About a year ago, we featured a video in which a fluid droplet bouncing on a vibrating pool demonstrated some aspects of the wave-particle duality fundamental to quantum mechanics. Work on this system continues and this new video focuses on studying some of the statistics of such a bouncing droplet—called a walker in the video—when it is confined to a circular corral. Using strobe lighting and capturing one frame per bounce, the vertical motion of these droplets is filtered out and the walking motion and the surface waves that guide it are captured. When the droplet is allowed to walk for an extended time, its path appears complicated and seemingly random, but it is possible to build a statistical picture and a probability density field that describe where the walker is most likely to be, much the way one describes the likelihood of locating a quantum particle. Parallels between the physical macroscale system and quantum-mechanical theory can be observed. (Video credit: D. Harris and J. Bush; submission by D. Harris)
You are not IN the universe, you ARE the universe, an intrinsic part of it. Ultimately you are not a person, but a focal point where the universe is becoming conscious of itself. What an amazing miracle.
Physicists have long studied the nature of the universe. But some go a step further into the unknown (and probably unknowable), contemplating what lies outside the boundaries of our universe.
Is it possible that something else exists beyond existence? Yes. Here are five theories about what that “something” might be.
The “outside the universe” question gets tricky right off the bat, because first you have to define the universe. One common answer is called the observable universe, and it’s defined by the speed of light. Since we can only see things when the light they emit or reflect reaches us, we can never see farther than the farthest distance light can travel in the time the universe has existed. That means the observable universe keeps getting bigger, but it is finite – the amount is sometimes referred to as the Hubble Volume, after the telescope that has given us our most distant views of the universe. We’ll never be able to see beyond that boundary, so for all intents and purposes, it’s the only universe we’ll ever interact with.
Beyond the Hubble Volume. We know with some certainty that there’s “more universe” out there beyond that boundary, though. Astronomers think space might be infinite, with “stuff” (energy, galaxies, etc.) distributed pretty much the same as it is in the observable universe. If it is, that has some seriously weird implications for what lies out there. Beyond the Hubble Volume you won’t just find more, different planets. You will eventually find every possible thing. In fact, cosmologists think that if you go far enough, you will find another Hubble Volume that is perfectly identical to ours. There’s another version of you out there mirroring your every action 10 to the 10^188 meters away. That may seem unlikely, but then, infinity is awfully infinite.
Dark Flow. In 2008, astronomers discovered something very strange and unexpected – galactic clusters were all streaming in the same direction at immense speed, over two million miles per hour. New observations in 2010 confirmed this phenomenon, known as Dark Flow. The movement defies all predictions about the distribution of mass throughout the universe after the Big Bang. One possible cause: massive structures outside the Hubble Volume exerting gravitational influence. This would mean that the structure of the infinite universe beyond our view is not uniform. As for the structures themselves, they could be literally anything, from aggregations of matter and energy on scales we can barely imagine to bizarre warps funneling gravitational forces from other universes.
Infinite Bubbles. Talking about things outside the Hubble Volume might be a bit of a cheat, since it’s still really the same universe, just a part of it we can’t see. It would have all the same physical laws and constants. In another version of the story, the post-Big Bang expansion of the universe caused “bubbles” to form in the structure of space. Each bubble is an area that stopped stretching along with the rest of space and formed its own universe, with its own laws. In this scenario, space is infinite, and each bubble is also infinite (because you can store an infinite number of infinities inside a single infinity). Even if you could somehow breach the boundary of our bubble, the space in between the bubbles is still expanding, so you’d never get to the next bubble no matter how fast you went.
Black Hole Spawning. A theory proposed by physicist Lee Smolin, known as the fecund universes theory, suggests that every black hole in our universe causes the formation of a new universe. Each universe will have slightly different physical laws than the forerunner universe. In this way, Smolin suggests a sort of natural selection for universes, as laws that lead to the frequent formation of black holes lead to the creation of more universes, while non-black hole forming universes “die out.” This theory has since been discounted (by Smolin himself and others).
Many Parallel Universes. There are tons of theories about parallel universes, but the most accepted one these days involves an evolution of the ideas of string theory to involve membranes that vibrate in other dimensions. It’s beyond the scope of this article to get too detailed about string or membrane theory, but the upshot of the whole thing is that these rippling membranes in the 11th dimension are whole other universes, and when the ripples slam into each other they form a new universe. The effects of the rippling motion help explain the observed distribution of matter in our universe. One of the weirdest elements of the theory is the idea that all the gravity we experience in our universe is actually leaking into it from another universe in another dimension (which explains why gravity here seems so weak compared to the other fundamental forces).
Like us, zebrafish get hungry. But unlike us they have to engage full-on hunting mode instead of just walking to the fridge to get a snack. By observing a fish brain while it hunts for dinner, Japanese scientists have seen exactly what thoughts look like on the scale of single neurons.
Zebrafish, a common model organism used in biology labs around the world, were held in place while a paramecium snack swam in front of their eye. The scientists were able to genetically engineer the fish’s neurons to glow green when activated, and because the fish are nearly transparent, they could use sophisticated microscopes to map which neurons were firing.
What you’re looking at is the thought pattern of a zebrafish tracking its prey! This is the “thought” that represents “yum yum dinner”. It’s super-important to know that no single neuron holds a thought. Anything that we think or feel exists as a network of neurons firing (or not firing) in a very particular pattern. Understanding that pattern can help us map how an abstract thought is written in “meatspace” so to speak.
The only catch is taking the pattern you see and making it understandable. That fish thought above? That’s the thought, but we have no clue what it means yet. Like following a road map without labels, this trip through the brain is still a confusing one.
Jets of relativistic plasma created by the Supermassive Black Hole at the center of 3C 348; a galaxy in the Hercules Cluster 1000 times more massive than the Milky Way. The jets are focused beams of particles accelerated to more than half of light speed by the magnetic fields around the Black Hole. The jets extend more than a million light years into intergalactic space. This image is a combination of visible light observations by the Hubble Space Telescope and radio observations by the VLA Radio Telescope.
A fractal is an object or quantity that displays self-similarity, in a somewhat technical sense, on all scales. The object need not exhibit exactly the same structure at all scales, but the same “type” of structures must appear on all scales. A plot of the quantity on a log-log graph versus scale then gives a straight line, whose slope is said to be the fractal dimension. The prototypical example for a fractal is the length of a coastline measured with different length rulers. The shorter the ruler, the longer the length measured, a paradox known as the coastline paradox.