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Thursday, April 24, 2014
Current Affairs ... Religion ... Science ...

In my second post for tonight, above, I pondered how someone could be totally rejected by every computer and ATM and web site that they depend upon for the transactions of daily life. Perhaps an episode or two of on-line identity fraud (such as I recently experienced) could get you banned from all forms of computer-mediated transactions. For now, though, I think (and hope) that I still exist within the e-commerce / e-finance netherworld. So, let me proceed to offer some follow-up thoughts on a recent news item.

Which news item? Lots to choose from!!! The Ukraine crisis is still hot, flight 370 still has not been found, and since that incident another Asian transportation disaster happened (the South Korean ferryboat sinking). The US economy is getting better, perhaps; although new-home sales were still troublingly slow in March. (This could be partly the hang-over effect of a tough winter, but more ominously, it reflects the impact of slightly rising mortgage rates). President Obama, “new world man” that he is, is doing his best to ignore the 20th century leftover problems in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and thus continues his “pivot to Asia” with a visit to Japan. Obamacare is finally working . . . maybe, but maybe not. Stay tuned. The US FDA is finally going after E-cigarettes, and the FTC is finally weighing in on net-neutrality. Global warming has been in a “pause” over the past 12 to 15 years, but most scientists are adamant that the worst of climate change is yet to come. So what important human event do I wish to comment on at this time?

Given my love for modern physics and my fascination with the inter-twined worlds of the tiny (quantum particles and fundamental forces) and the vastly large (cosmology), I want to retro back to the announcement made last month that physicists have credibly detected evidence of primordial gravity waves in the cosmic microwave background. I.e., the BICEP 2 report on CMB polarization observations from near the South Pole. A lot of science-editor media reports followed this announcement, trying to explain why this represents a key milestone in the advance of science, perhaps even a “revolution” in human knowledge. I.e., humanity finally has found some credible evidence of the circumstances in which the “Big Bang” took place. We finally get to peer a bit behind the Big Bang, which up to now has popularly been known as the start of it all, the “singularity” before which we could not venture (supporting some religious contentions that the Big Bang was a direct and literal “Act of God”).

In ancient times, lightening was accepted in many quarters as evidence of a divine power intervening into our limited world. Eventually, most of human-kind came to accept that lightening was caused by natural and understandable (perhaps even controllable) forces. But the line-in-the-sand then switched to life on earth. Surely something so complex and unlikely as the forces that converted inert matter to living and reproducing beings must be beyond human comprehension, in the realm of the supernatural? Obviously that line didn’t hold, although some modern religious factions still carry on their battle against the theory of evolution. Over time, science zoomed its lens out even wider, and saw that our entire universe is itself a delicate, fragile and in many ways unlikely place, and that it had a unified origin in time (and did not exist forever into the past, as some scientists had contended). In a way, the notion that the universe was not infinite supported the Old Testament and many other ancient mythical creation stories; given that the book of Genesis and the other ancient texts clearly anticipate a beginning in time for the heavens and earth. The scientific acceptance of a “Big Bang” origin for the cosmos in the 1960s seemed to bring the “hand of God” back into play.

But science never sleeps (well, not for long; it does take naps and gets caught asleep at the switch at times). The theorists accumulated a variety of growing evidence hinting that something else happened during and even before this “Big Bang”. That something else was cosmic inflation, the rapid creation of space itself. As to what “space itself” could be created out of, and just where and how that “creational media” could exist, well, don’t ask. Although, eventually the theory-spinning boffins would start offering some partial answers to even that tough question. As with all energies, including gravity, electricity, magnetism, the forces that hold the cores of atoms together, and the forces that split them apart (in radioactive decay), the scientists anticipated the abstract existence of another kind of “field”. All of the energy fields that we know behave a bit differently, although all ultimately play by the rules of quantum mechanics. I.e., they operate in ‘bundles’ or as ‘mosaic pieces’ with pre-set sizes, and they act probabilistically, luck of the draw, can’t be totally predicted on an individual basis. So this new field, the space-creating field that weaved 3-dimensional space into being in which our Universe exists (with maybe even more dimensions, certainly one for time), also acts according to basic quantum rules, but with its own unique characteristics governing how these quantum rules are followed.

As such . . . the Big Bang will no longer be “the first thing”, if the BICEP 2 results are affirmed (and that is still a bit up in the air right now; other similar studies are now under way, and if they contradict the findings of this study, the scientists may have to go back to the conceptual drawing board on what inflation and the field behind it is or isn’t). The “ur-mother of it all” will now be the inflaton field. Of course, a precocious child would ask “and where did the inflaton field come from”, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

However, certain theoretical physicists and cosmologists in fact are trying to get some extra mileage from the inflaton concept, and are already trying to sell the public on their viewpoint. In effect, they are trying to cut-off that precocious child (and those peskly philosophers and theologians who might point out that an inflaton field behind the Big Bang still isn’t a deal-breaker with regard to God’s existence). In fact, two of the most prominent and honorable cosmological theorists, Andre Linde and Alan Guth — both now in line for a Nobel Prize for their definitive work in conceiving and fleshing out the theory of “big inflation” — are out there in public, using the media to convince the unwashed masses of the existance of a multiverse. I.e., if there is an inflaton field behind our Big Bang and all those gravity waves, it’s unlikely that it only acted once. It must have acted millions, trillions, quad-rillions of times, maybe even an infinite number of times! (See Linde’s refinements on the original inflation paradigm regarding “eternal inflation”).

If so, then it’s no longer a surprise that our seemingly unlikely Universe, with all its light and matter and structure and life and human consciousness (pretty complex stuff), actually happened. Because, if there were, are and will be an unimaginable number of different universes created from this field, then at least some of them (even if but a tiny, tiny fraction) must be like ours and allow all of our wonderful but unlikely complexities to happen. Voila!! No God Needed!!

If you’ve read some of my past thoughts on modern cosmology, you know that I suspect that most of the high-powered people in high-powered physics have an axe to grind against God. I believe that they are straying a bit too far from their own rules on how to do science, so as to convince themselves and the rest of humankind that they know how it all happened and that God was not involved. I mean, this is basically what the religions themselves try to do, in the opposite direction — convince themselves and the rest of humankind that God was behind how it all happened, in a way that they can explain.

Either way you play it, you become tremendously important to those you convince. Your ego really gets a huge boost!! Both the old-school religious types, and the new-school scientific atheists with their Multiverse, try in similar ways to occupy the seat of God. They want to be the grand thought leaders of all human-kind, the elite few who tell the masses how and what THE TRUTH is. That job comes with a lot of perks!!! Which the priests and bishops and mullahs and wise teachers of the East have known for many centuries. Sex, power and money definitely all become part of the benefits package! So yes, the new multiverse atheism subtly promises its young acolytes (grad school students) unlimited gratification of all desires, even the carnal ones, once the ignorant masses can be tamed through the power of what they are being taught.

That’s why it was refreshing for me to come across a recent blog post about the implications of BICEP 2, from a guy (Dr. Peter Woit)
who not long ago finished his long preparation for the “new priesthood” within the academic science community. His blog is called “Not Even Wrong”, and the author seems pretty convinced that Guth, Linde and a lot of other well-known scientists (including Max Tegmark and Sean Carroll) and media reporters have taken the recent gravity wave results way too far in terms of crowning the multiverse concept as accepted science. Dr. Woit points out that even if an inflaton field does exist and it acts in a quantum fashion across time such that a multiverse process exists, it is certainly possible that all of those multiverses follow the same rules of physics that our universe has. We are not even close to understanding what process might shift the parameters and characteristics of physics between different universes. (John Horgan at Scientific American also retains a healthy skepticism regarding whether the BICEP 2 results require a multiverse; while SciAm’s resident skeptic, Michael Shermer, continues to beat up on God and maintains his distance from many hard-science controversies)

The biggest hook that the multiverse hat has been hung on thus far has been super-string M theory. As an attempt at a grand explanation of all the fundamental forces and the fundamental make-up of all the quantum particles in the Universe, super-string M theory seemingly stumbles in that it allowed for a tremendous amount of variation, each variation implying a very different system of physics (e.g. gravity and electro-magnetic forces would have different magnitudes, such that atoms and molecules as we know them might not be able to exist at all). But the big-thinking boffins did a martial arts move and converted this seeming weakness into a strength — they said that it all made sense when combined with the theoretical fecundity of the inflaton field in creating different universes.

However . . . super-string M theory may have something of an Achilles heel, in that it depends upon there being a “supersymmetry” of fundamental particles, i.e. the existence of “inverse particles” for each particle that we know thus far. This goes beyond even matter and its anti-matter inverse; that stuff is old-hat. These inverse particles would be different in some abstract ways involving the differing natures of particle spin and bosons (2 or more particles can be in the same spot at the same time) versus fermions (the same kinds of particles cannot be in the same spot simultaneously). Thus far, no one has come up with good evidence of any such particles (even though they would be good candidates to explain the mysterious existence of dark matter, which is strongly accepted by now as being real). In fact, the lack of super-symmetry evidence from the Large Hadron Collider in Europe has caused something of a confidence crisis among the super-string people. Thus crisis has reached the point where Scientific American just did a cover story on it, and the fictional string-theorist Sheldon in the CBS comedy show “Big Bang Theory” himself recently went through a personal crisis over this (for laughs, of course).

As a person who remains open and even hopefully about there truly being a God (if not convinced, in the scientific sense) , you might think that I am rooting against supersymmetry and string theory, as I would like to see the no-God-needed eternal multiverse concept tripped up. Well, actually, no. I myself am not ready to declare supersymmetry and string theory dead; the Collider in Europe will be back with much more power in 2015. It could yet be that the supersymmetrical fields are just a bit beyond the power levels that the initial LHC runs could obtain. And even if that doesn’t work, perhaps the next generation of particle collider (which will probably be built in China in about 50 years) will find these hard-to-find things and affirm the superstring concept (in a modified version relative to what is now being taught). Even if an all-possiblities multiverse process exists, why couldn’t it likewise be part of God’s design? Who are we in our limits to say that God would NOT have done it this way?

In the end, a bit of humility on everyone’s part would go a long way towards humanity’s progression, however slowly, in the direction of whatever the Truest Truths Truly turn out to be.

(Say that final phrase three times fast!!!)

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:50 pm      
 
 


  1. Jim, I wish I had something intelligent to say about this whole new development in science/ but, of course, I do not; it’s all way over my head. And you are right: I figured “something was up” when it came to String Theory when Sheldon started looking for another area in which to consider science.

    I must say I like your conclusion: Why do the scientists have to be the final ones to have something to say on these topics? Why can’t it all be part of a design of a God? And furthermore you are even more right when you say that a bit of humility would go a along way in finding out the Truth.

    Then too, I wonder: Can there be a Truth that is truer than another? Or is Truth like the word unique? MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — April 25, 2014 @ 5:32 pm

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