Spooky Signals from the Future Telling Us to Cancel the LHC!

By Sean Carroll | October 14, 2009 6:09 pm

A recent essay in the New York Times by Dennis Overbye has managed to attract quite a bit of attention around the internets — most of it not very positive. It concerns a recent paper by Holger Nielsen and Masao Ninomiya (and some earlier work) discussing a seemingly crazy-sounding proposal — that we should randomly choose a card from a million-card deck and, on the basis of which card we get, decide whether to go forward with the Large Hadron Collider. Responses have ranged from eye-rolling and heavy sighs to cries of outrage, clutching at pearls, and grim warnings that the postmodernists have finally infiltrated the scientific/journalistic establishment, this could be the straw that breaks the back of the Enlightenment camel, and worse.

Since I am quoted (in a rather non-committal way) in the essay, it’s my responsibility to dig into the papers and report back. And my message is: relax! Western civilization will survive. The theory is undeniably crazy — but not crackpot, which is a distinction worth drawing. And an occasional fun essay about speculative science in the Times is not going to send us back to the Dark Ages, or even rank among the top ten thousand dangers along those lines.

The standard Newtonian way of thinking about the laws of physics is in terms of an initial-value problem. You specify the state of the system (positions and velocities) at one moment, then the laws of physics tell you how it will evolve into the future. But there is a completely equivalent alternative, which casts the laws of physics in terms of an action principle. In this formulation, we assign a number — the action — to every possible history of the system throughout time. (The choice of what action to assign is simply the choice of what laws of physics are operative.) Then the allowed histories, the ones that “obey the laws of physics,” are those for which the action is the smallest. That’s the “principle of least action,” and it’s a standard undergraduate exercise to show that it’s utterly equivalent to the initial-value formulation of dynamics.

In quantum mechanics, as you may have heard, things change a tiny bit. Instead of only allowing histories that minimize the action, quantum mechanics (as reformulated by Feynman) tells us to add up the contributions from every possible history, but give larger weight to those with smaller actions. In effect, we blur out the allowed trajectories around the one with absolutely smallest action.

Nielsen and Ninomiya (NN) pull an absolutely speculative idea out of their hats: they ask us to consider what would happen if the action were a complex number, rather than just a real number. Then there would be an imaginary part of the action, in addition to the real part. (This is the square-root-of-minus-one sense of “imaginary,” not the LSD-hallucination sense of “imaginary.”) No real justification — or if there is, it’s sufficiently lost in the mists that I can’t discern it from the recent papers. That’s okay; it’s just the traditional hypothesis-testing that has served science well for a few centuries now. Propose an idea, see where it leads, toss it out if it conflicts with the data, build on it if it seems promising. We don’t know all the laws of physics, so there’s no reason to stand pat.

NN argue that the effect of the imaginary action is to highly suppress the probabilities associated with certain trajectories, even if those trajectories minimize the real action. But it does so in a way that appears nonlocal in spacetime — it’s really the entire trajectory through time that seems to matter, not just what is happening in our local neighborhood. That’s a crucial difference between their version of quantum mechanics and the conventional formulation. But it’s not completely bizarre or unprecedented. Plenty of hints we have about quantum gravity indicate that it really is nonlocal. More prosaically, in everyday statistical mechanics we don’t assign equal weight to every possible trajectory consistent with our current knowledge of the universe; by hypothesis, we only allow those trajectories that have a low entropy in the past. (As readers of this blog should well know by now; and if you don’t, I have a book you should definitely read.)

To make progress with this idea, you have to make a choice for what the imaginary part of the action is supposed to be. Here, in the eyes of this not-quite-expert, NN seem to cheat a little bit. They basically want the imaginary action to look very similar to the real action, but it turns out that this choice is naively ruled out. So they jump through some hoops until they get a more palatable choice of model, with the property that it is basically impotent except where the Higgs boson is concerned. (The Higgs, as a fundamental scalar, interacts differently than other particles, so this isn’t completely ad hoc — just a little bit.) Because they are not actually crackpots, they even admit what they’re doing — in their own words, “Our model with an imaginary part of the action begins with a series of not completely convincing, but still suggestive, assumptions.”

Having invoked the tooth fairy twice — contemplating an imaginary part of the action, then choosing its form so as to only be relevant where the Higgs is concerned — they consider consequences. Remember that the effect of the imaginary action is non-local in time — it depends on what happens throughout the history of the universe, not just here and now. In particular, given their assumptions, it provides a large suppression to any history in which large numbers of Higgs bosons are produced, even if they won’t be produced until some time in the future.

So this model makes a strong prediction: we’re not going to be producing any Higgs bosons. Not because the ordinary dynamical equations of physics prevent it (e.g., because the Higgs is just too massive), but because the specific trajectory on which the universe finds itself is one in which no Higgses are made.

That, of course, runs into the problem that we have every intention of making Higgs bosons, for example at the LHC. Aha, say NN, but notice that we haven’t yet! The Superconducting Supercollider, which could have found the Higgs long ago, was canceled by Congress. And in their December 2007 paper — before the LHC tried to turn on — they very explicitly say that a “natural” accident will come along and break the LHC if we try to turn it on. Well, we know how that turned out.

But NN have an ingenious suggestion for saving us from future accidents at the LHC — which, as they warn, could endanger lives. They propose a card game with more than a million cards, almost all of which say “go ahead, no problem.” But one card says “don’t turn on the LHC!” In their model, the nonlocal effect of the imaginary part of the action is to ensure that the realized history of the universe is one in which the LHC never turns on; but it doesn’t matter why it doesn’t turn on. If we randomly pick one out of a million cards, and honestly promise to follow through on the instructions on the card we pick, and we happen to pick the card that says not to turn it on, and we therefore don’t — that’s a history of the universe that is completely unsuppressed by their mechanism. And if we choose a card that says “go ahead,” well then their theory is falsified. (Unless we try to go ahead and are continually foiled by a series of unfortunate accidents.) Best of all, playing the card game costs almost nothing. But for it to work, we have to be very sincere that we won’t turn on the LHC if that’s what the card says. It’s only a million-to-one chance, after all.

Note that all of this “nonlocal in time,” “receiving signals sent from the future” stuff is a bit of a red herring, at least at the classical level. We often think that the past is set in stone, while the future is still to be determined. But that’s not how the laws of physics operate. If we knew the precise state of the universe, and the exact laws of physics, the future would be as utterly determined as the present (Laplace’s Demon). We only think otherwise because our knowledge of the present state is highly imperfect, consisting as it does as a few pieces of information about the coarse-grained state. (We don’t know the position and velocity of every particle in the universe, or for that matter in any macroscopic object.) So there’s no need to think of NN’s imaginary action as making reference to what happens in the future — all the necessary data are in the present state. What seems weird to us is that the NN mechanism makes crucial use of detailed, non-macroscopic information about the present state; information to which we don’t have access. (Such as, “does this subset of the universe evolve into the Large Hadron Collider?”) That’s not how the physics we know and love actually works, but the setup doesn’t actually rely on propagation of signals backwards in time.

At the end of the day: this theory is crazy. There’s no real reason to believe in an imaginary component to the action with dramatic apparently-nonlocal effects, and even if there were, the specific choice of action contemplated by NN seems rather contrived. But I’m happy to argue that it’s the good kind of crazy. The authors start with a speculative but well-defined idea, and carry it through to its logical conclusions. That’s what scientists are supposed to do. I think that the Bayesian prior probability on their model being right is less than one in a million, so I’m not going to take its predictions very seriously. But the process by which they work those predictions out has been perfectly scientific.

There is another reasonable question, which is whether an essay (not a news story, note) like this in a major media outlet contributes to the erosion of trust in scientists on the part of the general public. I would love to see actual data one way or the other, which went beyond “remarkably, the view of the common man aligns precisely with the view I myself hold.” My own anecdotal observations are pretty unambiguous — the public loves far-out speculations like this, and happily eats them up. (See previous mocking quote, now applied to myself.) It’s always important to distinguish as clearly as possible between what is crazy-sounding but well-established as true — quantum mechanics, relativity, natural selection — and what is crazy-sounding and speculative, even if it’s respectable speculation — inflation, string theory, exobiology. But if that distinction is made, I’ve always found it pretty paternalistic and condescending to claim that we should shield the public from speculative science until it’s been established one way or the other. The public are grown-ups, and we should assume the best of them rather than the worst. There’s nothing wrong with letting them in on the debates about crazy-sounding ideas that we professional scientists enjoy as our stock in trade.

The disappointing thing about the responses to the article is how non-intellectual they have been. I haven’t heard “the NN argument against contributions to the imaginary action that are homogeneous in field types is specious,” or even “I see no reason whatsoever to contemplate imaginary actions, so I’m going to ignore this” (which would be a perfectly defensible stance). It’s been more like “this is completely counter to my everyday experience, therefore it must be crackpot!” That’s not a very sciencey attitude. It certainly would have been incompatible with all sorts of important breakthroughs in physics through the years. The Nielsen/Ninomiya scenario isn’t going to be one of those breakthroughs, I feel pretty sure. But it’s sensible enough that it merits disagreement on the basis of rational arguments, not just rolling of eyes.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Higgs, Science, Science and the Media
  • http://www.amherst.edu/~rloldershaw Robert L. Oldershaw

    I find the discussion of this hoax/quackery much better at Peter Woit’s blog “Not Even Wrong”.

    There you will get a more balanced and objective mix of opinions about whether we are witnessing an elaborate hoax or theoretical physics “gone wild”.

    Either way it is a sad commentary on what passes for theoretical physics these days when the jokes cannot be distinguished from the “serious” theories.

    Backward causation? “Miraculosity” as a variable! Drawing cards for deciding whether or when to start the LHC.

    Good grief Toto, we gotta find our way back to reality!

    Yours in science,
    RLO
    http://www.amherst.edu/~rloldershaw

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  • http://wintershaven.net Jacob Wintersmith

    By, “counter to my everyday experience”, I assume you meant “incompatible with common-sense metaphysical assumptions” rather than “incompatible with observations I make every day”. The latter is a good reason to reject a theory; the former is not.

  • Daniel Nagase

    Well it seems really quite simple. I can boil down the above 20 or so paragraphs into one sentence. Only the universes where the hadron collider did not work are having this discussion.

  • Daniel Nagase

    Anyhow, since we’re stuck in the non-functional collider universe, perhaps an imaginary run of the Hadron Collider would be the best at yeilding a “real” hadron.

  • Brian137

    Some expect the results from the LHC to explain the Fermi paradox.

  • http://liveeverything.wordpress.com Meredith

    Wonderfully explained – thank you! I saw the NYT essay and wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. Your post clears that right up. This is why I love physics.

  • Chris W.

    My own anecdotal observations are pretty unambiguous — the public loves far-out speculations like this, and happily eats them up.

    You say that like it’s a good thing. I’m not denying that this is true of much of the public. The question is whether appealing to it is anything more than pandering.

    PS: Oh, and is Laplacian determinism still relevant in a quantum mechanical universe? Laplace wasn’t talking about deterministic evolution of wave functions (as problematic as that notion might be in itself), he was talking about particle trajectories, governed by Newtonian mechanics—a distinction that probably shouldn’t be glossed over. :)

  • Mary

    The bigger story on the “Higgs” over the past couple weeks is that the American Physical Society (APS) awarded the 2010 J. J. Sakurai Prize for Theoretical Particle Physics on this discovery.

    Drs. C. Richard Hagen, University of Rochester; G.S. Guralnik, Brown University; T.W.B. Kibble, Imperial College London; R. Brout, Université Libre de Bruxelles; F. Englert, Université Libre de Bruxelles; and P.W. Higgs, University of Edinburgh, Emeritus.

    http://www.aps.org/units/dpf/awards/sakurai.cfm

    The J. J. Sakurai Prize for Theoretical Particle Physics was established to recognize and encourage outstanding achievement in particle theory. The 2010 prize was awarded “For elucidation of the properties of spontaneous symmetry breaking in four-dimensional relativistic gauge theory and of the mechanism for the consistent generation of vector boson masses.”

    The mechanism is the key element of the electroweak theory that forms part of the standard model of particle physics, and of many models, such as the Grand Unified Theory, that go beyond it. The papers that introduce this mechanism were published in Physical Review Letters in 1964 and were each recognized as milestone papers by PRL’s 50th anniversary celebration.

    Presently, Fermilab’s Tevatron and the Large Hadron Collider at CERN are searching for a particle that will constitute evidence for this significant discovery. This particle is often referred to as the “God Particle”.

  • Marc

    But, Sean, cosmic ray collisions have produced zillions of times more Higgs bosons during our past light cone than the LHC ever will (where “zillion” is a very large number). Shouldn’t some mechanism stop this from happening? Even a small decrease in the cosmic ray flux would cause many fewer Higgs creation events. Ah….maybe that explains the knee is the cosmic ray flux!!

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

      Marc, how do you know they’ve been produced? It’s only very likely, given the conventional rules of quantum mechanics — which these aren’t.

      Actually, that would seemingly be a much easier way out than preventing the LHC from being built. It is built, and the Higgs has an easily discoverable mass, but we just get “unlucky” in every event, and end up in the branch of the wave function where no Higgs was produced. So we never see it.

      I’m very willing to believe that if someone took this theory seriously, they could probably come up with some already-existing piece of information that rules it out. But I’m not 100% sure.

  • Marc

    Of course, by that argument, the Higgs mass could easily be only 10 GeV, but we were just very “unlucky” in every event at LEP. This would make it impossible to rule out anything experimentally—in fact, squarks and sleptons could be very light as well (they are scalars, after all) and we’ve just been unlucky. A lot of old papers have just been resuscitated!! Is this science?

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  • http://www.amherst.edu/~rloldershaw Robert L. Oldershaw

    Have you ever considered the possibility that the “Higgs particle” has no basis in reality?

    Is it perhaps like “magnetic monopole particles”, where we spend many millions of dollars chasing a theoretical mirage?

    The “God Particle”? More likely the “Unicorn Particle”.

    Perhaps nature does not “abhor the Higgs”; it’s just that nature hasn’t the slightest idea what you are talking about.

    RLO
    http://www.amherst.edu/~rloldershaw

  • Steuard

    Side comment on the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics. You explain that we “add up the contributions from every possible history, but give larger weight to those with smaller actions,” but that summary misses out on what I see as the real elegance of the idea. The wondrous thing to me is that we give perfectly equal weight to every possible history: the weighting factor just uses the action as a complex phase, so histories whose actions differ tend to cancel out. Nature’s apparent preference for histories of least action is thus no more than the familiar fact that functions change slowest near a minimum.

    As for the NN work, my concern from the start has been less about their physics and more about their extrapolation to practical conclusions in the real world. Even if they’re right that the LHC will fail to produce the Higgs for this reason, I don’t for one minute believe that their theory can actually predict that a one in a million card draw would be the universe’s preferred way to make that happen (as opposed to “bad luck” preventing each potential production event, or another magnet failure, or for that matter global war or economic collapse). The fact that they were willing to make such claims in their paper didn’t leave me with a lot of confidence in their results.

  • onymous

    It’s been more like “this is completely counter to my everyday experience, therefore it must be crackpot!” That’s not a very sciencey attitude. It certainly would have been incompatible with all sorts of important breakthroughs in physics through the years. The Nielsen/Ninomiya scenario isn’t going to be one of those breakthroughs, I feel pretty sure. But it’s sensible enough that it merits disagreement on the basis of rational arguments, not just rolling of eyes.

    Nonsense. Crazy claims require strong evidence. Musing about what it means to have imaginary terms in the action is a fine thing to do (cf. Witten’s new work on analytic continuations of Chern-Simons theory). But suggesting these terms exist in the real world is just nutty — it obviously violates unitarity, and if you propose that unitarity is violated you need to do some very hard work of showing that you can violate it in a way that doesn’t have dramatic consequences. Saying the terms only exist in the Higgs sector is not convincing; the Higgs couples to other stuff, and you need a strong argument that the modification is only important for physical, on-shell Higgses, and doesn’t affect the well-measured W and Z properties (or macroscopic unitarity). Other attempts to modify quantum mechanics have famously had dramatic macroscopic problems if they violate unitarity. Why should this one be any different? The burden of proof is on Nielsen and Ninomiya to show they have a consistent framework, and it’s clear from a glance that their papers are far too sketchy to do that. This is orders of magnitude less serious than Hawking’s old attempts to modify QM. Eye-rolling is a perfectly appropriate response.

    (For another example, notice that Lee-Wick theories have been taken somewhat more seriously, as I’m sure you know. These also involve radical violations of cherished principles, but they’ve been studied more cautiously, and mostly as interesting curiosities, by sane people. They’re still a little crazy, and I suspect they also have macroscopic problems that have gone unidentified, but I can’t pinpoint the problems and I don’t think anyone is crazy to work on these theories. Sidney Coleman wrote about them and didn’t find any obvious macroscopic problem, so they clearly hold up to some scrutiny. I doubt the same would be true of Nielsen and Ninomiya’s idea, if anyone with even a fraction of Coleman’s insight were to bother to spend the time thinking about them.)

  • Geoff

    Of course we shouldn’t shield speculative science from the general public and we should actively encourage them to engage in the discourse! Perhaps we could get some sort of grandfatherly figure (let’s call this person the Great Communicator) to propose a wildly speculative idea about lasers in space. We could even give the idea a catchy name like Star Wars. The public would love that! Probably spent hundreds of billions of dollars on the idea and only be mildly disappointed when it didn’t work. With something as simple as Newtonian gravity I expect the best from people. They know without a doubt you can distinguish decoys from warheads and shoot them down with 100% accuracy. It’s terribly unfortunate however that they don’t know how to minimize an action.

  • http://www.usatoday.com Dan

    This reminded me of the quantum resolution of Greg Benford’s sci-fi novel Timescape (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timescape), where tachyons are dispatched to warn the past of JFK’s assasination. Message received, history splits following a many-worlds argument in the novel, into a pleasant non-assasination future and a dour one resmbling our own reality.

    So maybe if the LHC works, all that means is we’re just on the wrong world .

  • http://scienceblogs.com/sunclipse/ Blake Stacey

    I get the feeling that this is going to devolve into one of those “physicists are just making stuff up nowadays” arguments (“The arXiv has low standards, so even though the people who take two minutes to think about it know that this idea is crazy, ZOMG FIZIKS IS DOOOOMMMMED!”). As sometimes happens, we seem to be arguing not about what is true, but rather what is interesting. Sean Carroll says “this theory is crazy”, but that it’s got enough meat on it to be worth chewing on until we can say exactly why; maybe it’d make a good homework problem in a field-theory textbook. onymous, in comment #16, says that the craziness is obvious enough at first glance that “eye-rolling is a perfectly appropriate response”, so that it wouldn’t even merit inclusion in a problem set for second-year grad students.

    The disappointing thing about the responses to the article is how non-intellectual they have been.

    That’s the Nielsen-Ninomiya-Sturgeon law: $latex 0.9 pm 0.001i$ of all blog posts are crud.

    It’s always important to distinguish as clearly as possible between what is crazy-sounding but well-established as true — quantum mechanics, relativity, natural selection — and what is crazy-sounding and speculative, even if it’s respectable speculation — inflation, string theory, exobiology.

    My own suspicion (and it is little more than that, a dark worry in the insomniac hours of the night) is that we’ve done such a poor job of educating people on the fundamentals that this is basically impossible. Without a certain level of background knowledge, which we should and probably could impart, the audience can’t set what they read in the right context. What good is a blog post like this one to people who don’t know what an “imaginary number” is? How can somebody grok special relativity when they don’t even leave high school knowing the difference between velocity and acceleration? Etc.

  • onymous

    Blake Stacey wrote:

    Sean Carroll says “this theory is crazy”, but that it’s got enough meat on it to be worth chewing on until we can say exactly why; maybe it’d make a good homework problem in a field-theory textbook. onymous, in comment #16, says that the craziness is obvious enough at first glance that “eye-rolling is a perfectly appropriate response”, so that it wouldn’t even merit inclusion in a problem set for second-year grad students.

    You’re putting words in my mouth — but probably I was unclear. I actually do think it would be nice if someone would take the time to look at the papers, think about how we can definitively know they must be wrong, and explain it clearly. But this is still compatible with thinking that eye-rolling is an appropriate response, and that for most of us, taking the time to do more is a bad idea. It’s a tragedy of the commons — err, a farce of the commons? We’d all be better off if someone would take the time to carefully debunk it, but no one person is better off taking that time when they could be working on something publishable or reading something that’s more likely to be correct. (This is where the attentive reader will ask whether it’s worthwhile to read blogs and comment on them. But hey, everyone has their hobbies.)

  • http://scienceblogs.com/sunclipse/ Blake Stacey

    Sorry — I should have been more explicit about what I interpreted you as saying versus what I figured that implied. My error.

    I actually do think it would be nice if someone would take the time to look at the papers, think about how we can definitively know they must be wrong, and explain it clearly. But this is still compatible with thinking that eye-rolling is an appropriate response, and that for most of us, taking the time to do more is a bad idea. It’s a tragedy of the commons — err, a farce of the commons?

    Good point. I think this happens fairly often in these kinds of circumstances.

    This is where the attentive reader will ask whether it’s worthwhile to read blogs and comment on them. But hey, everyone has their hobbies.

    I’m actually working on a research project which might be publishable in the not-so-distant future, and which started because somebody on a blog comment thread pointed me to an interesting paper. . . so it can’t all be wasted time, right?

  • Geoff

    It’s also clear from their paper that “remarkable good luck” has inverse dimensions of mass thus making the theory non renormalizable. I’m sure it works perfectly fine as an effective field theory.

  • roland

    ” If we knew the precise state of the universe, and the exact laws of physics, the future would be as utterly determined as the present”

    How can we ever know? Given that quantum mechanics is well-established the precise state of the universe is inaccessible.

  • Jimbo

    Love the controversy this has stirred up ! Sean is right about one thing: Nielsen is no crackpot, and is a serious high-energy theorist who does not put forth this idea lightly. Hawking & Hertog recently broke ground on a new paradigm in cosmology, in which unknowable initial conditions in the early universe negate attempts at any canonical, causal prediction of the current state of the universe, and explore the use of path integrals formulated in the current epoch, in a `Top-Down’ scenario, to backward propagate them to obtain the initial conditions.
    Steuard, so very clear as usual !
    SciFi has so often over the last century, been the harbinger of what would become the scientifc realities of tommorrow. Kudos to Dan for drawing attention to UCI astrophysicist Benford’s mind-blowing novel `TimeScape’ about advanced phenomena warning us about environmental disasters awaiting. U.Washington theorist John Cramer (T-I of QM) is perhaps more prescient than N&N, with his novel `Einstein’s Bridge’ in which a `LHC’ inadvertently announces earth’s presence via HEP expts to some nasty, god-like denizens of an adjoining universe.
    The LHC will certainly not destroy the earth, but are we so arrogant to desparately cling to causality here ? Should not everything be on the table, considering the profundity of what will begin this Nov.? If Higgsy is not found, U-know-what will hit the proverbial fan in HEP

  • http://backreaction.blogspot.com/ Bee

    Doesn’t this violate the cluster decomposition principle?

  • Myke

    All interesting, but the Higgs is a triplet centered at 34.25 TeV, so only a faint sub-harmonic effect could appear at the LHC. This is a strong prediction; definitely not based on as crazy a notion as that of NN. Thus, the non-appearance of the Higgs at the LHC will not be a cause for conCERN…

  • Jason Dick

    I have to think that if this complex action and the specific action they chose were true, that the effect would be just to force the production amplitude of the Higgs to zero, not to prevent the construction of a machine that might produce it.

    It seems particularly crazy to me since if Higgs bosons would be produced at the LHC, doubtless they’ve been produced many, many times by cosmic rays already.

  • Derek

    I rather like Blake’s comment in #19:

    As sometimes happens, we seem to be arguing not about what is true, but rather what is interesting.

    While I don’t outright decry this kind of speculative research and I don’t question the credentials of the authors, I do find it somewhat disappointing that simply not being a bonafide crackpot is grounds for being taken seriously enough to get this much attention.

  • http://eternal-cartesian.blogspot.com/ Cartesian

    I think NN need some facts or some data (:)) in order to explain better their opinion , but these should be in the future. :)

  • nobody

    I love the smell of crackpot in the morning!!!

  • Janne

    It doesn’t seem to take much to rattle the physicists cage these days.

  • supfior

    Einstein was right about the shortcomings of Quantum Mechanics and so therefore String Theory is also the incorrect approach. As an alternative to Quantum Theory there is a new theory that describes and explains the mysteries of physical reality. While not disrespecting the value of Quantum Mechanics as a tool to explain the role of quanta in our universe. This theory states that there is also a classical explanation for the paradoxes such as EPR and the Wave-Particle Duality. The Theory is called the Theory of Super Relativity.
    This theory is a philosophical attempt to reconnect the physical universe to realism and deterministic concepts. It explains the mysterious.

  • http://scienceblogs.com/principles/ Chad Orzel

    Manual TrackBack ping: My Doomsday Weapon.

    Why should particle physicists have all the fun? My low-energy AMO experiment has suffered unlikely setbacks, so clearly, I must be on track to destroy the Universe. For a couple of Nobel Prizes, I’ll happily abandon this track, and do something else with my life…

  • chris

    re: Sean #11

    you would have to compute the miraculosity of that scenario and compare it to the one of the “collider being held back by accidents” one and compare them. could you really carry that through (even more so without snickering while you do it)?

    i think Steuard in #15 is dead on. there is so much structure between the level of the action and the path minimizing it on the one hand and abstract concepts like drawing a card on the other that any casually implied link is destined to be just wrong.

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  • gopher65

    I haven’t written anything about this until now (not even a comment on a blog), but my response to this is similar to what my response to all such stories is: the media screwed this up, badly, again.

    I suspect that a lot of the non-scientific criticism that you see isn’t centred around the researchers themselves (or their work), but rather on the media’s inability to pass along the relevant information in a coherent fashion.

    BTW, thanks for writing about this. You explained far better than any MSM source that I’ve read, in words that even I can understand.

  • ObsessiveMathsFreak

    This incident is turning into another Bogdanov affair. Like flies to cowpats, it is attracting all kinds of nonsense and fantastic speculation, which has now all been given some small veneer of respectability by the publication of these ravings.

    Does theoretical physics belong in the physics department anymore, or should it find a home for itself in Philosophy or one of the other humanities professions?

  • dennis

    Thanks for writing this Sean. You certainly did explain it better than I did, albeit in a lot more words.

  • pilate

    it’s all more simple, as per nambu, the top quark deconfined does all what the higgs does, and since the Universe is efficient it never makes a particlle we dont need, thus the top quark is the Higgs. And we wont find the higgs. So why so muhc fuss about higgs anndd the god particle. It was pure marketing by leo lederman a smart jewish-american accelerator boss who convinced reagan that they were not the same (lee smolin and zee also proved it – they are the same if we consider a strong field a strong gravitational field in the brans-dicke model). Ergo we wonnt find the higgs but produce copious quanntities of top quarks and all other type of quarks in deconfined state. This might result in the creation of a bose-einstein condensate of quarks, which can trigger an ice-9 type of reactionn and create one of the many possible Einstein frozen stars, strangelets, top quark stars or something not yet well understood that will blow up the earth. And of course 13 billion $ will be thrown to the garbage because our politicians dont know anything about physics and the industry of nuclear machiens dont understand the cold war is over and there are many other ways to explore safely the universe. Bt in the age of marketing you can sell anything. ‘two things i consider infinite, the universe and the stupidity of humans andd im not sure of the latter’ mr. einstein

  • http://eternal-cartesian.blogspot.com/ Cartesian

    Here is an excerpt of an interview of Frank Wilczec from the MIT (Nobel laureate 2004) in Newsweek :

    “ If you just take the particles we have and extrapolate their known behavior, you run into contradictions–You start to contradict basic principles of quantum mechanics or common sense. There has to be a deviation of some kind from the laws we have at present when you go up to high energy : if there is not a new particle, then we’ll need different laws. That would be maybe even more profound than finding new particles—if we have to give up quantum mechanics or change what we mean by the laws…”

  • http://scienceblogs.com/sunclipse/ Blake Stacey

    “This incident is turning into another Bogdanov affair.”

    Interesting comparison. In l’affaire Bogdanov, a few reviewers and thesis committee members were asleep at the wheel, whereas people commenting on the Internet in their spare time figured out that the Bogdanov papers were pure, elemental bolonium, and could tell you why. (I particularly liked how the grandiose statement about the Big Bang and Foucault pendulums reduced down to “every plane contains a point”. Classy.) The Bogdanovs got a bit of a boost from the “he said, she said” style of the newspaper articles, but were eventually reduced to whining on obscure Usenet groups, quote-mining and mistranslating their critics in their book, and trying to edit their own Wikipedia article under fake names.

    Somehow, physics survived.

  • Eugene

    (1) Crazy ideas like these are great. Nothing like a great thought out of the box to force us to rethink our assumptions.

    (2) I am ashamed for Sean that the Grid of Disputation didn’t make an appearance. I would consider NN “Embarrassing Allies”.

    (3) And thanks Steaurd #15 !

  • http://www.amherst.edu/~rloldershaw Robert L. Oldershaw

    We need a new paradigm which can lead theoretical physics out of the swamp of string theory, anthropic reasoning, 10^500 imaginary multiverses, ficticious “WIMPS” with choose-whatever-you-like properties, and absolute garbage like the NN papers/hoax.

    None of it is scientifically testable in any realistic and non-adjustable way.

    I repeat: it is not testable and it is not science.

    The new paradigm will be derived from studying NATURE, not from studying Platonic artifice. The new paradigm will make definitive predictions that are unique to the paradigm, non-adjustable, quantitative and can actually be done [in fact the dark matter tests are well underway and significant results are already in]

    The new paradigm has been patiently waiting for 33 years for physicists to awaken from their drunken slumber.

    Yours in science,
    RLO
    http://www.amherst.edu/~rloldershaw

  • TempusFugit

    I can not comment on the validity of the paper, but I think the communication of ideas and scientific method is paramount.

    The occasional “crazy” idea is the very thing that we should try to wrap our brains around. Jimbo #24 points that SciFi is one way we can popularize the science we discuss in papers. I have recently read articles claiming that the lines are blurring between SciFi and other completive literature because notable writers are including speculative elements in there stories. Such stories lead me to science, not the science itself.

    Lately, the BBC has been running Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series. At twenty years old, it is still a good documentary, but I can not get my wife or kids interested because it is too slow moving and his delivery is too ponderous.

    To promote better discussions in science topics, perhaps we could to popularize the scientific method and critical thinking. Then the discussion about crazy ideas could be more about the idea and less about personal bias.

  • http://eternal-cartesian.blogspot.com/ Cartesian

    For supfior :
    I did have a look at Super Relativity but it is still working with the ancient model of atom, so my system seems to be better.
    See : http://eternal-cartesian.blogspot.com/2009/09/science-and-quantum-mechanics.html
    And my “Article 3” on the same blog as the previous link.

    Cordially

  • http://blog.richmond.edu/physicsbunn/ Ted Bunn

    One point I haven’t seen raised elsewhere. Even if NN’s theory is worth taking seriously, I don’t think that the pick-a-card experiment can ever provide a useful test of it.

    The adjustable parameter in the experiment is the number of cards in the deck, or equivalently the probability of picking the turn-off-the-LHC card. For the experiment to work, we have to choose this parameter to be less than the prior probability of NN’s theory being right, since otherwise a positive result won’t lead to a high posterior probability for NN’s theory (i.e., won’t be strong evidence for it). On the other hand, we have to choose the pick-a-card probability to be lower than the probability that the LHC is destroyed in a natural disaster: if we don’t, then presumably NN theory predicts that the universe will “pick” the natural disaster, and the card test will come out negative. I don’t think there’s a sweet spot between these two constraints.

    I blather on about this some more at http://blog.richmond.edu/physicsbunn/2009/10/15/is-the-lhc-doomed-by-signals-from-the-future/

  • Bruce the Canuck

    As a near-laygeek with a lowly Bsc, it seems pretty clear to me.

    Physicists with quasi-crackpot theories, probably cooked up over a couple of beer / sake in a pub and initially scratched on a napkin, followed by a short debate over the bill and tip? Imaginary components of action potentials with nonlocal effects?

    Sounds like bistromath to me.

    So if this theory pans out, then universe will do anything, probably the least improbable path available, to avoid a higgs boson? And the effect involves nonlocality?

    Ye gods! Don’t you see the potential!?!? What we have here is the makings of an Infinite Improbability Drive, as conceived by the late great natural philosopher, Douglas Adams!

    THE UNIVERSE IS OURS! :-D

  • Mikael

    Sean, this paper is really crap and you should name it this way.

  • Eric

    As a previous commentator stated, many Higgs have probably been produced in cosmic rays. So if the LHC is supposed to be prevented from producing them because they are dangerous or because God does not like them, then what about the cosmic rays? Sean asked how do we know that they are produced in cosmic rays? Well, we don’t, but we do know that if the LHC is energetic enough to produce them then they can most certainly be produced in cosmic ray collisions with the atmosphere.

    Maybe the point is to sabotage the field of high-energy physics instead by preventing the discovery, thus undermining funding…..one wonders why the same mechanism didn’t prevent the development of the atomic bomb if it were really true.

  • Bruce the Canuck

    >crickets<

    Huh, tough crowd.

  • lemuel pitkin

    The pick-a-card approach seems insufficiently ambitious. Surely if we can force a one-in-a-million event we can do better. What are the odds that (a) the US and Russia agree to eliminate all nuclear weapons, (b) actual global warming turns out to be in the lowest 0.1% of the forecast range, (c) Eva Longoria falls madly in love with a top LHC researcher, (d) Barack Obama resigns/wins the Nobel Peace Prize/is assassinated/ends up serving 5 terms, (e) some wealthy eccentric decides to give everyone on the CCERN project a Lexus? Pick according to your tastes, or estiamte joint probabilities — maybe you can get several, if you fully and sincerely commit to not turning the machine on in return.

    Aren’t there some SF writers who read this blog?

  • Kyle

    OK I like following physics but will state I just don’t understand way to much of it. That is why I come here and some other places to try and learn more. (I am a class A Mathtard so I can’t understand much of physics, but that doesn’t stop me from trying to understand what I can).

    My problem with the NYT article is limited to paragraphs (at least in the print screen) 5,6, and 12. They are ill conceived in that they provide no context. Why would “God” or “Nature” give a flying fluffy duck whether there is or is not a Higgs? And what is the physicist’s definition of bad luck? Luck is not luck, it is possibilities and probabilities, BTW I’m using a very layman’s understanding here. Forgive the bad analogy to follow, it is entirely possible my quantum wave function (thingie) will suddenly match that of my chair and I will melt through it and hit the floor. Now the probability that occurring will likely take longer than 10^bagillon years though. But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen in the next 10 secs……ARGHGHHG, sorry bad of me I know. Or conversely I should win an average 50% of every coin toss I bet on, but that doesn’t mean I can’t loose everyone of them for the same 10^bagillon years either, its just not probable. I doubt I wrote that right but you probably understand the sentiment.

    What the abovel meant is in the article N&N and the author are using words that should have no rational use science and that many people like me can use against science. That’s my problem with the article.

  • http://sckavassalis.blogspot.com/ S.C. Kavassalis

    I am really glad you wrote this post. It’s distressing to see how many people think the work was a hoax or joke or simply illogical. It’s unfortunate that the NN paper is being called crackpot science by lay people because it goes against standard intuition, while blatant crackpot science somehow goes unnoticed by the same audience, because it’s familiar from works of science-fiction.

    I agree that they do suggest something awfully crazy, but the only part of it that I would say wasn’t still based on proper foundations was that ad hoc action they choose. Still, more absurd assertions have been made in physics’s past and didn’t cause nearly as much grief (not that I would agree with ‘ad hoc’ principals having a place in rigorous science, mind you).

    Even incredibly unlikely scenarios have a right to be discussed, as long as they are done with an appropriate consideration of the fundamental laws and mathematics that govern them. That discussion, the intelligent, well formulated, rigorous, inquisitive discussion IS science. It’s unfortunate that so many “fans” of science seem to forget that when something uncomfortable is introduced.

  • cybertraveller777

    So what are subatomic particles “made of”?

  • King Cynic

    I thought it was well known what particles are made of:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTzLVIc-O5E

  • Kaleberg

    1) Ted Bunn: Isn’t there some kind of path math that forces us to choose the right number of cards?

    2) cybertraveller777: “So what are subatomic particles “made of”?”: I’ll go with Baltay at Columbia who argued that quarks were made of earth, air, fire and water.

  • http://www.amherst.edu/~rloldershaw Robert L. Oldershaw

    I’ve got it!

    Nature does not abhor the “Higgs”. Nature abhors string theorists and is causing them to humiliate themselves. Note: no backwards causality in this theory.

    Scientific evidence:

    1. Holger Nielsen’s excursions into la-la land

    2. Lenny Susskind’s amazingly fatuous article in Physics World drawing parallels between string theory and Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Talk about the sublime and the ridiculous!

    3. Hundreds of equally dubious “cat’s cradles” submitted to arXiv.

    Brace yourself, Toto. Nature is striking back!

    ;)
    RLO
    http://www.amherst.edu/~rloldershaw

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  • Timon of Athens

    Steuard said: “Even if they’re right that the LHC will fail to produce the Higgs for this reason, I don’t for one minute believe that their theory can actually predict that a one in a million card draw would be the universe’s preferred way to make that happen (as opposed to “bad luck” preventing each potential production event, or another magnet failure, or for that matter global war or economic collapse). ”

    Correct. And that’s why this thing is crackpottery and not just “weird science”: their conclusions obviously don’t follow from their assumptions.
    But: that’s nothing rare in physics these days. Making grandiose claims that don’t follow from your theory is a whole industry in itself.

  • Pope Maledict XVI

    Sean said: ” But for it to work, we have to be very sincere that we won’t turn on the LHC if that’s what the card says.”

    HBN: “Dear CERN director, please perform this experiment.”
    DIRECTOR: “Sure, why not?”
    HBN: “But you have to be sincere.”
    DIRECTOR: “I am sincere”
    HBN: “We will have to measure your sincereosity, a new quantum number.”
    DIRECTOR: “No problem, I have an ACME sincerometer right here under my desk….”

  • Jimbo

    All of the above ravers & naysayers, should open Jackson & refresh themselves about `Advanced Potentials’, an utterly natural solution in classical electrodynamics, in which EM waves are detected BEFORE the charges which emit them accelerate. They are dual to and on par with the `Retarded Potentials’ which are the causal solutions to the same wave equation. Seems reasonable enuf, but only ONE expt. in the last 40 yrs has tested the validity of the former, and falsified it. Really ? No Others ? One other has tested it and validated it (`07). The response: deafening silence. Sounds like closed minds to me…..
    The history of modern physics is that of one common sensical paradigm after another being overturned. The naysayers initially bombard the pioneers with stones & accusations of `crackpot’ , but often canonize them later.
    Can causality, the most sacred paradigm, be far behind ? Minds as they say, are like parachutes: They only work when open.

  • Bruce the Canuck

    >Sean said: ” But for it to work, we have to be very sincere that we won’t turn on the LHC if that’s what the card says.”

    That’s easy. Sincerity only requires you to obtain one quantum number generator, a microcontroller, and 100kg of TNT, and place said assembly inside the LHC’s detector.

    The problem being, as noted above, that the risk of nuclear war is probably above 1% in any given year, so you’re going to need to set odds of say 1/25 that the TNT would go off.

  • http://lablemming.blogspot.com/ Lab Lemming

    From a practical point of view, a million card deck is unwieldy. Wouldn’t it be easier to draw one card from a hundred deck three times in a row?

  • http://blog.richmond.edu/physicsbunn/ Ted Bunn

    Kaleberg asks me “Isn’t there some kind of path math that forces us to choose the right number of cards?”

    I don’t think I understand the question. For any given values of the prior on NN’s theory and the probability that something else destroys the LHC, presumably it’s possible to compute the optimal number of cards in the deck (i.e., the one that would provide the strongest possible evidence in favor of NN’s theory). What I’m saying is that even that optimal choice will still provide only very weak evidence.

  • http://www.amherst.edu/~rloldershaw Robert L. Oldershaw

    Jimbo,

    “Advanced potentials” are are product of abstract mathematics, i.e., Platonic artifice.

    I would be willing to bet my life that they have no reality in nature.

    If you give up causality, you might as well give up science, having forgone sanity already.

    Is it reasonable to empirically test for “advanced potentials” and other subtleties relating to causality? Absolutely!

    But in science it’s: false until proven true [or at least supported by adequate empirical evidence]. Not the other way around!!

    And consider this advice, which theoretical physicists have been oblivious of for decades: mathematics can mislead as much as it can elucidate.

    Yours in science,
    RLO
    http://www.amherst.edu/~rloldershaw

  • Huey

    Robert L Oldershaw:

    “Have you ever considered the possibility that the “Higgs particle” has no basis in reality?

    Is it perhaps like “magnetic monopole particles”, where we spend many millions of dollars chasing a theoretical mirage?

    The “God Particle”? More likely the “Unicorn Particle”.

    Perhaps nature does not “abhor the Higgs”; it’s just that nature hasn’t the slightest idea what you are talking about.”

    Funnily enough, it seems that the magnetic monopole has been discovered. see:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/8307804.stm
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v461/n7266/full/nature08500.html

    I think most physicists acknowledge the possibility that certain theoretical particles dont exist. However, giving up gets us nowhere.

  • Huey

    oops, i meant “may not” rather than “dont” exist.

  • Chris W.

    All this reminds me of a joke I read in a nice collection of science-oriented humor many years ago. It goes something like this:

    A guy pays a visit to a scientist (and friend) one day at the scientist’s laboratory. The guy is surprised on his arrival at the lab’s door to see a rabbit’s foot hanging from a hook on the door. He enters, and asks his friend whether he actually believes that a rabbit’s foot will bring good luck. The scientist replies: “No, I don’t, but I’ve heard that it works even if you don’t believe in it.”

    PS: Following comment #60, what does sincerity have to do with anything? One doesn’t decide, or sincerely wish, to obey the laws of physics. One simply behaves, and makes whatever choices one wants in hope of achieving certain results, and certain consequences follow, while others do not. The laws of physics are what describe the ultimate objective constraints on the consequences. (The term “law” is unfortunate, inasmuch as it invokes in some people’s minds a misleading analogy with legislated constraints on human activities.)

  • Shantanu

    John and Joanne, what do you think of this paper(since both of you are actively working
    on LHC experiment/phenomenology). What do people on LHC think of this paper?
    Thanks

  • http://www.amherst.edu/~rloldershaw Robert L. Oldershaw

    Huey,

    If you study credible scientific accounts [e.g., in Nature] of the discovery of magnetic monopole-like systems in spin ices [which are confined to the spin ices, to boot], you will find that what has been discovered is a very, very long way from a Dirac-type magnetic monopole PARTICLE.

    No one is claiming to have discovered the latter mythical unicorn.

    The devil is in the details! Right?

    Yours in science,
    RLO
    http://www.amherst.edu/~rloldershaw

  • Chris

    What a scientist notices something hasn’t happened yet, puts forward a completely out there explanation for it (which politically plays into the hands of naysayers who say the goal is impossible and/or dangerous), despite the fact that there are considerably more banal explanations? Sounds familiar.

    Perhaps Nielsen and Ninomiya are correct, but in context, intelligent thinking people have every right to mock the idea that the failures of the LHC and the withdrawal of funding from the Superconducting collider is reasonable evidence to infer that Nature abhors a Higgs, and propose seriously an experiment to shut down the LHC.

  • Joe

    68: Sincerity does matter, actually. Their point was that the likelihood of randomly drawing the 1 in a million card would be increased because it would be a way to suppress large numbers of Higgs in the future. If you’re not sincere about stopping the experiment, then the choice of that card would not suppress future Higgs’, and hence would have no effect.

  • http://oddandsods.blogspot.com/ Phil Warnell

    Hi Sean,

    “Marc, how do you know they’ve been produced? It’s only very likely, given the conventional rules of quantum mechanics”

    That’s probably the most interesting point made about Nielsen’s and Ninomiya’s conjecture within the Quantum Mechanical backdrop, which is to ask if this serves to prohibit the production of the Higg’s or rather only being certain in the knowledge of its existence. That is to consider if this is actually physical prohibition or simply conceptual censorship? Being a DeBroglie-Bohm fan and as its consistent with what David Albert has demonstrated, this would suggest that rather then nature lacking determinacy, it rather instead having its own private will.:-)

    Best,

    Phil

  • wes parsons

    this should be easy to understand if you are remotely educated.

    the real question here is, “should we gamble?”

    putting your socks on in the mourning has no risk?

    you do not know that someone has not let a poisonous spider under your door overnite, now do you?

    keeping in mind that the rule of the universe is pattern, and pattern is stoneage, and there is no point to life, (if there was a point you would be slave to the point?)and what do you do about pointless things, (which proves that there are no intelligent aliens, as such always develop the technology to take their home planet out of orbit) what is the grand benefit to anyone if we do gamble?

    does anyone know?

  • http://oddandsods.blogspot.com/ Phil Warnell

    Just as a follow up to what I just said, you might say that if the deBroglie-Bohm picture were true, then the NN’s card trick wouldn’t be of any help. That being resultant of course that in this case nature wouldn’t be willing to show its hand. The again, what would constitute in representing being a good bluff?

  • michaeld

    I think they would need to have far fewer than a million cards. The chance of the LHC never being built for some other reason is surely much greater than 1 in a million, so the card effect will never dominate unless the chance of picking the no-LHC card is much higher.

    In fact for the card thing to have any significance, the chance of picking the card has to be at least the same order of magnitude as the risk the LHC not being built for other reasons. And since that risk is presumably not negligible, neither could be the risk of the LHC not being built because of the card experiment. So I doubt anyone involved with the LHC would ever agree to it. :-)

  • http://www.amherst.edu/~rloldershaw Robert L. Oldershaw

    Greetings wes parsons,

    You wrote: ” this should be easy to understand if you are remotely educated.
    the real question here is, “should we gamble?” ”

    1. What if one was locally educated?

    2. Is not the real question: whether or not the NN papers, and all too much else in what currently passes for theoretical physics, bear any useful connection to the real world of nature?

    Feel free to gamble away to your heart’s content, but bear in mind that it is a strictly causal affair and that randomness is an illusion due to the limitations of our observational powers.

    Yours in the new paradigm,
    RLO
    http://www.amherst.edu/~rloldershaw

  • Dhananjay Vaidya

    I am in agreement with the blogger on this statement, (my later criticism should not be construed as a disagreement with this):
    > I’ve always found it pretty paternalistic and condescending to
    > claim that we should shield the public from speculative science
    > until it’s been established one way or the other. The public are
    > grown-ups, and we should assume the best of them rather than the worst.

    Now for my disagreement.

    What is the difference between crazy and crackpot?

    I could easily think of two toothfairies and beyond that do fully defendable math to come up with some conclusions.

    You also state that the Bayesian prior for the N-N theory being correct is less than one in a million. You say:
    > I think that the Bayesian prior probability on their model
    > being right is less than one in a million, so I’m not going to
    > take its predictions very seriously.
    Where did you come up with this number? I hope you did not come up with it based on your “everyday experience”. That would not be very “sciencey”, would it?

    “A theory so unlikely of being right, that I am not going to take its predictions seriously” sounds like the definition of “crackpot”.

    You claim that many interesting ideas began as such.

    Let me now suggest two toothfairies:
    Toothfairy A. The values of the so-called “quantum mechanical constants” differ by time since the bigbang. So I add a function in time to all of the quantum mechanical equations. So say {h+f(t)} everywhere.
    I take it that this is a well-defined speculation?
    Toothfairy B: I claim that f(t) is highly nonlinear assuming a constant value (zero without any loss of generality), but changing ABOUT NOW.
    I take it this is a fairly well defined speculation?

    Clearly, as f(t)->0, all quantum mechanical calculations tend to those that are currently taught to students. So my theory does not contradict any EXPERIMENT that confirms the accuracy of quantum mechanics so far. Though it does contradict many philosophical constructs, no matter. After all, the blogger suggests this is what science is all about.

    Let us give me the benefit of the doubt of being able to do mathematical operations and calculations correctly, of course I will show that something different will be seen when f(t) is not nearly equal to zero.

    Is my theory above a crazy theory or a crackpot theory?

    Give me some time, and I can come up with a more elaborate example with a parallel statement to N-N’s “O look, we haven’t been able to turn on the LHC yet – that provides the preliminary motivation for our theory”. Perhaps I can make my f(t), f(t+latitude) instead and then say that the failure of the LHC to turn on is preliminary motivation for my theory! Just gimme time…

    This creation of a “well-defined” theory with magic nonlinearities that turn up exactly at the Higgs boson energy levels, and supposedly have something to do with Congressional failure to fund a project in the US – this is what science does?

    When a speculative string theorist says “string theory explains some macroscopic society-level phenomenon, just let me introduce a tooth fairy into my otherwise correct calculations” I would hope that “sciencey” scientists would not say this is the same sort of crazy as the speculative string theory itself. They would say it is the sort of crazy as the N-N theory.

    The distinction between string-theory-crazy and N-N-theory crazy is at least as important to science as this supposed difference between crazy and crackpot.

  • gregl

    More rubbish from the string theory crowd. Embarrassing.

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  • http://www.cthisspace.com Claire C Smith

    What about imaginary, imaginary numbers. So complex numbers that are not just real and imaginary, but are real with imaginary real components, and imaginary, imaginary components. The latter part here would represent the number that would be assigned to the probabilities for what is predicted as a new, or a perameter to include events for new prior probabilities and not just what is already used. One example of this is, just after the part were the cards are dealt and one chosen – (the bit where commenters on the net and scientists start using current theory) to the time at which the decision is made to turn the LHC on, on the basis of the best ‘path’ forward after betting that the LHC will predict that the Higgs will in itself be dicovered compared to the basis that it won’t.

    Summing – methods used for current experiment and calculations are an actual number itself, ones that can be predicted (before LHC is on) are not a number yet(that could be a sub part of the complex number) .

    Claire

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

    It’s telling that anti-string-theory sentiment has spread so widely that people can’t help but blame the Nielsen and Ninomiya paper on “string theory” or “quantum gravity,” even though neither the papers nor the authors have any connection to those subjects.

  • Mark

    I think that many people are shitting on what they don’t understand.

    Let’s look at it from this perspective:

    they’re saying “based on theories we’d like to test as well as observations, we think the idea that (the universe abhors the creation of new higgs-bosons) might be comparable to (nature abhors a vacuum)… and a novel way of that manifesting is that the instant a future potential opened up for the creation of a new higgs-boson, all of the future potentials would sabotage that occurrence unless prevented much in the same way we use containers to create vacuum chambers” and that “based on the reversibility of everything in quantum physics, its possible for causal effects to take place in the future without necessarily transmitting any quantum information”

    at least that’s how I understand it.

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  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2009/09/where-susskind-leaves-off-seth-lloyd.html Plato

    Cerenkov radiation is a result? Cosmic ray spallation is already understood, by understanding “the location of the interaction.”

  • John R Ramsden

    In the vanishingly unlikely event this “Higgs aversion” effect is real, it must be quite weak and localized or else the LHC would never been so nearly completed.

    Also, if physics and technology continue to advance at anything like their current rate in the future, machines like the LHC, and far more powerful, will become two a penny, so the effect would need to become more obvious and pronounced. Or would it then manifest itself by a collapse of civilization, to ensure none of these machines was ever used?!

  • http://www.amherst.edu/~rloldershaw Robert L. Oldershaw

    Mark,

    I hate to break it to you, but nothing in the real world is “reversible”.

    The only things that are “reversible” are abstract and oversimplified Platonic idealizations that masquerade as acceptable theoretical physics today [but have a very limited shelf life from here on out].

    Welcome to the real world of nonlinear dynamical systems, i.e., nature.

    The existing crop of theoretical physicists will likely be the last to realize/admit their many errors. The future rests with young educated people who have no vested interest in the bankrupcy of string theory, anthropic reasoning, the veritable zoo of imaginary “particles”, random “multiverses”, thoroughly untestable Ptolemaic models, the bogus conventional Planck scale [anyone with two eyes can see that G scales in a discrete self-similar manner], etc.

    Time to get back to real testable science, and forge a new understanding of nature.

    Yours in the new paradigm
    RLO
    http://www.amherst.edu/~rloldershaw

  • gregl

    Determining the fate of a multibillion dollar physics experiment by drawing from a deck of cards?

    Wow, that sounds so “sciencey”.

  • CJA

    I was interested in this comment: “Note that all of this “nonlocal in time,” “receiving signals sent from the future” stuff is a bit of a red herring, at least at the classical level. We often think that the past is set in stone, while the future is still to be determined. But that’s not how the laws of physics operate. If we knew the precise state of the universe, and the exact laws of physics, the future would be as utterly determined as the present (Laplace’s Demon).”

    I thought this type determinism was ruled out by the Uncertainty Principle. Or does the phrase “If we knew… the exact laws of physics” refer to a different set of laws than quantum mechanics. I guess that would leave quantum mechanics (or some future adjustment thereof) as the most exact laws of physics we are (in principle) capable of knowing, but not the actual exact laws of physics according to which the actual world works–leaving the actual work still fully determined. Can someone help me out here?

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/ Plato

    “I’m a Platonist — a follower of Plato — who believes that one didn’t invent these sorts of things, that one discovers them. In a sense, all these mathematical facts are right there waiting to be discovered.”Harold Scott Macdonald (H. S. M.) Coxeter

    It’s not easy to think like a Platonist, yet many do when they defer to shadows cast holographically on the wall. But mostly, it’s a Greek way of facing the past, with their back to the future. :)

  • http://www.shaky.com Timon of Athens

    Sean said:
    “It’s telling that anti-string-theory sentiment has spread so widely that people can’t help but blame the Nielsen and Ninomiya paper on “string theory” or “quantum gravity,” even though neither the papers nor the authors have any connection to those subjects.”

    I don’t think that “anti-string-theory” sentiment is really that widespread; it’s confined mostly to cranks with “new paradigms” and people with axes to grind and/or books to sell. anti-string-theor*ist* sentiment is another matter altogether, of course….

  • http://www.amirsafavi.com Amir Safavi-Naeini

    Hi Sean,

    I was wondering doesn’t this backward causation theory go against the faster than light signaling?

    I.e. i can do a game where I say, Unless Alice on the moon sends me the bit string 0110 right now, I’ll spend $30billion on trying to find the Higgs boson, and Alice sends at that moment the result of a measurement from a 4 qubit system (or even 4 just random bits). Then I wait for alice’s signal to get to me, and it should be 0110. So in effect, I’ve signalled 0110 faster than light to Alice.

    Best, Amir

  • http://www.amherst.edu/~rloldershaw Robert L. Oldershaw

    1. Dark Matter is the dominant form of matter in the Universe.

    2. Any cosmological paradigm that claims to have anything useful to say about the Universe must definitively predict the nature of the Dark Matter.

    3. A definitive prediction is: (a) unique to the paradigm/model being tested, (b) at least partly quantitative, (c) NON-ADJUSTABLE [i.e., falsifiable], and (d) capable of being tested in the forseeable future.

    Can the “Standard Models” of either high energy physics or cosmology definitively predict the nature of the Dark Matter. Not even close! There is just a lot of arm-waving about “WIMPS” with an ‘anything-you-want’ spectrum of properties, or shadow matter, or extra dimensions, or discarded copies of the ApJ.

    Would you like to see a paradigm that CAN predict exactly what the Dark Matter is [in a 1987 ApJ paper], specify exactly its quantitative mass spectrum, and offer significant evidence that supports the prediction?

    Go to http://www.amherst.edu/~rloldershaw and click on “Selected Papers”, then click on #5 “Mass Estimates For Galactic Dark Matter Objects… [pub. in Fractals, 2002].

    Those who claim to have an adequate understanding of nature should show some intergrity and make specific testable predictions about the Dark Matter, or admit their much-hyped hermeneutics are not of much use when it comes to making definitive predictions about the real world, i.e., nature. To put it bluntly: Put up or shut up.

    Or would definitive predictions jeopardize your precious funding?

    Adios Junk-Bond Days,
    RLO
    http://www.amherst.edu/~rloldershaw

  • Jay

    Sean,

    I’ve been wondering about this initial-value idea in our non-Newtonian universe.
    Since much in our universe appears to be stochastic in nature, does it really hold true?
    Does knowing one “state” of the universe mean the laws of physics can predict all future states? Or are there many possible future states for a given state?

    Or is it simply that this stochastic nature is simply an illusion – because we don’t know the exact state and/or the complete laws of physics?

    Thanks

    Jay

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  • Michael E. Stora

    Just because it is crackpottery does not mean it is not useful crackpottery. Just like quantum suicide and half-living cats, it makes us think and we learn from the attempts to prove or disprove.

    Sure the press does not get it, but why are scientists being so critical (and I don’t mean critical in the usual good way)?

  • http://www.astro.multivax.de:8000/helbig/helbig.html Phillip Helbig

    This made the web page of the Tagesschau, the principal television news programme in Germany. However, it is in the “Schlusslicht” section, which is usually reserved for things which, though true and not even tongue-in-cheek, are more on the lighter side of life.

    http://www.tagesschau.de/schlusslicht/higgsboson100.html

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  • http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov baxbuste

    generation high cap atlantic

  • http://link Miss38

    Princi- pals of these schools know that engaging the community is not just another program to be implemented, but a new way of approaching the increasingly demanding job of the principal. ,

  • MrDude

    so typical – and these are the types that hold the fate of the world in their hands. It has been my experience that the general public, and sadly the govermental powers that be hold the “opinion” of “scientists” and “doctors” in such high esteem that to question them is paramount to blasphemy on such a scale as to warrant a need to look over one’s shoulder for lightning to strike. I’ve worked with too many that I wouldn’t trust to change the oil in my car and yet were responsible for fissile material. So, into the hands of educated but arrogant and stupid people go billions upon billions of euros and the life of the world.

    While many scientists are quite willing to give their lives for science, it is not ethical for them tho put the entire planet at risk for the sake of their names in some history book. I sure hope I’m wrong. We won’t live long enough to say “I told you so”.

  • Bobo the Hobo

    (As readers of this blog should well know by now; and if you don’t, I have a book you should definitely read.)

    OK Sean, so what is this book you’re referring to?

  • http://anziulewicz.livejournal.com Chuck Anziulewicz

    “OK Sean, so what is this book you’re referring to?”

    The book might possibly be “Einstein’s Bridge,” an absolutely wonderful, diamond-hard sci-fi novel by John Cramer. The plot is eerily similar to “Spooky Signals from the Future Telling Us to Cancel the LHC!”

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  • http://cjc123.com Conrad J Countess

    You know what would really make people lose confidence in you. If you take a theory of “The origin of mass”, with a cost of only, paper, pencil, and the human brain, and evidence so clear that it speaks for itself, and pass it up for a theory that cost “billions of dollars, and years of study and research time”, and yet makes little or no sense at all.

    Hi my name is Conrad Countess, and I presented a theory of “The Origin of mass”, in response to an earlier article:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2008/11/21/confirmed-scientists-understand-where-mass-comes-from/

    It became clear to me then, that most researchers are more concerned about who is right, and gets credit for it, than what is right.

    But if anyone out there really is more interested in what is right, over who is right, and a simple clear description of the origin of rest mass, than see this:

    http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dsn5q6f_101hgtjv9fb&hl=en

    It shows that energy turns to rest mass, at the high end of the EM (electromagnetic) spectrum, which might also be called the (energy matter), spectrum, because it takes on a circular and or spherical rotation.
    Analogous to a line of 1 inch in horizontal direction times a line of 1 inch in the vertical direction, to create a square inch, c in the linear direction times c in the 90 degree angular direction, creates a 90 degree arc trajectory, which if constant creates a circle, and a balance of centripetal and centrifugal forces. This results in circular and or spherical motion which enables rest mass.

    It also involves (sqrt -1) and shows that it is no longer an imaginary number, but is an actual (natural unit square root of the natural unit -1)

    It is really so simple

    Conrad Countess

  • http://cjc123.com Conrad J Countess

    Analogous to a line of 1 inch x a line of 1 inch in the 90 degree angular direction to equal 1 square inch, c in the linear direction x c in the 90 degree angular direction creates a 90 degree arc which if constant creates a circle and a balance of centrifugal and centripetal forces.

    1. Planck discovered that E=hf for photons,
    2. Einstein discovered that E=mc^2 for electrons,
    3. deBroglie discovered that E=hf = mc^2 at level of electron, indicating a smooth transition from energy to matter, waves to particles, along the same EM (electro-magnetic) spectrum, which from this we can see is also the EM (energy-matter ) spectrum, and that an electron is also a wave.
    4. Bohr discovered that the wavelength of an electron is equal to the circumference of a circle, with an angular momentum of a multiple integer of h/2pi.

    If this circular wave is, confined to the same constant amplitude, as the EM waves before it, it will be forced to make 2 rotations at 90 degree angle to each-other, which will create a “standing spherical” wave making “2 rotations in order to complete 1 wave cycle” (spin ½). Furthermore, if this wave spins backwards, counter to its trajectory, which logically and geometrically follows in half the cases, it will have -1 charge.
    Therefore it logically, mathematically and geometrically follows, that a backward spinning (-1charged), standing spherical wave, making 2 rotations in order to complete 1 wave cycle, (spin ½) emerges from this.
    It would be statistically, very improbable, that all this already established scientific evidence aligns so smoothly like point on a paper connected through a line of logic to form this very clear picture like a picture drawn by connecting the dots or piecing together the puzzle.

    This geometrical interpretation of (E=mc^2) = (E=mc^2 circled) and (c = sqrt -1) not only brings the once mysterious (sqrt -1), out of the imaginary realm, into the real realm as it shows that c is the natural unit square root of the natural unit -1 or electron which is probably why this number works so well at solving a lot of problems in electronics, it also demystifies h/2pi/2 as the limit on quantum measurement of momentum and position. This is because a rest mass particle cannot even exist unless it has a momentum of at least h/2pi/2 and a corresponding, (position/wavelength), no less than hx2pi/2.

    Two more of the greatest quantum mysteries solved.

    Conrad J Countess

  • http://cjc123.com Conrad J Countess

    I am chalenging all scientific media and their editors, from this site to the Discovery mag, to the TV show, and anyone els truly interestd in this subject. In a respectable way, I want to be interviewed. Take the theory and evidence apart, any way you like. I challenge them all, the whole internet, full of linked up physicist, with years of study, and billions of dollars worth of equipment.

    Take it apart, anyway and as often as possible, the evidence will hold, there is no way around it

    Respectablely yours

    Conrad J Countess

  • http://johnmulhall.yolasite.com John Mulhall

    I say we do it. Get a million notecards together. If anyone wants, send a bunch of cards my way. Check out my webpage to find the address. I would record/document the experiment, if anyone wouldn’t mind. Or if you’d like to help, call me up! 440.387.3512…I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to try the experiment regardless.

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  • http://richard-careaga.com Richard Careaga

    Thanks for pointing out what’s been missing in the discussion: interesting questions are more valuable than their answers.

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  • Ingo Kelmes

    I’ve often thought about the proposed card game but I now consider this method as not adequate for proving an influence of future on present. It’s already difficult enough to send a signal back in time (according to GR you need a rotating black hole for this). It would by far exceed the possibilities of future scientists to manipulate a card game back in time (presuming only a short surviving time in an orbit around the earth which has become a black hole ;-) ).

    A better method for such a proof could be as follows: Construct a radio receiver which listens on a certain frequency for a certain classified code. This code has to be sealed and deposited as well protected as possible in two versions: one for coding and transmitting the signal and one for decoding/validating a received signal.
    If a signal is successfully validated while the transmitting code seal is still intact then:
    – the transmitting code must be redeposited without being opened after the checking of the seal
    – the LHC must be shut down or, if there is more than one code envisioned, another action has to be taken according to the received code, e.g. the particle energy must be limited

    The difficulty about this method is that no one should know the complete code, it had to be developed in several parts by different persons, each one only knowing the own part, to minimize the risk of manipulations.

  • Ingo Kelmes

    I had a discussion with another physicist and he made an interesting objection to my proposal: if my proposal worked and if LHC had produced a fatal black hole then there should be already radio signals receivable which were sent back in time as a warning.
    Since no such signals were received so far, no black hole will be produced.
    I first had to admit that this is right but then I found an error we both made:
    Presuming that the GR prediction about time travel in rotating black holes is right and using the ergosphere of such a rotating black hole, a radio signal can only be sent back in time as far as the existence of the black hole reaches back.
    Moreover, if the signal reaches the time of the formation of the black hole, the signal has very little chance to escape the very small volume of the future ergoshpere because during most of the formation time this volume will be deep inside the collapsing black hole precursor (in this case: the earth) and so it will be damped away by it. Thus no signal will be detectable at the earth’s surface, even more: detection fails before the starting point of formation, e.g. the fatal particle collision.

    So my proposal was only useful as a gedankenexperiment for clarifying that according to GR there can be no influence of a possible fatal future onto the present before the fatal black hole formation since we don’t have access to another near rotating black hole which already exists and which is needed for a time travel back into the present.

    This affects the card game proposal of Nielsen & Ninomiya as well. Following GR, this proposal can’t be successful as a proof of such an influence of still to be produced fatal particles, its outcome should be absolutely random.

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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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