loose atoms into new herds and flocks—into wisps of gas(36). Those gas wisps kicked off the era of the Great Gravity Crusades. Wisp battled wisp to see which could use its gravity to dragoon the most new atoms. When one wisp battled another, the larger always won, cannibalizing its competitor(37). In the end the call of gravity that tugged atoms together led to the formation of two vast and astonishing new things—galaxies and stars(38).
Once again, supersynchrony and manic mass production were king. Galaxies and stars assembled by the billions, and all were pretty much the same(39). Yes, there was far more variation than there had been among quarks, protons, and atoms. And the simultaneous timing was not so exquisitely precise. But when you leave Penn Station in Manhattan, there are only two directions you can take—west to tunnels under the Hudson River or east to tunnels under the East River(40). As you get farther from Manhattan, there are more switchpoints you can follow, and your options open up, they multiply.
The farther this cosmos got from its first simple laws—the law of speed, the law that converts speed to matter, and the laws of attraction and repulsion—the looser the mesh of limitations that held this cosmos in its weave. The farther this unfolding universe got from the first flick of the Big Bang, the more freedom it achieved.
Roughly 20 to 30 million years after the Big Break the biggest of the stars, the grandest mega-mobs of atomic nuclei spawned by gravity from one end of the universe to the other, once again underwent something new. And these mega-mobs, high-mass stars, did their gruesome new trick pretty much at the same time(41). They went nova! They collapsed upon themselves, dying with screams of photons, streams of light, and with groans of outpoured energy. It was a cosmic massacre. But it was also supersynchrony.
Nothing good should come from death. But in this cosmos, something of value usually does. The gift of the death of the first massive stars was a new form of supersynchronous social assembly, a gift of the social pressures in the crumpling stars’ crunched and tortured hearts(42). Until now there had only been three forms of atoms — hydrogen, helium, and lithium.
But as the stars imploded, as they caved in upon themselves, the resisting nuclei of hydrogen, helium, and lithium atoms were shoved violently together, mashed in masses with a force that overrode the powers with which these nuclei normally maintained their identity.
The results were four new forms of proton-neutron teams. Four new elements: iron, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen. (43)
(22) Charles Seife. Breakthrough Of The Year: Illuminating the Dark Universe. Science December 19, 2003: Vol. 302. no. 5653: pp. 2038 – 2039. DOI: 10.1126/science.302.5653.2038.
(23) Christopher J. Miller, Robert C. Nichol, and David J. Batuski. Acoustic Oscillations in the Early Universe and Today. Science, June 22, 2001, 292: pp. 2302-2303; [DOI: 10.1126/science.1060440]. Ron Cowen. Sounds of the universe confirm Big Bang. Science News, April 28, 2001; Vol. 159, No. 17
Retrieved March 30, 2002, from the World Wide Web http://www.sciencenews.org/20010428/fob3.asp.
(24) These oscillations, these acoustic waves, apparently continued rolling through the early cosmos for a full 400,000 years. George Musser. The Peak of Success. Scientific American, August 2001, Vol. 285 Issue 2: pp. 14-15.
Retrieved January 27, 2008, from the World Wide Web http://ehostvgw6.epnet.com/ehost.asp?key=126.96.36.199_8000_-152576910.... Daniel J. Eisenstein, Idit Zehavi, David W. Hogg, Roman Scoccimarro, Michael R. Blanton, Robert C. Nichol, Ryan Scranton, Hee-Jong Seo, Max Tegmark, Zheng Zheng, Scott F. Anderson, Jim Annis, Neta Bahcall, Jon Brinkmann, Scott Burles, Francisco J. Castander, Andrew Connolly, Istvan Csabai, Mamoru Doi, Masataka Fukugita, Joshua A. Frieman, Karl Glazebrook, James E. Gunn, John
S. Hendry, Gregory Hennessy, Zeljko Ivezic, Stephen Kent, Gillian R. Knapp, Huan Lin, Yeong-Shang Loh, Robert H. Lupton, Bruce Margon, Timothy A. McKay, Avery Meiksin, Jeffery A. Munn, Adrian Pope, Michael W. Richmond, David Schlegel, Donald P. Schneider, Kazuhiro Shimasaku, Christopher Stoughton, Michael A. Strauss, Mark SubbaRao, Alexander S. Szalay, Istvan Szapudi, Douglas L. Tucker, Brian Yanny, & Donald G. York. Detection Of The Baryon Acoustic Peak In The Large-Scale Correlation Function Of SDSS Luminous Red Galaxies. Preprint. Submitted to The Astrophysical Journal 12/31/2004. Retrieved January 27, 2008, from the World Web, http://cmb.as.arizona.edu/~eisenste/acousticpeak/lrg_largescale.pdf. Sloan Digital Sky Survey. The cosmic yardstick — Sloan Digital Sky Survey astronomers measure role of dark matter, dark energy and gravity in the distribution of galaxies. Press release, January 11, 2005. Retrieved January 27, 2008, from the World Wide Web
(25) Charles Seife. Breakthrough Of The Year: Illuminating the Dark Universe. Science, December 19, 2003: Vol. 302. no. 5653: pp. 2038 – 2039. DOI: 10.1126/science.302.5653.2038.
(26) Bertram Schwarzschild. COBE Satellite Finds No Hint of Excess In The Cosmic Microwave Spectrum. Physics Today, March 1990: p. 18. Retrieved January 27, 2008, from the World Wide Web
(27) The mass of a proton =1,832 the mass of an electron. Charles Loraine Alley, Kenneth Ward Atwood. Electronic Engineering. New York: Wiley, 1966: p. 7. The mass of an electron=9.1093897x10(-31) kg. The mass of a proton=1.6726231 x 10(-27) kg. Electron Mass. Fundamental Physical Constants. Latest (2006) values of the constants. The NIST Reference on Constants, Units, and Uncertainty. National Institute of Standards and Technology. Retrieved January 27, 2008, from the World Wide Web http://physics.nist.gov/cuu/Constants/index.html
(28) CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire). CERN. LHC—The Large Hadron Collider. Retrieved January 27, 2008, from the World Wide Web
(29) Howard Bloom. “The Xerox Effect: On the Importance of Pre-Biotic Evolution” in PhysicaPlus, the online publication of The Israeli Physical Society. January 10, 2004. Retrieved January 27, 2008, from the World Wide Web
(30) Encyclopædia Britannica. “quark." Encyclopædia Britannica Online, 2007. Retrieved January 27, 2008, from the World Wide Web http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9062172.
(31) Eric J. Chaisson. Cosmic Evolution: The Rise of Complexity in Nature. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001: p. 7
(32) Eric J. Chaisson. Cosmic Evolution: The Rise of Complexity in Nature. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001: p. 46.
(33) Eric J. Chaisson. Cosmic Evolution: The Rise of Complexity in Nature. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001: p. 25.
(34) The best known work spoofing the six-monkeys-at-six-typewriters paradigm was: Elmo, Gum, Heather, Holly, Mistletoe & Rowan. Notes Towards the Complete Works of Shakespeare. First published for Vivaria.net in 2002. Retrieved January 27, 2008, from the World Wide Web
(35) Some astronomers set the date of the first stars at 200 million ABB (after the Big Bang). Others pin the date of the first star formation to 400 million ABB. Ron Cowen. Beryllium data confirm stars' age. Science News, September 18, 2004. Retrieved September 30, 2004, from the World Wide Web http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20040918/note11.asp. Cowen’s article gives the date of 200 million years ABB. Dennis Overbye. Astronomers Find The Earliest Signs Yet Of Violent Baby Universe. New York Times, Friday, March 17, 2006: Late Edition - Final, Section A, P. 18. Overbye’s article gives the date of 400 million years.
(36) Evan Scannapieco, Patrick Petitjean, Tom Broadhurst. The Emptiest Places. Scientific American, Oct 2002, Vol. 287, Issue 4. James Glanz. Astronomers See Evidence of First Light in Universe. New York Times, August 07, 2001. Retrieved August 13, 2007, from the World Wide Web
(37) “The most widely accepted picture of how structure formed involves the idea of gravitational instability. A perfectly smooth self-gravitating fluid with the same density everywhere stays homogeneous for all time. But any slight irregularities (which always exist in reality) tend to get amplified by the action of gravity. A small patch of the Universe that is slightly denser than average tends to attract material from around itself; it therefore gets even denser and attracts even more material. This instability will form a highly concentrated lump, held together by gravitational forces.” Peter Coles (1998). The end of the old model Universe. Nature, June 25, 1998, 393: 741 – 744.
(38) Berkeley University astronomer Hyron Spinrad refers to the process by which gravity pulls mini particles together as macro forms, galaxies, as “'the hierarchical merging of gas-rich systems.” Hyron Spinrad. Galaxy Formation and Evolution. New York: Springer, 2005: p 42.
(39) Amanda Gefter. Scale in the universe. New Scientist, March 9, 2007. Retrieved August 13, 2007, from the World Wide Web http://space.newscientist.com/article/mg19325941.600;jsessionid=OCFJLFLE...
(40) Map of the tunnels exiting Pennsylvania Station, NY. From: Kenneth M. Mead. Inspector General. U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of the Secretary of Transportation. Letter to The Honorable Frank Wolf, Chairman, Subcommittee on Transportation and Related Agencies, Committee on Appropriations, United States House of Representatives. Conditions in the Tunnels below Pennsylvania Station. Dec 18, 2000. Retrieved January 27, 2008, from the World Wide Web
http://www.cartome.org/penn-tunnel-safety.pdf. Wikipedia. Pennsylvania Station (New York City). Retrieved January 27, 2008, from the World Wide Web
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pennsylvania_Station_(New_York_City) . Wikipedia. Pennsylvania Tunnel and Terminal_Railroad. Retrieved January 27, 2008, from the World Wide Web
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pennsylvania_Tunnel_and_Terminal_Railroad. Wikipedia. East River Tunnels. Retrieved January 27, 2008, from the World Wide Web
(41) Amy J. Berger. The Midlife Crisis of the Cosmos. Scientific American, January 2005.
(42) Robert Irion. The Quest for Population III. Science, 4 January 4, 2002: Vol. 295. no. 5552: pp. 66 - 67. DOI: 10.1126/science.295.5552.66.
(43) Timothy C. Beers. The First Generations of Stars. Science, July 15, 2005: Vol. 309. no. 5733, pp. 390 - 391. DOI: 10.1126/science.1114671. Iron, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen are the four elements Beers feels evolved from the first star deaths. But Beers cautions that, "Astronomers are uncertain which elements might form in these very massive stars during their explosive death throes, but current calculations indicate that they should eject large amounts of iron and only small amounts of carbon." Michael Shull and Fernando Santoro believe that the first generation of high-mass star deaths also produced silicon. Michael Shull and Fernando Santoro. Critical Metallicity of the IGM. Presented at First Stars III, Santa Fe, New Mexico, July 17, 2007. p. 4. Retrieved January 27, 2008, from the World Wide Web http://www.lanl.gov/conferences/firststars3/abstracts_and_talks/m_shull_...