June 15, 2015

Professor Paul Steinhardt
Physics Department
Princeton University

Dear Professor:

Thank you, thank you, thank you.  I much appreciated your guest editorial (Paul Steinhardt Big Bang Blunder Bursts the Multiverse Bubble NATURE vol. 510 no. 7503 June 5, 2014 page 9) My mission in life appears to be to irritate people.  In pointing out that with regards to the inflationary model of the universe the king is indeed shirtless – no way to test the model – you warm my heart.

I irritated my (wonderful) sixth grade teacher by looking at the globe and saying, “Africa and South America used to be together.”  She replied carefully that those who studied such things thought otherwise.  Plate tectonics came along many years later.  I annoyed any number of people by saying that returning war veterans were dying as fast as they had in combat.  It only took two years before a study vindicated me.  I am currently exasperating people by saying “You can’t have diversity and fertility for more than a very few generations.”

A million women in this country will cry themselves to sleep tonight because they can’t have babies.  I have more than twenty independent lines of evidence in support.  Get the word out?  I don’t even get the courtesy of a return letter from scores of experts in relevant fields.

So you can imagine how much hope I have to get a response from you.  This is only physics.  Nobody is going to cry themselves to sleep tonight because of any failure to study physics (unless that includes epigenetics). 

But since you have done me a favor I shall build something you can treat as a straw man the next time you want to twist somebody’s nose.

The universe certainly looks like it’s expanding.  That means it was once very small, say the size of our galaxy.  That would have been a black hole.  Nothing comes out of a black hole.  So it can’t be expanding.  The measurements are pretty good, so the only alternative is that it is collapsing.  Time is really moving opposite to what we think.  For practical purposes that is an untestable and scientifically meaningless statement over vast distances and in exquisite detail.  But attend.

Lend me nothing and a single neutron.  I release the neutron, whereupon it proceeds in a very big pattern following the curvature of what is becoming space, moving back and forth in time, while spending enough time in some places to warp the space into the mass accumulations that determine its course.  Of course it decays into proton and electron and obeys the laws of nature because they are built into any neutron.  Eventually after a long – but not infinite – time it comes back to the exact place where I released it.  I give it back to you.  Sorry, about the nothing, though.  It’s a total mess.

So watch the mess.  Eventually a biggish hunk, say a volume several billion light years across, accumulates enough matter to find itself inside its Schwarzschild and begins the multi-billion year process of collapsing into a singularity.  At the last instant the laws of nature but pushed past their inherent limits and approaches the singularity like a horse running to the barn.  That’s called noitalfni, and it’s not very interesting.

Notice that this esrevinu has some properties we can understand.  It’s imploding.  Matter and energy are dispersing.  And there is more information in the universe than is needed to specify its condition as it gets smaller.  This is a totally predestined system.

Yeah, there’s a bit of a problem.  The thermodynamic equivalent of information depends on the temperature of what you know about.  So as the universe expands and cools, the total information does not change, or so they swear by their honor.  They swear falsely, but are not foresworn for in soothe they have no honor.  Earlier this year some folk achieved negative energy by manipulating some very cold atoms into a state where they all had the same energy and none of them had less energy, thus reversing the usual thermal agitation pattern whereby many particles move slowly and a few move fast: hence negative temperature.  And – this – the whole lab didn’t find itself suddenly in a random location in the universe.  In fact not even the sample they were playing with vanished, not one atom.  And yet at some point, since these atoms were moved and did not arrive at their perches by quantum teleportation, the sample must have been at absolute zero.  Hence there is a form of information that is real independent of temperature.  Hence Monday does not predict Tuesday, but yadseuT does tciderp yadnoM.  (All right, I’ll stop spelling like that.  You see how annoying I am.)

I remember being allowed as a child to play with a cloud chamber.  A particle would ionize some molecules leaving a track of ions.  When you dropped the pressure in the chamber moisture condensed along the track so you could see it.  It was clear to me that there was no clue what direction the particle would take before the event.  But it was obvious when one reasoned backwards.  Causality was going the other direction.  No, I didn’t say that at the time.  My parents dragged me away.  (They were wonderful, too.  It would have taken me thirty years to figure it out.) 

So we enter our universe and things look pretty familiar.  In the direction of the singularity events are determined.  In the other direction events are only predictable within limits.  So let’s see if we can test the universe and tell what direction things are going in.

There is only one good test.  Start piling up bricks.  But the time the mass of the pile is ten times that of the sun, you should have a black hole.  Toss in one more brick and you have absolutely and unequivocally disproved the notion that time runs backward.  Nothing comes out of a black hole, so nothing falls in if time is going the other direction.

And indeed black holes seem pretty noisy.  The overwhelming bulk of what should fall into one in fact is seen coming out.  Many years ago Kip Thorne gave a lecture at a symposium at Southwestern University arranged by my brother.  I asked the good doctor whether it might be feasible to make such an observation.  He said that there would be an accretion disc around a black hole and if there were a disturbance in the disc one might observe that being drawn in.  Recently such a disturbance was observed.  It was moving outward.  I wrote Thorne, reminded him of his prediction and asked what he thought.  Of course I did not receive a reply, but I did notice a sort of coldness to the cosmos for a few days, presumably until he dismissed it forever from his mind.
At one time I suspected that the neutrino deficit from the sun meant that a time reversed black hole was in part powering that astronomical object.  The deficit has now been explained to everybody’s satisfaction except my own. 

Then there’s plate tectonics again.  Maybe there’s a hole at the center of the earth slowly expanding and driving continents apart.  There are supposed to be rifts such as the mid Atlantic ridge, and subduction zones, like in the Pacific.  Nobody seems to make much of the fact that these two zones are about the same shape, nor the fact that the deep seduction zones seem to be trenches rather than cliffs. 

But such notions aren’t really disproof.  They’d only be oddities if they were real.  But here might be a test. 

As you go down a gravity well, time slows.  As you look across the universe, you are looking at what we call the past, when the universe was smaller so one was deeper in the gravity well.  So things back then look slower, so it looks like we are going faster.

And that one makes a prediction –  just how much slowing do we see when –  that could be tested.  A failure of the accelerating universe to match that predicted by a time reverse universe would be good evidence that all is well.

As I said, I’m not going to cry myself to sleep over this one.  (Although I do vomit a lot when I think about the fertility issue.  Well not vomit any longer, but I used to.)  And I have no expectation of a reply. 

But you might find it fun to taunt somebody with it one day.


M. Linton Herbert MD

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