Saturday, April 27, 2013

On Lee Smolin's "Time Reborn"

Below is Lee Smolin's summary of his new book Time Reborn. (See Peter Woit's critic of the book or Smolin's article in New Scientist which is included at the end of this post for those readers that don't subscribe to New Scientist.)

Smolin: "
(1) Whatever is real in our universe is real in a moment of time, which is one of a succession of moments.
(2) The past was real but is no longer real. We can, however, interpret and analyze the past, because we find evidence of past processes in the present.
(3) The future does not yet exist and is therefore open. We can reasonably infer some predictions, but we cannot predict the future completely. Indeed, the future can produce phenomena that are genuinely novel, in the sense that no knowledge of the past could have anticipated them.
(4) Nothing transcends time, not even the laws of nature. Laws are not timeless. Like everything else, they are features of the present, and they can evolve over time.

The problem with Lee Smolin's conclusions (especially conclusion #4) is that once you state that "the laws of nature transcend time," then you destroy any attempt at rationality. For example, how does one make predictions if the laws of nature transcend time? In general, I think that the argument that the laws of physics can evolve randomly is just silly because one has to explain why the laws of physics (such as gravity) haven't changed over the last billion or so years. (For example, the gravitational force didn't change from inverse squared to inverse or inverse cubed...or else the solar system wouldn't have been stable.)

It's not that hard to introduce time into the laws of just need one of the forces of nature to be time asymmetric. My personal belief is that time is intimately associated with the weak nuclear force because, by including the weak nuclear force, we now have a force of nature that is not time-reversal symmetric. In fact, there is exactly one parameter in the CKM matrix that describes this asymmetry. (Had there been two or more independent parameters in the CKM matrix that are time asymmetric, then there could have been some weird worlds with multiple axes that expand or contract.)

But Lee Smolin only discusses the weak nuclear force once in the book.

"The Standard Model of Particle Physics is almost time-reversible but not fully so. (There is one mostly inconsequential aspect of the weak nuclear interaction that does not reverse.)" (pg52)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Table of Contents for “Grow, Baby, Grow: How to expand life in the universe”

I've been working on updating the table of contents to this blog because the last time I updated the Table of Contents was October 2011. This post contains the update to the TOC, it hopefully provide a way for people new to the blog to see what are the main topics discussed here.


My goal is to communicate how life can expand and grow, both on this planet and on others. To grow, we need to obtain a large rate of return on investment from our electricity generating technology, so a main focus of this blog is on the economics of electricity generation. Another main force of the blog is physics and mathematics, and the reason for this focus in this blog is the same reason that Plato wrote the following above the entrance to the Academy:

"Let no one ignorant of Mathematics enter here."

The study of mathematics and physics is the study of the timeless truths, and a reminder that there are things/ideas that exist independent of particular physical realizations. We are self-replicating mathematical structures that want to grow, and mathematical structures can't be killed.

To summarize, the goal of life is to expand. Life requires mechanical or electro-chemical work to survive, and to grow, it requires a large, positive rate of return on work invested.

The goal of this post is to present a table of content of the posts created for this site, and to highlight the connections between the posts.  Each of the major themes is numbered below:

1)    A detailed summary of my philosophy of life can be found at the following post.

A Summary of My Philosophy of Life: How Best to Expand Life?

There is an underlying digital structure to our analog world

2)     One of the main themes throughout the blog is that we don’t face an “energy” or an “exergy” crisis, but rather a crisis of decreasing rates of return on investment. We suffer from a ‘growth’ crisis in the US, Japan and Europe.

There is no Energy or Exergy Crisis. It's a Problem of Low Rates of Return on Investment. Understanding the Problem by Correctly Defining Energy, Exergy and Entropy

The Cause of the 2007/2008 Recession: Our Decreasing Return on Work Invested and How to Fix the Problem

Saturday, April 20, 2013

A Heavy Dark Matter Particle is an Oxymoron

So, there's been a lot of news recently about possible evidence for a dark matter particle. But this is probably just media hype. The science media (such as New Scientist) has been going full throttle since the Higgs discovery last year, and now they don't know what to do with themselves, so they jumps on any news, regardless of its quality.
And that's the case with the recent hype about finding evidence for a 8.6 GeV dark matter particle using an underground detector in Minnesota, USA.
If you're not familiar with the story, check out one of the following articles before continuing:

New Scientist: Tentative dark matter hits fit with shadow dark sector
New Scientist: Going Underground in Search of Dark Matter Strikes

The actual data results can be found here.

A realistic assessment can be found at the Résonaances blog

Résonaances: More mess with dark matter detection

Monday, April 8, 2013

Where does Mathematics come from? Views from Pythagoras, Plato & Cognitive Scientists

In a previous article (Pie in the Sky), I reviewed a book by George Lakoff and Rafael Núñez called "Where Mathematics Comes From."  In that article, I give what I think is a fair treatment of their argument that "There must ultimately be a biologically based account of the mechanism by which [mathematical idea] are created, learned, represented, and used." (pg 347 of the original hard cover version)

The authors have a great deal of respect for mathematicians, but they do not believe in the "Romance of Mathematics." To them, the "Romance of Mathematics" is the idea that mathematics is eternal, non-human, and fundamental to the universe. They are afraid of this Romantic idea because, to them, "The Romance of Mathematics is not a story with a wholly positive effect. It intimidates people. It makes mathematics seem beyond the reach of even excellent students with other primary interests and skills. It leads many students to give up on mathematics as simply beyond them. The Romance serves the purpose of the mathematical community. It helps to maintain an elite and then justify it. It is part of a culture that rewards incomprehensibility, in which it is the norm to write only for an audience of the initiated--to write in symbols rather than clear exposition and in maximally accessible language..." (pg 341)

While I agree that most papers on mathematics are beyond my understanding (even though I studied physics for roughly 20 yrs), this has nothing to do with the fundamental question: is mathematics eternal, non-human, and fundamental to the universe?

So, I think that it's important to review what other great thinkers have believed, and their arguments for those beliefs.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Stop the Stimulation

I'm not sure about you, but I'm getting tired of central banks stimulating their economies.
No means no!
How did the concept of "printing money" get turned into the concept of "stimulus"? Printing money is an indirect tax on anybody who saves. [Unlike direct taxes, which are paid by those who work (employment taxes) or those who consume (sales taxes).]  Printing money is not likely to have a significant effect on the economy unless the printed money is invested into projects with higher values of return on investment than the money would have been invested by those peopled taxed by the "inflation" (or less "deflation".)

The reason that "printng money" may have turned into the concept of "stimulus" is that stock markets indexes often increase whenever Central Bank propose printing money. So, non-economists often think that printing money is a good thing because the "DOW JONES was up for the day." But this stock market rise is not an indicator that printing money is a good thing. Why? Because printing money will cause the value of everything to go up. Stock market gains after a Central Bank proposes printing money are not a proof that printing money is good for an economy. It's like cheating on a test in high school. At first, it looks like your grades are improving, but it's not sustainable in the long-run.

Japan's Central Bank is once again hoping that they can cover up their indirect taxes in the sweet-sounding wording of "stimulus." According to the AP,

"Japan is taking aggressive action to lift consumer prices, encourage borrowing and help pull the world's third-largest economy out of a long slump."

Journals are one of the main culprits in this "stimulation" fiasco because they seems to report whatever Central Banks tell them to report. How many journalists actually take the time to look into the historical data on whether printing money improves an economy?

Here's why I think that printing money is not going to solve Japan's lack of economic growth:
Falling prices means that people are more likely to save rather than consume. Higher savings leads to higher growth if the savings are placed into wise investments (and by wise investments, I mean those investments with large values of rate of return on investment.)

Sure, you can print money, but who do you think is better able to make choices on where to invest? (Government? Or Individuals?) This is not an easy question to answer. But if you study history, you are likely to think that individuals are better at choosing investment with large values of rate of return than are governments because the highest growth rates have been achieved when there is limited government interference in an economy. A lot of the printed money ends up going into government bonds (i.e. useful work that governments spend rather than individuals invest.) Remember: printing money doesn't affect the amount of useful work being generated in a country. It's just a tax that takes from those who save (invest) and gives to governments to waste. Printing money doesn't instantaneously change the number of power plants or the amount of petroleum in reserve.

So, I'm doubtful that printing money will solve Japan's lack of growth. But I know of at least one idea that Japan could return to growth:  restart the ~52 nuclear reactors that are shut down. The biggest stimulus to the Japanese economy would be to turn back on these nuclear reactors. This will drastically increase the amount of useful work in their society. It's real simple. If Japan wants to return to growth, they just have to turn back on their nuclear reactors.  (For more information on Japan's nuclear reactors, check out the following article I wrote in Feb 2012. As of Mar 2013, only 2 of Japan's 54 nuclear reactors were operating.)