The Simple Guide to the Universe
    What it is
    How it started
    How it works

In appreciation of Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time, which was so well written that you thought it made sense until you tried to figure out what he was saying. No problem with this web page, which is very straightforward and doesn't miss a beat, except where the author couldn't come up with anything -- but in that case the subject is omitted entirely and you won't know it's been left out.

What Is the Universe?

I don't really know -- it is just what IS, and there is nothing 'outside' it, unless there are other universes besides this one, or places where gods dwell. We live in the only Universe we can live in, because we are part of the substance of it. However, it is a vast thing that is always going to reveal more discoveries to us vain humans who try to understand it. For a thousand years people accepted the seven heavenly spheres of the ancients (each planet locked into its own sphere revolving about Earth), nobody really cared, and actually still don't, but they came up with some good gadgets to display that theory. The astrologers came up with even more elaborate nonsense about heavenly infuences. Human beings are nothing if not inventive and ingenious, working out of the conviction that something can be done rather than whether it is worth doing.

The Big Bang

In the beginning there was NOTHING -- no god, no space, no time, no universe. You need to understand this and accept it. Nothing means nil, nada, blank-oh, not empty space, because there was no space. It was not a vacuum, because even a vacuum does not exist when there is nothing. The word nothing itself didn't exist (in any language) and wouldn't have made sense if it did. But an event (the first one ever) happened, call it a "Singularity" -- something popped up out of nothing. Here it is all of a sudden, this little speck infinitesimally smaller than an atom, where there were never any specks of anything at all before. And it goes kablooey. In less than a nanosecond it goes from the size of this

. to this O to this O

and then way off this web page and now we are into light years, except they didn't exist either, because there were no years, just the speed of light. (Some technical ass out on the Internet is going to take me to task on this saying the speed of light is 186,000 miles per second -- but what is a mile, what is a second? Light doesn't know or care.)

So everything started from nothing at all. The Universe as we know it has been around for several billion years and is now a zillion light-years wide (and keeps getting bigger), but it doesn't contain anything more than it did when it started, which means that even when it was the size of a fly egg it already contained everything it would ever have. States of matter and energy evolved as it grew, but the basic rules of its existence were determined from the beginning. (So much for God, unless He was there beforehand and started the business.)

That's cool, isn't it? Everything starting from nothing. Now dig this....

The Shape of the Universe

The Universe can be visualized as a sphere. It isn't, actually, because a sphere has an interior and an exterior, a sphere or circle has a center and tangents off the rim. The Universe does not. There is NOTHING inside the 'sphere' of the Universe or anything outside it, but it does have boundaries -- hence it is not infinite. Its boundaries are the 'edge' of the expanding singularity resulting from the orginial Big Bang, totally defined by the time lapsed (time also having been created by the Big Bang), and as before it happened there is nothing beyond it or within it. Imagine a bubble with its inside and outside being nothing at all -- not air, not ether, not even vacuum, just not... So the Universe is round or curved in some way if you want to visualize it that way. You can't get to the other side by cutting through the middle. We need a diagram here (not the greatest, but I have to work with the tools I have, such as Microsoft Paint):

The red circle is the Universe, Earth is where we are now, Klingon Empire was established 4 billion years ago. We cannot determine what is going on now in the Klingon Empire (if it still exists) because we can only view it through the 'yes' path, which sees it as it was 4 billion light years away. The 'no' path just DOES NOT EXIST, because there is nothing there through which we can view (if it could be done, it would be the mythical 'warp' beloved of science fiction writers). It works the same way for the 'now' Klingons trying to view Earth -- what they can see of our planetary system is also 4 billion years old, and just a nebular system of condensing planets, no earth, no dinosaurs, nothing interesting at all. That, in a nutshell, is what the curvature of space, the cap on light speed, and relativity are all about.

Quarks and Stuff

What is the substance of the Universe? Well, not that long ago you could say it was matter (atoms) and energy, bound together by a force called gravity. Einstein came up with the relationship between matter and energy by tossing in light speed (although why that occurred to him is beyond my understanding). All chemistry, physics, and atom bombs work on these basic principles -- and we know they work and will continue to work. Atoms and light rays are now all variations of quarks and things. Point is, it doesn't really matter, because whatever they are made of, the atoms do exist, and can be weighed, and they do what you expect them to do -- steel cuts, salt tastes salty, fire burns. So we really don't care about 'charmed quarks', do we? The Periodic Table of Elements went a hell of a lot farther than the air, earth, fire and water of the ancient Greeks. That's good enough for me (an elderly man these days). So take your quarks and stuff them.

The Cosmos | Evolution | The Academy of Arts and Imbecility
Copyright 1998 by Grobius Shortling