Friday, November 23, 2007

Coyotes and Cats

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? If Wile E. Coyote runs off a cliff chasing Roadrunner but doesn't look down, will he fall?

Today two cosmologists from respectable American universities claimed that man may be significantly shortening the life of the universe by observing Dark Matter as a consequence of an effect predicted by a thought experiment involving a cat -- Schrödinger's cat.

Schrödinger's cat is an imaginary experiment — a thought experiment — devised by Erwin Schrödinger, which is often described as a paradox. It attempts to illustrate what he saw as the problems of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics when it is applied to systems large enough to be seen with the naked eye, and not just to atomic or subatomic systems.

It is accepted that a subatomic particle can exist in a superposition of states, a combination of possible states. According to the Copenhagen Interpretation, the superposition only settles into a definite state upon observation. This is known as collapse or measurement.

Which would seem to suggest that in the subatomic world, an event only becomes definite when it is observed. Wile E. Coyote only starts to fall when he looks down. There is lively debate over the "meaning" of certain aspects of quantum theory. Two scientists, Profs Lawrence Krauss of Case Western Reserve University and James Dent of Vanderbilt University seem to applying the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum theory to the consequences of measuring dark matter.

"The intriguing question is this," Prof Krauss told the Telegraph. "If we attempt to apply quantum mechanics to the universe as a whole, and if our present state is unstable, then what sets the clock that governs decay? Once we determine our current state by observations, have we reset the clock? If so, as incredible as it may seem, our detection of dark energy may have reduced the life expectancy of our universe."

It is widely believed that large objects do not exist in a state of superposition and so why the measurement of Dark Matter have any perceptible effect on the lifespan of the universe is an obvious question to raise. Einstein in considering the question asked himself if the moon only existed when he looked at it. But the respectability of the institutions with which the two professors are associated probably guarantees they have already considered these objections and still believe there is a legitimate concern. I leave it to the readers to consider this interesting topic on the day after Thanksgiving as an entertaining alternative to the problem of concocting recipes for leftovers. And while we are on the subject of Thanksgiving, have you considered the possibility that there may be many more in store for you in the world of Quantum Immortality?

In quantum mechanics, quantum suicide is a thought experiment which was independently proposed in 1987 by Hans Moravec and in 1988 by Bruno Marchal, and further developed by Max Tegmark in 1998, that attempts to distinguish between the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics and the Everett many-worlds interpretation by means of a variation of the Schrödinger's cat experiment. The experiment essentially involves looking at the Schrödinger's cat experiment from the point of view of the cat. Quantum immortality is a metaphysical speculation derived from the quantum suicide thought experiment. It states that the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics implies that conscious beings are immortal.

A physicist sits in front of a gun which is triggered or not triggered depending on the decay of some radioactive atom. With each run of the experiment there is a 50-50 chance that the gun will be triggered and the physicist will die. If the Copenhagen interpretation is correct, then the gun will eventually be triggered and the physicist will die. If the many-worlds interpretation is correct then at each run of the experiment the physicist will be split into one world in which he lives and another world in which he dies. After many runs of the experiment, there will be many worlds. In the worlds where the physicist dies, he will cease to exist. However, from the point of view of the non-dead copies of the physicist, the experiment will continue running without his ceasing to exist, because at each branch, he will only be able to observe the result in the world in which he survives, and if many-worlds is correct, the surviving copies of the physicist will notice that he never seems to die, therefore "proving" himself to be immortal, at least from his own point of view.

Another example is where a physicist detonates a nuclear bomb beside himself. In almost all parallel universes, the nuclear explosion will vaporize the physicist. However, there should be a small set of alternative universes in which the physicist somehow survives (i.e. the set of universes which support a "miraculous" survival scenario). The idea behind quantum immortality is that the physicist will remain alive in, and thus remain able to experience, at least one of the universes in this set, even though these universes form a tiny subset of all possible universes. Over time the physicist would therefore never perceive his or her own death.


Blogger bobalharb said...

Am I shortening Wretchard's blog life by reading his blog?

11/23/2007 01:12:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

You are probably reducing my lifespan. Because by reading it you encourage me to write more posts, hence reducing the time available for chilling out. Hence reducing my lifspan.

11/23/2007 01:18:00 PM  
Blogger bobalharb said...

I'm sorry for that Wretchard. The only thing for it is for you to start writing junk, thereby reducing your readership, and your inducement to post, instead of your usual excellence. So you see it's all your own fault.

11/23/2007 01:26:00 PM  
Blogger Tregonsee said...

Reminds me of a science fiction short story. Suddenly, all the stars vanish. It turns out that some "quantum beings" have thrown a shell around the Solar System, and us, to prevent us seeing out and doing exactly what the article talks about.

11/23/2007 01:29:00 PM  
Blogger hdgreene said...

Is there any limit to the number of exploding nuclear devices the physicist can sit on? Sequentially, that is.

And is there a parallel universe where Al Gore is right?

11/23/2007 01:56:00 PM  
Blogger Fat Man said...

Don't bogart that joint my friend
Pass it over to me
Don't bogart that joint my friend
Pass it over to me

Roll another one
Just like the other one
You've been holding on to it
And I sure will like a hit

Roll another one
Just like the other one
That one's burned to the end
Come on and be a real friend

11/23/2007 02:04:00 PM  
Blogger Pascal Fervor said...

I hear a vindicated guffaw from the Medieval church re the "gift" of Galileo: "We told you that wise ass should have kept his big mouth shut."

In fact Wretchard, I'm surprised you didn't immediately link to an old favorite of yours. Do you not suspect even a bit of boosting here (the raison d'être) for "Post-Normal Science"?

11/23/2007 03:04:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Grynch said...

So a neutron walks into a bar and says, "How much for a shot of whiskey?"
And the bartender says, "For you, no charge!"

Who says physicists can't be funny?

If observing Dark Energy shortens the life of the universe, then wouldn't calling attention to this fact increase the number of observers and further shorten it?

Would an Alzheimer's sufferer observing Schroedinger's cat, and then forgetting what he saw resuscitate it? Of course, we couldn't test the theory without checking the cat...

If ignorance really were bliss, then wouldn't we be happier not knowing it?

Truth is stranger than fiction because truth doesn't have to make sense.

11/23/2007 03:08:00 PM  
Blogger Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh said...

There was a Japanese anime series called Noein that actually worked off of the many worlds theory, and the idea that our ability to observe one another establishes our existences. I was never sure if the science was even borderline plausible, but I actually found the series entertaining, although early in the series, it had its lame moments. The SciFi channel in the states actually ran it recently.

11/23/2007 04:02:00 PM  
Blogger TmjUtah said...

So... we have the tools to prove the universe exists BUT at some unknown point in the course of future study we'll "fix" it in a state that effectively ends reality?

Am I clear on that?

Hogwash. I already know how dark matter manifests, and in the end it's as elegant a little mathematical interface between Newtonian and Quantum Physics as anyone could wish. You could almost explain it on a chalkboard.

You see, the key is


11/23/2007 04:11:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Grynch said...

I personally enjoy vacationing at the frontiers of science.

Two items:
1) There IS proof that alternate universes exist. An interesting experiment was documented in Scientific American magazine. If you cut two parallel slits in a surface and shine a laser on it, a target downstream will show an interference pattern. This has to do with the wave-particle duality nature exhibited by light quanta.

Here's the interesting part: If you reduce the source strength to the point where individual quanta of light are striking the slits, then repeat many times and plot where on the target the quanta end up, you STILL get an interference pattern. What is it that is interfering with the loan quanta of energy? The only explanation is quanta in a parallel dimension.

Here's a video re-creation of the experiment:

BTW: Few Americans are aware that we have actually transmitted information-containing signals at faster then the speed-of-light. On the other hand, all Americans are aware of OJ arrest in Las Vegas. Go figure...

2) A brand new unified field theory is beginning to make the rounds which is both simpler than String Theory, and also does a better job of accounting for the strong gravitational force. Even better, it does not require more than one dimension of time and three of space, when some rival theories need ten or even more spatial dimensions and other bizarre concepts. And it may even be possible to test the theory, which predicts a host of new particles, perhaps even using the new Large Hadron Collider atom smasher that will go into action near Geneva next year.

11/23/2007 06:38:00 PM  
Blogger james said...

Umm: wrt E8. Simpler is only important if the theory works. And as Woit points out: all you’re doing when you do this is changing the unification problem into the problem of what breaks the large symmetry.
I don't see how extra dimensions or extra universes are demanded by interference effects.
And I suspect that "fat man" is on the right track about Krauss and Dent.
Schrodinger's cat is an observer!

11/23/2007 07:12:00 PM  
Blogger Robert Mayer said...

I tend to be of the general interpretation that, at the small level (whether sub-atomic particles or people), things would look chaotic and perhaps random on the surface. Yet it seems that everything and everyone has a function, whether chosen, acquired, or simply as is. Yet on the large level, with all of these things moving in what appears to be chaos, it looks like perfect order and harmony when you zoom out. The small can effect the entirety and the entirety can change the individual small things. In that sense, the entire universe is like the theory of the free market!

11/23/2007 07:46:00 PM  
Blogger DocMike1484 said...

A hydrogen atom walks into a bar and says to the barman "have you seen my electron? I lost it here last night." "Are you sure" asks the Barman?

"I'm positive" replies the atom.

11/23/2007 08:49:00 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

Compare the claims of these scientists to the claims of Jesus and you get an idea of just how heady the 1st century AD was --and just how heady the century we are embarking on is shaping up to be.

11/23/2007 08:49:00 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

A couple years ago after visiting the Bishop Museum in Honalulu, I concluded that sometime about 5000 years ago people all over the world began to look up. Why? Because the museum linked modern space efforts with the sea voyages of the ancient polenesians. They arrived in Hawaiian only about 1000 years before the Europeans. In terms of deep time that's almost simultaneous. As well you see the first temples in Egypt and England with astronomical purposes dating to 5000 years ago. So I figureed that about 5000 years ago everyone everywhere began to look up.

Here's more info on that comet strike 5000 years ago off madagascar.

11/23/2007 08:57:00 PM  
Blogger Wadeusaf said...

So, Peter Grynch, if Surfer Dude was placed in a box with strings, would he or would he not still observe E8? Or would his parallel self just E8 Chinese take out?

Would dynamite aide his mental gymnastics or would he be smeared into 248 elemental points spread across 57 dimensions?

Is this Lisi-Faire approach about to let the cat out of the bag, erm box? I hope so, all that other stuff is too too Hegelian for my brain.

No charge! Bawh, ha, ha, ha.

11/23/2007 09:01:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Coyotes and Criminal President's Criminal Prosecutor, Johnny Sutton:

Critics decry Bush's inaction on pardons for border agents

WASHINGTON -- Conservatives expressed bitter disappointment Friday that President Bush did not use the Thanksgiving holiday to pardon two U.S. border agents who have been imprisoned for a year for shooting and injuring an accused drug smuggler at the border.

"We had hoped that President Bush, who was compassionate enough to pardon two turkeys in the Rose Garden, might also have had enough compassion to pardon two law enforcement officers who spent their lives defending us at the border," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif.

A group of Christian and evangelical leaders -- including Paul M. Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation, Louis P. Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition and David A. Keene of the American Conservative Union -- excoriated Bush for a moral lapse in the case, saying inaction runs counter to compassionate conservatism and Christian values.

Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have weighed in, saying the case highlights the difficulties of securing the border amid an intense national debate about immigration. After a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing in July, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called on the president to commute the 11- and 12-year sentences of the two agents.

"The sentence does not match the crime," she said in a statement, calling the case an example of "prosecutorial overreach" and "a serious miscarriage of justice."

A recent development in the case could further increase pressure on the White House to intervene. The suspected smuggler shot by the officers in February 2005 has been indicted for bringing marijuana into the United States during September and October 2005 -- the very period when he was in the country on a humanitarian visa so he could testify against the agents.

"The latest disclosures show that the government knew the alleged drug smuggler was a career criminal," said T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, a union representing over 12,000 border agents. "He was their star witness. They portrayed him as a down-on-his-luck kid looking for $1,000 to pay for his mother's medical care."
Johnny was all over talk radio claiming the records were sealed on the second Drug Bust.
...neglecting to mention it was HIS office that had them sealed!
Hail el Presidente Bush!
Who says we need borders?

11/23/2007 11:31:00 PM  
Blogger Chavo said...

Thoughts from my brother...

Of which I agree entirely, he can articulate it better than I.

"Looks like the dark matter/dark energy scaffolding is now due for a rather
abrupt collapse in the face of now mature theories of (super) gravity which,
as of late have been successfully predicting observed interactivity and
behavior of matter in the distant cosmos over vast scales.

And none to soon if you ask me.

The supergravity theory has matured over a period of 30 years and asserts
that the gravitational constant is not an immutable value over all scales of
the observable universe from the quantum level to the cosmic. At the cosmic
scales it may as well have repulsive as well as attractive attributes. The
theory is reportedly much more elegant than those supporting dark matter and
dark energy and indeed relies on neither. It has also, already demonstrated
its efficacy in the light of predicting recent cosmological observations.

Of course, this idea is heresy to the established orthodoxy in the world of
physics. However, since string theory physicists have never been able to
build or even conceive of a single expirement to test their elevated
theories on the structure of the universe and no one has, as of yet, been
able to provide any direct evidence for dark matter or dark energy, it is,
in my humble view, time for a new direction.

I always thought the dark matter/energy paradigm in physics was mystical,
"...can only be explained in 11 dimensions", hokum voodoo and now it looks
like its destined to take its place along side quaint but naive 19th century
notions of a comsic esther.

I sure hope so..."

11/24/2007 05:40:00 PM  
Blogger fche said...

> ... Today two cosmologists from respectable American universities ...

And this is how respectability is sometimes lost.

11/24/2007 07:22:00 PM  
Blogger USpace said...

I think these so-called 'scientists' must have been given too much education. Much more possible than their 'playing God' theory, is the possibility that the more one educates one's self with abstract theories the more stupid one might become.

absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
don't observe the universe

you just might destroy it
simply by looking at it

11/25/2007 03:40:00 PM  
Blogger Some Schmuck said...

What I find fascinating about this discussion is that I can remember my father talking about exactly the same things. He would ask if we had really left home or were we still back home having decided not to leave, etc. Neat stuff for a 5 or 6 year old to get their mind around. That was when I was a child in the early 1950's. My Mom thought he was nuts. Now I know that he was really far ahead of his time. Not too shabby for a guy born in 1908 that only had an 8th grade education.

The older I get, the smarter my father gets.

11/26/2007 03:34:00 AM  
Blogger Yashmak said...

I leave it to the readers to consider this interesting topic on the day after Thanksgiving as an entertaining alternative to the problem of concocting recipes for leftovers. -Wretchard

I have solved the recipe problem for this year.

Fusili a la Hettie
One package Fusili
Leftover slices (4-5ea) of glazed ham
Leftover glazed carrots (~1.5 cups sliced)
8-10 small Shitake mushrooms
One jar Garlic Alfredo sauce
One pinch red pepper flakes
One pinch oregano

Shred leftover ham slices, and chop up mushrooms & carrots. Place all in sauce pan and simmer for 8-10 minutes on medium, stirring frequently. Add pinch of red pepper flakes, and oregano, and alfredo sauce, and simmer for 3-5 additional minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare 1 package of Fusili pasta.

voila. Best use of Thanksgiving leftovers I've ever had.

11/26/2007 12:45:00 PM  

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