Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Philosophers Wanted: Long Hours, Low Pay, Important Work (Time, Gravity, Verlinde)

LATEST UPDATE (JAN. 24) - Lubos is no longer indecisive and attacks Verlinde with a vengeance, here:
The Reference Frame: Why gravity can't be entropic

"Historically, the greatest difficulty in scientific revolutions is usually not the missing piece but the extraneous one - the assumption that we've all taken for granted but is actually unnecessary. Philosophers are trained to smoke out these mental interlopers. Many of the problems that scientists now face are simply the latest guise of deep questions that have troubled thinkers for thousands of years. Philosophers bring this depth of experience with them. Many have backgrounds in physics as well."
.....George Musser, Scientific American Senior Editor

I. Time
II. Gravity
III. In Conclusion


Time. It's a Dimension. It's the 4th of the 4 dimensions we know of. It's also the strangest of them all, due to its apparent uni-directionality. Entropy and The Second Law of Thermodynamics seem to be involved.

First up, Richard Feynman's lecture at Cornell:

And then there's this, by Science Comedian Brian Malow :

"If we are considering the fundamental level of reality, and asking the most fundamental questions about dynamics, we come up against the question “What decides how things change?” At this fundamental level, the physical laws can seem somewhat arbitrary (for example, the amount of charge on an electron). In fact, at this most fundamental level, the only principle which seems likely to describe dynamics seems to come from mathematics not physics: a system will have many more possible disordered states than ordered states, so a system which changes state randomly will most likely move to a more disordered state.

"While the second “law” of thermodynamics is “just” a statistical principle, it is a mightily powerful statistical principle! This is because the basis of the second law – that “disorder will increase” – seems so obvious, and seems to appeal to a fundamental, platonic principle of mathematics. For this reason, the second law manages to appear even more fundamental and unbreakable than the other physical laws, which seem rather arbitrary in comparison. Hence Arthur Eddington’s famous quote: “If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations – then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation – well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can offer you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.”

"At the most fundamental level, I would just imagine physical dynamics are described by change of entropy – I can’t imagine any more fundamental principle which could possibly describe change."

..... Andrew Thomas of "What is Reality?" fame, on "The Arrow of Time"


Gravity. It's a Force. It's the force we've known about the longest, yet, the one we seem to know the least about. It's the strangest of them all due to its weakness, and its range.

Interestingly, Lubos Motl has a blarticle up about Gravity. It's interesting to me because for the first time in a long time, Lubos is actually UNdecided about something ... for a change. The title of the blarticle is "Gravity as a Holographic Entropic Force", and the replies are no less important than Lubos' excellent blarticle. Click here and read it. It won't be "time" wasted, heh.

It refers to U. Amsterdam's Erik Verlinde's January 6, 2010 paper, here, titled On the Origin of Gravity and the Laws of Newton.

UPDATE (Jan.11): Peter Woit notes Verlinde's paper along with Sean Carroll's new book and something called "The Entropic Landscape" at "Not Even Wrong" in the blarticle "The Entropy Decade", here.

UPDATE (Jan. 12): Erik Verlinde has received criticism, and defends himself today: here.

UPDATE ( Jan. 14): Verlinde defends himself at Lubos Motl's The Reference Frame: here. It's worth reading the comments section as Lubos finds this new way of looking at things both interesting and vexing.

UPDATE (Jan. 17) - "The Hammock Physicist's" Johannes Koelman's Blog has a very nice History of Verlinde's work spread over 3 articles in Dec. '09 and Jan. '10, which should be read in the following order, including the replies. They are:
1) Dec. 14 - "Holographic Hot Horizons" - Click here.
2) Dec. 17 - "Holographic Horizons Get Hotter" - Click here.
3) Jan. 7 - "It From Bit: The Case of Gravity" - Click here.
They should be read in order, but the replies to 2) above are very interesting, in which Sunu Engineer (not verified) claims Verlinde's work has already been done by another Scientist named Thanu Panmanabhan. It's a bit messy, but their two approaches are different. I don't get into political sparring among scientists. The gossips love it but I find it messy and embarrassing.

UPDATE (JAN. 24) - Lubos is no longer indecisive and attacks Verlinde with a vengeance, here:
The Reference Frame: Why gravity can't be entropic


Speculative Physicists are falling all over themselves in trying to describe "Time" and "Gravity", sometimes together, but eventually they fall back into Philosophy in trying to defend (cough) excuse me, I meant describe their own individual takes on this stuff.

So my question is, are there any TRUE Philosophers out there who care to weigh in?

Remember, the purpose of Philosophy is to challenge not the math so much, but the ASSUMPTIONS. George Musser taught me that.

So, Philosophers, I ask you ...

Is Time REALLY a Dimension? Or is it something else? A partial Dimension? An illusion? An absolute value or an ever changing thing?

Is Gravity REALLY a Force? Or is it something else? Simple geometry? An illusion, being the reflection of a true force on a supra-dimensional plane? Since it seems to be tied to mass, what is mass, exactly?

I understand all sorts of mathematics work out splendidly when Time is treated as a Dimension and Gravity as a Force, and it is not my intention to get into semantic arguments. I'm just asking.

IV. MUSIC (Ice for the overheated brain)

Music to contemplate by (from "The Continuing Adventures of Paul on the Floor" by Johnny and the Moondogs, at the first ever outdoor stadium concert way back in 1965):

Finally, Ringo requests more Feynman. Here you go, Ringo:

Finally, in my Philosopher buddy Phil Warnell's (see relies below) honor, here is one of the most haunting songs of the 1960's, from a singing duo that rivaled The Beatles in their day. The music is beautiful, it's the lyrics that haunt. They remind me of Paul Dirac, and David Deustch, and ... me. In my (early) teenage years, anyway.

Art Garfunkel (the guy on the right) got his Masters Degree in Mathematics. He was set to go for his PhD., when destiny (Stardom) called.

Finally, and in great honor to my dear friend Andrew Thomas of Swansea, Wales, UK, who saved me from  ditching  Mathematical Physics entirely, and at the very last moment before I would have done so, thanks to his GREAT Indroduction to Quantum Mechnics website "What is Reality?", and who furthermore doesn't appreciate The Beatles as much as he should, yet DOES appreciate that great "unifier" of Elvis, Beatles and Motown that is Michael Jackson ... I give my personally favorite video of MJ's, the wonderful "Black or White",


Andrew Thomas said...

Hi Steven, I don't think we've had any new insights into the nature of time since Einstein declared it to be a dimension. So that's rather a poor return on the 80 years we've had to think about it since then.

However, I know you like to think about the most fundamental concepts, so I'm sure you're not happy by declaring time is a "dimension". After all, what is a "dimension" after all?

I think the model of spacetime as a series of "events" in a fixed spacetime is perhaps the best (and most fundamental) model of fundamental time that we currently have, and this model is described extremely well in section 1 of The Hole Argument.

As to how that model is actually implemented in physical reality - which is really the question you want answered - well, I dunno mate!

Steven Colyer said...

Hi Andrew,

Thanks so much for that link from Stanford University's Philosophy Department. I look forward to reading it on the weekend.

You and my other readers should know that the reason I was inspired to write this blarticle, and start this discussion, is based on the release tomorrow of CalTech's Sean Carroll's new book on Time.

Sean's book is reviewed by Peter Woit, and commented upon by many of his astute friends including Bee and Lee Smolin, here.

Read past Peter's positive review of Chad Orzel's new book "How to Teach Physics to Your Dog" to get to his review of Carroll's book at that link. The comments are all on Carroll's new tome, intended for the general "Intelligent Laymen" public.

The overarching collective wisdom on that Not Even Wrong page seems to be what I expected: Carroll's book seems to be long on Philosophy (not much of it positive), short on Science, heavy on unprovable Speculation.

To be fair to Sean Carroll, I have not read your book and so have no comment on it at this time, but it's not looking good, frankly, considering that Lubos Motl is primed to do his Lubos thing to the book as well, based on the simplest principles of Entropy and The Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Generally speaking, whenever Peter, Lee, Bee and Lubos are in agreement on something, George Musser's Woit/Motl test has passed muster.

In any event, good luck on sales of your book, Sean. All criticisms here are purely professional, not personal. I eschew ad hominem attacks.

And you're right Andrew regarding my attitude on the subject of "The Arrow of Time". I'm especially annoyed that it takes time away from studying Quantum Field Theory and Gravity, which are by far IMO the more interesting and important subjects.

Thanks again, mate.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Steven,

Well let me first say I much enjoyed your collage of videos, although I would have had some Simon & Garfunkel in the mix, as for me they represented the thinking youth of the time and the social conscious of a generation somehow lost or swallowed up in the pursuit of a personal happiness , rendered hollow since it never thought it might be better if shared. I particularly liked your last video with Feynman saying how much he disliked the concept of honours and that the reward for science was found in its challenge of discovery. However he wasn’t quite being truthful about it, that being although he had no use for medals and awards, he was however a natural showmen who lived for the adulation found only in applause. I’ve often thought that if for some reason he’d never found physics, he would have aspired to be a actor upon a stage and probably been at least as successful there as he was with physics. So perhaps he had no use for honours, yet he was driven all his life to be a person who needed to be loved rather than in need of respect.

As for your question as to why people today seem to no longer look to the philosophers and scientists anymore, especially in these times of uncertainty I think is something found being of reasons two fold. One reason of course is as you noted to me, being that science has become so complex that people in general find themselves lost as being able to understand it, with the few that embrace it taken simply on faith, while the rest are resistant to find it to be believed at all That’s to say today that the general populace find science to be more of a religion then an instrument of understanding grounded in reason. So as society has become more secular, science is thought as just one more religion to shun.

However worse is thatl I find we live in a very intellectually vacuous age. One where the few that find themselves so centered are referred to as nerds or geeks, rather the clever and wise. An age where people no longer know the function of satire, as finding where reality shows have people identify with the players as thought they serve to justify their own behaviour, rather it meant to be a mirror to have such behaviour examined introspectively. So if they find no time or utility to even examine their own nature, how could one expect them to care about the examination of nature in the broader sense? So like Simon & Garfunkel warned about the growing sound of silenceit has now become as they feared a deafening roar as to have nearly none able to hear.



Plato said...

Hello Gentlemen,

I must remind Phil of Sean Carroll's positioning with regards to "Blogging Heads" with David Albert to help you Steven understand that the work to prepare in science and physics was indeed a "foundational position with which to move ahead," which indeed was shared by Sean Carroll with this need for a philosophical perspective in mind.

Now, with regards to the four dimensional perspective.

I moved you ahead very quickly by writing what I did to you Steven in response not only to the age of our children, but of something as profound as seeing with what that four dimensional perspective is about. I showed you the earth in a way you might not be accustomed too.

This perception has a scientific validation measure, which is used not only in LIGO but is used in GRACE as well. Once you find that correlation, you will understand.

Now, there is a historical consideration here even before the digesting and grokking takes place, so you can get where I am showing while fast tracking with images, is to understand the idea of the geometries that followed Euclidean postulates.

Seminar on the History of Hyperbolic Geometry


On the Hypotheses which lie at the Bases of Geometry.

Without these, Einstein could not progress?


Steven Colyer said...

Hi Andrew,

You're right. I'm very much a MathPhys fundamentalist. Because of that, I take "Time" as a "given" (Engineering term). I do not fret about it. I don't see why so many do. Oh wait. It must "emerge" in a true TOE, yes? Is that it? Well, Pfft! I reject that thinking. Time is what is is, which is a separation of events. it's practically nothing. You can't hold it, you can't trade it, you can't save it (although we CAN spend it ... sometimes foolishly). WhatEVer it is, I don't lose any sleep over it. Many do though, I've noticed.

Regarding the "Arrow of Time," I think Wiki sums it up beautifully:

"Time appears to have a direction – the past lies behind, fixed and incommutable, while the future lies ahead and is not necessarily fixed. Yet the majority of the laws of physics don't provide this arrow of time. The exceptions include the Second law of thermodynamics, which states that entropy must increase over time (see Entropy); the cosmological arrow of time, which points away from the Big Bang, and the radiative arrow of time, caused by light only traveling forwards in time. In particle physics, there is also the weak arrow of time, from CPT symmetry, and also measurement in quantum mechanics (see Measurement in quantum mechanics)."

Hi Phil - Yeah, Paul and Artie, incredible. Sounds was their biggest hit, among many. The Boxer was my favorite, but I Am a Rock haunted me as a child and is quite beautiful as well.

Feynman was quite the character, yup. Check out the James Randi interview describing the trick he pulled on Feynman, and how Feynman figured it out. True genius, and true geniuses have little need for awards. They won the gene pool lottery, and that's sufficient. :-)

Thanks for the thoughts on Science and Society. I agree. The "Science as Religion" aspect in the minds of the public is one thing. I loathe the way certain Scientists feel the same way. I see no room for Theology in science, but one aspect of all Religions is to trash the others, hence my issues with Carroll and Deutsch.

Hi Plato, responding to you will take a bit longer, cuz I haven't dug on your links yet. In a bit ...

Steven Colyer said...

Hi Plato,

Hey, thanks. Thanks to that first link you linked, I found there's a name for what I am: Eternalist.

Click here to see what I'm talking about.

Key passages are:

"Eternalism takes its inspiration from physics, especially the Rietdijk-Putnam argument, in which the relativity of simultaneity is used to show that each point in the universe can have a different set of events that are in its present moment. According to Presentism this is impossible because there is only one present moment that is instantaneous and encompasses the entire universe."


"Some philosophers also appeal to a specific theory which is "timeless" in a more radical sense than the rest of physics, the theory of quantum gravity. This theory is used, for instance, in Julian Barbour's theory of timelessness.[3] On the other hand, George Ellis argues that time is absent in cosmological theories because of the details they leave out.[4]"

Steven Colyer said...

I've updated the article and will continue to do so. I've added quotes by George Musser and Andrew Thomas, comments re the recent Erik Verlinde paper, and added links to same ... and a Simon and Garfunkel video for Phil.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Steven,

Nice to see you’ve expanded this post and also good to find Simon & Garfunkel found there way on there. This sound speaks about the loneliness of an intellectual who cuts himself off from others as the risk involved emotionally don’t seem to be worth the risk. However the sound itself serves to show that as they put it books and poetry cannot serve to protect as to be a substitute for what Plato of antiguity would call being rather than becoming as to be able to recognize what is the good.



Steven Colyer said...

Good analogy, Phil, as it stands to reason that before someone "becomes" anything they should should first know what they want to "be", and before one can decide that one should decide "what" they are.

First decide on the goal, then take the steps to achieve it. The journey is more enjoyable than the goal (they say, and I find little disagreement with that), but before one takes that first step, one has to decide to take it.

And before one decides to take it, one should figure who they are and what they are about.

Friggin' Plato! 2300 hundred years later, he is STILL making us think! :-)

Switch to current events: Verlinde's paper. Thoughts?

P.S.: "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" was I believe Simon and Garfunkel's greatest hit, and we both missed it. "Sounds of Silence" is more haunting though, good call, I love it more actually.

Steven Colyer said...

LATEST UPDATE: Jan. 14 - Verlinde defends himself at Lubos Motl's The Reference Frame: here. It's worth reading the comments section as Lubos finds this new way of looking at things both interesting and vexing.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Stefan,

Thanks for drawing attention to Erik Verlinde paper as I find any such concepts as being rooted in first understanding the foundations of theory both important and therefore very interesting. I must however admit that although I’ve read both the paper and the attempted clarifications of the author on Lubos blog I haven’t fully been able to digest it yet. However, my initial impression is I like it as it being rooted foundationally in logic and second because its main premise is that what we normally call to be a force is actually the undeniable result of potential. So you have elements of both opportunity and its fulfillment through a single action founded between time and energy. This would have two interreactant element required for what it takes to have a reality.

Personally I like anything that includes the question why into its query rather than simply how. It’s a subject I broached sometime back in my own humble blog sometime ago when it comes to what should be considered the kinds of philosophy to be more consistent with science. In it I quote the Creation Hymn of the ancient Hindu Rig Vdga to have emphasised what such philosophies should constitute to be foundationally as follows:

Not even nothing existed then. No air yet, nor a heaven. Who encased and kept it where? Was water in the darkness there? Neither deathlessness nor decay. No, nor the rhythm of night and day: The self-existent, with breath sans air: That, and that alone was there. Darkness was in darkness found. Like light-less water all around. One emerged, with nothing on. It was from heat that this was born. Into it, Desire, its way did find: The primordial seed born of mind. Sages know deep in the heart: What exists is kin to what does not. Across the void the cord was thrown, The place of every thing was known. Seed-sowers and powers now came by, Impulse below and force on high. Who really knows, and who can swear, How creation came, when or where! Even gods came after creation's day, Who really knows, who can truly say when and how did creation start? Did He do it? Or did He not? Only He, up there, knows, maybe; Or perhaps, not even He.



Steven Colyer said...

Hey, Phil, good points, thanks. I find the split between Philosophy and Science to be a shady one. From Philosophy grew Natural Philosophy, the original name for Science as well you know. I believe the split was caused by Experimentation, beginning with the telescope (Galileo) and the microscope, and after that the fine work done by Hooke, Boyle, Newton et al at The Royal Society as started by Charles II in England after the monarchy was restored post-Cromwells.

The Theology stuff is, eh, OK I guess to get into, but I've explored that and it seems kind of obvious there is one source to all the modern Religions: Zarathustra and Zoroastrianism, in Northern Iran / Southern Russia, around the Caucasus Mountains. Karen Armstrong brilliantly describes how out of that one religion grew the Religions of the Ancient Greeks, India, and China, and Judaism.

I also wish to follow Verlinde's paper, and I think a good starting point would be the work of Ted Jacobson, and Black Hole Thermodynamics.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Steven,

”The Theology stuff is, eh, OK I guess to get into, but I've explored that and it seems kind of obvious there is one source to all the modern Religion”

Well strangely perhaps here we both agree and disagree. First one has to understand there is a difference between where civilization arose first and if the others that did were products of these or rather separate incidents of it. Also it must not be imagined that religion or wondering what it is all about began only when our ancestors left the caves for the farms and villages; which some paintings discovered in France were first to have us ponder in such respect. Also as I indicated in my blog piece there is a distinct difference between the eastern and western world in such respect, with the Greeks proximity having them being cross fertilized from both perspectives and it is interesting to note this is where the first true science arose as to be recognized as being such. So I still find this a fascinating subject in terms of understanding what the important questions are and how they may be best approached.

To get back to Verlinde's paper the more I look at it and consider it the more I like it. With both time and energy (the two elements required for heat) as the only non emergent qualities of nature it also seems to fit into some others thinking on the matter, such as Smolin’s. I also don’t know how carefully you reviewed that Hindi Creation hymn I quoted yet what Velinde’s theory is explaining is the mechanism for how this Hindu concept of the beginning was thought to have been.

The bottom line for me being it is things like this always had me mindful that it was not only the Europeans of three hundred years past that were to be the first enlightened, yet many others and from many places and times long ago, with those like Einstein being nothing more than another of a long string of people who were interested and bold enough to ask both how and why and not to find such questions in contradiction. For to think otherwise would be what Einstein called the “Modernist's Snobbishness ” having the consequence of self inflicted ignorance born of arrogance.



Jérôme CHAUVET said...

Steven: Hi Steven,

I finally watched the Feynman's "i don't like honors" video... This is exactly the way I see things, and I am so glad to have heard this said by someone as great as Feynman. Thank you for making such an interview available to me ! I have read again Feynman's speech given in Stockholm for the Nobel prize. In it, he said that the day he had been granted the prize was a "triumphing day" (or sort of, I only have a French translation of it in a book). I guess, like he says here, he was happy to have his work recognized, nothing more. I appreciate when he says: "Beware, here is a chemist trying to get into our physicists group. He's not allowed in!"... I am the kind of to believe that many UTILIZE science as a means to be part of an elite, but don't even care about results themselves. It could be anything else other than science, the only thing worth it for some is that it puts you into a group which is thought to be better/smarter than all others. This greed for honors is however not something that tends to diminish nowadays. Many do not hesitate to unpave the way for you if it helps them reaching those damn honors.
Who could change this? Not I anyway.


Steven Colyer said...

@ Jérôme - Thanks for your comments. I have much to respond to in an agreeable manner and have somethings to add, but first I wish to respond to Phil.

@ Phil - There are 4 major religions in the World today, in order of numbers they are Christianity, Islam a close second, Buddhism a distinct 3rd, and Hinduism a distinct 4th. I've studied all 4 in detail, especially the first 2 which are Judaism-therefore-Zoroastrian based, and Hinduism the least. However, Hinduism is the most interesting, as they seem the most ancient and lack the central human figure the others revolve around. In Science, what I got from that religion was the Cosmological speculation (reality? ... how can we prove it if so?) of The Big Crunch. I choose to not dig deeper than that.

Also, regarding Verlinde, Lubos seems to have jumped off the fence (the surprising thing is he was ever on it) and the claws are out! Holy Catfight, Batman! I'm kicking back and passing the popcorn and see how THIS develops! All men like boxing matches, if they're honest, but are well advised to stay away from catfights. :-)

Regardless, I have had similar ideas to Verlinde and look forward to seeing how this develops. My basic complaint with String Theory is that it complicates Reality the smaller the length scale and the farther back we travel in time. Being of the Planck/Einstein/DeBroglie/Schrodinger "Simplicity is bliss" school, I submit that just the opposite is true ... that at the dawn of creation things were very simple in that the original number of parameters were quite few, possibly as few as 2. Or 3. Or whatever. The work of Jacobson and Verlinde (and LQGers and CDTers and Causal Setsers) seem to point in that direction. It will be very interesting to see how this bangs out. Stay tuned.

@ Jérôme - Agree with your words. I'll add something based on a fascinating and little known (to Academics) branch of Psychology known as Organizational Psychology (the Psychology of Groups), which is taught in Masters programs of Business Administration, and which I studied in detail in getting my MBA (after a BSME).

Basically what it comes down to is the old guard hates giving up power to the new guard. Even Einstein ran into it. Had Planck not had Einstein's back, old Albert would likely have been labeled a "crackpot" with his Special Relativity theory. Planck had to work hard to convince the elite of their time that young Albert was onto something.

But fret not! The Internet changes everything. "Idea democracy" or whatever it is is an unstoppable force. The PRC can restrict information to the Chinese all they want, but people will find a way to override that and in the end, the truth WILL out.

Regarding "honors," Feynman was bang on, yup. That he came up with ideas that other Physicists used ... THAT's THE THING! He got it. Too bad too many others don't. Many of the old guard spend their entire careers basking in the glow of a single accomplishment they made at age 24-27 or something. It's a shame but ... it's human nature, therefore something to work around, once it's recognized, and not to be discouraged by, thereby. Just another wall to climb, as Lisa Randall knows. :-)

Jérôme CHAUVET said...

Being of the Planck/Einstein/DeBroglie/Schrodinger "Simplicity is bliss" school, I submit that just the opposite is true ...

This is the statement of the lex parcimoniae, pretty the same as the least action principle translated into information language. Why make things complicated where you can make them simple.

At its very beginning, the Universe should have as low data as possible in itself, otherwise must you wonder where such an organized information comes from, and hence tend to count on God. On the contrary, the Universe should fill up itself with information as time goes by, in order to become everything which is logically possible to exist (this is what we seem to observe in it)... To me, Lee Smolin's darwinian theory for the universe has the ability to seize this at once. It lacks however experimental evidences. The main problem probably is that a theory of everything should eventually contain in itself entities having the will to create a theory of everything, and so on... This weird looping is to me the first thing, somewhat related to consciousness, we have to understand before we are able to say: "YES, we have it!"



Phil Warnell said...

Hi Steven,

With as pragmatic as most people view Feynman, particularly these days, he is often associated with the shut up and calculate , having no room or need for the questions posed by the other great natural philosophers of the ages. The fact is when one cares to look we find him no different, only appearing so as having the benefit of greater knowledge, which forms the root of our strength of being not just able to come to know more, yet to pass this on to others.

For instance I stand on the seashore, alone and I start to think,
There are the rushing waves, mountains and molecules,
Each stupidly minding its own business,
trillions apart, yet forming white surf in unison,
Ages on ages before any eyes could see,
Year after year thunderously pounding, the shore as now,
For whom, for what?... on a dead planet,
With no life to entertain...
Never at rest, tortured by energy,
Wasted prodigiously by the sun...poured into space,
A mite makes the ocean roar,
Deep in the sea , all molecules repeat the patterns,
Of one another until complex new ones are formed.
They make others like themselves...and a new dance starts,
Growing in size and complexity, living things, masses of atoms, DNA, proteins,
Dancing a pattern ever more intricate, out of the cradle onto the land,
Here it is standing, , atoms with consciousness, matter with curiosity,
Stands at the sea wonders at wondering,
I .. a universe of atoms.... an atom in the universe.

-Richard Feynman[ J. Mehra- Beat of a Different Drum- page 544]



Steven Colyer said...

I made a small update on this blarticle, btw, see the top of the blog for the latest. More of a cleaning up loose ends kind of thing.

@ Jérôme - lex parcimoniae , you say? I respond: Numquam ponenda est pluralitas sine necessitate, or entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem, even.

No need to translate, we are of course discussing Occam's Razor. Which I love, unless Occam's Short Sword is required. Occam's Long Sword should never be needed, unless this Universe is severely screwed up.

I find Lee's Fecund Universes theory intriguing. Unprovable, as is much of Cosmology, but intriguing. Intriguing > Interesting > Unique (String Theory) in my mind.

A T.O.E. needn't have a God or Consciousness. Just a few parameters, either a background or some backgroundless-background voidy-thing for the info/stuff to expand into, add some Nonlinear Dynamics, wait a dozen billion years or so, and Presto! Beings like us able to contemplate this stuff emerge.

Jérôme CHAUVET said...

Steven: Lee's theory could be shown to be essential if he had anyhow generated/computed physical objects with it, I mean, using a computer and a mutation/selection cycle algorithm applied to mathematical objects (e.g. matrices + complex numbers). I have the intuition that some darwinian approach would save the continuity between physical entities and living species, so we would have in turn a theory unifying physics and biology.

Physicists are not accustomed to resorting to the natural selection theory because it is not in their culture, which makes me think how important it is to always go and investigate in other fields of science, just to learn.


Phil Warnell said...

Hi Steven,

When it comes to things like evolution its commonly thought that since random is a element of the process therefore it cannot be one rich enough as being an explanation where all what then forms after can be accounted for. However, this is not an opinion that is inherent due to its sciences’ history, just a misunderstanding of what forms to be a logical necessity and not recognizing the role of potential within a theory. That is every potential has unavoidable ends, whether or not random plays a part.

“The end and the means towards it may come about by chance. We say, for instance, that a stranger has come by chance, paid the ransom, and gone away, when he does so as if he had come for that purpose, though it was not for that that he came. This is incidental, for chance is an incidental cause, as I remarked before. But when an event takes place always or for the most part, it is not incidental or by chance. In natural products the sequence is invariable, if there is no Impediment.

It is absurd to suppose that purpose is not present because we do not observe the agent deliberating. Art does not deliberate. If the ship-building art were in the wood, it would produce the same results by nature. If, therefore, purpose is present in art, it is present also in nature. The best illustration is a doctor doctoring himself: nature is like that. It is plain then that nature is a cause, a cause that operates for a purpose.”

-Aristotle (frpm his paper intitled as ‘Physics”- aprox. 350 B.C.)

But this is certain, and an opinion commonly received among theologians, that the action by which he now sustains it is the same with that by which he originally created it; so that even although he had from the beginning given it no other form than that of chaos, provided only he had established certain laws of nature, and had lent it his concurrence to enable it to act as it is wont to do, it may be believed, without discredit to the miracle of creation, that, in this way alone, things purely material might, in course of time, have become such as we observe them at present; and their nature is much more easily conceived when they are beheld coming in this manner gradually into existence, than when they are only considered as produced at once in a finished and perfect state.”

-Rene Descartes [Discourse on The Method: of Rightly Conducting The Reason, and Seeking Truth in the Sciences (1637) ]

So as far as the validity of the evolutionary process being a valid one we could say all Darwin did was look at his observations in relation to logical argument long since considered. As for the modern physicists I guess they are simply poor students in respect to their own discipline/



Phil Warnell said...

Hi Steven,

” No need to translate, we are of course discussing Occam's Razor. Which I love, unless Occam's Short Sword is required. Occam's Long Sword should never be needed, unless this Universe is severely screwed up.”

It seems like myself when it comes to the economy of theory as a measure of its truth you may prefer ‘Einstein’s Rasor’, which although he never called it as such he stated as being the following:

"The supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience"



Steven Colyer said...

@ Jérôme - As usual I like what you wrote, and just wish to add:

- I think Physics and Biology have already been unified, and the unification is called: Physics. Notably: Pauli's exclusion principle and Schrodinger's wavefunction equation, both of which boosted Chemistry into the stratosphere.

Chemistry, a branch of Physics as we now know, then supercharged Biology. ALL physical sciences are thus branches of Physics, as far as I'm concerned. Ironically, Biology is about 200 years ahead of Physics, thanks to Physics. Has Physics thus been a victim of its own success? Or has its children just taken the baton and outshone Daddy? Funding agencies are dying to know.

- Yes, agreed on the need and importance of interdisciplinary approaches. I think most people do this, but I'm sure there's at least one weenie in every department that doesn't. This is also the public's idea of a "typical" scientist. No such thing.

- I'm not sure anyone ISN'T working out the math and experiments to Lee's Fecund Universes theory. Isn't that what grad students and post-docs are for? One of the strangest things about Fecund is the thought that most of the mass in a black hole is concentrated near its surface, thus leaving a "space" inside for Universes to form. True? Not true? Haven't heard anyone argue it can't be so.

But all of this is a bit deeper than I wish to explore at present. I'm all ears though.

@Phil - Thanks for all the nice thoughts and quotes, and Feynman's poem. Yup, I loved that Einstein Rasor's quote.

But didn't Bohr think the same way? They may have had different ways of expressing themselves, but I believe the need for theory to back up experimental results is at the very heart of realistic views and speculations of QM, and GR as well.

Awesome, Phil. You may have been the first person to unify Einstein and Bohr with that single quote. Imagine that.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Steven,

“You may have been the first person to unify Einstein and Bohr with that single quote. Imagine that.”

I wished it was as easy as that as the argument centered around what was and were not the datum of experience. It’s a strange situation really with Einstein objecting to spooky action at a distant and Bohr saying it held no significance since the way it was set up uncertainty would prevent such a thing from being able to experimentally manifest itself to have it known to be real. The bottom line is both of them were wrong as it is a real aspect of nature for which Bell gave a way it could be demonstrated as such. So that single datum of experience turned out to be one both Bohr and Einstein surrendered.

The thing that has always concerned me is if the focus today is to unite two theories shouldn't it be made clear first what it is they are unifying. My way of looking at it is perhaps first one or both of the theories should be made more complete within each of their respective domains before they proceed to attempting to unify them. In a way this is what LQG represents for gravity, yet I don’t see the same for QM. The fact is with QM there is still more than one elephant in the room that many seem still content to ignore.

“The Bohr-Heisenberg tranquilizing philosophy forms a gentle pillow from which the true believer cannot easily be roused."

-Albert Einstein



Steven Colyer said...

Hi Phil,

I mostly agree with your last point, and props for pointing out both Einstein and Bohr were wrong. Brilliant men, but they simply didn't have the experimental data we have today to figure it all out ... I see each of them as doing the best they could given the knowledge of their era.

It might surprise you Phil that I'm actually more of a Gravitationist than a Quantum guy. I only recently concluded a year long study in Quantum Mechanics (to fill a hole in my knowledge base, and thanks greatly to Andrew Thomas' "What is Reality?" website), thinking as I went in it would be difficult.

I found the Math not very hard at all. The Socratic "How?" of QM I feel comfortable with, even Entanglement.

I also feel comfortable with the Platonic "Why?" of most of QM with one VERY notable exception: Entanglement, thus proving Bohr's claim that if you THINK you understand QM, you really don't.

I've made my peace with "Collapse of the Wavefunction" as well, that whatever it is, we'll have better data in the future that will offer a simple explanation, or perhaps the question itself is questionable and therefore contentious.

Look at how Lubos answers the question at The Reference Frame today in response to Sean Carroll's "25 Questions" from Cosmic Variance:

20. What happens when wave functions collapse?
... Sean Carroll, Cosmic Variance

To which Lubos responds:

Nothing objective happens.

A wave function is nothing else than a tool to predict probabilities; it is no real wave. When such an object "collapses", the only thing that it means is that we learned something about the random outcomes of some measurements, so we may eliminate the possibilities that - as we know - can no longer happen. For our further predictions, we only keep the probabilities of the possibilities that can still happen i.e. those that are compatible with the facts about the events that have already taken place.

Everyone who thinks that "something real happens" when a wave function collapses - that a wave function is on par with classical waves (such as electromagnetic waves) - has misunderstood the basic meaning of quantum mechanics.

... Lubos Motl Jan. 2010