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Thread: Sigh. Another Wikipedia question

  1. #1
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    Sigh. Another Wikipedia question

    and this one's a doozy. I wouldn't be surprised if you guys couldn't help me; there probably isn't an answer to this, but I have to give it a go.

    OK. As many of you know who came over from the BABB way back when, I am a Wikipedia editor. I tend to focus on scientific articles, particularly astronomical ones, not only because those are topics I am interested in (I am, after all, on this forum) but because they offer the least chance for the argument and vitriol that so plague Wikipedia's historical or political articles' talk pages. That said, beyond a few college 101 courses, I have no scientific training, so when things go above my head, as they often do, I rush over here for help. You guys have been invaluable to me over the years; so much so that I have been hesitant of late to take advantage of you again. However, needs must, and well, here I am.

    Of those I wrote, Timeline of the far future is not my favourite Wikipedia article, nor is it by any stretch my most viewed (I co-Featured "Planet", "Solar System" and even "J. K. Rowling") but it is arguably my most exotic, and so is a topic for frequent Reddit discussion and plagiarism by the BBC. Actually, credit where it's due; I didn't exactly write the article, or all of it anyway; roughly half the information was imported from the merging of two previous articles, one of which had been facing deletion. This means that a lot of the information snuck in under my radar, and has been called into question by users, which they tend to do more often on this article because of the heightened attention it receives. All this means that, of all the issues I've come to you crying over, this article has been the source of the majority.

    That out of the way, what am I crying about now? Well the last and longest set of "dates" on the list. The blue ones at the bottom of the main list. They were initially imported from one of the earlier versions of the article, and yes, as has been pointed out repeatedly, they're verbally impenetrable, make little sense even when decoded and are based on fuzzy math in a scientifically irrelevant paper by a borderline woo-woo.

    BUT...

    If I'm understanding them correctly, and if the Numberphile link in the External Links section is to be believed, then what they say vitally important to the narrative of the article, and I can't just throw them out. If they are true, then the standard end-of-time narrative given by science educators is wrong- the universe is not destined to dissolve into an eternal wasteland of subatomic particles; statistically, it must at some point reform back to its original state, and may have done so before.

    But there are issues:

    First, is there a source (one more authoritative than that oddball paper) that discusses this topic in more direct terms that people (like, say, me) could better understand?

    Second, the paper refers to a "hypothetical black hole" but the Numberphile video seems to think this applies to the universe as is

    and finally, how does the expansion of the universe figure into this? Surely it would make Poincare recurrence impossible?

    Anyhoo, sorry to impose on you again, but any help would be appreciated.
    Last edited by parallaxicality; 2014-Mar-04 at 06:38 PM.

  2. #2
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    The numberphile-cited calculation is bogus, because it rests on the current ratio of the scale of the observable universe to the Planck scale. Unless one adopts a theory where this numbers stays constant, which requires changing the physical constants in the Planck scale, there is no particular reason to think the current size of the universe amounts to a hill of beans for the Poincare recurrence time! Why not choose the size of the observable universe before inflation? Then the recurrence time might be a few seconds, I have no idea. But the real problem is, as the size of the universe expands, the calculation they use says that the number of possible states also increases. This means there would never be any Poincare recurrence, because recurrence would need to occur on the expansion time, but the recurrence time itself increases with expansion. So in a universe that is expanding, it seems to me you only have two possibilities: either the recurrence happens within the expansion time, in which case no observers ever see any expansion to speak of, or else it does not occur in that time, in which case it never occurs.

    For an accelerating expansion, the situation is probably even worse-- after some age, the universe never Poincare recurs,though it might have in the past. Hence, if we hold that expansion is accelerating,then Poincare recurrence is something we should look into the universe's past to find, not its future. Indeed, it would probably only be something that happened prior to inflation. But since the thermalization of the universe happened many times both before and after inflation, there's no observable signal for that, nor indeed any importance to it, because a thermalized state means we are not tracking anything else about that state. So I think they are just looking up the wrong tree for Poincare recurrence, that concept is built for systems in steady state.

    Now, a completely different issue is if the cosmological principle is invalid on some vast scale, beyond what we can see. Then you could have a fractal quality to the universe, where some parts may not have even inflated yet. If the universe is spatially infinite, you get a spatial version of the "recurrence" that they are interpreting as happening in time. But it's equally unobservable, so irrelevant to physics. Why people find it easier to think that it is in some sense "formally correct" to talk about temporal Poincare recurrence, when they would not talk about an exact replica of themselves some spectacular distance away from us right now, I cannot say, they both seem equally speculative, and equally far from physics to me.

    And that brings me to my central point-- there is no harm in "gedankenexperiments" used as ways of probing what some particular theory says, but all theories have a domain of application. There is essentially no physical sense in applying a theory to a domain that is almost certainly way beyond its domain of applicability. When it seems every few decades causes us to reassess the entire landscape, applying any particular theory to this extreme seems like at best a flight of fancy, and at worst just complete nonsense. What is the scientific value of a story of "what will happen" that we keep changing a few times in each person's lifetime? It is the opposite of the credibility that science has worked hard to build. It's fine that we get big surprises, and have scientific "revolutions", but we have them when we need them-- we don't go sticking our necks out so far that it is almost guaranteed we'll have such "revolutions" in thought so often that everyone ends up hearing three or four different stories about what will happen to the universe. What should we expect them to do with such stories?
    Last edited by Ken G; 2014-Mar-04 at 03:08 PM.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by parallaxicality View Post
    ... sorry to impose on you again, but any help would be appreciated.
    I can only imagine that quite a few people here are proud to help keep Wikipedia more accurate, especially if they don't have to edit the articles themselves.
    Forming opinions as we speak

  4. #4
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    Ken G I have to say, that is one of the clearest explanations I have ever read on the subject! If I was editing that article, I would just post and paste that and call it done

    Nice to see you still actively participating antoniseb, you getting a paycheck yet?

  5. #5
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    Gosh, parallaxicility, what IS the Wiki for?

    You write a long article, based on science but you must accept, speculative, and as you are an editor it gets published.

    I wrote an article, not as long, on the problems of a marque of classic car, because they turn up so often in classic car clubs and sites, that it seemed to me that a central Wiki-type reference was what was needed. An Editor - I presume not you - rejected it, as "this isn't the sort of thing that the Wiki publishes".

    So your speculations about the Universe, up to a Googlepex of years in the future is more important than the day-to-day problems of classc car owners, if you are a Wiki Editor
    By the way, publishers' reject slips are like confetti for me. I accepted the rejection of my contribution with equanimity, until now.

    John
    Last edited by JohnD; 2014-Mar-04 at 06:41 PM.

  6. #6
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    Ehrm... I'm not entirely sure how to take that...

    You don't "become" a Wikipedia editor, you just *are*; you were one when you wrote that article. I happen to have been one a lot longer and thus have a number of advantages, because my training period was back in 2004, when you *could* write articles like that on Wikipedia without anyone caring. These days people are so scared off by other editors snapping at their fingers and auto-deleting their content that new talent has effectively dried up. Everyone is aware of the problem (I call it the Wall of Teeth), but no one really has a clue how to fix it. Or rather, they know how to fix it but don't want to. It all started because, well, everything happened that you'd think would happen to an encyclopaedia with a completely open editing philosophy: people used it as their bathroom wall to scrawl obscenities on. So we set up loads of traps to stop that, and it worked. But now we're so well-defended that no one dares edit at all. It's like we've gone from immuno-suppressed to allergic. Your article could have been included on Wikipedia; certainly not in the form you describe, but with training, sourcing and proper instruction on house style (and very likely merging into a larger article) it would have had definite value. But no one wants to train anyone, and Wikipedia remains a user-unfriendly hellhole for new editors.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by JohnD View Post
    and as you are an editor it gets published.
    "Welcome to Wikipedia,

    the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit."
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

  8. #8
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    Yea parallaxicality I know what you mean, I was around back in the early 2000's and I remember a certain HeWHoShallNot BeNamed would go into every article that mentioned solar anything, and change it to iron this and supernova that. I seem to recall the EU, erm, proponents, doing some of the same thing. I guess the pendulum has to swing back and forth a few times to achieve a final balance.

  9. #9
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    Certainly those who contribute to Wiki astronomy do us all a great service, the general quality of the information there is remarkably high, given the ease with which it is made accessible (easy for the users, I mean, not for the contributors, I know!).

  10. #10
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    I left Wikipedia a long time ago due to its changed atmosphere and never looked back. It's become a snobby "notability clique".
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

  11. #11
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    But what does "leaving Wikipedia" mean, that you don't bother to write for it any more, or that when you google for information you intentionally skip the information in that inevitable first hit to the search? I can easily understand any level of frustration around writing for Wiki, indeed I'm glad anyone takes the time to write for it at all, but it's hard to deny that information is right there in the search window.

  12. #12
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    I also gave up writing and editing WP about my subject, with constant revision by blatant vested interests. It wears you down.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G View Post
    But what does "leaving Wikipedia" mean, that you don't bother to write for it any more, or that when you google for information you intentionally skip the information in that inevitable first hit to the search? I can easily understand any level of frustration around writing for Wiki, indeed I'm glad anyone takes the time to write for it at all, but it's hard to deny that information is right there in the search window.
    No more writing, no more editing. I still use it as a starting search. But just for topics that I have not fought edit battles over.

    In fact my handle Noclevername was the one I used while writing for Wikipedia.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

  14. #14
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    We are certainly hearing from many who have had bad experiences trying to write for Wikipedia. Apparently they are not starving for editors! It's a shame if the content suffers at the hands of arbitrarily decided battles. But the content does seem to serve at the end of the day, so I guess keeping the users happy is all that is essential-- keeping the editors happy appears to be a much lower priority!

  15. #15
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    Well, I wouldn't say keeping users happy was the end goal; it's a bit more rarefied than that. If we cared how our users felt, we would have entire sections from the creationist or ancient astronauts viewpoint, but we don't. We don't want you to be happy; we want you to be better!

  16. #16
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    True enough, I suppose there is a kind of self-enforcing meaning of "user" as "those who are happy being better informed", whereas others aren't users-- they won't go to Wiki if they're not getting what they want from it (I'm sure they have lots of other places to go for the latest reasons why the dinosaurs coexisted with humans).

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