Thursday, January 30, 2014

West's call for a Grand Unified Theory of Complexity

In a recent post I commented on some problems that physics is working on 
 One of them was on complexity. in this years annual question of, talks about what scientific idea needs to be retired.  Physicist Geoffrey West of the Santa Fe Institute talks about getting read of the idea of the Theory of Everything,  I've never liked the phrase the Theory of Everything ever since I first heard it years ago back in the 90's.  Colleagues used to bring me articles from newspapers and magazines about this topic.  I never heard much about string theory in the 80's since I was busy working on nuclear physics projects and string theory had nothing to say on the subject.  This is true even today.  Even mathematical techniques from string theory describing the quark-gluon plasma fails .  That was the first time I'd ever heard of string theory methods being applied to experimental data.  I have no idea if it was some physicists working on string theory or the media who thought of calling string theory the theory of everything.  A pretty arrogant statement by whoever and also incredibly misleading.

In his response to this years Edge's question West, a former particle theorist, is calling for a Grand Unified Theory of Complexity.  I don't know if this is a new concept or not but the area of complexity is not a subject that gets much attention from the public, except for a few years back when chaos was a buzz word. I wonder how many physics programs offer classes in complexity?  How many PhD's do physics departments grant in the study of Complexity?   I'm not talking biophysics or solid state physics, but the abstract field of complexity.  Is this a subject that belongs in a physics department?   Just curious.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Book Review on Parallel Universe's

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4.0 out of 5 stars Parallel Universes are Interesting but...........January 20, 2014
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This review is from: The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos (Paperback)
I enjoy reading about parallel and multiverses that come about from some areas in current theoretical research in fundamental physics. I selected this book of the many on the topic of parallel universes since it was written by Brian Greene who is a string theorist and is working on a variety of these topics. He is a person truly gifted with explaining complex topics in physics in ways that make them easier to understand. I have enjoyed his book "The Elegant Universe" on string/M-theory along with the NOVA series DVD's on this book. I also enjoyed his NOVA series DVD's based on his second book "The Fabric of the Cosmos". With this in mind I read The Hidden Reality Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos. Greene in this book lays out and explains nine different versions of parallel universes. The deep laws are those of quantum mechanics and general relativity. Some physicists would say that string/M-theory which he describes are not deep laws. The explanations of all subjects are as expected clear and supported with an excellent notes section in the back. If you want to learn about parallel universes and the ideas that they come from this is an excellent book to read. That's why the book gets a four star rating.

The subtitle says the Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos. All nine of the parallel universes are based on speculative physics. Some much more speculative than others.That these theories are speculative he admits throughout the book for which he deserves credit. However, in reading this book I got the feeling that this book was the long version of a grant proposal submitted to be funded. This comes about in the numerous places in which he says much has been done but give us more time to work on these ideas. Part of the reason is that some of the parallel universes he describe depend upon string/M-theory which is a controversial topic in physics. This is because in the 30-40 years of its existence, string/M-theories have yet to make any unique predictions that have been observed experimentally in support of these theories. The theory so far is not even falsifiable. Lee Smolin addresses these concerns in his book "Trouble with Physics" as does Peter Woit in his book "Not Even Wrong". The same criticism is also true for the multiverses that come from inflationary. cosmology. However, there are a large number of sharp physicists working in these areas so it is unclear what the future holds. Parallel universe's from Hugh Everett's thesis work on the interpretation of quantum mechanics, now known as the many worlds interpretation is another area of current research in physics and philosophy. This work is based on the measurement problem in quantum mechanics. Greene suggests an experiment in the notes to test this theory, but it is unclear if this has been clearly thought out and if this experiment is even possible.

The discussion on computer simulated universes is interesting. It describes a universe similar to that in the movie "The Thirteenth Floor". While not a parallel universe in ways that physics suggests a simulated universe would make the ultimate computer game. A virtual reality that could absorb the programmers life into the simulation. Almost the ultimate drug. Live life to its fullest would have an additional impetus if you live in a simulated universe so that the creator of the simulation would not get bored with you and stop the simulation. However, since you can't prove that you are living in a simulated universe, do you need to live a life to satisfy the simulator? Interesting.

The final chapter entitled "The Limits of Inquiry Multiverses and the Future" is well written and makes an interesting conclusion to the book.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Existence and Uniqueness in Physics

You will see what the title means in a bit.  In my last post I commented on reality from a physics point of view and in modelling this reality.  The modelling is based on what we know in physics say Newton's laws of motion and gravity, electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, general relativity and the standard model of particle physics.  All of these subjects are part of an undergraduate and graduate students studies.  The reason being that they work for the areas that they are intended to study.  Working meaning that their predictions agree so far with experiment in the realms that they are intended to describe.  "So far" being important and that is what part of science does is to test these theories. All of these theories depend upon the use of mathematics. Newton developed calculus so that he could further his studies.  The other theories that I mention are also based on the use of mathematics.  Mathematics is one of the tools that scientists have to study the physical universe.  I remember learning and hearing that the world is all described by differential equations.  More technically I used to hear that if one could understand and solve nonlinear partial differential equations a lot of physics would be at your feet. But alas we were told that this math was too hard to solve at the present time (1970-80's).  The main point being that physicists use math to describe reality. This line of reasoning has worked exceptionally well.

This is on what a large part of our technological existence is based.  If one looks at areas of present research  in physics there are a variety of problems that face physics today which have so far have resisted solutions.  Some of these being:

1).  Quantizing gravity

2).  Complexity

Quantizing gravity comes about in the search understanding matter and forces in the universe.  The problem is the incompatibility of general relativity, a classical theory and quantum mechanics.  General relativity relies on mathematics that is continuous whereas quantum mechanics says that the universe is quantized and not continuous and that space-time comes in little chunks as does energy (whatever energy is).  The best theory so far to describe their unification is string/M-theory.  This is a controversial theory but is taken as the best way so far to work on unifying forces and matter.  The problem is that string theory is 30-40 years old and still has major problems, one being that the math is too hard.  Sound familiar? But some string theory has been useful .

Some parts of theoretical physics are up against walls in that they predict results or are based on theories that are so far not tested.  These being the ideas of the Multiverse and string/M-theory. Multiverses lie outside our observable universe and testing their existence is unclear at best.  Strings are so small that their existence will not be observed in any known accelerator using any known technology.  Some scientists feel that these are not scientific theories but philosophy.  This is a current discussion in physics.

What maybe needed instead is for physicists to stand back and look at the foundations of what physics and the mathematics it uses and what these are based upon.  This is the premise promoted by Eric R. Weinstein in his post to the question of "What Science Idea is Ready for Retirement?"

This collection of essays are from some of the leading research folks in their areas and make fascinating reading.  These essays are collected and then published in book form for all to read, see for more information.  What Weinstein is saying is that the mathematical foundations of physics need to be examined and also subtly implying that string/m-theory needs to lose its cult status which has possibly been a detriment to advances in theoretical physics.

I've commented on the basic problem that quantum mechanics has in that no one really understand it.

Now getting back to the title, are the laws that physics is based upon unique?  Are there other possible ways to describe physical reality that work better than what we have now?  In the twentieth century Newton's laws and other classical theories where shown not to work in the realm of the very small, the very fast, or the very massive.  Quantum mechanics works well for the very small, special relativity works well for the very fast and general relativity works well for the very massive.  Those three theories when extended back to Newtons,(the classical), realm give us the classical results which you would expect for successful theories.  One problem that I'm not really sure about is when exactly do you need to make the transition from Newton (classical) to quantum?  At what size level does that occur?

This is also the problem with complexity problems and their solutions.  This is an area I'm not as familiar with.  What has happened to research in the area of complexity such as chaos, self organizing systems?  These are what I understand are called emergent phenomenon.  What is happening in those areas?  I need to read more about those.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Creating Reality?

When I was in the hospital lying in the ICU I was later told that during that time I was 50/50 of living/dying.  I find that fascinating.  During this time in ICU I had no clue what was happening.  No one told me and I suspect that I was drugged much of the time that this was happening, I don’t know.  So anyways I’m lying there whether unconscious or not I had no clue that I might die.  Interesting.  Makes you wonder about life and death.

Life, what is it?  I’m sure Biologists have a definition of it and I’ll look it up and add it to this post:

Ok lets look at that.

noun, plural: lives
(1) A distinctive characteristic of a living organism from dead organism or non-living thing, as specifically distinguished by the capacity to grow, metabolize, respond (to stimuli), adapt, and reproduce

Ok, that sounds good.  I have that, you have that.  So now what makes me, me?  My consciousness?  What’s that?

Medical Definition of CONSCIOUSNESS
: the totality in psychology of sensations, perceptions, ideas, attitudes, and feelings of which an individual or a group is aware at any given time or within a given time span <altered states of consciousness, such as sleep, dreaming and hypnosis—Bob Gaines>
: waking life (as that to which one returns after sleep, trance, or fever) in which one's normal mental powers are present <the ether wore off and the patient regainedconsciousness>
: the upper part of mental life of which the person is aware as contrasted with unconscious processes

Sounds good to me. Just these two simple questions give rise to a large amount of human thought.  Life and consciousness have been discussed at least since Plato and will continue to be discussed.  I suspect the new movie coming out called “She” will also stimulate a lot of discussion about these topics.  So how do we perceive what we call reality around us?  Again many folks have written on this subject again going back to at least Plato I’m guessing.  A good book about this is Jim Holt’s “Why Does the World Exist?”  I have an earlier post on my review of this book.

 Let me just comment on my thoughts about reality that as far as I can tell are called either Physicalist or Functionalist by folks who think about such stuff.

As I posted before.  We perceive what most scientist would say as our reality through our senses.  We have with technology added devices, such as microscopes and telescopes that amplify or add to our senses.  So what we define as reality is what we get through our senses.  With these we have developed with physics at least a description of reality that explains the physical universe from the size of neutrons and protons up to  the observable universe.  With our present knowledge of physics we can understand simple systems over this range.  We then generalize this knowledge to understand even more.  What I mean by generalize is to model large systems by what we know about physics of simple systems.  A large part of science works is on understanding larger systems.  These are difficult problems in all areas of science.  Technology takes what we know from science and makes useful stuff with this knowledge.

So we have all this data that we have obtained through our senses and developed theories to describe the physical universe.  What about consciousness ?  I have yet to hear of anybody creating an artificial conscience and that would be something that everyone would hear about.  Could anyone make a conscience object and how would you know it is conscience?  Think of yourself.  When did you realize you were conscience?  Think about it, when did you realize that you were alive?  It would seem to be a pretty important event in your life.  Can you remember  it?  I can’t.  Why not?  I don’t know.  What’s your earliest memory?

Here’s an interesting experiment.  Think Star Trek and “beaming up” or teleportation. How would that happen?  Imagine a device that can scan your body and determine the location of every atom in your body.  So it has a map of all the atoms in your body.  It puts that information in a computer.  So are you stored in there?  Is your consciousness there?  I don’t know, no one knows that as far as I can tell. Ok, so now we beam you to the beach in La Jolla.  Is what appears on the beach you?   Would this object have your conscience? No one knows.

Do you think this is just science fiction?  It’s not.  Research groups around the world are working on a variety of projects simulating the brain.  Simulating in the largest supercomputers what we know of the human brain.  People are simulating neurons and the connection that they make to other neurons using information that we have obtained from studying brains.   If you look at the brain it weighs about 3 pounds and has about 100 billion neurons.  One group has a computer model with 10,000 neurons with 10 million interconnection between the neurons.  Comparison to results from the computer simulation has been compared to rat’s brains results but I don’t know the outcome.  Also research groups are using real physical circuits the model the human brain.  I’ve read some about these works in the physics trade publication Physics Today but I can’t remember the details.

So you have groups modeling the brain.  Will they come up with devices that are conscience? A good question is how would you know that they are conscience, or even capable of becoming conscience? How would these artificial “brains”  communicate to us?

Next step use an advanced "3-D printer" similar to a present 3-D laser printer only now instead of using material that present printers have we have at our disposal all the atoms that make up your body.  We load into the printer the information about all the atoms in your body and have it print “you” out.  This is just like teleporting in star trek  Is that you?  Is that object alive?  Is it conscience?

Interesting questions.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

9 Physicists Win $3,000,000 apiece for their Work

The nine guys mention here are mainly names that if you read about physics or are curious and look at the physics section in the library, bookstores,  or google popular physics-astronomy books, you will see their names.

What is interesting about these awards is that the work apparently does not have to be confirmed by experiment as can be seen by some of the winners who won for their work in string theory.  String theory has yet to make a prediction that has been confirmed experimentally.   Now some of string theories techniques  have become useful to others.  These techniques have been applied by others to make predictions in the area of QCD (Quantam ChromoDynamics) and Condensed Matter physics. Use in QCD is shown here:

  QCD is the theory that is used to describe the strong nuclear force which is one of the four forces that we know of in the universe.  QCD is used to help describe physics that is done at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN.  CERN is the place where the Higgs boson was observed as announced to the public in 2012.  The theoretical physics that predicted the Higgs boson was done in 1964, long before QCD and String Theory.  The Milner awards that the NYTimes article is about is a new award and I expect in the future that Stephen Hawking will be a winner at some point.

The guys who have won these awards have not won a Nobel Prize yet because the Nobel is given for theories that have been shown to be correct experimentally.  This can be seen in this years Nobel awards for the Higgs boson whose existence was predicted in 1964 but was not experimentally confirmed until 2012.  Einstein won his award for his theoretical work on the photoelectric effect, which was  experimentally known at the time.  He did not win for his theories of relativity as most people assume.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Science, the Ultimate Reality Show

Sometime  in 2014 FOX television is coming out with a 13 part new updated COSMOS science series called Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey. If as I have read this series has the potential to bring to television the excitement of new discoveries in science that will inspire the public to the wonders of what we as humans have learned about the physical universe in which we are a part of and is our existence.  Below is a link to the show:

here is a link to the trailer

Science, the ultimate reality show

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Our Friend the Spherical Electron

Something to think about while lying in bed.  How does an object with no size have mass, electrical charge, and have a property called spin?  The best theory that describes this particle and how it interacts with light says this particle has no size.  That's right a mathematical point, nada, zip,zero no size at all!  Whenever one calculates with this theory a property of this particle and compares this calculated result with the experimentally determine result for this property both theory and experiment agree!!  So this particle has no size yet it has mass and electric charge.  What is this particle?  Our friend the electron.  You know that thing that kind of makes all electrical signals work, what chemistry is all about.  Yeah that thing.  What all of the modern marvels you love (like the screen you are looking at right now) rely on, yep electrons.

Now because electrons are so small we cant't think of them in terms of balls roaming around in space.  Electrons exist in a size realm where our everyday notions of objects are different.  Its difficult to come up with words to describe objects in the quantum world since our language has been built up for centuries describing the would around us and that is very different than the quantum world.  At best think of an electron as a  spherical fuzzy object like a haze or a cloud. What really is the radius of such an object?  This fuzzy electrically charged sphere has recently been shown to exhibit the properties of a sphere to remarkable levels.  This has been shown shown most recently in:

This experiment showed that the electron's shape deviates from that of a sphere by the following amount.  Imagine the electron to be the size of a sphere of earth size (the earth is not a sphere).  This experiment showed that the deviation of the electrons shape from that of a sphere, say one side of the sphere bigger than the other side to be 1/10,000 the size of a hair.  That's incredible!!  Think about what that is saying.  Take a sphere the size of the earth.  Put a hair on that sphere.  It no longer has the shape of a sphere. We would say that it is not the shape of a sphere since one side is bigger than the other by the thickness of the hair. These guys have shown that the spherical shape of an electron is measured better than 1/10,000 that of the size of a hair we added to the earth size electron!!.

Oh the experimental limit on the size of an electron is given here:

But, just because the theory says they have no size doesn't mean they can't have  size, it just might be smaller than any attempt to measure it has discovered.  Experimentally we know that electron's are smaller than 1/1000 th the size of a proton.  Protons do have a size since they are made of constituent particles known as quarks.  Amazing!!!  Humans can do incredible things!