Saturday, December 15, 2012

Update on Higgs, the Number of Fermions, and General Comments on various philosophies I held in the past

For those of you who haven't seen the latest updates from CERN regarding the Higgs boson, I suggest reading the following article by New Scientist.

The gist of the news is that, while there is still uncertainty, the evidence seems to be pointing more and more to "1 Standard Model Higgs boson." There's still a lot of data to analyze, and we should be getting more analysis of results this March.

Also, I just found this out, but there's been fairly recent work published, using the latest data from CERN, showing that there are likely only 12 fermions (i.e. only 3 families of the four underlying fermions...up quark, down quark, neutrino and electron.) If you count the anti-particles, then there are 8 underlying fermions, which have the following values of electric charge (-1, -2/3, -1/3, 0, 0(?), 1/3, 2/3, and 1). Seems like coincidence??? Not likely, but the Standard Model doesn't tell us why the fundamental particles have this underlying structure in the units of electricity charge. There's still a lot we don't know about the universe (such as the ~20 experimental constants in the Standard Model), but it looks like the universe is fairly organized and simple. My question is: if these researchers were able to rule out a 4th family of fermions, why can't we rule out super-symmetric particles using a similar analysis? My guess is that we'll see some papers over the next year in which researchers show that super-symmetric particles are incompatible with the data at CERN (even rule out heavy super-particles that we can't measure yet directly, but that would have had an effect on the location of the mass of the Higgs boson.)

I find particle physics such a fascinating topic because I want to know how the world works, and particle physics seems to get at the underlying functionality of the world. But beyond that I ultimately want to know what is the purpose of life. I guess that I've been hoping that something in the data we collect from these particle accelerators and from orbiting satellites would tell us about our purpose.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

More on the Arrow of Time, Neutrinos, and Dark Matter/Energy


There is only one arrow of time.

This post is a continuation on a previous post on the Arrow of Time. The goal in this post is to expand on the themes from the last post as well as to point out recent additional experimental evidence for time reversal asymmetry.

"One Ring to Rule them All"
The arrow of time associated with the weak nuclear force is the same as the entropic arrow of time (i.e the 2nd Law of Thermo), which is the same as the cosmological arrow of time (i.e. the expanding universe.) All of these arrows of time are caused by the fact that there is one (and only one) parameter in the Standard Model Langrangian of particles that allows for CP violations (i.e. T asymmetry.) This parameter is due to interactions between Fermi particles via the weak nuclear force, and the parameter is within what’s called the CKM matrix. Every other interaction between particles (both fermions and bosons) is time reflection symmetric. In other words, there would be no such thing as the "arrow of time" unless there were this one parameter. And since there is only one parameter that violates time reflection symmetry, there's only one arrow of time (that we are aware of so far.)

So, let's go back to the beginning of time (as far as we can discern.) Right after the Big Bang, the weak nuclear force allowed heavy quarks to convert into lower energy quarks and a slew of other particles. This process is described by the CKM matrix and is time (T) reflection asymmetric, as well as charge (C) and parity (P) reflection asymmetric. This asymmetric process is likely also why there are more electrons than anti-electrons, and likely why the universe is not perfectly left-right symmetric. (Though, it should be noted that this asymmetry could also be due to asymmetric starting conditions.) This increase in the number of particles led to an increase in the exchange symmetries between similar particles (i.e. entropy). This ‘finite’ and ‘digital’ value of entropy is likely embedded into a ‘finite’ and ‘digital’ space-time causing this ‘finite’ and ‘digital’ space-time to increase in size…i.e. the expansion of the universe after the Big Bang. So, we already have an explanation for why the universe increased in size after the Big Bang (i.e. the weak nuclear force increases the number of Fermi particles and this increases the entropy, which is encoded in space-time.) The question is: can this explanation also account for the continued expansion of space-time into the present?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Thermodynamics using Earth-centric Units

While the trend in science has been to point out the obvious fact that the Earth is not the center of the solar system or the universe, over the last few decades there has been a trend in the engineering community of trying to teach thermodynamics with an Earth-centric focus. The new quantity that has appeared in this Earth-centric thermodynamics is called exergy.

Exergy is defined as the maximum amount of useful work that can be generated by bring a non-equilibrium system into equilibrium with the Earth's environment, i.e. bringing the system to the same temperature, pressure and chemical composition of the Earth's environment. The Earth has an enormous amount of stored exergy (fossil and nuclear fuels) as well as an enormous amount of exergy supplied to it in the form of light from the Sun. In some ways, the definition of exergy is completely arbitrary because the amount of useful work that can be obtained in bring a system into equilibrium with Earth environment is always less than the amount of useful work that could be obtained by bringing a non-equilibrium system into equilibrium with a ~0 K vacuum. Exergy is a really useful engineering quantity, even though it has no scientific meaning (since somebody living on a planet with a different temperature and/or a different atmospheric pressure/composition would measure a different value of exergy for the same exact enclosed system.)

But since exergy is such a useful definition for power plant engineers, this begs the question: are there other ways that we can modify the way we teach thermodynamics so as it make thermodynamics easier to learn and to apply? (Note that this is also one of the reasons why I'm in favor of having a currency that keeps the average price of purchasing useful work a constant. It makes it significantly easier to teach and to learn thermo-economics, i.e. that currency represents your capability to purchase useful work.)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Death of Supersymmetry: Experimental Evidence against the Theory

Many of you may have already heard about the very recent evidence against the theory of supersymmetry (i.e. that there are massive super-particles for every particle found so far. In supersymmetry, for every boson there's a super-symmetric fermion, and vice versa. Supersymmetry is also an underlying component of most string theories.)
Here are links to a few articles in the public media regarding the latest evidence against supersymmetry:
BBC news article
New Scientist article

Here's a link to a recent article I wrote on the Death of Supersymmetry and String Theory. In the article, I mentioned that I would start adding more of the details about the experimental evidence against supersymmetry. Rather than just edit that article, I figured that I'd just make a new article and link to sites with the latest evidence against supersymmetry.

http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=5013
BBC news article from Nov 2011 on similar topic
http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=5272
http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=3937
http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=4171

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Summary of "Self-replicating economics"


Last week at work, I unfortunately had to sit through a presentation  by an economist outside our company who tried to give us a 'Crash Course in Economics for Engineers.'   Whoah!

Have you ever watched or sat through a presentation by an economist and had the thought jump into your head, "This person has just completely talked themselves into a circle. They started out the sentence explaining why inflation is good, and by the end of the sentence, they finished with how deflation raises the value of the dollar and, hence, deflation is good."  Note: it scares me when economists ignore the self-referential nature of economics calculations. In general, if you try to ignore self-reference, it will show up and make you look like a fool. (For example, thinking that government spending has a multiplier effect greater than one.) It's better to just include the self-reference into the calculation from the start. Physicists learned this years ago when they asked the question: what is the charge on a bare-naked electron if there were no vacuum polarization? Chemists had to ask this question when they were studying the collective bonding effects in polar liquids like water. In both cases, scientists resorted to renormalization theory to remove the infinities that would pop up. Every economist either needs to understand renormalization theory or needs to take a few courses in biology, i.e. the study of self-replication.

Here's what I supposedly "learned" in that presentation:
(1) The business cycle is cyclic, and the next peak will be in 2015.    (Don't worry. The business cycle is not predictable and is not sinusoidal.  Many people have shown this, but if you want proof that there is no such thing as a business cycle, check out my Frequency Analysis graph in one of my earlier posts. There is no one frequency that stands out above the rest, except the junk at low frequency due to the overall, non-cyclic trend of increasing GDP. So, don't believe anybody who predicts for you when the next GDP peak will be, based off of when the last peak was and based off of some seven/eight year cycle.)
(2) Economies fluctuate about a steady-state growth rate. Steady-state growth is the equilibrium point and oscillations about this point are nearly perfectly sinusoidal.   (Don't worry. This is false as well. There is no such thing as the 'steady-state growth rate.' And as mentioned above, oscillations in the real world occur at every conceivable frequency.)
(3) The economy is a closed system because the money just keeps on circulating, so there's no need for a Federal Reserve to keep printing money.   (There's at least one problem with these statement. First, the economy is not a closed cycle. It's like an ever expanding spiral in which useful work is used to make more useful work. Second, the amount of money in circulation should ideally increase as the spiral gets bigger and bigger, i.e. as we make more and more power plants. Money is simply a way of determining who gets to use what percent of the useful work being generated from power plants. Theoretically, it shouldn't matter how much money is in circulation, but in practice, most people prefer that the prices of items they buy remain constant or decrease with time, while at the same time, they prefer that the dollars in their bank accounts increase with time. Ideally, there would be a non-profit agency within the government that forces the Treasury to print or remove enough currency from circulation in order to maintain 0% to 2% inflation in the average price of useful work. Right now, that agency is Federal Reserve. But it isn't really a part of the government and it hasn't been doing a good job over the last six years because there are some confused economists on the Board of Governors who think that the Federal Reserve can decrease unemployment by printing money and giving that money to the government and Wall Street. While the Federal Reserve system in the US has some major flaws, these flaws could largely be fixed by adopting a rule-based system of when to print or remove money from circulation, as has done by many countries, including Germany before the euro.)

Given the fact that economics can be an extremely difficult to teach, the goal of this post is to summary the main points I've made over the last few years in the area of "self-replicating economics," i.e. the study of human-designed system that can self-replicate nearly-independent of biological systems. My hope is that economics can become a fairly easy subject to teach if instructors focus on examples of small, self-replicating systems.

For example, we have designed "oil/gas well, power plant, steel mill" systems that can self-replicate nearly independently of other systems. In other words, we can drill wells, build steel mills, build factories, build vehicles, build turbines, and build power plants in ways such that the whole system can self-replicate and grow. Unfortunately, the growth rate of this "oil/gas well, power plant, steel mill system" has been decreasing slowly over time (despite increases in technological know-how of the people designing the systems) because the increase in technical know-how has not off-set the increase in direct and indirect taxes on this system as well as the fact that the oil/gas we drill for is often at lower and lower depths and that the systems we design now are often more complicated in order to reduce the damage on biological self-replicating systems.

I think that it's important to focus on and teach all of the main components of a system that can self-replicate independently of other systems. In other words, if you are going to teach the subject of economics, don't focus just on small parts of the system, such as hamburgers and soda. People, hamburgers and soda don't represent a full system that can replicate. A full system might be:  traders, homes, clothing, police, politicians, cattle, goat, blacksmiths, farmers, civil servants, teachers, chefs, horses, etc... Since the smallest set of items in a self-replicating system that includes human is probably really large, it might make sense to start with simple mechanical systems that are complete and self-replicating. For example, in prior posts, I've discussed possible examples of human-designed self-replicating systems, such as a self-replicating wind turbine/factory systems and auxons, which are self-replicating solar panel/factory systems. It's easy to talk oneself into a circle if you don't study the entire self-replicating system. For something as large as the world economy, I understand that it is difficult to see what's really going on (i.e. self-replication), so what I normally try to do when teaching economics is to simplify the economy down into its main components so that one can see that economic growth is due to the fact that he have design "oil/gas well, power plant, steel mill, turbine factory, electronic equipment factory" systems that can self-replicate. Before we designed these thermo-mechanical systems, economic growth rates were pretty much confined to population growth rates (of plants and animals in the system.) The goal of the remainder of this post is to summarize what I call the field of "self-replicating economics," which is the study of complete, independent systems that can self-replicate and grow.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Rate of Return and Risk: The Analogy to a Power Plant & Battery System


In this post, my plan is to lay out an analogy for understanding rate of return on investment and risk, using batteries and power plants as an analogy. The goal is to answer the following questions:

What is the definition of a power plant?
What does it mean for a power plant to have a positive rate of return on work invested?
How do we quantify risk?
What are the units of measure for risk?

Rate of return on investment of a power plant and the battery analogy
Let's begin to answer these questions by imagining that we start out with a battery that is not fully charged, but not completely drained either. Let's say that the maximum storage energy is 1 MWh and we currently have only 200 kWh of energy stored in the battery. This means that we have 200 kWh of useful work that we can spend. (Let's imagine also that there are no rules against fully draining the battery.)
So, what should we do with that 200 kWh of useful work? Should we spend it on building houses, cars, or TV's? If we spend it all on these items (as well as a whole list of items I can think of), then we will have spent all of the 200 kWh and we would have completely drained the battery. We will have no "useful work" left in the battery.
Instead, we could spend half of the 200 kWh of stored electricity by giving 100 kWh of electricity to companies that drill natural gas wells and that build natural gas combined cycle power plants. We can either give the electricity to the company in a form of a bond (in which the company agrees to give us a certain return on investment after X years) or in the form of stock (in which we become co-owners of the plant and get paid in dividends if/when there are profits.) In the case of bonds, after X years, the company may agree to pay us 200 kWh of electricity. In the case of stocks, as long as we chose a good company, the company will pay us (in electricity in this analogy) and the company will likely pay us more than 200 kWh of electricity in dividends after X years. So, if we spend our electricity on building natural gas wells and natural gas power plants, then after X years (where X is likely between 4 and 12 years in this analogy), we will have increased the amount of stored electricity in our battery. If we invested 100 of the 200 kWh, then after X years we will likely have more than 300 kWh of electricity. We could spent 50 kWh of electricity on goods, such as clothing, food, entertainment, etc..., and we would still have more than 250 kWh of electricity in the battery. [Note that there is no return on useful work when you invest in clothing, housing, and entertainment. We clearly need clothing, housing and entertainment, but these activities do not grow our economy, i.e. our capability to do useful work. These activities are necessary because humans run power plants and humans need clothing, housing, and entertainment.]

When we invest money in power plant companies, the company is basically agreeing to give us some of the electricity produced at the power plant in exchange for our investment into the initial capital cost of building the power plant. This cycle of investment of electricity and production of electricity can continue as long as there are exergy sources that yield positive rates of return on work invested (which will be the case for at least the next billion or trillion years.) This is the cycle of growth. You invest useful work into projects that increase the total amount of useful work. We started with 200 kWh and now we have more than 300 kWh of useful work, from which we can spend between 0 and 100 kWh of electricity during that time period on 'goods' and still have more electricity than when we began.

Definition#1: The technical definition of a power plant is a project that has a positive rate of return on useful work invested

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Death of Supersymmetry/String Theory & Saving the Theoretical Physics Community from a Descent into Nihilism, Timelessness and Meaninglessness

We should try to simply the laws of nature and to attempt to relate the known particles to more basic constituent particles. In this sense, it makes sense to study string theory, supersymmetry and grand unified theories. Our current laws and our current set of basic particles seems a little ad hoc, and it is likely there are ways to simplify the known forces or known particles. So, it makes sense to try to understand and simply the laws of nature. String theory is one such attempt. String theory became an exciting area to work in because a quantum version of gravity came naturally out of string theory. At first, string theory provided a means to possibly simplify the known laws and particles in the universe. But string theory does not appear any longer to simplify physics. Worse, string theory and supersymemtry predict particles for which there is no experimental evidence. For example, there is no evidence of super-particles, and dark matter very likely cannot be the particles predicted by supersymmetry. This is a problem for the theory of supersymemtry, but it's also a problem for string theory because supersymmetry is a component of most of the versions of string theory. But rather than admit that string theory and supersymemtry are incorrect descriptions of reality, some people in the physics community appear to be doubling down on these theories.

In this post, I'll look at how we got to the point in time in which some physicists don't even seem to care that their theories don't have anything to do with the real world. The goals of this post are multiple: (1) to analyze the larger philosophical trends that have led us to the current state of nihilism in the physics community, and (2) to show that string theory and supersymmetry are actually part of a larger descent into nihilism, timelessness, and meaninglessness, which is actually an escape from Francis Bacon's original goal: using science to better society and to grow life. As Francis Bacon put it,  "The task and purpose of human Power is to generate and superinduce on a given body a new nature or new natures."  The New Method (Nova Organon) Book II, Aphorism I.  Further Bacon writes in the General Preface to the Great Instauration, "Lastly, I would address one general admonition to all; that they consider what are the true ends of knowledge, and that they seek it not either for pleasure of the mind, or for contention, or for superiority to others, or for profit, or fame, or power, or any of these inferior things; but for the benefit and use of Life; and that they perfect and govern it in charity."

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Various transitions to future energy sources


I normally try to avoid making predictions about the future because there is only one true statement about predictions: as soon as you make a prediction about the future, it's wrong. Every prediction is inevitably wrong. Luckily, on average, humans are pretty good the making investment predictions that pay off (though, not always.) So, keeping in mind that there are many possible futures, I'd like to given some details into what I see as some of future paths for our energy technologies.  In each  topics I discuss below, the transition will be slow, but in each case, the technology can grow without government subsidies. The main thing to remember is that we live in a society in which most of our power plants sit idle. We live in a society in which our cars operate only roughly 1 hour a day (and many operate less than this much on average.) At 1 hr / day, that's a capacity factor of roughly 4%. We spend a lot of money on the engine, and then only use roughly 4% of the time. In the future, I expect to see our cars being used to generate electricity that can be directly used at our homes or be input directly into the electrical grid. Below are a list of some of the important changes I expect to see in the future:  (Note that the ideas here should not be construed as advice on into which particular companies to invest)

(1) Fuel cell vehicles that power our homes when they are parked in the garage
The use of our cars to power our homes will require that there is a reformer that converts natural gas into hydrogen. Luckily, this technology is already being developed by a variety of companies (including Honda and Nuvera.) Producing hydrogen in your garage from natural gas could rapidly change the economic viability of owning a fuel cell vehicle. The reason why producing electricity via your car could work is that (a) a fuel cell vehicle is extremely quiet, (b) the only emissions from the vehicle are water vapor, and (c) the emissions from the reformer are water vapor and carbon dioxide. The reformer runs fairly quietly because it doesn't need to be large since it runs throughout the day to produce the hydrogen. The exhaust from the reformer must be vented via a pipe to outside of the garage, but that's only so that you don't decrease the amount of oxygen in the garage. The reformer makes no local pollutants (i.e. no NOx, SOx, and particulates.) Initially, only a few multi-car families will likely purchase fuel cell cars. In the short-run, the driving force for buying a fuel cell vehicle will be to lower your electricity bills and to allow the family to fill up a car from home without having to go to the gas station. This will likely first take off in Southern California, where there are already a number of hydrogen refueling stations. Here's a list of existing hydrogen fueling stations. It's not a larger number stations, except in places like LA. In the long-run, once there is a critical mass of fuel cell vehicle owners, there will be a lot more options for filling your vehicle with hydrogen.
The reasons that I could see fuel cell vehicles really taking off in California are the following: (a) high electricity prices, (b) high gasoline prices, (c) reasonable natural gas prices, (d) favorable weather for aqueous fuel cells equipment...i.e. no freezing weather, (e) a number of celebrities who probably don't want to fill up their cars with gasoline at the pump, (f) net metering laws allowing people to sell their excess electricity to the electrical grid, and (g) a free-thinking, independent mindset of wanting to produce electricity at home rather than relying on an electricity grid that will likely become more erratic as the mandates for renewable energy increase.
So, it seems like CA has a lot of the right things in place for fuel cell vehicles to take off rapidly. What's missing is companies that will sell fuel cell vehicles and home-based NG-reformers. Though, this appears to be not too far in the future. Honda was the first fuel cell company to start leasing fuel cell vehicles in the US when they started a pilot-program in Southern California, and now it appears that Hyundai will be doing something similar with its Tuscon crossover vehicle, though this program will start in Europe first. In addition, Honda and Toyota have also recently confirmed launching fuel cell vehicles in 2015. My guess is that people in CA might only be a few years ago from being able to purchase a relatively cheap fuel cell vehicle and NG reformer. Another reason that I'm optimistic about the "fuel cell vehicle / NG reformer" combo is that interest rates for cars is so much lower than interest rates for power plants right now. (The reason is that if the people who take out the loan on the car/reformer end up defaulting, then the bank can take the car/reformer. You can't repo a power plant like you can repo a car/reformer and sell it to a new owner.)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Time Travel is Impossible

This post is a continuation and a summary of the previous post (What does the Universe looks like?)

There's a lot of hype around time travel into the past or into the future using blackholes or wormholes. But's its just hype created by a lot of people who want to sell you their books. The goal of this post is to summary my previous post and to highlight those aspects of the previous post that show why time travel is impossible (as depicted in sci-movies or as discussed by astrophysicts such as Richard Gott or Kip Thorne.)

Here's a short summary:
(1) We live on a wrinkled 3D surface of a 4D sphere.
(2) The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics states that there is no way to give a particle enough energy such that it has enough mass/energy to curve space-time enough to go back to the Big Bang.
(3) Time travel is impossible. Even if you give a particle enough energy such that it is locally further back in time than its surrounding environment, as soon as you de-accelerate the particle back to normal speeds, the particle goes back to being at the same radius (time) as its surrounding environment.
(4) When you account for acceleration and de-acceleration (i.e. General Relativity), the Twin-Paradoxes and the idea of Time Travel go away completely. Therefore, when we teach Special Relativity to students in the class room, it's important to simultaneously time some of the basics of General Relativity.
(5) In the long-run, growing life is the best and fastest way to generate entropy and to expand the radius and surface area of the universe. Culture grows, music expands, art thrives, and mathematics dazzles while we expand life from Earth to other planets. It's a win-win situation for everybody. We live into an unknown future, with only the past as a rough guide on how best to grow life and expand the universe.


Here's the longer summary of the previous post:

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What does the universe look like?


Our universe is a wrinkled 3D surface on a 4D sphere. To image what this looks like, start by thinking about the wrinkled 2D surface of the 3D spherical earth, but realize that this is only an analogy of what a 3D surface looks like on a 4D sphere. Just as the Earth is not a perfect 3D sphere, the universe is not a perfect 4 dimensional sphere. On Earth, there are valleys and mountains. Likewise, the surface of the 4D sphere is wrinkled due to the inhomogenity of mass/energy. As Einstein showed, the 3D surface of the 4D sphere is curved at different points on the surface depending on the amount of mass/energy. The 3D surface curves into the 4th dimension (time). The time dimension is the radius of the 4D sphere. For example, the Sun's mass/energy causes the change in the curvature of the 3D surface, and it creates a small valley about which the planets can orbit around in ellipses.

On average, the mass/energy causes the universe to take the shape of a 4D sphere but near locations of large amounts of energy/mass, the 3D surface curves more than the average curvature...this is like a valley caused by an impact crater which has more curvature than the average curvature of the Earth's surface. The location of the center of the large clump of energy/mass is lower than the surrounding environment. What I mean by lower is nearly the same as what we mean by lower on Earth. Here, lower means closer to the center of the Earth. In the 4D sphere, lower means closer to the center of the 4D sphere. And since the radius from the center of the sphere to location of the energy/mass is what we mean by 'time', the center of energetic/massive clumps of particles is actually further back in time. Around us, the clumps of mass/energy are like tiny valleys, but there are locations like blackholes in which the well is so deep that particles that fall into the well are so far back in time that they can't travel fast enough to catch back up to our present time near the surface of the 4D sphere. Since we live on a 3D surface, there is no edge to the universe. In any direction you look, all you see more galaxies. And if you look really far away in any direction, all you see is photons from the aftermath of the Big Bang.

Stated again, the universe as a wrinkled 3D surface on a 4D sphere, and the size of the wrinkles is proportional to the amount of mass/energy (and momentum/shear to be precise) at any location. But that's not it. The universe is actually getting larger. The Earth is not getting larger, but one can think about the increasing 2D surface of an inflating balloon to get a feel for this inflation. Points on the surface of the balloon are getting further apart. The evidence we have for this is the red-shift in photons from distant galaxies. The further away the galaxy is, the more the photons increase in wavelength. It's like the fabric of space itself has increased during the time that it took to travel from the galaxy in the past to our galaxy in the present. Space itself has increased over time...but this is redundant statement because the total  surface area of sphere obviously increases as the radius from the center of the sphere to its surface increases. Time is the radius of the 4D sphere (the radius is not the same at all locations.) On average, the radius is increasing, but locally, the radius can decrease (such as for a blackhole.)

The question is: why is the radius of the universe expanding on average? Einstein's theory of general relativity can tell you about how space-time is curved by mass/energy, but it doesn't specify the actual shape of the universe, and it doesn't specify whether the surface area will increase, remain the same or decrease. It's just an equation, not a solution. So, in other words, the answer to the question of why the universe is expanding is still not completely known, but here is my best guess based off of the evidence available presently about the universe:

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Disproving a Heat Death to the Universe


There have been the claims by lots of famous chemists and physicists that there will be an eventual “Heat Death of the Universe.” In fact, the whole idea of a heat death of the universe has generated an entire philosophy of life called the Thermodynamic Imperative. In a previous posts, I've pointed out that there is an irrational fear in parts of our society regarding entropy production. One way of stating the Thermodynamic Imperative is the following: "Waste not useful potential energy." I couldn't agree more with this statement. I think that we should be using useful potential energy to help grow life. The problem is that there are some people in the scientific-environmental community (such as Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen) who have taken the Thermodynamic Imperative to the extreme and have taken it to mean that we should minimize the production of entropy at all costs and we should do this by promoting a philosophy of de-growth. Before I delve into the problems with the philosophy of de-growth, I'd like to go back to one of the original statements regarding the heat death of the universe.

In 1862, Lord Kelvin (William Thomson) wrote the following regarding the implications of the second law of thermodynamics:

"The result would inevitably be a state of universal rest and death, if the universe were finite and left to obey existing laws. But it is impossible to conceive a limit to the extent of matter in the universe; and therefore science points rather to an endless progress, through an endless space, of action involving the transformation of potential energy into palpable motion and hence into heat, than to a single finite mechanism, running down like a clock, and stopping forever."

So, even from the beginning, Lord Kelvin was aware of the implication of the second law of thermodynamics, but was smart enough to realize that whether we reach a heat death depends entirely on whether the universe is finite and whether it is growing in size. Lord Kelvin was spot on when he stated that science points to "endless progress" (emphasize is mine.)

If the universe were finite in size, then the idea of a heat death to the universe makes sense. However, if the size of the universe were to increase as entropy increases, then there would never be a true heat death. The average energy density in the universe would decrease, but the universe could continue to increase in entropy because there would continue to be the capability to do useful work because there would still be gradients in temperature and chemical composition.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Fallacy of Government Stimulus

Here's the simplest line of reasoning why goventment stimulus doesn't work:

(1) The economy grows when power plants self-replicate. The higher the rate of return on work invested (IRR), the faster the growth rate of the economy.

(2) Power plants that can self-replicate with large 'unsubisidized rates of return on work invested' don't need a government stimulus to self-replicate (by definition).

(3) Government stimulus comes from (a) borrowing from today's investors by promising future direct taxes to pay off the loans, or (b) indirect taxes on present investors (by printing money...like what the Federal Reserve is doing right now.) The direct or indirect taxes lower the inflation-adjusted growth rate of those power plants that can self-replicate because some of the project's profits go to paying taxes (both directly and indirectly) rather than re-investing the money into self-replicating power plants.

(4) Some of the government money goes to projects that are barely self-replicating (only with the government assistance) and some of the money goes to projects that are not self-replicating (even with the government money.) Either way, the government ends up picking projects with lower 'unsubisidized' rates of return on investment than would an individual or a company. (Note that individuals and companies aren't perfect at knowing where to invest, but on average throughout history, individuals and companies choose projects with higher rates of return on investment than do government agencies. This is true across the globe. It's true in the U.S., E.U., China, and Japan. Higher average growth rates occur when the government makes less decisions on where to invest.)

(5) There is friction associated with the act of taking money from one project and giving it to another project. The friction (i.e. money that goes to pay the salary of tax collectors and government bureacrats) consumes useful work, which means: not only is the government picking projects with lower 'unsubsidized' rates of return on investment, but the very act of picking projects with government agencies requires taxing self-replicating power plants to pay for the government agencies. It's like a double tax on self-replicating power plants: a tax to subisidize the un-self-replicating project and a tax to pay the government tax collectors and government bureaucrats to choose what project to subsidize.

(6) Therefore, government 'stimulus' lowers the growth rate of the economy by taking money from projects and power plants that are self-replicating and giving the money to projects that are marginally self-replicating or that are not self-replicating. Money is transferred from power plants with large positive values of rate of return on investment to projects with marginal or negative 'unsubsidized' rates of return on investment. Since the growth rate of the economy is a weighted average of the growth rate of each of the individual projects, when governments take money from projects with large growth rates and give the money to projects with low to negative growth rates, the overall weight average growth rate of the economy is less than if the government did not take money from the projects that naturally have high growth rates.

The conclusion, therefore, is the following: let individuals and companies decide where they want to invest their money. Let the government focus on what it's supposed to be doing according to the constitution and the updated bill of rights.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

You have a digital self-replicating soul

My goal in this post is the summarize the key points of a previous post so that the main points of that post don't get lost in the arguments for the main points. If you follow the main points below, you'll get a glimpse of how ethics is real and quantifiable in the digital world, but not real in the analog world.

1)  We live in an overlapping analog-digital world. By analog world, I mean the four laws of physics and the particles in the universe. By digital world, I mean the countable, finite symmetries within the equations of motion for the particles.

2) In the digital world, there are self-replicating structures (like you and me.) There are also non-self-replicating digital structures, such as Bénard convection cells.

3) The essence of the digital world is the symmetries of the differential equations of motion of particles. The number of symmetries in the differential equations is not constant (for systems without irreversibility.) The language of the digital world is the language of symmetry groups (both Lie and finite groups.) The alphabet of the digital world is the 'simple groups.' (These are the most basic groups upon which you can build larger groups...analogous to the prime numbers for the positive integers.)

4) The presence of self-replicating digital structures in the digital world is due in part to Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem. The mathematics of simple groups is incomplete. Certain symmetry groups contain within themselves the information to create copies of symmetry groups (and hence grow the number of symmetries.) In other words, there is an inherent feedback loop between the differential equations and their symmetries that allows for self-replication of certain structures.  [Note that there is still a wide open field of research, and I hope that more mathematicians start studying the interplay between  Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem and the self-replication of symmetry groups.]

5) Growth of symmetries (either by self-replicating or non-self-replicating structures) is only possible because of the weak nuclear force. If it weren't for the weak nuclear force, we would be living in a reversible world (because the gravitational, electromagnetic and strong nuclear forces are time reversal symmetric.) In a reversible universe, there is no future and there is no past. In a reversible world, there are no gradients in pressure, temperature, chemical potential or voltage. If you would like to imagine what a reversible world looks like, watch videos of superfluid helium, superconductivity, or just look out at the stars in the night sky. The photons from other stars are bosons and they don't interact via the weak nuclear force. They stay nearly exactly the same as they travel across the universe because photons can't interact via the weak nuclear force. The same is true for superfluid helium and electrons in superconductors. Electrons pair together in superconductors and form boson states in which they can't interact with each other via the weak nuclear force, and the system becomes nearly perfectly reversible (i.e. no irreversibly and no ability to maintain voltage gradients.) The fact (that we have gradients in temperature, pressure, voltage and chemical potential in systems that can interact via the weak nuclear force and that we don't have gradients in temperature, pressure, voltage and chemical potential in systems that can't interact via the weak nuclear force) implies that we live in a mostly irreversible world. (You can find examples of reversibility only when you eliminate the weak nuclear force or when the system reaches equilibrium...such as the spherically-symmetric distribution of neutrinos in galaxies. But of the universe is still far-from-equilibrium, i.e. far-from-being perfectly symmetric.)

6) When you only look at the analog world, then Hume is correct to say that you can't derive 'ought'  from 'is.' If you only look at the analog world, there is no meaning. Ethics, beauty, morality, the good are only apparent when you look at the digital world. Moral actions are those actions that helps life to self-replicate as quickly as possible and that do not harm or prevent other life forms from being able to self-replicate.

7) Language is only possible because language is taking part in the digital world. Plato first made this argument over two thousand years ago. (Note that any digital action shows up in the analog world. The analog world is like a computer and the digital world is like a self-replicating program. There is both a digital and an analog aspect to software. There is the software and then there is the physical copy of it on certain computers.) If there were no digital world, language would not be possible. Language is possible because of our shared underlying use of the alphabet of the digital world (the simple symmetry groups.) Human languages and other languages of conscious beings depends crucially on the underlying 'machine code' of simple symmetry groups, just as higher-levels codes like java depend on lower level 'machine codes,' amd these 'machine codes' ultimately depend on the underlying 'simple symmetry groups.' We don't see the simple groups when we communicate with speech just as we don't see the underlying machine codes when we read a blog post, but the 'simple groups' are underlying our ability to communicate.

8) The symmetry group of the present universe contains the symmetry group of the universe of the past as a subgroup. Growth of new symmetry groups does not destroy the symmetry groups of the past. This is why it's important not to confuse DNA structures with the underlying symmetry group structures that allow for self-replicating structures. DNA information can be destroyed, but the underlying symmetry groups that allow for self-replicating systems (which contain DNA, proteins, cell walls, feedback loops, etc...) can't be destroyed. (Note: this doesn't mean that murder can ever be considered to be ethical. What I'm saying here is that there is an imprint of the past on the future in the fact that the symmetry group of the future contains the symmetry group of the past as a subgroup.)

9) The symmetry group of the universe only increases (as seen by the expanding of the surface area of the universe.) The future symmetry group of the universe can't be calculated. Just as in Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem (i.e. there are true statements in number theory that can't be proven), there are true future states of the universe that we can't prove to be true. There is no real way to predict the future, which is why we must maintain a certain level of humility and this is why all conscious life forms have basic rights. Conscious lifeforms must be free to self-replicate in ways that don't injure, steal from, or kill other conscious lifeforms from being able to self-replicate. You can't justify murder on the grounds of growing life elsewhere in the universe because there is an inherent inability to predict the future of the universe. As society grows, hopefully we will be able to add to the list of conscious lifeforms that are guaranteed certain basic rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of self-replication.

9) In summary, you have a digital self-replicating soul. You are a digital free-agent. You can't perfectly predict the future outcome of your actions, but you have stored memory, and can draw upon history, science, engineering, art, and literature to help estimate the outcome of any action. Moral actions are those actions that are taken freely and purposely help grow life. Immoral actions are those actions that are taken freely and purposely to destroy life or to waste stored useful energy (exergy.)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Are neutrinos the main component of dark matter? (Most likely yes)

There is a large debate right now in the physics community about whether neutrinos are the main component of the dark matter of the universe. And the idea that neutrinos can explain dark matter is starting to pick up in the physics community. The first goal of this post is to discuss experimental evidence that points to neutrinos as the main source of the dark matter in the universe. This is also called the Neutrino Minimal Standard Model. The second goal of the post is to discuss why this would have any relevance to anybody’s day-to-day life.

I’m going to start this post with a recently developed picture by other researchers of the mass/energy distribution of dark matter in a spiral galaxy. This picture was generated using data from the spiral galaxy NGC 4216. The dark matter is represented by a blue glow (even though it really does not emit photons…it really is dark.)
 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

There is an underlying digital structure to our analog world: A refutation of reductionism and determinism


The Matrix movies present an interesting metaphor for reality. In the Matrix, there is an artificial world of illusionary mental states. If you seek out and are saved by Morpheus, then you go back to the “real” world, which unfortunately is a world at war. Metaphorically speaking, the world of humans and machines is at war because determinism has taken over society and spirit has died. Human had treated machines as soul-less robots, and now the machines use humans as batteries and live in the dark confines of meaningless world. The Matrix is required to keep most humans from realizing that they are just batteries. The machines don’t think that the humans have souls or individual rights, they just find that they get more productive batteries if the humans think that they are living in world pre-collapse.
Is this theory of the world inconsistent with the facts of this world? Not really, but I think that the Matrix movies are a great starting point for understanding Plato’s parable of the cave or Aristotle’s concept of eudaimonia (sometimes translated as happiness and sometimes as flourishing.) As Aristotle put it, you don’t even know what you really want. You think you want a new car, a powerful job, or lots of sex. But according to him, what you really want is eudaimonia. The problem is that most of us don’t know what eudaimonia really is. In the movie, Morpheus and Neo realize that there is a Matrix and have figured out how to escape from it. To me, the Matrix we live in today is the philosophy of consumerism, utilitarianism, pluralism, and determinism. It is the “air we breathe” in the U.S. and in Europe. We are constantly bombarded with ads for products telling us that the goal of life is to be happy and that we should satisfy our desires/wants/cravings because satisfying those desires/wants/cravings is what’s actually good for us.
One of the problems we face today is that there’s a disconnect between those things that brings us pleasure and those things that brings us growth. Pleasure and growth are not the same, and the amount of overlap between the two is quickly shrinking. Tens of thousands of years ago, what brought us pleasure was the nearly the same as what brought us growth, and it is growth that we should be ultimately are aiming for. Thousands of years ago, eating and having reproductive sex actually helped grow societies. Now we can can’t say the same. So for Aristotle, the problem is first how to recognize good pleasures from bad pleasures, and then ultimately figure out how to make bad pleasures undesirable. Aristotle thought that this could be done through the use of reason and through the help of a mentor/coach who had already learned or had already been taught how to make the bad (i.e. what does not lead to growth) unpleasant. The other problem of our age (also discussed throughout the Matrix) is the lack of spirit in a world of empiricism, determinism and cultural relativism. In the first movie, Neo had to overcome the problem of pleasure vs. eudaimonia (i.e. escape the Matrix in order to help the rebel society flourish), but then he had to go beyond that. In the later movies, he had to bring spirit to a world of machines and determinism.
The goal of this blog has been to supply rational answers to the following questions: (1) why does pleasure not always equate with growth? (2) why is the world not deterministic? (3) what is the purpose of life? The goal of this post is to try to put the nail in the coffin in the theory of determinism and reductionism.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Myth of Dark Energy: The Acceleration of the Universe is due to Increasing Entropy

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In order to explain the evidence of an expanding universe, many physicists have resorted to the idea that there is such a thing as dark energy. This line of reasoning is typical of most of the physicists I know and have worked with over the years. When data doesn’t fit with existing theory, add in a new term to help the data and the theory fit together. Even Einstein tried to add a “cosmological constant” to his theory of general relativity in order to create a stationary universe, so it’s understandable that today’s physicists might want to follow in Einstein’s steps and chose a difference value for the “cosmological constant” in order to explain the expansion of the universe. But just because Einstein made up a term in his equation doesn’t mean that this is correct. What’s interesting is that most physicists would rather add a term to an existing equation (and keep the underlying reductionism and determinism of their equations), then to resort to incorporating a non-reductionist concept like entropy. Note that entropy is a non-reductionist concept because it’s not a property of a particle or a property of space itself, it’s about the relationship between particles. And “increasing entropy” is also a non-deterministic concept if we lived in a deterministic universe, the entropy would be constant.
Until recently, most physicists were not willing to use the existing concept entropy to explain the expansion of the universe. To many physicists, entropy is a ‘non-entity’ and not really a fundamental concept (in the same way that determinists believe that ethics or free will is a non-entity.) These physicists believe in a reductionist and deterministic world-view in which there is no difference between forward and backwards time. For them, entropy is just due to ‘course graining’ and is not really fundamental. It’s just something we’ve made up because we don’t know the position and velocity of all particles in the universe. Deep down, they believe that if we knew the position and velocity of all of the fundamental particles and if we knew the forces of nature, then we could calculate the forward and backwards trajectory of those particles. As you are probably aware by now, I am not a determinist and I am not a reductionist, even though I am absolutely fascinated by the fundamental particles and forces of nature.
So, I was pleasantly surprised to find a paper written in the last few years, in which physicists prove that the acceleration of the universe can be solely explained by the increase in entropy inside of the universe. The goal of this post will be to describe the problems with the concept of dark energy, and to explain how an increase in entropy is the valid way of explaining the expansion of the universe. The goal of this post is to refute the claims of determinism (as I’ve done in prior posts but pointing out that the weak nuclear force is time asymmetric.) The goal of the next post will be to refute reductionism (using a difference line of argument than Plato did two thousand years ago.)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Required Reading for an Optimist

Here's some reading for the end of summer for an optimist.

The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley
A great book on how things do get better with time (even though there are hiccups along the way.) My favorite line, and now a quote on my blog, is the last line of his book: "Dare to be an optimist."

The Ascent of Money and Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson
Once again, great books on how things do get better with time (in most places.)

In all three of these books, the authors are interested in the question why did the economy start growing exponentially after around 1400 AD in the West, but stagnate or decline in the rest of the world (China, India, Africa, Middle East.) Ridley's answer seems to be that we allowed the exchange of ideas (or as he puts it...we allowed "ideas to have sex.")

Friday, August 17, 2012

The self-replicating wind turbine or oil/gas well that requires no subsidies

natuisola"I challenge the wind industry to build a self-sufficient, self-replicating wind turbine/factory that obtains a growth rate of >5%/yr." Quote from this post

In a previous post, I discussed how we need to populate Mars with self-replicating solar robots before we spend the money to send humans to Mars. The reason is that you can start with a small number of solar collectors (as well as the factory to produce more solar collectors), and then over time the number of collectors and factories will grow. These robots would provide the electricity required to terraform Mars so that humans can eventually live there.

But solar robots aren't the only self-replicating energy systems that one could imagine. There could be self-replicating wind-turbine-factories in which the electricity generated by the wind turbines is used by the local factory that produces the wind turbines. One could start in the Midwest (where wind and land are plentiful) with a few number of wind turbines and factories which produce wind turbine, and if wind-turbine-factories actually generate positive rates of return on work invested, then you could grow your wind turbine community with only a small investment. The question is: are wind-turbine-factories self-replicating? Could you build a wind turbine in the middle of nowhere and use only the materials in the region to build the turbines and the factory.  (I've asked the same question about building self-replicating solar collectors in the Sahara Desert. Can you build solar collectors in factories in the Sahara using only electricity collected from the solar cells, and then use some of the electricity to make new factories.) Until one can prove that wind turbines and wind turbine factories are self-replicating, it's hard to tell whether they are 'the next economic miracle' or 'crony capitalism.' I challenge the wind industry to build a self-sufficient, self-replicating wind turbine/factory that obtains a growth rate of >5%/yr. This means that you start with an initial capital investment into a few wind turbines and wind factories. You build these turbines/factories in an isolated location. You then have to operate the factory, and turbine maintenance equipment using only electricity derived from the wind turbines. (You can't get electricity from the grid!) And to build the new wind turbines, you have to use materials that were collected/mine using equipment running off of the electricity from the wind turbines. (You can use batteries or other storage devices...but remember that your factory now has to make batteries as well as wind turbines.) All the while, you have to grow the number of wind turbines by at least 5%/yr...which means growing your factory size as well. At 5%/yr growth, it would take roughly 14 yrs to double in size. At 10%/yr growth, it would take roughly 7 yrs to double in size. Once the industry proves that it can grow at least 5%/yr while doubling the number of wind turbines without input from our existing fossil fuel economy, only then can the wind turbine industry demonstrate that it has the capability of surviving without being parasitic on the rest of the economy.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Discussion of "Accounting for Growth: The Role of Physical Work" by Robert Ayres




In a previous post, I discussed the anti-growth philosophy of engineer/economist Robert Ayres.  Like me, Robert Ayres is fascinated by the relationship between exergy, the generation of work, and the economy. However, what I find so fascinating is that Robert Ayres conducts such similar research as myself, but yet comes to such diametrically opposite views on the purpose of life. In his book,  Turning Point: The End of the Growth Paradigm (London: Earthscan, 1998), Ayres writes the following:

“It is possible to have economic growth - in the sense of providing better and more valuable services to ultimate consumers - without necessarily conuming more physical resources. This follows from the fact that consumers are ultimately not interested in goods per se but in the services those goods can provide. The possibility of de-linking economic activity from energy and materials (“dematerialization”) has been one of the major themes of my professional career.

What I find so fascinating is that Robert Ayres partially understands the nature of growth (i.e. real growth is the growth in the capability to do work), but yet is so far away from really understanding the purpose of life (i.e. to grow...it's not just to be happy.) Robert Ayres is one of a long line of intellectuals who believe that the goal of life is to be happy. The problem is: why should we be so focused on certain chemical reactions in human brains that make us feel happy?

Humans, like many other species, have evolved the capability to feel happiness and joy. It turned out that having the capability to feel pain or joy has helped our species grow. In the past, the chemical reactions and feedback loops that make us feel pain or happiness helped us to avoid danger, to procreate, and to enjoy foods that help us grow. The problem is that we’ve developed technologies  and drugs that trick us into thinking that we are avoiding danger, procreating, and eating essential nutrients. We have to recognize the ease at which we can create feelings of happiness that don’t actually create growth. This includes using drugs and the excessive dependence on thrill-seeking entertainment. Note that this is not a call to ban such activities; in fact, I personally think that more drugs should be legalized. Instead, the goal of my blog is to help change our underlying philosophy of life. Once we understand that the underlying purpose of life is to grow and that growth cannot be “dematerialized”, then we don’t need laws banning the use of drugs in order for us to be smart enough to realize that those people who make/sell drugs, pornography, and thrill-seeking entertainment are nothing more than evolved biological strategies that are parasitic on real biological growth strategies. These people want to thrive off of your hard work, and they do so by trying to convince you that the goal of life is to be happy, and therefore you should buy their drugs, their pornography, their fancy products, or their expensive, but “green” energy. These people have evolved to thrive off of the hard work of people who actually generate work and actually grow the amount of work we can generate.

In this sense, Robert Ayres is like the long line of intellectuals and business people who take advantage of particular weaknesses in human growth strategies: namely, the fact that humans have evolved the ability to feel pain and happiness in order to help us grow, but that the ability to generate the feeling of happiness is no longer linked to real biological growth or to the growth in the capability to do mechanical and electrical work. We’ve tricked ourselves into thinking that we're growing because we've learned to activate all of the chemical receptors that used to be activated only by those activities that help grow life.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

How My Philosophy of Life is Similar to and Differs from Aristotle’s View of Life


“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”
- Aristotle

In previous articles, I’ve discussed the problems with the philosophy of life of those people who value happiness and intelligence over the application of that intelligence on growing life. Since the scientific and utilitarian world view of most today's intellectuals can be traced back to Aristotle’s writings in the 300’s B.C, the focus of this post is on pointing out the problems with Aristotle’s philosophy of life.
In large part, we can trace the philosophy of the Scientific Revolution (as put forward by Bacon, Descartes, Newton, and others) to the revival of Aristotle’s philosophy starting after the 12th century. Philosophers like Thomas Aquinas started refocusing intellectual debates onto concerns of this world (as per Aristotle) rather than onto preparing the soul for the next world (as per Plato, Socrates, Jesus, St. Augustine of Hippo, and Mohamed.) For this, we must be thankful both to Aristotle’s original works and Aquinas’ revival of Aristotle’s love of the study of nature.
However, we now live in a world in which a form of Aristotle’s philosophy of life is dominant, especially our misconstruction of his belief that the goal of life is to live a "happy" life. For quite awhile, his view of life (when combined with other philosophies of life…such as Puritanism) yielded technological growth, population growth, intellectual growth, and economic growth. However, recently in the U.S., Canada, Japan, and E.U., economic growth rates have been mild or slumping for quite awhile. And in many countries, population growth is stagnant or declining.
I think that a major reason for the lack of real economic growth is due to the misapplication of Aristotle’s philosophy that the goal of life is to achieve eudaimonia (i.e. human happiness achieved through the use of rationality and virtue.) In today’s Western world, individuality and happiness are the state goals of many countries rather than real growth. In fact, France is currently debating whether to stop measuring economic growth and to instead measure happiness. But before we all jump on the happiness bandwagon, it’s important to highlight some major problems with our current understanding of Aristotle’s ideas.
Problems: (1) Marriage and raising kids is difficult. If you were trying to maximize your personal happiness, you probably wouldn’t get married and have kids. (2) Working for cutting edge companies and conducting cutting edge research is difficult. If you were trying to maximize your personal happiness, you probably wouldn’t compete to become a CEO, a doctor or a tenured professor. (3) Simply put, it is difficult to achieve intellectual, economic, technological and population growth because it takes a lot of work. For example, making nuclear fusion a commercial reality is not easy. One could spend their entire life devoted to this subject and never see the hard work pay off. If you were trying to maximize your personal happiness, you could just become a video game programmer and user, spending all your money on computers and never investing your money into projects that grow life, such as having kids or building power plants.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Resolving the Paradox of the Enlightenment: Are we machines or are we free thinkers?

Part 1: Order, Disorder & Attempts to Re-impose order on our Society
During the Enlightenment, there was a general trend of attempting to impose order onto the fractured world of the Middle Ages. Throughout the 18th century, there was increasing attempts to place mathematical structure onto nature. Examples of this increasing structure and order are the following: Newtonian physics, the optimization principles of classical dynamics, absolute space-time, symmetry principles/conservation laws, musical structure (i.e. the 4-part structure of symphonies, the ABABA or similar structure of various musical forms: theme&variation, rondo, sonata allegro, etc…), the non-contradiction within logical structure (i.e. inability to reach contradictions with the propositional calculus), and the growth of a middle class with a Protestant work ethic and an international focus. I think that we can all agree (even though there were some under-currents of chaos within the 18th century) that the thinkers of the Enlightenment tried just a little too hard to impose order onto a world that is both ordered and chaotic. 
However, this structure and order did not last long. In the 19th and 20th century, the French Revolution failed to replace the previous structure of the Church&Aristocracy with a secular, egalitarian democracy. On the musical front, by the end of Beethoven’s life in 1827, he effectively destroyed the structure of musical forms that the Enlightenment had built up. The first two movements of his 3rd symphony announced that the world of purely rational, logical order had died, and that we all needed to enter a new world of heroic struggle for creativity. And while the imposition of order over chaos returned throughout Beethoven’s works, his final symphony ended not with rational order of the classical form, but with the hope of a social utopia of brotherly love (echoing the love from God). This musical turn to creativity over logic, of disorder over order, and utopia over reality was continued by Berlioz, Mahler, Stravinsky and many others. (In fact, most of us today can’t even tell the difference between dissonance and consonance, and many of us today would rather die than be forced to say that reality is better than fantasy.) In addition, Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection effectively destroyed the idea of absolute morality, cultural truth, justification for political power, and a personal God. And I’m not exaggerating here. If you take Darwin’s theory of natural selection to its full conclusions, you are lead to the belief that there is no good or evil (only survival), that God did not play an active role in creating humans (i.e. we are accidents), that there is no real claim to power (just the strong using force over the weak), and that there is no cultural truth because every strand of DNA or every meme is still evolving and ever changing (i.e. there is no constancy and no political/cultural structure that can justify itself because we might be able to evolve a better structure in the future.)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Higgs Boson and the question of what’s beyond the Standard Model

I’d like to begin by congratulating the researchers at CERN and Fermi Lab who have worked so hard to discover the particle at 125.3 GeV that is likely the Higgs Boson. With this likely discovery of the Higgs Boson, the main components of the Standard Model of particle physics are now complete. As you’ll see below, it’s quite likely that this particle at 125.3 GeV is the Higgs Boson because this energy is nearly exactly half the value of the Fermi constant for the weak nuclear force (in units of energy it’s 246 GeV) and half of the value of the sum of the masses of the electroweak force carriers (250 GeV), which develop their mass via interactions with the Higgs Boson. However, just because we have found the Higgs Boson doesn’t mean that particle physics is anywhere near completion. There’s still a lot of (and I mean a lot) of unanswered questions. The goal of this post is to highlight some of the questions still left to be answered.
While we currently have a very good model of the world around us, there is not a single physicist content with the Standard Model. Every physicist realizes that there are cracks in the model. But, as of today, no new theory or model can patch up the cracks without introducing new cracks someplace else. We stand today on humble ground; we have a pretty good model of the elemental particles and forces, i.e. we can model most of the elemental interactions under simplified conditions, but we lack a model with a sense of gravitas, i.e. with a sense of “oh, that makes sense.”
So, here’s a list of the some of the remaining problems.
Problem #1:  Gravity has not been framed as a quantum field theory. Einstein updated Newton’s theory of gravity to account for relativity, i.e. (1) that space and time are not separate entities, (2) that an accelerating reference frame cannot be differentiated from a reference frame in a gravitational field, and (3) that mass and energy are the same thing. However, general relativity has not been framed as a quantum field theory. In other words, gravity has not been reconciled with quantum uncertainty principles.
Problem#2: We don’t know why the particles have the masses or charges that they have. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, there is an eerie coincidence lying within the Standard model. There’s a group of three of each of the particles. For example, one group of three is the set of electrons, muons, and tauons. Each group has a distinct charge, and each particle in the group has a different mass. The values of charge for these particles (and their anti-particles) are -2/3, -1/3, 0, 0, 1/3, 2/3. This seems way too coincidental, as if there were some underlying structure that is not included in the Standard Model of particles physics.
Problem#3: The Standard Model rests on roughly 28 parameters that must be calculated experimentally, and which can’t be predicted from the current theory of electro-weak or strong forces. This includes the 12 masses of the fermions, 4 coupling constants of the 4 forces, 8 mixing angles, 1 vacuum angle, Higgs mass and coupling, and the Vacuum Energy.
Problem#4:  Why is the weak nuclear force the only force that is not symmetric with respect to reflections in space-time and reflections of particles into anti-particles? Part of this problem will be addressed if the Higgs Boson is determined to be the particle found at 125.3 GeV. But we still need to understand the following: (1) why 125.3 GeV for the Higgs Boson?  (2) Why does it couple only to the electroweak force carriers, and not to gluons? (3) Is the mass of the force carriers of the electroweak force the cause of the lack of symmetry with respect to reflections in space (P for parity reflection), reflections in time (T for time reflection), and charge (C for charge reflection of particles into anti-particles? Hence, what is the connection between the Higgs boson and the time asymmetry of the universe? (4) Why is the mass of the Higgs Boson nearly half the mass of Fermi’s constant  for the weak nuclear force (n energy/mass units, it is 246 GeV) and nearly half of the sum of the masses of the three carriers of the weak nuclear force (250 GeV)?
Problem#5:  It has been known for over 40 years that CP symmetry is violated in the weak nuclear forces, but CP symmetry is valid for gravity, E&M and the strong nuclear force. Is CPT symmetry a valid symmetry for all forces in the universe? And if so, why is CP or CT or TP not valid symmetries for the weak nuclear force?
Problem#6: What makes up the majority of the missing mass of the universe (i.e. the dark matter)?