Scott Ellington's Blog

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Does this make my universe look big?

Max Tegmark was one of the eminent cosmologists interviewed on a show I caught in fragments yesterday morning.  The topic of the program concerned the size of the universe.  In that Tegmark was speaking from his office at MIT, he illustrated the evolution of popular conceptions about the immensity of the universe by starting with a brief description of the primitive worldview of Massachusetts Indians*, then ancient Greek, medieval, Age of Reason…eventually hitting Einstein’s worldview (circa 1905) and concluded with the blizzard of theories that vie for attention now.  Affable, engaging and down-to-earth, Max Tegmark and his capsule summary still managed to piss me off.  I think the Massachusetts Indians’ worldview was probably greatly underserved in the rush to discuss ever-greater physical and conceptual distances.

Tegmark and the other cosmologists seemed to me to be indicating that their work to determine the size of the universe is hampered by the limitations of cosmologist’s instruments; which can only observe the observable.  The void of space may be infinite, but stuff exploding into that emptiness is all the information observers are able to use to determine the immensity of the room in which stuff is flying outward.  Not until stuff hits a wall of the room (and starts coming back toward the observer) will it be clear that there are walls in a room.

That perception prevented me from paying much attention to the allusive descriptions of inflationary theory, multiverse explanation, parallel universe, alternate timeline…That stuff is about as interesting as JJ Abrams’ device of having Nero fiddle with vengeance on Spock while Romulus was consumed in its sun’s supernova:  An event that Spock probably prevented, in the biggest temporal pardox dilemma (in the Star Trek storyworld) since Shatner sacrificed Collins.

So the void may be infinite!  That’s where Tegmark, et. al., lost my interest.  And I found myself wondering whether the information-gathering instruments have any effect on the void.  What If massive radiotelescope arrays and powerful observatory instruments aimed at the heavens and seeking data do something interesting like…increase Earth’s gravity, intensify its Presence in the infinite Absence of the void?  And if mass and gravity identify the existence of Presence, perhaps intelligent Presence modifies mass and density in ways of which we’d be unaware (simply because we can’t look outward to find evidence of inquisitive cosmologists anywhere else in the observable universe).

If gravity is an earmark of the existence of mass in the void, then the Presence of intelligence in or on some of that mass confers a slightly greater measure of respect on mass in the void, as a possible location where intelligence is (or may someday be) found.  I don’t know dick about the worldview of the Massachusetts Indians, but what little I know of the so-called animism of the Plains Indians suggests that their cosmology might be WAY-more interesting than contemporary doublegobbledy oozing out of MIT at the moment.

I come at this set of odd ideas from the singular experience of  standing in a lonely, boggy wetlands with the intent of photographing birds, striving to be a concentrated point of ideal stillness in the midst of landscaped, teeming life; and marvelling at the extent to which my Presence in that environment perturbs the natural flow of events.

What If a singularity is a center of information-gathering, where profoundly evolved cosmologists are so busily observing the known universe, that their pursuit of knowledge warps the very fabric of time and space?  I think that notion’s pretty cool because contemporary parlance dwells on phrases like “Information Economy”, “monetizing” this&that, and hasn’t yet focused on Attention, itself, as an invaluable phenomenon.

Getting butts in seats and eyeballs on screens is only the rudimentary beginning of science that goes as far beyond the physics of perception as animism goes beyond Inflationary Theory.  I’ve always hoped that the newest/softest science (psychology) would eventually find a way to accelerate exponentially the maturation of the hardest and oldest (astrophysics) beyond anthropocentric provincialism.  This just might be the means to that radical new beginning.


Native American tribes, some of whom were suffering from the onslaught of European diseases, also developed a hostile, violent, and deeply distrustful relationship with the Puritans. The Puritans abducted some of the Native Americans to ship to England. In 1633 a law was passed to require that Native Americans would only receive “allotments” and “plantations” if they “civilized” themselves by becoming Puritans and accepting English customs of agriculture and living:

For the settling of Indian title to lands in this jurisdiction is declared and ordered by this Court and authority thereof, that all the lands any of the Indians have in this jurisdiction have improved by subduing the same, they have a just right unto, according to that in Gen. I, 28, and Chapter IX, I, and Psalms CXV and 16, and for the civilizing and helping them forward to Christianity, if any of the Indians shall be brought to civility and shall come among the English and shall inhabit their plantations and shall there live civilly and orderly, that such Indians shall have allotments among the English, according to the custom of the English in like cases.  Laws of Massachusetts, Edition of 1672, at 74.

Unfortunately, this Puritan legal concept later inspired Captain Richard Henry Pratt to instigate a devasting nationwide ethnic cleansing program against Native Americans from 1874-1904, which was designed to civilize the tribes and remove them from their lands. Richard Henry Pratt, Battlefield & Classroom 272 (Ed. Robert M. Utley 1964).

Pratt forced Native Americans all over the United States to attend and participate in Christian church services in the Massachusetts tradition. Id. at 158-59, 163-64, 181.

Pratt’s ethnic cleansing movement would rely heavily upon Puritans in New England and New York for essential funding, logistical support, and political endorsement. Id. at 194-95, 197, 200, 202, 214-15, 221, 231, 237, 252, 283, 285.

See also Removing Classrooms from the Battlefield: Liberty, Paternalism, and the Redemptive Promise of Educational Choice, 2008 BYU Law Review 377 


Wampanoag may be a more fruitful starting point for further (Wikipedia) research than “Massachusetts Indians”.

File:Tribal Territories Southern New England.png

I stand corrected.

03 Jun 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments