Being a Heretic is Hard Work

By Sean Carroll | March 6, 2008 1:21 pm

Apparently heretics are, on the aggregate, lazier than I suspected. I had the unusual pleasure of reading a blog post for completely independent reasons and coming across my own name — Ethan Zuckerman was reporting on a talk given by gerontologist Aubrey de Grey at the recent BIL Conference, in which he quotes my line from the Edge World Question Center that “Being a heretic is hard work.” (His other quote was from Gandhi.) It hadn’t occurred to me that such a sentiment was sufficiently unique to deserve being quoted, but as far as Google knows nobody else has pointed this out before. (While we’re at it, did nobody appreciate my previous Google joke?)

So I re-read my own World Question Center entry, and (to nobody’s surprise) I thought it was great. I’m my own most sympathetic audience. But in my post here about the WQC, I linked to the entry but didn’t reprint it in its entirely. Which I will hereby do now, because I’m a busy guy and you are busy blog readers who don’t always have the time to click on a link. Being a blogger is hard work.

———————————————

Growing up as a young proto-scientist, I was always strongly anti-establishmentarian, looking forward to overthrowing the System as our generation’s new Galileo. Now I spend a substantial fraction of my time explaining and defending the status quo to outsiders. It’s very depressing.

As an undergraduate astronomy major I was involved in a novel and exciting test of Einstein’s general relativity — measuring the precession of orbits, just like Mercury in the Solar System, but using massive eclipsing binary stars. What made it truly exciting was that the data disagreed with the theory! (Which they still do, by the way.) How thrilling is it to have the chance to overthrow Einstein himself? Of course there are more mundane explanations — the stars are tilted, or there is an invisible companion star perturbing their orbits, and these hypotheses were duly considered. But I wasn’t very patient with such boring possibilities — it was obvious to me that we had dealt a crushing blow to a cornerstone of modern physics, and the Establishment was just too hidebound to admit it.

Now I know better. Physicists who are experts in the field tend to be skeptical of experimental claims that contradict general relativity, not because they are hopelessly encumbered by tradition, but because Einstein’s theory has passed a startlingly diverse array of experimental tests. Indeed, it turns out to be almost impossible to change general relativity in a way that would be important for those binary stars, but which would not have already shown up in the Solar System. Experiments and theories don’t exist in isolation — they form a tightly connected web, in which changes to any one piece tend to reverberate through various others.

So now I find myself cast as a defender of scientific orthodoxy — from classics like relativity and natural selection, to modern wrinkles like dark matter and dark energy. In science, no orthodoxy is sacred, or above question — there should always be a healthy exploration of alternatives, and I have always enjoyed inventing new theories of gravity or cosmology, keeping in mind the variety of evidence in favor of the standard picture. But there is also an unhealthy brand of skepticism, proceeding from ignorance rather than expertise, which insists that any consensus must flow from a reluctance to face up to the truth, rather than an appreciation of the evidence. It’s that kind of skepticism that keeps showing up in my email. Unsolicited.

Heresy is more romantic than orthodoxy. Nobody roots for Goliath, as Wilt Chamberlain was fond of saying. But in science, ideas tend to grow into orthodoxy for good reasons. They fit the data better than the alternatives. Many casual heretics can’t be bothered with all the detailed theoretical arguments and experimental tests that support the models they hope to overthrow — they have a feeling about how the universe should work, and are convinced that history will eventually vindicate them, just as it did Galileo.

What they fail to appreciate is that, scientifically speaking, Galileo overthrew the system from within. He understood the reigning orthodoxy of his time better than anyone, so he was better able to see beyond it. Our present theories are not complete, and nobody believes they are the final word on how Nature works. But finding the precise way to make progress, to pinpoint the subtle shift of perspective that will illuminate a new way of looking at the world, will require an intimate familiarity with our current ideas, and a respectful appreciation of the evidence supporting them.

Being a heretic can be fun; but being a successful heretic is mostly hard work.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Miscellany
  • roland
  • Matt

    OK, fair enough. But how the hell do I get all my heretical ideas to go away? I’m full of them! Emailing famous cosmologists might very well be my only hope for redemption!

    For example, I had this thought that maybe Newton’s inverse square law is missing a variable, perhaps a variable linked to some key feature of our sun. Sure, it works fine in our solar system, predicting how any two (or more) bodies interact here, but perhaps those same two bodies in another star system would interact differently. And don’t go quoting me the movements of other stars and planets who masses we presumably “know” that confirm Newton – don’t those masses come from plugging their movements into the potentially flawed inverse square law in the first place?

    What test can I, a layman, possibly perform to put this notion to rest? I can’t send a probe to Zeta Reticuli. I’m lost. I am morally compelled to lay my heresy at the feet of Sean. He does have a blog, after all.

  • George
  • George

    Oh, magic, it did appear as a link.

  • RockHoward

    Indeed, it turns out to be almost impossible to change general relativity in a way that would be important for those binary stars, but which would not have already shown up in the Solar System.

    Hmm. Doesn’t the latest announcement of orbital anomolies, combined with the long standing Pioneer anomoloy, give real hope to GR heretics these days?

  • Lord

    Which do you expect to occur first, the completion of current theories or something new? I would guess the latter.

  • LordSphere

    Me thinketh you suffer from a slight case of heretic envy. ;) But by all means, keep defending the Faith; without the Church and its High Priests, there is nothing by which to define or measure Heresy. You are playing a vital role. Honestly, you are. Dude, seriously.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Matt, what you can do is learn the relevant background physics. ‘t Hooft’s list is a good start.

    RockHoward, anomalies are always interesting, but more interesting is to try to construct a theory that explains them while remaining consistent with the data that GR fits very well.

    LordSphere, I am suffering from a case of heretic something, but “envy” is not it.

  • http://kea-monad.blogspot.com Kea

    Oh, hallowed be thy name, oh mighty patriach (spit) of The Church of the Righteous, for we poor sinners know not what we do….

  • Elliot

    Interesting the quote was made by Aubrey de Grey.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aubrey_de_Grey

    (for those unfamiliar with him)

    If he’s right we’ll all have plenty of time to figure everything out :)

    e.

  • John Merryman

    And I thought the best and brightest were going into structured finance these days!

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    We like to think that Einstein was a revolutionary in physics, and he was, but what he did was to illustrate something that was there all along. He showed that the motion of charged particles was such that the speed of light was constant. It was buried in a way in Maxwell’s equation. Einstein did not start out to be some radical heretic, but he just asked some basic questions.

    We are not in the same position that Galileo was in. I listened to a radio play of Berthod Brecht’s play on the life of Galileo. It was amusing how hard it was for him to get the Church astronomers to just look in his telescope. Galileo really started at the ground floor. Sure there was a body of “pre-physics” based on Aristotle and Ptolemy, but these more constituted mathematics and philosophy which syllogistically positied ideas about the world with no empirical basis. It took Roger Bacon to start the idea of empiricism, and Galileo took it up with fervor. Galileo was in a sense the first true physicist.

    Today we don’t want our bedrock theories to fail utterly, but more to fail “gracefully,” by exhibiting departures in domains of observation previously unexplored. After all while we are all mentally marinated in the physics of relativity and quantum mechanics we don’t throw our textbooks on classical mechanics in the rubbish.

    In some ways in the sense of Newton’s “standing on shoulders of giants,” things go back a ways. Copernicus wrote the following:

    For every apparent change in place occurs on account of the movement either of the thing seen or of the spectator, or on account of the necessarily unequal movement of both. For no movement is perceptible relatively to things moved equally in the same direction; I mean relatively to the thing seen and the spectator.

    “Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres” sec 5 Nicolous Copernicus

    There is a hint of relativity in this!

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • http://ideaworx.com Lewis Perdue

    Hmmmmm,

    Perhaps a reading of Lee Smolin’s book, “The Trouble With Physics” may be in order here?

    Or perhaps Joao Maguejo’s “Faster Than the Speed of Light?”

  • Pingback: Heretics bring traffic at Freedom of Science()

  • Simon DeDeo

    Wait, I thought “Matt” was kidding. Kidding… LIKE THE ORTHODOXY OF SCIENCE MUST BE KIDDING WHEN THEY EXPECT US TO IGNORE THE COINCIDENCE BETWEEN THE W BOSON MASS AND THE PERIOD OF PSR 1913+16.

    Best crank admonition: “CONNECT THE DOTS”. It’s like, dude, I’m trying.

  • Dany

    Sean:” So I re-read my own World Question Center entry, and I thought it was great.”

    It is great. But in my view you miss a point (notice Lawrence B. Crowell comment). Heresy by definition is notion used outside the science. It has roots in religion, economic reasons, political (ideology) fitness, etc. Anything you want but empirical arguments. Therefore your personal track from ignorance to knowledge led you naturally to your present position.

    “Standing on shoulders of giants” is the necessary condition and just the opposite of heresy. The relativity was introduced by N.Copernicus and amazingly in form more closed to general relativity! J.C.Maxwell stands on shoulders of M.Faraday who (amazingly) discover charge quantization and introduced fields with closed (!) field lines. Maxwell translated that on the language of math. A. Einstein made connection with the geometry and H.Minkowski translated that on the language of math. And so on. And I think it is more adequate to consider I.Newton, W.R. Hamilton, J.C. Maxwell, A.Einstein, E.Schrödinger, E.P.Wigner, C.N.Yang integrators who made the process continuous.

    If you like, my “video” behind that is Egyptian Pyramid and not Tower of Babel.

    Regards, Dany.

  • cain

    In hindsight, shouldn’t we have rooted for Goliath?

  • The Almighty Bob

    Lawrence; wasn’t Einstein’s most revolutionary work the electromagnetic effect, not relativity?
    I mean, the wave nature of light had been conclusively proved by Young’s double-slit experiment a century before, and then Einstein produces this theory – that explains an experiment previously mysterious – that turns everything on its head again. Whereas, as you said, shades of relativity can be found in others’ work.

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    In a way I don’t regard string theory or LQG as really theories, but hypotheses. A theory to my mind is something which has some empirical backing, and neither of these theories have much to back them up. I further think that these are two differing views of a problem, like peering into a room through keyholes on different doors. Curiously the two physical hypotheses are complementary in a way. String theory fails to be constrained effectively, while LQG is in a way “too constrained.” LQG is a better treatment of gravitation than string theory, but conversly string theory is more effective at particle theory — the quantum field theory v. general relativity divide still manifests itself.

    As such with this “divide” I don’t see LQG as falisfying string theory, but more that we have various propositions about a domain of physics we have almost no direct information about. Also don’t rule out twistor theory as having something to say about this! If we can manage to arrive at a working theory, one which has some basis of observational support, I suspect that all of these structures will enter into the picture.

    Is there scientific heresy? In principle no, for any scientific hypotheses or line of research that is properly done is not heresy, even if at the end it is wrong, or if it is divergent from the norm and is found to be right. Is there scientific heresy in practice? Since scientists are people and behave in social hierarchies and the like, yes. There is a measure of social dynamics in trajectories which science takes, which gives disfavor to trends outside the standard path. This extends to the applied sciences as well, such as the strange almost obsessive trend with nuclear weaponry.

    As things stand, any physicist working on frontier problems will support known physics, such as the standard model of electro-weak unification as at least an effective theory. We all stand on the shoulders of giants.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    The Almighty Bob on Mar 7th, 2008 at 7:33 am

    Lawrence; wasn’t Einstein’s most revolutionary work the electromagnetic effect, not relativity?

    ——————-

    1905 was Einstein’s Annus Mirabulus, where in addition to relativity he wrote on the photoelectric effect and how Brownian motion was due to atomic theory leading to Langevin physics. Einstein’s special relativity in a way amounts to the observation that the “curl” Maxwell equations, such as the Maxwell-Faraday equation

    $latex
    nablatimes H~=~J~+~frac{1}{c}frac{partial D}{partial t}
    $

    have the speed of light embedded in the theory, and that the Lorentz transformation is a consequence of how charged particles in motion interact with electromagnetic fields.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • Matt

    Simon: yeah, I was kidding. Thanks for noticing. But then I was genuinely disheartened to discover that I lacked the basic physics understanding to even falsify my own mock-crank “theory.” So off to ‘t Hooft I go!

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Matt, apologies for not catching on. Blinded by too many true positives.

  • John Ramsden

    Sean, some months ago you kindly (and, perhaps slightly rashly) offered to review any paper that your blog readers might care to email you, or that was my impression.

    Understandably, an axiomatic principle, doubtless drummed into post-grads in their first class “Dealing with the General Public”, is never never reply to kooks or amateurs.

    But there’s a fairly continuous spectrum between obvious incoherent lunacy, ranging through misguided and hopeless naivety, via poorly presented but possibly a glimmer of a promising idea, all the way to an impeccably correct paper by a budding Galileo (although you’ve also assured us in the past that none of us is that ;-).

    So given your offer, I’m curious to know what criteria you would use to draw the line between replying to an unsolicited email/paper or not as the case may be.

    I must admit I sent my paper to a couple of distinguished (read “names I’d heard of”) scientists and never received a reply. I’d concede this was most likely due to their natural reaction “hmm, probably rubbish but I don’t have time to check”. (I’ve been in the same situation myself, believe it or not, as the unsolicited receipient of maths papers.)

    But by chance I discovered another possible reason: Emailing a draft of the paper to myself as a backup, I was amazed when the email program baulked at sending it, on account of spam words! It turned out that the program had spotted the phrase “via gravity” and assumed this was a crafty attempt to disguise the word “viagra”. So quite possibly the emails had all ended up unread in spam folders!

    However, if your offer still stands and you have ten minutes spare, I’d be pleased to mail you a copy (which I have refined since previously emailing it to anyone) and would value your opinion even if less than favourable – I’ve plenty of other irons in the fire. So rest assured I don’t have a bee in my bonnet about any one of them.

    Cheers

    P.S. You’ll find I’ve been careful this time only to use the phrase “through gravity”, as I don’t think there’s a pill called throughra.

  • http://imaginarypotential.wordpress.com/ David Guarrera

    Hi Sean,

    Any chance I could get you to blogroll our new Cosmic Variance-esque physics group blog (with a slight twist, we are grad students + postdoc), http://imaginarypotential.wordpress.com/ ?

    Thanks,
    Dave

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    OK, I understand the reasons for suspecting that most orthodoxy by now is essentially correct. But how many of you are deliberately looking for things that don’t fit? Look at how recently the weird issue of “dark energy” came up, there could be more like that.

  • ike

    “He understood the reigning orthodoxy of his time better than anyone, so he was better able to see beyond it.”

    Mmmm… a hidden pun? Galileo also produced the first 9x and 30x power telescopes, through which he observed the phases of Venus and the moons of Jupiter. He of course built on the work of Copernicus in that area. Galileo is known widely for that, but his work on the acceleration and motion of falling bodies was what Newton started with.

    A nice discussion of special relativity and Maxwell’s equations is at Wikipedia:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moving_magnet_and_conductor_problem

    “Special relativity, in which it is concluded that classical mechanics must be revised such that transformation of fields and forces in moving reference frames is consistent with electrodynamics and Maxwell’s equations.”

    It’s always disturbing to hear science described in religious terms. Heresy implies some kind of religious authoritarian structure to science (sort of like what existed in Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia). Galileo and Copernicus were accused of heresy against Scripture – but now we use science to explain physical phenomena, not religion or ideology. Einstein’s opposition to quantum mechanics, for example, could be called heresy – but that implies that people’s opinions, not experiments and observations, determine such questions.

  • John Merryman

    I can’t resist adding a crank theory. I call it volumetemperature. I propose temperature is simply another parameter of volume. Say that if the volume of a space is increased, the temperature of the energy contained within is reduced by a relativistically precise amount. An example would be the universe. As it expands in size, the temperature of the CMBR drops. It makes at least as much sense as saying time and distance/space are interchangable.

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    The basic gas law is

    $latex
    PV~=~NkT
    $

    for pressure, volume and temperature clearly represented, and N = # molecules and k Boltzmann’s constant.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    John Ramsden on Mar 7th, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    Heresy implies some kind of religious authoritarian structure to science (sort of like what existed in Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia). Galileo and Copernicus were accused of heresy against Scripture – but now we use science to explain physical phenomena, not religion or ideology.

    ————–

    Galileo was a bit of the early 17th century Feynman, and there is a thread on St. Rich here on CV. Galileo was a bit of a smart ass and he pulled on the beards of Papal authority. Not that I would uphold the standards of his age, but in a way Galileo got what was coming to him. The Pope and the ecclesiastical academe had accepted Copernicus and Galileo’s finds as an acceptable alternative and as with the rusty wheels of the Church you just have to wait.

    There have been very few scientists who have been killed or put under legal sanctions for their findings. It is not unheard of, but it is remarkably rare. In the case of religion most often religious authorities go after the throats of other religious upholders.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • John Merryman

    Lawrence,

    Thanks for the math. Cranks like myself are not so good at that.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Neil, we don’t “suspect that most orthodoxy” is correct; we understand that certain results and theories are well-established, and others remain speculative. And we are all looking for things that don’t fit! That’s the fun part of the job. But most things that don’t fit are just temporary misunderstandings (of data or theory), and separating out the lasting ones from the ephemera is a crucial part of being a successful scientist.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    David G. — Sure, I will try to update the blogroll soon. Congrats on the new venture!

  • John Ramsden

    Lawrence, in #29 you misattributed a quote by John Merryman to me.

    However, staying bang on topic for a change, I’d just add that there is a significant connection between heresy and gas thermodynamics.

    Econophysicists (!) compare the distribution of wealth with that of energies of gas molecules, and use the same type of maths for both. See http://www.saha.ac.in/cmp/econophysics/abstracts.html for example.

    As anyone who has read Freakonomics knows, the vast majority of drug dealing profits end up in the pockets of a few bosses, while the foot sloggers gain only small change, and the same applies in most unconstrained collective endeavours just as most molecules in a gas have a similar energy but relative to that there are a few “fast flyers”.

    Likewise, it’s a harsh truth that science and art and any creative activity is advanced disproportionately by a few geniuses and the rest follow on and fill in the details.

    So where does heresy fit in you ask. Well for centuries religious authorities searched out heretics wherever they could, treating all on the same footing whether famous or obscure.

    It was some while before they twigged that a far more effective tactic was to concentrate on the high flyers, learned and influential priests and suchlike. If these bellwethers could be silenced or discredited, then the rest of the sheep would fall into line. So it’s the same gas thermodynamics principle, but applied in reverse.

  • John Merryman

    John Ramsden,

    That’s an interesting point. Does the range of activity apply to all thermal media, or mostly in those situations where a change of temerature is occurring, so that some are initial carriers of the energy gain/loss? It would seem this is the situation you describe in the political and economic situations, where ideas and energies start with a few and are transferred to the larger body. Of course the muffling effect is inherent to this comparision as well, since the heat can easily be lost, if there is no continuous application. (Alexander didn’t conquer Asia because he cut the Gordian knot, but because he had the Greek armies to back him up.)

    As to my implied point that time is a measure of motion, similar to temperature; In a higher energy environment, such as a gravity field, atomic activity is faster, ie. higher temperature, and so time is more rapid.

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    The distribution of molecules in a gas or material with a temperature is well understood. For temperatures which are comparatively high the distribution is given by Boltzmann’s distribution law, while for low temperatures the states of the constitutents fall into either Bose-Einstein statistics or Fermi-Dirac, depending on whether their spin is integral or half integral units of the unit of action = hbar.

    For low temperatures there is all sort of really interesting things that go on with Fermi surfaces or condensates and … . Really interesting stuff, and I think these physics play roles in cosmology and quantum gravity as well, particularly in the role of symmetry breaking by inflatons or phi^4 dilaton fields in conformal gravity. Though going into that would chew up a lot of bandwidth here.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • ngeo

    ” . . . finding the precise way to make progress, to pinpoint the subtle shift of perspective that will illuminate a new way of looking at the world, will require an intimate familiarity with our current ideas, and a respectful appreciation of the evidence supporting them.”

    Speaking of a shift of perspective, what are “current ideas” about the word “space”? As a crank amateur nonphysicist searching for gems, I wonder about the conflict between “space” as empty distance and “space” as a completely full vacuum; or between a body of matter occupying space and a point particle not occupying space. Is there not a problem in the idea that “space” is what is occupied, the assumption being that what occupies “space” is “not space” – so there are two separate components to the imagined universe, one being “space” and the other being “not space”, yet the component that is “not space” is a body made of point particles that do not occupy space? Does this arise because the mathematics requires objects – to be studied as occupying a “mathematical” space? Perhaps in order to grasp mathematically what may not be graspable?

    Running the universal film backwards, “reigning orthodoxy” appears to stop at the CMB, and the early history of the universe is speculation. And this speculation appears to be based on the assumption that the universe was always cooling down, because “space” was expanding due to – what? Radiation pressure? Then at the earliest possible time, the universe was extremely hot and dense, being enclosed in a very tiny “space”. As “space” expanded the universe cooled and “particles” condensed.

    But what if the universe was not enclosed, and was not extremely hot and dense, and “expanding space” is due not to radiation or other pressure but is the initial condition? Then “space” and “energy” are synomous, and also synonymous with “expansion”. So “space” could be described as an expanding energy-filled (space-filled) field, expanding at a constant rate dictated by its own nature. I find that such a field, expanding at its maximum constant rate, cannot add space (volume) as quickly as its own nature requires. In other words, within the field, the field’s energy cannot create space to its full potential. Therefore it creates pressure. This pressure causes some regions within the field to rotate. Rotating space is what is then called “particles”. The apparent difference between “space” and “not space” is only that some space is rotating space, and some other space is not rotating, or is rotating at a slower rate.

    I think this is a different perspective. Is it a current idea?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    John Ramsden– Sorry, but I did not offer to read papers that people send me. Again, if you are actually interested in making a contribution to physics, your first step should be to master the kind of physics curriculum that a typical graduate student learns.

  • John Merryman

    Lawrence,

    Temperature is a very interesting concept, encompassing the full spectrum of activity, from absolute zero to the speed of light. It would seem, in some respects, that time is a component of temperature, just as three dimensions are a model of spatial volume, not the basis for it.

    ngeo,

    Our crank thinking seems to be working along similar lines. I see it as a convection cycle of expanding energy and collapsing mass, defining the relationship between the being of mass/energy and the non-being of space/void.
    In that, space is infinite, but the curvature caused by expansion creates a horizon line, since sources are increasingly redshifted by a compounding effect and beyond 13.7 billion lightyears appear to recede faster then light. Since radiation from beyond this horizon line is no longer in the visible spectrum, it is the faint black body spectrum of CMBR.

    The interesting point about geometry is that points don’t have zero dimension, but a virtual dimension, otherwise they wouldn’t even exist as a location point. The real zero for geometry should be empty space, not a virtual point.

    I’ll spare the pros any more nonsense for the moment. I should read more on it, but separating the wheat from the chaff requires an objectivity which is beyond me and following the current credit meltdown has my spare attention at the moment.

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    On the relationship between time and temperature:

    John Merryman on Mar 8th, 2008 at 6:54 pm
    Lawrence,

    Temperature is a very interesting concept, encompassing the full spectrum of activity, from absolute zero to the speed of light. It would seem, in some respects, that time is a component of temperature, just as three dimensions are a model of spatial volume, not the basis for it.

    ————-

    In quantum field theory it is a common practice to Euclideanize time by letting time go to t —> it. This time turns out to be related to temperature by

    $latex
    t~=~frac{hbar}{kT}.
    $

    This time is not exactly the same as the Lorentzian time, what we measure on a clock (or might we say what a clock “produces”), but is really a measure of the time where quantum fluctuations may be observed. Sometimes the term quantum fluctuations causes trouble, so it really is more the distance in a Euclidean 4-dim space where an instanton (a tunnelling state etc) with a certain magnitude can appear. As this temperature becomes very small the fluctuation time becomes large and the strength of the fluctuation, if we qualitatively invoke the Heisenberg uncertainty principle

    $latex
    Delta EDelta T~=~hbar/2
    $

    and consider this instanton time t as this uncertainty in time. As the temperature heats up it also means that the fluctuation is stronger or its coupling is made larger and a phase transition will ensue.

    This gets into some fascinating stuff! The Lorentzian time implies that the moduli space is not separable. Two moduli, points in the space of “gauge equivalent connections,” are not separable in a Hausdorff point-set topological definition. The topology is Zariski. I can go write more about this if needed, but this gets us into some rather serious stuff. So there is the Lorentzian time and there is this Euclidean time and there is a Wick rotational map between the two. So distinct fluctuation in the Euclidean case which have moduli that are Hausdorff, separable and “nice” correspond to a set of moduli in the Lorentzian case which are not. Physically this means there is some scale invariant physics (again to go into would require a bit of writing work) of phase transitions associated with the correspondence between fluctuations at various pseudo-time scales (or temperatures) and their Lorentzian versions.

    This correspondence and the phase transition is a quantum critical point, which have been observed with High temp superconductors and in the physics of Landau electron fluids in metallic crystals in the actinide plus transition range. This also shares some aspects of physics with the Hagedorn temperature of strings.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • Dany

    Lawrence B. Crowell:” This time turns out to be related to temperature by t=h/kT…As the temperature heats up it also means that the fluctuation is stronger or its coupling is made larger and a phase transition will ensue… This correspondence and the phase transition is a quantum critical point.”

    Give me ref., please.

    Regards, Dany.

  • John Merryman

    Lawrence,

    So there is the Lorentzian time and there is this Euclidean time and there is a Wick rotational map between the two. So distinct fluctuation in the Euclidean case which have moduli that are Hausdorff, separable and “nice” correspond to a set of moduli in the Lorentzian case which are not.

    I would think that it would be meaningless to consider a point in time, if time is a measure of motion, like temperature, since there would be no motion at a point. Sort of like the Uncertainty Principle; Can’t have both position and momentum. A point would be cessation of time, like absolute zero is a cessation of temperature. So would this cause problems with measuring units of time as between two points? Is this what you are getting at in the above quote? That the “nice,” distinct Euclidian time breaks down in Lorentzian time, where it is actually being ‘produced’ by the motion of the clock.

  • ngeo

    Dear John Merryman,
    I’m not sure about what you are saying. I was trying to say that space exists as a physical entity, not that it does not exist. I will take one more swing at this and absent response I will leave the physicists to their theories.
    According to the current orthodoxy, the universe is “made of” a diminishing percentage of matter and an increasing percentage of “dark energy”, whether that means “negative pressure fluid”, “vacuum energy”, “cosmological constant”, based on apparent accelerated expansion. Whether this apparent expansion is actually occurring (in view of a recent “iron whiskers” observation I remain skeptical), somehow the bodies of matter of the universe are moving further apart. This means that either more real space is being made or that there is simply an increase in the measurable distance between them, according to whether “space” exists or not. (It would be interesting to get a response on that – is it unscientific to ask the question?)
    So the orthodox end of the universe is to be effectively empty of matter. So matter is a kind of transient phenomenon in a system of a finite “energy bank” of mass/radiation-energy and a potentially infinite vacuum/negative pressure-energy, which somehow according to the orthodoxy must hang together mathematically – it is just a matter of figuring out the right formula, and voila – the end (and maybe even the beginning) of the universe will be “explained”, maybe even translatable to the back of an envelope for a barmaid.
    However, to the unschooled, this is a dismal prospect, particularly in view of the obvious purpose (growth) that permeates the universe. When Time magazine in 1999 tells me how the universe will end, I rebel, particularly since I already have an idea how the universe can expand and evolve, continually creating matter (emerging property) by entropy pumping. This requires an infinite “amount” of energy.
    To keep it short: if you take all the mass-energy out of the expanding universe, leaving the “dark energy”, and then limit the “dark energy” to an expansion of c (as opposed to an early 58c, slowing to a current 3c directed by Lineweaver and Davis), this natural limit of c (initial condition expansion rate) creates pressure within the universe, and you end up with shells of rotating space, separating an inner space pushing outward and an outer space pushing inward; the energy or pressure is absorbed by rotation: a proton shell (rotates at ~10^23 hertz), electron shell (~10^20 hertz), and other natural phenomena which the physicists can investigate.

  • John Merryman

    ngeo,

    An interesting point to consider on whether space is expanding, or objects are moving apart in stable space is that the speed of light is presumed to be stable, such that if the universe were to double in size, two objects x lightyears apart would become 2x lightyears apart. So space as measured by C doesn’t expand, rather the distance in lightyears is increased.

    This does pose a problem for an expanding universe hypothesis, since the geometry of redshift would mean that we are at the center of the universe. That’s why the original expanding universe theory was amended to say that space itself is expanding, not just that the objects in space are flying away from each other.

    If space has a negative curvature in between gravitational wells, effectively opposite the positive curvature of these wells, the potential effect might be the redshift that is observed. (As if the light had to run up the down escalator.) So that space does expand between gravity wells, but it also collapses into these wells, neutralizing the overall effect. Since the overall universe isn’t expanding, this expansion of space would result in pressure on these gravity wells, as you mentioned. I’ll leave it at that, since I’ve bored many of the people here with it already.

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    Dany on Mar 9th, 2008 at 10:27 am

    Lawrence B. Crowell:” This time turns out to be related to temperature by t=h/kT…As the temperature heats up it also means that the fluctuation is stronger or its coupling is made larger and a phase transition will ensue… This correspondence and the phase transition is a quantum critical point.”

    Give me ref., please.

    Regards, Dany.

    H. von Lohneisen, A Rosch, M. Vojta, Rev. Mod. Phys., 79, 1025 (2007)

    S. Sachdev, Quantum Phase Transitions, Cambridge U. Press (1999)

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    This correspondence and the phase transition is a quantum critical point.”

    Give me ref., please.

    Regards, Dany.

    I should also say that there are parts here which is where I am working. The quantum critical point is where the mass of the quasi-particles, or in the case of Landau fluids in solids the quasi-electron, diverge. There have been experimental demonstrations that there is a critical point and there is close to there a divergence. Yet near the quantum critical point there is appearance of new states of matter, and indications this is connected to high Tc. A divergence of this sort always points to some sort of new physics lurking beyond the “horizon.”

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    To J.M. and ngeo,

    What you need to do is to understand the meaning of a co-moving frame in relativity theory.

    The percentage of so called dark energy will increase and asymptotically approach 100%. The spacetime will also asymptotically approach a pure deSitter spacetime. This is of course unless there is not some unexpected physics or cosmological principle which might “kick in” in the future. The Hawking-Gibbon effect also indicates that the cosmological event horizon at a radius

    $latex
    r~=~sqrt{3/Lambda},
    $

    or the reciprocal of the square root of the cosmological constant, will receed away as it emits a Hawking type of radiation similar to black hole radiance. This means that over a supendous time period the universe will approach being a spacetime that is a Minkowski spacetime. This is a perfect void, or the final “heat death,” or the attractor point in the phase space of solutions to the Einstein field equations.

    It might seem to be a dismal end, and it does point to a future universe that will ever more slowly wind down. Yet we are in a sort of “sweet spot” in the whole spacetime, where we can observe the universe’s distant past, but are not too close. In another few 10’s of billions of years things will be too redshifted for observers to measure the CMB or to seem much beyond their local galactic neighborhood. But I’d suggest not becoming like Woody Allen in “Annie Hall” where he worries about the universe breaking up. It is maybe better to sing or whistle the Monty Python song, “Look on the Bright Side of Life,” from their movie “Life of Brian.”

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • Dany

    Lawrence B. Crowell:” I should also say that there are parts here which is where I am working.”

    First of all, thank you. You are welcome to add arxiv ID and refs on your relevant publications, however I am interesting neither the universe distant future nor the universe distant past.

    Regards, Dany.

  • http://www.physiology-physics.blogspot.com/ Amiya Sarkar

    We should also be open to new ideas (hypotheses), for nothing is sacrosanct in the domain of science. I thoroughly enjoyed the comments too, specially that of Lawrence B. Crowell.

  • John Merryman

    Lawrence,

    We still have this dark energy pushing everything apart and all that stuff falling into black holes?
    What led me through the mirror and down the rabbit hole in the first place was that Omega has to be very close to one. If gravitational contraction and universal expansion are in general equilibrium, it still seems like half a cycle. Something is pushing space apart, but something else is pulling it together at an equal rate.

    I know I’m thick, but what am I’m missing?

  • John Ramsden

    Amiya Sarkar wrote:
    >
    > I thoroughly enjoyed the comments too, specially that of Lawrence B. Crowell.

    Yes, I second that. He does a cracking good job here, much appreciated, and doubtless in other forums besides. What’s more he’s written several books on physics, as a quick search on Amazon reveals.

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    I have written a book on the physics of starprobes. The book is a way of presenting basic physics up the about the Junior year level within the context of sending spaceprobes to other stars. I discuss Newtonian mechanics within a framework not usually seen in texts, and of course relativity theory. There is a smattering of general relativity, but mostly I work with special relativity to work out issues with the physics of sending a probe to a star within about 25 light years or so.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • ngeo

    Dear Lawrence Crowell,

    I am of two minds about whether to continue. In view of your last post just read, I don’t expect an answer but I will give this one last try. What I already wrote was:

    Thank you for your concern, but I cheer up by laughing at myself!
    I notice the term Lambda above. I wonder what your interpretation of Lambda is. More broadly, I wonder about gravitational instability and the feature of a limited amount of mass-energy in the universe. NASA says the universe is supposed to have “released” all its mass-energy within a certain time, which requires a kind of mass-energy “bank” – once all the mass-energy is withdrawn from the bank, there is no more. Yet at the same time there is an entity whose influence increases (dark energy).

    However, what if the universe is not the inflation-powered surface of a balloon, but the volume inside the balloon, expanding at a constant rate powered by a positive energy density, creating positive pressure, in turn creating matter which absorbs the local pressure resulting in local non-expansion (perceived as gravitational attraction/spacetime curvature), followed by further expansion (perhaps perceived as accelerated expansion depending on frame), pressure inside the surface, and further matter creation, in cycles? No need for rho crit., Lambda, etc. since the system stabilizes itself by cyclical matter creation.

    When you quit laughing, how about a round of “Row, row, row your boat. . . .”?

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    As much as people might be surprised, there is no conservation of energy law globally in a cosmology. The metric coefficients are time dependent, and this precludes the existence of a Killing vector K_t that defines an isometry and energy conservation law. There is the continuity equation for the momentum-energy tensor

    $latex
    nabla_mu T^{munu}~=~0,
    $

    but there is no conservation principle for energy in cosmology!

    The expansion of the universe is likened to a baloon blowing up, but of course in three dimensions instead of two. However, ignore the idea that this sphere encloses a higher dimensional region or a ball. The space will just keep expanding, and of course there is no “rubber” that will break. I think Sean posted the Ned Wright’s cosmology website. There is a lot of good stuff there which can help anyone understand some of this stuff.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • ngeo

    Thank you Lawrence Crowell,

    I have been to Ned Wright’s tutorial several times over the years, but I find the assumption not only there but also generally (running the film backwards) is that the universe began as an extreme density region. Whatever the inferred history prior to the CMB, all that is “known” is that it is emitted from a hydrogen plasma at 3000 K (correct?). How it got to be that way is what I question. In other words it could be either cooling down or heating up. There seems to be no consideration of a heating up scenario. I think this is for reasons of the historical growth of physics, e.g. bodies of matter, conservation of mass-energy.

    Re the balloon analogy, I dimly understand the mathematicians have a special sense of 2D and 3D, sphere and ball. It is difficult to ignore the interior of the ball, I wonder how the mathematicians do it. But the key to my idea is in your sentence, “The space will just keep expanding, and of course there is no “rubber” that will break.” If the initial condition is spatial expansion, the universal expansion rate will be dictated at the moment of expansion. The “spatial field” will expand at its full potential, which it cannot alter without breaking its own natural law (or our understanding of the constancy of natural laws in our frame). The initial condition therefore dictates a constant expansion rate and immediately invokes space and time measurement, including added volume per unit of existing volume of the ball.

    The thing is that, after a very short time, for every added unit of constant radial expansion the added volume is less than the natural law (initial condition) requires. That is, each unit of existing volume adds less and less new volume as the ball expands at its limit. In other words, if every ‘point’ within the expanding field replicates the initial condition of the field itself, there is not enough space within the field to absorb the expansion potential – even while the field is expanding at its full potential at its ‘edge’. So although there is no rubber that will break, the initial condition of constant expansion rate produces pressure inside the ball. I am told that rotation is a degree of freedom. So rotation absorbs the pressure. I think it would have to be rotation on the equivalent of three axes in order to absorb pressure from all directions. It also has the effect that space in the rotating region does not expand. If you go by Planck times and Planck lengths and rotation rate of c applied to ~10^23 hertz frequency for protons and ~10^20 hertz frequency for electrons, I calculated something like 10^64 particles would be created in one second. Each non-expanding region forms effectively a zero point for the spatial field, so the working of the natural law restarts from an effective zero radius with each matter particle created. Then the cycle repeats itself, constantly creating new matter just inside the edge of the ball, but I think with larger intervals, so you end up with dense regions of matter and voids. Large enough voids may create pressure and rotation, i.e. dark matter.

  • http://cosmicdarkmatter.com Tissa Perera

    Sean,

    A Dark Matter thought experiment.

    1) Dark Matter was invented to augment the observed motion of
    real visible matter, right? right!
    2) Dark Matter interacts with real matter via gravitational forces
    only, right? right!
    3) Dark Matter too interacts with Dark Matter gravitationally
    right? right!
    4) Therefore Dark Matter must take part in the orbital dynamics
    of the system, right? right!
    5) The only difference is that Dark Matter cannot be seen, other
    wise, it takes part in the gravitational dynamics of the system,
    which is purely Newtonian motion, right? right!

    Now that we agree, let us do a pure thought experiment.
    Let us do an N-Body simulation, where N will be in the billions.

    6) All N Bodies will therefore do a Newtonian Samba. Each of the
    N Bodies will clearly have rotational motion velocities defined
    by Newton’s laws. Therefore only Newton’s Law accounts for
    their motions.
    7) Now we will use some magic, we will make 90% of the N bodies
    invisible, and call them Dark Matter!
    8).What do you think would happen to the 10% that are still visible?
    9).You guessed! they will keep moving as before and still obey
    Newtonian Law’s with no velocity discrepancies.
    10)Moral of the story is, Dark Matter don’t matter.
    11)There must be another way! I have a hypothesis for another
    alternative to Dark Matter at cosmicdarkmatter.com.

    /Tissa Perera

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Hmm, that sounds very plausible, unless there were forces other than gravity that acted on ordinary matter. I wonder what those could be?

  • John R Ramsden

    > Let us do an N-Body simulation, where N will be in the billions.

    OK, now let’s do one with N in the billions of equal billionth parts of the mass of the combined Earth-Moon system.

    > 7) Now we will use some magic, we will make 90% of the N bodies
    > invisible, and call them Dark Matter!
    > 8).What do you think would happen to the 10% that are still visible?
    > 9).You guessed! they will keep moving as before and still obey
    > Newtonian Law’s with no velocity discrepancies.

    This time let the magic be to make the Earth invisible and call it Dark Matter. Then an alien observer on Mars, say, observing the moon through a telescope for several months would see it perform bizarre cyclic motions superimposed on its orbit of the Sun.

    As this motion would not certainly not be Newtonian, they would be able to correctly predict the large invisible mass sufficient to cause the combined centre of mass of that and the Moon to orbit along the approved Newtonian ellipse.

    It’s the same with stellar rotation rates – The dark mass is needed to restore Newtonian sanity to observations in conflict with it when only visible mass is taken into account. Somehow you’ve put the cart before the horse.

  • John R Ramsden

    (me again sorry)

    Tissa (#55), to emphasise the point implied in my final paragraph, stars in a galaxy do *not* orbit their galaxy as one would predict from Newton’s laws assuming theirs is the only mass in the galaxy. So your argument is based on a false premise, specifically your point 9.

    Read the Wikipedia article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galaxy_rotation_problem

    I’m not entirely clear how cosmologists exclude the possibility of enough non-stellar material to account for observed orbits. But this stuff, especially gas and ice and dust, absorbs and reflects radiation. So presumably the amount present can be deduced from spectrographic data and the amount infered by this and other means is insufficient for the job.

    In any case, dark mass and energy is apparently needed to make up the total amound of mass-energy which the Standard Model predicts must have been formed in the Big Bang. Ordinary matter falls far short of what is required.

  • Jack

    In reading the blog, it sadly occurs to me that Sean is less of an iconoclast than he imagines. He still accepts “string theory” which has become an unfortunate choice of orthodoxy these days. “String” has yet to make any testable, falsifiable predictions despite 30 years and hundreds of physicists wasting their time , falling into 10-dimensional Calabi-Yau manifolds :) Far more promising theories ( such as loop quantum gravity ) go underfunded, while grant money still is poured down the toilet on “string”. It is a regrettable situation.

    Sean, if you really want to shake things up, join the growing number of scientists who realize “string” is the wrong path to quantum gravity.

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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .

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