Nucleons in a Bunch

The world of the very small is impossible to observe in complete detail. In the everyday world, once the billiard ball is struck, we can predict the final configuration on the pool table. This is because the method we use to observe the initial positions and motion of the balls – vision – doesn’t change appreciably those positions and motions. In the microscopic world described by quantum mechanics, however, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle tells us that we can’t measure with arbitrary accuracy both position and velocity.

A similar principle affects the theory of quantum mechanical rotations. In principle, a rotating body has a total angular momentum (its propensity to keep spinning) and an orientation of the angular momentum in space. Since we have three spatial directions in our reality, there are three components of angular momentum. However, quantum mechanical theory tells us that we can know the total angular momentum, but any attempt to measure one of its components will disrupt the values of the other two components.

This leads to some confusion in interpreting the theory, even among physicists. The leader of my Ph.D. thesis project, hearing that I was doing well in my advanced coursework on quantum mechanics, expressed his confusion regarding the underlying physics of the system we were studying (muons in a magnetic field). I explained to him that the other two components still existed and influenced the time-evolution of the muon, but at the end only a single component could be measured.

This was a man that intimidated his collaborators with his brilliance and drive, and no one had ever clarified for him the basics of the quantum theory  of angular momentum. This is not uncommon – often the words used to describe quantum processes are not reflective of the underlying mathematics of the theory. This allows lots of room for physicists to overplay the significance of their measurements.

Today we have a report from an experimental study that confirms that some quantum objects are not symmetric. This is not surprising, in some sense. The system, the nucleus of the barium atom, is a swirling stew of 56 protons and 88 neutrons. What the study reveals is that some number of these particles can clump together in a particularly ordered fashion. Once they achieve that configuration, the remaining protons and neutrons can’t push their way into the structure, and end up hanging like a barnacle on the outside.

Here’s a way of visualizing this: let’s say that we have twelve of those little magnetic balls. We can organize eleven of them into a nice little tetrahedron. But the twelfth ball is going to be stuck on the outside of the tetrahedron like a barnacle. It is going to ruin the regularity (what physicists call symmetry) of the assembly.

Why is this loss of symmetry exciting? Well, it seems to be a pretty natural consequence of self-organizing aggregates. But it’s also related to some principles used to guide the development of quantum mechanical theories. Remember, we can’t see this world very clearly, and touching its inhabitants disrupts their behavior. So to guide the development of theory, physicists have come up with abstract mathematical principles. Three important ones are charge (C), parity (P) and time (T) inversions. These state, respectively, that the equations that describe the quantum world should not change if:

  • particles are replaced with anti-particles
  • the particles are observed in a mirror, and
  • the universe is run backwards.

In actuality, it’s hard to create theories that violate all of these principles simultaneously (what is called CPT violation). However, the weak force that controls radioactivity is known to violate parity (P), though invariance is restored under CP.

So what is the significance of the asymmetry of Barium-144? The authors claim that it is parity violation in the strong and electromagnetic forces. The claim is based upon the observation that when looked at in the mirror, the barium atom will have its bump on the opposite side.

But that is not what parity violation means! The mirror-image barium nucleus is still allowed under the equations that describe its structure. In fact, it can also be obtained simple by walking around to observe it from the other side. That is certainly allowed in the theory.

We can contrast this with parity violation in  neutrinos. Neutrinos, which only participate in the weak interactions, always have their angular momentum aligned against their direction of motion. They are “left-handed.” Observed in a mirror, however, that orientation changes: the direction of motion is reversed, but not the angular momentum. Thus the neutrino becomes “right-handed,” which is not known in nature, and so the equations of the weak interaction are violated by parity inversion. However, by adding charge inversion, the violation is removed: anti-neutrinos are indeed right-handed.

So in this case I’m afraid that got those making so much of the Barium-144 asymmetry have gotten their “nucleons in a bunch” for no good reason.

In general, the obscurity of quantum phenomena are not even well understood by physicists themselves. When they trumpet a great discovery, then, you should always ask yourself whether the practical implications of their work merit continued support by the public.

Unless, of course, you think of science as a cultural investment, like art or politics.

Super Massive Black Holes

New study indicates that super massive black holes did not form through slow accretion from normal black holes, but rather early in the evolution of the universe in some unknown, cataclysmic process.

This contradicts the “Big Bang” theory, but is expected in a physics of Generative Orders (see points 7 and 8 of the “Reference Model”).

Gravity Waves ‘Goodbye’ to Einstein

I was out at the Skeptics Society science talk on Sunday. The speaker was Stephon Alexander, a theoretical astrophysicist at Brown University, who talked about the relationship between string theory and music. Dr. Alexander also plays the tenor sax, and has released his first jazz album. His new book, The Jazz of Physics, describes the relationship between his two passions.

The format was a discussion with Michael Shermer, the head of the Skeptics Society. Michael rounded out the conversation with the “big questions.” Regarding the future of physics, Alexander predicted that we would have a theory that reconciled gravity and quantum mechanics in the next fifty years. As for the ultimate origin of the universe, Alexander observed that the possibility of creating carbon, which is the basis for life on earth, is tightly coupled to the relative strengths of two fundamental forces: the first binds quarks together to form a proton, and the second binds electrons to protons to form hydrogen atoms. Even a 10% change in strengths would prevent the formation of carbon in stars. This is the kind of “fine-tuning” often exclaimed by theists, but Alexander allowed Shermer to lead the conversation into a discussion of the multiverse hypothesis.

As you might imagine, I ended up having to apologize to Dr. Alexander for the question that I raised.

The question was motivated by the history of physics, which has again and again used the equations of oscillating waves to describe complex phenomena. This is the technology of Fourier analysis, and its power lies in fact that waves can be composed to produce very complex patterns. (Just consider the surface of a swimming pool, for example.) But Fourier analysis has its weaknesses, and I am particularly concerned regarding two of them.

The lesser of the weaknesses is that close to the source of a wave, other mathematical methods may give a more concise description of the disturbance. For example, the surface of a beaten drum deforms with Bessel waves. This is also how the air moves in the vicinity of the drum. It is only far from the source that the pressure waves that we hear as sound are described efficiently by Fourier notation. So when applied inappropriately, Fourier analysis may make it difficult to understand the things that create the waves.

The second weakness is that the media in which waves propagate are not smooth – they are actually composed of particles. We have seen this again and again in physics. Sound waves can be described as waves, but until we accept that gases are composed of little atoms there are certain effects that we can’t explain – such as why our voice squeaks after we inhale the helium from a balloon. Considering water waves, Einstein himself was awarded the Nobel prize in part for explaining the motion of small impurities in water with the insight that the water was composed of atoms that bashed the impurities around, causing them to jitter and wander rather than flowing smoothly from place to place. More abstractly, James Clerk Maxwell predicting the existence of electromagnetic waves by combining the equations that describe the generation of electric and magnetic fields. Einstein’s Nobel award also recognized his explanation of the photoelectric effect with the idea that electromagnetic waves were actually composed of particles called photons.

Considering this history, it seems natural to wonder whether the theories that Alexander describes in his book – theories that hold that the cosmos is composed of quantum-mechanical waves – are going to be replaced by theories that posit structures inside those waves. In response to the question, he offered that there had been some ideas proposed of that type, but they hadn’t been developed because they were “unfashionable.”

I had the sense that I rained a little on Dr. Alexander’s parade, which upset me. There were a number of young Hispanic high-school students in attendance, and he made a powerful representation to them that anyone can aspire to be a scientist – the most important steps were to try, to keep your eye out for mentors, and to recognize whether it was truly your passion. That is an important message, and in casting doubt on his picture, I may have undermined the inspiration that he offered.

But I just couldn’t help myself. It was those questions asked by Shermer, to which I believe I have been granted such powerful answers. This I was able to communicate to Stephon when I stopped to have my book signed. During his talk, he enthusiastically related the vision that the universe of waves sings to itself, a vision not dissimilar to his experience of jazz improvisation.

While the specifics are different, the passion is common to us both. I offered to him that, not being an academic, I don’t often have the opportunity to share my ideas, and because I have been led by them into a view of the universe that contains such wholeness and beauty, I tend to become a little bit passionate when conveying them. However, I do intend them as gifts, and hope that they help people to escape fear that has no foundation.

And maybe, just maybe, one of those young people will be inspired by the analogy I offered. We know that the gravitational waves exist – they were recently detected by the LIGO collaboration. And we know what they propagate in: dark energy. It only takes the courage to break from what Alexander called “fashion” to cast down Einstein and offer a new view of the universe – a view that I am fairly certain explains spirituality, and makes evident the existence of God.

And, given Einstein’s views on quantum mechanics, famously stated as “God does not play dice with the universe,” I believe that the great man himself might forgive me the ambition to see him overthrown.

Getting in Line

More than a decade ago, I proposed the idea that the universe is composed of one-dimensional structures. My motivations for seeking an alternative to the reigning standard model of physics, along with a fifty-year research program, were published as the Generative Orders Research Proposal (follow the New Physics link at the top of this blog). The idea is now making its way into the physics journals. (Did the Universe Begin as a Simple 1-D Line?)

What’s curious is that the Live Science report on the work is headed with a graphic that summarizes the reigning inflationary model of the early universe (still commonly referred to as the “Big Bang” model).

It’s nice to see the basic concepts of Generative Orders gaining traction – it moves us one step closer to a reconciliation of science and spirituality.

Balke, Principal of Uncertainty

After seven-and-a-half years of working with ancient technology at my current employer, I began putting my resume around in February. The process has been discouraging. I was truly excited about a start-up in San Francisco that was looking to help self-generators maximize the return on their excess electricity, but the HR manager wasn’t interested in organizing a plane flight up from Los Angeles. The hiring manager broke off contact with “Let me know when you’ve got yourself relocated to San Francisco.” I’ve also looked for opportunities in the motion control industry, applying to half-a-dozen positions. I didn’t even get a call back.

The real action is in Java and cloud services, but when I began to work on updating my skills in these areas, I came down really sick in the beginning of March with symptoms that hung on until just this week. Not wanting to be taking interviews while sick, I put the job search on hold. But it might be deeper than that. My brother is also looking for work, and calls me occasionally to share experience. The last time I found myself saying “I don’t know, Ben. I think that I’m getting messages from the world that I’ve been investing my energy in the wrong places.”

With some extra time on my hands, I decided to take up the charge placed on me by John Zande, who insisted that I should try to drum up support for my ideas on fundamental physics. His recommendation was to focus on the Templeton Foundation and its awardees. So I went out to the Foundation’s site and discovered the Fundamental Questions Institute. The mission of the institute seems sympathetic to my goals, but when I contacted the academics that dominate its board, their responses were “I can’t participate in this.” I didn’t even see any hits on my New Physics page.

I understand the reticence of these men: they probably deal with a lot of cranks. But I led my invitations with a list of serious deficiencies in the standard model that should have demonstrated that I am a serious commentator. You would have thought that they would have at least been curious. Of course, I can invest in developing a presence out on their forums, hoping to establish myself in their community, but the conversation seems to be dominated by philosophers rather than physicists, and – dammit – I’ve got a full-time job already.

As this was unfolding, I met with a life coach named Jamie Wozny down in the little garden next to the contributors’ steps at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Still wobbly with my illness, I chased her down standing next to the parking elevator facing a sign that said “Tired of Waiting?” Feeling frustrated with life, I just let it all hang out, telling her a lot of things that I’ve never shared with anyone else, culminating with the laughing observation “You know, the angels love me. If people don’t want me here, why shouldn’t I just wander off to be with them?”

Jamie’s advice was to get myself registered as a minister (thank-you, Universal Life Church), purchase some insurance, and hang up my shingle as a minister at Weebly or one of the other free web-site hosting services. “Your tribe will find you,” she assured me. Remembering the excitement I felt when I designed my t-shirt, the “Love Returns” theme came to mind. I spent my spare time over the next two weeks learning HTML5 animation syntax to build an introductory page, and outlining the content for the rest of the site. Today, I’ll be heading down to a workshop run by Jamie and her partner in Santa Monica where they rent out space in a healer’s studio. That might be a good place to hang up my shingle. While it’s a little distant from home, it’s close to the community centered in Culver City that I’ve been dancing with over the last ten years.

I got another push in this direction from Ataseia, co-organizer of LA Ecstatic Dance, when I told him that I was probably going to be relocating in the near future. He looked at me seriously and said “That’s going to be a real loss to our community.” It was the tone that gave me pause. Robin and he have always made a point of thanking me for my presence, but I had always assumed that was just because I come to all the events.Nobody had ever explicitly recognized the energy and love that I share on the dance floor, except the rare participant that comes up to tell me “thank-you” (and those that do I usually never see again). But at last week’s event, the staff went out of their way to honor my presence among them.

So I’ve been trying to shift my perspective regarding that community, wondering how to introduce myself as a commentator on science and theology with the goal of encouraging people to interact with me. It’s not easy – one of the few people to have read Ma told me that there were very few authors that could write the gamut from the intimately personal, expanding into broad social concerns and beyond to the eternal. There is just so much to say. And so maybe the right way to start is with “I love you all. I express that love through dance and touch, but it’s rooted deeply in my understanding of science and theology. I think that it’s time to share that understanding with the world. If you’d like to hear what I have to say, or know of a forum that would be receptive, let’s talk.”

Then on Thursday morning I came out to check the site stats and discovered that I had almost two hundred hits overnight. When I checked my e-mail, I found a note from Jeffrey Nash that he had printed out all of the essays listed in my “New Physics” and “Faith” pages. We’ve been chatting about quantum mechanics and the basis of spiritually at his Awakening Process sessions and before the Improv Jam on Sundays. He tracks a number of researchers, and wanted to meet with me to discuss my ideas. When that was delayed due to upcoming travel, he said that he would print out some of my writing and read it to prime the conversation. His obvious enthusiasm is deeply flattering. Jeff is a profound healing presence for the people that gather around him.

Among those are a number of young ladies that have strong and expressive bodies. I’ve generated some confusion among them, which I finally addressed while cuddling after an exhausting duet. The woman began to ask probing questions, and I found myself saying “Well, one of the things that an older man can do for a young lady is to encourage her to recognize just how precious she is.” After we broke up, I danced with a few more people, but having already spent three hours on the floor at Ecstatic Dance, I began to cramp up and creak in the knees. Looking to pack up and go, I wandering to the back of the room and found Sophie, a recent addition to the community, beckoning to me from the edge of the “squishy hug-fest” that forms towards the end of the dance. It turns out that she’s working on her Ph.D. in Jungian psychology. As the squishy mass rolled off, we stayed behind, she eventually allowing me to pillow my head on her belly, and talked about psychology and spirituality until the Jam rolled up at 9 PM. As we stood, she asked me about my Ph.D., and laughingly admitted that she didn’t know anything about particle physics. As I offered to explain it to her sometime, I realized that maybe I’d found another community of receptive people.

So here’s a summary of my life over the last two months:

PingPongBall

Quantum Entanglement

John Markoff at the New York Times has been heralding an experiment at Delft as disproving Einstein’s view of the universe. While I have my own issues with Einstein, I am not as impressed with the Delft demonstration as Markoff and others appear to be.

The quantum world is incredibly mysterious to us – we cannot observe its inner workings directly, but only observe its side-effects. This means that we can’t make statements about the behavior of any one system of particles, but only about many systems in aggregate.

Let me give a classical example. When we toss a coin in the air, we know that there is a fifty percent chance that it will land “heads up.” If we could measure the coin’s position and rate of spinning and also knew precisely the properties of the floor that it would land on, as it was in flight we could calculate precisely which way it would land. But we can’t do that, so we believe that there is an element of “chance” in the outcome. In the terminology of quantum mechanics, we might say that the coin in flight is in a “quantum” state: 50% heads up and 50% heads down.

Now let’s say that we put two people in a room and asked them to toss a coin. Since we can’t observe the thoughts in their mind, we might consider them to be in an “entangled” state. We know that if we ask one the answer, we’ll receive the same answer from the other We then separate them by miles and ask the first one what the result of the toss was. If she says “heads,” we know instantaneously that the second person will also say “heads.” So we might say that the state of the pair has “collapsed” to “heads” instantaneously, and we know what answer will be given by the second person.

But the information didn’t travel instantaneously from one to the other. The two people from the room knew all along what the answer was.

If this is actually the nature of quantum entanglement of very small particles such as electrons (the subject of the experiment in Delft), why do scientists become so confused about the process of information transfer?

That chance in coin tossing actually reflects the randomness of the tossing process: the position of the coin on our thumb, the effort of our muscles, the condition of the floor: only with great practice could we ensure that all of these were identical on each toss. If that investment in discipline were made, we could actually control the outcome of the toss, achieving heads 100% of the time.

Now let’s say that, unbeknownst to us, the coin tossers are actually trained in this skill. How would we find out? We couldn’t find out from one experiment. Even after a second experiment, there’s still a one-in-four chance that a random toss would achieve “heads” in both cases. No, we’d have to run many experiments, and decide how improbable the outcome would have to be before we accepted that something was wrong with our theory of coin tossing.

In other words, the confusion comes in because the philosophy of quantum mechanics confuses the problem of proving the correctness of the theory with the actual behavior of the particles that produce any specific outcome. In our coin-tossing case, the quantum theory holds that we’ll get heads 50% of the time. But to prove that, we have to do many, many experiments.

Let’s extend this to the problem of Schroedinger’s cat: a cat is in a box with a vial of poison gas and a radioactive isotope. When the isotope decays (at some random time), a detector triggers a hammer to smash the vial. In the “accepted” philosophy of quantum mechanics, the state of the isotope evolves over time, being partially decayed. This means that the state of the cat is also partially dead. When we open the box, its “wave function” collapses to one state or the other.

We can clarify this confusion with a thought experiment: In our coin tossing example, let’s say that we put coins in boxes and had children run around the room to shake them up, randomizing their state. In quantum mechanical terms, we would say that the state of any one coin was “50% heads.” When we look in a box, the state of that coin is determined: it’s wave function collapses to either heads or tails. It is only by observing all of the coins, however, that we can determine whether the children actually were successful in randomizing the state of the coins.

By analogy with this, we can only prove Schrodinger’s theorem about the “deadness” of cats by performing many experiments. At any instant, however, each cat in its box is either alive or dead. It is unfortunate that we’d have to kill very many of them to determine whether the theory of radioactive decay was correct.

So I side with Einstein: I don’t see any mysterious “action at a distance” in the experiment at Delft, and I certainly don’t see it as proof that information can travel faster than the speed of light.

My own proposition is very different: it is that the dark energy that permeates space and constrains the speed of light can have holes opened in it by the action of our spirit. Once it is removed, the barriers of time and distance fall. When such bonds are created through fear, the subject of the fear seeks to escape them, and the strength of the bond dissipates. When the bonds are created in love, the entanglement persists by mutual consent, and grows inexorably in strength and power, eventually sweeping all else before it.

What kind of confirmation could the physicists at Delft provide of this? I’m not certain, but it would be an experiment in which the electrons were separated, and a manipulation of one was reflected in the other. In our coin-toss experiment, it would be if the two people in the room were separated before the coin toss, and the second knew instantly what the result was of the toss performed by the other. From the video they made, I don’t think that’s what is happening at Delft.

This post in memoriam of Professor Eugene Commins who taught my upper-division course in Quantum Mechanics at UC Berkeley in 1981, and who benefited during his doctoral studies at Princeton from conversations with Einstein.

Arguing Toward the Middle

As a benefit of my attendance at the Skeptic’s conference last may, I have been receiving copies of their flagship magazine. The magazine has begun to entertain the views of theists that work in the sciences. The dialog is generally pretty counterproductive, with the participants often talking past each other. Motivated by the debate between Dave Matson and Douglas Navarick (Debating the “God” Construct) in Vol. 20 No. 4, I address the issues of abiogenesis (the origin of cellular life) and the distinction between “supernatural” phenomena and those such as spirituality that lack an explanation.

You’ll find another response to Navarick’s original article here.


Dave:

As a scientist who believes that the soul is a part of the physical construction of this reality, I am dismayed by the tone of your response to Douglas Navarick.

“Supernatural” is a tendentious term

The scientist loves to ask “Why?”, and comes up with theories that propose explanatory relationships. In propagating those abstractions, an elite cognoscenti is created. As this elite solidifies its political power, funding of scientific research tends to crowd out radical ideas (I refer you to Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions).

So the researchers at CERN focus on the discovery of the “Higgs boson” (which looks nothing like the Higgs boson I studied in graduate school), despite the fact that the Higgs mechanism actually doesn’t explain particle masses – you still need to generate the coupling constants that determine the mass of each individual particle. The “Higgs boson”, however, has been built up as an accomplishment worthy of pursuit, and so is trumpeted as a Nobel-worthy achievement even though – with the exception of charge – no property of the simplest composites (the mesons and nucleons) can be calculated from the standard model of the fundamental forces – even given the measured properties of the quarks. Thus we have a situation in which the obvious failures of current theory are ignored to the purpose of sustaining funding for large-scale research programs with many stakeholders outside of the sciences.

Following Kuhn, I would argue that fundamental physics is ripe for a revolution. The issues as I see them are outlined here. Conceptually, it would seem that if one posited structure inside the current collection of “fundamental” particles, it actually wouldn’t be too hard to make room for the soul. I also have a far simpler picture of this reality, without the unobservable (and highly unstable) Planck-scale plasma and alternate universes. (The multiverse theory, BTW, being obviously another version of your magical hare-brained Easter Bunny.)

So rather than “supernatural”, I would prefer a term that suggested “beyond the things that scientists can yet explain.” “Spirituality” may fit. I would hope that you would admit that scientists, with their emphasis on material experience, may self-select from among those that are spiritually insensitive. As one not so insensitive, often marveling at the healing power of love, I find that “hare-brained Easter Bunny” provides no explanatory leverage. There is something to life beyond what particle physics can yet explain. I’d like to have a rational dialog on the topic.

Of course, if I am right, everyone will be confronted with the need to rethink the record of scripture that has been brought forward from many cultures. Clawing back the sarcasm is going to take a great deal of courage, I recognize, but no less than surrendering the comfort of dogmatism on the other side.

Abiogenesis

This really isn’t that hard a problem. Assume that the oceans contain distributed pools of heavy hydrocarbons in contact with various sources of heat and minerals on the ocean floor. The hydrocarbon pools will develop a skin of polarized molecules (maybe even phospholipids, as phosphor is not rare). Other fundamental components of life (nucleic acids, amino acids, etc.) may also be sourced from the complex chemistry of the pool, which could support (as we know) selective exchange of materials with the water. Agitation of the pool (through earthquakes, overflow, or venting) will result in formation of protocells. These events will  produce innumerable trials, liberated into sub-sea currents. Eventually among those trials will be cells that can scavenge materials for growth from the environment. Voila! Life.

Pools lying on different mineral strata will form protocells with different morphologies. Those with compatible membranes could merge, producing further biochemical trials. Which is what we actually know happened – cells are composed of organelles that were protocells in their own right before being absorbed.

BTW – there’s an IMAX on life around thermal vents in which the pilots of the deep sea vehicle actually interact with such a hydrocarbon pool.

Regards,

Brian Balke

Reconciling Scripture and Evolution

Posted in a discussion of our symbiotic relationship with mites, this summarizes my position succinctly:

The biologists that rely upon strictly biochemical processes of evolution will never be able to calculate rates, because the forcing conditions have been lost in prehistory. I found it interesting to ask “why does every civilization develop the concept of a soul”, and eventually concluded that Darwin was half right: life is the co-evolution of spirit with biological form. The addition of spirit influences the choices made by living creatures, and so changes the rates.

Given this, I went back to Genesis and interpreted it as an incarnation (“The SPIRIT of God hovered over the waters” – and then became God for the rest of the book), with the “days” of creation reflecting the evolution of senses and forms that enabled Spirit to populate and explore the material conditions of its survival (photosensitivity, accommodation of hypotonic “waters above”, accommodation of arid conditions on the “land”, accommodation of seasons with sight (resolving specific sources of light), intelligent species in the waters and air, and mammals on earth (along with man)).

Couple this with the trumpets in the Book of Revelation, which pretty clearly parallel the extinction episodes identified by paleontology – including injection of the era of giant insects – and it looks like science and scripture actually support each other.

The only point of significant disagreement is spirit itself. Given my knowledge of the weaknesses of modern theories of cosmology and particle physics, I found myself considering the possibility of structure inside of the recognized “fundamental” particles. It became apparent to me that it wouldn’t be too difficult to bring spiritual experience into particle physics. To my surprise and delight, I became convinced that this reality is constructed so that love inexorably becomes the most powerful spiritual force.

From the Earth to the Sun and Back Again

One of the hazards of engaging in epistemological debate is that they almost always become religious. We look back through the haze of history, trying to understand the practices by which knowledge is revealed to us, hoping to glean insights that help us heal divisive intellectual conflicts in the present.

Currently, these discussions become religious because our era suffers from an extreme bifurcation in our pursuit of knowledge. In no other era of human history have the two great pursuits of understanding – religion and science – been perceived as diametrically opposed. The linear causality of Einstein stands in contradiction of the gift of prophesy, and the power and predictability of dumb matter seduces us into believing that we can achieve all of our desires right here on Earth. Conversely, science denies us the comfort of meaning, to the extent that some denounce the search for meaning, or go even further to propose that this reality is evidence of a malefic creator.

Given this modern myopia, in looking back at the great episodes of resistance to truth, we tend to focus on the conflict between science and religion. Consider, for example, the succession from geocentric models of the solar system to the heliocentric models. The oppression of Brahe and Galileo is characterized as resistance by a religious elite threatened by the destruction of a Platonic universe whose geometrical perfection (circles moving within circles) was advanced as proof of the existence of the Christian God.

In fact, the history was rather more subtle, and its consideration brings a great deal of insight into the intellectual resistance to the program of this blog, declared on the title bar: “Unifying Science and Spirituality.”

The Greeks advanced both the geocentric and heliocentric models. If the ancients had been capable of building the instruments used by Galileo, they would certainly have settled on the latter. They resolved on the former for entirely practical reasons: they were concerned with using the positions of the stars to calculate the calendar date and the position of objects on the Earth’s surface. Culturally, their needs were absolutely geocentric. To solve this problem, they correlated geographical position with stellar observations and the progression of the seasons. Next, they sought methods for compacting this large body of data in a form that could be used by voyagers. The technology most adaptable to that purpose was the mathematics of circular revolution. Not only was the mathematics of circular revolution relatively simple, it was easy to translate to mechanical form as instruments containing rotating dials.

The “geocentric” model of the heavens was not in essence a philosophical proposition, but a proposition of practical technology. The principle motivation for upending the model was that over the centuries, the circular approximations began to fail. Designs specified in the first century produced the wrong answers in the eleventh century. A more reliable model was necessary, and the application of the new mathematics of elliptical analysis revealed that the heliocentric model fit the data more reliably than did the geocentric model of circular revolution.

As for the resistance of the Church, Galileo insisted on publishing an insulting parody of the Pope with his observations. He made his science a political issue. This was not an idle matter: the Church used the feudal compact to constrain the rapaciousness of those with a monopoly on the instruments of war. Those scientists were well accepted that chose to engage with the Church with the aim of minimizing the social disruption that always comes with new knowledge.

In my own intellectual adventures here on this blog, I find myself confronted by those that tout modern cosmology as proof that the universe is a machine unfolding without purpose from its initial conditions. The foremost intellectual challenge to that conclusion has been “fine tuning” – the delicate balance of the fundamental constants of nature (specifically the relative strengths of the four forces) that must be preserved if life is to survive. The solution to this conundrum has been the “multiverse” variant of the Big Bang theory (the name itself is a mischaracterization). The multiverse proposition holds that universes exist with and without life – we just happen to occupy one in which life is possible.

The random generation of universes in the Big Bang, however, results from the proposition that we can explain all of nature by using two branches of mathematics: group theory and Fourier analysis. Both of these methods are relatively susceptible to hand calculation. What is little understood by the public is that the theorists trumpet their successes and ignore their failures. The application of current theory to study of the hydrogen nucleus is summarized here, and the results are incredibly ugly.

Why is the theory not abandoned? For the same reason that the geocentric theory was not abandoned: physicists and astronomers have used the current theory to justify the construction of multi-billion dollar observatories. As the Church did, they oppose any idea that might destabilize the social order that pays their salaries.

What is scandalous is that the interstellar navel-gazing saps money from problems here on Earth that desperately call for the full commitment of our best and brightest minds. The scientists need to get the heads out of the stars and back onto the Earth.

Understanding, Hope

The ferocity of the wildfires raging in Northern California was given a human face last Monday morning when one of the staff at AMC shared that two members of her family had lost their homes and everything they owned when their town was devoured by the flames. As I write today, the fires have destroyed 1400 homes.

To some, it is human crisis that makes global climate change palpable to them. For me, once a wanderer of the trails above the Conejo Valley, the cries of nature have weighed on my heart for far longer. The day that I first encountered the great Muslim love poem, Yusef and Zuleika, these words caused me to weep as I looked out over the hills:

To my wounded heart this soft balm to lay,
For not beyond this can I wish or pray.
The streams of thy love will new life bestow,
On the dry, thirsty field where its sweet waters flow.

After services at St. Kolbe’s today, I was moved to stand on the floor where the gaze of Christ fell. I was struck suddenly that the last thing that he beheld was the earth under the cross. The earth that held in place the instrument of his destruction, but also that had carried him on his wandering, that had brought forth food for him to eat, and provided all the tools of weather and life that had responded to his authority as he tried to teach his people to heal the world.

We could have avoided this destruction. Not just the destruction of families, cities and nations, but the loss of species and the poisoning of water and earth that will delay their recovery. Both to the reasoning mind and the intuitive heart, these consequences have long been apprehensible. Now, faced with the undeniable evidence of doom, we still hesitate to act, for we think first of what is close to us. Our families, our homes, and our land: they all suffer, and so we take from elsewhere to preserve them. We take from those with no voice: the poor, the uneducated, and the natural world.

But what else are we to do?

I write here because I understand things that others do not, and so I perceive solutions that are beyond their grasp. It may seem small-minded to decry the folly of Elon Musk and his peers, desperately trying to disperse the human species so that it can survive all the threats of the natural world: black holes, solar instability, and human greed. But I do so with sympathy for them, for they cannot see how much power is available to us if only we understand it.

On the New Physics page I offer a model of physics that holds these truths: space is not empty. It is filled with a medium in which light propagates, the medium that physicists once called the “aluminiferous ether”, and now call “dark energy.” That medium is wrought through with threads that appear most obviously to us as electric charge when bound to the medium, but that may also float in the medium. The floating threads interact, merge and evolve to form what we know as “souls.” The souls merge with matter to “live” as plants, animals and people. In that form, they are capable of warping the fabric of space. In most cases, that warping occurs through the use of their physical manifestation – in humans, we commonly use our legs, hands, and mouths.

Through our actions, we join other things in the service of our will. That can be a temporary affair, such as when we throw a light switch or press the accelerator pedal. We are often seduced by the temporary thrill of such expressions, a thrill made accessible through the efforts of engineers to remove souls from the world around us, ensuring that it responds only to our will.

But any great lover knows the permanence of the bonds that arise when we ask permission before enjoying a gift, and attempt to reciprocate in kind. In those exchanges, we make persistent spiritual arrangements – persistent precisely because the participating souls do not seek to escape them.

So this is how we save the world: we surrender our self-concerns. We open our hearts in compassion to the suffering of the world. We marshal the displaced souls of the natural world and join them together to warp the fabric of space to create a lens that bends light away from the earth. And we reward them every day with the expression of our gratitude for their service.

Are we enough to do this, by ourselves? Perhaps, and perhaps not. But we should consider this: there is a billion times as much energy leaving the sun than comes to us on Earth. The source of that energy is not unintelligent. It is, in fact, the “Ancient of Days” described in Daniel’s Dream of the Four Beasts. It would help us if it could, but we are so terribly small, and one mistake would destroy us all. It needs us to guide it.

I had a friend challenge me once that with faith we should be able to move mountains. My response was: “Yes, if every living thing on the mountain and the land around it agreed that the mountain should move, the mountain would move.” But if any voice claimed privilege over that power, the result would be chaos. It is for this reason that I decry the ugliness of the Republican debates. If we are going to save all of the world, the power of such voices will still be among us. The destructive effects of their expression cannot be risked. They must learn self-control.

I was late getting to church this morning. As I organized my thoughts to write this post, I sat down to the reading from Acts. I wept as these words were read [James 4:2-3]:

You lust and do not have, so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.

Oh, humanity! Why must the world suffer so?