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Posts Tagged ‘Dark matter’

What Would God Think of the God Particle? (Part 2)

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on October 29, 2013

By Deepak Chopra, M.D., FACP and Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Chapman University

Deepak ChopraThe “God particle” seems to be well and truly with us. The award on October 3 of the Nobel Prize in physics that focused on the Higgs boson – the technical term for the God particle – capped a decades-long search that has cost billions of dollars. In the first post we discussed why the discovery of the elusive, fleeting Higgs boson is two-edged. It represents a triumph in human curiosity and our drive to understand the universe. At the same time, however, a huge stumbling block hasn’t been overcome. In fact, the Higgs boson may indicate that creation (whether God exists or not) is becoming ever more mysterious.

The mammoth collider at CERN Switzerland blasted the Higgs boson out of the invisible quantum field so that it could be observed, at the faintest level of measurement and then only for precious milliseconds. But this was enough to disclose the finest level of the subatomic realm so far known to be real. The problem with getting this close to the source of creation is that space, time, gravity, matter, and energy have become more and more ambiguous, as if the quantum revolution hadn’t already done enough in that department. With the probability that so-called “dark” matter and energy may account for 96 percent of the universe – along with another probability, that “dark” stuff doesn’t obey the same laws as visible mater and energy – the picture of creation is undergoing radical revision.

Stephen Hawking added to the ambiguity in his last book, The Grand Design, by siding with those who have basically given up on a Theory of Everything and are settling for a piecemeal patchwork or mosaic of theories, each pertaining to distinct regions of creation while never being synthesized into one grand design. If God exists, the deity must be smiling. For behind the high fives and hoopla over the Higgs boson, there’s a growing doubt that we are anywhere near to understanding the nature of reality. These doubts arise from two major sources.

First, there’s broad agreement that science doesn’t comprehensively describe reality to begin with. Over a century ago the pioneers of quantum theory dismantled the common-sense notion that the world “out there” consists of hard, solid, tangible things. As one of the greatest of these pioneers, Werner Heisenberg, noted, “The atoms or elementary particles themselves are not real; they form a world of potentialities or possibilities rather than one of things or facts.” No one has ever refuted this claim, and when you add into the mixture the Uncertainty Principle, which says that quantum objects can be located only by the probability that they will appear at a certain place (only after it is observed does a particle actually settle into a measurable position), the solid, tangible world is radically undermined. Read the rest of this entry »

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Your Brain Is the Universe (Part 2)

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on April 11, 2013

By Deepak Chopra, Co-author, ‘Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-Being’; founder, The Chopra Foundation

Deepak-chopraWe all take the physical world for granted, with no doubt that it will still be here when we wake up tomorrow morning. But in fact the subatomic particles that construct the physical world aren’t “here” when they assume the state of a wave, and it appears that 96 percent of the universe is “dark” matter and energy. “Dark” may mean unknowable, since we seem to be talking about matter not based on atoms and energy not based on quantum interactions like electromagnetism.

In the first post we addressed the fact that the source of reality cannot be physical.  In fact, it is almost certain to be inconceivable.  Our brains are constructs of billions of years of hardware-building, known as evolution.  Even if you accept that the brain is a quantum device (please see our first post for an explanation of this notion), what the quanta spit out are thoughts, wishes, hopes, fears, dreams and science. A seemingly random jumble of processes happening at the very boundary of time and space gives birth to experience. Quarks are allowed to be “spooky,” as quantum physics declares, but not your car, orange juice, and armchair. The physical world, and how we think about it, is limited by time and space.  They are the foundation of our home. Asking the brain to understand where reality comes from is like asking a robot to dismantle itself to find out what it’s made of — you won’t have a machine after the dismantling is done, and therefore no answer.

Yet even if the source of reality is inconceivable, the uncanny match between your brain  and the world “out there” cannot be doubted.  Very well known is how the ring-like structure of benzene was discovered in a dream by Friedrich August Kekulé. More obscure is the fact that using no scientific data, the ancient sages of India made remarkable calculations recorded in the Puranas regarding the age of the universe and the distance to the Sun, to name two out of many. In the Western ancient world, Archimedes made an amazing calculation about the universe’s size in the “Sand Reckoner,” asking how many grains of sand it would take to fill the Greek Kosmos. He had to invent a new number system, since the ancient Greek system was woefully inadequate. When you convert the number of grains of sand that Archimedes found to protons, you come up with the actual number of particles in the universe, known as Eddington’s number. A “coincidence”? Read the rest of this entry »

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Why the Universe Is Our Home: It’s Not a Coincidence (Part 2)

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on March 27, 2013

By Deepak Chopra, Co-author, ‘Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-Being’; founder, The Chopra Foundation

Deepak-chopraAt the human level everyone would like to feel that life has meaning, which implies that the setting for life — the universe at large — isn’t a cold void ruled by random chance.  There is a huge gap here, and for the past century science hasn’t budged from its grandest assumption, that creation is ruled by random events. There was good reason for this adamant position. The mathematics of modern physics is a marvel of precision and accuracy.  No guiding hand, creator, higher intelligence or deity was needed as long as the equations worked.

Now there is a crack in the theory, tiny at first but opening into a fissure, that casts doubt on how science observes the universe. The fault isn’t that the mathematics was wobbly and loose. Quite the opposite.  The universe is too finely tuned to fit the random model.  God isn’t going to leap into the breach, although religion has reason to feel better about not accepting the so-called “accidental universe.”  The real fascination lies in how to match reality “out there” with the potentiality of the human mind.  Both are up for grabs.

In the modern era, Sir Arthur Eddington and especially Paul Dirac first noticed that certain “coincidences” in dimensionless ratios can be found. These ratios link microscopic with macroscopic quantities. For example, the ratio of the electric force to gravitational force (presumably a constant), is a large number (about 1040), while the ratio of the observable size of the universe (which is presumably changing) to the size of an elementary particle is also a large number, surprisingly close to the first number (also about 1040).   It is hard to imagine that two very large and unrelated numbers would turn out to be so close to each other.  Why are they? (For earlier examples of fine tuning, please see our first post, which gives some general background as well.)

Dirac argued that these fundamental numbers must be related. The essential problem is that the size of the universe is changing as the cosmos expands, while the first relationship is presumably constant, given that it involves only two supposed “constants.” Why should two very large numbers, one variable and the other not variable, be so close to each other?  (It’s like seeing a person’s vocal chords vibrating in all kinds of ways and yet discovering that each word he speaks is exactly half a second apart — even this image is a simplification compared to the actual problem, which spans similar ratios in terms of light years and time in the trillionth of a second.) Read the rest of this entry »

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Why the Universe Is Our Home: It’s Not a Coincidence

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on March 19, 2013

By Deepak Chopra,

D ChopraCo-author, ‘Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-Being’; founder, The Chopra Foundation

It would be reassuring to most people to discover that the universe is constructed to favor life.  If the human race isn’t a freakish outcome of highly improbable chance events, we have every right to see the universe as our home. But this psychological reassurance strikes physicists and biologists as wishful thinking; the bulwark of modern science, from the most minuscule events at the quantum scale to the Big Bang itself, is the assumption that creation is random, without guidance, plan, mind or purpose.

Only very slowly has such a blanket view been challenged, but these new challenges are among the most exciting possibilities in science. We’d like to outline the argument for a “human universe” with an eye to understanding why the human race exists. This question is too central to be left to a small cadre of professional cosmologists and evolutionary biologists; everyone has a personal stake in it.

The most accepted theory of the large-scale structure of the universe is Big Bang cosmology, which has achieved impressive results. Yet when you try to model the universe, you can’t escape the problems surrounding what seems like a simple act: observing it.  Measuring the cosmos is intricately interwoven with limits imposed by the process of observation itself. As you go back in time or ahead into the future, as you reach so far into space that light takes billions of years to reach Earth,  any possible model encounters horizons of knowledge at some ultimate, faint observational limit. Beyond such a horizon, observation is blocked, and so are physics, mathematics and the human mind.

For example, with the Big Bang theory, light cannot be used to observe further back in time or across immense distances to arrive close to the very beginning itself. The first instant of the Big Bang remains forever hidden from the present. Knowledge about the early universe has to be inferred. We can examine the parts that scattered after the Big Bang, but we cannot grasp the whole. Thus, our observational limitations prohibit verifying cosmological theories to any degree of accuracy for any observational test. So the Hubble telescope, marvelous as it is for sending back photos of distant galaxies, can’t reveal reality independent of cosmological theory.  Theory cannot be verified with complete certainty, which means that important topics like the expansion of the universe and the evolution of galaxies are our own mental constructs; they reflect who we are as observers, not independent reality. Read the rest of this entry »

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‘Scientists understand only 4% of universe’

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on July 30, 2012

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Dark Matter, Darker Still: The Cosmos’ Greatest Mystery Deepens

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on October 27, 2011

By MICHAEL D. LEMONICK

The galaxy of Andromeda, the nearest large galaxy to our own, circa 1990 Space Frontiers / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Like Hollywood legends Audrey Hepburn and Katharine Hepburn, dark energy and dark matter are completely unrelated, even though they share a name. Dark energy, a force that makes the universe expand faster and faster all the time, is called dark because it’s mysterious. Nobody knows what it is. Dark matter, on the other hand, a type of matter that outweighs ordinary stars and galaxies 5 to 1, is called dark because it’s utterly invisible. We know it’s there because its gravity yanks galaxies and stars around, but it neither emits nor reflects any light.

Both darks are a big deal in astronomy. The accelerating universe, the first evidence that dark energy exists, earned three physicists the Nobel Prize just a few weeks ago. But dark matter has somehow failed to impress the Nobel committee, even though the idea has been around a lot longer. In the 1930s, astronomer Fritz Zwicky first suggested that given how fast galaxies whip around in space, they ought to fly apart — and would, if there weren’t some invisible matter holding them gravitationally together. In the 1970s, physicists Vera Rubin and Kent Ford came in with stronger evidence for the existence of dark matter, but their work too was received with shrugs. Over time, however, dark matter has become an accepted part of modern astronomy — and now that it is, a new study, soon to be published in the Astrophysical Journal, is calling some of the fundamental assumptions about it into question.(Read about dark matter and how starburst galaxies are formed.)

The conventional wisdom since the early 1990s has been that dark matter consists of giant clouds of still undiscovered subatomic objects known as “weakly interacting massive particles,” or WIMPs (an example of astronomer humor that will undoubtedly appeal to fans of the Big Bang theory). Recently, astronomer Matt Walker of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and a colleague undertook a study of two dwarf galaxies hovering on the edges of the Milky Way, looking for new clues to the behavior of WIMPs — and came away questioning whether the particles were there at all. “Our results,” Walker says, “pose a real challenge to cold dark matter. I think it’s certainly a problem.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Opinion: Einstein the realist

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on September 19, 2011

Einstein’s ‘biggest blunder’, his proposal that the universe is not static, was a step towards discovering dark matter.
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It was recently discovered that the universe’s expansion is accelerating, not slowing, as was previously thought. Light from distant exploding stars revealed that an unknown force (dubbed “dark energy”) more than outweighs gravity on cosmological scales.Unexpected by researchers, such a force had nevertheless been predicted in 1915 by a modification that Albert Einstein proposed to his own theory of gravity, the general theory of relativity. But he later dropped the modification, known as the “cosmological term”, calling it the “biggest blunder” of his life.

So the headlines proclaim: “Einstein was right after all”, as though scientists should be compared as one would clairvoyants: Who is distinguished from the common herd by knowing the unknowable – such as the outcome of experiments that have yet to be conceived, let alone conducted? Who, with hindsight, has prophesied correctly?

But science is not a competition between scientists; it is a contest of ideas – namely, explanations of what is out there in reality, how it behaves, and why. These explanations are initially tested not by experiment but by criteria of reason, logic, applicability, and uniqueness at solving the mysteries of nature that they address. Predictions are used to test only the tiny minority of explanations that survive these criteria.

The story of why Einstein proposed the cosmological term, why he dropped it, and why cosmologists today have reintroduced it illustrates this process. Einstein sought to avoid the implication of unmodified general relativity that the universe cannot be static – that it can expand (slowing down, against its own gravity), collapse, or be instantaneously at rest, but that it cannot hang unsupported. Read the rest of this entry »

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