Sunday, 17 March 2013

At The Metagalactic Centre II

In James Blish's The Triumph Of Time, why do the Hevians and their New Earthmen companions want to move the planet He to the metagalactic centre before the two universes collide?

I must ask some questions that are not raised in the text. First, is there an exact one to one correspondence between the two universes? Secondly, if yes, then does it follow that, when He occupies the centre of the matter universe, an anti-He will occupy the centre of the anti-matter universe? If that were the case, then the Hes would mutually annihilate simultaneously with the universes so that nothing would have been gained by travelling from the Greater Magellanic Cloud to the metagalactic centre.

Although this question is not posed in these terms, it does seem to be clear that no one to one correspondence is assumed:

" 'What we will be trading on is the chance - only a slight chance but it exists - that this neutral zone coincides with such a zone in the anti-matter universe, and that at the moment of annihilation the two neutral zones, the two dead centers, will become common and will outlast the destruction by a significant instant.' " (Cities In Flight, London, 1981, p. 577)

- although:

"This single many-barbed burr of a datum...was also sufficient in itself to endorse the existence of an entire second universe of anti-matter, congruent point for point with the universe of experience of normal matter..." (p. 513) (my emphasis)

The metagalactic centre is a "...neutral zone..." because it:

" ' stress-free and in stasis because all the stresses cancel each other out, being equidistant. There, one might effect great changes with relatively small expenditures of power.' " (p. 577)

Because the metagalactic centre is as featureless as the rest of intergalactic space, complex instrumentation is necessary to detect it. Because the centre is stress free, instruments there will work at peak efficiency. Approaching the centre, needles recording external stresses fall while those recording outputs of equipment rise. On arrival, input meters operating at peak efficiency but detecting no incoming signals instead detect the signals generated by their own functioning. This is a sign that the centre has been reached.

If the two universes, even without a one to one correspondence, are counterparts differing only in electrical charge, then surely there is considerably more than "...a slight chance..." that there are corresponding neutral zones? But, in any case, what happens if there is a common neutral zone and if it is occupied at and immediately after the moment of cosmic collision?

In fact, three possibilities are considered:

(i) that the neutral zone is empty at the collision;
(ii) that it is occupied by an inanimate object;
(iii) that is occupied by a survivor with volition and maneuverability.

(i) Two answers are given here. One is that " '...history repeats itself. The universe is born again...' " and continues towards heat-death for matter and monobloc for anti-matter (p. 579). This does not sound like destruction to me? It is even suggested that the protagonists might live as before although in the anti-matter universe and without being able to tell the difference. I am not sure whether this means that they would repeat their previous lives exactly, thus with no memory of having lived before, or simply that they would live again but without being able to tell that they were now composed of anti-matter? In any case, this possibility is dismissed as unlikely. The more probable result is simply reduction of all matter to neutrons " '...and a re-birth of both universes from the primordial ylem.' " (p. 579)

" 'The ylem was the primordial flux of neutrons from which all else emerged...Ylem in cosmogony is like "zero" in mathematics - something so old and so fundamental that it would never occur to you that somebody had to invent it.' " (p. 579)

I am not sure about that. I understand that the mathematical zero is a far more sophisticated concept that the straightforward "one, two, three..." of counting visible objects. The Romans had no symbol for zero. The Indians significantly contributed so-called Arabic numerals with the decimal point and the zero symbol. Surely the cosmological equivalent of zero would be not a flux of neutrons but empty space and/or mere nothing?

It is taking much longer to analyse this section of The Triumph Of Time than I had anticipated. The characters keep mentioning what seem to be mutually incompatible hypotheses from:

" 'Nothing less,' Retma said evenly, 'than the imminent coming to an end of time itself.' " (p. 505)


" Retma shrugged. 'Then...history repeats itself. The universe is born again...' " (p. 579)

I have so far discussed only (i) and must leave (ii) and (iii) until a later post - but this does at least seem to enumerate all the possibilities. (To be continued.)

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