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Thread: Something wrong with the universe article

  1. #31
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    The very use of the term constant carries with it the idea that we can use simple rules to describe the universe. The use of constants is really useful in simplifying equations and we can soon believe that the underlying mechanism is as simple as the constants. We earnestly separate variables to be independent of each other for the same simplistic reasons but then we can spend years on the second, third, fourth order variations. We should take heart in the degree of explanation we can achieve with these simplifications and not fall into thinking the universe has got it wrong when we encounter complications.
    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

  2. #32
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G View Post
    Yes, that's probably the deepest question in physics, and there's no good answer in sight. People often talk about intelligence as a survival trait, but the kind of intelligence that is required to do quantum field theory never helped any cavepeople out of a tiger's den, as evidenced by the fact that abstract mathematicians are not known for being handy in tiger battles. More likely the ability to do advanced mathematics is purely a "spandrel" of the kind of intelligence that improves survivabiity, but the big question is, why are spectacularly successful physics theories such a short leap away from being smart enough to sharpen a stick?
    I suppose our mathematical skills (like our language skills) come for the evolutionarily useful abilities to recognise patterns and organise large amounts of information.

    There is a physicist called Cohl Furey who is interested in the relationships between pure maths (particularly octonions) and the fundamental particles and forces we observe. It is a very appealing idea, that the physics might "emerge" from the mathematics (as if the universe were actually "made of" mathematics). But is it more that we see similar patterns in both, perhaps in part because they are the sorts of patterns we are able to see? After all, if there was an exact correspondence between the mathematics and the physics, then why is she still struggling to make the idea work?

    It is a bit like the symmetries used in quantum theory. They work, up to a point, and then there is an exception and you need to use a different symmetry for that case. So are we just trying to force our symmetries onto the observations, where they work?

    Yet notice the subtle prejudice behind such a statement-- for atoms to really be made of electrons and so forth, wouldn't that require we mistake our models for the real thing? So your question basically comes down to asking, why doesn't the universe actually work the same as our models do? My answer to that would be, if our universe really did work exactly like our models of it, then the universe is very clearly a simulation, because that's essentially the definition of a simulation-- something that is really "governed by" some simple model. So we have this very interesting contradiction, that on one hand we want to imagine the universe really obeys a set of rules, and on the other hand, no one wants to think it's some kind of simulation embedded in some more complete universe. Yet those two things are just the same, you can't pick the one you want.
    Interesting point. I have always considered the simulation hypothesis untestable because whatever characteristics it is proposed that such a simulation should (or should not) have, one can always say that "*this* simulation does/doesn't work that way". But your definition is an interesting one.

  3. #33
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jean Tate View Post
    There's another aspect, emergence.

    From models of what quarks and gluons (etc) do, how does one get atomic physics? chemisty? biology? geology? ecology? economics?

    We think causation goes one way only (up), and AFAIK there is no evidence to the contrary.
    Another interesting answer to think about...

  4. #34
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    I suppose our mathematical skills (like our language skills) come for the evolutionarily useful abilities to recognise patterns and organise large amounts of information.
    That's true, but I think what has happened is, in order to be intelligent enough to survive, much less intelligent species had to exhibit a wide range of capabilities in that area, such that a few could receive the survival advantages of the next level. That meant that once sufficient intelligence for better survival was obtained by human species, there was still a tendency to greatly overshoot the necessary intelligence in a small fraction of the group, and in a small fraction of the mental capabilities (here the issue is abstract mathematics). That small fraction would then have abstract mathematical abilities far in excess of anything that improves survivability on evolutionary timescales, yet are quite useful in doing things like developing quantum mechanics. What's odd, then, is that these extra abstract mathematical abilities find any relation to the real world, when one can no longer say that the real world nurtured those abilities by conveying survival benefits. A runner that is faster than everyone else has a clear survival edge, no matter how fast is the average, yet humans are not particularly fast among the animals. But a brain that can do quantum field theory has no survival advantage at all, yet that brain is vastly more intelligent in the specific area of abstract mathematics than any other living brain on the planet. So this doesn't seem to be a survival question at all, that's not the reason that the universe has generated minds that can (partially) understand it. It seems more like, in some sense, the universe is programmed to understand itself, even in areas (especially in areas) that convey zero survival edge (like atomic physics).

    That observation contrasts with the oft-expressed idea that a universe complicated enough to support intelligence must be too complicated for intelligence to understand it. That's true in the human realm, but not in the atomic realm, and that's quite an irony-- the realm we understand the least is the one we experience most often! Maybe we are just better at selecting the things to care about that are simple when they don't directly affect us.

    There is a physicist called Cohl Furey who is interested in the relationships between pure maths (particularly octonions) and the fundamental particles and forces we observe. It is a very appealing idea, that the physics might "emerge" from the mathematics (as if the universe were actually "made of" mathematics). But is it more that we see similar patterns in both, perhaps in part because they are the sorts of patterns we are able to see? After all, if there was an exact correspondence between the mathematics and the physics, then why is she still struggling to make the idea work?
    Yes, I can't buy that our universe is a simulation, which is what it would have to be if it exactly followed simple rules (what else is a simulation than that?). I think it's a mischaracterization of the purpose of science to figure out how the world works, it is the goal of science to hold up a series of better and better templates that mimic the behavior of the universe. Science makes models, and tests them, that's literally the definition of science. So where comes this need to pretend it is something different from its own definition? If it's just because we like to imagine that might be true, this is a classic departure from the realm of evidence into the realm of personal belief, and that's not supposed to be what science does at all.

    It is a bit like the symmetries used in quantum theory. They work, up to a point, and then there is an exception and you need to use a different symmetry for that case. So are we just trying to force our symmetries onto the observations, where they work?
    Yes, exactly. We have near symmetries, not exact symmetries, so we should see symmetries as useful templates. I agree it is a mystery why we can get anywhere close, but we have to admit that this is what we are doing because it is, in fact, just exactly what we are actually doing when we enter into the scientific process.

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