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The Everything and Nothing of Physics

The Everything and Nothing of Physics

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Published by Robert Sugar
Quantum findings, possible dimensions and why we really don't know anything at all.

On an everyday basis, I am not usually the aggressive type, but when it comes to science, I'm a firm believer that the best battles are hard fought. So I'm going to start this piece by throwing a few punches at contemporary models in physics. If this strikes the nerves of any physicists out there, please, don't hold back. My gloves are up and I'm ready for the blows.
Quantum findings, possible dimensions and why we really don't know anything at all.

On an everyday basis, I am not usually the aggressive type, but when it comes to science, I'm a firm believer that the best battles are hard fought. So I'm going to start this piece by throwing a few punches at contemporary models in physics. If this strikes the nerves of any physicists out there, please, don't hold back. My gloves are up and I'm ready for the blows.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Robert Sugar on Aug 10, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The Everything and Nothing of Physics
On an everyday basis, I am not usually the aggressive type, but when it comes to science, I'm a firm believer that the best battles are hard fought. So I'm going to start this piece by throwing a few punches at contemporary models in physics. If this strikes the nerves of any physicists out there, please, don't hold back. My gloves are up and I'm ready for the blows.
Physicists don't know anything for certain. The majority of data surrounding modern physics is based on frameworks:theoretical models that rationally explain bits of the universe. Whilst this is largely true at every level, it resonates hardestwhen we head on down to particle level.The subatomic world is much like a black box: we know the overall shape and weknow there is a load of stuff in there, but we can't really see what's going on. So wetry and guess, using a process called scattering. Scientific America came up with ametaphor to explain how we "see" things at subatomic level."You might imagine being in a large dark room with an object whose shape youdon't know. If you have a bucket of tennis balls, you can start to build up a pictureof what the object looks like by tossing the balls at it."Well you can take that one step further and say that it's not tennis balls you'rethrowing at the unknown object, but more unknown objects, and all around theroom there could be more unknown objects that you have absolutely no idea about,which could send the unknown objects you're throwing bouncing off in all sorts of crazy directions.Remarkably, despite the predicament that physicists are in, they have managed tocome up with some models that attempt to explain the makeup of everything in theuniverse. Some of these seem to sort of work under a quick inspection, but do notbe fooled. They're all guess work, and no matter how much we might want them to,none of the buggers really fit together.Quantum Mechanics is perhaps the most bizarre thing mankind has ever devised, and whilst not being a completephysical theory in its own right, it has been hugely successful. One of the most significant findings that led to thedevelopment of quantum mechanics as a new branch of physics was the observation that particles do not always behaveas "balls" as was previously believed, but as waves too.This curious phenomena was not explainable with thelaws of classical mechanics, and saw the birth of quantumtheories that raised all sorts of curious concepts.For instance, in the everyday world, it is natural to think of everything as having a definite position, a definitemomentum, a definite energy, and a definite time of occurrence. Quantum Mechanics does not adhere to thisline of thinking. Rather than pinpointing the exact valuesfor these factors, quantum provides instead a range of probabilities that are applicable to a particle.Neil Bohr once said that, "anyone who is not shocked byquantum theory has not understood it". Whilst it is easy tosee where he is coming from, it is probably truer to saythat
no one 
understands quantum theory.A primary reason for this is that once we start to interacton a subatomic level, we disturb part of the data - a bitlike reality television: people start to act differently whenthey know they're being watched - which makes gettingto grips with anything rather difficult.There's also Quantum Entanglement, one of the strangest predictions of Quantum Mechanics. Entanglement refers toparticles whose physical properties are entwined: undefined yet somehow correlated. You alter the state of one, the otherchanges too.Whilst the idea of two particles being connected in some way seems reasonable enough, it all gets rather odd whenapplied to particles that are huge distances apart.Their relationship stays the same, and what's more, the rate in which the particles react to a change on their entangledpartner, is still "immediate", or at least 10,000 times faster than the speed of light, according to research by Prof. Juan Yinand colleagues at the University of Science and Technology of China in Shanghai. How does information pass from oneparticle to another faster than the speed of light?As if this all wasn't enough to force most physicists to throw their theories out of the laboratory window, on April 22nd,researchers - led by Xiao-song Ma of the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information at the University of Vienna - stated in the journal Nature Physics that, "whether these two particles are entangled or separable has been
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03:20 04.08.2013 inArticles
We don't know a right lot.
Quantum Mechanics
decided after they have been measured". This paper essentially showed that future actions may influence events of thepast.Incredibly, Quantum Mechanics, whilst not really giving a solid picture of the whole universe,
produce accuratepredictions. The problem, however, is the subatomic level is where it stays. In most cases quantum is confined to theparticle level, and refuses, so far, to translate to anything larger.It is only a partial model.The Standard Model of particle physics attempts to be a complete theory of everything, and, at this point, is the besttheory we have. It's a collection of quantum theories that describes the charges, masses, and spins of the fundamentalparticles that make up matter, and the ways in which these particles interact. The model predicts twelve fundamentalparticles, all interacting via three forces;Electromagnetism (responsible for light, electricity, magnets)The strong nuclear force (responsible for holding everything together)The weak nuclear force (responsible for radioactivity)Despite all its success, the Standard Model falls apart when coming face to face with a
well known force: gravity.The Standard Model cannot account for it, and is completely incompatible, like other quantum theories, with the mostsuccessful theory of gravity to date: General Relativity. It also does not answer important questions such as ‘whathappened to all the antimatter after the big bang?'
CMS detector in a cavern 100 m underground at CERN's Large Hadron Collider. Image credit: Cern.
Although we hear many physicists talk with great confidence about the Standard Model; quarks, the Higgs Boson etc, thisis all really just a bit of a show. There is no specialparticle detector telling us "that's a quark" or "that's a photon", we justmeasure different properties of the stuff coming out of a collision of particles and reconstruct what happened the best wecan.Even at CERN - a respected champion of the Standard Model - where billions of US dollars were spent on constructing its27km stretch of machinery, the physicists still reconstruct huge amounts of data.But perhaps the biggest failing of the Standard Model is in its very makeup. It is basically a long equation that strives toaccount for (almost) everything, but the equation is far more complicated than it should be. John Von Neumann once said, “With four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk."Well, in the Standard Model there are nineteen parameters, and, as proven with gravity, the model
doesn't work. Sothat neat black box we talked about in the opening? In the case of the Standard Model, it has bumps and lumps all over itssurface.
An experiment by Italian scientists using data from NASA's Cassinispacecraft confirms Einstein's theory of general relativity. The researchersmeasured how much the Sun's gravity bent an electromagnetic beam, inthis case the radio signal transmitted by the spacecraft and received by theground stations. Image credit: NASA
Like the Standard Model, theories of relativity have beenremarkably successful, and go some way to explainingthe seeming mind melting chaos that exists in space.Special Relativity suggests that there is no constant pointof reference against which to measure motion.Measurement of motion is never absolute, but relative toa given position in space and time. When we see a car, wemight say that it's travelling at 100mph, but if we look at itthrough a telescope from a different planet, we see thatit's moving 100mph across the surface of a rotatingplanet, which is itself moving around a sun, and thiswould all be witnessed by us on another planet whichwould be also moving. All motion is relative to the motionof other things.The laws of physics are the same for all non-acceleratingobservers, and the speed of light within a vacuum is thesame no matter the speed at which an observer travels. Asa result, space and time are interwoven into a singlecontinuum known as space-time.Events that occur at the same time for one observer couldoccur at different times for another.Space-time itself is further distorted by the massiveobjects. Imagine setting a large object in the centre of atrampoline. The object would press down into the fabric,causing it to dimple. A marble rolled around the edgewould spiral inward toward the object, pulled in much thesame way a planet's gravity pulls at rocks in space.Unfortunately, when applied to the subatomic level,general relativity becomes redundant, for at thesubatomic level, gravitation is insignificant in comparisonwith other forces, and subatomic particles don't have adefinite position, a definite momentum, a definite energyor a definite time of occurrence. Like quantum theories,theories of relativity are only partial models.
The Standard ModelGeneral Relativity
And to make matters worse
There are countless other theories that physics has explored, and whilst each one serves - to a varying degree of success- to explain away a portion of the universe, they are all flawed, partially complete and incompatible with other theories.To make the situation even worse, there are also some factors that are simply inexplicable. Factors that do not fit into anyof the theories out there and serve only to give physicists a massive headache.A black hole is a region in which the gravitational force is so strong that nothing, including light, can escape its pull. Ourlaws of physics ‘break down' inside a black hole as the quantities used to measure the gravitational field become infinite.
NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has captured these first, focused views of the supermassive black hole at the heart of ourgalaxy in high-energy X-ray light. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Their names allure to some mystical power, but the reality is we don't have the faintest idea what they are, or if they evenexist.Dark matter is used to explain away the large portion of the universe that can't be seen through telescopes. It - matter ‘it'is - neither emits nor absorbs light, nor any other electromagnetic radiation, but yet still has a huge gravitational effect onvisible matter, radiation and the large scale structure of the whole universe.
Left: Cosmic Evolution Survey - Visible (Baryonic) Matter; Right: Cosmic Evolution Survey - Dark Matter; Middle: Dark Matter Map in Galaxy Cluster Abell1689; image credit: NASA
Dark energy is similarly hypothetical, and refers to the energy that physicists have inferred is causing the acceleratingexpansion of the universe.
Additional Note: My personal hypotheses is that dark matter and dark energy aren't actual features of the universe, rather side effects of gravity, time and perhaps other phenomenons which we have yet to uncover.
Black holes, Dark Matter and Dark Energy seem to account for most of the mass and events in the universe, and ourcurrent models crumble apart when we try and factor these into any of the aforementioned theories. How can our besttheories fail to account for the majority of the universe?Perhaps this is because we are getting ahead of ourselves. All these theories use terms such as timeandenergy like theyare a foregone conclusion, but I ask what actually are they? We haven't really got a clue, and the same can be said forgravity, radiation and motion. We're trying to explain away the whole universe using complex equations based on the ideaof three dimensional space and one dimensional time, but we don't even understand these things in themselves.Recent observations suggest that the universe is more trick-some than we thought, and far more complex than the threespatial dimensions and one temporal dimension (3+1 dimensions) with particle shaped matter, which was previouslyassumed.Even our own consciousness is a framework that might well mislead us by projecting reality into 3 + 1dimensions.Whilst we currently have no choice but to stick to framework theories, it's lookinglikely that we'll have to do away with old models and start from scratch.
Black holesDark Matter and Dark Energy
So where does that leave us?

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