Communion Of Dreams


Limits of perception.

From the beginning of Chapter 18 of Communion of Dreams:

“But there’s something else going on. Perhaps I was being too hasty in considering this to be just a four-dimensional problem.”

“Sorry? You lost me there,” said Jon.

Gish ignored him, his attention turning in on itself. “Yes. Clearly there’s a proximity effect. Perhaps anyone who touches the artifact becomes somehow connected to the outer surface of the bubble.”

“Wait, you mean that the artifact is some kind of doorway to another dimension?”

Gish looked at Jon, annoyed. “What? Doorway? No, just that the surface of the isolation field may not conform to our simple space-time geometry.”

Not too surprising that Robert Gish was aware of this recent theory, since he’s some 39 years in our future:

A Jewel at the Heart of Quantum Physics

Physicists have discovered a jewel-like geometric object that dramatically simplifies calculations of particle interactions and challenges the notion that space and time are fundamental components of reality.

“This is completely new and very much simpler than anything that has been done before,” said Andrew Hodges, a mathematical physicist at Oxford University who has been following the work.

The revelation that particle interactions, the most basic events in nature, may be consequences of geometry significantly advances a decades-long effort to reformulate quantum field theory, the body of laws describing elementary particles and their interactions. Interactions that were previously calculated with mathematical formulas thousands of terms long can now be described by computing the volume of the corresponding jewel-like “amplituhedron,” which yields an equivalent one-term expression.

It’s an absolutely fascinating article & theory, and deserves consideration: that many of the observational problems with quantum mechanics may be due to our limited perspective from this space-time, just as our perspective from one reference point gave rise to the notion that there is something which could be considered a “universal time” — a notion which a certain Mr. Einstein dealt with.

Which, while all the math is completely beyond me, makes a certain amount of intuitive sense from the history of science. Which is: the slow progression of realization that none of our privileged positions are true. That the Sun doesn’t revolve around the Earth. That humankind isn’t different from all the other animals. That our perception of time isn’t the only one. So why should this set of spacial dimensions be the basis for reality?

Which is why I felt comfortable coming up with the “theoretical discovery” at the heart of Communion of Dreams, as discussed in this passage from Chapter 3:

Apparent Gravity was the third major application of the theories set forth in Hawking’s Conundrum, the great opus of Stephen Hawking which was not published until after his death in the earlier part of the century. He hadn’t released the work because evidently even he couldn’t really believe that it made any sense. It was, essentially, both too simple and too complex. And since he had died just shortly before the Fire-flu, with the chaos that brought, there had been a lag in his theory being fully understood and starting to be applied.

But it did account for all the established data, including much of the stuff that seemed valid but didn’t fit inside the previous paradigms. Using his theories, scientists and engineers learned that the structure of space itself could be manipulated. The first major application led to practical, safe, and efficient fusion power. Rather than forcing high-energy particles together, the forces keeping them apart were just removed. Or, more accurately, the manifestation of space between them was inverted. It took very little energy, was easy to control, but only worked in a very localized fashion.

And just for fun, here’s a little hint from my work on St. Cybi’s Well: there’s a character in there who has something of the perspective of the people working on the “amplituhedron theory” and applies it in his own way to explain the dark matter/dark energy problem. Well, it amuses me, anyway.

And I should get back to work on that.

 

Jim Downey

Via MeFi and elsewhere. The MeFi link has a lot of other links in both the post and the following discussion, if you would like more information and … perspective. 😉

Oh, and this seems entirely appropriate – start at 35 seconds:

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Perhaps it is (was) a Liquid Sky* after all.

An item in the news the other day caught my attention: that scientists at the LHC had managed to create the “hottest temperature” ever, purportedly of some “5.5 trillion degrees.”

It was meant to be one of NPR’s little funny quips, so there wasn’t much detail, as you can see from the transcript in the link above. But that’s not really how scientists really talk about results from the LHC, so I filed away the news and figured I’d look it up when I had a chance.

Well, I just did. And I was right — the actual results weren’t really explained in terms of “temperature.” Rather, it was put in terms of energy (MeV), and more important than some abstract conversion into temperatures was what was achieved: the production of a quark-gluon plasma.

Why is this important?

Because it is a glimpse into conditions during the earliest moments of the Big Bang, and may explain *why* there is matter at all. Here’s an excerpt about earlier research conducted at Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) which first glimpsed a quark-gluon plamsa:

Predictions made prior to RHIC’s initial operations in 2000 expected that the quark-gluon plasma would exist as a gas. But RHIC’s first three years of operation showed that the matter produced at RHIC behaves as a liquid, whose constituent particles interact very strongly among themselves. This liquid matter has been described as nearly “perfect” in the sense that it flows with almost no frictional resistance, or viscosity. Such a “perfect” liquid doesn’t fit with the picture of “free” quarks and gluons physicists had previously used to describe the quark-gluon plasma.

Essentially, this was just confirmed by the LHC, using a slightly different protocol which achieved very similar results:

Collisions of lead ions in the LHC, the world’s most powerful particle accelerator, recreate for a fleeting moment conditions similar to those of the early universe. By examining a billion or so of these collisions, the experiments have been able to make more precise measurements of the properties of matter under these extreme conditions.

“The field of heavy-ion physics is crucial for probing the properties of matter in the primordial universe, one of the key questions of fundamental physics that the LHC and its experiments are designed to address. It illustrates how in addition to the investigation of the recently discovered Higgs-like boson, physicists at the LHC are studying many other important phenomena in both proton-proton and lead-lead collisions,” said CERN Director General Rolf Heuer.

The upshot of this is not just more experimental data, but an interesting new theory: that our universe is, in some sense, what happened when that quark-gluon plasma cooled and became ‘crystallized’, so to speak, complete with the fractures and imperfections common to all crystals. Here’s the abstract of the theory:

Quantum graphity offers the intriguing notion that space emerges in the low-energy states of the spatial degrees of freedom of a dynamical lattice. Here we investigate metastable domain structures which are likely to exist in the low-energy phase of lattice evolution. Through an annealing process we explore the formation of metastable defects at domain boundaries and the effects of domain structures on the propagation of bosons. We show that these structures should have observable background-independent consequences including scattering, double imaging, and gravitational lensing-like effects.

And here’s an excerpt from the press release which may make a little more sense to people like me:

“A new theory, known as Quantum Graphity, suggests that space may be made up of indivisible building blocks, like tiny atoms. These indivisible blocks can be thought about as similar to pixels that make up an image on a screen. The challenge has been that these building blocks of space are very small, and so impossible to see directly.”

However James Quach and his colleagues believe they may have figured out a way to see them indirectly.

“Think of the early universe as being like a liquid,” he said. “Then as the universe cools, it ‘crystallises’ into the three spatial and one time dimension that we see today. Theorised this way, as the Universe cools, we would expect that cracks should form, similar to the way cracks are formed when water freezes into ice.”

Fascinating.

Jim Downey

*Playing off the old and somewhat forgotten movie, of course, which was mind-blowing, not unlike the possibilities posed by this theory.

 



Harry Potter and the Superstring Revolution

(This is one of my newspaper columns from Columbia Daily Tribune, updated with links. Thought it might be of interest while I am away for a few days.  – JD)

Harry Potter and the Superstring Revolution

One of my favorite String Theory blogs (yeah, I have rather eclectic interests) recently got into a discussion of the new Harry Potter movie. Even hard-core physicists like to discuss movies in addition to the latest research into 11-dimension supergravity and the advantages of D-branes over M-theory. Which is good, because when these people start throwing around the advanced math wizardry needed to really understand these concepts I’m just a Muggle. But if they talk movies or art, I can chime in with the best of them.

Anyway, the discussion of Goblet of Fire turned into a debate of whether or not the Potter books themselves should really be considered literature. And, frankly, it was rather funny to watch a bunch of really smart people try and wrestle with something so completely outside of their field of training. Sure, most of them had taken some lit classes while undergrads, but they were working with tools not really suited to the problem. It’d be like me, with a little bit of math from college 25 years ago, trying to engage one of them on the validity of the Superstring Revolution. I might have a general understanding of the issues involved, but I’m completely unequipped to contribute anything meaningful to the debate in the language of science.

What was really interesting about this, though, was that none of them saw it that way. They were all certain that their opinions of literature, as an intellectual exercise, were completely valid. They had fallen into the trap of thinking that their likes or dislikes in literature was all that was necessary to have an informed debate.

This is a common problem with all the arts. Non-artists usually think that their personal preferences are all that matters. If someone doesn’t like a Pollock drip painting, then it isn’t “art.” If they think that opera is boring, then that’s sufficient to consider it outmoded and useless. And conceptual art . . . well, it’s beyond the conceptual boundary horizon for most folks and so doesn’t even exist. Might as well be magic.

Furthermore, if you challenge these opinions people will get really indignant and defensive. They don’t want to hear that an understanding of the issues involved is necessary to appreciate some art. The old line “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like” will pop up in one form or another very quickly.

And on one level, that’s OK. I wouldn’t think of telling someone that they couldn’t form an opinion about what they like or dislike in art any more than I would consider telling them what they liked to eat for breakfast. But if you’ve never even heard of eggs, how can you have an opinion on the proper preparation of a nice quiche? It’d be like having strong feelings about word choice in the translation of Rilke’s Der Schwan when you don’t speak German. Sure, you can have an opinion, but it’s not something I’m going to take particularly seriously.

This isn’t to say that only an ‘expert’ can have a valid opinion about art. Hardly. By its very nature art is designed to elicit a response even in the uninformed. It’s perfectly OK to say “I like that painting.” Or, “I don’t care for opera.” But when someone starts to try and talk about the validity of a particular work of art (or music, literature, et cetera), they need to know what they’re talking about. Otherwise, people will treat you like the guy sitting in the sports bar who keeps yelling “pass the ball” at the TV during the baseball game. Or, perhaps more appropriately, like the guy at the Quidditch match who keeps calling for a relief pitcher.

Jim Downey



Various and sundry.

Bits and pieces this morning.

Phil Plait has Ten things you don’t know about the Earth.  A couple in there I didn’t know, or only knew incompletely.

The LHC goes online tomorrow.  You can play with a cool simulation here.  This is actually a very big deal, something on the order of the Apollo program in terms of size, complexity, and being a threshold event.

Play with your brain: Mighty Optical Illusions.

Be afraid, courtesy of Pharyngula.

Perhaps more later.

Jim Downey



Weird science vids . . .
September 8, 2008, 10:18 am
Filed under: Art, Humor, ISS, MetaFilter, Music, NASA, Science, Space, String theory, tech, Wired, YouTube

. . . from Wired Science:

Top 10 Amazing Physics Videos

Tesla coils, superconductors, and hilarious music videos are great reasons to be excited about physics. Here are some of our favorites.

OK, you may have seen some of these, but they’re all worth a look. Because I’m a bit of a pyro, here are two of my favorites from the collection:

A singing Tesla coil:

And a Reuben’s Tube:

You’ll also find the LHC Rap, fun with water in space, playing with a boomerang on the ISS, Adam Savage (of MythBusters) sounding surprisingly like Penn Jillete, superfluid oddness, superconducting effects, and supersonic compression. Have fun!

Jim Downey

Via MeFi.