The Interactive Newsletter You Never Asked For
Twinkle, twinkle, little star / How I wonder what you are
Up above the world so high / Like a diamond in the sky
Does your world ever come to a stop when you gaze into the velvety night sky? Do you wonder about those distant pinpoints of light shimmering in the black? How far away are those stars? How big are they? How many are visible? How many more are there, out beyond the edge of vision?
Do you ever wonder?
There are some hundred billion galaxies, each with, on the average, a hundred billion stars.
—Carl Sagan / Cosmos
So many stars! (And the Hubble telescope has revealed even more) But what of the velvety black that holds all those stars? How big is something that can hold one hundred billion galaxies? If you could see forever, what would you see? Point in any direction. What lies at the end of that trail? Point in another direction. What lies at the end of that trail? Strange as it may seem, both trails, though leading in different directions, will end at the same place.
Imagine that you’re standing high in the mountains, far from the city lights, beneath a crystal-clear sky. The moonless canopy shimmers with more stars than you’ve ever seen. You stare, transfixed, at a single point in the sky. Without warning, you realize that you’ve begun to travel toward that point. Your body remains safely behind while your spirit streaks into the black. Arrow-straight, you whistle into the ocean of the night, ever faster, never deviating from your original trajectory, until, at last, you know somehow that your journey is about to end. You’re about to discover what lies at the edge of the universe.
Someone stands there, as if awaiting your return. There’s something familiar about that person… something familiar about this place… You’ve traveled across the universe, only to find… yourself.
It doesn’t matter which direction you travel, so long as you travel in a straight line. All roads lead back to you. Of course, as you may have begun to suspect, there’s no such thing as a straight line in this scenario. Space-time is curved, folded back on itself. The universe has no outer edge.
The universe is the enclosure that holds you and me and all the stars in all the galaxies. The universe surrounds us. It contains us. We exist within an object that, from our perspective, has only an inside. It’s very difficult to imagine such an environment, so consider instead, a piece of paper with but a single surface.
Most of us have been exposed to a Möbius strip at one time or another, but have you ever set aside a few minutes to contemplate the implications of such an object?
Find the strip of paper (with the black line) enclosed within this issue of UnNumb (an electronic version will be added soon—for now, cut a strip of paper and play along). Would you agree that it obviously has two sides? (Beware of any sentence that uses any variation of the word obvious.) Bring the ends together to form a loop (you should see either two blue dots or two red dots where the ends connect). Would you agree that this object has both an inner surface and an outer surface?
So far, that strip of paper should not have offended your sensibilities. Let’s do something about that.
Make another loop, but this time twist one end 180° (so that you see a red dot and a blue dot at the connection). Tape the ends together and examine your creation. Is this another kind of loop? Does it still have two sides?
If you’re able to answer no to both of those questions, would you please explain it to me? I mean, it may be a little bent-up, but it still looks like a loop, doesn’t it? And it’s gotta have two sides, right? If it doesn’t, where’d the other one go?
The object you’ve created is a Möbius strip. As the name implies, it’s not a loop, but a strip, and it only has ONE side. There is no other side. If you doubt this, try to color one side red, and the other, blue.
As you can see, it really does have only one side.
The universe is like a Möbius strip in that it doesn’t have an other side. From our point of view, it doesn’t have an outside. Just as you twisted that strip of paper to create a one-sided object, someone, or something, folded space-time back on itself to form the environment within which we find ourselves.
In the first issue of UnNumb, we explored the metaphor of The Test of the Sexes: our progenitor(s) entering the perceptually challenging maze within the Space-Time Continuum. In this issue, we’ll explore the nature of that maze—our environment—our surroundings.
It’s important to understand that our so-called “common sense” will seldom align with what we’ll find. It’s important to examine conventional thinking—preconceived notions—to uncover perceptual flaws that are seldom noticed as we row, row, row our boats…
Look at the Möbius strip again. Where did the other side go? It must still be there, somewhere. If you cut the Möbius strip in half (along the black line drawn down the center of the strip), what will happen? Before you cut it, try and imagine what you’ll end up with.
You may not end up with the object your common sense would lead you to expect, but you will discover that pesky other side we were looking for.