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Thursday, January 19, 2006

Weights measures and time

There's a brewing storm in the physics world (not my world) regarding what have been called "universal constants". It seems there's empirical evidence that some of the constants are changing. That wouldn't be too much of a big deal if the constants were somehow independent of each other. But as it turns out, they're all related. In fact, from what I can tell, the only real value to the constants is in their relationship. The ability to relate one measure to another allows you to check your work. Verification is the basis of all science (which is why relativism was such a shock to the philosophy of science, and continues to propagate through society at large). But even within Einstein's relativism, there were established relationships and ratios that were constant. Scientists are just starting to ponder a world where constants are changing. I'm optimistic that changing constants could be more valuable than constant constants, but what do I know. I'm just a caveman.

Another conundrum in physics today revolves around why some values are so small, and why some are so big. At the core, why is the force of gravity so much smaller than all the other forces? I think the questions of constants and the questions of scale are related in that they are both posed by people. These measurements only seem odd to people. The universe seems to find them natural. I think an uncommon person with a unique perspective is required to reframe the questions, to get us away from the way we're thinking and move us on to a new way.

Here are some examples of beautifully different thinking about measurement:

Gutzon Borglum, artist and creator of Mt. Rushmore on deep time:

"I am allowing an extra three inches on all the features of the various Presidents in order to provide stone for the wear and tear of the elements, which cuts the granite down one inch every hundred thousand years. Three inches would require three-hundred thousand years to bring the work down to the point that I would like to finish it. In other words, the work will not be done for another three hundred thousand years, as it should be."

Absolute beauty and optimism.

More measures of time and weight and distance:

foot -- Defined as 26.45 cm by Sumerian ruler Gudea of Lagash around 2575 BC, this is the oldest preserved standard of length.

a truti is 1/60th of a renuvu, or the time it takes for a needle to penetrate a lotus leaf, or 1/3,240,000th of a second.

Two kalpas constitue a day and night of Brahma; the life cycle of Brahma is one hundred years of Brahma, or 311 trillion years.

peninkulma -- (c. 10 km) The distance a barking dog can be heard in still air.

poronkusema -- (c. 7.5 km) The distance a reindeer walks between two spots it urinates on. This unit originates from Lapland.

According to Muskogee Creek Indian Counting Words 13 = three sit upon ten.
"Thus 'one million' is translated as 'one old large hundred'. Using the word 'old' or 'aged' to amplify the size of a number is not unique: in the Cherokee language, Adair translated 'one thousand' as 'the old one's hundred'" (Williams, 1986)

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