Tangled String: Cosmology on the Brink

first_imgThe February cover of Astronomy Magazine poses an intriguing question: “What if string theory is wrong?”  Maybe you are unfamiliar with string theory.  Writer Sten Odenwald is not talking about violins or balls of string, but about the current leading theory of fundamental physics.  “Superstring theory,” Odenwald explains, “is based on three ideas that remain experimentally unproven after 30 years of research: the principle of supersymmetry, additional spatial dimensions, and gravity as a force defined by the exchange of quantum particles.”    You don’t need to understand these three ideas in depth other than to know they are extremely weird.  They envision exotic particles like selectrons and squarks, and physical dimensions and universes we could never know except by mathematical inference.  Yet this theory is the leading candidate in an attempt to unify the forces of nature and give a physical explanation for why the universe is the way it is.  It seems strange that scientists would cling to a theory that has no experimental support.  Odenwald mentions that the Steady-State Cosmology held sway for some 30 years before collapsing.  Is string theory, of comparable age, also on the brink?    Odenwald is not predicting an impending collapse, nor are most cosmologists.  But he does ask what would happen to physics and cosmology if it turns out string theory is wrong.  Here’s where the consequences are astronomical:Without superstring theory, we’d lose the intriguing philosophical appeal for the multiverse, with its infinite and eternal creativity in spawning new universes.  We’d have no mathematics for spanning the gap between everyday physics and the high energies where quantum gravity operates.  The road to creating a quantum description of gravity will be a murky one.    More immediately, dark matter and dark energy would remain imponderable enigmas, shorn of any clues about where they come from.  Astronomers can live without knowing the quantum properties of gravity.  But to learn that 96 percent of the cosmos is unknowable would be a bitter pill for astronomers to swallow.    It would be even worse for physicists.  Without a logical framework in which to pose and answer questions, our inquiries into the fundamental aspects of the physical world would devolve into semantic quibbles.Mathematical knowledge gained from string theory has advanced so far since the 1970s, no one is envisioning a return.  Odenwald reminds readers also that general relativity had a rough time gaining experimental support at first.  Still, he leaves it as an open question whether string theory will survive middle age.  It’s “sobering to realize what we stand to lose if physics’ best bet proves to be a complete dead end.”Something is terribly wrong with a theory that cannot make predictions that are experimentally verifiable, posits imponderable substances, and envisions multiple universes we can never know, just to keep the universe eternal.  Earlier scientists were ridiculed for appealing to imponderable substances like caloric and phlogiston.  Those were tame compared to today’s dark matter and dark energy, extra dimensions, and multiple universes.  Cosmologists claim their imponderables make up the vast bulk of reality, such that we inhabit a tiny fraction of what “must” exist.    But why must these imponderables exist? (see PhysOrg.com for an alternative view).  Odenwald says, “In some respects, a world without superstring theory isn’t so bad.  The standard model and ordinary general relativity hold all astronomers need to describe accurately most of the phenomena they study, from galaxy evolution and supernova detonations, to the extreme physics of neutron stars and black holes.”  OK, so why not leave well enough alone?  Richard Feynman said, “Perhaps it is difficult for physicists to unify gravity with the other forces because nature never intended for them to be unified in the first place.”    Two motivations may be driving the superstring craze.  One is the desire for a theory to be elegant.  Cosmologists have found many laws that are simple and elegant, allowing a wide variety of phenomena to be expressed in simple equations.  Well, that’s great, but does nature owe us an obligation to dress according to our style?  This is an example of a metaphysical paradigm as the controversial philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn described it.  It’s a way of doing science that the guild of scientists agrees on.  Philosopher J. P. Moreland calls this a second-order theory change – not just a change of one theory with another one, but a change in what scientists value in a theory.  Scientists used to think of their craft as the art of verifying natural phenomena by experimentation.  If we are changing the rules now, such that a theory must be elegant, then we are on a different track entirely.  A scientist remains on good terms with the guild if he comes up with theories that are elegant, even if they have no connection with reality.  What if, however, reality turns out to be very inelegant in this arena?  What if we are stuck with an ugly theoretical mess?  What if no amount of mathematical modeling will reduce all the forces to a unified set of equations?  A man spoke into the sky, “Universe, I exist!” to which the universe responded, “But that fact places on me no sense of obligation.”    The second motivation driving the superstring craze is the desire to escape intelligent design (11/27/2006).  The fine-tuning of the laws of physics for our existence has been studied now for well over 60 years.  There’s no escaping the anthropic principle (08/11/2006).  If the laws and constants of physics were not what they are, we could not be here to study them.  Theists have a ready answer for this.  The God who spoke the universe and its laws into existence formed it to be inhabited (Isaiah 45:18).  That cosmologists would escape into multiple universes to avoid the obvious is a measure of extreme desperation.    Where did this desperation come from?  Think back to the late 19th century, when Darwinism was on the rise.  Various social, political, economic and philosophical trends were moving away from natural theology and toward philosophical materialism.  The Myth of Progress was the “in” thing.  Materialists such as Tyndall and Huxley inculcated a third-order theory change: a change in what constitutes science itself.  There were two sides to this theory change: an exclusion, and an inclusion.  Moreland explains that Darwinism was an attempt to exclude theology from science.  As a consequence, this led to the inclusion of storytelling.This is commonly stated that appeals to miracles and the supernatural are no longer permissible in science.  OK, define miracle.  Is it a one-time event, with no known cause?  Is it a completely unpredictable circumstance?  What is supernatural?  Does it involve imponderable entities beyond the range of human experience?  Undoubtedly the materialist is thinking of angels dancing on the head of a pin, but let’s ask some interesting questions.  Was the big bang a miracle?  Are extra dimensions beyond experience supernatural?  In what way do extra universes differ from the supernatural, if they can never cross into our experience?  At least God interacts with the world and with human beings, but the materialists are invoking alternate realities that can never be known by scientific investigation.    Ask the question also whether intelligence is a legitimate subject for scientific inquiry.  Is information an imponderable substance?  Is it really possible to reduce intelligence and information to atoms?  If we deal with information on a daily basis (as in fact, your intelligence is right now pondering the semantics of this information you are reading), why should not science be able to investigate information and its causes?  These examples show that the issues are more nuanced than often described in the either-or dichotomy of natural vs. supernatural.  See also the 05/11/2006 entry with its question, “Is our universe natural?”Since appeals to design have been ruled out of bounds, today’s cosmologists are forced into speculating about how material objects created worlds of exquisite design and complexity without help from a Mind.  It’s not that science must be defined this way.  The purveyors of this third-order theory change won a strategic battle in academia.  As a result, cosmologists are stuck with material particles and efficient causes as their only explanatory resources – even if such limitations lead to absurdities.    The founders of science would be shocked to see modern cosmologists auditioning for the theater of the absurd.  It’s one thing to discover the absurd, but quite another to stay there.  Arthur C. Clarke once said that the only way to find out the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.  OK, fine.  Now that cosmologists have tested that boundary, will they be prepared to retreat, and escape back to reality?  Watch them.  If they jump off the cliff, they weren’t really scientists.  They weren’t really interested in following the evidence wherever it leads, but rather in fulfilling their own selfish desires in the futility of their own imaginations (01/17/2006).(Visited 26 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0last_img read more

South Africa’s economy grows by 4.1%

first_imgSouth Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) increased by 4.1% in the fourth quarter of 2014, Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) announced on Tuesday.“Real gross domestic product at market prices increased by 4.1% quarter-on-quarter, seasonally adjusted and annualised,” Stats SA said. This growth was more than what markets had expected.“GDP growth accelerated by much more than the markets expected in the final quarter of 2014, growing by a seasonally adjusted and annualised 4.1% quarter-on-quarter, up from 2.1% and 0.5% in the third and second quarters respectively and better than the consensus market forecast of 3.7%,” said Nedbank economists.The largest contribution to the quarter-on-quarter growth of 4.1% was manufacturing that contributed 1.2% based on growth of 9.5%. The mining and quarrying industry contributed 1.1% based on growth of 15.2%. The finance, real estate and business services contributed 0.7% based on growth of 3.5%.Economic activity in the manufacturing industry reflected positive growth of 9.5% due to higher production in petroleum, chemical products, rubber and plastic products division, among others.Mining and quarryingMeanwhile, economic activity in mining and quarrying reflected positive growth of 15.2% due to higher production in the mining of “other” metal ores, including platinum; and “other” mining and quarrying, including diamonds.The growth in finance, real estate and business services was due to increases in activities in the financial markets and banking.Over 2014 as a whole, real GDP grew by only 1.5%, down from an already tame 2.2% in 2013.Market pricesAccording to Stats SA, the nominal GDP at market prices during the fourth quarter of 2014 was R979-billion, which is R16-billion more than in the third quarter of 2014.Real GDP at market prices increased by 1.5% in 2014 following an increase of 2.2% in 2013, with the largest contribution to the increase in 2014 being general government services, which contributed 0.5% based on growth of 3%. Finance, real estate and business services contributed 0.4% based on growth of 2.2%.Nominal GDP was estimated at R3.8-trillion for the year of 2014.According to the Nedbank analysts, the economy should fare better in 2015 off the low base of 2014. Consumer spending is forecast to accelerate as lower fuel prices and easing inflation support disposable income and interest rates remain steady for much of the year.This, along the low base of 2014, is expected to outweigh the negative impact of load shedding, lower international commodity prices and subdued global demand on exports. On balance, Nedbank expects GDP growth of about 2.5 % in 2015.The Reserve Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee is unlikely to read too much into the stronger-than-expected GDP figures. The risks to the economic outlook still remain on the downside given limited power and other economic capacity locally and an uncertain economic environment globally.In contrast, the inflation outlook remains benign, which should persuade the MPC to keep interest rates unchanged at its upcoming meeting in March. Our forecast is for rates to remain on hold throughout most of 2015, with the first rate hike expected in November. Much however depends on the trajectories of the rand and oil prices,” said Nedbank.Source: SAnews.gov.zalast_img read more