Thursday, January 18, 2007

1/19/2006 - Three emptinesses

A friend of mine was taking a course in college. I can't remember the subject. The syllabus contained Thoreau's Walden (side note - when I read Walden, I was moved with an urge to build my own house. M.O.M. suggested that I try building a flower box instead. This pretty much cured me of any urge to build anything since). During the discussion of the book, someone commented


"But that couldn't happen today. There just aren't unpopulated spaces like that anymore."

Clearly this was someone who hasn't been to Montana. Montana is a state with 900,000 individuals living in close to 150,000 square miles. Compare that to over 6,000,000 Massachusites living on just 10,500 square miles. That's right, MA is almost 100 times more densely populated than MT. And that's not the whole story. When we walk in the Blue Hills of Massachusetts, we like to climb up to the tower at the highest peak and survey the panorama. We can see Boston in the distance, a lonely isle of humanity among the roiling seas of trees. And we're a dense state.

In Montana, the sky isn't just the limit, it's the lay of the land. Take that, Malthus.

On the home front

The wife has noticed an emptiness on the couch, where my eldest has been for the past week. Over 8 days, he has gone from palely sitting on the couch doing little, to being frustrated at having to be still, to returning to school. He still has a noticable limp, but I can see that he has pretty much regained most of his mobility today. He may well have taken more steps than me. I am amazed with sanguinity with which he has accepted most of this episode.

Space

The last emptiness is a favorite of mine. Continuing along the theme of dark matter (as it applies to our solar system) the same Astronomer (Urbain-Jean-Joseph Le Verrier) who discovered Neptune by its effect on Uranus' orbit noticed that Mercury's orbit exhibits some irregularities. Hoping to cement his legend as planeteer extraordaire, he did some fast calculations and arrived at his best estimate of the closest planet to the sun, which he dubbed Vulcan.

Vulcan's nonexistance did little stem the enthusiastic search for it from about 1860 to 1910. It was no lesser a personage than Albert Einstein who eventually showed that those irregularites stemmed not from dark matter, but from a Newtonian inability to describe how gravity should effect over relatively short distances. The theory of relativity (general, I think) better predicted Mercury's orbit.

Many thanks to Astronomy Cast for providing much of the detail which I have woven into my narrative. All mistakes are, of course, mine, except for those foist upon me by the C.I.A.

18,000 hollow steps today. Cheers,

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