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Closer To Truth: Some Things About Physics: Part Two

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Here are a few more of my comments on one of the general topics covered on the PBS show €Closer to Truth€: Physics.

Continued from Part One.

Why is there "Something" rather than "Nothing"?

Why there is something rather than nothing is one of those Big Questions that can be pondered and debated until the cows come home. I like to consider the question in the context of being just one more of those fine-tuning parameters that allow for a bio-friendly or Goldilocks Universe. If there was nothing rather than something we wouldn't be here to ponder the issue. Although this doesn't provide an ultimate answer, I am swayed by the simulation hypothesis. I rather suspect we are virtual beings that 'live' in a Simulated (Virtual Reality) Universe. We are software. We are bits and bytes. We are mathematics. Software is a something that allows for our existence even though that something is a more nebulous something than say electrons and quarks.

Are There Things Not Material

Are there things not material? Of course. There are things like matter and energy. There are also not-things which we tend to call concepts. A not-thing is mathematics or architecture or philosophy. A not-thing is Wednesday or beauty or dimensions. A not-thing is a unit of measurement. A not-thing is the concept of a wheel while the wheel itself is a thing. A not-thing is the concept of landing on the Moon while Apollo 11 was a thing. Space and time are other not-things. The past and the future are not-things. In fact there are probably more not-things, mental not-things, abstractions of things that are possible things, concepts, and so on than there are things. There are probably many more not-things that you can imagine that can not be translated into things than there are concepts that you can turn into things. Recall how the White Queen could believe in six impossible things before breakfast!

Is Mathematics Invented or Discovered?

IMHO, mathematics is a not-thing, an abstract concept that's the invention of the human mind. Mathematics has none of the properties that we associate with things. Things can be discovered; concepts are invented. One plus two equals three (1+2=3) is not a thing. Pi is not a thing. The quadratic equation is not a thing. Mathematical theorems are not things. Mathematics can not be detected with any of the five senses, or even with instrumentation that extends our sensory abilities beyond that which our sensory apparatus can come to terms with. Mathematics is a useful tool of course, though many possible mathematics that could be aren't. We search around for and adopt the kind of mathematics that fits in with what we observe, with what is useful, and chuck what doesn't fit in into the rubbish bin. So the gravitational force can be accounted for by an inverse square law, but not by an inverse cube law, so the inverse cube relationship is put into the rubbish bin. Then we wonder at the beauty and elegance of the inverse square law explaining the way the gravitational force operates over distance and forget about the non-beauty and non-elegance of the inverse cube law. As an aside, beauty and elegance are not legitimate scientific or even mathematical terms. You won't find them in any scientific or mathematical dictionary no matter how often scientists and mathematicians use them as per many of the interviews here on "Closer to Truth".

Are the Laws of Nature Always Constant?

Humans have only been measuring the laws of nature for an extremely short period of time relative to the age of the cosmos, so saying the laws of nature are constant should always come with a "but" following. For as long as we have been measuring, they appear to be constant, although some cracks have apparently appeared. In theory, it would seem entirely reasonable that what was a law, principle or relationship of physics nanoseconds after the Big Bang should be the same law, principle or relationship we observe today. In theory. However, I'd sooner believe that the speed of light hasn't been constant over cosmic time than subscribe to the idea that the expansion rate of the Universe is accelerating due to some mysterious anti-gravitational force called "dark energy", on the grounds that "dark energy" and an accelerating Universe violates another law which one expects to hold constant - the conservation law that says that energy can not be created out of pure nothing. There is a solution to non-constant constants, though not one which the vast majority would embrace. I'm sure every viewer has received software upgrades on his or her PC. These tweaks subtly alter some of the previous laws, principles and relationships that your PC operated on. Now the question arises, what if we are virtual beings that 'live' in a Simulated (Virtual Reality) Universe? We, and the cosmic landscape we exist in are in fact just bits and bytes of programmed computer software. Well, every now and again, the Supreme Programmer (no, not God), a flesh-and-blood video gamer or video game creator, might note that his software needed a bit of a tweak, or in other words an upgrade. To our virtual selves, such a tweak might appear as an alteration in the laws, principles and relationships of physics, or in other words, a change in things which we had assumed were constant.

Why Black Holes are Astonishing

Who said that black holes are astonishing? Is the Moon astonishing? Well the Moon has mass and has gravity and has an escape velocity. The Earth has a greater mass hence greater gravity hence greater escape velocity. The Sun even more-so. The ante is upped with a white dwarf star, hence upped again with a neutron star. It's hardly surprising that eventually you will reach such a mass with such a gravity and with such an escape velocity, a finite escape velocity, that not even photons (just one of those elementary particles) can escape. So far everything is just a variation on the exact same theme. What makes a black hole, compared to its ever so slightly less massive cousin the neutron star, mysterious, is that we can't see it or see inside of it. And because we can't see inside it we invent all sorts of wild scenarios about the state of the stuff, that matter, that mass that makes up the inside of the black hole we can't see. Let's take a neutron star that is just teetering on the brink of black-hole-ness. We can see that neutron star. Add a pinch of salt to the neutron star, or maybe two or three, just enough to send it over the edge and become massive enough to turn into a black hole. Has there all of a sudden been a drastic change in the basic substance and structure of that object, that newly created black hole? Perhaps what lurks inside is just the same old sort of stuff we know and love, only a tiny bit more dense than most of the stuff we know and love. You hear some pretty dumb things about what lurks inside of a black hole from those who really should know better. I refer to the concept of the singularity, which you will often see described as something of infinite density residing inside zero volume where the laws of physics break down. How daft is that? You can not have infinite density reside inside of zero volume. That's absurd. You can have finite density reside in a finite volume, but that volume doesn't have to reside in the realm of the quantum. If you have a finite density then that implies that there is a maximum limit to density. Density can not keep on increasing to infinity. Okay, once that maximum density is reached, if you keep on adding more and more stuff, the volume must of necessity increase. Eventually you will reach a volume that can no longer be considered to reside in the realm of the quantum (and this argument applies equally to the Big Bang event and why it wasn't a quantum sized happening either). So, what's inside a black hole? A lump of very dense stuff in a volume that probably isn't much smaller than that of a typical neutron star. Black holes really do not deserve the aura of mystery they have been given.

To be continued.
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