Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Humans limited from grasping how truly incredible the universe is

There's a video that Pound360 reviewed years ago that continues to stick with us. Every couple of months or so, when writing a blog post or discussing science issues with friends, something from this incredible video echoes through our minds. It's a clip of biologist Richard Dawkins speaking at a 2005 TED conference. In it, he introduces the concept of "middle world" and how that limits us from grasping how truly incredible the universe is.

Basically, middle world is the stuff that we can see, smell, hear, feel with our skin and taste. That's all we know, because that's all we need to know to survive. We evolved this way.

According to Dawkins, "middle world [is] the range of sizes and speeds which we have evolved to feel intuitively comfortable with is a bit like the narrow range of the electromagnetic spectrum that we see as light or various colors. We're blind to all frequencies outside that…" (14:30)

Furthermore, "middle world is the narrow range of reality which we judge to be normal as opposed to the queerness of the very small, the very large and the very fast."

Because of this concept, "there are more things in heaven and earth than can be dreamed of," as geneticist and evolutionary biologist
J.B.S. Haldane once remarked.

Here's the video…




Here are some highlights…

"Science does violence to common sense"
"The number of molecules per glassful is hugely larger than the number of glassfuls in the world." (2:30)

Even the most solid objects we know are mostly empty space. All objects are made of atoms. Now consider, "the nucleus of an atom is a fly in the middle of a sports stadium." And the next atom is another sports stadium with a fly in the middle of it.
(4:40)

You are not really you
Dawkins quoting English computer scientist
Steve Grand: "Think of an experience from your childhood. Something you can see, feel, maybe even smell, as if you were really there. After all, you really were there at the time, weren’t you? How else would you remember it? But here is the bombshell. You weren’t there. Not a single atom that is in your body today was there when that event took place. Matter flows form place to place and momentarily comes together to be you. Whatever you are, you are not the stuff of which you are made." (10:30)

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.