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What is Reality……

8 Mar

The answer to the question “What is reality?” is actually quite simple and can be put into one short sentence: it’s whatever you perceive as real. However, the simplicity immediately becomes complicated by the word ‘perceive’. Perception is subjective but there are many things we all perceive in a very similar way, but those things, such as the sky being blue are largely down to a common evolution. In the case of the sky, we agree on the colour because the receptors in our eyes are fundamentally the same in everyone (unless you are colour blind, which is a genetic defect of the eye). There is, however, a further complication to reality which is much, much deeper……

It is well known that an atom is predominantly empty space. It could be argued that it contains nothing ‘solid’ at all as we probe ever deeper. If everything we perceive as solid contains nothing at all, then how can anything exist to make our reality? This is the point at which we have to disassociate everything we think of as real and remind ourselves that perception is nothing more than an interpretation created by the sensory input to our brains. It becomes difficult to discuss, because all we have is language and mathematics to describe things, and both are coloured by our perception of reality……

Physicists ran into difficulties in the early 20th century. Called ‘The measurement problem’, the act of making a measurement actually affects the outcome. This is easily demonstrated visually with the famous double slit experiment, is still as yet unexplained and is one of the central mysteries of quantum mechanics. Follow this link to see a demonstration and the paradox will become clear. A well known thought experiment by Erwin Schrödinger in 1935 applies the double slit experiment to the macro scale with a cat in a box. Follow this link to learn about Schrödinger’s Cat and the paradoxical nature of the measurement problem becomes abundantly clear……

As we have developed the technology to ‘see’ things on smaller and smaller scales using particle accelerators, it appears that our ‘solid’ particles vanish altogether and all we are left with are forces and ‘virtual’ particles. The illusion of reality is a consequence of those forces being slowed down by the Higg’s mechanism; a sort of cosmic treacle that slows down the forces from the speed of light, giving them mass. Without it everything in the universe would move at the speed of light and nothing would exist at all……

So, what is reality? In our daily lives it is what we see, no matter how strange it is. But we have to accept that it is an illusion and, personally, I don’t believe we will ever really know. It’s a Rabbit hole which just get stranger the further down you go……

The reality right now is that I need a coffee, a smoke and more time to scratch my head……

Infinity

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Space, the Final Frontier……

5 Jul

IMG_1527‘We deceive ourselves on a daily basis. It’s an innate response to the overload of sensory input and a defence of our own fallibility. Not all creatures’ brains possess this subconscious defence mechanism, they simply don’t need it. Although we like to anthropomorphise the behaviour of other animals, particularly Primates, the truth is we do not know what an ape is thinking, how far it’s thinking ahead or whether it has an understanding of all possible future outcomes……’

Long running unresolved philosophical arguments regarding the ‘reason’ for the existence of the observable universe and our place in it will continue. ‘Long running’ is of course a relative term. As far as we are aware Humans, as we recognise them, have been around for approximately 90,000-100,000 years. When we began to ask more probing questions about our purpose is not known but I imagine early Humans had more to worry about than philosophy whilst adapting to a changing climate, seeking shelter and finding food.

The truth is we do not know if animals, even the ones closely related to us, have any concept of death. While researching this post I came across the case of Gana, an 11 year old Gorilla living at Munster Zoo, Germany. Gana lost her baby but continued to caress it for some time. Scientist were unsure as to whether Gana had a true grasp of what had happened but again the tendency to anthropomorphise primate behaviour cannot have been absent, especially when the animal appears so close to us. Gana appeared more puzzled than distressed……

IMG_1529The reality is that all creatures have only one purpose; to proliferate their DNA. We may consider ourselves important to the process of evolution but even that, when dealt with rationally is an anathema. You may successfully pass on your DNA but bearing in mind that 99.9% of all creatures that ever existed are now extinct; so will your genus given time. Even if you credit the Human Race with the intelligence to beat its own extinction, external factors such as asteroid strikes are beyond our control.

IMG_1532

Human creativity has used religion and spirits to insulate themselves from reality of their inevitable demise. I choose to believe the Standard Model of Cosmology but it changes nothing. Whether you believe in gods, spirits, the big bang or the Buddhist belief in ‘recycling’, ultimately it makes no difference. If you’ve past on your DNA, as far as the Earth is concerned its mission accomplished. Now you can die. Nothing would please me more than an answer to what happened in the first three billionths of a second after the Big Bang but it changes nothing. The Human Race will become extinct, or hold out for another 4.5 billion years at which point our Sun will run out of fuel and we’ll be swallowed up in the fiery mass of a Red Giant just before it explodes, destroying the entire solar system and everything in it……

Either way, you don’t need Douglas Adams’ ‘Total Perspective Vortex’ to realise your place in the universe; or more importantly, your purpose, or lack of it……

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A Review of 2014……

31 Dec

The_Thinker_Rodin

‘Thank you to all of my readers during 2014…  Below is an automated summary generated by WordPress…  More to come in 2015…  Bringing you the truth behind the ‘commercial medias’ headlines…..’

 

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog:

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 3,700 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

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Click here to see the complete report.

Was Einstien Wrong……?

30 Nov

‘Far be it from me, a ‘pub’ physicist to question one of the brightest minds of the 20th century, but is the most famous equation in physics, e=mc², actually completely accurate……’

What Does it Actually Mean……?

Einstein was trying to demonstrate the second law of thermodynamics, the conservation of energy, which you’ll einstein1remember from school says that energy can not be created or lost, only changed from one ‘type’ to another.

In the famous equation, e=mc², Einstein was telling us that energy and matter are two sides of the same coin and, that theoretically you could convert mass completely into energy, as with an atomic bomb which had not been invented at that time……

So why is it Wrong……?

It’s a case of splitting hairs. Read on……

Energy and Mass

The equation states that energy ‘e’ ,converts completely into mass ‘m’, proportional to the square of the speed of light ’c²’.  That statement is for all intents and purposes true.  However, a photon, about the smallest amount of stuff you can get, which can be thought of as a particle of light, does have mass.  Mass and energy cannot exist in isolation and can only be thought of as ‘mass energy’ ……

Momentum……

Had Einstein chosen to write his equation thus e=m๐c², indicating that the mass was at rest, this would have been correct but because a particle can’t be at rest, even at absolute zero you have to take momentum into account……

The Solution……

The solution isn’t that hard to work out but doesn’t look so neat.

The actual equation is:Einstein_V1_2

Despite the nit picking, the relationship between mass and energy is mind blowing.  If you could extract it there’s enough energy in a glass of water power the earth for a year.  Liberating it is the problem……

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Physics, Philosophy and Paradoxes ……

9 Jun

‘Is the world around us a quantifiable reality upon which we can all agree or the product of our individual experience?  What can we ultimately state is real, constructed or imagined, and why does it matter…..?’

I can answer the last question, “why does it matter?’ without any difficulty.  It matters now for the same reasons it mattered to Aristotle, Socrates and Plato 2000 years ago; to understand our place in the universe, the reason for our existence and, ultimately, the purpose of purpose.

Although we have a far greater understanding than our forefathers, we are still a long way from knowing even a small percentage of the answers.  However, theology still remains mankind’s first and worst attempt by way of an ‘explanation’.  To say we were put here by a creator and he, and only he, has the answers is as useless as saying the universe was farted out of a giant green hyper-being.  Note:  I use the masculine in my description of the creator, not due to my own sexist beliefs; rather those telling of the male dominated monotheistic religions who claim to act with divine authority and have spread misery to millions across the globe.

Scientific investigation has provided us with many useful answers about the world upon which we live, the solar system and galaxy in which it resides and the observable universe beyond.  However, there are some embarrassingly large gaps in our knowledge and an inability to reconcile observations on different scales.  The scientific community has chosen, or been reluctantly compelled, to do their research in isolation absent a unifying theory to explain the observations of the quantum scale with those of the cosmological.  Not that this lack of unification should deter further investigation as breakthroughs do happen.  Experimentation provides the most useful results on all scales and theories are needed to guide those experiments but it is theory that leads me to my next point.

There comes a point where a theory can not be experimentally tested.  It is then  that theory and philosophy converge.  An example of this is that of “the standard model of particle physics”.  With time, patience and a considerable investment in particle accelerators scientists have delivered results which appear to have confirmed the standard model through experiment and have applications in the advancement of the plethora of electronic devices upon which our lives now depend.  However, another branch of theorists have departed from testable predictions with ideas such as string theory.  Clever though the mathematics may be it adds little to our understanding of the real world and may be nothing more than numerical anomalies.  If this is the case then it may as well be theology; albeit less destructive.  I find it hard to imagine fundamental theoretical physicists declaring war on the “multi-verse” camp.  I simply feel that once a theory becomes un-testable it adds nothing to our understanding of the physical world around us.

Some alternative theories do carry some weight and may be testable.  One in particular that caught my attention was the proposal that the laws of physics as we now understand them may have been and are still evolving.  The Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees, wrote an interesting book entitled “Just Six Numbers”, in which he postulates that even a minute variation in something like the force of gravity and the universe as we observe it would never have come into existence.  Had that have been the case we would probably not have even been here in the first place.  However, everything we observe around us is evolving with ever increasing entropy.  Some theorists are now proposing that the laws of physics are not necessarily constant or fixed.  This idea is not as preposterous as it may first appear as it may explain some of the mathematical paradoxes that current theories produce such as infinities.  Infinities have always bothered me, not to the degree of Georg Cantor who was driven insane by the paradoxical nature of infinity.  Given the immense time scales and intrinsic measurement problems presented by physics infinitesimally small changes in what we have always considered “constants” in nature could be possible and account for some of the anomalies in the evolution of the universe.

It is certainly an area I will be paying close attention too and will hopefully provide a better explanation for why our universe is as we see it today, whereas string theory can never be proven by experimentation……

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Big Universe, Small Box……

1 Apr
The Aurora Borealis

The Aurora Borealis

‘From the outer edges of the observable universe to the beauty of our planet, all may just as well be unreachable from the relative position of the very small box which imprisons by body and mind, stifles my imagination and limits by ability to discuss ideas……’

My Box……

The box which imprisons both my mind and body is 15 x 25 feet square.  It is a philosophical prison and one from which my escape is limited by the same thing that limits almost everything we do as human beings: money……

My Universe……

Yellowstone Park

Yellowstone Park

Unlikely to ever be able to leave the surface of planet Earth, my universe is made from light.  Some of that light left its source many hundreds of millions of years ago.  This does not impede my ability to study it.  What stops me from seeing it with anything other than the naked eye is money.  To be able to clearly see some of the faintest objects in the sky one requires two things; the ability to be able reach somewhere with the minimum of light pollution and an observational instrument with which to view them.  Both of these resources need money.  Not a huge amount of money, but enough for a reliable vehicle (as you are heading into open country) and, a telescope of sufficient quality to see your chosen object with clarity.  This would cost you approximately £2,000, even on the second hand market……

Angel Falls  - Venezuela

Angel Falls – Venezuela

The World we live on……

Our planet is covered in fascinating landscapes, diverse cultures and archaeological gems.  During my life thus far I have visited many places, some quite beautiful others no so much.  What they all have in common, with the exception of North America is warmth.  I’ve generally followed the tourist trail to the Mediterranean; Spain, France, Greece, Italy and islands to numerous to mention.  Although some have had a few archaeological sites of interest, the majority have been the standard ‘two weeks by the pool’ kind of destinations.  Great for a sun tan and cheap larger, not so good for the cultural expansion of ones horizons……

Chichenitza - Mexico

Chichenitza – Mexico

To see the things I’ve missed……

On our own planet the things I’d like to see are archaeological sites of scientific interest.  Most are in fairly inaccessible places like Machu Picchu in Peru, the Pyramids in Egypt, Mexico, Cambodia and Tikal in Guatemala amongst others.  Then there’s Petra in Jordan, the Terracotta Army in China and the statues on Easter Island.  This is only a few of the places I’d like to see but all are inaccessible to anybody without substantial sums of money.  Then there are the natural wonders of the world; the Galapagos Islands, Yellowstone Park, the Great Barrier Reef, the Grand Canyon and Angel Falls in Venezuela to name but a few.  Again, all of this would take a lot of money; money I don’t have and money I am unlikely ever to have……

‘So here I am, stuck in small box inside an unimaginably, if not infinitely, large universe, unable to visit the places that physics dictate can be reached and unable to see the objects that physics dictate I can only see given the right optical equipment……’

 

New Zealand

New Zealand

‘It’s a big universe and a small room.  It adds a whole new dimension to Einstein’s General Relativity……’

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Are we Alone in the Universe…..?

24 Dec

Next to ‘How did the Universe Begin?’ and ‘Can any politicians tell the truth?’, ‘Are we Alone in the Universe?’ is probably the biggest question we can ask.  It is surprisingly easy to answer but there are some important things to consider……

 

So, Are we Alone in the Universe…..?

No, probably not.  The universe is very big and very old so, when considering the existence of life in another part of the universe, the numbers are important.  You’ve probably heard it said that the chances of winning the lottery are 14 million to 1.  To reach this statistic the mathematics is relatively simple.  The chance of your first number coming up is 50 – 1, the second 49 -1, the third 48 – 1 and so on until the bonus ball, which has a probability of 45 – 1.  Multiply each together and you’ll get close to 14 million to 1.  Even though this appears to be a fairly low probability and, you have more chance of dying before the draw takes place, it pales into insignificance when compared with the probability of life existing somewhere else in the universe due to the size of the numbers involved.  It’s what we physicists describe as absolutely cala-fraga-licstic-expeala-fucking-dosingly bastard big……

How Big is the Universe and What’s in it…..?

 

The observable universe is 93 billion light years across.  The distance light travels in one year is 5,865,696,000,000 miles (nearly as far as Hilary Clinton flies).  Multiply this by 93 billion and you get the scale we are dealing with here; it is literally astro-fuckinomical!

The observable universe (I’ll refer to it as ‘the universe’ from here on) contains approximately 100 billion galaxies.  Galaxies vary considerably in size, from 100 times the mass of our own Milky Way galaxy, to Ultra-Compact Dwarf galaxies with only a few tens of millions of stars but as an average each of the 100 billion galaxies contain between 1 and 2 hundred billion stars and 4 celebrities.  So, again we are dealing with an enormous number of stars and, therefore, potential solar systems devoid of any talent.

That’s about it for the numbers (I promise) but now we need to take into account practicalities and philosophical questions……

The Drake Equation……

In the early 1960s as scientists began to give serious consideration to the proposal that we may not be alone in the universe and the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) was established.  One of the founding members of the project, Frank Drake, began to lay out the ‘requirements’ for finding intelligent life.  His work led to the famous ‘Drake Equation’ which defines some logical search parameters such as the number of stars which are liable to have planets capable of sustaining life, whether that life would then develop intelligence and the length of time an intelligent civilisation may have been ‘broadcasting’ detectable signals.

It is at this point that the philosophical question of what defines ‘intelligent’ life arises?  For example; I happen to think that Dolphins and Gorillas are pretty intelligent but neither has the capability or desire to broadcast signals into space.  So the Drake Equation works on the assumption that the life they were seeking is something not dissimilar to us.  Even with this proviso, Drake calculated that there could be between 1000 and 100 million intelligent civilisations in the universe with 250,000 celebrities, 500,000 fake breasts and 5.2 Simon Cowells……

Why hasn’t ET Phoned Home…..?

If Drakes estimates are to be believed one might have expected some signs of life out there in the depths of space, yet so far despite having scanned the skies over a large spectrum of wavelengths we have found nothing, nada, jack.  This does not mean that Drake was wrong or that intelligence similar to our own doesn’t or hasn’t existed.  However, take a look at our own civilisation and it took over 100,000 years of evolution before Marconi began to pump decipherable signals into the ether.  In the 100 or so year since, those signals have barely made it off the estate and into town in astronomical terms.  Then, taking into account the age of the universe, an intelligent civilisation may have existed before we crawled out of the sea and, assuming they are as ‘intelligent’ as we are, may have destroyed themselves or the planet they lived on due to differences about whose imaginary best friend created the universe, and any decipherable signal went whistling past the earth just before Copernicus worked out that the Earth wasn’t at the centre of the universe.

It is a catch 22.  The enormous numbers relating to size, time and possibilities may be the very thing that will stop two intelligent civilisations ever communicating, let alone meeting each other on a mutually convenient planet and ‘NGC3370’s Got Talent’ will never be scheduled to coincide with the Christmas number 1 by a purely editorial quirk of corruption……

Other Possibilities……

For this exercise in philosophical pondering we’ll assume that we are not the most intelligent thing in the universe.  If there are 13 dimensions of space, which the Nobel prize winners for extreme cleverness have suggested, is it possible that entities are able to pop in and out of our dimensions at will?  We’ve all seen those donut shaped ‘ice crystals’ that buzz the space shuttle and reports of alien abductions from people in institutions  across the planet, though the fact that they always seem to abduct ‘red neck’ hill billies from Montana is beyond me.  One has to wonder why a civilisation with the capability of inter-dimensional space travel doesn’t abduct David Cameron or President Obama unless they are carrying out experiments into inter-dimensional lying and need a baseline from which to work.  Perhaps David Icke is right and the Queen, Prince Philip & Martin Jackson are really lizards in human clothing.  Many questions remain unanswered but for now one can only hope that the matter version of Simon Cowell meets up with his anti-matter counter parts and they annihilate completely with the blinding power of a hundred David Dickinson’s fake tans……

Until Stephen Hawking finds a way to cross the space-time continuum at will we’ll just have to accept that the only ‘intelligent’ life we are likely to encounter is at the check out in Tesco’s which, let’s face it is unlikely as they don’t even know the difference between ’Ten Items or Less’ and ‘Ten Items or Fewer’……

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