Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Baryogenesis, and Other Love Poems (Color a Dinosaur)

Dinosaurs never existed on Earth. Let this scientific heresy stick in your mind. The cruel refutation of the deep anthropic principle, dinosaurs roamed in pangaeic Eden, before the serpentine drive to life had dreamt of its anthropic goal. Nothing recognizable as Earth has ever hosted a dinosaur. Ask where dinosaurs roamed, and the answer will not produce any thing - will not consent to show you a place on Earth, because the very map of Earth shifted under the dinosaurs' feet. The land in which we find their bones has walked the oceans since their bones were set down, carrying them.

These creatures presided over the severing of Pangaea into Gondwana and Laurasia, lost continents whose destruction post-dates the extinction event. The Mesozoic era of dinosaurs is itself a recent blip on the map that ended 65.5 million years ago. Since then the Tethys Ocean closed as Arabia collided with Eurasia. Since then yet again the Indian Ocean opened up, burying the lost ocean under yet another ocean.

8.4 dinosaur extinctions ago, life staggered into being on the planet, forming the major theater of the Cambrian era, a rapid diversification of phyla unspooling across the rapidly disintegrating Pannotia, a pre-Pangaeic supercontinent. Our math here is sketchy - give or take, let's say, 8 million years. Life as such did not make its debut here - rather, mineralized life, i.e. life that left fossils did. We'll call this phenomenon a fossilization.

4.6 fossilizations ago, or 38.7 dinosaur extinctions ago, over the course of about 1 and 1/3 dinosaur extinctions, anaerobic life (which had been around since about 54.43 dinosaur extinctions) caused the oxygenation catastrophe, flooding the Earth with the oxygenated atmosphere we currently breathe, and setting up the conditions for the Cambrian explosion. (This is the event in history best matched with the fall of man in the Garden of Eden) Several supercontinents lurched in and out of being in this time, a continent, after all, being exceedingly ephemeral, barely lasting a dinosaur extinction.

1.2 oxygenations ago the first continent formed. 1.76 oxygenations, or 8.1 fossilizations (68.1 dinosaur extinctions) ago we formed the earliest moments of land and rocks. The Earth is simmering magma here, collides with lost planets named after nearly lost myths, Theia, Greek Titan, forming the moon. Things were moving fast here - the line between the earliest crusts of rock and the Theia collision are less than three dinosaur extinctions apart. The sun itself took less than a dinosaur extinction from the beginning of its collapse from molecular cloud to form. Let us call this period a solar system. Just over three solar systems ago (208 dinosaur extinctions, give or take, or about four Gardens of Eden), the Big Bang occurred.

Homo Sapiens Sapiens, our current species, staggered out of the evolutionary blender 200,000 years ago, or .003 dinosaur extinctions ago, meaning that human existence comprises approximately .001% of the universe. This event is bracketed on two sides - the development of stone tools .04 dinosaur extinctions ago, and the development of agriculture .0002 dinosaur extinctions ago. A mere .00006 dinosaur extinctions later agricultural communities formed recognizable civilizations. 5000 years or so later (.00008 dinosaur extinctions) I began writing this blog post. On the scale of error we have introduced, more or less simultaneously, in 1993, Virgin Games published FarSight Studio's Color a Dinosaur, an electronic coloring book in which you basically do what it says on the tin. The game is unplayably boring, aimed at a three year old, and misfiring significantly even at that task. There is nothing to say about the experience of playing it. You color a dinosaur. It's a simple, obvious concept lacking in all surprise.

It is only in light of the sheer and painful triviality of human existence in terms of the universe that creationism can be understood - the last spasmodic thrashing of the anthropic principle in light of its self-evident refutation at the hands of the utter triviality of anthropy. Two such positions exist. One is untenable, based on unintelligible claims of gaps in the fossil record, the so-called problem of "missing links." This theory falls short for one simple reason - short of constructing an unbroken chain of sexual parentage from a living human to prokaryote, missing links will necessarily exist. The issue is one of trying to apply the anthropic experience of transcendental unity of apperception to a non-anthropic concept. Or, put more simply, it's nuts to try to create an unbroken chain of experience on the scale we're talking about here. Even if we constrain our observations to the fossilized age, we are dealing with a half billion years of existence, of which the century-long lifespan of a single fossilized organism forms a .00002% window. Using such a hilariously narrow window cannot possibly create a chain without missing links. Recorded history, the necessary precondition of the anthropic principle, forms only a .0012% window on evolution. No. The claim of a lack of missing links is not a scientific objection so much as a complete failure to understand the philosophical implications that terrify you.

The more rational approach, perhaps counter-intuitively, is Young Earth Creationism. This view treats recorded history as, effectively, the only form of history. Various dates exist, the most famous of which is probably Archbishop James Ussher's due to its alarming specificity, claiming that the universe was created the evening before October 26, 4004 BC. Physical evidence shows that this is only off by a factor of 2.25 million or so. This scale of error necessitates the assumption of a Cartesian Demon of a God who laid an elaborate fossil record for, presumably, the sole purpose of fucking with arrogant humans. The fact that this view is preferred by some to science and empiricism speaks of the sheer damage done to the anthropic principle by science - it is so unseated that a malevolent god is actually a comfort in the face of the sheer arbitrariness of humanity on the geologic scale.

Let us meditate on the consequences of this anti-anthropic approach as applied to Color a Dinosaur. Coloring, as a concept, requires art, a concept invented about .001 dinosaur extinctions ago. Although the wavelengths along the electromagnetic spectrum corresponding to color predate both the invention of art and the extinction of dinosaurs by approximately three solar systems. In other words, a full 1000 histories of art and color have taken place between the existence of the last dinosaur and the invention of the human idea of coloring such a creature. More staggeringly, a full 208,000 histories of art have taken place since the wavelengths necessary for this process came into being.

We understand, then, the hubris of coloring a dinosaur - vast, cavernous hubris that requires huge expanses of autoimmunity and serpentine intervention to even conceive of bridging. And yet.

Approximately 1 picosecond after the Big Bang, the electromagnetic force (and with it visible light) finally separated off from the weak nuclear force, although it was not until 99999999999 picoseconds thereafter that the photons necessary to actually produce color phenomenologically came in. 13.5 billion years later, give or take, we invented art and color.

In between these two events, a second or so after the formation of the electromagnetic force, and about 9 seconds before photons debut, the anthropic principle, long since obliterated, unexpectedly fogs the glass and sits up. The quark-gluon plasma that the universe had been for the bulk of the preceding second, begins to form hadrons. Hadrons are formed of collections of quarks held together by the strong nuclear force, which is described in terms of color charge. A hadron must combine quarks to reach a color-neutral state - either by having three quarks of different colors (red, blue, and green) or having two quarks, one of which is a color and the other of which is the anticolor (say, red and anti-red). Suddenly, then, color has found itself understood 208,000 histories of art early.

(The science-minded among you are now registering an objection that color charge in the particle physics sense actually has no meaningful relationship to optical color. To this I respond thusly: Two men were traveling on a train. One carried a cardboard box with holes in it. The other, curious, asked about the box. The man holding the box explained that he was carrying a mongoose. When asked why, he further explained that his brother is an alcoholic in the late stages of delerium tremens, and constantly hallucinates serpents that plague him. The mongoose is thus to chase said serpents away. The other man is baffled - are the snakes not imaginary snakes? And if they are, what good will a mongoose do? The man with the box explains - yes, his brother is plagued by imaginary snakes. But the box, you see, contains an imaginary mongoose.)

If the formation of the universe is understandable only through aesthetic theory, the anthropic principle takes hold again, but with a strange new twist. Now we must find ways to aestheticize and narrativize 13.5 billion years of history. With recorded history doing much (though not all) of the heavy lifting for 6000 years of that period, and prehistory filling up another 194,000 years, we are left with only about 13.5 billion years to come up with some aesthetic for. How do we color a dinosaur? For that matter, how do we color a rock formation, a supercontinent, or a prokaryote? What color was Theia? What did the first photon want? Tell me a leptonic love story. Sing to me songs of Population III stars. I wish to see nucleosynthesis eroticized. Give me boson porn. Let us fuck in the Panthalassic Ocean after moonlit walks on the shore of Rodinia.

All of this is possible.

(The Nintendo Project is an attempt to understand my history and my creation in terms of the single object of the Nintendo Entertainment System. With this entry, it's 13.5 billion years down, 200,000 to go. And let's face it, 194,000 of those we got done last entry. So it's 6000 years to go. Well, and that one second before hadrons. So 6000 years and one second to go.)


  1. " is so unseated that a malevolent god is actually a comfort in the face of the sheer arbitrariness of humanity on the geologic scale."

    Wonderful observation, put into very concise terms. I'm going to do my best to remember this quote.