27 April 2017

The Meaning of Life, Part 1: Cosmic Perspective (for Ungagged 19)

This trilogy is not like the Monty Python version, there will actually be more parts.

Lots of folks say we need to abandon American exceptionalism.  Some, like my Dear Uncle Napoleon, prattle on about British exceptionalism.  Today, rather than taking on either of those two comparitively minor annoyances, I hope to kick the shit out of both Homo sapiens sapiens and Planet Earth exceptionalisms.

A single member of the H. sapiens sapiens race is, on average, 664 billionths (10-9) km3 in volume, with an average lifespan of 67.2 years.  There are currently 7.3 billion (109) individuals of that race on Earth, or Terra.

Earth, or Terra, is 1.12 trillion (1012) km3 by 4.54 billion years.  It rotates on its axis at a speed of 1674.4 km/h while revolving around Sol at 108 thousand (103) km/h.

Sol, our system’s star, is 1.4 quintillion (1018) km3 by 4.56 billion years.  The Solar Planetary System is 1.7 duodecillion (1039) km3 by the same 4.56 billion years.

The Milky Way Galaxy is 8 sedecillion (1051) km3 by 13.2 billion years.  Of its 200 billion stars, 40 billion support Class-M planets, with 8-10 billion of these hosting life-forms analogous to Humans, making some 61.6 quintillion (1018) sapient beings in our galaxy.

There are 2 trillion (1012) galaxies in the Universe with 80 sextillion (1021) Class-M planets hosting 123 nonillion (1030) sapient beings in the Universe at any one time.

The Universe, the ‘Verse for short, is 213 duovigintillion (1069) km3 by 13.8 billion (109) years.  It is expanding outward at a rate increased by the like-polarity of the electromagnetic fields of different galaxy groups.  And it is just one of innumerable such cosmic bodies making up the Omniverse (aka Multiverse), and is currently the only one we can measure.

* * * * *

The Universe is formed of a single matrix called spacetime. 

Everything in the ‘Verse not of the matrix of spacetime is composed of energy.  Energy can be neither created nor destroyed but only change forms.  All matter that exists is but alternate forms of energy. 

Spacetime and energy are thus the fundamental building blocks of the ‘Verse and everything in it, the emanations from which all that is evolves.

There are four basic dimensions—height, length, width, time—which define the point in the spacetime matrix at which we are at any given moment.  Energy flows to and from that single point in spacetime—forward and backward, up and down, left and right, past and future—along each of these dimensions.

The force of gravity provides the cohesion for the ‘Verse in a relationship with the dimension of time that is correlative if not causal.  Without gravity, there would be no time; without time, there would be no gravity.

* * * * *

Life is a function of energy, of thermodynamics.  Given appropriate conditions, life is inevitable, because energy in the form of matter will spontaneously self-organize through abiogenesis.

Once manifest, life evolves into more complex forms which themselves evolve further, with those most adaptable being the best able to survive, reproduce, and flourish.

Life has existed on Terra for 4.1 billion years, and in the Universe since 10-17 million years after the Big Bang.

The essence of life is change and evolution, growth and decay.  For individual organisms, birth and death define the boundaries of life.  Without death, life has no meaning.

Whether or not there is another form of existence once the organic shell has been shed in death and life on this plane ends does not matter; Humans debating those questions are like fetuses discussing questions on life after birth.

* * * * *

In 5 million years, the H. sapiens sapiens race, and along with it the H. sapiens species and the Homo genus, will be extinct due to degradation of the Y-chromosome, if we have not already destroyed ourselves and/or our biosphere or suffered a mass extinction we don’t cause.

In 800 million years, multi-cellular lifeforms will have vanished from Terra.

In 1.3 billion years, eukaryotes will be extinct and life on Terra reduced to prokaryotes due to CO2 starvation caused by chemical disruption from Sol’s increasing luminescence.

In 2.4 billion years, the Milky Way Galaxy and the Andromeda Galaxy will collide and merge into one Milkomeda Galaxy, altering the structure of everything in them, though most stars and planetary systems will remain intact.

In 5.4 billion years, Sol will enter its red giant phase, incinerating Mercury, Venus, and possibly Terra, destroying any remaining life on Terra if not.  The habitable zone will move out to Mars, and Saturn’s moon Titan may become habitable.

In 8 billion years, Sol will collapse into a white dwarf, expelling half its mass into the interstellar medium, making elements available for nucleosynthesis and forming an emission nebula.  Any remaining planetary bodies will be stolen by passing stars, leaving the Solar Nebula.

In 14.4 billion years, Sol will be a totally dead black dwarf star.

The Universe will eventually end in the next Big Bounce (a Big Crunch facilitating another Big Bang) in around 60 trillion years, dying so another can be born anew as it was formed before.

All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again, and again, and again.

Next:  “The Meaning of Life, Part 2: Ain’t No Power in the ‘Verse”.



16 April 2017

A Whiter Shade of Chill 2.0 (for Ungagged 18)

“He said, ‘there is no reason and the truth is plain to see’.”

This piece is redited from one I first wrote back in 2008 and have redone with different titles, this being the latest.  This current name—“A Whiter Shade of Chill 2.0”—comes from one of my all-time favorite movies, 1983’s The Big Chill, and one of the songs featured in it, Procul Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale”.  The quote with which I began is a verse from the latter.

The film is about a group of friends who attended the University of Michigan in the late 1960s and considered themselves part of The Movement, against the war, for women’s liberation, for the war on poverty, against segregation, for civil rights, etc.  But in the end, it turned out that they were just role-playing trendy revolution, following fashion, and the illusion never changed into something real. 

The action in the movie takes place a decade and a half later after their ideals have withered and the cosplay yippies have all become yuppies, an industrialist, a high-end doctor, a TV action star, a corporate attorney, a writer for People magazine, a wife to an accountant married for security, and a drug dealer to the wealthy.  They had all fallen down like the toy soldiers they were.

The catalyst for the story was the suicide of the one member of their clique who was still trying to live by those formerly professed ideals.  Alex Marshall, the dead guy in question, was Kevin Costner’s first movie role.  The original opening scene, later cut, had him in the bathtub bleeding, still alive.  In the release all we saw was his body, no face, as the mortician was dressing him for the funeral home, the last shot being that of his slit but now sewn up wrists. 

Alex was the true believer, the one person in the group who really believed the things he was saying, the principles they espoused.  And continued searching and believing long after he left the university and the others had gone on with their yuppie lives.

Everyone I knew enjoyed the movie, but the Baby Boomers and Generation Xers had different takes.  To the Boomers, the movie showed that ideals weren’t as important as friendship, and that trading principles for cash was just pragmatic common sense.  For me and my fellow GenXers, how most of us felt is best summed up in the words of Winona Ryder’s character in the opening scene of the 1993 movie Reality Bites.

“The Baby Boomers wonder why we aren’t interested in the counterculture that they invented, as if we didn’t see them disembowel their revolution for a pair of running shoes.”  Running shoes at the time were one of the motifs of the yuppie stereotype.  They were even featured in the movie; in fact, the afore-mentioned industrialist manufactured them.

One of the many conversations my friends and I had about the movie figured in one of the more memorable series of events from when I was at UTC.

One evening, I was being given a ride home late one afternoon by a female friend with whom I was having a date that next weekend.  I forget the reason exactly that I needed a ride, but it may have been after Sunday Mass at the Newman Center.

Mary, the girl driving, and I had both seen “The Big Chill”, her twice, me four times, and were discussing it.

As we passed out of the tunnel through Missionary Ridge from McCallie Avenue in downtown Chattanooga onto Brainerd Road, Mary half-turned to me and asked, “Who do you see yourself as?  Which one of the characters?”

“Hmmm...,” I replied. “I guess I'd have to say Nick.”  Nick, played by William Hurt, was the cynical drug-dealing anti-authoritarian former psychology student and war vet had who lost his genitalia, or at least the function thereof, in Viet Nam.

"Why?"

"He's so cynical, and so am I." 

"Well, you’re as cynical," she answered, "but that's not who I'd say."

"Oh, who do you see me as?"

Keeping one eye on the road, she looked at me sideways with a funny look in her eyes and said, “Alex.”

Alex? I thought. The dead guy??

So I asked, “Alex?  The dead guy?”

She told me she was talking about the things the other characters said about him, all their memories, all the ways he'd touched their lives.  It wasn't a dead guy she was comparing me to, it was the memories of that dead guy.  She wasn’t casting me for Zombie Apocalypse, at least.

For mine and Mary’s date that weekend in 1983, we went to a Sicilian-owned restaurant in Brainerd Village, Mama Theresa’s, very intimate atmosphere, delicious food, great wine, then to a movie.  Typical dinner-and-a-movie date, but the conversation at dinner was fantastic, lively, and engaging.  All-in-all, one of the best "just-a-date" dates I had ever had to that point.

I couldn’t get Mary on the phone for the next three weeks after our dinner and movie, nor did she show up at the Center in Sundays.

When Mary finally did show up for Sunday evening Mass there after three weeks, she came up to me and said, with no preamble, “I’m sorry, but things between us would never work out. I'm too conventional for you.”

(Conventional: 1. Following generally accepted principles, methods, and behavior. 2. Ordinary, commonplace. 3. Lacking originality or individuality. 4. Typical, stereotypical. 5. Conformist.)

I just stood there with my mouth open. What do you say to something like that?

After a time, Mary and I did get back to being pretty good friends again, but for a while it was pretty awkward.  She never explained nor gave me any hint of what had brought her to that conclusion after just one date, and it wasn’t exactly like we didn’t know each other. 

Mary graduated UTC and began teaching at Notre Dame, the local Catholic high school which was her alma mater.  She graduated there in 1980, a class ahead of my best friend at UTC. 

A few months after she started working there, I got a call from her asking if I wanted to come to her wedding, and if so, she’d send me an invitation.

The 22-year old too-conventional-for-me Catholic girl was marrying a 38-year old divorcee who had 19-year old a daughter.  And she had called me unconventional.

(Unconventional: 1. Not adhering to accepted standards. 2. Out of the ordinary. 3. Dissident, unorthodox, heretical. 4. Atypical. 5. Nonconformist, maverick.)

Sure, I replied, I’ll go. Why not?

The wedding was surreal. The only person whom I knew there was Mary, my friend and one-time, literally, date.  I ended up slow dancing, very closely, with her new 19-year old step-daughter Darly, which her boyfriend, whom I hadn't known about, didn't seem to appreciate, though he took it out on her rather than me, by delivering her to her grandmother, me in tow.

What ensued was a lot of screaming and yelling and scolding.  In Cuban Spanish.  No one paid me any attention.

It turns out Darly was not happy about having a step-mother only two years her senior, but she wasn’t pissed at Mary, she was pissed at her dad.  So she’d overindulged in refreshments.

A couple of weeks later, Mary was fired from Notre Dame High School on grounds of moral turpitude for having married a divorcee, by the same organization (the Catholic Church) that has provided so much aid, comfort, support, and shelter to the kiddie-fuckers in its ranks all over the world with the cooperation of its highest echelons, including the head of the Inquisition later known as Pope Benedict XVI.

Before that, though, I had called Darly, my friend Mary’s new step-daughter, two nights after the wedding, and the two of us wound up dating on-and-off for several months.

As for those ideals I spoke of espoused by the Baby Boomers of the New Left?  The Millennials whom so many Boomers and GenXers scorn and belittle are their Second Coming, and unlike their predecessors, they really mean it.