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Category: Big Picture

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.
Must Wear Corrective Lenses
Yes, I know that bad things happen in the world. I am aware of the dangerous trends that threaten us all. We are all going to die in the end. And yet, even if it turns out that I’m kidding myself, I prefer to be an optimist rather than a pessimist. For me it comes down to this choice: do I want to feel good most of the time, or do I want to feel lousy?

Just don’t call me a cockeyed optimist. I have a slight astigmatism, is all.
Free (hah!) Will
I didn’t think much about free will until I got to college. Then came Philosophy 1 and my introduction to the theory of Determinism. If this is your first encounter with this numbing concept, I apologize. Your comfy world view is about to be upended and spilled out onto the Parcheesi board of your life. As you will soon see, however, there was nothing I could have done to prevent this from happening. No offense; it was simply meant to be.

Determinism asserts that everything that happens must happen because it has been caused by all that has gone before, all the way back to the First Cause (if there was such a thing). That fabric of causality can only unfold in one way, and every event within it is predetermined from here to the end of time (if there is to be such an event). The universe is fully determined and immutable forever. Within such a framework, I am sad to say, there is no place for free will.

The first time I heard this line of reasoning, I immediately accepted it as true. Of course every event is an outgrowth of previous events. That’s obvious, it seemed to me. Furthermore, the mesh of causality could certainly be fine enough to include the most complex human motivations, genetic structure, and ways of being. Not only is our behavior predetermined, then, we are predetermined.

This realization is a double-edged sword. Cosmically, we’re off the hook for anything we do (and that’s a relief), but at the same time our lives are rendered utterly meaningless. That’s kind of a tough sword to swallow, philosophically. Ever since that first collision with Determinism, I’ve been trying to square my acceptance of a universe that is already written in stone with my conviction that what I do makes a difference. It’s proven to be a difficult task. Until now.

Though it is not widely known, I am something of an amateur theoretical physicist. Furthermore, I am happy to report that my research in this field has brought my decades-long struggle with the free will/determinism conundrum to an end. I call my discovery the Negligible Differentiation Effect, or NDE. I won’t get into all the technical stuff about event eruptions along intertwining chains of causality projected within a four-dimensional field of space/time. Most of you would be bored by the math. Suffice it to say that free will does exist after all — but not quite in the way we have imagined.

Here’s how it works. Within the parameters the NDE, we have a narrow range of control over the events we experience. We can make real choices which are not predetermined. We can choose to have granola for breakfast, for example, or we can choose Dinosaur Eggs Benedict, and that choice would be wholly our own and utterly unaffected by events that have preceded it. So yes, there is free will — but there is a catch, as well. Our choices, no matter how consequential they may seem, will have no effect on subsequent events. The egg dish might well cause us to experience an episode of indigestion that we would not have had with the cereal, but that slight variation in events will bring about a negligible differentiation among succeeding events. Such choices disappear into a kind of causal vortex within the NDE and hence count for nothing in the grand scheme of things. I could show you the calcs, but you are fated neither to understand nor to care, so why bother?

Perhaps it would be helpful if you imagined the entire universe of events, from the beginning to the end of time, as a giant tree sloth covered with a thin layer of slime. That slime is the NDE. It has an interesting sheen to it, especially when the sloth is moving, but it will wash right off in the first rain.

Again, I should apologize… for that sloth metaphor and for what I’ve done to your peace of mind. The only thing my years of work have accomplished is to replace one double-edged sword with a smaller, tarnished one. I should apologize, but I won’t. It is what it is, as they say, and it couldn’t have been anything else. It was set in stone, you see, and covered with slime.
Einstein Was Wrong
Three times. What a dope.

His first mistake came when he thought he was wrong. Worrying that a logical extrapolation of his own work on general relativity seemed to indicate an expanding universe (an idea that repelled him), Albert inserted something called a “cosmological constant” into his equations. This mathematical doohickey provided him with the comforting notion of a static universe, fixed in space forever.

A few years later, in 1929, the astronomer Edwin Hubble published proof of the redshift phenomenon. His data showed that distant objects appear slightly redder than they really are. The only explanation for this effect had to be that those objects were moving away from us at high speed, thus skewing our perception of their color toward the red end of the spectrum. Ergo, the universe was expanding after all, heading outward in all directions and going faster and faster all the time.

Einstein, reading Hubble’s work, took it as a confirmation of his original equations and retracted his insertion of the cosmological constant, calling it his “biggest blunder.” Well, that was his second mistake. Physicists have recently revived the constant to help them understand dark energy, a heretofore mysterious aspect of our universe that seems to counteract gravity. This anti-gravitational force is thought to be the very reason the universe is expanding!

That’s twice, then, that Einstein thought he was wrong, and twice that he was wrong about being wrong. Now comes the charm: what if Hubble was wrong? What if the redshift he observed is not caused by the movement of objects, but by something else entirely?

Up steps Christof Wetterich of the University of Heidelberg with an answer. Christof suggests that the reason those objects appear redder is that they are getting heavier as time passes. The mass of an object also affects the light it emits. Specifically, if an object becomes more massive, it will emit more energy and appear redshifted. Wow.

So, if Christof is right, Albert is wrong… again. Not only that, I may be right. Not about the cosmological constant or the redshift, but about my own theory of Pulsating Nodes.

Let me explain. You won’t find references to the Pulsating Nodes Theory in any of the scientific literature because it’s not there. This is my own, personal theory that I made up. No, I am not a theoretical physicist or an extragalactic astronomer; instead, I consider myself a thinking ignoramus. But never mind that. In order for my theory to be correct, this universe and all other universes must explode into being, expand, then contract to their starting points. Again and again and again. If Hubble and Einstein are right, and the universe expands and expands until entropy finally triumphs and the whole mess just sits there forever, then there is no contraction. The universe, in that case, would not pulsate, and my theory would die in the icy cold of space.

Thanks to Professor Wetterich, however, new life has been breathed into the nostrils of my cosmos. If he is correct about all mass everywhere getting heavier all the time, then the Pulsating Nodes Theory — a product not of science but of common sense — will live on and, who knows, someday might be vindicated. Now, at least, there is hope.

I leave it to others to come up with the numbers. I’m just an ideas guy who wants the universe to make sense, which is something that dope Albert Einstein wouldn’t understand.

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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee