Archives for category: astrophysics & cosmology

Thoughtful with good information and reason. In short, we are probably alone in our galaxy, but we are nowhere near being sure about that. We have reasonable evidence we are alone. The calculations discussed in the video are useful, and they imply there are many reasons to seem alone if we aren’t quite alone.

Fundamentally to me, the purpose of the universe is to use enthalpy to do work and use it up, increasing the entropy with every moment. The purpose of the universe is to make entropy.

If you think of entropy as chaos, you won’t understand. Entropy isn’t chaos, it is used-up energy. It cannot be used again, but it is still energy. Order and disorder are poor analogies. It is not correct to say order doesn’t arise from disorder. The statement is simply false. Order arises from disorder all the time in various ways depending on enthalpy and work.

Because living systems use enthalpy much more effectively, I expect living systems everywhere they can be. Further, I expect living systems to expand and maximize as much as possible. 99.9% of all predecessor examples we have accomplished that and passed on. The only example we have exactly like us (we ourselves) seems to be ever-expanding and increasing capacity. It may be that other “like-us” examples exist intent on minimalization, but that is counter to the ever more effective use of enthalpy that seems to be the sole purpose of the universe as a whole.

Beyond our galaxy, we have no data. It is too big with too many possibilities to support any conjecture. Within our galaxy, so far, the only reasonable assumption is that we are alone. We can hold out hope, but the universe doesn’t seem concerned with wasting space. It does seem concerned with using up enthalpy and increasing entropy as fast as it can figure out ways to do it, and ways emerge, figuring out how to do it. Emergent self-organizing systems arise from unbalanced systems. That is physics, not psyche. Supposing consciousness is some sort of emergent physical self-organizing system is contra factual. Consciousness is much, much more than a self-organizing physical system. We know less about our minds inside than we do about all that is outside. Consciousness may be the key. Consciousness may be so exceptional that it arising even once in a galaxy is long odds. No consciousness, no engineering. No engineering, no world-building and expanding into otherwise deadly environments. No world-building, no new worlds. That could be the great filter.

Simplistic, but valid: From nothing comes nothing.
Either something exists, or nothing exists.

We can side with the likes of Stephen Hawking and assert eternal existence of gravity and quantum vacuum and, also, assign it practical [and mindless] divinity. Then we can reasonably speculate that myriad minuscule fluctuations in the quantum foam converged to burst forth from the singularity. Inflation, then space-time, which is running down, back down to the nothing.

Or, we can assume transcendence. That is, we can assume an eternal something that is truly beyond nature. Eternal is the key, and transcendence is required, or it is just natural, and we are back to nothing. There are some significant hurdles to deal with in assuming the divine, but an eternal transcendent actor can only be referred to as god. (Peterson says as much, often.)

If we hold to the first, methodological materialism, or naturalism, or atranscendence, then we are stuck with nothing and there simply is no such thing as agency. No choice is any more significant than any event. It takes two things to do anything: Time and Energy. States and systems exhibiting disequilibria will tend to equilibrate, taking time and using energy. Disequilibrated systems do anything that takes time and uses up energy, as long as it lessens the disequilibration. Often, order arises, emergent phenomena. A simple example is a dust devil in a dirt field. The ground heats unevenly under the sun, and the air warms slower, disequilibria. A warm thermal begins to rise, often beginning to spin, and up arises a dancing, self-organizing, dust devil, chasing the warmest spot near it. It is a dissipative system, more efficient at increasing entropy than simple convection. Assuming atranscendence, the dust devil is the same as any choice I make, any idea I conceive, any action I take. It all, only, tends to use up time and energy bringing the universe back to closer to the absolute and eternal nothing of its beginning.

Given my definitions above, the options are god or not-god.

That is, god is that which is eternal and transcendent.

Not-god is that which is yet eternal but nothing, that which momentarily and currently is subject to unwinding the initial winding of the singularity, and the unwinding is simply the using up of time and energy. (It makes no difference in this assumption whether the big bang is a single freak occurrence, or if it is quasicyclical, repeating randomly for all eternity.)

If we accept the god assumption, we are faced with eternity. We exist in time, but we will exist in eternity (and perhaps have always existed in some sense). The questions religion and philosophy address boil down to this: In eternity, with-god or without-god? One choice with two options. We will enter eternity having chosen god or refused god.

In that assertion, I’m assuming the god condition of eternal and transcendent reality. Given that assumption, the choice, the ultimate choice, true agency, is between with-god and without-god.

There either is choice, or there is nothing.

I admit I am defining nothing as meaninglessness.

I’m defining eternal and transcendent as meaning, reason, and rationality. It is my assertion, my premise. It is fundamental within me. (It is fundamental within the universe.)

Choice, agency, is the only thing that matters. If not-god is the reality, then there is no choice, no meaning, no rationality, no reason, nothing. If god is the reality, and there is no choice, no agency, regarding eternity with god or eternity without god, then we are back to nothing, back to no choice, no meaning, no rationality, no reason.

Given any reality approximating that, truth has no meaning in any case where choice, true agency, isn’t foundational and intrinsic. Individual agency must be real or there is not even anything that can be called truth, not in the abstract, not in the concrete, not in the ideal, not even in the notional. If I have no choice in the matter, no agency, nothing matters and nothing is the only true reality. If there is such a thing as reality, choice is real; agency is real.

Obviously, I cannot get away from the notion of truth, and one might argue such persistence makes it deeper, more real, than choice. No. First, we must not conflate Truth with Reality. That which is real is not the same as that which is true, not even in the ideal. It goes to meaning. If the not-god reality is real, then all that we seem to know is simply a random confluence of quantum fluctuations that happen to have congealed into a mass hallucination. If my mind is merely matter and energy and chemical processes running in patterns dictated by quantum fluctuations, I have no mind, and I have nothing on which to base any assumption. I can have no reason to assume any of it will continue. I have no real reason to base any of it on.

In that case, I have no reason. There would really be no reason and no such thing as reason, only matter, only energy, only a persistent, sequential running down and unwinding.

Frankly, I find it unreasonable to assume there is no such thing as reason.

I find it irrational to assume there is no such thing as rationality.

It seems as certain as anything else that there must be an eternal transcendent actor. Being confined to time and nature, we cannot hope to know this super-nature directly. We can only hope to systematically and rationally investigate it and aim at truth, as we do with all of nature. The nature of nature, our reality, seems to include something transcendent that we typically call mind. There isn’t a significant difference between “mind” as we use it, and “spirit” as we use it. There is no quantifiable reason to suppose mind is any less real than matter. Consciousness is really a thing, a thing we do not understand. Our religions may be so far from truth as to be laughable, but so may our sciences.

Again, without choice, there is no truth.

If I am not really a free agent capable of making real choices with meaningful consequences, then there is simply nothing, at least nothing that has any meaning, nothing that matters.

Get this: It is impossible for us and our universe to be some sort of computational simulation. Impossible.

Of course, we can throw caution to the wind and suppose anything we want. Reasonable people will ignore us when we do that.

Spooky when you think of it:

Not only can we not investigate the supernatural from the natural standpoint, we seem to not be able to investigate all the natural, at least not at its extremities. Some problems are truly intractable.

Bonus: Quantum Hall Effect is Beautiful

I just watched the movie Correspondence (2016) with my wife.

I doubt most people will like.

I suggest you don’t look it up. Don’t read reviews. Don’t look up the trailer. Go with your gut. Watch, or don’t. It is about a love affair with a star, with the universe, but it is supposed to be about a love affair of a middle-aged astrophysics (Jeremy Irons) and a young PhD candidate (Olga Kurylenko).

If you decide to watch it, forget everything. Don’t think. Just feel. It might do for you what it did for me.

Some say I’m too emotional. At times like these, I’m glad of it.

Eternity is not a long time. It is characterized by the absence of time.

It is unreasonable to try to describe eternity in concrete quantifications. It is even more than infinite, more than infinities and what mathematics and number theory can tell us about such.

Eternity is less comprehensible than the vastness of space. We cannot comprehend size. There is too much. We deceive ourselves into thinking we know something about it because it is easy for us to measure things from fractions of micrometers to thousands of kilometers. But the vastness is beyond that, beyond our ability to reason or analogize.

A rough approximation of the basics of small goes like this: If you place a sewing pin in the middle of the field of a domed football stadium, and then increase one of the iron atoms, proportionally, to where the nucleus was the size of the pinhead, then the rest of the atom would be close to the size of the domed stadium, and the electrons would still be too small to see even with a microscope. And that is only the beginning of small. Consider the Planck Length, at 1.6 x 10^-35 meters.

That brings us to a beginning of comprehending how utterly incomprehensible size and space really are. Think of all the empty space, the percentage of volume, within the atom, and remember that atoms cannot approach one another closely under the conditions in our living world. What we call solid matter isn’t solid in any quantitative mathematical sense.

Then we go the other way. There are many examples, and graphics, and short videos, and these help us realize that our whole planet is incomprehensibly tiny in light of the approximate 8.6 x 10^26 meters estimated for the observable universe. Then, how much bigger is what we can call space-time? Yeah, we don’t get it.

Eternity is even more. We don’t even have anything to compare it to.

We try to use time to comprehend eternity, especially since we do understand time, but we can’t.

We pretend we consider time. We always ask what time it is, but we don’t care. We know we have limited time, so we prioritize. Keeping time helps with that, but we don’t consider time, and we really don’t know, nor care, what time it is.

We all know we have very limited time, especially when we consider the span of history, and prehistory, and the time of the universe. We all die young. One hundred years is longer than most of us get, but even that is short. A single human life is a trivial amount of time in the scheme of history.

Yet, so many manage to do something of significance, by human reckoning. All of us do something significant for our loved ones. Sadly, that is sometimes a sad thing, but most of us have our moments where we positively affect others and improve our world. We don’t all get our 15 minutes of fame on the big stage, but we all do for a few.

Still, there are a few names that gained worldwide fame, and lost it. A few names have survived the millenia, but no name is known by every living soul on earth. Eventually, no name will be remembered among human descendants that we know today. If we continue for eons, it all obviously matters to us, but sooner or later, after some long time, all of humanity and our descendants will be gone, even erased. Even if we assume humanity spreads throughout the galaxy, even if we assume some means of spreading to many galaxies, eventually, it will all be gone. Millions of year? Billions of years? Even if we assume our descendents persist to the end of the universe, it will then all be gone.

See, we know where we sit there. We can comprehend the time. We know it all turns out insignificant in the end, but it is significant now, and some of us are better at using it well than others, but then again, “well” is subjective. Do we define doing well as becoming famous? By doing something important on the grand scale? Don’t we mostly define it as doing what we need to do, fulfilling our obligations, coming through when people are depending on us? Yeah. We advance mostly by people just doing what they need to do. We hold back the night by each of us keeping our candle and doing what good we can, and refusing to do something wrong, at least most of the time. Time. It will end.

All of space-time will end.

Will there be nothing then? Or will there be something still?

I am as confident of being there to see what it is, and I am as confident about it as I am of anything in the future.

Eternity. Don’t ask what will happen after some time. There is no time. We can’t think of before and after. That pertains to time, to space-time.

What will be after space-time is gone is simply unknowable.

In the meantime, don’t get hung up on how long things take. They really don’t take long.



Awesome! A four-times lensed view of Refsdal, the first exploding star we can see through a supermassive lens.

Hubble image

The four yellow dots indicated with arrows are the one exploding star, lensed and mirrored by the gravity of the galaxy between us and that exploded star.

Apparently this is relatively common, the lensing and mirroring of distant objects by closer masses. However, this is apparently the first super nova we have observed.

Note, we are observing a star explode today. The star is 9.3 billion light years away.

One light year equals 5.87849981 × 10^12 miles. One light year distance is nearly 6 trillion miles. Thus, the light from the exploded star has travelled 54,670,048,233,000,000,000,000 miles, 54.67 x 10^21 miles, or over 54 sextillion miles. (Trillion, quadrillion, quintillion, sextillion, septillion…) Since the speed of light is constant at 186,000 miles per second, for us to observe it right now, it has to have been travelling for 293,924,990,500,000,000 seconds, which, of course, works out as about 9.3 billion years. (Thus the convenience of the light-year as a unit of distance that gives us a natural measure of how long the light took to travel that far.)

In other words, we are observing today something that happened billions of years ago.

Now, this article,, talks a little about the star and the galaxy (and the galactic cluster in the vicinity) that is lensing it, and it tries to explain simply. It does a good job.

I’m writing to point out the use of models in their work.

We see the exploding star today. We are observing it. We can measure the spectrum of the four yellow spots and determine they are, in fact, four images of the same thing, the same exploding star. There aren’t four, just one.

We need cosmological models that include real-world mathematical constructs to make sense of four images of the same thing around a galaxy roughly halfway between us and the exploding star. We need very good and precise mathematical models to be able to explain the four images positioned as we see them. We can use the mathematical models as predictive tools. These astronomers are using these tools to predict that the images will change in certain ways, given our understanding of the intervening galaxies and space, and if our models are correct, the images will change as predicted.

Probably, however, what we see will change slightly different from predicted, and the astronomers, physicists, cosmologists, and mathematicians will get busy and improve the models to make them fit what we actually observe.

Observational science.

Look at it. Figure it out. Test what you figured. Change what you figured. Do it again.

When the real world behaves as you expect all the time, every try, then your model works and you can have some confidence that you are not fooling yourself. We do this all the time when playing catch. We instinctively construct a physics-and-mathematics (calculus) based model in our head, and if our bodily-coordination is good, we throw and catch and have some fun. Mathematical models are good things.

The caution is that we must not fool ourselves, and we must keep in mind that we are the easiest to fool.

Test, check, recalculate, have others check the work, the tests, and the calculations, and do it again. Then we are observing the world and interacting effectively with it and learning.

In cosmology and astronomy we learn all the time. Lots of things change as we figure better ways to test and better ways to watch and observe. We keep looking, and there’s so much to see that we cannot help but learn and improve our models.

For me, the fascination of the article, of knowing that the lensing is going on and the event is dynamic, the fascination is watching to see how the scientists change their model of dark matter. Dark matter is scary stuff. Not because we cannot see it, but because it is so hard to figure out. It has the stench of magic about it. The more we figure it out, the more we wash away the magic, but until we can routinely model it accurately, and until we can observe it and test it, it is difficult. Science observes. Dark matter is really hard to observe. Wind is something that at first glance is hard to observe, but we know how to observe it. We model the matter and energy involved, we can compute it in detail. Then we watch what the wind does. We watch the trees sway, we watch the leaves blow, we feel the breeze on our faces and blowing through our hair. (Nice, isn’t it.)

Once we have dark matter down like wind, no problem. Until then, it is intriguing to watch and see what we have been getting wrong and how we are correcting.

Journal Reference:

Patrick L. Kelly et al. Multiple Images of a Highly Magnified Supernova Formed by an Early-Type Cluster Galaxy Lens. Submitted to arXiv, 2015 [link]

You can download the 17 page paper here:

Cite as: arXiv:1411.6009 [astro-ph.CO]
(or arXiv:1411.6009v3 [astro-ph.CO] for this version)

Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI). “Hubble sees supernova split into four images by cosmic lens.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 March 2015. .

Again, awesome.

This is another item I wrote on Facebook, and decided I wanted on my blog as well.

My beautiful and intelligent wife happened upon this article (, and she commented to me that she thought is was sad that people base their faith on something other than their relationship with God. That is, setting your faith in anything but God Himself is idolatry. There are people who hold the bible as idol, and there are people who hold science as idol. There are also people who hold science as their entire religion, but that is another (and sad) matter.

Mary also took exception to Dr. Ross’ take on Hebrews 11:6 (one of my favorite scriptures).

I very much appreciated Brother Hugh’s example of “knowing” his wife exists, but I agree with Mary that Dr. Ross overreached with his version of the scripture. ESV translates “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” ( for plenty to study.) Dr. Ross interpreted that to say if we would diligently seek out evidence for God, we would find it. I don’t accept that thinking. That is not consistent with my own experience nor our understanding of history. God governs in the affairs of men, but he does so with hiddenness. ( “I think it more suitably functions as a proof of the fittingness of revelation.”) God leaves us with the option of thinking we did it ourselves, or that we just got lucky.

It seems only fair to me.

The author of the letter to the Hebrews tells us plainly that it is impossible to please God without faith, and we MUST believe in order to come to Him at all. Like it or not, understand it or not, this is the way it is. While I hold there is evidence for God, it is only evidence, and it can always be explained other ways.

How many episodes of Cosmos so far? I don’t care. Only one good episode, last week. This week sucked bad.

Overall, I love what they are doing, but they are such bullies and so arbitrary!

Alarmism is alarmism whether delivered by a fire-and-brimstone preacher, or a snake-oil salesman, or by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Yes, I’m comparing the three together, equating them. Neil is simply acting to scare people when he ridicules religion or tries to scare us into killing each other in order to stop burning fuel. Yes, the greens, the climate alarmists, the “Agent Smiths” of the world are calling for mass murder when they call for the ending of the fossil fuel era. Neil is simply lying when he pretends solar power can run our industrial, technological world. Part of why we were able to end the heinous crime, the sin, of slavery, is because of the inexpensive availability of fossil fuel and our innovation abilities to turn chemical energy into mechanical energy and production.

The alarmists and greens claim they are calling for the greater good but what will result, if they get what they want, is tyranny, murder, and slavery.

Learn. Study. Seek truth. ALWAYS question authority.

When it comes to Cosmos, be as smart as an old cow; eat the hay, and spit out the sticks. Many aspects of each show are good, but some of it is rotten. Throw it out.

In the movie God’s Not Dead, an absurdly simplistic assertion is attributed to Stephen Hawking, namely, “The universe exists because the law of gravity demands it.” (Approximately, a presumably exact quote can be found on the wiki page for him.)

I say that statement is absurd because it doesn’t address the basic question it pretends to answer, “Why?” First, it essentially makes gravity and universal laws into god, thus making Hawking a deist rather atheist, but that is irrelevant at the moment. The main point is the time. If such laws necessitated, even made inevitable the spontaneous bursting forth of some things from nothing, why didn’t it happen sooner? Why was there a beginning it all? If Hawking’s naivety is more than insane ramblings, why can we tell for certain there is a beginning? Shouldn’t the eternal, preexisting law of gravity, et al., have necessitated the existence of the something from eternity past? Why the borrowing, inflation, and eventual death payment resulting, again, in nothing?

On the BioLogos blog, Ted Davis presents some opening comments and an article by Ted Peters. It is excellent.

Here is a quote for the ages:

To be nothing (no-thing) is to be indeterminate. To be something (some-thing) is to be determinate. To be determinate is to exist in spacetime. The act of creation signals a shift from the indeterminancy of nothing to the spacetime determinancy of the things which constitute the universe. This leads to the question: is the event of creation itself a temporal event? At first, it would seem that it must be temporal, because for one thing to have a determinate effect on another thing they both must share a single spacetime continuum. But if space and time are themselves the result of the creative act, then the creative act itself cannot be subject to the same spacetime determinancy. So, perhaps it is better to speak of the creative act itself as eternal rather than temporal. By “eternal” here we do not mean simple everlastingness but rather supratemporality. As eternal, God’s act of creation is tangential to time and related to time, yet it is not subject to determinancy by time save in the sense already mentioned—that is, in the reflexive sense that the eternal creator is so defined as a result of the existence of temporal creation. In short, the event of creation marks the transition from eternity to time.

Good stuff. The whole article is one of those you need to read a few times to be confident you know what it says. Even more thought, effort, and time are required to comprehend such things.

The super genius Hawking seems to think his words have meaning when he asks what God was doing before He created the universe. Does that great mind not realize the word “before” has no meaning outside the space-time continuum? “Before” means nothing until AFTER time began. Ted Peters addresses the point better in the article.

I didn’t realize this:

References and Credits

Excerpts from Ted Peters, “On Creating the Cosmos,” in Physics, Philosophy and Theology: A Common Quest for Understanding (1988), ed. Robert John Russell, William R. Stoeger, S.J., and George V. Coyne, S.J., copyright Vatican Observatory Foundation, are reproduced by kind permission of Ted Peters and Vatican Observatory Foundation. We gratefully acknowledge their cooperation in bringing this material to our readers.

I could have read this decades ago.


Fox News carries this pedestrian press release with no information for figuring out more: It blabs about the latest observation-based estimate of the number of likely planets, around Sol-like stars, with, perhaps, potentially liquid water. The assertion is at least one of these planets will be within 70-trillion miles, or about 12 light years, which is a distance we will traverse eventually.

The article blubs, “And that’s just our galaxy. There are billions of other galaxies.” Of course, but we don’t have to worry about that. It is unreasonable to suppose that we will travel to other galaxies (or vis versa). No amount of time can overcome those distances from the perspective of humans. Not even Star Trek assumes so. Stargate does, but wormholes don’t work that way.

I managed to find reference from PNAS’ facebook to WaPo,

““Earth-sized planets having the temperature of a cup of tea are common around sunlike stars,” said planet hunter Geoff Marcy, a Berkeley astronomer and a ­co-author of the study.” Is it just me, or is the statement inane?

Reaching, “The analysis does not prove that any of these “habitable zone” planets resemble Earth. The report states only that they are roughly the size of our planet and are not too close or too far from the star for water — if it is present — to be liquid at the surface.”

“If the new estimate is correct, there should be about 25 billion Earth-size planets in habitable zones in our galaxy, by Borucki’s calculation.” 8.8 billion, 25 billion, whose counting?

Then there is some drivel about Drake and SETI. Oh well.

The WaPo article is just as devoid of useful information and references.

After some significant effort, I found the paper on the PNAS web site, here:

The “Significance” statement sets off my skepticism warnings. They say they injected synthetic planets into Kepler to calibrate their findings. Go figure.

The articles indicate 22%. The abstract states 11%. WUWT?

There is this:

Freely available online through the PNAS open access option. [end quote]

I don’t know what freely available might mean, but when I try to get the article it wants me to pay. Truth in advertising? The information I’m finding is confusing and contradictory, both in the assertions and in access to the information. I found:, but it doesn’t seem to help. Perhaps it isn’t there yet.

Most of all, SETI is a waste. We simply cannot find anything by looking the way we are even if it is there. Second, if THEY are out there, where are they? If there should be a possible civilization out there no more than 12 million light-years away, why have they not yet wandered by?

No, they ain’t there. Quit worrying about it. Once we’ve built multigenerational ships capable of sustaining several thousand of us indefinitely, we will go. Then we will know for sure.

I’m confident we will find things we will call living when we walk on planets that have significant amounts of liquid water, but it is unreasonable to suppose we will ever call it intelligent.

Might time and locality not be fundamental to reality? 

Natalie Wolchover writes here: describing some interesting mathematics with some interesting possible implications. Really cool. I found it fascinating, and it seems on the right track to my meager understanding. 

Luboš Motl, a crazy-smart physicist, who blogs from Pilsen, Czech Republic, writes here: He mainly says it looks cool. Given that he understands this stuff, it makes me think my excitement might be warranted. 

My take on the notions is that time might prove to be an emergent phenomenon, rather than fundamental. Take a thunderstorm for example. It is emergent from forces acting. There are thermodynamic drivers and mass transfer processes and state transformations involved, lightening, etc., but the thunderstorm isn’t fundamentally a thing. It is made of lots of interacting things. It is mind-boggling to think of time as emerging from “things”, perhaps simply from geometry. Hmm… More pondering required. Definitely more reading as more information is published. 

A Science Daily writer gives his take of a new paper by K. A. Alamo-Martínez et al. about unimaginable numbers of globular clusters, here:

They reference the article here: and they have the full paper for $9. Not bad compared to four or five times that for some journals, but too rich for my blood. Partly, I don’t really understand most of the details. Still it I get the magnitude, and the implications are awesome. (Awe is good.)

These guys write it up too:

Basically, if anyone notices this and cares to enlighten me, I’d appreciate the lesson. The technical, quantitative details (and jargon) in the astrophysical journal article are just a bit beyond my own study, and a bit farther than I want to pursue, at least at the moment.  Read the rest of this entry »

A Minnesota Minister, Daniel Harrell, writes a very insightful devotional at BioLogos, He wonderfully ties the extravagance of the expensive perfume poured out on Jesus, with the extravagance of the physical universe. He also includes a nice, simple word study.  Read the rest of this entry »

Owen Gingerich is readily found on the internet. Harvard and Wikipedia are good starts for checking on him. Impressive.

I’m referencing this sermon, presented on the internet here:

Awesome. Read the rest of this entry »

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