Of paradoxes, and headaches!

The interconnectedness of everything – even beyond our wildest imagination.

A while ago John Zande signed up to follow Learning from Dogs. Naturally, I went across to John’s blog to thank him. There I discovered that John is an animal lover and an author. For he states, referring to his book, that, “BUY IT. ALL PROCEEDS GO TO ANIMAL RESCUE AND SHELTER IN BRAZIL”. Fabulous!

John Zande cover_zpsz7wuq9cc

(I did buy the book, am about 20% through it and finding it very stimulating, – if you would like to buy it then click the image of the book on John’s home page.)

Anyway, a few days later we watched the BBC Horizon programme on multiple universes. Here’s how the BBC introduced the programme:

Which Universe Are We In?

Horizon, 2014-2015 Episode 17 of 19

Imagine a world where dinosaurs still walk the earth. A world where the Germans won World War II and you are president of the United States. Imagine a world where the laws of physics no longer apply and where infinite copies of you are playing out every storyline of your life.

It sounds like a plot stolen straight from Hollywood, but far from it. This is the multiverse.

Until very recently the whole idea of the multiverse was dismissed as a fantasy, but now this strangest of ideas is at the cutting edge of science.

And for a growing number of scientists, the multiverse is the only way we will ever truly make sense of the world we are in.

Horizon asks the question: Do multiple universes exist? And if so, which one are we actually in?

Horizon is always great to watch but this episode was incredibly stimulating and interesting. Later, in a exchange of comments to one of John’s posts, where I referred to that programme, John wrote:

The mulitverse is actually the more reasonable explanation for why there is something, and although I don’t understand the maths, the people who do say its simplistically beautiful. Matt Rave is an associate professor of physics and comments here regularly. He has a great book on it all, Why is There Anything?

rave

That lead me to purchasing Matthew Rave’s book that, likewise, is a most fascinating and unusual approach to this topic. His Amazon author’s page reveals that, “Dr. Matthew Rave is an assistant professor of physics at Western Carolina University, in the mountains of North Carolina. His research interests include interpretations of quantum mechanics, the geometric phase, solid state physics, and physics education.” Matthew Rave’s blogsite is here.

Matthew Rave’s book further illustrates the paradox, to my mind, that comes from thinking about why are we here, are we here and, if so, how do we know we are here?

So if that isn’t enough for you and me, then very recently The Conversation blogsite published the following from Geraint Lewis who is Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Sydney. It is republished here within the terms of The Conversation. Did I mention paradoxes and headaches!

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We are lucky to live in a universe made for us

Geraint Lewis, University of Sydney

To a human, the universe might seem like a very inhospitable place. In the vacuum of space, you would rapidly suffocate, while on the surface of a star you would be burnt to a crisp. As far as we know, all life is confined to a sliver of an atmosphere surrounding the rocky planet we inhabit.

But while the origin of life on Earth remains mysterious, there are bigger questions to answer. Namely: why do the laws of physics permit any life at all?

Hang on, the laws of physics? Surely they are a universal given and life just gets on with it?

But remember that the universe is built of fundamental pieces, particles and forces, which are the building blocks of everything we see around us. And we simply don’t know why these pieces have the properties they do.

There are many observational facts about our universe, such as electrons weighing almost nothing, while some of their quark cousins are thousands of times more massive. And gravity being incredibly weak compared to the immense forces that hold atomic nuclei together.

Why is our universe built this way? We just don’t know.

But what if…?

This means we can ask “what if” questions. What if the electron was massive and quarks were fleeting? What if electromagnetism was stronger than the nuclear strong force? If so, what would that universe be like?

Let’s consider carbon, an element forged in the hearts of massive stars, and an element essential to life as we know it.

Initial calculations of such stellar furnaces showed that they were apparently inefficient in making carbon. Then the British astronomer Fred Hoyle realised the carbon nucleus possesses a special property, a resonance, that enhanced the efficiency.

But if the strength of the strong nuclear force was only fractionally different, it would wipe out this property and leave the universe relatively devoid of carbon – and, thus, life.

The story doesn’t end there. Once carbon is made, it is ripe to be transmuted into heavier elements, particularly oxygen. It turns out that oxygen, due to the strength of the strong nuclear force, lacks the particular resonance properties that enhanced the efficiency of carbon creation.

This prevents all of the carbon being quickly consumed. The specific strength of the strong force has thus resulted in a universe with an almost equal mix of carbon and oxygen, a bonus for life on Earth.

Death of a universe

This is but a single example. We can play “what if” games with the properties of all of the fundamental bits of the universe. With each change we can ask, “What would the universe be like?”

The answers are quite stark. Straying just a little from the convivial conditions that we experience in our universe typically leads to a sterile cosmos.

This might be a bland universe, without the complexity required to store and process the information central to life. Or a universe that expands too quickly for matter to condense into stars, galaxies and planets. Or one that completely re-collapses again in a matter of moments after being born. Any complex life would be impossible!

The questions do not end there. In our universe, we live with the comfort of a certain mix of space and time, and a seemingly understandable mathematical framework that underpins science as we know it. Why is the universe so predictable and understandable? Would we be able to ask such a question if it wasn’t?

Our universe appears to balance on a knife-edge of stability. But why?

We appear to be very lucky to live in a universe that accommodates life. Zdenko Zivkovic/Flickr, CC BY

One of a multiverse

To some, science will simply fix it all. Perhaps, if we discover the “Theory of Everything”, uniting quantum mechanics with Einstein’s relativity, all of the relative masses and strengths of the fundamental pieces will be absolutely defined, with no mysteries remaining. To others, this is little more than wishful thinking.

Some seek solace in a creator, an omnipotent being that finely-tuned the properties of the universe to allow us to be here. But the move from the scientific into the supernatural leaves many uncomfortable.

There is, however, another possible solution, one guided by the murky and confused musings at the edge of science. Super-strings or M-theory (or whatever these will evolve into) suggest that the fundamental properties of the universe are not unique, but are somehow chosen by some cosmic roll of the dice when it was born.

This gives us a possible explanation of the seemingly special properties of the universe in which we live.

We are not the only universe, but just one in a semi-infinite sea of universes, each with their own peculiar set of physical properties, laws and particles, lifetimes and ultimately mathematical frameworks. As we have seen, the vast majority of these other universes in the overall multiverse are dead and sterile.

They only way we can exist to ask the question “why are we here?” is that we happen to find ourselves in a universe conducive to our very existence. In any other universe, we simply wouldn’t be around to wonder why we didn’t exist.

If the multiverse picture is correct, we have to accept that the fundamental properties of the universe were ultimately dished out in a game of cosmic roulette, a spin of the wheel that we appear to have won.

Thus we truly live in a fortunate universe.

The ConversationGeraint Lewis, Professor of Astrophysics, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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12963392-An-image-of-a-man-with-a-headache--Stock-Vector-headache-earache-cartoon

17 thoughts on “Of paradoxes, and headaches!

  1. Many thanks for this superb composite article Paul; whilst it left me too scratching my head – as per the cartoon picture – it do so in a very good way. I remember reading about Everett’s MWI (Many Worlds Interpretation) decades ago, though retain an embarrassingly thin understanding of the principles involved.

    John Zande is most certainly one of the most thoughtful, perceptive, well-informed and sharp-witted bloggers I have ever come across, and I wish him well with his book, which by the way, appears so far to have been met only with a deluge of 5-star reviews on Amazon. I daresay that you and I will both lengthen that list.

    1. Hariod, I agree with you about Mr. Zande. All I would add to your list of credits for him is that his book provides plenty of physical therapy. Having to turn the pages of my dictionary several times for each paragraph is strengthening my finger and wrists muscles!

      Of course, you do realise that you and I, if we continue to applaud JZ’s writings, will rot in our coffins when the end comes!

      1. Oh, the dictionary problem, well whatever you do don’t buy mine in that case – there’s no dogs in it anyway. 😉 I love discovering new words in writings myself, and when you consider that pretty much everyone has a phone or tablet within reach when reading – and therefore instant access to the world’s dictionaries – then I think the case can be made for writers’ enriching the language used. And on some electronic readers you can click on a word to find it’s meanings. Well, that’s my excuse for my own periphrastic lucubrations anyway. 😉

        As to rotting in coffins, there’s only one way to avoid that – get cremated! 🙂

      2. No John; it really isn’t your cup of tea my friend – an introductory manual on formal contemplation practices – and it is excruciatingly dull in all truth. If you can just manage to occasionally read my once-monthly blog articles, then that is honour enough for me, and likely more than you need to know of my thoughts!

      3. Too late, already bought it 🙂

        And i would read if i got email notifications. i’m following you, yes, but I never check my Reader. Can you put up a Follow Blog by Email widget thing?

  2. Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) has a lovely little book, God’s Debris, which is available for free online. It proposes (as a thought exercise delivered in about 100 pages) a Creator did exist and being maximally powerful the only thing it reasoned it might not be able to do was destroy itself. So, it blew itself to bits. The universe is that debris, slowly reassembling itself, finding consciousnesses, moving back towards maximum understanding. It gives wings to the fact that we are the universe made conscious.

    Thanks for the plug, too, Paul! 🙂

  3. An excellent post and what a wonderful gesture to donate his book profits to an animal rescue centre in Brazil. 🙂

    So many interesting questions and theories … And its all finely balanced as is our distance from the Sun, a little closer and we shrivel, a little further away and we freeze..

    I like to think we are a living Library filled with Life, and ALL possibilities.. Its just up to us to realise our potential and understand that we came to learn something quite simple, yet maybe its the hardest to achieve.. Love unconditionally..

    Now Maybe most of our four legged friends in the Doggie world have attained that.. And don’t you just love how the Universal Sinchronisities work 🙂 as one thing then leads us on to another..

    Many thanks for sharing a subject close to my heart.
    Which still gives me a headache 😀

    1. Sue, what a fabulous and glorious reply from you. John Zande was, as with you, a link across the blogging world and, likewise, a most interesting person. And Matthew Rave’s book is the most delicious stirring of brain cells that I have ever come across!

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