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Frank Tipler on Matter-Energy Conversion

  1. Jan 3, 2006 #1
    I'm not sure which forum to place this (feel free to move it), but the implications for the Drake equation factor measuring civilization life-spans and interstellar space travel are obvious, and Tipler himself is a cosmologist:

    "Why I Hope the Standard Model is Wrong about Why There is More Matter Than Antimatter

    The Standard Model of particle physics — a theory of all forces and particles except gravity and a theory that has survived all tests over the past thirty years — says it is possible to convert matter entirely into energy. Old-fashioned nuclear physics allows some matter to be converted into energy, but because nuclear physics requires the number of heavy particles like neutrons and protons, and light particles like electrons, to be separately conserved in nuclear reactions, only a small fraction (less than 1%) of the mass of the uranium or plutonium in an atomic bomb can be converted into energy. The Standard Model says that there is a way to convert all the mass of ordinary matter into energy; for example, it is in principle possible to convert the proton and electron making up a hydrogen atom entirely into energy. Particle physicists have long known about this possibility, but have considered it forever irrelevant to human technology because the energy required to convert matter into pure energy via this process is at the very limit of our most powerful accelerators (a trillion electron volts, or one TeV).

    I am very much afraid that the particle physicists are wrong about this Standard Model pure energy conversion process being forever irrelevant to human affairs. I have recently come to believe that the consistency of quantum field theory requires that it should be possible to convert up to 100 kilograms of ordinary matter into pure energy via this process using a device that could fit inside the trunk of a car, a device that could be manufactured in a small factory. Such a device would solve all our energy problems — we would not need fossil fuels — but 100 kilograms of energy is the energy released by a 1,000-megaton nuclear bomb. If such a bomb can be manufactured in a small factory, then terrorists everywhere will eventually have such weapons. I fear for the human race if this comes to pass. I very hope I am wrong about the technological feasibility of such a bomb."


    Has anyone here heard of this possibility? Pretty scary, if true. If it is as easy as Tipler suggests we (English-speaking civilization) had better figure it out first.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 3, 2006 #2
    Why would it be better in "English-speaking civilizations" hands? That seems like a very general statement.
  4. Jan 3, 2006 #3


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    Not to say chauvinistic!

    I'm not very convinced by claims of "a device that could fit inside the trunk of a car, a device that could be manufactured in a small factory. Such a device would solve all our energy problems", am I being over sceptical? On the other hand if this is indeed possible then perhaps this will be Our Final Century.

    Have a belated Happy New Year!

  5. Jan 3, 2006 #4
    Traitors! You'd rather have the Chicoms, or the Russians, or the Iranians or North Koreans--or dare I even say the French--develop it first?!? As if history would be the same if the Nazis or Soviets developed the first fission bombs!!! Why do you think Einstein emigrated to the U.S. of A. instead of, say, Japan??? I'm sure they would have appreciated his talents even though he was Jewish.

    Besides, think of the licensing fees that will accrue to the first who can find a peaceful application of such a technology.

    And it would make manned interstellar space travel a realistic possibility.
  6. Jan 3, 2006 #5
    Jesus, help us . . . .
  7. Jan 3, 2006 #6
    I think it’s good to discuss issues dealing with pandemics, environmental problems and nuclear weapons, as it increases awareness. But when people start saying the worlds going to end and predicting doomsday scenarios, and even with regards to a civilizations life expectancy in the drake equation, I find it a little unrealistic and over the top. I don’t mean asteroids, I mean extinction or massive destruction brought about by man. I like to give humans a little more credit, seeing as we are not totally at the mercy of nature.
  8. Jan 4, 2006 #7


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    No, we are at the mercy of our own human nature, now what did Warren say?...

  9. Jan 4, 2006 #8
    Yeah, and the good ol' US of A used bombs so wisely. Hiroshima anyone???
  10. Jan 4, 2006 #9
    OK Matt, you've got a point regarding Hiroshima. I've got into fist fights with my own father over Hiroshima (granted I was born in Japan). The allies (which includes Australia) could have dropped one down the throat of Mount Fuji for everyone including the Emperor to see, or just blockaded the whole country indefinitely like we tried in Iraq for 12 years, but they wanted to see what the bomb would do to a real city. That's why they reserved about 7 Japanese cities from conventional bombing--so they could tell the difference. It wouldn't've done any good to nuke Tokyo because it was already so bombed out, they wouldn't be able to tell what damage was caused by the nuke vs. all the previous firebombing. So Hiroshima was as much a scientific experiment as anything else.

    That said, it's still a good thing that "we" developed it first. The Imperial Japanese had their own atomic program, and they would have been even more ruthless in its deployment than we were, and we'd be talking about "San Francisco" and "Sydney", instead of "Hiroshima" and "Nagasaki".

    But really my main point was not politics or history, it's physics. I was hoping that some of the physicist types here could help me sleep easier. Someone like Spacetiger--he knows everything--or Astronuc with a small handfull of links, who could answer some basic questions. Like:

    1. Tipler is pretty famous, but he's known for his unorthodox ideas. Is he to be taken seriously?

    2. Does anyone have a clue about how Tipler thinks it possible to manufacture large amounts of antimatter?

    3. Should we even discuss this on the internet, considering that our enemies could be reading this as well?

    4. If Tipler just now stumbled upon this dangerous idea, does this mean that the DoD probably already possesses antimatter bombs?

    5. How much antimatter would it take to accelerate a 1,000 ton ship to .9 c?
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2006
  11. Jan 4, 2006 #10
    I would like to think instincts are subdued by reason, and would like to think the world isn’t run by lunatics and fanatics. You may argue that we are at the mercy of our own human nature, and I would grant you that a lot of people are, but I would also argue that a lot of people aren’t, and are capable of going one step further to control their behavior in a rational way.
  12. Jan 4, 2006 #11
    Lunatics and fanatics don't run the world--only individual countries like Iran and North Korea, or even worse underground organizations like Al Quaeda. It only takes a few bad apples equipped with a few antimatter bombs to spoil the whole barrel.
  13. Jan 5, 2006 #12


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    It may be that the only reason Tipler thinks there should be an easy way of converting matter to energy is because he sees such a possibility as essential to stopping the acceleration of the universe and getting the universe to contract again so that his "Omega Point" theory can be true. Have a look at this seriously nutty essay by Tipler:

    The Omega Point and Christianity

    In it, he writes:
    So if you start with the assumption that intelligent beings will force the universe to collapse, maybe it is true that the only way for this to be possible is if there's a small-scale way of converting baryons to energy, but if you don't take that assumption for granted there may be no other reason for thinking this is likely. By the way, Tipler goes on to suggest that this process is responsible for the dematerialization of Jesus' body, and that the reason for his body's disappearance and reappearance is to satisfy the "Omega Point boundary condition" by helping us to discover this small-scale process by studying the Shroud of Turin! At the end of the essay he also suggests the boundary condition as an explanation for why radiocarbon dating seemed to show the shroud was a medieval forgery (to prevent scientists from doing research on it and finding this small-scale process too early), and suggests that he himself (along with a german theologian who inspired him) plays a crucial role in this cosmic drama:
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2006
  14. Jan 5, 2006 #13
    Haha, such a wild imagination. I’m surprised he’s even a part of Edge. The way he tries to unite science and religion, is like trying to put a round block into a square hole, the result is disaster and a distortion of science, and a desperate attempt to make superstitious beliefs still relevant and credible in a scientific age.
  15. Jan 6, 2006 #14


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    Collecting anti-matter appears to be slightly less difficult than constructing an Abercrombie drive . . . . re: the Athena project. It doesn't look like a credible threat to humanity.
  16. Jan 6, 2006 #15


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    And theology
    Or, a desperate attempt to make science still relevant in a superstitious age?

    From the web site First Things

    Last edited: Jan 6, 2006
  17. Jan 6, 2006 #16
    Wow! Thanks Jesse. I can sleep easier now knowing that we won't have to worry about antimatter bombs in the near future. Unfortunately, that means there won't be any antimatter rockets any time soon either. Oh well.

    Electroweak tunneling . . . . . .
  18. Jan 6, 2006 #17
    So how would that relate to Tipler and his omega point theory? If he’s is also God, yet anything seems to go?
  19. Jan 6, 2006 #18


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    Vast - The remark is often quoted attributed to the writer and theologian G.K.Chesterton; actually the article on the website I linked to was describing how the quote was actually a concatenation of two of his remarks by Emile Cammaerts.

    The point that both (and I) were making was that in this so called scientific age a tide of superstition is actually making it acceptable to believe in almost anything. It is the traditional methods of a well thought out body of knowledge, including scientific knowledge, which is often rejected. For example, I despair that, in Britian at least, a course on astrology is far more popluar than one on astronomy, that any 'snake oil' can be sold to the masses whereas scientifically based and tested medicine is considered with suspicion, and a obscurantist six-day-creation fundamentalism is eroding the credability of the Christian faith.

    As I understand his life and work Tipler was brought up in the Bible Belt of the USA in such a fundamentalist tradition, that he wisely rejected that way of thinking as he grew up and went into astronomy, but that subsequently he developed a 'cosmological' version of the fundamentalist eschatology he had been brought up with, which was a highly speculative version of 'the end times' as published in the otherwise praiseworthy book "The Anthropic Cosmological Principle" as the 'Omega Point'. (If any knows otherwise please correct me)

    In my opinion not only is such speculation bad science but it is bad theology as well; it would be good not to accept it without considered scepticism.

    As for Tipler being God, I will leave for you to decide.

    Last edited: Jan 6, 2006
  20. Jan 6, 2006 #19
    You may have a different perspective on this than me, but I would say the opposite were true, that humans have been steeped in superstition for thousands of years. The tide of which you speak, might actually have some significance, due to the ever increasing diversity of different cultures living together in certain parts of the world, which along with it brings many different superstitious beliefs, which were once only suited for that particular culture, but has now become a varied assortment of those popular beliefs.

    Superstition is still very much prevalent and not likely to go away any time soon, despite the growing skepticism and critical thinking that comes along with applying the scientific method. But it is due to this scientific method that I would acknowledge as having existed for only a few short centuries, to have been the force that has stemmed the tide of superstitious beliefs.

    I think you may have misunderstood me. I was merely pointing out an inconsistency with the quote, which I found amusing when applied to Tipler’s wild imagination. What I meant to say was: “If his omega point is God, and also anything goes” (intelligent life having the capability to perform anything imaginable) the quote seems to lose all meaning.
  21. Jan 6, 2006 #20


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    Ahh I see! I was wondering....

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