Gospel & Universe
The Outer Reaches 1
This page suggests thinking of infinite space in terms of astronomical clusters.
The Omnislocus - Orders of Magnitude - Universes
When I wrote at the end of the previous page, "at the core of everything, beyond the misty peaks and circling satellites, lie the enormous lattice-work of the gravity-bound stars," I really meant everything. I meant the crucial by-products of the stars (light and heat) as well as everything in the most general sense: omnis locus, Latin for all of space.
This everything includes the sun and its nearby planets, the Milky Way, our local galaxy clusters, and the thousands of galaxy clusters that spin and pulse in the totality of the known space we call the universe. This everything may also include whatever lies beyond what we think of as the known universe. Perhaps there are other universes, and other groups of universes, literally ad infinitum. This possibility is highly speculative, but not implausible. At least this is what I intend to argue here in The Outer Reaches, where I make a case for infinite space based on practical notions of three-dimensional space.
One of the reasons I want to make this case is that the notion of astronomical infinity has deep agnostic ramifications. For an agnostic, the concept of infinite space isn’t a prerequisite for doubt, but it does gives doubt its largest scope — just as the exploration of foreign cultures and philosophies gave Enlightenment thinking a larger scope.
Spatial infinity suggests that any claim to explain everything is doomed to failure, to provisional status, or to extreme limitations. Even if we found a set of universal constants or truths, there might still be two hundred billion other sets of universal constants or truths to deal with. The extreme distances involved in infinite space suggest — even more than intergalactic space — that everything contains extreme differences in types and modes of existence, in what each realm might understand by "natural laws," and in epistemologies and ontologies (systems of knowledge and systems of being).
Orders of Magnitude
While there are many ways to categorize outer space, I suggest a basic division into five parts: five increasingly large orders of magnitude (based on three already established astronomical levels) in known three-dimensional space (that is, rather than in theoretical or mathematically-derived spaces). This categorization allows me to avoid the term multiverse, which tends to mix our known three-dimensional space with more theoretical spaces. For more technical or scientific purposes, a more complex system of categories makes sense, yet here I want to make a philosophical argument about orders of space in relation to the notion of infinite space.
I stress that my argument uses astronomy, yet I'm not an astronomer. I'm using astronomy in general and as a scientific jumping-off point to explore a philosophical idea about the largest context of agnostic doubt.
In conceptualizing infinite space, I suggest considering two new terms — universe clusters and the Allspace. I also suggest thinking in terms of our universe rather than the universe.
My uses of Allspace and Universe Clusters are based on three already known orders of magnitude — or cluster levels — of three dimensional space:
1st: Solar system clusters — like our own solar system
2nd: Galactic clusters — like Andromeda or our Milky Way
3rd: Our universe — comprised of enormous and complex clusters of galaxies; the largest of these we presently call the observable universe, which I propose calling our universe
4th: Universe cluster — comprised of our universe plus another universe or other universes similar in magnitude to our own
There could of course be a 5th grouping of numerous universe clusters, yet to give such a cluster a name would be to put a speculative concept on top of a speculative concept. If and when we detect a far-off universe or cluster of universes, we can start thinking of a name for the next order of clusters.
5th: The Allspace — comprised of everything there is in our common, contiguous, three-dimensional space.
This subdivision of outer space invites a grammatical change — a swap of the definite article for a possessive pronoun — changing the universe to our universe. It also offers a third definition of universe that differs from the two standard definitions:
Universe. 1 (common): the entirety of space that we can presently measure, which is about 28.5 gigaparsecs (93 billion light years) wide. This is now called the universe or the observable universe. I propose calling this our universe.
Universe. 2 (theoretical): possible universe/s in dimensions beyond our common four-dimensional space-time continuum. These are sometimes called alternate or theoretical universes. These are also what some people include in their definitions of multiverse, which includes multiple universes overlapping with our universe or existing in separate space-time continua. For present purposes I suggest leaving these aside.
As an agnostic, I’m excited by the possibility of theoretical universes or dimensions — just as I’m excited by the possibilities of Heaven or Krishnaloka. Yet even if they did exist, I’m skeptical that we could measure them here in our three-dimensional spatial realm, given that by definition these other realms are theorized to exist in a subsequent or separate spatial dimension — that is, in a dimension which we can’t corroborate and in which we don’t exist. In this case, what can be theorized in math, physics, philosophy, or theology has yet to be realized in the here and now.
In A History of the Universe (2006), Henry Kong notes the similarity between debating these types of theoretical ‘scientific’ universes and debating religious universes:
Extreme multiverse explanations are therefore reminiscent of theological discussions. Indeed, invoking an infinity of unseen universes to explain the unusual features of the one we do see is just as ad hoc as invoking an unseen Creator. The multiverse theory may be dressed up in scientific language, but in essence it requires the same leap of faith. (Vol. 1: Complexity, p. 23)
Universe 2 (theoretical) posits something else — that is, something apart from what we can measure in terms of our common space. It requires a leap of faith, a suspension of disbelief, or a willingness to follow math into highly theoretical realms. Such a hypothetical alternate universe has yet to make any clear contact with space and time as we presently understand and verify it. One can theoretically imagine a second grid of space overlapping in part or in whole with our universe, yet in general, in practice, and by definition, it can't overlap with or otherwise interpenetrate our universe. Even if it exists, how do we measure it or verify its existence if it’s outside the spatial and temporal parameters in which we live?
While Universe 2 (theoretical) posits something else, Universe 3 (proposed) posits something more — that is, something we could measure in terms of our present understanding of space and time.
Universe. 3 (proposed): our universe or any other universe in three dimensional space lying so far from our universe that it’s presently undetectable. Any cluster or grouping of our universe plus any other universe/s similar to ours I would call universe clusters.
Any extremely distant matter or energy that we may find in the future is of course part of the expanding definition we presently have of the universe. Yet what I’m trying to emphasize by using our universe and universe clusters (for the next big — and speculative — cluster of universes) is the possibility that our present notion of the universe may be limited to a fraction of total space, a fraction of the Allspace.
It may be that there’s even some sort of logic or regularity to magnitudes or orders of outer space. Lately, some astronomers are suggesting that galaxies rotate at the same speed:
"It's not Swiss watch precision," explained lead researcher Gerhardt Meurer from the University of Western Australia branch of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR). "But regardless of whether a galaxy is very big or very small, if you could sit on the extreme edge of its disk as it spins, it would take you about a billion years to go all the way round." ("All Galaxies in Our Universe Seem to Have One Surprising Feature in Common; The cosmic clockwork is beautiful," Michelle Starr, Science Alert, March 15, 2018)
Perhaps a universe cluster has different laws of gravity or rotation, or perhaps the universes within it attract and repel each other — creating a dance of far-away partners. Maybe despite all of their diversity, there’s a greater Order that links them all in a giant Ring or Blessed Rose. Or maybe not.
Anyone who follows recent trends in astronomy knows that most of our knowledge about deep space is provisional. Some of us may think we live in an advanced scientific age, yet it’s more likely that in fifty years from now we’ll see that we still don’t.
Next: The Outer Reaches 2