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Apples, Gravity and Tall Tales……

30 Mar

 

‘Nothing imprints a story on the public’s imagination like a good anecdote. Not all are mythological or embellished. However, some accounts of purported events are clearly exaggerated and don’t add up……’

A recent item on the local BBC news covered a story of cuttings from the Apple tree at Woolsthorpe Manor, the ancestral home of Sir Isaac Newton, being taken to keep alive the source from which the apocryphal falling Apple inspired the Natural Philosopher to formulate his theories of gravitational attraction. But several things about this legendary story don’t add up.

imageThe story of the the Apple falling on Sir Isaac Newton’s head first appeared in the “Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton’s Life”, written by William Stukeley and published in 1687. As a young man, Newton returned to Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire to avoid the Plague. Newton was born on 25 December 1642. The Plague affected England in 1665/1666 when Newton was 23 years old, which leads to the conclusion that story was at least 22 years old upon publication. Newton makes no mention of falling Apples in “The Principia Mathematica”, which has led many scholars to believe it never actually happened and may have been used by Newton, first as a metaphor in lectures, and latter as an embellished anecdote at dinner parties.

Whether you choose to believe the story or not, there is still a problem with the BBC imagenews story. The preservation of the tree which sits in a small garden at Woolsthorpe is very unlikely to be the same allegorical tree because Apple trees usually only have a life span of 80 to 120 years. The oldest recorded Apple tree is 204 years old; still not old enough to be the tree under which Newton supposedly had his epiphany that led to his theory of gravitational attraction in 1665/1666.

I don’t question the validity and genius of Newton’s work, given what was known about physics at the time. Nor do I have a problem with the story of the falling Apple being used to educate children in schools today. But to make them believe that they may have a sibling of the original tree in the school gardens is on a par with the suspect King James Bible, venerated in every RE department and purporting to be “the gospels” of Jessie Chreezies disciples, which anyone with an IQ of above 80 should know to be nonsense, had they not been lied too since childhood by bigoted self-serving zealots with their own disreputable agenda……

Perhaps they could plant them next to the tree of “forbidden fruit” from the garden of Eden next to Jack’s Beanstalk……?

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What has the Big Bang got to do with Economics……?

4 Apr

‘At first glance nothing but read on and all will become clear……’

 

In the early 20th century Edwin Hubble, the Cosmologist after whom the Hubble Telescope is named, made one of the most important discoveries in science when he plotted the rate of the recessional velocity of galaxies, demonstrating that the universe was, and still is, expanding.

 

It is from Hubble’s observation that the idea of a Big Bang was born. Put simply, if the universe is expanding today, if one winds back the clock, at some point in the past the universe must, logically, have been smaller; taken to its conclusion, at some point in the past the universe had a beginning. This is now an empirical, undisputed fact in Cosmology and Physics (Monotheistic religions may disagree but that is a whole new ball game), I diversify.

 

An awful lot has happened in the 14 billion years since the Big Bang to leave us with the universe we can see today but what has this got to do with economics……?

 

First of all let’s set out some facts about banks which may not be apparent given that they have names like ‘The Bank of England’, ‘The Federal Reserve’, ‘The World Bank’, ‘The International Monetary Fund’ and ‘The Central European Bank’.

 

All of the above give the impression that they are owned and run for the benefit of the people by their respective governments. They are not. They are all privately owned institutions, given permission by governments to literally print money. They are more like a cartel than a service allowing for the convenient exchange of goods and services without carrying bags of gold or diamonds, and, most importantly, when they ‘create’ money it is a debt with interest payable upon it……

 

Back to the Big Bang……

 

Let us now imagine the application of Hubble’s Law to global economics. The 14 billion years of the expansion of the universe is akin to the interest that is created along with every unit of currency created by a bank as it expands. If we wind back the economic clock to the point at which the very first bank note was issued, that solitary note was issued with interest. Ergo, to settle the debt owed on the first ever bank note printed required the creation of more. This is why the big economic superpowers have national debts which add up to hundreds of trillions of Dollars/Pounds/Euros.

 

Wind the clock forwards and we reach the current state of global economics where more and more money has been required to settle the ever expanding debt. The practical upshot of this model is a debt that increases exponentially at an ever increasing rate; just as the universe is expanding at an increasing rate. This debt can only go in one direction and I’m sure you have all worked out which direction it is going.

 

One could consider the simplicity of the early universe as the solitary note. All of the birth and deaths of stars that created the elements we see in today’s universe is the equivalent of the increasingly complicated business deals that mask the inflationary model. The bonding of atomic nuclei inside stars and transmutation of elements in supernovae could be seen as the borrowing, lending and taxing that make economics seem as complicated as the universe……

It is a model that can never be satified. It can only expand and to keep the expansion in check, money is conveyed from the poor to the rich……

And that is what the Big Bang has to do with the Global Economy……

 

It could not be explained with any more simplicity……

 

‘With special thanks go to Sonia Greaves, the Emeritus Professor of the Inspirational Ideas, without whom the seed of this idea would not have been planted……’

The Astonishing Arrogance of Humans……

1 Oct

Early philosophers surmised that the Earth was at the centre of the universe and not without good reasoning.  After all the ‘heavens’ appeared to rotate around us as if we were static.  There was an absence wind coming from one direction, which one might have expected had we been travelling on a constant course through space.  It was also thought that the lights coming from ‘heavens’ may have been placed at specific distances from the Earth on a set of concentric crystal spheres.  This anthropomorphic view also fitted in nicely with the main monotheistic religions which had established themselves as the absolute authority handed down by ‘god’ with mankind at the pinnacle of creation.

One often wonders if ancient philosophers hadn’t worked out some of the problems with this model far earlier than the evidence they left behind suggests, which would doubtless have been destroyed by the authority of the church, that is if they had been brave enough to have committed such reasoning to parchment for fear of reprisal and death.  We tend toward giving credit for the major steps forward in astronomy to the philosophers of the 14th century although many great works were produced, particularly in the Far East, long before this.

CopernicusIt was Nicolaus Copernicus, working with data meticulously collected by others, that first dared to suggest that the planets revolved around the Sun, later backed up by Tyhco Brahe who observed a supernovae, proving that the ‘heavens’ were not static, and the works of Kepler and Galileo.  In a little under one hundred years the view of the Catholic Church had been overturned, although it cost its detractors dearly, some paying with their lives, others effectively ending their careers.  It is worth taking a moment to contemplate that a little over 100 years ago the Milky Way was thought to be everything there was; our Universe.  100 years before that just the planets in our locality with everything else ‘painted’ upon a set of concentric crystal spheres.  Philosophers throughout history had questioned what would later be called the ‘weak anthropic principle’; the notion that we just happened to be inhabitants of the planet that sits so neatly in the centre of everything, with every other observable body circling around us.  This is obviously; the view our species, being the most important in ‘creation’, would, being placed at the centre of everything, would observe:  “What would see if were sitting on another planet?”  I’m sure ancient philosophers secretly wondered.

Having moved on in our acceptance of the Universe and our total insignificance in it, the human race still maintains an astoundingly arrogant opinion of ourselves.  For example; as Voyager leaves the Heliosheath, the point at which the solar wind is slowed by the pressure of interstellar gas, it is the furthest man made object from us, yet in universal measurements it is barely a stones throw from us.  It has yet to pass any of 3 or 4 hundred billion other stars in the Milky Way or to reach any of the other 3 or 4 hundred billion galaxies or pass any of the hundreds billions stars within them.  The chances of ‘intelligent’ life intercepting the Voyager probe are miniscule, but if they did, I have a vision of the instant mashed potato aliens falling all over the flight deck with laughter; “Those pesky humans again, wah, wah, wah!”.smash robots  NASA even changed the disc on the second Voyager to show the man and woman wearing clothes, should we leave ourselves open to embarrassment, or worse, the beings that discover it.  It is that one detail particularly that sets the scene for mankind.

pioneer10-plaque21Take yourself back to the 70’s, you’ve completed your PhD (after all it’s hardly rocket science), landed a dream job working for the worlds most prestigious space outfit, NASA, and you are a part of the steering committee that decides what to include on the gold disk.  Now, presuming some of the MIT or Caltech education sunk in, you’ll already have worked out that the chances of another ‘intelligent’ life form finding your probe is vanishingly small.  The distances involved are immense, your probe has a limited life span and by the time it reached another ‘intelligent’ species the human race will be as ancient to them as the Jurassic Period is to us now.  However, assuming all goes to plan and your probe is intercepted in the distant future they’ll be able to hang in their space museum with a little tag that reads ‘Extinct race from the Milky Way who were easily embarrassed’.  I need go no further in demonstrating the stupidly arrogant belief in ourselves.

We are the product of an unimaginably large set of coincidences.  Life may, in fact almost certainly will, have developed somewhere out there in the vastness of space.  In all probability evolution V1.2 will have produced something completely unrecognisable from us.  Any contact between us is vanishingly small due to the distances and time involved and either one of us will doubtless be extinct by the time our paths collide.  The whole UFO phenomena is just another example of our need to coexist and conspiracy theories apart, I think we would know if we were being ‘buzzed’ by an advanced civilisation, and what use would they have for us?  Technology?  Food?  A comfortable new home?  Again we apply our arrogant opinions to the problem.

We are a freak of nature and one hell bent on destroying our planet and its inhabitants.  Take a step back, apply logic and accept that we are for all practical purposes alone in the space-time we occupy.  Now we can back to the business of destroying things in the name of globalisation, religion and progress……

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Education, Stimulation, Application……

3 Sep

‘The homogenisation of academia is yet another example of the Authorities to place the next generation into boxes, enabling them to be represented neatly on a spreadsheet.  Intelligence takes many forms; try observing Dolphins.  Unfortunately, if you don’t fit the mould, your genius may go unnoticed……’

Education provides a platform upon which our future industrialists, economists, scientist and entrepreneurs will go on toThe_Thinker_Rodin formulate great theories, build sustainable industries and make important discoveries, but there are some major shortcomings of our current systems from elementary schools all the way up to the entry requirements for universities……

First of all is the seemingly endless interference by the Department for Education (DfE) who, for reasons which evade me, continually meddles with the requirements for attaining qualifications.  Michael Gove MP, the Secretary of State for Education, has made numerous announcements of ‘new’ policies, only to perform a U-turn on them shortly afterwards.

Dimmus Witticus Maximus

Dimmus Witticus Maximus

Amongst the many proposed changes was the introduction of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc), which is a performance indicator linked to GCSEs, not to be confused with the English Baccalaureate Certificate which was a proposed academic qualification to be awarded in Secondary Schools in place of GCSEs.  There was also a proposal to scrap the GCSE system, introduced in 1986 to replace the GCE/CSE system, and return to ‘O’ Level and CSE qualifications.  There was also talk of re-labelling the results of the current GCSEs.  Gove performed U-turns on all of these proposals but did, however, announce a new ‘National Curriculum’ for the UK, with the exception of Scotland.  The only problem with Gove’s ‘National Curriculum’ is that it only applies to State run Comprehensives.  Academies, Free Schools, Private Schools, Faith Schools and schools in Scotland are not required to teach it.  This means less than one quarter of schools will be required to teach Mr. Gove’s ‘National Curriculum’……

In my own experience of Comprehensive education, completed just before the change to GCSEs, not only did I not know what I wanted to do when I left but, the subjects being taught seemed to hold no ‘real world’ applications.  When would I ever need to use Calculus or Trigonometry?  What use was German or French going to be as I had no intentions of working in either motherland or their territories?  I had an interest in physics and the mathematics came in useful for that but I had no plans to become a scientist.  I was one of the many who simply lost interest; partly due to the benign nature of the subjects and partly because they were never taught with any ‘real world’ applications and enthusiasm from the tutor that might have triggered my imagination……

It is 30 years since I sat in a classroom and cannot vouch for the way in which subjects are taught today, but if it is anything like my experience I’m sure just as many kids loose interest and become the NEETs of tomorrow.  My niece goes to an academy school and from the very first day the focus appears to have been on getting to university (there are the obligatory letters asking for donations toward projects they are working on; purely voluntary but do you want your kid to be the only one who has to hand in the ‘opt-out’ form?)  I’m sure a lot of kids want to go to university, but others don’t, and it is they who are allowed to fall through the net.  It is not through a lack of talent.  Many could be the next James Dyson or Richard Branson but all that matters to the school is the league tables that future parents will use to get their cherubs into the ‘best’ schools.

The reality of the academy systems is that they are a commercial enterprise and, just like any of the other commercialised public services it is money, and not well adjusted young adults with a feeling of self worth and accomplishment, that drives them.  If it was up to me there would be only one state run education system for all children, thereby abolishing the league tables.  It is not a coincidence that half of the Cabinet and a large majority of top Civil Servants just happen to have been educated at Eton and ‘chums’ with the PM……

Since deciding that the system had nothing to offer me I have developed an interest in physics; from the grandeur of Cosmology to the strange microscopic world of the Quantum.  I have read many text books, scientific papers and watched documentaries about the subject and, yes, some of that boring old Calculus and Trigonometry has eventually come in useful but at the age of 43 I am unlikely to achieve a Doctorate in the subject.  Perhaps, had it been taught with a little enthusiasm, instead of the ‘copy this down from the black-board’ method, I might have been the scientist that I feel it is now too late for me to be?

Of course, not all of the blame can be placed at the teachers’ doors.  It must have been hard enough back then when a well established curriculum existed.  It must be even harder now for teachers whose jobs are on the line if their department doesn’t feature high up in the league tables and, made harder still by an incompetent Minister who operates under Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle……

Genius comes in many guises not always labelled A thru E or 1 thru 5.  One wonders what marks would have been attained by Copernicus, Galileo or Euclid……?

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An Improbable Result……

25 Jul

iRodin_ThinkerIt is easy to comprehend the current viewpoint of the ‘Creationists’ who, under the weight of indisputable empirical evidence have had to admit defeat with regard to the biblical account(s) of creation given in Genesis and accept that all ‘life’ evolved slowly over an inconceivably large amount of time, but in order to ‘save’ God have staked their entire argument on the strong anthropic principle.  The weak anthropic principle essentially states that the conditions we observe in the universe are consistent with the conditions needed for us to exist.  This appears to be pretty obvious and self explanatory; in another universe or an unobservable, distant part of our own universe where the conditions are incompatible with supporting life, then clearly there would be no-one to observe it.  The weak anthropic principle holds some philosophical and, some would argue, scientific validity.  Although highly improbable, the evolution of an organism with the capability to consider its own existence, even if was unimaginably different from us, it would still hold that the conditions required to bring about that eventuality are consistent with the weak anthropic principle.  However, the Creationists rely on the strong anthropic principle which is an altogether different proposition, and one which is difficult to argue for even in the forgiving area of philosophy and has no place in the realms of science, even as a hypothesis.  The strong anthropic principle states that, not only is the universe in which live and observe compatible with life, but that the initial conditions were ‘set up’ to purposely evolve to that end.  This is quite obviously so highly improbable that it cannot possibly hold any validity as a scientific theory and immediately throws up the ‘Creator Paradox’.  If the initial conditions were ‘set up’ with purpose, they would require an entity to carry out that task, which begs the question “who created the creator”?  [Ad infinitum]……

There is, however, some common ground between Physicists and Creationist in that most reasoning is inherently and, to a degree, inescapably anthropocentric.  This is for the simple reason that ‘we’, by which I mean the Human race, exists within the universe we are observing, making measurements of, and developing theories about.  As we cannot step outside of our universe, almost all theories will, at some point, fall foul of the basic assumptions developed from our own experiences.  When given careful consideration, almost all of our scientific knowledge makes certain assumptions.  For an example of how we tend to apply what we think we know; take Einstein’s Theories of Special and General Relativity.  I recently re-read his einstein1revolutionary papers (for the 6th, 7th or possibly 8th time).  Many people have some understanding of the basic principles underlying them but when given some serious thought all notions of ‘place’ and ‘time’ are, in reality, meaningless, no matter how counter intuitive it seems.  Admittedly, at the velocities we move, and the restrictions of being glued to the surface of a planet, we can still agree the meaning of ‘the café on the high street at 11am’, so it doesn’t cause us too much inconvenience, but ‘time’ and ‘space’ are not only malleable but only measurable by an arbitrary system of co-ordinates that could not adequately convey information to an observer in another part of the galaxy.  Similarly, our perception of time is governed by our experience.  Try to explain to a friend what ‘time’ is?(but assume they are light years away with a good mobile signal!)  I guarantee you’ll come unstuck before the end of the first sentence, because we are only able to describe time by our anthropocentric experience.  According to the laws of physics time and space are symmetrical, reversible and favour no particular direction, which runs contrary to our everyday experience.  Have you ever seen a scrambled egg spontaneously un-scramble?  Probably not; but wait long enough and theoretically it will happen.  The idea that time is reversible is not disallowed, just incredible hard to achieve.  In principle all you need to know is the position and velocity of every particle in the universe and put them back where they were.  Clearly, this is astoundingly unlikely to be achieved but it is possible just improbable.  One of the fundamental obstacles to any kind of time reversal is the measurement problem.  Not unlike Einstein’s theories, the measurement problem throws an inescapable spanner in the works.  For it says that it is impossible to know both the velocity and position of a particle at the same time with enough accuracy to ‘reverse time’……

muonIt is when we get into the realm of Quantum Mechanics that our existence and consciousness really start to make things difficult.  This not just because the sums are complicated but because we simply do not have the language or cognitive ability to visualise what is happening at the atomic level and below.  It transpires that the fundamental particles that make up everything in the observable universe do not have a locality, not even if you attempt to assign an arbitrary co-ordinate system.  They are spread out in ‘space’, in more than one place at once and, to further complicate matters, the act of observation (making a measurement) affects their behaviour……

HUP_01

To a scientist seeking concrete answers to questions about the universe in which we live, the nature of time and space and the ‘rules’ upon which it operates, these things can be profoundly unsettling which may well be one of the reasons that many of the worlds brightest, pioneering scientists have ended up in mental institutions or worse……

Even taking everything I have learned into consideration I remain convinced that we are simply the highly improbable statistical outcome of the second law of thermodynamics and the ever increasing entropy that eventually results in life given an infinite amount of ‘time’.  We serve no purpose and are most definitely not guided by the hand of ‘God’……

To even think about the universe from our point of view is to credit ourselves with a degree of importance that we simply don’t have.  The universe doesn’t consider us and it will go on increasing in entropy long after we are gone.  Maybe at some time in the very distant future another thinking organism will doubtless be asking the same question and they will know as much about us as we do about them……

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Physics, Philosophy and Paradoxes ……

9 Jun

‘Is the world around us a quantifiable reality upon which we can all agree or the product of our individual experience?  What can we ultimately state is real, constructed or imagined, and why does it matter…..?’

I can answer the last question, “why does it matter?’ without any difficulty.  It matters now for the same reasons it mattered to Aristotle, Socrates and Plato 2000 years ago; to understand our place in the universe, the reason for our existence and, ultimately, the purpose of purpose.

Although we have a far greater understanding than our forefathers, we are still a long way from knowing even a small percentage of the answers.  However, theology still remains mankind’s first and worst attempt by way of an ‘explanation’.  To say we were put here by a creator and he, and only he, has the answers is as useless as saying the universe was farted out of a giant green hyper-being.  Note:  I use the masculine in my description of the creator, not due to my own sexist beliefs; rather those telling of the male dominated monotheistic religions who claim to act with divine authority and have spread misery to millions across the globe.

Scientific investigation has provided us with many useful answers about the world upon which we live, the solar system and galaxy in which it resides and the observable universe beyond.  However, there are some embarrassingly large gaps in our knowledge and an inability to reconcile observations on different scales.  The scientific community has chosen, or been reluctantly compelled, to do their research in isolation absent a unifying theory to explain the observations of the quantum scale with those of the cosmological.  Not that this lack of unification should deter further investigation as breakthroughs do happen.  Experimentation provides the most useful results on all scales and theories are needed to guide those experiments but it is theory that leads me to my next point.

There comes a point where a theory can not be experimentally tested.  It is then  that theory and philosophy converge.  An example of this is that of “the standard model of particle physics”.  With time, patience and a considerable investment in particle accelerators scientists have delivered results which appear to have confirmed the standard model through experiment and have applications in the advancement of the plethora of electronic devices upon which our lives now depend.  However, another branch of theorists have departed from testable predictions with ideas such as string theory.  Clever though the mathematics may be it adds little to our understanding of the real world and may be nothing more than numerical anomalies.  If this is the case then it may as well be theology; albeit less destructive.  I find it hard to imagine fundamental theoretical physicists declaring war on the “multi-verse” camp.  I simply feel that once a theory becomes un-testable it adds nothing to our understanding of the physical world around us.

Some alternative theories do carry some weight and may be testable.  One in particular that caught my attention was the proposal that the laws of physics as we now understand them may have been and are still evolving.  The Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees, wrote an interesting book entitled “Just Six Numbers”, in which he postulates that even a minute variation in something like the force of gravity and the universe as we observe it would never have come into existence.  Had that have been the case we would probably not have even been here in the first place.  However, everything we observe around us is evolving with ever increasing entropy.  Some theorists are now proposing that the laws of physics are not necessarily constant or fixed.  This idea is not as preposterous as it may first appear as it may explain some of the mathematical paradoxes that current theories produce such as infinities.  Infinities have always bothered me, not to the degree of Georg Cantor who was driven insane by the paradoxical nature of infinity.  Given the immense time scales and intrinsic measurement problems presented by physics infinitesimally small changes in what we have always considered “constants” in nature could be possible and account for some of the anomalies in the evolution of the universe.

It is certainly an area I will be paying close attention too and will hopefully provide a better explanation for why our universe is as we see it today, whereas string theory can never be proven by experimentation……

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Big Universe, Small Box……

1 Apr
The Aurora Borealis

The Aurora Borealis

‘From the outer edges of the observable universe to the beauty of our planet, all may just as well be unreachable from the relative position of the very small box which imprisons by body and mind, stifles my imagination and limits by ability to discuss ideas……’

My Box……

The box which imprisons both my mind and body is 15 x 25 feet square.  It is a philosophical prison and one from which my escape is limited by the same thing that limits almost everything we do as human beings: money……

My Universe……

Yellowstone Park

Yellowstone Park

Unlikely to ever be able to leave the surface of planet Earth, my universe is made from light.  Some of that light left its source many hundreds of millions of years ago.  This does not impede my ability to study it.  What stops me from seeing it with anything other than the naked eye is money.  To be able to clearly see some of the faintest objects in the sky one requires two things; the ability to be able reach somewhere with the minimum of light pollution and an observational instrument with which to view them.  Both of these resources need money.  Not a huge amount of money, but enough for a reliable vehicle (as you are heading into open country) and, a telescope of sufficient quality to see your chosen object with clarity.  This would cost you approximately £2,000, even on the second hand market……

Angel Falls  - Venezuela

Angel Falls – Venezuela

The World we live on……

Our planet is covered in fascinating landscapes, diverse cultures and archaeological gems.  During my life thus far I have visited many places, some quite beautiful others no so much.  What they all have in common, with the exception of North America is warmth.  I’ve generally followed the tourist trail to the Mediterranean; Spain, France, Greece, Italy and islands to numerous to mention.  Although some have had a few archaeological sites of interest, the majority have been the standard ‘two weeks by the pool’ kind of destinations.  Great for a sun tan and cheap larger, not so good for the cultural expansion of ones horizons……

Chichenitza - Mexico

Chichenitza – Mexico

To see the things I’ve missed……

On our own planet the things I’d like to see are archaeological sites of scientific interest.  Most are in fairly inaccessible places like Machu Picchu in Peru, the Pyramids in Egypt, Mexico, Cambodia and Tikal in Guatemala amongst others.  Then there’s Petra in Jordan, the Terracotta Army in China and the statues on Easter Island.  This is only a few of the places I’d like to see but all are inaccessible to anybody without substantial sums of money.  Then there are the natural wonders of the world; the Galapagos Islands, Yellowstone Park, the Great Barrier Reef, the Grand Canyon and Angel Falls in Venezuela to name but a few.  Again, all of this would take a lot of money; money I don’t have and money I am unlikely ever to have……

‘So here I am, stuck in small box inside an unimaginably, if not infinitely, large universe, unable to visit the places that physics dictate can be reached and unable to see the objects that physics dictate I can only see given the right optical equipment……’

 

New Zealand

New Zealand

‘It’s a big universe and a small room.  It adds a whole new dimension to Einstein’s General Relativity……’

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