Strange this should come the morning after I watched PBS’ Genius Series by Stephen Hawking: Why are We Here and Where Did the Universe Come From? After watching those, you get a grasp of what countless means in mathematically.
Strangely though the conclusion is that there was no big bang, and that physically (in terms of physics) the universe can begin “at the end of your nose”, since it is impossible to find a beginning point in all the galaxies of where a big bang might have occurred. And with the use of the Hubble Telescope, participants in the show (rightly) estimated that there are over 120 billion galaxies out there, and those are just the ones that have been photographed. How many more could there be? — and who can deal with those big numbers anyway? So the galaxies are countless, and is the size of the universe. It goes on forever — whatever that means. There may be an end, but we, as humans, will never know it our lifetimes.
Regarding space, the universe, I had already come to a similar conclusion myself because I cannot conceive of either the mathematical or physics permutations that estimate how large the universe could be. To quote Hillary Clinton, “What difference does it make anyway?” It is vast beyond comprehension — but perhaps in the next phase of existence (whatever we choose to call it) we will be more enlightened.
Where, I ask, does that put heaven? We often offer prayers upward, to the heavens. We see paintings of Jesus and the Virgin Mary moving upward toward heaven at their assumptions. Stephen Hawking talks about dimensions, and this makes me think perhaps heaven is another concurrent dimension; perhaps on a “higher plane”. I believe in life after human death, so I willing to wait for the revelation.
We’d all like to know why we are here. My view is pretty pragmatic, kind of like Descartes’ “I think therefore I am”. I’m here therefore I’m meant to live life the the fullest, learn as much as I can, and to mesh with other human beings harmoniously.
Hawking makes program participants learn for themselves in Why Are We Here that certain physics principles apply as laws that do not change. Personally, I think the experiments he devises for the three “normal” experimenters are quite clever and not beyond the scope of an intelligent, curious mind. So while demonstrating that there are immutable laws, there is also, at a subatomic level (this is beyond my comprehension), something like chaos, and laws here much harder to apply. (Also figured out by the three people carrying out the experiments.) This anomaly allows for free will and differences in people.
All of this was fascinating material, and it was introduced in a way that enabled me to almost, nearly, understand it. To witness the ingenuity and the thought processes of experimenters in working out Hawking’s experiments and seeing the “ah-ha” moments expressed on their faces was great, too.
When I stand on a beach, I realize it is impossible to either count or even estimate the number of grains of sand on the beach. Furthermore, these grains of sand are constantly renewed and recycled. Some particles flowing on to the beach no doubt existed centuries ago, millenia ago! For me the beach is embodies my philosophy of eternity.