The space people are getting busy


We have successfully invaded Mars again, this time to poke holes in it.

The InSight lander, operated by NASA and built by scientists in the U.S., France and Germany, touched down in the vast, red expanse of Mars’ Elysium Planitia just before 3 p.m. Eastern Monday.

There it will operate for the next two Earth years, deploying a seismometer, a heat sensor and radio antenna to probe the Red Planet’s interior. Scientists hope that InSight will uncover signs of tectonic activity and clues about the planet’s past. Those findings could illuminate how Mars became the desolate desert world we see today.

Oh. Practical knowledge, since we’ve got an ongoing experiment to see if we can turn Earth into a similarly desolate desert.

If you don’t want to learn about how to end all life as we know it, you could tune in here on Wednesday afternoon, when I’m getting together with some other space people, the Deep Astronomy channel, to talk about the origin of life. It’ll be fun! Space people are cool!

Comments

  1. Ichthyic says

    space allows atoms to exist.

    nothing would be everywhere without it.

    and everywhere would be infinitely small.

  2. tacitus says

    I guess it all boils down to the most mind boggling question of all — why is there something–anything–instead of nothing? It starts hurting my brain if I think too much about it.

  3. consciousness razor says

    I think philosopher Sidney Morgenbesser sorted out that one, tacitus:

    In response to Leibniz’s ontological query “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Morgenbesser answered “If there were nothing you’d still be complaining!”

    Another good one:

    Morgenbesser in response to B.F. Skinner: “Are you telling me it’s wrong to anthropomorphize people?”

  4. malachiconstant says

    I watched this live with my physics students in 7th period today after explaining the mission during their earlier class periods. I suppose it will be better when things like these are routine, but there’s something thrilling about watching these epic missions that are years in the making come down to about 10 minutes of nail-biting as everyone at NASA just watches to see if it worked.
    Can’t wait to see what we learn about the interior of Mars.

  5. tacitus says

    Rob Grigjanis @6: I’ve listened to him talk about it several times, and I seen he witten a paper with that very title earlier this year:

    Why Is There Something, Rather Than Nothing?

    It seems natural to ask why the universe exists at all. Modern physics suggests that the universe can exist all by itself as a self-contained system, without anything external to create or sustain it. But there might not be an absolute answer to why it exists. I argue that any attempt to account for the existence of something rather than nothing must ultimately bottom out in a set of brute facts; the universe simply is, without ultimate cause or explanation.

    https://arxiv.org/abs/1802.02231

    In it he makes the excellent point that “something” isn’t necessarily a more natural state than “nothing” (even if our understandable bias toward “something” would lead us to think otherwise. I’d be satisfied if it all came down to mostly randomness, as does everything else from the state of the world today to our own existence — but then, where did randomness come from?

    I agree that in the end, such questions are very unlikely unanswerable, but that dosn’t stop my head from hurting when I ponder them once in a while.

  6. KG says

    Tacitus, consciousness razor, Rob Grigjanis,

    One possible “explanation” for there being somerthnig rather than nothing which Carroll omits, and which I don’t recall seeing elsewhere, is that it’s simply a question of probability*: there’s only one way of there being nothing, but an infinite – nay, surely uncountable – number of ways of there being something; therefore it was effectively certain there would be something!

    *In fact, because we’re dealing with infinite sets of possibilities, ordinary probability theory can’t cope and we need some more general kind of measure theory. There are several possible choices, and this is something I know (almost) nothing about, but I think whatever choice is made, the set of possibilities in which nothing exists would have measure zero.

  7. call me mark says

    If there were nothing, rather than anything, we wouldn’t be around to wonder why nothing exists…

  8. consciousness razor says

    KG:

    there’s only one way of there being nothing, but an infinite – nay, surely uncountable – number of ways of there being something; therefore it was effectively certain there would be something!

    It’s not clear why it helps that there are more of them. (Or we could conceive of more — saying that there are more, that more of them exist, could be confusing. But I’ll leave that aside.)

    I suppose our actual world doesn’t count as more than one way of there being something, right? It’s just one way, while the remainder of the ways of there being something consist of an uncountable set of non-actual worlds, which are nonetheless possible and non-empty. And of course we can toss in “nothing,” along with all of the “somethings,” so you can ask things about all possibilities.

    So, if our actual universe is a measure zero case as well, then what can we take away from your argument? It’s effectively certain that this universe doesn’t exist, at least if we think of it as being randomly pulled out of an infinite hat, and yet here we are. If it’s not really considered problematic for this particular case (or assuming you don’t really want to say the chance this universe exists is zero, because empirically we should be saying it’s one), and if you’ll be able to say the same about any other particular case, then what are you really able to explain this way?

    If there’s just an imbalance which is imposed by us when we make the distinction between something and nothing — there’s a plenitude in one of our buckets and a bit of nothing in the other — then it seems like it could be a good idea to keep that in mind. But maybe the lesson is that we should be careful about making too much of how we decide to put things into buckets, since it seems to give the absurd result that the totality of our world certainly doesn’t exist, which we know is false. In any case, it’s not obvious to me that this explains why there is something rather than nothing.

    And look! Morgenbesser was right: it sounds like you would still complain about there being nothing. ;) You’d look around and ask “why am I stuck with this … what about all of the somethings?”

  9. KG says

    consciousness razor@11

    Or we could conceive of more — saying that there are more, that more of them exist, could be confusing. But I’ll leave that aside.

    What we happen to be able to conceive of is neither here nor there. Rather, think in terms of what is logically possible or self-consistent.

    I suppose our actual world doesn’t count as more than one way of there being something, right?

    I’m not sure about that. Maybe each quantum system counts as a way of there being something. Or maybe reality isn’t a unitary thing, but is somehow “smeared” over a set of possibilities, which together have measure greater than zero. For example, particles are coming at us from over the edge of the cosmic horizon all the time, so maybe at any one time and place, reality includes all the possibilities that differ in what particles will arrive in future?

    If it’s not really considered problematic for this particular case (or assuming you don’t really want to say the chance this universe exists is zero, because empirically we should be saying it’s one), and if you’ll be able to say the same about any other particular case, then what are you really able to explain this way?

    I didn’t say it would be problematic for nothing to exist, just that it’s not likely. And of course the actual universe is also unlikely – but if you consider classes of universe, some to which our universe belongs can be likely – rather as any specified set of bridge hands is very unlikely (and we don’t find any difficulty in saying that this is reconcilable with the empirical probabilty of that hand having been dealt is one after the fact), but deals in which no-one holds more than 7 of any suit are quite likely. Of course the same applies to the “null universe” – it’s part of the set of universes without leprechauns, the (fortunate) set of universes without Donald Trump, etc.

  10. consciousness razor says

    KG, there’s another point to make, related to the measure. (I haven’t studied the math in depth, and the argument could be made a lot more precise, so bear with me.) The way you have it, the somethings are uncountably infinite. Listing (or counting) them wouldn’t work, but the vague idea is that we’ve got this world, and then we’ve got that world, and then there’s that one, and that one, and that one, etc. Those are all different things, and what we do is treat each one of them as an instance of “something,” which of course tips the scales in the “something” direction, because “nothing” doesn’t seem to offer that kind of variety.

    However, another way to do it would be consider that entire thing (whatever it might be) as one reality. In reality, for all we know, there might be a bunch of different worlds, but it’s still appropriate at least in some contexts to consider it only a single thing. That’s the single thing that “something” refers to, for all we know, not the individual world (or worlds) that happens to exist, nor the objects within it (or them). What I called our “actual universe” before is being counted as a single thing, even though there is obviously a lot going on in the universe. (We’re not using the number of galaxies, solar systems, planets, people, grains of sand, particles, etc.) A multiverse of some sort would simply have more stuff like that inside, which we had regarded as irrelevant. We weren’t worried about the number of objects that go in the container whenever we decided the actual universe is a single thing, so why should we start now? That’s a valid way to do it too, no? It brings us back to just two basic possibilities, something and nothing, and it doesn’t seem like we should have to do it the other way.

  11. consciousness razor says

    KG:
    Sorry, cross-posted with your #13….

    I’m not sure about that. Maybe each quantum system counts as a way of there being something. Or maybe reality isn’t a unitary thing, but is somehow “smeared” over a set of possibilities, which together have measure greater than zero. For example, particles are coming at us from over the edge of the cosmic horizon all the time, so maybe at any one time and place, reality includes all the possibilities that differ in what particles will arrive in future?

    I think the question is about the entirety of existence, in the sense that either there’s something that exists or there’s nothing that exists. I’ve used “world” and “universe,” for lack of better terms. I guess you could try to take a view that there was a state of the universe earlier this morning, and now there’s another state, so we should be counting them both. I’m more inclined to think of our entire universe (a big 4D block, past, present and future) as the kind of entity that needs to be explained for the purposes of this question, although of course I’m happy to say it’s composed of many individual states or objects or what have you. Anyway, this just highlights the arbitrariness of how you’ve decided to formulate it, like I discussed in #14. It’s not like anybody is logically compelled to do it your way or my way or various other ways, right?

  12. KG says

    It’s not like anybody is logically compelled to do it your way or my way or various other ways, right? – consciousness razor@15

    Sure, there’s an infinite number of ways to do it, and your way is only one way, so the probability that it’s the right way is zero :-p

  13. consciousness razor says

    Sure, there’s an infinite number of ways to do it, and your way is only one way, so the probability that it’s the right way is zero :-p

    Heh. Yes, I will bite that bullet, but you have to do it first.

    On the other hand, if the probability of your existence is zero, that suggests that you couldn’t accept that your way is certainly wrong, even if it isn’t. So, maybe I shouldn’t (or couldn’t) expect you to do anything…. That’s kind of puzzling, but in any case, I would definitely be more satisfied knowing that there are people like you, KG.

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