2-21-11 Monday Day +117

Status:  Feeling stronger, and always energized by a good night’s sleep.

Events: All hematology values look good, and my platelets keep increasing.  Liver enzymes stable but  still up, that with some new red patches on my face and shoulders combined with continued dry eyes and dry mouth certainly suggest some GVH.  Have an appointment Friday to see the GVH group.  They’re usually loathe to start steroids, but relief of my dry mouth would be a godsend.  If you chewed a cracker pretty soon you’d have mush in your mouth (chew it long enough, and it will start to taste sweet as the amylase in your saliva starts to break down starch to sugar).  I chew it, and all I get is a mouthful for sawdust.  Saliva is a terribly useful thing.

Comments:  I recently received a note from my donor.  It’s path was probably more secretive than any Wiki-leaked CIA cable, simply addressed to my coded recipient number and the donor’s coded number – only the National Donor Marrow Program knows the identity and whereabouts of either of us.  My donor shared she was a 32-yr-old woman in good health.  She said she was honored to have been in the program and wished me the best.  I shall write her a note back, but we aren’t allowed to contact each other personally until a year after my transplant.

  My cousin Sheldon (son of my Dad’s oldest living brother) made a note about Buzz Lightyear’s tagline, “To infinity and beyond.”  Actually you can go beyond infinity in several different ways.  The word itself comes from the Latin infinitas, meaning “unboundedness.”  So in its simplest concept it seems like it just keeps going and going like the Energizer Bunny.  But that leaves you with some strange twists.  For example, which is greater, the number of whole numbers (1,2,3,4,5 …) or the number of even numbers (2,4,6,8 …)?

  The answer is that they are both the same.  Take the set of whole numbers out as far as you want and then just double each one.  They form a one-to-one correspondence no matter how far you stretch it out.  The late 19th century German mathematician Georg Cantor called these countable infinities, but then went on to demonstrate larger uncountable infinities.  At this point in my freshman Number Theory class, I realized I wanted to be an engineer not a mathematician.

 Cantor said that an unbounded line would have an infinite number or points on it, but wouldn’t an unbounded sheet have more?  Cantor said yes and produced an infinity of other infinities. He gave them names, each starting with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, aleph.  The smallest infinity, corresponding to number of whole numbers he called aleph-null.

  The concept of infinity has always intrigued cosmologists.  Do we live in large but finite universe or an infinite one without an end?  The answer seemed to be settled by another German in the 1800s named Heinrich Olbers.  Supposed you stood in the middle of an infinite pine forest.  No matter where you looked you’d see a pine tree, some close, some further away, but it was truly infinite your line of sight would hit a tree.  No daylight anywhere.

  Olbers said, “Why is the sky dark at night?”  If we lived in an infinite universe, eventually our line of sight would hit a star, so the whole sky should be bright.  Just as there is no daylight in our infinite forest, there should be no darkness in our infinite universe.  This seemed to support the Big Bang theory of the creation of the universe.  An incredibly hot, dense speck, many, many times smaller than just a proton and containing all the matter in our present universe suddenly expanded with colossal velocity leaving us 13.7 billion years later with a very large but still finite universe.

  But that didn’t last for long.  My MIT classmate Alan Guth created the now standard inflation theory.  Simply, in just the first few trillionths, of trillionths, of trillionths of seconds of the universe’s creation, space expanded at even a more rapid rate, faster than the speed of light (although no information can be transmitted through space faster than the speed of light, there’s nothing that forbids space from expanding faster than that).  And apparently space is still expanding at an ever increasing rate.

  What that means is that there are some parts of the universe we can never detect because they’re moving away faster than light, so we’ll never be able to see them.  In a certain sense they are dropping over the edge.  In fact, all of space is accelerating away from us, meaning that at some time even the light from our closest stars will have dropped over that horizon, and if we were around then the entire sky would be dark.  But long before that our sun will have turned into a burnt-out cinder, and our descendants will be somewhere else.

 But I for one like where we are – perhaps the most beautiful; planet in our universe.  All we have to do is take care of it and ourselves.

Love,

-Bruce

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9 Responses to “”

  1. Esperanza Says:

    YOU ARE WONDERFUL!

  2. winnie Says:

    I thought I was a mathematican but you really amaze me.
    I read and reread your statements and I am intriguid!!
    my best wishes or your speedy recovery
    winnie

  3. Joe Robertson Says:

    Hi Bruce, this was a wonderful post, moving from infinity to inflation theory (BTW – do you know Alan Guth? A great thinker). There is a very good book called A Brief History of Infinity by Brian Clegg that came out about 10 years ago. Well written for those who are interested, even those who are somewhat mathematically challenged like myself. 🙂

    The other good news about numbers, which are not infinite, is how your platelets and other numbers keep increasing. We are all thrilled at how well you have been doing. It will be wonderful when every day your blog focuses only on science, medicine and biology (and even math!), because there will be nothing new to say about your perfectly healthy body!

    And no matter what, GO BRUCE!!!

    All our best,

    Joe, Catherine, Claire and Antoine Robertson

  4. Sharon McDonnell Says:

    Wow–ee–Kazoweee. Someone is feeling a little better I think. A tad more energy and it feels GREAT to read. I had to show it to all my science students (we do Thursday afternoons for Middle schoolers) and because it made me happy to have you back up and running — at whatever speed. The gratitude is palpable. This old heart loved the feeling and my mind enjoyed the intellectual hare. Gib will love this one.

  5. joel steinberg Says:

    We are so glad that your numbers are getting better. Now if you can only get rid of the dry mouth you’ll be all set. Your musings on the nature of infinity and infinitudes and the state of the universe are interesting. I shook Alan Guth’s hand at our 40th reunion and told him how much I admired his explanation of it all. He looked at me like I was from Mars. FYI–the person who first gave the correct explanation for Olbers’ Paradox was none other than our own Edgar Allan Poe! Poe was an amateur astronomer and was intrigued by this problem. He came to the conclusion that light from far distant stars was invisible because the universe was of a definite age and the light had not had time to reach us; and also that the universe began in a primordial fireball. He presaged the Big Bang Theory in a nearly unreadable piece called “Eureka”–the longest single piece of prose he ever wrote. He was also quite the cryptoanalyst. We look forward to your next blog. Joel and Margaret S.

  6. Tom Toftey Says:

    I missed the 100-day countdown, Bruce, but just wanted to know I’ve caught up on your wonderful progress. Here’s hoping the dry-mouth frustration will lessen. You’re amazing~! All the best, my friend.

  7. Donna Hill Howes Says:

    I feel infinitely better just to hear you back to your professorial self….makes me smile. Hope the saliva soon kicks back in too….dry mouth, eyes are no fun at all….
    Sending you love, always,
    Donna

  8. Tom Linden Says:

    Bruce, I enjoyed your cosmological improvisation. You’d enjoy watching Brian Greene on “Need to Know”:

    http://www.pbs.org/wnet/need-to-know/video/video-a-look-at-the-universe-with-brian-greene/7500/

    But you could give Greene a run for his money.

  9. Rick Davidson Says:

    Fantastic post, my friend. Now that you’re genetically XX, we’ll be watching for any behavioral changes…miss you this spring, but we’ll aim for a future visit.

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