You hear the “fractal nature of the universe” get bandied about quite frequently, by self-help “gurus”, quasi-scientists, theorists of all stripes, and even by very well established, credible physicists.
But what the hell does it mean?
To understand, let’s first define “fractal.”
A quick Google search yields:
1.a curve or geometric figure, each part of which has the same statistical character as the whole. Fractals are useful in modeling structures (such as eroded coastlines or snowflakes) in which similar patterns recur at progressively smaller scales, and in describing partly random or chaotic phenomena such as crystal growth, fluid turbulence, and galaxy formation.
1.relating to or of the nature of a fractal or fractals.“fractal geometry”
Alrighty…So what does that mean?
The easiest possible explanation would be “a pattern within a pattern within a pattern that continues indefinitely.”Meaning that, fractal-ly speaking, the coast line of Great Britain can be measured as infinitely long.
You heard me.Here’s why:
The so-called “Coastline Paradox” comes into play, created by the fractal-like nature of coastlines.
If I measure the coastline of GB in miles, or kilometers since they no longer use miles, I will get a wildly different measurement than if I used millimeters.
This is because at the kilometer unit of measurement, I can ignore variations in the shoreline that I couldn’t at the meter measurement, or the decimeter, centimeter or millimeter level.So what does that have to do with anything?It has to do with the fact that how you measure something effects the measurement you get.
The same applies to time.
If I measure events in years, then I will have a much different perspective than if I measure events in months, days, hours, seconds, etc.
Or what if I’m measuring in centuries?
Changes the perspective of things, no?
So how does this apply to the universe?
Well, if a fractal is a pattern that repeats within itself no matter how large or small you measure it, then let’s try this thought on for size:
I propose that our Universe is exactly the same thing as an electron.
You heard me.
The Universe is an electron.
Or, stated from a different angle, an electron is just like the entire Universe.
I’m sure that just made it all clear, right?
Alright, look at it like this:
We have no idea why the “Big Bang” occurred, but we’re pretty sure that it did, in fact, occur.
The entire universe popped into existence in a moment, and we have no idea why.
Some of us know, but we can’t explain what we know.
So, here’s an attempt.
If A) a fractal is a repeating pattern that repeats within itself no matter how close together you get, or how far away you get, and B) this fractal pattern is exhibited throughout the natural world that surrounds us, then A+B=C) it follows suit that that fractal pattern gets both bigger and smaller, both in the micro direction, and the macro direction.
If we go down to the micro, we find electrons, who’s behavior, frankly, is just baffling.
At first, we thought electrons just sort of orbited around the nucleus of the atom, much like our planet orbits the sun.
On closer, examination, however, we discovered that the electrons were behaving in a radically different manner.
We wound up just calling it the electron “cloud” because it appeared as though the electron was just bloody well everywhere around the nucleus of the atom.
Electrons are, quite literally, popping in and out of existence.
The really interesting thing here, is that the electron (let’s just use hydrogen for sheer simplicity’s sake) “orbiting” the nucleus, more exists as a small sphere of potentiality, meaning that it is, again, literally everywhere around the nucleus of the atom. It’s not really moving, but it is, but it isn’t, but it is.
If you were to measure the movement and direction of the electron, you could do so.If you were to measure the position of the electron around the nucleus, you could so so, and you could do so anywhere you chose to measure it within a certain distance from the nucleus.
It’s as though it exists in a measurable form only when it’s measured.
Now, at that point when someone comes along to measure that electron, it has done… something.But whatever it did, it has now popped into existence in such a way so that we can measure distance or location, but we really can’t measure both.We also can’t measure the internal properties of an electron to see what it’s doing when it does this magic appearing act.However, I would bet nearly anything that it expands from a point of singularity and returns to that singularity when the measurement is done.
Are you starting to see where we’re going with this?
“Well, sure. This is all very interesting, but what does it have to do with the Universe, as a whole? I mean, the Universe, so far as we know has been expanding for 13.82 billion years, and an electron does all that stuff instantly. What difference does it make?”
The difference is time.Time is relative.
THAT is what Einstein’s theory was really all about. The very nature of time.
It’s a well-known phenomenon that elements just work differently at the micro level than they do at the macro level, meaning that the behavior of, say, gold, is entirely different when you break it down into nanoparticles, than if you have a brick of it.
So why wouldn’t, say, time, work differently?
We’re right back to the Coastline Paradox.
My perception of events depends on what time unit I used to measure those events.
For something very intense, like lovemaking, a 100 meter dash, or a fist-fight, I am perceptually measuring in seconds.
For something less intense, like a TV show, or a bike ride to the store, I’m using minutes as my unit of measurement.
For a job, hours.
For a project, days, and so on and so forth.
For an electron, we might have to have an entirely new micro unit of time all together!
Now, one of the issues of studying something like this, is simple technological limitation. For something the size of the Universe, we can easily tell whether it is expanding, standing still, or shrinking.
We’ll use billions, millions, or hundreds of thousands of years to describe and measure how long those events took place.
We even use time to measure cosmic distances! (light years: the distance light can travel in an Earth year)
For the something the size of an electron, we just don’t have the technology to measure how big an electron is when it’s a particle, or, most importantly for our purposes here, how long it takes for it to get that big.
We simply cannot yet measure time in such a small increment!
We also don’t know just what happens to be inside an electron!
There may be an entirely complete “miniature” Universe right in there, experiencing its own Big Bang, and measuring it in billions of years!
You start applying this train of thought to the entire Universe, and you start accounting for some pretty weird stuff, for instance, the fact that, mathematically speaking, it is not only possible that multiple Universes exist, but inevitable.
But where are they?
They’re all around us, bigger and smaller.
We ourselves may be merely just another electron in an atom in a much “bigger” Universe.
It just depends on who’s measuring, really.
Which gives rise to a question.
And when did they start?