Cosmology: The Universe as an Ecosystem

8 Nov


By Mike McGee

The classical universe may not be in any respect a funnel-shaped box of rocks and gases. The universe, I assert, is likely a complex organic and inorganic ecosystem, a smear which is capable of, and a necessary condition for, maintaining life as we know it here in our own cosmos called earth.

We have seen that our five senses, especially the sense of sight, do not provide a true picture to us of what is happening outside our bodies; just as a computer monitor screen does not provide anything even approximating what is going on inside the hardware of the computer.

So, when we look out at the cosmos, whether as an amateur or as a highly trained cosmologist, it is highly unlikely that what we see has any real relationship to what is “out there” in the universe. Indeed it may be said that in order to make further progress in cosmology, or even in other scientific inquiries, we must take into account the disconnect between what our senses show us and what is or may be actually out there beyond our bodies.

Further, there is a very real disconnect between what our scientific instruments show us and what is or may be out there. Our instruments for measuring the universe are simply earthbound boxes of electronic components. Standing alone each such instrument is as dumb as a fencepost. The results emanating from these electronic boxes prove only that images or noises came out of a box. The scientific cosmological interpretations of these images or noises are entirely speculative.

As a simple example, we have electronic and mechanical devices which scientists claim are able to measure the “red shift” of objects out in the universe, and by doing so can tell us how far away a point of light is from the earth. The truth is, there is absolutely no way of knowing whether the measured shift in wavelengths in the red spectrum of light means anything at all.

The described “observations” show different shades of red at different points in the night sky. The scientific interpretation of these shifts in the red spectrum is at best a mathematical model founded on a highly theoretical set of premises. One might even say that the principle of “red shift” is a legend built by storytellers and demonstrated by the appearance of squiggly lines on a very earthbound screen. The interpretations of these readings are at least as reliable as a Saturday Night Live news report!

Just in the last month or so, science has constructed a new narrative that should provide funding for many new rounds of cosmological research: “New data from the Kepler Spacecraft shows one in five of the sun-like stars in the universe have Earth-size planets. The potential for habitable planets has fueled excitement in the search for intelligent life….  Scientists now say they think there are many planets, tens of billions, actually, beyond our solar system that feature at least some of the right conditions needed for life.” .

Here again the investigators are using very earthbound interpretations of images from another dumb box of electronic instruments aboard the admittedly magnificent Kepler spacecraft. The cosmic narrative continues, and now expands to almost mythical proportions.

                               THE UNIVERSE AS AN ECOLOGICAL SYSTEM

Now we will move on to a possible truth relating directly to the cosmos. Cosmologists almost always refer to the universe as a rather fixed inanimate object. The universe is drawn as a funnel beginning with the singularity at one end, holding various inanimate rocks and flames, and opening out into our present vast cosmos at the other end. It is more like a collection of big inanimate rocks than like a plant or a pond, current cosmologists say.

The visualizations always show that the Big Bang original singularity is still fixed in place at the same point where it always was, where it can actually be seen by us minuscule observers on our tatty little planet; along with all the fixed and immutable points in the 13.7 billion light years of space in between.

The cosmological fixed funnel of time and space is shown as if it is an artistic drawing of a bouquet of flowers wrapped in paper at the bottom. It can be picked and poked at much as we would like, and nothing changes except a few very small variations which take place in incredibly slow motion. This notion of the universe is pure poppycock, yet it satisfies deep needs for us to know that “The Truth is Out There,” as they said in the X-Files.

Now let us look at a theory which could just as easily explain the universe as the one which is currently described by the scientific community. The current cosmological canon states that the universe is made up entirely of inorganic material, which makes no contribution to our health and well-being here on earth other than to light up the sky.

Let us change the canonical assumption and declare that the universe is not an object. It is an ecosystem. Whether this ecosystem is internal or external, the described universe carries all of the markers of any other of the smaller ecosystems which have been described on the face of the earth. We could be talking about a small rural pond niche which supports reeds and fish and water bugs; or we could be talking about the North Pacific Ocean and how it supports crabs and whales and shrimps and plankton and algae.

One of the essential characteristics of an ecosystem is that it is constantly changing. Another characteristic is that it is “organized” in such a way as to support the life within it and the grounds around it. It is entirely likely that the “universe” is an ecosystem which is organized in such a way as to among other things support earthly life and the grounds around it. Further, there is the possibility that much of what we see in the night sky is reactive and organic and supports our solar system, much in the same way that a group of cattail plants in the water of our rural pond supports the web of a spider or the habitat of fish and insects.

It is profoundly unsatisfactory to describe the “universe” as anything other than an ecosystem. To claim that the universe is a non-reactive bunch of rocks and gas forever holding the form of a very large funnel, which has no intimate connection with the earth or our solar system, is simply not doing justice to what we see around us.

Consider our own world as it might be seen from the point of view of the single-celled amoeba that lives its life in the depths of our earthly rural pond ecosystem niche. For this amoeba, the planet earth and all that is on it would seem as large as the universe that is described by our human cosmologists.

Amoeba scientists, using their tiny telescopes, would probably conclude that the rest of their pond is a distant, non-reactive, solid expanse of space inhabited by objects too far away to readily describe.  Yet the Amoebic Universe, which resides within a very small portion of the planet earth, is known by us to be a fully reactive ecological series of structures; and we know that this reactive series of structures fully supports amoebic life as well as everything else.

The amoeba have no way whatsoever to communicate with us or send signals, because their tiny voices and minuscule radio sets don’t have enough volume to get past the surface of the pond in which they live. So, these Amoeba Scientists get nowhere in their quest for finding intelligent live elsewhere in their Amoebic Universe. So, they construct theories that there may be other forms of life “out there” but they haven’t yet been able to make contact, but maybe in the future they will.

This analysis roughly corresponds to my earlier stated theory that the universe is a smear. It is not a collection of discrete objects, or an immovable object in and of itself. This smear contains many organic and inorganic ecological niches, all of which contribute to the organization and support of the whole.

When I say the universe has many organic, and thus living, swirls, I’m not talking about alien beings from another planet. Trees and fish and plant life and amoebas are all organic, yet they are simply a part of the human ecosystem. Only in that sense can one say that the universe contains organic elements.

Based on good analysis, and based on the properties of systems, it is much more likely that the “universe” is a complex life-filled ecological system, than that it is a funnel-shaped box of non-reactive rocks. The concept of the universe as a distant and nearly static collection of rocks and gases which has little or nothing to do with the viability of life on our planet is a hundred years old, and is way out of date. When are we going to begin to look beyond these outdated concepts?

A recent article for the journal Ecosphere gives us some idea of what to expect when analyzing an ecological system or group of systems: “The Limits to Prediction in Ecological Systems,” by Brian Beckage, Louis J. Gross, and Stuart Kauffman; published November 21, 2011.

(For the mathematically challenged, gives this definition of deterministic: “The principle in classical mechanics that the values of dynamic variables of a system and of the forces acting on the system at a given time, completely determine the values of the variables at any later time.” In other words, what came before wholly determines what comes later. We’ll use this word several times below.)

The respected ecological scientists who wrote the cited article state: “The predictability of a system defined by a known deterministic process is related to how errors in the specification of initial conditions grow or dampen over time. Chaos refers to the apparent unpredictability of completely deterministic systems, where the unpredictability is driven by exponential growth of errors in the specification of the initial state.”

Cosmological science and its descriptions of the universe take an entirely different approach, in that cosmology does not admit the possibility of errors in the initial conditions. The Big Bang is the initial condition. The formulas used to calculate the length and breadth of the universe are fixed and rigid. It is important to note that each one of the current cosmological descriptions is described as being wholly and completely mathematically deterministic in nature, and is declared to be non-chaotic and thus not subject to error.

While making the universe mathematically deterministic, cosmologists have avoided the questions of how errors in the specification of initial conditions may grow or dampen over time. On the contrary, cosmologists maintain that the universe is wholly deterministic, and thus there are no errors and therefore no complex calculations of error. So even if the universe is just a big box of rocks, cosmologists of the last hundred years will not admit to chaos or the possibility of non-deterministic errors arising from the analysis of their system known as “the universe.”

So, let’s look at the opposing principle, which is that the universe is an ecological smear, which consists of both organic and non-organic components which form themselves into ecological niches. One might then say that our solar system is a large ecological niche, and the rural pond we dip our hand into is a smaller ecological niche.

In such an ecological universe, if there was a Big Bang a long time ago, that original bang has undoubtedly long ago dissipated and as such cannot be seen, measured or determined by what we may see or measure now. Not to get too cute, but a “Black Hole” could be the sucking mouth of a swimming catfish, which has long since moved on to another part of the “big pond.”

To return to the article: “An ecological system changes through time, updating its state continuously, and this process of system evolution can be thought of as computation. Our use of the term ‘system evolution’ is much broader in meaning than biological evolution, and also includes changes in abundance, location and interactions…and the interface between the biotic and abiotic components of the system…. We argue that the dynamics of many ecological systems are computationally irreducible.”

The authors refer to efforts to deterministically compute such changes through time of an ecological system as being “computationally irreducible.” Computational irreducibility refers to a condition in mathematics where even if you can know all of the initial conditions (and you can’t), the constantly altering dynamics of the system prevent any accurate mathematical rendering of the whole system.

In other words, no one can give an exact and unchangeable description of the universe, due to the fact that the universe is always changing, in a full state of flux, and is thus computationally irreducible. Those cosmological scientists who believe that the universe is entirely deterministic and inanimate are thus committing the same error that was made more than 400 years earlier in history when the scientific canon stated that the world was the center of the universe and the sun revolved around the earth.

I will not belabor the point. Those who want to study the subject further should read in its entirety the brilliant article cited earlier. I certainly cannot say things better than they did.

The world around us and within us is much more than a box of rocks and a fixed lattice of inorganic structures. To the extent that we can look at our whole world as a mystery rather than as a solved scientific problem, we will make eventual progress in finding better and more fulfilling ways of living in our bodies, our world, and our universe.

From Copyright © 2013 by Michael H. McGee. All commercial rights reserved. Non-commercial or news and commentary site re-use or re-posting is encouraged. Please feel free to share all or part, hopefully with attribution

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