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ABSTRACT WONDERING

By Tom Slattery

Humor me. I worked among scientists in a variety of scientific labs as a lab


technician, and I have written science fiction stories. But I am not a scientist, and the
following is not about science. If anything, it is more like an essay out of eighteenth
century natural philosophy questioning the tools and trademarks of twenty-first century
physical science.

It is also pointedly the kind of skeptical and hopefully constructive criticism that
an average local yokel like me might offer if for no other reason than to have the feel of
being a participant rather than an awestruck helpless bystander. I suspect that some of the
appeal of Creationism and its Intelligent Design successor is an offer of participation in
the great quest to understand some meaning for our lives through a modicum of
comprehension of the mysterious universe in which we all live.

Institutionalized science has grown beyond the grasp of even scientists in other
scientific disciplines. Each branch of science has its own almost esoteric vocabulary and
symbol manipulation and resultant almost cult-like membership. This membership
sometimes seems to be gained as much from cult-like indoctrination starting in
undergraduate studies and proceeding through post-graduate certification formalities as
from the highly personal participation in questioning and seeking answers through
experimentation that laid the groundwork for modern science.

Add to that the destructive forces unleashed by science, from nuclear bombs to
various metastasizing environmental disasters and threats, and there is reason to view
science more with fear and suspicion than with hope for understanding.

So the following is offered as a counterweight, an example of "participation" by a


non-scientist, an illustration of a local yokel looking not only at the universe with
questions but at inconsistencies in science itself with additional questions. And one need
not surrender any of the awe or respect for the hard work that goes into scientific
investigation to "participate."

I read interesting things, and my mind gets overheated. There was an article on
the first instant of the Big Bang and sub-nuclear particles called quarks in the online May
2006 Scientific American by Riordan and Zajc that set me to wandering through ancient
and modern science.

Here, briefly, are two highlights in the article. (1.) There is the "counterintuitive"
behavior of sub-nuclear particles called quarks. They behave somewhat analogous to
rubber bands in that the farther away they are stretched from each other they attract more
and more. (2.) As with the now bypassed MIT Bag Theory, they behave like they might
be nuclear bubbles in an inferred liquid universe. The Scientific American article also
might infer a "liquid universe" of qluon-quarks creating a super low viscosity liquid in
which everything else in o ur universe is immersed.
Pawel Mazur's new approaches to gravitation also might imply a "liquid" (well,
"superfluid") universe.

These inferences of a "liquid" universe might bring to some minds the ancient
roots of science and cosmology as seen lingering in the biblical phrase at the beginning of
Genesis: "…and darkness was on the face of the deep."

Some students of the Bible as well as the history of science may be aware that the
phrase appears to have had its origin in the cosmology of ancient Sumer, one of the focal
points where civilization began 7000 years ago. Their cosmology revolved around a
"liquid universe" and waters separated by a created flat Earth. On the surface, a saltwater
sea surrounded their flat Earth. Below the surface was the Apsu, the freshwater sea on
which their universe floated.

Like good scientific observers they had noticed that if one dug down into the earth
one got fresh well water. Presumably there was more fresh water be low where that had
come from.

Over the years the cosmology was modified, but the idea of a universal sea
around and under the solid earth did not go away easily. Even Columbus had to deal with
ideas and fears of a flat Earth when crossing the Atlantic as late as 1492.

By the time that the Bible was finalized into the poetic King James English-
language version and the above phrase in 1611, early modern science was beginning to
take hold of the human imagination. Sixty-three years earlier in 1543 Copernicus had
demonstrated that the Earth revolved around the sun. By 1609 Kepler had formulated his
first two laws of motion. And by 1610 Galileo had mentioned his telescopic observations
of nearby outer space.

One might imagine that the very poetic and evocative "deep" in the beginning of
Genesis was meant to be ambiguous enough to include both the ancient and dearly held
meanings of deep oceans and the emerging but not quite yet articulated concept of "deep
space."

It took humans almost seven thousand years to get that far. How smart, really, are
we? And what do we really have now? With gluon-quarks we may again be pondering a
"liquid" universe?

But even beyond this inappropriate mixing of ancient and modern scientific
metaphors for the sake of raising a question might we be in need of a breakthrough down
at the fundamental levels? Science, and modern cosmology derived from it, at times
seems a flimsy patchwork of sometimes contradictory reasoning and resulting theories.

We base modern physics on mysterious Newtonian "forces, as in "May the Force


be with you!" But the classical Newtonian force of gravity is now in question due to the
"Pioneer Anomaly." The twin Pioneer spacecraft launched in the 1970s are not where
they are supposed to be. There has been a surprising additional pull of gravity as they
have gone farther out from the sun. And it is born out in movements of stars in outer
galaxies. As one goes huge distances from gravitational centers, the classical gravitational
constant seems to become "unconstant" and increase slightly.

Not long after Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo came Newton and his theories,
early discoveries and experiments with magnetism, electricity, and the nature of light. But
there is something flimsy about this structure, too.

Take electricity. No "magneton" or magnetic monopole has ever been found to


correspond to the electron to complete the proposed electromagnetic symmetry. We go
ahead and use the logic systems of electromagnetic symmetry anyway because they
work. But is this really all that much different from ancient Sumerians digging fresh-
water wells and being reinforced that their cosmology is correct?

The mass of the electron is defined by electromagnetic fields. The mass is found
from how much it bends, or "weighs," in a magnetic or electric field after being shot into
it by an electromagnetic impetus. Milikan's experiment may seem to include gravity, but
it is the pull of gravity on his oil droplets and his experiment was designed to find the unit
electric charge, which was then used to find electron mass. Electric or magnetic fields
ultimately determine electron mass. Nuclear conjectures then draw on these
electromagnetic assumptions and analogies of mass.

The force of gravity is too weak in our Earthly environment to define an electron
mass in terms of gravity so it is left to this. It sometimes seems that defining an electron
mass in terms of electromagnetic fields is a like saying the sky is blue because it is blue.
Perhaps someone clever has by now defined an electron mass in terms of gravitational
pull on it by using the tremendous gravitational pull of black holes? I don't know. But the
whole structure built on electron mass as defined by electromagnetic fields continues to
be a foundation for a very large theoretical structure.

Moreover, there is an inconsistency in the descrip tion of electromagnetic "waves"


and electromagnetic "particles." In some ways these versions contradict each other.

In addition, the behavior of electromagnetic "particles" -- photons -- in mirrors


might raise some questions. This would be true of mirrors in which we see out lovely
faces as it is for mirrors that mechanically make lasers work. Photons may have some
mass. If so, then it seems curious that when approaching the surface of a mirror a photon
decelerates from the speed of light to zero, reverses direction, and then accelerates to the
speed of light again.

And what about those curious "holes" in solid-state physics that make transistors
work. Might there be something ever so slightly lacking in electromagnetic assumptions
that forces scientists to use what might be a fudge-factor like "holes" to make things work
out in the end?
And what about the lack of symmetry concerning electrons in the universe. Why
are they almost wholly negatively charge d electrons in our universe? Where did all of the
"positrons" go? Or for that matter, how come protons are positive? Where might the
"negatons" have gone?

Or consider this. The universe appears to have its limits. There are two fixed
energy-related limits that are connected by Planck's constant (h). There is absolute zero
and the velocity of light in a vacuum. We can't get colder, or in a way slower, than that,
and we can't get faster than that. And can that latter be made to say, on a universal scale,
that we cannot get hotter than that?

There is no limit on velocity itself, as might be shown with the vertex of


hypothetical infinitely long and closing scissors blades. The hypothetical closing vertex
will eventually exceed the velocity of light. The limit seems to be on the "material" of
light, the light quanta or photons and by extension to the material of our universe. What is
there about the "material" of light, or energy, that it has this limit?

The limits on temperature and velocity touch on the mystery of the three states of
matter. Add energy to a solid and it usually becomes a liquid and less structured, and so
on through gas and maybe plasma. It is intuitive that energy tears apart structure. But a
solid could theoretically just expand in size and not change state to something with
different properties. Intriguingly, each element changes state at a specific temperature-
pressure.

What bothers an average guy like me is that an elegantly simple theory or


organizing principle that would aid our intuitive human understandings seems to be
lacking, yet to be discovered, something like Newton's F = ma, or Einstein's E = mc2, or
Mendeleev's arrangement of chemicals.

Lacking this simplicity, science itself seems to have become clustered and
compartmentalized.

Things work as we know them now. Gravity theory has worked reasonably well to
predict the movements of entities in space. Electromagnetism theory has expl ained light,
electricity, and magnetic fields. It can all be stretched to predict.

Possibly Ptolemaic cosmology, with Earth at the center of the universe, could be
made to work and predict celestial movements if given enough computing power.
Trapped inside this concept-box, we could think through and calculate the universe as it
may appear to be, but perhaps not in the easiest way.

The following is even more mindfully not science but is offered as an example of
thinking outside the present box. Joseph Priestley's phlogiston was not quite accurate, but
it set into motion thinking that led to modern chemistry.
Time, in our universe, intuitively does not seem reversible. Nor does the force of
gravity as we experience it. For all the time-travel and anti-gravity devices of science
fiction, there seems no observed instance of time-reversal or negative time, and there
seems no instance of anti-gravity or negative gravity.

Nor, for that matter does there seem to be negative energy or what might be called
anti-photons. There is, for instance, no sun or star that is working almost like a negative
Peltier-effect thermocouple and emitting particles of dark and cold rather than light and
heat.

And to revisit Planck's constant for guidance one more time, it could be seen as a
factor to synchronize our arbitrary units of time and distance, seconds and meters (or
worse), with "natural units" of time and distance.

These imaginable "natural units" might hint at fundamental entities of some kind,
not unlike present concepts of "elementary" nuclear and sub-nuclear particles. These
fundamental entities would seem to have something to do with the limits of time and
distance, time as seen in the cessation of time (motion) at absolute zero, time and distance
as seen in the maximum limit of the velocity of light.

In thinking outside the box let's start with a universe of granular time and gravity.
My apologies to Star Trek fans, but let's call its basic elements "chronotons" and
"gravitons."

Time means nothing unless it has something to act upon. And the "substance"
implied by "gravitons" means nothing unless it acts over time. So chronotons and
gravitons essentially do nothing by themselves.

But should a chronoton and a graviton pair up or interact in some way, then time
and substance come into being.

What a chronoton-graviton pair looks a little bit like is a photon. The chronoton
gives the pair time to act in and the graviton gives time something to act upon. Our
perceived universe of time and substance comes into existence.

And it is all the more tempting to see this hypothetical pair as a photon because of
the limiting time-factor of the velocity of light. It would almost seem as if the graviton
half of the marriage prevents the chronoton from behaving with absolute freedom and
flying off infinitely fast.

Extending this a little more, perhaps "charge " is a threesome. The basic particle
for a negative charge, an electron, could be two chronotons plus a graviton.

Its opposite, the basic particle of positive charge, the proton, might be two
gravitons and a chronoton. A stronger interaction between the two gravitons held together
by the chronoton might be stretched to explain the proton's apparent larger mass, but
mass derived from something else than pull of an electric or magnetic field and therefore
maybe a different number.

This is all a different way of looking at things. It might not, for instance, be only
chronotons and gravitons. Maybe we could have a holy trinity, chronotons, gravitons, and
neutrinos?

In the Chart of Nuclides, neutrons seem to be a glue holding heavier atoms


together. But beta decay seems to show that neutrons are actually protons, electrons, and
neutrinos. So neutrinos would seem to be the glue. And more and more neutrinos seem to
be needed to glue heavier and heavier atoms tog ether.

And imagination might extend this to a neutrino binding two or more gravitons
together, perhaps with a chronoton, to make a proton.

This is all wild speculation. It falls short of a scheme that makes sense and is
workable. But I suspect that thinking outside of the box this way might lead someone to
Sweden to pick up a Nobel medal some day.

And even if not, what might people say about our science and resulting
cosmology seven thousand years from now?

Tom Slattery is author of both short and book-length posts on Scribd and several
nonfiction and fiction books listed on book sites.