The Size of it All
From Strings to Superclusters and Beyond
Philosophically speaking, given that there are some things that presently exist that have not always been here and anything which has a beginning owes its existence to something else that came before it, then ultimately there must be something that lacks an origin. In other words, if there were ever nothing then there wouldn’t be anything, which would negate everything, so there is always something. As part of this ontology and cosmology, the infinite multiverse is more or less endlessly filled with finite universes at various different stages of evolution and their corresponding size.
So, to cope with the enormous range of quantities that stretch from zero to infinity, the scientific community uses an abbreviated notation based on repeating factors. Consider the fact that ten times ten times ten times ten times ten times ten is the same as ten to the sixth power (10⁶), which is the same as one million: 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 = 1,000,000. The first of these interchangeable versions are in what is known as the expanded form, while the second refers to the kind of exponential expression used in scientific notation. In this particular instance, the base ten is repeated by a factor of six.
Through the application of this brilliant mathematical method, an unwieldily large number like 86,530,000,000,000,000,000,000 can be converted from standard to scientific form by simply moving the decimal point so that the numerical factor has an absolute value between one and ten, making the absolute value of the exponent the number of places the decimal is moved. This results in the number eight point six five three followed by a base-ten exponent with a positive value of twenty-two, resulting in the expression 8.653 x 10²².
As part of this, it has been calculated that there are at least as many as 10⁸⁰ matter particles in the known universe. Of course, this is significantly less than a googol, which is 10¹⁰⁰. This is far less still than a googolplex, which is one followed by googol zeros. Moreover, somewhat surprisingly, and rather paradoxically, infinity is so immense that it is equally as far from one as it is from a googolplex, which is much, much more of anything than could ever exist. Still, every object is of a given quantity of one sort or another and this necessarily relates to a fixed number.
For instance, an order of magnitude is an approximation of the logarithm of a specific value relative to some contextually understood reference value, which is usually ten. Thus, there are now more than 60 orders of magnitude in the local spacetime continuum, with every 5 of those making up a new scale of existence. In line with this, humans lay at the center of a broad physical range of complexity, ranging from the Planck size (about 30 orders of magnitude smaller) to the visible universe (about 30 orders of magnitude larger). As a consequence of this, the laws of physics change from one end of the scale to the other.
To put this in perspective, the universe currently fills the 13th scale of existence but it is quickly reaching out toward the 14th, dwarfing the mighty galactic superclusters within it. Meanwhile, at the 12th scale of existence, levity (dark energy) sends the galaxies racing away from each other with constantly increasing velocity. Then, at the 10th scale, stars hold the planets in place by generating gravitational orbits, while planets of incomprehensible size move at unimaginable speeds at the 9th scale. More importantly, in the vastness of it all, we experience things from an 8th scale point of view.
Going down even further in size, every organism exists as a conglomeration of smaller and smaller parts. This necessarily includes single-celled 7th scale creatures. More to the point though, we consist of billions and billions and billions of atoms. Those are 6th scale objects, which are themselves composed of countless subatomic particles, while 4th scale objects such as photons are composed of even smaller pieces of matter. As if that wasn’t mind-boggling enough, below the domain of quantum mechanics, one finds strings which are the smallest possible things. They dwell in a world far removed from ours, way down at the 1st scale of existence.
Such is the size of it all.