Column article, Magazine article, Mr. and Ms Magazine

The Magic of Science

“Spreading out the particle into a string is a step in the direction of making everything we’re familiar with fuzzy. You enter a completely new world where things aren’t at all what you’re used to.”  – Edward Witten

magic-of-science2-1024x569 

There is a new theory in the scientific community – the M-theory. Princeton professor Edward Witten, its leading proponent, says that M stands for mystery, magic or matrix, his favorite words. It is understandable for physicists to like the word matrix as calculations using matrices are necessary in particle physics. But it seems strange for physicists to favor terms like mystery or magic. Or is it?

There seems to be a growing tribe of theoretical physicists who write books with titles like The Physics of the Soul, or Taking the Quantum Leap or Parallel Universes. What these physicists are trying to do is to proclaim to the world that there is already a new paradigm in the scientific community.

THE NEWTONIAN PARADIGM

In the 17th century, we had what some historians call the Galilean-Cartesian

galileo
GALILEO

(scientific) revolution. Galileo’s insistence that the sun was the center of the solar system erased the belief that the Earth was the center of the universe. Galileo asserted that “the Book of Nature was written in mathematics” while Rene Descartes showed that everything in the universe can be reduced to mathematical equations. Descartes created the basis for the “Scientific Method”, which became the hallmark of what we call scientific research.

Galileo and Descartes made Physics the queen of the sciences replacing theology

IsaacNewton-1689
NEWTON

which had ruled the Christian world since the Dark Ages. But it needed another 17th century scientist to complete the revolution – Isaac Newton, who discovered the three laws of motion and the law of gravity and invented calculus.

The next scientific revolution occurred in the 20th century. But the philosophical implications of the Newtonian worldview still reign supreme in most societies. In his best-selling book, The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, Revised and Updated for the Nineties., Michael Hart listed Newton as the second most influential person in history, besting Jesus Christ who was number three.

In the Newtonian paradigm, science is the ultimate authority on physical reality; a reality that is “out there”, tangible, separate and independent from the human observer. Man was supposed to be able to measure and analyze this reality using the absolute laws of physics. Although Earth is just a minute part of the universe, Mankind, with help from the laws of physics, has the capacity to conquer all Nature – and even colonize other planets.

James Clerk Maxwell’s discovery of the laws of electromagnetism in 1864 brought about the “death of physics” according to one physicist. The laws of electromagnetism and gravity were supposed to explain all fundamental physical phenomena.

Newton said that light was made of particles. But 19th century physicists, especially Maxwell, concluded that light was a wave.

In 1896, JJ Thomson, while experimenting with light rays, discovered the existence of particles, specifically, electrons. But according to Maxwell, light was a wave, so how could it have particles? How could a wave be a particle? Was Newton correct after all? The physicists were confused.

EINSTEINIAN PARADIGM

The 20th century was greeted by the theories of Quantum Mechanics and General

maxplanck
PLANCK

Relativity, the twin pillars of the New Paradigm. In 1900, Max Planck discovered that bodies did not give off energy in a continuous manner but in small units or packets of energy, which he called quanta. In 1905, Einstein explained that in JJ Thompson’s experiment, light was arriving in quanta and not in a continuous manner. Newtonian physicists could not understand Einstein. Again, they asked, was light a wave or a particle?

Werner Heisenberg put the question to rest by saying that light was both a wave and a particle depending on the instruments used. If one were looking for a wave, one would find a wave. If one were looking for a particle, one would find a particle. But one could not find both at the same time.

Moreover, Heisenberg discovered that one could not observe the particle with certainty. There is simply no instrument, even theoretically speaking, that could measure both a particle’s momentum and position. This is the famous Uncertainty Principle. In addition, the very act of observation affects the experiment.

By the first quarter of the 20th century, it was clear that the death of Physics was not at hand. Rather, it was the end of Newtonian physics.

Einstein proved that all measurements are correct only relative to a frame of reference. For example, imagine a man standing inside a train moving at 10 mph. With respect to the train, the man has zero velocity or speed. If you are inside the train with the man, you will see that he is not moving. But if you are outside in the field, you will see that the man is moving as fast as the train. Relative to the ground or the Earth, the man has a speed of 10 mph. Therefore, the statements “the man is moving at zero velocity” and “the man is moving at 10 mph” are both true and valid depending on one’s frame of reference. Extending it to cultures, an act may be considered a sin in one culture but a virtue in another.

The new physics is a physics of possibilities, of tendencies, of relativity – not of absolutes. The experimenter affects the experiment. Philosophically, this means that

Einstein
EINSTEIN

the observer and the observed are interactive, inseparable. And not everything can be explained completely. Light does not have to be either a particle or a wave. It could be both. Or it could be neither. We simply do not have the proper instruments to determine the exact properties of light. In the same vein, man could be body, mind or spirit or maybe something else.

With a quantum jump, subatomic particles can disappear from one place and reappear in another without crossing the intervening distance. (Can this explain teleportation?). Results of quantum experiments support the idea that everything in the Universe is interconnected.

FUNDAMENTAL FORCES

Gravity is the universal fundamental force affecting all bodies while Electromagnetism acts between electrically-charged particles. The physicists at the end of the 19th century thought gravity and electromagnetism were the only fundamental forces that make the universe work.


Through quantum mechanics, the physicists discovered that protons and neutrons are not elementary particles. They are composed of still tinier particles called quarks and gluons. The physicists also discovered a host of other elementary particles. The study of these particles introduced two more fundamental forces – the weak nuclear force and the strong nuclear force. These forces are responsible for the interaction of these extremely tiny elementary particles.

While quantum theory paved the way for the discovery of numerous subatomic particles, the relativity theory enabled astrophysicists to discover more stars, clusters of galaxies, supernovae and even discover (or mathematically construct) concepts such as black holes, wormholes, voids and dark matter.

SUPERSTRINGS THEORY

However, particle physicists and astrophysicists reached a dilemma. Gravity is impossible in Quantum theory while it is inevitable in General Relativity theory. Fortunately, Superstrings came to the rescue. The superstrings theory allowed gravity in the quantum world with a new particle called graviton.

The physicists say that the universe started with the Big Bang. But the Big Bang, the very beginning of the universe, was a singularity – a zone of infinite temperature and density and zero mass. But in such a zone, the laws of Physics cannot apply. Again, the magic of Superstrings theory somehow resolved the mathematical difficulties.

In the superstrings theory, the universe is made of subatomic particles even tinier than the elementary particles called quarks, the basic building blocks of matter. They are called strings, billions of times tinier than an atom. (Others say strings are actually quarks in a particular state). These minute energies vibrate like violin strings and cause complex harmonics which create the electrons, neutrinos and other elementary particles which the universe is composed of.

M-THEORY

From numerous superstrings theories, the physicists whittled them down to five. But in

WITTEN
WITTEN, proponent of M-Theory

Physics, there should only be one theory for one phenomenon. And so came the M-theory, which seems to have unified the five superstrings theories and validated both quantum and relativity theories.

With the M-theory, physicists can resolve the very beginning of our universe – the moment of the Big Bang. M-theory also tries to unify all the four fundamental forces of nature, that is, reduce the four forces into one. The cosmos and the subatomic world will be described by one general unified theory. Thus, the M-theory is sometimes called the “theory for everything” or the “mother of all theories”. Proving this theory is every physicist’s dream.

According to the M-theory, there are eleven dimensions and not just the four that we are accustomed to (3-dimensional space plus the time dimension). And, there is probably more than one universe.

In Magick, there is an axiom that says, “As above, so below” – what applies to the heavenly bodies applies to sublunary bodies. In the New Paradigm, what applies to the Cosmos applies to the subatomic world. In Magick, Mysticism and the New Paradigm, everything is inter-connected.

Moreover, in the subatomic world and in the cosmos, scientists found that there is mostly nothing – just empty space. Some cosmologists estimate that all the galaxies and intergalactic matter of the universe add up to only one one-hundredth of one percent. In other words, 99.99 % of the universe is composed of nothing.

Are we now any nearer to knowing what the Universe really is? It seems that the Universe is just as inscrutable as God is according to world scriptures.

The physicists have drawn up an almost empty Universe with strings vibrating in complex harmonics resulting in the creation of elementary particles, the building blocks of matter. This compares to mystics’ description of God in the Cosmic Void meditating on His creation while playing celestial music. (end)

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Published in Mr. & Ms. Trendspotting Magazine, Jul-Aug. 2008

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