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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Reality isn't really real

      You have to love science, scientist come up with just the cutest things. I have had a love affair with science basically forever. My first science experiments as a preteen boy involved blowing things up. An eleven year old boy that has learned now to blow up a watermelon, will devote every waking moment to blowing up more watermelons, nothing else will be appealing, not drugs, not fighting or stealing cars.  With growing maturity, I moved on to starting fires and taking stuff apart. Sometimes I managed to put stuff back together, but not very often, I also managed to extinguish most of the fires. Taken all together, I was hooked on science

      As a passion, science has a hidden quality, it never ends. Science is a journey without any end, not only can you not learn everything, you can’t even learn very much about everything. Our current understanding of scientific reality is so limited that we cannot answer the most basic questions. Such as: What is gravity? What is time? Why is there something instead of nothing? What is life? We are learning a lot, we have some good clues about the foundations of reality, and we have a general idea about what questions to ask. Even with this highly limited understanding, we can launch satellites, set broken bones, build IPads, and nuclear reactors. All of this in the 400 years since Galileo showed us now to do science.

      Research scientist collect data, and write down everything. The theorist then try to explain all this data. All the data will be challenged until verified, and the theories will be examined in detail. In science a thousand experiments cannot prove you right, but one experiment can prove you wrong. That is a high standard. Science is the only human endeavor based exclusively on verified data, you cannot cheat or lie, rule one is that the data must be accepted. This fundamental principle puts science at odds with many other human endeavors, imagine a politician that had to tell the truth. I find science an expression of what is best of humans.

      I have recently learned that space-time is not fundamental. Space-time is an emergent phenomenon, what we perceive as space and time results from something more basic. Measuring time is measuring change in space. We measure the vibrations of some atom, or the change in position of a light photon, and then label that time. Time at its most basic appears to be the ordering of events. Time allows us to distinguish what the sequence is. Time is different based on your reference frame, time slows as you speed up, and the strength of gravity can slow time. The Newtonian idea that one hour passing on earth is precisely match by one hour passing on Mars, has been proven wrong.

      Space is very flexible, it can stretch and shrink, and it can twist and curl. Space can twist back onto itself at the boundary of black holes. Space is infinitely pliable, space is so elastic it cannot be torn apart, well… maybe, not real clear about this point.

      So space-time is not fundamental, what seems to be the very fabric of reality is built of some mysterious, inscrutable, puzzling unknown. The data is pretty clear that space-time is not fundamental. The data is not clear at all as to what space-time ultimately is, many think this is because we don’t know what experiment to run, what question to ask.

      Don’t worry that you will suddenly disappear, then pop up somewhere else, nothing has changed about reality. Only our understanding, or actually, our lack of understanding, has changed. I cannot even imagine what will be possible once we figure out space-time and gravity.

1 comment:

Shirley said...

This discussion can also apply very aptly to Stock Market pricing. The variables are similarly time and space. It is said that Stock Market pricing is random, of which I agree. I assert that it is also momentary. Those two characteristics make market timing extremely arbitrary: how Stock Market pricing can turn on a dime.