Thursday, June 28, 2012

Explain Me Three Things

Welcome to Scott Tyson's Universe:   Scott Tyson has written a book. That book, The Unobservable Universe, states on its cover that it provides a "paradox-free framework for understanding the universe."

Abq Jew does not understand the universe. Except for the answer 42 to the ultimate question of Life, The Universe, and Everything, the universe rarely crosses what remains, after all these years, of Abq Jew's mind.

Scott Tyson, Abq Jew believes, does understand the universe. After all, Scott spent years thinking about it and 27 exhausting, non-stop days writing about it. The Unobservable Universe was completed on November 25, 2010 - just in time for Scott to celebrate Thanksgiving with his family.

While a scientific exegesis of Scott's work is beyond Abq Jew's ken (and certainly beyond his barbie), let's just say that Scott has considered and answered questions relating to two or three interesting scientific observations.

1. The Double-Slit Experiment

Around the turn of the 20th century an experiment produced a result that could not be explained by the particle theory. This experiment is shown below, where a the light from a light bulb is shown passing through two slits and then striking a screen.

If light consists of particles, the expected result was that two images of the slits would appear on the screen--the particles would pass through the slits and strike the screen and cause two bands of light.

In fact, the experiment showed that around the two bands of light there were less intense bands that appear to be images of the "original" bands. This result was explained by the suggestion that light actually was a wave, or, at least, has some of the properties of a wave.

This illustration shows that some waves will be "in phase" and will add to produce a larger wave; others will be exactly "out of phase" and crests will cancel troughs to produce no wave at all.

These are analogous to the bright spots on the screen of the double-slit experiment and, thus, the experiment has been explained by constructive and destructive interference of the waves.

What's wrong with this picture? Well, when you run a single photon through the apparatus - you get an interference pattern. What is that one photon interfering with? He's the only one in the room!

It all comes back to quantum mechanics - and the laws of probability.  And (to put it colloquially) - the more we try to measure, the less we see.

Here is Dr Quantum's explanation (you'll get a kick out of the closed caption ... interpretations):


Wikipedia explains the importance of this finding:
The double-slit experiment (and its variations), conducted with individual particles, has become a classic thought experiment for its clarity in expressing the central puzzles of quantum mechanics. Because it demonstrates the fundamental limitation of the observer to predict experimental results, Richard Feynman called it "a phenomenon which is impossible ... to explain in any classical way, and which has in it the heart of quantum mechanics. In reality, it contains the only mystery [of quantum mechanics].", and was fond of saying that all of quantum mechanics can be gleaned from carefully thinking through the implications of this single experiment.
And if that's not enough, there's

2. The Entanglement Conundrum

Yes, as Nora Ephron, of blessed memory, [Gail Collins' NYT Op-Ed] [Dana Goldstein's Blog] made us all believe, life is all about relationships.

Here is Dr Quantum's explanation:


Here (Wikipedia again explains) is what we mean by entanglements:
Quantum entanglement occurs when particles such as photons, electrons, molecules as large as buckyballs, and even small diamonds interact physically and then become separated; the type of interaction is such that each resulting member of a pair is properly described by the same quantum mechanical description (state), which is indefinite in terms of important factors such as position, momentum, spin, polarization, etc.
According to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, their shared state is indefinite until measured.
Quantum entanglement is a form of quantum superposition. When a measurement is made and it causes one member of such a pair to take on a definite value (e.g., clockwise spin), the other member of this entangled pair will at any subsequent time be found to have taken the appropriately correlated value (e.g., counterclockwise spin).
Thus, there is a correlation between the results of measurements performed on entangled pairs, and this correlation is observed even though the entangled pair may have been separated by arbitrarily large distances.
So - when two or more particles are entangled, they behave as if they were one and the same, and any change to one instantaneously and identically changes those entangled with it even if they’re a universe apart.

What's wrong with this picture? Well, it's not like the two particles (or whatever) are actually talking to each other. One changes; so does the other. At exactly the same time. How can this possibly be?

When you're done explaining that one - here's another, that the Rabbis of the Mishna asked  a couple of millenia ago.

3. The First Tongs

In Pirke Avot (Chapters of the Fathers), the Rabbis state (Chapter 5, Mishna 8b):
עשרה דברים נבראו בין השמשות--פי הארץ, פי הבאר, פי האתון, והקשת, והמן, והמטה, והשמיר, והכתב, והמכתב, והלוחות.  ויש אומרין אף המזיקין, וקבורתו של משה, ואילו של אברהם.  ויש אומרין אף צבת בצבת עשויה
Now, even though the text may seem plain enough (some say: because the text seems plain enough), Abq Jew must fall back (ouch!) on his technical writing roots to make it into numbered lists:
Ten things were created on the Sabbath eve at twilight. They are:
  1. The mouth of the earth [which swallowed Korach and his co-conspirators]
  2. The mouth of the well [which accompanied Israel in the desert]
  3. The mouth of the donkey [which rebuked Balaam]
  4. The rainbow [that God left as a sign for Noah and his family]
  5. The Manna
  6. The staff [of Moses]
  7. The shamir worm [which could eat the hardest stone to build the Temple]
  8. The script [of the Ten Commandments and the Torah]
  9. The inscription [on the Tablets of the Ten Commandments]
  10. The Tablets themselves [which could miraculously be read from either side]
Some say: also
  1.  Destructive spirits
  2. The burial place of Moses
  3. The ram of our father Abraham [which he slaughtered in place of Isaac]
And some say, also:
Tongs - which are made with tongs
Rabbi Dovid Rosenfield (mispocha? Abq Jew comes from a family of Rosenfields) comments on
[T]ongs deserve an honorable mention - if nothing else because they make an interesting diversion. :-)  I don't know if they too represent a merging of physical and spiritual realities, but they address one of those logical dilemmas which has plagued man throughout the centuries.
It takes a pair of tongs to shape a second pair over the fire. Who made the first one? Did the first blacksmith torture himself for the benefit of the future of mankind?
It too could have only been an act of G-d - not during the Six Days in which He created the natural world, but as a special gift to allow man to get on with the task of living and prospering in the world we know. 
In other words: the Rabbis postulated that the Holy One, Blessed Be He, gave us all we need to live in the world. The world - in terms of matter, of material, physical  things - is complete.

Scott Tyson also believes this, although he comes to it from an entirely different direction. Scott's book, The Unobservable Universe, is really a great read - Scott is a very entertaining writer. But more than that - The Unobservable Universe is a very Jewish way of looking at the universe and its mysteries.

No comments: