Tag: Physics

Solidity is Not an Illusion

Just in the interest of being Less Wrong™, let’s explore why it’s not true that solidity is an illusion on account of matter (supposedly) being mostly empty space.

The popular aphorism goes that matter is mostly empty space. The reasoning is that matter is made of atoms, which are situated and vibrating some distance apart from each other in space, held in place by physical forces, and within those atoms the distance between the electron shells and the nuclei are extremely far relative to the size of the nuclei. Maybe one would also extend the argument to the space between the electrons in the shells (okay, technically electron shells aren’t actually made of electrons; the electrons don’t exist until you detect them and collapse the wave function), the space between the shells, the space between the protons and neutrons within the nucleus, and the space between the quarks within the protons and neutrons.

But the thing is this: why is it notable how much space there is, when there is no solidity to contrast it with? Electrons aren’t solid, protons aren’t solid, and quarks aren’t solid. They are forcefields of some sort with no clearly defined boundaries. You’re in a forcefield right now—the earth’s gravity. That field extends infinitely in all directions. Similarly, an electron’s electric field extends infinitely, just with faster attenuation and extremely small intensity. The electron itself (when it even exists) is just an excitation within a field. So, all you have is space and fields within it that permeate it everywhere.

Solidity is therefore not a concept that applies to the micro scale. If solidity exists at all, it is merely a mode of material interaction, applying only on a macroscopic scale, by which objects cannot pass through each other. Being understood as such, it makes no sense to say that things are any less solid than they appear to be due to sub-nanoscopic structures, because the solid-vs.-vacuum dichotomy doesn’t exist on that scale. If anything, nuclear physics tells us that, solidity being a purely macroscopic phenomenon, things can only be exactly as solid as they appear and not any less so. And as for the empty space supposedly existing within matter between particles, there is nothing other than empty space, so that idea is meaningless. (You could say only space without forcefields in it is “empty,” but all space is full of fields and forcefields.)

Related article: https://www.symmetrymagazine.org/article/july-2013/real-talk-everything-is-made-of-fields

Cascades of Flux (Brief Version)

All matter and energy is constantly in flux. What appears to be solid, such as a desk, is actually made of trillions of tiny atoms, each one vibrating in place, and each one made up of waves of electron fields around nuclei that are made of vibrating protons and neutrons which are in turn made of moving quarks. Force fields are in flux because they emanate from matter which is in flux, and force fields aren’t matter or energy anyway—they’re just mathematically defined causal relationships between physical extants.

The laws of physics appear to be static, but they all boil down to two aspects: 1. the aspect of it that is necessarily true just because it’s logically consistent with the of physics. This aspect is why we’re able to do derivations in physics; and 2. the aspect of it that comes purely from observations. The first aspect is necessarily static just because logic itself can’t logically be any different, but there’s no jusification to assume the other is static just because the observations seem consistent over time.

Since everything else we observe is in flux, chances are that those things are in flux as well—they just change too slowly to be noticed. Add to this the fact that there’s no ultimate way to distinguish between the physics of matter and energy and the physicality of it. The so-called “laws” of physics are not a separate thing “acting on” matter and energy. The closer you look, the more these two things blend together. One way of saying this is that form is function. How can you know the form of something other than through how it interacts with the observer? And how it interacts with the observes is its function. And the functionality of matter and energy is the physics of it.

All of physicality boils down to matter, energy and fields. Matter is in turn a pattern of seething energy, and fields can’t, even in principle, be defined or observed in any way other than as causal relationships between matter, so it’s safe to say that fields are merely an aspect of physics. And what is energy other than behavior patterns, and what determines its behavior if not the internal logic and mechanics of it which is what physics reveals?

Also, as I mentioned in this essay, Emmy Noether proved that the conservation of energy logically follows from the consistency through time of the laws of physics. And what is the concept of energy other than an invariant? What sense would energy make if it weren’t conserved?

So, everything physical is in flux, and there’s no ultimate way of distinguishing between physics and the physical. And physics is derived from only from a combination of observations and pure logic, while we can only observe the physical and most of what we observe seems to change constantly. So all of this would seem to suggest that the constants in physics, such as the speed of light and the gravitational constant for example, aren’t actually constants but are only assumed to be because they’re so slow to change.

This essay is the third installment of essays of mine conveying basically the same idea, for some strange reason. One can be found at the link above, the other can be found here.

Cascades of Flux

Inasmuch as physics equations are based in pure logic, it is illogical to suppose that they might change over time. There is also an aspect of these equations that is not determined purely by reason, but by observation. Let’s take the example of F=ma. It seems to be somewhere in between the two aspects: physics that’s determined by reason, and physics that’s discovered through observation. Without empiricism/observation there would be nothing to apply the equation to, and it may be conceivable that there could be a universe where the equation is slightly different, although it seems it would be an absurd one that dynamically bends backward in every situation over satisfying the modified equation.

On the other hand there’s a large degree to which, given the context of the universe as we know it, F=ma is merely a tautology. It’s merely consistent with the rest of the given rational framework. (Einstein said, “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”)

A more interesting consideration might be that, since the implications of a Newtonian universe versus a relativistic universe seem to differ only slightly (consider the fact that, in in the past, we had mistaken the universe for being Newtonian), the universe might evolve from one to the other, say, from a relativistic one to a Newtonian one.  However, this doesn’t work for several reasons.

First, the implications of the equations go deeper than the slight differences observed in our every day world. For one, space and time would have to evolve from being inseparable to fundamentally distinct. Since space and time in this universe are epiphenomenal, and also fundamental, this is no small step. The universe would have to completely change, the old universe becoming nothing but a memory before the new universe comes about—as opposed to smoothly slipping from one to the other. 

Second, it’s possible that reason alone can arrive at the conclusion that space and time are intrinsically connected, by virtue of their metaphysical co-dependence, and that Newtonian physics was therefore merely shortsighted/illogical to begin with.

Third, a shift from one modus operandi to another would be more of a sudden, dramatic paradigm shift for all matter in the universe travelling at relativistic speeds and for any perspective that more elucidates relativistic effects in the universe, such as one that simply sees across more distance thus highlighting the vast separation of light cones. 

Fourth, large-scale change characteristically happens through analog continua, and a change from Newtonian physics to relativistic or vice versa would be more of a gratuitous, massive binary shift since there are the only two possibilities in this arena of consideration, and they are discrete, because they are paragons of internal logical self-consistency, thus with no wiggle room, and no continuity between one paradigm and the other.

A tentative argument to most of these points would be that, if the speed of light were to increase, the universe would gradually become more and more Newtonian in behavior as c approaches infinity. However, c cannot become actually infinite by gradually increasing. A finite value plus a finite value is always a finite value. Therefore, the relativistic equations would always remain more true and more accurate than the Newtonian equations, subsuming and superceding them.

It is also noteworthy that it is the relatively high value of c that allowed us to think in Newtonian terms to begin with, thus that argument illustrates the essential illusion behind this “interesting consideration”: inasmuch as the universe could transmute to being Newtonian, it was already there, and vice versa, because it is the value of c that sponsors the apparent proximity between the two systems.

Traditionally, the laws of physics are considered to be immutable and the states of affairs that they act upon are considered to be in flux. To me, this seems to be regarding the laws of physics in an almost religious way, although it’s understandable because reality does appear to be this way. 

I would like to point out, first, that the entirety of the “states of affairs” is in flux. Matter is a process. Atoms “bounce off of” each other constantly, electrons travel around the nucleus, the quarks in the nucleus are moving around, etc.  Every time we see stasis we are merely objectifying repeating patterns of motion that are too small to be seen. The atom appears to be a constant object because its internal processes remain within certain parameters. This is doesn’t mean that the parameters themselves are “states of affairs” that are not in flux. The parameters are merely limits that derive from the logic of physical law. The earth has a certain abstract delineation in space because it is held together by gravity, but its breadth on the microscopic level is constantly in flux, as its matter is in motion. 

To focus on the “energy” side of things, light, or an EM field, is of course a propagating wave, thus in motion. The staticity of a force field like gravity or electrostatic charge is not really a state of affairs because the force field only exists insofar as it produces an effect. It is not a thing-in-itself. It is an aspect of the way material interacts with other material across distance, which is a manifestation of the laws of physics themselves. It would be superfluous to posit the existence of a force field in-itself when (a) its state is completely supervenient (in the philosophical sense) upon the state of the matter that engenders it, and (b) it can only be known/detected or influenced through its effect on matter. Secondly, since the mass that manifests a gravitational or electrostatic force field is constantly in motion, and is itself a process, the gravitational or electrostatic force field actually consists of uncountable tiny waves of force propagating outward at the speed of light and averaging out to a practically static field. 

Universal flux is given rise to by the causal interconnectedness of everything. Unpredictability is given rise to by two things: 1. Causal, chaotic systems, and 2. quantum indeterminacy/”absolute randomness”. You can predict some things better than others, but certainty and precision can never be 100%, and thus stasis can never be 100%.

Another point I want to make is that physical laws do not “control” or “act upon” matter and energy to “make” them do what they do. If a law acted upon matter, there would have to be an active agent and that active agent would have to have further laws that to control its own animation. Or, for law X that says matter must behave in a certain way, there would have to be a law Y that says that matter must behave in accordance to law X, and a law Z that says matter must behave in accordance to law Y, etc. At the bottom of this pile of turtles there would have to be a set of rules that maintain themselves just because, and it’s equally (actually, more) likely that matter maintains its behavior just because.

Furthermore, if time is sponsored by laws “controlling” matter and energy, there must be a meta-time that makes it possible for these laws to commit the process of exercising this control. 

Also, control and action as we know them require an expenditure of energy. “Control” is a very humanistic concept that essentially requires intended result and active manipulation to narrow down the possibilities in the flow of energy/matter from many to a selected few. This requires energy expenditure in nearly the same way that Maxwell’s demon does, so if physical laws “controlled” matter then it would grossly violate conservation of energy.

So, how does physical “law” “work”, or limit what we think is possible, or act as the selector of possibilities, such that the selected is not forced and thus doesn’t require energy expenditure to actualize, or actively select, the selection?  The answer is that the process of behaving in accordance to physical law is the process of being logically self-consistent. For the universe to violate a law of physics would be illogical, and one would recognize the specific absurdity if one were able to apprehend the entire situation on all levels. In other words, anything one imagines to be a possibility that physics won’t allow is no more logical than a square circle. (Notice that physical laws are described in the form of mathematical equations, and math itself is nothing but a big tautology of pure logic.)

Therefore, the only immutable aspect of the laws of physics is what is derived from pure logic. Everything else is subject to the states of affairs/the flow of time/change. Of course, some things change more slowly than others. (See the ‘the entirety of the “states of affairs” is in flux’ argument above.)

If you were to do something that a naive philosopher might call “violating a law of physics,” such as by figuring out a way to travel faster than the speed of light, or by inventing an anti-gravity machine, what you are really doing is utilizing a higher order of physics that supercedes the “law” in question.  If you thought that Newtonian mechanics was the true law of the universe, you could violate it by flying two atomic clocks around the earth in opposite directions in fast airplanes.

In regards to higher orders of physics, how high does it go? Perhaps it goes all the way up to pure logic. (Or maybe, metaphysically, there simply layers and layers of what I’ll call “world texture.” Or some combination of the two.) If you can use a higher order of physics to violate or affect a lower one, then in between the higher order and the lower order is the input of state of affairs—meaning that the lower order of physics is an implication of the higher order given a specific current or typical state of affairs, which is what you are controlling if you are “violating a law of physics.”

So, again, the only immutable aspect of physics is pure logic.   

The issue that I’ve been driving at here all along is the decision to include “constants” such as the speed of light and the gravitational constant in with the supposed immutability of the laws of physics. You use a constant by plugging it into an equation. The constant comes from observation of the states of affairs, ultimately. It is arbitrary to consider the constant a part of the actual “law” and all other inputs to the equation merely parts of the states of affairs that the law acts upon. (This is also quasi-religious thinking: “We don’t know why c is the value it is, but we know that it will never change and has never changed. It is God-given.”)

It would be easy to say that it could go either way, maybe it’s changeable, maybe it’s not, if it weren’t for all of my above arguments. Everything is in flux but the laws of physics, and those are only constant inasmuch as they are manifestations of logic. (Re the “metaphysical world textures” comment made above, there’s no reason to assume such a texture would be constant.)

It follows from everything I’ve said that including “constants” in with the supposed immutability of the laws themselves is simply incorrect, unless the values of c, G, Planck’s constant, or whatever can be derived from pure logic. The best I can imagine is that it would be derived from pure logic given another “constant” to base it on, thus making it supervenient upon that other “constant” (with the possibility of that constant being derived from another constant, etc.), in part because these constants are necessarily in arbitrary units of measurement.

Perhaps c can be derived from G, or vice versa, or both, or they can both be derived from some other constant(s) (but I think this would imply you could derive one from the other as well), thus if they changed they would have to change together. Perhaps not. If they can’t, we can only assume that they are independent, and if they are independent there is nothing to keep them in constancy with relationship to each other, except “inertia” (e.g. of the “metaphysical world texture”). (If they are not derived via logic, they are somehow handed down from the states of affairs, and if they are not logically dependent on each other, they are handed down from independently variable states of affairs.)

c and G change so little that we don’t consider them variables, and they may change so little that no significant change in them has happened in the life of the universe. But for them to be exactly the same would require an immutable reason that they are what they are, and the only reason that fits that bill is logical necessity, and we (probably) can’t derive c or G from logic alone. It’s unlikely that they can be derived from logic alone because they are such seemingly arbitrary and large/fine numbers.

I suppose it only makes sense to say that they are intrinsically large (or fine?) numbers with respect to some kind of quantization to afford an objective unit of measurement, and this quantization would have to be incorporated into the axioms of the logic at hand. This would, of course, make it much easier to derive their values through logic. However, without some kind of intrinsic quantization, perhaps they’re still baseless with respect to any logical axioms.  

Now I will attempt to go more in-depth in regards to the speed of light being a state of affairs. 

Imagine the universe as a completely dynamic cascade of change, some aspects changing faster and some changing slower. We have no choice, personally and evolutionarily, but to wrap our minds around the more slower changing aspects as a reference point for the faster changing aspects, lest we be lost in confusion. We thus perceive the more slowly-changing aspects as the structure of the universe.

The more consistent patterns of behavior in the universe, i.e. the ones that repeat themselves, are slower-changing aspects to the degree that they’re exactly the same behavior repeated, which is a limited degree because every situation/event has its specific properties.

Well, they say that all electrons are identical, so maybe this “folding consistency into deeper structure” applies not only across time but across space too, when entities are considered to be identical to each other. In other words, maybe there is only one electron, and it is part of the deep/slowly changing structure of the universe.

So what we have is basically a cascade of change, with the fastest/most chaotic changes at the figurative top, and the slowest/most uniform changes at the figurative bottom. The speed of light can probably only be at the bottom.

I wrote a more brief version of the same basic concept expressed here here, and another one here.

Why the Speed of Light Probably Isn’t a Constant

All matter and energy is constantly in flux. What appears to be solid, such as a desk, is actually made of trillions of tiny atoms, each one vibrating in place, and each one made up of waves of electron fields around nuclei that are made of vibrating protons and neutrons which are in turn made of moving quarks. Force fields are in flux because they emanate from matter which is in flux, and force fields aren’t matter or energy anyway—they’re just mathematically defined causal relationships between physical extants.

The laws of physics appear to be static, but they all boil down to two aspects: 1) the aspect of it that is necessarily true just because it’s logically consistent with the of physics. This aspect is why we’re able to do derivations in physics; and 2) the aspect of it that comes purely from observations. The first aspect is necessarily static just because logic itself can’t logically be any different, but there’s no justification to assume the other is static just because the observations seem consistent over time. Since everything else we observe is in flux, chances are that those things are in flux as well—they just change too slowly to be noticed

Add to this the fact that there’s no ultimate way to distuingish between the physics of matter and energy and the physicality of it. The so-called “laws” of physics are not a separate thing “acting on” matter and energy. The closer you look, the more these two things blend together. One way of saying this is that form is function. How can you know the form of something other than through how it interacts with the observer? And how it interacts with the observes is its function. And the functionality of matter and energy is the physics of it.

All of physicality boils down to matter, energy and fields. Matter is in turn a pattern of seething energy, and fields. Can’t, even in principle, be defined or observed in any way other than as causal relationships between matter, so it’s safe to say that fields are merely an aspect of physics. And what is energy other than behavior patterns, and what determines its behavior if not the internal logic and mechanics of it which is what physics reveals? Also, as I mentioned in my last essay, Emmy Noether proved that the conservation of energy logically follows from the consistency through time of the laws of physics. And what is the concept of energy other than an invariant? What sense would energy make if it weren’t conserved?

So, everything physical is in flux, and there’s no ultimate way of distinguishing between physics and the physical. And physics is derived from only from a combination of observations and pure logic, while we can only observe the physical and most of what we observe seems to change constantly. So all of this would seem to suggest that the constants in physics, such as the speed of light and the gravitational constant for example, aren’t actually constants but are only assumed to be because they’re so slow to change. They’re part of a cascade of change that makes up the physical world, from the most universal and slowest to the most local and fastest.

I wrote a longer, more elaborate version of this same basic concept here and a briefer version of that one here.