Monday, November 09, 2009

Fabric of the Cosmos, Chapter 3, part one.

This is the next installment in our fall/winter book commentary. We are studying Cosmology this time around, and in particular asking if scientific understanding of cosmology is compatible with Biblical faith.

Fabric of the Cosmos
Chapter 3
Is Spacetime an Einsteinian Abstraction or a Physical Entity?
Part I

Some discoveries provide answers to questions. Other discoveries are so deep that they cast questions in a whole new light, showing that previous mysteries were misperceived through lack of knowledge.

An incredible amount of talmudic material would be covered by this statement, of course. In spite of the "min har Sinai" myth put forth by the Ultra Orthodox, the scientific understanding of the Sages of the Talmudic period was severely lacking in a great deal of knowledge, everything from hygiene to basic biology of reproduction of various animal species. Though the Torah assures us that all creatures reproduce after their kind, the Rabbis believed mice sprang from dust, and lice from sweat, amoung other scientifically untrue and impossible things.

These would be but a few of the instances where the Rabbis completely ignored the statements of Torah to make up their own version of reality, often incorporating what passed for "scientific" knowledge of their day - hence the fairy tales about mice and lice and so on from the dark ages and the medieval eras understanding of how the world worked. One would think that this previous incorporation of then-current "scientific" knowledge would provide a ready framework for incorporating modern science into the Talmudic framework - but the Orthodox now instead insist that the Rabbis of the Talmudic period were writing God's words instead of their own, and were therefore infallible. This attitude is the exact opposite of Judaism's historical acceptance and incorporation of scientific knowledge into our interpretation of scripture. Ultra Orthodox Judaism has therefore become incapable of understanding that modern science is not something that has to work against Torah - in fact, it can work with it very well.

Albert Einstein made two deep discoveries. Each caused a radical upheaval in our understanding of space and time. When he was done, time had become so enmeshed with space that the reality of one could no longer be pondered separately from the other. The question of the corporeality of space was outmoded; its Einsteinian reframing...became: Is spacetime a something? With that seemingly slight modification, our understanding of reality's arena was completely transformed.

As we read in the last chapter, the Sages deduced that the universe contains space and time, and the Ain Sof, outside of creation, was also outside of the spacetime continuum. God observes spacetime, and can "reach in" and affect spacetime, but exists outside of it, and will continue to do so after the spacetime continuum of this universe is replaced by the "new heavens and the new earth."

Is Empty Space Empty?

Light was the primary actor in the relativity drama written by Einstein in the early years of the 20th century. And it was the work of James Clerk Maxwell that set the stage for Einstein's dramatic insights. In the mid-1800s, Maxwell discovered four powerful equations that, for the first time, set out a rigorous theoretical framework for understanding electricity, magnetism, and their intimate relationship. Maxwell developed these equations by carefully studying the work of the English physicist Michael Faraday.

Faraday's key breakthrough was the concept of the field. This concept has had an enormous influence on the development of physics during the last two centuries, and underlies many of the little mysteries we encounter in everyday life.

The discovery that much of matter/energy exists as fields of activity and not as fixed in place entities with exactly known positions and attributes completely changes our understanding of how the universe works: and even of how we ourselves work. E=MC(squared). We don't "have" a soul, we ARE a soul.

From the Jewish Virtual Library:
The doctrine of the resurrection seems to embody two significant areas: (1) the idea of retribution and reward for the Jewish nation as a whole and not merely for individuals; and (2) the idea that body and soul are a single indivisible unit, both essential and equal in the constitution of a human being...The common denominator of all the views so far discussed, except, perhaps, that of Maimonides, is that they all stress the indivisibility of the body-soul unit for purposes of the accountability of the human personality for its actions, both good and bad.

Matter and energy are 100% interchangeable - they are the same "thing" in different forms. And our "field" of energy stretches out beyond our physical bodies that we can see. We have bonds at the quantum level with our family, spouse, good friends, and even the places where we spend time, because our field interacts with these other fields, these other objects - and, of course, with God. Greene continues:

Any magnet [or, for our discussion, any electromagnetic entity/object] creates an invisible something that permeates the space around it...and, to our intuition, it resembles a mist or essence that can fill a region of space and thereby exert a force beyond the physical extent of the magnet itself. A magnetic field provides a magnet what an army provides a dictator and what auditors provide the IRS: influence beyond their physical boundaries, which allows force to be exerted out in the "field."

It is the pervasive, space-filling capability of magnetic fields that makes them so useful. Magnetic fields are one familiar kind of field, but Faraday also analyzed another: the electric field...and a deep interconnection between electric and magnetic fields - something first discovered by the Danish physicists Hans Oersted and investigated thoroughly by Faraday.

Useful or annoying, or even dangerous. Some people if they stand in certain places mess up your radio reception or tv reception because they have strong electromagnetic fields. Some electric equipment can do the same. Microwave ovens and cell phones have been implicated in causing cancer because they can mess up your electromagnetic fields near your head, causing disruptions in your cellular and nerve activity (which is electrically based, after all). You can't see the disruption, but it's there nonetheless.

It is for this reason that things we do physically can have "spiritual" effects - though they are in fact one and the same we still think of them as separate, but in truth they are not. We don't understand why, but certain items and activities described in scripture make us "unclean" and that "uncleanness" is trasmissible to other people in certain circumstances. Now, there is no doubt that "ritual uncleanness" is simply a concept that pre-scientific peoples could understand, but now with quantum physics and electromagnetism we know there is a real basis for these abstract concepts. They were not somebody's imagination. And somehow, the things defined as "sin" in scripture cause disturbances in our electromagnetic selves that disrupt our relationship with God, our ability to communicate effectively with God in ways we do not quite yet comprehend, but clearly have a scientific basis.

...Changes in an electric field can produce changes in a nearby magnetic field, which can then cause changes in the electric field, and so on. They were eventually christened electromagnetic fields, and the influence they exert the electromagnetic force.

Today, we are constantly immersed in a sea of electromagnetic fields.

And it is therefore not so farfetched to worry that what we are exposed to on TV, in movies, and through music may have an adverse effect on us, though we think we are intellectually superior to such influences, they may be deep and pervasive.

Through the language of fields, Maxwell had shown that electricity and magnetism, although initially viewed as distinct, are really just different aspects of a single physical entity...and it will become increasingly clear that the field concept is central to our modern formulation of physical law.

Maxwell...found that changes or disturbances to electromagnetic fields travel in a wavelike manner at a particular speed: 670 million miles per hour. As this is precisely the value other experiments had found for the speed of light, Maxwell realized that light must be nothing other than an electromagnetic wave. He had linked the force produced by magnets, the influence exerted by electrical charges, and the light we use to see the universe - bit it also raised a deep question.

In the beginning, God said, "Let there be light." With that, the basis for all matter and energy was established, and all the rest of creation follows from the establishment of Light as the basis of the space-time continuum.

When we say that the speed of light is 670 million miles per hour, experience, and our discussion so far, teach us this is a meaningless statement if we don't specify relative to what this speed is being measured. The funny t hing was that Maxwell's equations just gave this number, 670 million miles per hour, without specifying or apparently relying on any such reference. It was as if someone gave the location for a party as 22 miles north without specifying the reference location, without specifying north of what.

Familiar waves such as ocean waves or sound waves are carried by a substance, a medium. Ocean waves are carried by water. Sound waves are carried by air. And the speeds of these waves are specified with respect to the medium.

Naturally, then, physicists surmised that light waves - electromagnetic waves - must also travel through some particular medium, one that had never been seen or detected but that must exist. To give this unseen light-carrying stuff due respect, it was given a name: the luminiferous aether, or the aether for short.

And, to square this proposal with Maxwell's results, it was suggested that his equations implicitly took the perspective of someone at rest with respect to the aether. The 670 million miles per hour his equations came up with, then, was the speed of light relative to the stationary aether.

As you can see, there is a striking similarity between the luminiferous aether and Newton's Absolute Space. They both originated in attempts to provide a reference for defining motion. Accelerated motion led to absolute space, light's motion led to the luminiferous aether. But what actually is the aether? What is it made of? Where did it come from? Does it exist everywhere? These questions about the aether are the same ones that for centuries had been asked about absolute space.

But in 1887, when Albert Michelson and Edward Morley measured the speed of light, time and time again they found exactly the same speed of 670 million miles per hour regardless of their motion or that of the light's source. All sorts of clever arguments were devised to explain these results. But it was not until Einstein had his revolutionary insight that the explanation finally became clear.

Recall from chapter two that Newton was influenced by his belief that space is a static entity (and so is time) that led him to that conclusion. His belief in the "watchmaker" and the idea that all of history is predetermined in advance down to the smallest little thing (a concept related to Calvinism) led him to conclude that space and time were not like fluctuating fields, but were fixed in place.

Relative Space, Relative Time

In June 1905, Einstein wrote a paper with the unassuming title "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies," which once and for all spelled the end of the luminiferous aether. In one stroke, it also changed forever our understanding of space and time.

As a teenager, Einstein struggled with the question of what a light wave would look like if you were to chase after it at exactly light speed. The light should appear as it it wasn't moving. But here's the problem. It turns out that Maxwell's equations do not allow light to appear stationary - to look as if it's standing still. So, Einstein asked, what are we to make of this apparent paradox?

There is no doubt that his unshakable belief in simplicity played a critical role. Einstein declared, take the simple approach: ...there is no aether. Like, unlike any other kind of wave ever encountered, does not need a medium to carry it along. Light is a lone traveler. Light can travel through empty space.

What what, then, are we to make of Maxwell's equation giving light a speed of 670 million miles per hour? What is the what with respect to which this speed is to be interpreted? Again, Einstein bucked convention and answered with ultimate simplicity. If Maxwell's theory does not invoke any particular standard of rest, the most direct interpretation is that we don't need one. The speed of light, Einstein declared, is 670 million miles per hour relative to anything and everything

Or, possibly, to something else entirely - something outside the spacetime continuum. Light was created first of all - it first existed alone with God. In a way, you could say that everything else is relative to the speed of light, and light is always moving because unlike everything else, it is the one thing made to be the basis of matter, energy and motion. All other things came after light - are made of light, in their own ways. Therefore "anything and everything" is relative to light, the primal substance. As Greene tells us, these thinkers were perplexed at first as to how light could always be in motion. Einstein's simple answer sprouted a host of new questions.

Well, this is certainly a simple statement. The problem is that it also seems crazy. Maxwell's theory does not allow for stationary light because light NEVER is stationary. But, we naturally ask, how can light possibly behave in such a strange manner?

Think about speed for a moment. Speed is measured by how far something goes divided by how long it takes to get there. It is a measure of space (the time traveled) divided by a measure of time (the duration of the journey). Ever since Newton, space had been thought of as absolute. Measurements of space and spatial separations must therefore also be absolute: regardless of who measures the distanced between two things in space, if the measurements are done with adequate care, the answers will always agree.

"Time [also] exists in and of itself and flows equably without reference to anything external." In other words, according to Newton, there is a universal, absolute conception of time that applies everywhere and everywhen. In a Newtonian universe, regardless of who measures how much time it takes for something to happen, if the measurements are done accurately, the answers will always agree.

[But light always measures the same, from any perspective.] How can this be? Einstein figured it out, and the answer he found is a logical yet profound extention of our discussion so far. Think about it. Since speed is nothing but distance divided by time, ...Newton's ideas of absolute space and absolute time were wrong.

Newton's absolutist universe deprives everyone of free will, including God. It had to be wrong.

Subtle but Not Malicious

The relativity of space and of time is a startling conclusion. From the well-worn statement that the speed of light is constant, we conclude that space and time are in the eye of the beholder. Each of us carries our own clock, our own monitor of the passage of time. Each clock is equally precise, yet when we move relative to one another, these clocks do not agree.

The same is true of distance. Each of us carries our own yardstick, our own monitor of distance in space. Each yardstick is equally precise, yet when we move relative to one another, these yardsticks do not agree.

If space and time did not behave this way, the speed of light would not be constant and would depend on the observer's state of motion. But it is constant. Space and time do behave this way. Space and time adjust themselves in an exactly compensating manner so that observations of light's speed yield the same result, regardless of the observer's velocity.

Once Einstein had the key insight - the realization that he needed to break with the more than 200 years old Newtonian perspective on space and time - it was not hard to fill in the details. We are used to the fact that objects can move through space, but there is another kind of motion that is equally important: objects also move through time.

Newton had thought that motion through time was totally separate from motion through space - he thought these two kinds of motion had nothing to do with each other. But Einstein found that they are intimately linked. In fact, THE revolutionary discovery of special relativity is this: When you look at something like a parked car, which is from your viewpoint stationary - not moving through space, that is - ALL of its motion is through time.

Light is the basis of all creation, and light never, ever sits still. Light is incapable of being perfectly still. Matter, energy, time are based on light - and were given their direction at creation, and are still moving.

The car, its driver, the street, you, your clothes are all moving through time in perfect synch: second followed by second, ticking away uniformly. But if the car speeds away, some of its motion through time is diverted into motion through space.

The speed of the car through time slows down when it divers some of its motion through time into motion through space. This means that the car's progress through time slows down and therefore time elapses more slowly for the moving car and its driver than it elapses for you and everything else that remains stationary. That, in a nutshell, is special relativity.

Special relativity declares a similar law for all motion: the combined speed of any object's motion through space and its motion through time is always precisely equal to the speed of light

Think of appliances plugged into an outlet with multiple plugs. The outlet only gets so much energy. If you plug in one thing and turn it on, it gets all the available energy. If you plug in every plug and turn everything on, things don't run as well because they are not getting as much energy as they'd like. Or, think of your internet broadband connection. If you have multiple computers on a server in your house all using the same DSL line, if everyone gets on and starts doing intensive things like online gaming or video streaming, everybody using the server starts getting lag.

In a similar way, you only have so much energy available to you. That energy is based on the speed of light - because light is the primary basis for everything in creation. It's a zero sum game. You have x available. If you use it for motion, you have less to run your clock. If you are being perfectly still, like when you are asleep, perhaps, all your energy goes to your clock and none of it goes for motion. So you wake up, and the time has flown by, but you got nothing accomplished. You gave all your energy to the clock.

We are all used to the idea that nothing but light can travel at light speed. But that familiar idea refers solely to motion through space. We are now talking about something related, yet richer: an object's combined motion through space and time. The key fact, Einstein discovered, is that these two kinds of motion are always complimentary.

Moreover, the maximum speed through space is reached when all light-speed motion through time is fully diverted into light-speed motion through space - one way of understanding why it is impossible to go through space at greater than light speed. Light, which always travels at light speed through space, is special in that it always achieves such total diversion. Moving at the speed of light leaves no motion for traveling through time. Time stops when traveling at the speed of light through space.

In other words, Light is timeless. It's time allocation is zero. We, however, are a material substance at this point, and are subject to time. We age and die - use up our material substance until it runs out of energy. And then we die. The dead are dead and "know nothing," scripture tells us (Ecc 9:5). Their "thoughts perish" (Tel. 146:4). They "do not praise God" in death (Tel. 115:17). Our particles, though, are still bound to each other wherever they dissipate - as quantum physics told us - and will, according to the Book of Daniel, be called back together in a form that is less material and more like pure energy - giving us back our timelessness. This is referred to as Resurrection from the dead, as mentioned above.

From the Jewish Virtual Library:
The components of the idea of resurrection were present in biblical thought from early times. That God can revive the dead is one of His praises: "I slay and revive; I wounded and I will heal" (Deut. 32:39; cf. Pes. 68a for the argument that death and life of the same person is meant); "YHWH slays and revives; He brings down to Sheol and raises up" (I Sam. 2:6; cf. II Kings 5:7). His power to do so was exhibited through the acts of Elijah and Elisha (I Kings 17:17ff.; II Kings 4:18ff.)...In the rabbinic period the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead is considered one of the central doctrines of Judaism.

Science, of course, cannot prove such a thing will ever happen - but we know from the quantum properties of the bonds of particles (discussed briefly in chapter two) that they do not have to be near each other to still be bound, so such a thing is theoretically possible. The same quantum bonds that bond you to your spouse and children bond your atoms to each other. Your atoms would still be bound even if separated by your death. In the meantime, you are subject not just to the laws of quantum mechanics but the laws of relativity as well. Greene continues:

The effects of special relativity are most pronounced when speeds (through space) are a significant fraction of light speed. But the unfamiliar, complementary nature of motion through space and time always applies.

In other words, though E=MC(squared) shows our physical matter is completely interchangeable with pure energy (spiritual) forms, we are so heavily invested in our physical bodies and the physical motion resulting from material life that we have "traded" almost all our timelessness for material life. Time flies for us because our physical manifestation has slowed us way, way down in our "travel" through the space-time continuum.

But what about the Bucket?

Theory and experiment agree that light needs no medium to carry its waves and that regardless of the motion of either the source of light or the person observing, its speed is fixed and unchanging. Doing away with the aether did not do away with the bucket, so how did Einstein and his special theory of relativity cope with the issue? Well, truth be told, in special relativity Einstein's main focus was on a special kind of motion: constant velocity motion. Even so, Einstein and others repeatedly considered the question of rotating motion using the insights of special relativity. They concluded, like Newton and unlike Mach, that even in an otherwise completely empty universe you would feel the outward pull from spinning.

Special relativity does claim that some things are relative: velocities are relative; distances across space are relative; durations of elapsed time are relative. But the theory actually introduces a grand, new sweepingly absolute concept: absolute spacetime. Absolute Spacetime is as absolute for special relativity as absolute space and absolute time were for Newton, and partly for this reason Einstein did not suggest or particularly like the name "relativity theory." Instead, he and other physicists suggested invariance theory, stressing that the theory, at its core, involves something that everyone agrees on, something that is NOT relative. Even if devoid of all material benchmarks for defining motion, the absolute spacetime of special relativity provides a "something" with respect to which objects can be said to accelerate

So there is still an objective "something" out there against which things can be measured, even though space and time alone, and even light (which can be absent from an area), are not those things.

Carving Space and Time

We are used to thinking about space as the arena of the universe, but physical processes occur in some region of space during some interval of time. By way of terminology, a region of space considered over an interval of time is called a region of spacetime. You can think of a region of spacetime as a record of all things that happen in some region of space during a particular span of time.

Einstein realized that there are different, equally valid ways to slice up a region of spacetime. This may sound like only a minor extension of what we know intuitively about space, but ti's the basis for overturning some of the most basic intuitions that we've held for thousands of years. Until 1905, it was thought that everyone experiences the passage of time identically, that everyone agrees on what events occur at a given moment of time, and hence, that everyone would concur on what belongs on a given page in the flip book of spacetime.

But when Einstein realized that two observers in relative motion have clocks that tick off time differently, this all changed. Clocks that are moving relative to each other fall out of synchronization and therefore give different notions of simultaneity. This is known as the relativity of simultaneity.

Since observers moving relative to each other do not agree on what things happen simultaneously, the way each of them will slice a block of spacetime into pages - with each page containing all events that happen at a given moment from each observer's perspective - will not agree, either. Instead, observers moving relative to each other cut a block of spactime up into pages, into time slices, in different but equally valid ways.

Of course, these differences are most readily apparent when you're dealing with huge distances and big timeframes, but the same math applies to our little distances and small instances of time. This is why "eyewitness" accounts of crimes or accidents are so notoriously unreliable - the witnesses varying perspectives and varying attention to time invariably lead to conflicting testimonies.

This is also one reason why the Torah insists that no one can be convicted on a single person's testimony.

From the Jewish Virtual Library:
As a general rule, no single witness alone is competent to attest or testify: there must always be at least two (Deut. 19:15; Sif. Deut. 188; Sot. 2b; Sanh. 30a; Yad, Edut 5:1)

It takes the testimony of two or three people to get a sufficient number of points of view to establish a more or less factual account of how events transpired. Though we are all bound by radical subjectivity, together our combined perspectives approach (though never actually reach) objective truth. Greene continues:

Angling the Slices

Again, although it's hard to accept at a gut level, there is no paradox here. Observers in relative motion do not agree on simultaneity - they do not agree on what things happen at the same time. What is a single time slice, from one perspective, cuts across many time slices, from the other perspective.

If Newton's conception of absolute space and absolute time were correct, everyone would agree on a single slicing of spacetime. Each slice would represent absolute space as viewed at a given moment of absolute time. But this is not how the world works, and the shift from rigid Newtonian time to the newfound Einsteinian flexibility inspires a shift in our metaphor. Rather than viewing spacetime as a rigid flipbook, it will sometimes be useful to think of it as a huge, fresh loaf of bread.

Think of the variety of angles at which you can slice a loaf into parallel pieces of bread. Each piece of bread represents space at one moment of time from one observer's perspective. Another observer, moving relative to the first, will slice the spacetime loaf at a different angle. The greater the relative velocity of the two observers, the larger the angle between their respective parallel slices, and the greater the discrepancy between what the observers will report as having happened at the same moment.

Each of us acts, in some way or another, every moment of our lives. We do things, we think, we make decisions. These have led us to where we are right now. I am sitting here typing this. You will be reading it somewhat later. You may act or think or make a decision based on what you read here. Or it may go in one ear and out the other (or is that in one eye and out the other?). The objective fact of this post will mean different things to different people - some may remember it years from now, and some will choose not to read it at all. Each person's reality who encounters this post will be different.

Your perception of time, space, and God is colored by many influences - not all of them are objective, not all of them are factually correct, not all of them are timely. When we seek truth, we must examine several different viewpoints, and realize that they are all radically subjective. Only one Being has true objectivity - the rest of us must filter our thinking through our perceptions, our preconceptions, our feelings, and our goals for the future. And we must always, always remember that none of these things is 100% reliable. We are not even aware of all the subconscious goings-on in our minds, much less the minds of those who present information to us. A search for God or for any truth must be rooted in the knowledge that real truth is incredibly hard to find. Not everything that sounds outlandish at first glance is, not everything we think is an immutable fact is. Newton certainly had no reason to think he was wrong about anything, and yet he was. Even Einstein's theory doesn't work under certain conditions - and his genius is undeniable. So keep an open mind - examine all points of view without prejudging. It takes more than one witness to reveal the truth.

-End of chapter three, part one-


SJ said...

Sooooo if E = MC2 means that body = soul, then when body dies soul dies? O.o

Also, the energy light equivalence formula for light is different than E=MC2 because light has momentum but not mass.

BTW Ahavah I hope you don't mind me asking hard questions. XD Without hard questions you don't have a search for truth.

Ahavah Gayle said...

Not hard at all. I'm not trying to defend the party line, I'm looking at scripture and science. Dead means metabolic rate zero, energy completely degraded to matter, and the matter itself breaking apart into its constituent particles.

Adam and Even were kicked out of Gan Eden precisely to prevent them from having eternal life - as the text itself clearly indicates. We are not at this time immortal in any way. And as other passages quoted above show, there is no awareness, knowledge, or praise of God in death. The dead are just dead and will be dead until the Resurrection. That's not the party line, of course.

The purpose of having a covenant relationship with God is to become eligible for Resurrection, at which time one becomes eternal, apparently. Until then, you just die. The idea of an underworld for the dead or an eternal spirit hanging around in paradise until Resurrection comes from egyptian, babylonian and greek mythology, not from the text of the Tanakh. Both Isaiah and Daniel mention resurrection, but nowhere does the Tanakh say people right now have immortal souls. It's simply not a scriptural idea. As noted, there are quite a few passages to the contrary, actually.

And we aren't actually made of light - we're made of energy/matter which was originally derived from light, but is not the same as light itself. Elements of matter were created as byproducts of the Big Bang - starting with hydrogen and on up the periodic table. Elements combine to form particles, particles can combine to form molecules, etc. etc. So E=MC(squared) can apply to us just as well as to any other wave or particle. We are, after all, only just a bunch of particles. Break us apart and we're just atoms - our atoms are just made of sub-atomic particles and superstrings. Every bit of you obeys the same equations that lonely particles and atoms out in the vast expanse of space obey. Or, if you want to be cheesy about it, you can quote Sagan: "We're all made of star-stuff."

Ahavah Gayle said...

PS - allow me to recommend a book to you. It's called "Life after Death" by Dr. Alan F. Segal. It traces the "evolution" of thought on what happens after you die from the original idea of Resurrection to the modern idea of immortal souls throughout western religion and philosophy. I think you'll see that the talmudic ideas of afterlife have been heavily influenced by pagan cultures.