Dr. Lisa Randall gave a talk at RISD a few days ago as part of the Presidential Shared Voices Lecture Series. Dr. Randall is a theoretical physicist and also one of the most brilliant scientists alive. She’s been listed in TIME Magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential People of 2007 and received her doctorate at Harvard University. Her work? Dark matter, string theory and other crazy fascinating subjects. I don’t understand quantum mechanics per se, but I still love the ideas proposed in this field.
I just wanted to talk about one idea that Dr. Randall mentioned in the lecture, which is how the context of an object is affected by scale. She used the example of the Eiffel Tower. From street-level, we see metal beams and arches. From another building that’s quite a bit further away, we might be able to see the whole tower and it’s iconic shape. From a satellite in space, we don’t see anything. Without being close to ground-level, we would never even see the Effiel tower or know that it existed. We only discovered the atom when we had the available technology to view it. The same with quarks. We are now using the Large Hadron Collider to try and find the Higgs Particle.
We don’t know what the smallest particle is unless we have the technology to see it. What is small? What is large? We don’t really know, because we are judging the scale of everything based on its relation to us. It extends in both directions. The observable universe is 46.6 billion light years in diameter, because that as far as we can calculate. Dr. Randall remarked that she saw no reason why there wouldn’t be multiple universes, each expanding at different rates.
Nature created limitations for what our eyes could see, but it didn’t on what our brains could imagine. For all we know, there could be ever smaller particles existing within the universe that we will never be able to get to the bottom of. There may be an infinite number of universes, each with different forces governing it.
Everything is essentially relative to us. But imagine if we could see beyond this and think more often beyond it. How large/small are we in the scale of everything? We’ll never really know.