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London, Leicester and Kerala
I am a Medical Doctor, born and brought up in Kerala, settled in England for last 17 years. Interested in almost any and every field under the sun. I believe in 'Simple living and simple thinking'and try to follow this principle in life...This is a snapshot of what I wish to write; my biggest contributions (if any) are still under the iceberg!

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Monday, 4 April 2011

Wonders of Universe

I finished watching this four part series presented by Brian Cox in BBC 2 (Sundays at 21:00). Who are we? Where do we come from? For thousands of years humanity has turned to religion and myth for answers to these enduring questions. But in this series, Brian presents a different set of answers - answers provided by science.

This was one of the finest science programmes I have watched on the relationship between 'time-space-matter-light-nature'.

1. Destiny

In this episode, Brian Cox considers the nature of time. He explores the cycles of time that define the lives of humans on the earth, and compares them to the cycles of time on a cosmic scale. Cox also discusses the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics (Entropy- eg: many ways of reaaranging the sand grains with out changing the structure) and its effect on time, and the Heat Death theory concerning the end of the Universe.

Brian seeks to understand the nature of time and its role in creating both the universe and ourselves. From an extraordinary calendar built into the landscape of Peru (The 2,500-year-old solar calendar in Chankillo was built by a civilization of which very little is known), he travels through the beaches of Costa Rica where Sea tutles come and lay eggs at night in the beach- something that has been happening for the last 100 million years. He explores the cycles of time which define our experience of life on Earth. But even the most epic cycles of life can't begin to compare to the vast expanse of cosmic time. For instance, just as the Earth orbits the Sun, the solar system orbits the entire Milky Way galaxy. This orbit takes a staggering 250 million years to complete. We have probably travelled 1% of that time (humans I mean!)

Arrow of time; as each moment passes, things change and these are irreversible. Is this an illusion?

Ultimately, Brian discovers that time is not characterised by repetition but by irreversible change. From the relentless march of a glacier, to the decay of an old mining town, the ravaging effects of time are all around us. The vast universe is subject to these same laws of change.

As we look out to the cosmos, we can see the story of its evolution unfold, from the death of the first stars to the birth of the youngest. How giant stars explodes rather implodes and death/ birth of stars. ie the explosive death of one of the first stars in the universe.This journey from birth to death will ultimately lead to the destruction not just of our planet, but also the entire universe, and with it the end of time itself.

Yet without this inevitable destruction, the universe would be without what is perhaps the greatest wonder of all; the brief moment in time in which life can exist.


In this episode, Brian discusses the elements of which all living things, including humans, are made. He explains how these elements are related to the life cycles of the stars and the recycling of matter in the Universe.

In the second stop in his exploration of the wonders of the universe, Professor Brian Cox goes in search of humanity's very essence to answer the biggest questions of all: what are we? And where do we come from? This film is the story of matter - the stuff of which we are all made.

Brian reveals how our origins are entwined with the life cycle of the stars. But he begins his journey here on Earth. In Nepal, he observes a Hindu cremation. Hindu philosophy is based on an eternal cycle of creation and destruction, where the physical elements of the body are recycled on to the next stage. Brian draws a parallel with the life cycle of the stars that led to our own creation.

Next, he explains how the Earth's resources have been recycled through the ages. How every atom that makes up everything we see, was at some time a part of something else. Our world is made up of just 92 elements, and these same 92 elements are found throughout the entire universe. We are part of the universe because we are made of the same stuff as the universe.

3. Falling

This episode documents how gravity has an effect across the Universe, and how the relatively weak force creates an orbit. We also see how a neutron star's gravity works. Finally, there is a look back at how research on gravity has enabled us to better understand the cosmos.

Gravity seems so familiar, and yet it is one of the strangest and most surprising forces in the universe. Starting with a zero gravity flight, Brian experiences the feeling of total weightlessness, and considers how much of an effect gravity has had on the world around us.

But gravity also acts over much greater distances. It is the great orchestrator of the cosmos. It dictates our orbit around the sun, our relationship with the other planets in our solar system, and even the way in which our solar system orbits our galaxy.

Yet the paradox of gravity is that it is actually a relatively weak force. Brian takes a face distorting trip in a centrifuge to explain how it is that gravity achieves its great power, before looking at the role it plays in one of the most extraordinary phenomena in the universe - a neutron star. Although it is just a few kilometres across, it is so dense that its gravity is 100, 000 million times as strong as on Earth.

Over the centuries our quest to understand gravity has allowed us to understand some of the true wonders of the universe, and Brian reveals that it is scientists' continuing search for answers that inspires his own sense of wonder

4. Messengers

The final episode shows how the unique properties of light provide an insight into the origins and development of mankind and the Universe. We also see how the speed of light is both a measure of time and distance. This leads on to pinpoint one of the early events in the evolution of life.He travels from the fossils of the Burgess Shale to the sands of the oldest desert in the world to show how light holds the key to our understanding of the whole universe, including our own deepest origins.

To understand how light holds the key to the story of the universe, we first have to understand its peculiar properties. Brian considers how the properties of light that lend colour to desert sands and the spectrum of a rainbow can lead to profound insights into the history and evolution of our universe. Finally, with some of the world's most fascinating fossils in hand, Brian considers how but for an apparently obscure moment in the early evolutionary history of life, all the secrets of light may have remained hidden. Because although the universe is bathed in light that carries extraordinary amounts of information about where we come from, it would have remained invisible without a crucial evolutionary development that allowed us to see. Only because of that development, i.e. the observation that Light travels with a finite speed through space at a rate of 299 792 458 metre/second or 10 million million km in one year or 1 light year; So a light year is not just a measure of distance but also a measure of time! Because of this we can we now observe, capture and contemplate the incredible wonders of the universe that we inhabit.

I seemed to understand some of the meaning of Universe and birth of it when I was watching the programme, but now it feels to have gone out of my mind with a big bang!

I think it is interesting to note the similarities and differences in this programme and the views expressed in Indian Philosophy. The Hindu cosmology and time lines in a way is the closest to modern scientific time lines and even more, which might indicate that the big bang is not the beginning of everything but just the start of the present cycle preceded by an infinite number of universes and to be followed by another infinite number of universes. The Rig Veda questions the origin of the cosmos in:

Neither being (sat) nor non-being was as yet. What was concealed? And where? And in whose protection?…Who really knows? Who can declare it? Whence was it born, and whence came this creation? The devas were born later than this world's creation, so who knows from where it came into existence? None can know from where creation has arisen, and whether he has or has not produced it. He who surveys it in the highest heavens, he alone knows-or perhaps does not know. (Rig Veda 10. 129)

The later puranic view asserts that the universe is created, destroyed, and re-created in an eternally repetitive series of cycles. In Hindu cosmology, a universe endures for about 4,320,000,000 years (one day of Brahma, the creator or kalpa) and is then destroyed by fire or water elements. At this point, Brahma rests for one night, just as long as the day. This process, named pralaya (Cataclysm), repeats for 100 Brahma years (311 trillion, 40 billion human years) that represents Brahma's lifespan.

According to Bhagavad Gita "sahasra-yuga paryantam ahar-yad brahmano viduh", meaning, a day of brahma is of 1000 mahayugas. Thus a day of Brahma, kalpa, is of duration: 4.32 billion solar years.

1000 Mahayugas = 1 kalpa = 1 day (day only) of Brahma
(Two kalpas constitute a day and night of Brahma)
30 days of Brahma = 1 month of Brahma (259.2 billion human years)
12 months of Brahma = 1 year of Brahma (3.1104 trillion human years)
50 years of Brahma = 1 Pararddha
2 parardhas = 100 years of Brahma = 1 Para = 1 Mahakalpa (the lifespan of Brahma)(311.04 trillion human years)
One day of Brahma is divided into 10,000 parts called charanas. The charanas are divided as follows:
The Four Yugas
4 charanas (1,728,000 solar years) Satya Yuga
3 charanas (1,296,000 solar years) Treta Yuga
2 charanas (864,000 solar years) Dwapar Yuga
1 charanas (432,000 solar years) Kali Yuga

The current Kali Yuga began at midnight 17 February / 18 February in 3102 BC (Julian calendar)

According to Carl Sagan and Fritjof Capra, similarities between what they consider the latest scientific understanding of the age of the universe, and the Hindu concept of a "day and night of Brahma", is much closer to the current assumed age of the universe than other creation myths (when taken literally). The days and nights of Brahma postulate a view of the universe that is divinely created, and is not strictly evolutionary, but an ongoing cycle of birth, death, and rebirth of the universe.

According to Sagan: Hinduism is the only one of the world's great faiths dedicated to the idea that the Cosmos itself undergoes an immense, indeed an infinite, number of deaths and rebirths. It is the only religion in which time scales correspond, no doubt by accident, to those of modern scientific cosmology. Its cycles run from our ordinary day and night to a day and night of Brahma, 8.64 billion years long, longer than the age of the Earth or the Sun and about half the time since the Big Bang. And there are much longer time scale still.

Some believe that with the "AUM" sound, known as "pranava manthra", the Universe was started, similar to the big bang theory. "Omkara", the sound of 'Ohm', is very important in Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism.

Capra, in his popular book, The Tao of Physics, wrote that: This idea of a periodically expanding and contracting universe, which involves a scale of time and space of vast proportions, has arisen not only in modern cosmology, but also in ancient Indian mythology. Experiencing the universe as an organic and rhythmically moving cosmos, the Hindus were able to develop evolutionary cosmologies which come very close to our modern scientific models. One of these cosmologies is based on the Hindu myth of lila—the divine play—in which Brahman transforms himself into the world.

I like the statement made by Swami Vivekananda who interpreted the Adhvaitha Vedantic understanding of evolution to be in harmony with Darwinian theory. In his commentary on Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, he writes:

"There seems to be a great difference between modern science and all religions at this point. Every religion has the idea that the universe comes out of intelligence. The theory of God, taking it in its psychological significance, apart from all ideas of personality, is that intelligence is first in the order of creation, and that out of intelligence comes what we call gross matter. Modern philosophers say that intelligence is the last to come. They say that unintelligent things slowly evolve into animals, and from animals into men. They claim that instead of everything coming out of intelligence, intelligence itself is the last to come. Both the religious and the scientific statements, though seeming directly opposed to each other are true. Take an infinite series, A—B—A—B —A—B. etc. The question is — which is first, A or B? If you take the series as A—B. you will say that A is first, but if you take it as B—A, you will say that B is first. It depends upon the way we look at it. Intelligence undergoes modification and becomes the gross matter, this again merges into intelligence, and thus the process goes on. The Sankhyas, and other religionists, put intelligence first, and the series becomes intelligence, then matter. The scientific man puts his finger on matter, and says matter, then intelligence. They both indicate the same chain. Indian philosophy, however, goes beyond both intelligence and matter, and finds a Purusha, or Self, which is beyond intelligence, of which intelligence is but the borrowed light."


Sumesh said...

Very erudite article - I would call this Tao of Physics- part 2

PCV said...

Thanks Sumesh. As Capra said "Physicists do not need mysticism, and mystics do not need physics, but humanity needs both"

Manoj said...

It is a fabulous piece of article and well presented although a bit hard for me to comprehend the idea at the first instance; not my cup of tea. It really demonstrates your depth and understanding of the subject matter.

Rathnashikamani said...

Amazing facts!
Astounding presentation!

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