Wednesday 7 November 2012

What If?

   What if we're wrong with our numbers? What if "one" and "two" don't exist - not as in they're just called something else, that's just a language thing, but what if the numbers themselves are wrong? What if the sequence and method for counting we've come up with is incorrect but it suits us, or it isn't as significant as we think? What if the true numbers are hiding out there somewhere, we've not discovered them yet, and if we just knew the sequence we could have the solution for immortality, or at the very least the method for time travel and human flight.
   The way I see it (with no scientific or mathematical training, just pure imagination and stupid questioning), the same can be applied to the calendar. The Mayans and similar cultures had their own calenders which they used for a very long time, and served them perfectly well. We're using a calender now that was created by Julius Caeser, a calender different to the one that came before, which introduced the leap year. We thought that our first calenders were correct, and we now believe that this one is. What if a new calender comes to light one hundred years from now? Hell, maybe even ten years from now? Everything we thought we knew would have to be re-evaluated, just like it did with the current calender, and not as many years have passed as we have thought.
   It's commonly believe that The Mayans believed the world would end on the 21st of December 2012 - based on their calender, the 21st of December 2012 was eight or so months ago - but that's not technically true, but either way, what if we're wrong about such massive things as well?
   That's the thing with science. Things can be proven, but so very much is speculation that perhaps cannot be proven. And it does my head in. I like definite answers, but that doesn't help when I keep asking questions like "Why is the sky blue?" and when I'm told it's because of air pressure or something like that, I then turn around and say "But why blue? Why not red? What was the deciding factor that made it blue? And why did that factor decide blue?"

   I'm a really fun person to live with, as you can probably see.


  1. Dear Kim,

    wow, you have hit on a lot of deep issues here! I would like to attempt an answer at some of your questions (I'm a physicist). Most of this of course is only my opinion though, feel free to question it. I apologize if this gets quite long.

    Your questions about the calendar put a finger of one of physics deepest issues: There are no absolute scales in this universe. A second is a second because we at some point decided that this is a second. A meter is a meter because there is a platinum bar in a vault in Paris that we decided was exactly a meter. Everything else is measured relative to this. That bar (or the original second) could easily have been longer of shorter and then maybe I wouldn't be 1.8 m tall but instead 0.7 m but everybody else would be too, so that would be okay.

    What the Romans tried to do with their calendar was match their time counting to the revolution of the earth around the sun. It worked reasonably well but not entirely, which is why we need a leap year. I'm all in favor of designing a new calendar. After all, we now know exactly how long the earth takes around the sun and how long it takes to turn completely around itself in a day (counted in our current seconds) so I think we should redefine the length of a second in a way that is convenient for both day and year then make a calendar based on this. The only trouble is that the time around the sun and the time around itself don't match very well, hence all this leap year issue. If we keep 1. January as the beginning or not doesn't really matter. Since there is no special point for the earth to be on it's journey around the sun, defining a new beginning is entirely arbitrary so we might as well pick something we like. I vote for something in summer. Less freezing my butt of while waiting for the new year to begin ;)

    As for the numbers possibly not being what we assume them to be: Different people have a different point of view on this but a majority (including myself) tend to hold with Plato here. You know Plato's famous story about the cave and us only seeing the shadows of the "true" shapes on the wall? I think that mathematical concepts are like Plato's shapes: They are true, regardless of what we call them, if we have discovered them yet or how blurred they might seem in our world. The concept of natural numbers (1,2,3,4... all the numbers we use for counting) is one such true and absolute concept for me. It was true before there was anything to count, true before our ancestors even climbed down from the trees ;) There is also a prove involving set theory that shows one doesn't actually need things to count to make the natural numbers appear but I'm not sure this is helpful here.

    As to why the sky is blue and not red: We see every wavelength (which we can see) as a different color. The sun originally sends out an entire range of wavelengths and they get bent, reflected and spread by the atoms in the atmosphere. Which wavelengths do what depends strongly on the internal workings of the atoms, the materials present and the length and energy scales involved. It's a complicated interplay but it makes sense that this one particular wavelength emerges as dominant and then gets captures by our eye.

    The interesting questions is why this wavelength is "blue". After all, what is blue? Is my blue the same as your blue? Somewhere in our eye and brain, the wavelength is converted to a "color", an abstract concept that I have never really understood. There are experiments that show that some animals see wavelengths we cannot see. Do they have different colors for it? I would absolutely love to know. Maybe, if we had developed differently, we wouldn't see this particular wavelength at all. Would we then call another one blue? I really wish I knew. :)

    You should have become a scientist! Keep those questions coming :)


    1. Thank you so much for coming to my blog, that comment/essay was so interesting to read! And the colour thing was something else that has been on my mind, I was saying to my boyfriend the other day that what if we all actually have the SAME favourite colour.
      If 10 children are sat in a class, and the teacher shows them a card and says that it's red, who is to say everyone is seeing the same colour? What if one boy sees what I see as red, as blue instead? And another sees it as I would see yellow, but because they have been taught since they were little that the colour they see is red, why would they question it? Perhaps we all favour the same colour combinations, and all have the same favourite colour, but because colours are pretty much impossible to describe to an average person, we know them only by names. I see turquoise as turquoise, but you might actually see yellow as turquoise, and that might be your favourite colour, but if I were to say to you "do you like turquoise?" and you reply with "no", it would be wrong, but you might see the colour called "turquoise" as red, or something.

      I did want to become a scientist, but I find fantasy writing much more interesting - there's a science to it, if you go deep enough, working out their calendar, magic and physics, wildlife and so on. Obviously nowhere near the same degree as ACTUAL science, but it's good enough to keep me entertained.

      Once again, thank you so much for coming to my blog, I really appreciated everything you've said. I can say I've learnt something today!

    2. Dear Kim,

      that's exactly what I've been wondering. Since writing my original comment above, I have been considering if there is any way to find out if my blue is your blue. I'm beginning to think there isn't. Even if we both have the same pattern in neurological activity, I'm not certain this means we actually see the same thing. After all, every brain is different. Even if we were able to upload peoples thoughts to a computer and compare them there, we would still only get the computers interpretation of the thoughts and who can tell if that really is what you or I see in the end. Fascinating question.

      I was absolutely not trying to question your choices :) I think being a fantasy author is brilliant (I love fantasy!). All I was trying to say is that the kind of questions you were asking would have made you a good scientist. I see your point though, the same talent will come in very handy with writing as well. :)

      You are welcome. Thank you for asking these questions!


    3. In no way did I think that you were questioning my choices ^^ I'm deeply interested in dinosaurs and space, and would have loved to become a paleontologist especially, but I just can't sit still long enough to learn what I need to learn to get there.

      I'd be a nuisance anyway. I know full well that there is no way I could get an answer to my questions that would satisfy me. Even if I could ask who or whatever created the universe, I STILL wouldn't be satisfied with their answers. I can question things to death and still not be happy. I understand that scientists need to have that sort of curiosity, and I would just love to get even half way towards an answer regardless of the fact that I know I'll never be satisfied, but like I said, I can't sit still long enough. I admire you for what you've done ^^


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