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Author's Note: The following essay was submitted to, and mercifully ignored by, a popular astronomy magazine. So it appears here in it's appropriate venue, that of an obscure personal website, lost in the multi-billion page clutter that makes up the internet.

Elseness - An Ode to Nothing   by K. J. Kuehn

"And God said, 'Let there be Elseness,' and there was Elseness, and it was good."


 
So, you ask, "What's this biblical paraphrasing have to do with astronomy?  This isn't one of those essays about science having a warm-fuzzy with religion, is it?"  Those are reasonable questions and as an initial response to any concern you might have, I'm going to ask that you engage in the following daydream.  To begin with, try to imagine yourself sitting with God, a daunting but essential part of our muse.  To stay religiously neutral, sitting with any God credited with the creation of everything will do.  Next, imagine it's before the beginning of creation itself, before there was anything at all.  There's no space, no time, no Wal-Mart's.  It's just you and God, hanging out.

One slow day while you happen to be minding your own business, perhaps contemplating the joys of a cappuccino if such a thing existed, God turns to you and says, "I've just created a universe."  Wow, a universe.  That sounds exciting!  You're about to turn to God and say, "Cool, but what's a universe?" when He says, "Okay, your turn ... and NO PEEKING!"  Whoa, talk about fuel for a panic attack.  What would you do? Your mind might begin racing, frantically searching for any hint of a thought to get you started.  When that failed, you might experience massive waves of confusion and disorientation, like confronting your worst math finals nightmare times infinity.  My God, a universe!  Just where would you begin?

At this point our little daydream comes to an end, ... or does it?  You might feel otherwise if you've been reading recent books and articles on cosmology.  Think about it. In the past few decades astronomers and cosmologists have been trying to imagine what an unseen, "dark," ninety-five percent of our universe might look like.  That's a lot of universe to imagine.  It's a task nearly on par with inventing an entirely new universe except for one important fact.  Oops, ... we peeked.

And perhaps "peeked" is being a bit too kind.  It's more like we've been poking and prodding the universe.  We've been fission’ing, fusion’ing and smashing pieces of it in particle accelerators.  We've placed cameras, detectors and multi-spectral sensors everywhere; buried in caves, situated on mountain tops, floating in space.  The universe must think it's being stalked by some kind of geeky, scientific paparazzi.

All this peeking has yielded a flood of data and with this new information scientists more than ever have been enthusiastically pushing and pulling on our cosmic accordion of knowledge, developing a multitude of new theories.  However, just like an accordion, the results can sound something like music, but...

Today's theoretical medleys in need of orchestration include dark matter, dark energy, and dimensions that now come in strings.  There are plenty of dimensions too.  Four, five, six, ... no wait, make that eleven (there were 24 at one time, if I'm correctly remembering something called super-symmetry).  The universe has been accelerated, decelerated, inflated, young, old, steady, open, closed and flat.  And, if it wasn't bad enough that Einstein grabbed those perfectly straight strands of Newtonian spaghetti and boiled them in relativity for a decade, theorists are now trying to microwave the one thing Einstein refused to touch: the speed of light.  Various "Varying-Speed-of-Light" theories have recently emerged, vying with an inflationary universe to explain some of those Big Bang conundrums.

There's no doubt about it, a lot is happening in astronomy and cosmology.  Most of it is fascinating and exciting.  But with all these theories competing for viability it's hard to know exactly where we stand.  Are any of these theories really "THE" explanation of our universe?  With ninety-five percent of the cosmos up for grabs there's still a lot of unknown to reckon with and a tremendous amount of wiggle room for virtually any theory.


 
It's in the light of this theoretical uncertainty, the light of dark matter ironically speaking, where we can perhaps first glimpse hints of elseness.  So, exactly what is "elseness"?  Just the tip of a "ficticious-word" iceberg?  Perhaps, but I'd rather think of elseness as a metaphor for the very unknown or unimaginable we seek.  It's the missing stuff of our universe, or better yet, the initial something of a universe that begins entirely different than ours.  A universe where Pi equals 42 on Thursdays and besides, there are no circles, spheres, or numbers anyway.  No protons, electrons or croutons', a totally particle and salad free universe.  It's where space is far less than a vacuum and would never think about expanding, contracting or having energy.  Length, width and height are nonexistent.  In fact, there's no such thing as a dimension.  It's what we need to invent after we've erased everything.  We have a totally clean slate, the slate then vanishes, and we now proceed to forget there ever was a slate.  In my mind, this incomprehensible state is the state from which our universe actually burst into existence.  Not from a hiccup in some quantum fluctuation, but from a hiccup in a nothingness that knew nothing about a quantum anything.  A hiccup that then exploded from an utterly unimaginable nothingness into an unbelievably remarkable everythingness.

Maybe that's my real point.  The fact than anything can exist and does exist looms as a philosophical juggernaut over our attempts to find the bulk of our missing universe or to explain its operations.  We may eventually be forced to admit that there is perhaps one ultimately unanswerable question: "Why is there anything?"  Any revelation we hope to find in our search to explain the cosmos will be partial at best.  We may eventually discover how everything works and how it formed, but to discover why it's here, well ... welcome to the big league.  If there is a God, that's where He lives.

It may be disconcerting to imagine that answers to some questions could be beyond us or that the natural state of the universe, any universe, is no universe at all.  But I still find it amazing that we can ask such questions and think such thoughts.  If at the end of our quest the universe hands us a box of bitter pills labeled "the unknowable," at least we can take some comfort.  They'll most likely go down a lot easier with a cappuccino ... "extra sugar please!"






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