When science fiction wins the Nobel Prize – your life and the speed of light (10/12/11)
Life is Fast
Science fiction just won the Nobel Prize.
Drs. Perlmutter, Riess, and Schmidt proved that the universe you live in is exploding – endlessly. Supernovae are moving away from each other very quickly – and promise to move faster. The main present proffered explanation of why the universe is blowing up is that never seen dark energy and dark matter make up 96% of it.
You have been living in 4% of that universe – heretofore. Sorry about the other 96% that’s been perpetually ignored.
Yet that’s not all! Remember all those high school lectures explaining that nothing, nothing, nothing can go faster than the speed of light, including all that hand waving that if something does go faster it achieves infinite mass which can never make sense?
CERN, the great particle physics laboratory in Geneva, reported last week that neutrinos had done just that – gone faster than the speed of light.
Other American labs found the same result years ago. Now that experimental results repeatedly refute theory, scientists are doing what they must – trying to figure out how their measurements might be wrong, and attempting the experiments again and again.
But before you start looking for the miniature wormhole hiding behind your chair that whisks you through the Stargate into a universe wherein Sarah Palin is president and Tiny Tim is a revered as a god, recognize that your body is a lot like that universe of 96% dark energy and dark matter.
It’s moving pretty fast, too.
Living in the Fast Lane
Many of us now live longer than the three score and ten years supposedly allocated to David as a gift from Methuselah, but inside us things much more swiftly.
Your body processes information – superfast. That’s how you keep learning - so you can stay alive.
Proteins are business end of life. They perform many of the most important information processes that sustain us.
According to Bill Bryson in “A Short History of Nearly Everything” there are a billion protein-protein interactions per cell – every second.
You have ten trillion cells.
The proteins pumping your blood as you read this sentence – are made, used, repaired, destroyed, recycled – inside 60-90 minutes.
The half life of most proteins in your body – minutes to days.
The half life of energy molecules like glucose – somewhere between milliseconds and minutes
Survival of your gut lining – 1-2 days
So look at yourself in the mirror. The skin on your face has been completely replaced within about 2 weeks. Yet take away bones, teeth, skeletal proteins like elastin, and pretty much the rest of you is made new in about 4 weeks.
Congratulate yourself on your new you. But your internal life is still faster than that.
The Other Organisms Inside
We may have 10 trillion cells, but the number of uniquely identifiable bacteria in our gut is perhaps 100 trillion.
If they’re lucky they might last a day or two, but they reproduce all the time. They also possess around 3 million separate unique genes that produce proteins and other critical information molecules.
We’ve got about 27,000 genes – meaning we’re outclassed by just our bacterial genes by at least a 100 to 1. And that’s just in our gut.
It’s a more forbidding picture if you add in viruses – of which retroviruses make up about 8% of your DNA, providing a whole new meaning to “going viral.”
Consider Hepatitis B, one of the world’s most common causes of cancer. Get infected and you’ll produce maybe 100 billion new viral particles each day.
They make new viruses in 4 hours. Each one can come with a whole set of new mutations – some of which can outwit your immune system on their path to total takeover.
Which means that if you don’t possess a superfast, superefficient immune system, you will be toast. And for lovers of “intelligent” design, please know that the immune system uses forced evolution to create billions of different molecules to fight off all those mutated hepatitis B virions and the near infinite number of other rapidly mutating pathogens that would otherwise kill us.
It all happens much faster than the blink of an eye. Speaking of which…
The Flicker Fusion Rate
When you go to a movie, you see a moving, continuous image. It’s so effective it even looks like it’s flowing in all 3 dimensions.
You’ve been tricked.
All that the movie is a bunch of photographic stills passed through a projector that plays too quickly for you to notice the gaps. The optical system, fooled, sees continuous flowing movement.
The opposite happens when you observe your body. Instead of the true speed of life, we observe long separated blocks of time.
We’re seeing the stills – the slow stuff – rather than the movie. We look in the mirror and think we see the same face in the morning, though it’s anything but.
The fast actors have been working inside. They’re too quick and too tiny for us to see.
And we’ve ignored them.
The end result is we’ve also ignored how our body really works – the unbelievable complexity and rapidity of its remaking and renewal.
It happens so fast we don’t see it. It’s like the speed of light – too fast for many of us to appreciate, comprehend, truly nderstand.
But perhaps that will change. Perhaps people will realize their health depends on how they regenerate themselves, a process beautiful, impossible, endlessly adaptive, and remarkably effective.
Maybe they’ll get the idea of how fast and furiously information controls the body when they get the physicists to observe those neutrinos fly by - faster than the speed of light.
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