Various and Sundry

  • Now that the plan for running the LHC over the next few years is in place, one can start to get an idea of what new physics might emerge from it between now and 2013. For the question of the Higgs, Tommaso Dorigo does some analysis here, going back to 1999 Tevatron projections to see how reliable they were. He concludes that the 1999 projections were accurate for the mass range above 135 Gev. Below that, they depended on assuming a silicon detector upgrade that never was funded. His bottom line is that he sees the Tevatron as ultimately able to rule out the Higgs at 95% confidence level over the entire relevant mass range, but unable to come up with convincing evidence of its existence if it is in the lower part of this mass range. For this, the LHC will be required, but this will have to be after the move to higher energy in 2013:

    The LHC experiments will be unable, in my opinion, to make up in two years of data taking, and with the 3.5 times larger energy, for the 8-year advantage in running time of the Tevatron. The Higgs boson will be unlikely to be discovered before 2013, and it will probably be a sole LHC business; however, until then the Tevatron will retain the better results as far as the mass exclusion range is concerned.

  • Operating on a different reality plane is Michio Kaku:

    “We’re beginning to test string theory with the large Hadron collider outside Geneva, Switzerland, costing ten billion euros, the most expensive machine that science ever created. That’s what I do for a living,” said Kaku in a recent conference call interview from New York.

    This is from a story mainly about Kaku’s new TV show on the Discovery Channel, accurately entitled Fact or Fiction? Physicist Dr. Michio Kaku blurs the line between science and science fiction.

  • NPR has recently started up a project called 13:7 Cosmos and Culture. It’s a blog “set at the intersection of science and culture.” Unfortunately, NPR’s conception of the intersection of physics and culture is occupied by Stuart Kauffman, who has a series of posts arguing that the physical universe cannot be described by physical laws (see here and here). In the most recent one, Kauffman takes up the complicated subject of decoherence and the emergence of classical behavior in quantum systems, and claims to have (inspired by Karl Popper) an argument based on special relativity showing that decoherence cannot be described by any fundamental law of physics. This is supposedly experimentally testable:

    As it happens these ideas may have testable consequences, for they should be more marked as the relative velocities of the event A and one or two receding detectors increase toward the speed of light. And, since quantum decoherence is easier if the quantum processes in the “environment” are locally abundant, they should be more visible in that case. These are testable consequences of Popper’s original idea and my use of it with credit.

    I hope the experiments are done.

    For more about all this, Kauffman refers to his article here from the Edge web-site, where he argues that that the brain is “quantum coherent”, and:

    Reversibility of the coherent to decoherent-classical to recoherent quantum states are essential to my hypothesis for I wish the brain to be undergoing such reversible transformations all the time.

    He gets around problems with time-scales by noting that:

    The time scale of neural activities is a million times slower, in the millisecond range. But it takes light on the order of a millisecond to cross the brain, so if there were a dispersed quantum decohering-recohering mind-brain, reaching the millisecond range is probably within grasp of a quantum theory of the mind-brain system.

    I suppose it is true that it might take light a millisecond to cross one’s brain, if one’s brain were about 200 miles across…

  • Normally I don’t think I can ethically post gossip about mathematician’s love lives here, but once it has already appeared in the media
  • Some ex-colleagues from here at Columbia are among those launching the Journal of Unpublishable Mathematics. From what I hear, they haven’t yet published anything, but have had nominations.
  • Last week the algebraic geometer Eckart Viehweg passed away at the age of 61. His wife Helene Esnault is also an algebraic geometer, and recently posted an article on the arXiv based on joint work, with a heart-breaking abstract.
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    14 Responses to Various and Sundry

    1. Peter Shor says:

      Kauffman’s right (in some sense). Decoherence cannot be described by any fundamental law of physics, as it is an emergent phenomenon (presumably fully explained by the fundamental laws of physics, although I don’t believe we completely understand it yet).

    2. Peter Woit says:

      Peter Shor,

      That’s not the argument Kauffman is making. He’s not saying that decoherence can’t be “described” by fundamental laws, he’s saying that it can’t be entailed by fundamental laws (it doesn’t “emerge” from anything):

      “Since Newton we scientists, particularly physicists, have believed that all that unfolds in the universe is entailed by the fundamental laws of physics. I believe this view is false and its implications deeply alter our world view, heal the breech between science and the humanities, much of it discussed in my book “Reinventing the Sacred”.”

      His argument is that relativistic causality implies this, and that this argument has experimental implications which can be tested. I don’t see enough detail to figure out what these supposed experimental implications are.

    3. anon. says:

      I suppose it is true that it might take light a millisecond to cross one’s brain, if one’s brain were about 200 miles across…

      Well, light does take longer to cross a medium with a high index of refraction. I have little trouble believing that Kauffman’s “mind-brain” is so incredibly dense that the speed of light within it is reduced by a factor of a million.

    4. Chris Oakley says:

      Kauffman could be referring to Marvin, the paranoid android, who, apparently, has a “brain the size of a planet”.

    5. Maybe he means that light traveling the same twisted path as regular neural activity would take a millisecond, so that this “dispersed quantum decohering-recohering mind-brain” could accomplish something in a millisecond which is not possible with a real brain and its pokey neural activities.

    6. Abhijnan Rej says:


      Eckhart’s death is really sad… I knew Helene and Eckhart for some time now, and both of them had the German algebraic-geometric community in place, with their common sense, sharp remarks (I remember seeing Helene stop Pierre Cartier short!) and just good will for people starting out!

      BTW, their work on surface singularities is completely nontrivial!


    7. Bee says:

      I skipped over most of what Kauffman wrote, but in a nutshell he seems to be saying (correct me when I’m wrong), if decoherence happens on a hypersurface of simultaneity then this surface is observer dependent, meaning if you boost high enough in some frame it will not be simultaneous. That’s hardly a new observation is it? Besides that the detector does provide a reference frame and thus I cannot see any fundamental problem with SR, I frankly don’t quite get why this means it cannot be described by “physical law.” Unfortunately, Kauffman’s essay isn’t really insightful, and it’s quite unclear what he wants to observe and conclude. It might be it’s just in principle unobservable, or eventually an empty statement. I mean, consider the usual EPR type setting, with an entangled pair of spins. You measure one in a detector, what happens to the spin of the other particle? Or, more importantly here, when does it happen? Problem is, it’s entirely irrelevant what happens to the other particle if you don’t measure it. Well, I guess what I’m saying is I don’t know what he’s saying.

    8. Ulla says:

      Kauffman talks of ‘order for free’ or self-organization in biology. self-organization is done by an entropy minimizing process, seen as instanse in the formation of virus shells and protein-folding.

      The automized process demands an earlier input of entropy, as an information or a codex, though, so this is only seen as a delayed response in my eyes. The order is there implicitly, and the folding makes it explicit.

      Physical forces outside fundamental forces would peak in the direction – a Universe created by God, or the creationist wiev. This seems not be the case.

      So the question is of the emergence of the Universe or not, the emergence of information. The same as Verlinde spoke of and Lubos discuss in

      And that is not outside the fundamental laws at all.

      Interesting though that he speaks of new biology 🙂

    9. Peter Shor says:

      Hi Peter,

      I know that’s not the argument Kauffman is making. I just found it ironic that he could be right (in one sense) and totally wrong at the same time.

    10. Peter Shor says:

      I should have remembered that irony (like entanglement) cannot be transmitted over the Internet.

    11. Bill K says:

      “Some ex-colleagues from here at Columbia are among those launching the Journal of Unpublishable Mathematics. From what I hear, they haven’t yet published anything, but have had nominations.”

      Of course not, Peter. The actual publication of a paper which cannot be published would create a logical paradox.

    12. mathphys says:

      Testing string theory at the LHC oustide Geneva, the most expensive machine that science ever created, is an honorable way to make a living. I’m touched by Prof Kaku’s modesty.

    13. Coin says:

      The Emperor’s New Mind strikes again 🙁

    14. John Baez says:

      Peter wrote:

      I suppose it is true that it might take light a millisecond to cross one’s brain, if one’s brain were about 200 miles across…

      Are you accusing Stuart Kauffman of having a big head?

      Some ex-colleagues from here at Columbia are among those launching the Journal of Unpublishable Mathematics. From what I hear, they haven’t yet published anything…

      Just as you’d expect, given the title. Perhaps our library can afford this one.

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