The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
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Friday, August 9, 2013
Outer Space ... Science ...

I’m currently reading a book by Dr. Lee Smolin on the quantum gravity dilemma in modern physics (Three Roads to Quantum Gravity). Quantum gravity relates to the unsolved problem dating back to Einstein on how to unify General and Special Relativity (with their treatment of the big stuff in the universe), with quantum theory and its treatment of the tiniest stuff in the universe. In a nutshell, when physicists try to mix the two theories, they get crazy, impossible results. There has to be a broader theory out there that includes both relativity and quantum physics — but we still don’t know what that it. Thus the on-going search for “quantum gravity”, the search for a way of wrestling gravity (which is the core of General Relativity and which powers the planets, stars, galaxies and mega-clusters out in the heavens) into a quantum framework (i.e., finding and studying a tiny, irreducible “bit” of gravity akin to how a photon is an irreducible “bit” of visible light).

I really like Dr. Smolin’s way of explaining the really hairy, abstract ideas of modern cosmological physics to laypeople like myself. Thus I’m thinking about buying his latest book “Time Reborn”. It may be a while until I can get to it, but I took a look today at some quotes from it, and I like what I read. I especially enjoyed his critique on the current darling theory of modern cosmology, i.e. the “multiverse” concept. I have written a bit on my own distaste for what a lot of high-powered physicists (including Steven Hawking, Leonard Susskind, Brian Greene, Sean Carroll, et al) are now selling as “the big picture”, i.e. an unending hyper-process that cranks out universes with varying physical laws and characteristics, one of which just happens to be our own. Some of these support life as we know it, while most of them probably don’t. This solves the problem of needing an intelligent creator, and you know how unpopular intelligent creators are these days with most academic PhD’s. The question is, is the “multiverse” right? Well, for now we can’t know; but is it even a good theory?

Dr. Smolin doesn’t seem to think so. I don’t believe that Lee Smolin is trying to defend God here, but what he does say about the multiverse idea reflects a lot of intellectual integrity on his part (and integrity, like cleanliness, is close to Godliness . . .) So here’s what he writes in Time Reborn:

We want to extend physics to a science of cosmology. Our first instinct is to take the theories that worked so well when applied to small parts of the universe and scale them up tn describe the universe as a whole . . . this cannot work. The Newtonian framework of timeless laws acting on particles with timeless properties is unsuited to the task of describing the entire universe . . . the very features that make these kinds of theories so successful when applied to small parts of the universe cause them to fail when we attempt to apply them to the universe as a whole . . . when we attempt to scale up our stan­dard theories to a cosmological theory, we are rewarded with dilemmas, paradoxes, and unanswerable questions . . . Some of the literature of contemporary cosmology consists of the efforts of very smart people to wrestle with these dilemmas, para­doxes, and unanswerable questions. The notion that our universe is part of a vast or infinite multiverse is popular —and understandably so, because it is based on a methodological error that is easy to fall into. Our current theories can work at the level of the universe only if our universe is a subsystem of a larger system. So we invent a fictional environment and fill it with other universes. This cannot lead to any real scientific progress, because we cannot confirm or falsify any hy­pothesis about universes causally disconnected from our own.

So, in their rush to push God out of the way, our best scientific minds are creating a “fictional environment”, tripping over the problems created by taking theories that work on an earthly scale, and applying them throughout space and time. It’s sort of like trying to figure out how far it is from New York to Los Angeles armed with a yardstick. Give Dr. Smolin credit; it takes guts these days to fight against an angry mob of intellectual atheists because you think they’re taking shortcuts, especially when you’re supposed to be part of their posse.

Nonetheless, I must mention that Smolin in fact has his own theory of multiple universe formation, though one not quite as bubbly and prolific as the current “chaotic inflation” scenario. It’s also not quite as speculative (the standard multiverse view depends on the tenets of superstring theory being correct), although it still is speculative. In a nutshell, Dr. Smolin posits that new “baby universes” are created in the core of black holes. But that doesn’t sound so bad to me; at the core of a black hole is a LOT of energy, which might just jiggle the vacuum fields (which we know exist) enough to cause a new “Big Bang” — perhaps in some entirely different set of dimensions. It’s not so hard to reconcile with what we do know pretty well thus far about cosmic phenomenon and quantum interactions.

Personally, I myself don’t think that each and every black hole out there creates a new universe. I think that baby universe creation is extremely rare, taking many, many billions of years on average to occur based on the tiny chance that some extraordinarily huge number of mass and energy quanta will concentrate at one place merely by statistical chance. (Remember the random dance that every mass and energy particle does according to quantum mechanics; the chance that trillions of electrons and quarks and photons and neutrinos and whatnot might just all happen to materialize in one spot at the same instant may be so tiny that it may not have happened yet in our universe’s 13.4 billion year history, and may not be likely to happen until much, much more time has passed.)

Furthermore, I’m not convinced on the extra-dimensions thing; I think that a baby universe is going to balloon into the existing universe and push out everything around it. (The LHC hasn’t seen any evidence of extra-dimensions yet, although admittedly it still might once it gets up to full power). If I’m right, then let’s hope that a baby universe isn’t born anywhere near our own Milky Way anytime soon!!!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 6:35 pm      

  1. Jim, I think I am going to have to take a pass on this blog as I know little or nothing at all about modern physics, quantum gravity, and how it relates to Einstein’s general and special relativity. And I admit to knowing even less about cosmology and how it may relate to physics. (Or perhaps cosmology is a branch of physics?) See what I mean, I know nothing at all about this topic.

    However (as usual), I do have a tangential comment or two. I know I’m definitely out of my league here when I disagree with Dr. Smolin; but somehow or other, I just *like* the idea of multiverses that have different forms of life from ours; and the idea of intangible ‘verses among the “multi” is even more fascinating to me. Somehow or other, it just *seems right* to me that there be “multi” kinds of everything. And I specifically do not think in terms that mean that multiverses do or do not “prove” God exists and/or created any or all of the various kinds of ‘verses that would be included in a “multi” one. My approach to the topic of “God” is that physics simply has nothing to say about God; that when scientists start propounding about “God” or “not God”, it is *they* who are out of their league.

    I am sure I’m out of my league here, but I can’t help but think that we just never look at the various stages of our own planet as various types of “universes” either. E.g.: The time of the dinosaurs, so interesting to people now, somehow or other, being so many millions of years ago, seems to me to be in another dimension, another “universe” if it might be posited. I continue to think that regardless of the fact that we may find fossils of dinosaurs (or parts of them) on our planet; when it comes down to the reality of life and time as we see it and experience it, the life and times of the dinosaurs and other animals that existed then might just as well have been in another dimension.

    I find myself wondering, then, in a kind of skewed and crazy way (I’ll admit some people likely think it is crazy) if there could have been all the various things that have had existence on this planet, what prevents there from being various ‘verses in the “multi”?

    Then there is the whole question of just why the multiverses simply must have the same characteristics of our universe. How about a universe that is intangible? I ask. Why would even one other universe be the exact same as ours, or even quite similar? Doesn’t make too much sense to me.

    As I see it, science, and physics most especially, has a problem. On the one hand it wants only tangible things, all the while dealing with those things that can be known only by their having been seen to have been some place – but *not* actually be or be seen as science would like to have it.

    Then there is the statement in your blog (and I find myself saying, “am I reading this correctly?” Furthermore, I want to stress that I am saying this with all due respect intended; I’m definitely *not* trying to be anything but wondering. Thus your statement: “Nonetheless, I must mention that Smolin in fact has his own theory of multiple universe formation, though one not quite as bubbly and prolific as the current “chaotic inflation” scenario. It’s also not quite as speculative (the standard multiverse view depends on the tenents of superstring being correct), although it still is speculative.” So, if I read this correctly, it means that all this cosmological physics is speculative – more or less. Which makes me wonder how that differs from my speculating on what might or might not happen tomorrow, going over the various possibilities, dismissing some ideas, accepting some others and . . . then to find out the next day that absolutely none of my speculation was correct.

    I don’t know . . . perhaps it’s that I’m just totally out of my league, but this whole discussion sets me to wondering how much, if any of it, can be right; and how much of it will turn out to be something entirely different. Thus, I end up saying: Well, why *not* “multiverses” that are intangible? MCS

    Comment by Mary — August 10, 2013 @ 2:48 pm

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