Planets have craters, caves, volcanoes. Our bodies have cavities, orifices, crevices. Thoughts have depths, flaws, gaps. In the 1960s, there were four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire, as John Lennon reported on a song. Right now, there’re billions of massive ones, swallowing whole galaxies across the universe.
For such a geographic or anatomic accident, we do give holes a huge amount of attention, and scientific studies to back it all up. Let’s update our space files and see what’s out there, in the vastness of outer space, from the rarified atmosphere of improbable research to that ground hole that may already have our name on it.
10 BILLION SUNS
A noble thing about Albert Einstein is that he never let his religious beliefs interfere with his science. When he theorized that there must be something like a black hole, a force so powerful that not even light could escape it, he also said there should be a law forbidding it to exist.
There wasn’t, and his rigorous calculations prevailed despite himself. As Stephen Hawking and others proved and studied black holes, Einstein’s moral integrity also received a boost. What even now few are capable of conceiving is the size of these monsters.
The biggest one discovered so far, just the other day, is bigger than 10 billion suns. Before you ask it, though, if you absolutely have to, how astronomers come up with these figures, we must say, it’s complicated. But we’ll wait while you go on the Internet to check that out.
BREAKFAST OF STARS
Welcome back. As we were saying, someone’s discovered second-biggest ever, sitting pretty over 330 million light-years away from us, in the Coma Cluster of all places. Again, if you need to ask what’s a light year, etc, etc. And what an appetite. These fatties can devour millions of stars faster than you can finish reading this word.
The late great Muhammad Ali used to say he was so fast, he could turn off the light switch and get in bed before the room was dark. That’s the kind of fast we’re talking about here. Powerful too as you probably know. Black holes can warp space-time around them, so strong is their gravitational pull. But relax, no one is near us, so let’s move on.
As it turns out, holes are traps that may have tricked, and tickled, some of the brightest philosophers of our time. And it all started in the 1970s, with some Gruyère cheese (yup, 10 years after Lennon sang about holes). Lore has it that two scientists named Lewis invented an imaginary duo of thinkers, Argle and Bargle, who’d get intrigued with what the holes in the cheese actually meant.
If we’re insulting your attention span, feel free to take a break. We’ll be as brief as our philosophical illiteracy will allow it. (more)
* Tomorrow Never Knows
* Singing Suns
* Worlds Away
The discussion somehow evolved to the point where philosopher Kristopher McDaniel picked it up and created a whole new category of ‘entities’ called Almost Nothings. That’s how holes now belong in the ‘cracks’ and ‘shadows’ category, as we’re sure you were about to ask.
Nowadays, the philosophical field of research about holes is getting crowded. The latest addition is the studies conducted by Roberto Casati and Achille Varzi. One’d think they would’ve spent better their time checking Blue Ivy‘s foray into the art market, or what’s up with Selena & Bieber. (Note to thyself: suggest folks at the Improbable Research to have a staff scientist to put out just such a relevant paper).
But no. Casati and Varzi had to come up with something entirely different: blind hollows, perforating tunnels, and internal cavities as three kinds of hole categories. The MIT Press, of course, hailed their research as a “fascinating investigation on the borderlines of metaphysics, everyday geometry, and the theory of perception.”
Far from attempting to sound as equally instigating as such a distinguished bunch, we could only come up with one pounding line of inquiry that would probably haunt us to no end. Never mind the, ‘Do holes really exist? And if so, what are they?’ which ignited the two scientists’ curiosity.
We’re just, humbly, wondering: did Argle and Bargle ever tasted that damn piece of cheese?
(*) Originally published on Aug. 15, 2011.