The universe: Sculpture, painting, music?

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By Terry Poulos, Scientiquity founder (originally published 12/10/2019)

What is the `stuff’ that constitutes the universe? Scientists, mathematicians, and philosophers – theologians too – have debated this since antiquity. There clearly is no tidy consensus. Nevertheless, let’s see if we can conjure up some semblance of what it most likely could be.

We can see the universe and its colors by virtue of light (electromagnetic waves) that meets our eyes, leading us to believe some of that stuff is at least partially a painting. The universe is also tactile. We feel it with our hands and every inch of our bodies, thus sculpture. We can also hear it with our ears and feel its vibration, indicating it could be a gigantic symphony.

Let’s begin with sound, or as physicists call it “resonance.” If the universe is a musical instrument, what type of instrument? String theory is one of the most studied and well-funded areas of theoretical physics. Some `first stringers’ might claim the universe is a guitar or violin to be strummed. String theoretic conjectures speak of tiny hidden-dimensions (10, 11, 24, 26, or 27 total in many models, with 3 visible macro dimensions) that vibrate to produce a zoo of particles. This is the matter we perceive. Which kind of particle depends on the frequency, angle, charge and momentum at which strings vibrate and interact. Mathematicians call it an integral. These are the “degrees of freedom” of dimensional configuration.

The Pythagoreans (c. 4th century BCE) may have inadvertently laid the foundation for string theory. Aside from inventing Number Theory and studying primes, which they imbued with an almost mystical quality and quantity, they were also inspired by the melodious overtones of the lyre, an ancient hybrid harp-guitar. They viewed these proportions as mathematical beauty that sprang from the spacing of notes. Some notes produced tones that are most pleasing to the human ear (E.g, an eighth or a fifth). The ratio between notes, they claimed, produced a system of harmonics that transcended all universal truth. But if the universe vibrates (note: it does), would not a more appropriate analogue be a saxophone or clarinet? To hear sound, there must be a medium to carry the vibration of molecules from emitter to receiver. That medium is air, ergo wind instrument. In any event, an emitter and a medium are both required, unless the medium is the emitter. Beethoven need not roll over just yet!   The ancient Lyre (wiki commons image)

Certainly, there is also a picture to be seen. Everywhere appears a luminescent color palette, the visible portion of the full spectrum of electromagnetic waves. Light emanates from electrons. All atoms have electrons. Even the lightest element, hydrogen, has at least one electron. When an electron is disturbed from its orbit around the nucleus of an atom (orbit is used loosely here), it can dislodge. When this happens, an excitation of energy is produced. This energy is what physicists call a photon (light). The question becomes, if electrons and their constituents – ever more smaller particles such as quarks – are merely vibrations of even more elementary string-like entities, how can we confidently proclaim the universe is a painting opposed to a symphony of myriad resonant activity? Maybe Van Gogh cut off his ear to spite his eyes!

As for sculpture, there are mountains and landscapes we have touched. Humans have stood ground on the surface of the moon. We’d be fools to deny there’s a topological `condensed matter’ of some sort that manifests in our perception of the space we inhabit. Yet, what is space? Einstein’s equations for the Theory of General Relativity predicted that space is curved and that all mass (and light, which is said to be “massless”) follows the geometry that condensed matter carves out. You might call this geometry a sleeve. Einstein predicted that even massless light from far away stars would be displaced by our sun’s (call it gravitational sleeve) to approximately 1.7 arc second degrees. In 1919, a solar eclipse experiment proved this calculation physically to near exact precision, making Einstein an overnight international sensation. Space is absolutely curved, or you might say sculpted. In this way, the universe can be articulated as Michaelangelo’s pieta, David.

There are elements in each argument that make intuitive sense. The universe is translated to our senses through a mechanism that is one part harmony, one part visual, and one part tactile, which coincidentally matches the number of familiar dimensions in which we are free to roam. The universe created its own genre of art and if there is a grand designer, all of ontology is its unique masterpiece.

Terry Poulos is a Chicago-area writer, archaeological historian, artist and geometer whose investigations focus primarily on physics, fractal topology, and Number Theory 

Scientiquity. All images and concepts herein © 2022

Published by Scientiquity

Polymath artist, scientific inquirer, fractal math researcher, archaeological historian, entrepreneur

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