Friday, August 3, 2012

Porous Boundaries


What is the largest organ in the human body? The usual answer is ‘the lungs’ or ‘the intestines’ or ‘the stomach’. But surprisingly, the largest organ in our bodies is our skin! It is so much a part of our being that we forget it is there. Yet the skin is our first line of defense against infection, warns us of danger through its trillions of neural endings and keeps us comfortable through temperature regulation. Our skin provides a physical boundary between us and the outside world. Boundaries are sensitive areas. Geopolitical boundaries are defended vigorously and often violently. Personal boundaries, when crossed, are met with resentment. We need boundaries to establish our limits as well as to restrain the evil of which we are capable. 

When we look beyond our earth’s boundary, the atmosphere, and gaze at the heavens, boundaries seem to disappear. Space appears infinite. Apart from the stars, galaxies and gases, the universe appears to consist of vast areas of empty space. One of Einstein’s amazing insights was that space and time are intimately connected, and that space is not empty, but provides the structure for objects to move through time. Space is not nothing, but can be likened to a fabric that can bend, ripple and stretch. (The illustration above shows how planet earth alters the fabric of space. It also shows the Gravity Probe B, which provided the final proof of the space-time hypothesis.) Perhaps the illustration we can best understand is to compare space to water. A fish is not aware of the concept of water, but feels its effects and interacts with it naturally. For a fish, water is the medium through which he moves.

This new understanding of space is called the space-time continuum. In a recent Nova program on PBS titled “The Fabric of the Cosmos”, Brian Greene explores the new physics, which is beginning to show just how porous and interactive the boundaries are in our universe. It is fascinating stuff!  The Apostle Paul, when speaking to a skeptical audience in Athens said, “(God) determined the times set for mankind and the exact places where they should live. (He set boundaries.) God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:26-28) I love to think of God, the creator of space and time, surrounding us like space. Although in our daily lives we don’t see space or even think about it, it is there. Perhaps if we only had the eyes to see, we could see a reality all around us, close enough to touch. Imagine being able to reach out through the porous boundaries of the space-time continuum and touch God.

To watch the PBS program in full (55 minutes)What is Space? featuring Dr. Brian Green
For a shorter explanation of space see:  PBS Interview with Dr. Brian Greene

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