grain-of-sand:earth

“The total number of stars in the Universe is larger than all the grains of sand on all the beaches of the planet Earth.”
~ Carl Sagan

When I was young I would imagine that if the earth were the size of a baseball then perhaps the sun would be the size of a beach-ball and that they’d be about 20-ft (6 meters) apart at that scale. This seems about right, but it turns out to be very VERY wrong. If the earth was the size of a baseball, the sun would be almost 27-ft (8 meters) in diameter, already more than the distance I imagined separated the two. The distance between the baseball-size earth and the 27-ft diameter sun is about a half-mile.

In other words, imagine a ball that’s nearly three stories high, and you’d have to walk a half-mile to find a baseball-sized earth. The baseball:earth scale isn’t practical to construct a model.

But do astronomical models ever meaningful scale? That is, can we construct a scale model of the solar system and some nearby stars? Let’s see what happens.

Scale the earth down to a single grain of sand on the beach. Imagine a normal sandy beach like the one pictured above, and use an an average sand particle of about 1 mm, nothing exceptional.

At this grain-of-sand:earth scale, we would have a softball-size sun about 38-ft (12 meters) away from the grain of sand earth. This model would fit within most actual beaches, except on this beach, there’d only be 31 grains of sand that have been discovered so far (and four pieces of gravel, and a bunch of silt, but we’ll get to that).

Our moon on this scale would be about an inch away from the grain-of-sand earth, it would be an even smaller particle of sand. The furthest human beings have set foot is only one-inch on this beach.

Mars is another grain of sand, and its moons are so small they wouldn’t be visible, too small even to be called silt.

Jupiter would be 161-ft (49 meters) away from the grain-of-sand earth, but Jupiter would be too large to be considered sand, it would appropriately be called gravel. Jupiter would be the size of a small marble. About 50 meters away from the grain-of-sand earth is a marble-size Jupiter. This beach has four marbles revolving around a softball-size sun. Interestingly, there is more sand revolving around the marbles than there is sand revolving around the softball-size sun. Most of the objects on this beach are tiny bits of silt, i.e., particles too small to be considered grains of sand.

The furthest man-made object, the Voyager spacecrafts, would be far too microscopic to be visible on this beach, but these microscopic spacecraft would be almost a mile away from the softball-size sun.

The grain-of-sand-scale model so far is a pretty lonely beach. This beach would go about a mile inland, a vast and open beach with 31 grains of sand, four marbles of gravel, countless silt particles thrown about (most of it would be invisible to the naked eye). The English language has precise words for silt, sand, and gravel; unfortunately, for solar system objects the English language isn’t as discriminating. Astronomically, we lump gravel together with sand and if they happen to be spherical and revolve around a star we call them “planets”. Some grains of sand are not planets only because they revolve around gravel. A bit silly, and if you’ve ever wondered why Pluto isn’t considered a planet, remember that it’s smaller than Earth’s moon, and would barely be visible as a grain of sand on this scale. Debates about Pluto completely miss the point: our knowledge of the solar system is far deeper than “there are 9 planets, no wait, 8 planets”.

Looking at the grain-of-sand earth, this is about the smallest reasonable scale that we can model, and so far this model fills a one-mile radius. We can count 31 grains of sand, four marbles, and bands of silt revolving within a mile-radius around the softball-size sun.

And this is just our solar system, we’re not into the universe, not yet. Let’s venture out to the closest star.

On this grain-of-sand-scale, the nearest star, Alpha Centauri, would be a bit larger than a softball (about 5.3 inches in diameter). And if our lonely beach with a tiny handful of sand, silt, and gravel were in Los Angeles, then you’d have to walk all the way to Tennessee (somewhere between Memphis and Nashville) to get to Alpha Centauri.

Walking from Los Angeles to Tennessee is far but not unreasonable with basic provisions. Unfortunately, at this scale, the speed of light would also be scaled down. We tend to think that the speed of light is fast, but at this grain-of-sand-scale, the speed of light is slower than a sloth. It’s about 0.05 miles-per-hour, about 84 meters-per-hour (277 feet-per-hour). How long would it take a sloth to get from Los Angeles to Nashville? It doesn’t matter, because at this scale the sloth would be faster than light.

84 meters per hour, that’s the speed that light would travel at this tiny scale, and hence it would take over 16 hours to get across the beach (from the sun to the edge of the solar system).

Those Voyager spacecraft, on this grain-of-sand-scale, are traveling less than half-a-centimeter every hour. That is slower than bamboo grows. When you imagine the solar system, realize that these objects are so far apart that both light and gravity are moving at a snails-pace relative to the distances; and that these scaled down objects would move slower than a plant grows. How long would it take a plant to grow from Los Angeles to Nashville?

Let’s look at the night sky, what about the north star, Polaris?

On this grain-of-sand-scale, Polaris is much bigger than the softball-sized sun, it’s about 16-ft (almost 5 meters) in diameter, and it’d be about 321,000 km away … so even at this grain-of-sand-scale, even though we have to go cross-country to get to the nearest softball-size star, for other stars we’d leave the earth. In the case of Polaris we’d almost be to the moon, and we wouldn’t find a softball, we’d find a 16-foot diameter bolder representing Polaris.

And what about the larger objects in our galactic neighborhood, for example, the star Betelgeuse would be over 220-ft (67 meters) in diameter, 474,000 km away from the grain-of-sand earth. On a clear night you may be able to see the Andromeda galaxy, on our grain-of-sand-scale this Andromeda model would be so large as to fill our actual inner solar system, but it’d be 1.8 billion kilometers away. The brightest quasar viewable from earth, 3C 273, on a grain-of-sand scale would be 1.8 trillion kilometers away.

Even at this tiny scale, a model of the solar system fits within a mile-wide beach, but to model our neighboring stars we’d leave earth and our model becomes as large as the thing we’re trying to model.

The problem with scale models of astronomy is that we try to model the physical stuff and forget that the largest and most interesting thing to model is the empty space itself. The size of a solar system, the size of a galaxy; like our lonely beach with 31 particles of sand; it’s mostly empty space.

This is why astronomical models aren’t to scale, the range of size within human intuition is simply too narrow, we have to continually abstract and abstract and can lose our bearings on just how big and how far away these objects are. Fortunately, it is within the poetry of mathematics that we can artfully express these abstractions. Mathematics becomes the language to convey these otherwise non-intuitive concepts, opening the universe to intelligence beyond scaled models.

References

For this scaling, we’re using the following size descriptors:

  • Silt: 0.002 mm to 0.0625 mm
  • Sand: 0.0625 mm to 2 mm
  • Gravel: 2 mm to 64 mm

To simplify the scaling, imagine the earth is a 1mm grain of sand, this puts the earth:grain-of-sand scale at 12756200000 : 1

Using that scale,

  • A silt particle models any object 25 km to 797 km in diameter
  • A sand particle models any object 797 km to 25,512 km in diameter
  • A piece of gravel models objects up to 816,397 km in diameter

This gives us the following models,

  • Gravel: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune
  • Sand: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Luna, Mars, Ganymede, Titan,
  • Silt: Dysnomia, Chaos, Enceladus, Proteus, Hale-Bopp,

At this scale, the model of the Sun (which is 1.391 million km) is too large for gravel; and scaled down to 4.3 inches is about the size of a softball, but to keep with the metaphor we would call this a Cobble stone.

The Universal Beauty of Mathematics

When I hear someone say, “I hate math” or “I’m bad at math“, I cringe slightly, and respond almost embarrassed, “I like math, it’s quite beautiful“.

I sometimes go on to defend my belief that there is no useful difference between art, math, and science — none. I’ve had this conversation many times with many people.

Is math beautiful?

Most people seem to agree in theory — and I hear (all too common) stories involving painful memories of math classes. As if the beauty in mathematics is out of their reach, perhaps only beautiful to some nerd minority.

I remember my own math classes when I was young, and I cringe again.

The teaching of Mathematics, a language to express the ineffable beauty of existence, is reduced in classrooms everywhere to a painful Pavlovian conditioning of forced computation.

Imagine for a moment, that instead of teaching children to read and write, that we instead forced them to copy (like little drawing machines) printed books but only one letter of the alphabet at a time. Never learning to read, just forcing them to copy all the A’s on page, and then to copy all the B’s, and so on.

So a young student begins with the letter A and painfully fills in A’s on a blank sheet of paper attempting to match them to the A’s they see in a printed book.

Teachers hold up answer sheets to make sure the young students copied all the A’s and copied them to all the right places on their practice page.

This is a very good copy of the A’s,” the teacher will say.

And then as they get older they copy more and more letters, A’s, B’s, C’s and onward. We do not tell them why they are doing this, we do not tell them that these letters have any relation to their spoken language. And whenever a student asks why they have to do this, we tell them, “because I said so“.

Eventually, years later, a student has copied all the way to Z and finally copies entire pages of printed books. This student can now graduate.

As this student graduates she expresses in angst, “I will never need to do this again, I hate letters“. And she is illiterate, and so is most of this imagined society that forces children to copy letters without ever telling them why.

But perhaps this student goes to college, and while in college she decides to learn more about these letters. She takes an advanced class in letter writing.

She wonders if there are more letters to write, maybe new letters that she has never seen before. She has heard that these letters contain beauty, but she cannot possibly understand how.

The class she takes is called “Letter Theory”, and the teacher begins by asking a simple question,

What is a letter?”

How absurd, the student thinks, obviously a letter is what she’s been copying her entire life!

The teacher goes on, “when we put these letters together they form words, like the ones I am speaking now

Shocked, the student exclaims, “certainly not all words are made of letters, there are so few letters and so many words that we speak

The teacher smiles and replies, “all words, all the ideas you have ever heard with your ears, every lecture, every song, all of it, can be expressed using combinations of letters

Years later, the student has learned about grammar, semantics, composition, literature, poetry — and now she finds beauty in the letters that she never understood before.

Letters are amazing, just as numbers are amazing.

Mathematics is the study of beauty, and it is expressed in numbers.

You need not be a great writer to understand and experience beautiful writing, and you need not be a professional scientist or engineer to understand and experience the beauty of numbers.

Imagine if only professional writers learned how to read, that is our current world concerning mathematics.

If you have never experienced the beauty of numbers, understand that your entire education has failed you, and you are mathematically illiterate. Most likely, you have learned only drilled computation, and perhaps touched upon Algebra or Calculus without any explanation of what you were actually doing and, most importantly, why.

If you believe you are bad at the computation that was drilled into you at a young age, you are not alone; if you believe you were good at those computational drills, you are wrong — all humans are bad at computation. All of us. Our greatest computational geniuses are slower and stupider than even the cheapest pocket calculator. We don’t hire humans to be computers, and we don’t hire humans to be printers — fortunately, we are not training humans to be printers, but we are training children to be computers (really slow error prone computers), and we are robbing them of mathematic literacy.

And if you are mathematically illiterate, you are also (necessarily) scientifically illiterate.

This failure to teach math results in widespread illiteracy, and an inability for many people to read and express the beauty of existence, a poetry in numbers that opens our eyes to the infinite beauty of life.

When we stare at the stars and express their beauty in words, we have religious mythologies — and when we stare at the stars and express their beauty in numbers, we have a scientific revolution. For tens of thousands of years humans have had scientifically illiterate explanations for the stars (pinholes in a celestial blanket), but with the language of mathematics those stars became far grander and far more beautiful than anything we could possibly have imagined.

It is in that moment where science, math, and art converge into a unified inquiry — the study of existence, the study of infinite beauty.

Moment-to-Moment

Moment-to-Moment by timwarnock

Can we shift our consciousness such that thinking occurs through moment-to-moment awareness of the world rather than through a remembered self?

A remembered self is a narrative, it is any of the stories the mind constructs about who we are, what we ought to be doing, how important we are, etc.

And yet memories are malleable and function only by association, that is, they are triggered by either thinking or by sensory contact. You can shape your memories as easily as you change your clothes.

Everything in memory can be (and is) arbitrarily framed and filtered to the mood, temperament, and conditioning of the mind. The continuous flow of thoughts from memory are concocted and evoke conditioned reactions such as judgments, moral intuition, etc. These judgments are independent from reality and depend only on the concocted perception.

No wonder we spend so much time with anxieties, regret, and divisive beliefs grounded in nothing but perceptions (be it racism, politics, or religious differences).

This is not a defensible position for any thinking or decision making strategy.

Understand, memory is memory, it is flawed and episodic; reasoning from memory is an error prone approach to thinking.

In the biases of a remembered self, we lose much, and gain only needless suffering.

We suffer when the mind is not fully engaged in the moment; when a remembered self is striving to engage, to “be present”, it cannot, it suffers; when the remembered self is striving to happiness, it suffers, it suffers because memories and thoughts can never engage in the unknown, they can never experience bliss.

Rather than thinking from a remembered self, we can think from awareness of the world as it exists; i.e., we can think from the experience of what is actually happening, the experiencing self.

The experiencing self perceives the immediacy of what is happening, right now.

Our mind automatically seeks coherence and consistency in its thinking, hence with awareness of the world as it actually exists the more likely that coherence seeking thinking will model the actual world; at best awareness leads to sustainable bliss in each moment, at worst it produces more intelligent decision making and more effective strategies towards any perceived goal or desire.

This can serve as the basis of actual science, actual art, actual learning, actual creativity, actual everything! Thinking solely from the experiencing self ceases the silly suffering of the remembered self.

We spend much time on these two selves. Truth is, there are not two selves, there is only a single process of thought.

Is it possible to think differently and free ourselves from the silly attachments to a remembered self?

In other words, if your mind can think differently, to cease the concoction of memories that lead to suffering, and instead engage fully into life with blissful awareness, then why not do it?

Can you discover life anew in each moment?

Can you discover yourself continuously as you discover the world around you?

This actual world, free of the delusions of a remembered self, abounds in such infinite opportunity that bliss is a natural and wonderful reaction to the world as it truly exists.

Wisdom of Blissful Awareness

Wisdom of Blissful Awareness by timwarnock

Suffering arises in the mind through perceptions and judgments of the world, in particular when those perceptions conflict with the world as it truly exists. A surprising amount of human thoughts follow this pattern of suffering; how we think we should be treated versus how we’re actually treated, or how others should be treated, how the world should be, and so on.

In other words, suffering requires the clouding of our awareness to reality; a division, created in our mind. These divisions become conflicts of expectation, ideology, and all the usual moral, political or aesthetic value judgments.

It is the very function of the rational mind to divide, to be dualistic, and this process is extremely useful in technical and mechanistic actions (such as writing, driving, playing a piano, etc).

But is this rational process useful outside of mechanistic actions?

To answer this, let’s put the question differently: can wisdom exist when the mind reacts to ideology and belief, at the expense of being aware of the world as it is now?

Wisdom can exist only in actions, not in theories, actions not born of thought, but action born of awareness of the here and now, such that rational thought becomes a filter onto action (and not the cause of action).

There is no value, none, to being governed by moral, political, or aesthetic values. These attitudes which dull the mind and inhibit wisdom can be discarded entirely. What wisdom is it otherwise? Wisdom is not born of a dull insensitive mind that unconsciously reacts to conditioned ideologies and beliefs.

See the world as it is, holistic and free, beautifully independent of every judgment and opinion.

And rather than have occasional moments of clarity and bliss, can we sustain this from moment-to-moment?

Perceptions happen naturally, and between perception and reality there is often desire. Desire to cease being the reality and become the perception. This is, more or less, the cause of suffering, despising the world as you see it (often unintentionally) and comparing it to the world as you believe it should be — and more importantly, this desire can also be the key to the cessation of suffering and the experience of endless bliss. In other words, within the cause of suffering is also the solution.

Transform the desirous energy that usually leads to suffering into awareness of the here and now.

In this awareness, the energy of desire is transformed, and rather than increasing our dissatisfaction, it can destroy the very cause of our dissatisfaction.

Simply put, with awareness of the world as it truly exists, suffering ceases. And interestingly enough, bliss emerges, choicelessly, when the mind is so aware.

The experience of bliss that arises from desire expands the mind, more and more, so that we overcome all self-imposed limitations. Our mind reacting to the here and now is not the same as it was reacting to opinion and belief, it is a truly free mind.

If the mind is to be alive, flourishing in wisdom, not dull and mechanistic, then you absolutely must understand and do what you love (that which excites and arouses you most); and do so with the fiery awareness of what is, and not the clouded smoke of what should be.

Every moment is an opportunity to feel awe.

Live with such profound blissful awareness that there is not a moment to spare for the sufferings of ego.

All Things as They Are

Life is; I believe; fundamentally, simple.

All things are exactly as they are; unchanging in this moment, and continuously changing in the next moments. Everything in this moment is the culmination and product of all that came before. Change in the next moment is inevitable.

Have you watched your desires as they change from moment-to-moment? Can you capture a desire and follow it from moment-to-moment? Try it.

A simple experiment: Think of what you desire most; the craving which you have been spending most of your time thinking about recently. Whatever it may be, material or intangible. As it’s been in your thoughts it likely has a name, if not, give this desire a name.

Perhaps this desire fits to some ideal for yourself, perhaps it makes you a smarter or more interesting person, or produces happiness or contented freedom. Maybe it’s a desire for world peace, or maybe for a new car — whatever this desire is, look at it openly without any judgment. Imagine how it looks and how it feels.

Now look around. Right in front of your face, see the world in this moment, now. See how this world is absent the desire you just named; if you wished for a new car, see that it is not there — if you desired peace, see the violence in yourself and all around you — see all things around you that produced this desire. See the unchanging reality of this exact moment. Without judging or naming just simply observe this moment exactly as it is.

Your desire may seem separate from this world– Yet is it separate?

Is not this desire part of this world in this moment? Is this desire yours to possess, or is it just a reaction, as a hungry man craves food?

This desire, born of thought, is fundamentally connected with the world as it is. In fact, is there any difference between the ‘you’ who is desiring, and the thing desired? Are these not both the same thought (the ‘you’ desiring and the ‘thing’ desired)?

This thought, this desire, is the very reaction to the world as it actually exists.

Can you be fully aware of the world as it exists, such that desires are seen in their rightful context?

Aware of what you are doing, aware of the movement of life in each breath– What happens?

Gratitude and bliss, loving kindness to all things seems to be the emergent reaction when a mind is fully aware of what it is doing. But forget I said that, find out for yourself what happens.

To really be so aware (not just in theory but to do so actually), you cannot suppress judgment or violence or ideology, just simply let it be and see past it, see the mental concoctions that produce those actions and thoughts — aware, simply aware, and see what happens.

With such awareness, aware of things as they actually are, we are free to live without any constraints of ideology or thoughtless-desire. You are doing what you are doing, exactly as you do it — where you go is the reaction of now, be aware; mindfully aware; and see the actions flow from the insight of awareness, not the limits and anxieties of impermanent desire and ideology.

And now without all the imagined complexities of life, when one is free to see things as they are, beyond the limits of ideologies and beliefs– then in that moment, life is truly and fundamentally simple.

This Real World, This Actual World

I was once a dreamer.

Wake up, they said, to the real world.

This real world, this actual world, have you discovered it?

Wherever I looked– the academic, the artist, the banker, the politician, the hipster, the mechanic, the soldier, the revolutionary– all with the same striving suffering, each with their own sense of status and importance. All with opinions, beliefs, and ideologies — wake up to the real world, they said.

This real world, this actual world, this earth spinning freely through space — trapped to that radiant star — this actual world, does it care about your status, belief, or ideology? Or is life indifferent to every opinion and belief?

Whether you submit or rebel, it is always to an idea that exists exclusively in your mind, is that not also a fantasy — is that not a dream?

This real world, this actual world, is completely independent of your wants, fears, and sufferings.

Yet you, and only you, are dependent on judgments and ideologies — dependent on your idea of status and importance. You are an illusion within an illusion, all the while there is a real world, an actual world — free of suffering and bounding in endless bliss — this real world, this actual world, is in front of your face in each and every moment. It is there, independent of you, and you may discover it or you may continue to dream.

Slow down. Stop.

Slow down.

Stop.

Stop completely.

There is this moment, and only this moment

The purpose of life, everything, is found in this one moment

The miraculous culmination of everything that is– all that is, is now.



This beautiful benediction, tingling existential joy from fingertips to toes

Forget this notion of ‘you’, there is only this process of life
The peculiar perceptual bias of self can be discarded moment-to-moment

You are free, as Life is free

Discontented Mind

Seeking, searching, and endless cycles of asking, inquiring, and wandering. And yet the moment is alive, free of judgment, free of the burdens of expectation and pressure. In each moment there is a sense of elation, a joyous silence in each breath.

It is not discontent that yields to suffering, it is the suppression of discontent, the numbing listless contented mind. Content in the ignorance of opinions and ideologies, where selfish perceptions fail to capture the breadth and beauty of the world as it actually exists.

Rage in your discontent, fuel that fire till it burns away every selfish desire, every bit of prestige and every fetter of power; it is of a discontented mind that freedom is realized and the illusions cast aside, where ego and suffering are laid bare to the truth of your attention.

Children of no Nationality

One of things I love about traveling is the people you meet. There are amazing people you will meet while traveling.

It’s so profound I’d call it magic; while traveling freely you’ll meet people whose very presence uplifts your entire worldview, as if their every breath is a bizarre mix of inspiration and inexhaustible bliss. People without judgments, without comparisons to this or that, just fellow humans who let go of all that silliness.

And it’s not necessarily other travelers, in fact, it really has nothing to do with travelers– it’s people (traveling or not) who are not on destination. They have no place to go except where they stand, and as such you are neither helping nor inhibiting them– there is only a simple curiosity and a spirit of exploration beyond the known.

And I don’t mean a select few amazing people, I mean hundreds, as many as you have the time and effort to meet– they’re out there.

Let yourself go into the world, truly lose yourself, and in losing yourself you’ll find an entire underground of these vagabonds, wanderers, children of no nationality — you’ll be welcomed like family; as you are, in every way metaphoric and literal (in the
grandest sense of life on earth), family.

Why is self an illusion?

Gnōthi seauton (γνῶθι σεαυτόν), know thyself.

But what is self? And why call it an illusion? Perhaps because you are, most literally, the continuation of everything that ever was, and the precursor to everything as it will be — the very limited delusion of ego and selfish desire fail to full capture, even in clever metaphor, the totality of existence.

How is a mind to abstract infinite silence? Thought, knowledge, and the very process of a mind cannot capture and constrain that which is beyond itself– beautiful as the illusions may be, there is freedom beyond the constraints of ego and selfish desire.