Of Particular Significance

A Week in Canada

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

ON 04/07/2014

It’s been a quiet couple of weeks on the blog, something which often indicates that it’s been anything but quiet off the blog. Such was indeed the case recently.

For one thing, I was in Canada last week. I had been kindly invited to give two talks at the University of Western Ontario, one of Canada’s leading universities for science. One of the talks, the annual Nerenberg lecture (in memory of Professor Morton Nerenberg) is intended for the general public, so I presented a lecture on The 2013 Nobel Prize: The 50-Year Quest for the Higgs Boson. While I have given a talk on this subject before (an older version is on-line) I felt some revisions would be useful. The other talk was for members of the applied mathematics department, which hosts a diverse group of academics. Unlike a typical colloquium for a physics department, where I can assume that the vast majority of the audience has had university-level quantum mechanics, this talk required me to adjust my presentation for a much broader scientific audience than usual.  I followed, to an extent, my website’s series on Fields and Particles and on How the Higgs Field Works, both of which require first-year university math and physics, but nothing more. Preparation of the two talks, along with travel, occupied most of my free time over recent days, so I haven’t been able to write, or even respond to readers’ questions, unfortunately.

I also dropped in at Canada’s Perimeter Institute on Friday, when it was hosting a small but intense one-day workshop on the recent potentially huge discovery by the BICEP2 experiment of what appears to be a signature of gravitational waves from the early universe. This offered me an opportunity to hear some of the world’s leading experts talking about the recent measurement and its potential implications (if it is correct, and if the simplest interpretation of it is correct). Alternative explanations of the experiment’s results were also mentioned. Also, there was a lot of discussion about the future, both the short-term and the long-term. Quite a few measurements will be made in the next six to twelve months that will shed further light on the BICEP2 measurement, and on its moderate conflict with the simplest interpretation of certain data from the Planck satellite.  Further down the line, a very important step will be to reduce the amount of B-mode polarization that arises from the gravitational lensing of E-mode polarization, a method called “delensing”; this will make it easier to observe the B-mode polarization from gravitational waves (which is what we’re interested in) even at rather small angular scales (high “multipoles”).   Looking much further ahead, we will be hearing a lot of discussion about huge new space-based gravitational wave detectors such as BBO [Big Bang Observatory].  (Actually the individual detectors are quite small, but they are spaced at great distances.) These can potentially measure gravitational waves whose wavelength is comparable to the size of the Earth’s orbit or even larger, which is still much smaller than those apparently detected by BICEP2 in the polarization of the cosmic microwave background. Anyway, assuming what BICEP2 has really done is discover gravitational waves from the very early universe, this subject now a very exciting future and there is lots to do, to discuss and to plan.

I wish I could promise to provide a blog post summarizing carefully what I learned at the conference. But unfortunately, that brings me to the other reason blogging has been slow. While I was away, I learned that the funding situation for science in the United States is even worse than I expected. Suffice it to say that this presents a crisis that will interfere with blogging work, at least for a while.

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136 Responses

  1. I also happened to see this today:
    Named one of the Top Physics Books of 2012 by Physics World
    How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival by David Kaiser (associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
    “Dissatisfied, underemployed, and eternally curious, an eccentric group of physicists in Berkeley, California, banded together to throw off the constraints of the physics mainstream and explore the wilder side of science. They pursued an audacious, speculative approach to physics. They studied quantum entanglement and Bell’s Theorem through the lens of Eastern mysticism and psychic mind-reading, discussing the latest research while lounging in hot tubs. Unlikely as it may seem, these iconoclasts spun modern physics in a new direction, forcing mainstream physicists to pay attention to the strange but exciting underpinnings of quantum theory.”
    I remember the feeling of those days…. was a great time for anyone who wanted to be creative.

    1. @Margot: This is a very old blog, but hopefully you will see this. You know, in addition to physics, I am also interested in such metaphysical stuff. But this blog is not the right place for that. So I am venturing to give my e-mail address: kashyapvasavada@hotmail.com. If you are interested in discussing you might send an e-mail at this address. I have published a blog on this stuff recently.

  2. Running the danger maybe to be stoned. But this is an abstract of the currently held conference Towards a Science of Consciousness 2014 in Tuczon/Arizona I happened to come across.

    Reality is generally viewed as material particles influenced by force fields, and consciousness as subjective first-person experience, but how the two relate remains unknown. For example John Searle says physical processes in the brain cause subjective conscious experience, but also that computation per se cannot give rise to consciousness. If not computation, then what? How does the brain solve the “hard problem”? Christof Koch, Giulio Tononi, Max Tegmark and others embrace panpsychism and pan-protopsychism, claiming that subjective experience is a property of the particles which comprise the world. In this approach, the consciousness of a pebble differs from that of a human by the degree of complex, “bottom-up” integration of its constituents (the “combination problem”). I come from a “top down” tradition, Vedanta, which posits consciousness as the ground state of the universe. In essence consciousness is a field with properties akin to those in quantum theory and general relativity, smaller in scale but vast and interconnected in the fine scale structure of the universe. When Krishna states in the Bhagavad-Gita, “I am the field and the knower of the field,” we are hearing a version of quantum complementarity, in which the opposites of objective and subjective states are reconciled by going to a deeper level (the so-called three-in-one state) in which observer, observed, and observation are fused. Unlike some versions of panpsychism, Vedanta doesn’t hold that consciousness is a property of matter but that materialism is a property of consciousness. Both the hard problem and the combination problem are thus radically revised. Consciousness does not have to be built up, derived from combinatorial states of simple “building blocks,” but “top-down” from a deeper level of “cosmic consciousness” which includes the potential for all experience. Penrose’s embrace of Platonic values in spacetime geometry gives primacy to non-material laws, functions, and relationships. In Vedanta, consciousness is perfectly capable of setting up the universe to be lawful and to evolve conscious observers who explore those laws. In physics, values of cosmological constants determine suitability for consciousness (the antidote to the anthropic principle). With consciousness imbued in it’s structure, it’s not surprising the universe is optimal for consciousness. And in genetics, Platonic values may influence DNA mutations and guide evolution. With specific regard to the combination problem, in Vedanta, organized, intelligent cosmic consciousness is primary, fundamental and universal. Rather than “bottom-up” combination, e.g. by integration, what must occur instead is “top-down” combination, e.g. by filtering, censoring or “localizing” for human consciousness. This also implies that enlightened states of awareness tap into deeper level ground state of cosmic consciousness.

  3. Blog by Stephen Hawking, Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Physics at Cambridge; Max Tegmark , MIT physicist, author of “Our Mathematical Universe”, Stuart Russell , Computer science professor at Berkeley; Co-author, ‘Artificial Intelligence: a Modern Approach’, and Frank Wilczek, Nobel laureate and physics professor at M.I.T.,
    Better we evolve as humankind…

  4. Fun radio broadcast What Do We Make of The Big Bang? with
    • Prof. Alan Guth, the theoretical physicist at MIT who predicted cosmic inflation more than thirty years ago;
    • Prof. Max Tegmark, at MIT, the specialist on the cosmic microwave background;
    • Prof. Robert Kirshner, the observer-physicist at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and Clowes Professor of Science.

  5. Okay. Thanks. If you felt them to be arrogant, they were not meant to. For me these are very avantgarde and in fact quite exciting themes of research – because consciousness and cognition are the basis of research in any field and thus also in physics – and I felt, in fact, honored to share them with highly qualified people. Thus I considered you totally worthy of sharing these topics with you 🙂 I was by the way NOT writing on “quantum conscience” whatever that might mean to you, but on quantum effects regarding cellular mechanisms in brain functioning like electron tunneling etc. I don’t know what “quantum consciousness” would mean to you…. never heard that term other than in very esoteric contexts…. but its interesting to think about whether something like that could exist…. I will keep quiet from now on. Please, start to think better of yourself and do post under your real name. There it is where self-esteem starts, isn’t it? In all friendship.

  6. Margot
    You are abusing this blog with your arrogant display of off topic remarks about quantum consciousness and neuroscience. These comments do not belong here. Period.

  7. Well, maybe you know the hoaxes, Tony Rotz 🙂 As you will know, those quantum effects are quite well documented in photosynthesis, avian bird navigation, olfaction, and assumed for enzyme activity, the activity of endonucleases for segmenting DNA and other biological phenomena. Up to now there is no feasible explanation for consciousness in neuroscience. It is not too far off to assume that quantum effects might solve some of the enigmas of cognition, such as the binding problem and others. You feed yourself on a daily basis with products originating from such quantum effects.

  8. “Entanglement is not a property of materiality defining the physical system. It is a quantum state that expresses a peculiar set of responses once projection from abstract to laboratory domains is done. It is definitely
    not an object and consequently it is not a property in the classical sense.” (Tapia, April 2014)

  9. Yes, non-traversable, I heard that too. Yes, I agree with Hameroff-Penrose being an outlier a lot. The field is too young still as an research area. There are other theories about quantum events in the brain, e.g. by Beck and Eccles and a theory by Stapp as well as Kandel speculating about quantum effects in the synapse. Isolated cellular quantum states could spread macroscopically via quantum tunneling through gap junctions, which are primitive electronic windows between dendrites and dendrites and between dendrites and glial cells.
    Travis, 2012, suggests that quantum coherence effects might occur in the thalamo-cortical re-entry circuits involving MATRIX NUCLEI in the thalamus which connect to layer 1 of the cerebral cortex and are related to (contentless) wakefulness /arousal levels, see Edelman and Tononi, 2000, while CORE NUCLEI encode content.
    First of all, gap junctions are most prevalent in the cortex, thalamus and Reticular activiting system (RAS) in the brain stem, brain areas that Edelman labels as the Dynamic Core. These areas are critical for conscious experience. For instance, a lesion in the intralaminar nuclei of the thalamus produces permanent coma. The dynamic core is hierarchically structured and functions recursively to generate conceptual content by integrating perceptual and motor signals with stored memories. The quantum states may spread through gap junctions in the dynamic core enabling brain-wide quantum states.
    CORE NUCLEI are spatially distinct and include specific sensory and motor thalamic nuclei. A period of sustained hypopolarization results in a well-defined re-entrant activation pattern with extensive corticothalamic recurrence and temporal binding properties, to create the complex combined sensory- motor landscape of individual experience. Information is not in the thalamocortical circuits themselves, but in the large scale integration that they maintain through their recursive firing.
    MATRIX CELLS are dispersed throughout the thalamus. They fire diffusely up to layer I of the cerebral cortex. Neurons in all cortical layers, except for layer IV, have their distal processes in layer I. Thus, modulation of arousal levels of all cortical neurons can be controlled from input to Layer I. The matrix reentrant circuit thus modulates wakefulness or alertness.
    RE-ENTRY circuits Edelman defined this way: “Re-entry is the continual signaling from one brain region (or map) to another and back again across massively parallel fibers (axons) that are found in higher cortical areas and throughout the dynamic core.” Re-enry circuits are critical for maintaining a brain state for 100s of milliseconds or more to lead to conscious perception of objects and affect an organized response.
    As core reentrant circuits need to persist for 100s of msec to sustain objective experience, so matrix reentrant circuits may need to persist for 100s msec to sustain sense of self, and determine the qualia of the experience.
    Contents of consciousness change with each re-direction of attention and so dynamics in core re-entry circuits may rapidly change. In contrast, self-awareness would need to be more resistant to change to provide a stable background to integrate sensory input. Conscious experience is the resonance between these two parallel thalamocortical circuits. Gamma EEG is considered the mark of core reentrant circuits that provide sensory information. Alpha1 EEG is considered by some researchers to be the mark of matrix reentrant circuits that give self awareness. Meditation practices may be considered scientific probes to explore these two proposed circuits. Meditation techniques of the Automatic Self-transcending category involve systematic reduction of the procedure of meditation. They involve transcending of control, processing and mental content. In transcending…contents become secondary as core reentry circuits appear to be dampened and inner subjectivity becomes more primary as matrix reenty circuits become self sustaining ….many times in meditations in this category all contents are transcended and pure consciousness is experienced. Absence of time, space and body sense, but self-awareness is maintained.
    This may be the experience of matrix reentry circuits maintaining continuous firing through the meditation procedure. the content of the experience becomes wakefulness itself. The quantum states produced at the level of microtubules and synapses may spread through these gap junctions in the dynamic core leading to brain-wide quantum states.

  10. Interesting perspective for the brain if there is something to that Orch OR 🙂 :

    According to Penrose / Hameroff Orch OR, microtubule quantum computations occur in integration phases in dendrites and cell bodies of integrate-and-fire brain neurons connected and synchronized by gap junctions, allowing entanglement of microtubules among many neurons.

    According to Maldacena and L. Susskind entangled particles are connected via quantum wormholes…..

    Reference: J. Maldacena and L. Susskind, Cool horizons for entangled black holes, arXiv:1306.0533. arXiv:1306.0533v2 [hep-th] 11 Jul 2013

    1. @ Margot: Maldacena and Susskind proposed what is known as Einstein -Rosen bridge by connecting two black holes at their horizons. According to my understanding, this is a non traversable wormhole i.e nothing will go from one side to the other. The particles will be entangled and correlated somehow. Thus principle of locality (no signal traveling faster than light) is technically saved. As I mentioned in my comment to Miller before, my impression is that people would rather give up reality to save locality. Of course you have a point too. The moment you have a wave function of two particles at two different locations (or space time points) which cannot be connected by a light signal, it smells of non-locality. The standard answer is that these problems will dissolve when we have a theory of quantum gravity!!! I hope Matt will write something on Maldacena-Susskind work. Penrose-Hameroff Orch OR is still very controversial. My guess is that not too many people are betting on it to be right.

  11. Thistype of matter – predicted by superstring theory, never before – to exist is a whole other state of matter with its own forces and its own set of particles of a very different kind. It exists almost independently of us, fills space, and is interacting with us, our matter etc., only by whatever gravitational mass it might have and due to its mass any gravitational influence. But the gravitational influence is negligible. But this extra set of matter – extra forces ], extra particles – the caveat has shown that (in addition to the mentioned negligible influences) there will be a weak electromagnetic tie, a weak electromagnetic influence. It’s a form of dark matter, a specific form of dark matter. Due to complicated mechanisms there is a subtle form of light, it could be dimly perceived – maybe faint electrostatic attraction. It is a deeply quantum mechanical world with maybe some bosons, which would be superfluid bosons.

  12. “We know the mechanics of the collapse of the wave function is no0n-local and acausal. that it is simultaneously everywhere. And no local, real thing, object, molecule is capable of collapsing anything universal instantaneously. So there is an interesting element in this equation. “

    1. Margot, strictly speaking we do not know too much about the collapse of the wave function. We think we know, but that is not the same thing. As you might note from my comments on Bell’s Inequality above, I remain to be convinced about non-locality.

      1. Thanks, Ian! I hear that there is still a lot of different opinions on collapse of wave function.

  13. Just listened to an interview and heard:
    (…)The nucleus of the center of the atom is just a wave of an abstract field, so called the universal proton field or basically field of pure potential proton-ness and just the fluctuation of that we call the proton. So you try to get your handle on the elementary particles – they slip through your fingers. Actually if you take it a little further and say “Okay, there are no particles; there is just abstract, all-pervading fields”. If you try to get your handle on those fields, like the proton field or the quark field or the electron field, even the field slips through your fingers, because the concept of a classical field is too gross to describe what is a quantum field. Because a classical field-like the surface of a lake has some shape, whether it’s flat or whether it’s wavy whereas a quantum field can’t exist in any specific shape at any instance. IT has to exist is a quantum coexistence of superposition of all possible shapes. All the concepts your intellect comes up with fail to grasp the remarkably subtle nature of reality. Ultimately you get to the superstring field which is abstract, unbounded, unchanging.

    1. Well — I don’t find this sort of talk very useful. It’s a way of making something so mystical it sounds like no one can understand it. Yes, these things are very subtle, but the speaker can speak for him- or herself; fields don’t slip through *my* fingers.

  14. Yes, brain is the window to interact with the world – definitely. We are not too far from each other, Tony. Yes, let’s see how far we can get – without dealing with the beginnings :-). There is certainly a whole more to discover. Yesterday I heard an interesting lecture about Susskind’s and Maldacena’s discovery that an entanglement of particles A and B equals a quantum wormhole between those and some interesting conjectures about how certain new theories, compatible with string theory, could be applied to OR (objective reduction) in those dendrites in the brain (Hameroff/Penrose). There are certainly more exciting insights to be gained – particularly regarding that complex system of the human brain with its self-organized criticality.

  15. I prefer that the brain and by inclusion the body, is the souls window or mechanism to interact with the world. The soul being outside of space and time. Of course this needs a higher dimension than the one we are familiar with. Anyway that’s my belief, now back to Physics. The Physics that deals with the world we live in and are trying to understand.

  16. I referred to Paul Corazza recently in terms of possible beginnings or approaches to develop some mathematical formalism for describing emergences from the self-referral dynamics of an unbounded field and, I think, I misspelled his name. Here is the abstract I was referring to (not sure where it has been published):
    Paul Corazza, Ph.D., Department of Mathematics
    Abstract: The usual treatment of the set N of natural numbers in foundational theories, particularly ZFC, is simply to assert axiomatically that “N exists,” but not to provide a perspective about how the sequence of natural numbers might originate. We review the perspective of the ancient wisdom, particularly Maharishi Vedic Science, which considers knowledge to be fundamentally incomplete when discrete values are understood only in terms of their separateness and not in terms of a unified source.
    We argue that the usual—incomplete—way of treating the natural numbers in set theory, in the form of the Axiom of Infinity, has made certain modern-day problems about the infinite in mathematics more difficult to solve, particularly the well-known Problem of Large Cardinals. We suggest in this paper a way to reformulate the Axiom of Infinity so that the natural numbers are seen to emerge as precipitations or side-effects of more fundamental self-referral dynamics of an unbounded field. We observe that this New Axiom of Infinity has characteristics that naturally generalize to stronger forms, which can be used—and, in fact, have been used—to solve the
    Problem of Large Cardinals.

  17. Addition, I think I misunderstood you. Well, pure consciousness is in reality the all-pervading, nonlocal reality of life. It’s the generality, from which specificity springs. Specificity as generality in disguise.

  18. @veeramohan. Yes, the so-called qualia problem. Mind is a bridge between the physical and the unified field / pure consciousness. The diversity you talk of (qualia) is pre-existing in an unmanifest or seed form in the Unified Field and expresses itself in terms of mental and physical levels. Mind is tied to brain and brain structures as the brain is the reflector of consciousness producing conscious experience. There are grosser levels of thinking, subtler and more abstract levels of mental activity, subtlest mental activity, level of least excitation, i.e.no mental activity, consciousness completely self-referral, not having any object of mental activity, only open to itself as a silent continuum, pure self-awareness or wakefulness, pure consciousness. Grossest level of mind is tied to senses, sensory perception and outer activity. Ssubtler then that is the processing activity of the mind (the reflective, thinking mind), still subtler the discriminative agency, the intellect, subtler than that the feeling level, finest feeling level, intuition, subtler still the level of the ego, the active experiencer, the level on which the information gained through the other levels of mind is synthesized. Subtler still is the level of pure consciousness which maintains its own silent status as pure wakefulness, silence, Self, not bound by localized experiences and values. Mind thus ranges ranging from grosser more active, localized, surface levels to more abstract and more silent, finer and finest, more holistic levels. Childhood is the time when these mentioned levels of the mind and correlated levels of the nervous system and brain physiology (through which consciousness needs to project itself in order to become effective in the phenomenal world) will be unfolding with appropriate environmental stimuli (see Piaget and other theories of cognitive development). A thought takes it beginning generally unnoticed at the subtlest level of the mind (pure consciousness, source of thought) and goes through developmental stages, becoming more concrete, until we become consciously aware of it.
    As Alexander, Kurth, Travis et al. pointed out, human development typically moves towards increasing differentiation of the self from the environment (Piaget, 1954). The progress of self-differentiation is in a dual direction, with the objective world becoming more external to the self and of the activity of knowing becoming more internal and abstract (Piaget, 1954).
    Thus development involves the child to become aware of the objective phenomenal or environmental world as being external and of thinking, feelings and cognitive functioning being clearly distinct from the outer world and internal. The subjectivity of the inner world is experienced as different from the phenomenal outer world of objects. This is an important step when consciousness is able to recede from the overshadowing power of the objective world which at first seems as if to annihilate the knower in the experience.
    The different stages of cognitive development require corresponding levels of maturation of the nervous system, i.e. growth spurts, which take place according to a genetically coordinated program, but also adequate environmental stimuli and ongoing experiences. Those physiological growth spurts also show up in the EEG and neuroimaging scans.) These physiological changes thus permit the activation and utilization of increasingly subtle—more inner or abstract—levels of mind thus expanding the range of experience of the developing individual. The sequential unfoldment of each corresponding level of cognitive development, as described by Piaget and others, is caused by the successive activation and utilization of increasingly subtler—more inner or abstract—levels of the mind which give rise too progressively higher expression of cognitive-structural development. For example, at certain stages of cognitive development the dominant focus of attention is de-embedding from a more expressed or superficial level of functioning and operating from a deeper more fundamental level of mental functioning, which guides actions of more expressed levels. For instance, the most fundamental transformation in childhood cognitive functioning is a shift of the dominant focus of conscious awareness from the level of simple perception, representation, and desire to the level of thinking or mental operations. I hope those explanations answer your questions.

  19. @ Kashyap Hameroff and Penrose by the way have published THIS MARCH an updated version of their theory, supported by some evidence now by an Indian researcher, Anirban Bandyophadyay, who works at RIKEN (?) in Japan. This is not to mean that I want to imply Hameroff’s and Penrose’s model is the only one and correct one. There have been different approaches to suggest consciousness-brain interactions on that background that consciousness is a quantum physical reality.
    Don’t demand ready made packages at this point – that is too early. You are asked – if at all – to collaborate on developing models, developing the mathematical formalism, developing ideas about the testing of hypotheses. That is the current stage.

  20. @Kashyap and Veeramohan – I agree with you that it is still all within the sphere of model building, not yet mathematical formalism or development of hypotheses that could maybe at some point be experimentally tested.
    Because development of mathematical formalism and hypothesis for testing follows only after some promise has been found in undertaking such efforts. That’s the normal sequence.
    However, there is a rich wealth of data (and anomalies) – not examined yet – that point into the direction of a link between consciousness (as a primary reality) and material objects. I just defend that you, Kashyap, want to whisk the topic off the table, although you have personal sympathies for it, out of fear your colleagues might not like it. Obviously you consider the topic a religious one, not a scientific one. I am of the opposite opinion. And I am not a religiously motivated proponent here. My desire is to understand nature – it’s as simple as that. The typical scientific motivation.
    Why is fear guiding you? Did fear guide the founding fathers of quantum physics to refrain from questions that might have been threatening to the classical physics paradigm? If there are serious points to consider which challenge current understanding, they have to be considered.

    Development of mathematical formalism and ways to test hypotheses are secondary and follow model building.

    Here another abstract o fthe upcoming Science of Consciousness conference.

    However, to make this clear: I am not intending to continue posting on this topic. What has been said, has been said. It’s Matt Strassler’s blog and I am not wanting to usurp it. However, these are topics on the table and we might leave them there – if necessary for another century. However, they remain being on the table.
    Qualia and the Mathematics of Consciousness Menas Kafatos (Chapman University, Orange, CA ) C8

    Ever since the development of quantum mechanics, a new world view has emerged. Today the assumption that external objects exist independently of acts of observation is being seriously challenged. The universe is truly participatory, as John Archibald Wheeler was fond of saying. The repercussions of this radical challenge to common-sense perception have been far-reaching, yet we face the current situation of proceeding with an observer-based science of consciousness which is not yet fully developed. What is plausible, and in fact has been proposed by physicists, psychologists and medical practitioners, is that the unpredictability of specific quantum outcomes, coupled to the observer’s ability to make observational choices, is tied to the concept of free will. This would be a starting point for the emerging science proposed here. I will argue that there is an alternate view to real objects existing independently of observation, and that is the view that consciousness itself is primary. More and more scientists are coming closer to this view. Quantum coherence in microtubules and quantum effects in biology are pointing to the undeniable role of quantum processes in living systems and the primacy of complementarity. Niels Bohr himself held that view. The primacy of consciousness and the need to develop a new paradigm was hinted by the brilliant quantum pioneer, Wolfgang Pauli “It is my personal opinion that in the science of the future reality will neither be ‘psychic’ nor ‘physical’ but somehow both and somehow neither.” And the founder of quantum physics, Max Planck himself, held the view “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.” If consciousness is primary, then qualia play a primary role. I will outline the arguments of how the world of the subjective experience may be tied to the world of appearances of objective phenomena, both emerging from consciousness. A starting point is to explore possible mathematical formalisms that would get us as close as possible to understanding of the ways consciousness operates. I will briefly describe several of these formalisms and show how such fundamental mathematics emerges from principles which limit undivided consciousness. This view resonates with the work of Hameroff and Penrose on Platonic principles at the Planck level fabric of space-time

    1. @Margot, your writing is soothing, I may understand your “now”. But your solipsism may not connect mind and material through maths. It is only experience, no scripts, texts, books, titles, east or west, no effables. “Sky is my Bodhi tree” – now may mean, consensus in experimental results. I must learn more ?

      No matter how hard you look in the brain you will not find my feeling of pain occupying space, nor will you find it’s mass. ie mass and movement are real, but colours and smells are unreal. however there is no such distinction.
      You cannot stop the earth and measure its “rest mass”. Benefit of doubt in a model may not the scientific truth.
      consciousness is the means by which we experience the world. and therefore not part of the world. to claim it is inside the brain as a physical location, may not be true.

    1. The USA will lose. Senator Feinstein has become an immensely rich woman by playing China, not Europe, so she is anxious to cut ITER. Always has been. As Obama proposed only 150 million next year, the way ITER works, others will step in…. And acquire the skills. At the limit France will go it alone. For all the Reagan-Gorbachev talk, the most determined people to make fusion work, have been the French.

    1. That supersymmetry can be relevant to condensed matter systems is possible-whether this particular result is, indeed, an illustration thereof must be looked into by studying the paper. For supersymmetry implies that internal and spacetime symmetries “mix” in a particular way, namely,the composition of two transformations, whose parameter is an anticommuting variable, should give rise to a translation.

  21. To add this as a last comment, I got a little impatient at the beginning of my last posting asserting in a little jumping to the gun way “Well, the fact is that that initial Unified Field IS consciousness”. How do I really know? Well, I can only say this: There is a very rich and very detailed philosophical tradition – philosophia perennis – across all cultures and there are thousands of documentations of “experiences” from very diverse contexts and very disparate geographical regions of the world which come to that conclusion, among them also many resulting from rigorous investigation through the consistent application of years and decades of meditative practices and the development of higher states of consciousness, among them those claimed – by and to the experiencing subject – to be or have been unambiguous. However, I fully agree – the topic hasn’t been settled in terms of natural sciences and needs more thorough, in depth thought and investigation. But I personally think – theoretical physics at some point will HAVE to do it. Maybe it hasn’t reached that maturity yet in terms of the questions we put to nature TODAY, based on our own background understanding and research results so far, maybe it needs a future generation, not as paradigm-blinded as us ;-), to take on this task.

    1. @Margot: As I said before, I am impressed with the idea of universal consciousness, but still maintain that it is kind of premature to talk about unified field based on consciousness. Currently, even neuroscientists do not understand consciousness. It is a long way to theoretical physics. I am not saying it should not be investigated. If someone familiar with theoretical physics wants to investigate this, more power to him/her. It is well known that Schrodinger was impressed with this idea as mentioned in his book “what is life”. I have seen John Hagelin’s papers, heard his talk and even talked to him personally about this. My impression is that although he writes formally correct equations as in the conventional theoretical physics, he does not suggest how the predictions could be verified by experiments. Penrose-Hameroff’s model is quite interesting. In fact they claim that a resonance at 40 Hz, which has been found in microtubules (you are probably referring to that), is a success of that. Tegmark has criticized that brain is too wet and warm to be quantum mechanical. Also quantum gravity physicists have disagreed with Penrose about whether such arguments can be applied to consciousness. But this is the normal process of debate and controversies in science and it is healthy. Although, personally, I find this discussion interesting, I hesitate to discuss it further, because most readers of this blog regard such discussions as spam!!

    2. Margot, thanks for your painstaking explanations, I think on the right path.

      What governs the masses of the particles. There is something outside the computational laws of the physics.

      1. No-it’s computationally difficult, but possible. As an example, the mass of hadrons has been computed, within approximations, in lattice QCD and there is an ongoing effort to remove the approximations.

  22. Well, the fact is that that initial Unified Field IS consciousness, Power absolute. I am not talking about God or what that might mean to you, Tony or others. You introduced that term. You don’t like God to be universal consciousness – I am talking about consciousness BEFORE space-time geometry and universe or any spatial kind of universal consciousness came into existence – transcendental consciousness beyond time, space, body sense, whatever. I think to stay with physics means just THAT – to understand the role of consciousness as the basis of physical/material existence. And John von Neumann and others have pointed that out as well. It’s not that the founding father and luminaries of quantum physics NEVER talked about the not yet understood role of consciousness and I would be the first and only one to mention it!! Kashyap also thinks that what he seems to hold high in his Eastern understanding is not dignified enough to be dealt with in a serious way by science. It’s not scientific. Well, that’s schizophrenic to me. Certainly an understanding of consciousness requires an expanded physical framework which will lead then to a more integrated picture of the physical world. Penrose was one of the first researchers who proposed Planck-scale mechanisms as the origin of consciousness.
    I just saw this abstract for the TOWARD A SCIENCE OF CONSCIOUSNESS 2014, Tucson, Arizona (April 21-26, 2014) by John Hagelin, quantum physicist who worked at SLAC and with Ellis at CERN and developed the highly successful “flipped SU(5), heterotic superstring theory”:
    Consciousness: Down The Rabbit Hole — Just How Deep in Physics do the Roots of Consciousness Go? John Hagelin (Fairfield, IA ) C8

    We present further evidence, using cutting-edge developments in physics and neuroscience, that the core phenomenon of consciousness originates deep within the physical realm–in nonrelativistic quantum mechanics, relativistic quantum mechanics (quantum field theory), and perhaps ultimately quantum gravity (unified field theory). Other authors (Penrose, Hameroff) have already proposed Planck-scale mechanisms rooted in quantum gravity as the ultimate origin of consciousness. We bolster that hypothesis and associated calculations using todays mathematically self-consistent, fully calculable quantum gravity theories. We also illuminate how these core, quantum-scale phenomena of consciousness relate to brain-scale cognitive functioning: First, we distinguish content-free consciousness (a.k.a. samadhi) from awareness of content. We identify in the EEG this content-free consciousness (the observer) as global-alpha1-coherence; the content of consciousness (the observed) as higher frequency harmonics of this alpha1; and the observer-observed relationship that is needed to support awareness-of-content as the stable, phase-locked relationship been the alpha1 and its higher-frequency harmonics. (Publication in press.) Second, we discuss the interesting relationship between the EEG and the much higher frequencies associated with the quantum origins of consciousness–e.g., megahertz frequencies characteristic of microtubule vibrations. A clearer bridge is needed between these high frequency dynamics and the human EEG. A natural bridge would arise if elements of the EEG were continuously scalable, i.e., frequency independent, as some recent evidence suggests. We present an explicit, novel quantum-field-theoretic mechanism for such scale invariant behavior–a mechanism that simultaneously sheds light on numerous other mind-body enigmas.

    Also, research e.g. in human social genomic (Steven Cole, UCLA) has pointed out that what had been understood to be far away from cognitive processes – elementary cell processes, transcriptome dynamics, epigenetic regulation of gene expression, has been proven to be surprisingly sensitive to subjective processing of social/environmental conditions. Even purely imagined or symbolic cognitive representations of such conditions can trigger broad shifts in the basal transcriptome.
    That’s influence of consciousness, in this case human mind, i.e. excited levels of consciousness, if you so will, not purely self-referral consciousness, field effects of consciousness, not transcendental consciousness beyond spacetime, on DNA. Consciousness thus becomes more and more a factor on basic levels of physical-physiological, biological, (maybe even quantum) chemical levels of matter.
    Quite a number of neuroscience/researchers today see the relationship of consciousness-brain in terms of a transmission model. Consciousness according to these researchers exists independent of the brain and the crucial role of, for example, the human nervous system is to provide a material structure of sufficient integrated complexity to reflect, qualify and individualize consciousness, providing the potential for individual experience.
    All of this and more brings up the question of the role of consciousness in nature again in quite a powerful way.
    I read another quote about ” the transition from subjectivity to objectivity which occurs when the subjective impulse of thought gets translated, through the DNA, into neuropeptides and other complex proteins which comprise the biochemistry of thought. This transition also represents the junction point between the quantum-mechanical and the classical in the structure of the human physiology. It is called a ‘transformation in appearance’ because the transition from quantum-mechanical to classical, or from consciousness to matter, never really occurs. Nature is never separate from consciousness, and the emergence of classical behavior is a matter of appearance only.”
    Food for thought. The idea that the universe is basically inert-unintelligent and that consciousness is just an epiphenomenon or product of brain functioning deserves – and requires because of so many very challenging anomalies (equally if not more challenging to the current paradigm than the black body radiation at the turn of the last century) – a more thorough examination. But the maybe quite primitive models of consciousness, some readers might have, and also some artefacts – and residues of individually experienced – religious socialization should NOT just be brought into those discussions unexamined and mixed with terms, used in this academically more demanding and scholarly discussion. Okay, my last comment on this – because, I guess, many have a lack of background knowledge regarding the deeper theoretical questions and challenges and history of science issues related to the topic. 🙂 As one of the youngsters at the Perimeter institute in the recent broadcast said that quantum physics is still very much understood from the classical perspective and not from the quantum mechanical perspective. Very true.

  23. Whatever happened to Advanced LIGO? All the websites and blogs abruptly stopped updating about it in 2012 and we haven’t heard a word since. Last I heared, it was supposed to be up and running “by 2014”, and was supposed to see an event about every day.

  24. @ Margot, well, one thing I know for sure is that God is not a universal consciousness that is one with the universe, a new age spirituality. Try Power Itself, Power absolute, or even Life itself, unbounded by ALL that is and you would be closer. Let’s stay with Physics. To understand you need to have the experience, nothing else will suffice. Physics is tough enough, often too tough.

  25. I think it is a little too premature, Kashyap, to whisk it off the table deciding – without further in depth reasoning – that such ideas cannot be put in either a mathematical or experimental form. However, I admit this could be very difficult. Particularly, it might be very difficult, even impossible, to find out about sequence in regard to the inner dynamics of the unified field – with currently available scientific methods. However, there might be mathematical models (Paul Corazzo developed a model of mathematically describing the fundamental self-referral dynamics of an unbounded field from where sequentially natural numbers are seen to emerge as precipitations or side-effects of that dynamics) to describe the process of emergence from some purely self-referral, self-referral dynamics – and some of the consequences maybe even testable at some point from the Planck scale or Planck era upwards to more adnaced stages of development.
    Those questions of nonlocality and Bell’s inequality have been put to test as well, several times over the recent years too

  26. @Margot: As we discussed in our previous exchanges, I am personally sympathetic to such ideas as universal consciousness etc. I guess, it helps being from east!!! But as we found out, other readers of this blog take offense to this kind of discussion! Anyway, at this point such ideas cannot be put in either mathematical or experimental form. So they may not be that useful for physics research , whether you call them metaphysical or not.

  27. @ Kashyap – A propos “metaphysical” – I wouldn’t use that word as unification and thus a the search for a completely unified level in Nature’s hierarchical structure is actually a hot topic and completely on the agenda in theoretical physics today. But if you CHOOSE to see it this way, I guess, I am in good company with – of course Einstein – who in the context of mentioned Solvay conference expressed his famous sentence “God doesn’t play dice” and with many contemporary prominent physicists who research about superstring field, holographic duality and other phenomena either speculating already about the realm, you call metaphysical, or about a realm closely bordering to it. 🙂
    I am hoping for more comments on Bell’s inequality….

  28. @Ian Miller: I will try to answer your question,the way I have understood. If Matt or any other knowledgeable person contradicts me that is perfectly OK. Bell’s inequality brings in to focus the basic conflict of understanding quantum mechanics in terms of our everyday logic. Majority of the people have given up reality and kept locality, because of special relativity. When you give up reality, it means that the particles do not have any properties before you measure them. Well, we know for some 100 years. that they are fuzzy wavelike objects But this is extreme.Also our conventional everyday logic does not apply. Margot draws metaphysical conclusions from this. Some people on this blog may not like them. Another recent development is what is called ER=EPR. This means that the particles actually communicate with each other via Einstein Rosen bridge. That is even more esoteric. The basic conclusion is that , as Feynman said, “Nobody understands QM” in spite of some 90 years’ debate! There are some tens of interpretations of QM with no consensus. The most astonishing thing is that mathematical calculations agree with experiments to highest accuracy ever achieved by mankind in comparing theory with experiment!

  29. No, sorry, I am not!! This is your own projection. 🙂 You think of consciousness in terms of human anthropomorphic consciousness, not in terms of pure consciousness (see Schelling, Hegel and others). You are interpreting much too much. Stay with what has been said and nothing else! The text talks about sequence in the dynamics of the superstring field giving rise to specific and dynamic patterns of vibrations which evolve into sequential symmetry breaking and a sequential progression towards complexity. Nature’s hierarchy displays orderliness, evolution towards increasing complexity – which is in itself astounding….. It is only too justified to think about why this amazing orderliness came about. You play the master expert by alleging that I attempted to be the saame but at the same time taking that role claiming I don’t have the slightest idea. How do you know? 🙂 However, actually I don’t have the slightest idea! Therefore I ask. But actually – there have always been people who had an idea, maybe not a complete or perfect idea, but an idea (and an idea that might have caused earthquakes in existing paradigms) – and that led to progress in science, technology and the evolution of consciousness.
    Remember how Heisenberg and Born declared at the Solvay Conference in late 1927, that the revolution, i. e. the transition to the new quantum paradigm, was over and nothing further was needed and how Einstein’s skepticism at this point turned to dismay. He agreed that much had been accomplished, but he still hoped that the reasons for the newly discovered mechanics only still needed to be a little further understood. He insisted that quantum probabilities were epistemic and not ontological in nature suggesting that it does not tell the whole story. While providing an appropriate description at a certain level, it would not give information on the more fundamental underlying level because of hitherto still unknown, hidden variables. However, John Stewart Bell with his formulation of Bell’s inequality in 1964 showed that that if quantum mechanics can be made complete in Einstein’s sense, it cannot be done locally. Determinism—and that means: causality in Einstein’s sense of the meaning—could only come back, should we live in a superdeterministic universe, in which case Bell’s inequality demonstration would not be valid anymore, as Bell admitted himself (1964).

    1. Matt, or anyone, once again, help me. Margot quotes deviations from Bell’s Inequality as showing quantum mechanics must be non-local. My question is, have such deviations really been demonstrated? Why do the rotating polarizer experiments such as those of Aspect et al show such deviations? Suppose the source is polarized – if so, all detectors change value as they rotate, but then, assuming the Malus law, Bell’s Inequality is followed. Suppose the source is rotationally invariant – if so, there is only one variable, and if you formally separate it into two variables, then the first detector always takes the same value, which equals 1 if the light is normalized to what is counted. If so, you cannot use those values without violating the laws of probability, or the associative law of sets. (Or at least, I cannot.) The point is, the second detector counts how many were counted that were entangled with the first. In short, there appear to be not enough true variables to put into the inequality.

      It is around about now there will be a tendency to say, “Go read a book”. Since no book that I have access to deals with this issue, and since every theoretical physicist I have asked to explain this has fled (including one who wrote a book on the subject and promised to explain), that is not good enough. Please!

        1. Perhaps I should elaborate my problem. But first, the results of Aspect et al., and as far as I know, everyone else who has carried out the rotating polarizer experiment, confirms the polarized photons follow the Malus law, which is, after all, merely a statement of the law of conservation of energy. As far as I am aware, there were no observed violations of energy conservation, and further, the whole argument depends on conservation of angular momentum to generate the entangled photons. If we analyse the rotating polarizer experiment, we use a formulation derived from formal quantum mechanics, but it is equivalent to using the Malus law because the Schrodinger equation is a wave equation.

          Bell’s inequality requires, as I understand it, measurements of a pair at three different values of some variable, and the measurements must result in a pass or fail by some token. One of Bell’s examples involved washing socks at three different temperatures. Now, for me an important consequence of this is when we add up the results, the sum of the passes and failures must equal the number of socks, i.e. the probability of an event is 1. Now, in the sock-washing example there is actually a variable that is often not appreciated: the number of socks at each temperature.

          Now, if we go back to the rotating polarizer experiment, we do not know the number of photon pairs until we count them. How do we count the number of entangled pairs that turn up in our apparatus? Surely, assuming the green photons are counted first, by counting the green photons. (The calcium state emits a green photon to get from p2 to sp, then a blue photon to get to s2. This is a consequence of the energy levels, not of anything else.) Now, how do we determine the probability of Pass/fail (say A+ B-)? Recall that both detectors record the same number of strikes. What happened is, as I understand, we only recorded strikes of the blue photon if it arrived within 20 ns of a green one; that is the condition that the two are entangled. The probability of B- is the number of such strikes divided by the number of entangled pairs counted, but by definition, A+ is now 1. When we rotate to determine B+C-, the same thing happens, and B+ is 1. However, the derivation of the inequality requires (B+ + B-) to equal 1 (or the associative law of sets is wrong, and that is deep deep trouble). But if so, this condition is ONLY possible in the trivial condition that the two polarizing detectors are at right angles. The problem is, the + terms are not variables, and if so, we do not have the required number of true variables to put into Bell’s inequality. At least, that is the way I see it.

          A second problem (actually the same one in different guise) is this. The rotations Aspect used, if I interpret correctly, were A = 0; B = 22.5, C = 45 degrees. So, A+ B- is {0. 22.5} while {B+C-} is {22.5, 45}, but the trigonometric function of analysis employs the angle between them. Accordingly, the value of these two determinations are the same. All you have actually done is to rotate the experiment by 22.5 degrees. Why does that generate separate variables? We need the conservation of angular momentum to account for the entangled pairs, but if angular momentum is conserved, space is isotropic and there is no preferred frame of reference for the experiment. Suppose we took away the lab, and the rest of the Universe and did the experiment in space. Do you get the same results? If not, why not? If so, how do you know you rotated the experiment properly? If you insist that the frame of reference of the laboratory gives a preferred frame of reference, how does it do that? See my problem? By the way, this says nothing about locality/non-locality, but merely that I believe that the use of Bell’s inequality has been questionable because there are insufficient true variables. The + term is not a variable at all; it is a counter and selector of which photons are involved.

          One last point. I am a bit of a skeptic, and I am going to say that the Copenhagen interpretation in which the act of observation creates the event is simply an assertion. Quantum mechanics would work just as well if we adopt the Einstein view that observations record what happened.

          1. What do you mean by this “…merely a statement of the law of conservation of energy”? How do you get that out of Malus law? And I also thought that there doesn’t exist perfect polarizer, one will always get photons through two polarizers with 90 deg angle.

            1. Kimmo, for the perfect polarizers at right angles, assume the plane of polarization is at theta to one. If so, the Malus law says the intensities of the two beams are cos squared theta plus sin squared theta, which equals 1. The intensities are the square of the amplitude, hence the energies, or, if you prefer, the probability that n photons will give n responses.

              I appreciate that no polarizers are perfect. The comment was made from a theoretical perspective, and in practice there are discrepancies. But my problem has nothing to do with the observation, but rather with theoretical internal consistency.

  30. Thanks, Kashyap… Sometimes it might be necessary to develop models which might reach over into the field of metaphysics to develop concepts for the realm that is more accessible to physical research.
    Today by the way I saw a video with some youngsters (students) of the Perimeter Institute at http://www.perimeterinstitute.ca/videos/future-physics-kate-lunau-conversation-emerging-talent-perimeter-institute
    At 31:09 min. they were asked about defining questions in physics over the next 30 years and this one Ph.D. student Nimu remarked that one of the things is that the correspondences that had been found between different theories (maybe he thought of thermodynamics and quantum physics or others) had some decades earlier been regarded as “completely ridiculous” and he added that “it is very important that we realize that experiments can no longer guide us to what are the ultimate solutions what is fundamental and what is not” .
    Of course the BICEP2 is a huge thing….if it will be confirmed….. as first experimental result that is inherently quantum mechanical and quantum gravitational in nature and the scales are extremely small where quantum gravity shows up.
    Here another quote: (…) The infinite dynamism of the unified field, which is intrinsic to its nature as self-referral pure consciousness, gives rise, through its self-interaction, to SPECIFIC and PRECISE patterns of vibration, or dynamics. It is unified, yet contains the principle of diversification. It also may be understood as awake to its full range of potential values, from infinity to a point. Due to this, this simultaneity of opposite values within the nature of pure consciousness is constituting a kind of “infinite frequency” of oscillation. Thus, a fundamental form of vibration is inherent within the very nature of the field of pure consciousness, which in turn is transformed into other modes of vibration. The sequence of transformations WITHIN these dynamics of the unified field is responsible for the sequential EMERGENCE of all the phenomena of nature from this field, a creative process that is going on at all times in nature. The self-interacting dynamics of the field of pure consciousness form SEQUENCES of vibration or sound. The unified field progresses sequentially. There is the sequential progression
    of the unified field into space-time boundaries. (…)
    Comments on this?

    1. Your trying to make some whatever superstring field some kind of super self aware god. It is not. God is not what you think, you haven’t the slightest idea. Nor does anyone else. No one.

  31. Just read this – any comments? Pure speculation?
    “The self-referral quality of the superstring field is found in the unitary
    transformations of the unified field, which represent the fundamental laws
    of nature responsible for creating and governing manifest existence. In
    these unitary transformations, the totality of knowledge of the unified field is
    preserved; thus the field refers to itself—that is, maintains its own
    nature—as it transforms itself in the process of creating its expressions.
    Unified field theories of physics also describe the superstring field as
    the self-sufficient source of all creation. All forms and phenomena are
    created through self-interaction of the superstring field.”

    1. @Margot: If there was only one field present in the beginning, inflaton or some superstring field, it has to refer to itself and everything has to come out of that. But present day physics cannot go beyond this point without invoking metaphysics!

    1. @Stuart: I clicked on the link. Your paper is listed. But at this time even the abstract does not come up.

  32. Above, it is stated that the current energy density of the vacuum energy is ~ 10113 J/m3. How do we know? The reason I ask is that I was under the impression that if so, the expansion of the Universe is out by a factor of 10^120. First, I may have this mixed up because this is not my field, so feel free to correct me, but if this is so, that is sufficient difference between prediction and observation that we might conceivably consider that theory isn’t quite right.

    1. @ Ian Miller. The factor of 10^120 is the ratio of predicted value of cosmological constant (vacuum energy) and the experimental value. Experimental value (very small) is arrived at by observing the accelerated expansion and other consistency checks. So the problem is with theory , not with experiment. No body has come up with any good calculation of small value of CC. This is one of the naturalness, fine tuning problems as emphasized by Matt,

      1. Contrary to you assertions, there are models out there attempting to explain the CC and the coincidence problems. You would be better off researching the subject prior to making uninformed comments.

        1. @Critic: OK. My comments are based on generally accepted models. Are the models, you are talking about, in peer reviewed physics journals? Then please provide links.

          1. .All you need to do is do a targeted Google search to convince yourself that there are published papers on this topic. Since the subject is still controversial and far from being settled, what is considered “generally accepted models” is a fairly fluid notion.

          2. @anonymous: Well. That is what I was saying! Accepted that the current situation is fluid but currently there is no acceptable model which predicts value of CC in agreement with experiment. If some one had a believable mathematical theory for small value of CC he/she would be on a plane to Stockholm!

          3. Kashyap,

            Obviously you have failed to read and/or understand the references discussing how CC can be analytically derived or interpreted from a different theoretical viewpoint! Many of the people authoring these papers are well-respected researchers from the field, like Steinhart or Turok. Stop spamming this blog with your ill-informedd opinions

          4. @kashyap
            A successful theory of nature is guided by principles foremost and the mathematical discription follows.If you attempt the reverse order you may end up with as many as 10^520 possible solutions!

        2. @ Critic and Anonymous: We are already into a new blog. But hopefully you will see this. I (little me!!!) was not trying to criticize Turok and Steinhart’s model. I was merely mentioning that there is no widely accepted model for small value of CC (not yet Nobel prize worthy anyway!) But immediate reason for this reply is that I saw an interesting debate on world scientific video for multiverse
          between Linde, Guth, Albrecht and Turok.
          Apparently Turok and Steinhart’s model currently requires that there has to be collision between two membranes (previous universes?) for producing a big bang for a new universe. This is not much different from multiverse. So that would suffer from the same criticisms as the idea of multiverse that there is no evidence or in fact, it might even be unlikely to have an evidence, because multi universes cannot communicate.

          1. “I was merely mentioning that there is no widely accepted model for small value of CC (not yet Nobel prize worthy anyway!)”

            You seem to be missing the point that “widely accepted” is a misnomer for many controversial aspects of today’s astrophysics and high-energy theory. But the fact that there is no consensus on a model or another does not discard that model for automatically being wrong. Physics is not a popularity contest. Besides, who are you to decide whether a model is Nobel prize worthy or not?

  33. About the energy conversation above: the drawback from CANDU is that it can still produce Plutonium, excellent for thermonuclear pits… India used CANDU to make Plutonium. Thorium reactors are much better. They produce U233, which is too unstable for making weapons, and the radionuclides produced have a period such as three centuries (in contrast with the 25,000 years of Plutonium). India has a massive Thorium program.

  34. Mermin’s analysis, indeed weak and uninspiring, as prof. Matt Strassler says, is best summed up by cubist painting accompanying it in Nature. QBism is just a fancy new term for the well known Copenhagen Interpretation (“probability is all there is to it”). From my point of view, there is a trilemma: Copenhagen Interpretation, the Multiverse hand-waving, and various Pilot Wave proto-theories (several of which are very different from the others).

    1. In a sense they can have a non-zero value, but (a) the value could only be microsopically small, because of the Pauli Exclusion principle (essentially), and moreover (b) since all fermions have spin, it would make space non-isotropic, contradicting experiment.

      1. Hnble.Professor, current energy density of the vacuum energy is ~ 10113 J/m3. However, there are some key differences involving spin and the rate of time that distinguish the conditions at the start of the Big Bang from the conditions that exist today in vacuum energy.
        Vacuum energy in the current universe lacks quantized spin. Vacuum energy can be said to have a temperature of absolute zero because it lacks any quantized units and temperature is defined as energy per quantized unit. The same energy density at the start of the Big Bang was in the form of 100% quantized spin units.

        So it was possible before, for humans, to influence matter without material equipment help.
        Now, though evolution left us with many wonderful abilities, it does seem that, year by year, humans are becoming less and less practically useful.

    1. I find Mermin’s analysis weak and uninspiring. It seems to me a combination of statements that are obvious (and I don’t know why he’s making a big deal out of them) with assertions that are far more subtle than he suggests (such as the notion that my “Now” is obviously the same as yours when we interact.)

      1. @Margot and Matt: Yes. I agree. Mermin has nothing new to say. But the 90 years old problem has still remained! If this is all in our mind, why does it agree with experiments so well? Unless you agree with Tegmark that nature is mathematical and mathematics is out there independent of human beings!

    2. One problem in this might be that ultimately the observing subject upon close analysis might turn out not to be a localized subject at all but rather a nonlocal abstract unbounded field of consciousness, just as according to QFT particles have been found to be excitation of quantum fields.

    3. A black or red color is same black and red for you and me, but it is not “the now”. There is also one in Greek called Logos (λόγος).

      Physicists reify space-time ?

      George Bernhard Riemann developed a geometrical concept, called the Riemann Space. To him: Force can be understood simply by geometry. This was the common sense of general relativity.
      The gravitation (the general “now”, contrasted with temporal “now”) of the mass contained in cosmologically large regions may warp one’s usual perceptions of space and time.

      Our mind’s “now” is limited to mass-energy prespective and mathematics is limited to constancies of heavens (inertia in the momentum) – like Riemann’s bookworm. The “force” that would keep the bookworm from moving in a straight line was not a mysterious “action at a distance”, but a result of the unseen warping from the third dimension. We have 3D or more space, at first the “degree of freedom” may be finite.
      The spacetime based model explains how an electron can increase its size and form a cloud-like distribution under the boundary conditions of a bound electron in an atom.
      The same way that the quantized vortices cannot exist without the surrounding superfluid, so also the fermions and bosons cannot exist without being surrounded by a sea of vacuum energy.

      The highest energy density that spacetime can support is Planck energy density (~ 10113 J/m3) ?

    1. Not amazing, just rather interesting. All it tells us is that the strong nuclear force does some more complicated things than what you read in the books, but it’s not something fundamentally new or unexpected. In fact, over the decades people have been surprised that the strong nuclear force *doesn’t* do more complicated things. So this is cool and neat, but with few implications, and none for fundamental questions.

      1. Oh dear, seems a little anticlimactic. Im always just a little sad to hear things turn out largely as expected.
        Still, its always good to have more empirical data.

  35. Professor,
    Has there been any evidence of gravitational waves from the LIGO observatories around the planet? What do we expect to find from the BBOs?

  36. If (and when) my model is verified right by annihilation experiments you (as well as the whole field) will get all the funding you ever need. U.S. doesn’t have afford to let other nations gain too large advantage on the matter.

        1. I’m not so sure; how would it be delivered? If we’re just firing a lump of antimatter into an asteroid it will shatter the object and not completely annihilate with it; that would turn one single body into a rain of almost as destructive objects. And completely annihilating a dangerous object would produce an immense amount of high energy radiation as it is. I’m for a ‘gently gently’ approach myself like a solar sail.

          1. Gentle approaches are naturally way better than the brute force, however, there won’t be always enough time for them. Blowing “up” an asteroid with antimatter bomb most certainly generates high amount of radiation, but in this case most of it misses Earth.

            And I’ll bet that handling that incoming radiation is much more preferable than handling that asteroid in our atmosphere.

  37. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Every other community of self interests seems to have a Pac, why not doesn’t the science community get together with the industry’s that depend on their research, hire some hit men, I mean lobbyists and grab the ears of those who can provide funding. You will have to grease the wheel just like all the other. Private funding could also be a possible source of money. There’s a lot of money sitting in the hands of the wealthy, some of these people may be willing to invest as well as ordinary people who have an interest in science and may wish to contribute for the advancement of science and mankind.

  38. I hope you keep blogging Matt, if only in the heroic struggle to explain how science works to commentators like Tom H above. Re funding, I wonder has anyone tried to calculate the cost of all these applications in terms of man hours lost to research?

  39. The total amount of student loans in the USA is increasing rapidly. They are increasingly used by the jobless to support themselves. You won’t find them on campus. Maybe “Obama” thinks the universities are flourishing.

  40. Obama proposed, among other genius strokes, to reduce the fusion research budget by 17% (who needs fusion when one can poison everything with fracking?). That’s in light of significant progress at the NIF (although it’s not LHC style HEP, it’s still asking many fundamental questions, for example in applied mathematics).
    Maybe American intellectuals have not been making enough noise.

    1. Well, the designated American Intellectuals failed to explain to the laypersons in the congress why America should have the Superconducting Super Collider and thus it was scrapped. After spending a billion dollars in digging holes they spend another billion to cover those holes and the remaining budget was diverted to International Space Station. Not a bad decision after all 😀

      1. The SSC was to feed fundamental science. The International Space Station also feeds (some) fundamental science, but not that much High Energy Physics (although perhaps a bit… one impact).
        The science budget of NASA is only five billion, and many missions were cancelled including one with France and two more, to Mars, with Europe… Which then turned to Russia ( a country with a smaller nominal GDP than Italy)

        1. NASA is about sp[ace exploration? Who knew?

          According to NASA chief administrator Charles Bolden:
          ” … In a June 2010 interview … Bolden said that the top three goals he was tasked with by President Obama, … , ‘perhaps foremost’, ‘to reach out to the Muslim world… to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science… and math and engineering’ … ”

          ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Bolden

          1. Yes yes, we’ve all heard that. Now can you source anything showing what NASA has actually done in that regard, specifically at the expense of space exploration, or at all?

    2. Wow, I didn’t know that! He should have INCREASED the Fusion budget by twice that percentage! The fool; fusion is the future. Yes, many have bought into fracking; it’s especially popular among some of the Wall St. crowd – I can tell you from personal experience. Before any more of you jump on that bandwagon I suggest you watch: Gasland I & II.

      1. Fracking is short term very profitable, for the USA or Wall Street, but, with the present technology, a massive long term disaster. Planes and towers have picked up massive methane leakage over the USA (that was in a recent Nature). Methane has 25 times the greenhouse power of CO2 over a century, and up to 100 times over a decade.

        1. That is alarmist propaganda with scant & dubious “evidence”.
          Planes, trains, and automobiles are not going to run off moonbeams and windmills.

          And no,
          – I don’t work for any oil company
          – I have no financial stake in oil or gas “profits”, either directly or indirectly.
          – I am a consumer who wants a reliable domestic supply of cheap plentiful energy.

          re Fusion: a worthy goal … but decades or centuries in the future, and maybe never. Environmentalist special interests & lobbyists are always in favor of “clean” or “renewable” or “alternative” energy, UNLESS it acutally works. Then, hell hath no fury, like a limosine-liberal “environmentalist”.

        2. For all your complaints, Fracking has done something that billions spent for fusion research has not. Fracking has actually produced large amounts of affordable and useable energy which the world can use. Besides allowing many scientists to say ‘hmmm…..maybe in 50 more years’, for over fifty years, fusion research would not appear to have produced anything except continued funding for scientists and the publication of many many papers claiming how wonderful it would be if they could actually get it to work in reality. Nuclear Fusion Theory is nice idea, but nice ‘ideas’ by themselves don’t heat your house or power your car, or run a factory that makes something useful allowing an economy to function which produces the profits from which the taxes are taken which pays for research budgets of things like….wait for it…”nuclear fusion research”. Please try really hard to remember which side of the financial food chain government funded scientific endeavor relies upon for funds before you overdose on smug anti-capitalist bromides against Wall Street.
          Considering what is actually paying the bills and keeping the lights on and powering the computer systems which are allowing you to kvetch online, please conserve some energy and get some perspective instead. Wishful thinking is not an energy policy, nor a functional working model, and shutting down functional energy sources in favor of non existent technologies is worse than mindless.

          1. CFT: Thermonuclear fusion research as already brought enormous fruits all over the place, even in pure mathematics. In 1997, JET (see preceding comment to Tom H) already achieved 67% efficiency. It will certainly produce more than it uses when loaded with Tritium next year (it’s used as baby ITER at this point, to pre-test materials for ITER).

            Selfish American behavior about fracking could turn into a worldwide disaster. Above 3% methane leakage, fracking is worse than burning coal in terms of the greenhouse effect.

          2. Tom H & CFT,

            Well as comedian Lewis Black says: “I can sense some of you pulling away from me.” Listen, I am under no illusion that fusion will be in any position to take over as an energy source anytime soon. I know it will take decades. I figure around 2070. I don’t want to be reliant on foreign oil for the next ½ century, nor do I believe that solar, wind and tide pack the energy punch we need to get us to the fusion era (unless there is a significant breakthrough in solar efficiency). But I don’t think fracking is the answer either. You may choose to ignore it, but what Patrice wrote about methane in relation to fracking is true. So what is the answer?

            I believe the answer is nuclear fission. Pound for pound fission blows away oil, gas, solar, wind and everything else (except fusion). HOWEVER, I do not favor the reactor design most prevalent in the US, Russia, France, etc. I believe the failure modes of these reactors are inherently unsafe and often beyond human management. Instead I favor what’s called the CANDU design. These reactors have been built and operated since the 1970’s in Canada, China and India. These reactors use ordinary uranium (not enriched) to generate energy. In these reactors if there is a loss of coolant there is not a meltdown –instead the reaction ceases, because the coolant is heavy water and that is what enables (thanks to its extra neutrons) the reaction in the first place. Ah, but there’s the rub, heavy water is expensive – so the initial cost of construction of these reactors is higher than reactors that utilize ordinary water and enriched uranium. Now the infrastructure that has to be put in place to enrich uranium is far more costly than heavy water – but if you are determined to construct nuclear weapons you must enrich uranium. So countries like the US and Russia that infrastructure is in place anyway so for them it is ‘cheaper’ to construct ordinary reactors. However, hasn’t that policy been penny wise but pound foolish? What shape would the nuclear power industry be in had there been no Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukishima?

            Don’t get me wrong, these CANDU reactors are not a panacea. Like all fission reactors they produce radioactive waste with all the transport, storage and security concerns that such entails…So pick your poison. It’s just from all that I have read and heard I would not pick fracking.

            Oh one more thing CFT. It’s not “smug anti-capitalist bromides against Wall Street”, it’s smug anti-BAILOUT bromides against Wall Street. Some capitalists!

            1. Re comment by S Dino, one problem is that many reactors are really designed to produce weapons grade plutonium, which in turn leads to the coproduction of some ugly isotopes with very long half-lives, and the need to reprocess well before what is necessary to just make electricity. In principle there are other reactor designs, and one that I like is based on thorium. You would need some U235 or an equivalent to start it, but you cannot make weapons material from any of the output, the long-lived isotope problem seems to be trivial, and the system can run far longer without processing waste.

  41. If there’s a will there’s a way. I heard of those who continued to tweet from ISS during the recent government shut-down, they thought it’s necessary to inform the public about the status of their scientific endeavor.

    I still don’t understand well the B-mode CMB polarization, I can’t visualized far back in time the forces that acted upon those gamma radiation which made them polarized CMB today. And I also read that BICEP2 availed data from Herschel for ‘subtraction’ which I don’t understand yet. http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Herschel/Herschel_completes_largest_survey_of_cosmic_dust_in_local_Universe

  42. Matt, I hope you continue your blog because I think it is exceptional. Also, I only very recently found out about it, and it would be a pity for it to end just when I arrived! From my point of view, I am a chemist by training, but that does not mean I cannot maintain some interest in physics, and your blog does a great job for people such as me. Also, I think it is very important to try to spread the message of what science is, how it works, and the concept of logical analysis of observational evidence to the general public, and I try to do my part with my blog (http://my.rsc.org/blogs/84) so I know how hard this is. I am also more impressed with yours than mine, so I have something to work towards, but also I implore, don’t stop.

  43. While I was away, I learned that the funding situation for science in the United States is even worse than I expected. Suffice it to say that this presents a crisis that will interfere with blogging work, at least for a while.

    Professor, if you have time, would you care to elaborate on this comment? I don’t think it is clear to Joe Public why reduced funding for science = less time for your blogging. Have funds for your blog been cut? Do you intend to spend your time lobbying for increased funding instead of blogging?
    Many people enjoy and benefit from your blog. I would argue that explaining science to the general public is an excellent long-term strategy for improving the funding situation. Are you saying that the present crisis necessitates at least a pause of long-term efforts to concentrate on more short-term efforts such as lobbying?

    1. I don’t think the professor gets funding specifically for his blog, but more likely his funds for work are being cut, which often means time has to be diverted (wasted) into obtaining new fund sources. Best of luck professor!

        1. Matt; Like everyone on this blog I hope that you can continue blogging. The biggest cost must be the time you take out from your research and lecture prep etc. But there must be some dollar cost involved with maintenance of this blog. Unlike some other blogs, I do not see any ads here. Thank goodness!

          1. We’ll know things have really taken a turn for the worse when Prof. Strassler returns to blog about the exciting discovery of the Pepsion, the most refreshing particle. 🙂

            Best of luck, Matt.

  44. And I should say. Thanks Matt, for helping us grasp and begin to understand what Physics is all about, especially the quantum state.

  45. To add to my last comment, people tend to be somewhat on the selfish side, they want to know. What’s in it for me? The science community has to be able to express what is in it for them.

  46. How to get more funding? Try to get people to understand what the benefits are from scientific research and make it simple. Jobs, especially better ones, increased standard of living, new and better products, cheaper electricity, better roads, etc. etc. Opening up new frontiers might entice the young, but I think most people just want day to day life to become more livable, more enjoyable. Physics is a tough one because of its complexity, but every effort should be made to make it as understandable as possible to the general public, which includes me and kids really need good science teachers to make it interesting even if they never enter the field, nothing can turn a kid off science more than a poor teacher.

  47. Hi Matt,

    Just wondering: When the LHC comes on line again in 2015, should we expect to get a more precise value for the mass of the Higgs Boson?

  48. prof sorry an irrelevant question here but actually it is related to your old article on virtual particle. you told us that they are just disturbances in the field but recently i came across an article which says that virtual particles have been separated through some kind of means, now, i want to ask you that if they are just disturbances and not particles how could they be separated i am not getting it please clarify it for me also i am not a physcist so please give a simple answer

    1. Could you clarify? Do you have a link to the article you refer to? Otherwise I’m afraid your questions is too vague and I don’t have a good way to answer it.

  49. Hi Professor. It’s sad to know that the funding for science in the United States is still in dire situation. It seems Dr. Bruce Alberts is not wrong that the “government is penny-wise and dollar-foolish”. I wish the science community could find a way to rectify the situation asap. I hope the government come to its sense and understand that all the science we are discussing are all important.

    1. I’m curious how long the government is like that, I’m not sure if this Feynman quote is related to that “The real question of government versus private enterprise is argued on too philosophical and abstract a basis. Theoretically, planning may be good. But nobody has ever figured out the cause of government stupidity—and until they do (and find the cure), all ideal plans will fall into quicksand.”
      “What Do You Care What Other People Think?”, pp. 90-91 (in a letter to his wife, written while attending a gravity conference in Communist-era Warsaw)”

      In spite of that, it appears that science prevails.

      1. The problem is that the US is beset by incredibly intense political polarization. Half the country has unfortunately incorporated opposition to science and academia into its core cultural identity. The American conservatives’ de facto intellectual leader, Rush Limbaugh, likes to use the phrase “The Four Corners of Deceit”, which, he explains, are “government, academia, science, and the media.” This kind of talk would be considered “fringe” in other countries, but in the US, it is mainstream! (The fringe here is even crazier.)

        1. Xezlec ,
          To continue with your generalizations, let me fix it for you:

          The _Other_ half of the USA is:
          – on various forms of welfare and gov’t dependency.
          – is living off the productive 1/2 of society, who are over-taxed, micro-regulated.
          – has run amok with various forms of “political correctness”, which are emphasize victimhood, grievances, and identity politics … all elements of class warfare … “us” vs “them”
          – accept uncritically the disinformation from propaganda organs such as the MSNBC TV network.
          – supports the lawless presidential administration that has been illegally using the federal tax collection agency (IRS) to harass and silence political opposition — just like Venezuela & Argentina do.

          1. Good illustration, thanks! My only complaint I wish you’d added a bit about “wants to replace God with science” to show just a bit more specifically the aspect of those views related to the topic at hand.

  50. Matt: Glad to see you are back. In another blog, I read that Penrose has an alternative model for BICEP2 results namely, magnetic fields left over from previous cycle before big bang. Was this discussed at the perimeter institute? Do people think there may be something in it?

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A decay of a Higgs boson, as reconstructed by the CMS experiment at the LHC


The idea that a field could be responsible for the masses of particles (specifically the masses of photon-like [“spin-one”] particles) was proposed in several papers

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Although I’ve been slowly revising the Higgs FAQ 2.0, this seemed an appropriate time to bring the Higgs FAQ on this website fully into the

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