It was like any Sunday morning at 5 am. I was showing up for my shift on the university’s public radio station. I was the board operator for Classics at Sunrise. The operator before me was finishing up Night Flight, a progressive jazz show with less programing restrictions. He was playing Return to Forever a jazz fusion group that started in the ‘70s. Pianist Chick Corea founded the group that featured a variety of jazz players like Stanley Clarke, Al di Meola and Airto Moreira. I, on the other hand, had music picked for me to play by the station’s music director.
As he was wrapping up Return to Forever I was getting a Bach organ fugue set up on the turntable. My friend saw what I was queuing up and said “Bach.” He then said something that has stayed with me for more than 30 years. “We are just about to take a 300 year step back in time.” I do not recall the particular fugue I was going to play. It could have been Bach’s – Fugue in G minor BWV 578; a rocking number for the 1750s.
The radio station’s format was one of seamless programing. In other words there was no break between programs. We went from Corea to Bach in the spin of the turntable. I was never sure how many people were actually listening at that time in the morning. I imagine some traveler heading down I-75 through the misty fog of the early morning thinking he had just entered the Twilight Zone.
All of this brought me to another tune–the theme to The Big Bang Theory: The History of Everything. The concept that “14 billion years ago expansion started” is hard to contemplate. What is even harder to contemplate is, according to Space.com, this expansion occurred in less than a burst of light. That’s pretty dang quick since nothing has outrun light since.
The universe “experienced an incredible burst of expansion known as inflation, in which space itself expanded faster than the speed of light. During this period, the universe doubled in size at least 90 times, going from subatomic-sized to golf-ball-sized almost instantaneously.”
An established walnut tree, which we may assume comes from a walnut, is about the same size as a golf ball. It only grows about 12 to 24 inches annually. A seedling may jump 36 to 48 inches in its first two growing seasons. It takes close to 50 years for a walnut tree to get to the point where it’s wood is good for flooring, cabinets or gun stocks. The tree might live for 130 years getting close to 100 feet – an ever expanding feat.
Expansion can come in many forms and more Earthly forms move much slower. Take the Geologic Time Scale, for instance where time is not measured in seconds or minutes but “Events” where plants and animal life may have lived and then become extinct or in Eons which can be 100 million years. The Phanerozoic Eon, the current eon, started 500 million years ago give or take a million.
It has taken man awhile but we have picked up the pace a bit. It took some time to go from foot to horseback but that is what made the US Westward Expansion possible. In the 1840s people moved along the Oregon Trail as fast a team of oxen could pull a wagon – generally as fast a sore-footed Neolithic man could walk. It was not until the steam engine train came along did we ratchet the speed up to more than 20 miles per hour expanding the distance we could travel. And it seems ever since then expansion has quickened exponentially. I have no formula for this expansion but according to Vocabulary.com “the root of exponentially is the French verb exponere, meaning ‘to put out.’ Think of a factory that puts out so many products its creations seem to increase exponentially.”
It has been said that Aristotle was the last man to know everything. This would be incredible, if such a claim is even possible. Information and knowledge in the ancient world moved as fast as scribe could chisel cuneiform or hieroglyphics. And then only a handful of people could read it let alone understand what was put into stone. But this all changed with the printing press. Information became portable and privy to the masses. Men like Thomas Jefferson collected knowledge in books accumulated in libraries. Jefferson would probably be stunned to see how information has exploded since Al Gore invented the internet. Never in human kind have people had so much information. It is hard to believe a 12 year-old middle-schooler with a smart phone has more “instantaneous” information at the touch of fingertip then Isaac Newton had in all of England.
We have been riding that Big Bang wave of expansion from that first flash of subatomic particles. Today we just try to keep up with expansion from horseless carriages to Voyager 1 leaving the solar system. It is hard to imagine a time when large numbers of people had no idea of an expanding universe. I think it would look something like when the first Spanish Conquistador waded the last steps up onto a sandy beach in the New World. Was it a step back in time 300 or 400 years; or was it a leap forward? I guess it depends on which way one is looking. For certain, it was the universe expanding.