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Analyzing the Cosmology Explanation Given by Stephen Hawking on Curiosity

28 Aug

In my paper, “Working Together on Knowledge,” I advance some standards for using language in the service of science and the type of understanding, clarity, and consistency that we want from scientific explanations. In this post, I’d like to use my proposed approach, or framework – called Place – to look at a specific example. The example I’ll analyze is Stephen Hawking’s explanation for the origins/beginning of the physical world that was made via the Discovery Channel’s TV show, Curiosity.

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A theory context should be empty at the beginning so that we can know clearly and explicitly what is in the theory and what is not. Thus, start by setting up a blank theoretical context in your mind. The goal for this context is for it to be the place where we develop the target explanation put forward by Hawking. Let’s call this context SH Cosmo Ex for Stephen Hawking Cosmology Explanation.

In order to communicate about theory (or anything really) we need nouns and verbs. [The most simple unit of communication is a declarative clause which consists of a noun and a verb.] Thus, distinguish between noun meanings [stuff] and verb meanings [forces]. The primitives of a theory are noun meanings called concepts, and verb meanings either capabilities (triggered) or rules (always effecting or active).

Next, introduce the concept of nothing into the SH Cosmo Ex context, we’ll call it Nothing. [This may seem strange, but it is also done by the set-theoretic development of numbers which starts with the null set; so it’s not without precedent.] And introduce a capability: to-separate-nothing.

Now, it could be that Stephen Hawking [Hawking] would take exception to the idea that his explanation needs a capability.

Consider that Hawking indicates through the use of a hole and the stuff removed from the hole that he envisions Nothing being separated into Energy and Negative Energy.

A principle in Place is that in any construction site (a theoretical context is a type of construction site) things stay the way they are unless a force is active to effect the change. (Force ≡ that which is common to verb meanings.) Scholars don’t generally accept magic as a part of science; if there’s a change, there is a reason for it. Therefore, if Nothing changes, if Nothing is separated into energy and negative energy, then some force acted to cause the separation. A capability, must be employed: to-separate-nothing.

Hawking wants energy to be a raw material in his explanation. However, with (conventional) dimensional analysis we know that energy has units of mass, distance, and time. Thus, the the basic raw materials involved in the SH Explanation are matter, space, and time. The presence of energy requires the presence of mass, space, and time.

Returning to the development of Hawking’s Explanation in SH Cosmo Ex, to-separate-nothing acts on Nothing to separate Nothing into amounts of positive mass, space, and time, plus amounts of negative mass, space, and time. Before to-separate-nothing spontaneously acts, there is no time or space. After to-separate-nothing is active, time begins, space begins, and matter begins (which is measured in units of mass). Anti-time begins, anti-space begins, and anti-matter begins.

It is known that if matter and anti-matter collide in equal quantities, then both are annihilated. But to my knowledge, most program-viewers and I have not been exposed to the idea of negative space-time. Given the dirt separated into a hole and a hill analogy given by Hawking, the positive something known as space-time would require a corresponding negative something which we’ll call anti-space-anti-time in order to balance the equation (established by Hawking) which equals Nothing.

Next, rules are introduced into SH Cosmo Ex that provide the 4 basic physical forces: gravity, electro-magnetism, the strong nuclear force, and the weak nuclear force. The analytical lens of Place reveals that whenever we have order rather than randomness, then a force known as a rule is active. The physical behavior associated with the basic physical forces is consistent and non-random. Thus, these forces are cast as rules in SH Cosmo Ex.

In the SH Explanation, the raw materials: space, time, matter, anti-space, anti-time, and anti-matter are initially present in a single clump that starts to expand. I think that Hawking sees this expansion as a result of the to-separate-nothing force, but it’s hard to say for sure. He asserts that causality requires time and since there is no time before the raw materials of the physical universe blink into existence there is no cause for the intial separation of Nothing. Would SH agree to a self-triggering force/capability acting on Nothing? A force, to-separate-nothing, is absent from the explanation he offered; however, it is necessary for a well-formed theory.

Let’s grant the required set up SH Cosmo Ex according to SH’s Explanation, starting with Nothing and the to-separate-nothing force. And we’ll further grant that everything starts out in a clump such that space (and anti-space) has practically no extension in any direction. Why does the clump expand?

Gravity acts in a radial direction pointed towards the center of mass, so gravity acts to keep matter clumped together. If no space is separating matter (as is the case if space has no appreciable distance in any direction initially), then individual charged particles are not present (a particle inherently requires a spatial boundary), so electro-magnetism would not have a role in the Big Expansion. The strong and weak nucler forces are short-range forces which are generally not seen as playing a role in the macroscopic movement of matter. And initially, there are not any nuclear particles, right? …just one singular clump of stuff. So why would there be any expansion of the clump?

The SH Explanation, as I see it, does not account for the Big Expansion which happens in his history of time.

Here’s another issue. What keeps anti-matter, anti-space and anti-time separate from matter, space and time? What keeps quantities of them from recombining into nothing? If some quantity of negative energy and positive energy combine, then we would experience this as (observable) energy being destroyed. And yet the conservation (non-destruction) of energy is a widely-observed property of the universe. The conservation of energy means that Hawking’s negative energy and positive energy don’t combine; they remain separate. This consistent non-random behavior must be effected by some force. However, the SH Explanation does not address this. Without a force maintaining separation, the SH Cosmo Ex permits the destruction of energy which would mean that the SH Explanation is at odds with the conservation of energy.

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I hope this analysis shows how Place can be helpful as a rubric for evaluating theories.

On the other hand, the SH Explanation makes me wonder if scholars are prepared to accept acts of magic – spontaneous appearances and disappearances – as part of a scientific explanation. Is Hawking’s explanation acceptable to the academic community?

Working as an Independent Scholar on Theoretical Foundations

4 Feb

In the blog post before last (the first one), I raised some concerns about how the current system works for proposing and evaluating new theories. In the last blog post, shared some of my experience about the difficulties of receiving a fair hearing/review.

So why not just go with the flow and follow the usual path for being a grad student, post-grad, lecturer, or professor in an esteemed academic institution?

First of all, people who see new openings for leaving the beaten path are not the people who are willing to spend a lot of time to get perfect test scores. Rather, personal curiosity drives the process of discovery and education. One observer of this tension in my life observed that a person cannot serve two masters — the master that demands activities for getting good grades versus the master known as curiosity or the quest to know.

Secondly, is it practical to work on changing the foudation of a building by working within that building? In this context, the building is the construct ideas that the seasoned yeomen of the academic business all ascribe to. Working outside the building is really the only way that such a major change can be attempted. We want to preserve the good parts of the structure and put it on a foundation that provides better support and allows for a greater scope of development.

Then, consider if a graduate advisor would let a grad student take on some big issue like the theoretical underpinnings of mathematics. Not likely. An advisor wants to know that the grad student can be successful with the proposed topic. Then, post-doc and lecturer opportunities are related to the scholar’s grad work. So, the usual path (leading to peer reviewed and/or published theoretical work) pretty much assures that new theoretical work is incremental and built on existing approved foundations.

That’s enough.  Just a little bit of attention to address questions that may have been raised. Let’s move on.

The main thing I want to get to is that in working together on knowledge, we need to have some standards that govern theoretical development. I plan to take this up in my next blog post.

Competition of Theories, Where We Are Now

24 Jan

We have many reasons to feel good about the progress that has been made with respect to understanding our physical world. Gaining understanding about gravity, electro-magnetism, and statistical mechanics has enabled technologies for space travel, computers, and refrigerators. Continued progress, however, is being limited by the screening process for new theories.

Any explanation of how the world works involves a theory. A theory makes certain fundamental assumptions (axioms), has special key terms, and uses language in careful way in order to foster clarity and preserve consistency (i.e. it is not the case that a statement and it’s negation are both true). We like and want theories that let us know more about the world around us. We  especially like theories that lead to more power, more health, more free time, and other benefits.

What many people may be unaware of is this: the world of science has plenty of competing theories but unlike professional sports there are no formal rules that govern the competition.

In professional American football, does the enforcement of the rules (via referees) matter for which team wins? Yes. So how does it work in professional science? How does one theory win over another?

First, a person who is advancing a theory must be a grad student, post-doc, or professor at a college or university. For example, the movie Lorenzo’s Oil tells the story of parents with a son who is dying and they make a medical breakthrough. The breakthrough halts the progressive deterioration of their son. The process and politics involved in  academic medical knowledge rejects their breakthrough.  The benefit of the breakthrough is denied to other families who rely on and trust the medical establishment.

Being a grad student, post-doc or professor is not a guarantee that a person’s new theory will be considered, however. The person’s academic background, his or her thesis advisor, or the school where he/she works are all potential disqualifiers.  In order to be allowed onto the field of competition at all, the creator of a new theory must be from the best of schools and/or working with other top professors in the field. Theoretical work is not qualified based on its merits, rather the status of its creator.

We wouldn’t want to have to consider all possible theories — any theory proposed by anyone — but consider how this situation puts so much power in the hands of a very small group of people, say professors from the top 10-15 universities. (The size of the group depends on the field of study and the discipline that the theory is related to.) This small group of people are usually older and apt to hold on to the mental pathways that they have been successful with all their lives. This can potentially inhibit discovery. This also cultivates an environment where the politics of human relationships matters in a way that is contrary to the level of objectivity we expect in human intercourse related to science.

A theory is advanced in some written form, say a journal article or a book. People that work for the journal or the book publisher provide an initial filter to see if a work should be  accepted for peer review. They evaluate if the person is a reasonable candidate to be regarded well by others in the field and they consider the abstract to see if it seems reasonable and offers something new or interesting. This is another part of the process that fails to meet the level of objectivity desired, since it relies on the subjective opinion of a few people .

Next, the trusted professionals who perform the peer review look over the article or book and make sure that it meets basic standards: are claims supported, was the research done properly, does it fit with what is known, and according to their professional opinion is the paper acceptable. There are some basic standards in this process, but no rules to govern why one theory should win over another.

After a paper or book is published, then the competition begins in earnest.

For scientists who have familiarized themselves with paradigms and theories and the fact that they are subject to change, there is at least one principle governing the competition. If a proposed theory is more simple, explains what is known, and provides new results – new understanding – then it should win. (The power of incumbency is very strong as it probably should be.)

The comparable situation in American football would be putting 2 teams on a football field and saying that the winner is the one with the most points gained in one hour by touchdowns, field goals, safetys and extra points, with no rules regarding acceptable ways to advance the ball or change possession of the ball, no rules against roughing the kicker or pass interference. However, even this situation has more clarity than the competition between theories, because the definition of each method for gaining points: a touchdown, field goal, safety or extra point kick is much better defined than “what is known” or the property of being “more simple.”

You ask what kind of rules could be applied to theories?

I have some ideas, but that’s a post for another day.

Hopefully, you see that the current state of working together on scientific knowledge has a lot of room for improvement.