Bob Turban

In order to gauge Hubble’s consciousness as he peered into his telescope, one needs to understand that what for most people would be experienced as a pattern of white dots in a circle of darkness was experienced by Hubble as a kind of symphony.As he gazed into the night, each star and each nebula deluged him with notes the chemical elements were playing.Subtle cosmic music flooded him from every direction of the universe.There is one final feature that brought it all together.Hubble realized something strange.The galaxies were singing at different octaves. The galaxies were humming similar songs, but some galaxies hummed two octaves lower than other galaxies, while others hummed the same song ten octaves lower.To say that the songs were sung at a lower frequency is to say that the waves of their music have been stretched out.But that was exactly what Friedman had shown Einstein when he demonstrated, mathematically, that Einstein’s equations spoke of the possibility of a universe expanding in all directions.A universe expanding in all directions will stretch out all the waves of light coming from the galaxies.Hubble was experiencing this directly.In one silent, thunderous instant, the developing universe surfaced in Hubble’s mind.He had knitted together observations and calculations.The songs of galaxies the farthest away were singing in the lowest octaves.He, and he alone, was experiencing this.Because the universe is expanding.He must have repeated that phrase over and over.He repeated it over and over because he was torn in two different directions.Out of habit, he perceived change as something that happened to objects in the universe.But the data were whispering a truth radically different.They were suggesting that the universe as a whole was changing.Light from the more distant galaxies was stretched to lower frequencies because galaxies were rapidly expanding away.The experience was breaking apart structures of his mind, transforming his understanding of his placement in the universe.In my imagined reconstruction of the event, Hubble next positioned the Hooker Telescope so that he could view, at the same time, two different galaxies.One of them ten times as far away as the other.Checking his data, he found that the distant one was expanding away from him ten times as fast.Imagine him locating another galaxy, twenty times as far away.Checking its number, he found it was expanding away twenty times as fast.Another galaxy was found to be expanding fifty times as fast.Another, one hundred times as fast.The concept of number had appeared long ago in human history, and Hubble was now using it to wade into a first understanding of this order in the universe.Georges Lemaître’s imaginative theory was verified in Hubble’s concrete experience.The data from the trillion galaxies was harmoniously interconnected because at the beginning of time there was a primordial explosion that had sent everything soaring.Our movement through time and space is an elegant expansion.We have been separating like this for billions of years.Now, for the first time, this is noticed by someone on Earth.You can now think the universe.You alone know that all of us, all the millions of galaxies you can see and all the billions you cannot see, all of us have been rushing apart since the beginning of time.They were right to assert that he and he alone experienced this in a flash.Lemaître and Leavitt and a billion others.The discovery of cosmogenesis was the work of the entire human species with its astounding ability to fold back onto itself.By granting humans the power to accumulate knowledge, the universe was bringing forth a planetary mind.Tom Davis, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, poked his head out and apologized for running late.Like an inert lump on the gold plastic chair, I had not moved in half an hour, and yet in that time the whole story of Hubble’s epic discovery had danced through my mind.For two hundred thousand years, the light from the origin of the universe had bathed us, without any awareness on our part, but then, via the power of thought, the entire fourteen billion years of creativity came alive in Hubble.The whole story had always been there, showering down on us, but so much had been required to develop the mental space to allow it in.Now that a pathway had been constructed into our awareness, we would be changed forever.That’s what I needed to get across.Give them one whiff of that and watch them go wild with wonder.I would make this a moment they would not forget.At the center was Norton Clapp, poised and waiting.He squinted at me like a boxer sizing up a newcomer to the ring.The trustees on either side of him were huddled in groups of twos and threes, talking among themselves.Physically, the scene was very close to what I had subconsciously assumed it would be, a long row of serious, august, seasoned judges.But energetically it was far more subdued than I had imagined.The trustees were clearly fatigued after their three days of meetings.Most of the trustees continued murmuring in their several conversations.Should I wait until they were done?Or was this the way they listened to the presentations?I stood there saying nothing for a full fifteen seconds.Davis nodded at me to go ahead.I began by telling them that this course would be rooted in contemporary mathematical cosmology, but its focus would be to experience the universe’s expansion itself.Before I could say more, the trustee sitting next to Clapp stopped me.His white sleeves rolled up, he had an extraordinarily thin face and the thinnest nose I had ever seen, no wider than a pencil.He started off with a serious mien but there was a touch of lightheartedness in his voice.Glaring at me, he said he didn’t know the university had a Home Economics Department.I stared back, at a loss.

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