Ask Adams

Ask Adams

By Richard Adams

What existed before the Big Bang?

   That’s something that is logically not possible to answer.  How about, “How long is a piece of string? How long is forever?  Or what were you thinking before you were born? What color was the Sun before it existed?   How accurate were the clocks in the classrooms before they were constructed in a factory? The Big Bang was a time before there was any MATTER, and MAY have been an “energy squirt” from “Another Universe”.  But the letters “uni” indicate there’s only ONE of something. If you have enough energy, you can CREATE matter. For each GRAM of matter (1/28 of an ounce, if you know how much an “ounce” is) you’d need enough energy to equal the heat and light that one 100 watt light bulb (if you remember those) would put out running for 30,000 years.  And if you want to MAKE a gram of matter, you just ADD that amount of energy.

    So, what happened before there was any energy or matter in the universe?   If there is no matter or energy in the “universe”, IS there a universe of NOTHING?  If so, how can anyTHING HAPPEN? So, the question is nonsense. For monotheists, who believe in one God, who created God?  What was there BEFORE God was created or created Himself? The Universe created itself, but from where came the energy?

   Now, to keep your mind churning, “How high is UP?”

How does the human brain create thoughts / what is consciousness?   

  How does the brain create thoughts?  Two or more brain cells link together. When there are at least two brain cells communicating, there is the chance for a thought, although most connections may result in something happening that you don’t know about.  A conscious thought is really a minority of brain electrical activities. On the other hand, the MORE you exercize your idea-forming links, and utilize that process to make more links, the better you get at it. The brain CAN remain “plastic” into old age.  “Plastic” in this case means capable of changing shape or energy levels. You CAN keep coming up with new ideas if you keep subjecting yourself to new situations and actions.

   If you stop doing new things, stop reading new things, stop presenting yourself with things which REQUIRE thinking (such as reading, crossword puzzles, or asking questions such as these, your brain gets “set” in a pattern that’s hard to ever change.  

   At one point, we thought that consumption of alcohol killed brain cells.  But that’s just not true. The main result is disconnecting brain cells from each other, so the brain cells are there, but incredibly LONELY, without anything to do.  So, they are effectively “dead”, at least as far as doing things that brain cells do.

   What is consciousness?  It is a thinking brain that is AWARE that it is thinking, not just blindly reacting to the world, and must take itself into consideration to every problem, knowing that a conscious brain KNOWS it is part of the universe and a factor in everything.

How do humans fit in with nature or biosphere now, what is our place or function?


   At this point, and for the last two million years or so, we have been the “top predator” since anything we want to eat, we can kill and destroy.  Or if something annoys us, it usually “disappears”, except really tough things such as mosquitos, cockroaches, and those people who talk loudly behind you in movie theaters.  

    You COULD say that humans have assumed the position usually given to Natural Disasters — things which change the ecosystem, often for the worse, but which, later, results in evolutionary changes in that the organisms affected either change themselves, learn how to mitigate the disaster in the future, or die, thereby removing themselves from the biosphere (except as being food for worms), and that’s a short-duration result.  

   So, in effect, like those “agents of change” of weather, ice-ages, hot ages, and natural disasters, WE are Agents of Change — something unpredictable, mostly, that force change to come to our planet.  This isn’t necessarily always a good thing, of course. But, we force things to CHANGE, which benefits some organisms, and not others. If everything was perfect the first time around, life on this planet would still consist of small organisms in the seas, without backbones, without brains, and just existing to eat other things and make another generation.  We, however, have the OPTION, as very intelligent beings, of what CHANGES we WISH to make, as change-agents. But far too many people think only of themselves, and this day, not the next, or their total lifetime, and the lifetimes of their children and descendants. Do you want to make sure your great-great-great grandchildren still have a habitable planet to use?  Then be the Agent who Changes destructive tendencies in yourself and others, into constructive actions that preserve lives and this planet for the NEXT generations. After all, who will take over as intelligent agents of change if we kill our own species off? ( Maybe raccoons could do that function. They’re smart, inventive, have hands that work very well, and have enough humor to make the whole thing fun and different from what came before.)

What’s after death? Is it just nothingness or is there something more, which makes us human?

     The difficulty with this question is that we have no way to verify it without destroying the verifying agent (YOU).  So far, we have only one PERSON who SAID He was dead and came back alive, after three days, in a small village in what’s now Israel.  And a whole religion was founded on that claim. There’s also the question of how you define “death”. At one point, a body that wasn’t breathing was dead . . . until first aid CPR came about.  What if your heart stops? CPR and electrical stimulation ended that example. How about zero brain activity? It took pretty sophisticated electronics to tell that.

    And then there are definitions of “dead” that don’t apply to all organisms.  Look up what happens when you take a very small animal called a “tardigrade” and dry it out in a pyramid for 8000 years, or leave it in raw space for a couple of days.   It comes back to life when you add a little water. But is it “life” unless you’re talking about having a brain of human complexity? It’s really hard to tell how intelligent a tardigrade is when it’s alive the first time.  So how much has it changed? If the pattern of your brain cells and connections were electronically uploaded to a humanoid robot, to act as its brain, would you still be YOU? If it’s not your body, but basically you BRAIN, would you count that as being alive?

   In a science fiction book I read 50 years ago, in a time when people were frozen when they died, to wait for a cure for what they died of to be invented, so they could live again, some people protested this reawakening with “Why Call Them Back from Heaven?”  That sounds pretty effective, unless you actually have READ the Bible, which tells you that people do not “go to heaven” until Judgement Day when the deceased are judged as to whether they will go to Heaven or Hell. Some versions have invented “Purgatory” where you “wait” until Judgement Day.  And Angels are separate creations of God, and humans do not become Angels.

    So, if you believe in a Christian Heaven, it’s probably different then you thought it was and the timing is all wrong from what you thought it was, at least according to the Bible, a book written down for the first time around 900 BC, if the translations are accurate (and there are several that contradict each other).

    Thus, the answer to your question is that there is no way to know what happens after you die, and the possible “answers” assume YOU will still be “thinking” without a functioning brain, a lump of organic material, mostly made of fatty brain cells, electrically insulated with fatty cholesterol, that seems to work pretty well while supplied with oxygen and sugar — when you’re alive.

What will you miss about Pleasant Hill?

       I’ve been involved with Pleasant Hill as a teacher since the fall of 1970.  I’m still involved with helping in some classes and writing a daily “Trivial Matters” column sent out to around 500 addresses each school morning. I enjoy stimulating brains to use more of their capacities, to get people of all ages thinking thoughts they’d never had before, keeping their brains ready to learn at all times.  

   What will I miss WHEN I stop coming to PHHS every day, some time in the future?  I’ll miss the kids with open minds, the kids who are not satisfied with learning “stuff for the next test” — to be forgotten as quickly as possible.  I’ll also miss the kids (and the adults who get the TRIVIAL MATTERS column each morning) who want to know MORE.

    There are kids now who remind me of their GRANDPARENTS when I taught them, some 50 years ago or so.  And I really HAVE enjoyed the kids, the parents, the grandparents, and the other teachers and staff over the years.  As one retiring teacher, Jan Jackson, who used to teach Social Studies at the Junior High (when it was a separate building), said about her time, “They don’t call it PLEASANT Hill for nothing!”

    But I’m still enjoying “touching the future” each day when I interact with the students.  I’m not ready to give up that daily jogging of the brain into new paths.