post

Time Out: Possibilianism

“Our reality depends on what our biology is up to.”–David Eagleman

“What a life in science really teaches you is the vastness of our ignorance.”–David Eagleman

Note: Regular followers of this blog will have noted that I avoid discussions of religion and faith issues herein.  There is a reason for this:  I am not interested in discussing them.  Anyway, if you have read many of my posts you will likely have figured out where I stand on this by now.  However, I am making an exception with this post for a specific reason.  Possiblianism is to faith, what these Millennium Conjectures are to physics and metaphysics.  I am speculating on what might be the answers to unknown questions, based on what we do know about physics and cosmology–all the while keeping an open mind and not drawing any absolute conclusions.

In between theism and atheism lies a vast limbo generally referred to as agnosticism.   While the dictionary definition of agnostic is someone who believes the answer to the question of god’s existence and/or the meaning of life is unknowable, the term is often used more broadly.  The agnostic may be undecided.  The agnostic may not care and consider the question irrelevant.  Some point to such individuals and say they are just too wishy-washy to make up their minds.  The common thread among all of these, though, is that the agnostic sees no firm proof either way.  Along comes Possibilianism, which might be seen as a sort of proactive form of agnosticism.

The term Possibilianism was coined and defined by neuro-scientist and author David Eagleman, in discussion of his book, Sum: 40 Tales from the Afterlife.  When asked by an NPR interviewer whether he was a theist or atheist,  Eagleman replied that he considers himself Possiblian.   “I’m open to…ideas that we don’t have any way of testing right now,” he said.  That is a good way of explaining what my Millennium Conjectures are as well.

.

I’ve read Sum, which is a compilation of 40 possible scenarios for what happens when we die;  none of these scenarios are typical religious views of heaven or hell,

or atheist views of eternal nothingness.   Many of the scenarios seem over-the-top bizarre.  Except when you stop to think about it.  None of them are really any more preposterous than what most religions already believe.  But all of them do have rather strong moral or philosophical points to them;  they are all excellent fodder for contemplation.   At any rate, it was a best seller that received rave reviews from the likes of The Wall Street Journal, The Observer and The Los Angeles Times.  

Below is a short You Tube discussion of the concept by Eagleman.  There are much longer ones available if you have the time and inclination.  As for my ever getting to conjecture #5,  I think I’m finally done with the preliminaries, so, yes, it’s a possibility!

post

Cosmic Quote(s) #26

“Don’t know if it’s good or bad that a Google search on “Big Bang Theory” lists the sitcom before the origin of the Universe”–Neil deGrasse Tyson.

“The Big Bang Theory: When geeky scientists can be main characters in a hit prime time series, you know there’s hope for the world.”–Neil deGrasse Tyson

If there are two things I absolutely love, they are Neil deGrasse Tyson and The Big Bang Theory.  They are both witty and intelligent.  When you combine the two, as in the video clip below,  it’s like putting hot fudge on double chocolate ice cream.  Tyson has done more to popularize and promote the scientific world view than any American since Carl Sagan–and with a sense of humor.  Hmmm, kinda like The Big Bang Theory (the show, not the actual theory).  Carry on Dr. Tyson.

post

Cosmic Quote #25

“Being with a woman all night never hurt no professional baseball player.  It’s staying up all night looking for a woman that does him in.”–Casey Stengel

If the ‘ol professor Stengel was right–and who am I to argue with him–one can surmise that Alex Rodriguez and his .132 post season batting average have spent the last three Octobers in the Bronx pulling all-nighters.**  I guess it pays off, as in getting Cameron Diaz to feed you popcorn at the Super Bowl (see video).  On the other hand, Derek Jeter seems to have a much better batting average than his controversial teammate, both with runners in scoring position and with women in scoring position.   He seems to performs well, both on the field and with the ladies, at all times.  Yet according to one article that appeared on the net couple of years ago, he was just 6 for 100 during the previous season.  That is, he has dated 6 of Maxim Magazine’s hottest 100 women in the world.  That’s a batting average most guys would  love to have.  Eat your heart out, A-Rod.  Thanks to my friend Dave Carlson at The Blog of Funny Names for the nifty work of art below.

Jeter meme**I quantify A-Rod’s futility in clutch situations in the next Equations of Everyday life, now in post production.

post

Quantum Weirdness 104: Heisenberg’s Uncertainty

“Doubt is unpleasant, but certainty is ridiculous.”–Voltaire

Heisenberg may be dead, but his uncertainty principal is alive and kicking.
(Image credit unknown)

It was the end of the Newtonian worldview.   Early in the 20th century relativity and quantum mechanics created a new scientific outlook on reality–counter-intuitive and downright….well…weird.  The final nail in the coffin of so-called Newtonian determinism was put forth by one Werner Heisenberg in 1927: the uncertainty principle.   Simply stated, you can’t exactly know both the momentum and location of a quantum object.  The more precisely you know one, the less precisely you know the other.   And while recent news headlines suggest to some that Heisenberg has been overturned, this is absolutely NOT the case.   It was thought that the very act of measuring a quantum particle added to the uncertainty, but that was never really part of Heisenberg’s equation–which in fact can also apply to macroscopic phenomena like sound and water waves.  So while a team from the University of Toronto was able to devise a means to measure a quanta (such as an electron or photon) with minimal increase in uncertainty, even they admitted “the quantum world is still full of uncertainty, but at least our attempts to look at it don’t have to add as much uncertainty as we used to think!”

Heisenberg’s principle plays a critical role in something that is rather significant in the foundations of modern philosophy, and as I see it, civilization itself.  That would be how we view the future.  This will be explained in the next conjecture.

Here is a simple video demonstration of the concept by Walter Lewin of MIT–a single-slit experiment.

If you’re brave enough to tackle the math, here is a link to another video from Mind Bites that explains it in terms so simple even I can understand it.  Er…maybe.

post

Vacation Rerun: Quantum Weirdness 102, Equal Time for the Cat

Where’s Waldo?

By the time this post goes winging outward to the vastness of cyberspace,  Cheryl and I will be winging our way home from distant parts unknown. The next new post will return to the subject matter below, so bone up and be ready for brain cramps.

“I don’t like it, and I’m sorry I ever had anything to do with it.”
Erwin Schrödinger  (referring to Quantum Mechanics).

What better follow up to The Equation of Canine Chaos, then the infamous tale of Schrodinger’s Cat?

In Quantum Weirdness 101, we saw that the double-slit experiment revealed the wave-particle duality of sub-atomic quanta, and the fact that these troublesome little bits behave as if they are everywhere they could possibly be at once until an observer looks for them.  While the experimental proof that this happens is rock-solid, the explanation for what causes it is anything but.  For decades after its original discovery in the 1920’s, the predominant interpretation—essentially, in fact, the only one—was the so-called Copenhagen Interpretation.  It essentially states that the universe is just fuzzy on the sub-atomic level, it doesn’t affect our everyday macro-world, and we mortals should not worry about it otherwise.  Critics have said it is really no interpretation, and some facetiously call it the “shut-up-and-calculate” interpretation.   In 1935, Erwin Schrodinger posed perhaps the most famous mind experiment in all of physics to show that theoretically the Copenhagen Interpretation makes no sense.  More recently, physicists have been able to succeed in creating this quantum superposition with larger and larger bits of matter, which tends to shoot empirical holes in Copenhagen.

Anyway, this witty video does a good job of explaining the concept behind Schrodinger’s Cat.  And I’m pretty sure that no cats were harmed in its making—much to the chagrin of my dogs.

(Video Credit: Open University, on You Tube)

post

Vacation Rerun: With Friends Like This

Xanadu (as Orson Welles saw it in Citizen Kane)

If it’s good enough for the networks, it’s good enough for me.  So for the next week, MCN (Millennium Conjecture Network) will fill dead air with some awesome blasts from the past.  Those of you who joined the class late can catch up, those of you who were early adapters can review or take a nap.   The new season starts when we return from Xanadu.  Cheers!

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”
– Groucho Marx

Let’s get this straight.  In case you were getting the impression that this blog is the ranting of an intellectual snob, I present contrary exhibit A.

Would a snob of any kind have a friend like this?

Here’s the story.  As I emerged from the Milford Indoor Tennis club after a regular Sunday morning game of doubles, I noticed that one of the guys in our group, Bob Dolan, had parked his minivan in an unusual manner.  It was facing down a slight incline, backed up to the curb, with a wooden block placed in front of the rear left wheel.

“What’s with the block,” I inquired..

“My parking brake doesn’t work.,”  Bob replied.

“What about your PARK gear?”

“That doesn’t work either!”

“Wow,” I said, “what did you have to do to park on that incline? Have two guys hold it in place while you put the block there?”

At which point, I took the following video, narration by Harvey Ellis.  Another of my buddies, Bruce Marien, observed that this won’t go viral, but it might go fungal!

(by the way, to add to the insanity, that thing tied via bungee cord under the front bumper on the driver’s side is the cars’ computer!)

Would someone please send this to Car Talk before they go off the air?

post

Quantum Weirdness 102: Equal Time for the Cat

“I don’t like it, and I’m sorry I ever had anything to do with it.”
Erwin Schrödinger  (referring to Quantum Mechanics).

What better follow up to The Equation of Canine Chaos, then the infamous tale of Schrodinger’s Cat?

In Quantum Weirdness 101, we saw that the double-slit experiment revealed the wave-particle duality of sub-atomic quanta, and the fact that these troublesome little bits behave as if they are everywhere they could possibly be at once until an observer looks for them.  While the experimental proof that this happens is rock-solid, the explanation for what causes it is anything but.  For decades after its original discovery in the 1920’s, the predominant interpretation—essentially, in fact, the only one—was the so-called Copenhagen Interpretation.  It essentially states that the universe is just fuzzy on the sub-atomic level, it doesn’t affect our everyday macro-world, and we mortals should not worry about it otherwise.  Critics have said it is really no interpretation, and some facetiously call it the “shut-up-and-calculate” interpretation.   In 1935, Erwin Schrodinger posed perhaps the most famous mind experiment in all of physics to show that theoretically the Copenhagen Interpretation makes no sense.  More recently, physicists have been able to succeed in creating this quantum superposition with larger and larger bits of matter, which tends to shoot empirical holes in Copenhagen.

Anyway, this witty video does a good job of explaining the concept behind Schrodinger’s Cat.  And I’m pretty sure that no cats were harmed in its making—much to the chagrin of my dogs.

In the next installment: the many worlds interpretation of quantum weirdness.

post

Conjecture #1: Infinity (Part Two)

I conjecture:  The concept of infinity could not exist in a finite universe.

Part Two:  The Possibility of Infinite Space

“The universe is a big place, perhaps the biggest.”– Kurt Vonnegut

Douglas Adams called the universe “mind-bogglingly big.”  But “mind-bogglingly big” pales next to infinitely big.  And while the question of space being infinite may be somewhat easier to get around than time, it is certainly no bargain.

The first problem is that Vonnegut is dead-on right.  Our universe is only possibly the biggest place.  It used to be that “universe” meant everything.  But then the concept of “multi-verse,” with countless alternate or parallel universes, began to creep into astrophysics and cosmology.  To make matters worse, there is not just one potential level of parallel universe proposed, but four.*  So far.  Physicist and author Paul Davies argues that the concepts, while fascinating to contemplate, amount to philosophy–or even religious faith–if you can’t test them.   David Deutsch, among others, disagrees and deduces that the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is the only one that makes sense, in terms of scientific explanation.  I’ll have more background on the various arguments surrounding interpretations of quantum mechanics–particularly The Copenhagen Interpretation vs. all others–in future posts.

Getting back to the question of infinity of our universe and/or the multiverse, there is indeed some scientific investigation aimed at determining the potential infinity of our own visible universe.  It involves the topology of its three-dimensional space and whether it is flat or curved.   I can’t go into details, as it involves rather advanced calculations from observations of the Cosmic Background Radiation–the earliest remnants of the Big Bang we are able to detect with current technology.  But the weight of the existing evidence seems to be pointing towards a flat topology that could be infinite.  Add that to the possibility of countless alternate universes of various kinds,   and I will assume for our purposes that space is at least potentially infinite.  [For a discussion of actual vs. potential infinity, see the Wikipedia article].   In the final installment on this conjecture, I will address one dimension of existence that I feel without doubt is potentially infinite: human imagination.    For an extended, if somewhat dramatic discussion of the possibility of an infinite universe, watch the video linked at the bottom of this article.

7-year universe image of background microwave radiation from NASA’s WMAP probe. (2010)

*As classified by MIT cosmologist, Max Tegmark

Text of this post ©2012 Mark Sackler.

post

Timeout: The Good, The Bad, and The Ridiculous

“Ukuleles are like your children. The first one, you obsess and protect. By the fourth one, you let them eat high-fructose corn syrup and run with power tools.” — The Interwebs

So what do you suppose we should say about a universe that contains something called The Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain–with seven ukes?!   Here is a little ditty–with copious apologies to Ennio Morricone–that is particularly dear in the hearts of me and my poker buddies.  I won’t explain why, because that in itself is beyond ridiculous.  But this should tide you over until the next sublime post, which is still incubating.

post

Timeout: With Friends Like This…

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.
– Groucho Marx

Let’s get this straight.  In case you were getting the impression that this blog is the ranting of an intellectual snob, I present contrary exhibit A. 

Would a snob of any kind have a friend like this?

Here’s the story.  As I emerged from the Milford Indoor Tennis club after a regular Sunday morning game of doubles, I noticed that one of the guys in our group, Bob Dolan, had parked his minivan in an unusual manner.  It was facing down a slight incline, backed up to the curb, with a wooden block placed in front of the rear left wheel.

“What’s with the block,” I inquired..

“My parking brake doesn’t work.,”  Bob replied.

“What about your PARK gear?”

“That doesn’t work either!”

“Wow,” I said, “what did you have to do to park on that incline? Have two guys hold it in place while you put the block there?”

At which point, I took the following video, narration by Harvey Ellis.  Another of my buddies, Bruce Marien, observed that this won’t go viral, but it might go fungal!

(by the way, to add to the insanity, that thing tied via bungee cord under the front bumper on the driver’s side, is the cars’ computer!)

Would someone please send this to Car Talk before they go off the air?

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: