Could the laws of the universe be different?

Hello skeptics and other lurkers,

Today’s post again comes courtesy of a tweeter, who asked a question along the lines of this post’s title. This is a question which I have wanted to deal with for a while now, and I think that tonight is as good a time as ever for me to deal with it.

The laws of nature (as you should all know by now) are the laws which define the four fundamental forces we observe (gravity, strong nuclear, weak nuclear, electromagnetism) and the mathematical equations which describe these four forces. Most of the plight of modern particle physics is to find out as much as we can about these forces and equations, and see how it works out for the universe now, in the past and in the future, hoping to discover as much about our universe as possible, with the ultimate goal being to finish with one sum which describes all of these forces, the Theory of Everything (TOE). Last night I talked about string theory and the TOE, and this is one of the important parts in answering tonight’s question.

One of the most important ideas in particle physics is that, under extremely high energies, three of the fundamental forces (electromagnetism, strong nuclear, weak nuclear) can be united by one Grand Unified Theory (GUT) which describes all three forces. This theory has survived mathematical attempts at disproof and appears strong mathematically. This Grand Unified Theory is very important to particle physics. The hope is that, under EVEN higher temperatures and energies, this Grand Unified Theory can be combined with gravity to create the Theory of Everything. Gravity has always been a thorn in the side of physicists, and is actually the least understood and proven of all the fundamental forces, despite its obviousness in everyday life.

The hope and expectations are that gravity and the other three forces can be combined under higher temperatures to form one Theory of Everything. If it is true, as predicted by modern physics, then this has surprising implications for the four fundamental forces.

When the universe was born in the big bang, it was in a state of extreme heat, pressure and energy. Then it went under a process called ‘inflation’, where the universe expanded extremely rapidly (faster than the speed of light) and cooled extremely rapidly. There are two factors which are important in answering our question. 1. At the start, the universe was in a state of very high energy and heat, and 2. The universe expanded faster than the speed of light. Now, if there was ever a time in the history of the universe where the four fundamental forces would be combined, it would be right at the start.

Now, one hypothesis of a multiverse is extrapolated from this. If the universe went under rapid expansion while the four fundamental forces were combined, it could be true that, due to different parts of the universe being cut off from each other because of the speed of light, in different places, the universe could have cooled at different rates, meaning that the four fundamental forces could be different in those universes. Due to this hypothesis, it could be true that from one big bang, multiple universes could have been created. The definition of a universe is all of the things which can be observed, and seeing that these places are cut off from each other due to the speed of light, you have your self a multiverse, with different laws of physics.

This idea, like all multiverse hypotheses, has ramifications for the fine-tuning of the universe. It is one which is also hypothesized by accepted physics models, and is one if the easiest to accept, seeing that we know there must be much more out there than the observable universe.

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Fallacy Frenzy: Moving the Goalposts

Hi there, follow skeptics,

I am going to continue my on-going run of logical fallacies. Today I am going to be talking about a very common logical fallacy, not only used in discussions involving skepticism, but in everyday life. It is the argument called ‘moving the goalposts’. It is essentially a dirty, intellectually dishonest tactic to ensure that your opposition never reaches the full set of criteria for approval. It is not technically a logical fallacy, because there is no fault in logic in this argument, but it is usually counted as a fallacy because it is a common tactic, and it is not a very honest one at that.

The basis of this debating tactic is that you can always ask for more and more proof of something, all the time knowing that you will always be able to ask for more proof without ever having to concede defeat. I will explain it using the evolution/creation argument because it is a very common use of this arguing tactic.
A creationist states to an evolution proponent that there is a big gap between whales and land mammals, which must be filled in order to prove evolution.
The evolution proponent then proceeds to go out and do all the work, and manages to find a transitional fossil between mammals and a whale.
The creationist then has two options, he can either ask for a transitional fossil between two different species, or he can ask for fossils between the whale and the whale-mammal hybrid, or between the whale-mammal hybrid and the mammal. (notice this is also a god of the gaps argument in this case, I will deal with that logical fallacy later)
This is a moving the goalposts fallacy. This process can continue on for ever, with the creationist just asking for more and more proof, and the evolutionist providing it, and then the creationist asking for more.
No matter how hard the evolutionist works and how much proof he finds, it will always be just below the creationists criteria.

Another common example of this argument tactic is used by proponents of god in general. However, despite being a moving the goalposts strategy, it works in reverse to the previous example. God is usually described as the gap in our knowledge about the universe. This has been the general theory of god since its beginning.
When it was not understood how lighting and thunder was made, god was accepted as the creator of this thunder. An atheist at the time would have said that lightning is natural, the normal response would be “prove it.” So the atheist goes out and proves that lightning does not need god to explain it away. The god-believer will then say, “god makes the planets go around.” The atheist goes out and proves that there is no need for god to explain the planets motions.

This process continues to the stage where god is just the so-called ‘writer-of-the-rulebook’, and he decided upon the physical laws, and now just sits back and watches the action unfold. According to god proponents, god still exists, so they are happy, despite the fact that god is being pushed into an ever smaller corner. This is also an example of moving the goalposts.

That’s all for today, I will leave you with a quote from Bertrand Russell, “Logical errors are, I think, of greater practical importance than many people believe; they enable their perpetrators to hold the comfortable opinion on every subject in turn.” Bertrand Russell, a British philosopher, logican, mathematician, historian and social critic of some note.

More on quantum theory and the start of the universe(s)

Hello to my google using fellows (the one Bing user out there, get out!),

Yesterday I posted about an argument made in a book I was reading, god actually, which states that a multiverse theory is desperate, has no proof, and is against Occam’s razor. I also showed yesterday how there is indirect proof that multiverses should exist, and that it is logical, not desperate. Today I will be showing you how it is also something which is against Occam’s razor. But first, I will give anybody out there who doesn’t know, the low-down on Occam’s razor.

Occam’s razor is a logical tool to decide on what is the most likely theory to suit observations. It does not mean that what Occam’s razor says is the correct hypothesis, it just says what is the most likely hypothesis, but it is usually correct. Occam’s razor, in a nut-shell, states that the theory which invokes the least amount of new assumptions is most likely the correct theory. This can be applied to our solar system… It is possible to model a solar system which is centered around the earth and holds up to all observations, but this would be highly complex, and it is much simpler to create a solar system which is centered with the sun.

Now I will show how it applies to our god vs multiverse discussion. The stance taken by Roy Williams and Paul Davies is that it is against Occam’s razor to invoke an infinite amount of universes to explain the coincidences of one universe, and it is much simpler to explain these contrivances with a god who designed them to be that way.
This is wrong. In fact, I believe it is quite the opposite. I’m going to list the assumptions made by each side of the argument.

Goddidit: It isn’t really a lot of assumptions, just one MASSIVE assumption, that there is an omniscient, omnipotent, supernatural, existing-outside-of-the-universe deity who, for no apparent reason, decided to create a universe, with intelligent beings in it, just for his amusing.
Multiverses: We know about quantum mechanics and the “all possibilities are achieved” consequences of it, we know how the universe was created, and that if it probably happened for us, then it probably happened for a lot of universes. The only assumption, (if you want to call it that) is the quantum fluctuations occur, and this has been proven.

That means assumptions go as follows, goddidit 1 – 0 multiverse.

Occam’s razor, because it is a scientific tool which requires natural causes, cannot be used to support a supernatural explanation because if there were supernatural forces in the universe, then Occam’s razor is useless.

I will leave you with a quote from Bertrand Russell, “Whenever possible, substitute constructions out of known entities for inferences to unknown entities.” Bertrand Russell, a British philosopher, logican, mathematician, historian and social critic.

Quantum theory and the start of the universe

Hello, skeptics,

The inspiration for today’s post comes from a book I have started reading entitled ‘god actually’ by Roy Williams, an Australian author who claims to be able to show that god probably exists. It provides some interesting points (I said interesting, not valid) on why god should be taken seriously. I will be basing blogs on this book for the next few weeks while I read through it. I will use one quote from this book (this quote was taken from Paul Davies for use in this book.) to start my investigations.

“Invoking an infinite number of other universes just to explain the apparent contrivances  of the one we see is pretty drastic, and in stark conflict with Occam’s razor (according to which science should prefer explanations with the least number of assumptions). I think it’s much more satisfactory from a scientific point of view to try to understand why things are the way they are in this universe and not to invent imaginary universes to do the job.”

There a few things I have to say about this quote, and I may have to spread it over a few posts.
This book also states that there is no proof of a possible multiverse. This is true in the strictest sense, we have no definitive proof that multiverses exist, (we have no definitive proof that atoms are the way we think they are either) but we can make inferences from other observations.
I will also say that we cannot ever know what actually caused our universe to be created, because it is before time was created, and science cannot deal directly with that.
Lets look at this with quantum chance. I have blogged before that there are infinite ways that something can exist, and one way that nothing exists, and this means that something must  occur. scale this up, not only to one universe, but to more than one universe, (if it is certain that one universe must exist, then in this instance, it is also certain that infinite universes must exist) it means that this first spawned universe must also invoke other universes, and an infinite amount of universes must exist.

I will do a little flow chart to show the possible outcomes.

Even if it is very unlikely to happen, when you have infinite universes, they are all going to happen.

Multiverses will always result in some form of intelligent life, and instead of these multiverses being made-up figments of our imagination in a desperate attempt to show that humans can come to be about without a god, they are, theoretically, an essential part of theology and science.

That is all for me today, I will continue this topic tomorrow. I will leave you with a quote from  Douglas Adams, “Yes, I think I use the term “radical” rather loosely, just for emphasis. If you describe yourself as “atheist,” some people will say, “Don’t you mean ‘agnostic’?” I have to reply that I really do mean atheist, I really do not believe that there is a god; in fact, I am convinced that there is not a god (a subtle difference). I see not a shred of evidence to suggest that there is one … etc., etc. It’s easier to say that I am a radical atheist, just to signal that I really mean it, have thought about it a great deal, and that it’s an opinion I hold seriously.” Douglas Adams, English Author and atheist of some note.

Concluding Schrodinger’s cat

Hello to the skeptical gang, and that one creationist (you know who you are.),

Yesterday I made a post about how there may be infinite universes out there where every single possibility is fulfilled in that universe, and I also said that it not only talks about sub-atomic things like nuclear radiation of particles or whether or not the cat dies, but it most likely also relates to everyday things, like tossing coins.

Now, when I first heard about this theory and when I have since described it to other people, we have all had the same initial reaction. It’s just like those times in a TV series or book series where the writer has clearly run out of ideas for the season so decides to do the cliché parallel universe episode, where the personalities are turned around and it provides everybody with some ironic humor.  This is probably not the case for most universes. Out there somewhere in the multiverse, there will be a universe where that happens, but it won’t be the norm. And no, the way to access these parallel universes is not through a mirror.

I must explain, when things like this happen, obviously our universe is the universe which follows one line through the probability tree, there is no way in which we can change it, and there is no way in which we can leap from branch to branch through universes.

I also referenced a crazy experiment where a scientist conducts the Schrödinger’s cat experiment on themselves. This is just suicidal, because in almost every single instance, the scientist will be killed, but in one of the multiverses, he will survive. In this lucky universe, the scientist will survive and live to fight another day and to research more stuff in particle physics. In the other universes however, there will be much mourning for the gallant scientist who chanced his life for science, and will be forever more wondering, “Was there another universe out there with ‘the scientist that lived'”. The only proof for the multiverse so far, other than disturbances in the CMBR, is that experiment. Proof would be a living scientist, and a dead scientist proves nothing.

CMBR image

Circular disturbances to the CMBR are the only other way which we would be able to test the multiverse.

That’s about it for Schrödinger’s cat and the implications this thought experiment has had on current quantum theory. Originally designed to show how ridiculous it all is, it is now one of the most common descriptions of quantum mechanics around today. It is also the only reason why we remember Erwin Schrödinger, and is his lasting legacy.
To be honest, if there is one thing I would like to achieve in my life, is to have something such as a thought experiment like this named after me, it’s the only way for an Atheist to stick around after his death.

I will leave you with a quote from Albert Einstein, “God does not play dice.” Albert Einstein, possibly the greatest mind to reject the theory of quantum mechanics.

More on quantum mechanics

Greetings and salutations to all intelligent people in the meta-nation which is the internet.

Yesterday I made a blog about Schrödinger’s cat and the implications it has for quantum mechanics. Today I would like to talk about a more extreme Schrödinger’s cat experiment where the lowly cat is replaced for an actual scientist. This seems like a very crazy experiment to conduct and it is, because the scientist will most likely die, but maybe, just maybe, he will survive and live to test more stuff another day.

To find out why this experiment would ever be done, I will explain to you one explanation of the “one photon acts like a lot of photons” experiment that I talked about last time. The leading interpretation at the moment is that when something happens, say, a photon goes through a slit, or a radioactive atom decays, or you decide not to use conditioner in the shower, all of the possible outcomes are achieved with their respective wave functions, and these happen in different universes. What is interesting is that when something like Schrödinger’s cat happens, there is one universe in the multiverse where the cat dies almost instantaneously, and another universe where the cat does not die at all, and this happens with everything that happens in the universe, and other universes, and more universes. What this conjures up in my mind almost instantly in a tree, and I think it helps describe this well.

Probability diagram

A probability tree which shows well how this interpretation of quantum theory works

Imagine the world as it is now, there are two possibilities right now, you can continue to read this blog, or you can log off (which would be very rude) There will be one universe where you log off, this is universe A, and one where you continue reading, universe B. Now there are two ‘parallel’ universes. There will now be two choices in universe A, you decide to log back on, because you realize how rude what you did was, and one where you stay logged off. in universe B, you have two choices, you stay logged on because this is completely riveting stuff, and one where you do finally log off.

The universe that we do end up being in will be one of those possibilities, hopefully the one where you stay online. But that does not mean that the other universes do not exist, they still exist, but you and I cannot ever get back to that other universe. This explains the ‘one photon acting like lots’ experiments. It also means that occasionally, unlikely things will happen, like the cat not passing away. It also means that out there, in the multiverse, there is a universe where I am having a conversation with Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley.

That’s all for today, I will leave you with a quote from Michio Kaku, ” In fact, it is often stated that of all the theories proposed in this century, the silliest is quantum theory. Some say that the only thing that quantum theory has going for it, in fact, is that it is unquestionably correct.” Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist, co-founder of string theory, a futurist and a popularizer of science.

An argument from beauty

Today, I had an Ethics and faith lesson with our school father (I go to an Anglican school) and he reminded me of an argument that I have been hearing for a long time. It’s actually three arguments, the first is, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”, the second is “Why do humans and other animals exist?”, and the third is “The earth is so beautiful, it can’t have happened by chance.”His answer to all of these questions is that there must be a supreme being or god who designed it intentionally for us, so it is beautiful and appealing to us. All of these arguments are of the kind ‘post hoc, ergo propter hoc’, and I have covered that in my brief of logical fallacies which can be found on the home page. I will answer these questions in my blog post today.

The first argument, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” This can be explained easily with chance. Simply, there is only one way in which there is nothing, null and void, but there are infinite ways in which something can exist, and seeing that 1/∞ = 0, (1/2 = 0.5… 1/10 = 0.1… 1/100 = 0.01) it just has to happen. No god is needed to explain everything because something must happen. It would be more surprising if there was nothing, and we would need to have a god to explain it, but there would be nobody around to ask the question, and that leads me to the next argument.

“Why do humans and other animals exist?” This is the second question asked by my Ethics and Faith teacher. He says that there must be a god who put life on a planet to explain this. There isn’t a need for this. It has been estimated that there are about 150 billion galaxies in the known universe. There are also anywhere from 10 million to 200 billion stars in a galaxy, I will take an average of 100 billion stars in a galaxy. That comes out at about 15 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 (15 000 billion billion stars.) That means about that many rocky planets, so that means a lot of possibilities for life. The odds are slim for an individual planet, but with that many dice-rolls 10 heads in a row is not un-common.Once there is some sort of self-replicating organism, then evolution takes over and does its thing.

Now, the third argument. “The world is so beautiful, this can’t have happened by chance.” First of all, yes there is beautiful things like rainbows and forests and mountains, but there are equally bad things like some fish species or snakes or spiders and other animals which may kill you, not to mention all of humanities problems. There is as much beautiful stuff as there is not beautiful stuff. This is because the definition of beautiful is ‘the top 50% of things in the world on a scale of beautifulness’. There will always be beautiful things. But just for my teachers sake let’s try and explain why some things are so beautiful. Our subjective grading of what the most beautiful things are is taken from a data set of one.

Say the world was a little less beautiful than what it is, we would still think of the most beautiful things as ‘the most beautiful things’ and the least beautiful things as ‘the least beautiful things.’ If the world was a little more beautiful than what it is, we would still have the same titles for the most beautiful and least beautiful things. We get used to what is beautiful and what is not because we grow up in our world, not another world.

What I’m essentially saying is that things are the way it is because they are the way they are, and we wouldn’t be asking these questions if the world was different. I will leave you with a quote from Richard Dawkins, “The theory of evolution by cumulative natural selection is the only theory we know of that is in principle capable of explaining the existence of organized complexity.” Richard Dawkins, Evolutionary biologist, skeptic, atheist and author of some note.

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