Where does space come from?

In 1935, Einstein published two papers, both with young protege Nathan Rosen, but on two unconnected ideas.  (The ideas were “unconnected” both in the sense that they appeared to have nothing to do with each other, and that they were both about the physics of unconnected times and places.)

In paper #1, he realized that his geometrical theory of gravity, called General Relativity, held the mathematical possibility of tunnels connecting different times and places via a space-time shortcut.  John Wheeler was later to call these wormholes, and a great deal of thought and study followed in ensuing decades, speculating about whether our universe actually includes such connections, and whether they might be manufactured deliberately to facilitate interstellar travel.

In paper #2, he skewered the whole nascent field of quantum mechanics by highlighting an absurd consequence of quantum entanglement.  What you do to one particle has a provable effect on other particles that once interacted with it, but are now far away.  If QM is correct about this, then it is a way that what you do here and now can have an effect on distant places, and possibly change what already happened at earlier times.

Seventy-eight years later, Juan Maldacena wrote an email to Leonard Susskind in which he proposed that these two disconnections where deeply connected, that they were not just weird but weird in the same way, and that the link between quantum entanglement and Wheeler wormholes had the potential to explain where time and 3-D space come from.

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Read more from K.C. Cole, writing in Quanta Magazine.

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Matriarchy

Males have been in charge of the world for the last 10,000 years.  We’ve created some things that are really worthwhile: yoga, chocolate, the Apollo moon shots, streaming video.  In some  other areas, our performance has been more questionable: traffic jams, form 1040, nuclear weapons, Windows 10.  I say it’s time to give women a chance to run things.  Undoubtedly they’ll do things differently, have different triumphs, make different mistakes.  It seems only right that we give female hegemony a try—though in fairness, we should limit their tenure to 10,000 years.  

— Josh Mitteldorf

Conscious Dying

Cogito ergo sum’ has fostered cent’ries of confusion
To me it means I’m sentient, and awareness no illusion.
This hardly comforts me, or warrants immortality;
It’s ample reason, though, to spurn blind Science‘s decree.

I know I know not who I am; of this at least I‘m certain.
(As much as I would relish one small ‘Glance Behind the Curtain’.)
I probe within with introspection, study neuroscience.
(My nescience thus consoling, I at least express defiance.)

For acts of sweet rebellion, pray may God forgive my prying.
Let my gratitude be recompense for years of conscious dying.

— Josh Mitteldorf

From flickr.com: Under the Rainbow - Optimism {MID-211225}

Censorship in Science

This is a list of some of the scientists who have been ostracized or ridiculed because the experimental results they reported didn’t fit with current scientific paradigms. Some of them have been vindicated. One subsequently won a Nobel prize. Others will be vindicated in the future.

Some of these were eventually published in mainstream journals; others had to settle for the tainted status of journals set up in parallel to mainstream scientific publishing.

This list contains just some of the cases with which I am personally acquainted. How many more are there whose work never sees the light of day? How many more have been discouraged, and re-directed their research toward more conventional subjects?


(Image by National Coalition Against Censorship)

I learned quantum mechanics from Julian Schwinger, whose distinguished career, including a Nobel prize, made him above reproach. But he discovered the limits of what the physics journals would let him talk about when he sought to publish a theory paper about cold fusion. Of this experience, he wrote,

“The pressure for conformity is enormous. I have experienced it in editors’ rejection of submitted papers, based on venomous criticism of anonymous referees. The replacement of impartial reviewing by censorship will be the death of science.”

What do we live for?

 

For what is glory but the blaze of fame,
The people’s praise, if always praise unmixed?
And what the people but a herd confused,
A miscellaneous rabble, who extol
Things vulgar, and, well weighed, scarce worth the praise?
They praise and they admire they know not what,
And know not whom, but as one leads the other;
And what delight to be by such extolled,
To live upon their tongues, and be their talk?
Of whom to be dispraised were no small praise—
His lot who dares be singularly good.
The intelligent among them and the wise
Are few, and glory scarce of few is raised.

According to Milton, when Satan tested Jesus after forty days fasting in the desert, he offered him first food, having previously disabused his lesser devils of their own idea that he could be tempted with beautiful women.  He proceeded up Maslow’s pyramid (300 years before Maslow), attempting to seduce him with wealth, and then with power, then with fame and esteem of people the world over.  Jesus, of course, demurred.

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More problematic (at least for me), Satan offered him the power to displace tyrants and to relieve suffering, to rule over the masses with wisdom and justice.  He proceeded to offer knowledge and culture and beauty and the power to create beauty.

Nah, Jesus didn’t spring for any of these.

(Having failed at the top of the pyramid, the Prince of Darkness, desperate, reverted to the bottom of the pyramid, threatening Jesus that he would be scourged and spat upon and tortured to death, losing his temper and then his balance, making for a dramatic exit.)

Admirer as I am of Milton’s artistry with words, I have to wonder, from what value system the story proceeds from here. Milton’s Jesus declares that he has as much knowledge as he needs, and that all he really needs to know is what is adequate to make him a faithful servant of his Father’s will.  Such answers are unsatisfying to our post-modern sensibilities, though I hasten to repeat that Milton’s language in the telling is wondrously rich.

…This brings me to the question of what it is that we do value in itself, and what myths we might still find compelling.  We pretend to believe that physical reality is all that exists, and that our universe is a meaningless outgrowth of arbitrary mathematical laws acting on random accumulations of matter.  But this world-view offers us no light whatever to guide our aspirations or our morality or our politics.  So we leap from there to valuing life and love—and fall back to a very natural tendency to value some life and some love more than other.  And we spend great energies fending off the dark spectre of futility that threatens to remind us that all our good works must someday end in dust.

What, then, are our values.  And, were we completely honest about their provenance, how would we confess to having arrived at these values?  I’ve tried your patience too often with my answers in this web space, so I’ll leave the questions for your comments and discussion.


I’ll give my jewels for a set of beads,
My gorgeous palace for a hermitage,
My gay apparel for an almsman’s gown,
My figured goblets for a dish of wood,
My sceptre for a palmer’s walking staff,
My subjects for a pair of carved saints
And my large kingdom for a little grave,
A little little grave, an obscure grave;

— Shakespeare, Richard II