Was The Universe Designed For Life? (And Other Questions)
Today’s Lightning Round video features questions about the fine structure constant, the future of the internet, and a mystery around the Titanic. Enjoy!
This week is Thanksgiving week here in the States so it’ll be a bit of a light week here because you know, we wanna spend time with families and what not, but there should be something special dropping on Thanksgiving day. Keep an eye out for that.
But today, we have a lightning round video featuring questions from my lovely supporters on Patreon so without further ado, it’s question time.
Did a senior officer actually commit suicide on the Titanic? Like when Officer Murdoch shot himself in the movie. Or was it just for the aforementioned movie.
Okay, so before I get into the specific question, I want to point everyone to this awesome video by the channel Oceanliner Designs.
Basically, he wanted an answer to the question of why some people saw the ship break in half and some didn’t.
Like the way it’s depicted in the movie is this dramatic crash, it seems impossible that anybody wouldn’t see that, but literally half of the accounts after the fact claimed that this didn’t happen.
So he decided to do an animation of what the ship actually looked like that night, because the fact of the matter is, we always see the event depicted like this: (clip from the video 3:16), which is clearly dark, but you can still see everything from this blue light source, now that’s obviously because the audience needs to be able to see what’s going on, but it also just looks like the ship is lit by a full moon.
The thing is… there was no moon out that night. We know this, we know the date, you can look and see.
So once the lights flickered off on the ship, there were no sources of light. At all. They were in the middle of the ocean. Meaning the ship looked a lot less like this (11:19) and a lot more like this (13:24). So that really the only shape you can make out is the negative space where it blocks the stars.
By the way, that was true of the iceberg too, they didn’t see the iceberg with light reflecting off of it, they just noticed that the stars… weren’t there.
But again, James Cameron had to light it in some way because the concept of shooting without any lights at all wasn’t pioneered until House of the Dragon.
The point is, there is a lot of room for confusion in a situation like that, and the darkness is only part of it, there were literally thousands of panicked people scared for their lives, it was utter chaos.
So the question of whether First Officer Murdoch shot himself like it’s portrayed in the movie, is probably not 100% answerable. But it does look like an event like that did occur.
Maybe the first question to answer is whether or not Murdoch would have even had a gun, well to answer that, I’ll refer to a blog post by author Tim Maltin, who has written several books and TV series on Titanic.
In this blog post, linked below, he recounts the testimony of Second Officer Charles Lightoller, who said… (read from blog)
So yeah, he had a shiny new gun.
I’ll get back to Murdoch in a minute but that guy Charles Lightoller? That dude had a life.
First of all, he survived the Titanic. I’m sure he did things before that but he survived the Titanic.
Then he fought in the British Navy in World War 1. Survived that.
In World War II, he was retired from the Navy but used his own personal ship to evacuate 127 soldiers from Dunkirk. Survived that.
Eventually died at the age of 78 in London in 1952. What killed him? The Great Smog of 1952.
It was this unusual weather event in December of that year that basically trapped all the pollution from cars and factories and power plants over the town for an entire week.
A lot of people with respiratory conditions died because of this, some put the number as high as 12,000.
Lightoller had chronic heart disease so yeah… he was one of them.
Survived the Titanic. Survived World War 1. Survived World War 2. Died from smog.
Anyway, they had guns, and there were multiple reports of using their guns to try to bring order to the situation. Lightoller said he used his to stop a group of guys from swarming a lifeboat but he said his gun wasn’t loaded.
There are reports that 5th Officer Lowe actually fired some warning shots at a group of people for the same reason.
As for Murdoch, it’s believed at at about 2:15 as the water was rising above the forward deck, he was trying to load the last of the lifeboats called Collapsable A. And being the last lifeboat, a lot of people were swarming it.
There is one contradictory account that claims that Murdoch did shoot himself, but he was on the bridge. This came from a crew member named Jack Williams. (read)
The only thing about that story is that there is no Jack Williams on the White Star Line crew list. So… yeah.
There is also one other account that disputes this and that’s our old friend Charles Lightoller who wrote in a letter to Murdoch’s widow, (read)
Now this may have been an attempt to conceal the suicide and paint him as a hero to his wife, but that’s the version that many people prefer, especially from his hometown of Dalbeattie, Scotland, he’s a bit of a town hero there.
Yeah, they kinda demanded an apology from the producers for that, which they never got, but James Cameron would later say that he kinda regretted that choice, that he didn’t like that it painted him in a negative light.
So yeah… Thanks for that rabbit hole.
The internet has been a sea change in the way humans communicate. This is not unheard of. Movies, the telephone, radio, the printing press, even writing itself have been disruptive. What are the possible outcomes good or bad for our culture in this newest disruptive event?
So I don’t think I’ve ever done a specific video on this but I do talk about it a lot. It just seems to pop up in a lot of the subjects that I cover.
To put it bluntly, I think the internet could be a Great Filter. Like the reason we don’t see any alien species in the universe is they get to the internet stage and just annihilate themselves.
I didn’t come up with this but I like to say we’re a tribal species trying to be a global species. That we’re not evolved to be connected in this way.
There is this number, it’s called Dunbar’s Number, it suggests that humans are only capable of maintaining 150 relationships.
This came from studying other primates and apparently there’s a correlation between brain size and group size, and looking back in anthropology, groups and tribes tend to splinter around 150.
Others dispute it and have put that number up to 290, but it seems to be agreed that there is a number beyond which groups become unsustainable.
And I imagine that was the optimal group size back when we were just hunter gatherers for the first, you know, ninety five percent of our existence.
And now, we’re all being connected, which itself is unnatural but add to that the fact that it’s all being guided by algorithms that are designed to boost information that activates emotional response over anything else and it doesn’t look good.
Let’s just add a little extra kerosene to that bonfire.
I mean you watching me right now, this is weird. This is unnatural. If there was no internet, you wouldn’t be seeing me right now.
But on the flipside… If there was no internet, you wouldn’t be seeing me right now.
We do get to sort-of find and make our own tribes now, and be a part of multiple tribes, and that’s amazing.
One of my favorite things is watching people in this channel’s community start to interact with each other and make friends with each other, that’s just so cool.
But I think eventually we’ll get the balance right. But even the optimist in me thinks it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better. Every communication revolution is followed by a period of unrest and this is the biggest one of them all, by far. So we’ll see.
So I did a video this summer about secret military drug experiments with psychedelics and I thought about doing one on this topic because yeah, it’s pretty kooky.
But then that drugs in the military video didn’t do that great so it didn’t happen but yeah… I think I wanna do a full video on that. Let me know if that’s something you guys want to see.
Joe, how do you think Twitter might change with Elon owning it?
I miss the old days…
Refer to the golden ratio video:
Arvin Ash’s video
So he shares a link to the video over at PBS Spacetime where Matt talks about the fine structure constant, which is a universal constant that seems to come up a lot in physics and it kinda gives off “Golden Ratio” vibes.
To the point that a lot of people apply almost spiritual significance to it.
In fact, Wolfgang Pauli, a famous Austrian physicist, was quoted as saying, “When I die, my first question to the devil will be, what is the meaning of the fine structure constant?”
Which I think was his way of telling everybody that he was a naughty boy.
So, I do have some thoughts on it, but I won’t spend a lot of time explaining it here because Matt does a great job on that video, Arvin Ash has a great video about it as well, I’ll put both of them in the description, but here’s the abridged version.
Okay, the fine structure constant is also called Alpha and is signified in physics by this character. (α) And the numerical value of Alpha is 1/137.
Or much more specifically, 1/137.035999206
Dimensionless, not measurable, like pi
It refers to the ratio of the speed of an electron to the speed of light, again, go see the other videos for details but it kinda makes it possible for atomic particles to interact with each other and form atoms.
No atoms, you don’t have much of a universe.
But yeah, basically if the fine structure constant were just a little stronger or a little weaker, we wouldn’t exist. Matter wouldn’t form, it would just be a universe of particles flying around.
So that’s why some people look at it in almost a spiritual way because it kinda suggests that the universe was fine-tuned for life.
Like because of this constant, particles would form atoms and atoms would be able to combine into molecules, chemistry happens and hoocha hoocha hoocha… Florida.
So if the universe is literally designed to create life… Who designed it? (bink-bink)
I mean even if you go with simulation theory, someone created the simulation; anytime you start talking about the universe being designed in any way, you’re talking about some kind of higher power.
Which, let’s face it, when you get to this scale of cosmology, it’s not out of the question.
Because the other option is that when the Big Bang happened – whatever that was – that out of the infinity of possible fine structure constants, in the most amazing coincidence imaginable, it just happened create the right one for life.
That is a coincidence so improbable that it is the science version of a miracle.
Or our universe isn’t special, there’s actually infinite universes constantly popping up all the time in a kind of multiverse foam, each of them with different physical constants and this one just happened to get the number right so that matter and life can form.
Yes, I just said “multiverse foam.” You’re welcome.
Any of those options are mind-blowing. So yeah, it’s an interesting topic.