Readers Questions: Evolution, Empty Space and Time


This archived article was written by: Nathaniel Woodward

Here we are, another issue, another set of questions from my email inbox. These are far-and-away my favorite articles to write, so we will just dive right in.

Q-1 Stacey from Boulder, CO. asks, “Is space really empty or are there particles making up the emptiness?”
A-1 Wow, this one is deep and luckily something that I just so happen can answer. What I believe you are asking is whether all that “emptiness” between big things like planets and stars is actually empty. The answer is no, it’s not empty.

For my readers familiar with the CBS comedy “The Big Bang Theory” you may have heard the term “String Theory’” or “M Theory.” These scientific theories postulate a universe comprised of many mediums or “fields” which matter exists within. The fields can move or vibrate at a certain rate which causes the “strings” that make up matter to take on the properties of matter. This is incredibly basic and honestly a frustratingly short answer, but thats the gist of it. Space is made up of fields.

Q-2 Oswaldo from Highland, UT. asked, “Einstein said that time moves at different rates, what does that mean?”
A-2 Einstein’s theories of relativity, both general and special, dictated the way light travels through matter and is affected by gravity. Light is a pretty good measure of time since it moves at a constant rate through a vacuum. Once light encounters a strong enough force, like gravity, it can be altered.

Since Einstein proposed that time is as real a construct as light and gravity, it would be reasonable to assume that it could be manipulated as well. Therefore time is relative to the medium it is traveling through. An interesting example is that of the Earth. If the Theory of General Relativity is correct, then time moves slower the deeper you are inside a gravitational field, therefore the core of the Earth is approximately two and a half years younger than the surface. Watch the movie “Interstellar” with Matthew Mcconaughey, its’ great and demonstrates this principle well. Also it’s physics consultant is Utah State University Alum Kip Thorne!

Q-3 Justin from Midland MI asked, “Are humans still evolving?”
A-3 That’s tricky to answer, my personal bias wants to say no, but there are some interesting opinions. Basically evolution is the random genetic mutations of an organism that if it is beneficial to its survival, it has a good chance of being passed onto the next generation. That organism is now more likely to survive to breed as compared to another organism of the same specie which does not have the advantage.

These random mutations can add up over extremely long periods of time leading to a new specie altogether. Now our specie, Homo Sapien Sapien, is filling an interesting niche in Earth’s history because, for us, it’s no longer survival of the fittest, in fact…everyone breeds, and breeds a lot. From the most robust and intelligent to the…less so. Those who carry on heritable traits for heart disease and cancers can now take medication and live long lives full of offspring who, in turn, carry the trait. So it can be assumed we have surpassed this nature of biology, but evolution isn’t specifically the passing on of advantages traits, now that negative traits can be overcome and passed on we may indeed continue evolving in a way that would be incredibly interesting to see.

As always, look at the questions I’ve been asked and research them yourselves, see if you can learn more and contribute to the conversation. This is a great starting point and there is so much more amazing science you can learn.