End of Columns
How sad to have to say good-bye to Jeffrey D. Sachs and Lawrence M. Krauss, whose final columns [Sustainable Developments and Critical Mass, respectively] appeared in the September issue. They will be missed. Their columns were each written with knowledge, wisdom and insight, of the kind that one normally does not encounter in day-to-day living. We can be grateful, however, for what they do for humanity and for the words they wrote during their time with Scientific American. I have to believe that they have left us all wiser and more hopeful for the future.
End of Time
I think it is instructive that in a discussion of how time would not exist if there were no natural clocks [“Could Time End?”], George Musser refers to the fact that the Compton wavelength of particles would not have existed before 10 picoseconds after the big bang—and hence there could have been no possibility of time before that. If so, how could he assert that the era was 10 picoseconds long? Why not 10 billion years?
MUSSER REPLIES: This is an excellent question. It is what I was trying to get across in my remark that “If the early universe had no sense of scale, how was it able to expand, thin out and cool down?” How can we meaningfully say that structures became possible only at 10 picoseconds if we can’t define a picosecond? Roger Penrose’s answer is that spatial and temporal scales, though individually ambiguous, remain linked, so that we are still able to meaningfully describe cosmic evolution.
As I near 50 years of age and consider my own end, I find that the more certainty those who speak with “conviction”—be it Stephen Hawking and his existential Godless universe, or Christopher Hitchens, or Richard Dawkins—proclaim to have, the less convinced I am. I need no God, nor do I need a cosmologist to espouse theories that cannot be proven in my lifetime (or in any lifetime).
While they seek to explain how the universe works, the quest for the answer to “Why are we here?” may never be answered, from which I take solace. Why are we here? Because we are here. ’Nuff said. It is more interesting and comforting to know that for now, we are; we exist; we argue over ridiculous beliefs. This tapestry needs no explanation, to which I simply say, “Be grateful that you and I have had the opportunity to experience its wonder.”
W. Scott Fentress