cosmic puzzles–easy answers


The following questions appeared in New Scientist magazine. They are allegedly the seven unanswered questions that most frequently keep physicists awake at night. I can answer all seven because I have friends with authority on these matters. I decided to put these questions to either the Master Nashwan or my Ouija board mouse pad. Both have the omniscient cojones to provide answers, but Nashwan won the coin toss.

Ouija said the coin toss was rigged and claimed that divining board spirits always get the shaft. “Everyone thinks flat squares of material lack charisma,” Ouija said. “You are 2-D phobic,” he accused. Nashwan interjected with “Nyah nyah.” On with the Q & A:

1. Why this universe? (That is, why do we have our current laws of nature and not different ones?)
Nashwan: I’ve learned the hard way that the setting up of natural laws is much like what goes on in Las Vegas. It’s a roll of the dice–completely random chance–so don’t put any bets on the next universe. I personally lost three metric tons of pure, undiluted good karma—karma that I had collected over hundreds of lifetimes—in a stupid wager regarding an upcoming universe. I don’t like to talk about it. Next question.

2. What is everything made of?
Nashwan: Everything is made of “is,” and the deeper you look, the more you become mired in “is-ness.” Go deep enough and you’ll dissolve in it, which is neither pleasant nor desirable. I’ll say no more, for your own safety.

3. Why does complexity arise in our universe?
Nashwan: Too easy. According to the law of thermodynamics, energy wants to disperse itself equally across space. Like a whirlpool in a stream, complex systems naturally form to efficiently capture and disperse energy (the link will download a PDF). This evens out the gradient between big chunks of energy and energy-poor areas. Now give me a hard question.

4. Will string theory ever be proved correct?
Nashwan: No. I said give me a challenging one.

5. What is the singularity? (The hot and dense state of matter at the beginning of the universe.)
Ouija board mouse pad: I know! Let me answer this one!
Nashwan: I eat questions like this for breakfast. Here’s the deal: our universe exists on a three-dimensional membrane that lies right next to another membrane. They are both sitting in a four-dimensional space. Every trillion years or so, the two membranes collide; unleashing massive energy which we call the Big Bang. Translation: it is the gods driving bumper cars. Each car is a “brane.” One brane strikes another, big fireworks, a universe happens. Woo hoo!  It’s all in good fun until someone gets hurt. Then the mothers of the gods appear and everyone runs away.

6. What is reality really? How is it that our observations are able to shape reality?
Nashwan: This is a crock of quarks. An event will happen in exactly the same way whether someone observes it or not. Unless your observation tools muck up what you’re trying to watch. You can take that to the bank. Don’t try to foist your Deepak Chopra stuff on me. New agers come to me for advice, not the other way around. Ask your last question and get out of here.

7. How far can physics take us?
Nashwan: Okay, Ouija, you take this question.
Ouija board mouse pad: From this location, physics will take you to Tacoma, if going south. If heading north, you might get as far as Vancouver, because of the magnetic north pole attraction. East or west, physics will take you 73 miles.
Nashwan: Don’t take his word for it, saddle up your natural science and take it for a test ride.


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