Category Archives: science

climate change

While I am not a climate scientist and do not claim to have any special expertise in climate research, my interest is to analyze how a layman should organize his thoughts around this complex topic so that critical thinking can be applied to separate truth from propaganda and political posturing.

We have seen the media and leading voices on the topic of climate change promote the following ideas:

The term “denial” conflates healthy skepticism over extraordinary claims with the non-recognition of scientific facts that are largely beyond dispute. Extraordinary claims are certainly under dispute by experts in their fields, and the disingenuous label of “denial” is intended to chill skepticism, a hallmark of science, with authoritarian dogma (“settled science” is the antithesis of science). Here is a sampling of dissent:

The case being made by the climate change activists contains several elements:

  1. Global temperatures have been rising at an alarming rate since the beginning of the industrial revolution. This is where science investigates the facts through measurements that are indisputable except for accuracy, error, and methods to ensure that the data is true. Unfortunately, even at this fundamental level certain scientists have exhibited misbehavior (Climategate), such as data manipulation, lack of transparency of unaltered data sets, what those data alterations were, exclusion of participants from peer review, exclusion of participants from publications, and suppression of dissent. While such misbehavior undermines the credibility of the science, on net the evidence does support the position that global temperatures have risen 1.2°C since the pre-industrial era.
  2. Warming is predominantly caused by increased CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. The strongest argument in favor of attributing the cause of warming to CO2, as opposed to solar activity and any number of variables that affect the phenomena under measurement (e.g., proxies to temperature such as tree rings are sensitive to many factors like sunlight, rainfall, soil conditions, nutrients, and pestilence which cannot be separated from the effects of temperature), is the observation that surface temperatures have risen as lower stratospheric temperatures have dropped, which is predicted if greenhouse warming due to CO2 is the cause.
  3. Warming is unprecedented and unnatural.  This is where science can provide insights into historical events and patterns. Articles such as Nature Unbound III: Holocene climate variability (Part A) and Part B give some perspective into natural trends over millennia that show large temperature variations and atmospheric CO2 levels that are natural and uncorrelated.
  4. Rising atmospheric CO2 levels are the result of emissions from burning fossil fuels, and therefore human activity is to blame. There can be little dispute that the post-industrial rise in atmospheric CO2 is primarily attributable to human activity.
  5. Elevated atmospheric CO2 levels and associated warming are bad. Melting glaciers, rising sea levels, increases in extreme weather events, disruptions of ocean currents, ocean acidification, and even mass extinctions are potential hazards that climate alarmists are warning of. These claims are strongly disputed [1] [2] [3] [4]. Measuring a global trend and determining the cause are problematic. On the other hand, there  is a fair amount of research that suggests that global warming has been beneficial.
  6. Rising atmospheric CO2 levels and warming trend will be catastrophic. Predictions of catastrophic levels of warming are based on climate models, which have had a very poor track record to date. Models have made predictions that do not comport with observations.
  7. Intervention is required to curtail human activity that emits CO2.
  8. Government policies are the proper means of intervention.
  9. The specific policies being advocated are the best solutions to prevent catastrophe and provide the best net benefit.

By the time we reach the final three claims about solutions, we must have already drawn conclusions from the previous six that global warming is catastrophic and predominantly caused by CO2  emissions from human activities. Any critical examination of the evidence would not support such a conclusion.  The case for climate alarmism falls apart at the third claim. The evidence favors the Lukewarmers, “those who argue that carbon dioxide indeed is warming surface temperatures, but that its effect is modest and that we are inadvertently adapting”. However, let’s roll with the “hotheads” to see where they want to lead us.

When exploring practical solutions, we move beyond scientific research into the realm of engineering, which is applied science. How to solve the problem can either be compatible with liberty – relying on voluntary action; or the solutions can rely on coercion and force through government action. This falls into the political realm.

When evaluating how best to deploy scarce resources (e.g., labor, factors of production, capital investment) among various alternative solutions, we move beyond the physical sciences into the realm of economics, which is a social science. Humans cannot be treated as inanimate objects without free will, rationality, and rights.

Government policies cannot be implemented without expecting people to resist, avoid, or bypass them. Policies cannot anticipate how human ingenuity and innovation can provide better solutions; or how policies may impair such solutions from being developed, as crony regulations that protect incumbents and government “picking winners”  have a tendency to do.

Government funding of scientific research has conflicts of interest. You tend to get the results that you pay for, because researchers understand that their funding will only continue if the government’s favored outcomes are achieved and their policy goals are supported.

Government funding of their preferred solutions results in cronyism. Let’s examine green energy subsidies. Here are some examples:

If climate change advocates cared about practical solutions to replacing CO2 emitting energy generation, they would support modern and future nuclear power technologies. This topic is explored in the article titled What are some policies that would improve millions of lives, but people still oppose?

What climate alarmists leave unsaid is their aim to scale back human activity to reduce the impact on the environment. It is a greater priority to preserve wilderness than to improve the standard of living for humans. People have no right to exist in their world view.

The popular movement against climate change is not primarily about science. Its main aim is political advocacy. That is, scientific arguments are used to support the political lobbying for government mandated economic solutions to future problems that are predicted by models based on the scientific explanations of physical phenomena that contribute to climate. In the realm of political debate and economics, the physical sciences are just a useful idiot, where cherry-picked results are used to promote the preferred policy goals. Popular opinion is driven by the desired political outcome, not by the truth of the science. Their goal is to shift power away from individuals seeking to improve their standard of living, and concentrating power in governments to implement collectivist policies that are used to implement cronyism and corruption.

black hole and big bang singularities

Here is Ben’s theory about the impossibility of black hole and big bang singularities.

I think once we understand the Higgs mechanism better, we will discover that above a certain temperature, which rises as we work backward in time to make the universe more dense, the opposite of “condensation” happens. The bosons no longer have mass. No mass, no gravity; no longer contributing gravity means the very force that is squeezing things together stops squeezing at the core. I believe this should put a limit on how dense things can be, so it is impossible to form a singularity, if you cannot pass this density limit at the extreme interior.

I wish I knew a lick of math, so I could even comprehend what SU(2) × U(1) means. Sadly, I’ll have no chance of writing a paper and winning a Nobel prize. Math is hard.

faster than light travel

The article NASA May Have Accidentally Created a Warp Field is getting people excited about faster than light travel.

You don’t need to travel faster than light to go arbitrarily far in arbitrarily less time. All you need to do is travel closer to the speed of light. As you get closer to c, time dilation and space contraction will contribute to bring arbitrarily distant destinations within reach. Although the travelers will experience relatively manageable passages of time, it is their friends observing from home who will age much more quickly. Travelers moving at nearly c in space have most of their velocity contributing to movement through space dimensions and almost none through time. At home, we are moving at c almost entirely in the time dimension, remaining motionless in space. The laws of physics give everything no option but to move at c through spacetime; we can only choose what part of our motion is through the space dimensions and the remainder is through time.

The benefits imagined from warping space are to alleviate this huge difference in the passage of time, so that travelers can go places and return without generations dying off before they return home. The “faster than light” travel is about how outside observers perceive the traveler’s motion, so that they can share in the experience within their lifetimes. Travelers have no need for FTL motion to reach any destination within their own lifetime, with enough acceleration to move at close to c through space. The desire for FTL motion is for non-travelers who don’t want to die waiting for the travelers to return.

The search for intelligent life

The search for intelligent life outside of our solar system is a difficult one. We tend to think that if we expand the scope of our search to include more galaxies, this is sufficient. But we must accept that even if we had the technology to examine every galaxy exhaustively in perfect detail, we are only covering a minuscule part of the search space, which is almost entirely inaccessible to us by the laws of physics.

We can only see something in the current snapshot in time. Let’s try to imagine a search for human radio signals on Earth from the perspective of a distant alien civilization. The Earth is 4.4 billion years old. Humans started producing radio signals in 1894, so these radio signals have been transmitting for the past 121 years. These signals have only had the opportunity to propagate 121 light years away from Earth in that time. Beyond that distance, no alien civilization would be able to detect these signals. Moreover, an alien civilization would have to coincidentally have developed at a pace in which their technology was at least as advanced at exactly the right time to detect such signals during this tiny window in time upon their arrival. This is a 121 year window out of the 13.82 billion years in which the universe has existed.

Universal rest frame

Sometimes we see stories about searching for the origins of high energy particles called cosmic rays. These are massive particles like protons, which have been accelerated by something in deep space to nearly the speed of light. The usual suspects are black holes, neutron stars, supernovae, and other exotic phenomena. The puzzling thing is that some of these particles seem to have traveled great distances, farther than thought possible without losing momentum (slowing down by bumping into things like photons).

What I wonder is whether the human perspective on Earth is far too biased. Einstein’s theory of special relativity says that there is no preferred rest frame in the universe. A fast moving particle is moving fast relative to us, but it is equally valid to say that the particle is at rest, and it is we who are moving fast relative to it.

If indeed there is no preferred rest frame in the universe, shouldn’t there be a uniform distribution of velocities for distant galaxy clusters? Because of the strong influence of gravity, galaxies within a cluster would be bound to move together. But galaxies that are not close enough together will move independently. Wouldn’t one expect that two galaxies separated in space and time by 12 billion light years have an equal probability of moving at any speed between zero and c relative to each other?

However, indeed our picture of the universe seems to be of a relatively organized structure like a web of filaments, possibly with a flow in a particular direction. It is far more accurate to describe the structure as static than it is to say that it is randomly moving with a uniform distribution of velocities. This means there is a definite bias for a rest frame, where the relative motion of the large scale structure of the universe is minimized. Am I wrong?


Cosmic inflation unnecessary

There is no time without clocks. There are no clocks without mass. There is no mass above the temperature at which bosons acquire mass through spontaneous symmetry breaking. Massless particles travel at the speed of light. When traveling at the speed of light, all components of its motion are through space and none are through time. All events in the universe become space-like.

Wouldn’t these conditions of the early universe by themselves explain the homogeneous and isotropic qualities without needing cosmic inflation? If energy can radiate arbitrarily far in space without time passing, there is no need for esoteric explanations of how that happened so quickly.

[Paraphrasing Penrose: E=mc^2 combined with E=hf (and f=1/t) means that without mass there can be no clocks and therefore no time.]

dark matter

I remain skeptical of both dark matter and dark energy. I don’t believe that either are valid concepts. They are hypothesized as explanations for observations that defy the current theories of how ordinary matter and energy ought to behave. I don’t have an argument to disprove either concept, but I do believe the burden of proof is on those who assert the existence of dark matter and dark energy. In this article, I would like to present an alternative theory to explain the anomalous behavior that proponents of dark matter use to support their hypothesis.

We must begin with an introduction to the topic of dark matter. One of the reasons that dark matter is hypothesized is to explain the unexpected rotational speeds of galaxies. In spiral galaxies like our own, the stars orbiting closer to the central super-massive black hole should appear to orbit very quickly, while the stars orbiting farther away should move much more slowly. The stars should behave as the planets do in our solar system. But they don’t. The galaxy rotates more like a wheel.

A wheel rotates the way it does because it is solid. The molecules that make up the solid are far apart, and the spaces between them are enormous. It is the electrostatic forces forming the bonds between molecules that are so strong that the molecules maintain a rigid structure.

Perhaps the stars within a galaxy travel together like a solid. Could the mutual gravitation between neighboring stars be strong enough to hold them together in a somewhat rigid configuration? That seems more plausible than to view the stars as orbiting the central super-massive black hole.

The Milky Way has a mass of ~1,250 billion solar masses. Its super-massive black hole, Sagittarius A*, has a mass of 4.1 million solar masses. Compare these proportions to the Solar System, where the Sun at 2 * 10^30 kg is more than 1000 times larger than the planets at less than 2 x 10^27 kg combined. The Sun’s dominant mass explains why the planets orbit the Sun. Sgr A* is puny relative to the stars in the galaxy. Perhaps this is why the mutual gravitation of neighboring stars would hold them in a nearly rigid configuration, and these influences would dominate over the gravitational force of the central super-massive black hole.

I don’t have the math skills to test that hypothesis. But it’s fun to wonder about such things in the hopes that someone with skills might think of the same idea and publish a legitimate version of the theory.

the shape of a galaxy and its black hole

I was reading this article: Stirred, Not Shaken. Black Hole Antics Puff Up Whopper of a Galaxy.

Articles like this make me wonder whether the shape of a galaxy reflects the influences (gravity, spin, active/inactive) of the central black hole or lack thereof. Maybe a black hole with a mass and spin (moment of inertia) above a certain threshold causes a galaxy to become more spiral. Maybe if it spins with a wobble, the spiral develops a central bar. Maybe if the black hole has a moment of inertia that is below a certain threshold in proportion to the rest if the galaxy’s mass, the galaxy becomes elliptical.

Thoughts return to the weird relationship between the surface area of the black hole’s event horizon (not an existent, since “it” has no energy) to its entropy. Since entropy is a measure of information, the black hole behaves like a hologram. It again leads one to wonder whether the shape of the galaxy is a reflection of the information that is contained in the black hole.

quantum gravity unsolved

Modern physics is fundamentally broken. Quantum theory explains how the universe works at small scales, such as atoms. Quantum theory is remarkably accurate with an incredibly good agreement with experiments. The theory of general relativity explains how the universe works at large scales, such as stars and galaxies. General relativity is remarkably accurate with an incredibly good agreement with experiments. However, the two theories disagree with each other. Both theories are mostly correct, but also wrong in some ways. After decades of trying to reconcile the two theories of the universe, physicists are not close to formulating a theory of everything. There are several promising avenues of research, such as string theory and loop quantum gravity, but none of these has so far been successful.

It makes me wonder about where the error in thinking could be to have misled physicists throughout the world onto roads that are probably dead ends.

It’s been pretty obvious to many where the flaw in quantum theory lies. It treats the time dimension as being independent from the three space dimensions, and this is in complete contradiction to general relativity, which states that space and time form a single manifold. Quantum theory treats space and time as an absolute background, as if they exist independently from the particles and fields that make up reality. However, only particles and fields are real. Space and time as a background do not actually exist; they are mathematical constructs reflecting the geometry of some physical theory.

However, where is general relativity flawed? This is not as obvious. The most obvious conflict with quantum theory has always been gravity, which general relativity claims is the curvature of space-time. Quantum theory has never had a good explanation of gravity. The source of gravity is mass-energy.

Something else we should be aware of is the Standard Model of particle physics. It too represents our current best understanding of the universe. It too is flawed. It does not include gravity among other phenomena. And interestingly enough it predicts a particle called the Higgs boson, which is responsible for mass. However, the Higgs boson has never been experimentally observed. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is supposed to confirm or refute the existence of the Higgs boson, when it becomes operational.

Maybe this is more than just a coincidence that the Standard Model, which does not include gravity also predicts the origin of mass, which has eluded observation. Given that gravity is where the conflict lies between quantum theory and general relativity, perhaps we should take a closer look at mass-energy.

Let’s take a look at the Schrödinger equation from quantum theory:

The H is the Hamiltonian, which is the total energy of the system (potential + kinetic). The kinetic energy is proportional to mass. General relativity tells us that mass is equivalent to a whole lot of potential energy:E = mc2.

Meanwhile, special relativity tells us that mass is relative. The mass of something depends on how fast it is moving relative to the observer. The observer and the relative motion are other things that the Schrödinger equation does not account for.

We keep encountering mass in these equations. Maybe we don’t understand mass as well as we think we do. Which leads us to a misunderstanding of gravity, and consequently the geometry of space-time. I wonder if all of this points to mass as being the culprit, where we have been getting it all wrong. Mass is where I suspect the problem to be. If the LHC does not find the Higgs boson, I think this will tell us just how wrong we are about mass.

universe of events

On my second reading of Three Roads to Quantum Gravity by Lee Smolin, the concept of a relational universe stands out as something fundamentally important.

Each measurement is supposed to reveal the state of the particle, frozen at some moment of time. A series of measurements is like a series of movie stills — they are all frozen moments.

The idea of a state in Newtonian physics shares with classical sculpture and painting the illusion of the frozen moment. This gives rise to the illusion that the world is composed of objects. (p.53)

In object oriented programming, the objects correspond to the particles. The focus is on capturing the state of the object, frozen at some moment of time. As methods are called on the object, changes to its state (variables) are like a series of movie stills.

Lee Smolin goes on to write:

If this were really the way the world is, then the primary description of something would be how it is, and change in it would be secondary. Change would be nothing but alterations in how something is. But relativity and quantum theory each tell us that this is not how the world is. They tell us — no, better they scream at us — that our world is a history of processes. Motion and change are primary. Nothing is, except in a very approximate and temporary sense. How something is, or what its state is, is an illusion. It may be a useful illusion for some purposes, but if we want to think fundamentally we must not lose sight of the essential fact that ‘is’ is an illusion. So to speak the language of the new physics we must learn a vocabulary in which process is more important than, and prior to, stasis. Actually, there is already available a suitable and very simple language which you will have no trouble understanding.

From this new point of view, the universe consists of a large number of events. An event may be thought of as the smallest part of a process, a smallest unit of change. But do not think of an event happening to an otherwise static object. It is just a change, no more than that.

The universe of events is a relational universe. That is, all its properties are described in terms of relationships between the events. The most important relationship that two events can have is causality. This is the same notion of causality that we found was essential to make sense of stories.

If objects are merely an illusion, and it is really causal events that are fundamental to modeling a universe that is relational and dynamical, then perhaps we should re-examine how effective object oriented programming is at producing software that effectively models real world processes. Classes of objects definitely focus on the static structure of the universe. The methods on these classes can be considered to correspond to events, which carry information in, perform some computation, and carry information out. However, the causal relationships between events is buried in the procedural code within each method; they are not expressed in a first class manner.

Personal productivity applications like spreadsheets and word processors model objects (e.g., documents) and relationships that undergo relatively simple processes involving only a few actors. The causal history of events is not as important, because there is only one set of objects in a document to maintain integrity among and the series of frozen moments model of the universe works rather well. Enterprise applications such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) facilitate a multitude of parallel business processes that involve many actors and sophisticated collaborations. Each actor is performing transactions against some subset of objects, which are each progressing through a distinct life cycle. Maintaining integrity among the objects changed by these many concurrent events is incredibly complicated. It becomes important to keep a causal history of events in addition to the current state of the universe, as well as having a schedule of future events (for planning) that have not come to pass. A series of frozen moments becomes less appealing, whereas a set of processes and events seems like a better description of the universe.