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An Evolving Universe II–Energy Spreading

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This post is a continuation of An Evolving Universe I—The Greatest. Part II stands alone, but it will be difficult to appreciate and fully understand III without reading I and II first.

Entropy is a central scientific concept; it seems to have more importance in chemistry, and even more so in physics. Entropy is a measure of disorder in a closed system. Closed, in this context, means energy cannot move—maybe flow is a better word—across arbitrary barriers: the system is closed because it’s insulated, so to speak, from whatever is outside the system. The stuff and the space residing outside the barriers may as well not exist because the energy we care about can’t go there.

Energy doesn’t really move or flow. Energy exists in different arrangements; as the number of possible energy holders increases, the more complicated the system. Energy distributes itself according to strict, but simple, laws of probability. Our universe appears to contain a fixed amount of energy. That energy is allocated to a large number of particles—photons, electrons, protons, neutrons, atoms, etc. According to probability alone, energy is more likely dispersed widely across numerous particles as opposed to concentrated on a few, or just one. The level of energy concentration is the measure of order in a system; more dispersed energy makes a more disordered system.

Here’s a good example that might allow you to see the connection between order and energy distribution within a system: Imagine a series of twenty A4 papers, typed on in succession to create a short story. Stack the pages one on top of the other, chronologically. Now, take the stack of papers and throw them into the air. We know what happens: The papers fall back to the ground in a disordered way. It’s impossible to predict how or where they will fall. Reorder the papers in a stack, and then throw them into the air again. The papers fall back in a disordered, but different way than before. Each time we do this, the papers will land in a unique pattern; they will always be disordered compared to the original arrangement. There are an, essentially, infinite number of disordered arrangements of these pages and only one ordered state. Probability tells us the papers are destined to become disordered. Mathematically speaking, it’s unlikely the papers should ever be ordered in a stack that when read, top to bottom, creates a coherent story. The chronological stack is only one of a nearly infinite number of possible arrangement of the papers, and therefore, improbable.

Orderly, concentrated energy eventually becomes disordered, dispersed. Actually, the idea of energy being ordered guarantees misunderstandings. Let’s go back the stack of papers. Not only is it unlikely that the papers will ever exist in chronological order, the papers should rarely be in the same proximity. There are just too many scenarios where the papers are scattered. If the papers are concentrated initially; eventually, they spread out. Our intuition should tell us this is true but we blame it on influences like a person intentionally throwing them into the air. The stack of papers was always doomed to scatter, not because of malicious design or lack of maintenance; the papers will scatter because there’s so many more ways for the paper to scatter than to be stacked chronologically.

Energy prefers to be spread out, dispersed, in much the same way our stack of papers. It’s not that energy strives for disorder; energy tends to spread out on more particles in a system, not because it’s herded along to that end by some shepherd. There’s just so many more ways for energy to spread itself over many particles than to be concentrated on a few, or one.

When energy is concentrated, it’s more probable that it will spread out. Energy’s tendency to move from concentrated to dispersed gives rise to something we are all painfully familiar with: the one-way flow of time. We tend to see time as the master. Time makes our stack of papers scatter. Time disperses energy concentrations. It might be more correct to say the perception of time is created by the overwhelming probability that energy should be spread out, as opposed to concentrated. Time might be the way a conscious being processes the myriad of possibilities present continuously in the now—whatever “now” means. In other words, time is simply a vessel to explore an infinite universe.

Click here to go back to Part I. Here’s Part III.

An Evolving Universe I—The Greatest

Isaac Newton was the greatest, most influential scientist.

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This is a fact but not a really scientific fact. There aren’t really any facts—even in science—because the scientific method (question, hypothesis, experiment, analysis, conclusion, evaluation) dictates all ideas must carry some degree of uncertainty. The scientific method never rests. It does get tired after many iterations. If exhaustive repetitions fail to uncover evidence against—scientists attempt to falsify, not support their predictions—a hypothesis becomes a theory: a scientific fact is born. Keep in mind all facts—theory is probably a better moniker; a fact and a theory are essentially the same—are subject to ongoing review.

Any evidence against a theory compels at least a modification, or even abandonment of that theory. The idea that facts don’t exist confuses the general public; it often confounds people with advanced degrees. Most realize the universe is continuously changing, evolving. Facts are part of the universe. Assuming ideas are manifestations of the physical universe, facts should be subject to evolution too.

Why was Newton the greatest scientist? His influential accomplishments were many. In order of estimated decreasing importance, here is what Newton revealed: the nature of light (he even hypothesized light came in particles called corpuscles, a precursor of photons, but he conducted no experiments regarding this belief), the universal nature of gravitation and the laws of motion. He invented (should we say discovered?) calculus too.

Calculus would be a more significant achievment but another bright chap, Gottfried Leibniz, created the same branch of mathematics about the same time as Newton. Had Newton died in the plague—he fled London when the pandemic ravaged the British Isles—calculus would have been Leibniz’s baby, so to speak.

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It’s unlikely another scientist would have discovered (should we say invented?) the other three ideas within a few decades. Newton’s color theory of light might have taken a century or more before another scientist discovered it.

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If Newton were alive today, he wouldn’t claim to be history’s first scientist; Newton would most likely defer to Galileo. Galileo seems to be the first person we know of to test his ideas. Newton didn’t really do anything distinctly different from Galileo. Newton just took Galileo’s practices to another level.

I’ve never heard an argument that any scientist surpasses Newton’s greatness. Albert Einstein is often considered as Newton’s competition. Einstein was the first scientist to compel a modification to Newton’s gravitation law; it was a cosmetic adjustment really, and it only modified it in extreme conditions. But Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity did do something Newton couldn’t do: Einstein explained the true nature of gravity—a distortion of space-time caused by the presence of matter.

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It’s appropriate that we distinguish between laws and theories. It’s likely most people believe laws are superior to theories. Unfortunately, the word theory is often mistakenly applied when the word hypothesis should be employed. A hypothesis is an educated guess; a theory is system of ideas backed up by a vast and complicated reservoir of experiments. In short, and once again, a theory is what we commonly call a scientific fact.

A law is a mathematical system which allows us to make predictions. Laws are powerful scientific tools. Laws have a profound weakness: they don’t explain what’s actually happening, physically. We just know that, as long as we realize the necessary constraints, laws yield reliable predictions.

Niels Bohr is a dark horse candidate to compete with Newton for greatest scientist. What did he do? Bohr was a father of quantum theory. Why not the father of quantum theory? There are many fathers of quantum theory: Max Planck and Einstein to name two more—there are others we should consider too—but neither really accepted the fundamental weirdness that goes with quantum theory.

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Bohr was the first scientist to embrace the weirdness, the probabilistic nature of the universe, at the root of quantum theory. Once Bohr convinced the scientific community—not all scientists we on board with Bohr, Einstein was stubborn and never accepted the dicey nature of quantum theory—a vast array of successive quantum theorists continued to build the most explicative theoretical system in the history of science: quantum mechanics.

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Bohr is not the father of quantum theory, but he’s the first on the list of potential fathers. Since quantum theory is the most successful scientific system of ideas, it makes sense that the first on the list of fathers is one of the greatest scientists.

It will be nearly impossible to knock Newton of his lofty perch. He had the advantage of getting in at the start of the game. Science didn’t really exist in an organized way when he was born.

The whole discipline rests on a foundation he constructed. Thanks to Newton, the base of science is strong. The only way to supersede Newton may be to discover a new characteristic of the foundation, or something we had not thought about how the foundation rests on whatever is supporting it. In my opinion, there is one possibility for another scientist to take the title of greatest scientist from Isaac Newton.

Click here to go to Part II. Here’s Part III.

An Electron Story

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We humans are victims of common sense. If something is common to me then it must be common to all of us. Unfortunately, vast–and also tiny–sectors of the universe are uncommon to our senses.

The first step to develop a working knowledge of quantum physics is to abandon your belief that anything valuble should fall within the bounds of common sense. Do not worry that I will burden you with an explanation of Schrodinger’s Cat. You probably would not understand me. Honestly, I do not think I understand it. No one really understands Schrodinger’s Cat.

Quantum means small, subatomic small. The word subatomic is a self contradiction. Atom means smallest. According to its most basic definition an atom cannot be broken into smaller parts. Essentially, subatomic means smaller than the smallest.

The word atom represents an influential philosophical breakthrough. Atom arose from the Ancient Greek word, atomos. In the 21st century, we know atoms are not smallest. But just the idea that all matter is made of tiny, indivisible things was a tremendous realization.

Fundamental is probably the best word to represent these tiny, indivisible things.

We continue to search for fundamental entities. These fundamental entities are often called particles in modern physics. The study of particles is the essence of quantum physics. Unfortunately, when we observe the smallest things, classical physics breaks down.

(Classical physics is precisely predictable and mostly algebra-based. Isaac Newton revealed the foundations of classical physics about three centuries ago. Calculus applies marvellously to classical physics too, but algebra is enough to communicate the principal ideas of the subject. By the way, Isaac Newton invented calculus. Classical physics is pretty much all that is taught at the high school level. It is a bit boring after you learn modern physics, so let us get back to the more exciting stuff.)

The most likely candidates for particles of matter appear to be quarks and electrons. There are other particles of matter, but quarks and electrons will serve as excellent representatives for all matter particles during this post.

Our common sense often informs us that nature is fluid and infinitely divisible; continuous may be the best word for this apparent fluidity of the universe. Water running from a hose seems to be a continuous flow of stuff that we can keep dividing forever.

A water stream is effectively modeled using a basic mathematical concept: the number line. According to basic geometric definitions a line can be divided into an infinite number of segments. We could also say a line has an infinite number of points or positions.

A number line is an abstraction. The abstraction only applies under ideal conditions. Experimental evidence indicates that a water stream can be divided into a finite number of discrete particles called water molecules.

Those molecules are made of atoms. Atoms are made of protons, neutrons electrons.

Electrons are the smallest of the three. It would take nearly 2000 electrons to equal the mass as a proton or neutron. Electrons have a mass of 0.00000000000000000000000000000091 kg. Although there are about a billion billion billion electrons in a human, there is nothing common to our senses about an individual electron.

An electron is so small that looking at one would change its nature. We see objects when photons reflect off those objects: the photons deliver information to our brain via our eyes.

Photons are light-energy particles.

An electron is so small that when a photon bounces off an electron, the electron’s nature is changed: the reflected photon delivers outdated information about the electron to our eyes.

Classically speaking, an electron is not observable. But when not observing an electron it is not really there. An Electron is everywhere in space-time when not observed. It is more likely to be in some places and times compared to others but we can never know for certain. Once observed, the electron becomes what the observation compels!

If you enjoyed this post you might also like: Binary Fraud or De-frag Brain.

hunter gatherer

Hunter Gatherers in the Quantum Age

Fifteen thousand years ago it’s probable that all humans banded together in hunter-gatherer clans of 50 to 100. That’s the way we survived for thousands of generations. Subsistence in permanent settlements is relatively novel for our species. Although we have spread world wide on the waves of an agricultural revolution, we thrive on the heart of a fundamentally nomadic species.

Most human brains can’t maintain more than 100 concurrent relationships. Apparently, this is the number when alpha male rivalry drove apart prehistoric nomadic clans. (Try a little test: write down all the people you interact with, face to face, in an average month. I bet you’ll struggle on your pass 50.)

Social media may be a development on par with the printing press because it allows us to engage in hundreds (thousands?) of concurrent relationships, and get past evolutionary cognitive barriers. Ultimately, this new connectedness could generate a hyper-level of creativity. Add this connectivity to the advent of quantum computers—they should be  available in about 30 years—and we might become a completely interconnected species.

What is a quantum computer? Ordinary computers communicate via binary mathematics: All instructions are coded as ones and zeroes, value and no value.

For an obvious reason, humans prefer to use a numerical base of ten symbols: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. We start repeating these symbols in different positions and arrangements to represent any quantity on the number line.

All the familiar mathematical operations are possible using only 0 and 1. For example, a base ten 7 is equivalent to 111 in binary. Seventeen is 10001 in base two. I won’t explain how to translate from base two to base ten or visa versa. Just take my word for it.

Computers only have two fingers or I guess you could say the computer alphabet only has two letters. Computers make up for this weakness by processing the 0’s and 1’s rapidly. For example, my computer can do 2,660,000,000 actions every second.

Each 0 or 1 represents a bit that is or is not. Quantum computers have qubits. A qubit is allowed to occupy both value and no value simultaneously. Don’t feel bad if you don’t completely understand; no one really understands quantum physics. Here’s a good example to help you understand the power of quantum computers: If you wanted to find your way out of a complicated maze and, try all options until you discover a correct path. That’s what ordinary computers do, but they do it faster than humans.

I’m sure you can imagine a maze so complicated that my 2.66 GHz processor will get bogged down and take a long time to find a solution. The perfect solution to escape the maze is to try all paths simultaneously. That’s what a quantum computer would do; I guess you could say exponential technological growth becomes essentially vertical.

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If you enjoyed this post, try Binary Fraud or De-frag Brain.

De-frag Brain

Why do humans insist on categorizing everything? Is the human brain a series of discrete, isolated compartments where information is stored-retracted via a master distribution-acquisition system?

Not only do our brains seem fragmented, but also, we are supposed to only use certain parts of our brain once we decide which functions to employ. If you are good at linguistics then you cannot be a mathematician. Those with strong math skills should devote most time developing mathematical prowess. Math is generally perceived as difficult and practitioners of the craft are in short supply, so it is almost a duty to do something with that rare gift.

Using more than one part of your brain in the same thought, or series of connected thoughts, is implicitly discouraged. Specialization is the key to a rising academic status. Education creates human blocks of expertise and then the blocks are stacked to create progressively more complicated structures. This is how we built the foundation of modern civilization, no?

During childhood—actually it continues into the early adult years, through college—a series of strategically timed bells dictates when it’s time to utilize a different part of the brain. Some say school bells had an even more basic purpose when they started ringing during the late industrial age. The bells conditioned students in preparation for a life on the production line.

Knowledge divisions are logical but arbitrary: language, social studies, math, science and art. Each discipline competes for time and influence in a zero sum game. Remember: Individuals must eventually choose only one focus subject.

Double majors are a chore and held in high regard, but they are an exception to normal, and the two fields are almost always closely related: math-computer science, electrical-mechanical engineering, English-history… When was the last time you heard of a math-history double major? I am sure it happens, but it’s rare.

In a display of equity, policy dictates each subject gets equal time. This is absurd because we all know science requires lab activity on top of classical instruction, and math is difficult to learn without problem solving exercises with teacher assistance. There is some correction for this absurdity in college: math and science classes often get four or five credit-contact hours while most other subjects only get three.

The grand prize of education is a Doctorate of Philosophy. A Ph.D. is an expert in one sliver of the knowledge spectrum. To earn this lofty distinction, one must make a unique contribution to some field. A Ph.D. knows something that is obscure to the rest of humanity. A doctorate is almost universally required to be a professor.

Essentially, a professor knows everything about nearly nothing, and they teach it to very few.

The dutiful researcher is at the top of the educational food chain. Researchers typically avoid the classroom; when professors do share their knowledge with the masses it tends to be in the form of caned lectures to hundreds of young adults. The grand cathedral of knowledge is mostly available only to people who have yet to acquire any significant measure of wisdom.

Teaching assistants tackle the details of coursework in recitations. Professors answer questions too, but only during rarefied office hours or brisk appointments.

The whole process resembles an assembly line when viewed from a distant and detached perspective. We manufacture individual cerebral parts and bring them together to make a working machine of sorts.

Not that this is all bad but with technology making information more accessible, it seems the skill most needed is the ability to process ideas from as many parts of the information spectrum as possible. We do not need a learned professor to divvy out parcels of knowledge according to a four-year plan anymore.

All we need to know is out there in the ether waiting for us to access it. If anything needs to be taught formally it’s how to bring all this accumulated knowledge together in one fluid motion of thought.

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Binary Fraud

Humans tend to substitute duality when it’s clear unity provides the best description.

Consider the concepts of light and dark. Ordinary language indicates these two things are separate entities and work in opposition. Try to define darkness without using the concept of light. Good luck. Perhaps a clever wordsmith will succeed, but I doubt it.

Darkness is the absence of light. Darkness does not exist independently of light. Darkness cannot overcome the light. When light appears, darkness vanishes.

Hot and cold is another false duality. Scientifically, hot and cold don’t represent distinct  physical conditions. Hot objects possess relatively high temperatures; cold things have correspondingly low temperatures.

This duality inspires misunderstanding of one of the central concepts in science, temperature. The faster molecules move in a substance, the higher it’s temperature. The amount of stuff in each molecule is important for temperature too, but temperature essentially represents the measure of molecular motion in a substance.

It’s not a question of “Are the molecules moving fast or slow?” because this is another false duality. The true question: how much motion does it have?

Duality’s power is apparent in binary numbering systems: computers have transformed humanity. Computers operate according to binary mathematics. All operations in binary math use a language based on 0 and 1. Humans prefer a base ten system: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.

Actually, binary math isn’t really binary. The concept of zero is based on the absence of value. A one represents value. Value vs. the absence of value.

Humanity is on the cusp of constructing quantum computers. The fundamental strength of quantum computing is each bit is allowed to occupy value and no value simultaneously. Quantum computers will one day change humanity in ways that cannot be predicted, or described with current language. Quantum computers are based on a unifying principle, probability.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Hunter Gatherers in the Quantum Age, De-frag Brain.