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)?

The Generation of Useful Physical Work, Not Primary Energy Consumption, Drives The Economy

As stated in the previous post, the average rate of real GDP growth in the US between 1965 and 2011 was 2.9%/yr. The average rate of growth the useful physical work (electricity, mechanical work, and chemical/thermal work) was roughly 2.7%/yr for the same time period. For example, in 1965, the US produced roughly 2133 TWh of useful work and in 2011 the US produced 7181 TWh of useful work (most of this being the generation of electricity and the generation of mechanical work against road/air friction in cars, trucks, and airplanes.) In other words, the economy is simply a means of taking useful physical work and converting it into more useful physical work.  The question always is:  how can I achieve the highest rate of return on investment of the physical work at my disposal?
It’s important to note that the driver of growth in the economy is the rate of return on work invested, not the consumption of primary energy/exergy. Using the same data from the 2012 BP Statistical Review of World Energy, one can disprove the hypothesis that primary energy/exergy consumption is the driver of the economy. For example, in 1965, the US consumed approximately 1291 MToe (millions of tons of oil equivalent) of natural gas, petroleum, coal, nuclear, and renewable energy sources…though, including the solar input into farming.) In 2011, the US consumed 2269 MToe of primary energy /exergy sources. This averages to a growth rate of primary energy/exergy consumption of only 1.2%/yr. This is far below the average growth rate of the real economy (~2.8%/yr), as measured either in real GDP [$] or Total Useful Work [TWh]. This can be seen graphically in the picture below. The reason for this gap (as seen below) is that it’s not the growth rate of primary energy/exergy consumption that is important; it’s the growth rate of the capacity to do work that is important. Improvements in the amount of electrical and mechanical work per unit of primary energy has increased between 1865 and 2011.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Continuation of "Real GDP vs. Total Work: Historical Data from the US"

Note that this post is just a continuation of the previous post on "Real GDP vs. Total Work: Historical Data from the US." In this post, I'm including data analyzed back to 1965. So, I'm including similar graphs as presented previously, but this time I'm analyzing the time period from 1965 to 1985 and the full time period from 1965 to 2011.