Sunday, July 04, 2010

Navel Gazing

In the beginning, there was nothing. Absolutely nothing. I mean, think about it: no space, no time, no matter, just nothing. A whole lot of nothing. Or a whole little. Hard to think about, isn't it? But, that sort of nothing didn't last long[1].

The Universe happened.

Like all births, there is pain, fury and mess - unbelievable mess - but it results in something beautiful. Not just the type of beauty that only a mother could love, either.[2] High-energy gas clouds, glowing tremendously brightly, light up every corner of the new born Universe, filling it with every imaginable spectrum.

What follows is the usual process of a young Universe growing up: growth spurts, making its first stars (painful, with a lot of crying), Losing its first stars, and getting its older, more stable ones. Going through that teen-aged phase, where it just lazes about, slowly getting bigger and more out of shape.

Eventually, though, presumably while sitting on its couch, eating a bag of crisps and watching cartoons, it takes notice that something has developed in a little dark corner. The tiniest bits of it have started to self-replicate.

Now, this is a terrible thing, the Universe thinks to itself, I've developed some sort of infection. I've got to do something about this.

The Universe looks about for a simple solution: there's a nearby star from its infant days that is looking quite unstable. It waits for a while and the star supernovas. This sends out a vast burst of gamma radiation, which certainly does the trick. The Universe goes back to its crisps.

It gets an itch again, after the millionth viewing of its favorite program. In an armpit, the it gets the familiar sensation that there's another infestation of self-replicators.

This won't do at all, it thinks.

Looking a little more closely, it finds that the system in which the planet these little self-replicators are on has a series of rather irregular orbits. A gas giant with large elliptical orbit will sweep in, and eventually cross paths with the little planet. The Universe waits for the event, and the planet eventually finds itself pulverized into ruble, orbiting in a ring around the gas giant.

That's quite pretty, the Universe thinks.

After a long time on the couch, exploring its own Navel[3], the Universe happens to feel yet another infection coming on.

Well, I'll just let it resolve itself. This seems to be the medicine. I'll just make sure to get a lot of rest, and have a lot of fluids.

Sitting back, with a slush of liquid hydrogen, the Universe goes back to Navel gazing.

It takes a billion years or so before the it notices that the waiting-for-it-to-go-away treatment isn't going to work this time. Not only that, it seems that the infection is getting worse.

It seems like the self-replicators are adaptive, and environmental changes simply change the nature of the population. Those that can handle an increase in radiation or a decrease in temperature out produce the old populations. The Universe finds this quite fascinating.

Still, it is an infection, the Universe thinks, I'll have to do something about it.

Try as it might, it can't find a really great solution for the problem. There's just not enough going on in this quiet little place. Seems like these self-replicators like a warm, low-radiation place to spawn.

Keeping an eye on the infected area (in case it spreads), the Universe watches as the self-replicators become more complicated and more diverse. It watches as tiny specks of rock and ice fall onto the planet and almost wipe it out, on several occasions. But the self-replicators continue on, and refill the niches opened up but the near-destructive events.

Resilient little buggers, the Universe concedes.

After a while, the universe get's the strangest sensation of all. A small portion of the self-replicators start to think. Simple thoughts, at first, but then more complicated thoughts after while.

They start navel gazing as well. At first, they literally are looking at their own navels. This results in developing philosophy - an idea the Universe hadn't really thought up on it's own. It likes this, and trades in its place on the couch, its crisps, and navel gazing, for a place leather library chair, a pipe in hand, and a lot of gazing at the ceiling.

Still later, they spend their time watching the night sky, searching for the Universe's Navel.[4] The universe finds this to be a wonderful bit of self-exploration, and deems that it is good.

[1] Although, since there was no time, it was instantaneous and forever, all at once. Again, mind-boggling, isn't it?

[2] Given that the Universe can best be described as it's own mother, it would be a bit narcissistic on it's part to describe itself that way. It solved that problem, of course, by developing small bits to think that for it.

[3] Comparatively, for the Universe, this is actually a very exciting place. It involves a series of concentrically orbiting black holes, consuming matter off of a nearby ring of stars, jetting out huge volumes of energy.

[4] Surprisingly, they find it, but given their understanding of the Universe, this knowledge is just filed away under "Complex Multi-Black Hole Systems" and read by a few Graduate Students working on Survey theses.

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