Well, I never really believed it was ‘42’, though I always enjoy telling the story when anyone asks me about my favourite number. That thing about the ultimate computer, ‘Deep Thought’, its answer to the ultimate question, and the subsequent search for the actual question itself, was just a figment of Douglas Adams’ fecund imagination. Nevertheless, like many other episodes in his Hitchhikers’ Guide Trilogy (of five books), its very absurdity can be surprisingly helpful when a primitive carbon-based life-form such as myself, is trying to make sense of a manifestly nonsensical universe.
After 7.5 million years, the answer is . . .
The nearest any serious school of philosophers has come to sorting out the problem, as far as I’m aware, was when the existentialists arrived at the conclusion that if you follow any line of reasoning to its logical conclusion you are eventually obliged to confront the total and absolute absurdity of human existence – whereupon, if I understand them correctly, you may as well leap into whatever belief system happens to take your fancy, since it is unlikely to be any more absurd than where you’ve just come from.
Consequently, I’d pretty much decided to run with Jean-Paul Sartre and Slartibartfast – and I’d long since stopped looking for epistemological answers outside my own limited conscious awareness.
Well, I’m not sure a recent revelation from the scientific community confirms me in my complacency, or turns my whole world-view on its head, requiring me to start all over again. Did you see it? Apparently some of the world’s foremost physicists have produced a working hypothesis that the entire universe, the WSOGMM (the whole sort of general mish-mash) as Douglas Adams succinctly put it, is in fact a two-dimensional hologram.
As I learned from the article I read, the theory sprang out of the need for physicists to explain two perplexing problems in the conceptual model they had been constructing of the universe, namely, the ‘Black Hole Information Loss’ problem and the ‘Entropy’ problem.
Well, if you want to read it for yourself, you can find I the article here. There’s a lot of arcane stuff about 2D imprints encoded in event horizons, and how to calculate the amount of disorder and randomness among the particles in a Black Hole – which, if you’re not confined to a wheel chair with a brain the size of a planet and a lot of time on your hands for thinking, can tend to get shoved on the back-burner in the hurly-burly of daily life.
Anyway, it seems the universe-as-hologram theory has quite a following amongst the international community of physicists. A Prof. from Stanford University, Leonard Susskind, is said to have come up with the idea some years ago, and another from Argentina, Juan Maldacena, put it a nutshell, saying ‘what looked like a 3D object — a black hole — might be best understood using only two dimensions.’ He postulated a hypothetical universe existing in something he calls ‘anti-de Sitter space’ which reconciles a lot of seemingly mutually contradictory or otherwise inexplicable theories and physical phenomena such as string theory and gravity.
What looks like a 3D object may best be understood using only two dimensions
Then a team of guys from India and Austria got together and found that by viewing one particular model of a flat universe as a hologram, they could get the results of both theories to match up. Well, I’m only some guy, you know, and I confess physics was never a strong suit for me – but don’t you get the feeling sometimes that those guys are floundering in realms of incomprehensibility? They spend a lot of time coming up with a theory about, say, the origin of the universe, hypothesise that if there’d been a Big Bang to start it all off you’d expect to find some form of remnant energy emanating through the universe, then they claim to have found exactly that, in the form of something they call cosmic microwave background.
As I said, physics was never my strong suit, but that ‘Big Bang’ idea would seem to make the universe finite in time and space, which raises awkward questions like, What existed before, will exist after, and actually exists outside it right now in the mean time? Maybe an infinite number of parallel universes stretching out like pick-a-plot novels from every either/or choice ever made by every human being since the year DOT. And why restrict it to human beings and planet Earth? Probably somewhere out there a troop of monkeys actually is producing the complete works of Shakespeare.
But theories and hypotheses aside, if this hologram business turns out to be true, what is that going to mean for the mundane problems of daily life on planet Earth: What’ll we have for lunch? Is it better to be a dead hero or a live coward? Why are the Germans so intent on bankrupting poor little Greece?
Frankly, I’ve pretty much given up on physicists, and I’m looking to pin my hopes for the future of the world on Kim Kardashian. According to another article I chanced on the other day, baby North’s mother is ‘definitely preparing to take over the world.’ It seems hubby Kanye put the idea into her head, tactfully suggesting that his good lady might benefit from a little more education – and she’s taken it to heart. A source close to the West-Kardashians revealed that ‘She realises, deep down, that her IQ isn’t where she wants it to be, and the only way to work on it is to study.’
Hey, wait a minute! Maybe I’m the answer!
Well, the country that gave Arnold Schwartzenegger to the world and made him Governor of its most populous state, is going into ecstasies of nationalistic pride about having spent a zillion dollars on a ten-year robo-expedition to photograph a lump of rock and ice on the outer edge of our solar system, and is considering a billionaire real estate tycoon and TV reality show host as a serious candidate for President, is clearly way ahead of you and me when it comes to understanding the purpose of human existence – and I reckon Kim K may be just the lady to put us all on the right track.
One the other hand, ‘There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.’