Friday, May 1, 2020

Bullshit Studies

Filed under: General — Tags: , , — m759 @ 2:55 PM

The following passage is from Amanda Gefter’s  Trespassing
on Einstein’s Lawn  (Bantam Books, 2014).

“You know the story of Plato’s cave?” my father asked. “All the prisoners are chained up in the cave and they can’t see the real world outside, only the shadows on the wall? That’s supposed to be a negative thing, like they’ll never know reality. But the truth is, you have to be stuck inside a limited reference frame for there to be any reality at all! If you weren’t chained to your light cone, you’d see nothing. The H-state.”

I nodded. “You’d have no information. You need the broken symmetry, the shadow, to have information and information gives rise to the world. It from bit.”

I couldn’t help but grin with excitement. The message was clear: having a finite frame of reference creates the illusion of a world, but even the reference frame itself is an illusion. Observers create reality, but observers aren’t real. There is nothing ontologically distinct about an observer, because you can always find a frame in which that observer disappears: the frame of the frame itself, the boundary of the boundary.

“If physicists discover an invariant someday, the game will be up,” my father mused. “That would rule out the hypothesis that the universe is really nothing.”

That was true. But so far, at least, every last invariant had gone the way of space and time, rendered relative and observer-dependent. Spacetime, gravity, electromagnetism, the nuclear forces, mass, energy, momentum, angular momentum, charge, dimensions, particles, fields, the vacuum, strings, the universe, the multiverse, the speed of light— one by one they had been downgraded to illusion. As the surface appearance of reality fell away, only one thing remained. Nothing.

My path to Gefter’s father’s musing led from a quotation attributed,
probably falsely, to John Archibald Wheeler on page 52 of Octavio
Paz’s  Claude Lévi-Strauss: An Introduction  (Cornell, 1970)

“There is a point at which

‘something is nothing and nothing is something.’

The quote may actually be by AP writer John Barbour reporting
on a 1967 American Physical Society talk by Wheeler, “The End
of Time.”

Gefter mentions Wheeler 369 times:

See as well Introduction to Quantum Woo.

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