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A Recycled Universe (the infinite cycle in which our current universe is but a phase)
Scientific American ^ | February 11, 2002 | JR Minkel

Posted on 02/11/2002 7:11:08 AM PST by dead

A Recycled Universe

Crashing branes and cosmic acceleration may power an infinite cycle in which our universe is but a phase.

by JR Minkel with additional reporting by George Musser

cyclic animation
Images: after animation by Paul Steinhardt

A UNIVERSAL CYCLE of birth and rebirth occurs every trillion years or so, according to one new cosmology. Big bangs result when two 10-dimensional "branes" collide (1) and expand (2) and then collide again (4). In this scenario, our universe (3) marks just one phase in this infinite cycle.

Some questions are disquieting because they can be answered in only one of two, equally mind-boggling ways. For instance, are we the sole intelligent beings in the universe or will we find others? Another discomforting doozy is this: did the universe begin at some remote time in the past or was it always here?

The big bang clearly marks some sort of first. That fearsome flash of energy and expansion of space set in motion everything our eyes and telescopes can see today. But on its own, the big bang theory would leave us in a curved universe where matter and energy aren't well mixed. In fact, we now know that space-time is flat and that galaxies and radiation are evenly distributed throughout. To shore up the big bang theory, cosmologists proposed that the universe began with a burst of exponential expansion from a single uniform patch of space, whose stamp remains on the cosmos to this day. Such inflationary cosmologies have worked so well they've crowded out all the competition.

During this past year, however, one group of researchers has started to challenge that idea's preeminence, though the field of cosmology has yet to be swept up with the new approach. Drawing on some cutting-edge but unproven notions in particle physics, the challengers interpret the big bang as a violent clash between higher-dimensional objects. In the latest installment to the saga, the authors of this interpretation have found a way to turn that single clash into a never-ending struggle that rears its fiery head every trillion years or so, making our universe just one phase in an infinite cycle of birth and rebirth.

Such cyclic ideas are not new. In the 1930s, the late Richard Tolman at the California Institute of Technology wondered what would happen if a closed universe--in which all matter and energy are ultimately compacted in a big crunch--were to survive its closure and burst forth again. Unfortunately, as Tolman realized, the universe would gather entropy during each new cycle; to compensate, it would have to grow every time like a runaway snowball. And just as a snowball has to begin at some point in time, so too would such a universe.

Then in the 1960s, physicists proved that a big crunch too must culminate in a singularity--a point stuffed with infinite matter and heat--where general relativity breaks down. The laws of physics are thus up for grabs. "The idea of a cyclic universe has been around for a long time," says Andreas Albrecht of the University of California at Davis, a co-inventor of inflation, "and it has always been plagued by a fundamental problem: what physics causes the collapsing universe to bounce back into the expanding phase?"

String-ularity

SUPERSTRINGS

FIRST STRING. String theory has spawned more than one attempt to do away with the big bang singularity. Read about it here.

One potential way of getting around that problem is by supposing that elementary particles such as electrons, photons and quarks are really just manifestations of tiny strings of energy jiggling in higher dimensions. The thing is, such a string theory requires the universe to have at least ten dimensions, as opposed to the usual three in space and one in time that we perceive. "In string theory you learn one thing--you are in higher dimensions," says string theorist Burt Ovrut of the University of Pennsylvania. "Then the question is where does our real world come from. That's a damn good question."

Paving the way for an answer in 1995 were Petr Horava, then at Princeton University, and Ed Witten of Princeton's Institute for Advanced Studies, who showed that strings could also exist in a more fundamental, eleven-dimensional theory. They collapsed one of these dimensions mathematically into a miniscule line, yielding an eleven-dimensional space-time, flanked on either side by two ten-dimensional membranes, or branes, colorfully dubbed "end of the world" branes. One brane would have physical laws like our own universe. From there, Ovrut and colleagues reasoned that six of those ten dimensions could be made extremely small, effectively hiding them from everyday view and leaving the traditional four dimensions of space and time.

Early in 2001, cosmologists Justin Khoury and Paul Steinhardt of Princeton, another inflationary pioneer, Neil Turok of the University of Cambridge and Ovrut put their branes to work on the big bang. By turning back the clock in string theory, they found that as our universal brane passed through its starting singularity in reverse, it went suddenly from a state of intense but finite heat and density to one that was cold, flat and mostly empty. In the process, it shed another kind of brane into the eleven-dimensional gap. Run forward in time, the big bang appeared as nothing more than two branes smacking into each other like cymbals. They christened this process the ekpyrotic model, after the ancient Greek "conflagration" cosmology wherein the universe is born in and evolves from a fiery explosion.

Without a better understanding of the singularity in string theory, however, the group could not study what would happen as our brane expands after the collision; the model only provided for a contracting universe. Then later last year, the group discovered in collaboration with Nathan Seiberg of the Institute for Advanced Study that the singularity could be interpreted as a collision between the two "end of the world" branes, in which only the gap dimension separating them shrinks down to zero for an instant. "So what looks sort of disastrously singular, when you describe it as a brane collision, is not very singular at all," Turok explains. This scenario remains a conjecture, Seiberg notes, but is mathematically identical to the description of the big bang singularity in general relativity.

The ekpyrotic model had seemed a little contrived up to this point, notes Alan Guth of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, another author of inflation. The pre-bang universe had to be dark, flat and infinite, seemingly by fiat. But why should it have begun in such a state? The answer, according to the latest work from Steinhardt and Turok, has to do with dark energy, the force that is driving the galaxies apart at ever-increasing speeds.

Drained Branes

timeline

MODERN COSMOLOGY is a relatively new invention. View a history of some of the key events relating to string and inflationary cosmologies here.

As the universe accelerates, it will become harder for light to travel between distant corners of space. Over time, galaxies will become isolated from their neighbors; stars will wink out; black holes will evaporate quantum mechanically into radiation; even that radiation will be diluted in a sea of space. The universe could end up much as the ekpyrotic model suggests it should appear before the big bang.

Steinhardt and Turok accordingly have proposed that the dark energy, combined with the milder singularity of the ekpyrotic model, provides a tidy way of setting up a cyclic universe. Our brane and its counterpart would bounce off of each other as usual, but instead of going their separate ways, they would smack each other again and again as if connected by a spring. This attractive force between branes would in fact be a special case of the kind of force that inflationary cosmologies posit to explain the early universe's blowup.

The branes' oscillating motion would work to pump space into our universe like a bellows, explaining the acceleration that we see today. So "when you ask why is the universe the way it is," Turok explains, "well it's because it has to be that way in order to repeat the next time around." And because each brane is already infinitely large and flat, there would be no first cycle to worry about.

The model is intriguing in drawing the ultimate link between early inflation and the current acceleration of the universe, Albrecht remarks, but "the case would be a lot more compelling if they were able to really show that a cyclic universe is possible." Guth is also unmoved. He explains that although he awaits the day when cosmology merges with string theory, he expects inflation to be that cosmology. In general, not all physicists are convinced that colliding branes can generate the small fluctuations in matter and energy density that inflation neatly resolves. Such minute variations in these quantities are required to explain the way in which stars and galaxies clump together and the detailed properties of the cosmic microwave background radiation.

In the ekpyrotic model, the necessary fluctuations are supposed to arise as the branes ripple quantum mechanically, so that different areas would strike each other and take off expanding first. The ekpyrotic camp is convinced these ripples can generate the exact variations we see today. "I think it's surprising how well this model works in terms of reproducing everything we see and yet being so different," Steinhardt remarks. "That's quite shocking and I think important because we thought we were converging toward something that was a unique cosmic story."

But the singularity remains as another hurdle. Despite the recent advance, no one is certain whether features such as brane ripples could actually pass unmolested from big crunch to bang. "What happens at the singularity?" Seiberg ponders. "This is a big open question." So although the singularity in string theory may be, as Turok says, the "mildest possible" one, it is still a wild card.

The dealing isn't done, however, making it too soon to say if colliding branes will hold or fold. Perhaps it will attract new players with even more imaginative ideas. "I happen to think the cyclic model is a real intriguing one," Steinhardt says. "It has a lot of new ingredients that people haven't had a chance to play with. When they play they might find other interesting things that we missed." Or not.

RELATED LINKS:

Animation of the cyclic model from Paul Steinhardt

Original ekpyrotic model

More on string theory




TOPICS: Culture/Society; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: crevolist
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1 posted on 02/11/2002 7:11:08 AM PST by dead
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To: dead
Oh well, the links worked in preview, but not anymore.

The pictures were pretty pointless anyway, but the article is interesting.

2 posted on 02/11/2002 7:14:04 AM PST by dead
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To: dead
From the Telegraph:

A SPACE probe launched 30 years ago has come under the influence of a force that has baffled scientists and could rewrite the laws of physics.

Researchers say Pioneer 10, which took the first close-up pictures of Jupiter before leaving our solar system in 1983, is being pulled back to the sun by an unknown force. The effect shows no sign of getting weaker as the spacecraft travels deeper into space, and scientists are considering the possibility that the probe has revealed a new force of nature.

3 posted on 02/11/2002 7:16:40 AM PST by scouse
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To: dead
Oh yeah, I get it. So obvious, why hadn't I already thought of this?
4 posted on 02/11/2002 7:19:11 AM PST by governsleastgovernsbest
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To: scouse
Sounds interesting. Do you have a link?
5 posted on 02/11/2002 7:22:37 AM PST by dead
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To: dead
kind of like a replay button for God
6 posted on 02/11/2002 7:36:11 AM PST by Revelation 911
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To: dead
Ouch, my brane hurts..
7 posted on 02/11/2002 7:42:26 AM PST by Paradox
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Comment #8 Removed by Moderator

Comment #9 Removed by Moderator

To: dead
Good article! Here's your link:

Mysterious Force Holds Back NASA Probe In Deep Space

10 posted on 02/11/2002 7:50:40 AM PST by callisto
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To: dead
bump for later
11 posted on 02/11/2002 7:51:39 AM PST by mlo
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To: dead
Only the first related link is dead at the moment. The rest are there...especially the one on string theory.
12 posted on 02/11/2002 7:52:06 AM PST by callisto
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To: dead
Some questions are disquieting because they can be answered in only one of two, equally mind-boggling ways. For instance, are we the sole intelligent beings in the universe or will we find others?

It is quite possible that other intelligent beings exist and that we will never find them.

13 posted on 02/11/2002 7:56:06 AM PST by js1138
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To: dead
Does each cycle consume one turtle? With an infinite number of turtles, it wouldn't matter.
14 posted on 02/11/2002 8:02:09 AM PST by Doctor Stochastic
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To: callisto
Gracias! I'm off to check it out!
15 posted on 02/11/2002 8:19:16 AM PST by dead
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To: Revelation 911
or a Re-boot button...
16 posted on 02/11/2002 8:21:16 AM PST by laker_dad
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To: crevo_list
Bump.
17 posted on 02/11/2002 8:27:24 AM PST by Junior
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To: one_particular_harbour
OK, now give me the "For Dummies" version!
18 posted on 02/11/2002 10:39:47 AM PST by VadeRetro
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To: dead
For instance, are we the sole intelligent beings in the universe or will we find others?

Objection! Assumes facts not in evidence.

... anywhere ...

19 posted on 02/11/2002 10:56:09 AM PST by Gumlegs
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To: js1138
It is quite possible that other intelligent beings exist and that we will never find them.

Hmm... Atheists might be troubled by that juxtaposition (intelligence and non-discovery).

20 posted on 02/11/2002 11:05:10 AM PST by AndrewC
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To: AndrewC
And what, exactly, is the benefit of discussing the attributes of something that is yet undiscovered?

I know you are speaking here of faith rather than ETs, but the principle is the same. If you have faith, I hope it is because you have encountered some confirming evidence in your own life. I certainly don't put much faith in the rantings of preachers. It is self evident from the condtradictions of the varius faiths that most are either wrong or seriously deranged. So it comes down to what you can confirm for yourself.

As for ETs, I will believe in them when I see them, or when communication is established that provides some unmistakable new knowledge. My guess is that earthlike planets are very rare and that human-like life is even more rare.

21 posted on 02/11/2002 11:18:30 AM PST by js1138
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To: AndrewC

It is quite possible that other intelligent beings exist and that we will never find them.

Hmm... Atheists might be troubled by that juxtaposition (intelligence and non-discovery).

Not really. An intelligence that we will never find (nor evidence that this intelligence ever did exist) would be, in practice, the same as an intelligence that didn't exist in fact. Such an intelligence may still be compatible with Deism, but that's as far as a theist could take it.

22 posted on 02/11/2002 12:20:12 PM PST by jennyp
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To: js1138
I hope it is because you have encountered some confirming evidence in your own life

Many times.

23 posted on 02/11/2002 1:02:05 PM PST by AndrewC
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To: jennyp
An intelligence that we will never find (nor evidence that this intelligence ever did exist) would be, in practice, the same as an intelligence that didn't exist in fact

I think there's this cat that a lot of people argue over that would fall into your definition.

24 posted on 02/11/2002 1:06:19 PM PST by AndrewC
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To: RadioAstronomer; longshadow; thinkplease
Cosmology bump.
25 posted on 02/11/2002 1:13:32 PM PST by PatrickHenry
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To: dead
the ekpyrotic model

Hasn't been much news of the ekpyrotic model since WTC911. Actually we had assumed there would be no news at all until the gravitational blueshift had been observed, at which time we could all switch over.

26 posted on 02/11/2002 1:18:48 PM PST by RightWhale
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To: dead
Bump so I can find later because I thought (last heard) the universe was open-ended. Hey, aren't we only recycled if God puts us in the right bin at the end?
27 posted on 02/11/2002 1:22:02 PM PST by techcor
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To: RightWhale
Actually we had assumed there would be no news at all until the gravitational blueshift had been observed, at which time we could all switch over.

By the time we observe the blueshift, the contraction will have already been underway for 15 billion years. This phase of the universe will be mostly over and we will have only just arrived. But such news will not change my plans for the weekend.

28 posted on 02/11/2002 1:24:11 PM PST by PatrickHenry
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To: AndrewC
I think there's this cat that a lot of people argue over that would fall into your definition.

Not quite.

The longer and more thorough our search -- if the results remain negative -- the more certainty we have of the rarity of intelligent life. Rarity would be an important finding.

If faster than light travel is possible, then it stands to reason that other civilizations would have achieved it, given a billion or so year's head start.

So where are they, other than in the imagination of X-File writers? If they are indeed observing us, then with their advanced technology they have complete control over whether we see them (disregarding Douglas Adams' theory that aliens are really just teenage ETs out joyriding).

If faster than light travel is not a practical possibility, and civilizations are more than a hundred light-years apart, then commerce is unlikely. I mean would you give up a couple hundred years of medical progress to sell hundred year old products door-to-door?

29 posted on 02/11/2002 1:26:23 PM PST by js1138
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To: AndrewC
An intelligence that we will never find (nor evidence that this intelligence ever did exist) would be, in practice, the same as an intelligence that didn't exist in fact

I think there's this cat that a lot of people argue over that would fall into your definition.

But I don't think I could ever have a relationship with Schrodinger's Cat. You could never depend on it being there when dinner's ready.

30 posted on 02/11/2002 2:04:17 PM PST by jennyp
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To: jennyp
But I don't think I could ever have a relationship with Schrodinger's Cat. You could never depend on it being there when dinner's ready.

Technically speaking shouldn't that be ".... when dinner's ready, or not ready"?

31 posted on 02/11/2002 3:08:34 PM PST by longshadow
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To: PatrickHenry; RadioAstronomer; ThinkPlease
I'm riding Guth's coattails until such time as the ekpyrotiacs come up with results of some experiments that coincide with the ekpyrotic model's predictions but conflict with the BB/Inflationary Model's predictions.

Until then, it is all a conjecture.

And even if it turns out to be correct, I still have questions regarding there being any causal connection between the "current" Universe and the nth-1 Universe, and so on..... If that is the case, whatever went on in the "preverses" has no effect on our current Universe, which is equivalent to there being no "preverses" (from the point of view of the present Universe).

And none of this changes the pile of Turtle turds that are piling up down there.

32 posted on 02/11/2002 3:17:25 PM PST by longshadow
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To: dead
Can you explain how the branes fall mainly on a plane? parsy.
33 posted on 02/11/2002 3:25:22 PM PST by parsifal
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To: longshadow
I still have questions regarding there being any causal connection between the "current" Universe and the nth -1 Universe, and so on..... If that is the case, whatever went on in the "preverses" has no effect on our current Universe, which is equivalent to there being no "preverses" (from the point of view of the present Universe).

That's true. However ... there are philosophical implications.
1. An infinite number of prior universes very neatly does away with the troublesome First Cause and nihil ex nihilo problems.
2. As compensation for the religious, an infinite sequence of universes is a fitting environment for an infinite deity.
3. Which neatly does away with the problem of where God came from (no more nonsense about "beyond space and time").
4. However, there is still that infernal Ocham's Razor for the religious to contend with.
5. Eternal existence (which is what an infinite sequence of universes means) seems consistent with the conservation laws.

34 posted on 02/11/2002 3:36:48 PM PST by PatrickHenry
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To: PatrickHenry
2. As compensation for the religious, an infinite sequence of universes is a fitting environment for an infinite deity.

Yes, but now the universe has become God's Lava LampTM.

"This thing is so cool, how it lights up, expands, flickers to darkness, then lights up again over and over and over. Sometimes, just in the in-between time, I can see all kinds of busy stuff going on in there."

35 posted on 02/11/2002 3:52:00 PM PST by VadeRetro
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To: VadeRetro
now the universe has become God's Lava LampTM.

Kinda puts your gall bladder in perspective, doesn't it?

36 posted on 02/11/2002 3:57:25 PM PST by PatrickHenry
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To: dead
Bump for later study.
37 posted on 02/11/2002 4:21:20 PM PST by Bernard Marx
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To: PatrickHenry
Don't forget, August 30th is Vade's Gall Bladder Day.
38 posted on 02/11/2002 4:23:17 PM PST by VadeRetro
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To: PatrickHenry
...there are philosophical implications

This also has implications for Nietzsche's idea of the eternal return or the eternal recurrence of the same, a type of immortality.

39 posted on 02/11/2002 4:35:37 PM PST by owen_osh
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To: PatrickHenry
4. However, there is still that infernal Ocham's Razor for the religious to contend with.

The razor is used to break ties, the equivalent of a coin-toss. For the religious the tie has been broken, otherwise that individual would be agnostic(which also means the tie is broken for the atheist). There is no logical imperative in its use. The admonition in today's terms is KISS.

40 posted on 02/11/2002 5:53:23 PM PST by AndrewC
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To: AndrewC
The razor is used to break ties, the equivalent of a coin-toss.

Yes, that's possible; but in most cases the hypotheses which are tossed out by Occham's Razor are not on an equal footing. They are tossed out because there is no need for them when a simpler hypothesis is providing an explanation.

41 posted on 02/11/2002 6:00:57 PM PST by PatrickHenry
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To: owen_osh
This also has implications for Nietzsche's idea of the eternal return or the eternal recurrence of the same, a type of immortality.

So he's the source of this ---"It's like deja vu all over again."

42 posted on 02/11/2002 6:12:04 PM PST by AndrewC
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To: PatrickHenry
They are tossed out because there is no need for them when a simpler hypothesis is providing an explanation.

There's an Inigo Montoya quote in here somewhere.

43 posted on 02/11/2002 6:14:09 PM PST by AndrewC
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To: PatrickHenry
However ... there are philosophical implications.
1. An infinite number of prior universes very neatly does away with the troublesome First Cause and nihil ex nihilo problems.

Actually, all this does is ignore the question. It is really no different than chanting a dogma about a deity that "always existed"; hence one need not explain where the deity came from.

Proposing a temporally infinite series of Universes is essentially the same as throwing up our hands and saying we have no idea where they originated.

The BB at least has to come to grips with the question; some may not like the answer, others may complain that we don't know enough details about the answer, but at least it doesn't hide from the question.

44 posted on 02/11/2002 6:37:49 PM PST by longshadow
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To: longshadow
Proposing a temporally [whaaaa?] infinite series of Universes is essentially the same as throwing up our hands and saying we have no idea where they originated.

You must concentrate, Grasshopper. Think deeply. The truth will come to you.

45 posted on 02/12/2002 2:46:21 AM PST by PatrickHenry
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To: VadeRetro
Don't forget, August 30th is Vade's Gall Bladder Day.

I know, I know. But it's so close to Labor Day that I'm treating the already too-long weekend as another combo holiday, like Presidents Day. Your lost organ will be remembered, along with Sam Gompers and the Ladies Garment Workers. But don't dispair. I'm told that your holiday is celebrated as a stand-alone day in Tonga, where -- for reasons not fully explained -- the natives regard you as a god and the young ones sing of your exploits.

46 posted on 02/12/2002 2:56:14 AM PST by PatrickHenry
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To: PatrickHenry
You must concentrate, Grasshopper. Think deeply. The truth will come to you.

But Master, how can I concentrate when I am up to my @ss in an infinite sea of Turtle Turds?

47 posted on 02/12/2002 6:32:28 AM PST by longshadow
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To: PatrickHenry
I'm told that your holiday is celebrated as a stand-alone day in Tonga, where -- for reasons not fully explained -- the natives regard you as a god and the young ones sing of your exploits.

Is celebrated with ritualistic Gall Bladder Sacrifices?

48 posted on 02/12/2002 6:35:02 AM PST by longshadow
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To: longshadow
But Master, how can I concentrate when I am up to my @ss in an infinite sea of Turtle Turds?

The correct email address is Uran@ass.com. (I can mention that celestial orb at any provocation.)

49 posted on 02/12/2002 6:50:01 AM PST by PatrickHenry
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To: dead
bump
50 posted on 02/12/2002 6:58:53 AM PST by billbears
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