Tag Archives: quantum physics

BB #63: In the News

Time for another Friday News Dump! The good news is that these are about quite recent news articles that caught my eye. (The bad news is that I might dump some older ones on you if there’s room.)

Usually I present them, more-or-less, in order of their interest to me… and apparently to my readers, since the comments seem to always involve the first article. So this time I’m going to save the meatier one (in my eyes) for last hoping the others get some interest.

So the lineup is: Dog brains, static electricity, quantum DNA, and free will.

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BB #62: More News

It’s time for another Friday news dump from my list of links. (Actually a folder of emails sent from my iPad, where I do the news reading, to my laptop, where I write my blog posts.)

The intent, originally, is to write a full post about them — which I sometimes do — but often, if the urge to bang out a post right away isn’t there, the email with that link ends up sitting in the folder. The longer they sit, the less likely I am to post about them.

So occasionally I open the cage and let some of them return to the wild…

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The Next Fire

Fareed ZakariaCredit where credit is due, both the major ideas in this post come from Fareed Zakaria on his CNN Sunday program, GPS. If you follow TV news at all, you know Sunday mornings have such long-running standards as Meet the Press (on NBC since 1947!) and Face the Nation (on CBS since 1954). (Or was it Meet the Nation and Face the Press?)

Zakaria is one of the good ones: very intelligent, highly educated, calm and measured. He’s well worth listening to. (I’ve realized one attraction to TV news is the chance to — at least sometimes — hear educated, intelligent talk. It’s a nice respite from most TV entertainment.)

Two things on Zakaria’s last episode really rang a bell with me.

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reblog: Pi in the Sky Science Journalism

I seem to be doing a lot of reblogging lately (a lot for me, anyway). But I’m on kind of a math kick right now, and this ties in nicely with all that.

4 gravitons

You’ve probably seen it somewhere on your facebook feed, likely shared by a particularly wide-eyed friend: pi found hidden in the hydrogen atom!




From the headlines, this sounds like some sort of kabbalistic nonsense, like finding the golden ratio in random pictures.

Read the actual articles, and the story is a bit more reasonable. The last two I linked above seem to be decent takes on it, they’re just saddled with ridiculous headlines. As usual, I blame the editors. This time, they’ve obscured an interesting point about the link between physics and mathematics.

So what does “pi found hidden in the hydrogen atom” actually mean?

It doesn’t mean that there’s some deep importance to the number pi in nature, beyond its relevance in mathematics in general. The reason that pi is showing up here isn’t especially deep.

It isn’t trivial either, though. I’ve seen a few people…

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Quantum Thoughts

Max Planck

Too Weird For Words!

I started with the idea of physical determinism and what it implies about free will and the future. Then I touched on chaos theory, which is sometimes raised as a possible way around determinism (short answer: nope). In the first article I drew a distinction between “classical” mechanics and quantum mechanics because only at the quantum level is there any sign of randomness in reality.

It turns out that the quantum world is decidedly weird, and while we have math and models that seem to describe it extremely well, it can honestly be said that no one actually understands it. This time I’ll tell you about some of that weirdness and how it may (or may not) apply to the world as we know it.

The key question here is whether our brains make use of quantum effects.

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I Want Higgs Contact!

I was trying to keep up with the physics4me feed when I came across an article that made me sad: Higgs boson signals fade at Large Hadron Collider. It’s not unexpected, but for a while there the news was pretty exciting. It seemed like maybe we’d finally found the Higgs.

That I felt sad made me realize hope much I was hoping for a Higgs. A Higgs Contact.

I said a while ago that I wanted Alien Contact. Of course, that does have the potential to go badly for us,… but it might not. It would be one of those life is never the same again major events. Not that plenty of major events haven’t happened in our various life times. We’ve walked on the moon, knocked down the Berlin wall and invented reality TV (and the iPhone).

Alien contact would be sudden and surprising. One minute it’s business as usual and the next, bam, alien contact. And that’s likely to change some of our views; our technical or religious views for example. Aliens might have warp drive. Or they might have religions of their own. What if we meet aliens, and they turn out to all be Buddhists?

But forget aliens. Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Planck and Einstein also changed our views of reality. Not in the extreme way aliens would, but they (and many others) changed how we understood our reality. Those five, in particular, are associated with key discoveries that are a bit like the landings of a stair. Important landings regarding space, time, motion and energy.

And up that stair we (hope to) find the Higgs.

I remember when they found conclusive evidence of the Top quark. That was a big deal to me. The last quark found! By then it appeared there were just three families, so we had the whole set of fermions.

It was the bosons that were a bitch. First there’s the putative graviton. You need gravitons to mediate the gravitational force (if gravity is an actual force). And I hope they never do find gravitons. I don’t want gravity to be a force. I want Einstein to have been right: gravity is a consequence of how mass warps spacetime. I want gravity to be a “sliding down” the fabric of the cosmos. General Relativity makes sense to me; quantum physics is just plain goofy and obviously in need of some sort of revision.

(click to embiggen)

Finding the Higgs as predicted strengthens the standard model of quantum physics. Once again we find that it’s a wonderful, hugely useful description of reality. It can’t possibly be completely right—in fact it may be completely wrong—but it works beautifully. Finding more evidence that the standard model works isn’t big news, even if finding the long-sought Higgs is kind of a big deal for physics geeks.

Finding the standard model definitely wrong in some fashion, that would be huge. If the Higgs just fails to show up in any place the model says it should, that would be a blow, but not a fatal one. The model is sort of guessing about where the Higgs might be anyway; perhaps some part of that assumption is wrong. And there is the Higgs mechanism that is the actual thing behind the idea of how (some) particles gain mass. The mechanism doesn’t require the boson, so failing to find it just means things work differently.

But finding a clear violation of a standard model rule would be huge. It would demonstrate that the model has to be changed, that no matter how well it works, we’ve gotten it wrong. It might mean we need to focus on String Theory or Loop Quantum Gravity or some other model.

Of course, finding a violation in General Relativity would also be a huge deal. That’s a topic for a later article, but GR is another model of reality that works very well. It, too, has survived many challenges unscathed.

In fact, it’s such an important understanding of reality that GPS depends on it to work correctly. The mass of the earth warps spacetime enough that GPS devices must compensate for the effect that has on the satellite signals!

But it conflicts with that standard model of quantum physics.

One of them has to be wrong (at least a little).

Finding the Higgs won’t move that along one way or the other. But it would still be really cool to find one of the few remaining standard particles.

So I want Higgs Contact.

Existence and Consciousness

My recent post about how the Big Bang and “Let there be Light” seem equally fantastic to me triggered an interesting comment from a reader. A detailed response requires more elbow room than a comment allows, so here’s a follow-up article instead.

One of the points involved that our scientific ideas, no matter how inaccurate they may turn out to be, are at least based on evidence. And to the credit of science, when we recognize errors in our interpretation of the evidence, science changes to accommodate the new interpretation.

This has been, as I mentioned in that post, hugely successful. One of the failures of our spiritual metaphysics is that it clings to frameworks defined thousands of years ago and often stubbornly refuses to accommodate new information.

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Big Bang? Let there be Light?

In an earlier post, I wrote that:

The problem for any honest theist is,
“What if it isn’t true?”
The problem for any honest atheist is,
“What if it is true?”

Ultimately both represent ways of looking at the universe. There is no factual conclusion, no proof, about either one; both are matters of faith and belief.

Science can argue all it wants that the Logic and Scientific Method is superior to believing in an ineffable reality, but given all we do know and all we don’t know, in the end it is still just a worldview.

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Sideband #19: LHC

The previous article contains a bit of doggerel I wrote as an informal writing assignment on a current events/blogging site I inhabited for a while a few years back. One of the other regulars sometimes held online “parties” complete with musical playlists (suggested YouTube and other musical links) and multiple, simultaneous conversations. Basically a kick off article followed by a very long, branching tree of comments.

We all had to refresh the article a lot to see the new comments, but it was fun.  Especially as the evening wore on and some of us got a bit tipsy. (All from the safety of our homes, I point out. Virtual online parties: no one drives home!)

Anyway, in the course of one such evening, the “poem” below popped out of my mind. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN was just beginning its testing, and the “it’ll destroy us all” fervor was at its peak.

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Sideband #9: Analog vs Digital

In earlier Sidebands I have tried, as our English teachers used to say, to “compare and contrast” related pairs of concepts that are sometimes mistakenly conflated. The first pair, Truth and Facts, are similar enough to make distinctions between them debatable.  Even the language can twist you up once you start talking about true facts and false facts.  The next two pairs, Good vs Like and Ignorant vs Stupid, are well-defined and distinct.

In all three cases, there are similarities and differences (hence “compare and contrast”), but a key difference between those and the current topic, Analog vs Digital, is that none of them are really opposite pairs. There is no Yin and Yang aspect to them; one does not exclude the other. I’ve already mentioned true facts. Something can be both good and liked (or neither). Someone can be both ignorant and stupid (being neither is both good and likeable).

Not so with analog and digital! They are true Yin-Yang pairs; one excludes the other.

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