quarta-feira, 3 de janeiro de 2007

João Magueijo and VSL…




"The world will not evolve past its current state of crisis by using the same thinking that created the situation." – Albert Einstein

João Magueijo is a cosmologist and lecturer in Theoretical Physics at Imperial College, London. He is a supporter of the Variable Speed of Light (VSL) theory of cosmology, which proposes that the speed of light was much higher in the early universe. It is presented as an alternative to the more mainstream theory of Cosmic Inflation. The model was first proposed by John Moffat, a Canadian scientist, in the early 1990s.
Magueijo presents a scathing critique of the scientific academia and discusses his personal struggles pursuing VSL in his 2003 book "Faster Than The Speed of Light. The Story of a Scientific Speculation".
He was born in 1967 in Évora, southern Portugal. He undertook graduate work and Ph.D. at Cambridge, and was awarded a research fellowship at St. John's College, Cambridge, the same fellowship previously held by Paul Dirac and Abdus Salam.

Like Einstein, João Magueijo has radical ideas, but his ideas intend to turn that Einsteinian dogma on its head. Magueijo is trying to pick apart one of Einstein's most impenetrable tenets, the constancy of the speed of light. This idea of a constant speed (299 792 458 meters/second or ±300 000 km/second) is familiar to anyone who is remotely acquainted with modern physics. It is known as the universal speed limit. Nothing can, has, or ever will travel faster than light.

Magueijo doesn't buy it. His VSL presupposes a speed of light that can be energy or time-space dependent. Before you declare that he's out of his mind, understand that this man received his doctorate from Cambridge, has been a faculty member at Princeton and Cambridge, and is currently a professor at Imperial College, London. He's a mainstream scientist whose mind is beginning to wander.

In his first book, "Faster than the Speed of Light", Magueijo leads laymen readers into the abstract realm of theoretical physics, with more flair and energy than Sir Hawking could ever muster. Leaning on several well known, as well as obscure, thinkers, Magueijo carefully builds the foundations for a discussion of Big Bang cosmology, and then segues into the second half of the book, which is devoted to VSL theory.

VSL purposes to solve the problems at which all cosmologists are forever scratching: those inscrutable conceptual puzzles that surround the Big Bang. Currently many of these problems have no widely accepted solutions. Attacking these conundrums with VSL, Magueijo shakes the foundations of the physics community, while pissing off many of his fellow scientists.

Ultimately, the validity and soundness of his ideas are beside the point. This book embraces the process. Its message is attacking difficult problems, asking bold questions, and searching out unexplored possibilities. It's this type of fresh and creative thinking that keeps science exciting and unpredictable. His mantra reads something like, "try new ideas, screw up, and try again."

This is exactly how science progresses. It's not some linear, stepwise process, steadily marching forward. That's how it's made to appear in the textbooks. In reality, it's experimentation and exploration. It's throwing around ideas, destroying old theories, salvaging the useful parts, and rebuilding. It's bouncing ideas off your peers, collaborating, in a process that can be just as painful as productive.

So, keep in mind that Einstein has been wrong before. Hubble succeeded in disproving Einstein when asserting that Einstein's static universe was actually rapidly expanding. Hubble had a crucial weapon that Magueijo lacks thus far: convincing empirical evidence. Hubble actually observed this expansionary movement by measuring light from distant galaxies. Until this day arrives for Magueijo, all is speculation.

In "Faster than the Speed of Light", VSL Theory seems to evolve from chapter to chapter. Can you update us as to its current state and (briefly) outline some basic ideas?

João Magueijo: Broadly speaking there are theories where the speed of light depends on its energy (colour) and others where it depends on space-time – and then you could mix the two. The former may explain why we see cosmic rays above a certain energy, in contradiction with the predictions of relativity. The latter explain the observations of variation in the "fine structure constant" in "old" light. Experiments seem to point to a mixture of the two types of effects. But it's early days…

With so many mysteries surrounding the mechanics of Big Bang – from the horizon problem, to its odd, short-lived physical laws – do you ever find yourself questioning the theory itself?

J. M.: Of course! You always question everything, "particularly" the new theory you are proposing.

The conflict between VSL and more traditional theory (inflation) hints at what TS Kuhn would call a paradigm crisis, where many versions of a theory proliferate. Is the puzzle-solving ability of the theory of inflation breaking down? Are any cosmologists proposing any other alternatives to an inflationary universe (aside from VSL)?

J. M.: Inflation was a good start. But it feels forceful, and there are indeed problems it does not solve. There are more alternatives to inflation beside VSL, e.g. the ekpyrotic universe of Turok and Steinhardt.

Ideas seem to present themselves to you while you are in strange situations or altered mental states. Do you need to break outside of your normal environment to think in un-ordinary ways?

J. M.: Thinking can be lateral or "sweaty". For the latter you're better off in an office and following a routine but for the former you have to be "out of your mind", so to speak. So although I recognize the merits of hard work, I find that my work goes stale if I don't go off wandering around the world every few weeks. My friends think I'm a gipsy, but that's when I do "part 1" of my best work.

You have learned to retain a certain respect for your predecessors and for history, reducing the shock value of your ideas (i.e. tossing out certain Einsteinian concepts and then deciding to account for them). Is this practice aimed to engage your sceptical colleagues, or did the historical foundations emerge as a true crux of your theory?

J. M.: If you go way out of mainstream science you can feel so lost that it's scary. In the end you need to come back to familiar ground, to leave it again. VSL followed this pendulum effect…

I repeatedly come across philosophers who equate the study of Big Bang cosmology with "appealing to the supernatural", and this is spawning some sort of reconciliation between science and religion. Are physicists beginning to consult theologians? Do you feel this could be productive?

J. M.: No, to either question.

Frontier Cosmology, by Brandon Pierce

RIC

24 comentários:

The Thunderbird disse...

Facinating. i'll be sure to be on hand at the finish line 20 billion years from now to see how this time line ends.

Played with your cat again. Fed her two cans of food. She is building her thick silky winter coat.

kevin disse...

I dont have time to read todays post in full but it looks interesting. I will read it when i get home next week.

Hugs
Kev in NZ

RIC disse...

Thank you very much, Will! If everyone ends up feeding her up that way, she'll soon have to go on diet or she'll turn into a fur ball...
As to Physics and Cosmology, I wish I understood them a little bit better and more. In 20 billion years from now either the Universe has expanded beyond imagination (which is not a difficult task for my mind...) or it has shrunk to the size of an atom. This is not easy to imagine at all!
Best wishes!

RIC disse...

Hello dear Kevin! Thank you so very much for coming around! That means you're still «down south»! Has the weather improved? I do hope so! Wow! Still a week to enjoy the wilderness and the «brokeback experience»!...
Have a great time!
Best wishes!

knottyboy disse...

This is how all the world deals with the tearing at the fabric of the 'man made gods'. Whether you're a priest, a scientist or a politician; everyone reacts the same way when one of the foundations of their beliefs are about to be rocked to it's core.
What's sad is that even Einstein would be more than willing to give his own theories a second look in the right light. He never wanted to be a holy man to the scientific community.
Great post,
Hugs
kb

Minge disse...

The fabric of time has huge holes in it.

I like the theory that the speed of light isn't static.

RIC disse...

Hello Wayne! Thank you very much for your especial comment! Curiously enough, it was exactly that kind of reactions you've mentioned that made me go ahead with this post. Besides being Portuguese, I knew very little about him until quite recently. And Physics is not exactly my field or my cup of tea...
I saw him recently on TV and decided I should do some research...
I believe his fellow scientists keep on mocking him for his «absurdities»... For every generation there's a Socrates or a Galileo...
Best wishes, dear friend!

RIC disse...

Hello Minge! Great sentence, that first one of yours! I like it a lot!
As to the speed of light not being static - though I know very little about it -, it doesn't shock at all that it may have varied ever since the Big Bang. After all, change is what best defines everything we have ever come to know... I guess...
Wish you both a wonderful 2007! Oh and your girls too!

JoeL disse...

Very interesting, but what is YOUR take on this?!

I think KB is right, but what about you?!

Pretty facinating!?

RIC disse...

Hello Joel! I'll have to remind you once again that English is a foreign language to me... I guess I can somehow figure out what «my take on something» may mean... But I don't know.
To start with, Magueijo is Portuguese, and besides António Damásio there aren't so many Portuguese «rocking the scientific boat»... So I got curious and interested. Then I found out about his «revolutionary» book and ideas, and the way he has been treated by his fellow scientists.
And I thought about a blogger friend who is an expert in Physics and may give his opinion...
Maybe he'll comment yet.
As for myself, I like new ideas and new ways of reasoning.
Satisfied, dear friend?
All the best! :-)

Lampejo disse...

Teorias "fora do meu alcance". ;)

RIC disse...

Olá Lampejo! Muito obrigado pela tua visita! A minha ideia foi mais no sentido de falar de um português que está «na crista da onda» da Física e da Cosmologia, áreas «fora do meu alcance» também...
Talvez devesse ter começado pelo António Damásio, por exemplo... Vou ter de pesquisar melhor.
Conta comigo à volta da fogueira!
Um abraço!

Minge disse...

Mercy buckets.

RIC disse...

Would you please be so kind, dear Minge, as to stick to English Standard, which by the way is difficult enough to me already?...
What shall I start with «mercy buckets»?! I'm so sorry, but I haven't got a single clue... :-(
Have a great day!

Minge disse...

Sorry. It's a way lots of people speak French, badly. Merci beaucoup.

RIC disse...

Don't mention it, Minge! Do you know what meanwhile happened? A few hours after having responded to your «mercy buckets» comment I opened this page again and my fell on that very phrase: I read it out loud, and I immediately knew it had to do with «merci beaucoup». So I went back to my first response, and it made sense... Weird, huh?
Thank you for you kindness, dear Minge! Mercy buckets to you too!
:-)

Minge disse...

And Mercy buckets back at you! You always make an ordinary day become special.

RIC disse...

Your eyes see it that way, dear Minge! By the way, my previous comment should read: «...and my eyes fell on that...». But you got it anyway!
Doing things in s hurry is never a good solution...
See you again soon!

pinguim disse...

Eu também andei à "volta da fogueira", Ric, mas realmente o meu calcanhar de Aquiles, como estudante sempre foi a física, pelo que fiquei muito fora do assunto, tal como o Lampejo.
Não pode ser sempre cinema, claro...
Um abraço

RIC disse...

Olá João! Eu fiquei pelas Ciências Físico-Químicas do antigo 5.º ano, portanto... E sempre gostei mais de Química.
Mas não posso deixar de vibrar com algumas ideias (as que consigo perceber, claro está), que são autênticos desafios às formas consagradas de pensar. E isso fascina-me! Como doutro modo o cinema...
Um abraço, meu caro!

Gray disse...

While you said, "Physics is not exactly my field or my cup of tea," I must say that you have a very firm grasp on the subject!!

My heavens, Ric! Is there no end to your formidable (i.e. inspiring awe, admiration, or wonder) knowledge??

I read this post with zeal! I have not heard of Mr. Magueijo previously but will, now, know who he is if and when I hear his name and his theory mentioned in scientific reviews.

Again I must say it: thank you for the lesson!

RIC disse...

Hello, dear Gray! First of all, I hope and wish you're really getting better!
As I've said before, I've no intention of giving any kind of lessons whatsoever; all I want and like is to call the attention of and to discuss with a few friends some different subjects I'm interested in and they may also be.
The great advantage of the bloggosphere is in my opinion that you can share almost anything: from your own personal experiences to anything that makes this world of ours what it really is today.
Of course, I'm very glad you like it and I thank you so very much for your very kind words!
I wish you all the best, dear Gray!
Get well really soon! :-)

kapitano disse...

A nice introduction the VLS, for those of us who don't have the maths to understand it in depth – i.e. pretty much everyone.
I see VLS talked about in popular science magazines and "serious" television, but I don't know how much more there is to it than "maybe the laws of physics were different just after the big bang".
There's a lot of maverick semi-celebrity scientists out there (Stephen Hawking being the best known), but I honestly don't know how seriously ideas like the variable speed of light, brane theory and dark energy are taken by the majority of cosmologists.

RIC disse...

I knew your comment would be of help. Thank you so very much, Captain! At least for me it was, definitely, since now I know there are a brane theory and the dark energy concept, which I didn't know at all.
That's why I took the liberty of «copy pasting» your response from your blog… Oops, I hope you'll forgive me, but I think other blogger friends are entitled to read an expert's opinion as yours is.
Thanks a lot!