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Author Topic: Is infinity an illusion?  (Read 68356 times)

Offline Bill S

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #250 on: 07/10/2013 22:43:18 »
Two naÔve questions:

1. Would I be right in thinking that science maintains that matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed?
2. If so, on what is this claim based?   
 

Offline jeffreyH

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #251 on: 07/10/2013 22:49:40 »
Two naÔve questions:

1. Would I be right in thinking that science maintains that matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed?
2. If so, on what is this claim based?

The law of conservation of mass
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservation_of_mass
 

Offline Pmb

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #252 on: 08/10/2013 02:33:55 »
Two naÔve questions:

1. Would I be right in thinking that science maintains that matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed?
2. If so, on what is this claim based?   
Scientists don't often use the term "matter" in a precise way so what you said is too vauge to comment on. I would say that mass cannot be created or destroyed. Energy is not a thing that can be created or destroyed like a golf cart. What can be said about it is that its constant, i.e. conserved.

So mass being conserved is taken as an axiom which means that it's assumed to be true but it cannot be proven to be so. All laws of physics are axioms. That's why they call them laws.
 

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #253 on: 08/10/2013 16:57:39 »
You could argue that would violate causality, but causality is something that exists within the universe in our space and time--it isn't defined and shouldn't be expected to hold for an event that occurred outside our space and time.
That reminds me of the faster than light inflation period in the early universe. :)
 

Offline JP

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #254 on: 08/10/2013 20:20:30 »
Two naÔve questions:

1. Would I be right in thinking that science maintains that matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed?
2. If so, on what is this claim based?   
Scientists don't often use the term "matter" in a precise way so what you said is too vauge to comment on. I would say that mass cannot be created or destroyed. Energy is not a thing that can be created or destroyed like a golf cart. What can be said about it is that its constant, i.e. conserved.

So mass being conserved is taken as an axiom which means that it's assumed to be true but it cannot be proven to be so. All laws of physics are axioms. That's why they call them laws.

To add to what Pete is saying here and to head off attempts to use this to justify that the universe can't be infinite...  :p

All these laws are assumed to be true only within our universe, since that's the only place where we can look to see if they're true.  We have no idea what happens outside of our universe--if there is an outside.  If our universe was created from "nothing" it's possible this law doesn't hold. 

Similarly, causality can't be violated within our universe, but outside our universe it might be---in particular, the concept of causality probably wouldn't have meaning, since it describes how things interact within the space-time of our universe, which presumably doesn't extend outside of it.
 

Offline JP

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #255 on: 08/10/2013 20:22:40 »
You could argue that would violate causality, but causality is something that exists within the universe in our space and time--it isn't defined and shouldn't be expected to hold for an event that occurred outside our space and time.
That reminds me of the faster than light inflation period in the early universe. :)

That's a good point!  One thing that puzzles people until they learn a bit about how causality works is that distant stars can recede from each other at apparently faster-than-light speeds.  In other word, the distance between them can increase faster than the speed of light. 

But this isn't a violation of light speed travel since the light speed limit only applies to things moving within space-time, but if space-time itself grows, two points can separate at apparent faster than light speeds. 
 

Offline webplodder

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #256 on: 09/10/2013 09:26:59 »
dlorde, it has been shown that certain aspects of human thinking is of a non-computable nature, as was mentioned in an earlier post, so once again, we have the problem of trying to understand how this occurs which, as far as I am aware, has eluded cognitive science. The problem with a Turing machine is that it is bound by its axiomatic nature so it does not have the ability to make sudden jumps of insight. In effect, it's like someone having a chain of thought but is prevented to reflect and modify the implications of it because it is written in stone. In other words, human beings are able to play about with ideas and explore novel relations that cannot be predicted so it would not be possible to incorporate this into a Turing machine. How can an algorithm be designed that predicts the unpredictable? For example, how would it have been possible to design an algorithm that eventually produced the theory of relativity? In short, people possess imaginations, computers do not.

Another aspect to this is that while people can discuss and debate about ideas with other people (which might lead to new a insight) a Turing machine, as far as I am aware, is stuck with its own internal processes not being able to benefit from interactions in the form of natural language. Mathematics only goes so far in trying to describe the world. This is crucial, of course, because language has the ability to generate ideas out of the blue due to the flexibility of words which allows new relations to be formed. Can computers understand jokes? This is important because through jokes we can see how human beings make ridiculous relationships, which are not found in the real world, yet may have some value in forming new ideas about reality. An artificial intelligent system is just that - artificial - and can never represent the real world unless and until it becomes a conscious entity which has experienced real-world interactions.

Today's most powerful computers are very good within narrow parameters of application but every time they are required to be used in others fields require new algorithms to be created. Never forget that they are basically number crunching but you can only achieve so much using this method. Human beings are not designed this way so there must exist more effective methods to deal with reality that have been evolved over millions of years.
« Last Edit: 09/10/2013 09:58:23 by webplodder »
 

Offline dlorde

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #257 on: 09/10/2013 11:45:08 »
it has been shown that certain aspects of human thinking is of a non-computable nature, as was mentioned in an earlier post
I'm sorry, I can't find that post (searching for 'computable' or 'non-computable'); can you post a link to it, or explain what was shown to be non-computable, or link to a reference?

Quote
The problem with a Turing machine is that it is bound by its axiomatic nature so it does not have the ability to make sudden jumps of insight. In effect, it's like someone having a chain of thought but is prevented to reflect and modify the implications of it because it is written in stone. In other words, human beings are able to play about with ideas and explore novel relations that cannot be predicted so it would not be possible to incorporate this into a Turing machine.
No. You're confusing the hardware with the algorithms. From the time the first computers were built people have been writing self-modifying code, learning algorithms, evolutionary algorithms, etc. One advantage of evolutionary algorithms is they can come up with novel and unexpected results. There are also systems explicitly designed to generate creative solutions. Have a read of VS Ramachandran's work (or watch his videos) where he describes how creativity an insight is generated in the brain; it's basically a form of pattern matching and metacognition - applying principles & ideas from one area to a unrelated area (this is also how simile and metaphor work). In the brain, this is done subconsciously; in a computer, it's usually an emergent product of explicit algorithms (e.g. iterative feedback, recursion, etc).

Quote
How can an algorithm be designed that predicts the unpredictable? For example, how would it have been possible to design an algorithm that eventually produced the theory of relativity? In short, people possess imaginations, computers do not.
It is, by definition, impossible to predict the unpredictable, so you'll need to clarify that thought. The theory of relativity didn't come out of the blue, it was based on the work of Michelson, Lorentz, Poincare and others, dropping certain assumptions. A great piece of work, but a mix of derivation and synthesis. Algorithms have already been written that can generate novel mathematical theorems and proofs, and novel artwork and music, so be careful not to confuse what has not yet been done with what is impossible.

But this is all off-topic. I suggest if you want to discuss this stuff further, you create a new thread for it.
 

Offline webplodder

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Offline webplodder

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #259 on: 09/10/2013 16:11:32 »
Quote
Algorithms have already been written that can generate novel mathematical theorems and proofs, and novel artwork and music, so be careful not to confuse what has not yet been done with what is impossible.
dlorde, ultimately this is not an independent consciousness acting by itself but simply a set of instructions that has anticipated certain conditions, in which case it is all the result of human intelligence, not machine intelligence. A machine cannot learn, only blindly follow its algorithm. A truly intelligent machine would be able to actually understand the subject matter it is analysing but so far, this is not the case. A calculator has the ability to add 8 and 12, for example, but has no clue what numbers are aside from a series of electronics signals generated within its circuits so cannot draw generalisations from mathematical operations. Computer artwork is more in the eye of the human beholder rather than in the eye of the "artistic" algorithm. Are you seriously suggesting a computer knows what art is? Even the most powerful chess computer relies on huge number crunching algorithms with which to analyse variations and this is because the external world can only be represented by binary representations due to the architecture of its internal workings.

There have been many things in science that were once not thought to be possible yet have materialised, so we cannot always predict what will happen in the future and the reason for this is because human thinking itself is often unpredictable, something that is non-computable and creative. This is what I meant when I said it is impossible to produce an algorithm that anticipates original and novel ideas since such ideas have first to be thought of. Otherwise, you might as well say it's possible to produce an algorithm to cure cancer or predict the weather for years to come. Even if a computer algorithm had been fed with all the knowledge and data available at the time connected with physics I am very doubtful it would have come up with the theory of relativity. It required a leap of insight not at all suggested by the then current data.
« Last Edit: 09/10/2013 16:48:25 by webplodder »
 

Offline Bill S

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #260 on: 09/10/2013 19:10:22 »
Quote from: JP
All these laws are assumed to be true only within our universe, since that's the only place where we can look to see if they're true.  We have no idea what happens outside of our universe--if there is an outside.  If our universe was created from "nothing" it's possible this law doesn't hold.

One of the objections to God and creationism raised by scientists is that such beliefs constitute a barrier beyond which we cannot speculate or reason. 

Surely you are not saying that because we have no proof of what might be beyond our Universe (if anything), it is meaningless to consider possibilities that might be relevant to the origin of the Universe.

If it is reasonable to speculate, wouldnít Ockhamís  razor  lead us to start our speculations with a minimum of wild assumptions?
 

Offline Bill S

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #261 on: 09/10/2013 19:43:42 »
Quote from: JP
Similarly, causality can't be violated within our universe, but outside our universe it might be---in particular, the concept of causality probably wouldn't have meaning, since it describes how things interact within the space-time of our universe, which presumably doesn't extend outside of it.

You seem to be assuming that I am saying that the principles of causality must be the same within, and outside the Universe.  This is not so; in fact I would be quite surprised if that were the case. 

What I am saying is that science is able to lead us to such a deep understanding of the Universe, and to interpret so many of the underlying laws, that it seems reasonable to speculate that even the origin of the Universe might be understandable using the same rational tools.

Causality may well be different outside the Universe, but without making assumptions like "God created everything", or "everything suddenly appeared from nothing without cause", we have only those guidelines which are known to us on which to base our thoughts.
 
 

Offline JP

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #262 on: 09/10/2013 20:16:51 »
This is a hard topic to discuss because we're burdened with ideas like "cause" which imply time.  However, there's no reason to believe time exists outside our universe.  If it does, then it probably isn't a simple extension of the timeline within our universe or it would be a part of our universe.

So let me put it this way: why, scientifically speaking, couldn't our universe be infinite and have always been infinite?
 

Offline dlorde

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #263 on: 09/10/2013 20:35:49 »
http://www.technologyreview.com/view/511421/the-brain-is-not-computable/
Nicolelis is using a restricted sense of computable, i.e. direct algorithmic simulation:
Quote
... human consciousness (and if you believe in it, the soul) simply canít be replicated in silicon. Thatís because its most important features are the result of unpredictable, nonlinear interactions among billions of cells, Nicolelis says..
However, you can (as the Human Brain Project is partially attempting) emulate the brain by modelling neurons and their connections (Neuromorphic Computing Systems), so that you can have unpredictable, nonlinear interactions among billions of cells emulated neurons. It's coming.

p.s. wrong thread.
« Last Edit: 09/10/2013 20:50:20 by dlorde »
 

Offline Bill S

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #264 on: 09/10/2013 21:35:37 »
Quote from: JP
  So let me put it this way: why, scientifically speaking, couldn't our universe be infinite and have always been infinite?

The Universe could be infinite Ė even I havenít been around long enough to know that. :) Ė but there do seem to be some reasons for thinking otherwise; like the Big Bang, entropy etc.  Perhaps you were thinking more along the lines of eternal inflation, and an infinity of bubble universes; or bouncing universes?  These are things I would be happy to discuss, with a view to learning more about them.
 

Offline JP

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #265 on: 09/10/2013 21:40:43 »
Quote from: JP
  So let me put it this way: why, scientifically speaking, couldn't our universe be infinite and have always been infinite?

The Universe could be infinite Ė even I havenít been around long enough to know that. :) Ė but there do seem to be some reasons for thinking otherwise; like the Big Bang, entropy etc. 

Why are those reasons for thinking otherwise?
 

Offline yor_on

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #266 on: 10/10/2013 00:11:48 »
The point, to me dlorde, with a quantum computer is that if you find a way to formulate your question it will give you a answer. The assumption behind it being that this answer will be the most probable. In effect, as in using it for cracking 2056 bits pgp. the possibilities inherent for finding one right solution there are more than we imaginatively can go through.

"AES supports a 256-bit key. How many keys does AES-256 have? See if you can find some number in physics, chemistry, or astronomy of about the same size. Use the Internet to help search for big numbers. Draw a conclusion from your research.

Answer:
The equation we need to solve is 2256 = 10n . Taking common logarithms, we get n = 256log 2, so n = 77. The number of keys is thus 1077 . The number of stars in our galaxy is about 1012 and the number of galaxies is about 108 ,so there are about 1020 stars in the universe. The mass of the sun, a typical star, is 2*1033 grams. The sun is made mostly of hydrogen and the number of atoms in 1 gram of hydrogen is about 6*1023 (Avogadroís number). So the number of atoms in the sun is about 1.2 *1057 . With 1020 stars, the number of atoms in all the stars in the universe is about 1077 . Thus, the number of 256-bit AES keys is equal to the number of atoms in the whole universe (ignoring the dark matter). Conclusion: breaking AES-256 by brute force is not likely to happen any time soon."

From http://210.43.188.28/jpkc10/wangluo/Course/skja/ywxt/enCh-8.html

So, the 'attack' by a quantum computer would have to work outside a linear time line, and assuming the principles are correct it is presumed to do the calculation 'instantly'.

(and if we could stretch the time allowed for a edit somewhat, I would be much obliged. Got a slow connection invariably ending up it that ugly 'edit comment' as soon as I correct my spelling etc)
« Last Edit: 10/10/2013 00:23:33 by yor_on »
 

Offline webplodder

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #267 on: 11/10/2013 10:11:36 »
If the universe has always existed then where does that leave causality? If there is no initial cause then it seems to me there cannot exist a chain of cause-and-effect leading to the situation today. Possibly, an alternative interpretation might be that instead of one thing causing another, events exist as a set of pre-existing ensembles so that causality is an illusion and we exist in a kind of computer program where things are already pre-determined. Admittedly, this sounds far fetched but how else can we avoid the problem of a causeless universe giving rise to an apparent chain of events?
 

Offline webplodder

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #268 on: 11/10/2013 10:37:36 »
http://www.technologyreview.com/view/511421/the-brain-is-not-computable/
Nicolelis is using a restricted sense of computable, i.e. direct algorithmic simulation:
Quote
... human consciousness (and if you believe in it, the soul) simply canít be replicated in silicon. Thatís because its most important features are the result of unpredictable, nonlinear interactions among billions of cells, Nicolelis says..
However, you can (as the Human Brain Project is partially attempting) emulate the brain by modelling neurons and their connections (Neuromorphic Computing Systems), so that you can have unpredictable, nonlinear interactions among billions of cells emulated neurons. It's coming.

p.s. wrong thread.

One important aspect that should be addressed here is that very often we learn by our mistakes. In the history of science there have been many instances of experiments that have yielded important information that was unexpected so by "playing about" with ideas human beings have learnt new things that could never have been predicted by any algorithm.
 

Offline dlorde

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #269 on: 11/10/2013 10:40:48 »
The point, to me dlorde, with a quantum computer is that if you find a way to formulate your question it will give you a answer.
...
Sorry yor_on; as usual, I don't have the foggiest idea what you're on about. I haven't mentioned quantum computing on these forums since April.
 

Offline dlorde

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #270 on: 11/10/2013 10:53:06 »
... there have been many instances of experiments that have yielded important information that was unexpected so by "playing about" with ideas human beings have learnt new things that could never have been predicted by any algorithm.
Computing can't yet match the human brain in this respect, but computing systems can be creative using similar principles, and evolutionary algorithms regularly come up with unexpected, unpredictable ideas (e.g. Evolving Soft Robots - not the best example around, but I just happened to be watching it). Neuromorphic systems have even greater potential.
« Last Edit: 11/10/2013 10:54:46 by dlorde »
 

Offline webplodder

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #271 on: 11/10/2013 11:03:47 »
... there have been many instances of experiments that have yielded important information that was unexpected so by "playing about" with ideas human beings have learnt new things that could never have been predicted by any algorithm.
Computing can't yet match the human brain in this respect, but computing systems can be creative using similar principles, and evolutionary algorithms regularly come up with unexpected, unpredictable ideas (e.g. Evolving Soft Robots - not the best example around, but I just happened to be watching it). Neuromorphic systems have even greater potential.

dlorde, as fascinating as this discussion is, I think we should stop now because we are way off topic and must be trying the patience of the mods.
 

Offline Bill S

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #272 on: 11/10/2013 14:52:14 »
Quote from: JP
Why are those reasons for thinking otherwise?

My thinking there was that if the Universe started at the BB, and progressed towards a predictable end, it would most likely be finite.  One would have to think outside this Universe to find infinity.  Similarly, the one-way progression of entropy might point towards the same conclusion.

These thoughts are probably naÔve, but it is the nature of this naivety that I am trying to understand.
 

Offline JP

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #273 on: 11/10/2013 15:48:19 »
Quote from: JP
Why are those reasons for thinking otherwise?

My thinking there was that if the Universe started at the BB, and progressed towards a predictable end, it would most likely be finite.  One would have to think outside this Universe to find infinity.  Similarly, the one-way progression of entropy might point towards the same conclusion.

These thoughts are probably naÔve, but it is the nature of this naivety that I am trying to understand.


That is one possible answer, but there isn't a reason to assume the universe didn't start off infinite (aside from intuition, which isn't scientifically credible).  To be scientific, you'd have to tie it into observation or measurement somehow.  I think nearly every human has the intuition that if the universe "started" it must have been tiny and that since then it has grown at a finite rate so that now it can't be infinite.  But our intuition is a dangerous guide to dealing with modern physics, especially with such fundamental questions as the nature of the universe's creation, so it can't be relied upon alone to give us answers.

If we stuck to intuition, we wouldn't have quantum mechanics, black holes, inflation of the universe, relativity, etc.

I think the best way to approach the answer to give it some scientific credibility is to note that mathematics is extremely useful in physics, and to ask what kind of mathematically allowed states the universe might be in currently and eliminate states which are disallowed by observation.  For example, we know that space-time has certain properties, which eliminates many possibilities.  We know that the universe's expansion appears to be accelerating, so that eliminates more.  What we have no evidence for either way is the size of the universe, since we're limited to only seeing a patch of the whole and we don't see any sign of finiteness as we look out.  Of course, we don't see a sign of infiniteness either--what we see could be compatible with finite or infinite universes.  To rule out infinite universes, we'd presumably need to know how the universe was created and that would tell us, but we haven't figured that out yet.  Intuition just isn't a good reason to rule something out, though it's fair to say that you prefer finite models because your intuition finds them more comfortable--just realize that's an argument people used to oppose quantum mechanics, relativity, etc.
« Last Edit: 11/10/2013 15:55:48 by JP »
 

Offline webplodder

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #274 on: 11/10/2013 16:39:32 »
Quote from: JP
Why are those reasons for thinking otherwise?

My thinking there was that if the Universe started at the BB, and progressed towards a predictable end, it would most likely be finite.  One would have to think outside this Universe to find infinity.  Similarly, the one-way progression of entropy might point towards the same conclusion.

These thoughts are probably naÔve, but it is the nature of this naivety that I am trying to understand.


But what caused the BB?
 

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
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