Our understanding of the universe is very limited and our questions are, quite frankly, unanswerable (at this point in time, at least).
Nonetheless, we can try to understand and explain.
The Guardian has taken some comments from their readers, which make for a mind-bending feast sprinkled with a few good laughs.
Their question was: the universe is expanding – but what is it expanding into? In other words, what is beyond the universe?
Let’s take a look at some of the answers.
We will start off nice and easy with a comment from ‘FirmlyDirac’:
What’s beyond the universe? Simples! All those objects you’ve mislaid somewhere and never set eyes on since. Pens, glasses, wallets, keys, phones, penknives, combs, diaries, umbrellas, handkerchiefs … you name it!
Don’t people realise that all space around is riddled with tiny wormholes, into which these objects sink, never to be seen by mortal eyes again?
This teacher, Andrew Busch, is basically telling us we are all too dumb to understand and I don’t disagree:
Our minds are not able to intuitively conceive of what the universe is really like. We see a balloon expand, and we see that it expands into the air around it, and we assume that the universe does the same. This is incorrect. The universe does not expand into anything because, as far as any evidence we have goes, it is everything that exists. In other words, there is nothing outside of the universe.
So that was intense. Here’s some absurdity from ‘Jamessss’ to make it easier for us to wrap our head around:
The universe is a clown’s balloon that’s still in the blowing up stage and is about to be made into the shape of a sausage dog.
The commenter, ‘HaveYouFedTheFish’, turns the balloon idea on its head and gets a little Dr. Suessy when he tells us to imagine ourselves as a cat inside a flat:
The problem with your question is you’re imagining something from your experience – say an inflating balloon – and asking the seeming reasonable: “What’s outside the ballon?” from the vantage point of being outside the balloon and being able to see it’s a balloon.
Instead, imagine this: you’re a cat, inside a flat. You’ve never been outside. So, as far as you know, nothing exists outside the flat. Now imagine you’re shrinking. From your feline perspective, you’re staying the same size, but all the walls and furniture seem to be moving further away from you – your universe is expanding.
But you wouldn’t ask: “Where is it expanding into?” because as far as you know – and can ever know – the flat is all there is, it’s just spreading out (presumably, that’s just what flats do, because the only one you can ever observe does it). That’s the position we’re in and why the question doesn’t make sense.
This commenter, ‘Plovdiv12’, fancies himself as rather meta:
Has anyone noticed this thread is expanding? What I want to know is: what is it expanding into?
We can end off with four other commentators fighting over who gave the age-old Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy answer first:
PunkyRooster and Parcival:
Hey, you beat me to it! That’s not fair!
In a joke that a quantum physicist might be able to explain, I said 42 before either of you.
And after and at the same time, but in a different place. Sort of …
This is the only comment thread worth any time and space, am I right?
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