Archive for the 'Cosmic Glory' Category


mingling in the multiverse: science, the infinite, & the sublime.



First of all, I’m no scientist, so all apologies if any of my scientific logic or resulting speculations are faulty.

Scientific American sent me a supplement on Parallel Universes the other day, and because of this supplement I have had an epiphany–physics and cosmology are terrifying. The article reminded me of Borges’ Library of Babel or Garden of Forking Paths (and according to Zachary Mason, author of Lost Books of the Odyssey, in an interview on BLDGBlog, Borges is a favorite of a “disproportionately many well-read scientists.”) Even accepting that science has become much more probabilistic in the 20th and 21st centuries, and that science and fiction have long had a mutually constructive relationship, it is stunning how much these descriptions of the multiverse are reminiscent of fiction and art concerned with the infinite or the sublime.

In this article I learned that we can assume space is “infinite (or at least sufficiently large) in size and almost uniformly filled with matter, as observations indicate.” According to the article, with these basic assumptions it is a small step to make the claim that “even the most unlikely events must take place somewhere,” which is to say everything that could possibly happen has happened somewhere in the infinite spread of space.

From there the article describes the various theories of the multiverse. The first has the multiple universes have been constituted and spread around by the big bang “with a degree of randomness, generating all possible arrangements with nonzero probability.” Since our universe is assumed to be typical, there is probably a high density of them in space, so they can say that your closest identical copy is about 10 to the 10 to the 28 meters away. In the space in between we could speculate that there are innumerable nearly identical copies. According to this theory we are, ourselves, a sort of book in the library of babel—an empty “box” with infinite permutations of content stretching out on every spatial axis toward infinity. I imagine a Borges story about an immortal man trying to find his exact double. Or a Nabokov story about a mortal man who tries to kill his double for the insurance money.

Another theory have each universe as a bubble floating in a nearly empty volume. Infinitely many other bubbles exist floating in this volume, in an infinite number of configurations, but have spread, “[nucleating] like raindrops in a cloud.” This volume they are floating in is expanding faster than the speed of light, so it is a cloud that is essentially infinitely large—we could travel at the speed of light forever and never reach another multiverse. We are alone in a void. Nietzsche would be thrilled.

A third is the quantum theory, in which “every conceivable way that the world could be (within the scope of quantum mechanics) corresponds to a different universe.” The die falls on all 6 sides. Another theory has even the laws of nature varying.

We can reason that these multiverses exist, but we can’t even begin to imagine them. These theories of the multiverses are, then, sublime. A sublime experience, as I read it in its most basic sense, is a reaction to the unimaginable that leads us to re-calibrate our awareness of our position in and relation to the space and time in which we are situated. Here we reason that there are multiverses, and it leads us to reconsider our position in the vastness of outer space. This reads as an intensely jacked-up version of that classic sublime experience in which a person looks up at the night sky and feels minuscule in comparison to the scope of the cosmos.

Whereas many theories of the sublime held that a thing must be aesthetic, or sensual, it’s clear to me in reading this piece that scientific thought (which few people would argue is remotely aesthetic) has tipped over another threshold into the sublime. In here there is probably an argument that could be made regarding the stubborn persistence of mind/body dualism. More fascinating to me, though, is that one might argue that science, with its habit of upsetting prevailing opinion, blind belief, and even itself, has always been an enterprise with intimate knowledge of the sublime.


John Cage//Nietzsche//Techniques of Listening and Life

John Cage, from Silence

But this fearlessness only follows if, at the parting of the ways, where it is realized that sounds occur whether intended or not, one turns in the direction of those he does not intend. This turning is psychological and seems at Ilrst to be a giving up of everything that belongs to humanity-for a musician, the giving up of music. This psychological turning leads to the world of nature, where, gradually or suddenly, one sees that humanity and nature, not separate, are in this world together; that nothing was lost when everything was given away. In fact, everything is gained. In musical terms, any sounds may occur in any combination and in any continuity.

Is this not a certain technique for achieving what Nietzsche intended in the figure of the overman? It seems uncannily similar, and Cage’s arguable political naivete aside, it presents at least the glimmer of a course of aesthetic action (the positive suppression of positive intention) for the goal that Nietzsche, as I read him, set out.

If nothing else, silencing yourself for a bit makes for a good exercise.


A diagram for a music of the spheres.

///// In 3 (three) parts – making the universe sonorous, listening to space.


Part 1 – The movement of artistic sonic production from structured musical works toward sonic landscapes.

Aurora Musicalis – Brian Eno

An interview with Art Forum in which Brian Eno speaks about his invention of Ambient music and the making of sounds in the form of a landscape rather than the form of a musical piece.

Important quote

* “Classical music works around a body of “refined” sounds — sounds that are separate from the sounds of the world, pure and musical. There is a sharp distinction between “music” and “noise,” just as there is a distinction between the musician and the audience. I like blurring those distinctions — I like to work with all the complex sounds on the way out to the horizon, to pure noise, like the hum of London. If you sit in Hyde Park just far enough away from the traffic so that you don’t perceive any of its specific details, you just hear the average of the whole thing. And it’s such a beautiful sound.”


Part 2 – On the synaesthetic expressiveness of analog recording technologies.

Primal Sound – Rilke

A piece written by Rainer Maria Rilke on the potential of  recording logic to produce sound where there was none rather than re-produce it. (Also touched upon about a year ago here)

Important Quote

“What is it that repeatedly presents itself to my mind? It is this: The coronal suture of the skull (this would first have to be investigated) has–let us assume–a certain similarity to the closely wavy line which the needle of a phonograph engraves on the receiving, rotating cylinder of the apparatus. What if one changed the needle and directed it on its return journey along a tracing which was not derived from the graphic translation of a sound, but existed of itself naturally–well: to put it plainly, along the coronal suture, for example. What would happen?”


Part 3 – On making the planets sonorous.

NASA’s “Symphonies of the Planets”

Voyager recordings of the electromagnetic transmissions of various planets. Recorded, converted into sound and released. (Now out of print.)


Faunæ of Ghost Island, + Style Icons



Environment: the sandy beaches of Ghost Island’s western shore

Diet: Strongly Coupled Massive Particles, Strangelets

Intelligence: 128 bit quantum computer

Attack: Antiparticle stream breath

Mass: ~4*10^8 Kgs

The Dark Matter Dracoliches of Ghost Island are isolated travellers from the second era of interstellar space exploration. Formerly human, they gained total control over the mass of their physical form and decided to take on the appearance silvery dragons, badassly journeying through the far reaches of the known universe. Upon discovering time travel, they were among the first to experience its inevitable side effect – the conversion of one’s normal (baryonic) matter into weakly interacting and ethereal dark matter. They still retain their incredible capabilities for calculation, but have lost their presence in the material realm.  Finding Ghost Island a suitable place for spectres such as themselves, they haunt the beaches and are primarily felt through their gravitational contribution.





Damn. I mean, why do I even try? No seriously. Is Gary Lutz a magician?

Because if he’s not a magician, why is this on the first page of image results for the phrase ‘Gary Lutz Magician’??


Universal Attractors

At the cutting edge of mathematics is a function sometimes called “tetration” or “hyperpower” with which you stack exponentials, like 2 to the (2 to the (2 to the 2)), which you can then write as 42. The parentheses are there because you have to do the top power in the stack first. As compared to common functions like exponential or addition it is poorly understood, and we don’t really have a convenient or very much consistent way of finding values for things like ½2. While 2½ is just the number such that when you bring it to the 2nd power you get 2, i.e. (2½)2 = 2, it turns out that 2(½2) is not 2, and there isn’t any easy way of defining the hyperpower function for anything but integer values (that is to say, with f(x) = x2 only letting x be an integer.) You can even go into negative integer values by taking logarithms.

If you have excel, you can type in a simple formula: in cell A1, put a 2, in cell A2, just type in =2^(1/A1), and then do the click-drag trick (click-drag on the little black square in the lower right hand corner of the selected box) to copy the formula into the cells below. You end up with a column of values where each is based on the value of the cell above it. It’s a “recursive” formula, and by the time you get to A60 the value it shows should be something like 1.55961. 1.559611.55961 ≈ 2. Or we can say, 21.55961 approximately equals 2 (“≈” means “approximately equal to,” we have to say “approximately” because there are probably infinitely many digits to this number that starts 1.55961, but 6 of them is enough to make the point I am trying to make.)


Why do I think this is interesting? Because despite the mathematical establishment’s efforts (and there have been a fair bit, just wikipedia “tetration” or go to here) this excel method is probably by far the easiest way to come up with these hyperpower “roots” (to borrow the term.) It doesn’t have quite the rigor or proof of methods like finding a complete summation expansion for the function that could be used with any complex number and to find derivatives and integrals, but there is some basic logic here – if excel was going to come up with a number (and not infinity or zero or some chaotic values), the number it would come up with would be one that satisfies the relation y = x1/y. If x equals yy, this relation is always true.

In essence, what we have done is set a constraint, in the form of this recursive formula, and then let the program run. Excel calculates by using computer code, which is processed by the CPU, which is really just a finely manufactured collection of basic circuit elements like transistors. Physicists can describe very precisely how these basic circuit elements work. In a broad stroke of reductionism, the universe is doing the calculation. We may write the code and design the CPU, but if the way electrons behaved were to change, the computer screen would display different results. If you are one to believe in the material nature of the mind, you might argue that all the calculations that have and will ever be done are actually done through the repetition of events that take place in the physical universe and that we associate with an abstract mathematical process – the universe is doing all our work.

That’s not to say the universe is perfect – quantum mechanics implies a sort of “truth in the limit,” that the average result of an identical event measured an infinite number of times will be a mathematically predictable value. But for any given event there is some degree of stray from this average value. Through the ordered and also inherently random nature of the universe, its components evolve and move towards the stabilities provided by the natural constraints. Just like the numbers in the excel file, which are actually physical processes that we correlate to the abstract theory of mathematics, the particles of the universe interact solely through events that correspond (though not completely) to mathematical entities and reveal the qualities of reality. The anthropic nature of the universe, that we and everything in it exist because of its properties, is the fulcrum of physics. And if you believe in the power of reduction, we exist as the collection of events and changes that arise out of a combination of mathematics and inherent randomness. The various parts of ourselves that comprise any substance or action are a retention of data and the program of natural process that erases part of the data and then conducts an action based on it but it a manner that is obscured from us. We are the likely & stable members that arise from the universal tendency. But we have to hope that we don’t have enough of the story or entropy is conquerable or dark energy doesn’t exist, or else we are only finitely stable.


August 2019
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