Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Not just aliens: The multiverse has gotta be out there too!

According to Tim Folger in Discover Magazine (November 10, 2008), "Science's Alternative to an Intelligent Creator:" is "the Multiverse Theory."

The staggering challenge is to think of a way to confirm the existence of other universes when every conceivable experiment or observation must be confined to our own. Does it make sense to talk about other universes if they can never be detected?

[ ... ]

The credibility of string theory and the multiverse may get a boost within the next year or two, once physicists start analyzing results from the Large Hadron Collider, the new, $8 billion particle accelerator built on the Swiss-French border. If string theory is right, the collider should produce a host of new particles. There is even a small chance that it may find evidence for the mysterious extra dimensions of string theory. “If you measure something which confirms certain elaborations of string theory, then you’ve got indirect evidence for the multiverse,” says Bernard Carr, a cosmologist at Queen Mary University of London.

[ ... ]

When I ask Linde whether physicists will ever be able to prove that the multiverse is real, he has a simple answer. “Nothing else fits the data,” he tells me. “We don’t have any alternative explanation for the dark energy; we don’t have any alternative explanation for the smallness of the mass of the electron; we don’t have any alternative explanation for many properties of particles.

“What I am saying is, look at it with open eyes. These are experimental facts, and these facts fit one theory: the multiverse theory. They do not fit any other theory so far. I’m not saying these properties necessarily imply the multiverse theory is right, but you asked me if there is any experimental evidence, and the answer is yes. It was Arthur Conan Doyle who said, ‘When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

A story like this leaves me with three key questions:

1. What is the likelihood - given that the article makes clear that so much is speculative - that small amounts of ambiguous data will be over-interpreted and professions of faith in the multiverse demanded - the way Darwinian evolutionists must believe in the Peppered Myth. In that case, the data are ambiguous, but the call to conversion is not.

It is overwhelmingly clear is that most of the people interviewed have an emotional aversion to the idea of design in our universe, which would make them unreliable judges of ambiguous data from the Large Hadron Collider (which is currently out of commission for a couple of months due to a superconductor failure).

2. The mantra "we don't have any alternative ... " is downright spooky. It sounds like these people are preparing themselves to interpret anything they do find as evidence for what they need to believe.
3. If they do not find anything that even they can interpret as evidence for a multiverse, does that count against the theory or must it be true anyway? (I fear I know the answer to that one. It likely means building an even bigger Collider ... )

Note: If you like this and other related posts here at Colliding Universes, you can vote for Colliding Unverses at the Canadian Blogger Awards, sci-tech division. Vote early, vote often, and vote for me, of course.

See also: No escape from philosophy through equations?

Now, remind me again why we need this multiverse theory in the first place ...

Letter: Multiverses are nonsense but so is much contemporary physics

The universe has the hallmarks of design and what can anyone do about it?

Quantum mechanics and popular culture: Artist's lot offers chance to produce trillions of universes

No escape from philosophy through equations?

Big physics could end up putting physicists out of a job?

Will it be a disaster for physics if the Higgs boson is the ONLY thing the Large Hadron Collider finds?

And so forth (Other stuff I have written on the bleeping multiverse, for which It, (Inc.) is suing me ... But the writ was sent to an infinite number of wrong universes, so ... )
(Note: The image is from Taking a Closer Look at LHC, and it represents "time between bunches.")

Monday, November 24, 2008

Extraterrestrial life: Here's a story you could only read in New Scientist ...

"Why the universe may be teeming with aliens" by David Shiga - Have faith, baby, they are really, definitely out there!

After a list of reasons why they are really not likely out there, and in spite of this:
Despite this broadening of the criteria for potentially habitable planets, not everyone is convinced that these new insights are particularly helpful in the search for worlds that might support life. There is a lot left to figure out, even for Earth, says Jonathan Lunine of the University of Arizona. "I don't think we really understand how or why the Earth has been habitable in its history and what the excursions from habitability really were," he says, "and until we do, it's hard to be anything but sceptical that some of these models are really going to inform the search."
the New Scientist staff are keeping the faith that they are really, definitely out there ...

Faith is so touching ... I wish I could find them some extraterrestrials ...

See also:

Alfred Russel Wallace on why Mars is not habitable (and not much has changed)

Boldly go, but why, exactly?

Extraterrestrials: Several million UFOs later - the state of the question

Extraterrestrials: Younger astronomers less likely to believe than older ones?

So what if fossil bacteria are found on Mars? Polls show many Americans expect Star Trek!

Some scientists hope that the aliens are NOT out there!

Increase in UFO sitings in Canada - what's behind that?

The universe has the hallmarks of design: And what can anyone do about it?

From British physicist David Tyler:
Ever since the 'anthropic principle' entered the language of science, the case for the universe having the hallmarks of design has become progressively stronger. There is a consensus in the thinking of physicists and cosmologists that far exceeds the alleged consensus about anthropogenic global warming, and also the alleged consensus that natural selection is the mechanism for explaining design in living things. Author Tim Folger elevates the principle to "an extraordinary fact" about the universe: "Its basic properties are uncannily suited for life. Tweak the laws of physics in just about any way and - in this universe, anyway - life as we know it would not exist."

Folger's article is based on an interview with physicist Andrei Linde, who says: "We have a lot of really, really strange coincidences, and all of these coincidences are such that they make life possible." Many of these are sketched out for the benefit of readers, and Folger comments: "There are many such examples of the universe's life-friendly properties - so many, in fact, that physicists can't dismiss them all as mere accidents."

If we apply Dembski's design filter approach, we have three avenues to explore: Law, Chance and Design. Law gets very little attention from Folger, despite the intense search for grand Unification Theories (GUT) or Theories of Everything (ToE). The reason is that GUT have not delivered. We cannot explain why the universe is like it is. No progress has been made in showing why the fine-tuning of fundamental constants should be a feature of the physical world. Indeed, the pendulum has swung away from GUT because of the interest in string theory - which has served to underline how extraordinary the evidences of fine-tuning actually are. "[Polchinski and Bousso]calculated that the basic equations of string theory have an astronomical number of different possible solutions, perhaps as many as [10 to the power 1000]. Each solution represents a unique way to describe the universe."
Go here for more.

See also:

Like clouds in our coffee, all these other universes

See also: Major media, imagining themselves sober, think there are many universes, not just double vision.

The Big Bang exploded; seriously, is there room for reasonable skepticism about the Big Bang?

Could God live in an infinite sea of universes? It depends.

Will the cosmic multiverse landscape ensure the triumph of intelligent design?

Now, remind me again why we need multiverse theory in the first place?

Multiverse theory: Replacing the big fix with the sure thing?

Free stuff: Ivy League University lectures of interest to Colliding Universes readers

Here are a few online audio lectures - with some background material - that you won't need to pay to hear:

1. ASTR 160 - Frontiers and Controversies in Astrophysics: Professor Charles Bailyn teaches this course in astrophysics that focuses on black holes, dark energy and extra-solar planets. [Open Yale]

2. PHYS 200 - Fundamentals of Physics: Those who have a good background in math and physics can get a great review from this course offered by Professor Ramamurti Shankar. [Open Yale]

4. String Theory, Black Holes, and the Laws of Nature: String theory provides promise in unraveling the mysteries that surround the laws that govern the universe and Professor Andrew Strominger discusses his insights into this theory and its relationship to black holes in this lecture. [Harvard @ Home]

7. A COMPLETE Search for New Suns: The COMPLETE project aims to map 1,000s of light years of star forming material in the Milky Way and you can learn all about it from Alyssa A. Goodman, Professor of Astronomy at Harvard in this lecture. [Harvard @ Home]

11. Observing the Birth of the Universe: Lyman Page, Professor of Physics, delivers this video lecture on the origins of our universe, using humorous and accessible means to explain complex concepts. [Princeton]

13. Einstein’s Biggest Blunder: A Cosmic Mystery Story: Alex Filippenko from the University of California, Berkeley delivers this lecture on one of the best-known thinkers and theorists of the 20th century. [Princeton]

54. Escher and the Droste Effect: Hendrik Lenstra, Professor of Mathematics, gives this lecture on the Droste effect, or the appearance of ever smaller pictures within a larger picture, giving a sense of infinite recession of space. [Princeton]

55. Matchsticks, Scramjets, and Black Holes: Numerical Simulation Faces Reality: Learn how the numbers translate to reality in this lecture from Elaine Oran, Senior Scientist for Reactive Flow Physics at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. [Princeton]

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Materialist atheists: Beware astrophysics?

Richard John Neuhaus, writing in the December edition of First Things, draws our attention to British sociologist David Martin, writing in the Scottish Journal of Theology
A master narrative of the Enlightenment is that religion recedes as science advances. It would be more plausible were it supported by the evidence, writes Martin.

[ ... ]

It happens that three is no continuing Enlightenment institution in secular contexts comparable to the Church in religious contexts to take the moral flack hurled at the corruptions of power ... Christianity can be blamed for what happened when adopted as the faith of the Roman Empire, whereas Darwinism can innocently wash its hands of what happened when converted by capitalist society into Social Darwinism or deployed by Nietzsche. Yet the metaphors of Darwinism are decidedly more susceptible to malign conversion than the metaphors of Christianity." Martin concludes with this: If I were an atheist anxious to disturb the faith of intelligent young friends, I would recommend a course in biblical criticism, or in psychobabble and sociobabble, or, best of all, a vigorous drench in romantic literary Weltschmerz. But not, definitely not, a bracing course in astrophysics. They might too easily suppos they were tracing 'the Mind of the Maker.'
Yes, unless they take refuge in crackpot cosmologies.

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:

Science and culture: God as an "unnecessary hypothesis?"

In "Theology After Newton", physicist Stephen M. Barr notes:
In Newtonian physics, change and movement were explained by the inertia of bodies and the forces bodies exert on each other. And since God is not a material body, many people thought that the new science had relegated him to the sidelines. At most, he was allowed to act in the distant past, as an all-foreseeing designer, a conception of God that Pannenberg criticizes as leading, on the one hand, to deism and, on the other hand, to a clash between predestination and human freedom. Even worse, the belief that took hold after Newton-that everything could be explained naturalistically, through physical forces and mathematical laws--seemed to make the existence of God an "unnecessary hypothesis," as Laplace put it. As theology lost its explanatory role, its assertions came to be seen as lacking empirical content and therefore as untestable.

Some theologians took refuge in fideism or a "flight to commitment," such as Karl Barth's "altogether unsecured obedience" to the Word of God. Others retreated to the position that theological language is "performative" rather than "informative." Yet others reduced the gospel to social action. The result has been a situation in which theology is marginalized and seen as largely irrelevant to life and thought. Society and its institutions grew secularized, and intellectual life did as well: the study of history and science undertaken without concern for a wider context of meaning. (First Things)
I've been known to call this "flight to commitment" by a ruder name: "aimless Jesus-hollering."

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A theory of "almost" everything is the best we can do?

P.-M. Binder of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Hawaii at Hilo
thinks that David Wolpert, writing in Physica D (Wolpert, D. H. Physica D 237, 1257–1281 (2008) has demonstrated "that the entire physical Universe cannot be fully understood by any single inference system that exists within it" :

In proving his theorems,Wolpert defines U as the space of all world-lines (sequences of events) in the Universe that are consistent with the laws of physics. He then defines strong inference as the ability of one machine to predict the total conclusion function of another machine for all possible set-ups. Finally, he uses ‘Cantor diagonalization’ (Box 1) to prove, among others, the following two statements:

(1) Let C1 be any strong inference machine for U. There is another machine, C2, that cannot be strongly inferred by C1.

(2) No two strong inference machines can be strongly inferred from each other.

The first of these statements posits that there is a portion of ‘knowledge space’ (that inferable by C2) that is not available to any C1 machine. The second is a statement about the non-equivalence of inference machines; it implies that, at most, only one machine at one instant in time can infer all others. The two statements together imply that, at best, there can be only a ‘theory of almost everything’.

Memo to LaPlace's demon: Get a job, Mr. Know-it-all.

Citation: Nature 455, 884-885 (16 October 2008) doi:10.1038/455884a; Published online 15 October 2008
A provocative contribution to the logic of science extends the theorems of Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing, and bears on thinking about prediction, the standard model of particles, and quantum gravity. (paywall)

Quantum mechanics and popular culture: Artist's kit offers chance to produce trillions of universes

But caution, aspiring deities: You will never know if you created a Heaven or a Hell - and do you really want that on your conscience?

"$20 kit produces trillions of universes," according to Boing Boing, a "directory of wonderful things". This instant universes kit is the brainchild of San Francisco conceptual artist Jonathon Keats, and it is based on the controversial Everett interpretation of quantum mechanics: Any measurement causes the universe to split in two, one in which the quantum particle was measured to be here and the other in which it was measured to be there. Short Sharp Science explains,
His universe creator uses a piece of uranium-doped glass to create a steam of alpha particles, which are then detected using a thin sliver of scintillating crystal. Each detection causes the creation of a new universe.
Get yours at the Modernism Gallery in San Francisco, courtesy Keats's Miracle Works: Art for Deities. Start making mini universes and surprise your friends with a truly unique pile of knick knacks ....

Here are some thumbnails of Keats's interesting work. Here's Wired's take on the multiverse generator.

See also:

Can reincarnation save Schrodinger's cat?

Could God live in an infinite sea of universes? It depends ...

Quantum mechanics: Could cosmic microwave background show that it is wrong?

Alfred Russel Wallace on why Mars is not habitable

Friend Malcolm Chisholm, who has a wonderful approach to information (= he reads widely) writes to tell me of a book written by Alfred Russel Wallace (Darwin's co-theorist) on the question of the habitability of Mars:

It was written in 1907 when Wallace was living in Broadstone, Dorset (where I went to school).

Wallace takes on Percival Lowell, a supreme icon of American astronomy. Lowell thought there were Martians and they used canals etc. Wallace blows up this theory, ending the book with the statement:

"Mars, therefore, is not only uninhabited by intelligent beings such as Mr. Lowell postulates, but is absolutely UNINHABITABLE."

Remember that Wallace has been derided for his beliefs in ID and spiritualism. Yet he was obviously not afraid to go against the scientific speculative spirit of the age.
Indeed. In the introduction to the 1907 edition, the whole of which is scanned online, editor Charles H. Smith notes,

For many years one of Wallace's least remembered books, Is Mars Habitable? is increasingly being recognized as one of the first examples of the proper application of the scientific method to the study of extraterrestrial atmospheres and geography-that is, as one of the pioneer works in the field of exobiology.
Here is Wallace's conclusion:

To put the whole case in the fewest possible words:

(1) All physicists are agreed that, owing to the distance of Mars from the sun, it would have a mean temperature of about -35̊ F. (= 456̊ F. abs.) even if it had an atmosphere as dense as ours.

(2) But the very low temperatures on the earth under the equator, at a height where the barometer stands at about three times as high as on Mars, proves, that from scantiness of atmosphere alone Mars cannot possibly have a temperature as high [[p. 110]] as the freezing point of water; and this proof is supported by Langley's determination of the low maximum temperature of the full moon.

The combination of these two results must bring down the temperature of Mars to a degree wholly incompatible with the existence of animal life.

(3) The quite independent proof that water-vapour cannot exist on Mars, and that therefore, the first essential of organic life--water--is non-existent.

The conclusion from these three independent proofs, which enforce each other in the multiple ratio of their respective weights, is therefore irresistible--that animal life, especially in its higher forms, cannot exist on the planet.

Mars, therefore, is not only uninhabited by intelligent beings such as Mr. Lowell postulates, but is absolutely UNINHABITABLE.
What made Wallace so unpopular compared to Darwin is that he insisted that in science, evidence matters. Carl Sagan-style proclamations like "They're out there! How could we be so arrogant as to think we are all alone!" do not become science just because they are proclaimed by scientists.

See also:

Boldly go, but why, exactly?

Extraterrestrials: Several million UFOs later - the state of the question
Younger astronomers less likely to believe than older ones?

So what if fossil bacteria are found on Mars? Polls show many Americans expect Star Trek!

Some scientists hope that the aliens are NOT out there!

Increase in UFO sitings in Canada - what's behind that?
(Note: The image of Wallace (1823-1913) is from Wikimedia Commons.)

How can extra dimensions of space be detected?

(Inside the tunnel of the Large Hadron Collider)

Robert Deyes over at Access Research Network offers an accessible explanation of what questions physicists hope the Large Hadron Collider will answer (when it is fixed mid next year). One thing I had wondered was how the extra dimensions of space that string theory requires could be detected, and he obliges in "Hadron And The String Theorists' Dream Of Unification" (10/23/08). Basically, new dimensions might be detected by deviations from the familiar inverse square law:
The inverse square law of force tells us that a mass (A) at a distance of radius(r) from mass (D) will experience gravitational (G) and electrical (E) forces that are proportional to 1/r2 (Ref 3, pp.394-398). So for a universe many dimensions larger, this proportionality would simply increase such that in four dimensions G and E would be proportional to 1/r3, in 5 dimensions, to 1/r4 and so on (Ref 3, pp.394-398). Today the race is on to probe distances smaller than a 10th of a millimeter with the aim of detecting any deviation from the inverse square law that might indicate the presence of the additional space dimensions predicted by String theory. As astrophysicists Bernard Carr and Steven Giddings have noted, the spilling over of gravity into adjacent dimensions may provide the avenue through which String theory can truly be tested (Ref 10)

For now, no measurements on gravity have revealed any deviation from the inverse square law. But the Large Hadron Particle Collider, scheduled for completion in 2009, may change this (Ref 10). If the gravitational force really is much stronger than we observe in our three dimensional space and it is leaking out into adjacent dimensions of space as predicted, the production of tiny black holes- objects whose immense gravitational hold trap anything including light- would require much smaller amounts of energy and matter. Such a scenario would be achievable through the high-energy particle collisions that the Large Hadron Collider will be capable of (Ref 10). While Hadron has recently suffered some major technical difficulties (Ref 11) it promises much when it is finally up and running. If the planned experiments do provide evidence for gravitational spilling, we may be one step closer to achieving the String Theorists' dream of unification.
The whole is well worth reading.

See also:

Big physics could end up putting physicists out of a job?
Will it be a disaster for physics if the Higgs boson is the ONLY thing the Large Hadron Collider finds?
Mass: Is the Higgs boson the "stuff" of all that stuff we call matter?

Here is a video about the Collider:

"When I say it, it's science, when he says it, it's religion!"

I’ve been neglecting this blog for a while, mainly due to other work, and certainly not because there aren’t universes in collision out there!

Recently, Oxford's acclaimed physicist Roger Penrose, speaking at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, advanced the notion of cyclical universes as more satisfactory than the now conventional Big Bang theory.

In "The big bounce vs. the big bang" National Post (October 3, 2008), Joseph Brean reports,

"The universe seems to go through cycles of some kind ... Our universe is what I call an aeon in an endless sequence of aeons," ...

He described data he received just this week that appears to show traces of the previous aeon in the microwave background radiation that fills the universe and is regarded as the lingering "flash" of the Big Bang. If it actually does, a lot of science will have to be reconsidered.

But no one gasped in awe. There were no hoots of surprise, no muttering about this seeming heresy, this contradiction of everything the general public thinks they know about the creation of the universe -- that it happened just the once, about 14 billion years ago, when space and time exploded together out of a single point, infinitely hot and dense, called a singularity. There is not supposed to be any such thing as before the Big Bang. Eternal cycles, Sir Roger? What are you, Hindu?

Penrose is not Hindu, but the idea is Hindu (and Buddhist), and it is a very old one. As Brean explains,

They all seem to be describing something very close to the account in the Hindu Rig Veda of a universe that is cyclically born and dies, each lasting a little over four million years, and representing a day in the life of the deity Brahma, or Buddhism's mahakalpa, the "great eon" between destruction and rebirth.
Brean wonders whether the aeons idea might undermine the Catholic Church’s comfortable relationship with physics. The Church, after all, teaches that the universe did have a beginning, and - not surprisingly, perhaps - it was Belgian priest Georges LeMaitre (1894-1966), pictured above, who originated the Big Bang theory, which is now the dominant one.

By contrast, the Dalai Lama acknowledges that a beginning to the universe is a problem for Eastern faiths:

From the Buddhist perspective, the idea that there is a single definite beginning is highly problematic. If there were such an absolute beginning, logically speaking, this leaves only two options. One is theism, which proposes that the universe is created by an intelligence that is totally transcendent, and therefore outside the laws of cause and effect. The second option is that the universe came into being from no cause at all. Buddhism rejects both these options. (The Universe in a Single Atom P. 82)

Penrose apparently disclaimed any theological interest to Brean,

Sir Roger was quick to point out that such theological coincidences do not figure in his research. They are no more than pleasing curiosities.

With due respect to Sir Roger, I do not believe that. Such disclaimers belong in the same category as journalists' claims to be "objective": they never have been true and never could be.

Discomfort with the Big Bang theory - for essentially theological/philosophical reasons goes back right to its origin:

Lemaître’s theory was revolutionary. It overturned a century and a half of science.
Initially, many scientists did not like the theory much, and some, like Arthur Eddington (1882–1944), said so. His comment was: “Philosophically, the notion of a beginning to the present order is repugnant to me. I should like to find a genuine loophole.” To most scientists of the day, it sounded too much like religion. Thus, Lemaître, a priest, was in the unusual position of trying to focus attention on the science that supported his idea, while many atheists were more concerned with the religious implications. This odd turnabout continues to the present day, as we will see. (Pp. 2-3 By Design or by Chance?)

The Large Hadron Collider broke some magnets and is out till mid next year, so it will b e some months whether we know if Penrose's "traces of the previous aeon" are vital evidence or faces in the clouds.

See also:

Like clouds in our coffee ... all these other universes

The Big Bang exploded; seriously, is there room for reasonable skepticism about the Big Bang?