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Category: Big Picture

Black holes! They are among the scariest things in the universe, but as long as you don’t get your spacesuited butt on the wrong side of their event horizon, there’s no reason to let their presence in our galaxy upset your day-to-day life. You will probably not be stretched into a pink string then slammed into a space (approximately) eight billion times too small for you to fit in. So please, stop worrying.

Instead, why not think about white holes? Yes, white holes — with this crazy universe, it’s always something.

Readers of this blog will know that I am something of an expert when it comes to subatomic physics. And by “something of an expert” I mean that I have only the loosest grasp of its basic principles. Fortunately, it’s a free country, so let’s talk loops. These teeny-tiny things are at the very center of this business about white holes. We have Dr. Carlo Rovelli of Aix-Marseille University and his theory of loop quantum gravity to thank for that. He says that the plucky unsquashability of these loops (which are a lot like the memory foam in your Serta Perfect Sleeper) keeps a black hole from collapsing beyond a certain point. Not only that, they would provide a “quantum bounce” that would fling the matter back the way it came — out the black hole and into open space.

Since the effect is roughly the opposite of a black hole, they’re calling this explosive event a “white hole.” (I would have preferred “the universe yodeling groceries,” but the scientific community is notoriously prissy in their naming practices.) It has even been suggested that our Big Bang could have been a mega white hole that spewed the contents of a black hole so big that it had swallowed Everything That There Was.

I find this theory, despite its reliance on cosmic regurgitation, to be very comforting. For one thing, it tends to confirm my own Pulsating Nodes Theory of time and space and everything else (which has never received the attention it deserves). But more importantly, the loop quantum gravity construct seems to indicate that there are limits to how small things can be. Those little sub-subatomic loops are as teensy as it gets, and still they’re resilient enough to repel the impossibly huge weight of a collapsing star — or even of an entire universe! Kinda gives you hope, you know?

Of course, the theory also says that time is an illusion and death can be cheated, even if you’ve somehow gotten yourself stretched into that piece of pink string. That’s a little hard to swallow, even if you’re a black hole.
Dark Thoughts
I don’t think I’m a hater, but I find myself harboring an intense dislike for dark energy. Dark energy, if you don’t know, is the single largest physical entity in the universe. Though it is impossible to be sure, it might also be made completely of evil.

What we do know is that dark energy makes up 68% of all the stuff that exists. Number two is dark matter, which accounts for 27% of the remaining stuff. Beyond that, we know approximately jack about either one. What we do know something about — plain, old, everyday energy and reach-out-and-touch-it matter — amount to a mere 5% of the total.

That is troubling by itself, especially since the 5% we do know about is already bad enough. There are black holes lurking out there, and colliding galaxies, and colossal bursts of deadly radiation, to say nothing of unwanted hair. There are some nice things, of course, like puppies, but careful observation of the “known” universe over several millennia has shown that it is at least half bad.

Dark energy, by contrast, has only been on our radar for a couple of decades. Well, not on our radar exactly, because we still haven’t “seen” it or directly detected it in any way. It’s secretive, in other words; that alone is suspicious. All we’ve uncovered to date is some goofy behavior by light and matter that points to something enormous and mysterious operating out there in the void.

The beginnings of our awareness of dark energy date back to 1929 and the work of the astronomer Edwin Hubble. He observed then that our universe is not fixed and immutable, as had been thought, but rather expanding. But here’s the scary part: recently, that news was updated with the discovery that the rate of expansion is actually increasing. After Hubble, everyone had supposed that the expansion would surely slow down as the force of the universe’s own gravity would begin to draw everything back to the point of origin. Wrong again. Something else, it appears, is counteracting the powerful pull of gravity. “Dark energy” was the name given to that force — a force that must be so large that it made up two thirds of everything that is.

Thanks to dark energy, then, the end of the universe will come only when the last erg has been spent, when there is no light or movement anywhere, and all that is left are bits of nothingness dispersed across a limitless, icy void. That’s about all we know about dark energy: it’s big, and it’s killing the universe with agonizing slowness. I’d call that evil, wouldn’t you?

No, you say? You think that the end of the cosmos by a slow, lingering death is no worse than a universe that is destined to crash back into itself in an accelerating rewind of the Big Bang? We get smashed together and exploded, or we’re turned into our own, giant gravestone; what’s the difference? Either way, we and our little puppies are toast, right?

The difference for me is the utter desolation of the gravestone scenario. There’d be no bang and no whimper, either. Just a cold, dark, eternal un-universe. Dead forever, period. With the collapsing universe scenario, at least we have the hope of rebirth, a chance to exist again, maybe over and over and over. Now, however, with the dark discovery of this dark force that dominates everything, even that faint optimism is extinguished. What would rob us of all hope other than Satan himself?

No, I do not like dark energy, not one bit, and I am not eager to learn more about it. It’s been nothing but bad news so far, and it’s obviously hiding something even more monstrous. Why else would it be invisible? Science pushes on, though. NASA, along with the European Space Agency, is mounting several missions aimed at getting a clearer picture of this shy phenomenon. More precise measurements will be made of baryonic acoustic oscillations, and the scope of the search for weak gravitational lensing will be broadened. Pretty much what you’d expect, in other words.

And that’s okay, because it’s the job of science to do that. It’s not my job to like it, though. Whatever portrait they come with, I already hate its big, ugly face.
Fair is Fair
I may never get over the creepiness of my own government spying on me. Especially since the creepiness has been hot-dipped in a pool of outrage because I am actually paying for this betrayal.

Please don’t worry, the NSA says. We don’t track the content of calls, emails, tweets, postings, and other exercises of the freedom of speech. We’re not after you; we’re after the people who are after you. You know, the terrorists.

Okay, I get that. That’s what government is for, after all — to protect us from people who never learned how to be nice. I also get that, in an increasingly complicated world, solutions to our problems might need to be complicated, too. And that might mean that I need to trade off my right to privacy for safety’s sake. I’m even fine with that — as long as it’s a fair bargain.

Here’s what bothers me: not that my right to privacy went poof in the name of security, but that I’m not getting as much in return for it as I should. We’re all going to die someday, whether in bed or on board an exploding 747, and when we do, we’re done. But that disturbing photo of me — the one with the tarantula and the feather boa — could live forever on the internet if some nosey parker gets hold of it. If it weren’t for the NSA, that wouldn’t have been possible. So, in return for my lost privacy, I think I’m entitled to a little more…

For starters, I want the people behind those “Cardholder Services” robocalls hunted down and robocalled with a rototiller. The NSA can do that, can’t they?

Also, what ever happened Laneal McRory, my would-be, mostly-imaginary quasi-girlfriend from the seventh grade? I just want to know, that’s all.

My neighbor recently put up this new, strange-looking antenna. Is he part of the monstrous cabal that’s trying to control my thought waves with sonar? It would be a tremendous relief to know…one way or the other.

If it’s possible, I’d like the Swiss bank account numbers of the Wall Street rat-bastards who ripped off the country for billions back in 2008. No reason, just curious.

And while we’re at it, could I have the home phone of that s.o.b. who cut me off yesterday? I have some robocallers I’d like him to meet.

That should do it for now, I guess, although I’ll probably think of a few other things later. Come to think of it, I’d like the deal to include an option for me to ask for more private information about other people any time I want. The only new right that might make up for the loss of my right to privacy might be the right to know anything I want about anybody else forever and ever.

Fair is fair, after all, and the same goes for unfair.
Stay Right Where You Are
Okay, let's get the bad news out of the way first. We can't travel anymore. Travel is responsible for a full quarter of all the greenhouse gases we produce, so if we want to stop global warming, we'll just have to stop moving around.

Why do people even bother with travel anyway? If you want to see the Eiffel Tower, you just Google it, and there it is. You just saved yourself thousands of dollars and a lot of aggravation.

I know that travel is seen by many people as something truly wonderful. It's so broadening, they say. It renews the spirit, cures boredom, lets us see the world through new eyes. It's this scintillating escape from the soul-killing tedium of normal existence. Fine, I'll admit all that. But think about it - can't you get the same results by abusing drugs? All at a fraction of the cost in the comfort of your own home? You see? I'll bet you we won't even to miss travel when it's gone.

In fact, we don't even need drugs. Every dividend we pick up from traveling can also be found within a ten-mile radius of our homes. Are we so bereft of imagination, for instance, that we can't find a cure for boredom in our own back yards? Isn't reading a perfectly respectable way to get our broadening on? And if we really want to renew ourselves, why not get a heart transplant? It's covered by Obamacare, isn't it?

Besides, don't we all want to be home all the time anyway? When you're at home, you're in charge. There's no consulting, no planning, no voting. You decide what to do and when. You don't have to do anything, really, but if you do, there is a huge list of possibilities, all known and road-tested. You can eat cheap meals of predictable quality, sleep in a comfortable bed, and know exactly where everything is.

When you're out traveling, by contrast, you're moving through a world filled with uncertainty. Mistakes will almost certainly be made, resources cannot help but be wasted, time is bound to be squandered. You're constantly called upon to make critical decisions without adequate information, and the chances that you'll screw up only multiply the further you get from home. All the while, you're surrounded by strangers who speak only gibberish and who might be plotting against you right under your nose! You may be renewing your spirit, but you're doing it while walking blindfolded on a tightrope, and the slightest misstep would mean certain death.

Okay, that may have been a bit over the top. Let's be serious, then. Travel is fun. The unknown and uncertainty are actually kind of a rush. It tests your wits. It allows you to see yourself against a different background, to deepen your enjoyment of your time here on Earth. It's a gateway to knowledge and wisdom. And yes, we will miss it when it's gone.

But it's got to go. And we're not just talking about cars here. Did you know that just looking at an airplane can bring on species extinctions? No, we'll just have to stay close to home from now on - within a ten-mile radius, let's say, and only on foot, bike, or in electric vehicles.

So please, stay home …and save the Earth. If we don't, then we'll have to start addressing an even bigger source of greenhouse gases - farts.

And no, I'm not kidding.
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee