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How We Observe the Universe in Space and Time

Author:

Glenn Stok has a Master of Science degree. He studies cosmology to understand the Universe and shares his ideas and research in his essays.

Our observation is limited by our comprehension.

Our observation is limited by our comprehension.

Our observation of the universe is limited by our comprehension and theoretical hypotheses. This article is a review of particular aspects of observation we try to understand.

We Need a Frame of Reference

Nothing in the universe is isolated. Everything affects everything else in one way or another. All objects have forces of gravity that affect all other objects in the universe, including the influence on space and time.

Scientists are studying how a "frame of reference" is required when attempting to measure points in the universe that are constantly in motion.

That research involves quantum mechanics, relativity theory, and particle physics, to fully understand how space and time function together as a single entity.1

The problem is that we cannot measure or analyze anything without changing the outcome. Therefore we cannot correctly envision the actual reality of our world.

The following example that I learned in my college days with electrical engineering will help to understand this concept:

  • When we connect a measuring device to an electronic circuit to test its functionality, we change the function of the circuit.
  • Connecting a voltmeter to an electric circuit will change the way the circuit behaves. The circuit's new function is now related to the inclusion of the voltmeter.

That is true for everything in life, not just with electronics. Every single element in the universe is interrelated to one another.

I think this is true with our minds as well as physical objects. We relate to one another in such a way that only a complex algorithm can define, and we continue to struggle with our misconceptions and misunderstandings.

Distinguishing Between Factual and Theoretical Hypotheses

Another problem is confusion with the difference between factual and theoretical hypotheses. To make this clear, let me start by asking you a question:

Do you believe in gravity?

You might be thinking right now, "What a silly question! Isn't that obvious?"

I bring that up to make a point about theories and facts because we sometimes misunderstand how we conclude our observation of data. Are we clear with the facts, or are we merely accepting theories?

We can't deny that gravity is a fact. Can we? It's not a matter of belief, and it's not a theoretical observation. It's a factual observation. We can even express gravity precisely with mathematical formulas.

However, we can only explain gravity with theories. There is no factual explanation for gravity, but it's an accurate observation. So we accept the fact that mass attracts mass everywhere in the universe.

That same dilemma occurs with a lot of our scientific research. So the question is:

Do we believe in theories, or are we determining facts?

Many times we just need to acknowledge our limitations.

There May Be an Infinite Laws of Physics

It's hard for the human mind to comprehend the concept of infinity. That's why we prefer to think that the universe started at a specific point in time: The Big Bang!

As I see it, the Big Bang could not have been the beginning. It was merely the starting point of the next stage of the continuation of time.

Before the Big Bang, the laws of physics may have been vastly different from what we know today.

Once everything gets sucked into a black hole, time itself becomes meaningless. Eventually, it all explodes into another Big Bang, another universe, and another timeline all over again.

That next stage of the universe could be very different in many ways, with entirely altered laws of physics from what we know in our present world.

There may very well be an infinite number of laws of physics, even though there is only one that we are aware of that we can study. That one set of laws that rule the physical universe as we know it controls everything we do.

Time becomes meaningless in a black hole.

Time becomes meaningless in a black hole.

The Butterfly Effect and Its Impact on the Future

Everything we experience in our little corner of space, and our small segment of time, is just a tiny part of the entire picture. We are part of the puzzle.

Our very own existence has a strong effect on the rest of the universe. That is known as the butterfly effect. I'll explain it with a couple of examples.

  1. Things on Earth are different because each of us is here. Every move we make causes something to change somewhere else, even to a small degree in the outer limits of the universe.
  2. Did you ever think back to things you've done in the past, and suddenly you realized how those actions affected the way your life is today? One little step can have a significant effect on the future.

The term, butterfly effect, was used to demonstrate how a butterfly flapping its wings will, over time, cause considerable changes in the future.2

The problem that stems from this is that when we try to analyze something or measure something, we cause it to change. So our observation of the way the universe is changing makes us see things differently than they actually are.

Our Limitations With the Observable Universe

We are limited to how far we can see through the universe. That limit is 46 billion light-years.

The reason for that limitation is due to how far a photon could have traveled since being emitted from the Big Bang some 13.8 billion years ago.3

We call that the observable universe since the light from beyond that distance has not reached us yet. It’s as if there is a dark curtain surrounding our observable universe. There might very well be much more beyond that.

In Conclusion

We can only analyze the movement of everything we observe in the universe as best we can, with the understanding that our measurements and conclusions are limited by the way we affect the end result.

References

  1. Robert DiSalle. (April 15, 2020). “Space and Time: Inertial Frames” - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  2. Larry McClemons. (June 10, 2012). “The butterfly effect’s origin” - Washington Post
  3. Ethan Siegel. (March 5, 2019). "How Much Of The Unobservable Universe Will We Someday Be Able To See?" - Forbes

© 2011 Glenn Stok

Comments

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on October 24, 2015:

eugbug - You mentioned some interesting points that I, ironically, had also written about in other hubs. One about "The Origin of Nothingness." Another about "The Emptiness of Matter and the Universe." I even gave my views of a possible solution to the problem with the Big Bang being interpreted as the beginning in "From the Big Bang to the Infinite Universe."

By the way, protons and electrons do have mass, although infinitesimal. Protons have about 1836 times more mass that electrons. (Source: Wikipedia -> Electron). I do agree that atoms are mostly empty, as I also spoke about in one of the above hubs.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Eugene Brennan from Ireland on October 24, 2015:

Interesting concepts and I wonder if the human mind will ever be capable of understanding the Universe? Physicists tell us that both space and time began at the big bang which is something hard to grasp. So there was no "before" and no point in space where it all began, just nothingness. Even so called matter is a macroscopic phenomenon "in the eye of the beholder" and matter is mostly nothingness. Sub atomic particles such as protons and electrons have zero dimensions (although we like to think of them as little marbles whizzing around the place!).

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on January 01, 2012:

Thank you to tsarnaudova, d.william and R. J. Lefebvre (Ronnie) for your insightful comments. Each of you had added very useful additional thoughts to this discussion. I never thought so much would come from it, but I'm glad I created some inspiration for further thought.

R. J. Lefebvre on December 31, 2011:

Glenn,

Everyone of us has a slightly different perception of our existence and the environment within and beyond earth. The more we know, the more we want to know. Our presumptions are surreal, because with each microgram of change our perceptions are routing to who knows where. Your hub may help us take another microgram step of our reality of space and time.

Ronnie

d.william from Somewhere in the south on December 31, 2011:

Good article. When you look at our existence in the view of its relationship to the total universe, it really puzzles me how this human race can be so minuscule in their concepts of what is right and wrong, and which religion is the only path to heaven.

It certainly defies logic to see some people who sit in pompous judgment of others based on their own limited knowledge of the concepts of right and wrong. And impossible to understand how people can destroy the lives of others, so callously through their self righteousness and material gains.

Your essay may be short in words but huge in conceptualism.

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