“The universe is asymmetric and I am persuaded that life, as it is known to us, is a direct result of the asymmetry of the universe or of its indirect consequences. The universe is asymmetric.” -Louis Pasteur
Time keeps barreling forward for all of us, but I’m so pleased that Starts With A Bang! still keeps on taking on some of the biggest and smallest questions about physics, astronomy and the Universe as it related to humanity. There were a number of grandiose, challenging topics we took on this week, including:
- What if gravity isn’t really fundamental? (for Ask Ethan),
- Top five features to find on the full Moon (for Mostly Mute Monday),
- Make America informed again,
- Colder than empty space: how the Boomerang Nebula does it,
- Book review: Earth in Human Hands, and
- Is there another ‘you’ out there in a parallel Universe?
The next Starts With A Bang podcast gets recorded (and becomes available to Patreon supporters) this week; Orycon 38 just took place and was fantastic; my new book, Treknology, is over 75% complete and before the weekend has ended, we’ve got the best of this past week’s comments all picked out. Let’s take a look back as we go right into our comments of the week!
From CFT on why all scientists are corrupt: “Academia sucks at the teat of the federal government to survive at its present funding levels. You are entirely a political creature of that insular environment who has it would appear next to no experience outside of it. You assume the rest of the universe functions much like your bubble in it…which is why you don’t see yourself or your colleagues as capable of the foibles you condescendingly bestow on those outside your protected circles.”
So your contention is:
- Academic, scientific research receives funding from the federal government.
- As such, it cannot survive as-is without it.
- And therefore, it is beholden to those interests, which is continuing to receive funding from the government.
- Because of this, they cannot be objective or ethical in their scientific findings.
Numbers 1 and 2 are definitely true. We’re going to disagree about 4, and I don’t think there’s any way to resolve that impasse, since you wouldn’t even believe the evidence from a scientific study that studied it. So here’s an idea to set your mind at ease: why don’t we just remove the possibility of step 3. Let’s fix the level of funding regardless of what a scientist finds, whether it’s a reproducibility study or whether it’s a study that gives null results. Sounds good?
No, of course not. Science works extremely well, because the way we choose what to study is that if something looks interesting to enough people, they study it further and try to investigate it on larger scales and in more detail. Either it falls apart, regresses to the mean or it winds up showing a real effect. If we can all agree on the data, on the predictions of various theories and on what the experiments would indicate given various outcomes, how is that not objective? Moreover, how is that unethical?
From Michael Kelsey on emergent gravity: “As I read it (as best I could), and as you imply in your article, this is really an initial attempt, a “proof of principle” that the concept is able to derive gravity from entanglement in some internally consistent Universe. What isn’t there yet is that the same derivation can be completed in _our_ Universe.”
One of the important things Verlinde was attempting to show with his paper was that gravity can emerge from the entropy (surface area) and acceleration at a black hole’s event horizon. He postulates dark energy by going to de Sitter space, which is fine, and then attempts to derive gravitation in a way that looks like our Universe’s gravitation. And for some of it, he can find “if I make this choice at this step, I get something that matches up.”
I’m fine with all of that. But what I’m not fine with is that he starts “matching up” how you can get dark matter from his emergent theory, and claims success where there’s instead a tremendous failure. In particular, he comes up with an equation that, if you put in the number you get for the baryon density of the Universe today, you actually get today’s dark matter density. But as the baryon density changes in the past, the dark matter density and the spatial curvature of the Universe in the past change in an unacceptable manner; he’s derived a solution that is only correct at exactly one point in time: today. That’s a huge indication that what he’s come up with is not viable as a model for a Universe that evolves over time as ours has been seen to do. Meanwhile he touts this as a success, not even realizing that this is a problem!
I think it’s a dealbreaker, which means I think he needs to go back to at least earlier steps here if he wants to have something that could — at least in principle — describe our Universe.
From Frank Jansen on a redux of my opinion of Verlinde’s work: “So while this is an interesting idea which gives us a new [approach] to gravity, it’s all rather arbritary?
It has trouble connecting emerging gravity to “our” universe?”
Frank Jansen, you are a hammer.
Because you nailed it.
From eric on things you can see on the full Moon: “Mere hype or not, the ‘supermoon’ provides a good excuse to take a few moments outside, just simply looking. And now I’m going to point out to my son where humans first walked on the moon.”
If you want to know exactly where in the Sea of Tranquility the Apollo 11 astronauts landed, you can point it out right here:
I’m unfamiliar with the moon rock that’s in the air and space museum that you can touch, but if it’s on the border between the Sea of Serenity and the Sea of Tranquility, then it must be from Apollo 17, which was the last human mission to the Moon. One of the fun things we discussed at Orycon is when humans will be back, and it looks like the Chinese are poised to do it. It’s up to the USA to decide whether we’ll get beaten back to the Moon or not… and whether we’ll go someplace farther, like Mars, either instead or in addition.
From Wow on whether we can make America informed again: “It requires that people want to be informed, though.”
This is a real problem. Most of us, apparently, want to be right on our first try, meaning that whatever we hear about or have a (strong) hunch about first tends to be what we stick with, and that evidence to the contrary gets discarded while we overweight supporting evidence for our position. This ‘motivated reasoning’ means that Frank Zappa might have had it right, after all:
One of my favorite philosophical tenets is that people will agree with you only if they already agree with you. You do not change people’s minds.
I’ll keep engaging in the futile battle, though. The alternative of giving up is too unbearable. Even if it’s only a tiny sliver of the world’s population that cares to listen to what I’m doing, a minuscule amount of improvement to the world is still improvement.
From Omega Centauri on what we do after we hit the societal rock-bottom: “Then maybe when the dazed people start to ask, how [could’ve] it happened? We will have a chance to explain the value of clear thinking that is [guided] by solid epistemological proinciple, not gut feeling.
I guess our job, is to prepare that blueprint, for the time when people are going to become receptive.”
Just a few months ago, I wrote a story on how science was what made America great, and told the cautionary tale of Trofim Lysenko and the USSR. Because of Lysenko’s ideas and how political powerful he was, the (correct, evidence-based) theory of evolution, genetics and the modern mechanisms for it weren’t taught and implemented in studies, and Soviet biology fell behind the rest of the world quite badly. While their physicists were top-notch, their health and medical systems — as well as biological research — took decades to recover, and in some ways has never caught up.
I would like to keep America, or any part of the world, from ever falling that far again. But it’s going to take a lot more than just me; we all have to stay vigilant and involved.
From axil on cold fusion: “A breakthrough in cold fusion is shown in the video above. A first of its kind self sustained unpowered plasma is produced for 100 seconds starting from 4:30 and ends at 6:20 of the video. The reaction produces a maximum power output in XUV light of 5 megawatts and an average output of 1 megawatts.”
Sure it is. A “breakthrough” is “shown”, because of a 1 MW average output, measured through a poor, nonstandard method, over 100 seconds. It’s a demonstration; no scientists controls anything about the experiment.
What would it take to “fake” that? Let’s teach you a little math: 1 MW means 10^6 Watts, which is 10^6 Joules/sec, for 100 seconds, for a total of 10^8 Joules (100 MJ). A barrel of oil contains 42 gallons, and can release the equivalent of 5861 MJ, meaning would take 0.017 barrels, or 0.71 gallons (2.7 liters) of oil to produce that much energy over 100 seconds. And that’s enough evidence to convince you that it’s cold fusion?
I prefer what eric has to say: “Your community doesn’t shift resources into following up each others’ “breakthroughs,” even as they tout each one as being so great that it will remake society in a mere few years. This is a pretty reasonable sign that even cold fusion *supporters* don’t believe what other cold fusion supporters are shoveling. Its more like the homeopathic industry; multiple efforts to run the same shill in parallel, rather than a scientific community slowly converging on new knowledge.”
From Denier on why we live in an idiocracy: “Television is no longer limited to what 3 major networks can send over the air. Now anyone can be a content creator. YouTube is full of university lectures, documentaries, and all the rest. It is all there. You can’t blame the mysterious content gatekeepers, entertainment executives, or the technology for society choosing to watch ‘Ow! My balls!’. At this point society needs to take some responsibility.”
There’s a lot of blame to go around. People are lazy and uninterested in challenging themselves intellectually. They’d rather stay in their comfort zone than go out of it, even if the rewards are greater. Because you said “some responsibility” rather than “all of the responsibility”, I have to agree with you. People choose the easy path, the path of least resistance, and the “devil they know” over the hard work — including the hard internal work — it takes to build something truly great. Maybe some shame for our society, plus some incentives for making it better, are in order?
From Narad on the term ‘preplanetary nebula’: “Is that the way the kids are talking nowadays? It used to be “proto-planetary nebula” (note en dash) when I was on the AAS journals.”
I like the kids’ style here. What you see above is a preplanetary/protoplanetary nebula, as is the red rectangle nebula or the egg nebula that you’re likely familiar with. But why did we switch — about 10-13 years ago — to preplanetary from protoplanetary? Because of this.
This is a protoplanetary disk, or the disk that forms around a young star in the process of forming its planetary system. Protoplanetary disk makes sense, and has been in use for a long time. Planetary nebula is a misnomer, since it has nothing to do with planets, but exists as a name due to historical reasons. But if you call it a protoplanetary nebula, people confuse it with the nebulous protoplanetary disk, and hence the name change occurred and is in widespread use. I approve. Let’s all get with the program. After all, Denier is right, so the least we can do is make it easy for people to not confuse themselves!
From SteveP on the “fun” of geoengineering: “While I agree with you that we are conducting an experiment in geoengineering, and while I think it is a really really stupid experiment, likely to have a very very unfortunate overall outcome, it is not terrifying to me. And I am not sure why that is. I think that the worst effects may be avoidable. Or maybe the fear of the destruction of America from within by forces sympathetic to the worst villains in history has my emotional attention now. I don’t know. I think that we have to learn to manage our fear, and push on through it. “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.” So I quibble over your use of the word terrifying.”
The reason I think it’s terrifying is because we’re already seeing the effects of some irreversible changes that humans are making on Earth. Not “forever irreversible” but irreversible on century-level timescales, which is a big deal. We’re doing it. Some of it is deliberate, in the sense that we know we’re doing it and we continue to choose to do so.
I even agree with Denier when he says, “Also deliberate geoengineering is a terrible idea. We rarely get anything right the first time and the risk of botching that endeavor here isn’t worth any minuscule gain we could get from it. Let’s do it to other planets first.”
But we’re already botching it. Maybe Dale Gribble had it right, and we’ll be growing oranges in Alaska soon. Buy your northern Canadian real estate and pass it down to your great, great grandchildren. They’ll be rich when they sell it to Peruvian immigrants, whose country is turning to desert as we speak. Wow, I am finding it hard to stay optimistic!
And finally, we’ll give the last comment to eric, who’s talking about the number of possible outcomes for a quantum system: “Put another way, what you and Ethan are talking about is the dimensionality of a phase space. What I’m pointing out is that vectors in it obey rules that prevent them from doing certain things, reaching certain end states.Thus the number of ways a set of particles in that space can evolve may not be well approximated by a simple factorial of the number of particles, since that factorial is basically assuming all combinations may be reached from the initial combination.”
It is true that some “final outcome” combinations may be impossible given certain initial conditions, but the fact that you can take away a few two or three or six-possibility outcomes — where you have a discrete set of possibilities — isn’t from where the largest number of possible outcomes arises. Instead, consider this. Consider what happens when either a particle/antiparticle pair collides and produces two photons, or where two photons collide to produce two new particles.
Now, let me ask you this: the two new particles you made? What directions will they go in? The problem is that you don’t have two or three or six or twenty different possible outcomes; you have an infinite number! You have what’s known as a continuous degree of freedom, as any direction in space is equally likely. Yet depending on the direction, you can have up to 10^90 different outcomes as far as positions, momenta and interaction futures that arise from that single choice. So for every single 10^90-outcome possibility I can add in, you need to subtract 300 consecutive two-outcome possibilities, since 2^300 ~ 10^90.
The number of possible outcomes in the Universe grows too fast. Unless the Universe is truly infinite in time — unless inflation is eternal to the past — we don’t have enough space for all the possible parallel Universe outcomes to be real. It’s only you. Make the most of it, and start today!