starts in the middle

Things That Start in the Middle

An Actual Photograph of the Beginning of the Universe taken by Paula Krieg
An Actual Photograph of the Beginning of the Universe taken by Paula Krieg

I’ve been thinking about things that start in the middle. Since there’s been a good bit of talk in the news about the Theory of Inflation, aka theBig Bang, being validated I feel encouraged to be thinking about concentric expansions. In the middle of these thoughts, on cue, the phone rang. It was my cousin Pete, who calls me once or twice a year. Great! Just the right person!  I told him what I was thinking about. At first he seemed flummoxed, asking something like,”uh, what do mean? Give me an example.” I said, you know, like snowflakes, or the universe.

Snowflake captured by Kenneth G. Libbrecht using a specially designed snowflake photomicroscope.
Snowflake captured by Kenneth G. Libbrecht using a specially designed snowflake photomicroscope.

Of course, being Pete, he did know what I meant, and what he said next was really delightful. He said that things that start in the center generate other things that start in the center. I had been looking at antique lace doilies, so I could picture exactly what he meant.


I’m so used to thinking exclusively of things that have a linear path -a beginning, middle, and end – that coming up with examples of things that start in the center was, at first, challenging. But once the shift in thinking occurred  it was easier to come up things that followed this paradigm.  Flowers, for instance, start with a barely distinguishable bud…

Tiny bud and the back of an orchid flower
Tiny bud and the back of an orchid flower

…which expand and expand and then bloom.  Seeds, too, start from a central point, then send down roots,and send up shoots. And bowls, thrown on a wheel, start with a lump of clay and are formed through pushing out from the center.  And then there’s concentric ripples when a stone is thrown into a pond, and sound waves, too. I am still looking for examples so, when you read this, if anything comes to mind, please tell me in the comments what you’ve come up with.

What got me thinking about starting in the middle was something (hard to remember now…) about wanting to make a book that starts in the middle, and wanting it to be something about the number line…


…which really is not as visually compelling as a snowflake or an orchid. At least not yet.  Now, while I was quietly pondering all this, with my attention focused on the possible similarities between the universe and six-sided snowflakes my daughter called in from the kitchen asserting that six was a really perfect number. What? Was she reading my thoughts? No, she was making breakfast and admiring this cool contraption  that we have which submerges and times eggs for soft-boiling.

six-sided egg timer

Why, I asked her, was six such a good number? She said because it can balance two, three or four. That’s proof enough for me: so, yes, the universe must be a hexagon.

7 thoughts on “Things That Start in the Middle

      1. Okay, so it’s taken me awhile to answer this. First I decided to think about it tomorrow, then when I used up all my free passes for tomorrows I decided to google it, but still no help. Here’s what I’ve come to think about this: first, the number line, like the universe, has no end, but clearly the number line has a center. OR does it? The fact is, technically, and I mean VERY technically speaking, can I PRECISELY locate the center? Are you with me here? It seems that you can get infinitely closer to precisely to the center point, which then leads me to realize that the same thing can be said of any any any and every point. Next, it seemed that maybe I should look beyond the headlines and that very sweet video ( about the Big Bang theory, AKA theory of Inflation, a bit more. I was impressed to find out that the spaceminded aren’t thinking about the big bang happening from a central location. Instead of t being an explosion IN space, they say it was an explosion OF space, which then creates infinite centers. Yee ha!

        All futher questions about the universe will be answered with 42.
        Now please extend my congratulations to Jackson Radcliffe on his recent accomplishments.


      2. Sorry Paula, I didn’t mean to give you homework! If the universe is infinite (as cosmologists currently believe it to be) then is has no centre and no boundaries. As you say, the Big Bang happened everywhere.

        It’s the same with the number line. Where is the centre? Intuitively, it’s zero. We can try to prove this as follows: start with zero, then move one step to the left and one to the right (+1 and -1). Strike out those numbers. Then move one more step (+2 and -2). Strike them out. Repeat indefinitely. It appears that we can strike out every number except zero, leaving zero as the mid-point.

        Except that’s not true. Start instead with +1. Move to the left and right (0 and +2). Strike them out. Repeat indefinitely. We can still strike out all the numbers, leaving +1 as the centre.

        Confused? You should be! Infinity is very confusing.

        And Jackson says thanks!


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