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.


And while it may seem that I have a very specific philosophy I'm conveying on this blog (i.e. that the purpose of life is to grow), I want people to know that I would be willing to give up that philosophy if there's evidence that this is not the goal of life. While I don't go much into my personal background in this blog, I want to convey that this philosophy (i.e. that the purpose of life is to grow) has only been a relatively recent philosophy for me, one that I've come to only after years of trying other philosophies of life.

I started out Christian and a big fan of Ayn Rand and Henry David Thoreau. In general, you can think of these as absolute moral philosophies (i.e. either God is good, the pursuit of individual happiness is good, or a love of life and of the wilderness is good.)

In college, I dabbled in Buddhism, Existentialism, and was generally a pro-Democrat, environmentalist.  In general, you can think of these as non-absolute philosophies (i.e. there is no good or evil in Buddhism or Existentialism, and there is no absolute purpose of life in either of these philosophies. And you can think of the pro-Democratic environmentalist philosophy as borderline amoral because the focus was on helping other people and protecting the environment. But professors and politicians never really talked much about the underlying reason for helping other or to protect the environment. Why is it moral to protect the environment as it was in 1850? Why is it moral to help help others if every action is relative, natural, and ultimately society's action? Was helping people and protecting the environment even an act of free-will? I was generally left with a feeling that left-leaning politics was just a meanings of getting other people to work for you for free.)

After working in industry for awhile, I'd given up any socialist/existentialist/deep-ecological/Buddhist leanings, and now go back and forth between voting for Democrats, Republicans, and Libertarians, depending on the candidate.

This is probably the norm for a lot of people in the US.

What I'm interested in is whether the actual purpose of life is large enough to bring together these two seemingly opposed philosophies of life. And these general philosophies are quite different. There's really no way to super-impose an a-moral philosophy with a philosophy that believes in absolute morality.

But this, ultimately is why I've been so fascinated with time irreversibility, the Higgs boson, and the structure of the universe. The more I learn, the more I'm optimistic that the universe actually has a purpose. While it's not an individual purpose, it's still a purpose, and it's a purpose that individuals carry out with the free-will to chose whether or not to carry out this purpose. The free-will comes from the fact that we can't calculate the future of the universe and that we have to make choices about the best path and choices about our underlying philosophy of life that helps guide us in our choices.

The goal of life is not individualistic. And I'm not some "Being" dropped in from a different dimension who has to deal with the existential angst of knowing I'm finite (as suggested in Heidegger early work.) I disagree with Heidegger that anxiety is good because it shows we care about conscious life and its finiteness. This is way too much focus on consciousness and not enough focus on those things that survive (in this world) after our death (our kids, our impact on others, or perhaps our design & construction of self-replications robots.)

Like you and many other life forms, I am a self-replicating fuel cell. My end or purpose is not just self-replicating. The self-replication is a means to the end. The purpose ultimately is to grow the universe itself. Self-replicating (and helping other lifeforms to self-replicate) is the fastest means to the end (which is expanding the size of the universe.) The universe likely expands as the entropy increases, and the entropy of the universe increases the most when lifeforms self-replicate as fast as possible and in a way that all of life can self-replicate. It's important for me to emphasize that, if individuals don't care about how their actions impact other lifeforms, then this will slow down the whole process of self-replication. We need consciousness and awareness because we need to understand that our goal is for all life to grow, not just our own.

So, there is purpose in life. It's just that it's a collective purpose. Though, this doesn't mean that we should be communists. Here, we have to study history as well as study ourselves to determine what is the best form of government to help life (and I mean all life) grow as fast as possible. Communism clearly is not the best form of government, and neither is monarchy or dictatorship. There's no way to prove what is the best form of government because we can't rpedict the future with 100% accuracy, so all we can do is to try what's worked so far, and to invent ways to address the problems as they arise.

So, let me reiterate my reason for writing this blog over the next few paragraphs.

When we started in the enlightenment, we were focused on improving and growing human life and culture. (as per Francis Bacon) In the process, we discovered two laws of physics that were time reversible and deterministic: gravity and E&M.  During this time, our philosophies shifted from trying to improve and grow life to philosophies focused on happiness, consciousness, angst, and knowledge for the sake of knowledge. And then in the early 1900s, we started finding some weird laws (relativity & quantum mechanics), finding lots of weird particles (all of the muons, Kaons, strange quarks, and neutrinos) as well as some morally suspect object (black holes). It's no wonder that our philosophical systems started to take a turn for the worse in the 1900s. Here, I'm thinking of existentialism (early Heidegger), deep ecology (late Heidegger), relativism (Thomas Kuhn and Isaiah Berlin), and post-structuralism (largely influenced by a feeling that language and words have no underlying meaning independent of their use, and that there is no Platonic world of absolute ethics or language or mathematics.)

So, while I can understand why philosophy got stuck in the rut of relativism and post-modernism, the question is why we still seem to be stuck in the rut now that we know so much more about the universe.

The universe isn't random and it isn't morally relative. There are four forces of nature (gravity, electromagnetism, weak nuclear and strong nuclear.) The underlying symmetry of the weak nuclear force is broken by the fact that there is a Higgs field. It is the weak nuclear force, and only the weak nuclear force, that causes time to "move forward."  The universe expands when there are irreversible collisions between fermions that interact via the weak nuclear force. And now we know that there are likely only 12 fermions. (Whether these 12 fermions are actually evidence for underlying smaller particles is still not completely clear.)

The underlying world is fairly simple (only 12 fermions, 4 forces...with force carriers, and one Higgs field that breaks the symmetry of one of the forces.) We live in a world with 4 dimensions (we live on the wrinkled surface of a 4D sphere.) The radius of the sphere is what we mean by time. The radius is not constant; it expands because of the irreversible collisions. In this sense, the universe is finite. It has a growing, but finite 4D volume. Our goal is to expand the size of the universe, and we can do this by growing life in the universe. The size of the universe is proportional to the entropy (i.e. underlying symmetries between particles), and so growing life is a means of increasing the underlying symmetry group of the universe.

You might ask: why is there consciousness or "Being" or "Dasein"? And where does it come from? Why isn't the purpose of life just to cultivate consciousness or "Being" or "Dasein"? Won't growing the universe ultimately kill consciousness or "Being" or "Dasein" but consuming all of the exergy in the universe?

My response is two-fold. First, consciousness or "Being" or "Dasein" (or whichever word you prefer to use to explain our awareness of the world) is evidence of something deep at work, and it may reflect some really complicated feed-back loops. Consciousness is (a) special, (b) still little understood, and (c) demands rights. (i.e. all conscious lifeforms deserve rights.) But this doesn't mean that we should focus on only conscious life forms (like Peter Singer or utilitarians.) Second, natural processes are destroying exergy all of the time. How could the purpose of life be to grow consciousness if it will ultimately go away? (Though, the same could be asked: How could the purpose of life be to grow life if life will ultimately go away when we reach equilibrium?)

Consciousness, like life itself, is likely the results of tremendous numbers of feed-back loops and self-reference. But there's clearly a difference between consciousness and life. What I'm saying is that we should focus on growing life, and we should see consciousness as a means to growing life. While it's true that there will be no life if we reach a heat death of equilibrium, there may be underlying evidence for life in the symmetry group of the universe (i.e. the entropy of the universe.)

What gets left behind is exchange symmetries between particles.  All life forms are trying (some better than others) to self-replicate and to grow life. We'll need both unconscious life forms, like bacteria and self-replicating solar auxons, and conscious life forms, like humans, in order to grow life on other planets. But the goal is not just the growth of consciousness. And this is where my philosophy of life is very different from John Dewey's philosophy of growth. By growth, John Dewey mostly meant growth in ideas (even diametrically opposed ideas) and growth in consciousness through education. As he put it: “Education is a social process; education is growth; education is not preparation for life but is life itself.”   He didn't mean growth in life itself because you can't grow life if your only focus on education. Education is preparation for growing life; education (like consciousness) is a means to an end, and not an end in itself.

I write this blog (which, yes, takes away a few hours out of the week from my ability to personally grow life) because it seems to me that we've lost focus on growing life. My hope is that I can point out to people the philosophical mess that was created over the last two centuries, and then explain (a) why we shouldn't blame past thinkers given the knowledge at the time, but (b) now we must move forward with the new evidence from particles physics over the last half century. We need to change our underlying philosophies because the old ones don't match with the real world and our real purpose. We are left with old, meaningless philosophies.

Our problem is that we now focus way too much time and effort on happiness or sustainability or welfare or saving old jobs or knowledge-for-knowledge's-sake or time travel or deep ecology or space tourism or peak oil/gas paranoia or global warming or utility or military power or sports or fancy cars or getting-to-heaven.

It's like we all assume that life will just naturally self-replicate and that we don't have to work on growing life (Because that's what nature does!) I'm here to say that we need to focus on growing life because this is the purpose of life. I didn't come to this philosophy in any direct path, but it seems to me the only philosophy actually consistent with what we know about the universe.

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