Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The butterfly and Infinite Space

The concept of infinite space rattles the mind. Even in the ever-expanding universe where galaxies diverge and orbits around the center deviate outwards and the chatter of the Big Bang keeps its static hum ongoing. The space within which the universe is expanding in astronomical sense remains incomprehensible. 

Certainly analogies to an expanding air balloon do not pass mustard since the threshold once reached breaches the elastic into a burst of air and sound wave release. The infinite space surrounds the balloon and is not that confined within the balloon. 

So what is this infinite space? Can we understand it? Can we chip away at the layers of this mystery and come to a real understanding? Or does it defy cogent reasoning?

Lets begin by employing comprehension. A mind that fathoms the infinite yet cannot define the confines of this space is equally infinite in its understanding, even though it is contained in an eight pound universe. The mind of a man or woman grasps at straws and through these reaches it gains control of its surroundings. This then is the infinite space of a human that constantly enlarges, stretches, expands and violates the inviolable limits of understanding, to begin again. Do we then have an infinite space to expand our understanding to reel in this wild and unimagined void?

On a moonless night when all the stars glow in their glory and the Dippers parade the sky barely keeping pace with the Orion, the mind ventures into the star-struck universe of Why?

Some whys may never receive answers and yet we try to fathom the unfathomable. It is the age-old question of what makes the world go around. Yeah gravity and all, aside what set it spinning and do all objects born of collective gases find the spin around other objects and also within themselves as a result of gravity. Can some of these amalgamated rocks called planets, spin around stars without spinning themselves like the geocentric orbital satellites? Or does all coalesced matter end up like a spinning top? Can we finally lay claim to an understanding that will empty the libraries of books about strings and multi-verses somewhere in the future or will it take a monumental task of exploration with loss of human lives to gather the data that may never be of use to us? Exploring the hinterlands we may never be able to return to profess the knowledge. Suddenly the concept becomes muddier. Even the cells in the living body have an orientation and each atom within the cell is in a state of spin, its alignment based on its density. We mock their orientation under heavy magnetic fields as in with MRI machines to determine the resonance and try to make diagnoses of clinical illnesses. So at least we know that there is a natural order to all things. We have crossed some threshold, maybe in our minds.

                   Universe through Inferometry (Butterfly effect)
Mindful of such complexities, I wandered in the garden the other day and saw this beautiful creature of evolutionary triumph. A butterfly, it was a Monarch but oh so beautiful. The micro-RNA circulating around and modulating its genes had created the most perfect and harmonious mosaic of colors. Dab of black here and there a few small gobs of white scattered in perfect symmetry over the unmistakable orange. 

Catching it and holding this live being between the thumb and the forefinger while it pulsated for its freedom made me think of the world it calls its own and the forces it has to align itself with, that make it fly. The finite space it lives must seem infinite to it if it wonders and the finite time it survives, no better than a human life really, just dimensionally different. So the butterfly and a human being are the same in their relative existence.

                                                The Monarch

With the fluttering of the wings in quick succession and the appearance of the drunken path of flight before alighting atop another juicy lavender flower, it gave the world meaning. Nature has contrived the aerodynamics of this wonderful creature. The relatively large surface area of its wings compared to the body and the wing force downwards creates lift to defy gravity and with the same motion a thrust is created for movement of flight perpendicular to the wing motion at 1 meter/second.

 It is akin to an ice skater as he applies the force perpendicular to the direction of the motion of the skates to move forwards. Unlike the first three generations, the fourth generation of Monarchs even with their constant exertion, travel longer distances with their inherent GPS antennas than most butterflies. 

                           The perpendicular motion of the Butterfly Wing

They are limited to relatively still air of one on the Beaufort scale, anything more than a gentle breeze will overcome their intent, and stronger breezes seem like hurricanes to these little colorful creatures, throwing them into chaos. After all, these gorgeous little flies flit about the world involved in their own majestic ecosystem, content with gathering specks of food and flying from flower to flower visiting upon them more color, beauty and a chance to deliver the pollen from other plants.

I could hold the Monarch forever, and gaze at its warm and striking beauty, but it appeared to be tiring of the struggle so I gently placed it on the flower from whence, I had plucked it away from its daily constitutional. The Monarch true to its name, sat there for a moment on the flower as it caught its bearing, contemplating its next move. Whether to fly off immediately and be at risk of captivity again or to sit and fake it, finally after a few seconds it took off. The flight was disturbed. The wings did not seem to propel it with the same vigor and intensity. Both wings flapped at the same time and with equal proportion yet the right wing did not seem to catch the air as much. There was, what seemed to be a problem with lift generation from the right wing.  The butterfly could not maintain its flight path or its altitude. Its pitch and bank motions were off-track.

Had I injured it in captivity? Had I damaged its internal structure? Although the integrity of the wings seemed intact and functional, something was awry in its flight. I followed it to the next flower of it choice and gently scooped it up in the palm of my hands. It made no attempt to evade which it would have normally done. It was the month of June therefore this one was a second generation with 2-6 weeks of life. Unfortunately the cycle for the fourth generation of Monarch from this one might have been interrupted and not take wings at all, I feared.

I brought it back into the house and under the microscope, looked for any tell tale signs of damage that I might have caused. Everything seemed in order. Nothing was broken. Both wings looked perfectly symmetrical. And yet something was amiss. I used a higher magnification and there lo and behold was possibly the answer. The left wing surface had a fine powdery filament that seemed to have rubbed off and was absent from the right wing.  The right wing had a glossy sheen on it.

And there lay the mystery of flight dynamics. Each little particulate matter somehow resulted in a larger surface area of the wing and equally the micro-cells in the wing geometry also helped generate the lift. 

                               Micro-Cells of the Butterfly Wing
The right wing had less of both due possibly to the capture and in pinching the wings together for observation; I had inadvertently changed the generational course of history for this beautiful creature.

There in front of me under the microscope, the Quantum Physics of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle 

                                             Gamma Rays to detect the electron(blue)
damaged the Newtonian physics of aerodynamic flight; the mere act of observation had changed the observed. Disassembling the truth sometimes yields a false result.

We, humans are reductionists in our vain attempts at understanding. Take down something to its finer smallest elements and then see how it ticks. Yes that is true but then how do you measure observation of this infinity of space. Well, I thought maybe some things do not lend to observation and observing changes them and thus the act alone will yield a result that may or may not be true. The mystery lives on and will so until the end of time. Whether that time ends in a red dwarf or a white giant for us, it will end. Whether humanity remains in its current form is in doubt, if it changes and evolves with nature and human intellect of “incorporation of ceramic, silicon and other elements” remains to be seen. 

                                            Self Replicator

Whether migration into space and finding another habitable planet is possible and doable is questionable, or whether employing the Von Neumann self-replicating robots 

                              Darwin Prototype Self Replicator

with incorporated human DNA is the answer, I don’t know. Until then sometimes we are better off in allowing the breeze to sweep through our hair, the aroma of a freshly cut grass fill us with desire and the freshly wetted dry earth subsume the daylight in its musty wonder.

The adventure will go on so long as life exists. Blessed with a 3-pound universe that does not quit in its acts of trying to understand, a human being is an ingenious experiment. To peek in the infinitesimally small with Electron Microscopes, small and large atom colliders and then to look out at night in wonder of the dark sky tantalizing the intellect to come and have a closer look is the essence of the inquiring mind. If it is there it must yield to us its secrets. But some things lend themselves to axiomatic inquiry and theorized understanding only.

Science is both intuitive and cognitive, it uses metaphors to advance a concept and through rigorous methodology and visual referents it builds the temple of knowledge. Sometimes the scaffolding has to undergo changes as new creative thoughts emerge from distilled old paradigms yet the momentum and flux of continuous change assimilates and adjusts the current thinking. True understanding is not a quick reflexive thought. It is accommodative of all transformative knowledge. There are places we cannot see, nor ever visualize but we can imagine and reason, conjecture and assume, mathematically or with the help of physics and in doing so without removing the quintessence of that fine dust that makes us live, we can emerge victorious in our efforts. .

The butterfly however fell victim to an inadvertent act of observation. It could not keep to its task of gathering and disseminating, consuming and replenishing. The next day the two beautiful wings folded and flattened on the surface of freshly watered earth bore testimony to an innocent act of observation.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. William Shakespeare, "Hamlet", 1,V.

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