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phoebusg's avatar

What are your thoughts about parts of our universe that we cannot yet perceive or sense?

Asked by phoebusg (5241points) February 25th, 2010

There are many theories. What are some that have caught your attention, and then your perception/thoughts about them. Why do you think the theory(-ies) are valid, and what weaknesses do they have?

I personally think of dark matter like astrocytes in the brain – holding together the rest of the cells – or in universe’s terms planets and matter.

Keep this on topic please, long answers will get lurve by default.

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59 Answers

dpworkin's avatar

We don’t even know what’s in the ocean.

mrentropy's avatar

I think it would be the same as around this neighborhood, only somewhere else.

phoebusg's avatar

@mrentropy not ‘geographically’ said parts can be anywhere, right in front of your nose for example. But you and I cannot sense, or perceive them. Yet they would solve many paradoxes in quantum physics if we could sense them.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

I’ll pass on this one, I guess. Apparently my writing about stuff that’s right in front of everyone day in and day out is too dense for too many, so most of my thoughts about “the universe” would probably appear as dense as my defense of capitalism and free markets. Meh.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@dpworkin that was a fantastic answer. FA.

mrentropy's avatar

I dunno. I don’t even believe in dark matter.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

That’s a good analogy for dark matter. I like it…

Now how about one for dark energy too.

TehRoflMobile's avatar

What is beyond the Universe? Is there other Universes, does it loop? I feel so little.

lilikoi's avatar

I have very few thoughts about stuff that I cannot personally experience with my senses. That’s not to say that I am not at the same time amazed by these things. I think it is incredible that even when we think we are sure how something works, a new accidental discovery can prove us wrong. As @dpworkin points out, what we have discovered in the universe is but a sliver of what we can learn. A good reason to not let hubris take over, to not be over-confident that humans are supreme.

willbrawn's avatar

@dpworkin I agree with you.

With things like the blobfish I think we need to explore the ocean a little more.

Shuttle128's avatar

Zero point vacuum energy is a big thing that I’ve always been interested in. There may be oodles of energy out there that we can’t even sense because what we perceive as zero really isn’t.

phoebusg's avatar

@lilikoi thank you for taking the time. I’m also a TEDizen, going to watch that in a bit.
I agree with you, the hubris of over-confidence is only to our harm.

I think there are so many things that we have to reach with our deduction alone. Using what we can sense, and then computing the missing parts. Developing instruments to sense what we cannot is fairly difficult, but probably not impossible.

Berserker's avatar

I can’t perceive or sense something I know nothing of. But whenever I think about space, I always think about whether or not it ends.

It’s hard for me to imagine something that’s infinite, in my logic, infinity is like impossible, at least in how I imagine space to be.

And if it DOES end somewhere, then HOW? Huge ass wall? Does it loop? And, whatever it is that makes space end, what’s beyond THAT? It can’t be “nothing”, and well, whatever is beyond space also has to end…blargh.

Mind you, I know absolutely nothing about anything related to space, so this is prolly really off the wall.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar


Do tell us more please… I said please

Shuttle128's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies Well it all started with my reading of Songs of Distant Earth. The propulsion system used in the book was based on zero-point energy. Basically the idea that we could harness the background energy in a vacuum.

Basically the idea is that only changes in energy can be measured by devices and because of this any point we designate as zero energy is simply arbitrary. We generally designate zero-point energy as the energy equivalent to the ground state (or lowest energy state) in a quantum system. It has been theorized that this background energy might be the cause of the cosmological constant. Another suggestion I heard a long time ago was that it may even be the cause of inertia, but I haven’t looked into this in a long time. It’s always weirded me out that we don’t actually have an explanation for inertia.

ETpro's avatar

Well, @Symbeline beat me to discussion of my number one staggering point, infinite time-space. As he says, it boggles the human mind, yet claiming it doesn’t exist is equally unsatisfying. Space ends in a wall? What’s beyond the wall. Time starts at the big bang? Yet to an observer outside our space time, it didn’t. In their view, there was the time before the big bang. How much time? Again, is there a wall?

But since that one is taken, dark matter is another great conundrum. One of those things that almost must exist but violates much we know if it does. We can’t see it or measure it, but we need it to make some of our theories work. However, having it makes others fail.

I’ve discussed this elsewhere, so I will copy: The mass of the Universe is designated as Omega (Ω). By definition, an Omega of 1 would be the exact amount of mass needed for the Universe to expand to a certain point, then hang at that boundary, neither expanding nor collapsing back into itself due to gravitational pull. For all Ω below 1, the Universe will expand forever. For all Ω greater than 1, it will collapse back into a Big Crunch.

We like to think that Ω should be 1. We can measure observable matter and infer what the Universe’s mass must be, but we find it is about 0.25. Our current answer to this “missing mass” problem is that there must be “cold dark matter” and “hot dark matter” accounting for nearly 75% of the mass of the universe. Not so tidy. We have never observed this to exist any more than we have seen God under a microscope. As of now, the only justification for the existence of dark matter is that it makes our calculations work. So are we really calculating Nature’s laws, or coming up with formulas to match our own imperfect observations?

Further, the CORE satellite has observed a lack of uniformity in background radiation left over after the theorized Big Bang. This is exciting because the observations match pretty closely with what our theories predict for a universe with Ω = 1. Very cool—except that if the universe has a mass of Ω = 1 then the outer arms of spiral galaxies rotate at the wrong speed., They actually revolve around the galactic nucleus at more like what we would expect for our observed Ω of 0.25.

So does dark matter exist? If so, is it so stealthy that it only exists for the theories that need it to balance their equations? Or do we need better theories?

XOIIO's avatar

The 4th dimention, we could never live in that or be able to understand it. Look up an iPod app called hypercube, and you’ll see that the cube actually stays a cube, but you can’t really follow it when it’s moving.

phoebusg's avatar

@ETpro great answer.

I’ve always thought that time is infinite, space ‘occupied’ nearly infinite – or just really, really big. I think the universe is on a loop, as if breathing. Big bang – expansion, up until the boundary. And it will naturally look as if it is stuck at the boundary for a long long time (for us at least), but then the same forces that fueled expansion – fuel the collapse. Due to entropy? (More details required on that) – and then you have a ‘moment’ of all mass existing nearly in the same ‘space’ After which, you have one of the biggest chemical reactions in our universe – another big bang.

I don’t know so much about the mathematics of the theory you invoked in your last answer. Whenever you have time feel free to expand or.. delve deeper :)

phoebusg's avatar

@XOIIO 4rth dimension is usually time. A cool wiki article on it:

Shuttle128's avatar

A hypercube or tesseract as I learned it, is a cube projected into a fourth spacial dimension. Time is considered one of the four dimensions we experience, but we do not, and cannot, experience a fourth spacial dimension.

ETpro's avatar

@phoebusg Our best measurements right now show the universe is still expanding, and that the rate of expansion is increasing. That also would be consistent with an Omega (Ω) considerably less than 1.

Entropy is actually increasing disorder, so it speaks of an ever expanding universe as well. A big Crunch would involve billions of years of exponentially decreasing entropy.

phoebusg's avatar

@ETpro would it make sense to think of it as such…

For the sake of simplicity. You have a whole bunch of balls gathering in the middle of a space – bouncing into each other. But they all have influences on each other – and other matter around them (dark matter etc). They move outwards due to the energy from the big crunch, but are also attracting each other. Eventually reaching a maximum distance from the ‘center’ having already transfered most of the initial energy – they are now fueled by the forces of attraction more than the initial energy.

This model is based on a snapshot, you can’t have a static universe at any one time. Which I think is the inherent problem for most people’s perception.

So, in other words, maximum entropy, due to initial energy, and then “order” through some forces of attraction that once the initial energy ‘runs out’ – start to finally kick in.

As a wild guess here, I’m guessing it would take a lot longer for the system to collapse upon itself, than to expand. But this could again be relative. Due to the long period of “slowing” down—that we’re not yet experiencing according to the observations you brought to light.

ETpro's avatar

@phoebusg If we want to think in terms of classical physics, then when there was a Big Bang, things would be blown hither and to and would leave the scene at an enormous pace. But slowly, as the mass attraction of each blob or fragment or atom accted on each other one, they would slow down bit by but, then seemingly come to a stop, then begin to move back toward that central point where they came from at an ever increasing rate.

That is what we had thought would happen to our universe in 20 billion years or so. But that does not jibe with our observed data. The things that left that central point are accelerating away from it 13.8 billion year after the event. And the further each is from ground zero, the faster it is accelerating. We really don;t yet know what to make of that.

phoebusg's avatar

@ETpro I wonder how the observation is made, and whether it is correct. (Of the constant acceleration).

What could be some things skewing that observation – if any?

If it is indeed increasing, what does that mean for the model? Are we missing yet another interaction with dark matter and energy?

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar


So if inertia is related to vacuum energy, are you suggesting that may provide clues to overcoming entropy and actually accomplishing perpetual motion?

I too have wondered about the arbitrary designations for zero energy. The most convenient example being temperature, as the absolute zero of the universe is actually -270 Celsius. That also being a completely arbitrary designation, yet both zero points based upon principles of stopping molecules.


I have a different take on the 4th dimension. Posted a Q about it HERE but haven’t received much response. I don’t see the 4th dimension as consisting of time as much as it is a dimension without time. Our three dimensional realm requires space/time to know all possible states of a condition. But a being beyond time would know all possible states simultaneously, sans the crutch of space/time.

I believe the 4th dimension is a realm of pure, timeless thought.

ETpro's avatar

@phoebusg The expansion rate is determined by measuring the red shift of objects and their relative distance from us. Two major projects to measure this were undertaken 7 years ago. Read more here…

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Oh damn! Here comes @Rarebear… I’m gettin’ outta here!

Rarebear's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies Relax.

@phoebusg Are you talking about how the discovery of acceleration was made? There were two groups, one based in Berkeley and the other in Australia, I believe. They looked at Type 1a supernovae which have a distinct spectrum and luminosity—sort of like a candle has a distinct luminosity. They looked at the distant Type 1a supernovae and found that they were much farther away then they were supposed to be, and that this was reproducible whichever direction you look. Both teams concluded simultaneously that the universe was therefore accelerating.

The cause of the acceleration (or dark energy) is totally unknown at this point, and one of the great mysteries of physics. As @shuttle123 implied, there are a lot of different ideas—I also like the zero point energy idea, but that’s not the only one. There was a fantastic article in Scientific American a few years ago that outlined each of them, but I have no idea what year so I couldn’t find it.

Rarebear's avatar

@ETpro You mentioned time before the Big Bang. I’ve posted this before, so I apologize if I’m repeating myself, but there’s an interesting theory proposed by Steinhardt called the Ekpyrotic Theory . It comes out of string theory and involves branes that bang on each other, and form universes.

Shuttle128's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies Well, an understanding of inertia wouldn’t necessarily mean the ability to alter the behavior of thermodynamics (though if you could alter inertia, you wouldn’t need much energy to move something). Some people claim that their “perpetual motion machines” run on vacuum energy, but it’s all a bunch of bull. No one has genuinely found a way to harness the energy, if its even possible at all. The problem is that anything we use to do it would be constructed of matter and the vacuum energy has to alter some state of matter for us to harness it.

The hypotheses of cosmological constant and inertia are separate but not necessarily mutually exclusive. I think I remember reading that inertia could be due to some form of “drag” of masses in a zero-point energy field, maybe something like a resistance to move similar to Lorentz forces on an induction coil in a magnetic field. We can’t really say since we can’t really sense this energy anyway.

Rarebear's avatar

The other thing about dark energy, quintessence, cosmological constant, vacuum point energy, whatever you want to call it is that it’s weak. It only shows its effect along extremely hugely gargantuan distances. Heck, we didn’t even know it existed 15 years ago.

Rarebear's avatar

There are some good Astronomy cast episodes that touch on this here.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Quintessence… the missing 5th element from ancient Greek folklore. I thought of that the moment I heard of Dark Energy. Even the Greeks understood that Earth, Wind, Fire, Water were not enough… We need a Quint Essential ingredient.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Dark Matter? Dark Energy? Shall we suppose a Dark Info for good measure?

you knew I’d have to go there

Rarebear's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies Quintessence is my favorite term, actually.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Haha… What would Norbert Weiner say?

“Dark Info is Dark Info. Not Dark Energy and not Dark Matter. Any Immaterialism that does not allow for this cannot survive in Eternity”


ETpro's avatar

@Rarebear Ekpyrotic Theory seems to still need some work, and the site some editing. I did enjoy the thought process, but their disclaimer in the last paragraph isn’t to be ignored. :-)

Rarebear's avatar

@ETpro I have the original paper published around somewhere. I’ll see if I can dig it up. Also, I’m not saying I agree with the theory. I just think it’s kind of fun.

Christian95's avatar

why do you think you have a soul or something similar which is specific just to people
Isn’t this only a theory which can’t be proofed or disproved
Theories is the way we try to understand what’s happening around us or inside us
We don’t need to believe or not in a theory because science is not a religion where you must believe,in science you must proof.
You can like or not a theory but not believe or not in it

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar


Science doesn’t set out to prove anything. It’s a process of eliminating what doesn’t work, and it’s the only discipline that actually gives points for doing so. There is no proof in science. Only inference.

loser's avatar

It’s all connected. We are all connected.

candide's avatar

they must not be that important if we can’t see them

mattbrowne's avatar

Dark matter and dark energy are about effects we can observe. What about effects we haven’t even observed yet. A fifth elementary force perhaps? Negative mass. Negative energy. The sixth law of thermodynamics.

Cruiser's avatar

I wish I knew more about the quantum mechanics and physics of all this. But just to contemplate the atomic level of how every thing here in my office is essentially just a bunch tiny atoms all for the most part randomly slapped together as a result of a millenniums worth of random events all continuing to occur as a result of something lighting the fuse on the big bang is quite surreal. So extend my little micro world here in my office out my window up into the heavens and beyond and again to consider that we are all simply a form of energy and the same form of energy that extends to and past the known boundaries of of our universe is to me quite interesting to consider that I am part of one ginormous energy party. For me I am fortunate as I can feel this life force of energy I only wish I could understand it better.

Rarebear's avatar

@Etpro I found the original paper. It’s way over my head, but here you go.

ETpro's avatar

@Rarebear OUCH! Once I got past the otherwise cold, vacuous, static universe; my brain collided with their brane in the hot big bang universe and exploded. I’ll have to leave it to their peers to review that paper.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

That statement grabbed my attention as well. Starting with a “cold, vacuous, static universe” seems to assume a universe where there was none to begin with, as if comparing that past condition with what we now would call “empty dead space” within our own current universe. The initial condition seems to beg the reader to assume that space/time was already in effect before our own big bang, rather than created by our own big bang. That’s a red flag for me, but I will continue with the paper nonetheless and see what unfolds.

Thanks for the link.

Rarebear's avatar

@ETpro @Rarebear I read through the paper when it first came out (bleeped over the math). From my limited understanding, basically his theory is that there are branes of universes. The branes bang on each other periodically, and when they do, that causes enough energy to trigger a universe creation event. Or something like that.

ETpro's avatar

@Rarebear So we might have another go at this grand experience as long as we avoid the no-braner?

BTW, If brane theory is true, it should be testable, and experiments are underway to see if it pans out.

Rarebear's avatar

@ETpro I’m not sure string theory will ever be able to be truly tested as the energies required are so high. But I could be wrong, I’m not a physicist and the math is beyond me. Until then, it’s just sort of cool to speculate on.

Good pun, by the way!

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar


You are wise to speculate and develop your philosophy about the nature of reality. I encourage you to do more of this. But in your speculations, I offer you a consideration…

You presented two different observations. One in your office, and one of the cosmos.

Consider that everything in the cosmos seems to consist of matter/energy alone.

But the objects in your office have a third ingredient… that being Information. Your desk, chair, computer, pen holder… are all products of a mind rearranging matter/energy to suit a particular purpose. We know they are from a mind because we can reference a set of codified plans (information) that pre-determined their existence into physical reality before the object ever existed. Codified plans are the smoking gun pointing to the existence of a thought from a mind.

This is the fundamental reason that I consider ALL matter/energy as entropy. The human mind harnesses that entropy and forms it into physical expressions of a non-physical mind. Alas, the entropy will eventually have its way and decay will ultimately destroy the physical object. But, just as we know that matter/energy can not be destroyed, only re-arranged, we would also be wise to concede that information cannot be destroyed either. In fact, information not only lives on, but it actually evolves. That’s how a 10,000 year old concept of a wooden wheel eventually evolves into the Pirelli Tire company.

Shuttle128's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies What happens when all copies of code that contains some certain information are destroyed? Does the information still exist?

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Well I don’t really know for sure… but

If Information is independent from the medium that expresses it, and, if Information resides in an immaterial realm of reality, then and only then, may we confidently assert that the immaterial Information still resides within an immaterial realm, even though we may not be capable of detecting it any longer.

Information transcends space and time. Open a copy of Homers Iliad and share the thoughts of one who physically existed long ago and far away. The mediums that express that Thoughtful Information will decay. But the actual Thoughtful Information remains perfectly intact.

I must say again, that language breaks down when discussing these notions. I’ve had to use the words “intact” and “resides within” just to get my point across. But Information is expressed, not held like water in a bucket. Information is referred to, but not actually seen or observed. I cannot presume this immaterial realm suits the concepts of “within or without” any more than I can presume that Information is “intact”.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Another interesting characteristic of Codified Information…

Code is the only thing in the universe that duplicates just by being looked at. Imagine yourself in a house with one window. The house is a metaphorical physical life. The window is a metaphorical code. We don’t look at the window. We actually look through the window because it allows us to be aware of what’s on the other side of the wall, while keeping us separated from it. Without the window, we’d have no detection of the other side. Without code, we’d have no detection of Information. Code is a window that allows us to detect the existence of Information. And it is duplicated in the mind of everyone who looks at it, giving us a new window to view the realm of Information. In this way, everyone who looks at this comment is looking through a window of code, and all sharing the same view of the exact same thought from my mind.

We’d never look at the window, and think it was the outside.

ETpro's avatar

@Rarebear Here’s what I found on how we might test from branes. As one of its attractive features, the model can explain the weakness of gravity relative to the other fundamental forces of nature, thus solving the so-called hierarchy problem. In the brane picture, the other three forces (electromagnetism and the weak and strong nuclear forces) are localized on the brane, but gravity has no such constraint and so much of its attractive power “leaks” into the bulk. As a consequence, the force of gravity should appear significantly stronger on small (subatomic or at least sub-millimetre) scales, where less gravitational force has “leaked”. Various experiments are currently underway to test this.

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies Here is one interesting and rather baffling difference between human generated code or information to build things and nature’s code for building things. To my right, there is an integrated fax/scanner/copier. It definitely is a product of information—took lots of information to make it. It could copy that information so someone else could build it, but unless they had the original documents in hand, they would have a tough time getting that information from it via reverse engineering.

Inside every fertilized human egg, on the other hand, is not only the plans for a full-grown human but the plans to build new eggs or new sperm to make more human eggs with complete human beings inside them—and so on. If my copier had that ability, I would soon be in the copy machine business.

Shuttle128's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies ”[...] sharing the same view of the exact same thought from my mind.”

If this were actually true I doubt very much that we would have arguments.

Our world-views are incommensurable as they are now. How can the information that you give me be interpreted 100% correctly if I haven’t experienced exactly what you have? Interpretations of discourse are subjective, I don’t think there can be a “right” interpretation. Just because someone came up with something from their own mind doesn’t mean that their original interpretation is the “right” one. Meaning changes as time goes on. The words of Homer might still exist, but the true meaning of his words was lost long ago. If code was a window that gave us the ability to see true meaning then no one should ever have a problem interpreting someone’s writings.

The stronger our standards and the clearer we are at expressing our thoughts the more clear our meaning can be, but to think that anyone transmits their meaning completely is rather hard to believe. I think we have fundamentally different ways of understanding ideas. You seem to favor platonic forms of meaning with imperfect referents, while I believe each code is unique but can be abstracted to reveal a common structure. The emergence of “universals” from neural networks is what makes these individual cases that all share a common trait seem to exist in platonic forms.

Sorry for hijacking the thread….maybe we should take it back here…..actually now that I think about it, this question is probably a better home for this discussion anyway.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar


You’re right. I’ll meet you back at the other thread soon… Tomorrow… right now I’m playing.

Shuttle128's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies That wasn’t a push to waste a ton of time going over what I wrote, I just thought we were derailing the question….but when I thought about it, our discussion is actually headed in the same direction as this thread. Have your fun here and get to bed, don’t waste too much effort on my ramblings.

Rarebear's avatar

@ETpro Interesting. I always saw gravity as being a force for big distances and big objects, and a force to be ignored at extremely small scales. thanks for finding that.

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