Wednesday, April 13, 2016

There's Nothing There - Part 23

Now. Although nobody is all that crazy about reality not existing unless some sort of observation or measurement is made (apparently by some sort of intelligent being, like a human or ET, but not by a really smart animal, like a bonobo)(You need to go look up "bonobo" right now), nobody can get away from it.

The best that anyone can do is to try to figure out what happens AFTER the observation is made. But nobody has been able to say that the observation is NOT the thing. The Thing. The Thing that makes reality come into being.

And nobody can really define what an observation actually is.

Or what the observer actually is. Or who.

Now. I'm fully aware that all of this sounds insane. Which is part of the problem. It just sounds crazy. OK, that's ALL of the problem. It's lunacy. But it's the way the universe works.

The Copenhagen Interpretation says that all possible realities exist together (cat both alive and dead) until the observation is made, and then all the possible realities go away except for one. Live cat universe OR dead cat universe.

The Many Worlds Interpretation says that when the observation is made, the universe splits into two universes. Live cat universe AND dead cat universe.

That would mean that there are many many many universes. Except, of course, there aren't. At least none that we have any evidence for. This one, of course. Ours. But not a single other one.

Something like two out of three physicists accept the Copenhagen. Something like one out of nine accept Many Worlds. That's about three out of four of all physicists. The other one physicist likes any of the other nine interpretations. So they aren't too popular.

Really what's going on is that a lot of very smart people are hoping that there's (and this is what they call it, so use your deep professional American Idol voice) ...


Albert Einstein wanted this. Stephen Hawking wants it. Roger Penrose. Lots of folks. Most everyone.

And here's what's interesting about that.

It's that ... they don't like it because it doesn't make sense to them, even though it's perfect and it's always right and it's never wrong.

That is to say that they fully believe that the universe should be understandable to us, the beings that live in it. Since ET hasn't shown up yet.

Even though Neil deGrasse Tyson says quite firmly, "The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you," he really does want it to make sense to him, even though it's under no obligation to do so. That's what he himself said to him himself, along with all the rest of us ourselves.

We could note here that we are the only creatures on earth, and maybe the only creatures in the universe, that gives a rat's patootie about understanding the universe.

All the other creatures just eat, sleep, excrete, procreate, and try to keep daddy from eating the babies.

We (firmly convinced that we are not special)(which we figured out all by ourselves)(based on fairly bad logic, as it happens) spend a good amount of our time trying to understand things.

Physicists - the universe. Other scientists - smaller parts of the universe. Psychologists - why we are such whackadoodles. Historians - why we are such whackadoodles. Marketing people - why we won't buy their crap, and how to make us buy their crap. People - all the other people.

Animals don't do this. Plants don't do this. Galaxies don't do this. Even particles, which apparently are smarter than we are, don't do this. Particles are just flipping coins to figure out what they are going to do, and waiting to see if we are going to try to catch them doing it. But particles are not trying to understand particles.

We're the only ones.

And if we reach a place where we can't understand things (like space-time, black holes, Big Bang, quantum things, relativistic things, bendy time and bendy space, cats both dead and alive until we look at them, particles going backwards and forwards in time, stuff like that), then instead of just saying, wow, we're just not gonna get that, are we?, we say, dang, the universe must be broken, cause it's way weirder than we thought it was going to be.

And what the universe is saying is, hey, it's YOU guys who are weird. The rest of it? That's normal. That's the way it is. You're like little babies afraid of the dark or the bathtub or bunnies or green veg. Or, in my daughter's case, ET, spiders and laundry lint.

So somehow, we who are not special are supposed to be the only creatures in Space-Time who are special enough to be able to figure everything out, how it all works and makes sense to us who are like tiny little rancid carbuncles on the right butt cheek of the solar system.

The universe does throw us a bone. It lets us find and understand the math that describes it all. The math of relativity, of the general theory, of quantum theory and the Standard Model of Particle physics, of Chaos and Complexity, even String Theory (OK, we don't quite get the math and it isn't true yet, but still) and Loop Quantum Gravity (ditto) and Inflation (ditto ditto) and Dark Energy and Dark Matter (which EXIST but we CAN'T FIND THEM!!!).

But the math, the cruel, bitter heartless math, tells us a story that we cannot understand. And will not. But we want



to understand it.

It's kind of adorable.

Because we, cute little Minions that we are, make this assumption that has no support. And it is, we can Understand Everything. We who can't see the backs of our own heads, we who live in a universe that is maybe 10**26th times bigger than we can actually see, we who look out at the night sky, see 9110 stars (which is all that we can see with our eyeballs) and assume that we are Seeing It All, we for whom 95% of the universe is Dark Energy and Dark Matter and we have no idea what they are, we who cannot go backwards in time or tunnel instantaneously across vast regions of space or be in 2 places at once, though all of our particles can, we who travel to the Moon and think we have been in space, we who dream of colonizing Mars, which is a lot like dreaming of colonizing that spot in the sand right next to us on the beach, we who are bound to air and water and food and gravity and light and cannot live without any of them,


want to Understand it All.

Adorable. Just ... adorable.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

There's Nothing There - Part 22

Here's the problem.

You (and everyone else) think that

1) the world and the universe and nature and everything are just the way that you think they are, and that

2) they would be that way whether or not you are here, because

3) the Copernican Principle. Which says that humans are not special and have no special role to play in the universe. Because

4) we are just one more in a very very long series of accidents happening. And

5) the universe could give a rat's patootie whether or not humans are here. That's the Official Cosmological Term, btw. " Rat's Patootie."

So. Schroedinger's Cat.

Two guys, a Dane and a German, walk into a bar.

OK, not really.

I mean, they may have walked into a bar. Probably did. But it's no joke.

They were Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg.

No, no, not the Heisenberg from Breaking Bad. The real one.

He came up with something that has his name on it. It's called the (go ahead, guess) Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. What, you weren't sure? There you go.

It says that you can't know both the momentum and location of any particle.

And then they both came up with something that ought to have Bohr's name on it, but that would be dull. Uninteresting. Um. Boring.

Sorry. Bad physics joke.

It's called the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Physics.

(There are 11 different interpretations of Quantum Physics.

That's not really supposed to happen. It just shows what a 1] totally fascinating field of scientific inquiry Quantum physics is, or 2] mess it is. Or 3]. Both.

It's not really a mess, of course. It's perfect, it's never wrong, it's always right, and it's brilliant.

But nobody agrees how it works.

That's not really supposed to happen. Scientists should automatically just like something that works all the time. I mean, it ought to be their BFF, except BSF, S being Science.)

Anyway. I digress. Bohr. Heisenberg. Copenhagen. The Copenhagen Interpretation of QM (Quantum Mechanics which is the same as Quantum Physics and Quantum Theory) says that ...

That a particle has neither a momentum nor a location until you look at it.

That is, it is your interaction with the particle that causes it to, I don't know, exist at all.

So two other guys didn't like that at all. A Wuerttembergian /stateless/Swiss/Austrian/not Austrian/German/not German /American guy and a German/Irish guy went into a bar. Yeah, not really. It was Albert Einstein and Erwin Schroedinger, who was named after a famous cat. Quantum Time being what it is, that might be true.

Anyway. They didn't like the whole observer thing, so they sat down and came up with a thought experiment to show why it was all wrong. Of course, Quantum Theory being what it is, they just showed it was all right, instead. Curse you, Quantum Theory. They just might have been in a bar, after all.

So. Here it is. They said, OK, you Copenhageners, what if we take an alpha particle and put it in a box, like this:

This Alpha Particle will eventually decay. Because it's all by itself and not in a big lump of Alpha Particles, we don't know when it will decay and can't predict it:

But here's what you're trying to tell us. You're trying to tell us that if we close the box and we're not looking inside, if it's completely cut off from the outside world (sound, smell, taste, touch, and hearing, and any old measuring type device), then ...

The Alpha Particle is in a state of Quantum Uncertainty (like, the Uncertainty Principle). And THAT means that ... 

It has both decayed and not decayed. Both at the same time.



Which is, Einstein and Schroedinger said, ridiculous.

So we're gonna put a bunch of other stuff in the box, all connected to the particle. What, you might ask, could that be? It will be a Geiger counter, a hammer, some poison, and a cat, like this:

So if the particle decays, the Geiger counter will detect it, let the hammer fall on the poison, which will spill and kill the cat. The cat was Einstein's idea. I don't know why.

So, now, you will be telling us, not only is the particle in two states at the same time, but so is everything else in the box.

And thus ...

The cat will be both dead and alive. At the same time.


And that's ridiculous. Said Albert and Erwin to Niels and Werner.

And Niels and Werner said, ah, we don't wanna make you guys feel all bad and offended, but, um,

That's the way it is.

And they were right. And Einstein and Schroedinger were wrong.

And then, what's more, is you open the box and look inside.

And then what happens is that you, um, ah, cause reality to come into being. As in, the particle was in two states at the same time, which means that reality didn't exist yet, and then you 


with it, and voila! Reality!

It's like this. When you look inside or make a measurement or whatever, you do what's called ...

... "collapsing the probability wave function" ...

which means (Copenhagenishly) that, where before the cat was both alive and dead, or neither alive nor dead, or whatever, now ...

... the cat is one or the other. But not both.

And this happens only when you look inside the box. Before, dead and alive. After, dead or alive. You did this. You yourself.

You need to know that you don't get to choose whether the cat is alive or dead. The particle does that for you. Because this is a story about a particle.

As in. The particle notices (whatever the heck THAT means) that you have looked in the box, and sort of runs through its options.

Option one - the particle decays sometime in the future.

Option two - the particle decays right now, when you look in the box.

Option three - are you sure you want me to tell you? Your life will be much much easier if you just stick with Options One and Two.

Really? OK, then. No pain, no reality.

Option three - the particle decays sometime in the past. Like, yesterday. Or last week.

But it doesn't decay last week until you look in the box.

Which means that the cat isn't dead until you look in the box.

Which means that when you look in the box, THEN the cat will have been dead for a week.

But not until you look in the box. Which means that 1) the wave function collapsed backwards in time and therefore 2) your interaction with the particle right now affected things that happened in the past

Of course, technically they didn't happen in the past until your interaction. That's just confusing.

Interaction killed the cat. Of course, you were curious about what would happen if you looked in the box, so then, of course, like a force of nature ...

... curiosity killed the cat.

Ha. Hysterical.

Anyway. What THIS means is that ...

... without interaction, there is no reality in the universe. 

Do I need to repeat that really loudly so that you'll get it?

I didn't think so.

And reality can come into being ... backwards in time.

I think I have a headache. 


Ha. Hysterical.