Recursive Universe

2006-12-04 20:32 - Ideas

Traditionally, the smallest piece of matter is an atom. An atom is "the smallest particle of an element that can exist..." and is thus a fitting starting point for this discussion.

Take a look at an atom. It's got a big heavy piece in the center, and a bunch of smaller pieces orbiting around that center. (Note, that description is a bit more accurate than the picture linked to.)

Scaling up a bit in size, we get to the molecule. A molecule is a bunch of atoms stuck together. There's a massive number of different kinds of molecules, the image linked is just a general example.

Scaling up further, we get all kinds of objects that we are familiar with, and of course plenty that we aren't. Scaling much further, we see planets. Oddly enough, planets have moons and other things orbiting them. Sense a theme?

Scaling to an even larger size, we see the solar system. Take a look at that image. Does it look like the atom? Yeah, something big in the middle, a bunch of smaller things spinning around it in orbit. The primary difference between the two pictures is that the latter is a bit closer to being to scale.

Let's scale up in size again. Our solar system is in the Milky Way Galaxy. Again, it's something big in the middle, and some smaller things orbiting around it.

If we try to scale out again, things get fuzzy. It's hard to say what the whole universe looks like. That linked page shows the visible universe. It looks a whole lot like a molecule. Or maybe, it's a nucleus, and there's a bunch of other smaller universes in orbit around us. Or maybe that's all wrong, and it would look even more like an atom if only we could see the whole thing.

Not only that, but what if we scaled down from the atom? Science today tells us that there are all sorts of sub-atomic particles, things like quarks and leptons and mesons. Who wants to bet that those things don't arrange themselves into one large cluster, with a bunch of smaller ones orbiting around that?

There's a certain sort of understated beauty to the universe, when considered as a whole and as parts, when observed from various different viewpoints together. It seems extremely recursive to me. Some sort of basic underlying principle, baked right into the universe at such a low level that it shows up anywhere you look. It's found in things as tiny as atoms, as massive as galaxies, and in between, building one on the other.

I must re-state, though, how beautiful it really is. Take the purposely simple diagram at right. It's not to scale, but it could easily be 5.291772108 x 10-11 meters across, the electron of a hydrogen atom orbiting its proton. It could be 7,264,107,220,000,000,000 times bigger than that, the moon orbiting the earth. Or, it could easily be 389.1724 times bigger than that, the earth orbiting the sun. Or, it could be 1644232890 times bigger than that, an (admittedly poor) representation of our solar system orbiting the galactic center, with all the hundreds of millions of other galaxies hidden, just so it's not so confusing. ;-)

How powerful a concept, the orbit, that it works, and is found, on such vastly different scales. And like I said above, probably much smaller and much larger ones, as well. Wow.


Reminds me of....
2006-12-05 11:49 - kathaclysm

Just reminds me of the Simpsons.

Post a comment:

  If you do not have an account to log in to yet, register your own account. You will not enter any personal info and need not supply an email address.

You may use Markdown syntax in the comment, but no HTML. Hints:

  • An empty line between text will create a paragraph boundary.
  • Use angle braces around a plain URL to auto-link it: <>.
  • Use this format to create a link with different text showing: [An Example](
  • Use backticks (``), not leading spaces to enclose a code block.

If you are attempting to contact me, ask me a question, etc, please send me a message through the contact form rather than posting a comment here. Thank you. (If you post a comment anyway when it should be a message to me, I'll probably just delete your comment. I don't like clutter.)