Are we prisoners of our own conception of the universe?


Painting by Mayank Chhaya

The origin of water, like the origin of anything in the universe including the universe I suppose, is an enduring mystery.

The question of water has been on my mind because of the breathtakingly precise landing of the probe Philae on Comet 67P yesterday. One of the experiments that Philae is expected to conduct has to do with is the presence of water in the comet.

There is a longstanding theory that Earth’s water was in fact delivered by comet strikes lasting hundreds of millions of years. It is a popular theory because it is intrinsically grand and spectacular. The idea that gigantic frozen balls of ice meandering through the solar system crashing into the early Earth and in the process of pouring water on it is quite thrilling.

However, reading a bit about the origin of water, it occurs to me that for every theory that posits the extraterrestrial nature of its origin, there is an equally compelling one that challenges it. It is quite like the universe generally. There are many directly complimentary and competing views about the origin of the universe. So why should water be any different?

I have long been convinced that we all lead a life of reasonable inferences. Over the millennia humans have accumulated a set of large but finite number of inferences. These inferences often fit the observable reality or at any rate what we call real. One of my own current favorite views about the universe is that we all carry our own little universes in our heads. When my universe converges with yours we have a happy, friendly exchange. When our universes diverge, we have an argument that may be often unpleasant and, in some cases, even violent.

Lately, I have been drawn to the idea of the universe being a simulation. Now whether we were given some basic structure, basic code if you will, of that simulation and then it was left to our imagination to add features and apps remains unresolved in my mind. Also, unresolved in my mind is whether I stand apart from and outside of that simulation or I too am simulated.

The question of the origin of water eventually falls within the larger question of reality as we perceive it either individually and collectively. It is fair to assume that by and large we all perceive a similar reality. It could also be that we all individually experience a perfectly individualized reality and hence have no absolutely way of knowing whether what exists outside of my experience is equally real and broadly similar. That is what I mean by leading a life of inferences. Since I carry my own little universe in my head, everything else that happens inside it is necessarily under my prompts and commands, including the question of the origin of water.

The answer to the specific question of the origin of water remains unresolved like everything else. The latest prevailing finding seems to be that Earth’s water is older by hundreds of millions of years than previously thought. According to a study headed by Adam Sarafian of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and reportedby Andrew Fazekas of the National Geographic Earth formed as a wet planet with water on its surface.

I am not quite sure how I can fuse my idea that we all carry our own little universes with this latest theory about the origin of water. It seems to have come from outside my own individualized reality. Or has it?

And to think that I have never indulged in any intoxicants in my life at all!

P.S.: In a sense, I feel like this digital painting of mine about a man, who could well be a prisoner, peering outside through his cell’s iron grill searching for answers. Are we prisoners of our own conception of the universe then?


About chutiumsulfate

South Asians can infer from my name what I am. View all posts by chutiumsulfate

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