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Ch. 1 - The Mystery of Being 
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Mystery of Being
From Do You Plan to Participate in this Discussion?

Jim Watters wrote:
I believe Hawking's hypothesis is that life evolved on Earth because we live in a Universe that supports the various chemical bonds (a couple dozen precise physical constants) to allow complex molecules to develop, multiply, evolve and then it's survival of the fittest for billions of years. Our Earth is in a very opportune distance away from our pretty much stable Sun that allows water to evaporate and freeze with active tectonic plates, erosion, and weather patterns to spice things up. Jupiter pretty much protects us from most asteroids.

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...scientific objectivity, while necessary, is not sufficient to explain meaning and significance in human life, and that philosophy is needed to enframe science within a wholistic worldview.


To me, it all comes down to the Big Bang. Was there absolutely nothing including space and time "before" the Big Bang? Shifting the creation of the Universe to a "Creator" just hides the initial cause. What was "God" doing "before" the Big Bang? Yet people want to find purpose as to why we are here. Sometimes the answer is just pure luck. We evolved into naked apes that had superior brains that would dominate the Earth.

I understand that Hawkings' new book includes imaginative speculation on big questions that are beyond human knowledge such as the origin and extent of the universe. I tend to agree with the Buddhist view that "The Buddha who had truly realized the nature of these issues observed noble silence. An ordinary person who is still unenlightened might have a lot to say, but all of it would be sheer conjecture based on his imagination."

Building on the ability of modern science to provide an ultimate and absolute factual cosmology to the extent we need one, what is at issue is that scientific knowledge provides us with enormous quantities of data, but meaning and significance refer to how we process this data, how we develop a theory of value.

As I see it, the challenge within a theory of meaning is to see how we can base values on facts, how we can assign significance to the most important evidence and develop objective criteria to rank the importance of evidence.

Speculating beyond our knowledge to imagine a turtle at the bottom of the universe is frustrating and pointless. However, the case can be made that the old Indian myth of Kurma the Turtle is a fable based on observation of the Large Magellanic Cloud. This mythological reading brings the infinite imagination of the 'turtles all the way down' type back into the framework of finite observation, enframing cosmology within human ability to find meaning in what we see and know.



Sun Oct 24, 2010 3:32 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Mystery of Being
Suzanne,
I agree, there has to be some thought in order to form an idea and then test it.



Sun Oct 24, 2010 3:58 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Mystery of Being
Robert Tulip wrote:
'turtles all the way down'.


I always found that ignorant quote unsettling funny: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turtles_all_the_way_down

Astronomers, Astrophysicists, Cosmologists, Particle Physicists and others are collecting an exponential amount of data about our observable Universe using today's technology. Many scientists have come up with theories to try to explain the data and cross-data, or get really theoretical with crazy-hard mathematics (Superstrings, M Theory) that probably can't be possible to test. But my hope is that our advancements in technology will allow us to finally patch together the fields of cosmology and particle physics within my lifetime. It would be the ultimate achievement of the human race to be able to explain how our Universe came into being.



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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Mystery of Being
Suzanne wrote:
I can understand the statement “philosophy is dead” in regard to theories. But what about hypothesis? Are modern scientists who form a hypothesis different from past philosophers? It is my understanding that philosophy and hypothesis both start with an idea, an idea formed by observation. It is not until this idea is tested successfully that it becomes theory. Has theory replaced philosophy?


In terms of particle physics, The Standard Model has stood relatively unchanged for about 20 years. We had no particle accelerator to test higher energies than what the current accelerators could achieve.

Superstrings, M-Theory, and Super Gravity were discovered/created purely mathematically in attempt to reconcile the linear mathematics of superposition in Quantum Theory and the non-linear mathematics found in General Relativity. This reconciliation was achieved mainly through the mathematics of Supersymmetry. So theory has gotten ahead of experiment. Two additional hopes of the new Large Hadron Collider is that it will detect a signature of supersymmetry and extra spatial dimensions beyond the three we know of. That would make theoretical particle physicists happy that our "theories" are on the right track, thanks to the experimental particle physicists.



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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Mystery of Being
At the risk of scaring people away, the book received a rather scathing review from The Economist, which is probably inevitable for such an ambitious subject matter. I'm a bit wary of the possible "hand-waving" and unsupported speculation (according to the review), but even so I think it's still worth getting a glimpse of what a couple of top physicists think about these issues. I'll be getting the book in the next few days.
http://www.economist.com/node/16990802



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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Mystery of Being
Thanks Dexter. Amazon.com has mixed reviews.



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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Mystery of Being
Dexter, thanks for sharing the Economist review. It highlights the difficulty of the relation between science and philosophy. I particularly noted the comment "The main novelty in “The Grand Design” is the authors’ application of a way of interpreting quantum mechanics, derived from the ideas of the late Richard Feynman, to the universe as a whole. According to this way of thinking, “the universe does not have just a single existence or history, but rather every possible version of the universe exists simultaneously.” The authors also assert that the world’s past did not unfold of its own accord, but that “we create history by our observation, rather than history creating us.” They say that these surprising ideas have passed every experimental test to which they have been put"

From common sense logic, both these ideas are utterly absurd. I regard it as a priori certain that we have one universe and that the past actually happened. I think that scientists can get so caught up in the implications of obscure findings from quantum mechanics that they fail to apply the common sense rule of whether their speculation is really possible.

A good discussion of The Grand Design is at bautforum.com - linked here.



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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Mystery of Being
Robert Tulip wrote:
From common sense logic, both these ideas are utterly absurd. I regard it as a priori certain that we have one universe and that the past actually happened. I think that scientists can get so caught up in the implications of obscure findings from quantum mechanics that they fail to apply the common sense rule of whether their speculation is really possible.


I tend to agree with you, I just can't accept this multiverse idea and can't imagine there could be evidence that would convince me otherwise. On the other hand, if I was around in the 1920s I probably would have sided with Einstein against those crazy quantum theorists, so I have to accept that our intuitions are sometimes no damn good.



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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Mystery of Being
One problem some might be having is understanding where you are observing from. We are looking for the inside out and not the outside in. We exist so our universe has to have the properties needed for us to exist. The universe has to have a history and properties to produce what we are made of and where we live. This gives us the basic framework for everything else. This also is a limiting factor in what you look for.

For example: We consider life as carbon based. So we look for life that matches our carbon based existence. But for life all you need is a method of reproducing and storing information and that doesn't require only carbon.

The problem is that we need to think ourside of our own limitations. We know Quantum works and it has multiple histories, multiple possible futures, multiple... When you take this one step farther and consider a more classical framework such as people and planet size events, you find out that the logical framework from Quantum still works. The logic still works. This gives you multi-universes and multi-histories and futures. But, and this is a big but, we exist in this one so all of our direct interactions with the universe are limited to our existing. We can't jump out of our universe.

A way to consider this is a 2 dimensional universe and 2D creatures. They exist on a piece of paper. They can just travel and view things in 2D. You stick a pencil through the paper and the 2D creatures now have a hole in their universe. They can only see or interact with the hole and not the pencil. The pencil never existed to them. But those creatures could create a mathematical 3D world to explain how the hole in their universe was created and where it came from. We are at the point where we have found enough holes in our existence so we can mathematically start constructing where the holes came from and that is the multi-universes of Quantum.

The logic sounds strange but the logic does hold and will boil down to the limited universe that we exist in. It also explains the holes we couldn't explain using just a single universal model. We just have to get our heads outside our 2D limitations.



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Mon Oct 25, 2010 3:42 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Mystery of Being
Welcome to BookTalk.org Wonk! Thanks for coming over. It's good to have another physicist\mathematician to get their views on these subjects.

I myself question whether quantum effects cause multiple universes every time an observation is made, instead quantum mechanics\field theory is the result of at least one extra dimension so small that we can't observe it. We may need another revolution in modern physics, in the way quantum theory is mathematically formulated and it's union with gravity.



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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Mystery of Being
You have to remember that Quantum follows a 'type' of averaging. In the double split experiments you get probabilities but the probabilities result in events that can be predicted and measured. It is possible to find the electron behind the screen but the probability is so slight you can usually neglect considering it and just look at the patterns on the front of the screen.

An observation can occur and create a change in a large scale environment but the resulting change might be such a large event as an ant is stepped on. The variety of changes is immense but the probabilities that a change causes anything significant is minor. Just like the averaging of possible histories in Quantum makes most histories cancel out the affect on large scales -- so it is not apparent but it is still there. It probably will take the observations of billions, or one at just the exact point, to create a change large enough to have a 'possible' reaction that can be found on a human scale.

There are a number of great stories that refer to these types of variations--see if you can find 'Thrice Upon a Time' by James P. Hogan. Crichton even used the topic--even if he messed it up a little.



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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Mystery of Being
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We are looking for the inside out and not the outside in.


I like this. It doesn't quite capture the core of the problem, but then I don't think there are sufficient words to do that. The everyday perspective that our intuitions and imaginations pulls from is seemless, without these ruffles and alogical events that our physicists say exist. The problem is that once some of our hypotheses meet with success even though they lead to strange conclusions, we have less fear when coming up with new hypotheses with equal or greater strange conclusions. Not that they'd necessarily be wrong, but we're past the point of being guided by intuition.

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There are a number of great stories that refer to these types of variations--see if you can find 'Thrice Upon a Time' by James P. Hogan. Crichton even used the topic--even if he messed it up a little.


What was Crichton's book? I've read them all, but that was when I was young. Perhaps before becoming (slightly) more familiar with the topic. I remember a ridiculous documentary called "What the Bleep do we Know Anyway?". My friend loved it, I told him he was a fool. Even if we could affect the quantum world by observation, we cannot control what the outcome would be, we only force the outcome to show itself. Whatever the outcome is, the proof is in the pudding. There are obviously parameters, even at the far reaches of probability, because I don't see no magic happening!



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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Mystery of Being
The Crichton book is the one about going back to historical France. The transporter works on the idea of not tranporting objects or people to the location or time in this universe but transporting to a parallel universe in the multi-universe. Crichton got too full of himself after Jurasic and started messing up the science too much (you have to play with it a little to write fiction but with too much it becomes just fantasy). Hogan covers the subject better and is the much better scientist. You might be surprised at how many scientists write SF. Even Hienlien wrote on multi-universe. You would be surprised how well entrenched the ideas are in both science and SF.

One of the problems here is that we are using English to examine the topic. Math is the best way to understand what is happening. With English you start sounding philosophical or even poetic because the formulae doesn't translate directly. But we also can't use math. String equations are nearly impossible for anyone without years of study and topology I just find confusing without the graphics and even then it takes study.

I disagree--there is magic. We just don't recognize it as such. Just consider Pi, Feigenbaum's no., golden ratio... Or we can switch to...



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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Mystery of Being
Jim Watters wrote:
I was referring to path integrals in the Quantum Field Theory (second quantization) sense, not the simple formalizations of Quantum Mechanics of wave-particle duality (Schrödinger, Heisenberg, Dirac).

In quantum field theory, path integrals are essential. All of the Standard Model is based on path integrals, the most successful being Quantum Electrodynamics.

Actually, people made significant progress on quantum field theory before Feynman came up with path integrals. Once he suggested the idea, path integrals became essential tools for gaining insight into and performing calculations about quantum field theory.



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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Mystery of Being
Interbane wrote:
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Philosophically, each mathematical structure provides a different perspective of the physical world.


So then, all three would be accurate in a way that depends on a single underlying principle, or two could in the future found to be less accurate than the third?

Since they're mathematically equivalent, they're equally accurate.

As a crude analogy, you can measure distances in miles or kilometers. Though there may be practical reasons to prefer one system over the other, you can't claim that either system presents a more accurate view of the world.



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