lundi 29 mai 2017

Help! I Need A Patient Physicist! (Warning - Long and Very Amateur)

Hey everybody!

I have a few broad (and very amateur) questions pertaining to contemporary theoretical/quantum physics research, and I'd much rather ask you guys on here than battle the woo-storm of trying to do a Google on something like this.

I had the opportunity recently to watch a documentary about M-Theory. I believe it was called "The 11th Dimension." I have no idea its original source - a somewhat woo-leaning friend put it on while we were extracting files from a laptop of mine that died awhile back. There were no real interruptions or distracting bouts of activity for the duration of our viewing. After the initial setup of that computer transfer process (also seemed like dark magic to me!), we just sat and watched it straight through. Transfer still wasn't completed by the time credits rolled, in fact. So I'm confident in saying I paid optimal attention and didn't miss portions.

Unfortunately, my legitimate scientific knowledge of the complicated subject matter employed here (quantum physics, general basis) is SO limited it actually feels like a handicap sometimes. Today is a fine example of such a time.

What I do know is that fibers of "quantum" themes pop up all over the place nowadays, however Hollywoodized, tertiary, meaningless, or plain BS-caked the context. Many, many people misapply concepts like subatomic uncertainty principle to the regular physical world, typically in order to bolster some starry alternative doctrine or another. I think I went past the phrase "quantum dentistry" somewhere recently - my brain just blocked out the circumstance, in total defensive mode, presumably to prevent me smashing something in frustration or triggering a coronary event in myself. But I know I saw it...

Even more common is the widespread misapplication of tortured "quantum" memes to psychological or sociological constructs. Every neo-hippy with a Terrence McKenna fetish steps up to [/i]"blow your mind" with the Truth, how "all your problems are just in your head man, nothing is real, just choose love instead of fear; it's that easy!" I don't have any patience with this kind of childish and solipsistic **** when it's stated overtly to me - I unhesitatingly shoot it down as the naive and unscientific conjecture it is. I'm equipped with that much base familiarity, at least. But if similarly distorted reasonings were implied a little more subtly, dressed up with enough tidbits of real science to pass my "Timecube-y" filter, and communicated by well-spoken people who aren't ranting into a webcam and don't seem visibly or actively delusional... well, I could probably be utterly fooled. Lulled into misunderstanding the brass tacks, contemplating incorrect paradigms, all the while thinking I learned something really cool. I hate the thought of such a senseless detour in my pilgrimage to understand my world better. But I objectively know, whether I like it or not, that minds uneducated in the discipline's consensuses but interested in its implications (ME, dammit) are prime candidates for being duped into thinking things are essentially "true" that aren't even close.

And just how "accepted" can an almost entirely theoretical premise be said to be, anyway? I have no idea; I'd like that to at least start changing. How bitter is the blood between proponents of different quantum models in the research field? Even if one sticks to the most "mainstream" data such a discipline can claim, there are at least 5 different complete world-proposals espoused in depth, most frequently by dudes too smart for me to ever even tell if they were suddenly being stupid. Which models have more widespread devotion, if any? And why?

I do have SOME footing to learn. I took a particle physics class in college (got a C- lol) within the last 5 years. Two years of AP classic physics prior to that in high school, most of which I grasped quite well. Touched on a little bit of particle intro around the end of senior year. I was like, holy smokes, this stuff is lunacy. Thank god I wasn't planning on being a physicist when I grow up.
I try to educate myself further by reading reputable material I encounter. (I don't mean A Brief History of Time, either, though I have read it. I mostly just try to understand germane pieces from reputable science journals the best I can.) No matter what, the math eventually starts to lose me. And all the non-math sources on "quantum" anything are usually glaring woo that even I can recognize without trouble.

Which brings me back to the documentary in question. Throughout, red flags leaped and peered out at me, even if I couldn't understand exactly why due to the complexity of the material. My mistrustful skeptic spidey sense kept rising into bursts of wild activity. But it wasn't constant, and none of the video's claims reached anything like the indisputable New Age crap levels one often encounters wherever subatomic particles are mentioned these days. Perhaps I'm desensitized from posting here so much; once you've sat through documentaries on lizard people organizing pedo rings and cryptocurrency energy weapons, even the wildest claims about an unfamiliar discipline might sound okay by compare, at least as long as the presenter keeps up some vestige of orthodoxy. Slip in a "lepton activity" or "Higgs Boson - spin 0" here, and a "foundational problems with loop quantum gravity" there, and I might just be sold. Ignorance is NOT bliss.

However, many basics covered in the film sounded either probably similar to the M-Theory stuff I've grazed in the past, or plausible in the context presented (inasmuch as a layperson could hope to determine that). I mean, maybe it did. I wouldn't know, though. I remembered "11 dimensions to make the math work" in M-Theory, so that much was probably within an accepted theoretical model. As for truly wrapping my mind around whatever the hell it means conceptually, forget that. The best I can do is think back to metaphysical "wisdom" I discovered during LSD trips in my early 20's. Something like that, except with really complicated math and a lot less jam rock and nudity. And no discernible comedown. Beyond that, I'm a brick trying to learn arithmetic.

So here are my primary resultant questions for anyone with even a reasonable basic knowledge of M-Theory, the underlying concepts on which it was built, theoretical physics, or anything in that vein. Please know that I'm not trying to get anyone to write me a personal essay or anything - perhaps just a book recommendation, one that could help strengthen my untrained brain's groundwork without delving into blatant tosh and metaphysical hyperbole? That would be great. I normally prefer to do my own bloody research, but this particular topic is a bull **** bug-lamp like no other, with a very wide sphere of pseudoscientific influence. Even experienced genius experts have been known to start spouting crazy interpretations now and again. I suppose that's the risk of spending too much time pondering the our world's "true", that insidious layer where everything runs on an entirely different and bizarre method of batty physics, riddled with confusing unknowns and gaps, and ultimately probably unprovable no matter how much one generation of researchers might discover. I could see existential ennui thriving. But I can't afford to be derailed into bad logic at this early stage, however understandable its presence may sometimes be.

1.) How "promising" (for lack of a better word) is M-Theory as a model? Is it generating a lot of legitimate study or interest in the field? Do most still like string theory better? Can any of you actually do the math out? Is it solid? Does the basic notion as a paradigm make a kind of sense? I'd kind of like to know that before I bother digging further!

2.) Assuming there's some validity in there somewhere, how does the following characterization strike you? At one point around the midpoint of the documentary, the talking heads started discussing what difficulty most people have conceptualizing 11 dimensions on top of the 3, sorta 4, that are regularly understood and perceived. From there, they started proclaiming some of these dimensions could be right "next to us," but out of reach so to speak. They began illustrating a model of the universe as a membrane, essentially populated by different "planes," functionally akin to sealed wormholes. Seemingly inaccessible with regard to each other.

O...kay. I realize it's nearly impossible to explain any portion of this stuff to laypeople without dumbing it down significantly or using simplified analogies to start. However, none of these 3 (alleged) experts ever made it clear one way or the other if they were employing loose illustrative devices or speaking as literally as subatomic weirdness allows. They just said stuff like, "The universe is - think of a great big membrane, punctuated by essentially closed wormholes - the proposed higher dimensions. All kind of layered over each other, but without direct perceptual interaction of any kind, except for the vibrating strings that comprise everything." And so on.

Uhhh... could be! From where I stand, it's all essentially turtles the whole way down. Even if I "got" the math someday, I imagine the philosophical implications would remain pretty alien for awhile. So I have no idea how to judge these statements. With regard to any other discipline, I'd have long since affixed my red CHARLATAN stamp to the entire matter, devoid of uncertainty. But this is the HOME field we're talking now, and I'm way out of my element. Maybe I'm just having What the Bleep?! flashbacks. That one left me pretty gun shy. I may not really get this stuff in any truly useful way, but neither did I just tumble off the turnip truck. When purportedly scientific documentaries start offering shades of stuff I've heard espoused to death by river stoners, I get concerned. Concerned that I'm either misunderstanding fundamentals or consulting a dubious source. Likely both. That's not going to help me get any smarter on the subject.

3.) This springs directly from the film's subsequent discussions of their proposed "membrane peppered with closed wormhole" model of the 11 dimensions. If this mind-melting depiction is on the right track, they said, it could mean that some of these other dimensions are not just "right beside us," but also absorbing most of the true force of "our" dimension's gravity somehow! Yes, that is apparently what at least a couple people consider a promising hypothesis. I just couldn't get past it, though. Maybe it was an unsimplifiable conceptual paradigm, poorly reduced for simpler folks, and it just translated stupidly to me because it isn't meant to be simplified in such a fashion. I could certainly accept that explanation. But as worded, the whole segment was just horrible. It made no sense. One second they were talking about impenetrable wormholes to other dimensions, the next they're excitedly suggesting that gravity is weak as fundamental forces go because these inaccessible higher planes "absorb" the bulk of its force? And leave no mathematical indicator whatsoever? Is that reasonable? I honestly can't tell.

This portion made no mention of higher dimensions' affect or lack thereof on any other fundamental force. I'm not sure if that would be relevant or not, though. Gravity is still a bit mysterious in many ways, I realize that too. Does that mystery leave room for its possibly being multi-dimensional and filtered down in our perceivable reality, though? You tell me. I simply can't make head nor tail of any of it, as is.

4.) One more regarding the "closed wormhole" illustration - I found myself wondering something pretty distracting, as they went along talking about where and of what unknown nature M-Theory's inaccessible superfluous dimensions might be. At times, it almost sounded like they were crossing over into descriptors more akin to "parallel multiverse" framework, another profoundly abused concept in pop/spirit "science." Are those types of separate "worlds" considered theoretically similar to the "extra" dimensions demanded by string and M-Theory by experts who study them? Or was this maybe an attempt by documentarians to jazz up a boring, math-sodden mind-**** in order to hawk it to a wider contemporary audience? Shoehorning vague vocabulary that reminds people of Dr. Who (long live Rose Tyler!), Sliders and The Matrix would certainly be a good way to go. That's just basic marketing at its core - something I actually do understand pretty well. So I could see either or both being the case here. All I know for sure is I currently have the hell confused straight out of me.

And finally, in summation - if indeed theoretical "parallel worlds" and "extra dimensions" are considered principally similar or even related by those most influential and knowledgeable in relevant fields, WHY are the six or seven other dimensions so incomprehensibly mysterious and unreachable? What's the working theory? Even if the "square the square of the square of the square" type math starts getting geometrically absurd (and it does), I don't understand why non-physical has to equal imperceptible, a "magical" other. Apparently I'm very comfortably occupying three regular dimensions right now, and arguably perceiving a fourth almost constantly. (Perhaps "occupying" it too then - but probably semantics. I digress.) I've heard it said the fifth would be something like the tesserect travel provincially outlined in the wonderful A Wrinkle in Time, but less mystical and more potentially matter-destroying. Any supportable truth to that premise? And if so, isn't something like that still a form of perception? Or isn't it? Goddammit, I have't been this brain-busted since I got stuck in my first Cartesian circle, several bong hits after an early PHIL 101 lecture. Only it's not fun and dazzling this time around. It's actually infuriating.

Wow, sorry so long. I was chilling in the park yesterday (day off) enjoying spotty public WiFi in veritable solitude, and I just started typing this out as a word document because it's been on my mind. Slowly, it grew into a behemoth. I'm pretty prone to that in writing when I have the time. But if anyone cares to give it even just a thorough skim and point me toward a good, current, somewhat comprehensible and reasonably "mainstream" text on the matter, I will owe you a real solid. And I'll slink on back to SI&CE where I belong, taking my whole horde of commas along with me.

Okay, now I have to be at work in 3 hours. I'm so glad I'm kind of a crazy person - it really passes the time!

via International Skeptics Forum

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