Tag Archives: Grand Canyon

Ride That Photon

At the speed of light, propagation of TIME stops. So, a photon does not travel forever because our concept of time does not hold true for it. Photons do not experience passage of time. Victor Mazmanian, retired Associate Professor of Physics, U.S. Air Force Academy quoted from an answer to a Quora question, “How can light travel forever?” 

I confess that I am a Quora stalker, mostly science, history and philosophy. Never have I posed or answered a question. Perhaps I will work up my courage to do so. When I read the for the most part well informed questions and answers, for now, I am content to learn and to wonder. I follow a few of the contributors like my friend Bob Cormack[i] from Colorado. Mostly though I am eclectic and follow my curiosity. That probably qualifies me as a geek in its current definition.[ii]

The Quora article I linked above is clear and simple without being simplistic about complex subjects like the quantum packets of energy called photons that are always either in motion at the speed of light or non-existent when they stop moving. For photons, time does not exist because at their velocity, time does not pass, a “trip” of twenty light years is a flash without so much as a nanosecond transpiring from their perspective.  The math of the quantum physics and relativity will remain well beyond this humble blogger’s aptitude, but the concepts and inspiration to the imagination are mine to play with.[iii]

If we were able to transform and hitch a ride on a photon, a form of time travel would be possible. Astronomers recently discovered a rocky planet circling Proxima Centauri, a mere twelve light years away. With current technology, this would be a journey of about 544 centuries at fifty two thousand miles an hour, which was what the New Horizon Pluto probe attained. It took New Horizon about nine and half years to get to Pluto. Even at the speed of light, should we be able to travel that fast, a round trip to Proxima Centauri would take a couple of dozen years. Upon our return, we would have not aged a day or perceived any passage of time, but our friends and families would be decades older. Or not here at all.

Please dont make fun when I tell you something true.  Across the River and into the Trees, Ernest Hemingway

John Archibald Wheeler, theoretical physicist and doctoral advisor to many, including Nobel Prize winning physicist, Richard Feynman, proposed that as we learn more and more about the universe, we will see that it is informational, more like a computer than a machine. Or more like a mind. Wheeler revived the study of general relativity after World War II, invented the terms “black hole” and “wormhole” and was involved with Feynman and others in the development of quantum mechanics. Many current physicists now subscribe to this “informational” understanding of the universe and believe it is the path to eventually uncovering a unified theory of physics, resolving the paradoxes of relativity and quantum theory. Wheeler said this during a eulogy of mathematician Hermann Weyl in 1986, “Time, among all concepts in the world of physics, puts up the greatest resistance to being dethroned from ideal continuum to the world of the discrete, of information, of bits… Of all obstacles to a thoroughly penetrating account of existence, none looms up more dismayingly than ‘time.’ Explain time? Not without explaining existence. Explain existence? Not without explaining time. To uncover the deep and hidden connection between time and existence….is a task for the future.” [iv]

The essence of knowledge does not consist in the effort for which it calls, but in grasping existing things and in unveiling reality. Moreover, just as the highest form of virtue knows nothing of difficulty, so too the highest form of knowledge comes to man like a gift—the sudden illumination, a stroke of genius, true contemplation: it comes effortlessly and without trouble.  Dr. Josef Pieper, Leisure, the Basis of Culture English translation, Random House, 1963

For God, time is not linear, rather more like a photon perceives it than like we perceive it. All of time is seen at once, as now, beyond humans to even conceive of His gaze. How this is understood in terms of free will and pre-destination, I’ll leave to the theologians. For this post, I’d like to consider where humans may find some common ground with this view of the cosmos.

The ancients and medieval philosophers taught that human knowledge is gained in two ways, which they named ratio and intellectus. Ratio was what we would now call a left brain activity, rational, discursive, leading to conclusions and requiring lots of work or study. Intellectus is more right brain, wholeness, intuitive, contemplative and receptive. The difference might be perceived in coming upon a vista like the Grand Canyon. Our left brain is curious and studies the mile-deep cliffs of the Grand Canyon dropping to the Colorado River: geological eras with their names and characteristics, rising and receding seas, the crushing together and uplift of tectonic plates and layer upon layer of aggregated stones and fossils. This is learning with ratio.

Intellectus is content to take it all in, to be silent, to think long thoughts or no thoughts at all, to grasp the canyon as beautiful in and of itself: objectively valuable, not just subjectively satisfying[v]. Ratio has to do with the temporal, with the investment of our precious time and work. Intellectus has to do with the eternal, outside of time.  Like for the photon, time stops, or rather there is no time that matters.

Gazing in wonder and gratitude at beauty changes the beholder. Contemplation, absorbed in the beauty with mind emptying peace, but filled with instantaneous knowledge and understanding, is of the soul, as well as the will and mind. I believe it is in this that we can imperfectly understand the concept of human uniqueness. We are made in Imago Dei, in the Image of God. When we perceive, however minutely, as God perceives, outside of time, we participate in our limited fashion in the Divine.  Captivated by the beauty when we visited the Grand Canyon a few winters ago, my inner voice echoed an ancient voice, “I am Beauty itself, gratuitous and without limit. Rest in Me. Trust in Me. Do not be afraid.”

Can we ever expect to understand existence? Clues we have, and work to do, to make headway on this issue. Surely someday, we can believe, we will grasp the central idea of it all as so simple, so beautiful, so compelling that we will all say to each other, Oh, how could it have been otherwise! How could we have been so blind so long? John Archibald Wheeler in his famous it for bit talk.

[i] I introduced readers of this blog to Bob Cormack six years ago. Acrophobia: Tale of Two Bobs.

[ii] Originally “geek” denoted a carnival freak who entertained by biting the heads off live chickens. To date, I have not indulged in that fowl slaughter.

[iii] , Before any physics geniuses complain that I am not qualified to remark on the details of the science, I agree completely. But the minutiae are not the point of the post.

[iv] Wheeler, John Archibald, 1986 “Hermann Weyl and the Unity of Knowledge.” American Scientist, 74:366-375

[v] See Dietrich von Hildebrand’s view of truth and beauty with the distinction of the “subjectively satisfying” from the “objectively valuable” as explained briefly by Bishop Robert Barron. Von Hildebrand, a Catholic moral theologian, was once called by Adolph Hitler his number one enemy and had to flee for his life when the Third Reich annexed Austria. Dietrich von Hildebrand and Our Relativistic Age, Robert Barron, Word on Fire website.


Filed under Background Perspective, Faith and Reason

Climate Change

IMG_0212“What you do not know is the only thing you know.”  T.S. Eliot

           No apt words from this inadequate chronicler can define the Grand Canyon experience, and even photographers (like Rita) with a good eye are able only to approximate its dignity and intimation of eternity. Ten miles wide and a mile deep, coming to a human perspective is nigh on impossible, most certainly for a modest blogger.

The canyon as currently viewable was created by four distinct and necessary geological phases unequally spanning about one and one half billion years. The oldest layers are the deepest and the most recently exposed.  “Recent” is a relative term for us mortals as geological time is similarly difficult to grasp.

The Grand Canyon’s one mile depth is ever changing and growing deeper at the geological fast track rate of about the thickness of a sheet of paper every year. The basement stone is one and one half miles deep, and a fraction is exposed.  This schist or bedrock level sits above the earth’s mantle and was the first stage of the deposition phase of the canyon’s formation, which commenced 1.6 billion years ago or approximately half our weary old planet’s age.  During this period, the land mass was covered by ocean with multiple volcanoes providing the entertainment.  The slow aggregation of the one and a half mile depth of super-heated volcanic activity and magma spanned millennia.

Next up the canyon wall is shale that built up at the bottom of massive swamps after the ocean drained owing to cyclical temperature changes – shale that is clearly delineated greenish gray and relatively soft. Above this is four hundred feet of red tinted limestone that accrued over many thousands of years of calcium buildup from countless generations of bountiful bone and shell decaying after new temperature change brought back the ocean. Red is not limestone’s natural color, but it has been tinted from the iron rich runoff of the few hundred feet of Cocohino sandstone above it. Sandstone clearly shows the ripples of its wind driven drifting during the centuries of desert that formed when the oceans again left the area during yet another naturally occurring era when giant sand dunes were the landscape about 265 million years ago.

Above this is the cap layer of gray white limestone when once again climate altered and back flowed the ocean for millions of years.  Another mile of various layers accumulated during the long deposition phase and various climate changes.  These layers have over millions of years eroded or been scraped away by thousands of feet of glacial ice to expose the current rim of the canyon that lies about 6,900 feet above sea level.

Three more phases, all exactly necessary, followed, or there would be no canyon. The massive Pacific tectonic plate collided with the Continental plate, which possessed the hard and immovable bottom schist layer.  The Pacific plate, unable to crush its way across the Continental dove under it, compelling it up thousands of feet.  What had been at sea level, now rose several miles.  The third phase saw more changes of climate, including Ice Ages. These new mountains spawned the Colorado River, flowing ever downward seeking the sea.  Finally, wind and water erosion from the many tributaries, over eons, widened  the river basin in the soft rock from the hundred feet or so of the river five miles out on each side. Fifteen hundred million years of widely diverse, cyclical climate change carved out a miracle.

“The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded.  Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.” President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Farewell Address 1961 (same address that cautioned the nation about the military/industrial complex).  (Link to full address)

No rational person can be a climate change denier any more than a rational person could deny a heliocentric planetary system of which we are the third planet out.  But let us consider that most people and many scientists  believe ourselves to be living in the age of ultimate enlightenment, and that current theory is the final one. Archimedes, Newton, Galileo, Boyle and Einstein believed they had nailed down an understanding of nature, structures and how things worked, and all had made some asymptotic progress.  But none of them had the final answer on Jeopardy.

The issues at hand: what is the current trend of inevitable climate change, what portion of that change is man caused, and what can or should we do to prepare for or mitigate it?  A secondary question, and a critical one for those trying to formulate policy regarding climate change, is what bias exists among those ‘ologists’ studying the phenomena?  When scientists tell us that the science is settled, they have ceased to be scientists and have become advocates.  Their efforts are then spent proving what they have established to be true. Peer review becomes verification, dogma and evangelism.

Have they first defined, and then conformed to an ideological and political narrative? Have the data and statistics been bundled, and do their interpretation and resulting policy recommendations form a consistent drum beat?  Unfortunately, there are dual beats, which are unalterably opposed and express a clear schism along political lines.  Not a good setting to try and do the right thing or the effective thing, if indeed, there is such a policy to be found.

To oversimplify, the right tends to deny there is global warming, and if there is,  it is within the limits of normal climate cycles. Even if it isn’t, what can we do about it, since the worst perpetrators of the CO2 and particulate emission are rapidly growing formerly third world economies that deeply resent former massive despoilers of the environment, who are now preaching with the fervor of recent converts.  “We’ll inhibit our growth by layering on the costs of responsible energy policy when we’ve caught up to you who operated under the old rules while you grew your economy and lifestyle.” Or something like that.

For the left, which includes almost all of academia, current government policy makers and major media, global warming is established science, a panicked crisis, and the only solution is to lower carbon based energy source use precipitously through whatever draconian enforcement and rule making necessary. Economic consequences be damned.  The data that is not reformulated to fit a model curve show that in the last decade the warming has leveled off, which conflicts with the models created by the very scientists who bang the drum.  These models have failed utterly in predictive capability when put to the test.  To jigger the measurements to conform to the models is a continuing, largely unreported scandal and justified by the perpetrators in tweaking the data to conform because, after all, the model must be right, and is for the greater good anyway.

Can we listen to Ike on this?  Has money fatally infected science with an unholy predisposition?  To wit: government bureaucracy, especially left leaning bureaucracy, has as its most sacred postulate a necessity to regulate and to metastasize.  This amorphous, consuming blob through confiscatory tax policy takes our money and among many other self-serving profligacies dispenses grants to scientists.  Scientists have devolved from truth seekers into grant seekers and peer recognition junkies.  Grant seekers get money by conforming to the narrative beloved by the regulators and funders.  Peer reviewed scientific papers bear fruit when their conclusions conform to the same narrative, a narrative perpetuated by other grant seekers and the grant dispensers.  Can this self-perpetuating conformity be healthy for truly unbiased truth seeking?  Of course it can’t.

“Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” Ranier Maria Rilke

Interesting counterpoint.  See Youtube video with an award winning meteorologist, John Coleman, “How the Global Warming Scare Began“:   Link here.


Filed under Background Perspective