How, Not Why…

So, I’m re-writing Random Rationality. After taking a break of several months. I went back and reread it, and realized how sloppy it was. Not much of a surprise really. It was my first book, and I’ve only been writing for a year. But there was many cases of sloppy reasoning, poor word-choice, and unexplored avenues of supporting examples. So I went back and cleaned up as much of that as I could, adding almost sixteen-thousand words in the process, taking it from thirty-eight-thousand words, to just shy of fifty-four-thousand words.

Today, I just finished the first draft of that rewrite, and I wanted to try something new with the editing process. I am going to upload one chapter every second or third day, and gauge the readers response (if any), and take what actions may be required in light of any response, be they spelling mistakes, grammatical mistakes, or outright errors. If anyone wants the full MOBI, ePUB, or PDF to read it at their leisure in exchange for constructive criticisms, just leave a comment and I’ll gladly send it over—if you also live in the USA, UK, or Europe, I’ll mail you a paperback, when it’s finished, as thanks for your constructive criticisms.

Here is the first chapter of the book, How, Not Why. I’d gladly appreciate any reader input and criticisms. Thanks!

How, Not Why

There are how questions and why questions. A why question presupposes purpose and therefore agency. The history of human ignorance, has had come with it, the describing of that which we were ignorant of at the time with unwarranted purpose, because we did not understand the how. Nothing in the relatively short history of modern science has given us any reason to believe that our ancestors were correct in placing the why before the how in any age, object, or process. This is the story of the universe, the how, as best we know it. Our understanding of the first second of the universe falls under the purview of speculative (theoretical) physics, but onwards, is empirically based in observation and experimentation (in particle accelerators, telescopes et al).

Approximately 13.72 billion years ago, a singularity exploded creating space, time, matter, and anti-matter. Neither space nor time existed before the Big Bang, so asking the question of what came before the Big Bang is akin to dividing by zero. The matter and anti-matter, being each others polar opposites, annihilated each other on contact (because they have opposite charges). Luckily for us, there existed a one in one-billion surplus of matter over anti-matter, so when all was said and done, there remained one-billionth the amount of the created matter, whence all the gas, stars, planets, and life that we see around us, came.

The instigating factor in the singularity, was a quantum fluctuation, which created a positive energy input into a system of net energy zero. We know today that the net energy of the Universe is zero, and energy cannot be created or destroyed, except to accommodate a total energy of zero (i.e., we cannot create energy, but the Universe seemingly can), and space expanded to accommodate the negative energy to counterbalance the created positive energy, and thus began entropy, and the arrow of time.

Succeeding this explosion (for lack of a better word, though it was amazingly hot; billions of degrees), the Universe expanded exponentially. The process of expansion in the first second is called Inflation, during which the universe expanded faster than the speed of light. During the inflationary period; hydrogen, helium and lithium were created in the intense heat which instigated Nuclear Fusion (more on this soon), in descending quantities of seventy-seven percent, twenty-three percent, and trace amounts of lithium. Also, tiny quantum jitters (particles that pop into and out of nothing, and which instigated the energy imbalance that began the Universe) were magnified during the expansion from subatomic to macroscopic, in the process creating imperfections in the fabric of space-time that allowed gravity to take hold and shape the Universe. We can see these imperfections in the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMBR), which is how we know they happened.

As the Universe expanded, the heat dissipated and it cooled, and as time passed, matter started attracting matter via gravity, made possible due to the aforementioned imperfections in space-time. Everything that exists: stars, planets, us, exist only as a result of those imperfections, otherwise the Universe would have been formless (everything would have pulled on everything else equally and thus nothing would have changed). With time and gravity, clumps of gas began forming. Floating in the gaseous ether, they swirled and formed into ever-bigger clumps, and just like rubbing your hands together in the cold of winter generates heat, so do trillions upon trillions of gas particles rubbing, moving, and banging into each other.

The larger and more voluminous a gas-clump became, the more gravitational pull it exerted on other free-floating gas and gas-clumps nearby, and the faster and hotter the gas within it swirled and whirled; each cycle only reinforcing further gas accumulation and heat. Eventually, this frictionally derived heat reached a critical temperature and nuclear fusion occurred; the process by which two atoms are smashed together at such speed and energy, that they are joined and a new element is created.

At this point, the clump of gas becomes a star and begins using its gas as fuel. Hydrogen fuses into deuterium. Two deuterium atoms fuse to make helium, which fuses into carbon, which when combined with helium, fuses into oxygen (for stars the size of our sun, fusion stops here), into magnesium, neon, and so on until iron is made; a by-product of this fusion reaction is electromagnetic radiation, a small sliver of which we perceive as light and feel as heat: the entire energy of everything on this planet (except for the deepest valleys in the oceans) is derived from the fusion reaction in the Sun, ninety-three million miles away. As each star moves onto the next element, it’s temperature slowly rises—one billion years from now, our sun will be too hot for life on Earth.

This goes on for many millions or billions of years: the star creating new elements, inching down and across the periodic table. Once iron is made, the star has just about reached the end of its life, as it cannot use iron as fuel. As the buildup of iron continues, gradually, the gravitational inward pull of the star’s mass (accelerated by the iron creation) begins to outweigh the outward push of it’s weakening fusion reaction (decelerated by the iron creation), and suddenly it collapses in on itself in stages, breaking the balance of forces that kept it in equilibrium. At each stage, the core becomes hotter and it creates new elements, until finally, if the star is massive enough, it will collapse so violently inwards that it subsequently explodes outwards seeding the Universe with its elements in what is known as a supernova. The resultant fireworks can, for a few weeks, outshine galaxies with hundreds of billions of stars.

On a side note, it is in supernovae that the heaviest elements are created; gold, palladium, uranium, etc. They came from a fireball burning at one-hundred-billion degrees. And if the star is even bigger, a black hole is created, where the entire mass of the star is compressed into so small an area during the implosion that the laws of physics, space, and time itself actually break down. Nothing, not even light itself, which travels at 300,000,000 meters per second, can escape its gravitational pull.

This process repeats ad infinitum until the ninety-two naturally occurring elements are created and flying every which way across the Universe, seeding the next generation of stars, which, in turn, plant the seeds for planets and galaxies to pop into existence, alongside the dinosaurs’ worst nightmare, the asteroid.

Turning the story toward a more personal nature. At this juncture, free-floating gaseous matter meandering through the Universe, in a corner of an otherwise normal, but old spiral galaxy, began coalescing into dust, ice, rock, and metals, co-mingling in this similar process around a newly formed yellow star, from which the planets, our one among them, were born.

More asteroids and meteors, not used in the planetary formation process, but still gravitationally locked in the Sun’s gravity well, zip and shoot around the place, seeding these new planets with elements, and eventually with the required puzzle pieces of life, amino acids—the building block of proteins. In Earth’s case, one among many, theories is that a meteor carrying amino acids landed here on Earth, and in the ensuing millions of years (these building blocks of life  have been found in the core of uncontaminated meteorites), these amino acids mixed with lightning and volcanic activity on a young, violent Earth and became organic matter, which (mysteriously and the search for an explanation is ongoing) went on to become single-celled life. After a few billion years of this mindless tedium, a single bacterium in an involuntary act of self-sacrifice, allowed itself to be swallowed up by another single-celled creature called an archaea, and became the first multi-celled organism (we can still find the genetic sequence of that little bugger in our own genetic code). Many trillions of evolutions later; here there be lions…and humans.

It took almost a billion years from the creation of the Earth to single-celled life, then another three-billion years to Homo sapiens: not coincidentally a carbon-based life-form. Carbon also happens to be the most chemically active compound in the Universe, so no surprise there. The four most common elements in the universe are in order: hydrogen, helium, oxygen, carbon. The four most common elements in your body are hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen (seventh-most common). We are, as astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson puts it, “extreme expressions of complex chemistry.

That’s it—that’s how it all started.

A few things have been left out for simplicity’s sake such as dark energy, dark matter, the finer points of planetary formation, and natural selection by random mutation, but the core of it is the gist of it. These extra details fill in the blanks in-between some of the events just told, but the story told without them is much easier to digest, process, and remember.

“Reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.” ~Richard Feynman (Theoretical Physicist)


  1. A colossal subject! Kudos for taking it on. Having only read the first chapter I’ll however sit out from making any remark, except for perhaps to say its clear you know the subject matter. I have instead perhaps the best advice one author has ever shared with another regarding the torturous process of writing: “This is meant to be fun… For the reader.”

    Looking forward to chapter two!

    1. I don’t get it. Writing is the most fun thing I do. I guess some people don’t like rewriting and polishing and rejecting cherished constructions to get at something better, but all I can say is ok, I hear you choose to experience it as torturous, but it is the persistence, not the suffering, that makes it better.

      1. Sorry, perhaps that came out wrong 😦 The story was actually told to me by Laurence McKinney who was recalling chatting to another author. When McKinney asked him how he approached his writing he answered with that quote. I found it interesting, a good perspective.

        1. No I got that. By “you” I mean all those writers with a crucifixion complex. Others like to say “If you can quit, do.” I suppose I’m not one of those who can quit, but please don’t cry for me or admire my choice to indulge myself. The 100th revision is better than the 99th and that is why it keeps being fun. If it were just hard work, I wouldn’t do it.

    2. Thanks John… Reading seems to be much more fun for the reader indeed, he he. I do enjoy it, but it just seems to never end. Its all worth it in the end though. Appreciate the comment.

      BTW, I really enjoy your blog. Meticulous, well researched and funny. Love it.

  2. Commas—you stick them in where you see a sentence is veering off track, not where they actually go. When you learn the rules for using them, you won’t use them as band-aids, and then you will have to find a better solution. Same thing with semi-colon and dash. Grammar is useful. Studying it will help.
    Parenthetical remarks–should explain that which immediately precedes. You can’t use them to stick in a thought that your rushing brain just wants to get in there while it is thinking about it.
    Voice—who are you? You write as if you are the one who knows and this set of theories is fact. I’m guessing you didn’t make this stuff up and your voice is really a synthesis of voices. Tell us about your sources and why you are choosing these versions of THE TRUTH.
    Sentences—keep them short.
    Bacteria—are mindless so they don’t experience tedium but their acts are not involuntary, because otherwise what is an “act?” And if you self-sacrifice that has to be voluntary or it is just sacrifice, but I don’t think a bacterium can form an intent to allow itself to be swallowed. These may seem to you like trivial objections, but there is a kind of sloppiness here that irritates the reader, even if only subconsciously. Always make sense…or be more clearly intentional in being ridiculous.
    The story—we don’t want it easier to digest, process, and remember. Don’t leave out the details and tell me the empty wrapper is better without the chocolate.
    Interesting—great stuff, keep it up. Choose to experience criticism as encouragement…and encouragement as encouragement.
    Heretic—you do know these anti-Biblical blasphemies will cause you to burn in hell, right?
    Joke—preceding question.

  3. The essay seems to take for granted the many assumptions that aren’t supported by a complete and tested cosmological theory. It is still perfectly plausible within a scientific context that the so called, “why” questions can be answered, if, for example, there is a final cause, and nobody really knows the answer to that yet. The physics that defines the fine-tuning argument most certainly does not imply that there is no purpose in nature without a LOT of unestablished assumptions that *would* explain away the observation IF there was a complete theory to justify the unobservable assumptions that this requires. It is too typical of the cutting edge to assume otherwise, as if it were a known fact, or a theoretically established assumption. Problem is… everybody thinks that “higher purpose in nature” requires a “supernatural agency”, when, in fact, a “bio-oriented” cosmological principle that requires life throughout the universe to perform some simple physical task will suffice. And uh… the observation is strong, it is the assumptions that are weak.

  4. Fourat, I think this is a great idea! Few people are willing to put their thoughts to paper, even fewer are skilled at doing so, and even less are open to criticism. I did notice some minor grammatical errors, which are common when one doesn’t have an editor. As Kilimanjournal alluded to, studying grammar is as important as the subject; likewise, it is continuous. That said, commas are less strict than supposed. They are just as important for style and flow. I keep a book next to me whenever possible, which has proved to be very useful (Harbrace Essentials). Perhaps it will help you as well, but there are many others.

    The first thing that took me aback is your hostility towards ‘whys’. I think my own confusion may lie in a lack of development for this particular argument. If you are suggesting that all ‘why’ questions are trite, I would point to the distinction between scientific laws and scientific theories. Both are equally important in our efforts to understand the universe. A theory in very general terms explains why something happens and a law explains how it happens. I think in this context we can induce that not all ‘whys’ are necessarily out of place when antecedent to the ‘hows’. I do, however, understand where your argument is leading, and therefore, recognize that it is comprehensible, but would suggest you clarify the distinction.

    I enjoyed this chapter immensely. I think you’re taking a good approach to the universe by withholding every detail. However, most people have read very little on the subject, so certain terminologies will elude them. For example, you mention the quantum fluctuation, but make no mention of Heisenberg’s Principle; what this means and how it’s connected to a zero-energy flat universe. Moreover, why it’s necessary in such a universe.

    Obviously, I’m simply providing suggestions which by no means require your inclusion. I’d like to purchase a hardcopy of the book and would love to send you my feedback. I went to amazon, but I only found the ebook. Please advise and good luck!

    1. Hi Culpeper, thanks for your comments! Greatly appreciated. I’ll definitely look into that book.

      As for why questions. I don’t mean to be so hostile to them, I guess I’ve failed to properly articulate my thoughts on the matter. I meant to say, and thus will revise, that not all why questions have answers. A theory will indeed give a why to a law, but not the same why as we use in our everyday lives, and there isn’t necessarily a why to the theory itself. As Sean Carroll likes to say, most scientists expect one day to find the theory of everything, followed by, and that’s it. Clearly, for a why, it is insufficient, but that is our shortcoming, not that of the universe. Ill add a few more sentences to that effect to more clarify my opinion here. Thanks!

      And thanks for the reminder to add in the uncertainty principle. Guess that slipped my small brain 🙂

      BTW, why oh why did you buy a book I’m rewriting? 😛 I’m almost embarrassed by it now-hence the rewriting. Anyway, don’t judge me until you’ve read the rewrite. I’ll send you an email so you have my email and can send me your address so I’ll send you the second edition.

      When you provide your criticisms, if I may ask you to be as blunt as possible? I am a semi-muscular man, I can take it… thanks buddy. I do appreciate it.

      1. BTW. The new book has an extra 16,000 words so I can send you a PDF instead since I (think) I’ve corrected many potential criticisms from my first edition. Your call though. 🙂

      2. No problem at all! Like I said, I think this is a great idea. I’m working on several projects and would appreciate similar criticisms once I roll the first of them out. Peer review is the only process that promotes improvement of our argumentative and literary skills.

        I understood your argument in its entirety. My mind is trained for philosophical logic, so I tend to examine things more thoroughly than necessary. For the ‘whys’ I was playing Devil’s Advocate, which I think is necessary for these subjects because so many of them are contested – rightly or wrongly. That said, I won’t hesitate to provide a candid opinion; especially now that I know you desire honest feedback. Some writers say they do, but really don’t.

        How many pages is the PDF? I’d prefer to provide comments on a hardcopy rather than trackchanges, etc. Let me know. You can email me through my contact page. Take care man.

        1. Well, I’ll sulk for five minutes, but then I’ll man up and eat it up. It’s amazing how our brains (or egos) vehemently oppose criticism, even though that criticism is indeed adds to your work. Most days, especially when my girlfriend is providing the criticism, I’m reminded that our brains are not truth-seekers but truth-creators. It gives me the urge to go on, and little by little, I’m accepting the criticisms better 🙂

          What type of philosophy is your speciality? I think I recall you mentioning something about history on your blog a little while back?

          1. Yes, I completely agree! It’s hard to receive critiques on our work because we put so much time and effort into it; but it’s essential.

            I emphasize in epistemology and Greco-Roman antiquarian history. I’ve been studying these particular areas for about 10 years, but just recently made a career change from project management to writing / completing graduate school, etc. It’s risky (monetarily), but I have a drive to understand (as I’m sure you can relate to) that I feel would suffer if not pursued full-time.

            From what I understand this is your first book, which I’m quite jealous of. I actually have some questions with respect to your writing process, but I’ll address them in an email.

            Until another time, Mr Janabi!

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