Tuesday, October 28, 2003

I seem to be criticizing Easterbrook again. That's unfortunate, and let me reiterate my earlier praise for him in general. He's a great journalist. Read his stuff.

That being said, his most recent post on Easterblogg fundamentally misunderstands one of the most important conceptual revolutions underlying modern quantum physics - at least, as I understand it. My physics is a while in the past, sadly, but I think I got this one right.

At any rate, Easterbrook writes that:

Physicists rather casually speak of ten unobservable dimensions, in addition to the obvious three, existing in our own reality, all around us. Ten unobservable dimensions all around us is the key assumption of "superstring" theory, the leading current proposed explanation of matter at its most fundamental level. (Basically, "superstring" theory holds that at its most fundamental level, matter is made of very rapidly spinning nothing. The rotation holds in place the ten unobservable dimensions, whose boundary area is somehow rendered tangible by being imprisoned in astonishingly small spinning packets. No, that doesn't make much sense. So far all proposed explanations for the underlying basis of matter don't make much sense.)

What does he mean by "make sense" here? So far as I can tell, he means that it doesn't agree with his intuition about the way the world works. This was Einstein's fundamental problem with quantum theory as well, so Easterbrook is in good company. That doesn't make him any less wrong. Physicists don't postulate ten unobservable dimensions for fun - they do it because that's where the math takes them. They create this math in order to describe (very real) experimental results. This isn't arm-waving. The fundamental conceptual revolution underlying the modern understanding of quantum mechanics is that _the math is the truth_. Your intuition has no useful bearing on quantum mechanics. _All_ of modern physics is completely counter-intuitive. Time slows down as your velocity increases. Length changes. Mass changes. All of that has been experimentally verified - but, by Easterbrook's standards, it doesn't "make sense". So what? It is what it is.

Thus Easterbrook's argument about a spiritual dimension falls flat on its face. A spiritual dimension is not necessary to explain experimental results - as those 10 "hidden" dimensions are. You can believe in God or not believe in God (I do, but that's immaterial to this point). The fact that physicists postulate hidden dimensions and are taken seriously has no bearing on the validity of the idea of a single hidden spiritual dimension. A spiritual dimension is a product of faith, the 10 hidden dimensions are a product of math. To those who don't understand the math (like me, sadly) they might seem the same, but they aren't at all.

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