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Need Research Question Related to Multiverse (High School Level)

  1. May 31, 2012 #1
    I am new to this, but in desperate need of help. I'm doing the IB and in our final two years of school we are required to write an essay (extended essay) on one of our chosen subjects. I chose to write an essay on physics and my topic is parallel universes. However, I am really stuck as the physics is beyond my level of understanding. I need some ideas that I could write a 4000 word essay about. (The essay would be mainly research based) Thank you
     
    Last edited: May 31, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. May 31, 2012 #2
    You could talk about the various kinds of multiverse theories (like parallel universes vs multiverse) and their various observational evidences. But I'm not sure how long you could stretch that.
     
  4. Jun 1, 2012 #3

    Chalnoth

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    Tegmark's got a good website on this stuff:
    http://space.mit.edu/home/tegmark/crazy.html

    He organizes in a reasonable fashion the different multiverse ideas, and adds a new one that he has proposed himself. It might be a good idea for an essay at this level to not go for the mathematical universe hypothesis, but his overview of the other multiverse ideas is quite good.
     
  5. Jun 1, 2012 #4
    The website has a lot of information about the multiverse. I am also familiar with the various levels of universes. However, the problem presists that I cannot formulate a research question in this field. e.g. How does the density of liquid affect the waves created. I need a question realted to multiverse in that sense. It cannot be a descriptive essay, to some extent it needs to answer a question.
     
  6. Jun 1, 2012 #5

    Chalnoth

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    Well, there is basically no way to tie most of the multiverse ideas to any sort of experiment at the current time. The quantum multiverse is (sort of) an exception, as quantum decoherence, the essential component of the quantum multiverse, has been experimentally demonstrated:
    http://www.atomwave.org/rmparticle/ao%20refs/aifm%20refs%20sorted%20by%20topic/decoherence%20refs/BHD96.pdf [Broken]

    So you could focus on that point. Or, alternatively, you could argue given what we know in other areas why a particular multiverse idea is likely or unlikely to describe reality.
     
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  7. Jun 1, 2012 #6
    The multiverse of eternal inflation does offer testable predictions relating to variations in the cosmic microwave background. This paper details how the CMB can provide evidence of an eternal inflationary multiverse.
     
  8. Jun 1, 2012 #7

    Chalnoth

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    Well, sort of. It leads to the possibility of particular kinds of random features that may, even if this particular kind of multiverse is true, not even be there at all. So it's a potential experimental result, but a very weak one.
     
  9. Jun 1, 2012 #8

    Ken G

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    Come to your senses and choose a different topic! It is highly questionable if the multiverse idea is even science at all, and you are looking to answer a question about it? Bad idea, find something you are interested in but is much more clear-cut the kinds of scientific questions it connects with.
     
  10. Jun 1, 2012 #9

    Chalnoth

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    Many multiverse ideas are most definitely science. They're just rather difficult science.
     
  11. Jun 2, 2012 #10

    Ken G

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    I'd be curious to hear even one good example, indeed an example of any type of distribution anywhere that we can learn something about and do science on when we are limited to experiments on one single member of that "distribution."
     
  12. Jun 2, 2012 #11

    Chalnoth

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    See the paper posted by Mark M earlier in this thread for one example. Or the one I posted which (obliquely) tests the many worlds multiverse.
     
  13. Jun 2, 2012 #12

    Ken G

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    Those don't qualify, as the first is a "fringe" paper, not in the sense of being "crackpot" but in the sense that it has no clear connection to mainstream astronomy and would tend to be ignored by mainstream astronomers who are mostly not "multiverse enthusiasts", and the one you cited is about decoherence (a standard quantum phenomenon with no obvious connection whatsoever to any multiverse). There are always lots of highly speculative things getting published all the time, with very little chance of making any kind of mark on mainstream science. The problem is, it's not enough to simply be able to say that I have some theory that makes predictions to count as mainstream science, though it isn't pseudoscience either, it's just questionable that it isn't some detour from the scientific process. The predictions have to be falsifiable, not just shots in the dark. There is never going to be any way to falsify a multiverse, if the observations go against one multiverse prediction, they can always just modify the multiverse to accomodate the observations, and if the predictions happen to work, well, there's always coincidence.

    A classic example of this is Weinberg's celebrated "prediction" that the cosmological constant would come out to about 70% of the needed energy to flatten the universe. The fact that we exist certainly does constrain that parameter, but how is that a "prediction"-- we already knew we existed, we already knew the expansion is constrained by that, so I'm predicting that the expansion has to be constrained by my existence? How is that science? It was more like a test on GR than anything else-- had it not been correct, we would still know we are here, so if the expansion was incorrectly constrained by our presence, then our theory would have had to have been wrong. But the wrong theory would have been GR with a cosmological constant, not a multiverse. There is never any way to falsify a multiverse, simply because no one can ever do any observations on it, so it is completely unconstrained and can be moved and modified any way that is needed to fit the observations, consistent with the obvious things we already know (like that we are here).

    So bringing it back to the OP, I'm saying that multiverse "science" is a terrible topic for an actual investigation, it would only be suitable for a descriptive paper along the lines of "this is what is currently being thought about on the fringes of science where it is not clear that mainstream astronomy or physics will ever embrace these notions." It is highly unsuited for a paper along the lines of "here is my investigation into X and here is what I learned about our universe by doing so," which the OPer seems to be saying is what is required for this project. You can certainly not agree with me that multiverse thinking is highly questionable science, all that matters is we are agreed that it makes a lousy investigative project that attempts to do anything more than just report on what the oracles are saying. I think it's a fascinating topic, but one more along the lines of scientific sociology than investigative learning.
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2012
  14. Jun 3, 2012 #13

    Chalnoth

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    Well, sure, if you throw out everything that demonstrates you're wrong, you'll never be convinced of anything. Making up nonsensical restrictions on what is or is not science is just an excuse to throw out ideas you have an emotional aversion to.
     
  15. Jun 3, 2012 #14

    marcus

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    That sure seems like good sound advice based on what I've seen of it.

    Ideally, such advice might be offered along with some help finding an alternative research topic. Do you have any ideas? I'll try to think. Maybe Shaz can tell us some other areas or questions that stimulate excitement/curiosity.
     
  16. Jun 3, 2012 #15

    Ken G

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    Actually, I thought I was quite clear on the objections I raised. Now let's look at what you are doing-- you are claiming that a perfectly mainstream investigation into quantum decoherence in a measurement is actually an investigation into the multiverse! That's a little worse than just "oblique."
     
  17. Jun 3, 2012 #16

    Chalnoth

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    The existence of quantum decoherence demonstrates that wave function collapse is observationally unnecessary. This leads inexorably to the many worlds interpretation (or at least something that is essentially the same in its primary implications).

    But no, you were clear. You were clearly wrong. What you said about the limits of science in your post has pretty much nothing to do with how a great deal of main-stream science is actually practiced in the real world.
     
  18. Jun 3, 2012 #17

    Ken G

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    I agree it would be nice to offer a constructive suggestion, but it is exactly the problem with multiverse thinking that it is hard to come up with a physical principle that is "kind of like the multiverse" but closer to a mainstream project that a high school student could actually do. But perhaps we could take the fundamental idea behind multiverse thinking, which is that you can get seemingly very unlikely outcomes if you have a stringent enough selection criterion that you apply to a large enough sample.

    The classic example of this would be if you were a newsperson who was interviewing people who had won a lottery. You might start to think that winning lotteries was fairly commonplace after interviewing 10 winners, and forgetting that they were selected from a huge sample of non-winners. Accounting for the non-winners would help return you to an understanding of how rare winning a lottery really is. But note the key difference here-- we could actually interview the non-winners too! That's exactly what you cannot do with a project on the multiverse.

    But maybe Shaz could do an investigation of unlikely events, and show that they can actually happen if you select from a large enough sample. If he/she wants to aim the conclusions at insights into multiverse thinking, that's up to him/her, but the actual project could be much more mainstream science. Or another interesting take could be to flip a coin 10 times, record the sequence of outcomes, and calculate the probability of exactly that set of outcomes. It will be 1/210 of course, which is a number like 1/1,000, so that might qualify as an "extremely unlikely event." But we can all see that it had to come out an extremely unlikely event, so what does this tell us about the meaning of unlikely events? It says that to be counted as unlikely (or "finely tuned"), you need to be considering a particular outcome before you know what happened, not after you know. That is also trying to tell us something about the validity of multiverse thinking. So maybe there's some kind of "investigation into unlikely events" here, that can be connected in some way with the multiverse idea, if Shaz really wants the investigation to be about that somewhat indirectly.
     
  19. Jun 3, 2012 #18

    marcus

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    Well Ken, how about this. Imagine you are a highschool student and you need an IB "thesis" project. How about an essay titled "Dark Matter"

    or "Dark Matter and Structure Formation"

    The essay is in two parts A and B

    Part A discusses the EVIDENCE for DM, primarily the Bullet Cluster, which is highly visual
    evidence, and goes over the other types of evidence lightly, verbally.

    Part B discusses the computer simulations that visually present how the largescale STRUCTURE or patterns of strands and clusters and voids that we SEE can have come about by gradual gravity pulling things together HELPED by Dark Matter. Indeed since there is so much more DM, 5 or 6 times more than ordinary type, it seems to have coalesced to form the basic cobwebby skeleton that ordinary matter then condensed on. That's how the computer simulations suggest it happened.

    That again is something that can be presented visually and verbally (instead of needing math equations) because there are a lot of computer animations and still shots available if you dig around for them. Like from that website at the University of Chicago. I forget the guy's name but he is in the credits of George Smoot's TED talk.

    I would advise you (the putative highschool student) to start by watching the 18-minute highly visual talk by Nobel prizewinner George Smoot about how the basic structure of the universe formed. You get it by googling "Smoot TED"

    The organization TED is an audience of very smart non-specialist general-thinkers who sponsor non-mathematical talks that communicate to layman audience, on topics in science that they consider exciting or fertile. I would say that the TED audience represents about the right level for a smart highschool thesis. Intelligent at a verbal/visual/intuitive level but not mathy-mathy.

    The letters TED stand for Technology Entertainment Design because the original founders of the group were West Coast Industry people like Los Angeles and Silicon Valley and computer animation and new products and markets and big picture people who always want to be at the leading edge whereever that is. Their motto is "Ideas worth Sharing".

    There are about a dozen 18 minute TED talks that I would recommend a HS student watch, on all kinds of topics. They identify hot ideas, get to the gist in 18 minutes, and do it in a very visual (mathematically shallow) way. Not academic, little or no jargon and footnotes.
    They do a valuable service, I think. Talks on artificial intelligence, human psychology, genetic engineering, animal behavior, social evolution, the LHC, the future, all kinds of things.

    So I would say google "Smoot TED" and watch the 18 minute lecture+slide show and watch especially for some one or two minute animated movies of the condensation of Dark Matter into strands clusters voids which strikingly resemble the large scale patterns we actually observe in visible ordinary matter.
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2012
  20. Jun 3, 2012 #19

    Ken G

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    I think that would be a great idea for certain types of presentations, mostly of the descriptive or educational type. But I got the sense that Shaz's project, which he/she says is a two-year project, is supposed to involve something that he/she can investigate themself. It's not clear, but they said: "How does the density of liquid affect the waves created. I need a question realted to multiverse in that sense. It cannot be a descriptive essay, to some extent it needs to answer a question." So I'm not real clear what the needs are when it "cannot be a descriptive essay," it might mean they would have to write their own computer program rather than just report on one. That would be too difficult, so I think they need a project that is more accessible than the current frontiers of astronomy! But they'll need to come back on and tell us more about the requirements. And yes, those TED talks are really great, in any area.
     
  21. Jun 3, 2012 #20

    Chalnoth

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    At the high school level, I don't think so. It sounds more like a project which requires a student to investigate a particular area and use existing scientific results to argue a point. I don't think it's really meant to be a project which takes a full two years, but rather that has to be done sometime within those two years.

    And within that scope, I don't think investigating the multiverse is at all out of bounds. Obviously no hands-on experiments can be done, but then that's true of all of cosmology.

    It seems to me that a more reasonable way to do the project, if I am understanding correctly its aims, would be to consider a recent scientific question and examine the evidence and arguments that have been presented surrounding that question. And there are definitely ways to examine some multiverse idea in this framework. Simply providing a summary of the multiverse ideas would not be sufficient, of course. But it is very reasonable to take one specific idea and present the arguments and evidence for or against that specific multiverse idea.

    It's very possible, for example, to examine the many worlds of quantum mechanics. The essay would first describe what the many worlds interpretation is, then it would proceed to examine the competing ideas, and summarize the arguments that people have used for or against some of the main interpretations of quantum mechanics.

    I don't see any reason why this project requires a definitive answer be presented, just that the question should be examined in some depth.

    TED has, sadly, been courting pseudoscience lately. For instance:
    http://scientopia.org/blogs/goodmath/2012/06/03/numeric-pareidolia-and-vortex-math/
     
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