Reality: Place Your Bets

What was reality yesterday (a Flat Earth orbited by the Sun; Unicorns and Dragons, etc.) isn’t of necessity what is accepted reality today, and what’s reality today may not of necessity be reality tomorrow. Here are a few possibilities for tomorrow-land.

1) Quantum Mechanics: The Copenhagen Interpretation (reality) vs. The Many Worlds Interpretation (alternate reality): Actually nobody has a handle on what constitutes reality in the realm of the quantum other than it is a realm of probabilities. When you have a lot of states or things that could be only a measurement or observation will turn one of these probabilities into a certainty. The other probabilities collapse and fall by the wayside once that observation is made. That’s the guts of the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum probabilities. The alternate reality is called the Many Worlds Interpretation which suggests that all probabilities happen; none is favored; none fall by the wayside. The way that happens is that when crunch comes crunch and its time to turn the cards face up, the world splits as many times as necessary to allow for each possible outcome to achieve reality, one outcome in this world and another outcome in another world. So, right or left at Oak Street? It’s not either/or. In this world you go say to the left. But that very act generates another separate and apart world where you turn right.  

2) Quantum Mechanics Probability (reality) vs. Quantum Mechanics Causality (alternate reality): As noted above, quantum mechanics is the realm of chance or possibilities or probabilities. One thing that is never certain in quantum mechanics is being able to predict certainty, which is certainly not the case with classical physics. There’s no doubt the Sun will rise in the morning; that you can predict eclipses hundreds of years in advance; that you can use the laws, relationships and principles of classical physics to send a space probe to the planet Mars. In classical physics, causality rules: if A, B & C then X, Y and Z will follow. In quantum physics, if A, B & C then X, Y and Z might follow, or maybe not. Not everyone accepts that. Some suggest that lurking beneath quantum’s probabilistic nature lays hidden variables that will restore quantum mechanics to the realm of cause-and-effect. In quantum physics, causality might prove to be your alternate reality.

3) Traditional Particle Physics (reality) vs. String Theory (alternate reality): Traditional particle physics views the fundamental particles (electrons, etc.) as tiny little billiard balls or for the sake of making the mathematics easier, point (zero-dimensional) particles. If all particles actually were zero-dimensional, then you too would be dimensionless since you are composed of those point particles, and zero plus zero plus zero (plus billions more zeros) ultimately equal zero. String Theory on the other hand replaces little billiard balls (or point particles) with stringy bits that vibrate. The rate of those vibrations, determine what kind of fundamental particle it is; and the particle can be either a closed string (like a doughnut or rubber band) or an open, cut string – one with two separate and apart ends. String Theory however represents alternative reality because 1) after three decades of theoretical speculation it remains just theoretical speculation – nothing experimentally confirmed, and 2) String Theory proper requires a minimum of nine spatial dimensions in order for the mathematics to maintain logical consistency.

4) Three Spatial Dimensions (reality) vs. Four [or more] Spatial Dimensions (alternate reality): You have absolutely no doubt in your mind that you wander through the weird and lurid landscape of three dimensional space. You can go back and forth; up and down; and left and right. You couldn’t exist is less than three dimensional space. You could probably exist in a four dimensional space, or five or six, even seven, eight or nine dimensions. That’s the alternative reality claim of theoretical physicists who adopt a String Theory worldview. However, in your day-in-and-day-out battle against the elements and the powers-that-be, one battle you don’t encounter is negotiating and wandering through a maze of additional spatial dimensions. If they exist, and that’s a big if, they are irrelevant to you, and you probably could therefore care less. But if for all practical purposes they are irrelevant to you, and String Theory physicists can’t provide any evidence, far less proof for their existence in any event, then for all practical purposes they don’t exist. Till they do, this alternative reality is kaput.  

5) General Relativity Space-Time Gravity (reality) vs. Quantum Gravity (alternate reality): Gravity; it’s what holds you firmly to Terra Firma. If I ask you what holds you firmly to Terra Firma you’d answer “gravity”. But if then asked to explain exactly what it is and how it works you’d be stumped. The Newtonian equation of gravity makes predictions but doesn’t give explanations.

However, there are two explanations for gravity if I read the textbooks correctly. One is wrapped up in the General Theory of Relativity whereby gravity is a continuous force operating throughout space-time; the second is non-continuous gravity in the realm of the quantum.

* Gravity is just the geometry of space-time: Mass ‘tells’ space-time how to warp, and warped space-time ‘tells’ mass how to move – seemingly experimentally verified more than several times over. The movement of mass in warped space-time is what we interpret as the ‘force of gravity’, but gravity is actually the actions of mass moving in space-time geometry. If gravity is just a continuous geometry and mass deviates from the straight and narrow path because lots of other mass has warped space-time from the flatland Great Plains to the peaks and valleys of the space-time Rockies, then there’s no apparent need or reason that I can see to unify gravity with the other forces and their particles. There is no graviton. If there is no causality link with the other three (quantum level) forces, there’s no need for a Theory of Everything (TOE). There’s no need to reconcile the 98 pound of weakling gravity with the Atlas physiques of electromagnetism, etc. 

* Gravity is just another force: Secondly, there are in this worldview four fundamental forces: the electromagnetic force, the strong and weak nuclear forces, and gravity. Forces have accompanying elementary particles witch convey the force. In the case of the electromagnetic force, the particle is the photon. The particle associated with gravity has been dubbed the graviton. Unfortunately, it has never (to date) been detected. Now the central issue here is trying as they might, physicists cannot unify the four forces into one whole, called that Theory of Everything or TOE. Since everything should be related to everything else, gravity should be, if not a brother or sister to the other three force-related siblings, at least a kissing cousin. Alas, it’s an unrelated hermit that wants no ancestry with the other three. If however gravity should be shown to be a non-continuous force, that is there is this unit of gravity, and that unit of gravity, but nothing in-between, or in other words, you can’t divide a graviton in half – it’s as fundamental as the electron or the gluon or the photon – then gravity will join the world of the quantum. But that happy marriage date has not yet been set, and maybe never will be.

6) Black Holes (reality) vs. White Holes (alternate reality): Black Holes are known to exist, though once they were just a theoretical construct of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (and Einstein himself only thought of them as an abstract concept, not an actual thing). They were originally termed ‘dark stars’ though the later phrase Black Holes was proposed, and being catchy, took on with both the academic and general communities. Now Black Holes are objects with so much mass, and therefore so much gravity, that not even light (at 186,000 miles per second) can escape the clutches of such an object. You can’t see a Black Hole, hence the descriptive ‘black’. That’s the reality part. The alternative reality bit is the opposite of a Black Hole, obviously a White Hole. If a Black Hole sucks in stuff, a White Whole spews stuff out. The turning point is, can a Black Hole become so bloated with incoming stuff that it ultimately has to exit elsewhere?  One of the 64,000 $64,000 questions: Can you pour stuff down a Black Hole indefinitely, or does the Black Hole have a finite capacity and ultimately or eventually will have to spew stuff out the ‘other side’ (i.e. – producing a White Hole) as you keep pouring in more and more and more? I’d wager the conservation relationships and principles of physics and chemistry hold sway here. What goes in ultimately comes out. That doesn’t mean there’s not a temporary holding vessel. Or, in more human terms, you fill what’s empty; you empty what’s full, but in-between those two there’s storage in the stomach and the intestines; the lungs and the bladder.

7) You Exist Within Our Galaxy (reality) vs. The Universe Exists Within A Black Hole (alternate reality): Since you cannot escape from the jail cell within the prison we call the Universe; and since you could not escape from the inside of a Black Hole – another type of a jail cell within a prison – perhaps they are one and the same sort of prison. Perhaps not only do Black Holes exist inside the Universe but the Universe itself resides inside a Black Hole with perhaps no end of the inside-the-inside-the-inside in either direction. In a manner of speaking, that’s a Multiverse! Actually you can in theory escape this Universe by hopping down into a Black Hole, but if, and it’s a very big ‘but if’, you survive, you’ve just traded in one jail cell for another, or one maximum security prison for another.

8) Big Bang (reality) vs. Before the Big Bang (alternate reality): The standard cosmological model postulates based on observable evidence that our Universe began roughly 13.7 billion years ago as a Big Bang event that created all of matter, energy, time and space. The Universe was created out of nothing. There was no ‘before the Big Bang’ since the Big Bang started the universal clock ticking. Fortunately, for those who find such a scenario unsatisfactory, like me, there are alternative proposals that postulate, indeed require a ‘before the Big Bang’. But while the Big Bang rests on solid evidence, all ‘before the Big Bang’ proposals are highly theoretical and remain alternative realities.  

9) There’s Just One You (reality) vs. There’s Many of You (alternate reality): Even if you have an identical twin, that twin is not you. You are unique with a unique set of experiences and memories with individual brain chemistry and a hardwired neural network. Of all the people, who have ever lived, are living now, and who will exist in the future, you are unique – that’s a reality you and the world have to deal with; right? Maybe not; there are legit scenarios that allow for another you, even an infinite number of you. The most oft quoted possibility is if our Universe is infinite in extent and/or duration, another you just isn’t possible or probable, but mandatory. If our Universe is finite but part of an infinite set of universes – a Multiverse – another you just isn’t possible or probable, but mandatory. If the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics is correct, another you just isn’t a possibility or a probability, but mandatory. If one accepts the basic mantra of quantum mechanics which is anything that can happen, does happen then another you just isn’t possible or probable, but mandatory. If we exist in a simulated universe as virtual reality, and there are many copies of this piece of software in existence another you just isn’t possible or probable, but mandatory. At least the saving grace is that you’ll never have to meet yourself – oops, that might not be true either if time travel is ever realized!

10) Really Real Reality (reality) vs. Virtual Reality (alternate reality): You obviously believe that you are part and parcel of Really Real Reality (RRR). The world socks it to you; you do your best to sock it to the world! However, there are two forms of an alternate reality, or virtual reality, that you might be part and parcel of. Firstly, it comes as no surprise that you create versions of alternate/virtual reality all the time. If you stop and think about it, your dreams create virtual worlds and characters. As you dream up an alternate reality landscape, and animate it, perhaps you too and your landscape (what your worldview accepts as RRR) is a dream-world of someone or something else! Secondly, you’d be aware of computer simulations, software programs that also create virtual worlds and characters. You might be an active participant, if not creating same, then engaging with those programs, like playing video games. As you create and/or participate in an alternate reality animated landscape, perhaps you too and your landscape (what your worldview accepts as RRR) is an animated video game or simulated world of someone or something else!  

11) Free Will (reality) vs. No Free Will (alternate reality): You have free will. You absolutely know you have free will. But you can’t prove you have free will. Any action(s) you perform which you state exhibits your free will; well the ‘no free will’ counterargument is that you have no choice but to believe in your own free will. It’s an illusion which you have been pre-programmed to accept as given, just as a pocket calculator has no choice but to calculate that 2 + 3 = 5. But as long as you believe you have free will, well, there’s no harm done.

12) We Are the Proverbial It (reality) vs. ETI [ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence] Is Teeming Throughout the Cosmos (alternate reality): Despite all the decades of active SETI [Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence], including lots of computer crunch power at their command including SETI @ Home; despite over six decades of UFO investigation, both official and private; plus all manner of amateur insights into the possibility of ‘ancient astronauts’; and those thousands of books written on these subjects (plus essays/articles, blogs, TV shows, DVD documentaries, etc.) no ETI smoking gun – proof positive – has surfaced of their existence to the satisfaction of all and sundry. But tomorrow is another day.

13) Your World (reality) vs. Your Cyber-World (alternate reality): You of course exist in a four space-time dimensional reality. You were born into it; you live your life in it; you’ll die in it. However, recent advances in technology have given us the ways and means to disconnect from that reality for lengthy periods of time and voluntarily adopt a cyber-world reality for a large part of our time. Many people and you see them all the time on the bus, in the mall, at the dinner table, at a social gathering, walking the dog, first thing awake, last thing before sleep, ignoring to the best of their ability their real surroundings for their cyber-surroundings. Between their PCs and tablets and smart-phones and emails and Twitter and Facebook and texting, while totally immersed in their tiny little cyber-world, they are near totally oblivious to their immediate surroundings and the real world immediately in front of them, which is one reason you get ‘funny’ videos of people so engrossed in their cyber-world that they totally fail to observe their surroundings and fall down stairs or into ponds of water or walk in front of buses. Reality has a way of biting back!

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