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Multilayered multicolored cosmic superconductor (Wilczek's Grid as ground of being)

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Sep8-08, 12:18 PM
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Frank Wilczek has presented a way of looking at the world which is curiously consonant with Lattice Quantum Gravity approaches a la Renate Loll, John Barrett, Lee Smolin, Carlo Rovelli and others. The world as lattice---what Wilczek calls the Grid.

It is oddly reminiscent of spin networks and their evolution as spinfoam in LQG. Wilczek's vision is background independent in the sense that it does not start with any static concept of space as a stage set for other entities to move around in. Dynamics is not the motion of entities in a static space, but is the dynamics of space itself. The stage becomes the principle actor in the play. This idea is at the heart of contemporary non-string quantum gravity. It is also what Wilczek has developed, coming from a different direction.

Wilczek carries this idea a long ways. His ideas will, I think, resonate and inspire people interested in quantum gravity. So what is Wilczek's overall vision?

Mental images and analogies are mostly wrong and just confuse people, but from time to time a great physicist will teach us a new way to look at the ground of being---a profound new vision of space and matter. Frank Wilczek proposes looking at empty space as the Grid, with particles merely being disturbances in the Grid.

What we might think of as properties of separate particles are more coherently seen as properties of the Grid. In particular, particle masses are explained by a process analogous to superconductivity. Particles are given mass by how the Grid responds to them.

But look, the 1915 Einstein equation of GR was the first equation that linked matter (on the righthand side) with the geometric response of the Grid (on the lefthand side). We always knew this in a sense. Mass (both gravitational and inertial) is how it interacts with geometry---both how it shapes geometry and, in turn, is guided, told by inertia how to move. Didn't we always suspect what Wilczek is now telling us, in greater revelatory detail?

You could say that Wilczek is pushing a new paradigm (that should set the buzzword buzzers off!). But I think it is much simpler than that----he is, in pragmatic spirit, drawing a practical conclusion from the success of lattice calculations and the standard model. It works, so let's think of the vacuum as a lattice and imagine matter fields as disturbances therein.

Out of this, Wilczek gets a kind of new background independent* ontology, and a take on where presentday fundamental physics is in the history of physics. He has written it up in various places. One can google with terms like Wilczek and Grid. (Maybe "multicolored superconductor" would also work )

*what I mean by this is what quantum gravitists frequently mean, no reference to any fixed background metric geometry. More generally, space itself is dynamic, not a set stage but the major actor in the play. Call it "the Ether" if you like and worry about how Lorentz invariance is preserved later.

I'll get some links later. Have to go out.
If anyone has comment on Wilczek's vision of fundamental physics, or links to his writings, please contribute. Would love to hear comment on F.W. ideas.
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Sep8-08, 04:26 PM
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Back now (had to be out for a few hours).
the first Wilczek link we should explore is his 2005 Nobel speech, published in the Proceedings of the NAS
Everything I'm talking about is in essence here or foreshadowed. And there is a lot more. Rereading it I see there is a lot more here than I saw back 3 years ago. It's a good speech because since he is speaking to peers he lays his thoughts out concisely and completely, without as much analogy and paraphrase as one gets in popular writing.

Here is a sample portion of that speech. One section of the speech is called "A Foursome of Paradigms", and this is part about Paradigm #2:

Paradigm 2: Mass Comes from Energy. My friend and mentor Sam Treiman liked to relate his experience of how, during World War II, the U.S. Army responded to the challenge of training a large number of radio engineers starting with very different levels of preparation, ranging down to near zero. They designed a crash course for it, which Sam took. In the training manual, the first chapter was devoted to Ohm's three laws. Ohm's first law is V = IR. Ohm's second law is I = V/R. I'll leave it to you to reconstruct Ohm's third law.

Similarly, as a companion to Einstein's famous equation E = mc^2, we have his second law, m = E/c^2. Here, of course, E denotes the energy of a body at rest, and m its mass.

All this isn't quite as silly as it may seem, because different forms of the same equation can suggest very different things. The usual way of writing the equation, E = mc^2, suggests the possibility of obtaining large amounts of energy by converting small amounts of mass. It brings to mind the possibilities of nuclear reactors, or bombs. Stated as m = E/c^2, Einstein's law suggests the possibility of explaining mass in terms of energy. That is a good thing to do, because in modern physics energy is a more basic concept than mass. Actually, Einstein's original paper does not contain the equation E = mc^2, but rather m = E/c^2. In fact, the title is a question: “Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon its Energy Content?” From the beginning, Einstein was thinking about the origin of mass, not about making bombs.

Modern QCD answers Einstein's question with a resounding “Yes!” Indeed, the mass of ordinary matter derives almost entirely from energy—the energy of massless gluons and nearly massless quarks, which are the ingredients from which protons, neutrons, and atomic nuclei are made.

The runaway build-up of antiscreening clouds, which I described before, cannot continue indefinitely. The resulting color fields would carry infinite energy, which is not available. The color charge that threatens to induce this runaway must be cancelled. The color charge of a quark can be cancelled either with an antiquark of the opposite color (making a meson), or with two quarks of the complementary colors (making a baryon). In either case, perfect cancellation would occur only if the particles doing the canceling were located right on top of the original quark—then there would be no uncancelled source of color charge anywhere in space, and hence no color field. Quantum mechanics does not permit this perfect cancellation, however. The quarks and antiquarks are described by wave functions, and spatial gradients in these wave function cost energy, and so there is a high price to pay for localizing the wave function within a small region of space. Thus, in seeking to minimize the energy, there are two conflicting considerations: to minimize the field energy, you want to cancel the sources accurately; but to minimize the wave-function localization energy, you want to keep the sources fuzzy. The stable configurations will be based on different ways of compromising between these two considerations. In each such configuration, there will be both field energy and localization energy. This gives rise to mass, according to m = E/c^2, even if the gluons and quarks started out without any nonzero mass of their own. So the different stable compromises will be associated with particles that we can observe, with different masses; and metastable compromises will be associated with observable particles that have finite lifetimes.

To determine the stable compromises concretely, and so to predict the masses of mesons and baryons, is hard work. It requires difficult calculations that continue to push the frontiers of massively parallel processing. I find it quite ironic that, if we want to compute the mass of a proton, we need to deploy something like 10^30 protons and neutrons, doing trillions of multiplications per second, working for months, to do what one proton does in 10-24 seconds, namely figure out its mass. Maybe it qualifies as a paradox. At the least, it suggests that there may be much more efficient ways to calculate than the ones we're using.

In any case, the results that emerge from these calculations are very gratifying. They are displayed in Fig. 4. The observed masses of prominent mesons and baryons are reproduced quite well, stating from an extremely tight and rigid theory. Now is the time to notice also that one of the data points in Fig. 3, the one labeled “Lattice,” is of a quite different character from the others. It is based not on the perturbative physics of hard radiation, but rather on the comparison of a direct integration of the full equations of QCD with experiment, using the techniques of lattice gauge theory.
[Fig. 4]
The success of these calculations represents the ultimate triumph over our two paradoxes:
1.The calculated spectrum does not contain anything with the charges or other quantum numbers of quarks; nor of course does it contain massless gluons. The observed particles do not map in a straightforward way to the primary fields from which they ultimately arise.
2.Lattice discretization of the quantum field theory provides a cutoff procedure that is independent of any expansion in the number of virtual particle loops. The renormalization procedure must be, and is, carried out without reference to perturbation theory, as one takes the lattice spacing to zero. Asymptotic freedom is crucial for this, as I discussed—it saves us from Landau's catastrophe.

By fitting some fine details of the pattern of masses, one can get an estimate of what the quark masses are and how much their masses are contributing to the mass of the proton and neutron. It turns out that what I call QCD Lite— the version in which you put the u and d quark masses to zero, and ignore the other quarks entirely—provides a remarkably good approximation to reality. Since QCD Lite is a theory whose basic building blocks have zero mass, this result quantifies and makes precise the idea that most of the mass of ordinary matter—90% or more—arises from pure energy, via m = E/c^2.

The calculations make beautiful images, if we work to put them in eye-friendly form...some striking animations of QCD fields as they fluctuate in empty space...
[Fig. 5.]
A snapshot of spontaneous quantum fluctuations in the gluon fields. ... (Image courtesy of Derek B. Leinweber, CSSM, University of Adelaide...
[Fig. 6.]
The calculated net distribution of field energy caused by injecting and removing a quark–antiquark pair. By calculating the energy in these fields and the energy in analogous fields produced by other disturbances, we predict the masses of hadrons. In a profound sense, these fields are the hadrons. (Figure courtesy of G. Kilcup.)

These pictures make it clear and tangible that the quantum vacuum is a dynamic medium, whose properties and responses largely determine the behavior of matter. In quantum mechanics, energies are associated with frequencies, according to the Planck relation E = hν. The masses of hadrons, then, are uniquely associated to tones emitted by the dynamic medium of space when it disturbed in various ways, according to Formula We thereby discover, in the reality of masses, an algorithmic, precise Music of the Void. It is a modern embodiment of the ancients' elusive, mystical “Music of the Spheres.”
Sep8-08, 04:47 PM
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Sep8-08, 05:26 PM
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Multilayered multicolored cosmic superconductor (Wilczek's Grid as ground of being)

thanks granpa!
that's an excellent article, which fits right in here, and also it elaborates on two or three of my favorite Physics Today articles by Wilczek. Now we don't need separate links to those Physics Today pieces (Scaling Mt. Planck...)
for convenience, I will show the abstract:
Four Big Questions with Pretty Good Answers
Frank Wilczek
19 pages, talk given at a Symposium in Honor of Heisenberg's 100th birthday, December 6, 2001, Munich; to be published in the Festschrift
(Submitted on 23 Jan 2002)

"I discuss four big questions that can be importantly addressed using concepts from modern QCD. They concern the origin of mass, the feebleness of gravity, the uniqueness of physical laws, and the fate of matter when it is squeezed very hard."
Sep9-08, 04:50 AM
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Sorry to come up with this possibly annoying question but, perhaps others wonder the same thing but knows better than asking it.

How is this "grid" to be though of attached to the identity of an observer - which would suggest that the grid is possibly not unique and that it rather exists a class of grids, who is interacting (ie interaction observers/matter systems), and that the grids are only compared by means of communication/interaction? (a little bit like rovelli argues about emergence of objectivity from communication in his relational QM) or is the grid supposed to be some invariant of the class of observers, or fixed background reference? But in case of the latter, then we seem to get the problem of time still, if we are to describe disturbances in this grid, this description must relate to an inside observer, right?

Or could it mean - which I would personally find intriguing and worth expanding on - that these nature of what marucs called "disturbances" in the grid could infact be seen as a sort of "inconsistency" in the grid, due to the problem above, of how to attache the grid to different systems - ie. two different systems (particles) have an "idea" of this grid, and their interaction is a result of seeing the other party as inconsistent with their own state, and this drives the interaction and time evolution. The idea could be that the inconsistencies are only relative in nature, and measures from respective grid, each party take actions on this?

Or how would you conceptually think of this grid, and in what way it solves problems?

Sep9-08, 10:55 AM
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Fra, those are such good questions! Thank you for adding them in here, I will keep an eye on them although I cannot reply immediately. Because I am just now beginning to appreciate how Wilczek thinks---or what message he is putting out for the rest of us.
His style is both playful and insightful, and at the same time truthful---he goes all out to crank up the reader's level of imagination while at the same time stay connected with empirical predictive observational honesty. For some answers, the best thing is probably to refer you to his personal website.

Wilczek has a website where he has posted some of his writings, including essays that talk about this Grid=Ether=Dynamic Space=Superconductor-analog thing. One of the best is a 2003 essay you can find here on a page called "core":

Wait. It is better to see the whole website by going top down:
You will see that he actually has posted a sample of his new book--he has Chapter 1 of Lightness of Being on line!
If you go to this you will see he has not only the Table of Contents of the book online, but also Chapter 1 as a sample, and color plate illustrations from the book etc.

But also at the website are many previously published essays which describe his thinking and which he evidently combined and elaborated and expanded and popularized to make the book. Essays like his Nobel acceptance speech, and this 2003 essay called The Origin of Mass

If you go to that page called "core" (again the url is )
you will see a menu of seven PDF files. Seven essays as a sample of a book of 40-some essays that he published several years ago.
==quote from "core" menu of PDF essay files==

When Words Fail
Language builds in assumptions about reality that we must question.
World's Numerical Recipe
How to instruct a computer to cook up the physical world using numbers -- getting Its from Bits.
In Search of Symmetry Lost
The most beautiful equations seem too good for this world -- but maybe not!
QCD Made Simple
"As simple as possible", within the bounds of honesty. (Look ma, no equations!)
Quantum Field Theory
Describing the conceptual roots and the deep consequences of physics' most profound theoretical construction.
Asymptotic Freedom: From Paradox to Paradigm
My Nobel Prize lecture. How asymptotic freedom solved the strong interaction, and opened up important new frontiers.
The Origin of Mass
An earlier, concise discussion of some main themes in Part 1 of The Lightness of Being, with nice graphics.
Here is the PDF for The Origin of Mass
This essay gives an idea of what is in Chapters 1 thru 12 of the book, "Lightness of Being".
(after all Lightness is the same thing as Mass, just measured inversely. Whatever determines lightness is the same as the origin of mass. The title jokes in a multireferential way, echoing other things as well.)

I think "Grid" is a vague idea. It is important sometimes for ideas to be vague. It can be identified as the Einsteinian metric of GR, the gravitational field---which at one point Wilczek calls "the Mother of all Grids". The basic field on which other fields are defined.
He also describes how the Grid works by analogy with a superconductor--giving things their properties by how it responds to them--the essence is in the response.

The Grid can also be identified as the Einsteinian ether. Whatever it is, it is the ground of being----it gives other things their mass---and everything else, all the other properties---but mass is like the mental doorway. If you can see how the dynamic geometry of space might give things mass (a hard stretch of imagination) then by adding other colors and layers you might get a glimpse of how it confers other properties as well.

As a gifted explainer, he begins by concentrating his forces on one problem, the origin of mass. This is the oldest recognized most basic classic Newtonian property of matter. If we can understand how space (grid, ether, etc) gives things mass then maybe we can grasp the rest. So that is how he organizes his campaign to stretch our minds.

The Origin of Mass was published in the 2003 MIT Annual Review of Physics, and also in his collection of essays called Fantastic Realities. Fortunately, it is also immediately available online at his website.
Sep9-08, 11:02 AM
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There's some videos of his talks on his webpage:

He apparently tells Einstein's favourite joke about an hour into "The Universe is a Strange Place".
Sep9-08, 04:58 PM
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That is such a fine video!
I guess it's my favorite physics video. Maybe yours too? Thanks for the link, atyy.
==quote from abstract==
Perhaps the universe is not so much strange as brimming with lovely paradox. The search for such beauty seems to lie at the heart of Frank Wilczek’s work. Twentieth century physics, from Einstein through Wilczek’s own Nobel Prize-winning efforts, involves demonstrating the existence of a topsy-turvy reality: for instance, that such sub-atomic particles as quarks and gluons, which have little or no mass, “orchestrate themselves into not just protons and neutrons but you and me,” according to Wilczek. “How is it possible to construct heavy objects out of objects that weigh nothing?,” he asks. Only by “creating mass out of pure energy.” These particles are essentially “excitations in otherwise empty space.” Says Wilczek: “That suggests something …beautiful and poetic: the masses of particles are not like, or similar to or metaphorically suggested by—they are the tones or frequencies of vibration patterns in dynamical voids.” The theory of quarks and gluons and the strong interaction accounts quantitatively for “the mass of protons, neutrons and ultimately you and me and everything around us.” But physics has not yet squared away all aspects of the universe. Wilzcek says that “in cosmology, we meet our match, and don’t know what’s going on.” This is because scientists can’t account for much of the mass in the cosmos. 70% of this mass is in “dark energy,” which is pushing the universe apart. Wilczek hopes that explanations for the dark stuff will emerge through improving equations, unifying theories of different interactions and extending their symmetries. “Beautifying equations leads not to ugly consequences but beautiful surprises,” he concludes.
Sep10-08, 03:53 AM
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I read Wilczek's "The origin of mass" in the tub last night. It was a good essay.

His answer seems to be that as per the current models, "most mass" except for the quark rest masses which is a minor part, is basically "confined energy" (gluons), which adecomposes the problem into

1. The origin of energy
I think this question is interesting if you try to construct the measures of these, from the point of view of an inside observer. I see this question of epistemological nature so that if not else, it means what is the origin and nature of *energy measures*.

2. The origin of *confinement* of energy
since "confinement" implicitly refers to constraining distribution of energy over degrees of freedom, and thus the question propagates into the origin of these degrees of freedom in the first place. And in this case this structure apparently is spacetime. So again we get back to the entanglement of Einsteins, which entangles these notions with properties of spacetime.

It seems wilczek's argument is to have QCD be the answer to the confined energy of the gluons in the hadrons. But as I understand it at least, the entire framework of QCD rests upon a spacetime concept, so there is still an element of circularity. So his argument so far is nice but incomplete. Like he mentions in the end, this may partially explain in a restriced sense most mass, but it seems to me that hard parts (the hardest?) of origin of mass remains.

Does anyone understand or see if Wilczek has continued this reasoning beyond these points (which I find plausible) to probe for answering the remaining problem, which I personally expect lines in this apparently "circularity".

It seems the things missing in Einsteins reasoning, is the structure of the observer. The only observer classes he considers are those where the observer are generated by diffeomorphisms. One can't help thinking this is a simplificiation, as in "moving the same observer around". But the internal structure of the observer, are can also "move around" right? And how can that not, impact it's observables?

This seems like a simple problem, but seemingly yet unresolved?

I will read more in Wilczek later... my imagination took a spin from marcus firsts posts, where did see a remote chance that a continuation of the grid-fuzz, might be able to address some of the remaining harder questions!? I will try to read more and add more reflections later.

I want to thank Marcus for all his massive work on starting and digging up various papers and possible original lines of thought, in this and many many other threads!! In particular for me who is not having this as a profession I have no chance to keep up with reading everything(I don't even have enough time for my own thinking), so I really value many of the threads where marcus has started it as a presentation of selected particular researchers line of reasoning (relevant to beyond standard model, and fundamental issues), that all might contain different angles on the general problems at hand. Many of these threads has also lead to interesting reflections from the various members on here.

Sep10-08, 11:22 AM
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Quote Quote by Fra View Post
I read Wilczek's "The origin of mass" in the tub last night...
Hah! You and Archimedes. Both thinking about mass while soaking in the tub. What better place?

Thanks for the approval and encouragement. BTW I ordered Wilczek's new book and put the link in my sig.
Sep10-08, 08:35 PM
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I read somewhere in this forum (although I can not locate it right now) that Einstein was working on a concept of mass that takes the mass energy equivalence literally. The basic idea was that all mass is just a disturbance of a background energy field, or that mass is just a way that certain patterns of energy manifest themselves. Particles are not localised in the way we normally think of but are composed of energy that is spread out possibly to infinity and in this concept, what we think of as a particle is just where the enrgy is most concentrated. In effect there is no such thing as mass, just patterns of energy. Particles are much "fuzzier" than we normally think of and are smeered out over vast distances much in the way we think of a gravitational field or the curvature of space, except the particle IS the field or part of the field and particles separated by great distances are in effect superimposed on each other. One anology is to think of the rubber sheet embedding diagram. The normal visulisation is "cannon balls" resting on the rubber sheet indetting and deforming the sheet. The mass is energy visulisation does not have the cannon balls, and the particles are the indentations rather than the cause of the indentations. Sorry this all a bit vague, but I read the article a while ago and can not rememember all the details and can not track down a reference. The point is that the "mass REALLY is just a manifestation of energy" idea of Einstein's sounds a lot like the idea of Wilczek being discussed here. Can anyone here track down Einstein's original idea and compare how it similar to that of Wilczek and how it differs?
Sep10-08, 08:51 PM
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Lorentz thought that all or at least most of the electrons mass could be accounted for by its magnetic field. unfortunately it never quite worked out.
Sep10-08, 10:32 PM
PF Gold
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"Strings, quantum gravity and non-commutative geometry on the lattice
Authors: J. Ambjorn
(Submitted on 9 Jan 2002)

Abstract: I review recent progress in understanding non-perturbative aspects of string theory, quantum gravity and non-commutative geometry using lattice methods."



This is and interesting point of view. Every composite particle and mass emerges "naturaly" from a field, when you view things in this "Grid". That, Wilczek views any field as a kind of "nothingness", which makes it self materialized when considered in a lattice. It is surely something that resambles what Renate Loll does. Hmm.

So, I found this article of Ambjorn, one of the main guys from CDT. He considers string theory and matrix theory (BFSS conjecture) in a lattice and talks about CDT later. It seems that lattices has this universal property of materializing things out of nothingness, like a god. I wonder if there is a general mathematic framework to make this task easier.

I heard that Tsallis entropy deals with some kind of hausdofian entropy, that is, maybe a classe of non extensive entropy (a non integer dimension may imply non extensivity, doesnt it?)... We know that the formultion of feynmann integal is related to thermodynamics, so, maybe, using that kind of entropy, it would be possible to define feynmann integral in a hausdorf space and make calculations on the lattice easier?
Sep11-08, 12:35 AM
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I tried to look at his site specifically for expansions on "the grid". I am starting think that perhaps his new book is the one place which might contain this? Does that seen right, or have I missed something? I didn't see on a quick rush on his site much use of the word grid in his papers. On google it seems to associate to that book mainly.

I found this saying this about the grid:
Quote Quote by Q&A with FRANK WILCZEK
You say that recently the laws of physics have changed, not just in detail but in kind. What do you mean by that?
Prior to the twentieth century, physics tried to explain how Nature works. Over the twentieth century, and especially in the last half, we got much more ambitious - now we’re uncovering what Nature is.

And what is it?
The foundation is an entity I call the Grid. The Grid fills space, and is full of spontaneous activity. In some ways it resembles the old idea of “ether”. But the Grid is highly evolved ether, ether on steroids if you like, with many new features.
It sounds intriguing and I'm curious to hear from Marcus when he has looked at the book to what extent these ideas are expanded upon in the book.

He says the grid "fills" space which at first sounds like considering space as a container in which the grid goes. But perhaps it is better interpreted as space as defined by the state of the grid. Then one might say thta the grid fills space, but still, no grid no space, right?

Sep11-08, 02:30 AM
Fra's Avatar
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I thought about this again and it sounds somewhat controversial. The first time I read it I thought he said something else. How do you interpret this?

Quote Quote by Q&A with FRANK WILCZEK
You say that recently the laws of physics have changed, not just in detail but in kind. What do you mean by that?
Prior to the twentieth century, physics tried to explain how Nature works. Over the twentieth century, and especially in the last half, we got much more ambitious - now we’re uncovering what Nature is.
The thoughts that appeared to me is that sometimes many say, in Niels Bohr's spirit, that the quantum revolution is a switch from the quest for "what nature is" to "what we can say about nature".

I'm not how that is to be merged with what Wilczek says here, and where in this, is the new golden age view?

How about something like this

1. In the pre 20th century we asked ourselves what nature is and how nature works.

2. In the 20th century and the revolution of QM, we started to ask instead (à la Bohr) what we can say about nature, and how it works.

Now what is the next revolution, of the 21th century? If I may fill in the blanks, how about(?)...

3. We start to ask about the nature of "what we can say" about nature, and specifically the problem that "WE" refers to an observer, and thus the question of "the nature of observers" really aims to expand upon the 2nd revolution in the sense that we look close at the nature of "observation", and what is the nature and BASIS for "what an observer can say" about nature?

Is this possibly what Wilzcek means? If not, what he say seems to be a step back, and not a step forward?

Let me know how you others would think of this "next revolution", that I assume is sniffed here.

Sep11-08, 02:32 AM
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And of course, in the end this may close the circle, in that what "nature is" is simply this, the matter we observe, are "observers" too. So the nature of things is "the nature of these relations"?

Sep11-08, 03:16 AM
P: 14
So about this Grid.. Is it like a simple grid? Like lots of intersections and sides? What shape does it have? How many dimensions? Is it a hypercube? A cube? Is mass a property of the intersections or the sides? Am I understanding this correctly or am I thinking about something completely different?
Sep11-08, 06:13 AM
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Quote Quote by Fra View Post
He says the grid "fills" space which at first sounds like considering space as a container in which the grid goes.
Seems to me as the container is the grid. Massless.
And the grid/container is dynamic, and only energy.
Where by a kind of entanglement the grid "makes" massless gluons and nearly massless quarks. They combine to protons, neutrons.

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