Posts tagged ‘LHC’

July 11th, 2012

The Standard Model of Particle Physics Written Out

by Max Andrews

With the recent discovery of a new boson, which is likely to be the elusive Higgs boson, the standard model for particle physics would not be complete.  Keep in mind that this only confirms the model that has been used for a long time now.  This explains the early moments after the big bang where there was the electroweak force which separated and became the electromagnetic and weak nuclear forces (there’s also the strong nuclear force).  This doesn’t unify the theory of gravity. Physicists must still develop a theory of quantum gravity.

October 7th, 2011

Neutrinos Faster Than Light or Extra Dimensions?

by Max Andrews

Source: CERN Press

By now we’ve all heard of the news coming out of CERN and OPERA on 23 September that the Italian accelerator, OPERA, measured neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light.  I didn’t comment on the finding right away because I wanted to do some research on the claims and on what exactly happened.  So here are my two-cents.

So, what exactly is a neutrino?  A neutrino is a fundamental particle and crucial for the standard model of particle physics.  The neutrino comes tin three types: [associated with] the electron, muon, and tauon, which are fermions and part of leptons.  The have no electric charge and interact only via the weak nuclear force (see the Oxford Companion to Cosmology for more on this).  These particle are incredibly difficult to detect and pass through our bodies all the time (this is a nice little Italian cartoon that has an excellent depiction of neutrinos).

So, what happened?  CERN sent the neutrinos 730lm to the Italian accelerator OPERA.  The journey only took 2.43 milliseconds and the scientists timed it to within 10 nanoseconds. (A millisecond is a thousandth of a second, 1/1,000s and a nanosecond is a billionth of a second, 1/1,000,000,000s).  The neutrinos arrived 60 nanoseconds earlier than they would have if they were traveling at the speed of light (c = 299,792,458 m/s). There are three options of what could have happened.

  1. Option One.  The experiment was in error and the calculations are simply incorrect.
  2. Option Two.  The speed of light is not the cosmic speed limit and there must be slight adjustments for relativity theory.
  3. Option Three.  The neutrinos took a shortcut through extra dimensions.

Option One: Experimental Error.  The OPERA team spent three years trying to calculate and find every error they could possibly find.  The neutrinos are produced by colliding protons into a graphite target to produce pions and travel a 1km tunnel and decay to produce neutrinos.  Electronic delays in the timing system that records when protons arrive at the graphite target introduce uncertainty.  However, this margin of error is 5 nanoseconds. Where the pions decay is also unknown, which produces an error of 0.2 ns.  Measuring the distance is also difficult because the OPERA lab in Gran Sasso is inside of a mountain, which is undetectable to GPS.  However, the distance can still be calculated to within 20 cm.  The error is 0.67 ns.  With the other errors taken into consideration, the total error bar is 7.4 ns.  Remember, if experimental error is going to be the prevalent option the errors have to account for 60 nanoseconds.

Option Two: Adjusting Relativity.  If it really is the case that the neutrinos did travel faster than the speed of light then Einstein isn’t completely thrown to the curb.  There must be a theory that will account for this that will be closer to the truth.  This has historical precedence.  Newtonian physics were thought to explain the universe until Einstein came around with the concept of relativity.  Newton wasn’t necessarily wrong, Einstein just provided a more accurate theory.  If neutrinos can travel faster than c then we need another Einsteinian discovery.  Not that big of deal.

Option Three: Extra Dimensions.  It may be the case that the neutrinos, when travel with an incredible amount of energy, travel through the smaller curled up dimensions.  Consider the neutrinos traveling into the fourth dimension, this would actually make the distance much shorter.  Hopefully this illustration will help.  Take a piece of paper and draw a straight line across the paper.  Label one end of the line A and the other B.  This line is one-dimensional.  Take the paper and fold it so it creates an upward arch.  Now, if you were to travel from A to B by going through the paper instead of curving around the outside of the paper then the distance would be shorter.  This may, perhaps, be what happened to the neutrinos. (For more information on the discovery see New Scientist No. 2832, October 1-7 2011).

I tend to lean more towards option three, that the neutrinos passed through the smaller extra dimensions.  This would be an incredible development that would contribute to and, possibly, confirm a prediction of string theory.  Part of this may be wishful thinking on my part but this may potentially be an incredible empirical find that would confirm the mathematics.  Now, what about further philosophical or theological implications?  I don’t think this has too much of an impact on philosophy or theology that hasn’t already been addressed concerning the philosophy of science or of scientific theology.  For more on these implications see “The Relationship Between Science and Philosophy,” “Einstein, the Big Bang, and Natural Theology,” “Einstein on Free Will,” and “Einstein’s Impact on the Epistemic Method.”

September 5th, 2011

Living in the Multiverse–Is it Science?

by Max Andrews

Is the multiverse hypothesis a legitimate scientific theory?  That is, are there regularities that illuminate and reflect underlying laws of nature by testing these laws and making predictions that can be either verified or refuted by experimentation and observation?  Generally, these are the guidelines for something to be scientific, can it be verified and falsified?  Before I continue, we need to make a distinction in two fundamental philosophies of science: instrumentalism and realism.

Instrumentalism:  Scientific theories are not intended to be literally true and accepting a theory requires us to believe only that its observational consequences are true.  Observation statements are literally true and science is only about these statements and the observations that verify them.  A few strengths of this philosophy is that it doesn’t conflict with common sense realism; we can believe in straightforward observations.  Plus, it’s more modest and non-commital than scientific realism.  A few weaknesses are that scientists seem to assume the realist view of the world in their “un-thinking” moments.  The instrumentalist should be able to draw a clear cut distinction between what is and what is not observable, which creates limitations on what really is observable (i.e. naked eye, magnifying glass, microscope, electron microscope, cloud chamber, etc.). This also raises the question, at what point is the objecting being observed really being observed, and so real, but then one bit smaller is not observable and thus not really existent?

Scientific Realism:  Scientific theories are intended to be literally true, and accepting a theory involves believing that it gives a true description of reality, “as it really is.”  A few strengths of this is that it makes the aspect of explanatory power superior to instrumentalism because explanation requires real things that cause the chain of causality.  Explanation by means of fictitious entity is not explanation at all.  Instrumentalism cannot explain the actual success of science, especially science’s making predictions, which are empirically adequate (i.e. Boyles-Charles Law, pv=k).

I’m going to argue that we should adopt the realist position partly because it is common sense and because it means and ends in explanation provide a robust sense of explanatory power that lacks instrumentalism and the metaphysical baggage it may carry is less deleterious than instrumentalism.

June 15th, 2011

The Philosophy Behind ‘Source Code’

by Max Andrews

Ben Ripley and Duncan Jones’ recent film Source Code is loaded with philosophical underpinnings and pushes the edge of current science.  Jake Gyllenhaal plays the role of an Army helicopter pilot (Colter Stevens) who faced a near-death injury in battle but wakes up to find himself in the body of another person, Sean Fentress, on a Chicago bound train.  Colter, while embodied in Sean’s body, needs to gather vital intelligence on the terrorist attack that is going to happen on the train in eight minutes to help prevent a future attack soon to come.  Though at times I got tired of monotonous scenes after Colter’s failed attempts the plot and philosophical and scientific edge makes a great film for those deep thinkers out there.

Inside the Source Code

This is how it works.  The Source Code is a computer program that takes the electromagnetic field from one person’s brain and allows that person to assume the role of another individual bearing the same likeness.  The personal duplication only lasts for eight minutes because that’s how much memory can be accessed by the electromagnetic field of the brain (per the movie).  The first important metaphysical question to be asked is how does this work with personal identity? For clarification I will refer to Colter’s embodiment of Sean on the train as code-world and Colter’s consciousness reflected in his personal self as real-world.  If real-world Colter assumes the identity of code-world Sean then what happens to code-world Sean at the moment Colter assumes his identity?  Now remember, code-world Sean was once real-world Sean during those real-world eight minutes Colter embodies Sean.  Also, code-world Colter was once real-world Colter at the same moment of code-world Colter going “back” as code-world Sean.  This begs the question, to whom do we predicate personal identity to Colter when he is in the code-world?  This isn’t so much of a time travel issue rather it’s related to parallel realities.  This may seem like Hollywood’s inability to be philosophically trained in consistent metaphysics but perhaps Ripley’s writing isn’t inept, perhaps it’s pushing the edge of contemporary philosophy and science!

Now let’s look at the issue of the parallel realities.  Max Tegmark is a leading proponent of the multiverse.  His is a little more extreme than many other proponents since he advocates a fourth-level multiverse, which is to say that mathematics is equivalent to physical reality.  The Source Code would be equivalent to the third-level multiverse.  The third level multiverse assumes unitary physics and that every possible physical particle interaction actually does occur.  Consider the illustration of a man and a woman who meet up for drinks.  It could go a number of ways, she could say, “Sure, let’s have a drink” or she could say, “No, I’d rather not.”  In this scenario both outcomes actually occur and reality splits and each story continues its course.  Now this model assumes that consciousness may be explained on the quantum level.  Source Code is consistent here.

The issue now is getting from one reality to the other.  Columbia University physicist Brian Greene is one of the leading string theorists and he believes there is a way to verify whether or not this can me done.  At the Large Hadron Collider in CERN hundreds of physicists from around the globe gather together and construct high energy particle experiments.  What happens is that they accelerate particle beams near the speed of light with the potential of producing 14 TeV.  These particle beams collide and reveal smaller sub-particles.  It works in a way similar to building a block made of legos and when you throw one block of legos at another block it was come apart and the smaller components will be left.  That’s how sub-particles are discovered.  Greene’s prediction is that when collision events occur and the data reveals that less energy is present than there should be then it may be that some particles, or energy, have been transferred into another brane (or another reality).  It’s not as though this idea is so far fetched or that it is unfalsifiable, branes may actually exist.  In regards to the modesty of the position this interpretation is known as the Many Worlds Interpretation (though it still faces its physical challenges and dissenters).  The MWI was developed my Hugh Everett and Tegmark is the contemporary who has carried the torch at this point.

In order for Source Code to be achieved there would have to be a tremendous amount of concentrated energy, that would be the consciousness of Colter, and specify that on the consciousness of Sean (or the electromagnetic field).  The precision and energy are almost certainly impossible to harness that energy in such a specified way to be able to determine the specified outcome of each particle interaction from one brane to another.  It’s the concepts of merely transferring energy from one brane to another that is possible.  Source Code takes the advances of modern high energy physics and fictionalizes it to be able to traverse realities.  It certainly raises metaphysical questions of identity, which are quite worth entertaining.  We shouldn’t always shape our metaphysics to what knowledge of the physical world we do have.  Our physics may not confirm or suggest certain ideas like this but these hypothetical thought experiments are great mental exercises and thought experiments.  I really enjoyed this film simply because it made me think about how this could actually work.  The physics are next to impossible but the philosophy behind it is what makes the movie worth it’s praise.  The plot and character development isn’t horrible but, hey, there has to be some milieu in order to portray the idea.