Archive for the ‘Physics’ Category

Physics cannot deal with nothingness

February 19, 2019

Physics (and all science) is about describing what can be observed and elucidating the causal relationships between observations. The process of science presupposes causality.  If causality is not always a fundamental and pervasive truth, the scientific method cannot elucidate anything. No system of reasoning can prove the assumptions the system itself is built upon. Science cannot, therefore, prove the existence of what it presupposes already exists.  Causality also implies the existence and the flow of time. Effect, it is assumed, can never precede cause. The process of science is necessarily blind to whatever may lie outside its suppositions. Which is why physics cannot deal with the non-existence of time (or space-time) where all the elucidated natural laws must be suspended.

Similarly, physics cannot allow of, or deal with, the unknowable. Many physicists merely deny the unknowable with the proposition that all things that have been, that are or that can be, are knowable and can – in principle – be explained by causality. But denying the unknowable leads to a deterministic world which, in turn, leads to the certainty of omniscience. It does not have to be human omniscience, but omniscience or any omniscient being becomes indistinguishable from a god. Determinism’s omniscience is nothing but divinity through the back door.

The unknowable lies outside the realm of science in general and of physics in particular. Unknowability applies not only to the existence of causality and time but also to the non-existence of nothingness. Clearly “empty” space which has dimensions and which allows the operation of natural laws is not nothing. Space which allows the passage of radiation or gravity waves cannot be nothing. Anything which has, or is attributed, any kind of property cannot be nothing. Our universe is expanding, it is said. It is also said that it is expanding into nothingness; where space and time emerge as the universe expands. But if the surroundings of the universe allow the expansion of the universe then such surroundings have a describable property and cannot be nothing. Nothingness is – and must be – unknowable.

Physics and philosophy both find defining nothingness a slippery business – but so they should, as they must for any unknowable thing.

What Is Nothing? Physicists Debate

…… The first, most basic idea of nothing — empty space with nothing in it — was quickly agreed not to be nothing. In our universe, even a dark, empty void of space, absent of all particles, is still something. “It has a topology, it has a shape, it’s a physical object,” philosopher Jim Holt said during the museum’s annual Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate, which this year was focused on the topic of “The Existence of Nothing.”

As moderator Neil deGrasse Tyson, ….. said, “If laws of physics still apply, the laws of physics are not nothing.”  …… But there is a deeper kind of nothing, argued theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss of Arizona State University, which consists of no space at all, and no time, no particles, no fields, no laws of nature. “That to me is as close to nothing as you can get,” Krauss said.

Holt disagreed. “Is that really nothing?” he asked.”There’s no space and there’s no time. But what about physical laws, what about mathematical entities? What about consciousness? All the things that are non-spatial and non-temporal.”

Other speakers offered different ideas for nothing, such as a mathematical concept of nothing put forward by science journalist Charles Seife, author of “Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea” (Penguin Books, 2000). He proposed starting with a set of numbers that included only the number zero, and then removing zero, leaving what’s called a null set. “It’s almost a Platonic nothing,” Seife said. The theoretical physicist Eva Silverstein of Stanford University suggested a highly technical nothing based on quantum field theory that involved a quantum system lacking degrees of freedom (dimensions). “The ground state of a gapped quantum system is my best answer,” she said.

Holt suggested another idea of nothing. “The only even remotely persuasive defintition of nothing I’ve heard form a physicist came from Alex Vilenkin,” a physicist at Tufts University, Holt said.”Imagine the surface of a ball. It’s a finite space but with no boundary. Then imagine it shrinking down to a point.” That would create a closed space-time with zero radius.

Every creation myth is about something appearing from nothingness. Even articulated by a physicist every theory about how things came to be, is just another creation myth. The Big Bang singularity is unknowable. I find many of the origin theories unconvincing where nothingness at the macro-level is allowed to produce somethings at the micro level, provided that not-somethings are also produced. Matter begets anti-matter and gravity (negative energy) begets positive energy, and the sum is zero. It is all very conveniently contrived except that why a particular something (and its negation) come to be, rather than some other something remains in the unknowable.

The Creation Hymn in the Rig Veda begins:

Then even nothingness was not, nor existence,
There was no air then, nor the heavens beyond it.
What covered it? Where was it? In whose keeping?

Nothingness is perhaps just where consciousness comes from – and where it goes.


First nothingness was not, then came the Big Bang and the Gods came later

If space is not empty, what is? The ultimate void?

Knowledge is not finite and some of it is unknowable

On the matter of matter (or how something came from nothing)



Philosophy before physics

January 23, 2019

Stephen Hawking once said “Philosophy is dead”.

Speaking to Google’s Zeitgeist Conference in Hertfordshire, the author of ‘A Brief History of Time’ said that fundamental questions about the nature of the universe could not be resolved without hard data such as that currently being derived from the Large Hadron Collider and space research. “Most of us don’t worry about these questions most of the time. But almost all of us must sometimes wonder: Why are we here? Where do we come from? Traditionally, these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead,” he said. “Philosophers have not kept up with modern developments in science. Particularly physics.”

But claiming that philosophy is dead is itself philosophy.

Hawking’s comment is remarkably like that of Isocrates who some 2,300 years ago followed the sophists. He taught rhetoric and oratory and did not much care for Plato’s new-fangled approach to thinking and education or his definition of philosophy. Isocrates certainly did not like Plato’s attacks on his school.

“Those who do philosophy, who determine the proofs and the arguments … and are accustomed to enquiring, but take part in none of their practical functions, … even if they happen to be capable of handling something, they automatically do it worse, whereas those who have no knowledge of the arguments [of philosophy], if they are trained [in concrete sciences] and have correct opinions, are altogether superior for all practical purposes. Hence for sciences, philosophy is entirely useless.”

Plato (428BCE – 348BCE)

But Plato prevailed even if he did make use of “fake news”.

Because of Plato’s attacks on the sophists, Isocrates’ school — having its roots, if not the entirety of its mission, in rhetoric, the domain of the sophists — came to be viewed as unethical and deceitful. Yet many of Plato’s criticisms are hard to substantiate in the actual work of Isocrates; at the end of Phaedrus, Plato even shows Socrates praising Isocrates (though some scholars have taken this to be sarcasm).

Part of the issue is semantics. Philosophical thinking by a physicist remains philosophy. (And observations and reasoning by philosophers would still be physics).

One cannot even begin to undertake the process called science without a philosophy. One can make observations and report them as perceptions but whether the perceived observations are valid or not are a matter of philosophy. Linking observations – or perceptions of observations – requires a philosophic acceptance of causality. Causality itself requires an acceptance of the flow of time which remains a philosophic question even when asked by a physicist. The languages used in describing observations (including mathematics) and in reasoning itself are underpinned by a philosophy of language. Even the simplest of observations requires the observer to have an underlying philosophy, just to be perceived as a relevant and valid observation. Communicating such observations are even more dependent upon the existence of language having a philosophy.

As Carlo Rovelli writes:

Here is a second argument due to Aristotle: Those who deny the utility of philosophy, are doing philosophy. The point is less trivial than it may sound at first. Weinberg and Hawking have obtained important scientific results. In doing this, they were doing science. In writing things like “philosophy is useless to physics,” or “philosophy is dead,” they were not doing physics. They were reflecting on the best way to develop science. The issue is the methodology of science: a central concern in the philosophy of science is to ask how science is done and how it could be done to be more effective. ….. They express a certain idea about the methodology of science. Is this the eternal truth about how science has always worked and should work? Is it the best understanding of science we have at present? It is neither. In fact, it is not difficult to trace the origins of their ideas. They arise from the background of logical positivism, corrected by Popper and Kuhn. The current dominant methodological ideology in theoretical physics relies on their notions of falsifiability and scientific revolution, which are popular among theoretical physicists; they are often referred to, and are used to orient research and evaluate scientific work.

….. They express a certain idea about the methodology of science. Is this the eternal truth about how science has always worked and should work? Is it the best understanding of science we have at present?

It is neither. In fact, it is not difficult to trace the origins of their ideas. They arise from the background of logical positivism, corrected by Popper and Kuhn. The current dominant methodological ideology in theoretical physics relies on their notions of falsifiability and scientific revolution, which are popular among theoretical physicists; they are often referred to, and are used to orient research and evaluate scientific work.

All of human thought builds on implied philosophies; on assumptions of reality and observations and on implicit philosophies embedded in the logic of our languages. There is no branch of science which does not need fundamental assumptions which are taken as being axiomatic. There is no branch of science which does not have fundamental “rules”. It is only the explicit questioning of the underlying assumptions which we label “philosophy”.  But the philosophies exist whether the assumptions are questioned or not. Physics of any kind is not possible without an underpinning philosophy of physics.

Philosophy is integral to science and to physics. There can never be a fundamental assumption made without there first being a philosophy.

And, of course, philosophy precedes physics in the dictionary.

Carlo Rovelli: Physics Needs Philosophy / Philosophy Needs Physics


Where matter and energy came from

December 23, 2018


How big is the universe?

December 23, 2018


On the matter of matter (or how something came from nothing)

October 9, 2018

First you have nothing.

But let’s assume that a smooth and homogeneous “nothing” can spontaneously and inexplicably produce lumps of “something” provided it also produces equivalent amounts of “not-something”, where

something + not-something = nothing

On balance it would still be a global nothing but with local clumps of somethings and not-somethings.

This is a very handy subterfuge often used in science and mathematics. When looking for something unknown, zero can always be converted into the sum of something and not-something. So it is always possible to imagine what the something is, evoke it from zero and claim that the not-something exists but cannot be found.

0 = X + ~X

Anything can be derived from nothing provided its negative counter-part can also be tolerated (in absentia if necessary).

Nothing can be anything

We observe matter.

We haven’t a clue as to where this matter came from. So we devise the concept of matter and an equivalent amount of anti-matter at the origin of everything. But we cannot find this anti-matter in sufficient quantities to negate all the matter we observe. The global nothing is not preserved. That leads to the next subterfuge. It was all energy to begin with. Some of that energy converted itself into matter. That does not quite explain where that energy came from. Of course “nothing” might have decomposed into lumps of energy and of not-energy. The energy, it is then surmised, is that which is driving the expansion of the universe or the inflation of the universe or both. The lumps of not-energy are more elusive. Where that might be is not yet part of the next subterfuge.

It might be that matter has always existed, but in that case where did the energy moving that matter around come from? And why?

Where did all the antimatter go?

Scientists suspect that the Big Bang was a huge tear the fabric of space that ripped equal amounts of matter and antimatter into existence. But today, everything we see is made almost entirely of matter.

Physicists know that something must have happened to tip the balance in favor of matter during the formation of the universe. But the question remains, what was it? Antimatter particles are reflections of their matter counterparts. They are practically identical, except they have opposite electric charges. For instance, the antimatter twin of the negatively charged electron is the positively charged position. If an electron and positron were to meet and metaphorically ‘shake hands,’ they would annihilate each other into pure energy.

Scientists are left with this puzzle: If equal amounts of matter and antimatter were created in the Big Bang—and if matter and antimatter annihilate each other into a ball of pure energy on contact—then the universe should contain nothing but free, unorganized energy. But we exist, and therefore something must have happened to allow matter to survive and antimatter to all but disappear.

Scientists suspect that a tiny portion of matter—about one particle per billion—survived from the early universe to create all the planets, stars and galaxies we see today. And while matter and antimatter look almost identical, scientists discovered that the laws of nature do not apply to them equally.

Researchers found that some matter and antimatter particles can spontaneously transform into their matter and antimatter counterparts. They also found that matter and antimatter particles decay at slightly different rates. Scientists suspect that there is some hidden process influencing the behavior of matter and antimatter—a hidden process that could explain these puzzling observations. US scientists and our international collaborators study the subtle differences in the behavior of matter and antimatter particles at the LHC to paint a clearer picture of why our universe is matter-filled.

The bottom line is that modern physics hasn’t the faintest idea of where the matter and energy in the observable universe came from or why.

At least physics attempts to find answers. Religions brush aside the question and just assume a Creator where the question of where the Creator came from is disallowed.


The speed of time (2)

April 1, 2018

The magical speed of an inconstant time (1).

Once upon a time (till about the 15th century) timeless meant badly timed. Since the 16th century it has been used almost exclusively to mean eternal and untimely is now used for badly timed. What puzzles me is that a time period – however measured – is not – and cannot be – time itself. A time period is to distance as time is to length. Time periods are all measured by observing a change which is assumed to be regular. We once thought the length of a day to be unchanging and took the day to be a period of time. We made the second fixed part of an unchanging day. Then we found that the rotation of the earth around its own axis was not regular. The period called a day was not an absolute measure. We have now shifted to the assumed regular frequency of vibration of a caesium atom in a particular state. This frequency is itself a time derivative – a change assumed to be regular (constant over time). But the regularity is an assumption. But even if this frequency eventually decays, and a second becomes longer than it is today, what is it that actually passes?

Does time flow? If it does, something called time must flow with respect to something else and it must therefore have a speed (a derivative).  Modern cosmology would have us believe that space and time are inextricably intertwined to make up a continuum – a la Einstein. Before the Big Bang there was no space and there was no time. And then came the Big Bang Singularity and both space and time were created (which is remarkably like a Creation Event). Time began to pass and there was space for the universe to expand into. But if time was not flowing, and then began to flow, it follows that it accelerated from a zero speed to whatever speed it flows at now. If the speed of time changed once, it can change again. It could go negative. In some other universe the omelette would give rise to the egg. But this brings us no closer to what time is.

We have to distinguish between the consequences of the flow of time (duration) and time itself. Without the flow of time there is no change, there is no motion. There is no life without the flow of time. It could be that if no change occurs, then time has not flowed, that the flow of the thing called time is necessary for change to occur. But change and motion are not themselves time. If the postulated space time continuum exists then there is no flow of time without space. If time does not flow there is only stasis. For matter of any kind to exist, even a fundamental particle, time must flow. For energy to exist, time must flow. And even if the wave theory prevails, the flow of time is required. Causality depends upon the flow of time. Not time, but the flow of time, is necessary for before and after and cause and effect.

Whether time is an intrinsic property of the universe or an emerging property it would seem to be a quantity that is unknowable within the dimensional constraints of the human mind. Perhaps the flow of time we observe is merely the shadow cast by something from a higher, unknowable dimension. But there is nothing that requires the flow of time to be constant or regular. As the universe and space expand perhaps the speed of time slows down.

It’s just magic.



Stephen Hawking 1942 – 2018

March 14, 2018

It was Fred Hoyle who first used the term “Big Bang” but it is difficult not to associate Stephen Hawking with the Big Bang Theory.

But for me Stephen Hawking will forever be my inspiration for considering the ultimate question — What is time?

The magical speed of an inconstant time


God and The Big Bang are both just labels for Magic

January 22, 2018

The Universe was subject to a “Creation Event”. It was not, and then it was, (and if it always was it is even more troublesome). The Origin of Life is also a Creation Event. These two “creations” (of the universe and of life) are the great existential questions which require Magic.

Religion relies on the “inexplicable” to justify the invocation of Gods. God-magic. Atheism relies on the “power of reason” giving the lie to the existence of Gods.  But atheism is merely a rejection of one set of labels and explains nothing. Religions vest their Gods with sufficient attributes to explain away what cannot be explained. Atheism merely ignores the inexplicable or claims the inexplicable to be a consequence of random events. Theologians and physicists alike merely give labels to what they cannot explain – as if the label is in itself an explanation. Anything inexplicable is what Magic is. Of course, Magic itself is just a label. I take the view that the nature of humans is such that some things are unknowable. The Universe exists in dimensions we cannot access or even perceive. We can, through the process of science and reason, discover the laws applying to the universe we perceive but, at every step of increased knowledge, we find new “whys” we cannot address. We now believe there are four fundamental forces of nature (gravitation, electromagnetism, strong nuclear, weak nuclear) but have no idea why they should be just four and not five or a thousand. Depending on how you classify them there are 12 or 57 fundamental particles. Why 12 or why 57 is just as much magic as when the universe was considered to consist of just fire earth water and air. Gravity and electromagnetism are just as magical now as they ever were. You could as well have a gravity-god or space-time magic. “Why time” is the essence of magic. The Origin of Life is also just a label for a Creation Event. There are weird and wonderful theories about this, ranging from a random event in the primordial soup to extra-terrestrial intervention.

All religions and theologians – at best – indulge in lazy thinking. Creation Events are just assigned to an appropriately defined God. Gods are just labels generated to answer unanswerable questions. Physicists and biologists are not quite as intellectually lazy but still resort to labels to explain away inexplicable Magic. Physics and cosmology define their own Creation Event and call it the Big Bang. To resolve all the problems with the Big Bang theory, it is deemed a singularity where the laws of known physics did not apply. It is then stated to be the start of known time which neatly dismisses any need to consider what came before. We still have no idea of how life came to be, or can be, created from non-life. Theologians merely put it down to a convenient God.

Magic = inexplicable.

The universe was created by a magical event and dances to magical tunes played by magical instruments. Life was magically created by other magical music within this universe. Atheists and priests and physicists and theologians all actually believe in Magic. God-magic is no different to Big-Bang-magic or origin-of-life-magic. A belief in a God is just as much a belief in Magic as a belief in the Big Bang is.


Real Magic

December 26, 2017

Magic is perceived when

  1. an observation (an effect) has no perceivable cause, or
  2. an effect contrary to the laws of nature (as known) follows some cause.

“Magic tricks” and illusions create perceptions of either 1 or 2. This is not Real Magic. It is where the apparent magic lies in creating a perception which is contrary to reality.  A magician is then someone or some entity which causes effects, which are perceived – by others – as inexplicable and magic, but which would be no magic for the practitioner.

Real magic can thus never be practiced. It can only be perceived.

Hard sciences take the position that all observations are explainable even if the explanation is unknown at that time. All fields of learning – including the hard sciences and even philosophy and theology – perceive magic (observations with no perceivable cause, or effects contrary to the known laws of nature) but are extremely reluctant to admit to the concept of magic. There is a fear – in all fields of learning – to admit that some things may be unknowable. Physics and cosmology merely give labels to the inexplicable to disguise their perceptions of magic. Neither philosophers nor physicists can explain what time is or why it exists or why the arrow of time is unidirectional. The “Big Bang Singularity” is just a label as “Dark Energy” and “Dark Matter” are labels for postulated events or things that cannot be explained. “God” is also just a label used by theologians instead of admitting to the inexplicable. What scientists and theologians conveniently ignore is that a label is not in itself an explanation. The label “Big Bang” or the label “Allah” explain nothing if you add the prefix “Why”. The Why of waves and particles and quantum theory are all in the realm of magic. Why the physical constants of the universe are what they are is wondrous and magical. Why does the logic of mathematics work and why should π have the value it does? How could matter and anti-matter have been formed in the first place if they annihilate one another?

But Real Magic exists. Real Magic lies in that time exists and that the Universe exists (in that order). The concept of a flowing time is so ingrained that we cannot imagine the beginning of time without asking what came before time existed – even if “before” has then no meaning. That effect should follow cause is Real Magic. Why logic exists and why the Universe should follow any laws at all, is inexplicable and Real Magic.

Physics and religions have this in common. What they cannot explain, what they perceive as magic, they invent a label for.


From position to snap, crackle and pop

December 20, 2017

The rate of change of acceleration is the jerk and we experience that everyday when starting up our cars or braking when the lights turn red.

The rate of change of jerk, the fourth derivative of displacement with respect to time, is called the snap. Positioning spacecraft requires the calculation of snap.

Snap too may vary with time. The fifth derivative is called the crackle and the sixth derivative is called the pop but these and higher derivatives have not – yet – found practical application.


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