Conceptual Chromatography

“Behold the Light”. Fractal by Stephen Smith.

Nov 8, 2019

Is the Earth at the center of the universe after all? Or is the Expanding Universe an artifact of conceptual chromatography?

Chromatography has been quite a useful invention. The high-school-science demonstration of it is to place a drop or two of ink in a beaker of water and to suspend a length of filter paper over the water with the bottom of the paper barely immersed. The various pigments in the ink will travel up the paper at different speeds, producing a “spectrum” of colors. This technique can be used with various mixtures to detect the particular compounds composing them.

But an analog of this process can occur with theories, and the results can be misleading instead of enlightening.

Let’s start with an example from cosmology. The “paper” of the Doppler effect is dipped into the “beaker” of redshift measurements of galaxies and quasars. The Doppler paper imposes a distance proportional to redshift on the measurements. Low-redshift galaxies don’t get far; high-redshift quasars “chromatograph” into the farthest reaches of space. Hence, what could be a relatively nearby cluster of mixed galaxies and quasars becomes a “spike” or “finger” of objects stretching away from the Earth.

What does this have to do with reality as we imagine it?

Halton Arp, in his book, Seeing Red plots all the galaxies in the Virgo cluster at their Doppler-interpreted redshift distances. The galaxies stretch out in a long, narrow strip exactly along a radius vector from Earth. The same effect can be seen in other clusters. If quasars were to be included in the plots, the entire universe would look like spokes of a wheel with Earth at the hub.

Well, that was an amusing exercise. Let’s look for some more “paper theories”.

“Time,” some wag has said, “is what keeps everything from happening all at once.” But what if some things DID happen all at once, and a geologist came along with a “geologic record?” Single episodes of flooding have been known to build up many layers of sediments, sorted according to fluctuations in the velocity of the water. Afterward, dipping the concept of geologic record into the strata would stretch out each layer in time, marking off thousands of years at each stratum. Obviously, the flood would have to be slowed considerably. Equally obviously, the easy way to do that would be to freeze it. Our conceptual chromatography has created an ice age.

But this is just idle speculation, right? Well, there is the matter of the Bretz floods in Eastern Washington. It took a long time and much careful argumentation, but it’s now accepted that Eastern Washington was shaped by monstrous floods instead of by ice. One entire lobe of the Ice Age has been conceptually melted. Now I hear talk of similar floods coursing into the Atlantic from central Canada. The conceptual climate of the Ice Age just got a bit warmer, and a few things have started happening all at once. What if we “melted” the entire Ice Age and recalled the mythical stories of the collapse of the World Mountain or Tree that resulted in global floods from the north?

This is fun. Let’s play the game with plate tectonics: Instead of counting to a million years with every magnetic stripe on the Atlantic sea floor, let’s use smaller numbers. Just to up the ante, let’s use smaller units, too. How about a few minutes! We’d have to imagine SOMETHING ripping the Americas away from Europe and Africa all at once. It would have to be something so big that the continents and the energy to move them would be small potatoes in comparison. It would have to be something of astronomical proportions.

Velikovsky already proposed other planets sweeping by and causing somewhat similar commotions. Let’s take a clue instead from the Electric Universe: Instead of moving the Americas, we can leave them be. A “thunderbolt”–an interplanetary electrical discharge–just a bit more energetic than that alleged to have machined Valles Marineris out of Mars’ surface arcs along the Earth from pole to pole. It blasts out and lifts large chunks of lithosphere along each side of the more sinuous central channel. It melts the bottom and leaves stripes of reversed magnetism every time the oscillations in the discharge channel reverse polarity. The pinching of the discharge channel confines the excavation to a parallel-sided gouge in the Earth that afterward fills with water.

A few thousand years later, a geologist comes along with a strip of geologic record. . . .

If modern theories of astronomy and geology are vulnerable to chromatographic suspicion, can biology be far behind? Speciation and extinction color large areas on the paper of evolution. Natural selection works slowly but surely to bleed colorful moments into pastel millennia. A bit of color has been restored to moments of extinction with proposals of impacts from asteroids and comets. It’s fairly easy to kill off large populations suddenly, but building up those populations surely takes time. The J-curves and S-curves of population growth have long initial tails. Gestation times and birth rates (for mammals-reproduction parameters in general) keep initial increases low.

That is, if you start with only a few individuals. If it all happens at once–replacement of one population with another–the new population must be created ex nihilo, right? But what if the parents were another species? There have been several proposals for mass mutation. But their requirement for some direct linkage between genetic and environmental parameters is too Lamarckian for comfort. As long as we have chromatographic evolution, we don’t need Lamarck.

But if natural selection is augmented with forces of extinction that can be confined to extraordinary events of short duration, why not also augment the forces of speciation? The direct linkage between genes and environment would become a kind of “driven” genetics in which active groups of genes are “switched on and off” by extraordinary environmental changes. This leads to something like metamorphic evolution: If butterflies do it today, why not other creatures under other conditions? Ninety percent of our genes don’t seem to do anything. What are they waiting for? A full moon?

Let’s perform one more thought experiment with this conceptual chromatography.

Modern linguistics postulates a development of language gradually over thousands of years. A band of “oral color” spreads out before the band of “written color”. But the earliest expressions contained in this linguistic “spectrum” testify that both utterance and symbol were given all at once by the gods.

In the beginning was the word, and it was both an audible and a visual emanation from a planetary deity. Perhaps a prior language was obliterated and forgotten in the wake of the terrors and traumas accompanying the “sacred word.” But linguistics is not concerned with the forgotten; it’s concerned with the remembered. And languages remember “sacred sounds” that are tied to “sacred symbols” by way of “sacred stories” that memorialize an all-at-once creation witnessed by and imposed upon humankind. Linguistic chromatography dissociates the sound from the symbol and misses the story.

Mel Acheson

The Thunderbolts Picture of the Day is generously supported by the Mainwaring Archive Foundation.

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