Part 2 – The physical Experiments that make reality seem non-sensical
Sir Roger Penrose, Oxford Univ
Is he the most brilliant man ever?
This is a complex topic. I highly suggest you read the articles in this series in sequence starting from the first:
Here is the series on Roger Penrose and Reality:
Part II The problems with current conception of reality
I told you a little about how our reality is definitely not the Minkowski 3 space and 1 time dimension we perceive. Almost all physics agrees that our ultimate theories of the world are not likely to be limited to these 4 dimensions and according to Penrose these dimensions we think are the ones we know about aren’t actually real dimensions. They don’t exist. The scientific experiments and problems discussed below provide the framework that explains why the idea we have of reality is impossible and it appears we are watching what I call Minkowski TV.
In order to understand what the problems that this new reality Roger has uncovered is needed and why our perceptions of a 4 dimensional universe are not consistent with reality you need to understand some of the perplexing things that force Physicists down the road to consider something else.
In this chapter and the following I will mark with (Px) questions or statements that I will try to answer at the end about how Twistor reality relates. The descriptions below of these problems introduce the complexity of existing physics and the difficulty in trying to see things through this Minkowski-view we have on it. It’s like we are looking at that TV set and seeing people stretching, doing incredible stuff and we are trying to build a world based on the stuff we see not realizing that we are looking at a facade of reality.
So, I need to show you some of the bizarre things we have been watching on this Minkowski TV that make you realize that a trick is being played on us. The trick is not being played by some nefarious agent. It is something our brains construct. We do it to ourselves.
Some other interesting paradoxes science has uncovered
Richard Feynman said: “If you think you understand quantum physics, this is proof you don’t.” If Richard Feynman didn’t understand quantum physics, then you don’t either and neither does anyone else. That is not to say you aren’t as smart as Feynman but the experimental results we’ve been getting over the last 100 years or so challenges anyone to come up with a reasonable explanation.
I realize this is a hard and longer blog than some of the others. I could break it into pieces but the continuity of it might suffer. There is a lot to cover so I suggest you pick problems below you find interesting and scan through the rest. I try to bring the major points in larger text. You can also skip to Chapter 6 (when it is finished) to go to the answers page.
1) The measurement problem : Decoherence
When we do a measurement in physics it causes something nobody expected. (P1) We still haven’t figured out if it is the human doing the measurement that is critical or if it is an artifact of the simple process of interaction with matter that forces this change. We call this change decoherence or a “collapse of the wave-function.” What this means is that until we make a measurement, the particles we are attempting to measure are in a fuzzy quantum superposition of all possible states they could be in and therefore are in no particular state. Sometimes this is called the quantum fuzz. Nature seems to prefer to in most times be in a indeterminate kind of being in all places it could be all states it could be while we don’t look.
The reason this is so bizarre is that while nature is in quantum fuzz state of coherence it behaves differently than when it is behaving like billiard balls. Physicists call this dual behaviors non-unitary evolution. In physics today things can evolve under 2 different laws of physics. One where the particles are decohered and acting like billiard balls (the one we see) and the other way where things add up and subtract from each other spread out over all of space like they indeed filled space not bouncing off each other but adding and subtracting everywhere. These two evolutions of a particle are very distinguishable in the laboratory and when we first discovered this it seemed the primary determinant of which way it would evolve depending on if we human beings with consciousness were looking or we weren’t. That really threw people for a loop you can imagine. Why or how could a human looking make a difference? Every experiment confirmed that indeed if a human could see or discover information about a system the system knew this and decohered. If a human couldn’t tell then the system behaved like it was a giant ocean of waves not particles interfering and doing bizarre things that even waves don’t do.
We know the rules for when it will behave one way or another and these are very precise, but nobody understands how nature decides to behave one way or another or that we are looking or what exactly it does in this process of converting from one way of behaving to another. Since 1930s the process of when decoherence or why it happens (acting like billiard balls) has had a dozen explanations, none of them satisfactory. To eliminate the need for a human to watch the results numerous theories postulate that certain level of some forces that cause particles independent of humans to decohere. In these theories whatever humans do when we measure things inevitably causes the thing which causes decoherence so it is a coincidence we think it’s because we are looking. However, remarkably nobody has been able to prove it isn’t humans that are causing it in the last 100 years including Einstein, Feynman or any other physicist. That’s how tough this problem is.
By definition you can’t observe the quantum fuzz because the instant you attempt to observe it, it collapses and acts like regular particles. So quantum fuzz or the coherent state of particles is unobservable by definition. (P2) We can’t look to see what’s happening in this wavy state of particle evolution because by definition the instant we look it collapses. Isn’t that a pisser?
The other place I know in physics we see this definitional type of impossibility is black holes. A black hole is defined by the event horizon where you can’t know, can never know what happens behind. For all intents the horizon of a black hole is the edge of our universe because anything beyond the black hole event horizon is gone forever. We have theories but because it is effectively a wall there is no way to experimentally ever know. (P3) Is a black hole a wall to the universe or a doorway to another dimension?
(P4) But how soon after we learn the information does the particle actually go back to cohered phase?
(P5) It seems that nature acts at each point in time depending on if we humans know something about it, watching it acting at each point in time depending on what we know. How is this a sane way to run the universe? Physicists actually punted on this problem in the 1930s.
(P6) How can a particle jump between a wave filling all of space and a particle with only a specific location and then go back to a wave instantaneously (1,000,000 times the speed of light or more?)
2) Decoherence happens at least 1,000,000 times faster than the speed of light
At the instant we measure the particles they seem to all take up real positions in space become real particles with definite energy. When this collapse happens the entire wave-function spread over thousands of miles instantly disappears and no longer exerts influence on far away particles. It does so at least 1,000,000 times faster than the speed of light at least from our measurements. All the particles that were entangled immediately start acting like billiard balls for a moment. I kid you not.
This is true whether we are measuring 1 particle or more that are separated by thousands of miles. They will all instantly (1,000,000 times faster than the speed of light or more) turn into real particles in space with defined results from quantum physics and disappear from the rest of space and then spread out again as soon as we stop looking.
All of this is a problem because we were told nothing goes faster than the speed of light. However, we have measured the reaction time and particles that are in coherence of which we disturb any one of them enough to cause decoherence causes all the coherent (entangled particles) to instantly behave differently and for the wave-function of even a single particle to disappear from space and turn into a billiard ball. Similarly when the particle(s) go into coherence again they instantly seem to fill all of space and interfere with particles all over the place. Reading this you probably get an idea why physicists punted on this for some time.
(P7) They call this the non-locality problem. Einstein was very clear that physics had to be a local theory. Space-time depends on the idea things can only act on things immediately right next to them. The speed of light and all that…. Non-locality is impossible but it happens. It happens all the time constantly. So, we live in a non-local universe as impossible as that seems.
You must understand that a lot of smart people have noodled on this problem for decades so the simple explanations have all been tried.
3) Empty space is not empty but filled with Quantum foam
Empty space is bubbling with particles of all types. In fact, there is no such thing as empty space. This is surprising to many people. Quantum mechanics tells us that at any instant in time a particle could bump into any combination of virtual particles and make a transition to a huge number of possible other particles and combinations of particles resulting in a constant jumbling of almost infinite possibilities. This is not a violation of conservation of energy because there is always a balanced pair of (what is called) virtual particles that exactly cancel each other out. If the collision with a virtual particle happens the resulting particles must always obey the laws of nature conserving energy, angular momentum and of course the schroedinger equation as well as numerous other symmetries.
Let’s say a proton and an anti-proton appear out of nowhere. These particles can exist for a short amount of time, enough time to bump and interact with the real particles in our universe and cause them to undergo transformations or produce new particles that weren’t there before or they could just appear and disappear doing nothing. (P8) Space appears to be a bubbling stew with things popping out all the time only to fall back into the stew after a short time.
(P9) We have known for a while that empty space isn’t “empty.” The Higgs field is a field that pervades all space, like gravity. The Higgs boson (recently confirmed to really exist) provides a sort of molasses like field that all particles with mass character find hard to move through and this field like gravity fills all space.
The more mass the more “intertia” the mass produces in the Higgs field. So, as a result mass isn’t what we think it is. Mass is simply a characteristic of some particles like charge. When a particle has mass it interacts with the Higgs field and this produces what we think of as the resistance the particles feel to forces.
If the Higgs field value were changed somehow, for instance if there was a way to cancel or remove the Higgs field particles would be able to accelerate to the speed of light with the slightest push. It would be a dandy propulsion system. Simply cancel most of the local Higgs field, throw something out the back of your spaceship, a used soda can for instance and the reaction force would surge you forward at incredible velocity. This would be very useful. Unfortunately we don’t know any way to cancel the Higgs field.
Going back to empty space, I believe this bubbling stew of energy that fills all of space is in fact necessary for life, for a universe that is reactive. Without this constant jostling and fizzy particle interaction particles wouldn’t interact but would likely fly by each other or eventually settle into a boring stasis of unchanging orbits. The constant random bubbling of the quantum foam is the fundamental way our universe makes things happen.
(P10) The quantum mechanics random generator that is constantly squirting randomness into the universe is also a critical element.
No matter how settled things get, the bubbling stew will upset the apple cart eventually and get interesting things happening. The bubbling stew serves many purposes. For instance, if by bubbling up a certain pair of virtual particles it will make the state transition of a particle to the next place happen with less energy then those virtual particles will appear to help things get along. This trick is used by diodes in computers and by electrons in the leaves of plants.
I don’t think physicists or philosophers have understood the import and significance that our universe is quantum in nature. It could not be any other way. So, all those who doubt quantum mechanics or hate its complexity or conundrums don’t understand that without it we simply couldn’t exist. This bubbling foam is what animates the universe, if Roger Penrose is correct it is what enables us to be as smart as we are and to be conscious of the real world.
So, this quantum mechanics is unsettling in one sense. Unexpected and confusing. However, in retrospect understanding now how things really work it is clear we needed something like this. We would have had to invent it if we had thought deeply enough about the problems of Newton’s theory without even doing the quantum experiments. Newton did not explain a lot. His theory works great as a theory of moving balls. However, when you start thinking about how all this is going to really work, i.e. gravity, forces, all the things we need to have an interesting world Newton mechanics comes up empty handed. Quantum mechanics gives us the animation to cause the interactions to do what Newton didn’t really think about.
There are other proofs of the true reality of virtual particles. For instance, 2 plates held very close to each other in a vacuum will experience a force. The creation of virtual particles in the space between the plates will put a pressure on the plates that can be measured and exists. It is called the Casimir force.
4) Nature is truly random
We know the formulas for quantum physics. We have demonstrated they work for 2 particles and more to incredible precision. In fact the results from these calculations are the most proven most accurate calculations we have ever had for any physics. We know to 10 digits of precision that quantum mechanics calculations are precisely and completely accurate prediction of what will happen in experiments. It is the most successful scientific theory ever!
Testing the theory on larger aggregations of particles turns out to be extraordinarily hard not because the experiments are hard but because the calculations are unbelievably difficult.
The quantum foam allows almost an infinite number of possible outcomes from any experiment means that to calculate what the result from any experiment we are going to do we are forced to examine nearly an infinite number of possible results and add them up to produce the result. (P11) Somehow nature does this calculation instantly choosing the best least energy path effortlessly from possibly billions of possible paths taking into account all possible interactions that could lower the energy needed.
When we build a bridge we do a lot of calculations of what happens when you exert a force here or there. After the bridge is built these calculations which are quite complicated sometimes in our computers are done by the molecules of the bridge instantly. They react to the forces and we intuitively understand how that could be.
This could be looked at as similar to what the particles are doing with quantum calculations but it is fundamentally different. In quantum mechanics nature picks a “random” result with some probability distribution. It does this in such a way that it appears as if all possible results actually happen and we just happen to be in a universe where one of the possible results happens. If we repeat the experiment with even the very same exact particles at a different time the results will interfere with previous results and future results so that overall all the results we get from all our experiments fit a probability distribution perfectly to within 10 digits of accuracy. We won’t get the same result every time but we will with high probability get the least energy path possible.
Lastly an important point that is subtle. Nature chooses one answer from among the possible answers. It doesn’t give up sometimes and choose none. It doesn’t sometimes decide to do two things in two different places. (P12) When an interaction is possible nature looks at all the possibilities and chooses exactly one.
5) Natures calculations solve problems we know are incredibly hard and incredibly useful
When a photon hits the chlorophore molecule of a green leafed plant the photon is turned into a free electron that travels to the place in the plant where it is able to split a CO2 molecule into carbon and oxygen. This travel is done using something called quantum tunneling. The electron finds the least possible energy path to get from a to b. To do this on our computers is an impossibly hard problem. It is estimated that the plant using quantum tunneling photosynthesis is at least 10 million times more efficient than if the energy were transmitted using conventional macro atomic reactions. In essence the plant couldn’t possibly survive on harvesting energy from the sun without quantum tunneling. It would die from lack of energy.
We use quantum tunneling in computers to make them fast and to perform certain electrical features we need at incredible speed and using very little energy. See Tunneling Diode.
We are now building “quantum computers” that can do astonishing things that are infinitely better at solving some problems. The easiest way to think of this is to imagine that in a quantum computer all we do is run a quantum experiment every time we do an operation. We observe what nature does and we then simply report the answer from nature. Nature does the calculation. How it does it we have no idea. It seems impossible however, it does and we therefore can utilize it to do incredible feats of computation.
D-Wave, a company from Vancouver area has built the only commercial quantum computers. It’s latest model can put 1152 qubits into superposition. In effect all 1152 qubits can be simultaneously in all possible states of 1152 bits simultaneously. In practice what we do is load up the qubits with the states that we want to do the computation on (the numbers that represent the things we want to operate on.
Let us say we wanted to find a particular pattern in 32,000 patterns. We would load the 32,000 patterns into a subset of the D-Wave qubits. We would need only 15 or so but we might have additional information in the patterns we want, so it could we could use any number of qubits from 15 to 1152. The 15 qubits can hold not just one value like computer bits but all 32000 combinations simultaneously! Let’s say we use some of the other qubits to store a pointer to a list of feelings, some others to point to other memories, other pointers to point to other things.
For example, one of the numbers we load into the qubits:
001010101011111 (the 15 that we are searching for, maybe this one is a picture of a face) followed by bits: 001001 which means happy and also 111000 which means we last saw the face 2 days ago and 011001010011 which means and Ralph was there too
When we find the value we are looking for we also get all the other values.
When we want to find if there is a matching pattern or a specific matching pattern all we do is twist some electrical fields which constrain the path of the qubits similar to the minefield an electron passes through the plants leaf to get to the CO2 molecule. The path is represented as hurdles the patterns have to get through to emerge, essentially electrical walls of different heights depending on the bits we are looking for. Once the walls are set up all we need is a single step to perform the match.
The quantum computer allows the one result which matches the barriers we set up just as the photon slinks its way through the barriers in the molecules as it goes to its destination the pattern that matches emerges magically in one step from the quantum computer. In a normal computer matching algorithm this would take 32000 operations.
If the numbers had been organized in systematic way by putting them in a sorted key we could have done the match using a conventional computer in square root of the number of operations or maybe 200 operations. The quantum computer did it in one operation and it didn’t need them sorted beforehand. We could do the searching algorithm in one step if we had 32000 computers at our disposal. Each computer would do a test against one pattern in its memory in one step. Somehow the quantum computer acts as if it is 32000 computers doing the test against all 32000 numbers simultaneously. (P13) Some have said that the quantum computer is using 32000 different universes to calculate the result. The truth of the matter is we don’t know how nature does this. We don’t.
We have built some quantum computers now. They do the things we thought they would. If they didn’t then we could say this disproves quantum mechanics. The fact that the D-wave does act like we expect a quantum computer to act means that again quantum mechanics has been proven to be the most accurate most incredible description of reality we’ve ever had but it still leaves us mystified how this is possible and how to imagine what nature really is.
Let’s consider another example, one related to what living things might need to do: Imagine that the different roads from the GPS problem above are different paths a flying ball could take. We have some data that comes from our eyes that we prime the calculation with. It has been discovered that baseball hitters don’t actually see the ball that is thrown. They see the red stitching on the ball. That small signal is placed in relation to our perception of our bodies, arms, legs, hips position in space. Our brains maintain an abstraction of our position in space and the relative position of everything around us.
Imagine that our quantum computer is loaded up with lots of prior data about locations of that red spot, information about time since the ball was thrown and the location of our arms in space. Different weights for the tunneling could be the values of all this information. We are asking the quantum computer to find the least energy path that will be the signals to be sent to our muscles to reposition the body parts to accomplish the task: Hitting the ball.
When we see the ball the data goes into the quantum computer and out comes the most likely path of the ball and along with it the necessary muscle corrections needed to perform an operation to meet the ball. In one “cycle of the quantum computer” calculates what needs to be done to meet the ball.
We honestly have no idea how a brain could do this or does this. We didn’t even know until very recently how we even saw a 100 mile an hour ball. It seemed impossible. The idea the human body could then calculate the precise motions seems magical. This may not be how the brain does it but it is in my view more plausible than some other explanations.
(P14) Does nature use quantum trickery in the brain or for other functions? Such a pattern matching, solution finding trickery could be awfully useful to living things not just for plants but if I were an organism that needed to have memory of past viruses to figure out what antigen needed to be built to defeat it and I needed to do that without a brain how would I build such a system?
I would need to “grok” the shape of some unique molecules or combinations of molecules that identify an intruder. I would need to remember patterns of thousands, maybe millions of such signatures and also the antigen needed to defeat such an invader. I need to do this without a brain or nervous system. I may need to pass this information on to future generations. When you think of the complexity of this problem it becomes apparent it seems more likely than not that nature may have leveraged some quantum trickery to make this work.
6) Time contracts with speed and mass
The speed of every particle in the universe is constant going the speed of light at all times.
It is true when you take into account the particles speed through time as well as through space. Some particles travel at the speed of light through space but travel through time at zero speed. Some particles travel at close to the speed of light and travel slowly through time. Some particles travel slowly in space and fast through time. This formula may help you see what I am saying:
Vx^2 + Vy^2 + Vz^2 + Vt^2 = c^2 (the speed of light.)
(This is simply a restatement of Pythagoras’s theorem applied to 4-dimensional space)
So, every particle is traveling at the exact same speed when you consider its speed through time and space.
Einstein showed in his paper in 1905 that our perspective on something traveling at close to the speed of light was distorted and that some observers see some things happen at different times and possibly even in different sequences than others who observe the same thing.
A particle of light is going at c (the speed of light) which means it is going the maximum speed possible through space so it’s velocity in time has gone to ZERO. What does it mean that it’s time velocity is zero? Stuck in one instant in time. Because of our relative motion to the light particle (photon) we perceive it as traveling through space and time but it isn’t. For the light particle itself (photon) time has come to a standstill and it has zero velocity in time. The light particle also has become a point and space around it has shrunk to nothing.
Space has shrunk to a point. Confusing? This is part of the problem of the choice of dimensions our eyes and brain have constructed. We can’t make sense of reality because our brains have constructed the wrong view of reality. (P15) It seems the light ray is a point or is it?
Relativity says light is a point not a ray. We’ve ignored that for decades not really comprehending what it means. Surprisingly, Einstein invented special relativity in 1905 more than 100 years ago but people really didn’t think about this light being a point.
Another way to help you visualize time space contraction is through an example called the twin paradox. One twin is going close to the speed of light to travel say to Alpha Centauri the closest star system. The twin on the space ship going at 99.9% of the speed of light would see the distance between Alpha Centauri and the Earth shrink. Space itself as well as time appears to shrink or expand depending on our perspective. The other twin would see his brother take years but he would not see space shrink like his brother. When he got back from Alpha Centauri the twin who travelled would be years younger than his brother because the brother on the ship saw that the distance was much shorter and subsequently took much less time. The other brother would be in shock that his brother hadn’t aged as clearly the journey took years.
Einstein showed that time is a fungible dimension as are space dimensions. They all distort, shrink and expand arbitrarily depending on our perspective. That’s bizarre and makes you wonder if space and time are really real. It’s like space and time are a result of a calculation. They can’t be fundamental. How could space contract differently for every observer? How could I see 2 events occur in one order and someone else see them happen in a different order? It makes you wonder what are these time and space dimensions that they can be manipulated and adjusted by each viewer independently. In Einsteins theory the space itself and time is not shrinking but our perceptions. It wasn’t until the General Theory of Relativity that Einstein dealt with the physical contraction, expansion, bending of actual space and time.
7) Entanglement – Particles can effect each other instantaneously even when separated by millions of miles
One of the most perplexing discoveries in physics is called entanglement. Penrose showed that even a single particle can be entangled with itself and present the simplest example of problems with non-locality or paradox that is impossible to understand with Minkowski space.
Two or more particles are entangled in some scenarios when they are created together or go through an experiment simultaneously which drives them to defined complimentary states. Not all particles that are in the “fuzzy state” are entangled. Entanglement is a special condition that happens for some of these fuzzy situations. (P16) When particles are entangled they are attached to each other in a number of ways so that no matter how far apart they wander this connection binds them until they are forced to decohere by some measurement (or whatever causes decoherence.) and all the entangled particles no matter where they are behave differently instantly.
We have created entangled states of 80+ particles at one time in the laboratory. Let us just consider 2 particles entangled and flying apart from each other. They may be billions of miles from each other. When we shine a light on one (force decoherence) and the particle appears with definite position and state the other particle no matter how far away it is will instantaneously become a particle, lose its coherence and act like a billiard ball I described above revealing its true position and properties and not interfering with other particles but bounce off them like a solid particle.
8) Quantum Turing Zeno Paradox
Many particles decay after a certain “lifetime.” This is well understood and will happen with remarkable precision. However, Turing wondered if a watched kettle would boil in quantum mechanics. A similar paradox is that when you look at an arrow moving at any specific point in time you don’t see it moving but obviously it is moving. In this case Turing asked if a particle would decay while we looked at it. In fact they don’t.
(P18) A particle can be stopped from decaying endlessly simply by “watching it.” Any number of minor disturbances where you can see the particle on a regular basis apparently prevents it from decaying. This is also known as stopping unitary time.
There are numerous paradox’s in Quantum mechanics that seem to be related to when you observe something as if nature knew we macro human level creatures were watching. Other theories simplify this to any system that perturbs a coherent system in some “amount” causes it to decohere or prevent it from going into a coherent state. If decaying particles change state and require that they first go into a coherent state before they change state then by watching the particle we prevent it from going into coherence and evolving. We stop time.
9) Space can contract or expand faster than the speed of light
(P19) Like bizarreness #6 above space can contract or expand much faster than the speed of light. It is a current theory of the universe that there was an inflationary event that caused most of what we call the universe to come into existence in the blink of an eye.
In this theory which seems to be necessary to get around other problems we have with cosmology the original mass of the universe consisting of possibly a few small strings or branes on the order of 10 ^ -30 cm expanded to fill whole clusters of stars or even galaxies in less than a second. This is literally 10^40 times faster than the speed of light. Forget warp factor 10 Kirk. This is like warp factor 1 billion. How is this possible if the speed of light is the maximum? It isn’t. Space and time can contract or expand much faster than the speed of light making motion through space and time seem faster than the speed of light.
Normally as discussed above accelerating to high speed can cause an arbitrary contraction of space to the thing undergoing the acceleration as their perception of both time and space changes. This spatial contraction is real to them in the sense that the distance they cover is amplified at a fantastic rate because their time speed has slowed they are able to cover more distance in the same time.
This all implies that space and time are fungible quantities that don’t exist as real world entities because they seem to be able to be expanded or contracted at arbitrary rates depending on an observer. The expansion and contraction happens in the eye of the observer telling us that real distance means nothing. It is expandable and contractable at an instant and arbitrarily and can then be unexpanded similarly.
Absolute distance or absolute time mean nothing in that everything is relative. It’s a simple matter of units. 4 Billion miles or 4 inches. 4 million years or a 4 seconds. The distance or time seems irrelevant because we can change the interpretation and travel it in a flick of an eye or take all eternity depending on our perspective.
So, what does the speed of light mean if space or time itself can be manipulated faster than the particles in the space or time can move? I don’t know but it is clear that while an individual particle cannot go “faster” than the speed of light, in fact cannot go other than the exact speed of the speed of light (counting all 4 dimensions) the space through which the particle is traveling can be shrunk or expanded nearly infinitely in an instant without violating conservation of momentum, conservation of energy or the speed of light.
If space and time are calculated values then the question becomes how do we modify time and space and warp it so we can go places really fast? I don’t know but nature does it all the time.
Of course it may seem what I am talking about is some kind of science fiction. Nothing could be further from the truth. These are the things we have discovered via experiments that baffle us. This is how the world works not how we imagine it works because of the preconceived ideas we have from the macro world. I am not saying we will figure out how to go around in the universe faster than the speed of light. I am simply saying it is a fact that nature itself does things much faster than the speed of light all the time.
Maybe space didn’t expand at all but time contracted at a prodigious rate.
If you remember the movie Men in Black there was a pendant with a small ball in it which had a whole galaxy it seemed. In reality an atom is HUGE compared to the ultimate discrete size of space. There is a whole galaxy in each small space like that in the sense that there is enough “space” down there to fit a lot of stuff if it existed which we don’t know.
10) We live in a 2-dimensional universe smashed against the side of a black hole possibly
A surprising fact discovered by the professor who teaches my Stanford Quantum physics class (Prof Lawrence Susskind) is that the amount of mass you can cram into a black hole is limited by the size of the black holes surface area, not its volume. (P20) If I try to pack stuff into a unit volume of space I can do so only up to the limit of the surface area of the space not the volume.
That’s strange in itself. It implies we don’t live in a 3-dimensional universe at all. That we perceive a 3-dimensional universe could be no more than an artifact of our senses, our brains interpretation of what it takes in via our senses. The fact is that we don’t really have full access to 3 dimensions and that if we try to access every place in 3-dimensions we will find ourselves limited and unable to access every point.
We are not sure what to make of this. (P21) Are we smashed against the side of a black hole? Are we projections from a 2-dimensional world like a hologram?
4/28/15 Universe could be a Hologram
These articles which came out after I wrote the above document that the 2-dimensional theory is more “proven” in the sense that they have shown that it is consistent with existing physics down to the level of quantum entanglement and quantum gravity. You will see as I go to section 3 that Twistor theory projects 2 complex dimensions not 3.
11) There is no continuous nature
In Newton’s physics and for most of physics even into the 21st century we assumed that nature is continuous. What that means is that we can assume that space is infinitely divisible. By making this assumption it makes the math a lot easier. We can write simple formulas such as d= vt (distance = velocity times time). However, this works great at the dimensions of 10 to the 23 molecules it doesn’t work well at dimensions smaller than atoms.
In 1905 we found that energy was being emitted from materials in increments of a fixed amount. This confounded physicists. It took Einstein to say: “Maybe energy is discrete. It can only come in chunks of one planck unit.” This won him the Nobel prize.
The fact is spin, energy and many other characteristics of nature are discrete, i.e. come in multiples of some fixed minimum. This puts doubt that other quantities are not discrete as well, like time and space itself. In fact, I doubt many physicists would argue with the statement that space and time are almost certainly discrete as well. (P22)
The problem is nobody seems to have a good way of expressing the math of discrete space and time so we have punted on trying to rebuild physics on a discrete foundation. Most of our math, such as integral calculus, most of our geometry and much of the math we’ve built assumes the space of R (real numbers) or C (complex numbers.) These sets are infinitely divisible. None of this math works the same on the set of I (integers.)
There have been attempts. I won’t belabor all the flavors but it has been attempted. So the fact we have liked continuous space-time is mostly because to a good approximation it works at the large scale that we see and it is convenient to write the formulas. Again, this “naturalness” of continuous infinitely divisible reality is an artifact of our convenience not of the truth. Sorry.
If you think about it, a continuous reality really does seem impossible. How could space be infinitely divisible? Wouldn’t that imply infinite energy? It would. This is undoubtedly why some computations over the last 100 years in quantum mechanics and related fields like string theory that deal with the very small end up with infinities popping up everywhere in our calculations. This was very troubling initially. A lot of physics suffered from these infinities which made it tough sledding for a while.
Scientists came up with a way to get rid of the infinities. It is called “re-normalization.” Effectively this process subtracts the infinity parts of the calculations that inconveniently pop up in some calculations. Sounds like something a cheater would do. Don’t like the answer, just ignore the unpleasant parts. 🙂 Literally this is where we are! We call it renormalization but the fact is it is simply cheating. I am pretty sure nature doesn’t just subtract out the infinities somehow. Nature doesn’t have the infinities in the first place.
We have worked around the problem that our math misrepresents reality by tricks. Many physicists feel dirtied by these tricks. They are simply rules we apply that have no justification. All we know is if we eliminate the infinities this way that the results we get then conform to the experiments we do. By the way, the results conform perfectly to the world. So, wow, how convenient is this? This is not very elegant physics anyone would admit. It’s not satisfying but we don’t have a good way of writing down formulas or doing non-continuous math easily.
I believe it is assumed by most physicists that space is discrete at the planck level. Space, time energy can all be related by certain equations and so that using planck we can translate that into an absolute minimum time interval, minimum spacial distance, minimal energy amount, minimal gravitational force, etc… These minimum are the real “constants” of nature.
The underlying unit value of some of these things is truly small. A unit of time is 10 ^ -43th of a second. A unit of space is 10 ^ 20 times smaller than an atom. So, besides the mathematical complexity of trying to do everything as discrete it turns out that we are dealing with phenomenal small scale. That makes most of the continuous math we do even at the atomic level a good approximation.
If we think the size of a proton is small imagine something 10^20 times smaller, the size of a proton to us is the size of a planck unit to a proton. There could be whole worlds of things going on between that 10 ^ 20 distance.
To see what’s happening at these incredible small scale requires an unbelievable amount of energy. We would need a LHC a billion billion times bigger to do experiments down at this level. Okay, sure a LHC a billion times bigger would help a lot unfortunately it would be the size of our solar system.
Even that level of energy would be terribly insufficient. So, if we are going to probe down to the ultimate discrete nature of reality it is going to take some real creativity and some new discoveries because we are not likely to build a LHC a billion times bigger let alone a billion billion time bigger. There are quite a few particles called supersymmetric particles that may be discovered by much larger LHC. We may have to figure a way to find those particles more indirectly because smashing protons will be impractical at some point.
(P23) A big stumbling block for String theory is that strings are composed of energy at the planck level. They are possibly the fundamental building blocks of the discrete universe. So, by definition they are (if they exist) roughly that size. This makes it impossible to do experiments on string theory currently. We have found indirect ways of verifying some ideas in string theory but this is why many people called string theory a fantasy or a religion. It is largely still untestable.
The fact is our brains and eyes do not see the universe as discrete and they wouldn’t even if we lived down at the atomic level. It is hard to imagine what the universe looks like at the level of discrete space and time. However, we have to accept that it is unlikely the universe is continuous. It simply doesn’t make sense to think that space has infinite divisibility and when we do some physics that assumes infinite divisibility it results in infinite results so this to me is some level of proof that at least the laws of physics as we know them cannot be extrapolated to infinite smallness.
12) More Matter than Anti-Matter
One of the things we’ve discovered is that the universe has an anti for everything. So, an electron has an anti-electron which we call a positron. This is a convenient trick of nature that answers possibly one of the thorny problems of creation.
When the universe came into being did it come with some amount of stuff and why that stuff?
The anti rule that says there is an anti for everything means that if the universe is composed of 10^100 of X it is also composed of 10^100 of anti-X. The sum of these if they were put together is zero. Nada. If I am broke and go to the bank and get a $1,000,000 loan I now have $1,000,000 in cash but in fact I haven’t created any money because I owe $1,000,000 dollars to the bank. The net is zero. If the net wasn’t zero I’d be stealing and physicists sort of feel that ending up with other than zero for the universe is stealing because where could that X have come from? While this may not seem like a worse problem than saying the universe can create what appears to be almost an infinite amount of stuff as long as it also creates the same amount of anti-stuff it does keep the books honest. We need no further explanation if we say the universe is really all told if you add it all up or would put it all together again disappear into nothingness because it is nothing, a sum total of nothing.
We see evidence of this continuing “creation our of nothing” all the time in the way everything works. Two particles interact for instance. When they do nature seems to have an ability to borrow from itself creating out of thin air whatever it needs to make the interaction happen. Since in most cases it can create several regular and anti-particles out of thin air as long as it does so in perfectly equal amount such that the sum of the anti and non-anti particles created sum to zero the interaction will happen. Not only that but according to quantum physics ALL such possible interactions will happen, some with lower probability so that it appears a huge number of universes are created at each interaction corresponding to all the possible ways particles and anti-particles can be created.
This creation out of thin air happens every moment of our lives for everything that happens. This is not some obscure phenomenon. It is the very way nature operates for your body to consume food, for you to see light, for your cells to operate. In a very real sense this creation out of nothing and the random nature of this quantum physics zero-sum game is why anything happens in the first place. Quantum physics and the bubbling foam of empty space are critical for reality to happen. It is the motivation, the cause for interaction or the way all the bizarre things happen that ultimately created life. It is my contention that nature needed this random element thrown in with lots of things being created out of nothing to end up with an interesting universe. It is possible that if the rules of nature had been different and been say closer to how Newton and even Einstein imagined our universe we’d have a bunch of unchanging balls bouncing off each other rarely and the whole thing basically going nowhere. Quantum mechanics and the ability to borrow from nothing gave nature a way to try a lot more combinations of things to find something interesting like life. When things got stuck in what seems like a perpetual rut of nothing happening and nothing changing quantum mechanics gave nature a way to throw a monkey wrench into the primordial soup and mix things up with something improbable occasionally. We think of the combinations of DNA made through the process of evolution. In a sense quantum mechanics is like natures underlying DNA giving it the possibility to keep evolving possible alternate outcomes so something interesting could happen. Like us.
So, one big problem with this nice perfect symmetry of nature creating equal anti and non-anti stuff. One of the most perplexing problems that has been known for some time is the fact there is so little anti-matter. This is puzzling because the laws of physics show no obvious reason why anti-matter would be preferred over matter or vice versa. Further since Baryon number and Lepton number are observed to be conserved in all experiments and in theory there is no way for the amount of positive Baryon-ness or positive Lepton-ness to climb to the current observed near universality.
Either when the universe was created all the baryons and leptons and matter was created with very little or no antimatter or over time somehow the anti-matter meaning the -1 baryons, -1 leptons must have somehow disappeared. We don’t like as physicists either explanation and physics today has no way to explain this asymmetry.
The lack of explanation of this leaves questions about many basic assumptions in physics models today.
Charge, Spin, Relativistic Momentum are conserved quantities too but those appear to be on the whole “balanced” in the universe. As far as we know there is no huge net positive charge, spinning of particles or great distortion in momentum.
The last conserved quantity is Energy. During the creation of the universe we were obviously left with what is apparently a large positive energy in the universe. Different accounting schemes might be able to finagle this to be untrue but the sheer presence of so much matter and energy does seem to indicate that overall there is now a net very large positive amount of energy in the universe similar to the “postive” matter.
Could dark energy and dark matter be related to this question? Could the large positive energy we see be balanced overall when you consider all the dark matter and dark energy? Since these 2 forms of energy together are 95-96% of the universes energy we have a serious accounting problem. We are only able to see about 1/20th of all the energy in the universe. Therefore since we don’t know what the remaining part is it could balance our 4% of positive energy but why? We don’t know that either.
A new theory suggests that there is an interaction of anti-particles that is different than what occurs with non-anti-particles that could essentially hide all the missing anti-matter in heavy neutrino like weakly interacting particles that might explain some of the missing dark matter.
13) Expanding Universe
A remarkable discovery in the last few years is the fact that the universe is expanding at a truly stupendous rate today and accelerating. This foretells that in a very short period of time the universe will be a very sparse place to live. It seems awfully convenient we happen to be at a time when we could see as much of the universe as we can and be in cozy neighborhood because in not too long it seems we will be all alone.
14) The remarkable choice of constants in the universe
Numerous books have been written recently about the fact that the constants of nature that represent the fundamental parameters of physics of our universe are not predetermined. If they are not predetermined then how did they get chosen?
Varying any of the basic parameters of the universe, like the ratio of dark matter to regular matter by even the smallest amount (1 billion billion billion billionth) would cause the universe to have flown apart many billions of years ago making life impossible or to be still stuck in a mass of bubbling energy too intense to possibly support life. In either case the smallest variation of this number makes life impossible. Many of the other constants are very sensitive to the exact value to have anything like a possibility of life as we know it. So, while the constants are chosen precisely to work it is not clear WHY they have been chosen.
The overall probability of random selection of a life sustaining universe a 1 in 10 to the 500 fluke. How lucky we are.
There are 4 essential ways out of this problem,
1) The universe was made this way by an intelligent guiding spirit who knew the correct parameters.
I am always puzzled by answers of this type because I always wonder what universe this “spirit” lives in and what are the rules of that spirit? So, it doesn’t solve anything for me. This answer is called the strong anthropomorphic principle.
2) There are an infinite number of possible universes with all possible values of the constants and we happen to be in the one that supports life but these other universes exist or at least did exist for whatever time they did for the shorter life versions.
This is an easy out and is called the weak anthropomorphic principle.
3) There is a relationship between these constants we don’t understand yet which makes the selection of their values pre-determined and a necessary consequence of the physics of our universe.
There is no obvious reason why these constants are driven by physics but as we haven’t gotten the “real physics” yet maybe this will be uncovered as we discover it. This was the goal of string theory originally. Take something as simple as all energy is composed of a string. The longer the string the more energy. The string is vibrating in space and the vibrations are constrained by the geometry of space such that only certain vibratory patterns are stable. These constitute the particles. All physics could then derive it was imagined from these simple ideas. Unfortunately as always happens in physics simple grand ideas become messy very quickly. Now string theory is really m-theory and consists of vibrating branes. Oh well.
4) Some combination of the above
Messy. Terrible if true. Makes it very hard to test.
15) Matter is only 4% of the visible universe
I didn’t save the littlest problem for last. It could be that most think this is the most stunning result. It appears after all our work in physics to understand how everything works and all our success we have only been working on 4% of what seems to be around us.
It is not that the 96% is out there in space distant from us. We are surrounded constantly with energy that we don’t see, can’t seem to measure except indirectly and apparently is right there in front of us but is somehow invisible. The part of the universe we have been describing, that all these puzzling phenomenon are about is apparently dwarfed by the vast vast majority of energy that is around us and somehow doesn’t interact with us normally.
A good 20% or so of this energy we know is in the form of particles and conventional material that like neutrinos apparently doesn’t interact with us. We know this because we can see the spinning of galaxies and it’s quite apparent that there is not enough mass to keep those galaxies together. We have known this problem many years ago. Cosmologists knew this but the problem was “ignored” as the decoherence problem was ignored. Even 40 years ago a physicist suggested there is a lot of matter that we don’t see.
I think many physicists/cosologists figured that somehow the energy would show up with better instruments or maybe pop out of particle physics discoveries but it hasn’t. The remaining 75% or so of the missing energy is in the form of what is called dark energy. This energy we know exists because the universe is flying apart at an accelerating rate.
Dark is a fine term it seems but the dark energy is a little sensational. It is the energy represented by the force pushing the universe apart.
We don’t know what these dark things are and we only have ideas. 96% of the universe is a complete mystery. This shows you in some sense the pathetic state of physics.
When Einstein discovered in his theory of gravitation the universe would contract to a singularity he introduced the cosmological constant which balanced the universe to make it steady state. Most physicists thought the universe at the time was not moving. It looks like it’s not moving doesn’t it?
When the surprising result came out that the universe was actually flying apart (Hubble) he felt like he had made the biggest blunder of his life. If the universe wasn’t steady state then the current expansion would likely stop and then contract and his original equations were probably right.
We have only recently discovered that the universe is not only flying apart as Hubble thought but is massively accelerating it’s flying apart. This is unexplainable except by putting in a cosmological constant. So, Einstein is more brilliant than even he realized. His constant is real. Except of course nobody knows what the constant means in terms of reality. All we know is that it represents an energy that is 75% of all the universe’s energy.
This accelerating expansion seems inexplicable because it implies that before long the universe will be so spread out that we will be all alone. That seems unacceptably bizarre because before long we wouldn’t even know we had neighbors. Again, it’s convenient we happen to be here when things are sparse enough to allow life and yet not so spread out we may see no stars in the heavens.
With these discoveries it became apparent that our old conception of the universe as being of a fixed size around 13.8 billion light years across was completely wrong. Estimates looking at the curvature of the light at far away galaxies (like looking at the horizon of the earth to estimate the size of the earth) showed that the universe is at least 155 billion light years across. Now that we know the universe is accelerating its expansion the size is completely up in the air from what I’ve read.
The universe could in fact be incredibly large, possibly close to infinite in size. The theory of inflation suggests that other inflations could occur in other regions leaving a universe of stupendous size.
What physics and possibilities exist in this missing material and energy? It almost seems like we’ve barely touched the surface of the real reality in our universe. Clearly this puts another stake in the idea that we are perceiving reality with our senses. There is a lot more going on than we perceive through our limited senses.
Interpretations of Decoherence and final thoughts before going into Twistor theory
These are just some of the perplexing results of our physics experiments. They have challenged everyone from Einstein who was a long opponent to quantum physics even as he won the nobel prize for figuring part of quantum physics out. He made the famous quote: “God does not play dice.” I mentioned the quote from Feynman no slouch in the brilliance department and every physicist I have talked to professes that these real experiments challenge the mind to make sense of them.
Since Copenhagen more than a dozen interpretations of how decoherence happens have emerged including the multi-worlds theory. (P24) If you subscribe to Multi-Worlds theory then all simultaneous possible worlds that a particle could be in exist. In this way the particle is always actually in a specific place or time. There is no “decoherence event or process.” The schroedinger wavefunction proceeds in each universe. The question is at each point where a choice can be made the universe splits. How is that possible?
Many Worlds makes the problem of decoherence go away because essentially the particle or particles split into all possible subsequent states as different real universes. All these universes exist and all possible states are realized in some universe. We just happen to be in the universe that we observe the particle doing X. Many Worlds is actually the most believed theory today by physicists. Even Steven Hawking has fallen into this camp.
When I first heard of the measurement problem I came up with many worlds conceptually. However, it’s never been able to deal with the issues it raises. When these universes get created how much energy does it take to make them? Do they ever go away? It does seem troubling and introduce even more bizarre questions.
Another view on decoherence is very recent and says that space itself has memory and learns, like evolution. In this model there is only one world but particles behave in what appear to be random probabilities because the space underneath the particles remembers all the other states of the particle or particles and keeps the particles or space producing what appears to be randomness.
(P25) Other theories of decoherence are for instance the Penrose quantum gravity interpretation of decoherence. The Consistent histories interpretations, the pilot wave interpretations. All in all there are about a dozen different theories for the measurement problem. Surveys show physicists are split amongst all the theories but none seem to have garnered enough support to be considered really “the truth.”
Space-Time is Dead
It should be plain after reading these things that there is a lot going on in physics that is confounding with our current theories. The idea of reality that we have leads us to what appears to be inexplicable conundrums and truly bizarre things that challenge us to understand how they are possible. Clearly whether we adopt the idea of another “reality” there IS another reality.
Physicists have known for some time that these problems all point to a fundamental problem with our conception of space-time. In particular the problems of space-time fungibility, the non-local problems point to the inescapable conclusion that reality CAN’T be Minkowski space. It is clear that space time must be “emergent” meaning that something else must exist and that space-time must be calculated result. That’s the only way to explain how space-time could do all these impossible things described above.
So, what is the real underlying universe?
How does our brain interpret the world it sees as space-time the way it does?
What questions are left after this realization?
What questions does it answer?