Sunday, December 18, 2005

A Measure Of Understanding

I just watched an old video, and it prompted an interesting thought (okay, I realize that you may not think it's interesting, but I do, and it's my blog).

The video showed our current ability to image from about 1024 meters (about 100 million light years) down to about 10-14. Actual images using today's technology appear to really go from about 1026 meters (abt 12 billion light years) down to about about 10-9m (atom) for practical imaging (with the rest down to the makeup of a proton under 10-14 as representing our theoretical understanding).

For most of history, we were limited to the resolution of the human eye. Ancient astronomers could make out some of the near planets out to Jupiter (about 1011m). On the low end, close examination could make out skin cells (maybe 10-2m).

In the late 1200's, with the invention of magnifying lenses, we took a jump. The high end went to about 1012m, and the low end with a single lens went down to about 10-3 or -4m. In the 1600's, with the inventions of the telescope and microscope, the high end went to about 1013 or 14m, and the low end went down to the cellular level, around 10-4 or -5m.

So a table of progress kind of looks like this (all powers of 10, which means I should have plotted this on a log/log scale, but was too lazy to take the time).






Yearslowhigh
5 -2 11
4 -3 12
3 -5 14
2 -14 24

With these trends (in both scale and time to reach the next order of magnitude), we've about reached certain "known" limits (the edge of the Universe on the high end, and quarks on the low end). Is this the end of progress in the dimension of sight? Or just the edge of another singularity, where we literally cannot yet see what's on the other side?

It smells like a singularity. I hope it is. Because our current theories just aren't cutting it. And without some fundamental changes in our understanding of space (and it's constant companion - or should I say relative? - time), we're not ever going to get off this planet.

And it is a certainty that someday Alice won't be able to live here anymore.

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