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Are Some Physics Questions Just Impossible to Answer With Our Current Brains?

  1. Jan 20, 2010 #1
    I was discussing this once with a friend, he said he thought the idea was a cop-out, and I was wondering what the physics people here think. It just seems to me that no matter how sophisticated our technology and theories get, there are just some things we will never understand regarding this universe, at least with ordinary logic. Here are some examples:

    1) Are matter and energy really the same? Is there really a tiniest particle? ("God" particle?)

    2) Is time a concept created by humans or an actual thing?

    3) How is light both a wave and a particle? (or is it likely something much stranger, just for practical purposes we call it both)

    4) How are photons created when the electrons change energy levels? I mean where do they come from?

    5) WHAT is the "electromagnetic force?" Gravity they believe is a bend in the curvature of space-time, but WHAT is it that makes protons push away from each other or electrons push away from one another, or protons and electrons attract each other? (and if anyone says it's "just a force" my head will explode)

    6) What exactly is "space-time?" It is hard to imagine space-time bending in more than a 2D example. For example, I can grasp the basic concept of the planet sitting on the "sheet" of space-time and "sinking" in some, and thus approaching objects get "pulled" in via the bend, except this is just the 2D example, it (the bending) actually happens from every angle.

    7) Are there any more than three dimensions? From what I understand, as it is, this idea of more than three dimensions is only theory, and all empirical evidence thus far shows only three dimensions.

    An interesting book I was reading suggested that modern physics has in certain ways become like the ancient religions of the East, in that due to the scientists' inability to understand certain aspects of nature with logic, they create paradoxes (like the wave-particle duality of light) to explain it. The book said this almost makes physics resemble the ancient religions with their crazy-sounding paradoxes as well, which may sound hokey to many, but in hindsight the ancients may have been wiser than realized.

    I was wondering what people think of the role of metaphysics? From what I understand, metaphysics was more studied back in the 19th century, but nowadays, no serious physicist, even if they consider the subject, will say so publicly for fear of damaging their career.

    But because of the limitations physicists run into in trying to understand the world through logic, wouldn't metaphysical principles apply? Metaphysics wouldn't be promoting magic or anything, just the idea that there are aspects of the world that cannot be understood by the rational, logical human mind, and that one must go to a "higher plane" or whatnot to be able to comprehend the makings of the universe at that level.

    From what I understand, this was the idea of many of the paradoxes of the ancient Eastern religions, that since so much of the universe and nature is not understandable with logic, the only thing to do is understand it via paradoxes and then the idea was to meditate on the paradoxes and try to reach that "higher plane" of mind and thus understanding ("Enlightenment").
     
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  3. Jan 20, 2010 #2

    russ_watters

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    Yes, but I have a new one on order that should be able to tackle those problems. I'll let you know how it goes once I get it installed.

    Frankly, though, I'm not sure any of those questions you asked are really open questions in science (except maybe 7, which is a wrong premise, though). Many aren't even scientific questions! For example...

    #1: Sorta - it is more complicated than that. 1a: Probably - that one is still open.
    #2: Time is a dimension.
    #3: the question is answered and the answer is neither - it is something else.
    #5&6 are not scientific questions.

    This book that you read - it sounds like the premise of the book is a misunderstanding of what science is and what it's purpose/goal is.
     
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2010
  4. Jan 20, 2010 #3
    I do wonder if in the future we will develop technology that allows us to actually increase our brainpower...

    There was a book by a physicist named Julian Barbour called The End of Time that claims it is just a concept humans created and doesn't really exist, that was why I asked on that.

    How come? Doesn't science wonder what the electromagnetic force and space-time actually are? (maybe I am misunderstanding the exact purpose of science)

    It was called The Tao of Physics by Fritjov Capra. He is a theoretical physicist. Another book talking about the limitations in modern physics on understanding nature is called The Trouble With Physics by Lee Smolin.
     
  5. Jan 20, 2010 #4
    How can those questions not be scientific? It seems like you're saying that after a certain point, you shouldn't ask anymore questions because they're not scientific anymore.

    Like if I asked what a ladder is made of: If it's wood, I ask what is wood made of, then I ask what are molecules made of, then I ask what are atoms made of, then I keep asking questions until suddenly my question is no longer scientific?
     
  6. Jan 20, 2010 #5

    ZapperZ

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    The questions being asked are based on rather an incomplete understanding of our current understanding. They are also rather vague in terms of what the question is really asking. For example, the question on whether matter and energy are the "same", what exactly does that entails? If one is asking "Does a quantity of matter "m" the same as the quantity of energy "mc^2"?", then YES. In other words, you are asking for the quantity of a property and comparing it. If you think I'm being picky and exact, that's what a science question has to be!

    The question on wave-particle duality has been discussed ad nauseum, so much so we even have an entry in the FAQ thread in the General Physics forum. Did the OP ask this question before, or after reading that?

    The question on photon creation by "change of level" begs the follow-up question on whether the OP thinks photons can only be created that way. If he/she is aware of other methods (such as change acceleration/deceleration), then does that mean that he/she has no problem in understanding how photons are created in that way, since that question isn't asked? And to being up the question of what an "electromagnetic force" is without even a hint of acknowledging the existence of QED is very puzzling.

    I can go on, but my conclusion is that these "questions" that the OP thinks are impossible to answer is based on his/her lack of knowledge of what we already know. Many of these things have been addressed at the level that the OP wants to know.

    Zz.
     
  7. Jan 20, 2010 #6
    I was wondering how a question about science can be unscientific. If he's not asking the question correctly, it seems a little arrogant to nitpick about it, because you know what he's asking. It's like a child asking "Can I have some ice cream" and a mother responding with "I don't know, can you?", forcing the child to ask the "correct" way with "May I have some ice cream?"
     
  8. Jan 20, 2010 #7

    ZapperZ

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    That question is NOT the same thing, given the CONTEXT.

    When you are proposing a claim that these are impossible to answer, AND giving a treatise on why, then you must have quite a bit of knowledge of not only what you're asking, but the nature of the question!

    If the OP were to ask about "wave particle duality" in the QM forum, do you think he/she would have gotten the SAME response? Go and look at that forum and you'll see that there ARE question of that nature. In none of them will you see a response telling the OP that this isn't a valid science question. So do a bit of self-evaluation and figure out what's the difference here!

    Zz.
     
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2010
  9. Jan 20, 2010 #8
    So people in the QM forum would say something different? How is that relevant to what russ said? I was responding to what russ said. What he said remains the same, regardless of what other people around the world would say.

    If I say the sky is green, regardless of how many other people around the world would say something different, you would still be correct in telling me that I'm wrong. Or is my statement that the sky is green not subject to criticism because people in the Earth forum would say that it's blue?
     
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2010
  10. Jan 20, 2010 #9
    I think it is quite possible that the mathematics required to explain advanced phenomina will be much too complicated for present humans to understand. Every layer of understanding is progressively harder and harder than the last, whilst a thorough understanding of the last is required.

    Obviously there its takes an exponential amount of time for one to learn up to the pinnacle of understanding. So my hope is that we are able to advance enough to at least be able to develop a way to become 'smarter' or a method to greatly simplify learning.
     
  11. Jan 20, 2010 #10

    ZapperZ

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    Your "green" could have been calibrated differently. If you tell me the frequency range of that light, then we have something unambiguous to refer to.

    You are still missing the point. The OP already has made up his/her mind that these are "impossible questions", regardless of the fact that many of these are clearly based on a lack of understanding of our current knowledge. If the question was "I don't understand wave-particle duality. Do we know more than just what I think I know?", then that's a different matter. We deal with this question very often, and that's why we have a FAQ for it. But that's not what we have here, or do you dispute that as well?

    Zz.
     
  12. Jan 20, 2010 #11
    You're missing my point. I know what the OP has done. Whether or not the questions he asked have already been answered is irrelevant. I was responding to what russ said. He attempted to answer some of the questions, then said others were unscientific. What's unscientific about a science question?
     
  13. Jan 20, 2010 #12
    I really like the question(s) and discussions of the topic of this and these type of threads.

    The orig. post has a duality in its text. Do you answer the topic and/or the theme of the topic/text?

    There's answers all over the place for all of the questions of in the first post. The ideas behind those answers are still different, and accepted---and probably could be plotted as a bell shaped curve.


    Are some of the answers good enough to use?---sure

    Are they right? maybe, maybe not

    Are there better and more complete answers? unquestionable (that's why there's 'research')

    I think the idea of 'metaphysics' plays a very, VERY important role in physics, (to me, that's the topic of the thread)---


    and if you don't believe it---think of that cat in the box, or what would it be like riding on along side a beam of light.
     
  14. Jan 20, 2010 #13

    ZapperZ

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    The fact that many of them are based on false or incomplete premise does not make them an unscientific question? I thought I've given ample example!

    Zz.
     
  15. Jan 20, 2010 #14
    How is question number 5 unscientific? I believe it's currently outside our current understanding of science but that doesn't mean 'it's unscientific' to ask such things.

    I guess what russ was saying in his post was that for now the questions (which are not based on false premises) are more philosophical in nature, however to attempt to bring these questions into the realm of science and ask them from a scientific perspective is, in my opinion, not wrong or unscientific.

    EDIT: when I say which are not based on false premises I mean that the questions which he asked that are not based on false premises, not saying all the questions are not based on false premises :rofl:
     
  16. Jan 20, 2010 #15
    "The fact" is maybe not "a fact"
     
  17. Jan 20, 2010 #16

    russ_watters

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    I'm on a BlackBerry, but some quick food for thought: does a question about Peyton Manning's salary help at all in predicting if he's going to win the game on Sunday? Just Because that's a question about football, that doesn't make it a football question. So too a philosophical question about science (whether based on a misunderstanding or not).
     
  18. Jan 20, 2010 #17

    BobG

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    Except a question about Manning's salary is a football question even if it doesn't help answer the question about who is going to win this Sunday. It does help answer who will win the AFC Championship game a year from now since Manning's salary does affect how much money the Colts have available to bid for free agents and still remain under the salary cap.

    It has to be possible, but I think constructing a philosophical question about science that isn't a science question would be more difficult than the opposite.
     
  19. Jan 20, 2010 #18
    and, a question about his salary also reflects on his abilities, as his abilities were to that point, which is pertinent to the possibilities/odds of a win/loss (on Sunday).
     
  20. Jan 20, 2010 #19

    ZapperZ

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    So you're telling me that you can't tell the difference between a question ABOUT science, versus a science question?

    Zz.
     
  21. Jan 20, 2010 #20
    Regardless of how he asks the question, you know what he's asking. These are basic questions that get asked often. No matter how people word the questions, you know what information they're trying to get out of them.

    What would you say if your child asks you why the sky is blue? Would you correct him/her by saying the question is inherently assuming that the sky is always blue? Would you ask them to define "sky", since there's different layers of atmosphere? You could break it down and explain how their question is unscientific and undeserving of an answer.
    You wouldn't do that because you know what they're asking, regardless of HOW they ask it. You know what information they're looking for. If you didn't know, you could just say "I don't know".
    What would be an example of a science question that isn't a question about science? And vice versa?
     
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