Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Few Things That Might Blow Your Mind

Light forms images when refracted through a drop of water. This picture is real!

And a few mind-blowing "facts":
  1. All of the chemical reactions that make you alive and the bonds that hold you together are guided by the electromagnetic force, which in turn is carried by photons--units of light. Every atom in your body is literally held together by light.
  2. On cosmic scales, light takes a long time to travel. When you look out into the night sky at what seems to be a huge expanse of universe surrounding you, you are actually seeing old light, an image of a younger cosmos. Because the universe is expanding, the cosmos we see is smaller than the one really out there, meaning that the infinite blackness that seems to be surrounding us is actually smaller than the universe it appears to contain. So what actually surrounds the universe? Absolutely nothing. And where is the boundary between the universe and this nothingness? Not out in the speckled blackness of space, which is actually an image of the past contained inside of the universe. We can see the past because it has existed. The nothingness is what we cannot see. That would be the future. The boundary between existence and nothingness is the boundary between past and future: it is "now." It's not in a particular place; it's just "here."
  3. Because space and time are one and space is expanding, we could also say that time isn't passing; it's expanding. You don't kill time; you blow it up.
  4. In the nucleus of every atom of your body, particles called quarks and gluons are moving near the speed of light. Your mass--what you weigh when you step on a scale--is mostly a measure of those quarks' kinetic energy. There is nothing inside of you but energy in various forms.
  5. The hydrogen nuclei in all the water molecules on the planet were created within 3 minutes of the beginning of time, approximately 13.7 billion years ago. Yet despite the age of the atoms, water is still crisp and refreshing!
  6. The universe was dark for almost a billion years before the first stars formed.
  7. The carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen atoms making up most of your body--and all the other atoms on earth besides hydrogen, helium, and lithium--were made inside of a star that exploded more than 5 billion years ago.
  8. Inside of all of your cells, there are proteins with two "legs" that "walk" along microtubule "tracks." These motor proteins drag packages of material from one part of the cell to another. As you read this, motor proteins are walking packages of neurotransmitters down the length of your neurons to be used for your thoughts.
  9. Time slows down near massive objects, i.e. near energy. You could say that each object has its own little time zone, ever so slightly different from others. Because the universe is full of objects in their own time zones, the transfer of force and kinetic energy from one time zone to another can experience lags. These lags are what we perceive as an object's inertia, its resistance to changes in motion. To give an example, the reason it's harder for you to push a car than a bicycle is that the car contains more atoms, which contain more energy, which slow time more in their immediate submicroscopic vicinity, causing a greater lag in the transmission of kinetic energy from you into them (from your perspective), causing you to exert yourself longer to get the whole mass of atoms moving to a certain speed. Because you exert yourself longer, you end up putting more energy into this system to get it going at a given speed. It balances out, though, because it is equally difficult to stop the car once it is moving because of this extra energy and the lag in getting it out of the system. It seems that inertia, the property that we associate with real and substantive objects, is an illusion of time and energy. When you push on a heavy object, you are experiencing a resistance due to mismatched time frames, not due to a real and innate "heaviness".
  10. Atoms, the components of all everyday objects and our bodies, are more empty than the solar system.
  11. The hemoglobin in your blood is built like a machine, with structures that mechanically swing to bind and unbind molecules of oxygen in response to the composition of the blood.
  12. Some people get to spend their whole lives figuring this stuff out!


  1. The fish must not be "real," but "virtual"!

    The edge of the universe being "now" did kinda blow my mind.

    1. Lol. I'm trying to set a record for how many times I can blow your mind.

      The fish are upright, but I suspect that it's real because the drop forms a converging lens, and the radius of curvature of the drop is so extreme that the focal point must be very close to the surface, and the camera seems to be farther away than that. They could have turned the grass and camera upside down to take the picture. It could also be a printed photo of fish on the other side of the drop that they turned upside down. #physicsreview! #aren'tyoubikingacrossfinland?

  2. Replies
    1. Funny thing about #9... a particle physicist pointed out to me today that it was an interesting idea, but breaks down in the case of black holes, which would theoretically have infinite inertia by this logic, and it would also lead to some weird patterns of motion on a very small scale. But I like this idea a lot, and this is my blog dammit! In any case, that's why this is a list of "facts" and not facts.