UFOs and skepticism

Ann K

Senior Member.
This is Brian Dunning's new article, received today in the Skeptoid Companion. It's about his upcoming independent movie on the topic, and is a good discussion of the practical aspects of UFOs as well as skepticism in general.

In the movie, we talk to astrophysicists and astrobiologists who explain that the laws of physics are not laws that human scientists made up. They are observations grounded in physics equations, and math is math, everywhere in the universe. We look at how we've been able to verify that the laws of physics today are the same as they were billions of years ago, and how we've been able to verify that the laws of physics here are the same as they are on the other side of the universe. Math is math. The aliens' math will give them the same answers that our math does. If you try to brush that aside with the illogical "The laws of physics don't apply to aliens," then you've abandoned our shared goal of better informing our beliefs with science. Instead, you're informing your beliefs with the magic of leprechauns and genies.
Content from External Source
https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4866?...ent=current_episode_textlink&utm_medium=email
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
Actually, @Brian Dunning does a good job of making complex stuff approachable.
but doing that brings us back to the whole debate about trust. (although Dunning is one of the debunkers-which he hates to be called-i do actually trust for the most part. I'm not sure if i trust him to understand the math he is talking about in his movie...but...)

anyway the movie does sound cool, Anne just left all the cool parts out of the OP.
 

DavidB66

Senior Member
I don't think the UFO fans believe (or claim) that the laws of physics 'don't apply to aliens'. They just argue that we (earthlings) don't yet know all there is to be known, and aliens may have discovered methods of space travel or communication that we have not yet thought of. In particular, to make widespread interstellar travel plausible, they have to argue that faster-than-light travel may possible, which appears to defy Einstein's principles of relativity. I think in general they don't say that Einstein 'got it wrong', but appeal to some of the more speculative variants of general relativity or quantum mechanics, such as wormholes in space-time, many-worlds theories, and quantum entanglement. If they are right, then the existence of aliens visiting earth, apparently on a casual daily basis, is an important clue to possible scientific breakthroughs. If they are wrong, scientists (and governments) could waste a lot of time, effort, and resources barking up a tree full of non-existent aliens.
 

FatPhil

Senior Member.
I don't think the UFO fans believe (or claim) that the laws of physics 'don't apply to aliens'. They just argue that we (earthlings) don't yet know all there is to be known, and aliens may have discovered methods of space travel or communication that we have not yet thought of.
Thought is relatively unimportant. If there are any interactions ("forces") that we don't know about then we interact so weakly with their force-mediating particles that they will never be of use to us, because we cannot interact with them.

I'm not saying here that they don't exist, I suspect quite the opposite, as plenty of evidence points towards the existence of dark matter, for example. Even were we to know we're sitting in our galaxy's DM halo (and hopefully a positive could be known within a decade or so), there's nothing we could do with that information. They're not going to start interacting with us more just because we know about them.

C.f. neutrinos, which are approaching a century of being known about, but still passing through us, or any equipment we build, 99.9999999999999999999999% of the time. The mean free path of any neutrinos we create is unimaginably larger than the size of the visible universe according to a quick fermi calculation (in dense matter it's light years, and space is tens of orders of magnitude less dense than that). And they interact with us many orders of magnitude more readily than any putative dark matter does.

I repeat - the thing we do not know cannot interact with us to any significant extent.
 

Mauro

Senior Member
I repeat - the thing we do not know cannot interact with us to any significant extent.

Indeed. I also have a 'strong' version of what Phil say: the more things we come to know, the more this knowledge puts fundamental limits on what we can do. So understanding dark matter (for instance) not only will not give us any superpower, but it will show even more that superpowers are not attainable. Exactly as thermodynamics or special relativity did.
 

DavidB66

Senior Member
I repeat - the thing we do not know cannot interact with us to any significant extent.
That's a strong argument. Still, it can hardly be said that the gaps in the present scientific understanding of the world are merely matters of detail. Leaving aside the 'hard problem of consciousness', there are the problems of reconciling quantum theory with general relativity; explaining why the constants of nature have the values they do; and understanding non-locality in quantum mechanics. In my previous comment I carelessly referred to quantum entanglement as 'speculative', but if I understand correctly, entanglement of particles at great (and probably unlimited) distances is now well established experimentally. The problem is just that no-one understands it. There seems to be agreement among the experts that it does not directly contradict relativity, since it does not permit the transfer of information faster than the speed of light. As a corollary, it would not be a means of transporting recognisable physical objects, since otherwise these could be used to carry information, e.g. on cuneiform tablets! But so long as these fundamental problems (and probably others, notably in cosmology) remain unsolved, I don't see how we can be totally confident in rejecting faster-than-light travel on theoretical grounds. I would be more inclined to invert the argument, and say that the non-occurrence of frequent alien visits confirms the impossibility of faster-than-light travel!
 

DavidB66

Senior Member
The main reason FTL seems to be fundamentally impossible is it breaks causality by enabling time travel.
At the risk of exposing myself on the peak of Dunning-Kruger's Mount Stupid, I think the article you link to is unconvincing. Yes, I know that in the customary illustration of relativity theory by space-time diagrams, faster-than-light travel produces causal paradoxes. But that just means that if FTL travel occurs, you have to give up the space-time diagrams, or at least to limit their use. (Incidentally, Einstein himself was initially unenthusiastic about the space-time interpretation of relativity, but later changed his mind.) Provided travel still takes some time, causes will still precede their effects, so there is no violation of causality.

A more compelling objection to FTL, in my opinion, is that according to Einstein's relativistic mechanics, to accelerate an object to FTL velocity you would need an infinite input of energy. Relativistic mechanics seems very well confirmed by experiment, so the objection can't be lightly dismissed. I think at this point FTL enthusiasts start speculating about negative mass!
 

Mauro

Senior Member
At the risk of exposing myself on the peak of Dunning-Kruger's Mount Stupid, I think the article you link to is unconvincing. Yes, I know that in the customary illustration of relativity theory by space-time diagrams, faster-than-light travel produces causal paradoxes. But that just means that if FTL travel occurs, you have to give up the space-time diagrams, or at least to limit their use. (Incidentally, Einstein himself was initially unenthusiastic about the space-time interpretation of relativity, but later changed his mind.) Provided travel still takes some time, causes will still precede their effects, so there is no violation of causality.

A more compelling objection to FTL, in my opinion, is that according to Einstein's relativistic mechanics, to accelerate an object to FTL velocity you would need an infinite input of energy. Relativistic mechanics seems very well confirmed by experiment, so the objection can't be lightly dismissed. I think at this point FTL enthusiasts start speculating about negative mass!
As @jarlrmai said, the violation of causality is the main reason why FTL is impossible.

One could imagine to somehow 'nullify' the rest mass of an object to overcome the need for infinite energy to reach (and then trespass) light speed, but there's no way to get out of the paradoxes which time travel entails (moving faster than light, reversing causality, is the same thing as moving backwards in time). Even conservation of energy could be circumvented if FTL travel = time travel were possible.
 

Itsme

Active Member
If there are any interactions ("forces") that we don't know about then we interact so weakly with their force-mediating particles that they will never be of use to us, because we cannot interact with them.
There were times when we hardly interacted with EM radiation outside the visible spectrum. But once we discovered it and harnassed its powers...
We never interacted much with the photo-electric effect either. But now it powers our artificial lighting, our solid state lasers, and our optical fiber internet communication.

The fact that our current senses and sensors do not interact with something does not automatically mean it will never be of use to us. We still cannot detect dark energy. We do not even know what it is, except that it seems to expand spacetime. Maybe some day we can harnass whatever it causes it, and build an Alcubierre warp drive with it.

This is speculation of course, but so is the assumption that, after a few hundred years of science, there will be no breakthrough scientific discoveries for the next million years, which is what Brian Dunning seems to imply. A million years on a cosmic time scale is nothing, so there may be civilizations out there that are more that a million years ahead if us. Does Brian Dunning really believe their insight in the laws of nature and their corresponding level of technology will hardly differ from ours? From what we managed to discover and develop in a few hundred years? That seems a bit naive to me.

The discovery of alien civilizations being able to visit us would be a sign that there is more physics for us to be discovered. Physics that would enable us to travel to the stars. That to me is an encouraging thought.
 

FatPhil

Senior Member.
A more compelling objection to FTL, in my opinion, is that according to Einstein's relativistic mechanics, to accelerate an object to FTL velocity you would need an infinite input of energy. Relativistic mechanics seems very well confirmed by experiment, so the objection can't be lightly dismissed. I think at this point FTL enthusiasts start speculating about negative mass!
A negative mass and a positive mass will have a negative gravitational force between them. This negative force will repel the positive mass. However, this same negative force will attract the negative mass (as a = F/m, and the 2 negatives cancel out). An absurd always-accelerating chase ensues.

One thing to remember is that if you put values that do not correspond to anything into the real world into the equations that best model the real world, the values/predictions you get out don't necessarily tell you anything about the real world. That the mathematics is capable of operating upon such values is irrelevant. If I invest at (-20+40i)% interest, my balance won't go round in a circle, even if the exponential function works that way.
 

FatPhil

Senior Member.
There were times when we hardly interacted with EM radiation outside the visible spectrum. But once we discovered it and harnassed its powers...
Nope - equivocation on "interaction". Every amino acid ever created, every cell membrane that's ever self-organised, every permeation of ions across such membranes, pretty much everything that has ever been life on earth (and almost everything that is non-life on earth, because basically the entirety of chemistry) has been electromagnetic interactions.

The first time we picked up anything and realised we could hold it, we were experiencing and controlling electromagnetic interactions - the electron shells of the chemicals on the surface of our skin and the surface of the object were repelling each other. Propelling our primitive unicellular selves through water using our cilia/flagella, ditto. All we've been doing since then is exploiting contemporaneously useful corner cases.
 

Itsme

Active Member
Nope - equivocation on "interaction". Every amino acid ever created, every cell membrane that's ever self-organised, every permeation of ions across such membranes, pretty much everything that has ever been life on earth (and almost everything that is non-life on earth, because basically the entirety of chemistry) has been electromagnetic interactions.

The first time we picked up anything and realised we could hold it, we were experiencing and controlling electromagnetic interactions - the electron shells of the chemicals on the surface of our skin and the surface of the object were repelling each other. Propelling our primitive unicellular selves through water using our cilia/flagella, ditto. All we've been doing since then is exploiting contemporaneously useful corner cases.
I think you misunderstood me. Of course there are physical interactions going on in nature all the time, but the key question here is are we aware of it? Only if we are aware of it, we can study it, harnass it, and exploit its potential.
But if we are unaware of it, we cannot study it nor harnass it, let alone speculate about its future potential.
 

Itsme

Active Member
Brian Dunning brings up two arguments against possible alien visits:
1. FTL travel is impossible.
2. Alien civilizations have a limited lifespan due to inevitable cosmic disasters, wars, or ecological disasters, so the probability that they co-exist with us in the same timespan is very small.

There are counterarguments to both of them.

1. FTL travel is impossible in local spacetime, but spacetime itself can be manipulated in such a way that FTL travel might be possible. This idea was first explored by Dr Michael Alcubierre and is still being researched today.
2. If an alien civilization would spread out in space instead of staying on their home planet, their survival will no longer depend on local cosmic disasters or events that would destroy their (initial) home planet. They could potentially last forever.
 

DavidB66

Senior Member
there's no way to get out of the paradoxes which time travel entails (moving faster than light, reversing causality, is the same thing as moving backwards in time
I question that. If I understand correctly, FTL velocities would lead to paradoxes in the common space-time interpretation of STR, as introduced by Minkowski (or Poincaré). In some reference frames it might appear that in some other reference frame an effect has preceded its own cause, which would be embarrassing! But so much the worse for those reference frames, at least where FTL velocities are concerned. There is an analogy with the so-called 'twin paradox', where one twin goes on a long space trip and returns much younger than his/her twin. The problem with this is not that one twin ages faster than the other (why shouldn't they?) but how to explain the asymmetry between the twins if motion is purely relative. The usual answer is to disqualify the reference frame of the 'traveling' twin on the grounds that he/she has undergone accelerated motion, and for the purposes of STR accelerated reference frames don't count. Not everyone agrees with that solution, since the duration of the acceleration can be made negligibly short compared with the duration of the trip, but it establishes the point that there might be good reasons for excluding some reference frames from consideration for some purposes. If there is a choice between accepting violation of causality and scrapping some or all of the usual space-time doctrine, I would choose the latter.

I would be the first to admit that I don't really understand the concept of space-time, but I suspect that a lot more people pretend to understand it than really do. I don't have a problem with a 4-dimensional continuum as such, if all dimensions are on the same footing (see Abbott's Flatland and other such works), but in space-time the dimensions are not on the same footing, unless the time coordinate is given a mathematically imaginary value. For that reason some authors prefer to call it a 3+1 dimensional continuum.
 

jarlrmai

Senior Member
The twin 'paradox' is not a causality violation effect it's a demonstration of the time dilation effects of special relativity. it's not even an actual paradox (logical contradiction) its a real effect predicted by special relativity that is taken account for in GPS systems.

A causality effect caused by FTL involves communication of events seen from different viewpoints so that observers within different reference points start to see events out of sequence.

It is hard to explain, hence I encourage you to read the article I linked, it might be long but it is a demonstration with an example of how FTL travel violates causality.
 

Mauro

Senior Member
Brian Dunning brings up two arguments against possible alien visits:
1. FTL travel is impossible.
2. .....

The impossibility of FTL travel is pretty much rock-solid whatever one tries to do, given the problems with causality which have alredy been pointed out. But (and I'm sorry to have to correct Brian Dunning here) the 'cosmic speed limit' is not the main problem for achieving interstellar travel: indeed if we could build a spaceship travelling at 1/10th of c we could reach Alpha Centauri in about 45 years, a long but not an impossible time.

The big problem is that even that is impossibile to do! What dooms interstellar travel, long before the light speed limit is approached, is the enormous quantity of energy needed to accelerate an object even at fractions of c.

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http://gregsspacecalculations.blogs...665&b=3067283.9879657053&c=1417011847.2067223


4.77 megatons are about 238 Hiroshima bombs, for each kilogram one wants to send in Alpha Centauri orbit, and notice the calculator assumes the use of anti-matter fuel and 100% fuel efficiency!


PS.: a lot of ingenious ways have been proposed to circumvent this problem, from generation ships (travel times increased to thousand of years) to Bussard ramjets (no need to bring fuel on board) to laser propulsion (no need to bring fuel on board, again). None of these turns out to be a practical way to travel interstellar distances too.
 

Itsme

Active Member
The problem I have with these demonstrations of causality violation by FTL travel is they all use the Lorenz transformation, which was never meant to describe FTL effects.
In fact, the gamma term in this transformation ( sqrt(1-(v2/c2)) ) becomes an imaginary number if v exceeds c, which leads to nonsensical outcomes of applying the Lorenz transformation.
Therefore I highly doubt if applying the Lorenz transformation to demonstrate causality violations for FTL travel is scientifically valid.
 

FatPhil

Senior Member.
There is an analogy with the so-called 'twin paradox', where one twin goes on a long space trip and returns much younger than his/her twin. The problem with this is not that one twin ages faster than the other (why shouldn't they?) but how to explain the asymmetry between the twins if motion is purely relative. The usual answer is to disqualify the reference frame of the 'traveling' twin on the grounds that he/she has undergone accelerated motion, and for the purposes of STR accelerated reference frames don't count. Not everyone agrees with that solution, since the duration of the acceleration can be made negligibly short compared with the duration of the trip, but it establishes the point that there might be good reasons for excluding some reference frames from consideration for some purposes.

If we're viewing things from a purely SR perspective, then the returning twin's locus doesn't count as it's not an inertial reference frame. The equations of SR are defined only in terms of inertial reference frames - step outside that realm, and the equations simply do not apply. If two of three triplets head off for a journey, and only one of them turns back, then the one that continues in the same path does not see any paradox - he sees the stationary twin age slowly on the way out, and the deserting twin age even more slowly as he returns home; eventually they catch up with each other.

Of course, we should be looking at this from a GR perspective, but that's well above my pay grade, my maths degree only included SR. There's plenty in GR that changes and even leads to opposite deviations from NM compared to the simplistic idealised SR model. However, the whole twin paradox was created within the SR model, we're repurposing it for something which it wasn't designed for if we do this.

I suspect that the GR solution says that you can't wave away the effects of acceleration as negligible by shortening the time over which it happens because by the equivalence principle the higher acceleration will have the same relativistic effect as a higher gravitational field, and therefore have commensurately greater dilitation effect. It would be particularly neat if the shorter-but-more input ended up as just-the-same in effect, but as I say I have no idea if that's actually the case. (There are equivalences in NM: Impulse = Acceleration * Time, for example. And yes, everything's an integral really.)
 

Itsme

Active Member
If we're viewing things from a purely SR perspective, then the returning twin's locus doesn't count as it's not an inertial reference frame. The equations of SR are defined only in terms of inertial reference frames - step outside that realm, and the equations simply do not apply.
There is a "triple" version of the twin paradox involving only inertial reference frames. It involves a third brother, who travels towards Earth while his brother travels away from Earth. They meet halfway and on that moment the brother travelling towards Earth synchronizes his calender and clock with his brother traveling away from Earth. The acceleration when leaving Earth can be cancelled as well using the same trick (the outgoing brother simply passes Earth and synchronizes his clock with his brother on Earth).

The true answer to the twin paradox is that both twins are exactly the same age when they meet again. So there is no age difference and hence no paradox to solve.

If you like to check the math, see: https://www.hrpub.org/download/20210330/UJPA1-18422749.pdf
 
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Mauro

Senior Member
The problem I have with these demonstrations of causality violation by FTL travel is they all use the Lorenz transformation, which was never meant to describe FTL effects.
In fact, the gamma term in this transformation ( sqrt(1-(v2/c2)) ) becomes an imaginary number if v exceeds c, which leads to nonsensical outcomes of applying the Lorenz transformation.
Therefore I highly doubt if applying the Lorenz transformation to demonstrate causality violations for FTL travel is scientifically valid.

Special relativity is based on the experimentally determined fact that the speed of light is constant for every observer, no matter the speed they are moving.

Once this is accepted (and there are no doubts that this truly astonishing fact is true) the Lorentz transformations follow, it's just mathematics: if the light speed is constant for every observer then the Lorentz transformations hold. If the Lorentz transformations hold then the concept of simultaneity needs to be revised, and then it turns out that any signal propagating at a speed higher than c would violate causality. This is just deductive reasoning (worked out through mathematics), so IF the premises are true THEN the result is true, it's as simple at that, there's no way to handwave that out by saying Lorentz transformation were never meant to be applied to FTL travel.



PS. The details of the reasoning which goes from 'the speed of light is constant for every observer' to 'then going FTL violates causality' are not simple at all of course, and this not so much because they use deep mathematics (they don't) but rather because they are totally counterintuitive. A rather good (imho) explanation is given here https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Special_Relativity. The math is rather easy (high school at most) but you will need paper and pencil to write down yourself the formulas and the diagrams working step by step, it's the only way to understand this kind of things, you cannot just read through it.
 

LilWabbit

Senior Member
I think Brian Dunning does a rather poor and intellectually sloppy job in addressing the main problem in the ufologist's argument. In his skeptical counter-argument Dunning himself indulges in silly sociological speculations on the cultural evolution and wars hypothetical alien civilizations must undergo along some simplistic pattern he outlines. @Itsme provides a reasonable counter to some of these points.

The real issue is what I would call the Ufologistic Fallacy (unconsciously perpetrated by the ufologist), which is closely related to the more popularly known notion of 'advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic':

The Ufologistic Fallacy

Superintelligence implies supernatural powers.

The Problem: The assumption of an existence of a superintelligent natural being does not logically imply a supernatural being, yet such an implication is unwittingly often made by the ufologist.

Hypothetically, a superintelligent natural being is a creature of our universe, part of the same natural order of things as we are and similarly subject to its fundamental constraints. Hypothetically, a supernatural being is above the natural order of things and able to avoid or manipulate its fundamental constraints.

Resolution of the Fallacy: The ufologist restricts the discussion to a superintelligent natural being which allows us to carry on a rational and scientific dialogue on the basis of scientifically testable physical laws, constants and theories. Or the ufologist accepts these beings as supernatural which allows us to stop all scientific dialogue in its tracks, and thereby saving us from getting caught up in pointless belief-based speculations.

***

If unchallenged, the foregoing fallacious reasoning allows the ufologist to indulge in a selective usage of physics vocabulary when it suits the narrative and happily withdrawing into science fiction when actual physics starts creating problems for the narrative.

For example, the ufologist will claim a spacecraft is featured in a radar return which appears to demonstrate a velocity of 24 kilometers per second, starting and ending with zero speed. He will also accept that the craft has 'mass' and appears as a 'radar return'. If so, then by the same token he should accept that such a craft, in order to perform such a feat, must generate a superheated fireball and a sonic boom audible at a great distance from the craft far exceeding the radar horizon. But since the only physical track the craft leaves is a radar return, the ufologist withdraws into science fiction to explain away the absence of other necessary observations predicted by such a fast-moving object with a mass. If he can explain them away by a rigorous scientific argument that's testable, then we'd be on the cusp of learning something new and should happily welcome his analysis.

However, his argument always stops short of demonstrating an entire universe of testable predictions of the re-orientation of modern physics implied by his speculations. He'll merely content himself by pointing out a select few highly speculative fringe physicists who are 'on top of it'.

The ufologist will always shrug off the current physics-defying bit of their argument by appeal to 'superior intelligence/technology' whilst being more than happy to accept many other physical properties applying to the radar return and the object it depicts. The debunker would be happy if the ufologist would either (1) claim the entire object in all its properties as some astral non-physical 'entity' (in which case we bypass science altogether and agree to end the conversation right there) or (2) honestly accept massive objects with such flight characteristics without sonic booms are just science fiction which is sometimes fun to indulge in.

To recap, you can't involve physics in a serious scientific claim while being conveniently selective about how it applies and to what extent.
 

FatPhil

Senior Member.
The real issue is what I would call the Ufologistic Fallacy (unconsciously perpetrated by the ufologist), which is closely related to the more popularly known notion of 'advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic':

It's very closely related to what I would probably call the Logistic Curve Fallacy, or the ignorance of diminishing returns. Just because we've seen exponential growth in some fields, such as technology (the poster child must surely be Moore's Law) the naive will expect exponential growth to continue. In reality, as nothing can continue growing forever, not even human stupidity (and yes, that Einstein "quote" is almost certainly bunk), if you do have something monotinically increasing, you're limited to S-curves rather than exponential ones. The logistic curve is just a particularly nice example of such a curve. Eventually, there are fewer new bits of science left to exploit - we will slowly start to run out of tech. Of course, it's hard to know where we are on the curve, there could be plenty more things to exploit, I'm certainly seeing stagnation in many fields (e.g. transportation, and yes, there's an easter egg in that sentence for those who believe we'll always be stuck with Air 1.0).
 

Itsme

Active Member
Just because we've seen exponential growth in some fields, such as technology (the poster child must surely be Moore's Law) the naive will expect exponential growth to continue.
You would need another breakthrough technology or even a breakthrough scientific discovery that starts a new exponential curve. We have seen several in our history.

Concerning new scientific discoveries: The distinction between a superintelligent natural being and a supernatural being is not always easy to make. The example given by LilWabbit (ultrasonic speeds without extreme heating and a sonic boom) has been solved by Paul R Hill, in his book "Unconventional Flying Objects: A Scientific Analysis". He solved it with contemporary aerodynamic physics and math, but needs one assumption: superintelligent beings must have discovered a way of repelling mass. So, does the fact that we don't know how to do this in our current understanding of physics make that a supernatural being, or is Hill's assumption a valid one? The discussion is endless ...
 

jarlrmai

Senior Member
You would need another breakthrough technology or even a breakthrough scientific discovery that starts a new exponential curve. We have seen several in our history.

Concerning new scientific discoveries: The distinction between a superintelligent natural being and a supernatural being is not always easy to make. The example given by LilWabbit (ultrasonic speeds without extreme heating and a sonic boom) has been solved by Paul R Hill, in his book "Unconventional Flying Objects: A Scientific Analysis". He solved it with contemporary aerodynamic physics and math, but needs one assumption: superintelligent beings must have discovered a way of repelling mass. So, does the fact that we don't know how to do this in our current understanding of physics make that a supernatural being, or is Hill's assumption a valid one? The discussion is endless ...
This kind of 'solution' without falsifiable math is really no different from saying magic.
 

Mauro

Senior Member
You would need another breakthrough technology or even a breakthrough scientific discovery that starts a new exponential curve. We have seen several in our history.

Concerning new scientific discoveries: The distinction between a superintelligent natural being and a supernatural being is not always easy to make. The example given by LilWabbit (ultrasonic speeds without extreme heating and a sonic boom) has been solved by Paul R Hill, in his book "Unconventional Flying Objects: A Scientific Analysis". He solved it with contemporary aerodynamic physics and math, but needs one assumption: superintelligent beings must have discovered a way of repelling mass. So, does the fact that we don't know how to do this in our current understanding of physics make that a supernatural being, or is Hill's assumption a valid one? The discussion is endless ...

Every problem can be 'solved' by using Hill's method (as you report it, I didn't read the book), fantasy is the only limit. One will eventually run out of fantasy to invent new problems to solve by using it.
 

FatPhil

Senior Member.
You would need another breakthrough technology or even a breakthrough scientific discovery that starts a new exponential curve. We have seen several in our history.

You've presumed an endless source of breakthrough technologies. When semiconductor junctions are so small that quantum mechanics, the thing that makes them work, predicts that they can no longer work reliably, how do you propose we get smaller circuits? Sometimes you hit hard physical walls - it only becomes possible to improve one attribute at the expense of another, for example the only way we can get higher portable chemical specific energies than fossil fuels (i.e. practical fuels for cars) is if we expend *way* more energy elsewhere preparing those fuels (such as reducing ores). You do realise that the "technological breakthrough" of electric vehicles is actually a step backwards, don't you? One that we're forced to do in part because some accessible resources are simply finite. A classic trade-off.
 

Itsme

Active Member
You've presumed an endless source of breakthrough technologies. When semiconductor junctions are so small that quantum mechanics, the thing that makes them work, predicts that they can no longer work reliably, how do you propose we get smaller circuits? Sometimes you hit hard physical walls - it only becomes possible to improve one attribute at the expense of another, for example the only way we can get higher portable chemical specific energies than fossil fuels (i.e. practical fuels for cars) is if we expend *way* more energy elsewhere preparing those fuels (such as reducing ores). You do realise that the "technological breakthrough" of electric vehicles is actually a step backwards, don't you? One that we're forced to do in part because some accessible resources are simply finite. A classic trade-off.
I like to broaden the historical scope a bit. After all, we're talking about civilizations that may be a million years ahead of us.

If you look further back in history you'll see things like:
The invention of the steam engine, the invention of the book press, the discovery of EM waves, the invention of the combustion engine, the invention of the electrical engine, the invention of flight, the discovery of nuclear physics, the discovery of the photo-electric effect, the invention of the vacuum tube, the invention of the transistor, the invention of the laser, the development of space flight, the invention of integrated circuits, the development of the Internet, the development of wireless digital communication, the discovery of quantum mechanics, the development of quantum computers, the development of AI...

Each of these has led to new exponential curves, and I am only covering a few hundred years here.

Imagine what may lie ahead if we better understand dark matter, dark energy, consciousness, or finally unify gravity and quantum mechanics.

If you look at the big picture I don't think we are at the end of a saturated curve at all. But I do agree that for some of our technologies we are closing in on their boundaries.
 

FatPhil

Senior Member.
Imagine what may lie ahead if we better understand dark matter, dark energy, consciousness, or finally unify gravity and quantum mechanics.

I imagine unicorns farting supra-quantum metalasers and floating seven-dimensional castles in sky. Prove me wrong.

Look how much good "imagining" does.
 

Mauro

Senior Member
I like to broaden the historical scope a bit. After all, we're talking about civilizations that may be a million years ahead of us.

If you look further back in history you'll see things like:
The invention of the steam engine, the invention of the book press, the discovery of EM waves, the invention of the combustion engine, the invention of the electrical engine, the invention of flight, the discovery of nuclear physics, the discovery of the photo-electric effect, the invention of the vacuum tube, the invention of the transistor, the invention of the laser, the development of space flight, the invention of integrated circuits, the development of the Internet, the development of wireless digital communication, the discovery of quantum mechanics, the development of quantum computers, the development of AI...

Each of these has led to new exponential curves, and I am only covering a few hundred years here.

Imagine what may lie ahead if we better understand dark matter, dark energy, consciousness, or finally unify gravity and quantum mechanics.

If you look at the big picture I don't think we are at the end of a saturated curve at all. But I do agree that for some of our technologies we are closing in on their boundaries.
I feel as I am repeating myself, but 'if you look further back in history' you'll see things like the 1st law of themodynamics, which killed free energy, the 2nd law if thermodynamics, which killed easy-to-get energy, the determination of stellar distances, which (among other things) killed space travel, then special relativity, which killed FTL and put a maximum bound on the amount of energy one can get out of anything, then quantum mechanics, which even puts limits to what is knowable. Imagine what more nasty limitations may lie ahead if we better understand dark matter, dark energy etc. etc.
 

LilWabbit

Senior Member
You would need another breakthrough technology or even a breakthrough scientific discovery that starts a new exponential curve. We have seen several in our history.

Concerning new scientific discoveries: The distinction between a superintelligent natural being and a supernatural being is not always easy to make. The example given by LilWabbit (ultrasonic speeds without extreme heating and a sonic boom) has been solved by Paul R Hill, in his book "Unconventional Flying Objects: A Scientific Analysis". He solved it with contemporary aerodynamic physics and math, but needs one assumption: superintelligent beings must have discovered a way of repelling mass.

Except that Hill is adding quite a 'but'. Adding this 'one' little assumption (i.e. negative mass) happens to violate energy conditions in general relativity which predict extremely successfully observations across the universe. Even the Casimir effect, which was thought to violate certain energy conditions, can satisfy an appropriately defined energy condition (i.e. averaged null energy condition).

In other words, conveniently 'tweaking' a highly successful general theory of physics to satisfy an alien spacecraft hypothesis in order to explain a modest set of low quality UAP data is bad science at best, pure science fiction pretending as science at worst.

Whilst general relativity surely has its limitations, to seriously even entertain an alternative theory without energy conditions, this alternative must be able not only to predict the anomalies which do not comfortably satisfy relativity, but to also account for all the observations which relativity predicts with amazing accuracy across the universe. For an alien hypothesis to account for a particular radar return to be seriously considered as a scientific one, it must take on the formidable burden to prove an alternative general theory to Einstein's relativity which is more successful in its predictions. Now that's quite a tall order.

Until such a serious well-formulated scientific theory, all talk of negative mass is science fiction rather than science. Which is fun. As long a we don't put too much stock on it.
 

Itsme

Active Member
Except that Hill is adding quite a 'but'. Adding this 'one' little assumption (i.e. negative mass) happens to violate energy conditions in general relativity which predict extremely successfully observations across the universe.
Hill does not assume negative mass, just "something" (some force) that is able to repel mass and is yet to be discovered by us. Maybe something underlying dark energy could be the solution. But of course any speculation can be ridiculed with unicorns or skewed to violate our incomplete laws of physics, that's entirely up to you. I like your framework of supernatural vs superintelligent natural beings but there is a big grey area between them if you try to speculate about future scientific discoveries.

I guess your assumption about negative mass could be based on the Alcubierre warp drive? Hill passed away long before Alcubierre wrote his paper. As a side note, new ways of constructing a superluminal warp drive have recently been published that do no longer need negative mass or negative energy:
no one was able to get around the problem of negative energy—until Lentz took it up during the lockdown in Göttingen. In his enforced isolation, Lentz found a way to construct a warp bubble using only positive energy. In so doing, he may have overcome the greatest objection to warp drives.
Content from External Source
Source: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/star-treks-warp-drive-leads-to-new-physics/
 
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LilWabbit

Senior Member
Hill does not assume negative mass, just "something" (some force) that is able to repel mass and is yet to be discovered by us. Maybe something underlying dark energy could be the solution. But of course any speculation can be ridiculed with unicorns or skewed to violate our incomplete laws of physics, that's entirely up to you.

Negative mass or not, the pattern of physics speculation is the same whether we talk about Hill or others: To modify highly successful general theories of physics -- in a manner that impairs their amazing ability to predict observations -- in order to fit a highly specific alien spacecraft hypothesis or equivalent.

It's a form of intellectual laziness and theoretical violence that's not really interested in the hard work of science.

As I said earlier, if they're really willing and able to put in the hard work of formulating new general theories that are more successful than the current ones in their theory-predictions (i.e. testability), any scientist worth their salt should welcome such theories wholeheartedly for further exploration. If that's what Jamie Farnes' project is about, good for him. Even if it turns out to be a dud.

Such, however, hasn't been the nature and pattern of most of these speculations. Having said that, speculative theoretical excursions such as the many-worlds interpretation of QM, multiverse theoretizations, illusory time theoretizations, even n-dimensional strings et cetera are not on a much firmer footing scientifically/empirically. But some of them are considered 'less fringe' due to their agreement with certain mainstream / popularized philosophical ideas about the nature of existence, rather than their actual scientific merit. Despite being just as 'unicorn' as negative mass warp drives. Until of course proven otherwise.

I like your framework of supernatural vs superintelligent natural beings but there is a big grey area between them if you try to speculate about future scientific discoveries.

There are some grey areas. But what's not grey is their amazingly broad and consistent ability to predict observations and measurement outcomes when it comes to the greatest received theories of physics. As such, they impose a formidable standard of rigour for any future scientific revolutions attempting to challenge these theories because any new 'revolutionary' theory must be able to be at least as successful in predicting these very same observations, and not only the anomalies they've set out to explain.

Theories of supernatural beings do not need to obey these empirical constraints. They can be just as true and just as false in any universe. Theories of superintelligent natural beings do.
 

Hevach

Senior Member.
The problem I have with these demonstrations of causality violation by FTL travel is they all use the Lorenz transformation, which was never meant to describe FTL effects.
In fact, the gamma term in this transformation ( sqrt(1-(v2/c2)) ) becomes an imaginary number if v exceeds c, which leads to nonsensical outcomes of applying the Lorenz transformation.
Therefore I highly doubt if applying the Lorenz transformation to demonstrate causality violations for FTL travel is scientifically valid.
There's been years of debate on whether or not this is true, but the Alcubierre effect (where you don't actually move but move your frame of reference) is claimed by its inventor not to violate causality because it doesn't actually involve acceleration, and while engaged the bubble is a causality horizon so you can't observe through it in either direction. To a third party observer the traveler just appears to disappear at one location and then some time later appear at another location (along with a bunch of heat and high energy particles that might be explosively released when the bubble collapses) - from the traveler's point of view, they could turn around and observe their departure, but not return on the same trajectory to any time before that departure occurred.

Now, there are people just as smart as Alcubierre who say this is wrong and the effect can still violate causality. And both sides have the math to prove it because when you're far enough into the theoretical you've got to start making assumptions and the debate is more about which assumptions are correct rather than which outcome is correct.


Either way, the effect requires a torus of negative mass, so this is very much a matter of being 99% done making Dragon Soup and just needing the dragon. There's a lot of theoretical FTL concepts that may (or may not) avoid causality violations, but all of them have some catch like that - they avoid breaking the universe by requiring you to have already broken it and offer no insights into how you might have done that.
 

Itsme

Active Member
There are some grey areas. But what's not grey is their amazingly broad and consistent ability to predict observations and measurement outcomes when it comes to the greatest received theories of physics. As such, they impose a formidable standard of rigour for any future scientific revolutions attempting to challenge these theories because any new 'revolutionary' theory must be able to be at least as successful in predicting these very same observations, and not only the anomalies they've set out to explain.
Our current models in physics have the ability to predict, yes. But not everything they predict has been experimentally verified. New experiments may show errors in their predictions, which will lead to new models in the future. So only our current set of experimental observations is "scientifically sacred", not our current models and everything they predict regardless of experimental verification.
The math of Special Relativity, for instance, basically falls apart when v>c. We have no experimental observations whatsoever for this case. So to me there is no reason to consider any prediction of SR for v>c sacred.
 

Itsme

Active Member
Now, there are people just as smart as Alcubierre who say this is wrong and the effect can still violate causality. And both sides have the math to prove it because when you're far enough into the theoretical you've got to start making assumptions and the debate is more about which assumptions are correct rather than which outcome is correct.
Yep, that's the grey area between supernatural beings and superintelligent natural beings I was referring to.

Either way, the effect requires a torus of negative mass, so this is very much a matter of being 99% done making Dragon Soup and just needing the dragon.
See post #36 above: new models (with new assumptions, yes) have been proposed that get rid of the dragon.

The same pattern seems to keep repeating itself in these discussions. It basically comes down to: are you optimistic or pessimistic in your expectations (or assumptions). It's an interesting discussion but with our current knowledge it will never lead to any definitive answers. We just have to wait and see.
 
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