Archive for the ‘Author’s Blog> Paradigms Lost’ Category

On Philosophy

Thursday, June 26th, 2008 by Terence Witt

Nothing like limiting a subject to a managable scope…

When comparing null physics to contemporary physics, the subject of philosophy invariably comes up because many things that are important to null physics are labeled, somewhat disparagingly, as ‘philosophy’ by physicists. Philosophy, we are told, is not science, and according to many of the physicists I have talked to, it is not particularly important in and of itself. Philosophical tidbits of note in null physics include such trivia as ‘why the universe exists’, ‘why is energy quantized?’, and ‘why does the universe have universal constants?’

Modern physics’ stance on philosophy is incongruous on a number of levels, but let’s just hit the highlight reel today. Here are the main categories.

Judgement call

To begin with, as has become clear during the course of many conversations, I doubt that the majority of physicists really know enough about philosophy to be able to recognize it when they see it. Reading the great book ‘Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance’ might be a good way to ease into the subject, but then they would be left with the false impression that philosophy has little to tell us about the natural world. So I don’t think people who are familiar with physics, but rarely delve into philosophy, are best suited to judge the line that separates the two. Not that philosophers are too eager to venture into physics either. Daniel Dennett forages through the life sciences to support many of his assertions, but he would seem to be the exception.


What physicists don’t seem to realize is that philosophy is, by its nature, an intrinsic part of every human activity, and there’s far more to it than arguing over the meaning of beauty or good. It rests at the very essence of physics, such as the ‘scientific method’. The thing that defines physics cannot, in and of itself, be a part of physics, because it separates physics from ‘everything else’. So it is philosophy that tells us where physics begins and ends, not physics.

lnconsistency or merely hypocrisy?

As noted, many physicists woud claim that a question such as ‘why does the universe exist?’ lies outside of physics, yet cosmologists are always telling us that they search for the hidden ‘secrets of the universe’. When I talk about null principles or null geometry, I’m often told something to the effect that “If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist. Since we don’t have access to what came before the universe, it’s a philosophical issue.” As this is being written, cosmologists are looking for patterns in the cosmic microwaves that might tell them something about the state of the universe prior to the Big Bang. Yet to look at the contemporary universe for signs that it is the internal structure of nothingness is…philosophy.

Call me silly, but I think that there’s a fundamental difference between a debate over the meaning of beauty and a debate over the reason the universe exists. The universe is, ultimately, the reason why we have ‘physics’. No universe, no physics. The way the universe is, such as ‘really big’ and ‘filled with stuff’ is related (and the connection between the dots is very close here) to why it exists or where it ‘came from’. A chicken, for instance, makes a lot of sense if you’re in a barnyard and there’s chickens, eggs, and chicks coming out of eggs. A chicken would make so sense at all if you’re in a volcano or on the surface of the sun, because its properties would be entirely inconsistent with the environment.

So I guess the question is what is more ‘philosophical’. Using the known properties of our contemporary universe to deduce its geometry and most essential nature, or talking about things that are thought to have happened 13.7 billion years ago that we, by definition, have no way of accessing today?

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Is the Big Bang ‘falsifiable’? (Part II)

Sunday, June 22nd, 2008 by Terence Witt

There is a catch-22 to the ‘falsifiable rule’; a large hubris-filled quagmire that has trapped so many in the past, and to which our current crop of cosmologists have fallen prey. Falsifiability is the acid test for the conceptual health of a scientific theory, but doesn’t really apply to a scientific fact. The flat Earth concept is an (unfortunately too appropriate) example of this. The idea that the Earth is approximately spherical (or at least far more spherical than it is planar) is not a theory. It is a fact, and one of the ways to recognize the difference between the two terms is to try to imagine a test for which the ‘mostly spherical Earth’ concept would fail. We could say, for instance, that the Earth is really flat with a center at some special location (say New York), but that when we travel away from it, say from New York to New Zealand, we are actually beneath its ‘real’ surface, and for some unknown reason on this part of the globe its structure is transparent and very low density. Since this explanation is (on its best day) utterly ludicrous, along with any other ‘explanations’ for why the Earth is actually flat, we correctly deduce that the Earth is to a large extent spherical, and we are held to its surface by the same force that gives it this shape, the magical force of gravity.

I’m sometimes asked if I believe in the theory of evolution. To this I respond that evolution is a theory in the same way that our basic composition of atoms is a theory. You can’t look right at it and see it happen (like seeing our beautiful mostly spherical Earth from space), but you can actually see evolution happen rapidly on a small scale with viruses and bacteria, just like an atomic force microscope will give you a glimpse of atoms. So in the same way as the term fact is often misused for nefarious purposes, so too is theory used as a label to denegrate perfectly respectable facts.

Which bring us back to the Big Bang. The most arrogant answer to our question of its falsifiability is that it is a scientific fact, and as such should not be falsifiable, any more than the mostly spherical Earth fact. Well, ahem, pardon me for asking… Since there are no strict rules for when a theory becomes a fact, there is no quick retort for this defense, other then perhaps, the time-honored ‘IS NOT!’. And unfortunately, Big Bang proponents have upped the ante by segragating (think of the many headed Hydra here) portions of the Big Bang into distinct buckets of fact and theory. Under fact we have things like the expansion of the universe and the idea that it ‘did happen!’. Under theory we have wrangling about various details, such as early galaxy and star formation. So let’s just look in the Big Bang fact bucket, and see if there’s really anything in it, at least on par with much venerated scientific facts; facts that are so solid that you could trip over them whilst descending the stairs, for instance.

After a careful inspection, we note that the Big Bang fact bucket is pristinely empty, because every single piece of evidence that exists for the Big Bang is, by definition, indirect. We can measure the CMB directly, but have to presume that it is relic radiation. We can measure the intergalactic redshift, but not in the lab. We can praise the few predictions the Big Bang has made, as long as we ignore the many more that it has failed (shouldn’t the universe, full of all of this matter, be decelerating right about now??). The only reason the Big Bang is considered a fact at all (or at least its basic premise) is because there is a general concensus as to the weight of a great many retrospective and circumstantial bits of evidence. This is a murder trial without a body, a murder weapon, and whose witnesses were at a great distance looking into a dark alley. So just as absence of evidence does not constitute evidence of absence, a large pile of weak evidence does not constitute strong evidence, and evidence does not become stronger by winning a popularity contest.

So for those who have been able to convince themselves that the Big Bang is fact, by peer pressure or justing wanting it to be so, I say two things. First, you have done a horrible disservice to the status of scientific fact, and two, I’ve got some prime Florida swampland for sale…

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Is the Big Bang ‘falsifiable’? (Part I)

Saturday, June 21st, 2008 by Terence Witt

As I have repeatedly tried to pin Big Bang proponents down with specific questions, I have noted a discouraging tendency toward obfuscation. I understand that the model is more suited toward description than having the kind of explanatory power that can tell us, for instance, why there was a Big Bang or what caused it. All I have been looking for is a precise, self-consistent set of premises. It’s like that ‘whack-a-mole’ game, where you ask one question and the answer slips away into a general relativity hole, and you ask another and the answer gets lost down the special relativity hole. So this process has led, quite naturally, to whether or not the Big Bang is actually falsifiable. In other words, is there an observation that, if made, would show the Big Bang to be false? String theory, for instance, is not currently falsifiable because it has made no predictions that are within the range of our test equipment. Many physicists shout ‘foul’, but the (art/math/philosophy) that is string theory rages on unabated. I wonder, however, whether the Big Bang is not falsifiable for an entirely different reason: are its foundational principles so malleable that it can be adjusted to any conceivable observation? Please allow me to share the discussion that led to this idea.

I had been told recently, by a few credentialed physicists (who shall remain nameless), that the galactic vortex proposed by null cosmology is simply not possible. To this I responded, excellent! You see, if there is no galactic vortex as predicted, then I can conceive of no possible way of undoing a galaxy’s fusion to create new hydrogen (for future fusion), which leads directly to the spectacular and unequivocal failure of null cosmology! In this way, null cosmology is falsifiable, as should be the case with any good physical theory. But then I responded, “if we do find this ‘impossible’ vortex, will that invalidate the Big Bang?” The answer was no; but it might cause some major adjustment to its current version of universal or galactic evolution. Then the grim reality suddenly dawned on me, and I asked a more global question:

Can you conceive of an observation that, if confirmed, would demonstrate that the Big Bang was false?

This particular discussion group could imagine no such observation.

Alas poor science, I miss you so.

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A Steady Roar

Thursday, March 20th, 2008 by Terence Witt

By the end of January, Our Undiscovered Universe had been shipped to 20 countries; a month and a half later it has reached 30 countries. I’m not sure how to explain the explosive growth of this book, but it’s as if some conceptual dam is starting to break open. I think the dull, listless monotone of string theory and big bang revisionism, droning on over the last few decades, has blunted peoples’ interest in solutions to the big questions. No one had any reason to be waiting for a book like Our Undiscovered Universe, or to imagine that a book like it was even possible. So the surprise of reading a book like this, I think, translates into infectuous enthusiasm, which spreads like wildfire. I will never tire of hearing from readers who were utterly convinced that there was “nothing new under the sun”, and got knocked out of their chairs by Our Undiscovered Universe.

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