Friday, November 8, 2013

Dark Matter or Probability Structures?

In his famous book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn leveled a strong critique of the supposed objectivity of scientific inquiry. What Kuhn found was that revolutions in scientific thinking seemed to be more grounded in social dynamics than was previously thought. Once data accumulated to the point where it challenged an existing scientific paradigm, new theories would be developed and tested to explain the new data - but rather than sweeping through the entire scientific establishment all at once the new theories would be resisted by entrenched interests. He found that often, what was necessary for a new paradigm to be fully accepted was the retirement or even death of the entire generation of scientists brought up on the previous one.

Fringe scientists love Kuhn's work and cite it constantly. It allows anyone who's infatuated with the beauty of some new scientific hypothesis that everyone working in the field rejects to think of themselves as geniuses for seeing "the future" of science - even when the hypothesis itself is deeply flawed in some obvious way. Anyone proposing an idea that represents a paradigm shift, therefore, needs to be especially careful when reviewing its implications. Most of the time a "new paradigm" simply represents some sort of error in data collection, like the case of polywater, which was covered on Slate today. Scientists in the 1960's believed that they had discovered a new form of water, when in fact the material in question was simply ordinary water that exhibited different properties because of sample contamination.

That being said, I'm now going to go ahead and put forth a hypothesis about the structure of the universe with profound ramifications for many areas of science. To be clear I have no idea if this hypothesis is accurate at all, and any eventual validation would have to be accomplished by experimental methods. It hinges on two basic factors - first, some recent observations from physics and cosmology, and second, my own observations of the activity consciousness and operant magick. Even though all I have so far is a speculative idea, I think it's an idea that may be worth a look.

In fact, one piece of this idea was proposed this last July by a team of European astronomers. For some time, physicists have been trying to detect the existence of "dark matter," mysterious particles that are proposed to account for discrepencies in our observations of gravity across the cosmos. Dark matter, conceptualized as particles that attract normal matter gravitationally but in no other way, gave rise to "dark energy," a hypothetical force that acts in the opposite manner, repelling rather than attracting normal matter. In reality, though, experiments have yet to detect any sort of particle or form of energy that would correspond to these concepts.

The European team proposed a more radical interpretation of the data, that in effect Einstein's space-time continuum is much more complex than previously thought. Imagine the classic "rubber sheet" experiment from high school physics, in which a ball is placed on a rubber sheet and creates a "gravity well" around itself that anything rolled along the sheet will drop into if it gets close enough. This is the basic understanding of gravity in general relativity. Now imagine that instead of a flat sheet, the rubber is created with some sort of a pattern. Raised areas will repel matter to a slight degree while depressed ones will attract it. Instead of being composed of mysterious particles, what if dark energy corresponds to the raised areas and dark matter corresponds to the depressed areas?

The team believes that the interactions between dark and ordinary matter could be more important and more complex than previously thought, and even speculate that dark matter might not exist and that the anomalous motions of stars in galaxies are due to a modification of gravity on extragalactic scales.

"The dark matter seems to 'know' how the visible matter is distributed. They seem to conspire with each other such that the gravity of the visible matter at the characteristic radius of the dark halo is always the same," said Dr. Benoit Famaey (Universities of Bonn and Strasbourg). "This is extremely surprising since one would rather expect the balance between visible and dark matter to strongly depend on the individual history of each galaxy.

"The pattern that the data reveal is extremely odd. It's like finding a zoo of animals of all ages and sizes miraculously having identical, say, weight in their backbones or something. It is possible that a non-gravitational fifth force is ruling the dark matter with an invisible hand, leaving the same fingerprints on all galaxies, irrespective of their ages, shapes and sizes."

Such a force might solve an even bigger mystery, known as 'dark energy', which is ruling the accelerated expansion of the Universe. A more radical solution is a revision of the laws of gravity first developed by Isaac Newton in 1687 and refined by Albert Einstein's theory of General Relativity in 1916. Einstein never fully decided whether his equation should add an omnipresent constant source, now called dark energy.

Dr Famaey added, "If we account for our observations with a modified law of gravity, it makes perfect sense to replace the effective action of hypothetical dark matter with a force closely related to the distribution of visible matter."

In effect, what might be going on here is some sort of structure or pattern within the space-time continuum itself. The discovery of the Higgs Boson last year finally seems to have verified the existence of the Higgs Field, which in quantum mechanics imparts mass and therefore gravitation. So another possibility might be that the Higgs Field itself is where these structures can be found, producing gravitational fluctuations as particles move through space and subtly altering their trajectories.

The search for dark matter particles at LUX, the most advanced dark matter detector constructed so far, has come up empty, and while such observations may yet be made so far no evidence has been detected of "weakly interacting massive particles" or WIMPs, which according to the dominant hypothesis produce dark matter's effects.

All three experiments are searching for signals from dark matter in underground mines, to help eliminate background interference. The CoGeNT experiment and the CDMS experiment are located in an old mine in Minnesota, while LUX is searching for signals from dark matter particles colliding with atoms in liquid xenon in an old gold mine in South Dakota.

The theory goes that dark matter particles like WIMPs usually just pass through atoms without having any effect, but ever so rarely, they should hit visible matter atoms instead of passing through the spaces in between them. These are the events that experiments are searching for. In LUX’ case, researchers are hoping that they’ll be able to measure the photons given off by a xenon atom when it gets bumped by dark matter. They stuff the experiments down into mines and heavily shield them to stop anything else, like cosmic rays or background radioactivity, from causing the photons.

So far, LUX hasn’t seen a single hit, suggesting that in the low mass range it is looking in – between five and 10,000 times the mass of a proton – interactions happen extremely rarely. Both CDMS and CoGeNT had claimed some events in that range, but Professor Richard Gaitskell of Brown University, who works on the LUX project, said that these results make that unlikely.

The question therefore remains - what might "dark matter" be composed of? My radical answer is that it may not consist of material at all, but rather probability structures of the sort that I discussed in my article on amplutihedrons and probability structures back in September. As proposed by Rupert Sheldrake, probability structures are probably the closest thing to a "unified theory" of paranormal phenomena that anyone out there has proposed. Take this model that I proposed back in 2011 and this follow-up that I wrote soon after. Breaking those down into the language of probability structures provides a simple way of modeling it all.

We start by proposing that all physical objects correspond to underlying probability structures that affect their state and/or motion in subtle ways. The subtlety is what makes these effects difficult to measure in isolation. We then add that certain, very complex probability structures such as those corresponding to living things are to some degree capable of self-modification. Past a certain point, they exhibit awareness and what we commonly refer to as consciousness. The brain and central nervous system of animals interact with these underlying structures by amplifying the tiny probability shifts produced as the structures self-modify, which they can do because of their recursive complexity as explained by chaos theory and measured by the PEAR quantum diode experiments.

So far, so good. As you'll note, this model pretty much puts the whole mind-body problem to rest in a way besides trying to argue that consciousness is an epiphenomenon of brain activity. The action of magical operations is likewise explained by postulating that under the right circumstances probability structures can pass information back and forth. A psychic is someone who can align his or her consciousness probability structure with other such structures outside the bounds of personal awareness and receive information from them. A magician is someone whose consciousness probability structure can transmit information in a similar manner.

So a magical operation would then consists of the following steps. First, you form a probability structure within the confines of your own personal consciousness (microcosm). You then align your field of consciousness with the probability structure of the target. Finally, you transmit the structure that you have created to the target outside the bounds of your personal consciousness (macrocosm). The degree of alignment determines how clearly the new structure is transmitted, and the intensity with which it is formed constitutes the "signal strength" with which it is transmitted. Both factors are important in terms of increasing the likelihood of magical success.

Spirits fit into this model easily as well - they represent probability structures that are not bound to any particular material form. They may, however, share affinities for certain objects, circumstances, or types of operations based on the nature of their own fields of consciousness. This is the basis for magical correspondences, but it is also important to understand that any spirit is going to have its own personality and motivation - its probability structure is self-modifying, just like your own.

The hunt for dark matter particles continues, and it may be that future discoveries will render a probability structure model of dark matter and energy moot. Researchers at the University of Washington are working on a device to detect axions, hypothetical particles proposed in the 1970's that, if real, would exhibit most of the characteristics that dark matter hunters are looking for.

The Axion Dark Matter Experiment (ADMX) is searching for cold dark matter axions in the halo of the Milky Way by detecting the very weak conversion of axions into microwave photons.

The team is using a detector that employs a powerful magnet surrounding a sensitive microwave receiver that is supercooled to 4.2 kelvins, or about minus-452 F. Thermal noise is reduced by such low temperatures, which also increase the chance that the detector will actually observe axions converting to microwave photons.

The researchers can fine-tune the microwave receiver to the axion mass. This will increase the possibility of detecting an interaction between axions and the detector’s magnetic field. A miniscule amount of electromagnetic power would be deposited into the receiver by a reaction, which could be recorded by computers monitoring the detector.

Previous efforts to locate the axion have been attempted, but the ADMX is garnering greater interest because of recent developments in physics research. The most notable of these developments is that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which discovered the elusive Higgs boson in 2012, did not find evidence to support supersymmetry, a proposed resolution for some inconsistencies among theories of particle physics.

Once the detector has been online for awhile, we should have some idea whether or not axions are real and if they therefore present a possible explanation for dark matter effects, or if the hunt will continue. But its hard to deny that whatever the outcome, we are living in a time of great discoveries in the physical sciences. As a magician, I remain confident that eventually these discoveries will shed more light on the characteristics of consciousness and by extension magick and mysticism.

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