I've suggested (& published in 21 journal papers) a new theory called quantised inertia (or MiHsC) that assumes that inertia is caused by horizons damping quantum fields. It predicts galaxy rotation & lab thrusts without any dark stuff or adjustment. My University webpage is here, I've written a book called Physics from the Edge and I'm on twitter as @memcculloch. Most of my content is at patreon now: here

Tuesday 30 October 2012

Forks in the Road

Newton had his prism, and knew just what it meant.
Darwin saw some finchs' beaks, differently bent.
Einstein had Lenard's data, Michelson-Morley's too.
Reading these anomalies, they worked out what is true.

The cosmos has an imagination, greater than anyone.
It is difficult to outguess it, so what is to be done?
Rather: set up crucial experiments, like forks in a road.
The direction nature takes, will reveal the cosmic code.

Thursday 25 October 2012

The Irrelevance of Craziness

There's a interesting discussion going on over at Backreaction over a craziness factor for new theories. The proposal is that one should check how crazy (different to the standard model) is a new theory, and if it is a bit crazy that's good, but if it is very crazy it is bad. As I've said in a few comments over at Backreaction, I think this is misguided, since in my opinion the sole criteria for judging a new theory should be whether it "predicts nature better and is simpler" than the old models. These things can be determined objectively, whereas the agreement of the theory with human expectations is subjective, and should not be used to judge it.

There's a song, by Seal, that contains the line: "but we're never going to survive, unless we get a little crazy", and that's right in my view. The deeper workings of the cosmos probably would seem mad, if suddenly revealed, relative to our quaint conceptions, so our minds are going to have to learn to 'think crazy' relative to our current modes of thought, to understand the universe as we move out into new regimes, as we already do a little to understand relativity and quantum mechanics. Our world view is better than that of the ancient Greeks, but they would see our worldview as bizarre. Plato would have difficulty imagining that people are standing upside down in the antipodes. Who knows what parochial views we are a victim to?

Some will always try to fit the universe into our present notions of sanity, or stay close to them, by adding patches where they can, but this will eventually be inadequate. I'm not saying that we should deliberately try to be crazy, but I am saying that subjective measures like apparent craziness should not be considered when judging theories. Crazy or not, if they predict nature, and are simpler, then let them stand.

There is a pleasure sure, in being mad, which none but madmen know.
- John Dryden.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

The Star Trek London Convention

This last Sunday I went to the Star Trek Destination London convention. It is only the second Star Trek meeting I have been to, but it was extremely interesting, also when I assess my own reaction to it: I wandered around in awe. There was Chekov (Walter Koenig) walking around smiling broadly with a cap on, Data (Brent Spiner) looking out of this world with his bright white hair, all five Captains in booths, hidden by autograph queues. I paid particular interest to the characters from Enterprise (Bakula, Keating, Mongomery, Trineer). I like that series since in many ways it is more realistic, and closer to home timewise, and I like Scott Bakula's portrayal of Captain Archer, I saw his blond hair and big nose from afar. Archer is less decisive and passionate than Kirk, less Professional than Picard, maybe less caring then Janeway, who I also saw from afar (I haven't seen much DS9), but for me Scott Bakula gave the most realistic portrayal of all the captains of an explorer: someone trying to push the human envelope despite huge obstacles, and trying to work out how to do something right, that has never been done or imagined (note: I had only seen Enterprise Seasons 1 & 2 at this time).

I paid to get the autograph of William Shatner, who I have adored since childhood, and paid to see his talk, which was characteristically entertaining. When asked which film was his favourite he said of course: his own Star Trek V. For this film he'd ordered a rock monster breathing fire, but after paying $250,000 a guy in a monster suit showed up with a couple of rocks on his back and instead of breathing fire he emitted a wisp of smoke that blew away in the desert wind. I've read this story before, but Shatner's telling of it was as white-hot passionate as ever. His final comment was that he'd tried to play Kirk with "Awe and Wonder" at the universe, even when faced with death. I looked down at my four year old son, who was asleep draped across me and my dear wife (who reluctantly, but kindly, accompanied me to the convention). Awe and wonder: that is indeed what the universe deserves... No, Shatner didn't dissapoint me. Earlier in the day I got his autograph, and after thanking him I said I'd written a paper (and submitted it to a journal) suggesting that faster than light travel is possible, but he just said "You're very welcome". He was probably in a daze having thousands of people traipse past his booth.

I was certainly in awe and wonder, but also at my own reaction. I am well aware that these are actors and are paid to pretend to be explorers, so why do they affect trekkies this way? Well, sometimes as children we see a situation that we'd love to be in when we grow up. Like my son, who'd love to drive a train. Maybe Star Trek is like that for humanity (the technically-minded part of it anyway). It is a good future for us, with decent morals, interesting explorations and the possibility of healthy growth, and these actors remind us of this future. We are fooled by it, of course, because it is just imaginary, but we allow ourselves to be fooled, since it makes us happy.

There's a saying by Johnny Cash: "You gotta be what you are. Whatever you are, you gotta be it". I think this means that, while feelings may indeed seem to be based on rubbish or even illogic, if it makes you happy: go with the flow. This is like going with the grain of your internal nature instead of across it. More importantly, feelings can be wise in ways that logic can never hope to follow. The initial impulse for research can be irrational too, and although ultimately logic and data must be shown to agree, it may be true that if we believe in the possibility first, it may just be the thing needed to make it all come true.

Anyway, I had a good few hours wandering around in my irrational nirvana.

Friday 5 October 2012

Relativity & the GPS

Yesterday I gave my first lecture of term, all about the Global Positioning System (GPS), and managed to cover some very interesting things with the students. For example, special (SR) and general relativity (GR), which is important for GPS satellites which are fast moving, so time slows for them (SR), and higher up in the Earth's gravity well, so time speeds up for them (GR).

To explain relativity, I talked about a couple of mirrors with light bouncing between them to form a clock: say, each bounce is a second. Now if the mirrors move sideways relative to you the light has further to travel along the diagonal, but because the speed of light is supposed to be the same in all reference frames the light can't speed up, so the mirror-clock ticks more slowly for the moving mirrors: time dilation.

As I told my students (who were healthily sceptical of all this!): you might think that the slowness of the clock is just an apparent thing because we are seeing it from afar, but no! This has been tested. Some scientists (Hafele and Keating, 1971) left one atomic clock at home and took one for a ride on a fast and high plane to slow it down and speed it up by relativity. When they brought the clocks back together the effects of relativity were still there. This is amazing, because it means that the slowing down of time, is "real" (whatever that means) and not just apparent. This has a huge implication: that reality is what you can observe. It seems that because it is impossible in our reference frame to ever perceive the clock going at the 'normal' speed, then it doesn't go at the normal speed, it goes at the only speed we can perceive it to go.

Similarly, in MiHsC, the idea is that because we can never in principle measure the longer Unruh waves that don't fit exactly within the Hubble scale, they cannot exist. It's not particularly that we as humans cannot see them (it's not subjective), but rather that they cannot be seen "in principle", a more objective view. I'm suggesting that relativity should be modified very slightly, by MiHsC, based on this kind of thinking. It may seem strange that the world works in this Wycsiwyg (What you can see is what you get) manner, but the cosmos is no stranger to strangeness (sometimes it seems about as sane as a Penrose triangle). The point is that thinking like this does make correct predictions of nature, and that's the important thing.