I sat out on our veranda this afternoon, enjoying a cool breeze and a warm sun, after mowing part of the lawn, waiting for the sweat to dry on my forehead and the pain of old-age effort to ease from my legs. As I sat there, thinking of nothing in particular, a minuscule insect landed on the back of my hand, and when I say tiny, I really mean tiny! It could have been no more than a millimetre long, yet on close examination of it, I could see six legs, wispy transparent wings and a hair-covered little body.
Looking at this minute creature made me start thinking, (yes, I do so, just occasionally!) which developed into one of the daft ideas from which I am prone to suffer.
It occurred to me that what I had here was an animal, made up of millions of cells, each specialised for its own task, just like our cells. Moreover, each cell would contain DNA, chromosomes and all the other paraphernalia required for life. Beyond that, each cell must be made up of various molecules of the many chemicals that comprise everything!
Now, you’ll appreciate that we are exploring some pretty tiny objects here, but even at this molecular level we have a way to go yet with – as far as I am concerned the final level to be imagined, the atomic one – and I just don’t know how many atoms fill up an average molecule. I suppose to a great extent it all depends on what chemicals it is made up of like water; just hydrogen and oxygen.
Any sensible person would have drawn a halt here. After all, atoms are it, unless you’re a scientist, with much more knowledge of sub-atomic particles than I could ever boast. And I suppose it was because of this that I allowed my mind to wander away from fact and into the realm of pure imagination, coupled with a word that was dancing about in the back of my head, trying to break out relativity!
It seemed obvious to me that to a creature as small as this tiny fly I would appear to be of stupendous size, possibly too large to even be recognised as something alive at all, while on the other end of its scale of recognition there must be particles, bugs, bacteria and possibly even viruses that form part of its world and its diet.
So this is what sparked the daft thought I mentioned at the beginning of the article! The familiar things around us are relative to us, in size and visibility, but to that tiny fly they would appear to be impossibly large, while its familiar objects would be invisible to us.
What if then, this relativity thing stretched way beyond our comprehension, to the extent that the atoms of our world were the suns of some sub-sub-atomic space, with what we call molecules being the equivalent of galaxies. This would mean that every molecule of which our world comprises is a galaxy in that other dimension – truly infinite to any being living there.
Now let’s travel in the other direction, size-wise! What if (again!) our sun is the nucleus of an atom and we, plus our fellow planets are the protons etc., circling around it, while our galaxy is a molecule in some super-sized grain of sand or something, in a world just like ours? And this relative sizing could go on indefinitely, in both directions, everything in scale to the individuals living at that level, but impossibly small or large to anyone from another level: the true alternative universes referred to by many scientists and science fiction writers!
There, I told you it was a daft idea, but it was fun to think about for a few minutes, while I waited for that tiny fly to get bored with my hand and fly away again. Time I went and had a glass of wine, I think!
Do you often think about the size of things and relativity? Let’s talk science in the comments today!