Thinking of the entire universe makes us feel a sense of awe and wonder. We used to believe that the planet Earth was the whole world that we could imagine. It was, however, only the beginning of how we observe the cosmos.
We now know that Earth is the only third planet from the Sun, formed over approximately 4.5 billion years ago. Its gravity interacts with other objects in outer space such as other planets, especially the Sun and the Moon. It is orbiting around the Sun in 365 or 366 days.
We also know that the Sun is only one of the countless various stars. It is an astronomical object consisting of a luminous spheroid of plasma. Many of them are visible to our naked eyes during the night, appearing as many fixed bright points in the sky due to their immense distance from the Earth where we live and die.
At this point, I always remember the following verses of Psalm 19.
The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.Psalm 19:1
Observing the heavenly firmament, we have grouped the stars into various constellations and the brightest of which gained even the proper names. We have estimated that there could be around 1×1024 stars. Most of them are invisible to our naked eyes, including all the stars outside our galaxy, the Milky Way.
And we know that the Milky Way is only one of the countless, various galaxies, a gravitationally bound system of stars, stellar remnants, interstellar gas, dust, and even what we call dark matter. The word galaxy is from the Greek galaxias (γαλαξίας), literally “milky.”
Those galaxies have ranged in size from those with a few hundred million stars to the others with one hundred trillion stars. Each is rotating itself, holding the center of mass.
But then, we now know that such a group of galaxies is just one of the countless galaxy clusters, which is a structure that consists of anywhere from hundreds to thousands of various galaxies that are bound together by gravity from 1014 to 1015 solar masses.
That is not, however, the end of the firmament. Beyond the countless galaxy clusters, we have further discovered what we now call many galaxy superclusters. A galaxy supercluster is a large group of numerous galaxy clusters or galaxies, among the most massive known structures of the observable universe.
Let’s say, the Milky Way where we live and die is merely a tiny part of the various local galaxy clusters, which in turn is a small part of the superclusters such as the Virgo Supercluster, which is still part of of the Laniakea Supercluster, and so on.
The superclusters’ large size and low density mean that they, unlike clusters, expand with the Hubble Expansion. And, the number of such superclusters in the observable universe could be approximately around 10 million.
Still, that is not the end of the firmament that we observe. Such galaxy superclusters are just tiny parts of the so-called galaxy filaments, the most massive known structures in the observable universe. They are massive, thread-like formations, with a typical length of the order of 200 to 500 million light-years that form the boundaries between large voids in the universe… Let me stop here. It seems endless.
What is the observable physical universe, after all?
By definition, it is a spherical region of the universe comprising all matter that can be observed from Earth or its space-based telescopes and exploratory probes at the present time, because the electromagnetic radiation from these objects has had time to reach the Solar System and Earth since the beginning of the cosmological expansion.
There are at least 2 trillion galaxies in the observable physical universe.
Assuming the universe is isotropic, the distance to the observable physical universe’s edge is roughly the same in every direction. That is, the universe has a spherical volume (like a ball) centered on the observer. Every universe’s location has its observable universe, which may or may not overlap with the one-centered universe.
To the extent that we expand our observable capability, the very definition of such an observable physical universe could only tell us what we see is always the shape of the firmament. In other words, at the moment when we can articulate the universe as the physical, measurable, observable entity, this very articulation itself confines us in the realm of the firmament called the observable physical universe.
Is it a tautological impasse? “There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.” But it sounds endless.
The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.Psalm 19:1-3
We can easily talk about the Big Bang, Big Crunch, Hubble Expansion, and so on. But then, seeing the scaling process from the planet Earth to the galaxy filaments to the entire cosmos, and their endlessness, it seems that the path of our cognitive expansion is so ambivalent. It is endless; at the same time, never transcendent. It infinitely confines us in the conceptual firmament.
The same is in the micro perspective. We could also trace a similar endless route towards the quantum universe.
When we can observe and articulate something, this action itself implicitly and inevitably tells us something about what we can’t. Let me repeat this verse.
There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.Psalm 19:3
Perhaps, we can endlessly, even infinitely, describe what we see in the observable universe as long as we use our languages. But then, because of that, we are endlessly and infinitely inside the very firmament that God sees Himself.
God sees Himself.
And what we see is the inside of the infinite firmament that He sees Himself. That is the ultimate Seer that is never seen from outside since we are ontologically inside the firmament.
The observable universe means merely a glimpse of what we see ourselves under the impossibility that He is never seen outside-in and the infinity that He is the supreme Seer. We could call it the Absolute Subjectivity. Beyond the universe, outside the firmament, if any, only if anything, then there could be Thy Sight alone.
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.Psalm 19:14
Image by Alfredo Bianchini