Normally I would
not pretend that Quantum Physics could come under the heading of
Questions of the Day. However, the UK public is now having it inflicted
on them by Ben Miller on the one hand and the approaching opening of
the new CERN Supercollider on the other. Let me deal with these two one
at a time as neither Ben Miller (lovely, brilliant and amusing man
though he is) nor the builders of the CERN Supercollider (a collection
specialized genii), understand the subject beyond the level of
specialization they are at the moment. So, dear innocent reader, if you
are puzzled by their failure to explain properly, that means your
brains are working OK.
I will start of
very slowly, taking just some current items with which you may have
been assaulted, and just deal with then for a start. This morning on
Saturday Live (BBC Radio 4, 9:00am) Ben Miller told us that General
Relativity and Quantum Theory did not 'mesh' when it came to describing
gravity. That is true, since General Relativity has a theory of
gravitation and inertial mass at its heart, and Quantum Physics does
not as yet have a theory of gravitation or inertial mass unless it
assumes a 'particle' called a Graviton and another called a Higgs
Boson. Furthermore, the properties, nature and behaviour of these do
not conform to any geometrical reality that quantum physicists have
offered (that is not to say there isn't such). So I will leave that
part of the discussion there for the moment without further comment
other than to say that top man Paul Dirac was satisfied his equations
were compatible with both Gen Rel and Quantum Mechanics.
The next thing
Mr Miller told us was about the speed of electrons, and here he may
have mislead listeners. He gave the impression that electrons travel
down a normal conducting wire at very high speeds, depending on the
voltage. He will have (maybe unintentionally) reinforced the common
impression that they can travel down the wire at near the speed of
light, and this is how electric current works instantly as far as we
are concerned. Not so.
electric current in a material is proportional to the voltage across
it, the material is said to be "ohmic", or to obey Ohm's law.
A microscopic view suggests that this proportionality comes from the
fact that an applied electric field superimposes a small drift velocity
on the free electrons in a metal. For ordinary currents, this drift
velocity is on the order of millimeters per second in contrast to the
speeds of the electrons themselves which are on the order of a million
meters per second. Even the electron
speeds are themselves small
compared to the speed of transmission of an electrical signal down a
wire, which is on the order of the speed of light, 300 million
I pinched the
bit above in italics from http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/HBASE/electric/ohmmic.html so you can read more
there if you like.
current down a wire as chucking Smarties into a hollow tube, whereupon
the same Smarties popped out the other end. Not so. If any analogy can
have meaning it is more like forcing Smarties in at one end of a tube
completely full of both Smarties and much larger vibrating marbles
which can't get out, leading to some Smarties being forced out the
other end almost instantaneously. I just thought I would clear that up
for a start.
Miller went on
to explain that his youthful Ph D paper was about what happens when you
reduce the width of the conducting wire to a nanometre and put an
obstruction in it. OK, at that point you will start to enter the world
of 'quantum effects'. There is no doubt about quantum effects and the
use we make of them in all our modern electronic devices. Quantum
effects are NOT all that surprising, the difficulty arises in trying to
describe them in terms of ideas and phenomena and geometry that are 3
dimensional and with dynamics that we are accustomed to considering in
time intervals that we experience in everyday life or imagination. We
need to develop new concepts and new geometries.
We were then
treated to what has become a 'hoary old chestnut'. Because quantum
physicists do not care for the multidimensional geometry that could
explain it reasonably, they claim that the result of the experiments to
solve the Einstein-Rosen-Podolski paradox (See Alain Aspect, Bell's
Theorem, Two slit experiments with light etc) is that there have to be
"Parallel Universes" in which observation affects physical reality
and/or the different possible outcomes of quantum realisations start a
new chain of events which, due to the number of such possibilities,
could not possible be contained in a single coherent universal reality.
All that is not necessary, you will be glad to hear.
First of all,
although there is indeed something special about human observation, it
has nothing to do with altering the external physical reality by simple
ocular observation, that is to say the reception of data emitted or
refelcted by external phenomena by the human eye. Things can indeed
effect our individual and even our collective perception of physical
reality, but that is another matter - very important but to be
discussed elsewhere. As far as quantum physics is concerned Nature,
organic and inorganic, is continually self-observing and continually
resolving the results of the interactions that take place between its
components. Laws of both thermodynamics and geometry apply. Quantum
physicists claim that those who think they understand QP don't. That
unless you don't see a (to date) insoluble paradox you have not
appreciated what happens. None of this is true. What is true is we need
to stop trying to visualise matter as being made up of three
dimensional 'building blocks' and 'particles' when we get down to
primitive levels. We need to realise that we cannot have a logical,
aritmetical resolution of physics on the same basis at both macro and
quantum level, there would inevitably be a conflict. One has to be at
the 'service' as it were of the other. In assuming the quantum level is
fundamental, quantum physicists make their fundamental mistake.
To end this
opening entry on Quantum Physics, a few words on the new Large Hadron
Collider built by CERN (European Nuclear Research Centre) near Geneva.
functions by accelerating two counter-rotating beams of protons
toward each other at high speeds. By cooling magnets to near absolute
zero (-273 degrees celcius) with an enormous cryogenics system, the LHC
can move particles toward each other at speeds only one millionth of a
percent away from the speed of light.
while Physicists have the logistics of the LHC well in hand
ideas about its outcome are strictly theoretical. According to one
scenario tiny black holes could be produced which hopefully would decay
into what is known as Hawking radiation (the tinier the black hole, the
faster it evaporates). If these black holes fail to decay, however, the
consequences could be disastrous. CERN software developer Ran Livneh
has expressed some concerns about the project:
While the chances of destroying the Universe are nil, the chances of
causing an unforeseen happening at the LHC are not nil. However, in my
view the outcome of the experiment will not lead to enlightenment for
all. Different people will come to different conclusions as to the
meaning of the results, just as they have in previous experiments to
resolve what are seen as opposing models of reality. I would condemn it
as a colossal waste of time, money and energy if it were not for the
fact that there is absolutely no way this would not have to be gone
through by humanity on this planet at this stage in this context. The
same was true of WWII for that matter. The latter led to a change of
view on how to develop international relations in the future. I trust
that the result of the experiments at CERN will have the same effect on
how to proceed with basic scientific research.
Here endeth the first lesson.
FEBRUARY 12th 2008
I was going to go on here but have been caused to pause by listenting
to the reviews, on BBC Radio 4 "A Good Read" of Paul Davies "The Goldilocks Enigma".
not read it. I assume its contents hold no surprises.but some
excellent descriptions of alternative theories and interpretations of
the origin, nature and possible purpose of the observable universe and
What gave me pause was the reaction of one of the reviewers, Robin
Lustig, a highly articulate and imaginative BBC presenter (you can look
up his CV no doubt via Google). Lustig was disappointed angry at
finding the book difficult to understand and, at the end, offering no
'answer'. Fair enough, but he then produced an example of the text that
really annoyed him, read it out and said: "What am I supposed to make
The paragraph in question was in fact a important suggestion that there
was scientific evidence to show that the 'mass' of the universe was not
a static quantity or property but a dynamic manifestation. When
everything is taken into account mathematically the mass of the
universe is in fact ZERO. It is the sort of observation that can assist
those trying to work out the solution to "The Goldilocks Enigma" a
puzzle concerning the reason for our world being so extraordinarily,
exactly suitable for the development and continuing sustenance of human
life and the surrounding universe so benign in its distant arrangement,
yet there is no evidence of a divine design or designer consistent with
scientific observation. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,
but the enigma remains in the minds of most people.
We are inclined to think of the universe having some static property
like a violin string at rest, and all that we observe to be like notes
that emanate from its vibration,.the origin of the string itself being
on a different level. Physicists talk of 'the building blocks of the
universe' and 'mass' (inertial, gravitational and otherly defined) as a
'property or properties of matter'. I think this is not so reasonable.
Even at this level it could be an activity and not a property.
So while I accept that Paul Davies may not have pointed readers towards
a closer understanding (I will now have to read the damned thing) I am
really disappointed by Lustig - to such an extent that I decided to
stop writing any more here for the moment. I am not sure there are any
readers worth the effort - though the other members of the Good Read
team made a bit more of an effort.
There is a solution to the Goldilocks Enigma. Various people have got
quite close to cracking it, but then have always gone for a single way
out which ends up in an infinity of of one sort or another in terms
that they prefer (like an infinite number of universes of which we are
one, or an effective infinity of possibilities within the one we can
observe which (as Derren Brown has shown by tossing a coin) would end
up in something like what we know anyway. That's the 'monkeys can write
Shakespeare' theory. Then we have the famous Weak Anthropic Principle
to take into account. They are all important theories and all wrong or
incomplete, lacking some philosophical or mathematical dimensions.
Monkey's DID write Shakespeare anyway, or rather one of their cousins
many times removed did, but not by chance at that stage of the game.
There is an answer to the Goldilocks Enigma. It is excellent. But on
reflection it is a good thing most people do not get a glimpse of it as
they would probably stop what they are doing, go out and get pissed
with their friends. Hold on..... I keep reading that's what too many
people are doing anyway, because they CAN'T understand
why or how they are here in the first place. Talk about Catch 22!