Magnetic Universe

Natalie Wolchover at Quanta Magazine has a fascinating article up on the cosmic magnetic field. Over the last twenty years astronomers have increasingly found magnetic filaments that have formed in the vast expanses between galaxy clusters. The question is where did they come from.

One possibility is that cosmic magnetism is primordial, tracing all the way back to the birth of the universe. In that case, weak magnetism should exist everywhere, even in the “voids” of the cosmic web — the very darkest, emptiest regions of the universe. The omnipresent magnetism would have seeded the stronger fields that blossomed in galaxies and clusters.

Some cosmologists are looking to these magnetic fields to explain the discrepancy in how fast the universe seems to be expanding vs. its predicted value.

A number of years ago I wrote an highly speculative post about the alignment of the dating of the time of the accelerating expansion and the estimated timing of appearance of life on earth. Scientists estimate the timing of the accelerated expansion to be about four billion years ago. This is, of course, in the general vicinity of best estimates for appearance of life on earth. Is this pure coincidence?

From the article:

However, once a “seed” magnetic field arises from charged particles in motion, it can become bigger and stronger by aligning weaker fields with it. Magnetism “is a little bit like a living organism,” said Torsten Enßlin, a theoretical astrophysicist at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching, Germany, “because magnetic fields tap into every free energy source they can hold onto and grow. They can spread and affect other areas with their presence, where they grow as well.”

Ruth Durrer, a theoretical cosmologist at the University of Geneva, explained that magnetism is the only force apart from gravity that can shape the large-scale structure of the cosmos, because only magnetism and gravity can “reach out to you” across vast distances. Electricity, by contrast, is local and short-lived, since the positive and negative charge in any region will neutralize overall. But you can’t cancel out magnetic fields; they tend to add up and survive.

Of course, the astrophysicist is speaking metaphorically in comparing a magnetic field to a living organism, but could there be a more direct, maybe even literal, connection between life and electromagnetism? If the fields have been growing from the early universe, couldn’t the appearance of life at the same time the shift in acceleration occurred be tied to the growing universal magnetic field? Certainly the characteristic of taping into free energy sources could be used to describe life itself as well as magnetic fields. Might there have occurred a sort of phase transition that simultaneously caused the acceleration of the expansion of the universe and enabled life to form?

The idea would be that life itself is an electromagnetic phenomenon that exists as a local perturbation in the universal magnetic field and requires a certain strength of the universal field to come into existence. If consciousness itself is an even more concentrated form of electromagnetic phenomenon, then there might have been required some additional transition or growth in the universal magnetic field for consciousness to appear. This provides an unique explanation for the Fermi Paradox. If life in the galaxy could only come into existence about four billion years ago and conscious life only about a billion years ago, then life on other planets may be roughly at the same point in development as life on earth. Intelligent life elsewhere may have only recently appeared and be struggling with similar issues and challenges as we are.

Anyway, this is interesting speculation, I think, if it is nothing more.


This entry was posted in Consciousness, Electromagnetism, Fermi Paradox, Time. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Magnetic Universe

  1. john zande says:

    That is really, really quite interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Steve Ruis says:

    Fascinating. Of course, if these magnetic fields are only as old as life on Earth, what explains their existence in the vast spaces between galaxies, many of which have to be more than 4 billion light years away. Does this mean that there is life in those other galaxies, creating magnetic fields too far for our life to affect?

    I have always expected weird coincidences to pop up in our exploration of the onset of living things … this one I did not expect.

    Liked by 1 person

    • James Cross says:

      This is pretty deep speculation on my part.

      If the speculation has any merit, life would be like bacteria or fungus growing in the agar agar of in a universal magnetic field. So it would arise locally when the universal field reaches a certain strength or has other undiscovered properties. This doesn’t rule out chemistry but only suggests the chemistry needs a medium to work in.

      But as I say, pretty deep speculation not a firm conviction on my part. It mostly arises from various EM theories of life and consciousness with timelines aligning with the still unexplained acceleration in the expansion of the universe plus the possibility EM might play a role in the acceleration.


  3. Sounds somewhat panpsychist, or maybe panprotopsychist.

    On intelligent life, I do think one possibility is that we’re simply the first. But if there are others out there, we have to bear in mind how many contingent events are in our evolutionary history, which should leave substantial variances in the time it takes for intelligence to arise. If development somewhere else is like ours, but one tenth of a percent faster, that still would put them millions of years ahead of us. (Or millions of years behind if it’s one tenth of a percent slower.)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. James Cross says:

    A lot depends on where you calculate the one tenth of a percent from. If you calculate from one billion years ago, which might be when the field reached strength to support consciousness, it would only be a million years ahead or behind. Less than the time we went from Homo erectus to sapiens.

    Anyway, I acknowledge this is very very speculative and extrapolates quite a bit on 4 billion year ago coincidence, which some future research might reveal to be incorrect anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. James Cross says:

    I don’t see that I am positing that. As I said above responding to Steve: “This doesn’t rule out chemistry but only suggests the chemistry needs a medium to work in.”

    It is more like we are from the interaction of matter and the EM field. And the EM field is physical too, so not exactly a ghost.

    Liked by 1 person

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