This is the sixth in a series of blogs chronicling an expedition into 'space' with Jack Pynesapp and his granddaughter Red. You may want to read these in the proper order by skipping to episode 1: [ click here ]
This was Red's first year in soccer. Her Jr. High team had their first game this morning. Red only got to play for about half a period towards the end of the game but she had an assist on her team's only goal which, as it turned out, was enough to win the game 1-0 (ya gotta love soccer.)
After the game, Grandma and I took Red and her parents to lunch to celebrate the glorious victory. Red recounted every step in the winning goal at least once and we, of course, were a rapt audience. Her excitement was contagious and her energy filled the room.
After lunch, Red came home with Grandma and me, J.J. and Gwen wanted to pick up some bedding plants and gardening supplies and Red really wasn't interested in tagging along. Grandma served up some tall glasses of lemonade and we all sat on the back porch and enjoyed the cool breeze in what was turning out to be a warm and sunny day. Grandma and I listened as Red went over her play-by-play of the winning goal for one more time. It's a story that doesn't get old in the re-telling.
When she finished we sat and thought about the game for a while. After a while Red asked; "So, Grandpa, what's up for today? Another walk?"
"Sure, why not." I said. "It's easier to ponder the mysteries of the universe while we're walking, don't you think?"
"Yep, " she said, "and it's easier to find a place to get an ice cream cone."
"That's right too." I agreed.
Grandma protested, "I can't believe you're already thinking about ice cream. We just ate."
"Aw, Grandma, there's always room for ice cream. Are you coming with us?"
"No, no, no; you two run along. I've got some things I need to do here and it will be good to get Grandpa out from under foot for a while."
"There you go, Red, you heard her yourself. " I laughed. "Grandma admitted that she walks all over me."
"I most certainly do not." Grandma said with mock indignation. "Now you two get going and be careful."
"Okay Grandma, see ya." Red said as she started down the porch steps.
"Good bye, dear." I said. "We'll be back in a bit."
So we headed down the road towards town and the ice cream store. It was only about half a mile away and an easy walk for us. There are still only a few houses on this side of town and very little traffic on this old country road because it really doesn't lead to anywhere in particular. This makes it great for walking.
As we settled into a leisurely pace I said; "have you thought anything about what we were talking about last time?"
"Yeah, you said that when we look at the shed in the distance that we are really looking into the future."
"I did say that, yes."
"Well Grandpa, I think you're wrong."
"You do, do you?" I feigned surprise. "How so?"
"Well, I've been talking with my friends and Jimmy, who's really into astronomy and stars and all that, said that they are using the Hubble Telescope to look at objects that are far away - all the way out at the edge of the universe."
"I've heard of that."
"And according to Jimmy they figure the images they are seeing are from objects as they existed around the time shortly after the big bang."
"They're looking back in time? How's that possible?"
"I know - right? That's amazing! But here's the deal grandpa," she explained, "When we look at things we see them because of the light they either generate or reflect. Right?"
"So light travels at a fixed speed and the farther away an object is from us the longer it takes for the light to reach us."
"I think I know where this is headed, but go ahead."
"Right - but just wait! So if we look at an object that is so far away that it takes a year for the light from that object to reach us, then what we're seeing is an image of that object as it looked a year ago - when the light we are seeing actually left it. "
"Let me see if I've got this right." I said. "So, if we see an object that's a million light years away what we're seeing is an image of that object as it looked a million years ago."
"Yeah, and it could have blown up and completely disappeared by now and we wouldn't even know it."
"Okay, that makes sense, I guess."
She continued; "So when we look at the shed, what we actually see is an image of the shed as it existed a fraction of a second ago; the time it takes for the light to reach us from across the yard. So we're looking into the past - not the future."
"So that's what Jimmy said, huh?"
"Yeah, well Jimmy started it and I finished it."
"Well, I think he's probably absolutely right," I admitted, "and so are you."
I could tell that Red was feeling pretty good about this. She was strutting along as we walked; kicking a small rock ahead of her like a soccer ball. She'd kick it ahead and run after it and kick it again and then wait for me to catch up before running up to it again.
We walked along like this for a while as I thought through this contradiction. Finally I caught up to her and said; "You know, Red, this doesn't really change anything."
"But I proved that you were wrong, Grandpa, how does that not change everything."
"Because, you see, even though the image of the shed is from the past, it can still be in our future."
"That's impossible, Grandpa." She laughed. "How can something be both in the past and in the future?"
"Easy, it's like planning a trip using an old map."
She returned to her rock soccer game. I followed behind. We walked on in silence for a while.
I could tell that I got her on this one. I had knocked her down a few pegs and I wanted to build her back up again so I changed the subject.
"Red, remember the other day when we were talking about how objects (and people) that we see around us - that share our existence - all have their own universe? Have you thought any more about how it might work?"
"We-e-l-l, " she said tentatively. She paused for a minute and then continued with new resolve, "Grandpa, you know that just popped into my head. I wasn't really serious. And the more I think about it the more I realize it was a crazy idea."
"Are you sure it was so crazy?" I asked. "We're brainstorming, remember? And that's all about crazy ideas popping into our heads. No idea is crazy."
"But," she protested, "do you really think that you have your own universe and I have my own universe?"
"Quite possibly. And each of your parents have their own universes."
"Well duh, I've always known that." she kidded.
"Yeah, but that's a whole other subject." I laughed.
"So," she continued, "my dog and and my cat would have their own universe too then, right?"
"Okay, I guess so, but let's just consider your universe and mine for now; just to keep it simple." I suggested.
"Yeah, right - simple." she laughed.
Red tired of 'stone soccer' and we started watching for interesting things that may be laying on or near the road as we walked along. Every now and then she would stop to pick up a stone from the gravel shoulder to see if it was an agate or some other treasure. Satisfied that it was just an ordinary rock, she would drop it and walk on.
After a while she said; "Ya know, I gotta tell you Grandpa, my universe is pretty full. If you have a universe that's exactly like mine -- "
"Almost exactly like yours." I interrupted. "And remember, that it's only almost exactly like yours because you're walking next to me right now."
"Okay, almost exactly like mine. So your universe is full too. So how is there room for both universes when one fills everything up all by itself."
"Well, you said it yourself, remember? When I asked how everything would fit, you said 'fit where?'."
"Yeah, I remember that. I was messing with you Grandpa, you know that don't you."
"Well, maybe so. But that got me to thinking. Here, let's try something."
"Yeah, sort of. "
"I'm going to say 'boo' right now and I want you to remember everything you can about the instant that I say it. "
"Boo!" I said as we kept walking.
Then I continued, "Okay, do you remember when I said 'BOO'?"
"Well duh, you just said it."
"Right! And both our universes existed at the time I said 'BOO". Remember that? Both our universes needed to be in that time. But now they are in this time - this second - and they are no longer in that time."
"You see, our universes no longer need that time so it is available to any other universe that may need it now. We can't go back to that time. Maybe because it is already in use by some other universe. Maybe there have already been a million universes or a gazillion universes that have used that time and moved on, in turn, the same as we have. "
"You lost me here. What are you talking about?"
"Time, " I insisted, "I'm talking about time."
"Yeah, I know you're talking about time. But time isn't the same as space."
"Why not? " I ask.
"What?" She asked.
"Okay, when I said 'boo' our universes were both in a space back there where we were when I said 'boo', right?"
"Oka-a-y", she said.
"Now we're no longer in that space, right? We've moved on and now we're up here."
"Yes, but that space is still back there - along with all the things that were there when we passed through it. I can see them back there. The trees, the rocks, the road. It's all still there."
She turned and pointed back where we'd been.
I said, "Yes, but we're no longer there and neither are our universes. And all those things are still there - they're still in our universe (I'm sorry, in our universes) - but they've changed. Those things are different now that they are farther away from us. For one thing, they are smaller."
"Or, they just look smaller." she said.
"Look smaller or are smaller; it doesn't matter. All that stuff back there is different now than it was when I said 'boo'. Our universes have changed since then and it's both a matter of time and space.
"How can the universe change?" "The universe is the universe. It doesn't change just like that."
"But it does change. It's always changing. Like you said, stars explode; galaxies form; matter turns to energy and back again. And thing that changes it is time."
"Time has to be considered whenever we are talking about our existence. It is as much a part of the our universes as the three dimensions we think of when we think of space. Or existence is defined by both space and time. They call it 'space/time'."
"Space/time? You've been talking to the squirrels again, haven't you Grandpa." Red giggled.
"Yes, space/time. And, no I still don't understand the squirrels." I laughed.
I continued; "But it used to be said that time was the fourth dimension of our existence. Just as important as the first three in defining our existence and our location (I want to say 'in the universe' but that kind of doesn't make sense if I'm trying to rationalize the existence of multiple universes.)"
"Boo!" she said again and giggled. "That's fun, grandpa. But what is the difference between our universes when I said the first 'boo' and the second 'boo' if we were being perfectly still - not moving at all?"
"But you see that even if we could stand perfectly still - you're only standing still in space. You can't stand still in time because it's impossible to stop moving in time."
"Impossible? But grandpa, we're brainstorming remember, nothing is impossible."
"Okay, let's assume it's possible to stop time. You still can't even stand perfectly still in space."
"I can too. Watch."
Red stopped walking and froze like a statue. I waited for her to blink but she's good, so I gave in and said "Yep, that's pretty good - but remember the elevator?"
"It only seems like you're standing perfectly still. But remember that you are still moving because you are standing on the earth and the earth is spinning you around at one revolution per day And the earth is orbiting the sun at some god-awful speed. And our sun is dragging you, and everything else in the solar system, around our galaxy who-knows-how-fast. So even if you could hold yourself completely motionless, you're doomed to be zipping along at a breathtaking speed."
"But it doesn't feel like I'm moving at all."
"No. That's because we're really standing inside an elevator car - a very, very big elevator car. It's so big that we can barely see the walls or ceiling."
Red looked all around and said, "But we're outside. There are no walls and there isn't a ceiling."
"No, not in the normal sense. But the car is so big and the elevator shaft is so far away that our senses can't detect the motion."
"So, we're moving through time and we're whizzing through space. But what would happen if we could stop time AND get out of this 'elevator car' and stand perfectly still in space?"
Well, I thought, isn't this a good question. I've never thought of that before. I was tempted to say that this just can't happen so why worry about it, but we are brainstorming after all. I had to think for a minute. And then I thought for another minute. Just then we turned a corner in the road and we were suddenly in town with curbs and side walks. We could see the Dairy Queen just two blocks up the road and we headed for that with a burst of energy and no longer at a leisurely pace.
Only one block away Red said "I'll race you to the DQ," and she took off running.
"Winner buys!" I called out as I began trotting behind. I don't think she heard me - or believed me if she did - because she didn't slow down. She got there well ahead of me and was already studying the menu when I dragged myself up to the counter next to her. (I need to get in shape.)
"You were just kidding about buying, right grandpa?" she laughed as she ordered a cone; dipped in chocolate and coated with nuts.
"Aah, so you did hear me. And no I wasn't kidding, but I'll pay this time and you can owe me. Okay?" I laughed as I ordered a plain vanilla cone. "I'll show you as much mercy as you showed me by leaving me in your dust. "
"Okay grandpa, just put it on my tab - alright?"
We sat at one of the patio tables and savored our ice cream. It was a beautiful afternoon and just warm enough to make the ice cream doubly good.
Ice cream gone and my breath recovered, Red started off walking back the way we had come. I said that we should keep going and circle back to the house along another road. I don't like retracing my steps when there's a chance to see new things by going in a circle.
After we settled into our pace, Red said; "Grandpa?"
"Grandpa, you didn't answer me. What if we just stopped everything?"
We were heading back out of town and leaving the sidewalk and houses behind. The road was paved but we stuck to the shoulder and the gravel crunched under our feet as we walked. The wind was nearly calm and this was the only sound we could hear - except for the sparrows in the trees next to the road and the larks in the farm fields that surrounded us. I had gotten caught up in all this while I was thinking of an answer for Red when she interrupted my reverie.
"Well we could certainly do that in our brainstorming world, " I said finally, "but maybe this constant movement is part of the design. Maybe this is the only way everything fits. It's like cars on a freeway; as long as everyone is zipping along everything goes fine and there's room for everyone at any particular location along that tiny narrow bit of road. But if somebody suddenly stops then there's no longer nearly enough room and everyone runs into everyone else and there's a huge pileup.
"Wow, what would that look like for all these universes if it happened to them."
"Hopefully it never happens. And maybe things are designed so well that it never could happen. But I doubt that's possible. There always seems to be something that can go wrong even with the best design. And if it can go wrong, eventually it will go wrong. You know, that's the law."
"Murphy's Law, right?"
"Ha, so you've heard of that. You're so right."
"So maybe it happens all the time and we don't even realize it. If it doesn't effect us then why would we? But maybe this is what causes black holes. Everything gets bunched in one place and there's no place else for it to go. Or a black hole may be the only way to fix it when it does happen."
" Like some sort of intergalactic highway repair crew."
"Yeah, running around fixing pot holes and cleaning up after accidents."
"Have you ever seen a black hole?" Red asked.
"No, you can't see them."
"Then how do you know they're real?"
"You can't see them but you can tell that they're there. If you have a powerful enough telescope, you can see the spot where a black hole is because it's entirely black."
"Why they call them 'black holes' I guess, huh.", Red laughed.
"Yeah, that space in space looks completely empty."
"But how can it be empty if that's where the black hole is?"
"Right. It just looks empty because the black hole has such a powerful gravitational field (or 'vacuum') that it is sucking everything up that comes close to it. It even sucks up the light that comes from other stars that are close it or behind it."
"So Grandpa, what you're saying is that the 'squirrels' told you about these black holes."
"Yeah, the squirrels." I sighed.
By now we'd nearly reached my house on our walk back home. We were passing under the old railroad trestle. A few years ago they had torn up the old train tracks and had turned it into a snowmobile trail/bike path.
Red said, "Grandpa, lets go up on the bridge."
"The trestle." I corrected.
"Okay - trestle." She said. " Let's go up there for a minute and look around."
"Okay." I said and we started picking our way up the steep slope. There was kind of a path but you still had to grab on to bushes and pull yourself along as you found foot holds in the loose ground.
It was an old bridge made of steel I-beams that were riveted together in a criss-cross pattern - like an erector set. The beams crossed over on top and the effect was like an open air tunnel. There was a heavy wooden deck that replaced the railroad ties and tracks. These made a clattering sound as you rode over them with a bike but were solid under foot as we walked. There was very little bike traffic out here and although this trail was well used by snowmobiles, there were - of course - none of those now.
So Red and I had the bridge to ourselves. We tucked ourselves into one of the V's and leaned back against the I-beams and looked up at the sky. A worried expression came over Red's face.
"Grandpa, are there black holes around here? I mean, could we be sucked up by one?"
don't think so. I think they've only found them towards the center of of
our galaxy where everything is packed together a lot tighter than it is here. We're
kind of towards the outside of our galaxy and the stars are much fewer
and farther apart."
"We're kind of like living in the country and the black holes are in the city, right?"
"Exactly. Good analogy." I said. "There's hardly any traffic and very few cars out here."
"And no freeways." Red said.
"And no freeways." I said as a car went under us on the road heading towards town - the only one we've seen on our walk so far.
"Grandpa, you never said what would happen if we stopped moving somehow and at the same time we stopped time."
"I think we would cease to exist."
"What? How does that work?"
"Well, nothing in our universe could exist without movement. Everything in our universe is moving. It's the one thing that everything has in common."
"So the whole universe is in an elevator car?"
"The universe is the elevator car."
"You are only allowed to exist if you move out of the way and make room for all the other things that are moving and existing as well - in both time and space. If somehow you could stop you would no longer be allowed to exist."
"Move it or loose it?", She said.
"In a big way, yes."
"And the black holes are the enforcers." She said, "They come along and suck you out of existence, or blow you to smitherines."
"You may be right," I said, "or maybe it's simpler than that. Maybe one moment you exist and then, when you stop moving, you just don't exist any more."
"No flash of light? No huge bang? No fanfare? Nothing?"
"Well that's pretty boring." she laughed.
"I think you watch to many movies." I laughed.
After a minute I said, "We'd better head out for home. Grandma will start worrying."
As I started to climb down the bank, Red stood on the tressle and looked down the trail. She said; "Hey Grandpa..."
I stopped and looked back at her staring down the trail. I said; "Red, I promised to tell you about that sometime soon - but not now."
She sighed; "I know grandpa." and followed me down the bank onto the roadway below.
We could see the house a few hundred yards ahead of us. We started walking.
I said; "Speaking of big bangs, the current belief is that our universe was created with a 'big bang'. There was nothing at all and suddenly there was some sort of a huge explosion and suddenly our whole universe came into existence. In the beginning it was in a very compressed form and it's been expanding ever since."
"Did the squirrels tell you this too?"
"Yeah," I said. "those squirrels again."
"So," I continued, "maybe before the bang, everything was there but it was perfectly still - in both space and time. There was no movement at all so it couldn't exist. If that's true then the big bang would really only have needed to be like a little push. Just the slightest little nudge perhaps - just enough to get everything moving. And the instant everything began to move, it suddenly existed."
"Boo!" Red said.
We turned into the driveway.
"So, " Red said, "you're saying there was no big bang, no flash of light, no fanfare. Everything was just there. All the galaxies, stars, planets, everything."
"Well maybe there was just massive clouds of mater and energy. Maybe there was still 'some assembly required'. At very least, all the raw materials would be there and all that would be needed was someone, or something, to put it all together."
"Like God?" Red asked as we walked into the house.
"Perhaps." I said.
"What's 'like God'?" Grandma asked as we walked into the kitchen.
"God assembled the universe from all the stuff that suddenly appeared in the Big Bang." Red explained.
"Really." Grandma said. "Is that what you and Grandpa have been talking about?"
"Well, that's just the end of it." Red said. "There's a lot more."
"I'm sure there is." Grandma said as she gave me side-long look and a little wink.
Then she continued. "Red, your parents called and said they'll be here soon to pick you up."
Just then a car pulled into the driveway. "Good timing." Red laughed.
Red gave both Grandma and me a hug and a kiss and ran out the door.
"Bye Grandma, and thanks for the ice cream, Grandpa." She called back as she got in the car.
"You owe me." I called out but she'd already closed the door and probably didn't hear me. Just as well since I was only kidding.
We waved as they drove away.
After dinner, Grandma and I settled into the swing chairs on the back porch.
After a while she said; "Gwen called today."
"Have you told Red?"
"No. But she knows something's up."
"She overheard them arguing about it the other night."
"Are you going to tell her?"
She sighed and said; "I guess that's best."
We watched the sun set over the shed. Two squirrels were taking turns chasing each other around the shed and up into the trees beyond the fence. Another squirrel was in the tree next to the porch just chattering away. It almost seemed like he was chattering at me.
As Grandma and I sat and rocked, the sun set behind the shed and it began to get dark. After a while the squirrel stopped chattering and went home.
[ Click here to continue to part VII ]