Fantastic World

Fantastic and magical things in our world, and how they relate to fantasy fiction.

Of parallel universes and two possible futures

When fantasy and science-fiction readers ponder the possibility of alternate time zones, they are doing more than exercising wishful thinking. They might be considering a concept that some physicist think could be a real phenomenon.

According to Scientific American, not every physicist believes that time moves the way we perceive it in daily life. To us, time moves forward (sometimes blindingly so). Stars emit light, the universe expands, and we grow older each day. However, if a fascinating theory of the workings of gravity is true, the big bang is not the beginning and “we may live in a past of a parallel universe.”

The physics is extremely complicated and much too dense for the lay person to understand, but the gist of what Julian Barbour of the University of Oxford, Tim Koslowski of the University of New Brunswick, and Flavio Marcati of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics are saying is that all matter starts in a low-complexity state and then expands outward in both temporal directions. That means there would be two symmetrical and opposite flows of time. Gravity then pulls matter together into ordered structures.

At that point time can go on two divergent paths. As Scientific American puts it, “the model has one past but two futures.” However, the observer will be able only to see one of the two.

“It is the nature of gravity to pull the universe out of its primordial chaos and create structure, order, and complexity,” Mercati said in Scientific American. “All the solutions break into two epochs, which go on forever in the two time directions, divided by this central state, which haas very characteristic properties.”

If you are scratching your head about now, realize that many other physicists are doing the same thing, for this theory is far from universally popular The model is considered crude and doesn’t address quantum physics or general relativity. Still, the meaning of the two futures theory is mind-blowing. It would suggest there was no cosmic beginning, but a timeless and eternal universe.

“This two-futures solution would exhibit a single, chaotic past in both directions, meaning there would be essentially two universes on either side of this central state,” Barbour said. “If they were complicated enough, both sides could sustain observers who would perceive time going in opposite directions. Any intelligent beings there would define their arrow of time as moving away from this central state. They would think we now live in their deepest past.” And to that, I can only add a big wow!

Some physicists disagree saying that increasing entropy in the future is causing time to flow forward. One researcher, Sean Carroll of the California Institute of Technology says, “Everything that happens in the universe to distinguish the past from the future is ultimately because the entropy is lower in one direction and higher in the other.”

Carroll praises the work of Barbour, Koslowski, and Mercati and asks, “Is our universe like that? That’s the hard part.”

Fortunately for readers of fantasy literature, imagining two futures is the easy part.

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A Little Birdie Told Me

You say you have a song in your heart? Well, it seems that’s natural, because it’s in your DNA.
Scientific American reports that scientists have discovered by sequencing 48 genomes of different bird species that birdsong is related to human speech. Only a few animals have the ability to sustain and modulate vocal signals.Birds and humans—along with dolphins, whales and elephants—are in that elite group.

The ramifications are not obvious at first, but those who work with genetics were quick to pick up on the finding’s implications.

By learning how birds learned to sing, researchers can discover the secrets to humans’ mastery of vocal chords. In the case of vocal disorders, if affected genes are similar to those in birds, one can study song birds and test their function, according  to Erich Jarvis, one of the leaders of the birdsong effort and an associate professor of neurobiology at Duke University.

Biologists have long looked to birds, particularly zebra finches, to understand how language is learned. That because not many other animals use vocal calls to truly communicate. Of the primates, only homo sapiens is able to speak. All the other apes and chimpanzees can only hoot, shriek, and make a sort of barking sound. Those noises don’t gain in complexity with age, going from a baby talk to adult language. Yet, among songbirds, the songs do gain in complexity, The also are learned from elders, can be modulated in pitch, and in some cases, birds can be “bilingual,” singing songs of its own species and a related or helper species.

Gene researchers found that humans and birds share 55 genes in regions of the brain. So when a bird sings, it sets off cascades of neurons firing in that part of their brain. The same thing happens when a human makes a phone call.

Scientists say that the findings aren’t too surprising, because avian species and humans both evolved from the same part of the “tree of life.” Some species specialized in distnguishing fine scents or developing laser-like vision to help in their environment; humans and birds chose vocalization as a way to stay close to others.

The Scientific American article doesn’t offer any more guesses on the usefulness of this research, but I’m willing to bet it will help us decode or at least become familiar with the language of dolphins and perhaps whales. For decades, biologists studying the cetacean world have known that dolphins call to each other in distinctive blips or whistles of sounds.Some of it can’t be detected by the human ear, but experiments have proved the language is there. The fact that dolphins are self-aware and smart as a whip, has made them the darlings of the sea long before “Flipper” went off television. And now we know they can do a lot more than tricks on water.

It would be fascinating to find out what the dolphins think about and if they truly do save humans   in peril at see. Maybe we could even sing with one—and throw in a few song birds for accompaniment.

The more you look, the more the spiritual dictum “We are all one” proves to be true.

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