By Steven J. Grisafi, PhD.
When one embarks upon the course of study of quantum mechanics the best advice one can take to heart is the admonition Dante Alighieri placed upon the entrance to the Inferno. One does best to abandon not just the hope of understanding the mechanisms that lay beneath the workings of quantum mechanical phenomena but, more importantly, the hope of ever applying one’s intuition to the analysis of quantum mechanical phenomena. Our intuition develops from our experiences within our macroscopic world that is dominated by phenomena obeying classical mechanics. Phenomena governed by quantum statistics are completely alien to our everyday experiences leaving them at odds with our intuition. Hence, upon engaging a study of quantum mechanics, one has recourse only to the mathematics of the analysis, and can assign no confidence to our intuitive sense of how things should operate. Understanding this sentiment is the first step towards recognizing the difficulty physicists have communicating their subject to the general public.When one cannot indicate the mathematics as an explanation, one must search for experiential descriptions of the physical mechanisms one wishes to present to a general audience. Yet, deprived of both the mathematics and any similarity to everyday commonplace events, such communication is severely handicapped.
Quantum theory is a mathematical model. It makes predictions for the outcomes of certain events that are amenable to experimentation. The successful prediction of the outcome events for the experiments makes quantum theory a useful tool for the advancement of knowledge. We need the theory to interpret the significance of the observed outcome events for our experiments. Without the theory, all we can say is that we have observed correlations. Theory gives meaning to the correlations we observe. Phenomena obeying quantum statistics yield correlations at odds with our intuition making such phenomena seem unreasonable.Yet, understanding as we do that we cannot rely upon our intuition,our skill with mathematics substitutes for our intuitive understanding of our experimental results.
While classical mechanics dominates our macroscopic environment, quantum statistics apply to the microscopic domains within molecules and atoms. Classical statistics, represented by the Gaussian distribution, dominate our macroscopic environment. We do not need quantum theory to study, or understand, macroscopic phenomena. Yet our everyday macroscopic experiences are limited to our terrestrial existence. Our intuition has no basis for understanding extra-terrestrial phenomena. Once again, we require theory to guide our interpretation of observable events to give them meaning. For the century past our interpretation of observable extra-terrestrial phenomena has been guided by general relativity theory. While the mathematics of general relativity theory are as formidable as that of quantum theory, it is not the mathematics of relativity theory that hinders the communication of extra-terrestrial phenomena to a general audience, but a reliance upon the flawed theory itself.
As I had explained earlier in a blog post, relativity theory is seriously flawed.Yet, there continues to be an enormous multi-million dollar entertainment industry that fascinates the general public with general relativity speculation. Make no mistake about it: general relativity theory is big business. Not only is there the entertainment aspect of the industry but also an enormous government subsidized research program that employs and gives meaning to the lives of thousands of research scientists throughout the world. Their livelihood depends upon the continued public perception of the validity of relativity theory. While I do wish to disabuse the American people of their continued delusion regarding the fantasies of relativity, it is not my goal to destroy an entertainment industry. Physics is fun, I understand that, and welcome the general public’s interest in it. Yet I see a need to explain that much of what is presented to the lay public distorts the truth while giving the impression that relativity theory is not only valid, but indispensable.
The case in point I wish to make with this forum post is the issue of the expansion of the universe. Commonplace science writing appearing on the Internet, as well as in publications for a lay audience, present announcements of research findings made within the community of scientists, not in the language of the scientific community, but in terms the general public can understand. In doing so they build upon the commonplace acceptance of relativity theory as the basis of all knowledge extra-terrestrial by explaining all phenomena in the parlance of relativity theory. So it is that one gets the impression that the expansion of the universe is not simply an observation drawn by Edwin Hubble, but a fundamental tenet of relativity theory. Yet, understand this: An empirical fact requires no theory for explanation. Hubble’s observation of isotropic red-shifted light frequencies from distant galaxies confirms their receding motions from us and requires no theory for further elucidation. But that is exactly what the lay public gets.
Hubble discovered the value of his eponymous constant from the in slope of a straight line in a graph he plotted for the red-shifted light frequencies. In 1998astronomers, who subsequently were awarded a Nobel Physics Prize in 2011 for their discovery, reported that this line drawn by Edwin Hubble is not a straight line, but is curved. It is this curvature of the Hubble line which led to their conclusion that during past ages the galaxies receded from one another at a slower pace than is happening now. The curvature of the Hubble line is an undeniable empirical fact and its discovery was the basis for the awarding of the Nobel prize in physics. Yet, the significance of the curvature of the Hubble line is not limited to an explanation that the expansion of the universe is accelerating. That notion works well within the overall hypothesis of the Big Bang of relativity theory. Hence that is how the discovery is presented to the general public: couched in the parlance of relativity theory. But relativity theory is flawed. It predicts non-zero momentum for a system at rest. So, why are we explaining everything in terms of relativity theory? Because it is a big money maker for those who have it.