William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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The Big Bang, Eternal Inflation & Many Worlds

We’re back to our Edge series of ideas scientists wish more people knew about. Today is John C. Mather and the Big Bang.

Mather isn’t pleased with popular conceptions.

What astronomers actually have observed is that distant galaxies all appear to be receding from us, with a speed roughly proportional to their distance…[W]e can get the approximate age of the universe by dividing the distance by the speed; the current value is around 14 billion years. The second and more striking conclusion is that there is no center of this expansion, even though we seem to be at the center. We can imagine what an astronomer would see living in another distant galaxy, and she would also conclude that the universe appears to be receding from her own location. The upshot is that there is no sign of a center of the universe…A third conclusion is that there is no sign of an edge of the universe, no place where we run out of either matter or space…The actual universe appears to be infinite now, and if so it has probably always been infinite. It’s often said that the whole universe we can now observe was once compressed into a volume the size of a golf ball, but we should imagine that the golf ball is only a tiny piece of a universe that was infinite even then. The unending infinite universe is expanding into itself.

Consider the idea of the multiverse coupled with eternal inflation. Inflation helped propel the “big bang”, that initial golf ball, into the roomy and expanding universe we see around us today. The idea of eternal inflation is that these golf balls are everywhere, popping into existence and swelling into local universes in their own right.

There isn’t any way to do justice to all the views and variations of multiverses in this short post, so I will comment on only one aspect, Max Tegmark’s second Level of multiverses. These are universes which have different parameters, or different physical constants. The first Level of multiverse is the same as ours, run by the same physics, but each has different initial conditions from whatever conditions existed at the start of ours. How these initial conditions are chosen and why ours got the values it did, except by reference to anthropic principles, is never specified—for the very good reason that nobody knows anything about how the initial conditions were caused, except by some hand-waving about quantum mechanics. Nobody hows how any quantum mechanic result is specified. We do not know what causes QM events, so we cannot know why our universe had the initial conditions it did.

The multiverse is another hypothesis to solve the peculiarities of quantum mechanics, or rather move them back one level so they seem to disappear. Eternal inflation comes from the relativity side of things. Now in this universe (the one out your window), there exists certain physical reactions which physicists have described using parameterized equations. The parameters are not known but estimated; they are hypothetical, meaning they might be wrong. That is, it might be that there are no free parameters and what physicists have proposed equations which are mere estimations of the universe’s true forces. It might be, for instance, that the descriptions of motion and change are entirely deducible from first principles (such as the principle of non-contradiction).

But suppose arguendo the parameterized equations are correct. The values of the parameters—as do the equations themselves!—have to come from somewhere. They must be chosen; a causal mechanism must exist which “assigns” the values (and causes the equations). It might appear that it is a solution to quantum ambiguity to say that a different universe is created which takes each possible value of parameters. Since parameters are assumed (there is no first-principles proof) to be continuous, the number of other universes is thus infinite, with the power of the continuum. That’s a lot of universes!

How? How are the parameters decided? Decided as in caused to be?

We earlier critiqued Tipler’s interpretation of Everett’s Many Worlds, which is a kind of multiverse. Readers will recall I did not buy the physical interpretation of Many Worlds which insisted upon infinite upon infinite upon infinite et cetera ad infinitum ad dudem literum (or whatever the Latin is for “Dude: literally”), and instead favored the epistemological, i.e. probabilistic, view. What’s fascinating is that Leonard Susskind and Raphael Bousso claim that, under certain conditions, Everertt’s Many Worlds matches, or is, the multiverse. Or so says somebody at MIT Technology Review

The author of that article says what is often said, “The reason many physicists love the many worlds idea is that it explains away all the strange paradoxes of quantum mechanics.” It does not. Neither Many Worlds or multiverses does away with the peculiarities of QM: they simply push them back one or more level, so that they seem to go away. Re-read the critique of Many Worlds to see why this was so there. Here, in multiverses, there is no solution to QM by saying infinite number of universes are created with different parameterizations, because there is nothing that says which parameterization went where, and how QM knew about all those parameterizations, and how it had the causal power to make the distinctions. It is true that in this universe we can say, “We’re just one of many, so QM is not strange.” But when pictured as a whole, QM is still strange.

About the multiverse-Many Worlds equivalence, the article says:

But Susskind and Bousso say there is a special formulation of the universe in which [experiments about other universes are] possible. This is known as the supersymmetric multiverse with vanishing cosmological constant.

If the universe takes this form, then it is possible to carry out an infinite number of experiments within the causal horizon of each other.

Now here’s the key point: this is exactly what happens in the many worlds interpretation. At each instant in time, an infinite (or very large) number of experiments take place within the causal horizon of each other. As observers, we are capable of seeing the outcome of any of these experiments but we actually follow only one.

Bousso and Susskind argue that since the many worlds interpretation is possible only in their supersymmetric multiverse, they must be equivalent. “We argue that the global multiverse is a representation of the many-worlds in a single geometry,” they say.

They call this new idea the multiverse interpretation of quantum mechanics…

But what this idea lacks is a testable prediction that would help physicists distinguish it experimentally from other theories of the universe. And without this crucial element, the multiverse interpretation of quantum mechanics is little more than philosophy.

That may not worry too many physicists, since few of the other interpretations of quantum mechanics have testable predictions either (that’s why they’re called interpretations).

Again, you’ll have to review, but in Many Worlds the problem of how the splits happen, and how they appear to require infinite power do not disappear. And it is still the case that we can only follow one of Many Worlds at a time: the one we’re in (and recall you cannot split because you are part intellect and will and these are not made of splittable stuff). This is why there aren’t and can’t be any testable predictions.

This makes the duo’s idea not “little more” than philosphy, but precisely philosophy. And given the spiritual nature of our makeup, incomplete or wrong philosophy.

Russia’s (Soft) War With The West, Part I — Guest Post by Ianto Watt

The cat is out of the bag, although most people don’t realize that because most people still do not see the cat. Why? Simple. They couldn’t see the open bag, so why would they see the cat?

Now the bag is not simply a container. It was tied shut, right? So it should be considered primarily as a mask. A device meant to conceal its actual meaning or content. And the attempt to explain or divine the contents of the bag (before that cat emerges) is an attempt to understand something that is still mystical or hidden. I have a different approach to this need to know. An Alexandrian approach. Why try and untie that Gordian knot? Forget that, just cut the damn thing in two! Unfortunately, very few people agree with my approach. It’s not polite, you see.

So that still leaves the question of the bag, and who constructed it. And how they wove it. I have dealt with that in my book The Barbarian Bible whose subtitle should tell you something more: The True History of Man Since the Fall of Troy. I reject the common habit of dating everything from either the Fall of Jerusalem or the Fall of Rome. I contend that everything important goes back another thousand years to The Fall of Troy. Because that’s where the bag was first made. And where it’s power to deceive was first proven.

Now I further contend that this mesmerizing feat has been continued to the present day, and that the bag continues to exist, along with that damnable cat. But the cat doesn’t interest me that much, other than to say it is obviously not a desirable gift. I’m more interested in who packaged it. And it seems to me that if we knew who did that, we would know why they left it on our doorstep. And while we know who made that first wooden bag, we seem to be totally unable to understand the connection between them (the Greeks) and the marketing geniuses of today (the Greek-Orthodox Russians). And now we’re back to my observation that most people can’t even see the bag, let alone imagine what lies within.

So then, let’s look back at the past for a moment or two before we plunge ahead. Let’s remember that the whole point of the exercise of concealment was to convince the occupants of Troy that their enemies had simply melted away. It worked perfectly. Why? Because the gods understood human nature. Never forget the gods! And never forget Odysseus, the world’s greatest liar. And if you look it up, he was the grandson of Autolycus, the world’s greatest thief. And Autolycus was the son of Hermes, the trickster god. So both the gods and Odysseus, knowing the weakness of men, knew that the men of Troy longed for peace, at nearly any price. Anything but giving up Helen, that is. But the men of Troy didn’t understand that their willingness to believe the unbelievable would have devastating consequences. Which made them totally ripe for the picking. And so they were undone. And all of this was accomplished through deception, the theme of the New Testament of the pagan world. Welcome to Olympus.

Well then, what does this have to do with today? Everything, actually. Because a new bag has been constructed, and the weary men of the West (and their wimpy children who revel in stealing the wives of other men) are ready to believe anything that plays to their desire for an unearned peace. Anything that seemingly lets them keep their ill-got gain without a formal surrender. Without a repentance of their ways.

But now it’s time to shift gears. Time to understand how the bag is constructed. Because after all, if you make it look pretty and put a hefty price tag on it, you’ve already satisfied the requirements of half the occupants of the West. Yes, I’m looking at you, ladies. Think I’m kidding? Then tell me if most wine isn’t bought based on the attractiveness of the label? And who buys most wine today? So, am I a sexist? Absolutely, Helen. With good reason.

Let’s get back to the bag. Let’s understand something first. There are two strategies we can use to make the sale. One is brute force (a billion dollar ad campaign to sell an ugly bottle with an ugly label, even though the contents may be superb). The other choice is deception, where a beautiful bottle with an enchanting label is placed in a prime shelf position (with a little help from a ‘marketing incentive’ paid to the dealer), regardless of the quality of the contents.

In the military, these two strategic choices are distilled down to the following two categories: annihilation or attrition. Brute power versus deception and maneuver. And the foremost genius of understanding the difference in these two strategic approaches was Alexandr Svechin.

Alexandr Svechin was the genius behind reformed Russian military strategy today. Yes, he was executed by Stalin in 1938, for his supposedly rigid adherence to the choice of attrition over annihilation. After all, Uncle Joe wanted victories, big ones. Unfortunately Uncle Joe didn’t understand the reality of the battlefield. Because, of course, he didn’t have to do any of the actual fighting. But Svechin and his men did. And Svechin understood the difference between the desire and the ability to conduct a battle of annihilation. And what was this critical difference in how to approach your enemy? It’s actually quite simple, in concept. Each and every battle is to be approached according to the ‘peculiar’ circumstances that surround it. No prospective battle is exactly like a previous one, regardless of the academy’s insistence on preparing for the last war. And there is the key to understanding Vladimir Putin. He understands the nature of the battlefield. Just as Nikita Khrushchev did in 1959. And the West didn’t. And still doesn’t.

Svechin understood that each battle was a separate, individual specie. Each battle was different. And no matter how many men and tanks and howitzers you had, a creative and motivated enemy can defeat you. Just ask Consul Lucius Paullus how things went at The Battle of Cannae. Every element of every potential battle must be taken in to account before deciding on which strategy to pursue.

Svechin understood the root of the problem faced by the Russian armies. The root was this; the Red Army was not motivated by an offensive war. After all, the Russian people are defensive in nature. Not only that, the Red Army was not truly equipped for it. And lastly, it was not led by men who understood true leadership. Because, of course, the true leaders of the Red Army were the political officers that could over-rule any Army officer in any situation. This was the original Russian Roulette. These political officers took their orders from Uncle Joe, not Svechin and his officers on the front lines. The guns these political officers wore weren’t pointed at the enemy. Because of this, when Svechin recommended a war of attrition, he was seen as a ‘defeatist’ by the political leadership in Moscow. Never mind the fact that the tiny Finnish Army could and did kick the butts of the Red Army under his successors. And so Svechin paid the price of telling Joe the truth.

Yes, Svechin understood that Russia was dealing from a position of weakness. And that was the exact same position Khrushchev and his Politburo found themselves in in the late 1950’s. They led a nation bled white by WWII. Their economy was ready to collapse. Their erstwhile allies in the worldwide Comintern were ready to walk away from the leadership of Moscow. Their only strength lay in their possession of nuclear weapons that, if used, would have resulted in their own destruction. And so Khrushchev did what any intelligent criminal would do: he changed strategies. He switched from Wrath (open aggression, à la Korea) to Deception. From The Illiad to The Odyssey.

To add to the irony of this decade, Khrushchev officially rehabilitated Svechin as part of his de-Stalinization campaign right before he made his peace with all the other members of the Comintern, as he prepared to take down the West through a strategy of deceptive attrition. A strategy of a thousand cuts, versus the head-to-head battle Uncle Joe always seemed to think Russia could win. But Joe was an egomaniac, and the rest of the Politburo knew it. They also knew the actual status of Russia’s economy and army. And that’s why Joe had to go. Time for some poisoned borscht, eh? By the way, do you know who Joe’s personal cook was for over 15 years? And Lenin’s before that? It was Spiridon Putin. Vlad’s grandfather. Anyone who thinks Vladimir Putin simply materialized out of nowhere is whistling past the graveyard. Their own graveyard. This guy’s been groomed. The only question is, by whom? Perhaps our bag-maker can tell us?

So what does this have to do with Troy? Quite a lot, actually. Just as the men of Western Greece had been bled dry for ten years trying to take down Troy, the men of Moscow had tried to take down the West through overt aggression. But they couldn’t even keep in line what they had won in WWII. Berlin 1948. Korea 1950. East Germany 1953. Hungary 1956. Things weren’t working out so well, in spite of Sputnik and the Missile Gap.

Before we go further, the question has been raised. The question deserves to be answered. It is the question of whether or not a clan, tribe or nation can engage their enemy in a multi-generational battle, and win. But it’s not just that, is it? No, after all, the Punic Wars tell us this is true. So does the Reconquista, the 770 year battle to rid Spain of the Islamic Horde. The real question is this; can this aggression be centered on a deceptive ploy that never seems to see the light of day in the eyes of the enemy?

The answer, as so many people seem to believe (including our own ‘intelligence’ services), is an unqualified ‘No’. It’s impossible, according to them. Why is it impossible? Because someone, somewhere will blurt it out, either in a drunken state, or from pride, or under compulsion. And once that cat is out of the bag, the scheme is dead. Right? If men were logical, yes. But they aren’t.

Well, why do I say this? Because history teaches us otherwise. History tells us of many examples of men who refuse to see what is directly in front of them. Beginning at Troy, I contend. All the way to Yalta. And why would our day be any different? Has mankind changed any of his repetitive behaviour over these past three millennia? I think not. Not in the least. The only thing that has changed is that some men have seen the advantage of moving from wrath to deception as their operative principle of action. There’s that word again, my favourite one; action.

A Theory of Nothing Leads to Something

A Theory of Nothing by Thomas Barlow was the most realistic science fiction book I have ever read. The science in the book was fanciful, and even silly, but how the science was conducted was described with brutal, flawless, exhausting perfection.

The book relates the history and testing of a new post-modern scientific theory, to be described in a moment. How that theory and testing took place will be so familiar to academic readers that they will recognize themselves on every page. There was the strange genesis of the idea, there were the misunderstood and fragile egos tasked to study it, there were skeptical leaders won over by the raw application of money, there was the scrounging for grants and the sad truth of how money attracts more money, there was the politics of spending the money, the bureaucrats and environmentalists who want to regulate the entire process, there was the initial dismissive skepticism of rival academics which turned to a bandwagon chorus of “It was obvious all along” when it appeared the theory might succeed, a chorus which turned to “It was always obvious it would fail” when the theory failed. Inspiration, luck, sweat, chance, endless frustration, occasional joy, and the feeling of loss when an idea that was once yours finally belongs to others. It is natural to ask, after reading, why anybody would ever choose to be a scientist?

A question like that is asked in the novel by a crazed academic female who published in such places as the Journal of Semiotic Justice and who said things like “Science is the absolute tyrant that obstructs absolute liberty. Its henchmen are the impertinent scientists whose business it is to establish a vast body of laws that require our conformity.” She and others felt (not thought) that the “immutable laws” of physics restricted human freedom. And so this female killed herself to make a political statement about nothing, an act which led our hero Duronimus Karlof to wonder about nothing and whether the immutable laws really were immutable.

Karlof asked himself whether the laws could be got around, and thus begin his search for money to study the idea. He approached the Department of Arbitrary Research Pretending a Military Application (DARPMA), an organization not unlike DARPA. From the monies secured from them and others he built the Ooala Reactor, the device which would probe Nothing. In cheering for the project, he said, “We must find a way to do something that cannot even be imagined!”

In the Reactor would be a particle decelerator, to create “the opposite of movement” or “anti-movement.” The Reactor was to be built in California, but the paperwork required to build would have required longer than the galaxy will live, so Karlof turns to Nevada, whose government is more receptive to money.

Now this Ooala Reactor had to be built in a place with no movement whatsoever, because movement and anti-movement don’t mix. So the desert was chosen, and like in Dune, a vast area had to be denuded of all animal and vegetable life. Plants vibrate, and although this vibration is small, it would be enough to throw off the particle decelerator. As the work progressed, a new life form, a minuscule “putty mole”, which was nothing but a bit of moving clay was discovered. Not quite a sand worm, but a good joke.

Power for the accelerator was needed, which was extracted from the shifting sands. “The Array for Inducing Electricity from Accumulated Sand…extended for twenty-four square miles, a massive mechanical apparatus involving approximately sextillion microscopic needles…designed to deflect in response to the motion of an individual grain of sand.”

The key piece of equipment was the picoslumberous decelerometer, which had to hold an object stationary with respect the center of mass of the entire universe. The working of this beastie conjured the theoretical negatronium particle, which was duly searched for and discovered. Thinking on this led Barlow to have Karlof say, “It is one of the extraordinary attributes of modern theories that their theories often prove malleable enough to conform to almost any fact”, which is very true.

Now the picoslumberous decelerometer was sensitive in the extreme. Not only did the putty moles have to go, but all motion was regulated. Well, almost all. It was impossible for Barlow to banish people from breathing, for instance, and so these small obstructions are never mentioned. Yet somehow the device was “picking up the reverberations of human emotions itself.” No whining allowed. Nor physical contact. “Once attired, we were sprayed, one by one, with a thin film of mephitic vinegar”, which discouraged intimacy.

Parts of the book sound like Star Trek: The Next Generation:

Then we stared for a long while at the golden auricle, right in the center of everything, while our laxtorpid monotronic decompressors slowly reconfigured the electromagnetic field around it. We gazed patiently with ashen faces while our esocaviated deventilating paracelsian lasers focused their invisible beams directly upon the adamant crystal.

Sounds like it needs a Level Five diagnostic!

Anyway, the device is at last switched on in the presence of dignitaries. What happens, except to say the decelerometer slows down everything, including thought, I won’t reveal, but it causes the arrival of The Government, and the public end of the project. This allows Barlow to have a wise old man to tell Karlof, “Long ago, we invented the first truly effective way to disconnect Americans from reality. It’s called the national debt…What we’ve shown, through the practical application of simple economic principles, is that if Americans cannot have free energy, they can at least have free money. Public debt is our equivalent of a perpetual motion machine.” How this ties in with a theory of nothing is not hard to see.

At the end of the book, a scientist complains, “If the world were simpler, our models would work just fine.” The love of theory is strong in the book and in our culture. A government flack explains a real truth, “To be convincing a model doesn’t need to be right, it merely needs to be plausible—and we don’t have any trouble generating powerful and highly persuasive models.”

…our people are putting together a number of excellent models, showing any number of things about the world: not as it is, obviously, but as we would prefer it to be. Yet to advance any of these models on a universal scale—to advance any new belief about the world—we need one more thing.

And that thing turns out to be the picoslumberous decelerometer. Only it can slow down thinking enough so that even the “most truculent” government skeptic will believe anything he is told.

Nothing can be thought of as a horror story, but not quite in the sense of James Hynes’s Publish and Perish, which is macabre on purpose; it better fits the frustrating tones of comic academic novels like Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim and David Lodge’s great trilogy, which begins with Changing Places. (Barlow himself hails from the edges of the old Empire, which is another fit; but like most British subjects he hasn’t quite mastered American; he has IRS equaling Inland Revenue and says round for around.)

Note: Reader Thomas Barlow provided me with an e-copy of the book for reviewing.

Stream: NOAA Whistleblower Claims Data Were ‘Adjusted’ to Make Global Warming Seem Worse

tangle of power cables and communication wire on the pole, silhouete shot

Stream: NOAA Whistleblower Claims Data Were ‘Adjusted’ to Make Global Warming Seem Worse: Climatology, Not The Planet, Is Running A Fever.

A scientist-whistleblower has accused the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration of diddling with temperature data, adjusting it so that it better accorded with political desires.

The Daily Mail is reporting that Dr John Bates, a now-retired climate data expert, late of the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), a branch of NOAA, claimed the agency “breached its own rules on scientific integrity when it published the sensational but flawed report, aimed at making the maximum possible impact on world leaders including Barack Obama and David Cameron at the UN climate conference in Paris in 2015.”

Bates said that Thomas Karl, who was until recently the director of NCEI, was “insisting on decisions and scientific choices that maximised warming and minimised documentation…in an effort to discredit the notion of a global warming pause, rushed so that he could time publication to influence national and international deliberations on climate policy” (ellipsis original).

The data, Bates claimed, was never “subjected to NOAA’s rigorous internal evaluation process”. When Bates complained, “His vehement objections to the publication of the faulty data were overridden by his NOAA superiors in what he describes as a ‘blatant attempt to intensify the impact’ of what became known as the Pausebuster paper.”

Karl and eight others authored the “Pausebuster” paper “Possible artifacts of data biases in the recent global surface warming hiatus” which reported “an updated global surface temperature analysis that reveals that global trends are higher than those reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, especially in recent decades” and which claimed “These results do not support the notion of a ‘slowdown’ in the increase of global surface temperature.” …

How dramatic are the adjustments? As the Daily Mail reports, “the Pausebuster paper said while the rate of global warming from 1950 to 1999 was 0.113C per decade, the rate from 2000 to 2014 was actually higher, at 0.116C per decade.”

This is three-thousandths of a degree higher….

Karl “admitted” to the Daily Mail that “the data had not been archived when the paper was published”, making replication by colleagues impossible or difficult. Karl also said “the final, approved and ‘operational’ edition of the [data] would be ‘different’ from that used in the paper’.”…

Even assuming all is aboveboard, what most don’t realize is that surface temperature measurements are not static; they change year to year. These changes induce uncertainty, which has so far been badly underestimated. This is why claims of thousandths of a degree change are, at best, dubious, and are more likely subject to large uncertainties.

Hurry and click before the earth melts!

Addendum: Is this an unlikely scenario? You are sure there must be warming in the record, because every other scientist you know says there should be, and every model should be. So that when you come across data that indicates warming didn’t take place, you naturally suspect there is something wrong with that data. You thus give preference to data to better conforms to what you know is true. Now every empirical scientist does this, and more often than you’d think this is a good move, because the suspicious data was right to be suspected. But sometimes the suspicions are wrong. How can you tell the difference?

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