Pancakes and the Universe
This morning I woke up and made pancakes. Whenever I make pancakes I have some sort of insight. Sometimes it is a good insight. Other times it is a bad insight. And sometimes I’m not sure what kind of insight it is.
Cooking can often be a surreal experience, and making pancakes is no different. It is easy to get lost when staring at the batter bubbling in the pan. There is a process going on there. Heat is causing the batter molecules to transform into fluffy pancake particles. It is a fairly slow process. Just fast enough for a human to notice. This is good. If it happened any faster pancakes would be far too easy to burn.
Batter molecules are transformed into pancake molecules. Similar processes occur around us all the time. Observing pancakes cook is like a faster version of watching paint dry.
As I was cooking pancakes I got to thinking about the molecules. They were transforming right in front of me, but that’s not a big deal. Those molecules have changed an infinite number of times, because they have been around since the beginning of the universe.
According to modern physics, all of the matter and energy that exists was formed around 15 billion years ago in the Big Bang, when Nothing exploded. I will use the elegant term, “stuff,” to describe all that was created in that moment.
Over the ages, that impossibly huge amount of original stuff has gone through processes and transformations, constantly changing and rearranging to create the universe as we know it.
Somehow across all of time and space, just enough of the right type of energy and matter found its way into my kitchen and allowed me to make pancakes. Just enough stuff came together to create my kitchen at that particular moment. Just enough stuff came together to constitute me, so I could make pancakes.
Just enough stuff, but compared to the total volume of the universe it is a laughably small amount. When compared to all the stuff in a single planet in the universe, it is still a ridiculous comparison. All the matter it took to create me in my kitchen making pancakes is probably about .000000000001 percent the mass of Jupiter. Give or take a few hundred million tons.
Today I was making pancakes and I started thinking about how infinitesimally small I am. How insignificant I, everything I know, and everything I care about really is compared to much larger volumes of energy and matter.
Then again, substance is as important as volume. Sure, Jupiter may be enormous. It may contain more stuff than all the humans who ever live will ever see. But Jupiter doesn’t have everything.
Imagine somehow you have acquired a magic machine that can sift through huge amounts of stuff. If you used that machine on Earth, on October 3, 2016, you would end up with everything necessary to create all that humanity has come to cherish. If you used the same machine on Jupiter, you would end up with a lot of Hydrogen, It would be more hydrogen than the entire mass of the Earth.
But I doubt there is enough necessary material on all of Jupiter to make a single pancake. One delicious pancake is worth more to me than all the hydrogen in all the gas giants put together.
It’s not just the volume of matter that matters, but also what you can do with it.