Archive for the ‘Astrophysics’ Category

Perverse Logic: Saving the Multiverse with Unhinged Cosmic Inflation!

February 1, 2018

When The Unobservable Universe Is Used To Justify Various Follies, Such As The Multiverse, Civilization Is In A Bad Way:

Physics is the laboratory of reason. This where the most advanced, most subtle logics are forged (even more so than in pure mathematics, where the navel’s importance is too great). So what physicists ponder, matters to the entire civilization which nurtures them. When physics goes to the dogs, so does civilization. The follies of state of the art theoretical physics, reflect an ambient madness which pervades civilization. (If you don’t believe this, may I sell you some imaginary bitcoins for millions of dollars?)

Astrophysicist Ethan Siegel, a continual source of excellent articles in physics, wrote an interesting essay which I disagree with. His reasons are interesting, and have the merit of honesty. My answers are even more striking, and I bring the full weight of 24 centuries of history as meta-evidence for crushing the feeble, pathetic, short-sighted considerations of my fellow physicists. Ethan’s essay is entitled: “Yes, The Multiverse Is Real, But It Won’t Fix Physics
Surprisingly, the evidence points towards the existence of the unobservable multiverse. But it isn’t the answer you’re looking for.

Ethan proposes to use cosmic inflation to provide for the proliferation of Schrödinger cats and Wigner’s friends. One folly would thus provide for the other, and they would thus stay up, like two drunks falling into each other’s arms. I will instead humbly suggest to do away with madness altogether. But first a little recap.

The universe is expanding. This experimental evidence was established around 1920, by a number of astronomers in Europe and the USA, the most famous of whom was lawyer turned astronomer, Edwin Hubble. Hubble had the biggest telescope. The expansion is presumed to be looking everywhere the same, and this is what seems to be observed. That also means that, if one looks far away, galaxies will seem to be receding from us at speed ever closer to the speed of light. As the apparent speed of these galaxies approach c, their light gets shifted to lower and lower frequencies, until they become invisible (same reason as why Black Holes are blacker than black).

Where the transition to invisibility occurs is called the “event horizon”. Beyond the event horizon is the unobservable universe (we can’t detect it gravitationally, as gravity goes at the speed of light, a theoretical prediction now experimentally verified).

The observed universe is “flat” (namely there is no detected distortion in the distribution of clouds, filaments and superclusters of galaxies). That sounds unlikely, and indicates that the observed universe is a tiny portion of a much larger whole.

This unobservable universe has nothing to do with the “Multiverse” brandished recently by many theoretical physicists who have apparently run out of imagination for something more plausible. Eighty years ago, Schrödinger pointed out that Quantum Mechanics, as formalized then (and now!) was observer dependent, and filled up the universe with waves of dead and live cats (when applied to macroscopic objects). That’s called the Schrödinger Cat Paradox. Instead of calling for a re-thinking of Quantum Mechanics (as I do!), Ethan Siegel (and many other physicists and astrophysicists) embrace the dead and alive cats, settling them in “parallel universes”. So basically they reenact Solomon Judgment: instead of cutting the baby in two, they cut the universe in two. Zillions of time per second, in zillions of smaller places than you can possibly imagine… Here is a picture of Schrödinger cat: as the branches separate in that movie, two universes are created. This is what Ethan Siegel wants to justify, thanks to cosmic inflation…

Ethan’s revealing comment: “The idea of parallel Universes, as applied to Schrödinger’s cat. As fun and compelling as this idea is, without an infinitely large region of space to hold these possibilities in, even inflation won’t create enough Universes to contain all the possibilities that 13.8 billion years of cosmic evolution have brought us. Image credit: Christian Schirm.”
To explain crazy, we will go more crazy, thus making the previous crazy sound more rational, relatively speaking…

The Multiverse”, with baby universes all over the universe, has more to do with the “Many Worlds Interpretation” of Quantum Mechanics, a theory so absurd that the great popes of physics ruling around 1960 rejected it outright. Wheeler was ashamed of himself for having had a PhD student, Everett, who suggested this folly(Everett couldn’t get an academic job, at a time when academic employment in physics was booming!)

Ethan wrote: “In the region that became our Universe, which may encompass a large region that goes far beyond what we can observe, inflation ended all-at-once. But beyond that region, there are even more regions where it didn’t end.”

This sort of statement, and I say this with all due respect to the divine, is equivalent to saying:”Me, Ethan, having checked all that exists, observable by simple humans, or not, thereby informs you that I am either God, or that She is an interlocutor of mine. We checked that cosmic inflation thing, and saw it all over all the possible universes. Don’t talk, just learn.”

There is no way for us humans to know, for sure, or not, what is going on beyond the observable universe (aside from having no gravitational field distortions when approaching the event horizon, as I said above when considering “flatness”).

Ethan notices that Many Worlds fanatics have tried to use cosmic inflation to save their (ridiculous) theory. (“Many Worlds” is ridiculous, as Schrödinger tried to show, long ago, because there would be as many ways to cut the universes into “Many Worlds” as there are observers. So, so to speak, the “Many World Interpretation”, call it MWI, is actually MWI ^ {Observers} (MWI to the power of the set of all possible Observers, the latter set being itself something of an uncountably infinite function of MWI.)

Ethan says: “But just because variants of the Multiverse are falsifiable, and just because the consequences of its existence are unobservable, doesn’t mean that the Multiverse isn’t real. If cosmic inflation, General Relativity, and quantum field theory are all correct, the Multiverse likely is real, and we’re living in it.

What Ethan is saying is that if a number of crazy (cosmic inflation), or incomplete (Quantum Field Theory), ideas are “all correct”, then something as useful as angels on pin heads is real.Yes, indeed, if one believes that Muhammad flew to Jerusalem on a winged horse (!), one may as well believe all the rest of the Qur’an. That is a proof by crystal balls. After Ptolemy and company had established their (half correctly) predicting “epicycles” theory, one could have used it in turn to “prove” Aristotle ridiculous theory of motion.

23 centuries ago a much saner theory existed, that of Aristarchus. It was rejected at the time, precisely because it was not insane, and even though it was used to make a nearly correct prediction of the distance of the Moon. Aristarchus underestimated the distance of the Sun, but a telescope could have changed this (by showing more precisely the angle of the terminus on the Moon). If astronomers had the time had accepted heliocentrism as a possibility, it would have led them to invent the telescope. Similarly, right now, rejecting Many Worlds and Multiverse will lead to develop instruments which don’t exist yet (I have proposed at least one).

Astrophysicist Ethan Siegel suggests that: “The Multiverse is real, but provides the answer to absolutely nothing.” My opinion is that the Multiverse is worse than useless: the unhinged mood it provides prevents to develop more fruitful avenues of research, both theoretically and experimentally.

Insanity is the rule in crowds (Nietzsche). Thus follies are the truths crowds love, at first sight, before being corrected by higher minds. Why? Follies bind, because they are so special.

https://patriceayme.wordpress.com/2015/02/20/commonly-accepted-delusions-follies-that-bind/

In Aristarchus’ times, heliocentrism, the fact Earth and its Moon rotate around the Sun, should have been obvious. Indeed, people, let’s think for a moment: where was the Sun supposed to be, considering the phases of the Moon? If the Sun turned around Earth, the Moon’s illumination should have changed all day long! It didn’t require much geometrical analysis to discover that this source of light could only be where Aristarchus computed it to be, far away from the Earth-Moon system.

It took 19 centuries to correct that (obvious!) mistake. Interestingly, Jean Buridan, circa 1350 CE, did it in the most theoretical fashion.

https://patriceayme.wordpress.com/2016/03/20/momentum-force-inertia-middle-ages-buridan/

Buridan first showed that Aristotle’s ridiculous theory of motion made no sense, and had to be replaced by inertia and momentum (what Buridan called “impetus”). Having done this, the motion of the planets in a heliocentric system could be explained by “circular impetus”, Buridan pointed out (then he observed sardonically that we couldn’t observe the difference between epicycles and heliocentrism, so may as well go for “Scripture”).

Similarly, nowadays, instead of arguing with the “angels on a multiverse pinhead” authorities, we better point out to the glaring inconsistencies of Quantum Mechanics.

Civilization without reason is like a chicken without a head: it can run, but not forever.

Patrice Aymé

Discrepancy In Universe’s Expansion & Quantum Interaction

January 17, 2018

In “New Dark Matter Physics Could Solve The Expanding Universe Controversy“, Ethan Siegel points out that:

“Multiple teams of scientists can’t agree on how fast the Universe expands. Dark matter may unlock why.
There’s an enormous controversy in astrophysics today over how quickly the Universe is expanding. One camp of scientists, the same camp that won the Nobel Prize for discovering dark energy, measured the expansion rate to be 73 km/s/Mpc, with an uncertainty of only 2.4%. But a second method, based on the leftover relics from the Big Bang, reveals an answer that’s incompatibly lower at 67 km/s/Mpc, with an uncertainty of only 1%. It’s possible that one of the teams has an unidentified error that’s causing this discrepancy, but independent checks have failed to show any cracks in either analysis. Instead, new physics might be the culprit. If so, we just might have our first real clue to how dark matter might be detected.

20 years ago it was peer-reviewed published, by a number of teams that we were in an ever faster expanding universe (right). The Physics Nobel was given for that to a Berkeley team and to an Australian team. There are now several methods to prove this accelerating expansion, and they (roughly) agree.

Notice the striking differences between different models in the past; only a Universe with dark energy matches our observations. Possible fates of the expanding Universe which used to be considered were, ironically enough, only the three on the left, which are now excluded.  Image credit: The Cosmic Perspective / Jeffrey O. Bennett, Megan O. Donahue, Nicholas Schneider and Mark Voit.

Three main classes of possibilities for why the Universe appears to accelerate have been considered:

  1. Vacuum energy, like a cosmological constant, is energy inherent to space itself, and drives the Universe’s expansion. (This idea comes back to Einstein who introduced a “Cosmological Constant” in the basic gravitational equation… To make the universe static, a weird idea akin to crystal sphere of Ptolemaic astronomy; later Einstein realized that, had he not done that, he could have posed as real smart by predicting the expansion of the universe… So he called it, in a self-congratulating way, his “greatest mistake”… However, in the last 20 years, the “greatest mistake” has turned to be viewed as a master stroke…).
  2. Dynamical dark energy, driven by some kind of field that changes over time, could lead to differences in the Universe’s expansion rate depending on when/how you measure it. (Also called “quintessence”; not really different from 1), from my point of view!)
  3. General Relativity could be wrong, and a modification to gravity might explain what appears to us as an apparent acceleration. (However, the basic idea of the theory of gravitation is so simplest, it’s hard to see how it could be wrong, as long as one doesn’t introduce Quantum effects… Which is exactly what I do! In my own theory, said effect occur only at large cosmic distances, on the scale of large galaxies)

Ethan: “At the dawn of 2018, however, the controversy over the expanding Universe might threaten that picture. Our Universe, made up of 68% dark energy, 27% dark matter, and just 5% of all the “normal” stuff (including stars, planets, gas, dust, plasma, black holes, etc.), should be expanding at the same rate regardless of the method you use to measure it. At least, that would be the case if dark energy were truly a cosmological constant, and if dark matter were truly cold and collisionless, interacting only gravitationally. If everyone measured the same rate for the expanding Universe, there would be nothing to challenge this picture, known as standard (or “vanilla”) ΛCDM.

But everyone doesn’t measure the same rate.”

The standard, oldest, method of measuring the Hubble cosmic expansion rate is through a method known as the cosmic distance ladder. The simplest version only has three rungs. First, you measure the distances to nearby stars directly, through parallax, the variation of the angle of elevation during the year, as the Earth goes around its orbit. Most specifically you measure the distance to the long-period Cepheid stars like this. Cepheids are “standard candles”; they are stars whose luminosities vary, but their maximum power doesn’t, so we can know how far they are by looking how much they shine. Second, you then measure other properties of those same types of Cepheid stars in nearby galaxies, learning how far away those galaxies are. And lastly, in some of those galaxies, you’ll have a specific class of supernovae known as Type Ia supernovae. Those supernovae explode exactly when they accrete 1.4 solar mass, from another orbiting star (a theory of Indian Nobel Chandrasekhar, who taught at the University of Chicago). One can see these 1a supernovae all over the universe. Inside the Milky Way, as well as many of billions of light years away. With just these three steps, you can measure the expanding Universe, arriving at a result of 73.24 ± 1.74 km/s/Mpc.

The other methods makes all sorts of suppositions about the early universe. I view it as a miracle that it is as close as it is: 66.9 km/s/Megaparsec…

Ethan concludes that: “Currently, the fact that distance ladder measurements say the Universe expands 9% faster than the leftover relic method is one of the greatest puzzles in modern cosmology. Whether that’s because there’s a systematic error in one of the two methods used to measure the expansion rate or because there’s new physics afoot is still undetermined, but it’s vital to remain open-minded to both possibilities. As improvements are made to parallax data, as more Cepheids are found, and as we come to better understand the rungs of the distance ladder, it becomes harder and harder to justify blaming systematics. The resolution to this paradox may be new physics, after all. And if it is, it just might teach us something about the dark side of the Universe.”

My comment: The QUANTUM INTERACTION CHANGES EVERYTHING:

My own starting point is a revision of Quantum Mechanics: I simply assume that Newton was right (that’s supposed to be a joke, but with wisdom attached). Newton described his own theory of gravitation to be absurd (the basic equation, F = M1 M2/dd. where d was the distance was from a French astronomer, Ishmael Boulliau, as Newton himself said. Actually this “Bullaldius” then spoiled his basic correct reasoning with a number of absurdities which Newton corrected).

Newton was actually insulting against his own theory. He said no one with the slightest understanding of philosophy would assume that gravitation was instantaneous.

Newton’s condemnation was resolved by Laplace, a century later. Laplace just introduced a finite speed for the propagation of the gravitational field. That implied gravitational waves, for the same reason as a whip makes waves.

We are in a similar situation now. Present Quantum Physics assumes that the Quantum Interaction (the one which carries Quantum Entanglement) is instantaneous. This is absurd for exactly the same reason Newton presented, and Laplace took seriously, for gravitation.

Supposing that the Quantum Interaction has a finite speed (it could be bigger than 10^23c, where c is the speed of light.

Supposing this implies (after a number of logical and plausible steps) both Dark Matter and Dark Energy. It is worth looking at. But let’s remember the telescope (which could have been invented in antiquity) was invented not to prove that the Moon was not a crystal ball, but simply to make money (by distinguishing first which sort of cargo was coming back from the Indies).

We see what we want to see, because that’s we have been taught to see, we search what we want to search, because that’s what we have been taught to search. Keeping an open mind is great, but a fully open mind is a most disturbing thing… 

Patrice Aymé

Cosmic Background Fanaticism

July 3, 2014

We have one experimental find: the Cosmic Radiation Background (CRB), a uniform light from all over the sky at 2.7 degree Kelvin. I will argue that, on the face of it, it has three possible causes. However only one is considered to be true, and is consequently explored to death. That is, as if the lives of physicists depended on it. In truth, it’s only their careers that depend upon it.

A theory nearly everybody believes in, is the “Big Bang”. After all, it’s in the Bible. The Bible is popular, thus, so is the “Big Bang”. As behooves something so big, it’s supposed to explain everything, for example why there is a Cosmic Radiation Background, why there is Helium, etc.

Pleiades Star Cluster: Close To Olbers Effect...

Pleiades Star Cluster: Close To Olbers Effect…

Skeptics will smirk: for centuries people searched for the Cosmic Radiation Background: then, it was called “Olbers Paradox”. The “Paradox” was that there should be a Cosmic Light Background (the light of distant stars)…

Olbers’ reasoning was simple: 1) suppose the universe is infinite. 2) thus looking anywhere around the sky, once gaze is bound to end on the surface of a star. 3) therefore the sky ought to be uniformly bright according to the brightness of the average star.

[Let’s forget modern subtleties such as Red Dwarf Stars and Brown Dwarves…]

However, pointed out Olbers there was no uniform brightness.

Now one such uniform cosmic light has been found, though, nobody seems to remember Olbers’ name. Olbers’ reasoning is inconvenient.

Indeed, ever since Maxwell, we have established that light is electromagnetic radiation. So the Olbers Paradox could very well show up, not as visible light, but as a weak radiation. Why? Well, suppose that distant parts of the Universe recede, as Hubble and his predecessors and colleagues observed: the light from distant stars would shift into the very deep infrared… As observed!

However, now that the Olbers Paradox has become the Olbers Effect, it’s used to explain something else completely different, and outright weird: the Big Boom. Instead of being the light of distant stars (or the like), as Olbers would have had it, the Cosmic Radiation Background (CRB) is viewed as the light from… an explosion.

We see the expansion, we see the stars, we see the galaxies, do we see the explosions?

And the question then appears: what happened to the initial Olbers Paradox? Why does nobody talk about it anymore? Could it not be that the Cosmic Radiation Background is even boosted the Olbers Effect with, say, tired light?

Why are these sort of natural, historically laden questions not addressed anymore?

The answer is simple: take Princeton University’s Physics Department. All professors there are string theorists. Problem: strings don’t exist. So these people are professors of inexistence. No wonder they can’t answer history.

It’s true that theoretical considerations can lead to phenomenological interrogations. But string theory had its chance. By occupying all the theoretical space, it prevents other theories to have their chance too.

Let’s change intellectual gears, and lift the debate into Meta.

What we have here is one experimental find: the Cosmic Radiation Background (CRB), a uniform light from all over the sky at 2.7 degree Kelvin.

We have three possible explanations, yet only one is pushed and pushed and pushed. That’s not the proper scientific method. To figure things out, we have to look everywhere, and make sure that logical branching points have been explored.

OK, governments do not give enough money to do that. They prefer hedge fund managers and Google clowns.

In the age when robots can replace most work, it’s time to reconsider this. Why? Why is it so important to get the universe right? Well, be it only because by doing so, we make our intelligence more subtle. In Bangladesh, the sea is now rising more than 16 millimeters per year, threatening one hundred million people. And nobody knows why.

Perfecting our ability to observe and make theories is our essence. And no better place there is to perfect it than the entire universe.

On a more aggressive meta level, to understand fanaticism, and the related intellectual fascism is urgently needed. In this respect the entire field of physics, as the self described most clever people in the world can be exposed to be complete fools.

Remember the TOE? The Theory Of Everything? Well, as we now know, physicists have theories on, at most 4% of the universe. And those are obviously incomplete. But that’s another story.

In the same vein, maybe they have only a 4% explanation of the Cosmic Radiation Background. Those who are honest enough, and clever enough, will admit that may well be true. No honesty in matters intellectual, no intelligence.

Patrice Aymé

Black Holes Are Not Black

January 31, 2014

NOR ARE EQUATIONS EVERYTHING.

Hawking’s claim to fame has been to show that, considering what we held to be true in physics in 1970, Black Holes are not really black. So it’s not surprising that he wants to advertise that fact.

Basically Quantum Field Theory assumes that there are (“virtual”) pairs of particle-antiparticle that come into existence, not long enough to be observed directly, but long enough to change (“renormalize”) the Field (whatever the “Field” is). These quantitative changes are observed, so these “virtual” pairs are assumed to exist.

Next to a Black Hole, one of the pair could fall in the Hole, and then the other could escape. Hence the Hole would radiate. That’s Hawking radiation (my way). There are lots of hidden hypotheses, though. That means, it could be wrong. Anyway, this is the largest Black Hole within two million light years:

Giant Black Hole Sagittarius A*, Core Of Milky Way

Giant Black Hole Sagittarius A*, Core Of Milky Way

Does it look dark to you?

As stuff falls into Black Hole (see the “threads”in the real picture above), immense energy is gathered by the fall (as in a hydroelectric plant), and then most of it is thrown back out as violent radiation. As you can see, the Black Hole is not black at all. Actually the giant Black Holes at the core of galaxies are periodically exploding with greater force than hyper novas. And that means that life in many volumes of the galaxies has not possibility to evolve in sophisticated forms as we did.

A whole cloud is expected to fall into our giant Sagittarius A*, within weeks).

Even in Black Hole theory itself could be wrong: it’s full of holes, I demonstrated grandly once to a prestigious audience at Stanford (Yau, Susskind, Penrose were in the audience among other celebrities).

I was looked at as cows watch a high speed train. In the meantime, though, Black Hole theory has become decidedly gray, and, decades later, many of these celebrities became famous for precisely what I talked about. First.

(That little feat did nothing for my career, indeed, as this opinion, that Black Holes were full of holes,  was viewed as thoroughly iconoclastic at the time).

The kind Matt Strassler, in his excellent blog, got all excited about Hawking’s latest pronouncements.

“Media absurdity has reached new levels of darkness with the announcementthat Stephen Hawking has a new theory in which black holes do not exist after all.

No, he doesn’t.

First, Hawking does not have a new theory… at least not one he’s presented. You can look at his paper here — two pages (pdf), a short commentary that he gave to experts in August 2013 and wrote up as a little document — and you can see it has no equations at all. That means it doesn’t qualify as a theory. “Theory”, in physics, means: a set of equations that can be used to make predictions for physical processes in a real or imaginary world. When we talk about Einstein’s theory of relativity, we’re talking about equations. Compare just the look and feel of Hawking’s recent note to Einstein’s 1905 paper on the theory of special relativity, or to Hawking’s most famous 1975 paper on black holes; you can easily see the difference without understanding the content of the papers.”

That was too good to let pass. I sent the following comment, which was published immediately:

Equations are just very precise sentences, nothing more, nothing less. They are not the Golden Calves.

Equations are crucial to distinguish two exquisitely close theories (as in BH physics… to be distinguished from BS physics).

However, not only equation fetishism, but exquisitely precise physics can itself become a trap, if the conceptual foundations of the theory are wrong. Some have said that equations are necessary to validate concepts. That, too, is wrong.

The best known example of precise, but erroneous theory is the geocentric theory. It became a prisoner of its precise mathematics (Fourier analysis in disguise). It took 19 centuries (Kepler) to make the math of heliocentrism precise enough to contradict geocentrism (but Kepler’s mentor, Tycho was handsomely financed because he had a hunch that ancient astronomers had cheated, especially about Mars).

Earlier, Buridan (1320 CE) had contradicted Aristotle, by discovering inertia (“Newton’s First Law”), and pointing out that it made heliocentrism as valid as geocentrism (but for the little problem of “scripture”…. the specialists of which put all of Buridan’s work at the “Index of Prohibited Books”, a century after his death… Although he was part of mandatory teaching in Cracow, where Copernic studied…. thanks to Hus, earlier burned to a crisp, alive, by the highest cardinals).

Ideas are more general than equations. Equations, like sentences, are written with concepts (root: becoming pregnant)… and pre-conceptions. “Shut up and calculate” goes only that far (my gaze is turning towards “superstrings”).

With the wrong concepts, it does matter how many equations one writes. (The same happens in other fields, such as economics!… or philosophy, or psychology!)

***

Anon (January 31, 2014) objected that:

“Equations are not just precise sentences, they are precise *quantitative* sentences. Equations are how you figure out if your concepts are right or wrong, by comparing them to empirical reality. 

Without equations, it doesn’t matter whether you think your concepts are “right” or “wrong”. With equations, then if the concepts are sufficiently wrong then it’s the equations that will show that. If the equations do not show that, then what is your basis for saying that the concept is wrong?…

It’s easy for you to sit here with all that history behind us and say that they should have just realized that ellipses were the right concept to begin with, but it’s only obvious to you because of the precise math that went into showing that this was indeed the right concept to describe reality. 

For things where we don’t already know the right answer, then equations are how you figure that out. Trying to declare which concept is “right” before working out the equations and seeing if it matches reality is bass-ackwards.”

Anon: I did not say ellipses were easy to figure out, nor that concepts can be dissociated from equations. Ellipses were not easy to figure out. Kepler tried something like 100 different curves. However, clearly Buridan knew that the heliocentric theory was right. Heliocentrism is no more about ellipses than Kepler’s theory was about the 1/d in gravitation.

Kepler mad a “30 year war on Mars” (as he put it). And he won. However, he believe erroneously, that gravity went as the inverse of the distance (instead of the inverse of the square of the distance).

A French astronomer got the 1/dd, and Newton exploited it. The point is: theories have degrees.

For example, Einstein Theory of Gravitation is a modest, pretty obvious extension of Newton’s theory of gravitation. (One that Newton partly called for.)

Geometry did without equations until Bolyai and Lobachevsky. Even then, the (re)”discovery” of Non Euclidean geometry was, fist of all, a philosophical phenomenon, the realization that geometry was a local computation, or modelization.

Riemann’s shattering ideas were in a paper (Habilitationsschrift)… With just one (sort of) equation. His paper was all about concepts, including some erroneously attributed to Einstein.

Speaking of Einstein (Matt started it, see above) his Special Relativity work of 1905 was just a neat repackaging of what was already known (that means Einstein 1905 strictly did not have ONE new equation).

Considering the history of the last 5,000 years of science, Descartes having invented algebraic geometry less than 4 centuries ago, to equate science and equations is unwise. And soon to be irrelevant, thanks to computing power. After all, equations are digital, and the universe is not.

An inkling of this: there is a field called combinatorial topology. General topology (which is… more general) does not rest on numbers. Ironically the Black Hole problem is all about Quantum Topology (we don’t know what that is, the crux of the problem).

It gets better than that: the essence of the Incompleteness Theorems of mathematical logic is precisely that any formal expression belongs to a countable world… And the universe does not. To which I have added the further twist that the available energy if finite (and that obviously impact expressions, hence computations).

Theory is hard, but it is the law. Of nature.

Patrice Ayme

COSMIC MODESTY REQUIRED

November 17, 2010

 

THE UNIVERSE TEACHES AWE AND HUMILITY:

Theme: Is there extraterrestrial life? Extraterrestrial intelligence? A related question: how big is the universe? On all these subjects considerable and very surprising progress is in the making. I describe some of the new ideas and facts in plain language, from Plate Tectonics to Cosmic Inflation.

Facing the enormity of it all, honest minds will find honor and pleasure in telling the truth, and nothing but the truth (carefully distinguishing it from hope we can believe in). Some physicists, searching for the limelight, have presented some science fiction, or some science fantasy, or let’s say scientific working hypotheses, philosophically grounded, as real, established science. This is misleading and dangerous: science is truth, and that is why the public supports it. Let’s keep it that way.

Sometimes all that science does, but that is fundamental, is to find new uncertainties we did not previously suspect. A basic humility that needs to be taught to people and politicians is that knowledge is not just about learning what we know, but also about learning that there are new dimensions to what we don’t know.

One certainty: our Earth is rare and fragile. Earth was a primordial deity of the Greeks, Gaia, viewed as female, nourishing humankind. Gaia is an on-going miracle, of self regulation, with extremely complicated biology and physics entangled. The more we observe the cosmos, the more we see that’s hell out there. Gaia is a rare deity, Pluto is the rule. Here are some inklings.

***

ALIEN SOLAR SYSTEMS EVERYWHERE:

Many planets have been discovered around many stars. Solar systems (= several planets orbiting the same star) have also been discovered. In one of these systems three planets around a dwarf red star are all in the inhabitable zone (= neither too cold nor too hot, so that liquid water exists on a planet there). One of them is smack in the middle of the balmy zone. It seems clear that most stars will be found to have planets (we are above 30%, and our present detection methods are very crude).

Still there does not seem to be many civilizations out there. As Enrico Fermi put it:”Where is everybody?”

Far enough from the dangerous galactic center, with its zooming stars, high radiation, and gigantic black hole, but not far enough to miss the full wealth of the periodic table, with its many elements, there is a narrow band all around the galaxy, the inhabitable zone, with at least 50 billion suns (within the trillion suns of the Milky Way).

Everything indicates that there are billions of colonizable planets in the inhabitable zone of our galaxy: colonialism has a great future (once we find how to get there). Life could have started on many of these planets. But on most of these, it was quickly annihilated: hellish, incandescent “super-earths” (rocky planet with masses up to 10 times Earth) ready to fall into their star, abound.

***

INGREDIENTS FOR LIFE: MAGNETOSPHERE, TECTONICS, MOON…

The obvious candidate for the start of life is next door. It is Mars (Venus may have qualified too, the early Sun being 25% weaker; but Venus has long turned into hell, destroying all biological remnants). Everything indicates that life started on Mars. It would be very surprising that it did not.

Probably even OUR life started there. Impacts of asteroids and comets would have thrown living material from Mars to Earth. Mars meteorites have been found in Antarctica, lying on the ice. It has been observed that the temperatures within a Mars meteorite could stay very low: no more than around 40 Celsius, during the entire Mars-Earth transfer.

The Earth stayed too hot for life much longer than Mars, due to its much greater thermal inertia, large, intense radioactive core, greater number of impacts, and having thoroughly melted after the giant impact which created our life fostering Moon.

But then, after an auspicious start, Mars lost most of most of its atmosphere (probably within a billion years or so). Why? Mars is a bit small, its gravitational attraction is weaker than Earth (it’s only 40%). But, mostly, Mars has not enough a magnetic field. During Coronal Mass Ejections, CMEs, the Sun can throw out billions of tons of material at speeds up to and above 3200 kilometers per seconds. It’s mostly electrons and protons, but helium, oxygen and even iron can be in the mix.

The worst CME known happened during the Nineteenth Century, before the rise of the electromagnetic civilization we presently enjoy. Should one such ejection reoccur now, the electromagnetic aspect of our civilization would be wiped out. It goes without saying that we are totally unprepared, and would be very surprised. Among other things, all transformers would blow up, and they take months to rebuild. we would be left with old books in paper, the old fashion way. A CME can rush to Earth in just one day. (Fortunately the Sun seems to be quieting down presently, a bit as it did during the Little Ice Age.)

When a CME strikes a planet, the upper atmosphere is hit by a giant shotgun blast. Except a shotgun blast goes around 300 meters per second, 10,000 times slower than a CME. So, per unit of mass, the kinetic energy of a powerful CME is at least ten billion times more powerful than a shotgun blast. Since the liberation speed is going to be around ten kilometers per second, on an average life supporting planet, to be hit by projectiles going at 3,000 kilometers per second is going to knock all too much of the upper air atoms into space. That’s how Mars lost most of its atmosphere. And thus its ocean and much of its greenhouse. So now Mars is desperately airless, dry, and cold.

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A cluster of new stars forming in the Serpens South cloud

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Both Mars and Venus are at the limit of the inhabitable zone. But Venus does not have a magnetic field worth this name. Thus Venus lost a lot of its hydrogen (hence water; the rest is tied up in sulfuric acid, H2SO4).

It is known that the Earth’s strong magnetic field originates from the motion of huge masses of liquid metal within.

So a solar wind shield, a magnetosphere, is tied to the plate tectonic of a very dynamical planet with a powerful nuclear reactor deep inside. Whereas Venus and Mars are tectonically inert, at least, most of the time; maybe they wake up every half a billion years or so, for a big eruption. If Mars and Venus had been very tectonically active planets, may be they would be teeming with life (but that depends upon the distribution of heavy radioactive nuclei in a gathering solar system, an unknown subject, obviously non trivial, since Earth got them, and not the other two).

In any case the Earth’s magnetic shield protects life from the worst abuse of the Sun, as it deflects most of the CMEs out and around (they sneak back meekly as Aurora Borealis).

Another factor in the stable environment Earth provides for life is the Moon. The Earth-Moon system divides its angular momentum, between each other and the orbital motion of the Moon. This prevents the Earth to lay its rotation axis on its side: such a wobbling could not be compensated by the rest of the system. So it does not happen.

Mars, though, not being so impaired, wobbles between 15 and 35 degrees (causing weird, pronounced super-seasonal variations).

In any case, everything indicates that extremely primitive life appears quickly. But complex life needs time, lots of time, to evolve. Animal life and intelligence needs even more time. However, what strikes me in the new solar systems discovered so far, is how alien and unstable they are (this is partly a bias of the present detection methods).

Many of these systems have huge Jupiter styles planets in low orbit around their stars. It’s pretty clear that they fell down there, destroying the entire inner system in their path.

Other notions threaten life; gamma ray explosions, supernovas, and simply passing next to another star, throwing a solar system into chaos, and some Jupiters down into a fatal spiral. Our Sun, though, is pretty much cruising far from any star, in a cosmic void right now, perhaps left by a supernova explosion. Maybe we have been lucky for 4 billion years.

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COSMIC GRANDEUR VERSUS MONKEY BUSINESS:

Many a physicist, or cosmologist, talks about the beginning of time, and other various notions pertaining to the grandest imagined machinery of the universe, as if they had found God, and it was themselves they were looking for (as Obama would put it). They claim to know their garden, the universe, pretty well (having apparently being there, at the moment of creation).

Verily, what we know for sure is what we see in pictures, and that’s plenty:

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Hubble Ultra Deep Field: 10,000 galaxies. How many men?

Notions such as the “edge of the universe” are much less scientifically robust than some scientists claim. When some talk about the “First Three Minutes”, one can only laugh, even if countless Nobel Prizes in physics subscribe to the notion. Physics is relative, the search for glory, absolute. At least so do monkeys behave.

The concept of time in Quantum Mechanics and Relativity are in complete contradiction. One is absolute, the other relative. So nobody knows for sure what time is, and what is truly its relation to space (nor do we know what space is, much beyond the pretty pictures given by the telescopes). Speaking of the history of time is completely meaningless, except as poetry. Or scientific sounding poetry. Too many holes in the logic.

Even using standard science to buttress one’s reflection, the size of the universe could well be at least a 1,000 bigger than the 14 billion light year piece that we presently observe. In truth, we have literally no idea. Even when sticking to conventional theory, which predicts only one thing in that respect, namely that the universe is bigger than what we see (it predicts it by requiring it actually, see below).

Another thing is sure: it’s incredibly immense out there, and not just in physical size, but also in conceptual size. We know lower bounds for the universe in size and complexity, but have no idea whatsoever about the upper bounds. Dark Energy is a perfect example. Fifteen years ago, Dark Energy was unknown. Now it makes up 74% of the mass of the universe.

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PRESENTING SCIENTIFIC PHILOSOPHY AS SCIENCE IS NOT WISE:

It is not a good thing when highly uncertain science is presented as certain, just as much as really true parts of science. It is not just immodest. It undermines, and threatens, science deeply.

Because presenting as certain what is not so is just a lie. But science is truth, and that is why society supports it.

To present as true what is not so ridiculizes the notion of certainty. When, ultimately, the ineluctable collapse of immodest pseudo-certainty occurs, all of science gets slashed with doubt. American witches can run as republican candidates for the US Senate on completely crazed platforms, mumbling about mice with human brains (this happened in the last USA election). Scientists ought not to make craziness respectable by leveraging it themselves. Crazy is crazy, especially when a scientist does it. It’s craziness squared.

Make no mistake: speculation is central to science and even more to philosophy. Just speculation ought to be labeled as such. When I talk about my own TOW theory, I do not present it as fact and certitude.

Most of recent (last 120 years) physics was totally unexpected. A lot of it is true, no doubt, in some sense. Some of it is completely false, too, most probably, in the most fundamental sense. The more fundamental science gets, the more it gets subjected to representations which can be misleading. Thus when some physiology or solid state physics gets established, it will not be shattered. Not so for Quantum Field Theory (most of which being an extrapolation over an energy domain where it has not been tested).

Science, like philosophy, is not just a body of knowledge, but also a method. Both have to use common sense as much as possible. Philosophy uses the external edge of knowledge, the first inklings, the first warnings, the smallest indices, the irreproducible experiments. Thus any scientist searching for really shattering new science will pass through the philosophical method, as a mandatory passage to greater certainty.

When science is proclaimed, it has to be certain. Science is truth in which one can have faith. A lot of the most glitzy cosmology comes short of that. (Thus the adventures of the alleged Big Bang should not be used as an argument to fund expensive accelerators: there are enough good reasons to fund them, not to use the bad ones!) The surest part of cosmology is actually its pretty pictures.

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INFLATE OUR CLAIMS, IF THE OLD ONES DID NOT WORK OUT:

All of recent conventional cosmology’s biggest and noisiest concepts rest on something called the Inflaton Field. One could say that it is just as much a rabbit out of a hat as in the best circus acts. There is no justification for it, except to explain what we see: something very big, very homogeneous, apparently contradicting relativity. The universe in its entirity.

The mystery that Cosmic Inflation tries to explain was this: as new regions of the universe come into view (at the speed of light!), it is observed that the new regions are exactly as the region we already know; same aspect, same background temperature, etc. How did they know how to look the same? They could not have talked to each other! Light did not have time to go from one to the other!

According to standard Einsteinian relativity, our region, and those regions, some on the opposite side of the universe from each other, have no common history! (Those new regions which appear are NOT within our past light cone… To use relativity lingo.)

In the USSR, Einstein’s work was criticized in minutia, for ideological reasons (Note1). So the great astrophysicist Zeldovitch came up in 1965 with the idea of inflation (the discovery is attributed to Guth, 1980, in the USA, because the USA buried the USSR, and America is a super power blessed by God, as the resident of the White House reminds his flock every day).

Einstein’s Relativity speaks of the speed of light within space, but not of the speed of space (so to speak). Speed of light is limited within space, speed of space is not limited. So it was breezingly supposed space had inflated at a gigantic speed, before slowing down. So the new regions coming into view had a sort of common history, after all.

From a philosophical perspective, to invent an explanation to explain a specific effect is called an ad hoc hypothesis. It can be a correct way to advance science, if it has predictive power (But differently from the neutrino, or the W, or the Higgs, how do you check for it? Finding the Inflaton particle? The Inflaton is supposed to have given birth to most other particles). In the meantime, it provides some hand waving to explai away an otherwise obvious contradiction with Relativity.

But it is not enough that some of the best theories in physics are weird, with the logical consistency of gruyere.

The apparent discovery of Dark Matter and especially Dark Energy, have brought a new twist. Dark Energy is completely unexplainable.

Dark Energy attracted attention to the fact that Quantum field theory is both the most precise and the most false theory ever contemplated (QFT is off in its prediction of vacuum energy by a factor of ten to the power 120, or so, the greatest mistake in theory, in the entire history of hominids… it would make even baboons scream in dismay.)

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Billions of galaxies can be seen when we look as far as we can see. Here is a tiny detail, as far as we can see, without using a gravitational lens. [NASA-ESA Hubble]. Baffling. We are going to need a bigger imagination.

It’s hard for me to escape the feeling that the universe is much older than what standard cosmology believes, as I look at these very ancient, but very diverse galaxies in a piece of sky (Note 2).

Dark energy was discovered when it was realized, in super novae studies, that the universe’s expansion was accelerating (so energy is injected).

A natural question, though is this:”If, as it turned out, the expansion is accelerating now, maybe it was at standstill much earlier?” Then the universe, even the small piece we can see, would be older and bigger than we have imagined so far. Don’t be afraid of the simple questions. Einstein asked himself at 16 what would happen if he looked at a mirror when going at the speed of light (Note 1).

Time will tell, as long as astronomy gets massively funded. Astronomy (astrophysics, cosmology, etc.) is one of the fields of science where fabulous progress is certain if it gets funded enough (the breakthroughs it made and will make in basic technology, to design the new instruments are very useful to the rest of society too).

In any case, the national debt is secure: it has a long way to go, before it can fill up the entire universe…

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Patrice Ayme

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Note 1: Einstein’s views on space and time came under the label “Theory of Relativity”. That incorporated Lorentz’s work on the correct space-time transformation group compatible with Maxwell equations.

That is why looking at a mirror will not work, at the speed of light, if the conventional addition of speed used by Galileo was really true, because light could not catch up: light could not be seen at the speed of light (just as sound cannot be heard if one goes away from it at the speed of sound). So Galilean Relativity did not work (the first scientists who pointed that out were not Einstein, but Lorentz, Fitzgerald, and Poincare’, among others; Lorentz got the Nobel Prize for it).

Soviet scientists were irritated by the exaggeratedly sounding “Relativity” (since only Marx was absolute). They pointed out that the “Theory of General Relativity” should be called the “Theory of Gravitation”, and then they made more pointed critiques.

Ideology is important in science. The “multiverse” theory, a support of string theory, is a case in point. The multiverse ideology exists, because string theory has nothing to say about the measurement process, so it sweeps that inconvenient truth below an infinity of rugs. The multiverse cannot be fought scientifically, because it is not science. But it is philosophically grotesque, since it consists in claiming that all lies are true, somewhere else.

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Note 2: The oldest galaxy was detected by Europeans at the Very Large Telescope in the high Chilean desert, in 2004, using a galactic super cluster as a lens (giving the VLT an aperture between 40 and 80 meters), had a redshift of 10, with an apparent age of more than 13 billion years.

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Note on the notes: What did Einstein do in Relativity? He used an axiomatic method, with two axioms only (Principle of modern Relativity and Constancy of Light Speed).

Both axioms had been proclaimed by Poincare’, as Einstein knew, but Poincare’ had not realized that, with these two axioms only, all the known formulas could be derived in a few pages, as Einstein did (after doing away with the “Ether”, the substance in which waves were supposed to be waving). Einstein said he was influenced by empiricist philosophy from Hume and Mach.

The final story has not been written yet: and if the waves made the space? (TOW.)