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Galaxies as Freudian entities

Galaxies as Freudian entities

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Published by Patrick Das Gupta
Nature of galaxies is described in a humorous manner by invoking Freudian concepts.
Nature of galaxies is described in a humorous manner by invoking Freudian concepts.

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Published by: Patrick Das Gupta on May 12, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Patrick Das Gupta
Department of Physics and Astrophysics,University of Delhi, Delhi - 110 007 (India)
[The other day, I was having TEA in the university COFFEE house (an oxymoronic act,if you will), when there was a typhoon in my tea cup! I felt a hard thump on my back. Itwas Fraud’s doing. He was grinning from ear to ear. I call him Fraud, as he is our localexpert on Freudian psychoanalysis.]Fraud (visibly pleased, seeing that I had spilt tea on my dress): Say, what is a galaxy?I (trying to keep cool, said): Has your subconscious been dreaming about one, lately?F (as if he did’nt hear me, continued): I was holiday-ing with friends in Nainital, few daysback. The night sky there was really starry. One evening, a friend of mine pointed his fingerexcitedly in the direction of an oval silvery fuzz, exclaiming, ”Theres Andromeda!” Lookingupwards, expecting something as pretty as the damsel in distress of Greek mythology, butfinding just a white smudge, I remarked, ”That milky smear of a thumb can in no wayrepresent Perseus dream heroine.” (Then, becoming sullen, Fraud continued) Upon hearingthat, every one burst out laughing. Later, I was told that the celestial fuzz was Andromeda,a spiral galaxy.And hence, my question: What is a spiral galaxy?I (sympathizing with him): Well, galaxies are gigantic swarms of stars held together bytheir mutual gravitational attraction. The same force that glues us to the surface of theearth. Just switch off the gravity (if it was possible at all), and feel being hurled out fromthe merry-go-round, that is our spinning Earth! Stars and gas in a galaxy too feel the sameattractive force.F: A fatal attraction, eh? But where do spiral staircases come in? (His mind still underthe Pavlovian conditioning caused by spiralling stairs in murder mysteries that he is fondof.) I: Most galaxies are of spiral type. Use a powerful telescope to look at a spiral galaxyfrom top, face on, and what do you see - a cosmic whirlpool of light! A vortex of bright,young stars bunched in spiral patterns. The side view of a spiral galaxy gives you the feelingthat it is a fried egg - a disc with a bulge at the centre, where the yellow yolk is supposedlylocated.F : Disc dislocated? Does a spiral galaxy suffer from Freudian slip-disc or what? (Then,remembering the fried egg, he summons a waiter) Food talk makes me hungry. I need todevelop a bulge in the middle too. (After ordering for an egg dish, he resumed) So the spiralstructure lends the galaxy its ego. It thumps its belly-bulge and proclaims, ”Hey, I am arich spiral!”2
I : Spirals are indeed rich in gas. The gaps between the spiral arms contain older starsand gas, mostly hydrogen. The disc stars, both young and old, as well as the gaseous mattergo round the centre, making a complete circle roughly once every 100 million years! Gravityproviding the centripetal force, and all that.F (becoming animated): I get it! The stars in the pirouetting spiral arms are like brightand cheerful thoughts in the conscious part of the brain. While the darker regions resemblethe gloomy and mysterious subconscious!I (not wanting to digress): Returning to the galactic theme, rotation of matter aroundthe galactic centre gives rise to an outgoing spiral density wave. When this density wavesweeps across the inconspicuous but gas rich regions, it compresses the dark gas clouds toundergo gravitational collapse. They collapse to form stars. That’s how bright stars areborn from dark gas clouds. F: Ah, like a bright thought popping out of the subconsciousduring a Freudian slip! So, the density wave is like a psychoanalyst who prods a clientssubconscious to let out a repressed thought into the conscious area.I: Density waves are actually travelling compressors. When they cross clouds of gas, latterget compressed to smaller sizes. After that, gravity takes over.F: Rather strange. Normally, external pressure or stress leads to depression. A depressedmind seldom shines like a bright star! Take yourself, for example.I (coldly): Here, we are talking about compression of a gas cloud. Hit by the density wave,the cloud size reduces but its weight remains the same. Gravitational pull between differentparts of the cloud then increases. So, the giant ball of gas contracts further. This goes ontill the density and temperature inside the cloud becomes so high as to trigger a nuclearreaction. The core of the cloud becomes something like a hydrogen bomb. Continuousnuclear blasts stop the cloud from collapsing further. Hence, for the time being, gravity hasbeen checked by nuclear fusion. Now, the object starts shining radiantly due to all thosehydrogen nuclei fusing to become helium, releasing energy copiously. A star is born! That’sthe MAIN SEQUENCE of events.F (not convinced): A confusing sequence, mainly! But wait a minute. May be one canthink of the density wave going round as the creative force, causing first a turmoil in thesubconscious. Out of this fusion or confusion, a bright idea is born in the conscious. Eureka,there we go!I (showing signs of impatience): Look here, there are about 100 billion stars in a galaxy!3

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