I Love This Picture

A Picture of The Whole Shebang

Timeline of the Universe (credit NASA WMAP)

It is a 3D timeline from the big bang to now. The diameter represents the size of the universe or more precisely the scale factor of the universe. It is hard to imagine but the universe did not start from a single point and explode into growing ball of gas. I know that’s what they imply when you listen to the TV pop science shows but the universe is everywhere, right? There is no center either. Its just that space happened all at once with all its bits in several dimensions and it started to expand in all those dimensions all at once.

The rate of expansion is illustrated in this picture, really fast at the beginning and then it slowed down. Now, as we have recently learned, it is starting to speed up again. So what does the diameter of the bell illustrate? In the beginning the bits of the universe were close together, now they are further apart. The diameter of the bell is proportional to how far each bit is from the next. This is called the scale factor. The outward expansion is just the scale factor growing at an accelerating rate. If nothing else changes things the bell will look like a trumpet pretty soon.

Something else cool about this picture is that it shows what we see in the WMAP and now the Planck images, the early microwave glow of the big bang. Using the satellites we capture photons from 13 billion years ago so they see what things looked like back then. The amazing thing about the image is that it is so uniform. In an explosion you’d expect to see billows, and clumps and gaps. But we don’t see much of that in the cosmic microwave background (CMB). This means the universe must have expanded very quickly indeed. Maybe faster than the speed of light (in fact almost certainly). That is why the first part of the bell gets big so quickly, the scale factor was growing so fast that each bit of the universe was moving away from every other at faster than the speed of light. The bits weren’t moving, it was space getting bigger, fluffier.

The interesting implication of this faster than light expansion, physicists call it inflation, is that some matter may be out there that we cannot see, past the edge of the observable universe. And that is the subject of the previous post, dark flow caused by ominous clumps of stuff outside our ability to see.

That is round about 390 words so there must be more in the picture but it is late and I will close with the other 610 left unwritten—for now.

When Bubbles Collide

Colliding Universes?How big is the Universe and if there are many, what would happen if they collided? Not a new question and several answers have been proposed (here is one). Another interesting question is why does time move in a single direction? Why does entropy increase? Laura Mersini-Houghton proposes an idea that answers both questions saying that bubble universes form with different arrows of time, eventually adding up to no preferred direction. She even claims to have a way to test this by looking our into the dark for boundaries.

Some have proposed that the Dark Flow may be one of these collisions, and the (now controversial) Great Void may be another. Where bubble universes are pulling and pushing on ours in places. FQXi has given her a grant to pursue the idea.

Can There Be a GUT Without Gravity?

Since Einstein we have known that gravity was somehow special. Physicists have a unified standard model of forces and elementary particles but everyone knows that the big problem is gravity. String theory contains gravitons and explains gravity like any of the other forces. But String theory has a lot of things, in fact it is more a tool set or framework than a single theory.

But what if gravity is just a shadow on the cave wall? Or, to put it in terms a physicist would use, what if gravity is emergent—the holographic affect of entanglement entropy? I have written about it before because the idea seems to be gaining steam, at least among wannabe crackpots (like me perhaps).

Ted Jacobson (no crackpot) wrote the seminal paper in 1995 describing how to derive Eistein’s General Relativity equations from, “the form of black hole entropy together with the fundamental relation Q = TdS.” It is a short elegant paper that has been sited often of late. Back in 1995 it was pretty hard for an amateur to follow controversy in the physics world so I didn’t notice a big reaction to Jacobson.

Then came Verlinde who shook things up in January of this year. I’ve already written about the reaction.

Verlinde seems to have started a lot of people thinking because there have been several new papers jumping on the bandwagon (1,2). In a recent FQXi post Vlatko Vedral shills his own coverage of the territory in his book, Decoding Reality.

I adopted his (Jacobson’s) logic in my book to suggest, with a tongue in cheek, that gravity can in fact be derived from information theory (albeit with a little bit of help from quantum entanglement). Vlatko Vedral.

For whatever intuition is worth, the ideas of entropy (which is tied to the arrow of time) and entanglement (spooky action at a distance) do seem to be special too.  And wasn’t it that honored cosmologist David Brin who said our universe is just a gigantic simulation?

Update: FQXi covers several of the papers and posts you’ve seen here but you might like the writing better. Check it out.

A Critical Eye on Verlinde

Woit and Motl agree on something and that is that Verlinde is on the wrong track, maybe even a crackpot.  But neither seem to have torn apart the math with a critical eye and, well let’s just say they have strong pre-existing opinions about the proper way to think.  They are both smart but extreme enough that I sometimes question their opinions only because they hold them.  What’s an amateur to do to get a balanced analysis?

Enter Sabine Hossenfelder or Bee as she is known to her blog readers.  She has recently spent time examining Verlinde’s paper producing a blog post and arXiv paper.  She offers some thoughtful criticism and asks the question, “so what?”  Some sort of equivalence between entropy and gravity is only useful if it can be used as a bridge to apply gravity to the quantum world.  And she finds that part still lacking.

Only Fools Believe

Something that has alway bothered me is the opinion expressed by moralistic politicians that faith and belief are virtues. Why? Doesn’t the skeptic who searches for evidence and rejects wishful thinking embody real virtue?  Would you be persuaded by someone’s belief that aliens crashed in a volcano and spread to infect all of humanity causing our combined ill-fortunes?  Oh, wait some people do believe that even though most of us would call that belief silly.  It is not backed by evidence and without evidence is not worthy of serious consideration. Which brings me to the quote of the day.

“I don’t ‘believe’ in string theory”, Brian Greene (the popular face of string theory and author of The Elegant Universe) in a Discover interview here.

Of course he goes on to make the distinction between belief and the virtuous pursuit of scientific skepticism in examining string theory. This balance of conviction and skepticism is the hallmark of good science. Greene is clearly a proponent of string theory and has written much about it but he is making a point about thought hygiene that ought to be applied broadly.

So the next time you are asked to vote for a politician who professes “faith” ask yourself if that lack of intellectual rigor is a good thing in a leader.  Faith is generally not a virtue.

Tracking Dark Flow

Click to download the movie-all 18M of it.

There’s more news on that weird sucking from outside the visible universe.  This was first noted by Alexander Kashlinsky at Goddard Space Flight Center and I wrote about it here.  The team has now tracked the flow to twice the distance reported back in 2008—to 2.5 billion light years away.  This video shows the flow for different distances from the Earth.  Unfortunately they don’t know yet for sure whether the flow is away from us or towards us.  Everyone assumes it is away and there is some data to say that this assumption is true.  At least if it is flowing away from us we can blame it on something outside our light horizon, something really really big.  The galaxy clusters studied are travelling at a million miles per hour.  Read about the new data here.

More Holographic Fun: Does Dark Energy Emerge from a More Fundamental Entropic Force

If Roger Zelazny had written the Amber books today I’m sure he would have had a Courts of Entropy instead of Chaos.  But I digress…

The Holographic Principal states that a 5-D universe can be encoded holographically on a 4-D universe.  Just as a 3-D object can be captured in a flat hologram.   The implications are that the supertring universe of 5 dimensions can be seen by thinking of our own universe as a hologram.  Using this principal some really smart guys (including George Smoot of Nobel fame) proposed on arXiv that dark energy in our universe is only a holographic affect of an entropic force in higher dimensions.

They develop their theory and use it to predict the amount of dark energy we should see in our universe.  Unless there are mistakes in their reasoning, which I cannot judge, the most interesting thing is how close the prediction is to the dark energy seen in the supernova data—you know the data that showed our universe is expanding at an accelerating rate.  The other interesting thing is this how people are beginning to find observable predictions in String/M-theory.

I’m going to have to pay more attention to this Entropy stuff.

BTW Motl has some thoughts on this paper too.

Examining the Vacuum Landscape Using Entropy

Entropy is big lately.  A new paper on arxiv (The Entropic Lanscape, Bousso and Harnik) uses entropic principles to derive predictions about such things as the cosmological constant and the nature of entropic radiation.  These predictions match well with observations in our corner of the universe and give a framework that applies to any part of the universe, even in other vacua.  This paper relates to examinations of the vacuum lanscape that usually end up relying on anthropic arguments.  In other words things are the way they are because we wouldn’t be here to observe them if they were different.  Bousso and Harnik replace arguments like that with ones that favor the maximiztion of entropy.

Also in a comment to a previous post here Nisheeth points to his arxiv article (The relativity of theory, Nisheeth) where he describes a framework for deriving physical laws from information-theoretic first principles.  He too relies on the maximiztion of entropy.