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Aug 27 2008

The “screen resolution” of the universe

I don’t know a lot about quantum physics.  I can’t tell you anything about matter or energy at Planck-scale sizes, outside of what I understand on Wikipedia (which isn’t much).  I am, however, fascinated with the idea that the universe might actually have a basic resolution and matter-unit (or wave-unit, as the case may be) that it operates at, and how it ties into my other beliefs about the nature of the universe and what we as humans can learn.

So, here’s what I do know about quantum mechanics, as a precursor.  As vastly, seemingly infinitely huge as the universe is, an atom is equally seemingly infinitely small.  A single human hair is about one million carbon atoms wide.  An atom is to the size of an apple, what that apple is to the size of the entire Earth.  Apparently, atoms can be subdivided into electrons, protons, nuclei.  The act of splitting an atom can produce massive amounts of energy, so much so that nuclear bombs are possible.  Each of the particles that make up an atom, can also be subdivided into quarks, which may or may not be wave/matter hybrids.

Quarks, which are essentially to atoms (along with leptons) what atoms are to molecules, come in six “flavors” that we know of — up, down, top, bottom, strange and charm.  Top, bottom, strange and charm are apparently highly unstable, and while they can be recreated briefly to be studied by scientists, evidently all the naturally occuring ones in the universe would have evaporated during the first few “insert-time-units-here” after the big bang.  What’s left, up and down, can be arranged in groups of three to form protons and neutrons, taking exactly three to do so.  They also cannot exist freely without other quarks in such a group of three — the further apart from other quarks they are, the greater the attraction to them, so they naturally glom together.

As hard as it is to wrap your mind about the idea that even atoms can be subdivided, it’s really difficult to think that possibly, just possibly, even quarks are not the basic unit of the universe.  Once upon a time, molecules were thought to be that basic unit (and if you go back even further, you could include some of the wrong ideas that have existed, like “the elements” of fire, air, earth and water), then atoms were found to make up those molecules, and as the types of atoms were categorized and itemized and new ones were theorized, we discovered that atoms were made up of parts, and those parts made up of parts themselves.  My banging away at this keyboard involves billions upon untold billions of quarks somehow interacting on every single keystroke, and that level of subdivision is mind-boggling.  That said, if quarks aren’t the basic unit of the universe, what ultimately is?  What, then, are quarks made of?  Does this basic unit have a predefined grid that it has to fit onto?  Is movement of everything determined on this grid, however infinitessimally small that grid might be?  If so, then the time it takes for that basic unit to move from X=4 to X=5 could very well be the basic unit of time of the universe, one “CPU clock tick” in this computer simulation we call existence.  That would imply that the speed of light, which is the fastest that light can travel in a vacuum, might be the absolute fastest that every most basic unit of matter can travel through space — e.g., that every single clock tick the matter is moving one grid point.  Which might mean that faster-than-light travel is impossible.  Or, we could learn that it’s possible to move two grids each tick, or three, or a hundred.  Once we know the most basic unit that exists in this universe, and the most basic unit of time, and the most basic unit of space, then all the doors to understanding the universe will be unlocked, and it will just be a matter of walking through them all, and in the right order so as to actually figure out how this universe works, what its rules are, and how (if it’s even possible) to bend its rules.  I figure that it will be impossible to actually observe the most basic units of matter, space or time without also altering them — in the same way that you can’t observe something on the quantum scale without altering it due to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.  The fact that presently, we can only observe quarks and such by inference suggests to me that they may in fact be the basic unit.

This is why I love science.  If something comes along and proves that everything we thought was right is in fact wrong, science will be revised according to the new evidence.  There may be resistance to this new evidence, but new scientific facts don’t become facts simply by convincing people that they’re facts as opposed to whatever other tripe the opposition is spewing — they become facts because the opposition to these facts cannot prove the facts to be untrue, and eventually die out.  Most scientific theory advances take at least a generation to take effect, in other words.  Just because Galileo had the right idea in his model of the heliocentric solar system, doesn’t mean people would immediately flock to his ideas — they were suppressed for quite some time until all the opposition to it died out by virtue of not having the strength of veracity that his idea had.  I’m personally anxious to find out the results of the tests being performed at the Large Hadron Collider because any one of them could either provide further evidence for what we already have figured out, or fundamentally put all our vaunted “learnings” on their ear.  Either way, I’d consider the whole project to be a complete success.  The only way it could fail is if experiments are never performed.

I get the feeling this post isn’t nearly polished enough to post, but I’ve been putting it off for too long, and if I don’t ever post it, I won’t really have the input from the masses that I need to refine my thoughts.  So, here goes nothing.

It occurs to me that I really need a “science” category.

Edit: I’ve made a science category, and removed this post from “religion” and “space”.

10 comments

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  1. 1
    Jodi

    I have no problems admitting that this made my head hurt : Maybe you could explain it to me in person one day and it would make more sense….. then again…. maybe not :P

  2. 2
    Clifton

    I have no problem admitting that I skipped straight to Jody’s note.

  3. 3
    Clifton

    I also have no problem admitting that I can’t spell “Jodi” without looking twice.

  4. 4
    Me

    Tibo you wrote: “This is why I love science. If something comes along and proves that everything we thought was right is in fact wrong, science will be revised according to the new evidence. There may be resistance to this new evidence, but new scientific facts don’t become facts simply by convincing people that they’re facts as opposed to whatever other tripe the opposition is spewing — they become facts because the opposition to these facts cannot prove the facts to be untrue, and eventually die out.”

    Sadly this is no longer the case. I can think of several cases where the political view has overwhelmed the scientific view to create a reality that was not in fact true. I can recall during the Challenger hearings where congress was listening to all the experts tell them what had happened and that the media had in fact sided with the experts at the beginning to “prove” that NASA was not at fault. Then along came my hero, Richard Feynman, with nothing more then a glass of ice water, to prove with real science, that NASA was in fact at fault. No one wanted to listen to him because he was right. The incredible truth is that today, no one wants to hear what is right, they want to hear what is politically correct. I am truly scared that when the LHC is turned on it will be years before we hear what really happened. After all most of the theories behind physics are still just theories, they have yet to be proved. That’s why it’s still called Einstein’s theory of relativity. Science believes it to be right but it has yet to be proved.

    We have reverted tot he dark ages once again where science is taking a back seat to political expedience. Now, as it was then, this has everything to do with controlling the people and money. If it is in the best interests of the government for something to be correct then it will be correct. Take for example the equal opportunity initiatives so prevalent in government. They actually advertise for positions that state only minorities, or disabled people can apply. If a business was to dot he same it would be fined but the government can do it with impunity.

    I have always admired your love of science and the fact that you look to it to answer all your questions. But I fear that you are blinded sometimes by the very thing you love. I view all science through the same lens that Richard Feynman used and that is the test of falsifiability. If a theory can’t be proved wrong then it is on it’s way to being proved right, but it still isn’t a fact. So many things today fail at this test yet they still pass the test of *consensus*. If consensus science was all that was required for something to be accepted as true, then we would still believe that the earth was the center of the universe and everything revolved around us because god made it that way. Thankfully there have been those that were skeptics and questioned the status quo and kept searching for the truth. Now we know that the earth revolves around the sun and is a very small part of a very large universe. I am greatfull for the skeptics and I am proud to be one of them and hope that we small, proud, loud few, never go away.

    After all, would your blog be better off without my, dissent, or with it?

    Keep up the great work, I enjoy your enthusiasm.

  5. 5
    Clifton

    So… he blinded himself with science? He blinded himself! With Science!

  6. 6
    Me

    I propose a ban on stupid postings. This will of course eliminate 90% of Clifton’s postings however I feel it is for the good of the site.

    Clifton: I was commenting more on the fact that I am a skeptic, then anything else, and that we rare, proud few are an honored and traditional part of the scientific process even though many seek to silence us and work hard to discredit any and all skepticism. There is a marked difference between you and I; I am a skeptic that investigates the world of science seeking facts and truths, while you are a societal leech that contributes nothing more to science then the mere rantings of one of the unruly mob that swallows the crap spewed forth by groups such as the IPCC (which stands for Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the key word in the name being government)

    Why I am writing this is a mystery to me as I doubt you with your double digit IQ will be able to grasp the meaning it. Hopefully Tibo will be able to explain it to you in single syllable words. I don’t envy him that task at all.

  7. 7
    Clifton

    Um.. not sure where THAT came from, Bob. I just used your “But I fear that you are blinded sometimes by the very thing you love.” to make a one-liner towards our beloved canuck. How that translates into a commentary on my views on ANYTHING, I don’t know.

  8. 8
    Clifton

    Shoot. Post used words that have more than one sil… sylla…. syllable. Me feel bad.

  9. 9
    Jason Thibeault

    I dislike the IPCC for several reasons: first, they use science that by the time they get around to releasing their report, is already several years old. Second, they understate risks, where even if they’re forming likelihood models they’re intentionally watering down what the scientists are actually saying. Third, they’re intellectually lazy when they squash differing opinions together to fit a preconceived notion. Even if all of the science behind their papers points toward anthropogenic climate change, they’re massaging every paper to make them all say the same thing, when they really aren’t. Now, all that said, full-on skeptics will likely put IPCC as being an extreme evil out to brainwash the masses. I, on the other hand, am a bit upset that the science behind what they’re using is whitewashed into uniformity when every paper is disparate and as unique as your or my opinions.

    You might enjoy this article, Bob. http://initforthegold.blogspot.com/2008/07/feynman-on-investigation-per-j-case.html . Not only is it about Feynman, but it involves climatology.

    One quote from the comments that struck me as particularly on the money, by Michael Tobis: “As long as you portray climate change as a team sport, with two teams and some umpires in the middle, you are getting it wrong. There is a consensus; that doesn’t mean unanimity, it means the conservative midpoint of opinion. Any taxonomy that puts the IPCC at one extreme does a severe disservice, no matter how well-intended the effort.” I think that’s absolutely correct. You put the IPCC at the height of unwelcome governmental interference to the end of brainwashing people, whereas the sin to which I ascribe them is one of glossing over the facts to the point where the entire paper is generic.

    Now, again, this is another case of two distinct opinions of science itself, and we’re never going to convince one another of our viewpoints. As to my point in the main post, the only way we’ll ever resolve this opposition is by one or the other of us dying. I hate to say it, but I have a longer life expectancy at this point than you do. (Unless that red dot on my chest is from your sniper rifle, anyway.)

    Don’t worry, Clifton. I LOL’d. She blinded me with science… OOO ooo ooo.

  10. 10
    Me

    Tibo: you are a believer and I am a skeptic. There is nothing wrong with that and in fact it is a natural and needed symbiotic relationship. We view science differently but we both are admirers and adherents to it. Both believers and skeptics are required for the scientific process to be complete. The believers are those folks that go out and find the new things in the universe while the skeptics look at the findings and try to poke holes in it. In doing so the facts are discovered. On occasion a skeptic will discover something he or she doesn’t like and on occasion a believer will do the same. There is nothing wrong with that at all.

    What I dislike are those that are neither believer or skeptic, but those that are using science to bend the public to their will. This happens all to often and it actually hinders the scientific processes. I point to the innumerable (Clifton: that means a whole bunch) lawsuits currently papering the courts trying to stop the LHC from conducting it’s tests. This is due to ignorance and greed. Personally if it does blow up the earth I’m all for it as we then get to see who is right, creationists or evolutionists. What happens next is going to be exciting no matter what it is. Regardless of the outcome there is going to be dissent and disappointment.

    I am also bothered when any research is discarded simply because a person disagrees with the group funding the research. Does it really matter who paid for it? If the research is faulty peer review will find it out. I say let everyone pay and then review the findings without prejudice. In the last 20 years too much research has been discarded simply because someone didn’t like the fact that it was paid for by big oil, or by the sierra club. Who cares where the funding comes from, research is research and if you had fabricated it then you are going to get caught. Just ask the guys from the late 80′s who published the table top fusion papers. Bad science will always get found out and those paying for it will get found out as well. The cold fusion research and the Global warming hockey stick graph are proof that bad science will be found out and discredited.

    So take the money from whoever will provide it and do the research. If the results are unpopular…..too bad. Scientific proof doesn’t care who is right and who is wrong, it only cares about facts and research needs money. Take the money from whoever will provided it and worry about the results later.

    And that is what science should really be about, not greed and political wrangling.

    Oh yeah, I’m drunk and Clifton is a worthless bastard. But tomorrow I’ll be sober….Clifton will still be a worthless bastard. Damn I’m mouthy when I drink

    Sorry about the rants across topics…… But there isn’t a bad mouth Clifton thread, and I soooooo enjoy it. Probably because it is soooo easy. In fact I can do it even when drunk, it’s that easy.

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