There’s been a lot of excellent science shows on television, many available on DVD and/or on YouTube. Carl Sagan’s Cosmos immediately comes to mind and MythBusters while highly entertaining has a lot of solid science content too. However, IMHO, the cream of the crop, the best of the best, has been the Through the Wormhole series hosted by actor Morgan Freeman. Each of the episodes examines one of those nebulous Big Questions. Here are the questions asked on or about physics, and my personal opinions on each.
SEASON ONE: Is Time Travel Possible?
Of course time travel is possible! We travel into the future whether we like it or not at one second per second. But there’s Einstein’s Relativity and his twin paradox whereby as you go faster and faster the rate of change (i.e. – time) slows down relative to an external observer. In other words, you don’t age as fast as the external observer does. Thus, if the traveler and the external observer were the same age at the start of the traveling, when the traveler returns, she will be younger than her counterpart (twin), or, put another way, she will have traveled into the future.
Of course what most people mean by time travel is travel into the past. While time travel to the past is a yes-yes in Relativity theory, and might be verified at the quantum level, it’s a no-no for two reasons. The usual reason is that all manner of paradoxes can arise and philosophers, physicists and sci-fi authors have had a field day with those. More to the point, from an observational point of view, there’s no evidence for visitations by our descendants from our future. There are no reports of the expected hoards of time traveling tourists coming back in time to witness the assassination of JFK, the launch of Apollo 11, the gunfight at the OK corral, the sinking of RMS Titanic or the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor or any of other possible thousands of significant historical events. If time travel to the past were really possible, you’d expect well-heeled tourists to take advantage of it. Time travel to the past just may be in the too hard or too expensive basket for even the most advanced technical civilization.
Time travel to the past would of course be possible in a Simulated (Virtual Reality) Universe. Computer software could easily simulate such scenarios. That could also be the case in a manner of speaking if the Supreme Programmer makes an oops in the original programming and rewinds the software back and makes the required correction(s). Of course that’s not so much a simulation of time travel as just turning the clock back and resetting it.
SEASON ONE: What Are We Really Made Of?
No, it’s not sugar and spice and everything nice but it’s more than just pure neutrons, protons and electrons (which means you are made of Big Bang stuff) since you are also various combinations of those elementary particles like carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, etc. (so you are also star-stuff). In turn of course those atoms combine to form molecules like your proteins, sugars, fats, amino acids, etc. You are also made of those four universal forces. However weak, there has to be gravity (and therefore gravitons?) between all of your atoms and molecules. You’re slightly radioactive so the weak nuclear force is within you. Electromagnetism (photons) holds you together but you also radiate infrared photons. Finally the strong nuclear force holds your atomic nuclei together in place giving them stability. Also, virtual particles (virtual because you can’t actually see them) pop into and out of your innards and your reality contributing to most of your weight. But there’s nothing that’s nothing that comprises anything about you. There’s nothing nebulous about your mind (or soul or essence or spirit or self if you’d rather). Your mind is composed of and resides in the same sorts of matter and forces that makes up your big toe.
However, there could be no reality to you at all, just mathematics, and I don’t mean the sorts of mathematics that apparently govern the various laws, principles and relationships of physics that make you a really real you. The mathematics here is software. You are just software because we exist in a Simulated (Virtual Reality) Universe! That’s what you are really made of – bits and bytes!
SEASON TWO: Does Time Really Exist?
No, time does not exist. Time is just a concept involving the notion of change. What we call time is just our intellect making sense of and by measuring rate of change. If nothing ever changed the notion of time would become meaningless. Time is not a thing of substance or structure. It is infinite in duration since change always has been and always will be, due to the vacuum energy if for no other reason.
SEASON TWO: Are There More Than Three Dimensions?
There aren’t even three dimensions! The concept of spatial dimensions is just that, a concept that resides within us. Dimensions are obviously a useful mathematical construct, but there’s nothing magical about a right angle. A zero 20 unit: domino qq is a concept that has no independent reality outside of the human mind; a one dimensional line is likewise a concept; any two dimensional area is a concept and ditto space or volume. The fourth dimension, time, is also a concept (see: “Does Time Really Exist?” immediately above.) Therefore, any additional spatial dimensions are also just (at this point in time advanced theoretical) mathematical constructs that are even more nebulous than a zero dimensional point. The concept of extra curled up hidden spatial dimensions – at one point there was envisioned up to 26 or so spatial dimensions in ‘reality’ – is so paranormal it makes ‘normal’ paranormal concepts seem downright plausible. Of course these hidden extra dimensions are useful is explaining where the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy and Unicorns reside! Perhaps God has exiled all those “have no other gods before me” like Zeus and Odin and Quetzalcoatl and their related pantheons to these curled up hidden dimensions – sort of like the Phantom Zone of the Superman universe.
SEASON TWO: How Does the Universe Work?
The standard answer is that you apply the laws, principles and relationships of physics to the four fundamental forces and all the associated elementary particles then sit back and watch the Universe unfold as it should. That means there should be a Theory of Everything (TOE). The Holy Grail of modern physics is to unify the four forces of nature and the properties of their associated particles and make the lot compatible with both Classical (macro) Physics and Quantum (micro) Physics. It’s sort of at the stage of assembling a zillion piece jigsaw puzzle with many pieces missing and having other pieces that don’t fit. However, IMHO it is logical to assume that there must be a TOE, yet that TOE is proving to be just a tad too elusive for comfort. Alas, thousands of some of the finest minds in all of theoretical physics over many decades now have tilted at windmills in their quest for a TOE. The result to date has been zip; zilch; zero. It can’t be that difficult, assuming of course that there really does exist a TOE which could fit on the front of a geek’s tee-shirt. My alternative is akin to how there is more than one variety of software that runs your PC. There is no TOE for your laptop. There is no TOE for our Universe either. Classical Physics is governed by one set of software. Quantum Physics is governed by a second, separate and apart set of software and never the twain shall meet and greet. That’s because the Universe is more likely as not akin to your PC’s software programs (plural). We exist in a Simulated (Virtual Reality) Universe that requires separate and apart set of software and never the twain shall meet and greet. My prediction therefore is that questing for a TOE is akin to questing for that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.