I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy — but that could change.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

NYT: Big Brain Theory: Have Cosmologists Lost Theirs?

An article of note in NYT. Too long to post - needs to be read in its entirety. A nice, if superficial, summary of some of the stranger developments in the math that accompany modern physics.

It could be the weirdest and most embarrassing prediction in the history of cosmology, if not science.

If true, it would mean that you yourself reading this article are more likely to be some momentary fluctuation in a field of matter and energy out in space than a person with a real past born through billions of years of evolution in an orderly star-spangled cosmos. Your memories and the world you think you see around you are illusions.

This bizarre picture is the outcome of a recent series of calculations that take some of the bedrock theories and discoveries of modern cosmology to the limit. Nobody in the field believes that this is the way things really work, however. And so in the last couple of years there has been a growing stream of debate and dueling papers, replete with references to such esoteric subjects as reincarnation, multiple universes and even the death of spacetime, as cosmologists try to square the predictions of their cherished theories with their convictions that we and the universe are real. The basic problem is that across the eons of time, the standard theories suggest, the universe can recur over and over again in an endless cycle of big bangs, but it’s hard for nature to make a whole universe. It’s much easier to make fragments of one, like planets, yourself maybe in a spacesuit or even — in the most absurd and troubling example — a naked brain floating in space. Nature tends to do what is easiest, from the standpoint of energy and probability. And so these fragments — in particular the brains — would appear far more frequently than real full-fledged universes, or than us. Or they might be us.

What I find a bit annoying is the supposition of the author that a mathematical model or a physical theory needs to make common sense. There will be things in the Universe that are difficult, if not impossible for humans to comprehend. Quantum mechanics has been around for half a century and is still not well understood. Try to explain Strings theory with its eleven dimensions to a novice. Better get him/her started with Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott first.

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I am a cantankerous man living and working in the Silicon Valley where reading books is an abomination that is virtually unheard of, frowned upon and may be detrimental to one's career. I avoid censure by never conceding that I ever read or owned a book in my life. If anyone accidentally glimpses my scant proficiency in any subject matter, I immediately accredit it to having glanced at DrudgeReport that day.

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