Two days to go, yet miles apart

2016decision
It’s hard to believe that in two days, the decision will be made for who will be our next President. Staying away from the political discourse this time around has almost been impossible, particularly thanks to our social networking and hyperactive news outlets. My mind has been critiquing all sides of the political spectrum during this race and I’ve finally been able to compose my thoughts into a few paragraphs. My opinions and conclusions are not intended to make light of the political issues at stake, nor am I attempting to condemn anyone’s stance, regardless of political affiliation. I am trying to separate myself from the entire political arena to make sense of the scenario. Here are some of my thoughts:
 
This election has created an even more enormous schism between those who find themselves on the left and the right – even among those of the same party. The polemical nature of 2016’s race is dangerous. Those who have identified themselves as being outspoken in this race are being pushed to an even more isolated position, breeding a larger base of support for reactionary political movements that are reappearing globally and will likely gain more footing in American politics if this tendency continues. From what I’ve seen on social media, everyone feels that they are fighting the good fight against their evil opponent. It of course is natural to have a certain sense of loyalty to one’s own side, but the sheer number of posts I’ve encountered of people – from at-home bloggers to superstars – pleading with voters to vote for the values of their candidate makes me take a step back and worry about the gridlock that is sure to follow, regardless of who ultimately wins the election.
 
Stepping away from the topics surrounding our decision this year – we as a whole have gotten to the point of not wanting to hear one side or the other. Most of our minds were firmly made up months ago – and yes, often with good reason. We follow media sources and friends with our own political leanings and completely isolate the opposite side. The Wall Street Journal has an interesting tool called “Blue Feed, Red Feed” that allows you to see the differences between conservative Facebook and liberal Facebook side by side. What we see online hardly ever crosses into the opponent’s camp. I’ve come across a handful of posts throughout the election of those proudly claiming that they had unfriended anyone whose political beliefs were contrary to their own or who were supporting the “wrong” candidate. It may be satisfying in practice, but these acts simply solidify the stance another has taken in their own mind as being right. This helps feed political extremism. The other person will see the unfriending as intolerance and will become even more steadfast about the opinions the unfriender found to be upsetting.
 
2016 has proven itself to be a year of surprises. But what happens after November 8th? Where do we go from here? Can we actually have either side step back gracefully to let our new President lead? Trump supporters lack confidence in Hillary, and Hillary supporters are outraged by Trump. Bernie supporters are upset with Hillary, are in diametric opposition to Trump, and often feel obliged to vote for Hillary out of party loyalty or may decide to vote for Stein since her values align closely with progressive leftist politics. Republicans who supported other candidates such as Kasich or Cruz may feel ashamed by their candidate and may consider giving their vote to Johnson. Some may vote party lines or cross party lines for the first time.
 
Who wins? It’s hard to say. This election has re-hashed the deep-rooted divisions between the multiple layers of society in our nation that continue to separate and define us. Moving past November 8th means that we need to realize that despite who we supported in this election, whomever we have identified as our political opponents won’t suddenly be non-existent. I feel that it is more important than ever to understand why those who hold completely different viewpoints think the way that they do. That doesn’t mean we should agree – what it does mean is that we should listen, analyze, and be prepared to give a concretely logical response to what we consider to be counter to the progress of our nation as a whole. Communication and understanding from both sides need to be at the forefront as we inaugurate our new President come 2017 and in the coming years of a country that has found itself fiercely divided in the political arena.
 
I end with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. – “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”

A question of singularity: does the Universe necessarily have a beginning?


Vela Supernova Remnant Image Credit & Copyright: CEDIC Team – Processing: Wolfgang Leitner

Existence. From generation to generation, we have probed into understanding the complexity of the universe using the best of our abilities. We have performed experiments, we have prayed, we have philosophized, we have explored into space. We continue to seek the answers that elude us. One of these, namely, is the question of how everything started. Even more importantly, what could have existed before existence? What or who set us into motion?

Let me first elaborate that I am by no means a scientist, as is known by the common definition of the word. I am a lover of knowledge who is constantly trying – as most of us do – to make sense of the world and universe that surrounds us. This is why I will reference greater minds than my own in this blog post to elaborate certain definitions. Now, let us continue!

Many of the ancients postulated theories that have influenced our scientific inquiry and modern direction.

Atomism began with Leucippus and Democritus. Among the ancient schools, this approach is the closest to modern science: they believed that everything is composed of atoms, which are indestructible and physically indivisible. They were strict determinists, who believed that everything happens in accordance with natural laws and the universe, they said, has no purpose and is nothing more than a mixture of infinite atoms being shuffled and re-shuffled according to the indifferent rules of nature. What is interesting about this school is that it attempted to understand the universe as objectively as possible and minimize intellectual deviations in favour of cultural and mystic prejudices. (Source: Ancient.eu)

To be objective from a human perspective is not impossible, but certainly pushes the boundaries of what is comfortable. In many cases, our biases impact the way we interpret our world. One of the most difficult things is to reduce the importance of our own role when exploring new concepts.

In our experience here on Earth, everything requires a beginning and an end, reflecting the life cycle. Our parents and guardians tell us stories of when we were born. That date stamp is then engraved onto all objects of importance: our birth certificate, our license, our tombstone. We all more or less are fighting our expiry date.

Einstein was the first to think beyond our concept of time on Earth with his General Theory of Relativity. As Stephen Hawking summarizes:

In this, space and time were no longer Absolute, no longer a fixed background to events. Instead, they were dynamical quantities that were shaped by the matter and energy in the universe. They were defined only within the universe, so it made no sense to talk of a time before the universe began. It would be like asking for a point south of the South Pole. It is not defined. If the universe was essentially unchanging in time, as was generally assumed before the 1920s, there would be no reason that time should not be defined arbitrarily far back. Any so-called beginning of the universe would be artificial, in the sense that one could extend the history back to earlier times. Thus it might be that the universe was created last year, but with all the memories and physical evidence, to look like it was much older. This raises deep philosophical questions about the meaning of existence. I shall deal with these by adopting what is called, the positivist approach. In this, the idea is that we interpret the input from our senses in terms of a model we make of the world. One can not ask whether the model represents reality, only whether it works. A model is a good model if first it interprets a wide range of observations, in terms of a simple and elegant model. And second, if the model makes definite predictions that can be tested and possibly falsified by observation.

(Source: Hawking, lecture on The Origin of the Universe).

It is logical for humankind to think in sequences: birth, life death; morning, noon night. But once we think outside of our plane of existence, would we have such referential points? What would our concept of time shift to devoid of the routines we are accustomed to in our trips around the Sun? Again, to repeat Hawking: a model is a good model if first it interprets a wide range of observations. And though our scientific observations and models are for the most part highly effective, there still exists a vast grey area. Let me expand on this point:

Annenberg Foundation 2013, via http://www.learner.org/

The universe is in fact primarily dark matter. That means that the majority of what surrounds us is… hypothetical matter and energy that cannot be measured at this point in time by our technology. Really.

General relativity and quantum mechanics are well on their way to trying to crack the enigma of dark matter. Fortunately enough, these inquiries are well on their way to theorizing that indeed the universe had no beginning, nor necessitated one.

In an article posted on 10 February 2015, The Daily Mail shouted in a bold headline: “Did the Big Bang ever happen? Quantum model predicts universe has NO beginning – and it could even explain dark energy.” Here are the major points the article articulates:

  • Current physics can’t explain what happened during the Big Bang
  • The new theory combines general relativity with quantum mechanics
  • The equations found that quantum particles can never meet or cross
  • ‘Since different points in the universe never actually converged in the past, it did not have a beginning,’ Professor Saurya Das told Dailymail.com
  • The model also has the potential to explain dark energy since the quantum particles create a constant outward force that expands space

In a quote from the article:

[…] unlike classical trajectories – which are paths of particles going into the future or past – the quantum particles can never meet or cross.

‘As far as we can see, since different points in the universe never actually converged in the past, it did not have a beginning,’ said Professor Das.

‘It lasted forever. It will also not have an end…In other words, there is no singularity.’

But if there was no Big Bang, what is the history of our universe?

‘The universe could have lasted forever,’ speculates Professor Das.

‘It could have gone through cycles of being small and big.

‘Or it could have been created much earlier.’

The theory may also potentially explain the origin of dark matter and dark energy. (Source: The Daily Mail)

As I have no answer – as none of us do at this point – to this question. I will leave the newly acquired information for you to synthesize and evaluate.

The main problem surrounding the entirety of this research is that humankind lives a finite existence within what could well be an infinite universe. Trying to apply the same rules of beginning and end across the board to all realms of the universe may well be a flawed practice.

The bottom line is to grasp the theory of the Conservation of Energy – that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. This is the most accessible way to interpret this theory within tangible means. I, nonetheless am thrilled to see the future research as a result of this hypothesis.

Claire-Marie Brisson