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Serious Science: the smallest symphony in the universe

If current thinking is correct, the fabric of the universe may well be made of threads and strings. Or, to use the correct parlance, super strings. Like the strings on a guitar they vibrate, and those vibrations give rise to everything you see around you. And it’s a theory that’s harmonized the minds of some of the best physicists in the world…

If current thinking is correct, the fabric of the universe may well be made of threads and strings. Or, to use the correct parlance, super strings. Like the strings on a guitar they vibrate, and those vibrations give rise to everything you see around you. And it’s a theory that’s harmonized the minds of some of the best physicists in the world…

Much like the laws of nature, theories in physics are often subject to evolutionary laws; the strong are the survivors. However, there are often exceptions to every rule.

It is, however, accepted that atoms are not the last word. They themselves are comprised of even smaller elemental sub-atomic particles; neutrons, protons and electrons, which are themselves composed of even smaller elements called quarks. So are quarks the last word? Apparently not.

The more we probe, the closer we come to the very fabric of the cosmos. And at this shrinking, infinitesimally small scale, the cosmos turns into chaos — the chaotic world of the quantum. But underlying, or maybe interwoven within this rolling fabric are fine threads, known as super strings.

At this point, accepted wisdom breaks down and dissolves into a maelstrom of unknowns and improbably large, seemingly random numbers. But as the ever-curious hairless apes we are, we continue to probe and ask questions.

That is what I love about our species — “No” has zero value. “Yes” is near infinite.

What an entangled web physicists weave

The one thing that eludes physicists is the property of all particles that confers their mass. Of all the things they understand, they cannot account for the attribute of every atom that invokes gravity.

Recently at the TED conferences, Brian Cox offered an insight into the Large Hadron Collider, a particle accelerator located at CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland. This colossal device lies inside a massive circular tunnel, buried under the Franco-Swiss border, spanning some 27 kilometers in circumference.

It is this device that is at the forefront of the race to discover the Higgs boson particle, an as yet still hypothetical particle that essentially allows for other elements, like quarks, to inherit gravity.

In terms of challenges in the world of physics, this is the big one! On the success of discovering the Higgs boson particle, reputations are made, almost insuring the Nobel Prize for someone.

As I’ve said before, I’m not a physicist. I’m just some guy who really, really enjoys to learn. And for me, physics is a chance for us to explain the world in finite terms, free of the requirement of belief or faith.

However, this does not make the world of science soulless. Far from it, in fact. What wonders these formal and often immutable laws give rise to are of staggering beauty and formidable scale, size and mesmerizing complexity.

As is often the case with me, I cannot stop thinking. When I walk or jog, my mind is thrust into high gear, as the blood begins to flow around and through my brain. Many has been the time that I’ve walked out the door with a problem and returned with any number of solutions.

What I’m about to propose is by no means a solution to anything, but merely my own interpretation of the dilemmas faced by physicists the world over.

All I ask is that you indulge my fanciful thinking for a short while…

Quantum Entanglement

Sparing you the lengthy history surrounding this phrase and its attendant layers of mathematical baggage — none of which I could even begin to articulate in any case — I will describe quantum entanglement in a very simplistic way.

It is possible to take two particles, such as photons, which are the very essence of light, and “entangle” them in such a way that they share certain properties. So in effect, they’re identical.

However, what happens afterwards is what perplexed Einstein and his colleagues. It was Einstein who was once famously quoted as calling quantum entanglement, “spooky action at a distance.” And with good reason, too.

You see, when these two particles are entangled, they’re not just identical; they’re essentially the same particle. The reason being, if you change the properties of one, the other exhibits those same changes instantaneously.

This might not sound too troubling for the casual reader. But the problems really begin when you separate these two particles, say for instance placing each of them at the furthest opposite edges of the known universe — spanning some 13.7 billion light years.

If you repeat the process of changing the properties of one particle, the other exhibits those same changes instantaneously, irrespective of the distance.

Under the current laws of physics, such a process isn’t permissible, largely because whatever means of communication between the two particles is taking place must surely be exceeding the speed of light, which is to all intents & purposes, impossible.

And here’s where I started to think — if we live in a layered universe, one composed of eleven dimensions (as suggested for providing a mathematical framework in which relativity and quantum theory can be unified) and not just the four we’re currently aware of, maybe there’s another way to communicate that doesn’t rely on sending information between two fixed points inside our four dimensions of time & space, but via the remaining seven dimensions.

Of course, the implications of such a theory ever being true would have a massive impact on communication. No matter the distance, communication would be instantaneous, opening up all kinds of new technologies. But that may be the topic of another discussion.

Gettin’ kinda heavy — the influence of gravity

As a force, gravity is all around us, or at least its effects are. Gravity itself doesn’t actually reside here in our universe. Instead, gravity sits at the very edge of the boundary layer between our universe and those hidden dimensions, unseen by human eyes.

Imagine now a layer, much like a rubber sheet separating our universe from the one that lurks elsewhere. On our side, the elementary particles sit close to this thin rubber sheet. So too does gravity on the other side, exerting a small but measurable amount of attractive force.

Now, imagine lots of atoms clumped together, maybe as a large asteroid, a moon or even a planet. Since these atoms are in a more dense arrangement, they inherit more gravitational effect, which we could visualize as a depression in the surface of the intermediary rubber sheet.

So if — according my understanding of things — there is some kind of communication taking place between the elementary particles resident in our portion of the universe and those forces that reside elsewhere, what else might we be able to communicate, to describe how those particles are arranged?

A square peg for a round hole

I know nothing of the physics involved in how particles communicate their presence to each other, other than knowing there’s an exchange of an electrical force — the electromagnetic force. But what seems obvious to me, is, if our universe is indeed in communication with the rest of the universe, there may well be limitations on what kind of data & information can be transferred.

Put simply, imagine someone trying to explain a series of complex ideas particular to theoretical physics to a group of people who may well have no prior understanding, and then expecting them to be able to make use of that knowledge.

I mean, that’s just crazy, isn’t it? Oh, wait…

Ahem, anyway.

But seriously, that’s the problem in simple terms. Those other seven dimensions most likely represent a kind of complexity that our four dimensional universe simply cannot deal with.

Another example would be the puzzle box you’d give to a toddler, the kind with a series of different shaped holes; star, circle, square, triangle and oblong.

Going back to our idea of the intermediary layer of rubber, now imagine that layer being porous, millions of miniscule holes. Each of those holes would be either one of the aforementioned shapes.

Because our universe in much more simplistic, despite which particles correspond to which shaped holes, only the star, the square and circle make any sense in our universe. The triangle and the oblong don’t make any sense. So whatever information they describe is meaningless in our universe and subsequently lost.

To put it another way, only a finite level of complex communication is allowed, English-only, if you like. And even then, certain words don’t even exist in this particular vocabulary.

However, what if this communication problem is the solution to “spooky action at a distance”?

A super string symphony

In our earlier discussion of quantum entanglement, we had two particles of light separated by the diameter of the universe, yet still in direct and immediate communication with each other.

Physicists see this as being in contravention of the physical laws of the universe, but these laws really only describe our four dimensional universe, only referencing those other seven dimensions to help describe and explain those things that defy explanation any other way.

Accepting my theory that our universe cannot make sense of the more complex information of the hidden universe, and is incapable of articulating anything of sufficient complexity “into” this hidden universe, I believe this is itself the reason why quantum entanglement happens at all.

And why does it happen at all? Because of the smallest symphony in the universe.

To conceptualize super strings is to imagine them as a distinct sound. Each variation of the sound describes an elementary particle of one kind or another. Now imagine the various particles that make up a light photon. If each sound is unique, then what we have is a symphony of strings. An orchestra, if you like.

However, our orchestra is only a quartet. But the hidden universe is a orchestral septet — those other seven dimensions. On top of which, having a choir to accompany them, each singer having access to a vast dialectic vocabulary.

Our two particles are able to describe a great deal about themselves, but the hidden universe allows for much, much more to be said. But because these two photons are effectively identical, we have two orchestras performing in perfect harmony.

In our simplistic universe, we see them as being entirely separate, but for the more complex hidden universe, more can be said to describe them. Problem is, that isn’t the case. Our universe can’t sufficiently describe the differences between the two because our universe isn’t aware of them.

Meanwhile, the orchestra plays on. This harmony permeates the porous rubber layer and information is exchanged. But when the harmony arrives in the hidden universe, the particles aren’t seen as being different, despite them being separated by the widest distance our universe can allow for.

In the hidden universe — unlike our simpler universe, bound by spacial dimensions — maybe distance has no real significance? From that hidden universe, our universe may appear similarly infinitely small and intertwined. After all, didn’t the entire universe emerge from a singular point of almost infinitely small size?

And as those changes are made to one photon, changing its properties, which in turn change the harmonics of the orchestra, what information is passed into the hidden universe pertaining to one photon is then communicated back to both.

Speaking of sound, and if we needed yet one more analogy, I saved the best until last, offered to me quite kindly and with scary immediacy by none other than our resident man of science David Bradley.

Remember .mp3 sound files? Of course you do. Ever wondered how they “compressed” sound? It’s actually a very simple idea, although I’m sure the process is suitably bedeviled with detail.

The range of human hearing is limited, but the music we listen to often contains detail that exceeds our range of hearing. Also, certain details within the music we listen to aren’t readily perceptible, either.

So the idea is, the compression algorithm used by an .mp3 file removes or degrades those sounds which we’re not going to be able to make out in the first place, thus reducing the amount of data used.

That is another way of describing my idea of the sounds of super strings — the hidden universe is the sounds we can’t or struggle to perceive, while the remainder of the sounds are what we can hear.

I could be wrong and my theory might be just one more idea that falls by the wayside, assured of theoretical obscurity. But hopefully, my ideas might sound right to someone, bringing music to someone’s ears…

This article would probably not have been possible had it not been for the worthy contributions from science writer and journalist David Bradley. To him, Kate & I owe a great thanks!

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

1 reply on “Serious Science: the smallest symphony in the universe”

What great information! You say that you are not a physicist, but according to your article I can imagine how long you did it. I can’t say you are right or not and if your theory is correct but I liked your suggestion about the hidden universe. Thanks a lot.

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