Scientifically, nothing should exist

I hadn’t realized that science, despite all of the claims that it has all the answers, remains stuck at a very basic conundrum:

Physicists at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory are reporting that they have discovered a new clue that could help unravel one of the biggest mysteries of cosmology: why the universe is composed of matter and not its evil-twin opposite, antimatter. If confirmed, the finding portends fundamental discoveries at the new Large Hadron Collider outside Geneva, as well as a possible explanation for our own existence.

In a mathematically perfect universe, we would be less than dead; we would never have existed. According to the basic precepts of Einsteinian relativity and quantum mechanics, equal amounts of matter and antimatter should have been created in the Big Bang and then immediately annihilated each other in a blaze of lethal energy, leaving a big fat goose egg with which to make to make stars, galaxies and us. And yet we exist, and physicists (among others) would dearly like to know why.

Sifting data from collisions of protons and antiprotons at Fermilab’s Tevatron, which until last winter was the most powerful particle accelerator in the world, the team, known as the DZero collaboration, found that the fireballs produced pairs of the particles known as muons, which are sort of fat electrons, slightly more often than they produced pairs of anti-muons. So the miniature universe inside the accelerator went from being neutral to being about 1 percent more matter than antimatter.

“This result may provide an important input for explaining the matter dominance in our universe,” Guennadi Borissov, a co-leader of the study from Lancaster University, in England, said in a talk Friday at Fermilab, in Batavia, Ill. Over the weekend, word spread quickly among physicists. Maria Spiropulu of CERN and the California Institute of Technology called the results “very impressive and inexplicable.”

via From Fermilab, a New Clue to Explain Human Existence? – NYTimes.com.

So it isn’t just that science can’t explain the fine-tuning that makes life on earth possible.  Nor is it that science can’t explain why anything exists.  According to its own theories, nothing CAN exist.

The particle accelerators are making progress, I suppose, finding that matter beats out anti-matter 1% of the time.  But even that means that the standard theory of physics is incorrect.  And a better theory and better evidence still leaves a long ways to go to account for ordinary existence, its structures and its forms, much less life, and much less human life.

Scientists on aliens & things beyond our ken

What is significant in this story is not that super-scientist Stephen Hawkings now believes in aliens–and warns us not to go looking for them–but the statement by the astronomer royal:

The  aliens are out there and Earth had better watch out, at least according to Stephen Hawking. He has suggested that extraterrestrials are almost certain to exist — but that instead of seeking them out, humanity should be doing all it that can to avoid any contact.

The suggestions come in a new documentary series in which Hawking, one of the world’s leading scientists, will set out his latest thinking on some of the universe’s greatest mysteries. Alien life, he will suggest, is almost certain to exist in many other parts of the universe: not just in planets, but perhaps in the centre of stars or even floating in interplanetary space.

Hawking’s logic on aliens is, for him, unusually simple. The universe, he points out, has 100 billion galaxies, each containing hundreds of millions of stars. In such a big place, Earth is unlikely to be the only planet where life has evolved.

“To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational,” he said. “The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like.”

The answer, he suggests, is that most of it will be the equivalent of microbes or simple animals — the sort of life that has dominated Earth for most of its history.

One scene in his documentary for the Discovery Channel shows herds of two-legged herbivores browsing on an alien cliff-face where they are picked off by flying, yellow lizard-like predators. Another shows glowing fluorescent aquatic animals forming vast shoals in the oceans thought to underlie the thick ice coating Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter.

Such scenes are speculative, but Hawking uses them to lead on to a serious point: that a few life forms could be intelligent and pose a threat. Hawking believes that contact with such a species could be devastating for humanity.

He suggests that aliens might simply raid Earth for its resources and then move on: “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach.”

He concludes that trying to make contact with alien races is “a little too risky”. He said: “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.” . . .

Hawking has suggested the possibility of alien life before but his views have been clarified by a series of scientific breakthroughs, such as the discovery, since 1995, of more than 450 planets orbiting distant stars, showing that planets are a common phenomenon.

So far, all the new planets found have been far larger than Earth, but only because the telescopes used to detect them are not sensitive enough to detect Earth-sized bodies at such distances.

Another breakthrough is the discovery that life on Earth has proven able to colonise its most extreme environments. If life can survive and evolve there, scientists reason, then perhaps nowhere is out of bounds.

Hawking’s belief in aliens places him in good scientific company. In his recent Wonders of the Solar System BBC series, Professor Brian Cox backed the idea, too, suggesting Mars, Europa and Titan, a moon of Saturn, as likely places to look.

Similarly, Lord Rees, the astronomer royal, warned in a lecture earlier this year that aliens might prove to be beyond human understanding. “I suspect there could be life and intelligence out there in forms we can’t conceive,” he said. “Just as a chimpanzee can’t understand quantum theory, it could be there are aspects of reality that are beyond the capacity of our brains.”

via Don’t talk to aliens, warns Stephen Hawking – Times Online

Yes, Lord Rees! It’s called theology.

Beauty & physics, liberal arts & liturgy

Catholic artist and educator David Clayton makes connections between science, aesthetics, classical education, and then, for good measure, liturgy:

In excellent his book, Modern Physics and Ancient Faith, describing the consistency between the Faith and the discoveries of science, Stephen M Barr describes the scientific investigation of a grouping of sub-atomic particles which he refers to as a ‘multiplet’ of ‘hadronic particles’. He describes how when different properties, called ‘flavours’ of ‘SU(3) symmetry’, of nine of these particles were plotted mathematically, then they produced a patterned arrangement that looked like a triangle with the tip missing.

‘Without knowing anything about SU(3) symmetry, one could guess just from the shape of the multiplet diagram that there should be a tenth kind of particle with properties that allow it to be placed down at the bottom to complete the triangle pattern. This is not just a matter of aesthetics, the SU(3) symmetries require it. It can be shown from the SU(3) that the multiplets can only come in certain sizes….On the basis of SU(3) symmetry Murray Gell-Man predicted in 1962 that there must exist a particle with the right properties to fill out this decuplet. Shortly thereafter, the new particle, called the Ωˉ was indeed discovered.’

This result would have been of no surprise to anyone who had undergone an education in beauty based upon the quadrivium, – the ‘four ways’ – the higher part of the education of the seven liberal arts of education in the middle-ages[1]. The shape that Murray Gell-Man’s work completed was the triangular arrangement of 10 points known as the tectractys. As described in my previous articles for the New Liturgical Movement, this is the triangular arrangement of the number 10 in a series of 1:2:3:4. 1, 2, 3 and 4 are the first four numbers that symbolize the creation of the cosmos in three dimensions generated from the unity of God; and notes produced by plucking strings of these relative lengths we can construct the three fundamental harmonies of the musical scale. . . .

‘The traditional quadrivium is essentially the study of pattern, harmony, symmetry and order in nature and mathematics, viewed as a reflection of the Divine Order. When we perceive something that reflects this order, we call it beautiful. For the Christian this is the source, along with Tradition, that provides the model upon which the rhythms and cycles of the liturgy are based. Christian culture, like classical culture before it, was also patterned after this cosmic order; this order which provides the unifying principle that runs through every traditional discipline.  Literature, art, music, architecture, philosophy –all of creation and potentially all human activity- are bound together by this common harmony and receive their fullest meaning in the liturgy…

When we apprehend beauty we do so intuitively. So an education that improves our ability to apprehend beauty develops also our intuition. All creativity is at source an intuitive process. This means that professionals in anyfield including business and science would benefit from an education in beauty because it would develop their creativity. Furthermore, the creativity that an education in beauty stimulates will generate not just more ideas, but better ideas. Better because they are more in harmony with the natural order. The recognition of beauty moves us to love what we see. So such an education would tend to develop also, therefore, our capacity to love and leave us more inclined to the serve God and our fellow man. The end result for the individual who follows this path is joy.’

When the person is habitually ordering his life liturgically, he will tap into this creative force, for he will be inspired by the Creator. Meanwhile all those multiplets of hadronic particles in the cosmos will be giving praise to the Lord.

via The Way of Beauty.

HT: Cathy Sneidman

How to teach science classically

Last week’s post about teaching mathematics classically provoked some excellent comments.  Here is one of mine, responding to the question of why the liberal arts include astronomy and not physics, biology, chemistery, etc.:

Great, helpful, and important comments! Classical educators–here are some splendid ideas. Run with them.

Webmonk and Peter, chemistry, physics, biology, etc., WERE taught in classical schools and universities (such as Oxford and Cambridge). They are not liberal arts–which deal with processes and skills–but they come under the liberal sciences (the word literally meaning “knowledge), specifically, Natural Science. (The others are Moral Science [knowledge of Man, including history, law, the humanities, etc.], and Theological Science [the knowledge of God, theology being the "Queen of the Sciences," in the sense of comprehending the source of all of the others.)

Astronomy as an "art" teaches empirical observation to which is applied mathematical analysis. As such, it teaches the conceptual "art" necessary in those other sciences.

I guess I should next post something asking how to teach the natural sciences classically!

So now I will do so. Realize, everyone, that classical education includes both the [liberal] arts and the [liberal sciences. The ART of Astronomy applies mathematics to observations. The SCIENCE of Astronomy has to do with all that stuff Webmonk is talking about (the nature of stars, blackholes, etc.).

Progressive education has always claimed to be scientific--privileging science against all other kinds of knowledge--so the irony now is that the current educational approaches are doing such a terrible job of teaching science, as nearly everyone admits. This academic crisis also sounds like a job for classical education! (Certainly many of the greatest scientists, from the original pioneers through 19th century Oxford grads and even including a number of modern theoretical physicists [such as Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg] had the foundation of a classical education.)

So how should classical educators teach the natural sciences?

Forensic archaeology on King Tut

King Tutankhamun

The Egyptians believed their pharoahs were gods. As such, they could not marry mere mortals but had to marry others of divine blood within their own families. Even Akhenaten, who promoted a kind of monotheism that taught that the Sun was the only god, followed this custom. New forensic studies of his son King Tutankhamun’s mummified body showed that for all the glamor and beauty reflected in that golden mask and all of his treasures that he is known for, this teenaged boy was sickly, crippled, and in pain for much of his short life. But isn’t this forensic history fascinating?

Egypt’s famed King Tutankhamun had a cleft palate and a club foot, which probably forced him to walk with canes, and died from complications from a broken leg exacerbated by malaria, according to the most extensive study ever of his more than 3,300-year-old mummy.

The findings are based on two years of DNA testing and CT (computed tomography) scans on 16 mummies, including those of Tutankhamun and his family, said the team that carried out the study. An article on the findings is to be published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study establishes the clearest family tree for Tut, indicating for the first time that he was the child of a brother-sister union.

The study says Tut’s father was probably Akhenaten, a pharaoh who tried to revolutionize ancient Egyptian religion and force his people to worship one god. The mummy shown by DNA to be that of Tut’s mother turned out to be a sister of Akhenaten’s, although she has not been identified.

Tut, who became pharaoh at age 10 in 1333 B.C., ruled for nine years at a pivotal time in Egypt’s history. Although he was a comparatively minor king, the 1922 discovery of his tomb, which was filled with stunning artifacts, including the famed golden funeral mask, made him known the world over.

Speculation had long swirled over why the boy king died so young, at about 19. A hole in his skull fueled speculation that he was murdered, until a 2005 CT scan ruled that out, finding that the hole probably resulted from the mummification process. The scan also uncovered the broken leg.

In contrast to the golden splendor that Tut was buried with, he is revealed in the newest scans and DNA tests to have been a sickly teen, weakened by congenital illnesses and done in by complications from the broken leg aggravated by severe brain malaria.

via New study explains demise, parentage of King Tut – washingtonpost.com.

Climategate scientist admits lack of global warming data

This chapter of Climategate scandal is even bigger yet.  Prof. Phil Jones of the University of East Anglia is the guy whose e-mails were leaked.  Now he admits that he can’t find the data that he used to create the famous “hockey stick” graph and that the earth hasn’t really been warming at all over the last 15 years!

The academic at the centre of the ‘Climategate’ affair, whose raw data is crucial to the theory of climate change, has admitted that he has trouble ‘keeping track’ of the information.

Colleagues say that the reason Professor Phil Jones has refused Freedom of Information requests is that he may have actually lost the relevant papers.

Professor Jones told the BBC yesterday there was truth in the observations of colleagues that he lacked organisational skills, that his office was swamped with piles of paper and that his record keeping is ‘not as good as it should be’.

The data is crucial to the famous ‘hockey stick graph’ used by climate change advocates to support the theory.

Professor Jones also conceded the possibility that the world was warmer in medieval times than now – suggesting global warming may not be a man-made phenomenon.

And he said that for the past 15 years there has been no ‘statistically significant’ warming.

The admissions will be seized on by sceptics as fresh evidence that there are serious flaws at the heart of the science of climate change and the orthodoxy that recent rises in temperature are largely man-made.

Professor Jones has been in the spotlight since he stepped down as director of the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit after the leaking of emails that sceptics claim show scientists were manipulating data.

The raw data, collected from hundreds of weather stations around the world and analysed by his unit, has been used for years to bolster efforts by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to press governments to cut carbon dioxide emissions.

via Climategate U-turn: Astonishment as scientist at centre of global warming email row admits data not well organised | Mail Online.

Look, I know that this doesn’t disprove global warming. But to think that we were on the verge of passing a cap-and-trade bill that would risk our whole economy based on alleged scientific certainties that turn out to be so questionable is breath-taking. The scientific method requires that evidence be replicable and that experiments be subject to checking. And yet so much of the data that is said to make the case for global warming is in the hands of an absent-minded professor–who can focus well-enough on trying to silence dissenters to his findings–who can’t even find his data!

Yes, there is a difference between weather and climate, and record snowstorms do not necessarily disprove global warming. But as Dana Milibank–a liberal and a believer in global warming–points out, advocates of global warming have been putting forward exactly that same kind of anecdotal evidence (the lack of snow at the Winter Olympics, the increase in the number of tornadoes, changes in animal behavior, much of what was in the Al Gore movie) to persuade people that man-made global warming is real and to scare people into accepting Draconian remedies.

UPDATE: Here is a Washington Post news article detailing even MORE sloppiness–including typographical errors that threw off dating and unsubstantiated claims from environmentalist groups passed off as data–that is discrediting climate research.

HT: DonS


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