Wednesday, 10 September 2008

cosmology, the hadron collider and cosmetics

I was reading Mark Lawrence's blog post about the Large Hadron Collider and wanted to leave a comment reflecting on a cosmology course I once attended. I say attended, rather than studied, because my body was there but my brain was overwhelmed by the amazing concepts the teacher revealed to us - so much so that I wasn't even sure I'd remembered the name of the course correctly. In a half-remembered state, cosmology has scary connotations of astrology.

I looked in The Free Dictionary and found cosmology defined as
The study of the physical universe considered as a totality of phenomena in time and space.
a. The astrophysical study of the history, structure, and constituent dynamics of the universe.
b. A specific theory or model of this structure and these dynamics
A visit to Online Etymology Dictionary surprised me with the connection between the words cosmos and cosmetics. It's strange how often we use words from a similar root without thinking of their history.
In ancient Greek kosmos meant 'orderly arrangement', but had another sense of 'ornament, decoration, dress'.

A glance at the Collins Contemporary Greek dictionary - you never know what you'll find on a shelf in this house - comes up with κóσμημα (kosmeema) meaning decoration or jewel, and, even more interestingly to me, κόσμιος (kosmeeos), decent, modest or proper.

It's encouraging to consider that, no matter how weird daily life might seem, we're living in a universe that is supposed to be orderly and decent. If only there were some way to communicate this rule to the chaos that surrounds us, we could get on with living a predictable life.

But then again, tomorrow the Hadron Collider may suck us into a black hole.


Slavenka said...

Hi Parlance!
I 'm glad that we are still here and I can read your very interesting
blog ( with a dictionary of coarse).

parlance said...

Slavenka, I sure hope those scientists know what they are doing.

Mark Lawrence said...

It's interesting that the 'ancient Greek kosmos meant 'orderly arrangement',' when all I can think of when I consider the cosmos is chaos. And a huge sense of its enormity.

And my smallness.

What was the ancient Greek for chaos?

BTW, parlance, I'm enjoying your new blog. From Latin to Ancient Greek, from dogs to cosmology. It is full of wonders and surprises.

parlance said...

Wow, Mark! What an interesting question.

My first reaction was that 'chaos' would be the actual old Greek word. But... wouldn't you know it, 'chaos' according to the Columbia Encyclopedia, meant vacant, unfathomable space, from which arose all things, earthly and divine. Eventually the word chaos came to mean a great confusion of matter out of which a supreme being created all life.

So, another case of a word having changed its meaning in the face of changing views of the world.
The opposite of chaos was cosmic order, but now we think it's all heading toward chaos anyway. (If my tenuous grasp on Chaos Theory, a la Jurassic Park film script, is correct.)

Vincent said...

Well, Chaos Theory discovers a deeper cosmic order, as in fractals for example, and therefore transforms the meaning of "chaos" once again.

parlance said...

Vincent, I love fractals, though my mathematical understanding of them is tenuous. When I look at a cauliflower I think of mountains covered with treetops; when I look at a cloud I feel excited that someone has thought of a way to encompass the mystery of their shape.
The idea of 'chaos' being redefined once more is fascinating.