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.

When Physics Breaks Down

Firmly convinced – as I am – that modern theories of physics are fundamentally flawed, I tend to cringe when reading articles such as “How Do Gluons Bind Matter?” (Ent, Ulrich and Venugopalan, Scientific American, May 2015, p.42ff). The authors consider the observable properties of the proton (one half of the hydrogen atom, the other being the electron), maintaining that theorists using the Standard Model of particle physics have been unable to explain:

  • The proton mass (only 2% of which is due to the Higgs mechanism)
  • Why it doesn’t fall apart
  • Why it doesn’t leak
  • Why it doesn’t have more stuff inside
  • Why it seems to rotate so much

This list could actually be summarized as follows:

The only thing the Standard Model explains about the proton is its charge.

Note that this is after more than 30 years of theoretical effort, including construction of special-purpose supercomputers. The failure is explained away by the mathematical complexity of the underlying model, quantum chromodynamics. As I see it, however, the conclusions are pretty pathetic. It’s not enough to say “it’s hard and we’ll keep on trying.” At some point, an honest person has to say, “Well, I guess that we need to consider other alternatives.”

I’m going to try to explain why I think the failure is so great using a simple analogy.

Imagine that you have a swimming pool with two boards in it. If you push one board up and down in the water, waves will travel to the other board and cause it to move as well. Think of the boards as particles and the waves as the fields that cause the interactions of fundamental physics.

What happens as the boards get smaller and smaller? Well, there will still be an interaction between them. What we will see, however, is that the waves get to be more tightly packed (their peaks will be closer together). Eventually, though, we reach a limit: when the boards are the same size as the spaces between the water molecules, they become like bats knocking around baseballs. We can no longer describe the interaction between the boards using the model of waves – we have to think of the structure of the water itself to get the right answers.

Einstein actually won his Nobel Prize, in part, for changing his mode of thinking about the interaction between small impurities and water. Microscopic studies of the motion of the impurities showed that they were not swept along smoothly, but seemed to bounce around, as though they were being struck by rapidly moving balls – the water molecules, in fact.

Modern particle theory assumes that the fundamental particles have no discernable structure, and that space is an empty vacuum that does not disrupt the motion of the waves created by the particles. What I have proposed here (see the “New Phyics” page on the banner) is that the vacuum is not empty – it is full of something, much as a swimming pool is full of water. The failure of modern theories to explain the properties of the proton suggest, just as in the case of Brownian motion, that the substance that fills space creates structures comparable in size to that of the proton.

My heartburn comes because the authors of the article propose that the right way to resolve the difficulty in understanding the proton is to build machines that explore the proton at very small scales. This is like trying to study the tensile strength of Kleenex by probing it with a pin rather than a pencil. Tissue paper has lots of little holes, and will pose little resistance to a pin, but significant resistance to a pencil.

There is already plenty of evidence that the Standard Model is wrong. I believe that the machine proposed by the authors will do little to cast light on the situation, while costing the taxpayer a great deal of money.

Why Physics is Important

For roughly 1400 years, from the time of Ptolemy until Kepler, the most accurate method for calculating the motions of the planets assumed that the Earth was at the center of the universe. Ptolemy used a model of perfect circles. To account for observations that showed that the other planets sometimes appeared to reverse their direction of motion, circles were added on top of the circles (somewhat like the moon Deimos moves in a circle around Mars as it moves in its own circle). The size and velocity of the circular motions were calculated by comparison to nearly 800 years of observations of planetary motions. The care taken in that work made the tables of Ptolemy the best means of predicting the position of the planets until Tycho Brahe made more precise measurements of planetary motion in the second half of the 16th century.

The problem with Ptolemy’s model, when the telescope was finally improved to the point that we could observe the moons of Jupiter and the positions of the stars, was that it didn’t allow us to predict the behavior of anything else in the sky.

Did anybody care? Not particularly. What was important was to know the position of the planets precisely for purposes of navigation and agriculture, and the more arcane and less reliable discipline of astrology (predicting the future based upon the configuration of the planets against the stars). Until, perhaps, generals became concerned with the trajectories of cannonballs. Then the work of Newton, inspired in part by Kepler’s laws, produced a universal theory of gravitation that could be used to predict the motion of any collection of massive objects.

All of the great advances in science have come when a large body of data is shown to be encompassed by a simple behavioral theory. Newton’s theory of gravitation assumes that the force exerted acts along the line between the two masses, and drops as the distance squared. Often, however, these behaviors are overlooked because scientists, like Ptolemy and his followers, can do pretty well simply by adding more shapes to their models. It doesn’t make a difference that the only reason circles were used was because they were perfect (and therefore easy to calculate). As long as you could get the right result by adding more circles, that was easy and comfortable.

Those of you that stick with this blog will learn that I believe that we are at another turning point in physics. Since 1950, the theorists have assumed that the objects they use to describe the universe are “perfect”: they have no additional structure. As their data became more and more complex, they stuck with this principle, despite the fact that every revolution in physics has come from discovering structure inside of things that were previously thought to be fundamental. Matter was discovered to be made of atoms; atoms are made of electrons and a nucleus; the nucleus is composed of neutrons and protons; neutrons and protons are made up of inscrutable objects called quarks. These insights gave us, successively, chemistry; optics and spectroscopy; radioactivity; and particle physics.

Like Ptolemy, the theorists draw upon a huge body of measurements that provide numbers that they can use to accurately predict the results of experiments. They are so successful in this regard that they have stopped asking “why” about the numbers. Why is the electron mass 0.511 MeV/c2 while the muon mass is 140 MeV/c2? As a graduate student, this drove me absolutely crazy. Mass is a primary fact about the universe, and the failure to adequately explain it means that nothing else in the models can be considered secure.

So why am I going on in this in a blog about religion? Because I think that we’re in the same boat with ethics.

The most powerful theories of moral action have been brought into the world by people that insist that there is a soul. Yet over the last 300 years, those moral theories have been slowly eroded under the skepticism of scientists that can’t find the soul anywhere in their models. Thomas Jefferson, for example, went so far as to remove every reference to miracles from his personal copy of the Bible, and considered Jesus of Nazareth to be merely an inspirational philosopher.

This impact of this perspective has propagated so deeply into our religious dialog that our focus is now primarily on material facts. Does life begin at conception? Is it possible for natural selection (Darwinian evolution) to generate a human being? If marriage is the seat of the family, how can the sterile union of a gay couple be marriage?

So the reason that I bring up physics is because when I began to consider models of structure beneath that known to modern particle physics, I came up with a large class of models that contain a soul – a personality independent of a material body. The theories also support the ability of souls to accumulate large amounts of energy. The most efficient way for them to organize energy is to love one another. That insight allowed me to evolve a whole array of methods for controlling predatory personalities, methods that are suggested in all the myths regarding the exemplars of love that gave us our most powerful theories of moral action.

In other words, I believe that I can prove that Jesus and Muhammed and Buddha were right.

And I hope that I can give women enough courage to stand up and be counted in their number.