Thursday, June 08, 2017

What is reality? Nicely done popularization turns into a full-blown crackpottery

Peter F. sent me this 3-months-old 30-minute-long video "What is reality" on the Quantum Gravity Research YouTube channel. It has over 200,000 views.



Marion Kerr, who is not only a cute actress but she is clearly also a brain-alive one (at least outside physics), makes the show fun to watch. And for many minutes, I was happy to see that it was a nice introduction to something – namely crystals and quasicrystals (see also Penrose tiles).




The viewers were explained something that makes sense: crystals may denote "pretty things" in the everyday life. But in physics, they're something more well-defined and therefore mundane: objects with a spatially periodic structure. One may also get quasicrystals. An easy way is to pick a subset of a higher-dimensional periodic structure. Some California friends of Marion's are doing something with quasicrystals resulting from 8D lattices, it seems. It sounds very exotic but the number "8" is just another number here: very analogous constructions of this sort exist in various parent dimensions.




OK, so of course, once you deconstruct such a topic, you may really understand it and it starts to look like a dull thing. While quasicrystals are cool, they don't seem like the answer to extremely deep questions such as "What is reality?" – and this question appears in the title of the video. I wondered how do they get to the fundamental questions.

Around 3:00, I got an answer. Dramatically! Within a minute, the tetrahedrons in quasicrystals were combined with the "Planck length" and it was said that "consciousness" solves all these things as well. That was quite a sequence of breakthroughs in the video. From a nearly rigorous explanation of crystals and quasicrystals, they got to the Planck length and consciousness.

Now, the Planck length could have something directly to do with the quasicrystals: you could consider compactifications on quasicrystals. But it seems unlikely at this point that these compactifications are relevant for the Universe around us. The "Planck" part of this story is surely much more speculative than the relatively modest "quasicrystal" part itself.

And consciousness? One may discuss it but it's silly if this deep or would-be concept jumps out of a discussion that was clearly dedicated to a technical topic not dependent on spiritual or conceptual things – like quasicrystals.

A minute later, the weird claims began to pile. We were told that both relativity and quantum mechanics build on the speed of light – I am sorry but quantum mechanics in the proper sense has nothing whatever to do with the speed of light. We were also told that no one knows the exact value of the speed of light. Sorry to sound arrogant but I do know the exact value. It is 299 792 458.00000... meters per second. It's been equal to this number since the early 1980s because one meter was redefined so that the speed of light in the vacuum is equal to this precise value.

Finally, around 5:40, we are shown the "experts" who are behind all these things – an anonymous group in Los Angeles that claims to combine all these things that have nothing to do with each other. No name is mentioned – the creators of the video probably assume that an anonymous group of average people is good enough to write down a "theory of everything".

Fine, around 6:00, Marion Kerr starts to dangerously play with a ball of string. At that moment, I was afraid of her life – she could have easily hanged herself – because her knitting of that string around her neck looked weird and her comments about the supposed failures of string theory were literally idiotic. OK, so at this moment, it becomes clear that the anonymous group in Los Angeles is a group of full-blown crackpots, too.

The alleged "failure" of string theory as well as "the union of quantum mechanics and general relativity" is that they don't explain the fundamental constants. I am sorry but they explain it perfectly. In natural units, \(c=\hbar=1=\dots\), and it's true in all these theories – and in all frameworks that mature theoretical physicists work within. In other units, the numerical values may be different but all these numerical values are pure social conventions and it's obvious that no theory in natural science can "explain" these values: social conventions aren't unique. They're not restricted at all.

Now, Marion picks an expensive camera, goes to take pictures of a landscape, and proposes 7 hints to build a theory of everything. As far as I can say, these are just 7 random buzzwords that a marijuana user could spit on you when she is high. Information, causality loops, non-determinism, consciousness, pixelation, \(E_8\) crystal, and the golden ratio. I exploded in laughter about 4 times just during the time when she was enumerating these 7 buzzwords.

Information and consciousness are tightly related – the latter is a more controversial "spiritual" process unmasking the former. And quantum mechanics is non-deterministic. To say the least, it doesn't obey the classical determinism. These three concepts are very general. The remaining four are much more special, they have very little to do with each other, and they have almost certainly nothing to do with a "theory of everything" because they're just too elementary. All of the things are pieces of mostly recreational mathematics that a talented kids plays with when he is 12 or so. But if he continues to study fundamental theories, he just doesn't get stuck there, so the age of 12 or so represents a peak of his interest.

The screen is pixelated and so could be the spacetime. Except that the spacetime almost certainly cannot be pixelated or otherwise discrete in any way that would be analogous to the pixelation of your screen. Nature isn't man-made and uses much more clever, natural, and therefore less artificial ways to deal with the fundamental objects than the engineers who produce displays. The \(E_8\) crystal is a fundamental concept in geometry, group theory, theory of lattices etc. but it's just one structure. And the golden ratio is one number. It's particularly important if you study quasicrystals based on 5D lattices, like the original Penrose tiles, but this is really just "one mathematical picture" that isn't more fundamental than others and it's just plain stupid to think that any of these trivial concepts in mathematics gives you as much as 1/7 of a theory of everything in physics.

OK, she goes through these 7 clues. The reality is made of information. Some random symbols are being shown. Hmm. John Wheeler would become popular for the phrase that "all of physics is made of information" but as long as you interpret this statement to be correct, it's completely trivial – tautological – and wouldn't be surprising to any physicist, at least not to Ludwig Boltzmann or any newer physicist who has dealt with "lots of information" within physics. I don't really think that by his comments about the information, John Wheeler has found any beef that wasn't known to Boltzmann, if I continue with this example, and the celebration of "It From Bit" etc. looks like an early symptom of pop science that has run amok. To make things worse, the silly symbols she uses to clarify her point (what is the point?) are just stupid. A cube may represent a heart or love or itself.

So I was watching this Marion Kerr and at the beginning, her physics-optimized IQ looked like 125 or so. By the point 8:00 or so in the video, my estimate went down to 90 or so. But I still enjoy her self-confidence. Those who disagree with the thesis that "reality is made of information" have "no explanation what reality is", or some verbal masturbation along these lines. What exactly do you want them to explain, aside from a mouthful tongue-twister?

OK, I was sure to "upvote" the video up to 3:00 but around 8:50, I finally pressed "thumb down". A dialogue between two stupid men on a cartoon – one of them says that everything is information, just like in Feynman's story about the textbooks that said that everything was energy or wakalixes, and this animated moron was probably meant to be the genius according to the creators of this video. This is irreversible. It looks very unlikely to me that the remaining 21 minutes could change my mind from "thumb down" to "thumb up" again. :-)

Pictures of skyscrapers and other buildings are being taken. "Reality is geometric," we learn. Well, yes. A six-year-old kid probably knows that. But all the detailed nuances about this statement as proposed by this movie are wrong. Geometry has been turned into a branch of mathematics. As we understood the concept today, it doesn't have any vital links to the physical reality. The laws of physics use concepts and ideas that are "borrowed" from geometry, a branch of mathematics, but they may also be expressed by "pure algebra and calculus", if you wish. Geometry is really a "way of looking at some structures and ideas", it is not an intrinsic essential part of the objects themselves.

At 9:20, we hear another fast sequence of ideas. "Information means meaning and meaning means comparison". These sound like random grammatically correct sentences constructed out of basic words that have some vague connection to the information. Are these sentences right or wrong? One can't even say. The only thing one can be sure about is that they are useless for a real thinker. Does information mean meaning? I don't think so. You can be exposed to lots of information – some random or encrypted gigabytes of information – which don't have any meaning for you, anyway. So the sentence is wrong. And does meaning mean comparison? Well, the information itself is only nonzero if one can compare and distinguish possible options. But the meaning doesn't mean comparison. Even statements that don't have any viable alternative may have a meaning.

The very fact that one gets stuck in the cesspool of these basic games with logic – or would-be logic – is damning for any hope that someone who this lady has ever met could say anything relevant for a theory of everything. The question whether "a theory of everything has gotten closer" seems much less relevant than the question whether "kids talking in this way should be placed in a special school for the retarded schookids".

She boasts that she can distinguish a building from a window and that's what she calls the meaning. It's great if she is able to distinguish a window from a building – her IQ just avoided the drop from 90 to 40 – but everything else she is trying to add on top of this trivial point is just a vacuous stupidity. Imagine that the viewer know the meaning of the words "window", "skyscraper", and "distinguish". What else are they learning here? Why would you spend minutes by talking about it? Does someone really need to be explained what the verb "distinguish" means? Does someone believe that once you understand the word "distinguish" or a "building", you are close to a theory of everything?

Minutes of the film combine a dramatic music, the word "dramatic music", and words such as "all", "time", "exist", "sense", "mathematics" in random ways. And she breaks a clock with a hammer. What does any of these things have to do with any other? "Einstein", "block", a "frozen cube", "one moment", "reality", "position", "24 frames per second". As far as I can say, the coherence length in this talk is much shorter than one sentence. This cute lady just doesn't have the slightest clue what she's talking about. She's just totally distracted by every word or at most a sequence of 2 words that she hears – and she jumps from one word or double word to another randomly as she is destroying clocks by hammers and hanging herself by a ball of string. "24 frames per second", "frozen reality", "Planck length". Holy cow. Most of the 200,000 viewers haven't been able to notice that hers was a completely incoherent babbling. There is no relationship between the Planck length and the Planck time on one side and "frames per second" on the other side.

At 12:00, she says that the past influences the future. But she likes to think it should also be the other way around. OK, her IQ dropped to 85 and I won't be able to finish this video. The following minutes are surely all about the "causality loops". A causality loop – a closed time-like curve – is a logical inconsistency. Everyone who has any talent to understand physics must have known why it is so since the age of 10 or earlier. I am flabbergasted by the laymen who can't get these simple points. I am amazed that they have been fooled into thinking that they're close to the understanding of cutting-edge physics.

I won't proofread the text above because I want to forget about this insanity as quickly as possible.

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