Summary—The Great Cosmic Accounting Blunder compares the two physical fixedpoints in the universe—lightspeed and Planck’s constant—and argues that we have been guilty of double counting up until now and that in fact there is but one fixedpoint—which, as it turns out, is the boundary of the universe.
Quote: Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all. —Helen Keller
In the very first episode of the sevenyear television series, Star Trek—The Next Generation, Captain JeanLuc Picard of the starship Enterprise finds himself in a medieval court—forced to represent humanity against the charge of being a dangerous, savage childrace—as brought forth by the Q continuum—a race of immortal beings, all named Q, who understand everything except for mortal existence. The first episode ends with Q agreeing with Picard that man had indeed shown himself to be peaceful and benevolent—and Picard is allowed to go on his way.
Déjà Vu. In the very last episode of the television series, Picard finds himself involuntarily shifting back and forth through three different time periods—the first episode, the last episode, and twentyfive years after the last episode. He encounters an anomaly at one point in space in each of the three time periods. The analysis reveals the anomaly to be a temporal rupture that is growing larger as it travels backwards in time. It is at this point that Picard is brought out of a deep sleep by the startling revelation that the analysis itself has paradoxically caused the rupture. He proceeds to save the day by taking all three Enterprises into the anomaly in order to seal the rupture at the focal point. The television series ends with the following dialogue between Picard and Q in the same medieval court as where the television series began.
The Trial of Existence. Picard—I sincerely hope this is the last time that I find myself here. Q—You just don’t get it, do you, JeanLuc? The trial never ends. We wanted to see if you had the ability to expand your mind and your horizons. And for one brief moment, you did. Picard—When I realized the paradox? Q—Exactly. For that one fraction of a second you were open to options you had never considered. That is the exploration that awaits you. Not mapping stars and studying nebula, but charting the unknown possibilities—of existence.
Pascal’s Sphere. Consider for a moment two hypothetical spheres existing in abstract, metaphysical space—that is, space where the normal rules of physics do not apply. With the first sphere the center is everywhere and the boundary is nowhere, while with the second sphere the boundary is everywhere and the center is nowhere. The question is—How are the spheres different? The thought problem leads to the counterintuitive conclusion that the terms center and boundary are interchangeable in this case—and thus both spheres paradoxically describe the very same continuum.
1900—The Quanta. Max Planck (18581947) first encountered the ultraviolet catastrophe thought problem while on his way to understanding why we are able to stand so close to a fire without being overwhelmed by radiation. Classical physics tells us the relationship between the temperature of a fire and the amount of radiation ought to increase linearly. Planck realized that the size restriction on escaping energy units causes a traffic jam—and thus we avoid the catastrophe that would occur if energy were allowed to escape the fire in lesser quantities. Nature strangely insists that we not be permitted to portion energy in units smaller than Plank’s constant. The discovery of this cosmic fixedpoint set in motion a sequence of cascading paradigms that culminated in the hardfought realization of quantum theory twentyfive years later.
1905—Special Relativity. John Wheeler once remarked that we have time so that everything does not happen at once. And we have space so that we all do not stand in the same place. The spacetime continuum is our playground. Albert Einstein (18791955) discovered the equivalence of space and time in 1905 when he realized the invariance of lightspeed contradicts the additivity of velocity. It turns out that space and time dilate as a function of velocity relative to lightspeed. Einstein thus concluded that all spatial and temporal referencing is relative except for lightspeed. And then taking the dilation of space and time to the limit, we see that bodies traveling at lightspeed exist at the very boundary of spacetime—beyond which lies an unimaginable abyss of nothingness.
1915—General Relativity. Consider for a moment a cat and two closed boxes—one box on earth and the other accelerating though outerspace. The question is—Would a cat inside either one of the two boxes be able to tell the difference? The answer is no. While Galileo (15641642) treated gravity and inertia as mathematically equivalent, it was Einstein who first realized that they are in fact the very same thing. Consider now whether an accelerating cat would feel the effects of inertia if the universe were suddenly made empty? The answer is yes. According to general relativity, matter grips spacetime thus giving it mass and providing a sense of inertia in an empty universe. But since we already know that everything is relative except for lightspeed, we have reason to believe that matter grips lightspeed rather than spacetime.
1925—Quantum Theory. While relativity speaks to the macrocosmos, quantum theory concerns itself with the nature of matter at the microcosmic level. In characterizing quantum theory, Schrödinger put forth his classic thought problem involving a quantumcat and two closed boxes. Schrödinger absurdly argued that the cat must be in both boxes until one is opened and the cat’s location is then determined directly. Werner Heisenberg (190176) captured the essence of this quantum indeterminism perfectly in 1927 with his famous uncertainty principle—which states that causality breaks down at Planck’s constant. This acausality means that we cannot track bodies spatially or temporally beyond the spacetime boundary of Planck’s constant. But the movement of electrons and positrons across the boundary is what actually determines the nature of matter—suggesting that the movement is also the mechanism by which matter holds its place. This remarkable realization compels us to paradoxically conclude that matter grips not only lightspeed, but Planck’s constant as well.
No Boundary? No Dice. The French scientist Blaise Pascal (162362) was a mathematical prodigy, religious philosopher and one of the great thinkers of all time. He founded modern probability theory and contributed to the advancement of differential calculus and projective geometry. Pascal once described the universe as a sphere in which the center is everywhere and the boundary is nowhere. Einstein made a similar claim in saying the universe was closed, but unbounded. This belief in unboundedness unfortunately prevented Einstein from conceiving the notion of bodies crossing a boundary and leaving spacetime to travel into nothingness where the normal rules of physics do not apply. His claim that God does not play dice offers further evidence that Einstein could not conceive of an adjacent metaphysical space devoid of normal physical rules.
Déjà Vu Too. Consider again the two spheres—With the first sphere Planck’s constant is everywhere and lightspeed is nowhere, while with the second sphere lightspeed is everywhere and Planck’s constant is nowhere. The question is—How are the spheres different? The thought problem leads to the counterintuitive conclusion that the terms Planck’s constant and lightspeed are interchangeable in this case—and thus both spheres paradoxically describe the very same spacetime continuum.
2001—The Theory of One. The single greatest thought problem occupying the world of physics during the past seventyfive years involved the attempt to unite the macrocosmos of relativity with the microcosmos of quantum theory. As evidence that no prior relationship existed between lightspeed and Planck’s constant—John Wheeler’s 1999 book A Journey into Gravity and Spacetime fails to even mention Planck’s constant. Clearly, the theory of one resolves this seventyfive year old thought problem in utterly spectacular fashion. And it is at this point that I wish to stake claim to the greatest scientific discovery of all time—that lightspeed and Planck’s constant are in fact the very same thing—the boundary of the spacetime continuum.
Conclusion. At one point during Picard’s daring adventure Q takes him back threeandahalf billion years to when the first two amino acids were getting together to begin the glorious assault on the abyss that is evolution. The reflection on the road traveled from these first two building blocks brings us face to face with the realization that our minds and our horizons will only expand if we are at once fully prepared to boldly go where no man has gone before. This realization in turn brings us face to face with the thought problem that is asking the question whether life is a daring adventure or nothing at all.
