Is reality a mathematical construct?

"As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality."

"How can it be that mathematics, being after all a product of human thought, which is independent of experience, is so admirably appropriate to the objects of reality?"

Albert Einstein
Spacetime of special relativity. © K. Aainsqatsi at Wikipedia

1905 – The end of the Newtonian Universe

The publication of Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity in 1905 should have marked the end of the Newtonian view of reality as a stage made up of permanent unchangable objects. Quantum physics just emerging at the time would further undermine that image. Yet apparently that end has not yet really sunk in. Many scientists who are not very skilled in physics still use the old billiard ball model of the universe as the model of reality

Special relativity is a special case of general relativity – also called the theory of gravity. This special relativity is a theory about observers moving uniformly with respect to each other – that is, without accelerating or decelerating – in which gravity plays no role. In order to achieve some understanding let’s put Alice and Bob back on the scene. That’s a bit easier to follow.

Each of those two will experience and also regard itself as at rest while the other is moving. Each will find that the other’s clocks run slower than their own one and that the other’s rulers are shorter than their own ones. This effect becomes larger as the difference in speed increases and only becomes noticeable when the difference comes close to the speed of light. But these differences are in principle always there. If Bob is standing along the highway and sees Alice driving past at 100 km/h, Alice’s clock will slow down from Bob’s viewpoint and her car will have become shorter. As far as he’s concerned, Alice has also gained a utterly tiny bit of weight. But Alice does not speed up or slow down, she considers herself and everything in the car at rest, and sees Bob passing by at 100 km/h. For her, Bob has gained a little weight, Bob’s clock runs slower and his waistline is shorter than when they walked an hour ago together.

For a more detailed explanation, read my post of October 18, 2020: Einstein and the speed limit of the universe

Not an illusion?

Space becomes curved by the presence of mass and according to the general theory of relativity we experience curved space as gravity . The image below attempts to clarify that effect – in vain as far as I am concerned. The mass of the earth distorts the two-dimensional texture of space. However, we live in in three dimensions and we cannot image a fourth dimension to make curves in three dimensional space. On top of that, to explain the dent the earth makes in the two-dimensional texture of space you still need gravity pulling the earth down. But mathematically it all makes perfect sense.

Gravity curving two-dimendional space time

‘These relativistic effects are not an illusion’ did a physics teacher assure us in a course in 2018, ‘They are real’. Relativistic effects have indeed been confirmed experimentally. Any GPS device has to take into account that the clocks in the satellites are running faster than on ground level – 38 microseconds faster in 24 hours. Also think of particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, where protons travel in an underground circular tunnel with a diameter of 8.4858 km at 99.996% the speed of light to collide eventually. In order to keep those protons in their circular orbits, the relativistic increase in their mass, a factor of 112, has to be taken into account to dynamically adjust the strength of the superconducting magnets according to their relativistic masses.

CERN – Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

Really?

What did the teacher mean by ‘real’ here? That it is a measured effect and therefore true? In our ‘real’ experience, it is apparently the case that massive objects moving relative to us exhibit behavior that we cannot reconcile with the way we understand our daily reality. That is a reality that is made up of tangible massive objects that only deform when we exert forces on them. But those forces are not there in objects that move at constant speeds relative to each other. Don’t forget that those speeds are relative to each other. From Bob’s point of view he is at rest but from Alice’s point of view he moves at 100 km/h and his rulers are shorter than hers. In short, this is utterly incomprehensible if we want to maintain and understand the idea of an objective world outside us made up of massive material objects.

The Relativity Express – pag. 9: At the same moment Agent X spots the steeple clock, leaps from his seat in disbelief and rushes to the car door to check the clock on the flatcar. Sure enough, it says 12:40, although the steeple clock reads 1:00. “Ye gods!” he shouts. ” That steeple clock must be wrong! It must be fast- or else it was set wrong! I know the train clock was correct back at the master time station.” The whole plan is in danger! In near- panic, X looks for the conductor to tell him that the world has gone mad; the clocks are all wrong.

Click on the picture for the full pdf.

Reality as a mirror reflection of the Cosmic Mind

Relativistic effects, on the other hand, are very well to comprehend if we alter our perspective on reality by starting to understand our observations as projections of the content of the cosmic mind. Those observations are the reflections of the contents of a cosmic consciousness in the mirrors of our individual minds. That one great cosmic consciousness observes itself by its reflections in those myriad mirrors that living beings are. So, we are mirors of the contents of the cosmic mind. That reflected content behaves according to mathematical laws because the content of the cosmic consciousness is very probably the source of the mathematical laws Einstein found so admirable appropriate. This is by no means a new idea. Now may begin to understand why mathematics, a product of the mind, corresponds so well to observed reality. The math and reality we experience are both products of the mind*. The reality we see reflected in that mirror of our mind is a mathematical construction.

Material infinities, are they possible?

Also consider black holes. When the possibility of black holes was first suggested, that idea was rejected by most physicists. Their rejection was based on the fact that, according to general relativity, a black hole had to be a singular point, which is a mathematical infinity. A point without dimensions containing an enormous amount of mass. In a Newtonian universe made up of a countable number of material objects, material infinities cannot exist. Yet these days black holes are generally described and taken as actually existing. We even have a photo of it. But most people still live in a material reality made up of finite numbers of massive objects. Thats twisted thinking.

The first photo of a black hole, existing in the Messier 87 galaxy.
© Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, via National Science Foundation

The measurement problem of quantum physics goes away

That the world is a projection or reflection of the contents of cosmic mind has also been proposed by me in my book as a solution to the measurement problem in quantum physics. The measurement problem is, in a nutshell, the idea in quantum physics that every object is a coherent* non-material probability wave, extending in principle everywhere in space, that ends abruptly in the material manifestation of the object the moment it is measured . How the measurement mamages this cannot be explained by a purely material view of the universe. But, in the idea that the world is a projection of the contents of the cosmic consciousness, perception has become almost identical to creation. Material existence is, like its observation, also a mind phenomenon. In your mind, rulers can shrink just fine and clocks will tick slower without any problem. Think about dreaming.

A reading tip: Lothar SchäferInfinite Potential.

(*) A wave is a coherent phenomenon. How the quantum mechanic non-material probibility distribution comes to possess coherence cannot by explained by a material view of reality.

Einstein and the speed limit of the universe

Einstein did not support the fundamental uncertainty of quantum physics. He stubbornly maintained the idea that reality was permanent and objective and that the observer played not a significant role. Yet the observer plays quite an important role in his best-known work, the theory of relativity. Precisely if you assume that the observer makes the observed ‘true’ and thus actually creates reality, his approach to the relativity of space and time offers a surprising outcome.

Special relativity

The special theory of relativity can be followed perfectly by using nothing more complicated than Pythagoras and a dose of high school algebra. But I’m not going to do that here now. There is a lot to be found on the internet doing that. Read for example: Special relativity math2410 from Leeds University.

Symmetry

An extremely important premise for Einstein was that the universe should basically look the same for two observers moving relative to each other. Ultimately, that’s a symmetry argument. Symmetry has been an important criterion in the theories of physics since Emmy Noether introduced it in 1918. He combined this criterion with the insight that the observed speed of light – in a vacuum – must be the same in all circumstances. This followed from Maxwell’s equations for electromagnetic waves and was indirectly confirmed by the experiments of Michelson and Morley who sought to determine the speed at which the Earth traveled through the supposed aether by measuring differences in the speed of light going in different directions with regard to this aether. The outcome was that they could not measure differences in speed, no matter how accurate their experimental set-up was.

To ride with a light wave

In addition, Einstein had realized from an early age that you cannot overtake or even keep up with a light wave. If you could keep up with light, Maxwell’s electromagnetic wave would no longer oscillate from your moving point of view, it would look like a frozen wave. But since the wave’s propagation is both caused and sustained by its ceaselessly oscillating fields, that couldn’t be right. Light must therefore always move at exactly 300,000 km/s for every observer. This follows also undisputedly from Maxwell’s equations because these do not contain any parameter relative to the position of the observer.

Einstein riding the light wave. The wave will seem frozen from his viewpoint. This is not possible. © Paul J. van Leeuwen

Einstein now imagined two observers moving relative to each other but who should both observe the same speed of light. Imagine a light source C standing still for observer Alice. Alice sees the light of C approaching her at c = 300,000 km/s. Observer Bob whizzes at great speed towards ligt source C, say 1/10 of c. Alice now considers that the light coming from C towards Bob must therefore move at 11/10 of the speed of light for Bob. I hope you can follow Alice’s reasoning. Otherwise, try to think of two cars driving towards each other while Alice watches along the roadside. Car with driver Bob drives at 10 km/h and car C drives at 100 km/h towards Bob and Alice. Car C here stands for the light that comes towards Bob and Alice. Alice observes (with radar) that the speed of car C is 100 km/h and that Bob and car C are speeding towards each other at 110 km/h. Now suppose that Bob would also perceive the speed of the oncoming car C relative to him as 100 km/h. That could only be if Bob’s clock ticked at 10/11 the speed of Alice’s watch. And not only Bob’s clock but also Bob’s entire perception of time would have to be slowed down so that Bob actually experiences the speed of car C as 100 km/h. In that case Bob will live a little bit slower. As far as Alice is concerned, Bob is now aging more slowly than Alice.

Time slows down and space shrinks

Now back to the light that is always experienced by every observer at the same constant speed. If Bob moves relative to Alice at 1/10 the speed of light and Bob sees the light move at 300,000 km/s, then that is possible if the time for Bob slows down by 10/11. Bob doesn’t feel that way because he himself is sitting in his delayed time capsule, his car.

This simplified estimate of the slowing of Bob’s time is not 100% correct because something also happens with Bob’s yardsticks, but what matters to me is that you get an understanding of relativity reasoning. If you want to do this completely right, then, as already mentioned, some algebra and Pythagoras are involved and the time dilation, the slowing down of Bob’s time, is described with:

Time dilation T for Bob’s clock moving at speed v relative to Alice’s stationary clock. T0 is the time of Alice’s clock. The closer Bob moves to the speed of light c, the slower his clock ticks as seen from Alice’s viewpoint.

Here v is Bob’s speed, relative to Alice (or Alice’s speed relative to Bob). If you enter here 1/10 of the speed of light c for v, then Bob’s clock turns out to tick 0.5% slower than Alice’s clock. Now we apply the principle of symmetry that Einstein argued. There is no absolute speed, speed is always relative. Bob, who experiences himself as stationary, observes Alice moving away from him at 1/10 the speed of light. So Bob also sees Alice’s clock ticking slower by 0.5%. This seems a paradox, but the theory is correct and has been experimentally confirmed in countless experiments. The solution is that Bob and Alice can’t compare their clocks until they come together and for that at least one of them has to turn around which means speeding up and slowing down. This breaks the symmetry.

You can see from the above time dilation formula that the maximum speed that applies in the universe is 300,000 km/s. The term under the radical becomes negative when v becomes greater than c, which would make the time dilation imaginary. That’s too bad because it makes non-imaginary trips to even the nearest stars impossible for us.

From Alice’s point of view, Bob’s rulers also shorten in the direction of his movement. For completeness, this is the formula for the contraction of fast-moving rulers, the so-called Lorentz contraction:

Lorentz contraction of a ruler L moving with speed v relative to the observer. L0 is the lenght of the ruler when at rest relative to the observer.

It goes without saying that this sparked a lot of discussion in the first half of the 20th century. Einstein took the position that the observers of the clocks and rulers did not play a vital role in relativity effects. According to him, they could just as easily be left out of the equations. Fast-moving clocks would automatically slow down, fast-moving rulers would shorten without the need for an observer. This elasticity of space and time and of the material objects therein was, and is still difficult to grasp but has been confirmed experimentally time and again. We, the physicists, are more or less used to it now, but we do not really understand it. It’s not natural.

Einstein fighting versus the probability interpretation of quantum physics

Einstein seriously put quantum physics on the map with his explanation of the photoelectric effect, for which he received the Nobel Prize. Light consists of particles with an energy per particle according to the Planck formula (f here stands for the frequency):

Planck’s law: the energy of a quantum of radiation energy is propertional to its frequency and is inversely proportional to its wavelength

But after that he argued vigorously against quantum physics and especially its implications, to no avail. Especially against the probability interpretation of Bohr, Heisenberg and Born: that the state wave, the solution of the Schrödinger equation, represents the probability that the particle will be found at a given location and time when measured. That went against Einstein’s gut view of the world as an objectively permanent collection of material objects. Einstein’s objection is understandable if you adhere to the materialistic view of the world, because a probablity is not an objective material object. It is something that exists in our mind. A thought.

And that’s exactly my own idea of how the universe works. Everything we experience takes place in the mind. The perception of the measured particle thus becomes identical to the thought of it. The experience is then the same as its creation. That explains to me very well why the laws of physics behave according to mathematical formulas. That is something that many physicists, including Einstein, have expressed their amazement about. So the observers’ mind plays an indispensable role in the universe, it creates it. Mathematics is something of and in the mind. The mind uses apparantly mathematics in its creation of the universe.

Time and space are concepts of the mind.

That idea suddenly makes things like the slower passing of time, the shrinking yardsticks and the curved space of general relativity, much more palatable. In a dream we would really not notice these things either. There exists no real objective time outside of us that does slow down, there is no objective space outside of us that does shrink, it’s all happening in the mind of every observer.

Science Fiction?

That offers hope for the possibility of exploration of the cosmos. The maximum speed in the universe that we observe – that of light – seems to be something that the mind has imposed on itself. But as soon as we can accept that time and space is happening within the mind, the possibility opens up that we could move through the universe beyond that limitation. Traveling within the mind is not bound by the restrictions of relativity. This, I believe, is also the correct interpretation of entanglement and instantaneous action over long distances, as confirmed by all those Bell tests. Traveling through the universe by means of the mind could even be the way – one that intelligent beings existing elsewhere in this vast universe already have discovered – to travel through the cosmos despite Einstein’s speed limit. And to visit us. Experiments have already been conducted confirming that quantum tunneling shows speeds greater than that of light.

A universe like a slowly fading flare

That the universe is a creation of the mind also offers an alternative for the pending entropy death of the universe that physics has been predicting for a century and a half now. Even if that is a immeasurably distant future away, it remains a bleak prospect contradicting any sense of purpose of the world. What was that fantastic spectacle all for if that is to be the end? But if the universe is the product of the creative mind, then that is by no means an unavoidable end to everything. On the contrary.

Conclusion

What I want to say with this story is that there is a good chance that two apparently incompatible theories – relativity and quantum physics – can be merged together very well when we start to include the all important role of consciousness. The intelligibility of the nature of reality would only increase as a result.

You’re not in there, not even now

I do not belong to that part of humanity that believes that our brains produce our minds. Rather the reverse. If you study my website that should become obvious. As far as I am concerned, that is a well-considered position that has adequately dealt with my fear of death, the great nothing that lies ahead for all of us. So I no longer do have that fear. Which actually comes in handy with this corona crisis. From that perspective, your mind is not inside your brain, I have recently come across three interesting publications, a presentation on YouTube, a research report and a recent book that I would like to highlight here because they confirm and reinforce each other. This coming together of different scientific domains is called consilience.

Dr. Julie Beischel’s presentation at the SSE conference, June 2020

Dr. Julie Beischel is director of the Windbridge Research Center. She has PhD in Pharmacology and Toxicology with a minor in Microbiology and Immunology from the University of Arizona and has been studying controversial topics such as mediums with highly scientific methods for many years. She has subjected mediums, individuals who report experiencing communication with the deceased, to rigorous testing according to guidelines that every scientific research should always apply, such as double blind tests and the repeatable production of results. In addition, she also has a pleasant dose of dry humor as shown in her presentations.

In June 2019, Julie gave a presentation for the SSE on the subject of the identification we have with our body, which appears to be considerably more tenuous than we think. We part with it at the slightest occasion, as it turns out. In her presentation she discusses the ways in which we can easily lose that orientation, such as the rubber hand illusion, the speed with which our body renews, how much not-self-life lives in us such as our gut bacteria and the recent research by Etzel Cardeña from Lund University which presents very convincing evidence for the reality of PSI. Julie talks about striking (anecdotal) evidence from mediums that show that deceased relatives are still very concerned about their surviving descendants, about a verified and almost comical near-death experience, about a Thai boy who remembers a previous life as a snake who told in verified detail how that snake was killed. In short, you are not your body, it is a temporary avatar used by your real me, the real player, just like a self-chosen user image on websites or in video games.

View Julie Beischel’s presentation:

The Physical World as a Virtual Reality

Brian Whitworth published an interesting paper, The Physical World as a Virtual Reality, in 2007, where he puts excellent arguments forward for the idea that our world of experience is a Virtual Reality (VR). With the VR assumption, many properties of our experiential world can easily be explained that do not correspond very well with the usual assumption of a physical reality.

We view our world as an objective reality, but is it? The assumption that the physical world exists independently has been hard to reconcile for already some time with the goal of assimilating the findings of modern physics with the idea of an objective physical reality. Objective space and time should normally just ‘be’ there, but in our contemporary world, space shrinks and time slows down. Objective things should exist inherently, but in our world electrons are smeared probabilities spreading, tunneling, superimposing, and entangling in physically impossible ways. Cosmology now adds that our universe emerged from nowhere about 14 billion years ago. That is definitely not how an objective reality should behave!

In his paper he examines the possibility, one that is usually rejected out of hand, namely that the physical world is the result of a quantum process and thus virtual. What he proposes is not illogical, unscientific and certainly not incompatible with modern physics. Nor is it a modern idea because its origins date back thousands of years. His proposal is certainly relevant because modern physics has discovered that we actually live in a very strange world.

Consider the following counterintuitive but experimentally confirmed inferences from general relativity:

  1. Gravity slows down time,
  2. Gravity curves space,
  3. Speed slows down time,
  4. Speed increases the mass,
  5. The speed of light is an absolute given.

And quantum physics also teaches us from her experiments:

  1. Teleportation: quantum objects that ‘tunnel’ through a barrier,
  2. Faster than light communication with entangled particles,
  3. Creation out of nowhere,
  4. Multiple existence of particles in different locations (two-slit experiment),
  5. Physical effects without cause (radioactivity).

Whitworth argues convincingly that a VR not just explains excellently all these strange effects, but should even show them. A Big Bang can be explained for example as booting the VR program ‘Genesis’. Every VR program must have a beginning that, experienced from its inhabitants, seems to come from nowhere. The maximum speed that applies in our universe, on which Einstein based his theory of relativity but did not explain why there should be one, becomes the suddenly understandable consequence of the processor speed of the VR ‘computer’. In his proposal, a VR unites quantum physics and the theory of relativity, something where physicists still not have succeeded in after more than 100 years. At the end of his paper, Whitworth presents a very convincing comparison table comparing the properties that a VR must exhibit with the properties that we encounter in our ‘physical’ world. In other words, our bodies are Avatars. But who controls them?

In short, read his paper with an open mind.

Evolution 2.0

Perry Marshall, computer programmer, businessman and internet marketer, writes Evolution 2.0. He is the opposite of an evolution biologist who wants to explain everything that lives and grows as coming altogether from purely accidenteel mutations, with the occasional favorable one that survives and transfers its properties to his posterity, combined with the Darwinian idea of survival of the best adapted (read mutated) specimen in the population.

Marshall views living organisms, such as the cell, from the programmer’s point of view. He concludes that DNA is code, not a random set of instructions, but a real code that is decoded, executed and if necessary rewritten, by the cell.

He argues using a lot of factual material and applying Claude Shannon’s information theory that DNA code cannot possibly have been created by chance. Coincidence generates noise and noise destroys information. Always and irreparable.

The possibility that the code of DNA plus the reading and decoding mechanism in the cell is generated by random mutations is astronomically small and would be an example of spontaneously decreasing entropy. Something we never perceive.

He says this: if you come across a code that is also interpreted and executed, you need a coder. According to him, that’s the cell. Or the intelligence that controls the cell. For him, the cell is an extremely complex and highly intelligent living being that actively and purposefully adapts to its environment by adapting its DNA. Mutations in the DNA are therefore no coincidences but adaptations of the cell in its DNA in an attempt to withstand the challenges of the environment. He provides an enormous amount of convincing experimental and published evidence for his claim. But then I’m going to wonder where the intelligence that the cell displays resides.

Consilience: Avatars, the world as VR and goal oriented adapting living cells

When I combine those three divergent matters together, the result is to me a fairly complete and logically coinciding picture of reality as we experience it in everyday life. Supported by these three pillars, PSI research, the physical properties that a VR must exhibit and experimental research on heredity, an image emerges of a world that takes place within a highly advanced computer game in which living things serve as avatars for something that is best described as a conscious mind. A game with the aim of development – ie evolution 2.0 – by a continuously challenging environment.

Challenging indeed, but but also with ample provision for fun and beauty would we allow each other the opportunity. Death is only the end of the avatar, not the controller. When the controllers goal has not yet been reached, he just chooses another avatar, which is reincarnation. And what does almost every near-death experiencer, who had left the game stepping back into it because his goal had not yet been reached, tell us? It was mainly about love, selfless love for the other. Without any exception.

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The photons of the Big Bang

During a course of mine on light & time, a student asked me during the break an excellent question to which I did not have a satisfactory answer in my own opinion at that moment. The student seemed satisfied, but the question kept buzzing around in my mind like a pesky fly in the room that couldn’t find the exit.

The Cosmic Microwave Background Temperature

Full-sky image derived from nine years' WMAP data


The Cosmic Microwave Background temperature fluctuations from the 7-year Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe data seen over the full sky. The image is a mollweide projection of the temperature variations over the celestial sphere.The average temperature is 2.725 Kelvin degrees above absolute zero (absolute zero is equivalent to -273.15 ºC or -459 ºF), and the colors represent the tiny temperature fluctuations, as in a weather map. Red regions are warmer and blue regions are colder by about 0.0002 degrees. This map is the ILC (Internal Linear Combination) map, which attempts to subtract out noise from the galaxy and other sources. The technique is of uncertain reliability, especially on smaller scales, so other maps are typically used for detailed scientific analysis.
© NASA – http://wmap.gsfc.nasa.gov/media/101080

Before I start to describe the question, let me say the following. It is my strong opinion that we can imagine an expanding EM wave as a cloud of photons expanding at the speed of light from the light source whose density decreases with distance from the source squared. But the energy per photon, I say, does not decrease with distance as the energy of each individual photon is determined by its frequency. Viewed in this way, Maxwell’s EM wave is a phenomenon emerging from this photonic quantum cloud. It is not the electromagnetic wave that is usually used to explain the wave behavior of light. For more explanation, see elsewhere on my website under ‘What is light?‘.

The student question was in response to my statement that the energy of a photon does not change with traveled distance. The universe background radiation, discovered in 1964 by Penzias and Wilson, with a wavelength of 7.35 cm and a temperature of 2.7 K, is today seen as a residue of the original radiation from the Big Bang. Due to the expansion of the universe, the original energy of the photons has decreased enormously. That the energy of the photons has obviously decreased so much contradicts the above statement of mine that with the expansion of the EM wave, the energy of the individual photons does not decrease. So a very good question.

The redshift and the expanding universe

We encounter the same problem with the so-called redshift of light from galaxies moving away from us at great speed. The photons we receive from it here have gotten a lower frequency because of the so-called Doppler effect and that’s how Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe seemed to be expanding, as the light from galaxies showed a greater redshift on average the further away they were.

The Doppler effect

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The problem with quantum uncertainty

Quantum physics is at the moment not yet a theory, argues Tim Maudlin, because quantum mechanics is still just a recipe, a formalism, that offers no ontological view of the world. I fully agree.

Gerard ’t Hooft still hopes for a theory describing an objective reality that would be based on information.

Roger Penrose hopes to find the solution for quantum physics and consciousness in the interaction between the microtubules in our neurons, gravity and consciousness.

Chiara Marletto mainly points out the incompatibility between the ‘sharp’ theory of relativity and the ‘blurry’ quantum world but does not offer a way out.

Philip Ball wholeheartedly acknowledges non-locality, the absence of properties of the quantum object until the object is measured, but offers us only words with no ontological comfort, so that we should just content ourselves with the weirdness for it to go away.

Watch and listen.

The Problem With Quantum | Roger Penrose, Gerard ‘t Hooft, Chiara Marletto, Phillip Ball © The Institute of Art and Ideas

Quantum physics and time

From Wikipedia: Vlatko Vedral is a Serbian-born (and naturalised British citizen) physicist and Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford and CQT (Centre for Quantum Technologies) at the National University of Singapore and a Fellow of Wolfson College. He is known for his research on the theory of Entanglement and Quantum Information Theory. As of 2017 he has published over 280 research papers in quantum mechanics and quantum information and was awarded the Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award in 2007. He has held a Lectureship and Readership at Imperial College, a Professorship at Leeds and visiting professorships in Vienna, Singapore (NUS) and at Perimeter Institute in Canada. As of 2017, there were over 18,000 citations to Vlatko Vedral’s research papers. He is the author of several books, including Decoding Reality.

Watch this movie “Living in a quantum world” from Vlatko Vedral on YouTube: https://youtu.be/vaUfZak8Ug4. At the end of his presentation a question from the audience about time and quantum physics is asked (at about 1: 10) and in his answer he describes the behavior of a super-accurate clock and what happens to the last digits when you lift that clock half a meter in the gravitational field. And then he wonders what it means when you imagine that clock to be in a quantum superposition at the two different heights in the gravitational field. A superposition of two different timelines. Fascinating.

By the way, the first part of his presentation – about 45 minutes – is actually a very compact version of my quantum physics book. Everything is presented in an almost blazing speed: interference, the Mach-Zehnder interferometer, Schrödinger’s cat, the Copenhagen interpretation against the multiverse interpretation, delayed choice experiments, interference with very large molecules shot through double slits, the orientation of our robin on the earth’s magnetic field in its annual migration, the 100% efficiency of chlorophyll. Highly recommended.

Mass and energy, time and and space, the misconceptions

Quanta Magazine, a web service which often brings interesting articles, published shortly an interesting article where relativity, quantum physics and black holes played an important role. However, in reading it I did hit upon a very common misconception, about which I like to comment here.

Quote from: Einstein, Symmetry and the Future of Physics | Quanta Magazine

Solar energy arrives on Earth and becomes mass in the form of green leaves, creating food we can eat and use as fuel for thought.
Symmetry, the simplifying idea behind the great discoveries of physics ..

The misconception is that mass and energy are different things and that energy is somehow mysteriously converted into mass and vice versa. However, that’s not the message of E=mc2. Energy and mass are, in the opinion of almost all physicists, more like the two sides of the same coin. They are identical. This can be understood by considering what happens when an object is accelerated up to the speed of light.

According to the special relativity, all the energy that you spend into that acceleration is converted into inertial mass. It will cost you more and more energy to keep accelerating it. That is why we can never reach the speed of light itself in this way, the inertial mass would become infinite. This effect has been convincingly demonstrated when accelerating protons in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. The faster they go, the more mass they get and the stronger the magnetic fields must be to keep them neatly in their circulair loop.

In general relativity, the central basic assumption is that inertial mass and heavy mass are identical or that the acceleration force due to gravity is identical to the acceleration force that you encounter in, for example, a merry-go-round. The implication therefore is that inertial mass, heavy mass and energy are really all the same fundamental thing. This means for instance that a charged battery must also be slightly heavier than when discharged. However, the energy released by nuclear fusion is often explained in popular terms as follows:

The mass of the two fused atomic nuclei is smaller than that of the original fused nuclei together. That mass deficit has become energy and that mass is gone.

Thus it seems as if mass alone is not conserved, mass plus energy should be the conserved property. However, Wikipedia says otherwise: “Mass and energy can be seen as two names (and two measurement units) for the same underlying, conserved physical quantity.[18] Thus, the laws of conservation of energy and conservation of (total) mass are equivalent and both hold true”.

Ponder this. The fused atomic nucleus has received an enormous amount of kinetic energy during the fusion, and that is speed. That kinetic energy is exactly having the same mass as the ‘disappeared’ mass. So, that mass has not disappeared at all. Due to the speed with which the fused core now moves, which means kinetic energy, it also has more mass. That is the message of special relativity. If you could have this fusion taking place in a thermally completely sealed box balanced on a pair of scales, you would find zero difference in weight – and therefore in mass.

Another but related topic. That every observer always observes the same speed of light is a physical observation but goes against our so-called common sense which tells us how adding up speeds normally works. Elsewhere on this website I say something about that in ‘What is light‘.