Ask Ethan #95: Could it all come crashing down? (Synopsis)

“Revolutions are something you see only in retrospect.” -Alan Greenspan

If there's one thing you can be certain of when it comes to the fundamental, scientific truths of our Universe, it's this: someday, in the not too distant future, those truths will be superseded by more fundamental ones. And even those, quite likely, won't be the final truths, but just one step further along the line towards our understanding of reality.

Image credit: Philosophy of Cosmology / University of Oxford, via http://philosophy-of-cosmology.ox.ac.uk/cosmos.html. Image credit: Philosophy of Cosmology / University of Oxford, via http://philosophy-of-cosmology.ox.ac.uk/cosmos.html.

Does this mean that we've necessarily got it all wrong, and that we might just as well ignore the successes of our best theories so far? Does it mean that all we know about the Universe could easily be upended and replaced, leading to vastly different conclusions to questions like where everything came from?

Image credit: Chamkaur Ghag, University College London, via http://www.hep.ucl.ac.uk/darkMatter/. Image credit: Chamkaur Ghag, University College London, via http://www.hep.ucl.ac.uk/darkMatter/.

These are exceedingly unlikely, for a myriad of reasons. Here's what the next scientific revolution is likely to look -- and not look -- like, on this week's Ask Ethan.

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Thanks for another thoughtful and thought-provoking piece Ethan. One minor nit from an old sea dog - I believe "doesn't jive" should read "doesn't jibe"...

Thx for answering Ethan ton of help that's what I wanted to know that no matter what we know the universe expanded from an incredibly tiny dense state

By Chris shaw (not verified) on 02 Jul 2015 #permalink

Hey, Ethan,
cannot possibly get there for the festival, but enjoy it to the max.

oh come on Ethan, with the Famous Five definition and lashings of ginger beer. Give or take the odd one, approximately every empirical revelation of the last 40 years has come as a total shock. So where are the scientific revolutions? What happens is the model is modified and the shock vanishes before showing up later in the common parlance like it owns the place. Most of the exhibits you reference in your piece were shocks. The large scale structure wasn't expected. It caused a major crisis back in the early 90's. Astronomers were throwing their hands up they knew next to nothing about this cosmos. The extreme uniformity at z >> galaxy cluster diameters, was a total shock well beyond what was anticipated and totally unworkable at the time. I recently noticed a simulation of the evolution of the cosmos that did a fair job of capturing the attributes of correlation common to SMB's across the universe. They characterized this as the model exceeding predictions, and the alignment as a fundamental of abstract theoretics. That isn't even true..the alignments were getting picked up well before the time-line they brought into play. It has become a complete mess. And the proof of that is the accumulation of self-serving explanatory add-ons, with no yardstick corresponding to high standards, that out toward the furtherest extent of the theory, the observations, the knowledge, the only way to make everything consistent, is to start introducing infinities.
Not infinities when proper, such as in maths, which is for rigour/robustness, but infinities as core explanatory components without which the ensemble comes apart.

That said, it is still an incredible accomplishment for what it is. The context here though is your characterization of the scientific franchise, which simple is not credible in light of the historical facts of what has gone down.
Peace and love baby

By Chris Mannering (not verified) on 03 Jul 2015 #permalink

Something that has puzzled me about cosmology is that it seems to be assumed that all the matter within our observable space is presumed to have always been within view... within our observable horizon. What bothers me is that the current ratio between the total mass of the observable universe and its radius matches, as perfectly as we can tell, that of a black hole (Mass/Radius = c^2/2G). But, when the universe was half its current age, this would suggest that the mass/radius of the universe would be twice that of a black hole.

Explanation anyone?

By Michael McGinnis (not verified) on 05 Jul 2015 #permalink

Another question... what evidence is there for rapid inflation in the early universe? The only explanation for the theory I know of is the observed homogeneity of matter throughout the cosmos. Is there any other physical evidence?

By Michael McGinnis (not verified) on 05 Jul 2015 #permalink

"The only explanation for the theory I know of is the observed homogeneity of matter throughout the cosmos. Is there any other physical evidence?"

Several. See

http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2015/06/17/cosmic-inflations-fi…

But why does there have to be more than one?

We only have the proof that things fall together as physical evidence there's gravity. So why the laser scepticism here?

"Explanation anyone?"

It's a mere coincidence. It may well not even be the case that the ratio is that, since the values of size and mass have large error bars, so we'd be "equally close" if we were a few orders of magnitude off.

@ Michael McGinnis #5

"Something that has puzzled me about cosmology is that it seems to be assumed that all the matter within our observable space is presumed to have always been within view… within our observable horizon..."

observable horizon is defined by speed of light, and since matter/energy/anything can't move faster, what you see is what you get.. :) as for the ratio.. valid question.. don't know the answer

By Sinisa Lazarek (not verified) on 06 Jul 2015 #permalink

No, Hydrogen doesn't work. 21cm radiation.

@5;

Something that has puzzled me about cosmology is that it seems to be assumed that all the matter within our observable space is presumed to have always been within view… within our observable horizon

Its not an assumption and its not even true for all times in the past. When inflation stopped, things not in our observable universe would have come into it. Think of two atoms expanding away from each other faster than light; they are not in each other's observable universe. Now the space between them stops expanding. Voila! They come into each other's observable universe. AIUI, that's what happened at the end of the inflationary period.

Likewise if the current metric expansion of space were to slow down in the future, the space in our "observable universe" would expand because the area light could go to and come back to us from would increase.
At this time we don't expect this to occur because the evidence indicates a constant expansion. That makes it not an assumption but rather a tentative conclusion. A conclusion that also, AFAIK, isn't really necessary for modern cosmology to work.

It's a lower energy hydrogen atom. At least read the link before you criticize man.

By Andy Olson (not verified) on 09 Jul 2015 #permalink

Quantum Mechanics is a religion. If you don't believe that a cat can be dead and alive at the same time you're not a believer. Pretty much exactly the same thing as believing the sun revolves around the earth.

The universe is not a statistical model.

What's more plausible? There's a separate universe that exists for me not wiggling my finger just now, or the hydrogen atom can have a lower radius electron orbit?

By Andy Olson (not verified) on 09 Jul 2015 #permalink

Andy

Interesting idea, but I don't know how you can account for a whole host of phenomena that just cannot be explained by classical mechanics, such as the photoelectric effect, particle entanglements, the Casimir effect, electron interference, tunneling, and many others. These are all observed phenomena. To be accepted, a new proposed idea must explain all of them, not just some subset of what the old theory successfully explained, such as atomic structure.

I strongly suspect that the link you provide is an idea specifically cooked up to explain dark matter using hydrogen, but it fails to explain ALL known observations. Given that, one must abandon the idea or one must ignore the observations that conflict with the idea. The rational course is obviously to abandon the idea (or refine it to explain known phenomena). If you want to ignore the conflicting observations instead, then fine, but don't expect anyone to take you seriously.

Quantum Mechanics is a religion. If you don’t believe that a cat can be dead and alive at the same time you’re not a believer.

You understand that that's a conceptual teaching analogy, right? Sort of like calculating the wavelength of a pencil based on its mass: useful for students to introduce some ideas, not much more. In reality all the photons and atoms in/around the cat are observing it and each other; making quantum indeterminacy extremely hard (if not impossible) to achieve for macroscopic objects.

What’s more plausible? There’s a separate universe that exists for me not wiggling my finger just now, or the hydrogen atom can have a lower radius electron orbit?

Now you're comparing apples and oranges. Hydrogen energy levels are observables; many-worlds is an interpretation of a mathematical framework that predicts that observable. Right now, there is no real way to distinguish many-worlds from Copenhagen. But it is easy to distinguish claims that a H atom can have a lower-than-ground-state energy level from mainstream claims: we just look at H atom behavior under the conditions you claim will yield this lower state, and observe that you are wrong.

BTW, far from being a religion, QM is a very well-tested and validated scientific theory. What you are poking around at is intuitive interpretations of QM, rather than QM itself, especially regarding the "many worlds" interpretation. There really is no scientific basis for favoring one interpretation over another. However the predictions of QM have always, 100% of the time, been borne out by experiment.

It should be noted that some of these predictions are ones that would be considered very counterintuitive by classically trained physicists. For instance, the phenomenon of interference was well known to classical physicists. It was known, though, to be a phenomenon exhibited by waves. The electron was known by classical physicists to be a particle, not a wave. QM, nonetheless, predicted that a beam of electrons passing through a double slit arrangement would produce an interference pattern that is very similar to a wave passing through the same double slit. Further, the interference pattern is produced even if it's not a beam of electrons, but rather one electron at a time going through the double slit arrangement. A single electron, apparently, can interfere with itself! That is a crazy idea if one thinks in terms of classical particles. Even crazier: if we set up the same double slit arrangement, but this time add electron detectors at each slit, there is no longer an interference pattern. QM predicts all of these results.

The fact that QM is counterintuitive is not a reason for disbelieving it. In fact, it's quite the opposite. It does seem that the behavior of small particles is actually counterintuitive. We need a theory that is likewise counterintuitive to correctly explain this behavior.

Why should we expect the universe to be intuitive anyway? Our intuition is merely the result of adaptive changes in response to the environment in which we evolved. Selection pressure favored brain structures that were best able to process data at everyday scales, not at subatomic scales. Thus, it makes perfect sense that our intuition is a poor guide in the subatomic domain.

Also, Andy, where is the evidence that hydrogen can exist in an energy state with lower energy than the ground state? Has a hydrogen atom in that state ever been actually observed? How would one observe such a state, considering that the theory conveniently makes hydrogen atoms in that state incapable of absorbing or emitting photons? Sounds a lot like an untestable hypothesis to me.

@16

The theory has explanations for all observable phenomenon.

http://www.blacklightpower.com/theory-2/theory/atomic-theory/
http://www.blacklightpower.com/theory-2/theory/cosmology/

@17 Not comparing apples to oranges. It's a complete unified theory quarks to cosmos.

@18 sorry, I personally believe that there is one set of laws for all objects in the universe. So did Einstein.

@19 It's testable.

http://www.blacklightpower.com/technology/validation-reports/

By Andy Olson (not verified) on 09 Jul 2015 #permalink

"It’s a lower energy hydrogen atom."

Doesn't fix a damn thing.

Think some science.

"Quantum Mechanics is a religion."

That's what a moron says about something he knows nothing about but "has a theory" nobody will listen to.

"There’s a separate universe that exists for me not wiggling my finger just now, or the hydrogen atom can have a lower radius electron orbit?"

The former.

Because the former can result in what we see, whereas the latter requires a complete take-down of all known physics we've observed so far.

This is what I mean. I'm slapping people in the face with a unification theory and QM is so entrenched that nobody will listen to it. That's not how a scientist should think. Anyway, I hope you regret wasting your lives trying to decide if there's multiple universes or supersymmetry when you should have been starting out where Einstein left off.

I don't know why I'm wasting my time. Keep praying to your hidden variable god...

By Andy Olson (not verified) on 09 Jul 2015 #permalink

"and QM is so entrenched that nobody will listen to it. "

No, we're listening. You just don't want to hear our assessment, because it's bollocks.

"That’s not how a scientist should think."

No, a scientist should be skeptical until there's enough proof to justify otherwise.

YOU want scientists to accept any old bollocks until it's proven wrong.

It doesn't work that way.

For exampe: "It's a lower energy hydrogen atom!". Well, what stops it from accepting energy to move it up to the ACTUAL base state, and radiating at 21cm?

Handwavium, apparently. Applied phlebotnium. Hope. Fairy fucking dust.

And not just wishing hard to make it true makes you stamp your feet and ragequit.

I don't know why you waste your time either. Try thinking rather than hoping against all hope.

Belief is proof of nothing.

The flat earth society believe that their theory is valid and proven by evidence.

YEC think that there is physical proof, overwhelming proof, that the earth is only a few thousand years old.

They, like your pet, just accept that it works and then retcon or just plain lie about what proof there is and have links to prove that they are right.

Linking to the same nutbar site to prove your theory is valid is no more effective than a YEC pointing to AIG to prove their point.

Remember, too, that YEC have a theory that answers EVERY SINGLE PROBLEM in physics: God made it that way.

"No, we’re listening. You just don’t want to hear our assessment, because it’s bollocks."

Oh wow, you read the whole theory already and looked at the math? You must read fast.

QM is proved wrong every f'ing day...

Staggeringly delusional!

By Andy Olson (not verified) on 09 Jul 2015 #permalink

"QM is proved wrong every f'ing day"

And you just destroyed the last iota of a chance to be taken seriously.

@24:

This is what I mean. I’m slapping people in the face with a unification theory and QM is so entrenched that nobody will listen to it. That’s not how a scientist should think.

You're 'slapping us in the face' with Blacklight's self-published work that is neither peer reviewed nor independently confirmed. I take that as seriously as I take a Clorox advertisement that purports to tell me which is the best brand of bleach.

How a scientist should think is: if I want my theory and results taken seriously, I should publish this in a peer-reviewed journal. I should help others set up independent experiments so that they can reproduce this transition without me. Until I do that, it makes perfect sense for the scientific mainstream to reject my theory, because I would similarly reject out of hand some physics-altering idea from any other researcher that wasn't reviewed and reproduced.

Anyway, I hope you regret wasting your lives trying to decide if there’s multiple universes or supersymmetry when you should have been starting out where Einstein left off

I really have no idea what Einstein has to do with claiming a Hydrogen nucleus has an energy state below what is currently called the ground state. The former did theory, the latter is an observable which you should be showing us how to reproduce.

Keep praying to your hidden variable god…

If you're going to insult mainstream science, at least have the decency to characterize it correctly. Mainstream QM accepts that there are no hidden variables. As far as I can tell, it is ironically your theory that claims there are hidden variables.

"Oh wow, you read the whole theory already and looked at the math?"

Did you?

What about the other theories, such as "many worlds" or brane theory? Did you?

I checked enough on the links you gave to see that it didn't do as you claimed. And I know enough that "it's a lower energy level than minimum" is unscientific bollocks, without bothering with your links (which didn't seem to prove how that could happen, nor even mention it on the bit I read).

“QM is proved wrong every f’ing day”

And you just destroyed the last iota of a chance to be taken seriously.

Indeed. If QM is wrong, then semiconductors in our disc players won't work.

FFS, this retard is angry.

Not to mention that the very method which he's using to communicate this crazy nonsense is reliant upon the truth of QM! No QM, no transistors. No transistors, no PC's that don't take up entire rooms and still lack the processing capacity to view a modern webpage.