III. Ecosmos: A Revolutionary Fertile, Habitable, Solar-Bioplanet Lifescape
1. Quantum Cosmology Theoretic Unity
Gravity's Engines: How Bubble-Blowing Black Holes Rule Galaxies, Stars, and Life in the Cosmos.
New York: Scientific American Books,
The Columbia University astrobiologist explains how such cosmic phenomena (Black holes are massive objects or regions of space with a gravitational field so intense that no matter or radiation can escape), such as one at the center of the Milky Way, actually foster the conditions for the evolution of lively creatures who might wonder at it all. An excerpt “The Benevolence of Black Holes” appears in Scientific American, for August 2012. But as the quote conveys, cosmological speculations remain caught in a perplexing dichotomy. Paraphrasing Columbia physicist Brian Greene (search), it is concluded that we valiant humans are yet lost in a vast, forbidding, insensate reality. But it is alluded, left ajar, that some celestial phenomena might seem made for our observer presence.
Our existence in the place, this microscopic corner of the cosmos, is fleeting. With utter disregard for our wants and needs, nature plays out its grand acts on scales of space and time that are truly hard to grasp. Perhaps all that we can look to for real solace is our endless capacity to ask questions and seek answers about the place we find ourselves in. One of the questions we are now asking is how deeply our specific circumstances are connected to this majestic universal scheme of stars, galaxies and black holes. (Scharf)
Scoville, Nick., et al. The Cosmic Evolution Survey Overview. Astrophysical Journal. Supplement 172/1, 2007. A special issue devoted to a compilation of results, with over a hundred authors, from space telescopes and probes, on the spatial and temporal galactic universe. Surely an example of humankind, or rightly earthkind altogether, or more widely the very cosmos, engaged in a concerted project to describe and discover itself. But how can this realization dawn in time?
Siegfried, Tom. A ‘Landscape” Too Far? Science. 313/750, 2006. A news report on the June 2006 Conference on Supersymmetry and the Unification of Fundamental Interactions where a revival of the anthropic principle, seemingly merited by string theories, was acrimoniously hashed out. The article notes a growing upheaval in quantum physics and consequent multiverse cosmology to move beyond a two decade hiatus due to the string mindset, whose mathematics can take on a life of its own. And it makes me wonder why this totally male field so abhors any thought that human beings might be cosmically worthwhile.
Simcoe, Robert. The Cosmic Web. American Scientist. January-February, 2004. Its subtitle reads: “Observations and simulations of the intergalactic medium reveal the largest structures in the universe.” A collaborative project of humankind achieves graphic visualization of filamentary webs of stars and galaxies.
Smolin, Lee. A Perspective on the Landscape Problem. arxiv.org/pdf/1202.3373. A paper to appear in Foundations of Physics special issue on String Theory, see Susskind below. Smolin, a senior philosophical physicist at the Perimeter Institute, Waterloo, Canada, finds deep flaws to persist which beg even more arcane straits to deal with. But if one samples a list of recent conferences via the Perimeter Institute Recorded Seminar Archive such as Laws of Nature: Their Nature and Knowability (2010) or Emergence and Effective Field theories Conference (2011), one gets a sense that the very physics and cosmology scenario or paradigm is Ptolemaic at best, seeming to require constant excuses, revisions, or band aids. In any event, Smolin’s posting has many clickable references in this regard.
String theory brought the landscape issue into focus but, as we have seen, it was inevitable that as physics progressed we would have encountered the problem of explaining how the universe chose its laws. We can call this the generalized landscape problem. Whether string theory is the right theory of unification or not, it is clear that this general landscape problem must be solved. But as we have seen, this problem can only be solved if we abandon the idea that ultimate explanations in physics are to be given in terms of laws organized according to the Newtonian paradigm, with timeless laws acting on a timeless space of states. (26)
Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution: the Search for What Lies Beyond the Quantum.
New York: Penguin,
Another insightful volume by the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics natural philosopher as he continues to sort out and clarify a past century of entangled quantum theories. Smolin presses on because the field seems to have reached an impasse that only a novel, missing dimension can resolve. In regard, a first part, An Orthodoxy of the Unreal, recites personal opinions, aspects and arguments since the early 1900s that have mostly wound up with ephemeral, anti-realist schemes. A survey of Leibniz, Mach, Einstein, Bohr, de Broglie, Schrodinger, Hugh Everett, and many others is covered to prepare for further glimpses such as by David Bohm and John Bell. A Realism Reborn section then avers that an independent reality outside our human conjectures must be seen to exist on its distinct own. By so doing, Smolin lays out the contrast between giving in to unintelligible quandaries or allowing that clouds can clear and a resolve be found.
Quantum physics is the basis of our understanding of atoms, radiation, and so much else. But it has been plagued by intense disagreements between its inventors, strange paradoxes, and implications that seem like fantasy. In Einstein's Unfinished Revolution, theoretical physicist Lee Smolin argues that the problems which have bedeviled quantum physics since its inception are unsolved for the simple reason that the theory is incomplete. Our task - if we are to have simple answers to our simple questions about the universe we live in - must be to go beyond quantum mechanics to a description of the world on an atomic scale that makes sense. (Publisher excerpts)
Smolin, Lee. The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. The philosophical physicist worries that things are not well, out of kilter, with quantum mechanics and its cosmology paradigm. Now gone astray into arcane landscapes of multi-dimensional strings and mega-universes, it takes leave of natural reality along the way. Smolin goes on to chart pathways toward a better approach and agenda, which includes perceptive considerations of how science should conduct itself.
Smolin, Lee. Three Roads to Quantum Gravity. New York: Basic Books, 2001. A report on efforts to unify quantum and relativity physics by means of loop quantum gravity, string theory, and black hole thermodynamics. Smolin goes on to offer glimpses of a fractal and hologram-like cosmos, a duality of particles and relations, self-similar networks, and an inherently self-organizing development.
The world must be a network of holograms, each of which contains coded within it information about the relationships between the others. In short, the holographic principle is the ultimate realization of the notion that the world is a network of relationships. (178) It may seem fantastic to think of the universe as analogous to a biological or ecological system, but these are the best examples we have of the power of the processes of self-organization to form a world of tremendous beauty and complexity. (201)
Time Reborn: From the Crisis of Physics to the Future of the Universe.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,
The author, a philosophical physicist at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Ontario, of which he was a founder, is a leading reality checker, course corrector, and frontier thinker for physical cosmology. His 1999 The Life of the Cosmos introduced cosmological natural selection, while in 2007 The Trouble with Physics took issue with string theory, multiverse, and other entanglements. Please search Smolin and arXiv for many postings. This latest work, six years on, proceeds to scope out an historic conceptual reimagination. An old Newtonian school fixed upon timeless truth, eternal laws, predetermined fate, isolate particles, the reductive litany, is set aside for a 21st century horizon of a dynamically non-equilibrium, self-organizing, complexifying, emergence. Restrictive formulas and parameters become malleable and evolve as time ticks and meters, opening upon unpredictable futures.
(Old Newton, Boltzman version) Time is an illusion. Truth and reality are timeless. Equilibrium is the natural state and inevitable fate of the universe. The observed complexity and order of the universe is a random accident due to a rare statistical fluctuation. Quantum mechanics is the final theory and the right interpretation is that there are an infinity of actually existing alternative histories. (New Leibniz, Smolin revolution) Time is the most real aspect of our perception of the world. Space is emergent and approximate. The universe naturally self-organizes to increasing levels of complexity, driven by gravitation. Quantum mechanics is an approximation of an unknown cosmological theory. (248-249)
Stamatescu, Ion-Olimpiu and Erhard Seiler, eds. Approaches to Fundamental Physics. Berlin: Springer, 2007. Each select chapter is meant to cover prime topics extant today such as Particles, Quantum Fields, General Relativity, Quantum (mostly Loop) Gravity, Strings and Dark Energy Cosmology. But the entries, set as they are in theoretical reaches, seem strained since their premises are locked in a Ptolemaic model that loses and excludes life and the very human intellect able to accomplish such inquiries.
Susskind, Leonard. String Theory. Foundations of Physics. Online December, 2012. The Stanford University physicist, author, initiator and vocal advocate of “string theory,” offers a synopsis of its history and status for a forthcoming issue of this journal “Forty Years of String Theory: Reflecting on the Foundations.” But per the quotes, and this paper alludes, four decades later there is little to show for it. It appears, as Susskind suspects, to be without foundation, is ever being propped up, epicycles upon epicycles, and is largely unprovable. See Smolin 2012 above for further qualms.
Just to be precise about what constitutes string theory, let me give a narrow definition. But it has the virtue that we know that it mathematically exists. By string theory I will mean the theory of supersymmetric string backgrounds including 11-dimensional M-theory and compactifications that preserve some degree of super symmetry. With that definition of string theory, there is no doubt: string theory is not the theory of nature – the world is not supersymmetric, and it has positive cosmological constant. Exactly how the definition has to be expanded in order to describe the observed universe is not known. (2)
Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality.
New York: Knopf,
The MIT physicist and cosmic imagineer writes an opus that stretches what might be conceived as an explanation for where and why we find ourselves. Human, earthly existence becomes valorized into four levels of parallel multiverses, each due to a mathematical occasion. A primer appears in the December 2013 issue of Discover magazine, quote below, see also a review in Nature (505/24, 2014). Earlier versions (search), are on arXiv and in Foundations of Physics (38/2). A brief capsule does not apply, so we quote from “Bottom Line” of the last chapter “Life, Our Universe and Everything,” where, in contrast to most science books , a significance is yet held out for human beings, if we may so choose.
* Even though our two intellectual expeditions set off in opposite directions, toward the large and the small, they ended up in the same place: in the realm of mathematical structures. * On the largest and smallest scales, the mathematical fabric of reality becomes evident, while it remains easy to miss on the intermediate scales that we humans are usually aware of. * If the ultimate fabric of reality really is mathematical, then everything is in principle understandable to us, and we’ll be limited only by our own imagination. * Evidence suggests that there’s no other life-form as advanced as us humans in our entire Universe. * From a cosmic perspective, the future potential of life in our Universe is vastly greater than anything we’ve seen so far. * Yet we humans devote only meager attention and resources to existential risks that threaten life as we know it, including accidental nuclear war and unfriendly artificial intelligence. * Although it’s easy to feel insignificant in our vast cosmos, the entire future of life in our Universe will arguably be decided on our planet in our lifetime – by you, me and our fellow passengers on Spaceship Earth. (Bottom Line, 398)