By William J. Furney
If we do end up destroying our planet — next month’s climate talking-shop in Scotland is hardly likely to arrest the devastating change under way, as China and India are set to continue with their heavy reliance on coal, for decades — at least there are plenty more celestial bodies and possibly even an infinite number of other universes where we can find ourselves a home.
What happened before the Big Bang? It’s the mind-numbing, head-spinning, dizzying question that humanity wants an answer to, but all we can do for now is speculate and conjure up theories based on what science we know. Theoretical physicist Brian Greene says it could just be a localised event in an unfathomably large multiverse “that sparked the expansion of our part of space”, and that there may have been lots of such explosions of extraordinarily dense matter that went on to seed other universes connected to ours.
It may not be implausible to posit that when gravity-sucking black holes become so stuffed with matter, they stretch the “fabric” of space and time to the point where it rips and spills its contents into another newly created place.
I was reminded of the heavens when walking around an old gasworks in the trendy Gazi area of Athens a few days ago. Called Technopolis, it’s now a museum and cultural centre, and the wall of one building has a mural depicting the late cosmologist Stephen Hawking and one of his most inspiring quotes, which you can see in the image at the top of this article but some of the words are cut. The full quote is:
“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.”
And that reminded me of when I visited Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles a few years ago and benefactor Griffith J. Griffith — who shot his wife but didn’t kill her, and was jailed for two years. The wealthy industrialist had a “profound experience” peering up at the sky with a telescope and wanted everyone to see the glory of the stars, because he felt it, as the observatory says, “might broaden human perspective”.
Some, like Mark Zuckerberg, are not looking upwards but inwards. The billionaire social media mogul wants to take his toxic Facebook — soon to undergo a dramatic, name-changing rebrand, after an unending series of scandals — into a kind of multiverse of the internet, a bold new place where we will all live, work and play in an embryotic digital reality where everything and everyone are connected in ways that would make today’s always-on world seem almost prehistoric. Under-fire Zuckerberg is hiring 10,000 “highly specialised engineers” in Europe to design his vision of an alternative existence and make it happen.
“Facebook is at the start of a journey to help build the next computing platform. Working with others, we’re developing what is often referred to as the metaverse — a new phase of interconnected virtual experiences using technologies like virtual and augmented reality,” the company says. “At its heart is the idea that by creating a greater sense of ‘virtual presence’, interacting online can become much closer to the experience of interacting in person.”
The metaverse is touted as the evolution of the internet — the life-changing technology that allows us to do so much with ease, from shopping to working, booking, reading, scrolling and trolling, is only a few decades old — and it’s an emerging online world where it may even be possible to buy virtual land, as a non-fungible token, using cryptocurrency and deploying the nascent power of blockchain.
Earlier this year, a Singaporean entrepreneur bought the most expensive non-fungible token to date, paying out almost $70 million for a work of art that doesn’t exist in physical form but solely in the digital realm. The creation, Everydays: the First 5000 Days, by American artist Beeple (aka Mike Winkelmann), is a collage of 5,000 images and was, naturally, paid for in digital currency: Ether, the default payment method of the Ethereum blockchain platform.
We’re collectively searching for new ways to do things digitally — perhaps we might one day be able to upload ourselves and live in the metaverse, thereby not having to worry about climate change all that much — while at the same time, and equally desperately, attempting to solve the biggest riddles of our existence: how did the Big Bang occur, is our universe unique or one of many and are we alone in all the mighty vastness of space?
- Title photograph by William J. Furney.