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What Makes You Depressed?

September 6, 2009

I normally feel pretty good.  Most days anyway.  But sometimes, I get to feeling down.

With me, I get depressed when I think too much about the overall state of things in this world.  I sometimes find it difficult to have that general good humor about it all, and not worry about everything.

The most pressing idea that seems to surface in my mind, which both amazes me, and depresses me, is the story of the origin of everything.

The Big Bang is just a crazy tale.  If it wasn’t backed by all this scientific evidence, I’d laugh it all off as insanity.  But considering it IS true, that means the story of my life is insanity.

It all goes something like this.  Space started to expand, like a balloon being inflated with air, by some force currently unknown to us.  The universe we live in is kind of like a three dimensional version of a balloon’s surface. It loops back onto itself.  In other words, if you were to stand on a high mountain somewhere, fire off a laser into space, and assume that it doesn’t hit anything along the way, it would eventually come back around and hit you in the back.  That is, if you stood there a VERY VERY long time.

According to Cosmologists, the universe was intially filled with radiation.  The same sort of radiation your cell phone uses to communicate with the towers, or the radio waves your car receives as you’re driving down the road.  As “space” started to expand, a strange thing happened.  The radiation went through some changes, and eventually ended up becoming matter.  This matter is known as the “primordial” matter, which is hydrogen and helium, which are the simplest elements.

They also believe “dark” matter was created at this same time.  Astronmers know about dark matter due to the rotation rates of galaxies.  Under normal circumstances the matter on the outskirts of the galaxies should be moving slower than the matter near the center.  Due to calculations of angular momentum, and gravity, and watching rotation rates at different points of observed galaxies, scientists conclude there must also be “dark” matter all over, but they don’t know much about it, other than that it exists, and pulls on the stars of galaxies with gravity.

So this “dark” matter also came into existence during this weird expansion of space.

This means there is no location the Big Bang happened.  No point in space where a big explosion took place.  There is no “edge” of the universe.  All of this talk of the universe involves higher dimensional concepts, since space as we know it is curved and loops back onto itself.  The “explosion” is some unknown force which caused space itself to expand.  It’s a force blowing air into the balloon in another dimension which curves the space we live in.

So what happened next?  Space kept expanding by some unknown force.  The primordial hydrogen and helium began to pull in toward one another due to gravity.  The clouds of gas started to compress, and spin.  More and more gas compressed, closer and closer together.  Then closer, then closer.  Eventually it clumped into big balls and the stars ignited due to hydrogen fusion.

What happens is the force of gravity pulls the hydrogen and helium atoms closer and closer together, but due to heat energy they resist.  Eventually gravity wins, and hydrogen and helium atoms are smashed together to form heavier and heavier elements.  This process gives off energy, which further causes heat and vibration, which resists the gravitational pull.

All this energy during the compression and fusion shakes the atoms in the star and they begin to shine!  Let there be light!

In stars we have a battle between two forces.  Heat and gravity.  Gravity wants to compress the contents into smaller and smaller balls.  But heat, random kinetic energy, which is the vibration of the atoms, battles with the gravity.

And so the battle ensues day after day.  In fact, for billions of years.

I really can’t get into all the details that happens.  If the gas cloud is big enough, eventually we get a type-2 supernova, and a black hole.  If it’s a smaller gas cloud (and a smaller star), we may, for example end up with a white drawf, and a type-1 supernova.  Or it may compress to its maximum level, then eject its matter off into what’s called a planetry nebula.  It depends on various circumstances.  In stars, there’s several things that can happen, based on how much matter went into making the star.

But all these stars end up going through some transition phases, and sometimes explode, shooting these denser elements back into space.  All elements heavier than iron actually are formed during the explosions, not during the fusion due to gravity.

That’s where all the elements of our universe come from.  Gold, silver, uranium, and everything else.  All from nuclear fusion in stars, and big supernova explosions!

Considering we’re talking about how the origin of how all matter came into existence, I’ll talk a little more about how all the elements of the periodic table come into being.  This is pretty important to understand.

Basically, in stars, nuclear fusion consists of two separate forces.  We have nuclear and electromagnetic forces.  If you had a hydrogen atom in both hands and tried to press them together, at first the electromagnetic forces would resist, getting stronger and stronger as you pushed them closer and closer together, similar to pushing two north-poles of bar magnets together.  However, if you’re able to push hard enough the two atoms will “snap” together.  This is the point where the nuclear forces would kick in and snap the atoms together in a fusion reaction.  Considering nuclear forces are stronger than electromagnetic forces, at short distances, these nuclear forces will continue to hold the new atom together.

Once two hydrogen atoms fuse together, we get a helium atom. Hydrogen consists of a proton, and an electron.  When you push two hydrogen atoms together, you get an atom with two protons, which is Helium.  All atoms of the periodic table are simply groupings of the number of protons in the nucleus.  Hydrogen has one proton in its nucleus.  Helium has two.  Lithium has three.  Beryllium has four.  Boron has five. Carbon, six. Nitrogen, seven. Oxygen, eight. And so on.

The thing about nuclear forces is they drop off very quickly.  So in order for the attractive nuclear forces to overcome to repulsion of the electromagnetic forces, you have to get the two atoms very close together.

Fusion begins in stars based on temperature.  Heat is the movement of the atoms, and if you heat things up, they move faster and faster.  Basically, at low temperatures, when atoms collide, they just bounce off one another due to the electromagnetic forces.  But if you get it hot enough, they’ll fly into each other so fast they’ll overcome the electromagnetic forces, and the nuclear force will pull them together, causing “fusion” to happen.

Protons have a positive charge, and like charges repel.  So the more protons we have in an atom’s nucleus, the stronger the electromagnetic forces will be to repel atoms from fusing together.  So in order to fuse say, a hydrogen atom with a helium atom to form lithium, the temperature (speed of collision) will have to be greather than slamming two hydrogens together to make helium.

So the more protons we have in the nucleus, the harder it is to fuse more atoms to this atom.  In other words, the higher, denser elements on the periodic table, are harder to produce. So as you might expect, there would be less of those than other elements.  And that is pretty much the case.  Hydrogen and helium are the most abundant elements.  Nearly 90% of all atoms in the universe are hydrogen.  Helium comes in second.  Then the other atoms come in after that.

So the basic idea behind a star is this.  You have a cloud of hydrogen and helium gas (and possibly other elements) which are drawn toward one another by gravity.  As they get pulled into one another they start colliding into each other, and the temperature increases.  Then once they compress close enough together, and if there’s enough mass to create a strong enough gravitational pull, the fusion starts, and the sun ignites.

When the fusion actually happens energy is released.  This energy is one of the core processes that keeps the star from compressing indefinitely into a infinitely tiny little ball.  Electromagnetic waves are released when atoms fuse together, and these waves collide with the other atoms giving them kinetic energy, which they then use to fly off and resist this gravitational pull.

In fact, if there is enough matter in an area, and it compresses into a star, the gravitational pull can become so strong that it overcomes every nuclear force, and the electromagnetic waves given off during fusion are not enough to hold it back, and so it crunches the ball of matter indefinitely into a smaller and smaller space, toward an infinitely small point.  This is actually how black holes come into existence. At that point, physicists don’t know what happens.

But there’s a lot of details I left out.  Stars don’t always compress indefinitely like this.  Depending on the situation, sometimes they explode. And sometimes they compress to their maximum, and their contents just sorts of drifts off.  I can’t explain the process of every type of star without writing a book.  You’ll have to buy yourself an astronomy textbook if you want to learn all of this in depth.

But anyways, that’s how the universe goes along.  Clouds of hydrogen and helium, and star-debris of heavier elements float around in space, and eventually form new stars, which go through the same process, and continues on and on.

Eventually our sun, a normal everyday star, out in the middle of just one of hundreds of billions of galaxies, ends up on a spiral arm of what we call the Milky Way.  So how does the Earth come about?

When the gas cloud, which would eventually become our sun, was compressed, there was a lot of other gas and debris floating around as well.  Due to angular momentum, and gravity, a ball forms at the center, and ignites into the sun, while the outskirts also form into little balls, but they’re too small to begin nuclear fusion, and so remain balls.  These balls of matter are the solar system planets.

Mercury, Venus, our Earth, Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, the comets, the moons, and everything else, all have origins from this process.

Why is the center of the Earth molten lava?  That’s because in the beginning the Earth was nothing but a small rock.  More and more rocks gathered as their irregular orbits around the center sun, and over time kept slamming into one another.  Due to energy involved in the collisions, these rocks melted and became molten lava and fireballs.  The Earth really is just a giant fireball which eventually cooled off on the surface.

That’s why there’s earthquakes.  The molten lava is still moving around in the center, and this movement shifts the surface plates around.

So the Earth has a rather incredible beginning.  This fireball formed into our Earth, slowly cooling off, around 4.6 billion years ago. As it cooled off the surface became solid, and a gas cloud accumulated forming our first atmosphere.

Our atmosphere has went through some serious changes though.  The atmosphere we have now is nothing like it was in the beginning.  At one point it was methane, and our atmosphere was red.  But due to a lot of slow gradual changes, many due to early lifeforms on the planet, we eventually ended up with the current blue atmosphere of mostly nitrogen and oxygen.

Eventually we got our oceans and these oceans produced the first cells, over the course of around one to two billion years.  The first cells likely formed on some rock shore where watered sloshed along the banks, and there was a lot of bubbles.  A thin bubble coating eventually became the first cell wall.

These simple bubbles reacted in the primordial soup, with various compounds sticking together.  These first cells then gained the ability to replicate and hold their form, for a short time.  Different stuff got trapped inside the bubbles and due to complex chemistry, and the wonderful properties of the carbon atom, what we call “life” came into existence.

Eventually we ended up with the most primitive forms of life, which were nothing but single celled organisms in the oceans.  Then these little cells began to stick together in various ways, and as they did, they began to depend on one another.

By natural selection, there was limited resources and only certain forms would end up surviving.  The colonies of cells became more and more complex, and eventually we end up with the macroscopic lifeforms we know today.

The early life forms take shape, and through reproduction their offspring differ a little each time.  These lifeforms keep gradually changing with the environment, and fighting with one another, until eventually they came into a system which, at first glance, appears to be quite balanced (But in reality is very far from it.  One minor change can throw it all out of whack).  Life diverges in many many different ways, and a giant tree of life comes into being, which you’ll have to read about in a good biology text for more details.

Plants, reptiles, and everything else.  All formed from this crazy process.  The world only seems to go together so tightly, due to this natural selection process.

Lifeless matter, originally born from stars and expanding space, starts to pick a fight with itself, and seems determined to hold onto certain forms and resist change.  These rebels against the laws of nature, of which we are a part, are the “lifeforms” of planet Earth.

Lifeforms begin to battle their own mother, nature, for existence.  Nature mindlessly, without any sort of conscience or sympathy, destroys life, but it reproduces too quickly.  The cells keep splitting, and dividing just before the natural laws of this world destroy them.  Life’s various forms will not hold up under the harsh conditions, but this never seems to discourage the little cells.  They continue splitting and replicating their kind, refusing to give up.

Certain forms proved more suitable to resist decay than others, and so they are still around, or at least, were able to produce offspring in their own image, and have left their imprint on life today in DNA traces, in the fossil record, and other subtle clues.

That’s deep.  About as deep as it gets in this life.  And when I look in the mirror, and see my own body, and realize its origins, I can’t help but feel depressed.  It can do some amazing things, and frankly, I like being alive, but slowly it’s aging and will die.  I shouldn’t say slowly.  Really, it’s decaying very rapidly.

What causes my own aging?  Scientists currently believe the mitochondria in my own cells are behind that.  When my body is breaking down organic compounds (food) and making ATP (energy source) for my cells to use, during one of the steps called the Krebs cycle, certain electrons break free, combine with some oxygen in my cells, and become what’s called “free radicals”.  These compounds are highly reactive, and start to cause problems in my cells.  Sometimes they react with some protein, screwing it up.  Or they react with my DNA in the cell nucleus, and screw that up.  Either way, they slowly screw up my cells and cause me to age.

With every passing day these free radicals are destroying me.  They react with my brain cells, causing mental decay.  They react with my skin cells causing wrinkles.  They react with my eyes, causing my eyesight to deteiorate.  Slowly over time, I will die, due to microscopic forces I can’t even see or feel.

If I don’t take care of myself, I can die quicker.  I can drink alcohol, and fill my cells with toxins.  Or I can take drugs.  Or I can injure myself doing strenuous labor.  Or I can eat the wrong foods, and drink the wrong things.  I can take too many medications, or pain killers like oxycontin, and eat away at my body.

But either way, even if I do take great care of myself, I will die.  Science simply has no method to fight off these free radicals.

What joy!  *throws hands into the air in victory*

I was given life by random processes. I live on a molten rock which has cooled off a bit on the surface, and look up into the sky to see the “children” of my father, the stars, which shine bright on me.  It’s so hot and bright it’ll burn out my eyes to stare at it.  Hallowed be thy name, father(s) in heaven!  No man shall see you and live!  As for myself, I will die by a trivial engineering mishap in my mitochondria!  YES!  Exciting isn’t it?

Everything I know will be destroyed, unless it’s knowledge I pass down to the next generation, which is why I care about little else.  The sun will burn out in a few billion years.  And in around five hundred million years the sun will start to burn heavier elements, heating up.  If the human race isn’t off planet Earth by then, we’ll be done for.

I love walks outside and staring at fields, or the birds.  I love the peace of it all, and the quiet.  But reading Darwin’s Origin of Species has ruined me forever.  There’s no peace to that field.  Those lovely birds are parasites.  They live off eating bugs and insects!  They fly about killing off other life.

In fact, I’m a parasite.  My own cells can’t produce energy on their own.  I have to eat other animals, or plants to survive.  That’s hard for a pacifist like myself to deal with.  I hate killing even little bugs which crawl on my floor.  When there’s a spider, I get a little cup and a paper plate, trap it, and let it outside.  But then I learn I can’t even live without killing things.  Man… that’s harsh.

With plants, I don’t think they’re conscious, and I know they don’t have emotions.  I don’t know what it’s like for them to be killed and eaten, but their form of life is so different from my own, I don’t worry about it.

I have to forgive myself, and the birds.  We all do what we have to do.  But it’s so sad.  Once this winter rolls around 3/4 of those birds will die.  Those lovely little chicks, huddling around their momma.  They’ll be in some hole in an old tree somewhere this winter, and it’ll get very cold.  Momma’s going to huddle around her babies, trying to keep them warm.  3/4 of them will die, frozen solid, and then rot in that hole in the tree when it warms up again.  Then they’ll be devoured by insects and bacteria and decompose into dirt.

And so it goes on, year after year.  Frogs will be laying eggs, but most all of them will be killed off, and eaten.  Fish will be eaten by bears.  Grasshoppers will injure themselves jumping around, and be eaten alive by the ants.  The woes of the struggle for existence.

This troubled the mind of Charles Darwin more than anything else.  He liked to escape reading fiction books, to get his mind off of it all.  It further depressed him when the stories had a sad ending.  He said it should be a crime for books to have sad endings!  It was hard for him to bear.

One of the most consoling facts to him was the fact that most species minds weren’t developed enough to understand the meaningless of their own existence.  They also lack emotions, so are unable to get depressed about it.

This is really one of the few things in life that gets me down.  Thinking about all of this stuff.  I am in love with a girl who doesn’t love me, but what does that matter?  That’s so trivial.  I’ll live such a short time, does that even matter?

I was planning to rant about political issues as well, which tend to get me angry and depressed, but I think I do that enough in my other entries.

I’m going to get back to my reading.

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