On Olber’s Paradox

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” -1 Corinthians 2:14 (NASB)

It was Olber’s Paradox that woke me. In the quiet stillness of a sunny afternoon, I had been nodding off to Professor Filippenko’s soothing webcasted voice. He had answered an agelong question, and without delay, I sat upright and reached for my phone to speed-dial my dad. “I have the answer to your question.”

One year prior, I was attempting to casually investigate my dad’s religious beliefs at the dinner table. This was no simple task, seeing as how his mind is one with nerves of steel and pure curiosity, which is precisely the opposite of my mom, who radiates love and emotion. The question my dad posed was this: “Does there necessarily have to have been a beginning?” Cryptic syntax aside, I carried this with me as the foundational question. For me, it is even more puzzling than purpose, because of the way temporal distance relates to spatial distance, and the impossibility of empirically pursuing such a question. In other words, relativity tells us we can’t go back in time.

Yet Olber’s Paradox tackles exactly this. Our night sky is dark, but the nature of light deems that the tremendous amount of light radiating from surrounding stars should make the sky as bright as daytime. That light is traveling in all directions at the very speed of light. In our finite universe, the lack of an obvious brightness in space from such light means the light is still in the process of propagating out, not yet having reached the extents of our universe. Thus, one significant conclusion is that the universe is young. Implicitly, it had a beginning.

He wasn’t all that excited when I told him. To be honest, I guess he either had forgotten about that conversation we had or hadn’t bothered to indicate otherwise. I, on the other hand, felt as if I had found myself on the precipice of discovery. In the interstices of scientific analysis, the familiar becomes unfamiliar and I lose myself in my thoughts. Come to think of it, seeking knowledge is the first sin, and though I do not have malicious intentions, somewhere buried deep is the desire for setting myself apart from those who do not bother to question. I have a personal tendency to romanticize notions, making claim to them as if they were my own. Similarly, I struggle with the dichotomy between logic and emotion; it is much like the supposed war between science and religion. This wonder both gives me an extraordinary gift of hope, but also instills me with doubt.

Is all vanity? As I impulsively question my own questions, every single one of my thought experiments comes down to this. I can choose complete arbitrariness, or I can choose to simply not question the matter. What remains is that I am still waiting, neck craned up towards the sky, praying for contentedness in an answer that perhaps I could one day understand.

 

Photo credit: krosseel from morguefile.com.

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