A forethought by Armand A. Gagnon


"The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be".  
  from Cosmos by Carl Sagan (1934-1996)

                    All that exists
                    Roars into flame, the tortured fragments rush away from
                    each other into all the sky, new universes
                    Jewel the black breast of night; and far off the outer nebulae
                    like charging spearmen again
                    Invade emptiness.

                  (from the poet Robinson Jeffers)      

    If English is said to be the "international" language or the cross-cultural lingua franca of spoken languages on this planet Earth, then which language (of the more than 6,900 living idioms in current usage today) would be considered universal in its content and function? Would it be Russian, Swahili, Náhuatl, Samoan, Icelandic, Quechua, or Serbo-Croatian? The answer: None of them. For the term "universe-al" implies that it must encompass the entire universe: galaxies, other terrestrial and jovian planets and planetoids, exotic worlds light-years distant beyond our Earth, and so forth. Only two "languages" come to my mind, neither one of them entailing the use of a mother "tongue". Perhaps, mathematics and music would answer our calling.

    Albert Einstein (1879-1955), in the earlier part of that magnificent 20th Century of ours, predicted and put to the test his theory of gravitation during a total eclipse of the sun occurring on May 29, 1919 in Brazil and Africa through his use of mathematics. Accompanied by Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington on his journey, Einstein had correctly expanded on Isaac Newton's laws of gravitation by adding that space and time were affected by gravity, in a flexible spacetime beyond Earth to the heavier gravity fields of our Sun and out to the other stars. Einstein postulated that the sun's rays would be bent or curved by a gravitational tug. That is, space could be either flat or curved inwards or curved outwards.

    Yet it was a relatively unknown Russian mathematician named Alexander Friedmann (1888-1925) whose cosmological model would revolutionize human thought with an expanding universe. By contrast, Albert Einstein had felt that we lived in a static, eternal universe with his "cosmological constants". Though Einstein was correct about the speed of light maintaining a constant velocity of 186, 202 miles per second throughout the entire cosmos (a finite speed), he was reluctant to accept Freidmann's mathematical results.Yet Einstein did find that during this total solar eclipse the positions of the background stars appeared to change, thus demonstrating that the light from those stars was influenced by the Sun's gravitational field. This discovery immediately confirmed his general theory of relativity by 1915.

    Our term cosmos comes to us from a Greek word meaning "order", as opposed to chaos. But is was the theories of a Belgian priest and cosmologist named Georges Lemaître (1894-1966) who unwittingly confirmed both Edwin Hubble and Milton Humason's later experiments during the1920s that the galaxies are rapidly expanding apart from one another. This came to be known as the Big Bang theory, an initial space-time singularity event that occurred some 13.7 billion years ago (whose original, explosive point of departure is still unknown today) with its illuminating light shifting to the red, or rather moving away from the observer. This phenomenon was to be equally perceived from any vantage point in the cosmos, thus leaving the observer with an illusion of local centrality. This idea that the local laws of physics should be the same everywhere throughout the entire cosmos was first put forth by Albert Einstein, largely on philosophical grounds, and came to be known as the equivalence principle. Hence, this redshift proved to be harmonious with the Doppler effect, a phenomenon affecting not only sound waves and water waves but light waves as well.

    Now Edwin Hubble (1889-1953) reasoned that if the galaxies are spread uniformly in space in all directions and at all distances, then the number of them seen at fainter intensity levels should increase in direct proportion to the volume being surveyed. By 1929, Hubble had succeeded in showing that there is a direct relation between a galaxy's distance and its recessional velocity. This, today, is known as Hubble's Law. This Big Bang and its subsequent exploding universe mark the beginning of our space-time continuüm itself, leaving us all to become nothing more than cosmic débris (from which we are all made) in its wake from some unbeknownst point de départ. This cataclysmic event ultimately led to the condensation of all material matter and to the physical cosmos of this moment in which we all reside.

    Although an opposing Steady State cosmological model was offered by British astronomer Fred Hoyle and others, it was the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMR), a fossilized residue or luminous echo from the initial moment of cosmic creation, that eventually confirmed the scientific validity of the Big Bang cosmological paradigm. This CMR was accidentally discovered through the use of radio astronomy by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson in the mid-1960s.

     When it was all said and scientifically demonstrated, Albert Einstein was forced to recant his static cosmos for Hubble's expanding universe and had to admit his error in not recognizing the validity in both Lemaître's and Freidmann's mathematical reasoning. So on February 3, 1931, in the library of Mount Wilson Observatory high in the hills overlooking Los Àngeles, California, Albert Einstein renounced his eternal cosmos in favor of the Big Bang model of fleeting galaxies that were both redshifted and blueshifted from the perspective of any observer throughout any of the galaxies in the universe. Later, Einstein would call the cosmological constant (which in reality was a hedge against any errors) the greatest blunder of his entire lifetime.

    The language of all sciences is mathematics, which would indicate to us (at least intuitively) that the laws of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, along with Euclidean geometry, linear algebra, trigonometry, calculus, etc. would apply equally here as in all other parts of the phenomenological universe. To put it more simply, 2 + 2 = 4 is just as valid on Mars as it is on some as yet unknown planet in the Andromeda Galaxy. So a new, fresh pledge to our cosmos might be written thus:

                                                Pledge of Allegiance

                            I pledge allegiance, to the emblem
                            Of our Solar System in the Milky Way Galaxy;
                            And to the planets
                            For which it stands,
                            Multiple suns under one Dharma, indivisible,
                            With liberty and justice for all life forms.

    Music too might possess a universal application. One can perform a musical phrase with equal intent on a guitar, viola, or French horn. One can also state "I love you" (phrased with equal intent) in Danish, Tupi-Guaraní, or Tahitian. One can change tenses in a spoken language much like one can change keys on a musical instrument. For example, " I go to the market/I went to the market" is not too unlike making a musical statement in the key of G Major and shifting it "down" or "back" a whole step to the key of F Major. Shifting from a major "happy" key to a minor "melancholy" key is not too unlike shifting moods (lingüistically speaking, that is) in a language, from the indicative (realm of certainty) to the subjunctive mood or "mode" (realm of the hypothetical). That music can be employed as a universal medium of exchange was imaginatively and brilliantly portrayed in Steven Spielberg's cinématic masterpiece Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) along with Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodály's example in musical communication. Additionally, reading musical notes, or reading a passage in English, are equal in cerebral function: They both reside in the realm of the intellect. Improvising on a musical instrument, or speaking freely in a given oral language, encompass the same process as well: They both reside in the realm of intuition, are in the moment, on-the-spot, and are completely unpredictable (as with jamming, as with rambling on verbally).

    But how is music universal? Well, if 440 vibrations per second of a plucked guitar string produce an "A" note here on Earth, would those exact same 440 vibrations per second (math again?) be an "A" note on a similar world that beheld an atmosphere sufficient enough to carry such sound waves? Indeed it would. In this sense, musical expression applied throughout the Milky Way galaxy would indeed be just as ubiquitous as in the Large Magellanic Cloud Galaxy. And neither music nor math carry such enculturated stigma or "loaded" connotations as do spoken and written words. 

    The kinds of music yet to be discovered elsewhere throughout the cosmos (and under the oceans with our whales) remain a tantalizing, ear-opening prospect. But without mathematics and its application to Newtonian mechanics in physics, the Soviet space capsule Sputnik would never have been launched on October 4, 1957, thus ushering in the dawn of the Space Age. Indeed, Apollo 11 with American astronauts aboard would have, literally, missed the moon altogether on July 20, 1969.  Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) would not have accurately measured the clockwork of our solar system in planetary motion back in 1605. Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) could not have possibly carried out his scientific experiments in bodily motion and gravitation with such precise predictability. And Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) indeed never would have written and published in 1687 his universal law of gravitation and three laws of motion in his much-acclaimed Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathemática (Mathematical Principals of Natural Philosophy) without this most precise of sciences.


    Following is a Buddhist poem:

                            This morning, I wake up and discover
                            that I've been using the sutras as my pillow.
                            I hear the excited buzzing of the diligent bees
                            preparing to rebuild the universe.
                            Dear ones, the work of rebuilding
                            may take thousands of lifetimes,
                            but it has already been completed
                            just that long ago.

(from Thich Nhat Hanh's The Heart of the Buddha's Teachings, 1973)

     So in summation, both music and mathematics may well indeed transcend our earthly sphere with much more (uni)versatility than any spoken language, fastened and harnessed as languages are to their corresponding host culture(s). So English would indeed not be considered the universal language, as many might have thought and said, but rather a humble, Earth-bound international idiom of business exchange and multicultural commerce, at least for the time being.

   To order THE SPANISH SAMPLER:     

"Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure science."
        Edwin Powell Hubble (1889-1953), American observational astonomer

"Everything we can see in the sky is a cosmic fossil from thousands and millions of years ago."
        from the Norwegian author Jostein Gaarder's novel Sophie's World, 1991

"We've been to the moon where we played a round of golf and returned with a few rocks as souvenirs."
        from Frank M. Robinson's Science Fiction of the 20th Century, 1999

"All the stars are but candles that one by one go out in the darkness of the universe."
from James Lane Allen's Christmas short story The Realm of Midnight

"Nothing in the universe is contingent, but all things are conditioned to exist and to operate in a particular manner by the necessity of divine nature." 
from The Ethics, by Baruch Spinoza

"It is sometimes said that the difference between the mathematician and the non-mathematician is that the former can picture things in four dimensions."
from British astronomer Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington's The Expanding Universe, 1933

"Like everything metaphysical, the harmony between thought and reality is to be found in the grammar of the language."
      Ludwig Wittgenstein  (1889-1951)

"The unfolding of the Universe before our very eyes is too fleetingly brief to squander all its possibilities and avenues of exploration; every hour is a frame in the cosmic cinéma."
Armand Gagnon (1950-        )

"Patriotism, it seems, is as irrational on Venus as it is on Earth." Isaac Asimov (1920-1992)
        from the science-fiction writer's short story The Weapon Too Dreadful To Use, 1939

"There is geometry in the humming of the strings. There is music in the spacing of the spheres."  
Pythagoras (5th Century B.C.)            

"All religions are moderately true."
        from the High Lama, Father Perrault in James Hilton's Lost Horizon, 1933

"Men at some times are masters of their fates. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings." 
        from William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar

"La mathemática è l'alfabeto nel quale Dio ha scritto l'universo."
Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)

"A lifetime is too short for an immortal soul to go around only once."
            Eric Van der Wyk  (1956-       ) Musician, mathematician, and webmaster  http://www.kingtet.com/faq.htm  

"I have lived with several Zen masters, all of them cats."
        from Eckhart Tolle's The Power of NOW, 1999

"When love speaks, the voice of all the Gods makes heaven drowsy with the harmony."
from Ben Bova's Mars Life, 2008

"Infinity is larger than the largest, but also smaller than the smallest."
    from Deepak Chopra's Jesus: A Story of Enlightenment, 2008

"Faith, very largely, is absence of intelligence."
        from Talbot Mundy's OM: The Secret of Ahbor Valley, 1924

"Horatio, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
from William Shakespeare's Hamlet

                    for more on the cosmos, visit: http://www.carlsagan.com/

Please continue to Lingüistic Sources of Hallowe'en.

Hallowe'en poem: Winds of October

Day of the Dead/Día de los muertos

Origins of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving short story of fantasy: The Ghost of Thanksgiving

Origins of Christmas

Origins of St.Valentine's Day

Origins of Easter

Language Families

The Indo-European Family Of Languages

Indigenous Languages of Alaska and Siberia

Tales of B'rer Rabbit, as Spun by Uncle Remus

California Dreamin'

Chilean Eclipse

About the Author

Methodologies in Foreign Language Teaching

The History of the Guitar in Spain w/ YOU TUBE video

Essay: Is Academia Purely 'Academic'?      

Artificiality in Foreign Language Teaching

Anti Semantic: What's in a Word?   

NASA's Mars Exploration Programme

Cassini-Huygens probe to Saturn & Titan

Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI)


for Spanish instruction & translations


Yuri Gagarin (1934-1968): Soviet cosmonaut and first human being into space, April 12, 1961, the "Columbus of the cosmos".

  Email Armand Gagnon