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It's the end of space-time as we know it, and I feel fine.
August 10, 2010 5:20 PM   Subscribe

Those wacky New Scientists are reporting on a "new challenge" to part of Einstein's theory of special relativity that changes the relationship of Space to Time. No, this has nothing to do with Conservapedia's laughable challenge to the theory*. Petr Hořava** won't replace Einstein*** in scientific importance in this new Century, but maybe Hendrik Lorentz whose theories on symmetry apparently take a beating****. Remember kiddies, Science (especially Physics) doesn't have Absolute Truths, it just keeps getting closer to them. And even ol' Albert E. can and WILL be improved upon.

*though I'm sure Conjobapedia will probably link to it with a gross intentional misinterpretation.
**of notorious Liberal Haven UCBerkeley.
***cartoon by MeFi's Own lore.
****disclaimer: I don't quite understand all this stuff myself, but if it cuts down the amount of unexplainable Dark Matter and Dark Energy in the Universe AND makes much of string theory irrelevent, I'm all for it.
posted by oneswellfoop (37 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Fine, fine - these things happen. It's not your fault - just stay cool, man. Look, what I really want is a table over there after a lot of very strong drinks over here.
posted by loquacious at 5:32 PM on August 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


That Conservapedia link is two Jackboots away from calling relativity the "Jewish science"
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 5:39 PM on August 10, 2010 [10 favorites]


That Conservapedia link is two Jackboots away from calling relativity the "Jewish science"

The entire field of mathematics is also a Islamofascist terrorist plot to seduce the minds of school-children.
posted by griphus at 5:42 PM on August 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


Arabic numerals, geddit?
posted by unSane at 5:52 PM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


A new science? But I'm not done with the old science!
posted by TwelveTwo at 5:54 PM on August 10, 2010


Oh, hey, thanks for the link!
posted by lore at 5:58 PM on August 10, 2010


Um something something, FTL? Please?
posted by digitalprimate at 6:06 PM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


When I discovered the New Scientist article, the Cornsyrupedia slapdown and lore's cartoon within a couple hours of each other, I decided, in spite of my relative ignorance of Quantum Physics (I know more about the storylines of Quantum Leap and the last time I read an article on String Theory it made me want to shove strings into my skull), I had to post this. But if I haven't totally alienated the MeFi Physics Nerd Brigade, please tell me if this new theory really is my idea of the Scientific Holy Grail... something that advances knowledge while making it LESS COMPLICATED. And if so, would it be inappropriate to drive up to Berkeley to bow down in front of Petr Hořava and kiss his feet? (Or is there a different ritual up there?)
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:24 PM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


We've discussed Petr's theory before. I don't really have anything more to say about it than I did in that thread, really; just wanted to point out its existence.
posted by nat at 6:36 PM on August 10, 2010


We all watched the relationship of space to time, and everyone had a theory. Some say space never made any time for time; but others say that was unfair, for time was always flying, and there was never any space in time's life for space either. For space and time, their lives were always going to be intertwined; but their timing was not right, and time was not on their side.

"If time could just slow down," space would say to me, "if time could just stop. For a moment." But you could already see, in her eyes. You could see the loneliness echoing inside. You could see the stars going out, one at a time.

sorry, bad at science
posted by catchingsignals at 6:39 PM on August 10, 2010 [13 favorites]


Went back and read the old thread; there's a prescient comment here.
posted by nat at 6:43 PM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thank you, nat, my Google-Fu utterly failed me regarding the PREVIOUSLY ON METAFILTER. I'm going in there now; hope I make it through without my head esploding...
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:47 PM on August 10, 2010


Well, I have had my mind blown. So help me, I thought Conservapedia was satire. Now I'm gonna go lay down somewhere dark for a while, if you'll excuse me. Maybe put a warm cloth on my head ...
posted by barnacles at 6:54 PM on August 10, 2010


I applaud any theory that gets rid of (at least partially) dark matter. Fucking dark matter. Buncha bullshit.
posted by mrnutty at 7:17 PM on August 10, 2010


Time is the universe's way of making sure everything doesn't happen at once.

Space is the universe's way of making sure it doesn't all happen right here.

Entropy is the universe's way of making sure it happens.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 7:19 PM on August 10, 2010 [11 favorites]


Oneswellfoop: please tell me if this new theory really is my idea of the Scientific Holy Grail... something that advances knowledge while making it LESS COMPLICATED.

I know a little bit about this, and I think that's a good description; it adds just a tiny bit of complexity to Einstein's explanation, but in exchange it brings a whole lot of other problems into the reach of more ordinary mathematicians.

One of the things I really like about it is that it mostly does away with dark energy and matter, which bug the hell out of me. I've been pretty convinced for a long time that dark matter was the 21st century's "ether", something magic and invisible that makes things we don't understand happen the way we observe them to happen. The more focused they've gotten on that idea, the more convinced I've become that we've got something fundamentally wrong in our theories. A human error seems far more likely than millions of galaxies' worth of invisible matter and energy. And when you add in the fact that the Voyager probe isn't quite doing what we expect, as it sails out into interstellar space, a small error seems even more likely. The smallest of errors can get pretty goddamn big when you multiply them times the entire Universe. :)

Apparently, the biggest issue right now is that if you tune the new equation to match the galactic observations, it will only deviate from Einstein at extraordinarily high energies, ones we can't even begin to approach at present. So, if the math itself holds up, an experimental proof or disproof could be decades or centuries away.

But in the interim, if it explains galactic movements without invisible magic fairy dust, and isn't otherwise disproven, I'll take it over Einstein.

(Oh, note: this doesn't really 'replace' Einstein, it just alters his equations a little bit, breaking the idea that space and time are the same thing, and giving time a preferred direction, forward. They don't hit on this in the article, but if that last bit is true, that should mean that time travel is either outright impossible, or that it will take such gigantic amounts of energy that it's effectively impossible for anything less than godlike powers.)
posted by Malor at 7:23 PM on August 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


I like getting rid of Lorentz invariance. It's one of those common sense things that has no particular reason to be true except at the scales we witness things.
posted by unSane at 7:53 PM on August 10, 2010


I generally hate these kinds of articles. There is enough vague hand-wavey shit to make science fans all googly but not nearly enough real detail for those of us who aren't professional scientists but well-educated amateurs to make anything resembling an informed judgment on the issue.
posted by adoarns at 7:57 PM on August 10, 2010


You're right adoarns, there isn't much information in this article (and what it does say is a little sensationalist, unsurprisingly). Go check out the previous thread on the issue if you'd like to see the actual scientific papers this is based on (or some of them, to find the astrophysical papers you might have to do a citesearch in astroph).
posted by nat at 8:21 PM on August 10, 2010


I've always been impressed by string theory, but never felt comfortable with it. Though I'm no physicist, Horava's approach feels intuitively right.

But if it is confirmed empirically, Edward Witten is gonna be pissed.
posted by anigbrowl at 8:35 PM on August 10, 2010


Onion say, Conservapedia do...
posted by homunculus at 8:43 PM on August 10, 2010


The one thing that seems to be missing in all this is evidence for the main prediction of the theory. Where are the gravitons?
posted by scalefree at 8:56 PM on August 10, 2010


This is really interesting. The previous thread is a goldmine of great explanations in more simple terms.

I just saw the episode of Through The Wormhole that talks about Garrett Lisi's theory about the E8 Lie group, which seemed like another interesting approach.

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/An_Exceptionally_Simple_Theory_of_Everything

Any thoughts on how these two different approaches might be related, or unrelated?
posted by zoogleplex at 9:43 PM on August 10, 2010


I want to make a joke about this but I'm not smart enough and it's too cool.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:46 PM on August 10, 2010


It's not gravitons---gravity is an entropic effect! Right? Err...
posted by phenylphenol at 11:31 PM on August 10, 2010


Sorry, must have missed something... Conservapedia is not a parody site?
posted by nielm at 12:40 AM on August 11, 2010


One of the things I really like about it is that it mostly does away with dark energy and matter, which bug the hell out of me. I've been pretty convinced for a long time that dark matter was the 21st century's "ether", something magic and invisible that makes things we don't understand happen the way we observe them to happen. The more focused they've gotten on that idea, the more convinced I've become that we've got something fundamentally wrong in our theories. A human error seems far more likely than millions of galaxies' worth of invisible matter and energy. And when you add in the fact that the Voyager probe isn't quite doing what we expect, as it sails out into interstellar space, a small error seems even more likely. The smallest of errors can get pretty goddamn big when you multiply them times the entire Universe. :)

Agreed. My pet theory: red shift isn't proof the universe is expanding, it is evidence that photos are affected, ever so slightly, by other photons. The high frequency ones are more likely to scatter, the low frequency ones are more likely to continue in their path, just having had their frequency lengthened by the most minuscule of degrees.

The universe IS enmeshed in a sort of aether: every star puts out photons in mostly all directions, all the time, from birth to death. The tiny, tiny sliver of photos we can detect travel through a sea of all the other photons that only observers on other planets might see. Now, it is a pretty damn sparse sea, but it is also pretty damn big. A lot of energy to account for.

The effects we interpret as dark energy, dark matter and redshift are simply the effects of the photons occasionally getting close enough to each other to interact. (As well as interacting with the occasional free floating molecule.) Their interactions aren't measurable on any scale; only on the scale of millions and billions of light years do we see the effect.

There you go. BAM! Universe solved.

(Copyright Me. Please send Nobel prize to Me, care of Me, My Town, USA.)
posted by gjc at 4:27 AM on August 11, 2010


I generally hate these kinds of articles. There is enough vague hand-wavey shit to make science fans all googly but not nearly enough real detail for those of us who aren't professional scientists but well-educated amateurs to make anything resembling an informed judgment on the issue.

An informed opinion would require understanding the research itself. Given that people invest years (decades even) to understanding material like this, there may not be any way for nonspecialists to make an informed judgment. Not everything can be prechewed for you.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 7:58 AM on August 11, 2010


My cousin thought Einstein was a swear word for many years
posted by MNDZ at 9:31 AM on August 11, 2010


After years of looking askance at dark matter, holding basically the same skeptical attitude as Malor, I recently have started reading Einstein's Telescope for an armchair education on the topic. The evidence isn't that hard to understand. The interpretation . . .

To a lifelong astronomy geek, it has been frustrating to have to tolerate what seems like a discourse on epicycles every time cosmology is discussed. The lack of any credentialed skeptical voices made me wonder: Is mainstream astronomy wearing blinders? Or am I?

I'll finish the book, but this does give me a little hope that the 90% of the universe I don't believe in doesn't, in fact, exist.
posted by General Tonic at 9:56 AM on August 11, 2010


man, dark matter dark energy they is is all like consciousness it is thoughts but in space... space thoughts!
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:19 AM on August 11, 2010


The whole action-at-a-distance by Jesus to disprove different aspects of physics that Conservapedia keeps pushing in these links has my head pounding.

I'm not sure if it's with the stupid, or the anger, but it's pounding nonetheless.
posted by quin at 11:27 AM on August 11, 2010


General Tonic: yeah, that whole thing just really bugs me. I suspect that there are few loud dark-matter skeptics because we haven't had an alternative theory to champion.

But, given these three items:
  1. The Universe isn't reacting how we expect it to;
  2. Quantum theory and relativity are incompatible;
  3. Voyager isn't moving quite at the speed we expect;
It just seems to me that the equations being a bit off makes more sense than a vast amount of fairy dust that happens to make our theories work. It feels kludgy and fantastic (in the sense of fantasy, not being great) to me. Most physics and cosmology is so elegant, but dark matter is exactly the opposite.

And, of course, there's always Occam's Razor.... we already know for certain that our theories aren't quite right, and ascribing the observational discrepancies to that error seems a far simpler explanation than 90% of everything being invisible.

I'll be perfectly happy to admit error, should we ever conclusively prove that dark matter is real, but barring that proof, I'll remain skeptical.
posted by Malor at 12:19 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


At first I thought this would be about Wun-Yi Shu's new theory,

time and space can be converted into one another, with a varying speed of light as the conversion factor. Mass and length are also interchangeable, with the conversion factor depending on both a varying gravitational “constant” and a varying speed of light (G/c2). Basically, as the universe expands, time is converted into space, and mass is converted into length.

... but no! So that's two new ideas ... gosh, I hope FTL is going to fall out of the Winner!
posted by Twang at 1:44 PM on August 11, 2010


Here's the Scientific American article on Horava's idea ... aka 'HoYava'. @Wikipedia. And a nice little Gary Larson thought.
posted by Twang at 2:03 PM on August 11, 2010


Speaking as a professional cosmologist who's just skimmed Mukoyhama's review... I can't say I'm blown away. Horava may have the solution to quantum gravity (that's far from my area of expertise), but none of the mysteries of modern cosmology get immediately solved by the theory. Instead, followup papers have come up with extra parameters they can add in Horava's theory that can act just like dark matter or dark energy - but they require at least as much fine-tuning as the standard cosmological model.

Malor, General Tonic: you'll find that cosmologists are eager to come up with ways to disprove General Relativity (and hence find an alternative explanation for the extra gravity around galaxies and clusters of galaxies and the cosmic acceleration that have caused us to invoke dark matter and dark energy). It's a sure route to a Nobel prize, after all. I've attended a couple of conferences focused on this topic in the past year. Pretty much all of the major cosmological experiments being planned include tests of GR as one of their major aims.

However, General Relativity is one of the most successful theories we have. I went to a talk once which provided a rundown of all the alternative theories that have been produced - and then walked through the experiments that have ruled out each one. The only alternative theories that pass all of the tests have some parameter that describes the level of deviation from GR, which must be set to a very tiny value for the theory not to be ruled out.

Most cosmologists are less concerned about the Pioneer anomaly now than in the past (Pioneer 10 and 11 were precursor spacecraft to the Voyagers, and it is they which show an anomalous acceleration; the Voyagers are not suitable for the test). The reason is that as models of the spacecraft have gotten better and better (requiring going back to original blueprints, etc.), the amount of anomalous acceleration has gotten smaller and smaller (rather than staying about the same). There have been recent efforts to reconstruct data from 1970s computer tapes that should make the test a bit better and help to resolve what's going on. The acceleration is so tiny that small effects make a difference: e.g., different parts of the spacecraft are made of different materials which reflect or absorb light that hits them in different fractions, causing a net acceleration in some direction. People are more intrigued by the flyby anomaly than the Pioneer anomaly these days; but the Pioneer experience has led most to expect that it, too, will have a conventional explanation.

Dark matter and dark energy remain our best bets for what's going on. In the case of dark matter, this is because of both fairly direct observational evidence like the Bullet Cluster and the fact that theories of particle physics predict a few things that could act like dark matter. For dark energy, the evidence that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating is all but incontrovertible, having been confirmed by a wide variety of techniques; we understand the cause poorly, though, and 'dark energy' is mostly just a label for our ignorance. There are lots of well-respected people looking for alternative explanations for both dark matter and dark energy, though, as the stakes are so high.
posted by janewman at 6:58 PM on August 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Still intriguing after a year ... maybe I should read more about this.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 1:15 PM on August 12, 2010


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