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Yes, Virginia, You Are (more or less) at the Center of the Universe (It's all a matter of scale)

Size Scales of the Universe. Separating the largest at the head from smallest at the tail are about 60 powers of ten.

Oliver Williams/Don Wright

From unimaginably large to infinitesimal, the universe cannot be pictured because it is outside us, not bounded by time, and not restricted to the frequencies we can see.

This piece first appeared in the Fall 1999 issue of Spirituality & Health. Close your eyes and visualize the universe, and you may see endless space with stars scattered unimaginably far apart, or great spiral galaxies, or exotic scenes such as the rising of an ember-red moon over an unknown planet. But actually the expanding universe cannot be pictured. First, the universe outside us. Second, a picture captures a moment in time, but the universe encompasses time and no slice of time can even suggest that. And third, the universe cannot be pictured because it is almost all either invisible dark matter or radiation that is outside the tiny band of frequencies that we can see. To get some visual sense of where we are in the grand scheme of things, the best image we have found is one of the oldest symbols for the universe known to humankind, the serpent swallowing its tail — an “uroboros” as the Greeks called it. Earlier people used it to represent eternity, or the waters surrounding the world. But for us the Cosmic Uroboros represents the universe as a continuity of vastly different size s …

Nancy Ellen Abrams is a lawyer, writer, and performance artist, and her husband, Joel R. Primack, is a professor of physics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. They taught a course at UCSC on cosmology and culture for many years. [1999]

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