The Mind of God: The Promise of String Theory

Musings from the Home Planet

There is a Russian proverb which goes: If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one.

I was thinking of that saying these last few weeks while I try to find time  to write my stories (a full time job in itself), blog, draw, and experiment with my new camera – all while holding down a full time job. Then there are the children and the grandchildren – all of whom I want to spend more time with.

Not willing to give up on any of these rabbits, I’ve also been doing a lot more reading.  Which brings me to the subject of my current read: Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Continuing Challenge to Unify the Laws of Physics by Peter Woit.

I’ve had this book for a long time and started to read it several times. Unfortunately, it brought back such conflicting emotions about my college days (where I earned a Bachelor of Science in Physics and a minor in Computer Science) that I kept putting it down. In those days, I felt confused over the material we were learning. We studied a great deal of mathematics that we were assured would help us with post graduate studies, but seemed to have nothing to do with science. I was never a stellar student to begin with and I left the university feeling depressed about it. To be fair to myself, I had a lot of personal troubles at home which left me with limited time to concentrate on my studies. Still, I felt that I had no future in Physics since I felt lost in the last year or two, where I began to pick up Computer Science courses. Here, I easily excelled (thanks to the Physics and Mathematics courses).

Mr. Woit did Post Doc work in Physics, but eventually switched over to Mathematics. The  reassuring part of the book for me was that he felt the same confusion as I (and many of my classmates) felt as an undergraduate.

It’s very hard for people who don’t have a firm grasp of Calculus to follow current ideas in Physics (it’s hard for people who do, too, unless math is a natural talent). He writes about the split in the physics community over how to approach modern physics. Having reached a point where we are limited in our ability to observe smaller and smaller particles directly, do we abandon the old methods of science where we insisted that the theoretical research match up with experimental results or do we abandon that approach in order to explore theories that are more elegant and interesting, but do not match reality?

Now, to normal people, who deal in the real world, this question seems to have an obvious answer: Go with reality. So, why don’t these very smart people with higher math skills choose that path? In short, the current theory called The Standard Model isn’t very elegant. It’s incomplete. It doesn’t explain every known force that we know of. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could find something clean and simple – that could explain everything- like String Theory.

The trouble is that the String Theory doesn’t predict anything. In fact, it’s not a theory, it’s a bunch of ideas that point to a possibility of a theory.

What I find fascinating is that just as Physics reached its peak of prestige (last half of the previous century) it hit a wall in its ability to describe the universe. When I was in college, we were on the verge of a Unified Field Theory that would explain how everything worked in the universe and when we did that we know the Mind of God.

All these years since I graduated in 1979, while there has been some real progress in Particle Physics, there is still no answer to a unified theory. The high priests of science are split into two camps – those who believe reality (experimental results) should play a role in physics and those who think insisting on working on theories that match reality is a hindrance to a fuller understanding of the universe. This second group believes that studying all possible worlds (mathematical constructs – not actual worlds) will eventually reveal the one that we live in.  It’s a “Fake it to you make it” type of approach. Or you might say it’s like trying to catch all the rabbits because one of them is the magic rabbit which will tell you the secret of the universe.

Like everyone who watches the news and goes to the movies, I’ve been following the effects on the culture these ideas have had. We have physicists telling us about multiple dimensions, time travel, and alternate realities in ways that indicate that they believe these things exist and there is proof that they exist. Yet, there are no observable data ANYWHERE that indicates that any of these things exist.

Don’t get me wrong – I love science fiction. I can suspend my skepticism long enough to enjoy a good story. But, I know it’s fiction. There’s no flux capacitor (Back to the Future) and there’s no Warp Drive (Star Trek). How about uploading your brain into a computer? Because once we figure out what the universe is made of, figuring out the brain will be a snap. Yes, well, don’t count on it. But, you say, isn’t the brain really a machine? IT COULD HAPPEN.

(Sigh) So, okay – even if you could duplicate an actual brain it wouldn’t be you, but a copy of you. So, what good does it do you? What kind of immortality would it bring YOU, the person reading this? None. You are still going to die even if a copy of you goes on. Then it will die and so on.

So, now, I’m going to leave you with these thoughts while I go back to figuring out how to catch all my rabbits. Yes, I know there are only 24 hours in each day, 7 days in the week, and with luck I might live to 100. I’ll make it work. After all, I am a scientist…

We all have our blinders to reality – it’s in our nature.  😊

 

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We Will Be Gods: Can Humanity Live Forever?

Musings from the Home PlanetWith the death of Stephen Hawking this week we are reminded of his warning to humanity that we must colonize the universe or face extinction. The reason we must leave Earth is that staying here is too risky for humans. Asteroids, a sudden burst of solar activity, or our own self-destructive behavior threatens the human race at any moment. The idea is that we leave the nest, Earth, and spread out into the universe increasing our survival chances.

This idea was certainly a popular one among Baby Boomers. We grew up with Science Fiction stories about humans populating the universe and eventually evolving into immortal beings. This was a comforting idea for children who grew up in the Cold War era where the fear of sudden nuclear annihilation was constantly lurking in our young minds. Naturally, we looked for ways to overcome that threat. But, is this really the future of humanity or an unrealistic belief system built on an instinctive human desire to defeat death? Is all that is necessary for humans to evolve into gods is to give us enough time?

Elon Musk seems to believe that space travel is the right path for humanity. I don’t doubt he’ll have many volunteers ready to commit themselves to a suicidal flight to Mars. But, why are they volunteering? Is it for adventure or for a mythological future they believe in?

I’m all for adventure and pushing the limits of human achievement, but I wonder at an effort that promises so much about a future we can’t possibly know.

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“Women used to have it easy. You could choose to stay at home, have a career, or be a sex slave. These days you have to be all three.” – Peg Bundy

Musings from the Home PlanetSo, where are we now?

Feminism used to be about equality in business and the political worlds. Then it was about who was morally better, women or men. Then it was about being blurring gender lines.

While the different forms of Feminism were slugging it out, we also had the inter-feminine wars: the stay-at-home moms and the career moms.  Currently, a  cease-fire exists where we seem to be trying to form an alliance. Sadly, that common ground seems to center around a woman’s sexuality. No longer does it matter whether you make a career choice or stayed at home. We are women, damn it!  We are all sisters in the same fight against aging – and we can prove it by our gym passes and our  lingerie!

At the present moment, Feminism is focused on power-Feminism with the aim of destroying the “Patriarchy.” But suppose what we call the “Patriarchy” is the social construct we need to make the right changes to our system? What if what we have today is built on hundreds of years of Western philosophical thought and progress? What if it’s this development, which have allowed women the greatest amount of equality and autonomy in human history, is one of the end products of that heritage? What happens if we tear it down?

On the other side, many people believe the female emancipation effort  has reached its end. However, I believe we are still in the process of coming to grips with so many new options for men and women.  That change can largely be credited to the political movements launched by women which gave us the vote and financial independence. At the same time, advances in science and technology have freed women (and men) from time-consuming domestic tasks. Our lives are changing with new technology giving us new moral and ethical challenges. DNA testing and surrogate mothers are such recent advancements that we are still in the early stages of understanding how they affect the social dynamics of family life.

Continue reading ““Women used to have it easy. You could choose to stay at home, have a career, or be a sex slave. These days you have to be all three.” – Peg Bundy”

The Cosmic Flower of Faith

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Is there a transcendent reality to our existence? Is belief in such a reality an illusion?

We live in an age where people find it difficult to discuss the supernatural at all. One of the reasons for this is that our words are changing. Definitions are being shorn of their supernatural meanings.

Take, for example, the word “cosmic“. The Merriam-Webster dictionary (online) gives us the following:

Definition of cosmic
1 a :  of or relating to the cosmos, the extraterrestrial vastness, or the universe in contrast to the earth alone  – cosmic radiation
b :  of, relating to, or concerned with abstract spiritual or metaphysical ideas – cosmic wisdom
2 :  characterized by greatness especially in extent, intensity, or comprehensiveness – a cosmic thinker – a book of cosmic significance

However, the Bing (search engine) gives us this:

cos·mic
[ˈkäzmik]
ADJECTIVE
of or relating to the universe or cosmos, especially as distinct from the earth:
“cosmic matter”

synonyms: extraterrestrial · in space · from space

inconceivably vast:
“the song is a masterpiece of cosmic proportions”

Notice the supernatural meaning is stripped from the definition. And it’s happening in other words, too. Some people think “soul” is now a person’s personality or character. The word “mind” is preferred over “psyche” as people accept that there is nothing more inside us than a mechanical brain that responds to external stimuli due to evolutionary conditioning.

For many people there is no God, no heaven or hell, no angels, no spirits at all – just the mud of the earth we are made of. When we die we decay into lifeless molecules and are absorbed back into that same Earth. It’s no wonder that the atomizing of society follows this philosophy of the atomizing of the individual. What point is there to family, religion, community if it all ends in dust? Why should we adhere to bonds between souls when the soul is a figment of the human imagination?

There is no proof we can offer that we will exist beyond death or that there is more to us than our physical bodies. However, there are arguments that point to something beyond this material universe. And this is what we call “faith.”  But, it is difficult to hold onto that faith. We may study the best arguments of humanity’s finest philosophers, but the dominate culture of this age rejects these arguments summarily.  And yet, isn’t the possibility of life after death appealing? Should it be rejected simply because it can’t be put to scientific analysis?

Faith is fragile – even for those who feel certain that God exists. First, it is hard to maintain faith in a vacuum.  Secondly, it may be that whether one believes or not in the supernatural depends on one’s personality and circumstances.

But my point is that whether one is a believer or not, the transcendent is worth spending some time studying and discussing. All references to  this (potential) aspect of our existence should not be wiped out of our vocabulary.  The difficult truth is that we will not know the truth of our existence until the moment of death. Like Schrödinger’s Cat, we will not know whether the fragile flower of faith is based on reality or not until that moment. It will be the most critical moment of our existence.

So, isn’t it worth spending a little time, while we’re alive, contemplating what our flower looks like?