Please Rescue Scientific American

To: editors@sciam.com

Dear Editors

May I ask if anybody could please rescue Scientific American (SciAm)?

Time and again in the past year or so, I have been disappointed by what comes up in SciAm, especially compared to the though-provoking, ground-breaking stuff that regularly graces American Scientist (AS).

Here’s an example. In SciAm‘s July 2007 magazine, you published an already-outdated article “Warmer Oceans, Stronger Hurricanes“, by K.E. Trenberth.

The author barely mentions the issue of wind shear, that most if not all models indicate will increase because of Global Warming, thereby creating a huge obstacle for the formation of hurricanes.

Talk about negative feedback…

In American Scientist‘s July 2007 magazine for comparison, one can find the excitingly great science made by people that, despite being convinced there is a problem with anthropogenic global warming, still don’t have any fear to state that there may be other reasons for the glaciers of Mt Kilimanjaro to disappear.

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I hope you’ll be able to get your act together sooner rather than later, and go back to what Scientific American has been known for, for more than a century: a magazine where ordinary people can stand on the shoulder of giants, instead of being fed their stale crumbs.

Addendum

Am I saying that SciAm needs rescuing because their articles accept anthropogenic climate change? Not at all.

If that were the problem I’d be even less keen to read from American Scientist and Sigma Xi, the scientists’ organization behind it. They are into Anthropogenic Climate Change right, left and center.

The relation between the articles I mention is that the hurricane one is old and incomplete (*), whilst the Kilimanjaro piece is new and challenging.

That’s why my plea is to the Editors of SciAm, not the author of the hurricane article.

(*) check this: Vecchi, G. A., and B. J. Soden (2007), “Increased tropical Atlantic wind shear in model projections of global warming“, Geophys. Res. Lett., 34, L08702, doi:10.1029/2006GL028905

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I have a long-standing respect for SciAm. “All” I am asking is for it to get back to cutting-edge stuff covered in deep by major contributors challenging their readers into reconsidering long-standing beliefs.

Why was it AS rather than SciAm that published the article shattering the myth that Easter Island was destroyed by humans?

These days, the SciAm Editors are so concerned about appearing mainstream,
they can publish an article by AIDS-theory-dissident Duisberg on cancer only after plastering it up with disclaimers.

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So please Editors of SciAm: get the fluff out of the magazine, “un-button up” a little bit, stop worrying so much about Science vs. Religion, and about what is mainstream science and what is not, and Scientific American will be once again as great as ever.

I am still hopeful. Perhaps one day the richness of the SciAm website will make it into the magazine.

Controversy-free Scientific American

On the Scientific American (SciAm) web site, George Musser has recently posted a blog “Please Stop Talking About the Global Warming Consensus“.

IMNSHO Musser is on the right path to an “undestanding” of the huge issue caused by Holier-Than-Thou attitudes used by environmental activists to effectively undermine their own work and aims (alas, just as by a lot of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW)-concerned climate scientists).

The last thing the AGW debate needs now is any hint of debate-stifling.

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Anyway, the above reminded me of my main criticism of SciAm: namely, how hard it is to find the magazine putting forward non-conformist scientific views.

One wonders if the Editors are pursuing the misguided goal of trying to prop up Science against the Forces of Obscurantism, and in the process anything not smelling of 100% scientific mainstream is left out in the cold.

If anybody wants to know a couple of articles that should have been on SciAm, here they are:

(1) Terry L. Hunt, “Rethinking the Fall of Easter Island“, American Scientist, September-October 2006

New evidence points to an alternative explanation for a civilization’s collapse

(2) Richard Seager, “The Source of Europe’s Mild Climate“, American Scientist, July-August 2006

The notion that the Gulf Stream is responsible for keeping Europe anomalously warm turns out to be a myth

(3) Carl Wunsch, “The Myth of Gulf Stream Shutdown” (expanded from a Letter by Wunsch published on The Economist)

Obviously one could simply get a subscription to American Scientist but that’s besides the point. My question is: have the SciAm people (the Editors that is) become simply too buttoned up? Is SciAm in danger of drowning in a sea of “consensus”?

God’s Many Dices (I) – The Science of Parallel Universes

Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is
(Douglas Adams, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”)

By considering the implications of contemporary Science and in particular of the Cosmology of Parallel Universes, it is now possible to build an all-encompassing Model of Reality

From solid scientific bases, such a Model may be able to move Science itself beyond the “Realm of the Whats” and into the “Region of the Whys”: providing clues not only for what is out there, but also for the reasons why things are the way they are

Not only can we say that All-There-Is (let’s call it the Cosmos) is far larger and more diverse than we have ever fathomed. We can even work out elegant explanations on scientific conundrums like:

  1. Why our Universe is so very well “tuned” for life, and especially for intelligent life to exist
  2. Why is Mathematics such a powerful tool in our scientific investigations
  3. And why against a microscopic world driven by probabilistic quantum mechanics, there is the macroscopic deterministic-like tangible reality of our day-to-day experience

———-

Parallel Universes” is the title of a thought-provoking Scientific American article (now a Special Report) written by Max Tegmark, currently working at the Dept. of Physics at the MIT in Cambridge, MATegmark’s Parallel Universes are not meant to be fifth-dimensional ghosts lying next to us, metaphysical threats that can be visited by opening the wrong door as in overdone horror sci-fi movies

In fact, Tegmark writes that the most logical deduction from all known cosmological observations is that Parallel Universes are just “out there”, albeit exceptionally far

In this respect, the Cosmos becomes the set of all Parallel Universes, plus the empty space in-between

Some of those “Parallel Universes” are identical copies of ours. Some are more or less similar to what we experience. Others are barely alike our Universe, others still less and less so

Present-day theories and observations “predict” 3 or 4 types of mutually compatible “Multiverses” (i.e., collections of “Parallel Universes”):

  • Level I – Universes with different initial conditions
  • Level II – Universes with different physical constants and particles
  • Level III – The Many-Worlds interpretation of quantum physics
  • Level IV – Universes with different physical laws

In some Universe, a copy of me has never completed writing this article (for great joy of the readers, no doubt). In other Parallel Universes, neither I nor you exist, and there are completely different subatomic particles, physical laws, even mathematical structures

Tegmark defines “Level I Multiverse” as the collection of “Hubble Volumes” similar to the one we inhabit, composed of the same stuff and following the same laws of physics

Only, as the initial conditions were different, the history of each Universe differs. Still, the “simplest and most popular cosmological model predicts that you have a twin in a galaxy about (10 to the power of 28, or 10^28) meters away”

Such a number, the result of a straightforward computation based on the size and composition of the known Universe, means that there is a massive 10 billions of billions of billions of meters between each of us and a doppelganger sharing the same history (at least so far)

On the other hand, that’s “just” 25 times as far as the radius of our own Universe (the so-called “Hubble Volume”)

Much farther away: another solar system and, say, a 100-light-year radius of space completely identical to ours (10^92 meters); and an entire Universe practically indistinguishable from ours, with all the galaxies and stars and planets and people, all in the same position (10^118 meters)

Remarkably, the “currently popular theory of chaotic eternal inflation” predicts also the existence of a “Level II Multiverse”, a collection of Level I’s (like “gas pockets in a rising loaf of bread”) each with its own set of “nature fundamentals

Within Level II, some Level I Multiverses will have extra spacetime dimensions, some will be made of different elementary particles, some will be built around different physics constants

Perhaps somewhere out there, there really is the Liquid Space of Species 8472, from the TV series Star Trek Voyager. But that’s still not all in this fascinatingly game towards increasingly weirder levels of Multiverses

Tegmark describes as out there, on the edge of anybody’s wildest imagination, “all mathematical structures exist as well

This is the “Level IV Multiverse“: and its existence may help us clarify the so-called Miracle of Mathematics

In the 1960’s paper “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences” Nobel Prize E. P. Wigner has extensively written about such a “miracle”, describing the unease of the scientist when realizing how “the mathematical formulation of the physicist’s often crude experience leads in an uncanny number of cases to an amazingly accurate description of a large class of phenomena

A clear example is in the theory of gravitation, extremely simple in its formulae and yet capable to account for the behavior of an enormous number and variety of planets, stars and galaxies

In a large Level IV Multiverse, if there are enough Level II Multiverses each with its own mathematics, then one or more of them will be bound to possess a coincidence between mathematics and physics as strong as the one we experience

At the same time, in some place far, far away, there is a completely different mathematics at play. And so if our Earth’s orbit is an graceful, regular ellipse, the path followed by another Earth in another Universe will resemble the work of a madman

———-

The Level III Multiverse deserves particular attention

Prof. Tegmark describes Level III as the standard “Many-Worlds” interpretation of Quantum Physics

“Many-Worlds” is an attempt at reconciling the probabilistic behavior predicted by Quantum Physics for microscopic particles with the deterministic working of the day-to-day macroscopic environment

In the famous example of Schroedinger’s Cat, a (macroscopic) feline is locked in an opaque box next to a weapon triggered by the nuclear decay of a (microscopic) atom

(Disclaimer: No animal has been harmed during the writing of this article)

In the box, the cat is somehow alive and dead. The atom’s decay is described statistically as a quantum phenomenon. The so-called “wave function” of the cat-weapon-atom system, provides a measure of the probability for either event (“cat alive” and “cat dead”), will have to “collapse” to a single outcome when the box is opened, and the cat can be seen alive or dead, not a collection of probabilities

In the Many-Worlds interpretation, that is explained by postulating that our Universe is “branching” into a Universe (A) where the cat is alive, and another (B) where the cat is dead. By hearing the meowing, we observe that we have somehow landed in A (an identical copy of us will of course mourn the unfortunate mammal in B)

Now, this is ridicule even more than most Models of the Cosmos. With a “branching” for anything happening to each atom and subatomic particle, the number of copies will have to increase exponentially trillions of trillions times a second (perhaps made by some Humongous Celestial Photocopier forever replicating Universes?)

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Thankfully, we can get out of that physical cul-de-sac by considering that all possible Universes already exist at Levels I and II Level, rather than having them perpetually xeroxed at Level III

Tegmark reports indeed equivalence between the Level III Multiverse (the probabilistic cosmos of quantum physics) and the Level I/II Multiverse (Parallel Universes with different initial conditions, physical constants and particles)

Tegmark goes on to say that Level III “adds nothing new

That is not strictly true: it adds a lot:. It means that the number of Parallel Universes is gargantuan: because for the Level I/II-Level III equivalence to work, all the possible “wave function collapses” of every particle of our Universe have to be happening somewhere, sometime in the Level I/II Multiverse

And so the Multiverse is extraordinarily big and contains a huge number and a very large variety of Universes. And the Cosmos is not deterministic: it only appears as such to our limited experience, lacking the ability to “see” what happens in other Universes.

Paraphrasing Albert Einstein (once scorning Quantum Mechanics by saying that “God does not play dice with the Universe”): God (if one exists) does indeed play with the Universe(s), but with a very large lot of dices, making sure that all possible results do happen

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In this respect my only negative comment about Prof. Tegmark’s text’s is the cavalier usage of the term “infinite”The number of Level I/II Parallel Universe is giant, enormous, hard-to-describe, colossal, etc. etc. But needs not be “infinite

Tegmark himself acknowledges as much, when he writes “The estimate [that we have twins in galaxies on average 10^28) meters away] merely [assumes] that space is infinite (or at least sufficiently large)” (my emphasis)

For example, to us puny human beings, measuring in the region of 2 meters / 6 feet a finite space with a radius of, say, 10^(one million) meters would behave as infinite for all intents and purposes without possessing any of the logical impossibilities of the “infinite

Infinite” carries a baggage of apparent impossibilities: for example, “infinite” is as large as “two infinites” and “half a infinite”. An infinite space cannot expand as it always occupies by definition its own maximum volume. Etc etc

French authors Luminet and Lachieze-Rey appear to make a big fuss about precisely the same point in “L’Univers Chiffonné” (Fayard, 2001)

As “infinite” has historically been a dangerous word for discussions, and arguments about its nature risk overshadowing the actual gist of an article or book, we should refrain from using that word at all cost apart from the exceptional circumstances when it is strictly necessary

———-

The existence of a very large number of Parallel Universe has several interesting upshots

As Tegmark writes, when seen through the Quantum Physics’s lenses of “Many-Worlds” the Levels I Multiverse may explain Time, as “a never ending slide from one already-existing state to another”: like an unending jumping from one Universe to another, and so on and so forth

In other words, if there are enough Universes out there, there will be a Universe “T+1” with a copy of you, one second in your future: so instead of imagining yourself traveling forward in time one second per second, “the passage of Time” could just mean yourself “in Universe T+1

Tegmark explains also how a very large number of Parallel Universes can help us confine the (in)famous Anthropic Principle to the annals of irrelevant philosophy

Our Universe is “fine tuned”: even tiny changes to one physical constant or another would make our very existence next to impossible

This is called the “Goldilocks Enigma”, after the fairy tale about a girl entering the house of the three bears. Why are the Universe’s characteristics not too warm, not too cold, and just about right?

Past answers included the self-referential “Anthropic Principle”, stating more or less that the Universe is like it is because otherwise we wouldn’t have been here to talk about it: a bit like analyzing a defeat by stating “you’re a loser

Tegmark elegantly prefers taking a different route

Within a Level II Multiverse, inside our particular Level I Multiverse our particular Hubble Volume does harbour life because there’s lots (really lots) of other Hubble Volumes out there, in many Level I Multiverses: and one (or more) of them is bound to be just about right for life as we know it

This is a bit like analyzing a defeat by stating that “not all participants to a competition can be winners

Goldilocks may have just had to taste three soups before finding one not too warm, and not too cold. In our case, the Cosmos may need to have 3 trillion Universes, or many more, before getting it “right” for humans to exist: but the underlying principle is the same

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What is there to prevent all that from happening? Is all of the above just too large, too complex, too un-necessary, or even not elegant enough?(a) Are all those Parallel Universes an ugly waste of space and time?Years ago people argued against there being a galaxy of stars, as the absolutely vast majority of them do not provide heat or illumination to any human whatsoever

Tegmark also asks, “What precisely would nature be wasting?

In fact, if there are huge quantities of Hubble Volumes (“Universes”) at Level I and II, there is no reason why there would not be huge quantities of universes at Level IV

Furthermore, the Level IV Multiverse is truly an esthetically pleasing Cosmos, even from a strictly philosophical point of view

We have learned that our planet is not the Center of the Universe. Apart from being able to harbor life, Earth is a run-of-the-mill planet in an average star in a not-so-special galaxy, belonging to an ordinary Local Group gravitationally linked to a Supergroup like many others, in a corner of the Universe that is not extraordinary at all

Let’s call that the “Banality Principle”, with us since at least since the times of Copernicus (banality “with life”, obviously)

And in the Cosmos of the Levels I, II and IV, isn’t our own very Universe just one of many, sporting one of many possible sets of initial conditions, elementary particles, physical laws, mathematical structures, in a virtually unbound escalation of the very same “Banality (with life) Principle”?

(Is there anything then beyond Level IV? I bet there is. But our imagination is silent about it, at least for now)

(b) Would a Cosmos made of all those Parallel Universes be just too complex to comprehend?

Tegmark replies that more often than not there is far less complexity in defining a set with a general overarching rule, rather than a particular item of that set with a precise description: “complexity increases when we restrict our attention to one particular element in an ensemble

Consider in fact a description of the Cosmos, “All-There-Is” as the Level IV Multiverse: there are many sets of physical laws and mathematics, each at work in its own Level II Multiverse, all expressed following a large variety of different initial conditions in a large number of Hubble Volumes (Level I Multiverse)

That’s 38 words

A description of our own Hubble Volume, with all its physical constants having particular values, and all the galaxies and stars and human beings placed in a particular position, etc etc would be definitely much, much longer than 38 words

And a Cosmos made up of a single Hubble Volume is complicated indeed

The simplest and arguably the most elegant theory involves Parallel Universes by default” – writes Tegmark. “To deny the existence of those universes, one needs to complicate the theory by adding experimentally unsupported processes and ad hoc postulates” (like finite space)

And finally, “Our judgement therefore comes down to which we find more wasteful and inelegant: many worlds or many words” (my emphasis)

(c) Is all the above just too weird?

Illuminatingly, Tegmark responds “[…] what did we expect? When we ask a profound question about the nature of reality, do we not expect an answer that sounds strange?

(d) Are all those Universes just too far away to care?

I am not sure that remains a relevant question against a Model that provides new insights into the nature of Mathematics and Time, the Goldilocks Enigma, the Many-Worlds interpretation of Quantum Physics and Einstein’s dice-playing Divinity

Anyway, it is true that spatial distances even to the nearest Parallel Universe are too large to comprehend, let alone traverse or even use to communicate anything.

Or are they? There is a phenomenon called “Quantum Entanglement” or (by Einstein) “action at a distance”. If you get two particles A and B to share the same quantum state, by observing A it is possible to know the state of B: actually, the state of B is “instantaneously” determined by the observation of the state of A, no matter how far separated they are

Now, if we only could demonstrate entanglement between two or more Parallel Universes…

———-

Anyway, we need now not limit ourselves to pure science…what are the philosophical consequences of a Cosmos made of a humongous number of Parallel Universes?

“L’universo spiegazzato” (IlSole24Ore 24 Settembre)

Ho letto con interesse la recensione di Umberto Bottazzini a “Finito o Infinito?” di Luminet e Lachieze-Rey (“L’universo spiegazzato“, Sole24Ore Domenicale, 24 Settembre 2006)

Devo dire che cosi’ come presentati gli argomenti del libro non mi convincono

Da una parte la dicotomia finito-infinito e’ meno vera di quanto possa sembrare

Un universo il cui raggio fosse davvero enorme, per esempio (10 alla 1,000,000) metri, sarebbe di per se’ _finito_ (con buona pace dei filosofi) ma dal nostro punto di vista _infinito_ (gran parte della fisica comporta approssimazioni ben piu’ grossolane: si vedano ad esempio le formule dell’elettromagnetismo da sorgente puntiforme e l’effetto-riflesso)

L’universo “chiffonne’” di Luminet poi non e’ certo una novita’. Seguo la discussione in materia sulle pagine di Scientific American da piu’ di un lustro e l’ultimo articolo sull’argomento riportava, appunto, che _non_ c’era niente nelle osservazioni a suggerire alcuna “immagine fantasma”

Shermer wins against Sachs in the July 2006 Scientific American magazine

Date: Wed, 26 Jul 2006 15:44:23 -0700 (PDT)
From: “Maurizio Morabito”
Subject: Shermer vs. Sachs on the July 2006 magazine: Shermer wins
To: editors@sciam.com
CC: “Michael Shermer”
Dear Editors

Still puzzled by your choice of providing Jeffrey D. Sachs with a full page of your magazine _not_ to talk about science, I could only appreciate the (unintentional?) irony of seeing the Sustainable Developments column juxtaposed with Michael Shermer’s (definitely science-related) Skeptic musings.

And especially so in the July 2006 magazine: on the left side, Mr Shermer discussing how skepticism should be applied to politics, because “partisans twirl the cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want“.

On the right side, Mr Sachs…twirling “the cognitive kaleidoscope” until he got the conclusions he wanted.

For example, Mr Sachs mentions the Darfur crisis saying “the deadly carnage…has roots in ecological crisis directly arising from climate change“.

That is not given out by Mr Sachs as a possibility or a hypothesis: rather, it is clearly described as a “fact”

Would you mind asking Mr Sachs where he took that “fact” from?

I know that the relationship Darfur-”war on scarce resources” has been mentioned recently by some clergy members in the media. But it would be big news indeed to hear that _that_ has been “demonstrated”, let alone accepted as a “fact”

Mr Sachs goes on to more politicized statements, such as “A drought-induced famine is much more likely to trigger conflict in a place that is already impoverished“. Could you please ask Mr Sachs to provide a list of all conflicts triggered by drought-induced famines, say, during the last 100 years?

Please do follow Mr Shermer’s suggestion: and do control for “confirmation bias” on all your contributors, _including_ those writing about something else than science
 

New Orleans: un disastro annunciato da molto piu’ di una settimana

(Lettera a Vittorio Zucconi/Repubblica: letterealdirettore@aol.com)

Caro Direttore

C'e' da meravigliarsi molto della assoluta impreparazione specie da parte del Sindaco e del Governatore, proprio perche' la situazione di New Orleans era nota da molti anni (due riferimenti in calce a questo messaggio)

Da questo punto di vista il parallelo con lo tsunami di Natale 2004 e' molto chiaro: la gran parte dei danni sono da imputare al comportamento irresponsabile di chi abita e invita ad abitare luoghi mal protetti dalle forze idrogeologiche; e non c'e' niente di piu' pericoloso dell'incompetenza e dell'ignavia di chi si affanna tanto per comandare, ma solo allo scopo di acchiappare una Poltrona

Tirem innanz, aspettando le grida di dolore della prossima catastrofe tutta umana "waiting to happen" (come ce ne sono tante nell'Italietta del Ponte sullo Stretto)

(WASHINGTON POST SEP 15 2004)
http://davidappell.com/archives/00000328.htm

"Ivan and New Orleans"
Most scientists, engineers and emergency managers agree that if Ivan does spare southern Louisiana this time, The One is destined to arrive someday. The director of the U.S. Geological Survey has warned that New Orleans is on a path to extinction. Gregory W. Stone, director of the Coastal Studies Institute at Louisiana State University, frets that near misses such as Hurricane Georges — a Category 2 storm that swerved away from New Orleans a day before landfall in 1998 — only give residents a false sense of security. The Red Cross has rated a hurricane inundating New Orleans as America's deadliest potential natural disaster — worse than a California earthquake. "I don't mean to be an alarmist, but the doomsday scenario is going to happen eventually," Stone said. "I'll stake my professional reputation on it."

(SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN OCT 2001)
http://tinyurl.com/awy3c
Drowning New Orleans; October 2001; by Mark Fischetti; 10 page(s)
THE BOXES are stacked eight feet high and line the walls of the large, windowless room. Inside them are new body bags, 10,000 in all. If a big, slow-moving hurricane crossed the Gulf of Mexico on the right track, it would drive a sea surge that would drown New Orleans under 20 feet of water. "As the water recedes," says Walter Maestri, a local emergency management director, "we expect to find a lot of dead bodies."
New Orleans is a disaster waiting to happen. The city lies below sea level, in a bowl bordered by levees that fend off Lake Pontchartrain to the north and the Mississippi River to the south and west. And because of a damning confluence of factors, the city is sinking further, putting it at increasing flood risk after even minor storms. The low-lying Mississippi Delta, which buffers the city from the gulf, is also rapidly disappearing. A year from now another 25 to 30 square miles of delta marsh-an area the size of Manhattan-will have vanished. An acre disappears every 24 minutes. Each loss gives a storm surge a clearer path to wash over the delta and pour into the bowl, trapping one million people inside and another million in surrounding communities. Extensive evacuation would be impossible because the surging water would cut off the few escape routes. Scientists at Louisiana State University (L.S.U.), who have modeled hundreds of possible storm tracks on advanced computers, predict that more than 100,000 people could die. The body bags wouldnÆt go very far.