Predicting the future does have something to do with physics. It always has. Since Newton and the development of the 3 laws of motion we have been able to do more and more in our physical world because of what we have discovered in physics.
Quantum Chemistry and Quantum Biology
The discovery of quantum mechanics is having significant impact on our understanding of plants, animals and the brain as well as the operation of the real world. We are building “quantum devices” and have been doing so for some time. We have new fields called quantum biology and quantum chemistry.
There are estimates that as much as 10% or more of our economy is already incorporating quantum mechanics as an underlying enabling mechanism.
The reason quantum mechanics is having an effect and will have more of an effect on our real world and our use of the real world is because quantum mechanics allows nature and us to perform tricks that otherwise seem impossible. Let me explain a few of the tricks quantum mechanics allows that will change our world.
Quantum mechanics is behind how the plant is able to ferry photons of light to break up CO2 10^7 times more efficiently than if you were to try to do it with classical physics and chemistry. Quantum mechanics is behind things like the sensitivity of our eyes to single photons and our hearing sensitivity, our noses and birds finding their way around, the reason animals can detect earthquakes before we can or tsunami before they arrive. In all these scenarios we have found evidence that these senses are enhanced by a quantum effect.
The more we are learning about cells, DNA, and nature we discovering that evolution has utilized some trick of quantum mechanics to optimize the function. This shouldn’t be that surprising. It should be surprising if it wasn’t.
If we can utilize these tricks in our technology we can create incredibly more sensitive instruments, new efficient ways of distributing power or using power infinitely more miserly. Putting intelligence into devices at microscopic level and increasing computer power by billions of times.
A lot of this benefit will depend on discovering the way nature is able to leverage quantum effects at room temperature. Apparently the shape of molecules outer shells of electrons can be made to cohere in some way that nature can achieve magnification of quantum mechanical effects to macro world phenomenon. We do some of this in diodes in electronics today.
When we discover like nature has how to do high temperature quantum mechanics for biology and chemistry we will have a inflection point in the use of this technology and it will have an enormous impact.
In the shorter term we can use these quantum effects in computers and in power grids, large scale facilities.
Learning quantum mechanics is going to be like learning Newtons three laws. It will be necessary because more and more we will depend on things that utilize this physics.
Quantum mechanics got its name from the fact that Einstein discovered that photons emitted from excited electrons orbiting a nucleus always came out in discrete multiples of a quantum value but the fundamental most bizarre property of quantum mechanics is the probabilistic nature it brought to all of physics. It introduced a bubbling reality that allowed all possible consequences from any interaction to occur. Empty space bubbles with virtual particles of incredible energy that appear and disappear in a moment. Smashing into regular particles mixing things up. This increases the possible outcomes drastically changes the nature of our universe giving us the ability to produce outcomes that seem incredibly improbable without quantum mechanics.
I suggest without quantum mechanics the universe may not even be possible. Certainly life would not have evolved. I believe a non-quantum universe is an uninteresting universe with dead billiard balls that don’t interact. Many physicists liked the simple equations of Newtons universe, the simple movement of objects.
I believe we will discover that quantum effects allow the smallest single cell creatures to exhibit learning and pattern matching ability that is critical to the evolution of life. We have seen just the beginning of how dependent we and nature are on quantum mechanics and therefore we are vastly underutilizing one of the most important basic tools of nature. When we learn how to harness quantum mechanics in our biology and chemistry we will have massive changes in our abilities and we will understand ourselves and all of nature infinitely better.
This is the exciting future I think we will see over the next 50 years.
Discovery of the true nature of the universe
I believe that also during the next 50 years we will see the emergence of a theory of everything that will radically change our perception of what reality is. We already know that reality is not what we think it is. Aristotle said that we only “see” paintings on the walls of caves. What he said seemed very theoretical but is profound beyond belief. Our senses give us a view of the world interpreted by our brains as a 4 dimensional universe of 3 space dimensions and 1 time dimension.
We know that at the small scale of quantum mechanics the universe “looks” vastly different. If our senses were tuned to that world we would see the universe vastly differently than the billiard balls we see at our level. At the level of the electron or particle time changes speed or even freezes, space contracts or expands, particles appear out of space and disappear constantly as if by magic.
Here is a picture of the quantum fuzz around a hydrogen atom we have taken recently with a quantum microscope:
At our macro level it was proven by Larry Suskind, Prof Physics at Stanford University that the 3 physical dimensions we see is really 2 dimensions. We could be observing each other on the surface of the cave wall literally. In this case the cave wall is the boundary of a black hole, possibly a black hole that we all are living on the surface of. If you want an explanation of some of these things see my blog on Penrose
String theory says we actually live in 11 dimensions 8 of which are curled up in microscopic balls the size of which determine some of the fundamental characteristics of our world.
Einsteins gravity and Penrose’s quantum gravity concepts say that space itself is created and bent by the presence of mass.
Most recently Penrose (Professor Mathematics and Physics Oxford Univ) has provided us with a world of 5 dimensions 2 of which are complex dimensions, the Twistor Universe. None of these 5 dimensions are our time and space dimensions. Our space and time dimensions emerge as “calculations” on the underlying fundamental geometry of discrete space. Time and space have no intrinsic reality and are merely calculated from Twistor space. As a result time and space can jump arbitrarily depending on the mapping. They are simply calculated results. There is no continuous space-time. This explains things like how entangled particles can communicate at 1,000,000 times the speed of light.
3 spatial dimensions and a time dimension is simply the simplest way our brains can perceive and predict what is happening at this macro level. It is not reality.
We perceive our reality because it is the simplest way to interpret the data our eyes capture from the real world. Our brains try to make sense of the signals from our senses by creating a Minkowski world (3 dimensions of space and 1 of time.) In fact, the world does not have to be 4 dimensional space time Minkowski and almost all theories of physics now modify the number of dimensions and shape. Minkowski space is how our brains make sense of the data at the scale we are. We see a ball traveling in a path in 3 dimensions because our brains can make a “prediction” about the path of the ball, can make sense of the ball and its motion by creating 3 dimensional world and time. So, our brains construct this reality we see but it is NOT reality.
Penrose has suggested that the connection between our brains and this underlying reality is more profound than we have ever imagined before.
Penrose has shown that the human brain is capable of deductions that cannot be made by machines operating by conventional mathematical logic, what we call Von Neuman machines. He suggests that quantum mechanics is an integral part of how our brains operate and that the ability of the brain to make these deductions suggests that even quantum mechanics needs to be modified or a new physics is necessary to explain how the human brain can “see” things that a von Neuman machine can’t.
Penrose is also saying that our intelligence (consciousness) may actually reside in the quantum foam. Some evidence of this is available. Experiments have shown that the body and nerves can react to a thought that doesn’t emerge into our consciousness until 100s of milliseconds after the signals have been sent to the body to perform the action we later think of. There are several ways to think this is possible. In the Penrose interpretation consciousness is in the quantum foam and our brains, specifically tubulin molecules in the dendrites of nerves in the brain are in coherence and utilize the quantum fuzz so that our consciousness actually resides in the quantum fuzz and the dendrites and tubulin molecules provide a conduit for the flow of information from our senses and brains “consciousness” to the quantum foam and back. The real “thinking” is done in the quantum foam. There was evidence discovered in 2014 that these tubulin molecules as predicted show quantum behavior.
In this world our neurons are the gateways to the real intelligence which exists in quantum foam.
Another theory gaining strength (Quantum Darwinism) says that the quantum foam itself is capable of learning, remembering and evolving. Our DNA may simply be a natural “analog” to this quantum evolutionary capability. It makes sense that evolution and something like DNA would happen if underlying structure of the universe was evolutionary then the emergence of evolution is natural consequence of the very nature of space itself.
These theories may seem speculative but they are all driven by the bizarre scientific experimental results we see. We see entanglement and particles reacting at 1,000,000 times the speed of light, we see the universe expanding, we see particles created out of nothing and disappearing. We see particles traverse impossible paths or switch from particle to wave phenomenon and disappear only to reappear almost anywhere. We see particles interfering with future versions of themselves and past versions. These are real experiments that drive these bizarre seeming theories. These are real things our eyes don’t see but that are actually happening, the way the universe really is not how we wish it were.
While I can’t say all these theories will be proven correct what I can say with certainty is that:
Whatever we discover in nature over the next 50 years is going to be at least as bizarre and amazing as these theories I have described.
We have already looked at explanations that are simpler. The current theories are the simplest we can think of that might work. If these theories are wrong then the real answer to these experimental results will be MORE bizarre than the current bizarre theories! Think about that.
Einstein was convinced that Quantum mechanics was too weird to be true. However, he didn’t know the half of it. The more experiments we did the more bizarre results we got and the more they confirmed that things are much more complicated than he would have imagined. This is true for all past time as well. Nobody would have expected a world as complicated as we find. The more we study it the more likely we will find other bizarre things which lead us to hopefully eventually a theory that is self-consistent and more general but there is no way that theory is going to be less bizarre or cancel the real experimental results we already have.
So we are in for more surprises.
We will discover the “real universe” we live in and we will learn another reduction in limitations of things we can’t do. Until then we can’t say what are our limitations. Therefore whatever theory emerges from our current mess of theories as real will emerge because we are able to see scientific results which validate it. That means we may find ways to travel faster than light or to leverage energy sources we never imagined, to tap into intelligence we never imagined, even to re-imagine what life and evolution, where consciousness resides or to reinvent ourselves.
The possibilities remain all in play because nature has decided to give us a much more complicated universe than Newton or classical physics allowed. We should be grateful because a Newtonian billiard ball universe would be boring and have so many limitations surely man would commit suicide for lack of interesting things to do with ourselves. This universe is bizarre and we are going to figure out a lot more of it in the next 50 years but I strongly believe that somehow we will not come to the end of our understanding of the universe in 50 years.
I believe that the universe will continue to show increasing complexity like a fractal image
As we uncover more and more we will discover an infinite depth to this. Certainly we don’t seem close to being able to the end now.
We keep looking for a “simple” formula as Stephen Hawking said to explain the universe. Every few decades we seem to have a “revelation” that reveals an underlying simplicity, i.e. strings. When first proposed they seemed so simple. All of nature could be reduced to a simple vibration of a string. Different vibrations resulting in different particles. The structure of the strings determining the constants of nature. Simplicity like Newtons simplicity, like the atom, nucleus electron simplicity and then the quark simplicity. Each time we saw a simple way to describe things that somehow become complicated as we delved into it.
In the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance the protagonist in the book describes how a motorcycle engine can be broken down into pieces, simple pieces but as you examine each piece the complexity increases and the way you broke down the motorcycle turns out to be arbitrary. There are many ways to think about the motorcycle engine components and functions. The more you look at it the more everything gets confusing.
In a similar way it may simply be an artifact of reality that no manner of organizing it, breaking it down can fully simplify the complexity. Whether this leads to abilities to travel faster than light or discover other creatures in the universe to talk to I have no idea but we are definitely not anywhere near the end of the journey of discovery, so we shouldn’t be putting bounds on what is possible just quite yet.
The Speed of Light
There are several ways physics could go that could impact our future. We could find that the universe has “tricks” like quantum tricks that allow us to travel long distances easily.
There are several ways around the limitations of the speed of light that we know about.
1) It is proven that the information transfer that happens during decoherence is at least 1,000,000 times faster than the speed of light.
2) While particles themselves cannot travel faster than the speed of light space itself can shrink or expand faster than the speed of light.
3) it is theoretically possible to traverse a wormhole through connected parts of space enabling us to travel distances that would otherwise take billions of years at the speed of light in a fraction of that time.
4) There may be ways to move around twistor space that jump around in physical space and time arbitrarily.
Twistor Space and Roger Penrose
It is not clear if any of these are possibly leverage-able in a real way by human beings. If Roger Penrose is right and our space fundamentally is not a Minkoski 4 dimensional space time but a 5 dimensional Twistor space then space and time are discrete and are not fundamental. This means that jumping around among discrete points in Twistor space can jump around arbitrarily in Minkowski space time. This would explain a lot of confusing things about quantum mechanics. It would also mean that we may not be limited by our perception of what is possible in Minkowski space-time.
You may think my discussion above of Twistor space is random and just some bizarre ideas I have. I strongly encourage you to read current physics. Twistor space is becoming more and more a centerpiece of how people are doing quantum mechanics today. It is also become an underpinning of string theory. It is critical to quantum gravity theories.
Roger Penrose invented Twistor space. He is a mathematician and physicist who helped Einstein with papers about the big bang and Steven Hawking with papers on black holes. Twistor space is behind the latest advancements in quantum mechanics like the Amplituhedron which is allowing us to calculate quantum states billions of times faster than we could with Feynman diagrams. Roger is 84 years old and just published a paper last year which challenges the existence of Inflation theory. If you don’t know about this man then you really should read about him more. I plan a separate blog entry on him soon.
The future is still wide open
There are no obvious applications immediately to these physics ideas I discuss above than there were obvious applications of quantum mechanics or special relativity or all kinds of things in physics yet ultimately they enable us to do things that seem like magic.
Nature is able to utilize energy in the natural world 10,000,000 times more efficiently than we can. That disparity will not last the century. We will discover just as we discovered how to transmit 10,000,000 bits/second over the air to an individual small cellular phone we will learn tricks of quantum mechanics and we will get radically better at manipulating matter at the level of the proton and smaller. We will uncover the artifacts that lead us to figure out what is the real universe we live in, how many dimensions there are and how they can be traversed. We will learn how to get around what we perceive as limitations today.
20 years: Significant advances in unifying physics
30 years … I really have no idea. I don’t think anybody could. It’s sheer speculation. However, I think we will discover or prove that our universe is far different than we see. Possibly that Twistor space is “real” space. We will discover that the quantum foam is where consciousness originates. We will explain why at least some of the “constants” of nature are why they are and it will have some kind of anthropomorphic element.
Here are the areas I have written prognostication and thoughts about: