The Smell Of Light

“Get up, put your nose down, and follow (or run from) a scent. How else can one’s life be energized, enlivened, and so engagingly spent?”

This little “bagatelle” leaked from my pen shortly after learning that a Russian mathematician may have solved Poincaré’s Conjecture…and relates to our tendency to confine explorations of the “unknown” within the boudaries of an “enlightened” universe.  But step beyond the “illuminated” limits of that universe, and there’s no telling how expansive one’s conjectures might then become…

wordpress_smell-of-lightThe big bang theory of the universe derives from an observable, measurable phenomenon: the universe appears to be expanding. The general assumption is that a finite mass has, like a super star, collapsed in upon itself and blown apart in all directions…maybe in the shape of a sphere, or maybe something more complex (the topological question).

Still, the most troublesome part of the theory is that of context. In what medium did this phenomenon take place? Was it a bigger universe? Or was it rather something beyond our imagination (like nothing, for example)? Anyway, since the context of this event remains elusive, an imagined scenario is all we have to play with.

So…why not imagine, for example, that the expanding, observable/measurable universe is not at all the result of a catastrophically collapsed mass, but is instead the result of something rather more prosaic, like a cosmic dog fart? Imagine that a cosmic dog has eaten some disagreeable decomposing cosmic waste and, in the ensuing digestive rebellion, relieved itself by passing a rather foul smelling (yet content-rich) cosmic wind.

In the film Men In Black a galaxy is suspended like a charm on a cat’s collar. While perhaps an unbelievable proposition for most, does that nonetheless make it improbable? And while it is certainly a less noxious possibility than a universe created by a dog fart, is it inherently more plausible? Are there no cosmic dogs? Do cosmic dogs not fart? Well, if there are, and they do, is it not possible that such an event was the progenitor of our universe? And might we not be entirely composed of, and surrounded by the gaseous remains of a putrid back-alley cosmic snack?

So…if such was/wasn’t the case, how would one go about proving or disproving it? It’s a very simple question…but I doubt the “scientific” community will jump at the chance to resolve it. Which leads me to make some related observations:

1) We invariably tend to project our own (reflected) self-image and or self-interest (bias, belief system, etc.) into the OMAP (observing/measuring/analysis process).

2) We seldom allow our imagination to roam beyond established “norms” (cultural, religious, scientific, and otherwise).

3) In the present context, we rely far too much on “light” to illuminate our understanding, and on “seeing” to inform our “vision” of the physical world.

This last is the main reason I use a dog fart analogy. Not only because it consciously evokes a strong, rather distasteful visual image (mangy cosmic dog, rotten food, etc), and is thus easily “seen” in the light of one’s imagination, but also evokes perhaps an even stronger “gut” reaction when imagining the ghastly “smell” that would accompany such an event. It is the latter which brings me to the crux of this particular conjecture:

E=mc2 is an equation that (still) provides a principle foundation for contemporary physics. Yet it also exemplifies our greatest observational weakness: the emphasis on lighted experience, and its subsequent role in the measuring of energy. Is not mass but a symptom of an energy state? Is not light but yet another symptom of the same unexplainable phenomenon? In effect, we have an equation that gains profound importance by equating energy with energy, using light (energy) as the principle, defining ingredient! Isn’t that…well, “enlightening?”

But for a dog, light—and consequently, vision—is not nearly so important as smell. I’m a little short on dog-math, but I think I could safely say that a dog’s version of the energy equation would translate more like Smell = Scent x Odor Squared.

In brief, I only ask that while in the process of resolving a conjecture (one that would seem to have no practical relevance outside the field of pure mathematics), scientists might also try to determine from the inside (perhaps by measuring its smell), if the shape of our universe might possibly have been generated by a flatulent dog, rather than some imaginary, albeit magnificent burst of virginal light? If we knew that…well, if it turned out to be true, think how exciting it would be to begin sniffing around our world to discover what else we might have missed due to an over-reliance on light; and, if not…well, what a HUGE relief that would be!

***

The above is a light-hearted reminder of how little we know about what we cannot see; e.g., a recent BBC article: What Is Our Universe Made Of?

To underscore the point, watch this!

7 comments on “The Smell Of Light

  1. Most people are just plain scared of the dark (me being one of them). This particular post brings to mind this nagging I’ve had in my head since I was very young… “what exactly is it that I’m not seeing?!” I am convinced that there is plenty.

    One might also look to the parental soother “There’s nothing in the dark that isn’t there during the day.” I have always disagreed with that little bedtime story. ;-)

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  2. “what exactly is it that I’m not seeing?!” I am convinced that there is plenty.

    I agree that your early perception was quite right! And it points out the interesting contrast between perceptions of childhood vs. adulthood. The expression “ignorance is bliss,” for example is applied to children, but is really more appropriate to adulthood. In other words, the more ‘pat’ answers (to otherwise unanswerable questions) one accepts as ‘truths’ while growing up, the less ‘aware’ one becomes of the ‘unknown.’ In other words, by not knowing the ‘rules’ when a child, all things are imaginable. Which is hardly bliss, as you noted. That state (bliss) only comes once your ‘ignorance’ has been largely dispelled. Go figure… :)

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  3. “Hi this is the boogie man speaking. I feel sort of neglected and omitted here. Isn’t anyone afraid of me anymore?”

    And now it’s Katze again. I love the phrase “the smell of light”. What about “the color of water”?

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  4. Thought-provokingly funny post.

    I’d conjecture that Smell = Mongrel Mass x (Flatulence Intensity)^2
    This relationship has been observed to hold with humans too.

    On a slightly serious note, I agree with you when you say we tend to project our biases onto the frame of reference under observation. I’m amazed at how this phenomena holds irrespective of the subject that we might be dealing in. The act of measuring alters the system in some form and yet we think we know. With absolute certainty. The certainty with which we hold opinions (dogmas) leaves me with a constant feeling of unease. Heisenberg taught us that uncertainty is life and yet we seem to have learnt little with time!

    i like your approach (something that I use as well). Make a conjecture and leave the onus on being disproved. Learning by exclusion/elimination is a wonderful art form.

    Glad to have found a cerebrally oriented yet funny writer!

    PS: Are you a physics professor, by any chance? :)

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