Q is for Quintessence

Sunbeams by Laurie Buchanan

Sunbeams by Laurie Buchanan

One of the buzz words in the field of cosmology is “Quintessence.” And when it comes to it, I don’t pretend to be an expert, and neither do the experts…

In strict usage, cosmology refers to the study of the universe in its totality as it now is—or at least as it can be observed now—and by extension, humanity’s place in it.

The term quintessence was borrowed from the ancient Greeks who used it to describe the “fifth element.” In addition to earth, air, fire, and water, they believed that quintessence is what held the moon and stars in place.

A number of modern-day cosmologists say that quintessence is an exotic kind of energy field that pushes particles away from each other, overpowering gravity and the other fundamental forces.

In December of 2000 at the 20th Texas Symposium on Relativistic Astrophysics in Austin, Texas, Paul Steinhardt of Princeton University explained how quintessence became the dominating force in the universe.

In 1998 cosmologists were thrown off their proverbial rockers by the discovery that the universe is expanding at an astonishing rate. Since the discovery, their task has been to explain how this acceleration can be physically possible.

If it’s true, what does it mean for our planet—implosion, explosion? Or will the force of gravity, the great attractor, the mother of all forces, keep the universe from flying apart?

Einstein thought about this. He developed a fudge factor called the “cosmological constant.” Einstein, and many other intellects in the early 20th century, thought the universe was static and that everything was contained within the Milky Way galaxy. The cosmological constant was an anti-gravity ‘vacuum’ force that kept gravity from pulling the universe in on itself.

By 1930, Edwin Hubble discovered that the Milky Way was but one of a multitude of galaxies and that the universe was expanding. So, there was no longer a need for a cosmological constant. Einstein dropped the number from his equations, calling it his “greatest blunder.”

According to Paul Steinhardt of Princeton University, the problem with the cosmological constant is that it is, indeed, constant. It yields the same force throughout time. Observational evidence indicates that whatever this force is that’s accelerating the universe, it hasn’t been constant over time.

He said, “The cosmological constant is a very specific form of energy, a vacuum energy. Quintessence encompasses a wide class of possibilities. It is a dynamic, time-evolving, and spatially dependent form of energy with negative pressure sufficient to drive the accelerating expansion.”

Vacuum energy is the potential energy in an absolute vacuum, devoid of matter or radiation. Think of a chimney sucking air from the living room; that’s the universe’s matter expanding into the great unknown. Quintessence is a quantum field with both kinetic and potential energy. Depending on the ratio of the two energies and the pressure they exert, quintessence can either attract or repel.

Not everyone has jumped on the Quintessence Bandwagon. James Peebles, professor emeritus at Princeton University said, “The theory of the accelerating universe is a work in progress. I admire the architecture, but I would not want to move in just yet.”

At the Texas Symposium, there were a multitude of polite arguments over quintessence. Some suggested that the nature of dark energy would become clear with a better understanding of gravity and gravitational waves. Regardless, it’s evident that astronomers and cosmologists are intrigued by quintessence; they simply need more details.

One point that everyone agreed on was that two space science missions are promising:

The Supernova Acceleration Project (SNAP) and the Microwave Anisotropy Probe (MAP). If quintessence does prove to be something that scientists can sink their teeth into, it would be yet another confirmation of Einstein’s theories, as well as a fine nod to the ancient Greeks who sent us down this path.

What is your quintessence – what holds your personal world in place?

Listen with your heart,

Laurie Buchanan

Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.”
               – Laurie Buchanan


© 2010 Laurie Buchanan – All Rights Reserved

40 thoughts on “Q is for Quintessence

  1. Faith is the glue that holds my moon and stars together.
    Keeping and holding fast that this too shall pass no matter what the circumstance. Knowing that there is ood in any situation.

    Going to St Paul this morning, hopefully be back in Chicago late tomorrow or Wednesday. .

  2. I think I need another reading of this? or it is just a matter of positive and negative energy pushing and pulling at each other to hold the universe together?

    What is the quintessence that holds my world together? Is my world holding together? or just spinning at a rate that I can’t see it falling apart?

  3. What is your quintessence – what holds your personal world in place?…..

    …..hmmm….my quintessence– factors holding me & my personal world in place are — my insatiable love for books, insurmountable craze for daily laps of swimming , and most importantly the lively , lovely presence of my only Daughter , who is presently studying for her Masters in UK …all these individually & severally are keeping me alive & kicking !!!!…..

    …. Thank You Laurie for the thought provoking &
    a ‘ different ‘ kind of post !!!!…

  4. Hi Laurie, I love to read the scientific explanations and discoveries that are now explaining what we have known in our hearts and souls for a very long time….if not forever.

    What holds my personal world in place? Underneath it all…..a sense of that same nameless force that holds the moon and the stars in place. Gotta love those ancient Greeks 🙂

    • Colleen – I love what you said, “…we have known in our hearts and souls for a very long time…if not forever.” I’m glad you stopped by today, thank you for the visit 🙂

  5. Hi Laurie

    Loved your post today. I’m with Jim Peebles, it is interesting speculation, and I am sure there is a great deal we do not know yet, and whatever is going on way “out there” is “doing its thing”, whatever that “thing” is.

    As to what holds my world together, that is an interesting question. It seems to be part habit and patterns from the past, part speculation and intuition derived from a combination of those habits and the observations of a lifetime, and part standing in the eternal inquiry, of putting all beliefs, observations and understanding to one side, and simply standing in awe and wonder in “I don’t know” with the question – “what is life?”

    In my half century of exploring different modes of looking at life, and different interpretations; none of them seems to give a fully satisfying set of answers. I suspect the most satisfying approach will be simply to stay in the question, however long the journey.

    It seems to me that all individuals must start the journey from a place that essentially accepts the cultural “truths” that they are born into on some form of faith. There appears to be no other way. All cultures are born of a very simple distinction of something equivalent to good/bad or right/wrong or good/evil. Which distinction, and what evolves from there, is essentially irrelevant.

    What is important is that the individuals themselves grow to a point that they can see for themselves that the simple distinction at the base is just a simplification of an infinity, and is not a truth in itself. It is neither right nor wrong, it is simply how it is, and how it must be.

    For me, the story that I am a potentially infinitely creative being, as are all other human beings, and that I have evolved from multiple layers of pattern evolving and emerging over billions of years, makes sense to me; and it doesn’t “hold my world in place”.

    There is a very real sense in which nothing “holds my world in place”. In my world I am a child of the infinite, finite, yet infinitely capable.

    My world is not “held in place”.
    I am a child, seeking and discovering and exploring a world that is so vast, should I live the rest of eternity, I would see but a small fraction of it.

    There are so many more than 5 elements, so many more than 5 patterns, 5 forces; and we had to start somewhere. 5 is bigger than 2 and it is still a whole lot smaller than infinity.

    So if anything can be said to hold my world together in any real sense, it is acceptance of what seems to be so, and being open to possibility – standing in the question, standing in the not knowing; and enjoying the journey – wherever it leads.


    • Ted – You can’t begin to know how much I appreciate the rich thoughts and observations you’ve shared here. I think I could HEAR you say the words (accent and all) as you typed them. I especially (!) resonate with your last sentence – the one that brought happy tears to my eyes:

      “So if anything can be said to hold my world together in any real sense, it is acceptance of what seems to be so, and being open to possibility – standing in the question, standing in the not knowing; and enjoying the journey – wherever it leads.”

      • I also loved Ted’s answer and agree wholeheartedly!

        My world is not “held in place”.
        I am a child, seeking and discovering and exploring a world that is so vast, should I live the rest of eternity, I would see but a small fraction of it.

      • Beth – “…should I live the rest of eternity, I would see but a small fraction of it.” The vastness is incomprehensible – I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around it, but it’s fun to try 🙂

  6. Fascinating post Laurie.

    What is your quintessence – what holds your personal world in place?

    I have no idea how to answer this Laurie… I think I have been more like Jeff and much of the time just curious and not worrying if my personal world was held in place. I am often wonder what is next and sticking my neck out this way and that to see if I can get a glimpse with not too much thought about what I am standing on. I will have to think about this one.

    • Terrill – I resonate with your words, “…sticking my neck out this way and that to see if I can get a glimpse with not too much thought about what I am standing on.” I’m pretty confident that if I looked down I’d see thin air 🙂

  7. Pingback: 7th December Update | Ted Howard NZ's Blog

  8. I have been wondering what you would discuss with the letter “Q”. You exceeded expectations!

    What is your quintessence – what holds your personal world in place?

    I believe it is awareness itself which holds my world in place. Ideally. But I keep forgetting this and instead reach for physical things which never quite do the job as good as awareness…

    Thanks so much, Laurie.

    • Kathy – I’m glad you enjoyed the “Q” post. I’ve been receiving lots of side emails asking, “What the heck are you gonna do for “X”? Any my response is, “Just you wait and see” 🙂 I really appreciate your answer, “Awareness itself hold my world in place.”

  9. Hi, Laurie — an absolutely fascinating commentary about quintessence; I have heard the term used before but never had such a clear description of its implications before. It sure sounds like the universe is in a hurry to get somewhere . . . I wonder where that somewhere is? I know about 20 years ago, the worry was about entropy (a system that does not have a constant influx of energy eventually falls into disarray) and now they are worried over there being too much energy! My quintessence is embracing the unknown: what do I get to do next?

  10. My own personal world is held in place by the knowledge that my children are working hard and performing at their studies, and are receiving various cultural exposures in their lives. Hence I briefly return to the parameters of the previous post (P is for Perspective) where one much approach things from the angle that will reap the most significant rewards, from a thinly-veiled moral, spiritual, emotionally (and practical) level.

    The concepts behind this particular post offer up some amazing revelations for me!

    • Sam – Like you, I’ve been positively amazed at the comments to this post. I’ve learned a lot! I like the word picture you painted of the glue (quintessence) that holds your world together.

      I sure appreciated yesterday’s Morning Morning Review (Dec 6) over on Wonders in the Dark. It’s caused me to add TANGLED to my must-see movie list, and THE GRAPES OF WRATH to my re-see movie list.

  11. Well Laurie, thanks so much for that!

    I dare say TANGLED will almost certainly have you singing it’s praises, and THE GRAPES OF WRATH will once again show modern-day relevence. It’s timeless.

    Again, thanks too for the shout out my very good friend!

  12. I am all eyes, looking at each reply as another layer of information. So here we are, whizzing at God only knows what rate of speed, on our way to God only knows where, in this expanding, exploding Universe. And we don’t even feel the wind of our passing. Gee, and we thought it was all about us…no mention of all those other species, races and myriad forms of life that we haven’t discovered yet. Quintessence is a marvelous word and concept, one I haven’t spent much time playing with. Here I am, a whole Universe to myself, as we all are, and I still can’t put a finger on what makes me work, expand or even gives me life. I’ll just have to put the responsibility of it all on the Master of the Universe. After all, He/She was there at the inception/ conception of the original plan when I was probably still a free radical bouncing off the neutrons. Great post, loved it!

      • Let me get all the Christmas Cheer ( glitter ) out of my hair and I’ll have more time. Thanks for your encouraging words! By the way, if Laurie won’t skin me for adding a plug…..I have an article about the Chicken Ladies coming out in Grit Magazine, (Ogden publications ) in the January issue.

    • Re : Grit Magazine
      Hi Sandi , This is regarding Grit Magazine January issue…The Magazine is not available in India …’ am wondering HOW I can have access to YOUR ARTICLE !!….please advise !…

      • Hey, Jagadish! Let me think…Okay, try this. Google Grit Magazine (Ogden publications ) and you should find the latest publication on line. I believe the article is called ” The Chicken Ladies Garden Club”, it’s been awhile since I wrote it and my memory is not that good. If you can’t find it (it will be the Jan.-Feb. issue) let me know on my Gaia page and I will try to E-mail the article to you. Thanks for your interest, I haven’t even seen it myself yet and am waiting by the mailbox daily!

  13. Hi,

    Your posting pinged my google alert because of the phrase “Absolute Vacuum”. Most references to the phrase do not illicit a response from me, but due to the thrust of your post, I thought you might be interested in my YouTube movie, ”
    It is called “An Empty Sun – Is Gravity being Induced?”

    …but perhaps “All about nothing – and its implications” might have been more appropriate. Enjoy!

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