Invisible World

Pollen photo

I Can’t See You, But I Know You’re There
I don’t think I spent a day of my life without thinking about invisible things. Of course I’m not talking about truly invisible things as in supernatural thing, but rather things that are invisible to the naked eye but that we know are there because we can see or measure them with instruments.

Every single day I randomly think about things like allergens (the photo above is of pollen), DNA, cells, viruses, atoms in various conformations (proteins, lipids, hydrocarbon chains, neurotransmitters, etc) and of various kinds, radio waves, photons and electrical flows (from how much energy is used when I flip various switches to the incredibly fast pulses that encode everything in my computer and over my broadband connection). I also often think about the large invisible things, like stars, galaxies, nebulas, black holes, and the vastness of space in between it all.

Our brain has a hard time with these things because, as Richard Dawkins would say, it has evolved in “middle world” and is simply not equipped to grasp these things properly at scale.

What’s Your Relationship With the Unseen?
I know that it’s probably not that way for everybody, and it makes me wonder how it changes my perception of the world.

How do you see the world? Do you naturally think about invisible stuff, or do you rarely consider these things? Please let me know in the comments below.

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4 Responses to “Invisible World”

  1. jetson Says:

    Great thought! Invisible to the naked eye has been proven to be misleading hasn’t it! With the latest technology we can see many microscopic things that no one was really aware of, or certainly didn’t believe!

    I don;t think about it too much, other than my obsession with using the bacteria killing hand gels during flu season!

  2. Irene Says:

    A large part of my job is to deal with invisible stuff – and sometimes to make it visible. I work in a biological research lab and some of the invisible things I work with and worry about include mammalian cells, protein, DNA, and mycoplasma. Electric currents too!

  3. Z. M. Davis Says:

    I operate in a similar mode, but my desperate fascinations are more oriented to the unsaid and the unknown rather than the unseen, the big and abstract rather the small and (in some sense) concrete. This world is so disconnected. We can communicate somewhat using words, but only to the extent that these words which I weave out of my experience resonate with something in your experience. You have studied many sciences, you have seen some glimpse of the world beneath the world, and you can try to tell all your blogospheric friends about it, but we’ll never really have gotten the same lesson, not without having read the same books in the same order. And there are many in your own city who do not read your blog, who do not read blogs at all, who have never used a computer. How can you explain to them about the feeling you get when you make-believe that you understand the circuitry that lets you read this? And how do you explain to someone who thinks she does understand the circuitry, but doesn’t know that it’s just make believe?—that it’s too much, that the true secrets involved are spread across the minds of specialists in this world where no one can even make a pencil, and that there’s much more math involved, but you can’t speak of it because you don’t know the math yourself. And about those books!—you can try to trust that the authors know what they’re talking about, that the scientists have been doing their jobs right–but there are so many details about how this world hangs together of which you are ignorant, and you can’t just trust the books, because you have gone deep into the literature, and seen how it contradicts itself in a thousand places, and a lot of the times you find yourself asking questions that you’re not even sure anyone else has asked before (though surely someone must have at least once, across the breadth and depths of human experience?)—and you don’t know all the economic and social factors that go into making a world where you can just buy books, and this world is all tools built on tools built on tools built on tools, and you don’t know how it all hangs together, and so you won’t know how to fix it when it all comes down …

    But no. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about atoms. Not as such.

  4. inhahe Says:

    I think Dawkins is crudely right, but the focus on brains (characteristic of Dawkins and many other scientists) is a little off.. through literally billions of years of evolution, our *whole beings*, on the physical and even some higher levels, are geared toward apprehending this particular scale of the universe and, more specifically, this particular world. The brain (the physical organ used for orchestrated control and processing) is one aspect of that.

    As far as invisible things go, on one hand you could posit that it’s merely a technical limitation that we can’t see/perceive them directly. I mean sure, we deduce that atoms exist only indirectly and can never see them, but the same kinda goes for dust mites too. Should we say that bed mites are thus only theoretical? But I say “kinda” because we can see those in microscopes and we can’t atoms… but then, even atoms can be seen in microscopes, just of a different kind (such as a cryo-electron microscope). But then again, electron microscopes are a more indirect and sophisticated kind of seeing than optical ones. So where should we draw the line? I submit that it’s all in degrees.

    I’m sure that atoms exist, but we don’t really know what they are. Sure we have lots of equations and models (of varying accuracy no doubt), but if we were to shrink ourselves down to the scale of an atom, what would be its taste? color? texture? Of course these things have no meaning, yet the atom is made of *something*. What it’s made up of is just in a realm we do not understand. It involves a lot of nuclear forces and electromagnetism, for example, and what are those? What is a forcefield, and why does it exist? Is it a thing-in-itself, or is it just the sum of the characteristics of how things interact with respect to spatial differences? We can’t even say that!

    Now we go even smaller, to the electron. Is it even a physical object? In the De Broglie model an electron shell is pretty much just an electromagnetic wave (what is this, again?) circling the atom. Even quantum mechanics will tell us that an electron has a probability function of being found in a certain place at a certain time, and it’s not just due to lack of ability to measure or predict — without electron/proton tunneling CPUs would be easier to make and the Sun couldn’t combine hydrogen atoms to produce energy. An electron, to me, seems to represent the border between existing (as an individual entity) and not. An atom does, too, but (as a whole) exhibits less of the strangeness endemic to the incomprehensible quantum-scale reality.

    AFAIK it’s theorized that all objects have a vibration, but the larger the object is the higher the vibration and hence the lower its uncertainty in spacetime. Or is it simply because the larger the scale the lesser a little bit of uncertainty matters? In any case, I think it’s no coincidence that the smaller and hence more ‘theoretical’ an object gets the less it even fits into our (intuitive) paradigm of general causality or even individual existence. If a photon cannot even theoretically be observed en-route, does it even exist at such time? (And how can it even exist while *not* en-route, as that implies before being emitted (((somehow))) by the process of an electron lowering its valence or after being absorbed by the opposite process?)

    So it’s obvious that many things clearly exist that are small enough to be “invisible” to us, but also I think that the limits of our subjective ways of assimilating the universe evince themselves in the extremes of all dimensions of exploration — even scale. E.g. go too far back in time (extremely close to the big bang), and our notions of time break down. Go too far down in scale and even our concept of scale breaks down, as the idea of an absolute position at a particular time which breaks down per Heisenberg uncertainty and the idea of scale totally depends on it. And the closer you get to the brink of meaninglessness in scale (or time, or speed), the more the items observed behave less according to things we have any intuitive sense of and the more properties they exhibit of a totally different reality. I wonder if this applies to the upper end of scale too? Maybe it’s the *only* reason that what we call the universe appears to have a limited size?

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