Wednesday, September 15, 2010

An Ever-Changing Universe

A few weeks ago, news came out that some constants of Nature were not always the same across different regions of the Cosmos. Apparently, the fine-structure constant--a number that is written into the very behavior of atoms, actually changes!

The variability of this "constant" violates Einstein's equivalence principle, a fundamental tenet of physics that says that the constants of nature must remain the same no matter where or when in the universe.

A team of scientists found that the fine-structure constant appeared to have been smaller in one part of the universe--but larger in another, billions of years ago.

Upon hearing of this, I was dumbstruck. Sure, the universe changed as the fundamental forces of nature fragmented from one single unified force. But I thought that after everything has "unfurled" and settled on to this state that we are familiar with--that was it. As everything settled down, every constant of nature must then be, well...constant!

Or so it seemed.

Again and again, the things i’ve known may be wrong all along. I had to unlearn the familiar concept of a homogenous and isotropic universe.

And if found to be true, a variable fine-structure "constant" has big ramifications to many deeper things that may not seem apparent in our mundane way of life.

And I could not grasp it at all. The symmetry-breaking concept of different realities in different regions of the universe hovered in my mind for several days. I wrote a short story entitled "Phase Change" to help me make sense of this finding, to try to get a glimpse of what it could mean to me personally, and eventually to a wider scope of things.

In the process, my story ended up hinting at a speculative answer to Fermi’s Paradox. Perhaps, an ever-changing universe could be one reason why civilizations never get the chance to come in contact with other civilizations. A universe that has different properties at different times in different regions could pose an “isolation” problem for regional inhabitants.

My story also indirectly refers to the concept of the Phase Transition in the early universe, where the force(s) of nature were still fragmenting. Perhaps the changing values of the fine-structure is an indicator of a weaker form of "Phase Transition" that may still be occuring in many other regions of the universe.

What does it all mean? Well, only then did i realize that it was so simple. Ours is truly an ever-changing universe. And the cliche remains ever so true: Nothing is permanent, except change itself.

Phase Change (The Short Story)
When Fundamental Constants Change
Was Einstein Wrong?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Belief and Unbelief

I was prompted to write this post after i received a reply to my carefree tweet. In the back of my mind, I knew i had it coming (that's why I added the smiley at the last second), but i still sent the tweet. And so here it goes...

Earlier today, I frivolously tweeted that "I respect all beliefs, even unbelief" in which what I had in mind was the loose definition of "belief" as somewhat similar to an "opinion". For example, the context in which I say "i believe there is life on other planets". So i think that someone who "does not believe" in the existence of extra-terrestrial life is entitled to his or her own "belief" or opinion. And i respect that belief, even if it does not agree with my own belief. That was what i meant in my tweet, no offense intended.

But the trouble is, i used the word "belief" instead of "opinion" in my tweet. And for that, it deserves much thought, careful examination, and reflection, especially when "respect" is in the same sentence as "belief".

In the course of writing this post, I came to the conclusion that "belief" is a deeply loaded word where often, when people hear it, what comes to mind is Religion, Christianity, Islam and all the others. So I should expect some reaction from unbelievers if they are grouped together with those who believe in the existence of God, and vise-versa. Atheists do not believe in the existence of god. In that context, Christianity and Islam is under the umbrella of "belief", but Atheism is outside any form of "belief".

Belief and unbelief is as distinctively separate as how light is from dark, how "yes" is distinctively opposite from "no". The non-existence of god is as equally possible as the existence of God. Thus, believing and not believing in God are opposites but equally valid points of view. With neither one under the scope of the other.

To say that "unbelief" is under or within "belief" may be offensive, and perhaps disrespectful to some who feel strongly about it. And thus, I apologize for that statement that seemed to put unbelief as a form of belief. Needless to say, my apology is also for some believers who perhaps were offended by me throwing non-believers in their camp.

Of course, i need to explore a case similar to "zero and one" (binary bits) or "left and right" (chirality) where both states together are described by one word for the purpose of study. In the same manner, is there a 'non-loaded' word that simply includes both "belief in the existence of God" and "unbelief in the existence of god"?

I hope that a word must exist to describe both states where it doesn't evoke strong emotions. Worldview? Whatever it is, i need that word so i can describe what i mean by "belief and unbelief" in my context without running into trouble on twitter or anywhere else.

Oh boy, I just love twitter. It compels me to write. And when i write, it forces me to think!

Well, at least that's what i think!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

My Perception of Inception

The mention of ideas being powerful once it gets in your head was a great way to start "Inception". It rightly set the tone that this movie is cerebral. Indeed, it leaves you thinking about reality and dreams even after the movie has finished.

Dreams are powerful, and essential. Perhaps that’s when and where ideas truly play. And that, I believe, gave Nolan a great focal point for his movie.

I often engaged in conversation with some of my family members--as they talked in their sleep! And I found it funny how senseless the things they talked about. A few times, I actually tried to coax some information from our conversations, so I can tease them the next day. However unfair it seems, I maintain that no one must ever do that to me, for I would never want my wife to uncover secrets from my subconscious!

But I can tell you that it's actually impossible to “extract” any sensible information from sleep-talkers, or sleep-walkers! The best you can do is enjoy that moment and giggle while they murmur incomprehensible sentences.

Perhaps that is the reason why I never thought of injecting some ideas into vulnerable minds as they slept or dreamed. I think that if garbage was coming out, then they’ll perceive incoming ideas as garbage as well.

If I knew that implanting ideas into a sleeping person's mind would work, then i would have tried to trick my dozing Dad (who, at one time--I caught sleep-talking) to increase my college allowance back in those days.

And so, with the thesis of Inception, the “extractor”--whose usual job was to “extract” information--was also hired to “implant” an idea into a person’s mind. All that will be done via “shared dreams”.

That seems like a simple plot, isn’t it? Yes, but there’s more. It also involves layered dreams within a dream within a dream. And the technical aspects of such dream-layers was also accounted for--such as time dilation between each layer of dreams.

All that plot mechanics would’ve been enough for me, and it already is a great movie with that complexity alone. But Nolan overdid it with some snow mountain shooting action sequence which i think was unnecessary.

The movie also failed to tap into the emotion spectrum. Cobb's wife, who i suppose should deliver that part, played the weakest character of them all. The only scene that moved me was the quick flash of an elderly couple (Dobb and his wife) walking together while holding hands.

I also think that the “architect” was not creative enough in conjuring dream settings. Her “powers” were not tapped thoroughly.

Although i liked the scene where she pulled two mirrors facing each other. But then I instinctively looked for the camera (and the cameraman) in that scene, expecting them to be visible to me, as reflected by the mirrors. So in effect, what the scene did was to snap me out from being an "audience". At that moment, I began thinking technical stuff (as if i was part of the movie crew) on how the special effects were being achieved.

There were tropes which were apparent, such as dreams within a dream, as exemplified by “Waking Life”, or shared dreams (people entering the dreams of others) in “Dreamscape”, “The Cell”, and “Nightmare on Elm Street”. But with “Inception”, I give Nolan credit for making a movie that stimulates its viewers to think.

Even up to now, I am still thinking what my "totem" would be. Some little object that'll let me know if i'm within a dream or not.

How about you. What is your totem?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Book Review: A Tear at the Edge of Creation

This book kept me at the edge of my seat. Like an exciting ballgame, "A Tear at the Edge of Creation" kept me in suspense. Who's gonna win? The Unifiers? Or the Breakers? Like an expert commentator, Marcelo Gleiser explained both sides well. However, he has chosen one team to cheer for.

Once, he was a unifier himself. But after a long intellectua-scientific journey, Marcelo Gleiser now argues that the Grand Unified Theory (GUT), or the Final Truth is a construction of the human mind, a monotheistic myth that has inspired brilliant minds like Thales, Kepler, Einstein and so many others, with little support in physical reality.

First he would tell of the wonderful elegant patterns in nature, but then suddenly point out an anti-pattern in the next instant. He would explain the Symmetry of our universe in masterful language and then destroy it with Asymmetries on the next page.

The "Unifiers" are reductionists. They search for a law of nature that is simple and true. The author argues that the notion of a Theory of Everything (TOE) is a cultural one. It is the scientific counterpart of the monotheistic religions. He says, "Why insist on relating Oneness with beauty? Isn't it time to celebrate a different kind of beauty, one inspired by the imperfections of Nature?" This thought somewhat resonated with an old thought I posted a few years ago.

So he proposes on focusing on the imperfections of nature, rather than the search for ultimate harmonies or perfection. He points out the rare circumstances in the universe that led to our existence. That makes us special. It creates a new purpose for humankind. He shouts, "Humans! Wake up and save life with all that you have! Life is rare. Treasure it, worship it, make it last, spread it across the Universe."

This book is great because I've learned so many things from it, and found patterns I never saw before. It gave me insights that give a deeper understanding about some underlying mystery of our universe. Some of them are as follows.

The universe is polarized: There are more right-handed people than left-handed ones (like me and Marcelo). There are more matter versus anti-matter. On a molecular level, Life is left-handed (chirality). Without these imperfections, or imbalance, we would not be here at all. Phase Transition: the universe underwent a phase transition similar to water turning from liquid to ice when the temperature is lowered.

Only one tiny detail bugs me about Marcelo's idea right now. He roots for the absence of Magnetic Monopoles that break Symmetry. But it was finally detected in 2009. So, i guess it's a score for the Unifiers.

What I can say now after reading this book is that, previously I seek for patterns through eyes that are tainted with the Unifier's lens. Now I intend to see things in a more balanced way. Seeing the quips of nature as well, alongside the inherent order and symmetry.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


The famous "Cogito Ergo Sum" of Rene Descartes seem incomplete to me. Somehow, I am tempted to conclude it this way, "I Think Therefore I Am...Gone."
Today, I was reminded of our fleeting existence via this quote from Buckminster Fuller, "What you see is not a hand. It is a pattern integrity, the universe's capability to create hands.”
In a way, our brain itself is a pattern integrity, the universe's capability to create brains. As a matter of fact, Buckminster Fuller puts it more succinctly, "Each individual is a pattern integrity."
Thus I remember, how a physicist/philosopher named Ludwig Boltzmann stumbled upon this concept, which was later called "Boltzmann Brain": It is a fleeting pattern that is briefly given a chance to ruminate "Hey, I exist!" then fades away. In 1906, Boltzmann committed suicide.
How we all are in a sense, like Boltzmann brains is accented when you compare the lifetime of humans to the lifespan of stars. How we are like Mayflies that live for a day and then...gone.

Friday, February 5, 2010

No Paradox in Time Travel

There is no paradox in time-travel. If you went back in time and killed the younger version of yourself, you will not die. However, many folks think otherwise--as it is wrongly depicted by films like "Back to the Future". The apparent paradox that traps so many people is a result of what I call the "Continuity Complex" that plagues the human mind.

The "self" arises because of the "continuity" that we feel of our self moving from the past to the present. But in fact, each instance of us in time is a separate person. We are a new being every second...or every millisecond. We are forever changing. The "me" of this second is not the same as the "me" of the next second.

In a larger cosmological context, the universe of this moment is not the universe of the next second. Thus, if you went back to the past, you did not really go back to the "past"--you just simply went to another separate "place". And in that place, you can do anything you want--without fear of affecting the previous time-place where you came from. It's a whole new world of its own.

Now all this conjecture is simply a play of Gendaken experiment. Thus if I ever get the chance to go back in time, I will definitely kick my younger self in the butt. I deserve it.