Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Much ado about "nothing"… and nothing but science

My friend Robert Lawrence Kuhn has collaborated with University of Guelph professor John Leslie on a book whose title is both provocative and… well… especially redolent to me and to my own readers.  The Mystery of Existence: Why Is There Anything At All? In the current issue of Skeptic magazine, Kuhn summarizes his own approach to the subject: “Levels of Nothing” laying down what Kuhn calls a “taxonomy” or “hierarchy” of kinds of nothing, from least to most absolute.

MysteryExistenceI especially liked this excerpt, which speaks to something that (as a physicist) I always found perplexing: "What physicists contemplate—the sudden emergence or “tunneling” of universes from “Nothing” — is fascinating and indeed may be cosmogenic, but the tunneling process or capacity is not Nothing. The Nothing of physicists is thick with the complete set of the laws of physics, and so between the physicists’ Nothing and Real Nothing lies a vast, unbridgeable gulf."

Exactly.  The Heisenberg-Quantum based notions for universal origins (that of probablistic fluctuations in spacetime and energy) may be sufficient to explain the Big Bang "universe" we see around us… and possibly even the ongoing and evolving meta-universe of Lee Smolin.  

But from whence didst come about the context within which quantum probabilities fluctuate?

Hey, just askin'...

== And science that's more than nothing ==

A giant gas cloud is on a suicide mission to the black hole at the center of our galaxy. As the cloud (named G2) spirals into oblivion, the black hole's extreme gravity is stretching it thinner and thinner, from an egg-shaped blog to a long ribbon.  When it collides with the black hole, we should see some fireworks and learn tons about these weird things.

The sun's magnetic field is about to flip, in the next few months. 

Hubble finds the source of the Magellenic Stream...a long ribbon of gas that stretches nearly halfway around the Milky Way galaxy. 

The Kilonova -- a new type of cosmic blast -- may result from the collision of hyper-dense neutron stars, emitting huge bursts of gamma rays.

ku-xlargeA kewl io9 photo essay on possible places that humans might choose to live (safe from radiation) in our solar system, starting with the "skylight" holes that were recently dicovered on Mars and the Moon, leading (it seems) to underground chambers or lava tubes. We at NASA's Innovative and Advanced Concepts (NIAC) group have funded an initial study of ways to go spelunking (robotically) into such enticing caverns.  Other possibilities: Jupiter's icy moon Europa...or even the asteroid belt.

Astronomers discovery a graveyard for comets -- from which 'Lazarus (or zombie) comets' occasionally return to life.

Scientists test the Planetary Lake Lander in the Chilean Andes. The swimming robot is intended to float in the liquid methane seas of Titan.

CuriosityMarsYearCuriosity's first year on Mars -- compressed into two minutes.

==Bio & Tech==

French researchers are now reporting the discovery of the biggest virus yet. The pandoravirus, as they’ve dubbed it, is 1,000 times bigger than the flu virus by volume and has nearly 200 times as many genes . 

Giant viruses may lurk harmlessly in our bodies, invading the amoebae we harbor. Whether they can make us sick is an open question.

Harvard researchers create a brain-to-brain interface: allows humans to control...rats (or at least their tail) with thoughts alone.

New electronic sensors can stretch, flex, and dissolve in the living world of the human body.

Quantum software has finally left the dark ages with the creation of the first practical, high-level programming language for quantum computers. Called Quipper, it could guide the design of quantum computers and make them easier to program.

Apparently, long -term zoo studies show that when female mammals somehow choose the sex of their offspring, they are doing so strategically to produce more grandchildren. The mechanism is not known.
HumanRaceFutureBerleantHave a look at: The Human Race to the Future: What Could Happen — and What to Do, by Dr. Daniel Berleant (388 pages), the first book published by the Lifeboat Foundation.

The NFC Ring is a finger ring that would turn on your cell phone or other secured device when it is nearby, leaving it disabled if you lose it or it's stolen or messed with out-of-sight.

And finally: Total Recall? Fake memories implanted in mice with a beam of light....From nothing to something?


Tom Crowl said...


You mean I have to start worrying about the meaning of existence again?

Aw shucks...

I thought it was all settled... You mean the answer isn't 42!

Jonathan S. said...

No, 42 isn't anything to do with the meaning of existence - it's the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything.

What we don't know is what the Question to Life, the Universe, and Everything is.

Tom Crowl said...

Good point Jonathan!

So the question then is... what's the question in relation to Life, the Universe, and Everything... to which 42 is the answer?

After some deep analysis I think I've figured it out.



P.S. The book that David mentions "The Human Race to the Future" looks pretty good and is only $2.99 for Kindle

Tony Fisk said...

On the occasion of (President) #44's birthday, I asked #42 (via twitter) whether he ever worked out the question. I didn't get an answer.

On the topic of conversations via the 'lobotomising media', a certain well known planetary blogger (name withheld) had noted, with some dismay, that they seemed to be at their most creative after one or two drinks, and was worrying about the long term implications of this. They received some corroborative evidence on the 'Ballmer Peak', and a most 'illuminating' video on the 'Manifesto of the Knights Tippler'

"I'd much rather a bottle in front of me,
than indulge in a frontal lobotomy!"

Jonathan S. said...

"On the occasion of (President) #44's birthday, I asked #42 (via twitter) whether he ever worked out the question. I didn't get an answer."

Probably just as well. There's one school of thought that holds that if the Answer and the Question are both known at the same time, the entire universe will disappear, to be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.

Another school believes that this has already happened.

Paul451 said...

For Ian,
The twits making 3d printed guns are back. Their new "rifle" supposedly fired 14 shots before the barrel split. Expect more hysterical reactions and calls to ban/register/license 3d printers from the media/politicians.

Three shots (and one misfire) over 80 seconds (with the cartridge jamming in the plastic tube after each shot and needing a long rod to push it out.) This is what I meant about the limits of zip-guns, after the first shot, you are basically unarmed for 20 seconds. And it's not a limit of the design, or of 3d printers, it's a limit of the materials, the plastic.

("Rifle" is funny because it's still more of a short-barrelled musket.)

For everyone else,
Dolphins can still remember each other's "names" after 20 years:

Press play and hear Lucky Kai's name in Primal.

Acacia H. said...

Here's a Kickstarter for a comic book concerning Martian colonists which I thought Dr. Brin might find of interest. And I think this also answers the question: is there life in science fiction? Yes. It may not be life as we recognize it (prose literature) but science fiction is still out there. ;)

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Jonathan S. Read my short story The River of Time.

Guys I will be be focusing hard on something on only checking in intermittently for the next week or two. i'll post - I have some stored - but will only check comments occasionally while concentrating.

Thrive and make civilization better, meanwhile.

Patrice Ayme said...

Simple considerations of a philosophical, non computational, nature on Space, Time and the Quantum show that the former two are not basic.

Attempted explanation to come on my blog "Some Thoughts Patrice Ayme"

Patrice Ayme said...

"Simple" considerations of a philosophical, non computational, nature on Space, Time and the Quantum show that the former two are not basic.

Attempted explanation to come on my blog "Some Thoughts Patrice Ayme"

Tony Fisk said...

From the "I'm not making this up" category:

This weekend, Australia's party leaders Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott will face off in a debate.

Their twitter handles are @kruddmp and @ tonyabbottmhr.

So, a debate between a rump and a bottom!?

Jonathan S. said...

Oh, I've read "The River of Time", Dr. Brin. They must have found both the Question and the Answer - and Adams help them if it ever happens again! :)

StephenMeansMe said...

From SLATE Future Tense: Internet Response League Hopes to Use Gamers' Powers for Good

From io9: New Game Creates a Hive Mind Out of Google Glass Users

Very "Existence"-y... possibly the first rude stirrings of smart-mob tech? I'm not sure whether the Glass game's ant-colony conceit is cool or creepy, though.

Paul451 said...

The encrypted email service that Edward Snowden was reportedly using (Lavabit) has suddenly been shut down by its owner. The vague note posted on the home page by the owner implies that he received a "National Security Letter" and chose instead to close the whole service down rather than be complicit. ("Vague" because it's illegal to disclose receiving an NSL.)

AJ Snook said...

I wonder how much of that gap that he speaks of we have bridged. If we were to measure the gap as a meter would we have bridged a millimeter over the past 3,000 years?

Paul451 said...

If you haven't seen this, the lamestream liberal media brings down another promising political career with their "gotcha" questions and tricksy editing.

Australia has dallied with many forms of government and has ended up with that form of democracy known as One Man, One Vote. Rupert Murdock was the Man; he had the Vote.

Tony Fisk said...

Ah! Decisions! Decisions!

Victorian senate ballot paper to be over 1m long.

AEC to provide magnifying glasses!

(Who's for a game of 'Where's Julian'?)

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Paul451

I agree with your take on Murdock

but the dopey female in the other one has only herself to blame
Islam a country
Jews have different dietary laws (not halal) and believe in JC

If you are totally ignorant you must keep your trap shut

Paul451 said...

Duncan Cairncross,
"but the dopey female in the other one has only herself to blame"

Errr, yes, that was the point of my sarcasm.

Tony Fisk,
Re: Senate ballots

Yeah, I usually try to vote below the line to support minor parties and independents, I suspect this will be an election that stretches my patience.

(For non-Australians, this is to do with Australia's preference voting system. "Above the line" is a short-cut to vote the party ticket. "Below the line" you have to number ever candidate in order of preference. I live in one of the smaller states, and in non-controversial elections it can be over 80 candidates for the Senate. So we "below the liners" are a rare breed.)

Alex Tolley said...

This article by Dan Gillmor How should you protect yourself from cyber surveillance? is depressingly supportive of your transparency position in that he protection of privacy in the age is extremely difficult. I think the Lavastorm and Silent Circle shutdowns confirm this.

So the fight must be for making sousveillance happen. I'm skeptical because the US government seems to be making this very difficult by making much of it illegal (e.g. whistle-blowing, press reporting). What is the path from where we are to where we need to be given the government's increasingly aggressive position on its own secrecy?

Tony Fisk said...

You go 'below the line' only if you can count up to 100! (Bad as US cable TV!)

Above the line, you can give preference by party, if you can count to 10.

Or you can apply, as Banjo Patterson once put it, 'a thumbnail dipped in tar'*.

(The lower house is a bit more manageable)

* "... Gillard's gone to SA rovin', and we don't know where she are!"

Paul451 said...

Tony Fisk,
"Above the line, you can give preference by party, if you can count to 10."

Errr, no. You only mark one box. You accept that party's ticket.

There's no preference vote in the Senate above the line. There should be, but there isn't. (Indeed, I'd like to eliminate above the line voting entirely and instead allow people to preference vote for as many candidates as they want. When they stop, the remaining candidates are ranked according to their first preference ("1") candidate's pre-lodged AEC ticket. So you can vote 1 for the top candidate of the party you want to vote for, and achieve the same effect as current voting above the line, or you can preference as many as you can be bothered.

locumranch said...

Today, I'd like to introduce the concept of 'Quantum Argument' wherein anyone can slap the term 'Quantum' on to any type of nonsense and be thought invariably correct, allowing the user to divide & multiple by the nothing of Zero with mathematical impunity, and assert that nothing can equal both something and everything,.

And, like Robert Lawrence Kuhn, I can support my hypothesis with the concepts of Quantum Tunneling, Inflation and Expansion because (admittedly) I speak 'nonsense' and 'nonsense' (you must admit) is a type of 'sense' which we can make more 'sensible' with expansion and inflation until we achieve a state of pure 'sensibility and unadulterated truth.

But seriously.

Kuhn's argument is nonsense at best and theosophy at worst: (1) 'Creation Ex Nihilo' is a purely religious argument, (2) It is a hypothesis unsupported by any actual physical evidence , (3) it violates the most basic mathematical rules regarding the use of Zero (nothing) and (4) it is a linguistic variant of the Liar's paradox.

In other words: It is BS of the 'Quantum' variety.


matthew said...

So, locumbranchdividian, I have doubts that you know anything about what you speak about anything "Quantum" in nature. Quick, without outside help (no Google, on your honor), name one commercial product that uses a quantum effect to work and give a short explanation of why it works. Dare ya.

Alex Tolley said...

Commercial application of quantum effects with quantum in the name - Quantum Dots. Does that count?

However, what Kuhn and quantum have to do with each other is opaque to me.

sociotard said...

Among the olive branches the Democrats have offered to those offended by NSA omni-veilance, one is the creation of a privacy advocate post for the FISA court. Regardless of the motivations, I think this is a good idea.

However, the relevant bill is S1467, and it appears the text for it is not up. I cannot find any information for how this post would be filled or supervised.

As such I have a concern: how will we be assured that the post will be filled by someone competent and motivated?

Competent: It'd be awful tempting for any President to stuff this post with a simple rube who lacked the skill to ever sway the FISA court away from rubber-stamping surveillance requests. As such, it would be better if this post was filled by someone else, and not someone who is in turn appointed by the President. Maybe by a supreme court justice? or maybe by a panel of governors of 6 states who had the majority vote against the President in the last election. Maybe subcontract it out to an NGO chosen by whichever party the president is not.

Motivated: Related to above, it can be hard to work against your boss. Even after a competent person got the job, she might subconsciously not try as hard if she knew her bosses didn't want her too. The people in charge of deciding whether the privacy advocate gets fired or gets a raise should not have a motive to grant more surveillance power.

So, I don't want this post to become a whipped and jaded public defender, no surveillance-state Quisling or crony buffoon. I want a whirlwind of rage and skill ensuring that "the other side" gets considered and that only the most meritorious surveillance is carried out. How would you word the bill to make that happen? What do you actually think will happen?

Duncan Cairncross said...

"name one commercial product that uses a quantum effect to work"

As the photo-electric effect was one of the first things that showed that energy came in lumps (Quanta) I nominate Solar Panels as a commercial product using Quantum effect

I believe this won somebody a Nobel
(Somebody called Albert)

sociotard said...

I suspect that Matthew was attempting to call out Locumranch for not knowing what the actual application of "Quantum" concepts are.

That said, I think Locumranch was using the term as it is too often used, leading to its ridicule.

matthew said...

Locumranch is attempting an oblique linguistic attack on Kuhn, I *think.*
The point is rather muddled and unclear without any outside references to what he is trying to get at.

My point is I suspect that he doesn't have the closest idea what the terms he is throwing around really mean. Posting at this site has a high probability of your statements being picked apart. This is the #1 reason I've stuck around for so long here. If I post something that is incorrect, incoherent, or plain wrong I expect it to be torn apart. And this has happened to me here.

So, I am attempting to challenge him to prove he knows what he is talking about with some fairly basic physics / materials science.

He reminds me of an English Lit sophomore trying to use some Philosophy 101 style arguments to prove a point about science. Real, measurable science that works in our world. And has very little to do with dividing by zero. I'd like him to show he has a very basic understanding of what he is saying.

I am more than willing to be proven wrong here, if there is some substance to his arguments that I am just not getting, but I really don't get the point of his post. So, I call it out.

By all means, please consider this an open invitation to do the same to me. On any subject, any time. I would really, honestly appreciate it. I have a thick skin and I always appreciate the feedback.

Acacia H. said...

Hyperloop Explained. And to be honest? This makes sense. This makes a lot of sense. I don't see why it can't be done... and possibly for cheaper than the current high speed rail projects. I hope someone has the guts to try and do this.

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

Paul451 said:

Errr, no. You only mark one box. You accept that party's ticket.

My mistake. I never really noticed because:

"I never heeded a Party's call, and always bashed my head against a big brick wall!"

Alfred Differ said...

Zero isn't nothing. It is a counting number representing nothing. We tend to use a different 'thing' for nothing. Software developers reserve a word like 'null' for that.

The easiest example I know of tech using quantum behaviors occurs when you run to catch an elevator, try to squeeze in at the last moment, and have the door jerk open rather than squish you. Photons producing the current telling the door it is safe to close get interrupted. Try doing that without quantum behaviors and you get a door that can be confused by ambient light of other colors and the occasional injury. 8)

Locumranch's words do look like a bit of weak philosophy to me, but there is plenty to complain about with the way quantum is explained even by the best of us. Bell pretty much thrashed any explanation I learned in school. I have a couple of books on my to-read list to deal with that gap, but they are dense enough to draw the dust around them into orbit. Oof.

locumranch said...

Quanta? I love quanta!! I love numbers, counting and 'quantification'. There's nothing magical about the term 'quantum'.

In general, the term refers to any 'measurable unit' as in 'quantum sufficit' or 'a number of apples'. In specific, the term 'quantum' can be used to refer to the smallest conceivable physical unit of measure (as in an angstrom or a quanta of energy).

The problem is that the term must be used to refer to a 'measurable unit' or it quickly becomes 'nonsense' as it tends to in a theoretical physics which assumes an infinitely small imaginary unit that 'approaches' or 'equivocates' zero. Then, for these imaginary units of infinitesimal size that are 'almost zero', it is a made up 'magic time' of rogue probability and object impermanence.

Something from 'nothing' (or 'null') equals both nothing and 'something' which undergoes 'expansion' to equal 'everything', giving us .... POOF ... 'creation ex nihilo'.