Gongol.com Archives: January 2024

Brian Gongol

January 1, 2024

Science and Technology The answer is all around us

Everyone who has passed middle-school math knows that the area of a circle is equal to πr2, and that the value of π is close to 3.14159. We also know that the same value holds true not just on Earth, but in the other places humankind has gone -- both the formula and the value of π remain true on the International Space Station and on the surface of the Moon. They still remain true on Mars, where the Perseverance Rover is rolling about on round wheels, and beyond the Solar System, where Voyager 1 is carrying a circular gold-plated copper disk into interstellar space. ■ Suppose for just a moment that you could reach much farther into space than even Voyager 1. No matter how far you were to travel from Earth, is there any place where (a) circles could not be drawn, (b) the area of a circle were anything other than πr2, or (c) the value of π were different from the familiar 3.14159? ■ The idea is fundamentally inconceivable. It's possible to imagine discovering an alien civilization that hadn't calculated the area of a circle yet. It's possible to imagine using a counting system with a base other than 10 (the Babylonians used base-60, for instance), which would convert the value of π to a different equivalent. It's even possible to imagine a planet somewhere without any naturally-occurring circles (though it's extremely hard to imagine). ■ But there's just no way for a circle (or π) to change, no matter how far away you get from home. And the extremely deep problem revealed by such a thought experiment is this: We don't know what enforces that as a law of nature. ■ Yet something does, and it does so both everywhere in the entire universe, and it does so simultaneously. There is no distracting whatever force is doing the enforcement, nor is there any arguing with it. There is no holiday when the area of a circle is 9r, nor a far corner of a distant galaxy where π equals 4.5678. ■ We've explored a great deal about knowledge and information -- witness the explosive growth in artificial intelligence and the legitimately mind-splitting possibilities of quantum computing. And what scientists working on these things are uncovering about subjects like quantum entanglement across large distances are making for very weird science. ■ Whatever governs the (literally) universal nature of knowledge and the laws of all physical existence, we may quite possibly soon begin to uncover the earliest hints of understanding. It's hard to know if we'll even recognize them when we see them. But for the first time in human history, despite all of the stupid things some members of our species are doing to hurt one another and break things, we could be within single-digit years of finding out what binds together everything that exists.

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