Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Cosmology vs. Modern Physics: A Piece of War

The disciplines of Theoretical and Applied Physics took a dramatic turn in the 20th Century.  Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and the birth of Quantum Mechanics revolutionized our understanding of the universe.  These theories are ridiculously complex and fundamentally weird:  Einstein introduced 4-dimensional space that bends, and in the Quantum World an electron can travel the entire universe simultaneously in any moment.

As weird as the world becomes through the lens of these theories, they have been proven over and over again by experiment.  Modern Chemistry and Astronomy are confined by Quantum Law, and could not proceed without them.  Nuclear reactors, synthetic materials, and every one of the over 10 quintillion transistors manufactured each year owe their existence to applications of modern Quantum Physics.

What conclusions must a philosopher (qua cosmologist) draw from these seemingly incomprehensible scientific notions?  Some have argued that the scientific community has gone rogue against rational metaphysics.  One might object that space cannot “bend” because “space” is a concept we use to describe the lack of existence, but concepts do not bend – they are tools of cognition.  There is no such thing as actual empty space; it is only a conceptual reference.  All that exists is existence.  Should the cosmologist then advise the physicist to abandon such mental constructs as bending space and an expanding universe?

Or: if electrons are confined by the Law of Identity, how can they teleport to multiple locations simultaneously?  How could they be in two locations at once, traveling every possible route to their destinations, at the same time and in the same respect?  Quantum theorists would have us believe that particles flick in and out of existence in a regular, but partially random way.  This too may bristle the cosmologist’s sensibilities.

The history of Quantum theory in particular often seems an exercise in madness.  Great geniuses, playing tetris with the known and unknown, formed a bizarre set of notions that was both internally consistent and confirmed through experiment.  Heisenberg and others explicitly cleaned their cosmological slates.  There were to be no conceptual restrictions on scientific modeling.  Physicists use models of bending space, expanding existence, and thermo-dynamics interchangeably when they are mathematically equivalent (as they are in the case of black holes). 

Just as literature or auto repair ought not be made the handmaiden of philosophy, so neither should the sciences.  Theoretical Physics is the use of mathematical (and sometimes oddly conceptualized) models to broaden the known universe.  The cosmologist can help the physicist better explain and organize his conceptual tools, but he is not qualified to regulate the choice of tools – given a shared respect for observational evidence.

The exuberant cosmologist may insist that existence cannot spring out of non-existence, that it cannot expand or collapse into non-existent nothingness, that the universe must be a boundless, seamless plenum, that it may not be random, etc.  But the rational scientist can and should ignore such conceptual restrictions.  Modeling tools will be examined, integrated, re-verified, and updated as necessary – based ultimately on perceptual evidence.  This is not pragmatism, but scientific achievement at its best.

Observational evidence confirming Quantum Mechanics and Relativity continues to pour in.  Every day, we are discovering black holes, neutron stars, and the origins of an exploding universe exactly where physicists told us to look for them.  We are beginning to understand the micro world – the world of energy and particles -- with similarly increasing clarity.  These discoveries have no bearing on metaphysics and epistemology, and are not in opposition to them.

There is and ought not be a war between cosmologists and modern physicists.  Both can enjoy the expanding universe of knowledge in the mind of man.

--Dan Edge    


Dan Edge said...

For reference: Writing time 1 h 20 min with two 10-min breaks. 1 h 20 min includes two 5-min editing passes for word removal and paragraph restructure.

rid of tonsil stones said...

i think it is still a battle between who has more evidence and who doesn't.

gregster said...

"Every day, we are discovering black holes, neutron stars, and the origins of an exploding universe exactly where physicists told us to look for them." You are told this. I'm dubious. And black holes are a misnomer. It wouldn't be a hole. The standard gravitational model is a poor predictor. Expansion theory based on red shift interpretation is being refuted. Look up Holoscience. Everything is set in a plenum - so what would surround an exploding universe? It can't be other than something- nothing - so it points to a problem with saying that what explodes is the matter of the universe.

Dan Edge said...


I encourage you to research this further. The Holoscience website is all polemics, no experimental proof. It is bad science.

The "standard gravitational model" [you mean Standard Model?] has been proven over and again. It perfectly predicts many measurable phenomenon. Just look it up on Wikipedia.

Red Shift distance and speed measurements based on General Relativity have (so far) been verified by every new experiment.

These same measurements prove the existence of black holes, including the one recently proven to exist at the heat of the Milky Way Galaxy.

--Dan Edge

gregster said...


It does look that way as does this video
but there are too many holes in the standard model causing its numerous revisions. Dark energy, dark matter..

You've overlooked the plenum comment.

Modern physics is little different from Plato's projected perfection. You ought to question standard physics because it is a good example of government funding going up the wrong path.

The Big Bang is ridiculous. Apply Occam's Razor.

I'm interested that light cannot be the fastest we are aware of - electrostatic forces between galaxies implies a much quicker connection.

gregster said...

This is good too

gregster said...

I took your advice.

"Inadequacies of the Standard Model that motivate such research include:
It does not attempt to explain gravitation, although a theoretical particle known as a graviton would help explain it, and unlike for the strong and electroweak interactions of the Standard Model, there is no known way of describing general relativity, the canonical theory of gravitation, consistently in terms of quantum field theory. The reason for this is, among other things, that quantum field theories of gravity generally break down before reaching the Planck scale. As a consequence, we have no reliable theory for the very early universe;
Some consider it to be ad-hoc and inelegant, requiring 19 numerical constants whose values are unrelated and arbitrary. Although the Standard Model, as it now stands, can explain why neutrinos have masses, the specifics of neutrino mass are still unclear. It is believed that explaining neutrino mass will require an additional 7 or 8 constants, which are also arbitrary parameters;
The Higgs mechanism gives rise to the hierarchy problem if any new physics (such as quantum gravity) is present at high energy scales. In order for the weak scale to be much smaller than the Planck scale, severe fine tuning of Standard Model parameters is required;
It should be modified so as to be consistent with the emerging "Standard Model of cosmology." In particular, the Standard Model cannot explain the observed amount of cold dark matter (CDM) and gives contributions to dark energy which are many orders of magnitude too large. It is also difficult to accommodate the observed predominance of matter over antimatter (matter/antimatter asymmetry). The isotropy and homogeneity of the visible universe over large distances seems to require a mechanism like cosmic inflation, which would also constitute an extension of the Standard Model."

Dan Edge said...

Edited 9/10/13 for word removal and sentence flow.

Dan Edge said...

8 min.