In all fields of human endeavour, there are those who seek to oppose the driving thought by arguing that it goes nowhere. They take the arguments supporting that thought and they seek to deconstruct them: to remove their cohesion. The basic method is always the same: to distort each concept – subtly or unsubtly – and then ‘demonstrate’ the gaps between the distortions. It is possible that those who take such a tack really believe the distortions are “true” – are viable interpretations of what they distort – but there is also much evidence that the distortions are wilful and knowing.

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The search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (SETI) is a multi-faceted programme, using the sciences of astrophysics to try to determine if we are alone in the universe. One strand looks for suns that have planets, because there seem to be many out there that do not. Another searches for signs of technology – signs of ‘non-natural’ transmissions. Yet another sends out transmissions of our own, including the famous gold discs on the Voyager probes. The underlying assumption, behind the programme, is that although we are undeniably at a very low level of technology, even a more advanced civilisation might retain old technology, just so they can detect and signal younger ones like ours.

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The Water That Grows

A very long time ago, a ‘big bang’ astrophysical event released a huge amount of energy and began the creation of space-time as we know it. This energy caused that space-time to expand, and it’s still expanding and receiving new energy. The expansion caused the energy to ‘condense’ or more properly ‘collapse’ into matter. That was not a sheer, random fluke: it was inherent in the underlying pattern of the universe. This collapse formed three classes of fundamental ‘particle’ along with their different modalities of binding: three fundamental physical forces. It also resulted in the formation of ‘mass’ – a local but additive bending (more like ‘pinching’) of space-time. And it caused a change in the rate of expansion.

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The Infinite Within

I have written before about the quantum paradox: that all points in space and time are potentially connected, such that information can pass from one to another without “travelling”. It’s a really whacky proposition – at least, to minds that have absorbed only the four-dimensional world of appearance. We see solid objects. We see effects spreading out from a point of origin. We see definite effects such as energy and momentum. But most of the “distance” in time and space is filled with what appears to be “absolutely nothing”.

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Dangers of AI

This year’s Reith Lectures, a UK tradition (in recent years, at least) are about the dangers to human society that are posed by artificial intelligence (AI). And just a day or two ago (from the date of this post), two AI “programmes” argued in a Oxford Union debate [1] whether AI could be made safer. One side argued that the only method was to have no AI, whilst the other argued that only human-linked AI (with a conscience) could work. Both dismissed a third option – that humans could always stay in control – saying that humans were too stupid for that, and would hasten their own end. Of course, they were only drawing on human fears for that: they weren’t prescient or self-aware. All they did was spot the tide of human thinking. There are some real issues, but we don’t have to be as stupid as their analysis projects.

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One of the mysteries of the universe, still today, can be summed up in the seemingly innocent question of “What is mass?” This question seems innocent because we all have an intuitive grasp of “weight” (the attraction of smaller masses towards the Earth) and of “momentum” (the ability of a mass to impart some of its energy of motion into another mass). But if we stop and think for a bit, we can see that the intuition is just the residue from experience: we remember the experiences, and we’ve derived (quite unconsciously) an abstraction from those memories, but the result is just “working knowledge”. It describes, and allows us to predict, but doesn’t explain. And it turns out that the current state of scientific knowledge is not so very different. The unconscious abstraction is replaced by mathematical equations, such as Newtonian mechanics or Einstein’s theory of “general relativity”, but they, too, merely describe.

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Time Travel

I keep an eye on a number of “out there” topics, on the borderlands of science and mysticism. I do so because I remain convinced that the universe is a much wilder and more weird place than our current official science allows. The reticence or caution of our official science is only right and proper: we need a chain of mathematical reasoning behind every assertion that it makes. We need it – as Karl Popper noted – to be “disprovable”. But that also means there are many topics that our official science hints at, which only remain outside the boundary of mathematical proof “for now”. And one such topic that has caught my interest recently is time travel.

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I Remember It Well

One of the more peculiar aspects of sub-atomic physics is that “matter” is not real. Instead, space and time can be described as the probability of energetic interactions that indicate to an observer that something approximating to “matter” is there. Or, I should say “there” (in quotation marks) because we can only – in effect – trace those energetic interactions back towards a region of space time in the past. We are always looking into that past. You could say that all that we perceive as a physical universe is merely an evolving “memory” of all that could have been.

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A Practical Difference

I follow with interest the various ecological campaigners, who tell us that we are losing bio-diversity faster than nature can create it. Loss of some species is quite natural, as others grow and – in their growth – either change the environment to suit their needs or just eat whatever seems to them to be “good food”. The constantly shifting dance of inter-dependence is a “normal” part of the system of life. And even humans are evolving to better fit the world that our own growth is creating. No species is beyond change. No species is inherently “pure” in any form. No species “deserves” to survive. But I do agree with the campaigners in one respect: the lack of care for the survival of our own species is quite astounding – even as it is to be expected.

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