Hoisting by Einstein’s Petard

While often cited as an authority in particle physics and cosmology, Einstein didn’t win the Nobel Prize for his work on relativity. That was considered too controversial at the time. Rather, he was awarded the prize for two papers that forced physicists to shift their understanding of waves.

As I’ve pointed out before, the mathematics of waves is seductive. By assuming that a phenomenon is uniformly smooth at any magnification, we are allowed the use of powerful mathematical tools such as differential equations and Fourier analysis. But it comes with a big assumption: that the things described have no structure inside of them.

Einstein’s two papers undermined that assumption. One paper forced the conclusion that light waves were composed of particles called “photons.” The second forced a recognition that water waves were composed of molecules.

Then he spent the rest of his life pursuing a grand theory of physics that assumed that space was uniformly smooth. Go figure, and take note: he failed in his quest.

So have all the others that followed in his footsteps.

In essence, all that I am asking in my New Physics page is that we imagine that space has structure. I’m hoisting Einstein on his own petard.

The Big Bang Collapses

Yet again.

One of the challenges confronting astrophysicists is figuring out how galaxies form. The problem arises in kind of a round-about way.

The space the fills our universe is remarkably uniform. That’s surprising, because it formed from an extremely violent context. We would expect it to be warped, in the mode of Einstein’s general relativity, causing light to “bend” as it traveled the great distances between galaxies. In addition, until a couple of years ago it was believed that the universe was coasting to a stop. In other words, the mass of the universe appeared to be just enough to keep the galaxies from flying apart forever, but not so much that they would turn around and collide together in a “big crunch.”

These two questions were reconciled with Alan Guth’s “inflationary universe” hypothesis. This holds that the universe was created with an invisible, uniform background energy that dissipated very early, creating most of the matter that we see around us.

One consequence of this model is that matter should be distributed uniformly in the universe. This is a problem for galaxy formation, because if matter is distributed uniformly, there’s no reason for it to start clumping together. There have to be little pockets of higher density for galaxies to form. When only normal matter is included in the simulations of the early universe, galaxies form way to slowly, and don’t exhibit the large-scale structures that we observe in the deep sky surveys.

Worse, when we look around the universe, we can’t actually see enough visible matter to account for the gravitational braking that slows down the rushing apart of the galaxies.

One way of solving these conundrums is “dark matter.” The proposed properties of dark matter are that it does not emit light (it’s dark) and that it has a different kind of mass that causes it to clump together to seed the formation of galaxies.

Today we have a negative result from an experiment designed to detect dark matter. This won’t deter the theorists for long – they’ll just come up with new forms of dark matter that are invisible to the detector (this is an old trick, which caught out my thesis adviser back in the ’80s).  But it does seem to make Occam’s razor cut more in the direction of the generative orders proposal for the formation of the early universe. That model doesn’t need inflation or dark matter or a multiverse to work. It anticipates just the universe that we see around us.

*sigh* Just saying.

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