24 March 2009

After All

Long ago I discovered that my decision not to major in molecular biophysics after all was important for two basic reasons. The reason I gave (that I wanted to date chemistry and physics majors and they wouldn't ask out the competition) had some validity back then in the late '60s. But the real reasons were these:

1. I would have flunked out.
2. My penchant for engaging in pseudo-scientific speculative theology would have been thwarted.

For example, back when we first heard about neutrinos, we couldn't get many of the real physicists to get too deep into the "these are the particles of spirit" discussions. True, true, real scientists have subsequently called the Higgs boson the "God Particle," but they don't mean God in the sense that I do. They're just joking. People make jokes about what they don't understand. Leon Lederman (see his 1993 book, The God Particle) wins Nobel Prizes in physics and jokes about God. I pray, study scripture, go to Church every week, hold a temple recommend, and make jokes about physics.

Here's one: It could just be that the universe is not homogeneous after all. It could be that we don't need dark energy to explain an apparently expanding universe. It could just be that we are special after all, privileged observers living in special universe surrounded by a cosmic void. In other words, we live in a place, a particular topos. And not at its center. That would be ... oh, let's just call it something funky like ... Kolob.

Actually, that wasn't really a joke. If you want to read jokes, bad puns, and other signs of nervous self-consciousness, take a look at the April 2009 Scientific American article "Does Dark Energy Really Exist." And then for something really useful skip back to the article about saving honeybees which will lead you to plant flowers and let your dandelions grow. And then you can whip forward to page 70 where you encounter the amazing possibility of green lasers, the actual color, not the socially correct state of being. (I hadn't known there was a problem with this, but now that I do, I'm glad to know it will soon be solved.)

Or go outside and breathe in the Happy Spring! That's what I think I'll do right now!

Wait! I just thought of a joke after all. How does an environmentalist (not naming any names here) respond when you point out that his big car, luxury home, penchant for airplane travel, and other contributions to his substantial carbon footprint might seem hypocritical? (Drum roll .....) "It's not easy being green."

Okay. Not funny. I'd better give it up for this morning and just go prune the roses.

04 March 2009

Einstein Is an Icon

The ratio of ordinary matter to dark matter to dark energy in the universe is calculated at 5:23:72. Why, no one knows. It's not a pretty sequence. Except that this ratio seems to mean we're here. Otherwise not.

Of course, even the 5 percent of the universe that is theoretically discernible is a mystery. We live our lives in a Newtonian sham, an apparent world, playing by rules that make sense, rules that work, but are illusions. The Truth about the Universe, say those who know best, does not make sense, does not yield to Human Reason, which (reason) is a mere artifact anyway, a product of Truth at work over an incomprehensible amount of "Time," which is also an artifact and may or may not have an "Arrow."

In all fairness, I could observe that even theologians disagree about Time's Arrow (Is God in or out of time?), so I mean no disrespect to science here. I have the profoundest respect for those who dare face the dark, who delve into mystery, using anything they've got to try to find more.

So anyway, some 95 percent of the universe is unknown, perhaps unknowable. (I'm not even talking about the four levels of parallel universes or the eleven dimensions of string/ M/ whatever Grand Unification Theory is going down at the moment.) Mathematics says it ... the Dark Stuff ... must be there, to secure the existence of the 5 percent that actually is there. So, what we can (theoretically) perceive tells us that what we can't perceive (except theoretically) must exist. We can accept this, especially if we're religious. (Parallel universes are easy, too. If there can be actual but unperceived dinosaurs in my living room, as I heard last night on the Science Channel, why not my ancestors, and Enoch, Enos, Moroni, and Mary?)

Even the non-religious (in the belief-in-God sense) have learned to take the news that Actual Reality is not accessible, finally, to the senses. Just like the Virtual (by the mysterious virtue of which you are reading this blog), the Actual may be reflected in the Apparent ... but all the same it is Non-Sense, apprehensible only by our faith in mathematical formulae and metaphors created by people such as Albert Einstein. Except now it would appear that Einstein, like Newton, was wrong.

No one in the ordinary world will ever believe it, though, because Einstein is an icon. To the popular mind, Albert Einstein is the smartest person who ever lived. He could not be wrong, even if we have never been able to understand what he was talking about. Of course, people must have thought that about Isaac Newton, too. Or would have, if the media had been invented back then. (Isaac, like Albert, had terrific hair.)

So anyway it would seem that after a hundred years of our trying to comprehend and accept length contraction, time dilation, and other tricks of the uniform speed of light, at least secure in Einstein's conviction that the universe is local (action-at-distance isn't really happening), we are about to be turned once more upon our metaphorical heads. We have come to accept the conflict between Special Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. They can't both be true, but they are, so just leave them as truths independent in their own spheres on opposite ends of the size spectrum, and don't ask questions. (Sort of like what "traditional Christians" say we're supposed to do about what came out of Nicea in 325 A.D.)

But all of a sudden it appears that those irksome manifestations of non-locality, those pesky notions of quantum "entanglement" that Einstein tried mightily to eschew (using relativity to brush away simultaneity) are about to do him in.

How can this be?? If Einstein is wrong, the world falls apart.

It's not all bad news, though. According to a couple of university professors, David Albert and Rivka Galchen, writing in conclusion to their article "A Quantum Threat to Special Relativity" in the March 2009 Scientific American: "The diminished guru may very well have been wrong just where we thought he was right and right just where we thought he was wrong. We may, in fact, see the universe through a glass not quite so darkly as has too long been insisted."

Okay. Though it does not explain the authors' lame choice of a passive-voice ending here, I can only attribute the existence of this biblical reference to the fact that one of the authors is an adjunct assistant professor in the writing division in the School of Arts at the institution (Columbia) where her co-author is Professor of Philosophy. (Note, these are not physicists, but they are pretty smart.) It is quite artsy to wrap up a cutting-edge science article with a New Testament allusion. And I do appreciate the efforts of Scientific American in recent years to dumb itself down to my level. But, really, one does expect more precision. Because of course the "glass" of I Corinthians 13:12 is not the kind you see through; it's the kind that reflects.

Physicist Brian Greene of string-theory (science not music) fame, an expert in the Arrow of Time, suggested in one of his books ... it was Fabric of the Cosmos, I think ... that we all might better understand quantum weirdness (or even M Theory) if we just tried really, really hard. Okay, I try. So since I struggle mightily with their metaphors, I’m just thinking that David and Rivka might have tried a little harder with mine. Anyway, with the Apostle Paul’s.

Because èσόπτρου, translated as "glass" in 1611, would nowadays be rendered "mirror," and the poetry of "darkly" might be reduced to "cloudy" or "obscure." The Apostle Paul was not talking about failure to see more clearly through a nighttime window into the quantum reality of the universe or anything else "outside." He was describing a present inability to see ourselves as we really are, a problem that will be cleared up when we behold our Redeemer face to face and in perfect reflection see and know ourselves as we are seen and known by Him.

Of course, what we will know then will be the Meaning of the Universe. Or the Multiverse. Whether there be four dimensions or eleven. When we know as we are known. And then we will know for certain what Einstein knew all along (though David and Rivka say it's an "overquoted concern"): that God does not play dice. Einstein is still right about that, regardless of how un-special his relativity shall become.

No. Not dice. But perhaps God does play ... strings? (My poor heart?)

In any event, in spite of my little slip of the tongue during story time last week, I'm quite certain Jesus is not bored! As Einstein no doubt now knows perfectly well.