Are the Laws of Physics Really Universal?
As far as physicists can tell, the cosmos has been playing by the same rulebook since the time of the Big Bang. But could the laws have been different in the past, and could they change in the future? Might different laws prevail in some distant corner of the cosmos?
“It’s not a completely crazy possibility,” says Sean Carroll, a theoretical physicist at Caltech …
No, it is not. But how do we define a “completely crazy possibility”? As between “O’Leary’s late uncle Brian created the universe” all the way across the spectrum to “The theoretical particle, the Higgs boson, exists, but not where we expected to find it, ” where do we find Carroll’s possibility?
Most of the current research into the changeability of physical laws has focused on the numerical constants. Why? It’s the easier question to answer. Physicists can make solid, testable predictions about how variations in numerical constants should affect the results of their experiments. Plus, says Carroll, it wouldn’t necessarily blow physics wide open if it turns out that constants do change over time. In fact, some constants have changed: The mass of an electron, for instance, was zero until the Higgs field turned on a tiny sliver of a second after the Big Bang. “We have lots of theories that can accommodate changing constants,” says Carroll. “All you have to do to account for time-dependent constants is to add some scalar field to the theory that moves very slowly.”
But when they tried to study it:
But interpreting that fossil isn’t easy, and over the years researchers studying Oklo have come to apparently conflicting conclusions. For decades, studies of Oklo seemed to show that the fine structure constant was absolutely steady. Then came a study suggesting that it had gotten bigger, and another that it had gotten smaller. In 2006, Lamoreaux (then at Los Alamos National Laboratory) and his colleagues published a fresh analysis that was, they wrote, “consistent with no shift.” But, they pointed out, it was still “model dependent”—that is, they had to make certain assumptions about how the fine structure constant could change.
Pop science needs the changeable universe for the same reasons as the garment industry needs changes in fashion, only to tell us that we can wear what we like anyway, it doesn’t really matter.
Despite some tantalizing hints, the latest studies all show that changes to the fine structure constant are “consistent with zero.” That doesn’t mean that the fine structure constant absolutely isn’t changing. But if it is, it’s doing so more subtly than these experiments can detect, and that seems unlikely, says Carroll. “It’s hard to squeeze a theory into the little daylight between not changing at all, and not changing enough that we can see it.” More.
Rob Sheldon notes,
Sean Carroll is a noted Darwinist and multiverse proponent who thinks that the laws of physics could change in time and still be laws. (Just exactly how is something that changes a law?) Not exactly a philosopher, but you know what Einstein and Feynman said about physicists past their prime. He used the word “evolve” to describe how physics might change–and then made the rather preposterous claim that this happens to electrons in the early stages of the universe. (And was he there?) But it just goes to show how pervasive, how pernicious this Darwinism has become, so that everything evolves except his confidence in Evolution. When Darwin wrote his theory, it was trumpeted as a way to make biology look like physics, and now Carroll wants physics to look like biology. Truly it is a universal acid.
Sheldon is referring to Darwinian philosopher Daniel Dennett’s boast that Darwinism is a universal acid that eats away at everything in the sciences and in society.
For those who believe that, it is true.
Another friend writes,
Not only Sean Carroll, but also Lee Smolin and Mangabeira claim in their recent book, The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time, that Laws of Physics could have evolved through the passing of time. The problem is that before addressing a question like that, you must first state what you take a physical law to be. What is its ontological status: a force, a cause…?
For Smolin’s viewpoint, see cosmic Darwinism.
But anyway, don’t the big networks have software now for these pop cosmo stories? Like, every six months, they just fill in new cosmologists’ names, run the Quote GargleTM from that guy’s books, TED talks, and big ideas stuff, and film a bit…hey presto!
Pop science is long past asking questions to which there may be answers, like:
Multiverse cosmology: Assuming that evidence still matters, what does it say?
and Where is the road to reality?
Can’t think why.
See also: If ID theorists are right, how should we study nature?
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