Math discrepancy in astrophysics

Math discrepancy in astrophysics October 9, 2015

There is energy even in a vacuum.  But the amount predicted by quantum physics and the actual measurements are off by a factor of 1 followed by 120 zeroes.  This discrepancy is described as “one of the most confounding (and embarrassing) problems in modern astrophysics.”  It would suggest that there is something wrong with the mathematical models behind quantum physics, something scientists are reluctant to admit.  So they are looking for other explanations, including the final all-purpose answer when scientists don’t know something:  the invocation of multiple universes.

After the jump is an excerpt from an account of a panel discussing this problem, which develops into a discussion of multiverses.  That solution is simply that if there are an infinite number of universes, we would have every possibility, including this unusual math fact, as well as the evolution of life, which they also get into.  (But that isn’t right, is it?   According to the mathematics of probability, random events continued on into infinity will not result in every possible action, much less result in a particular event.  Monkeys at typewriters will not eventually give us the works of Shakespeare, even in an infinite number of universes.)

Anyway, read the account.  Notice how the scientists say that the advantage of positing multiverses is that this avoids the necessity of agency!  They end by saying that all possible answers to the “anthropic principle” must be considered, but I don’t think they mean it.

From Calla Cofield, Cosmic Confusion: Talk of Multiverses and Big Errors in Astrophysics,

“I would like to talk about a very serious embarrassment,” said Mario Livio, a proclaimed scientist and author, at a panel at the World Science Festival in New York City last month.

With three other prominent astrophysicists on the panel, Livio delved into one of the most confounding (and embarrassing) problems in modern astrophysics, which led to a discussion of whether or not our universe might be just one of an infinite number of multiverses— and whether a theory of the multiverse is good or bad for science.

The embarrassment Livio referred to is sometimes known as the vacuum catastrophe. Truly empty space, sucked dry of any air or particles, still has an inherent energy to it, according to observations, Livio said. But when scientists use theories of quantum mechanics to try and calculate this vacuum energy, their results differ from the measured results by about 120 orders of magnitude, or the number 1 followed by 120 zeros. [7 Surprising Things About the Universe]

“This is a large number even in astronomy,” Livio said. “Especially for a discrepancy.”

One of the panelists, Josh Frieman, drove home how alarming this error is.

“To make a math error that big you know you really have to work hard at it. It’s not easy,” said Frieman, who is a senior staff scientist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and the current director of the Dark Energy Survey.

Even by including certain adjustments, physicists have only been able to reduce the error to about 55 orders of magnitude, Livio said.

Panelist Adam Riess, a professor of space studies at Johns Hopkins University and an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute, added that if the calculated value of the vacuum energy were true, “then the acceleration would have been so strong it would have ripped apart galaxies, stars, planets, before anything formed,” Riess said. “So just our existence tells us that that calculation is grossly inaccurate.”

But where does such an astoundingly large error come from? So far, the panelists said, scientists are stumped.

“There are various possibilities,” Livio said. “One possibility is that we really don’t know how to calculate the energy of the vacuum at all. Or that maybe even the energy of the vacuum is not even something that you can calculate from first principles.”

“Then people have come up […] with the possibility that there actually is not just one universe, there is a multiverse. There is a huge ensemble of universes.”

[Keep reading. . .]

HT:  Paul McCain

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