Opinions on Physics - Puzzles, mysteries, that sort...

How does science work? And what's all this about quantum mechanics?

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Mike Strand
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Re: Opinions on Physics - Puzzles, mysteries, that sort...

Post by Mike Strand » Wed Mar 16, 2011 10:28 pm

Thanks, converge, for your time and patience in giving such a thorough and thought-provoking response to my ramblings!

Yes, I'm with you in the opinion (and even sentimental hope) that QM will never be declared "wrong", and your comparison with the improvements to Newton's laws of motion are right to the point. So we might allow for the possibility, at least that QM will someday be seen as a useful description and approximation, at the level of our measuring ability, of what is happening, and another theory will include it as valid at that level. We view the world of subatomic particles as the extreme of smallness (Planck intervals) today, for things to "work" in nature. But like you, I hesitate to say that we'll (or some ancestor will) never be able to distinguish even smaller spaces and detect with new instruments new phenomena happening within those smaller spaces. Don't ask me how, though!

To the extent that proponents of Aether theory are saying that QM and relativity theory are hoaxes, I agree with you -- I would say they are paranoid. I think QM and relativity theory arise from honest, strict application of the scientific method using the best of our data and thinking so far.

I like your pixels analogy -- it's great in explaining the power of measuring instruments like the microscope and telescope and the resolution of images on TV and computer screens. When I was a child with good eyesight and a magnifying glass, I loved looking at the photos in newspapers, and marveling at how, when I saw it from a distance, the picture was recognizable as a whole, but that details like warts or eyelashes were lost in the little dots. As we have seen, the pixels representing our measurements of the world (like photos) get smaller and smaller, and the resolution gets better and better. It would be a shame (even if it proves to be true) if this could only be carried down to the Planck distance!
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Re: Opinions on Physics - Puzzles, mysteries, that sort...

Post by Mike Strand » Wed Mar 16, 2011 11:37 pm

I invite readers of this thread to the following articles and quotes on "aether":

http://www.mountainman.com.au/aether_8.htm by Dirac, 1951-1987 excerpts
http://www.mountainman.com.au/aether_0.html by Einstein, 1920
http://www.mountainman.com.au/aeth_faq.htm

The Einstein article has obnoxious typos throughout (like "in" for "m", and some even worse, appearing to change the meaning), which makes me wonder what was going on when it was transcribed to the web. It's well worth a close reading: Einstein could be eloquent, even when talking about physics. But if you lose patience, be sure at least to read his last paragraph.

Apparently, while the old idea of "ether" as carrying light waves has long been debunked, reputable physicists -- Einstein and Dirac, for example -- have considered that a new concept of aether is at least a useful, if not necessary element of modern physical theories (relativity and QM).

The Michelson-Morely experiment refuted the old ether concept, but according to these scientists does not refute concepts that have been considered since.

If you read my earlier posts here, you won't be surprised that I can't help but speculate the following: That the aether concept, whatever it is, might be the key to someday being able, with new observational devices, to detect what is happening in space and time intervals smaller than the Planck interval and to verify or refine the mathematical work (partial differential equations) that has already been attempted to clarify QM.

I love this quote from Dirac:
"Just because the results happen to be in agreement with observation does not prove that one's theory is correct" (Dirac 1987, p. 196).
This should give caution to those who insist that QM theory and even relativity theory are the ultimate theories.

It would be instructive if any of the readers of this thread could come up with other, perhaps more recent articles which either support or refute the aether concepts proposed or hypothesized by these eminent scientists. This might include more recent statements by Einstein and Dirac recanting their former positions, if this ever occurred (I don't know).

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Re: Opinions on Physics - Puzzles, mysteries, that sort...

Post by converge » Thu Mar 17, 2011 2:42 am

I think it's a bit misleading to interpret that Einstein speech as saying there is an aether in the sense that aether supporters think of it. He's basically saying "Yes, we disproved the idea that there's some sort of physical aether, but you can think of empty space itself as being the aether, since it has properties." He says that this type of "aether" has no mechanical properties though, and that it is not any sort of fluid that has any sort of motion or any kind of effect on physical mechanics. He's just saying that since light travels through space, that empty space should be thought of as a thing with properties, rather than just "nothing". Empty space is different than "nothing", since it does have properties; it reacts to gravity, it has dimensions that fluctuate depending on your motion, etc. So I'd agree with him that you could sort of think of empty space as its own sort of aether. But it would be very wrong to interpret this as being the same thing as the aether that actual aether fans are proposing; the point of that aether is specifically that it does have physical mechanical properties, and that it is some sort of fluid that light moves around in. Its main purpose is to have some sort of normal, Newtonian substance that can somehow explain away all the uncomfortable findings of QM and relativity, to get rid of the scary parts like the mutability of time or the idea of inherent randomness and indeterminism at the heart of the universe.

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Re: Opinions on Physics - Puzzles, mysteries, that sort...

Post by Mike Strand » Thu Mar 17, 2011 3:40 am

I think I got the same thing from Einstein as you did, converge -- a very different idea of aether than some of the aether fans are touting. Almost like "aether" is another word for "field" (as in gravitational field or electromagnetic field). Really an abstract but intriguing concept.

It's fascinating that from QM theory in its present from it appears that energy and matter and maybe even space-time itself are granular, where the grains are (I think, you can check me) about a Planck distance in diameter. Indivisible, like scientists used to think the atom was. I just can't help but think this is not the whole story. Hidden factors plague us in every other aspect of existence - why not here as well?

Oh well, it's fun speculating, and I don't have the ability to suggest a study protocol. I'm just intrigued that some of the top scientists have speculated and maybe still are. My feeling is that improving on or enhancing QM theory will depend to a large extent on whether it is possible to develop some kind of super-microscope or other instrument to take less-than-Planck-size measurements. Without such measurements, any theory about hidden factors operating in a space-time "grid" with divisions much smaller than the Planck constant could not be tested, and hence would not really be a scientific theory, according to Karl Popper.

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Re: Opinions on Physics - Puzzles, mysteries, that sort...

Post by Cerveny » Thu Mar 17, 2011 6:28 pm

Mike Strand wrote:...
To the extent that proponents of Aether theory are saying that QM and relativity theory are hoaxes, I agree with you -- I would say they are paranoid. I think QM and relativity theory arise from honest, strict application of the scientific method using the best of our data and thinking so far.
...
For example I do not think I am paranoid (:all of them say it:). I do not have any serious problem with QM but TR contains contradictions and its blunt interpretation brings nonsense :(

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Re: Opinions on Physics - Puzzles, mysteries, that sort...

Post by converge » Thu Mar 17, 2011 8:08 pm

Cerveny wrote:
Mike Strand wrote:...
To the extent that proponents of Aether theory are saying that QM and relativity theory are hoaxes, I agree with you -- I would say they are paranoid. I think QM and relativity theory arise from honest, strict application of the scientific method using the best of our data and thinking so far.
...
For example I do not think I am paranoid (:all of them say it:). I do not have any serious problem with QM but TR contains contradictions and its blunt interpretation brings nonsense :(
Hey Cerevny,

I noticed you never replied to my post that showed the falsehoods in the last web page you posted to try and discredit relativity...

I'll re-ask though... what are these alleged "contradictions" that you believe exist in relativity? Why do you think that it's "nonsense"? Are you sure you might not just be misunderstanding it?

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Re: Opinions on Physics - Puzzles, mysteries, that sort...

Post by Mike Strand » Thu Mar 17, 2011 9:06 pm

Cerveny, I can understand your frustration. I took just enough physics and math to understand the special theory of relativity from the standpoint of its mathematics, given the assumption of the speed of light being the same for all inertial frames of reference. But I still cannot grasp it intuitively.

I apologize for making you feel I was calling you paranoid -- I felt "persecuted" many times in my math and physics classes, and even now when I have trouble grasping a concept!

Basically, I think that, while QM and TR are honest and sincere theories, even those who understand them best have trouble explaining them to the public (of which I'm one). And I bet they, too, have problems with intuition. Either way, the frustration can afflict both sides.

To converge: Your question to Cerveny prompts me to say: I suspect that I misunderstand QM and TR, and that's probably apparent in the stuff I've written in this topic. But thanks anyway for reading and responding to it. One thing for sure, QM and TR are fascinating and challenging, and I wish I understood them better.

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Re: Opinions on Physics - Puzzles, mysteries, that sort...

Post by converge » Thu Mar 17, 2011 11:36 pm

If you guys are interested, in the "Book Club" sectino of the forum, I wrote an explanation of relativity by request of artisticsolution; I tried to keep it math-free so it might be easier to understand:

viewtopic.php?f=15&t=3656&start=39

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Re: Opinions on Physics - Puzzles, mysteries, that sort...

Post by Cerveny » Thu Mar 17, 2011 11:38 pm

converge wrote:Hey Cerevny,

I noticed you never replied to my post that showed the falsehoods in the last web page you posted to try and discredit relativity...

I'll re-ask though... what are these alleged "contradictions" that you believe exist in relativity? Why do you think that it's "nonsense"? Are you sure you might not just be misunderstanding it?
There is no help but repeat:

I am dissatisfied with STR - incoming body interacts to the subject by different way then outgoing does (body comes parallely with force field) - see Mercury trace
I am dissatisfied by all singularities in real physical world - it is nonsense
I am dissatisfied by space-time schema - there is not time "after" (the future) yet of course - it will be build only
I am dissatisfied by Minkowski metric - perhaps it is useful for some calculation, but searching it in real world it is nonsense - its metrics dos not meet triangle inequality
I am dissatisfied by empty space schema - there are permittivity, permeability, gravitational susceptibility...
I am dissatisfied by GTR - it deals with antimatter by the same way as with the matter without any experimental or theoretical support
I am dissatisfied by absence of explanation inertial motion - there is plain analogy to the light (inertia/gravity ~ magnetism/electricity - proton ~ electron)
I am dissatisfied by absence of elementary particle explanation - their relations to the physical space (some space defects) is clear enough
I am dissatisfied by “expanding” space belief – what is expanding against the other? (Physical constant should have been changed in this case) – space grows, condensates from some other (causal) phase
I am dissatisfied by GTR is absolutely out of range concerning "dark matter problem” (movement of stars in galaxies)
I am dissatisfied by the fact relativistic quantum electrodynamic (Dirac) calculates only electron/positron pairs. Why do not calculate proton/antiproton pairs for example
I am dissatisfied by absence of explanation how some electromagnetic properties of empty space can be related with a common speed limit
...

There is more deep problems then weak “proves”, TR does not explain nearly anything. GTR is only special interpretation, representation of the fact the gravitation spreads by limited speed. Sorry, I am to sadly repeat: TR became a belief. It is rather boring to repeat it again and again... Frankly, who can have an interest of TR denying?

To be clear I do not have serious problem with QT only:

The term "measurement" is to change at the term "interaction"
EPR paradox is result of wrong interpretation of interaction
Quantum foam is a bad interpretation of uncertainty problem

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Re: Opinions on Physics - Puzzles, mysteries, that sort...

Post by Cerveny » Thu Mar 17, 2011 11:48 pm

Mike Strand wrote:Cerveny, I can understand your frustration. ..
I am not frustrated, realy, I have my work, my hobbies, my friends like me :) I am only too sorry. It is the same feeling as if I can see someone in trouble and I am not able to help him :(
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Re: Opinions on Physics - Puzzles, mysteries, that sort...

Post by converge » Fri Mar 18, 2011 12:04 am

Cerveny wrote: There is no help but repeat:

I am dissatisfied with STR - incoming body interacts to the subject by different way then outgoing does (body comes parallely with force field) - see Mercury trace
I am dissatisfied by all singularities in real physical world - it is nonsense
I am dissatisfied by space-time schema - there is not time "after" (the future) yet of course - it will be build only
I am dissatisfied by Minkowski metric - perhaps it is useful for some calculation, but searching it in real world it is nonsense - its metrics dos not meet triangle inequality
I am dissatisfied by empty space schema - there are permittivity, permeability, gravitational susceptibility...
I am dissatisfied by GTR - it deals with antimatter by the same way as with the matter without any experimental or theoretical support
I am dissatisfied by absence of explanation inertial motion - there is plain analogy to the light (inertia/gravity ~ magnetism/electricity - proton ~ electron)
I am dissatisfied by absence of elementary particle explanation - their relations to the physical space (some space defects) is clear enough
I am dissatisfied by “expanding” space belief – what is expanding against the other? (Physical constant should have been changed in this case) – space grows, condensates from some other (causal) phase
I am dissatisfied by GTR is absolutely out of range concerning "dark matter problem” (movement of stars in galaxies)
I am dissatisfied by the fact relativistic quantum electrodynamic (Dirac) calculates only electron/positron pairs. Why do not calculate proton/antiproton pairs for example
I am dissatisfied by absence of explanation how some electromagnetic properties of empty space can be related with a common speed limit
...
I see a lot of things you are dissatisfied with, but none of those are "contradictions" or "nonsense". I do understand that a lot of it feels unintuitive to most people, but just because you don't like it doesn't mean it's not true. You say you don't like singularities like black holes because you think they're "nonsense", but we have solid proof that black holes do, in fact, exist. You call Minkowski space-time "nonsense" but we have direct proof that space-time does, in fact, depend on your frame of reference. I don't think you can call the last century of physics "nonsense" just because you think it sounds too weird. All the scientists during the discoveries of relativity and QM also thought it was all too weird, but when they faced the overwhelming evidence, they had no choice but to accept that the universe is, in fact, pretty weird.

Like Izzy, you sound like you are never really going to put any effort into verifying anything within relativity or QM yourself, and you refuse to believe anything told to you by anyone else, so I don't really see what you expect from others. Denying all evidence just because you have a vague feeling of dissatisfaction with the weirdness of it does not sound very scientific.

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Re: Opinions on Physics - Puzzles, mysteries, that sort...

Post by Mike Strand » Fri Mar 18, 2011 5:32 am

converge, thanks for the book club reference. You put a lot of skill and patience into your explanations, and it reminds me of the type of things I read and discussed back in college days, when we studied special relativity in my celestial mechanics class. It's good to get the old grey matter going again.

I complained about my intuition. But intuition can be "educated". I finally got to the point where I could intuitively grasp how the infinite sum 1 + 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 + 1/16 + ... + 1/2 to power (n-1) + ... converges to the finite number 2, but in contrast the infinite sum 1 + 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/4 + 1/5 + ... + 1/n + ... grows without bound. Even after I could prove it mathematically, it took awhile for it to become part of my intuition. This is a simple example, compared to quantum mechanics and relativity theory, but at least it gives me hope that with enough study, intuition can grow.

Maybe if we could actually experience life at speeds near c, or life at the sub-atomic level, we could get "used" to it. But both conditions are atypical and difficult if not impossible to access directly, whereas the two infinite sums above can be toyed with on an calculator.

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Re: Opinions on Physics - Puzzles, mysteries, that sort...

Post by Arising_uk » Fri Mar 18, 2011 12:11 pm

converge wrote:... but we have solid proof that black holes do, in fact, exist. ...
Do we?

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Re: Opinions on Physics - Puzzles, mysteries, that sort...

Post by Cerveny » Fri Mar 18, 2011 12:31 pm

converge wrote: Like Izzy, you sound like you are never really going to put any effort into verifying anything within relativity or QM yourself, and you refuse to believe anything told to you by anyone else, so I don't really see what you expect from others. Denying all evidence just because you have a vague feeling of dissatisfaction with the weirdness of it does not sound very scientific.
On the contrary, I am seemed to be one of a few who put effort into recognition of a source of poor progress of physics. If something does not sound very scientific, it is some unlimited physical values (singularities) it is a predefined future (space-time continuum), it is some "expansion" (nobody is able to explain it - what stays the same and why) ...

I am always sad of some drilled blindness, of landless admiration of "Emperor new suit" :(
"Everyone says it, so it must be true" - it seems to be main physical law. As I have already written, if there was the same motivation, same budget, same will for disapproving TR some appropriate new experiment would be widely published and newly interpreted (say Sagnac effect ) ... Mentioned “evidences” are poor comparing (say) “dark mater problem”…
Please do not be angry, I am cool. It is not necessary to discuss it more. You can only notice I am not satisfied by TR...
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Re: Opinions on Physics - Puzzles, mysteries, that sort...

Post by Mike Strand » Fri Mar 18, 2011 3:44 pm

Cerveny, I hear you, and the history of science is one of hard-won theories that work well for a time, until they are improved or supplanted by new theories, in the light of new evidence.

Once again, quoting Dirac:
"Just because the results happen to be in agreement with observation does not prove that one's theory is correct" (Dirac 1987, p. 196).
This should be a caution to anyone who insists that QM theory and relativity theory, in their present form, are the ultimate theories. I'm not one of those, and neither is converge, I believe.

This is not to say that they aren't the best theories available to us today, but I do think there is too much of a tendency to worship at the alter of these puzzling and complex theories. People used to be in awe of Newtonian mechanics, and look what happened -- it was supplanted by new theory based on new evidence and new reasoning. It still works fine for solving everyday problems, but new problems called for new theories -- thus QM and TR. And the future will more than likely see improvements or even more fundamental changes to those theories (perhaps similar to going from the geocentric view to the heliocentric, for our solar system).

converge's point, I think, is to acknowledge that QM and TR are in agreement with observation, but I would add, for the most part. Even now there is evidence that TR needs help (see Dirac again, above).

We need to recognize that TR is based on mathematical theory. The particular mathematics is chosen to satisfy not only the evidence from experiments that light has the same speed for all inertial frames of reference, but also to satisfy other a priori principles considered to be desirable.

In the case of GTR (general theory of relativity), one such principle is the principle of general covariance, which states that the laws of physics should take the same mathematical form in all reference frames. I put "should" in italics to emphasize its role as a desirable axiom or assumption. Another mathematical concept is that of a manifold. To quote the article, "The rationale for choosing a manifold as the fundamental mathematical structure is to reflect desirable physical properties. For example, in the theory of manifolds, each point is contained in a (by no means unique) coordinate chart and can be thought of as representing the 'local spacetime' around the observer (represented by the point)."

Thanks to converge, who provided a link in this topic to another topic, (Book Club, "Einstein's Relativity") from which I found the material of this post. Using these links, I found the following, excerpted from an article "Introduction to General Relativity" describing the current state of affairs:
Modern research: general relativity and beyond
General relativity is very successful in providing a framework for accurate models which describe an impressive array of physical phenomena. On the other hand, there are many interesting open questions, and in particular, the theory as a whole is almost certainly incomplete.
In contrast to all other modern theories of fundamental interactions, general relativity is a classical theory: it does not include the effects of quantum physics. The quest for a quantum version of general relativity addresses one of the most fundamental open questions in physics. While there are promising candidates for such a theory of quantum gravity, notably string theory and loop quantum gravity, there is at present no consistent and complete theory. It has long been hoped that a theory of quantum gravity would also eliminate another problematic feature of general relativity: the presence of spacetime singularities. These singularities are boundaries ("sharp edges") of spacetime at which geometry becomes ill-defined, with the consequence that general relativity itself loses its predictive power. Furthermore, there are so-called singularity theorems which predict that such singularities must exist within the universe if the laws of general relativity were to hold without any quantum modifications. The best-known examples are the singularities associated with the model universes that describe black holes and the beginning of the universe.
Other attempts to modify general relativity have been made in the context of cosmology. In the modern cosmological models, most energy in the universe is in forms that have never been detected directly, namely dark energy and dark matter. There have been several controversial proposals to obviate the need for these enigmatic forms of matter and energy, by modifying the laws governing gravity and the dynamics of cosmic expansion, for example modified Newtonian dynamics.
It is possible that another reason to modify Einstein's theory can be found much closer to home, in the shape of what is called the Pioneer anomaly, after the Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 space probes. Taking into account all known effects, gravitational or otherwise, it is possible to make very specific predictions for these probes' trajectories. Yet observations show ever-so-slight divergences between these predictions and the actual positions. The possibility of new physics has not been ruled out, despite thorough attempts to find more conventional explanations.
Beyond the challenges of quantum effects and cosmology, research on general relativity is rich with possibilities for further exploration: mathematical relativists explore the nature of singularities and the fundamental properties of Einstein's equations, ever more comprehensive computer simulations of specific spacetimes (such as those describing merging black holes) are run, and the race for the first direct detection of gravitational waves continues apace. More than ninety years after the theory was first published, research is more active than ever.

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