Posts tagged ‘Planck’

March 22nd, 2013

New Planck Satellite Data Reveals Almost Perfect Universe

by Max Andrews

I’ve been waiting for new Planck data to come in for a while now and I’ve been very excited about this. First we had COBE (Cosmic Background Explorer) that gave us the first images of the cosmic microwave background radiation approximately 380,000 years after the big bang when light became visible. This discovery led George Smoot and John Mather to receive the Nobel Prize in Physics (2006).

COBE data

Then we had the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Prove (WMAP) satellite, which provided a much clearer and more defined resolution revealing a much more precise picture of the early universe.

July 25th, 2012

The Big Bang and The Big Crunch

by Max Andrews

The universe was created 13.73 billion years ago.  At about 10-44 seconds after the big bang inflation kicked in and underwent a period of rapid inflation (expansion, this inflation force is thought to be dark energy depicted in Einstein’s lambda term (the cosmological constant) in the right hand side of his field equation describing the energy momentum of the universe.) The cosmological constant is a characteristic of the spacetime fabric of the universe related to its stretching energy (space energy density—commonly referred to as dark energy).  The more the universe expands, the greater this stretching energy becomes.[1]  When the spacetime fabric stretches, the bodies of masses, such as galaxies, move farther apart by the stretching of space.  The cosmological constant is in effect a pulling property that works against gravity.  Since creation, the cosmological constant’s effect has been increasing.

Initial expectations were for the expansion to slow down and for the universe to collapse back in on itself.  For instance, when a ball is tossed in the air its speed slows down and the ball falls to the ground.  If the cosmological constant were applicable on the scale of tossing a ball in the air the ball would not slow down and return to the ground, it would actually increase in speed and move farther away from where it was tossed.  This immediately leads to questions concerning the end of the universe.  Either way, gravity contracts back in on itself or dark energy expands the universe to equilibrium (due to the cosmological constant’s effect), the universe is condemned to eventual futility.  The advent of relativity theory and its application to cosmology altered the shape of the eschatological scenario on the basis of the second law of thermodynamics.  

March 7th, 2012

The Planck Scale Physics

by Max Andrews

In the system of Planck units, the Planck base unit of length is known simply as the Planck length, the base unit of time is the Planck time, and so on.  These units are derived from the five dimensional universal physical constants in such a manner that these constants are eliminated from fundamental equations of physical law when physical quantities are expressed in terms of Planck units.

Planck Length: 1.616252(81) 10-35 m

February 25th, 2012

Quantum Physics: How Small? How Fast? How Long?

by Max Andrews


Atomic nuclei range from about 10-4 to 10-5 of the size of an atom.  If the atom were about the size of a medium-sized airport (say, 3 km) then the nucleus would be about 30 cm, about the size of a basketball.  Now imagine the airport, 3 km, having a sphere encompassing it.  If you change the basketball to a golf ball you have a rough scale of the hydrogen atom with its central proton.  Inside the golf ball are the quarks.  Change the scale from the proton being the size of a golf ball to the size of a marble, about 1 cm.  The sphere is now the size of the earth’s orbit.  The actual size of a proton is about 10-15m.  This is equivalent to one femtometer, or one Fermi (1 fm).  The smallest distance probed is 10-18m, which is one thousandth of a fermi.  The fundamental particles such as quarks are smaller than this.

The radius of the Hubble volume, or known universe, is about fourteen billion light years, which is about 1026m away.  The size of your desk is about 1026 times smaller than the universe and only 1018 times larger than the smallest probed distance.  The mean distance between the large distance of the universe and the smallest distance probed is 104m, or 10 km.  This means that the mean distance of the universe is about six miles.

August 11th, 2011

Einstein on Free Will

by Max Andrews

After the First World War Einstein made contributions to the development of quantum theory, including Bose-Einstein statistics and the basics of stimulated emission of radiation from atoms (which was later used to develop lasers).  He gave the nod of approval that led to the rapid acceptance of Louis de Broglie’s ideas about matter waves but he never came to terms with the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics.[1] The Copenhagen has become the more popular and standard interpretation.[2]

According to the Heisenberg Principle, the moment at which a measurement takes place is the moment at which the randomness lying at the heart of quantum reality expresses itself.[3]  Up to that point, everything is fine.  Amplitudes change in a completely predictable, and more importantly, calculable way.  The observer changes the state of what is being observed.  Outcomes can be predicted according to governing probabilities, but the actual outcome cannot be known in advance.[4]

This was something Einstein could not live with.  Einstein, as a determinist, felt that the world is a structured and rigid web where effects follows cause and all things should be predictable, given the right information.  Einstein acknowledged that quantum theory works but he did not like the philosophy behind it.  If whether or not, for example, Niels Bohr, Einstein’s quantum physics counterpart, were to throw a book across the room Einstein would be able to predict the outcome of Bohr’s “choice.” Einstein would of course say that choice is the wrong word to use; rather, the brain is a complex machine with cogs whirring round to produce a predictable action.  The basis of Einstein’s view was a philosophical conviction that the world did not include random events:  an objection summed up in Einstein’s widely quoted saying, “God does not play dice.”[5]  Bohr is reported to have responded to Einstein with the witty reply, “Don’t tell God what to do.”

Strict [or hard] determinism may be the only way to avoid the implication from quantum mechanics and experiments such as the delayed choice experiment.[6]  This experiment suggests that quantum communications occur instantaneously across any distance, or even travel backwards in time.[7]  The determinist is not yet defeated, quantum mechanics comes with a state of collapse and that seems to be linked to measurement.  Whatever measurements are, they are very specific situations and probably linked to what happens when a particle bumps into a measuring device.[8]

Einstein played a prominent role in the early development of quantum mechanics, particular in his philosophical approach to it.  How one interprets quantum mechanics will shape the answer to the question of determinism and free will.  Empirical testing does not seem to be enough to provide a satisfactory answer; rather, it how the data is interpreted.  Einstein’s approach to the rejection of genuine random events has been an influence of the contemporary debate.  It has been argued that Einstein’s determinism is correct, but it may be a mistake for him to base it on random events.  Randomness is not sufficient for determinism to be true; a lack of causality would be sufficient.  Even with the delayed choice experiment there seems to be a lack of causality, if anything it would be backwards causality.  The free will proponent must be careful not to appeal to any ignorance for a lack of explanation of such quantum events.  Einstein’s reason for determinism (randomness) does nothing to advance his case.  If anything, quantum experiments such as the delayed choice experiment only show that there is randomness in the world, not that there is purposeful, free agency.  All quantum mechanics entails is that there are random events in the brain (or whatever) that yield unpredictable behavior, which the agent is not responsible.[9]  Thus, it seems to be the case that Einstein’s philosophy of determinism has persevered.[10]

[1] Kenneth William Ford, The Quantum World: Quantum Physics for Everyone (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), 117.

[2] At this time there are at least ten regularly cited interpretations of quantum physics varying in interpretation of wave collapse, determinacy/indeterminacy, superpositions, and Schrödinger’s equations.

[3]  The equation: (change in x multiplied by the change in px is greater than or equal to half of Planck’s constant). For a given state, the smaller the range of probable x values involved in a position expansion, the larger the range of probable px values involved in a momentum expansion, and vice versa.  The key to the expression is the greater than or equal to because it places a limit on how precise the two measurements can be.  The principle is relating and for the same state ( signifies change, h, h-bar, is the Planck constant).  Heisenberg’s target was causality. The Copenhagen interpretation adopted this principle.  Jonathan Allday, Quantum Reality: Theory and Philosophy (Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2009), 247-248.

[4] Jonathan Allday, Quantum Reality: Theory and Philosophy (Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2009), 100-101.

[5] Allday, 101.

[6] If photons are fired through the experiment one at a time (firing photons at a wall with two holes and a photon detector on the other side of the holes), they will build up an interference patter on the other side, as if they had gone through both holes at once and interfered with themselves.  If the experiment is set up so that detectors monitor which hole the photo goes through, the photon is indeed observed to be going through only one hole, and there is no interference pattern.  If a detector is set up not at the holes but intermediate between the two holes and the back wall detector screen then it may be possible to see which route a particular photon took after it had passed the two holes before it arrived at the screen.  Quantum theory says that if we choose to turn this new detector off and not look at the photons, they will form an interference pattern.  But if we look at the photons to see which hole they went through, even if we look after they have gone through the hole, there will be no interference pattern.  The delayed choice comes into the story because we can make the decision whether or not too look at the photon after the photon has already passed through the hole[s].  The decision made seems to determine how the photon behaved at the time it was passing though the hole a tiny fraction of a second in the past.  It seems as though the photons have some precognition about how the set-up of the experiment will be before it sets out on its journey.  This has also provided credence to the metaphysical concept of backwards causation.  John R. Gribbin, Mary Gribbin, and Jonathan Gribbin (Q Is for Quantum: Particle Physics from A-Z. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1998), 102-103.

[7] This is most notably accepted by the transactional interpretation of quantum mechanics. Gribbin, 104.

[8] Allday, 102.

[9] Predictability may be equivalent to randomness, not a lack of causality.  Louis Pojman, Philosophy: The Pursuit of Wisdom (Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2006), 229-230.

[10] Recalling Einstein’s epistemic method, he based all of his philosophy and work on the ontological status of the universe.  He did not seem to indicate an immateriality to the mind.  Einstein’s influence is limited only to the physical aspect for the substance dualist.  Here is where the substance dualist and the scientific theologian must resume the dialogue.

August 10th, 2011

Einstein, The Big Bang, and Natural Theology

by Max Andrews

Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (GTR) had predicted that the universe was either expanding or contracting.  Einstein found the notion of a beginning to the universe so distasteful that he introduced a “fudge factor” to his field equation to keep a Steady State universe, an eternal equilibrium.[1]  Einstein introduced a term called the cosmological constant.  The cosmological constant was a force so weak, which factored into the geometric curvature of space, that it would make no difference on an eternal universe.

In the 1920’s Edwin Hubble was studying the Andromeda nebula.  At least since the time of Kant scientists wondered what these distant enormous objects were (galaxies).  Kant conjectured that they might be island universes in their own right.[2]  With further study, Hubble noticed that these galaxies had a red shift; the galaxies were appearing redder than they should have and Hubble postulated that these galaxies were moving away from one another.  What was being observed was the same thing that the Doppler effect has on sound.  The trajectory of an object has an effect on the wavelength of the sound, or in this case, light.

As a result of Hubble’s discovery and Einstein’s own equations the Russian mathematician Alexander Friedman and the Belgian priest and physicist Georges Édouard Lemaître suggested that the universe had a finite past and was not static and eternal.  There was now a problem with the cosmological constant; it cannot simply be deleted from Einstein’s equations. The cosmological constant could balance the equation from describing the geometric curvature (left hand side of the equation) to describing the energy momentum (right hand side of the equation).   If this expansion is extrapolated the equations of motion then (and even now) can only go but so far—until the universe comes to a singularity. With reluctance Einstein conceded the steady state model in the late 1920’s, though many scientists would not accept the implications of an expanding universe (its finitude).  One critic, Fred Hoyle, dubbed such an event the “Big Bang” in mockery and the name stuck.[3]

Einstein’s GTR [and aspects of STR] has made incredible contributions to natural theology.[4]  Given the fixed speed of light, that nothing can travel faster than light, and the billions of light-years separation between the earth and other stars, it follows that the universe is billions of years old.[5]  This has created a problem for young-earth creationists.[6] Current estimations for the age of the universe have been set at 13.73±2 billion years old.  Young-earth creationists have adopted three main approaches:  (1) embrace a fictitious history of the universe in the spirit of Philip Gosse’s 1857 work Omphalos; (2) view the speed of light as having decayed over time; and/or (3) interpret Einstein’s GTR so that during an “ordinary day as measured on earth, billions of years worth of physical processes take place in the distant cosmos.”[7]

Regarding a fictitious history of the universe, the argument states that all present light, which appears to be billions of light years away, was created in transit with an appearance of age.  So, when supernovae exploding in a galaxy millions or billions of light years away, the young-earth creationist [advocate of a fictitious history] must adopt the approach that no supernovae ever exploded.[8]  Einstein and the scientific theologian’s epistemic method reject such an interpretation.  Einstein’s method of inquiry based the natural order as having an ontological status of genuine reality and the discoveries are made a posteriori; no such method of inquiry is tenable under a fictitious history.  Einstein’s epistemology has influenced Big Bang theists and scientific theologians regarding GTR and the objectivity of the natural order.  It appears, objectively, that the universe really is billions of years old.

The second argument was a denial that the speed of light has been a constant [approximately] 300,000 km/s.  As previously discussed, Einstein’s E=mc2 states that energy is proportional to the mass of an object multiplied by the speed of light squared.  If c decays then that would imply that there has been a change in the quantity of energy in the universe.  This creates a problem for thermodynamics.  Thermodynamics would not be the only problem; many other constants would need to change as well to preserve the stability of a life-permitting cosmos such as Planck’s constant h (h-bar).  Suddenly the objection is not only with c because that would in turn change all of physics.[9]  All of this would be done to circumvent an old universe suggested by a constant speed of light.[10]  Before Einstein’s relativity theories, this would not have been a problem for the young-earth creationist.

The third foremost-misconstrued aspect of Einstein’s equations by natural theologians has been to misinterpret GTR and time dilation.  The mathematics of this theory shows that while God makes the universe in six days in the earth’s reference frame (“Earth Standard Time”), the light has ample time in the extra-terrestrial reference frame to travel the required distances.[11]  The problem with this theory is that there are mathematical errors in its use of Einstein’s GTR.

One misunderstanding is the theory’s use of the Cosmological Principle.  It wrongly assumes that the long-time-scale implications of Big Bang cosmology are crucially dependent on the global validity of the principle and that the relaxation of this assumption, through the introduction of a boundary to the matter of the universe, produces dramatic differences in the gravitational properties of the universe.[12]  A second misunderstanding is the nature of time.  The theory wrongly affirms that the physical clock synchronization properties, which occur in the standard Big Bang model are due to the boundary conditions implied by the Cosmological Principle and that modification of these boundary conditions can change the way physical clocks behave.  Clocks in either our bounded or unbounded universe will behave exactly the same way whether on earth or at a distant galaxy provided there are identical interior matter distributions.[13] The third misunderstanding to be discussed is how GTR relates to event horizons (the point where escaping a mass’s gravity becomes impossible).  The theory wrongly affirms that observers who pass through event horizons observe dramatic changes in the rate of time passage in distant parts of the universe when it is the case that no such changes occur.[14]  Einstein’s impact on young-earth creationism has been profound and, arguably, has overthrown the tenability of young-earth creationism altogether.[15]

Einstein’s impact on natural theology has not been completely negative, as in the case for young-earth creationists, but for scientific theologians [and old-earth creationists] he has been a catalyst for epistemic and religious advances.  It is important to understand that as a GTR-based theory, the model does not describe the expansion of the material content of the universe into preexisting, Newtonian space, but rather the expansion of space itself.  The standard Big Bang model, as the Friedman-Lemaître model came to be called, thus described a universe that is not eternal in the past, but which came into being a g finite time ago.  Moreover, the origin it posits is an absolute origin ex nihilo.[16]  Christian theologians and philosophers already had arguments for a beginning of the universe based on necessity, contingency, and the concept of an actual infinite, but Einstein’s equations, which led the Standard Model, gave a mathematical and physical description of the universe that supported the Christian doctrine of creation.  The metaphysical concept of creatio ex nihilo now had empirical evidence.

In the 1960’s there was a dramatic increase in a series of dialogue on the relationship between science and religion.[17]  Natural theology [by the tasks of primarily scientists and philosophers] has sought to demonstrate that God is a necessary element in any comprehensive explanation of the universe is a long tradition, one that the Darwinian crusade sought to eliminate.  It might be legitimate to say that this renewed relationship between science and religion is a return to normal if Einstein was right when he said that “science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.”[18]

            [1] Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Wesley Richards. The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos Is Designed for Discovery (Washington, DC: Regnery, 2004), 171.

            [2] Gonzalez and Richards, 169.

            [3] Gonzalez and Richards, 171.

            [4] Natural theology supposes that the belief in God must rest upon an evidential basis.  Belief in God is thus not a properly basic belief.  Through the development of Einstein’s work, natural theology was undergoing barrage of attack from theologians such as Karl Barth.  Barth’s polemic against natural theology can be seen as a principled attempt to safeguard the integrity of divine revelation against human attempts to construct their own notions of God, or undermine the necessity of revelation. Alister E. McGrath, The Science of God: An Introduction to Scientific Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 81-82.

            [5] It is worth noting that space itself can travel faster than the speed of light, Einstein’s STR permits this.  It is expected that space begin to exceed this cosmic speed limit relatively soon.  William Dembski, The End of Christianity (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2009), 65.

            [6] Young-earth creationists have an epistemic method that begins with the Bible and shapes the rest of nature and science according to that specific interpretation rendered.  Their conclusion is that the six days of creation are a literal 24-hour day period and the universe is roughly six to ten thousand years old.

            [7] These are the three primary approaches as they relate to Einstein’s work.  Young-earth creationists have certainly developed scores of other arguments, but these are the most relevant and most cited.  D. Russell Humphreys, Starlight and Time: Solving the Puzzle of Distant Starlight in a Young Universe (Green Forest, AR: Master, 1994), 37 quoted in Dembski, 65.

            [8] Dembski, 66-67.

            [9] Dembski, 67-68.

            [10] There are models consistent with a 13.7 billion year old universe that suggests a change in the speed of light.  Recent varying-speed-of-light (VSL) theories have been suggested as a possible alternative to cosmic inflation for solving the horizon problem, the problem of causality over long distances in initial inflation, suggesting that the speed of light was once much greater.  This is not a popular view since it is difficult to construct explicit models permitting such a suitable variation.  Other constants have been suggested to change (a theory of varying fundamental constants) in part due to superstring theory and eternal inflation.  Even so with these theories and cosmic models, there are still more-fundamental (in contrast to varying) constants in the parent universes (preceding universes in the multiverse models).  Even with a theory of varying fundamental constants Einstein’s equations [of STR] still stand in such models. Andrew R. Liddle, and Jon Loveday, The Oxford Companion to Cosmology (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2009), 316.

            [11] Humphreys, 13.

            [12] Samuel R. Conner and Don N. Page, “Starlight and time is the Big Bang,” CEN Technical Journal 12 no. 2 (1998): 174.

            [13] Ibid.

            [14] Ibid.

            [15] In Conner and Page’s response to young-earth creationism’s cosmology they assume five mathematical and methodological points.  (1) GTR is an accurate description of gravity.  (2) Gravity is the most important force acting over cosmologically large distances, so that the conventional application of GTR to cosmology is valid.  (3) The fundamental parameters of nature, such as the gravitational constant G and the speed of light c, are invariant over the observable history of the universe.  (4) The visible region of the universe is approximately homogenous and isotropic on large distance scales.  Lastly, (5) the events which we witness by the light of distant galaxies and quasi-stellar objects are real events and not appearances impressed onto the universe by the intention of the Creator.  Ibid, 175.  The first two assumptions directly reinforce Einstein’s GTR equations.  The third assumption, as previously discussed, relates to Einstein’s STR equations.  The fourth assumption relates to the balancing of Einstein’s field equations and its adjustment after Hubble’s discovery of expansion.  The final assumption relates to Einstein’s epistemic method of reality having real ontological value in an epistemic inquiry.

            [16] Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, Creation Out of Nothing: A Biblical, Philosophical, and Scientific Exploration (Leicester, England: Apollos, 2004), 222-223.

            [17] These efforts were predominately made by scientists and not theologians.  Such landmark works were Ian Barbour’s Issues in Science and Religion (1966) and later Paul Davies’ God and the New Physics (1983). Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), 197.

            [18] Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions, Trans. and rev. Sonja Bargmann (New York: Three Rivers, 1982), 46. Stark, 197.

February 13th, 2011

Physical Evidence of the Multiverse

by Max Andrews

A relatively recent paper was published[1] 23 December 2010, which claims we have good evidence for the existence of the multiverse.  The most we could conclude from this data is that we live in Max Tegmark’s level two multiverse.

I don’t want overstate the claims the authors make.  They suggest that it is evidence in favor of the existence of the “possible multiverse” but it must be corroborated with the upcoming Planck data.  You can read their method for how they came to their conclusions but the general key for bubble collision detection was using a specified algorithm for detecting temperature modulations that would occur in such events.


The signatures of a bubble collision at various stages in the analysis pipeline. A collision (top left) induces a temperature modulation in the CMB temperature map (top right). The "blob" associated with the collision is identified by a large needlet response (bottom left), and the presence of an edge is determined by a large response form the edge detection algorithm (bottom right). *AUTHORS' CAPTION

W-Band 94 GHz, the original source the authors used for their data


New Planck data have released since the publishing of the paper but they have specified that they are waiting on the seven-year survey so we shouldn’t expect anything too soon.  You can view the Planck one-year survey image below (July, 2010).


The microwave sky as seen by Planck. CREDITS: ESA/ LFI & HFI Consortia


As I’ve said before, I cannot dismiss the multiverse a priori, though I will certainly constrain my position respective to the evidence.  The multiverse is not an adequate objection to the argument from fine-tuning nor is it an objection to the kalam cosmological argument (perhaps a later post for an elaboration). I want to encourage everyone to be more open to the multiverse hypothesis because there is more evidence coming in that is supporting it (don’t get me wrong, there is contrary evidence that must be weighed as well).  What is beautiful about this whole situation is that cosmologists and theoretical physicists predicted the multiverse from mathematical equations (and no doubt philosophical presuppositions).  If the multiverse hypothesis is true it’s a beautiful discovery because we would have gone from pencil and paper with numbers to actually finding what was predicted by those numbers.  We do live in an elegant universe [per Brian Greene].

I’m looking forward to what contributions Planck may have in finding more physical evidence of the multiverse.

[1] Authored by Stephen M. Feeney, Matthew C. Johnson, Daniel Mortlock, and Hiranya V. Peiris.