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Share Your Story • Franklin Hardy • December 3, 2012

Universal Plunge Into Insanity

Dear Dr. Tyson: My assent to the universe, while different from yours, was truly an assent followed by a maddening plunge into the psychosis of the micro-world. The lure oscillated around me with an ever increasing determination until my lust for the answers is rotating faster than the fastest millisecond pulsar in 47 Tucanae. However, my plunge into universal insanity was gradual, beginning many decades ago. I remember it well, in my brief moments of lucidness today. It started one rather ordinary day. The sky was mostly overcast on that dreary autumn afternoon, while the “hawk” whipped strongly amid the gap between those compact droplets of water vapor and my location on the planet earth. Appearing, like an aberration from a 1950’s movie, silver specters repetitively materialized from the bowls of those clouds only to rapidly disappear again over the horizon to the north. Like you, I was nine sitting outside my small tenement home below the flight path of Newark Airport’s Runway 04. I had seen these tiny phantoms before, but that day, something was different. My mind began to question. How do they point one way but track another? How do they all come out of the clouds at the same spot? How do they see in those clouds? What are those clouds? The questions were overwhelming and no one in central “Jersey” seemed to know the answer. It was stick ball and pitching pennies (all earth bound activities) that were embedded in the minds of my generation. A young Danny DeVito was down at the shore honing his skills, while Bruce Springsteen was cutting his first record. But not for me; my mind went up and from that moment to now it never came down. For the first time, my attention had “slipped the surly bonds of earth and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings.” Less than a decade later I made my first pack with the devil and swapped education (USAF Academy) for military service. I began to see things I could only ponder while earthbound. Soon I did “a hundred things, you have not dreamed of,” but each experience only created other questions. Why is it black when I look up from 50,000 feet? Why can I see the curvature of the earth up here? The mountains and valleys, hills and oceans all appeared flat – why? From the lightless night sky at 40,000 feet over the North Atlantic I saw groups of object I did not understand. What made them shine? Why did some move different from the others? What are those “wanderers”? How big are they? What are the Auroras and why are they stronger when flying over the poles? As the sun rose in the east, a sight truly indescribable, and as I crossed the coast of Cork Ireland, I always wondered. How does the sun work? How big is it? Why does it shine? How does it shine? The questions mounted with every flight I made and after decades of seeing the sun rise in the west (a sight rarely seen by earth-bound mortals) the questions were insatiable. I had to know. There was so much I did not know and light speed is really slow. My flying was routine but the questions mounted with each grain of knowledge I attained. A return to school and the relationship of super novae and nebulae, white dwarfs and red super giants, neutron stars and millisecond pulsars raised more questions as I pondered these new aberrations in my daily life. Kepler and Brahe, the original odd couple; Newton and Einstein, the pupil becomes teacher; Sagan and Hawking, couscous and brazen only added to my frustration. How can all that gold be created in those seconds after the core collapses? How much gas must be collected for electricity to bond those elements into a planet? How big must it be for gravitational forces to take effect? Why 1.44 for the Chandrasekhar limit? Can’t electron hold more? Millions of solar objects, 200 billion stars in the Milky Way, the 54 galaxies in the local group, the Virgo Super-cluster, the Cosmic Web – it’s not enough, I must go higher, I need to know. “Up, up the long delirious, burning blue” I climbed. Getting as high as I could, like some Cosmic addict, I came crashing down. Hubble, expanding universe, singularity – impossible! Suddenly my expanding cosmos of volcanoes, supernovae, colliding galaxies, quasars and the “Big Bang” itself was smashed into a singularity! How is that possible? What is dark matter? Why is there so much dark energy? What is pre-inflation? Why does cause and effect ceased to exist? There must be more! I need more! My macro world continued to collapse faster than a 50 Solar Mass Giant creating Iron! Nebulae and light speed became a particle zoo. But suddenly, quarks and leptons linked, in my head, with the singularity of a black hole. The world of the infinitely small was collocated with the world of the infinitely large. Unification is possible, Maxwell is the beginning. But how? How does the strong, weak, E&M and Einstein’s oddball work as one unified equation? I can no longer dismiss the thought - the LHC found Higgs-Bosons. What happens beyond spegitification? What is quantum entanglement? How can an electron be a wave and a particle? My journey upward was taking me up and down faster than a Coney Island Coaster. Infinite mass and back into the quantum world. How can that be? I got to know? I’m tired but I need it? It is…please someone tell me; I am plummeting into the world of Alice and Orwell. Where is the answer? I stumbled and grasped on my personal event horizon in a desperate need to escape the vortex and then, suddenly, like a hallucinating Timothy Leary, multi-dimensionality started to make sense, in a very strange Richard Alpert way. The world of the small began answering the questions formulated by the world of the large. Could a black hole be a white hole on the other side? Could a white hole be nothing more than a quasar? Was the Big Bang the mere byproduct of a black hole’s singularity? Could inflation be explained by the multiverse? Were strings the answer to the origins of space-time? Is the arrow of time only viable in our reality? I was getting close, but I knew nothing! It was maddening and addicting but like the skid-row junkies I knew so well in my youth, I was hooked on my ever expanding lack of knowledge. Looking for that first fix I had as a child, the lure of the cosmos is stuck in my veins.

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