Tony once described what I do as “agricultural astrophysics”. I try not to be disparaging about particle physics because a) I don’t understand it, and b) it sometimes does something useful (or so I’m told). In the field of experimental particle physics, I probably come closest to a glimmer of understanding when I’m thinking about neutrinos. An extra, distinct energy transport mechanism (besides light) was needed to explain conservation of energy and momentum in chemical reactions, so neutrinos were predicted, along with a means of detection (they are optically invisible). When a neutrino impacts an atomic nucleus (preferably a single proton), it emits a flash of mauve Cherenkov light (which is optically visible) aligned with the source. When large bodies of interactive material with prominent protons (like heavy water) are put somewhere shielded from ambient radiative pollution, we do in fact see patterns of Cherenkov light apparently aligned with sources of radio activity.
In order to make sense of this, statistical adjustments are made to get a fit with the model of the day. For example, although the neutrino flux density on Earth according to theory must be on the order of several billion neutrinos per square millimetre per second, neutrino observatories like Sudbury typically see less than one Cherenkov flash per hour. From that they extrapolate a beautiful, complex sub-model like flavour-changing. All this is accomplished without yet dealing with antineutrinos. When matter particles meet antimatter particles, they tell us, there is an energetic explosion and both are annihilated. Well don’t hold your breath! Not a single explosion has been observed, although, they tell us, the neutrino-antineutrino blizzard is thicker than Scotch broth by orders of magnitude.
Nor does something need to be seen to qualify as “observed”. The tau neutrino is listed as the latest addiction of “directly observed” particles in the Standard Model of Particle Physics, and likewise, the MSW effect (oscillation between types of neutrinos) is credited in the literature with having been “directly observed”. With respect, in both cases what was actually observed was the mathematical formalism.
I don’t think it’s hard to see why I plough the fields of science with a tractor I can sit on. These guys just don’t make sense to me. I’m glad they don’t build bridges!
The principles I am following (and which seem to appeal to your sensibilities) are that 1). Physics is a branch of science that deals with quantities that are measurable. 2.) All measurements in physics can be made in four basic dimensions – mass, length, time, and polarity (charge). With these we understand distance and time, and therefore speed and acceleration. Thus we understand the effects of force, and consequently projectile motion, ballistics, friction, optics, and action-at-a-distance (like orbital motion and magnetic fields). Motion can be expressed differently depending on the co-ordinate frame preferred, and that is what we call relativity. Tie physics in with chemistry, and we have a coherent, empirical explanation of our physical neighbourhood. No hocus-pocus. In my view, any theory concocted outside of these (physical) principles is just a mind-game, and falls into the category of “green elephant theories” (after the guy who famously offered US$100,000 to the first person who could disprove his theory that the Universe propagates by green elephants laying speckled eggs in Black Holes. Of course, his money was safe).
Common sense tells us that when we weigh an elephant, we must take into account the creature that rides upon its back and subtract it to get the correct weight for the elephant; quantitative observation tells us that the creature is in fact a flea and that we needn’t bother because the difference is insignificant. Studies involving fine measurement indicate that anthropogenic carbon emissions are a flea on the climate’s back, and spending billions on trying to cut that little flea in half will do nothing but make the poor poorer. The fact of the matter is, we cannot significantly control the climate, for better or for worse. Global warming, when it happens, is a completely natural, inevitable, solar-driven cycle. If it were not for global warming, without any input from mankind, then we would not have emerged from the last ice age. The major problem facing our terrestrial environment is human over-population. If we could cut the population density, then the waste products of human enterprise, including carbon and DDT and methane from sheep, would be cut along with it. That’s the core of the problem, the actual cause of our headache, and taking an aspirin doesn’t cure it. Anthropogenic Global Warming is a myth feeding off our collectively guilty political conscience.
Firstly, on the question of bias, we all have bias. As soon as one has an opinion, one has bias. It’s as natural as having an ego, which after all is just the apparent identity of our consciousness. Both ego and bias are necessarily part of a healthy psyche, unless and until they dominate our personalities. Then we become a right old pain to deal with! Our job as scientists is characterised by a battle to see the results of experiment and observation without the taint of bias, or with as little of it as possible. In a perfect world (which I believe is what we strive for, although it is unattainable), we would let the facts fall where they will, and follow the clues wherever they might lead. I think the first step in this direction is to do the primary analysis of any data set without reference to any particular model. We should look at solar data without first marshalling them into the corral of the Standard Solar Model, and we should look at cosmological data quite regardless of Big Bang Theory. That way we significantly reduce the effect of user bias on the object of observation.
The stars are what they are irrespective of the opinions expressed in the field of cosmology. It amazes me that pronouncements are made about distant objects with such unshakeable certainty when in the cold light of day the reach of verifiable science is not nearly so self-assured. I am reminded of Al Gore’s brazen assertion that “the science is settled” in climatology, a field which rivals cosmology in chaotic outcomes. The most daunting challenge facing space science is that of scale. In an infinite Universe, we will always be infinitely more ignorant than we are wise. In my view, we have more than enough to keep us occupied in the celestial neighbourhood, and would do well to take things one step at a time. Compare the science proposed in Hannes Alfven and Gustav Arrhenius “The Evolution of the Solar System” with Alan Guth’s pronouncements on Inflation Theory, or George Smoot’s take on the CMB, or indeed, even the core principles of General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. The question I like to ask myself is “How does this theory connect to observed reality?” In a sitting room conversation with Halton Arp a few years ago, the late Fred Hoyle said, “I suppose that in the end, Chip, the Universe will have its say.”
The shocking reality is that research is done for money, not in pursuit of truth. The Theory of Everything which will no doubt be pronounced by high-energy physicists in the not-too-distant future will, I fear, be a set of mathematical sentences so arcane that none could render them false, and they would in any event be based upon experiments that have no intrinsic meaning discernable to scientists in more general research. In short, the magic will be witnessed and explained exclusively by the conjurors themselves, and we will have to decide on blind faith alone whether we believe them or not. What really happens in the Large Hadron Collider remains for the vast majority of us nothing more than conjecture, and I suppose their conclusions are inevitably going to form the basis of a large chunk (or even all) of cosmology. Astronomers will play no part in where astronomy is going.
I recently retired after 40 years in astrophysics, during which time I succeeded in making of myself something of a pariah, although all I wanted to do was practice physics, physically. I am South African, partially educated at the University of Cape Town, George Ellis’s academic home. At this stage of my life I can say what I like without jeopardising my meagre pension. And what I say is this: thank heavens for George Ellis, Peter Woit, the late Geoff Burbidge, and those few others who had the courage of their convictions and stood up to the corruption of science. My swansong, and indeed also my magnum opus, is my third book, Stephen Hawking Smoked My Socks, a treatment of the influence of belief in the formulation of our opinions, scientific or otherwise. In it, I acknowledge the courage of Ellis, Burbidge, and you, Peter. I salute you, Sirs.
My monthly astrophysical column written for the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa.
“All truth passes through three phases. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident.” – Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher, 1788 – 1860
The media are awash with rumour, speculation, and no small measure of excitement. No doubt the thirteen million eager sycophants who bought and applauded Stephen Hawking’s monumental best-seller, A Brief History of Time, are leaning forward in their armchairs in rapt expectation—the shady halls of journalism are experiencing a feeding frenzy, devouring the scraps cast out by CERN and regurgitating them with thrilling headlines: The God Particle has been found! It must have been. As the cost of the Large Hadron Collider spirals upwards towards the twenty-billion-dollar mark, the world of armchair scientists prepares a fete of celebration not seen since Sir Arthur Eddington announced that he had indeed found confirmation of General Relativity Theory in the solar eclipse of 1919. So what’s all the fuss about?
I received a letter from a reader the other day. It was handwritten in crabbed penmanship so that it was very difficult to read. Nevertheless, I tried to make it out just in case it might prove to be important.
In the first sentence, he told me he was majoring in English Literature, but felt he needed to teach me science. (I sighed a bit, for I knew very few English Lit majors who are equipped to teach me science, but I am very aware of the vast state of my ignorance and I am prepared to learn as much as I can from anyone, however low on the social scale, so I read on.)
—– Original Message —–
From: John Hartnett
To: Hilton Ratcliffe
Sent: Friday, April 13, 2011 4:12 AM
From your investigations for your book and since, what would you say are the best lines of evidence for a static universe?
Professor John Hartnett
School of Physics, M013
University of Western Australia
On 14-Apr-11, at 08:17 PM, Hilton Ratcliffe wrote:
My position is that universal expansion is an extraordinary hypothesis (we do not observe expansion), and that therefore the burden of proof lies with those who propose it. Both redshift (Hubble Law) and CMBR are specious. We have a situation that is analogous with the proposal of Copernicus – from Earth, we observe that the Sun passes around the Earth, which appears to be at rest and central. Copernicus made an extraordinary proposal, that the Earth in fact rotates about its polar axis and creates the illusion that the Sun passes overhead. The burden of proof rested with him, and those who supported him. They succeeded, and now we have a proper understanding of the dynamics of the Solar System. No such verification of the expansion theory has been forthcoming and we therefore must continue to believe what we see (a static Universe) until we are shown otherwise.
“A man is now.” Immanuel Kant
The Universe. We’re all entitled to make assumptions. It’s part of our basic belief system. That doesn’t mean that they are true, it just means that we declare the foundation of our idea of reality. We develop a particular idea of what reality is, and tend to stick to it. Sometimes we support it with logic, and sometimes it’s just gut-level instinct. My late father (a gifted physicist) gave me this advice: “Beware the man with a theory.” Had he lived long enough to experience this tragic era of theological terrorism, he might have put it another way: Don’t try to negotiate with a suicide bomber.
The process of assembling the collection of ideas that would go into my paper for the 2008 ASSA symposium vividly brought back to me how much I feared some of the concepts in cosmology that were placed before me as a student. I didn’t think I would ever master Relativity, and I was terrified of being exposed as an idiot. Being scared wasn’t the answer though; I should have accepted the inevitable. I did not master Relativity, and there are many more people in the world of astrophysics who today regard me as congenitally inept than those few who wriggle in their straight-jackets and drool uncontrollably as they blither away that someone should be listening to me. Poor souls.
Like the sly old fox that I am, I am going quote from my soon-to-be-completed collaboration with Sir Patrick Moore, The Static Universe. In it I address the problems inherent in trying to calculate cosmic velocities, and the critical role played by where we anchor our logic, and upon what. Please let me know if this is easy to understand, because if it isn’t, I must make changes now!
From Chapter 11: The Virtue of Heresy
A few years ago, I had the great privilege of sharing a supper table with some of the finest scientific minds of my era. Directly opposite me sat Professor Huseyin Yilmaz, formerly of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton University, a hallowed and ivy-decked place where Albert Einstein had spent his later, introspective years. To his left sat the larger-than-life Professor Carroll Alley, Yilmaz’s experimentalist colleague from the University of Maryland. On my right was the quietly spoken, amiable Professor Harold Puthoff, a director of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Austin in Texas. Dr Puthoff has achieved a fair measure of notoriety for his work on anti-gravity and the Zero Point Field, but that doesn’t frighten me in the least. What did overawe me was the enormous scientific stature of these gentlemen, but I needn’t have worried. They were to a fault courteous and accommodating, and entertained my dumb questions with remarkable patience. The conversation, once we had come to terms with the unfamiliar cuisine, was about Relativity. For purposes of clarity, I will spell relativity as a principle or effect with a lower case “r”, and the theory authored by Dr Einstein, “Relativity.”
Hello and welcome to my cosmology and astroscience blog.
Is Cosmology fact or fiction, science or fairy tale? Do we need it? Is it good for us? Does it have any useful purpose? Should we be confined to a Standard Model?
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