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The Gospel of Grandpa [part 16]
Pondering Imponderables

In this latest installment of the Gospel of Grandpa, where Ram Ramakrishnan outlines some very important concepts regarding life, the universe and everything, Ram looks at time, space and the relative nature of perception. Time spanning a few human generations are relatively infinitesimal when compared with astronomical times. However when one considers a span of say 100,000 years then there will be appreciable differences in celestial patterns. The children are finding out the difference between religion, math and myth!


Often apparent insecurity makes us utterly illogical. The children did not precisely sum up the debate between their grandpa and his astrologer friend in these specific words, but this is the general impression that they got. Grandpa's friend from his younger days was steeped in classical astrology where religion, myth and math are intricately interwoven and not seldom the math is buried under a mountain of myth. He considered it sacrilege to question tenets laid down in texts attributed to writers of yore and believed that none of them could ever be wrong. Grandpa on the other hand considered such an attitude to be blind faith that is akin to fanaticism. He thought that such a biased view is born out of a sub-conscious feeling of inadequacy. Despite these irreconcilable disagreements, the long-held friendship would smother the flames of discord each time and the childhood chums would affably part, only to re-enact the scene another time yet again.

After the contentious friend had departed, the children asked grandpa how much did he think was the probability of inaccuracy in correlating celestial and terrestrial patterns and what was the extent of applicability of tenets as mentioned in texts. Grandpa replied that the probability of inaccuracy was itself a function of time. How could that be? - asked the children. Thus began a long and fascinating evening of discussion between the threesome on the ever changing astronomical factors that are used as variables to explain the occurrence patterns of events on earth.

Grandpa began by explaining that factors that are considered in determining occurrence pattern of events are the latitude and longitude of celestials, their speed and distance, the points of their aphelion and perihelion and the position of their nodes. Across the lifetime of an individual or even across the lifetimes of a few generations, the limits of these parameters do not change appreciably (though they are changing constantly).

Solar System

Time spanning a few human generations are relatively infinitesimal when compared with astronomical times. However when one considers a span of say 100,000 years then there will be appreciable differences in celestial patterns. Though the solar system continues to be in equilibrium the relative interactions between the bodies that comprise it will all be different. Let us take the earth itself. A billion years ago the earth revolved much faster than it does now with a day comprising of 18 hours. In a billion years from now it would be 50 hours long. The Moon too was much closer to the earth then and a closer orbit meant that it too moved faster completing an orbit around the earth in 20 days. A lunar month has since lengthened to about 29.5 days as the Moon moves away from the earth about 4 cm every year resulting in a slower and longer earth orbit.

Earth Adds Mass

The Earth adds about 1000 tons of mass each year due to the constant bombardment of asteroids and cometary dust. Over a hundreds of thousands of years this will add up to a sizeable figure that will affect the gravitational interaction between planets. Asteroid impacts and close flybys have other effects as well in the form of orbital energy transfer that causes a change in speed and direction of motion of the earth. And this argument applies to all planets. Planets and their satellites too are threatened with annihilation. It has been postulated that the Kuiper belt, which has millions of asteroids in it, is actually a remnant of a planet that was thus obliterated thousands of years ago. The rings around some planets are looked upon as remnants of one or more of its moons that orbited them long ago.

The Sun

There is no constancy about the Sun either. It was born from interstellar dust and it will fade away into nothingness at some point in time. During this process it will swell to about a 100 times its present size to become a red giant and then proceed to become a dwarf or explode to smithereens. From this dust will be born another Sun and another solar system. In its life span there will be various stages of constantly changing equilibrium of the system.

The children listened to all this in wide-eyed wonder. They however questioned grandpa about his oft repeated idea of cyclicality of celestial happenings and its relevance in this larger canvas. Grandpa said what appears to be cyclic and what appears to be linear is entirely dependent upon our perception of time. Even physical appearances are so.


For example he said, the structure of an atom is similar to that of a solar system with vast empty spaces that constitute an overwhelming proportion of its volume. Yet we, with our proportional perception of time, cannot discern that empty space and see only a solid mass. Likewise, for person whose time comprehension of a hundred thousand years is equivalent to that of our understanding of a second of time, the solar system and similar star systems may appear to be solid spherical masses or flat pancakes where the distance between the Sun and planets are not discernable! For such a person cycles would mean something totally different that would be unimaginable and incomprehensible to us.

Therefore, said grandpa, in correlating celestial phenomena with terrestrial happenings as with everything else, parameters need to be constantly updated. Being dogmatic about it defeats the purpose of inquiry. Occurrences are no doubt cyclic at every level of time comprehension, but such cyclicality undergoes constant changes which themselves are also cyclic! Accuracy of correlation and prognosis can be fairly good in shorter spans, but will progressively become inaccurate over longer ones as the imponderables increase.

Look at our interaction, said grandpa to the children. There is cyclicality about it. Yet each time the topic of discussion is different, our levels of understanding is different, we ourselves are different. Some day, grandpa will fade away and the children will grow to be grandparents and would be discussing about life with their grand-children which will be yet another cycle!

Go Forward Here ends this chapter of a continuing story. Read more from

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The Gospel of Grandpa: part 1 | part 12 | part 13 | part 14 | part 15 | part 16 | Life & Astrology

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This page was last modified on Tuesday, 15 December 2015