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III. Ecosmos: A Revolutionary Fertile, Habitable, Solar-Bioplanet Lifescape

1. Quantum Cosmology Theoretic Unity

Scharf, Caleb. Gravity's Engines: How Bubble-Blowing Black Holes Rule Galaxies, Stars, and Life in the Cosmos. New York: Scientific American Books, 2012. 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.

Scharf and Greene have company. A similar dissonance occurs in physicist Lawrence Krauss’ NY Times note for July 8th about the Higgs Boson. Our earthly occasion is “a precarious accident from nothing,” but this discovery is then said to reveal “the very elements that allow for our existence.” (search physicist Neil Turok for a rebuttal) Another instance is a Discovery Channel series upon Stephen Hawking’s The Grand Design, aired in June 2012. A segment “The Meaning of Life,” narrated by Hawking through his computer, states that because “philosophy is dead” our only recourse is "fundamental physics," as he and colleagues see fit. Our recourse, he advises, is to try to concoct and make up our own realities.

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)

Smolin, Lee. Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution: the Search for What Lies Beyond the Quantum. New York: Penguin, 2019. 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.

True to his cause, a third part, Beyond the Quantum, offers approaches and proposals. A unifying synthesis will be based on principles such as background independence, a relational spacetime, an interactive reciprocity amongst objects (entities), and so on. Akin to Philip Ball’s Beyond Weird (a writer’s phrase for what Lee is trying to do), a prime informational quality need be factored in, pervasive network topologies, and John A. Wheeler’s “bit to it” participatory universe. But as my take, the (male) quest seems (cognitively) unable to face whether there is an actual cosmic elephant. That is to say, does an overall, intrinsic, evident (natural genesis) identity prevail of which human peoples who are able to find gravity waves and black holes, are a central phenomenon? This historic task is quite current since other 2019 books such as Totally Random by Jeffrey Bub and Quantum Strangeness by George Greenstein persist in the olden school.

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)

There is no purer model of a system of relations than a graph or network. Interestingly enough, networks are ubiquitous in those approaches to quantum gravity which are in accord with the principle of background independence. These include loop quantum gravity, causal sets, and causal dynamical relations. This suggests two exciting deepenings of our hypothesis : First, space emerges from the fundamental network. Second, quantum physics arises from nonlocal interactions left over when space emerges. (240)

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)

Smolin, Lee. Time Reborn: From the Crisis of Physics to the Future of the Universe. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. 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.

Might one say, as pages 248 and 249 contrast (first quote) a Ptolemaic to Copernican revolution is in our midst. Smolin is to be credited for this innovative foray, not without lapses and contradiction as he is immersed in his field and its vernacular. If a static creation is no more, does the new vista imply, as bruited about today, that no contextual source or guide exists at all. While Smolin rejects a postmodern “relativism” that bans intrinsic values, does such openness exclude an independent guidance? But a deep message may be gleaned, for the second half is a lucid endorsement, in translation, of an essential genesis universe. In addition to just “things,” another interconnective, “relational” realm forms nature’s viable nest of networks. So again, from whatever school, perceptive insights seem to arrive at archetypal complements. By these views, energy and information flows impel life’s ascendant scales of self-organization, contra to entropy. This forceful agency is at work prior to selection as it impresses and embodies itself from galaxies to civilizations. Might it then be broached that what Lee Smolin, and an increasing chorus, is trying to express is in actuality a true cosmic genetic code.

(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)

Laws, then, are not imposed on the universe from outside it. No external entity, whether divine or mathematical, specifies in advance what the laws of nature are to be. Nor do the laws of nature wait, mute, outside of time for the universe to begin. Rather the laws of nature emerge from inside the universe and evolve in time with the universe they describe. (xxvi-xxvii) In a relational world, where relationships precede space, there are no spaces without things. Newton’s concept of space was the opposite, for he understood space to be absolute. This means atoms are defined by where they are in space but space is in no way affected by the motion of atoms. In a relational world, there are no such asymmetries. Things are defined by their relationships. Individuals exist, and they may be partly autonomous, but their possibilities are determined by the network of relationships. Individuals encounter and perceive one another through the links that connect them within the network, and the networks are dynamic and ever evolving. (xxviii)

The relational revolution is already in full swing in the rest of science. Darwin’s revolution in biology is one front, manifested both in the notion of a species being defined by its relation to all the other organisms in its environment and in the concept that a gene’s action is defined only in the context of the network of genes regulation its action. As we are quickly coming to realize, biology is about information, and there is no more relational concept than information, relying as it does on a relationship between the sender and receiver at each end of a communications channel. (xxviii-xxix) In the social sphere, the liberal concept of a world of autonomous individuals is being challenged by a view of society as composed of interdependent individuals, only partly autonomous, whose lives are meaningful only within a skein of relationships. The new informational halo within which we are so recently enmeshed expresses the relational idea through the metaphor of the network. As social beings, we see ourselves as the nodes in a network whose connections define us. (xxix)

A star can be characterized as a system driven far from equilibrium by a steady flow of energy through it. The energy comes from both nuclear and gravitational potential energy. The starlight then illuminates the surfaces of planets, like ours, driving them into far-from-equilibrium states of their own. This is an example of a general principle: Flows of energy through open systems tend to drive them to states of higher organization. We call this the principle of “driven self-organization.” (217-218) …the principle of driven self-organization is the good angel who does the detailed work in myriads of stars and galaxies to ensure a diverse, complex universe. (218)

Indeed, natural selection is a mechanism of self-organization that may spontaneously arise as a consequence of the tendency of externally driven systems to organize themselves. (219) So our present universe is characterized by structure and complexity on a wide range of scales, from the organization of molecules in living cells to the organization of galaxies into clusters. There is a hierarchy of self-organizing systems, driven by energy flows and stabilized and shaped by feedback processes. (220)

So the fact that our universe is interesting has a threefold explanation: The principle of driven self-organization acts over a myriad of subsystems and scales, from the molecular to the galactic, evolving them to states of ever increasing complexity. The engines driving that process are the stars, which exist because of a combination of the fine tuning of the fundamental laws and the anti-thermodynamic nature of gravity. But these forces can produce a universe filled with stars and galaxies only if the initial conditions of the universe are strongly time-asymmetric. (226)

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)

Some people are horrified by this complexity (of string theory), and even more so by the idea of a multiverse populated by bubble-universes that fill the (string) landscape. Others find the idea exciting because it fits nicely with cosmologists’ speculations about eternal inflation (Guth, Linde, et al), and environmental selection (Smolin). At the moment it is too soon to say who will be right. But what we can say is that if the multiverse concept proves correct, it will be an enormous success for string theory. If it proves wrong then it’s back to the drawing board. (8)

Tegmark, Max. Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality. New York: Knopf, 2014. 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.

Yes, the author does note that a certain Galileo made a similar surmise some 400 years ago, along with others such as Eugene Wigner. But his main mentor in the 1990s and 2000s was the physicist John Archibald Wheeler, who brought him for a stint at Princeton. The second quote is a luminous note from Wheeler to MT, which conveys an innate sense of an abiding reality and creative source that would reveal august meaning if only we could discern it. In regard, Tegmark carries forth Wheeler’s core conviction that somehow we people, by our fact and act of conscious observation and recognition, can indeed influence the future destiny of the whole cosmos.

* 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)

It was a great pleasure and encouragement to talk to you in Copenhagen as I believe you share my belief that under and behind quantum mechanics lies some deep and wonderful principle yet to be discovered, as Einstein’s great geometric idea threw unexpected light on the power and scope of Newton’s supposedly all-embracing theory. The likelihood of such a discovery is surely proportional to our belief that there is something there to be discovered. (J. A. Wheeler’s 1996 note to MT, 214-215)

The Mathematical Universe Hypothesis implies that we live in a relational reality, in the sense that the properties of the world around us stem not from properties of its ultimate buildings blocks, but from the relations among these building blocks. This crazy-sounding belief of mine that our physical world not only is described by mathematics, but that it is mathematics, makes us self-aware parts of a giant mathematical object. (Discover, 47)

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