Whenever I am troubled by events of a radically local nature (the fact that we have deeply psychotic individuals amongst the Pagani;the overcomping of players on the casinos whose back ends I tend;the murder of schoolchildren by other schoolchildren)I can go one of two ways – either I take refuge in the glory of glossy starlings and rampant flowering jasmine, or I start to ponder the almost-imponderable, the grandeur and mystery of the universe which is Ours.
Since I was at university, eons away in another country which is The Past, I have been fascinated by the question of the shape of our universe, which is all bound up in a supposed physical constant we have named Omega, the mass/energy density of the cosmos.
If this constant has a value of one, our universe will be more or less flat (in three dimensions) with no curvature. If it is less than one, a sort of saddle-shape obtains, an open curve (with the curvature contained in a fourth spatial dimension of course).If greater than one, we have a closed curve, or one of any spheroidal shapes (sphere, egg shaped, etc) in four-d curvature again.
The question of the value of Omega is key to our understanding of the space we inhabit- not only does it affect the Hubble constant (a bone of rabid contention among astronomers even today)and thus Our age, it also informs us of what exactly we are seeing when we peer through our telescopes or pore over our instrumental readouts in wavelengths other than the visible.
Are we seeing new ground, or the back of our own heads, so to speak?
For some clarity on this subject, I recommend this article in New Scientist from December 2006, which has synchronistically popped onto their front online page this morning.
The variety of possible topologies should have you wandering around, wondering around, and should drive those pesky little human gadfly annoyances back into their proper perspective.
Diagram from the New Scientist article