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Fingerprint of God type physics; what's meant and what qualifies?

  1. Mar 18, 2012 #1
    "Fingerprint of God" type physics; what's meant and what qualifies?

    Hello everyone, I've been watching a lot of documentaries lately (understanding very little) and I decided to join this forum so I could actually ask questions in what will probably be a vain attempt to make sense of the physical world in my head.
    I've been trying to come to some sort of understanding with Einsteins theory of relativity but it seems like every time I think I've got it even partially I end up with more questions then when I began thinking.

    Anyway, first things first. I keep hearing physicists, mathematicians, bioligists etc make reference to a beauty and simplicity in the world. For instance I just watched one talk from the Ted convention where a physicist said that they always know which theory is correct because it's always the one that is amazingly simple and needlessly elegant (paraphrasing).
    Two examples stand out in my mind. One is the formula for fractals and another is of course Einsteins theory of relativity. The excitement I guess comes from the fact that the simplicity and beauty hints at some sort of higher mystery and every new discovery confirms this and adds to that mystery. Pretty much how my sister describes watching Lost.

    Unfortunately I'm not a genius (kindegarten to grade 4 made sure of that) and I don't have a very good grasp as to why all these things are so gorgeous and simple. I can recognize that a formula might be shorter then another but in physics what are the little fascinating things that don't necessarily have to work out but for some reason do?
    I want to think outside the box here and I might be COMPLETELY wrong but here's an example and it's really simple (maybe too simple).

    I've been watching videos on time dilation. Given the example of the two ships bouncing a laser off one another as they travel. I had a moment of either lucidity or stupidity where I started wondering why it would work out perfectly that as the ships moved the laser would always bounce off the exact same spot and return to the exact same spot (so long as the ships were going the same speed and didn't stray). Thus giving the appearance to the ships captains that everything is occuring as though they were standing still whereas to an observer the beam is travelling farther in a giant V pattern.
    When I really think about it there's no reason why math and physics should work out in such an orderly way. Couldn't it just as easy have been that if the ships moved uniformily and bounced the laser it would end up in virtually any other place other then it's originating point? The rules are made so that as long as you follow them in a pure way things will work out not only in a predictable manner but in a way that allows for order.

    Another "moment" I had was learning about the discovery that if you double the speed of something it quadruples it's impact (can't remember what this is called). E=MV^2 ??? Does that make sense? But my question, is there any conceivable reason why it would be exactly 4 times it's velocity? Is it something we take forgranted because we're so used to things working out to "whole numbers" and in meaningful ways? Couldn't it just as easilly have been 3.68 times its velocity? In fact wouldn't there be considerable odds against the formula being so simple supposing a person was new to the universe and had to guess at what would happen and assuming all things were the result of blind chance and randomness?

    I don't know if these are among those "simple and elegant" things that I'm always hearing about or if I'm imagining all this intrigue due to sheer ignorance.
    But if they aren't then what are?​
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2012
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  3. Mar 18, 2012 #2
    Re: "Fingerprint of God" type physics; what's meant and what qualifies?

    It's funny you mention this because recently I have been thinking pretty much the opposite. There have been a lot of experiments where the path of light has been measured since the Michealson-Morley experiment. We have found that it travels out in a "straight" line even though the Earth is revolving and rotating at the same time! The straight line exist from the perspective of someone sitting down at Earth moveing at the same rate as the experiment itself. The question that has been bugging me lately is how does that translate to someone not on Earth that is not experiencing the same rotations or revolutions. I don't think the final destination of the diagonal path as really been tested. But, I think the straight path of the observer assuming he is at rest is good even though he is on a moveing planet.
    If you doubled v in that equation and then squared it, you would get four times the result.
  4. Mar 18, 2012 #3


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    Re: "Fingerprint of God" type physics; what's meant and what qualifies?

    Usually "simple and elegant" points to 2 major things:

    1) The theory is built upon a minimal number of assumptions, or has a minimal number of fitting parameters.

    2) The equations governing that theory are compact and simple to write down.

    The first "criterion" is usually more important because the second criterion sort of depends on the kind of mathematics we are using.

    If a theory has few assumptions and a large number of predictions, we consider that a good theory (as long as the predictions match experiment). This is because, with a large enough number of assumptions, you could basically construct any theory to just "match your experiment". Such a theory would not be elegant, and probably not very predictive since it has to take so many aspects of the physical world as inputs.

    For example, Einstein's special relativity is based off of 2 fundamental assumptions:

    1) The principle of relativity: physical laws take the same form in any inertial reference frame.

    2) The constancy of the speed of light: the speed of light is always c in any inertial reference frame.

    With these 2 assumptions, Einstein was able to build a whole theory that predicts a plethora of phenomena. This is usually why we call SR (and GR) "beautiful" or "elegant".

    The standard model, on the other hand, has 20+ (I can't remember exactly how much) adjustable parameters that must be fitted to the model before you can predict events. These numbers include the mass of the electron, etc. However, the standard model fits the data exceedingly well, so it's not a "bad" theory by any stretch. This is, however, why most physicists don't tend to call the standard model a "beautiful theory" (actually, Michio Kaku calls it an extraordinarily ugly theory...paraphrasing here).

    Now, the second point also bears mentioning, which is that theories who's equations "look simple" tend to be called "elegant". But this is somewhat dependent on the mathematics that are "in vogue" at the time. For example, Einstein's field equations in GR look exceedingly simple if written down in geometric notation (it's simply G=0 in vacuum!) but looks horrifyingly complex if written down in coordinate notation in their full glory(they are, in fact, a set of 10 coupled partial differential equations). So, this second "criterion" isn't as "objective" so to speak as the first.
  5. Mar 18, 2012 #4
    Re: "Fingerprint of God" type physics; what's meant and what qualifies?

    I think I see what you're saying. It's the way we calculate the problem that makes it simple? (I suck at math).
    I suppose there still is a certain beauty and elegance in it from a human standpoint considering we seem to be in an exactly perfect physical state to live within these laws. I can run into another person on the street and the impact is just hard enough to teach us both to watch where we're going but neither of us are going to end up splattered all over the sidewalk. lol.
  6. Mar 18, 2012 #5
    Re: "Fingerprint of God" type physics; what's meant and what qualifies?

    If you get right into the math and everything regarding this it may be very complicated But isn't there a certain elegance in the fact that it exists at all?
    If you think about it from the perspective of someone who lived before E=MC^2 and then discovered it.
    Before E=MC^2 there were holes in our reality. For instance if light moved the same way a physical object did then if you were going the speed of light and looked in a mirror you'd see nothing. I'm sure there are many more holes and oddities other then that but when relativity was figured out and people went from the chaos of speculating what would happen based on the possibilities to seeing the reality that light is actually always travelling at the same speed no matter your perspective there must have been a huge sigh of relief.
    How messed up would it have been on board the Enterprise during lightspeed travel if Einstein was never born?
  7. Mar 18, 2012 #6
    Re: "Fingerprint of God" type physics; what's meant and what qualifies?

    When I get to the really deep questions of reality, I always ask myself,"What would Newton say?". I have seen a lot of people give a more accurate equation with more variebles, but the answer you would get shouldn't be that different. I don't think any relative observer should find people splattered all over the place because Newton didn't find those results either. I think a final theory would have to include both Newton's and Einsteins views of reality and show how it can become both. Relativity should never say that Newton was just completely wrong, only that he had a slight miscalculation. In that sense the equations didn't become simpler but more complicated.
    They actually expected light to behave just like anything else. It was most likely a head ache to find that it did always travel at the same speed. They then had an object that went by its own rules and not the same rules as everything they have experienced.
    I have wondered how messed up the Enterprise would be if Star Trek was something that did happen in the future, and then it came from a message that came back in time. Everyone would say it was bologna and it could never happen and was just fantasy so they would never try to reinvent it. They should have tried harder to enforce their Prime Directive ;P lol
  8. Mar 18, 2012 #7
    Re: "Fingerprint of God" type physics; what's meant and what qualifies?

    I gotta look up some Newton stuff. I'm spending all my time on Einstein at the moment. Speaking of messages in time and Star Trek, I always thought it was strange how our view of the future usually seems to turn out to be accurate. For instance huge control pannels with flashing lights, doors that open on their own, huge tv screens etc. Are we harnessing science and taming it to make reality like we imagine it will be or did we just imagine the perfect technology for mankinds convenience and as it turns out science is tailored to our convenience to begin with?

    For example, I would imagine even before televisions people would think about holograms in some rudimentary form just because it seems like it would be a convenient way to communicate or learn etc. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if 3000 years ago people thought of holograms but probably imagined them more as a spiritistic thing then scientific but it still made sense to a human being that it would be possible.

    At this moment in time we can be sure that someday soon hologram technology will be a major part of our lives and it already exists to some degree but couldn't it have been just as easy that holograms were impossible and would never happen? In 100 years when holograms are everywhere is it true that we harnessed the science or science was tailored to our logic and convenience in the first place?

    It's kind of like what you're saying about Star Trek. It almost seems like either we have always had a pretty good idea of what the future will look like. If it's from instinct and not science then something fishy is going on.
  9. Mar 18, 2012 #8
    Re: "Fingerprint of God" type physics; what's meant and what qualifies?

    None of the things you mentioned where seen to be outside of the realms of physics. Anything outside of it would require a large amount of the proper funding, that it would never get being seen as being outside of the realm of possiblity. When and if someone does discover it is possible it would never be taken seriously. It could only happen when some "crackpot" has his hands on the reins, like the post WW3 scenario in Star Trek. I think that is why they say that even altering events in a good way could have drastic consequences, if WW3 didn't happen then warp drive wouldn't have happened either.

    I think a lot of what you heard comes from the idea that the easy answer tends to be the right one. The more you complicate things and add stuff to it, the more of a chance it has to be wrong. They want to find a short and simple answer that describes everything but they can't. The short answer is easy to prove, and there is less to see wrong with it. You normally hear about this sort of thing when hearing about how they are trying to find a theory of everything.
  10. Mar 18, 2012 #9


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    Re: "Fingerprint of God" type physics; what's meant and what qualifies?

    Focusing on the "2" in V^2 seems to be confusing you. Perhaps if you used V*V it would make more sense.
  11. Mar 18, 2012 #10
    Re: "Fingerprint of God" type physics; what's meant and what qualifies?

    Perhaps nothing that we're capable of imagining is outside the realm of physics. It's just a matter of how we go about making it happen. The science to make it happen could be faulty but not the idea itself. For instance, I can close my eye's and imagine any color I want, but there is absolutely no way I am going to imagine a color that is not possible. I can probably imagine a color that I've never seen before but it's definitely going to be a color that is possible to make using the primary colors in the universe. It doesn't matter how many times I close my eye's. A new color is never going to appear in my imagination.
    To make a completely new color seems outside our abilities and would probably take a complete redesign of the entire universe from square one and would likely result in a less perfect universe. If you can imagine it, you can do it!
    Unfortunately now I sound like a motivational speaker. Have you heard "The Secret"? lol
  12. Mar 18, 2012 #11
    Re: "Fingerprint of God" type physics; what's meant and what qualifies?

    I think I understand it now. That's the same problem I've always had with math. I never got the practical part of it where you actually understand which parts are meaningful and which are just variables that don't really matter to the overall idea.
    I swear someday we're going to be smart enough to ditch the whole educational system and set kids up with a computer and an instructor via the web whose only job is to explain what's asked of him/her.
    I'm a musician now and that was only made possible by ditching everything they tried to teach me in music class. Didn't understand a word of it. lol
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