Cosmic Concealment

Lawrence Krauss knows nothing about nothing, but on some other matters — I now realize — he’s an insight dynamo. This is his Our Miserable Future talk, of which the last seven minutes (minus the last two) are utterly absorbing.

In a nutshell — cosmic expansion will move every other galaxy in the universe beyond our light-cone (within two trillion years). After that time, even the most sophisticated scientific enterprise would find it impossible to reconstruct our contemporary cosmo-physics. In other words, what we presently understand about the evolution of the universe tells us it will become something that will cease to be understandable. What has been revealed to us is a tendency to cosmic concealment. We see the universe hiding itself.

That’s where Krauss leaves us (after a few tacked-on happy thoughts at the end). My question: If we can see that the cosmos is going to hide, so successfully that the fact it has hidden itself will itself have become invisible, upon what do we base any present confidence we may have that an analogous process of profound cosmic concealment has not already taken place? Confirming now, through mathematical physics, what Herakleitos proposed two-and-a-half millennia ago — that nature loves to hide — is it not reckless in the extreme to assume that she has been forthcoming with us up to this point?

ADDED: “Finding chameleon-like effects won’t necessarily mean they’ve found dark energy, says Adrienne Erickcek of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. But it will show that screening mechanisms are a plausible explanation for our failure to measure the effects of dark energy in the local universe.”

September 3, 2014admin 13 Comments »


13 Responses to this entry

  • Lesser Bull Says:

    Yes, obviously. The Copernican hypothesis–our place and our time aren’t unique–is a defense mechanism.


    Posted on September 3rd, 2014 at 2:45 pm Reply | Quote
  • RorschachRomanov Says:

    It’s a shame what’s become of nihilism- once the “uncanniest of all guests” (Nietzsche) prompting him to go so far as to consider that nihilism might be a “divine way of thinking,” to its morose inducing banalization in the most glib refracting out of itself and into some puerile hedonism.

    I wonder if Krauss is inadvertently carrying out the work of God, minus his, as you say, those “tacked on happy thoughts.”

    Especially considering the Pyrrhonism featured here, natural theology was a mistake from the outset. The philosophically and imaginatively challenged new atheist type might consider this is the death knell for theology, but this is more an expression of undeserved hubris and a mind deadening lack of imagination than anything approaching sound metaphysics.

    This is the revelation upon which a Neoreactionary inspired stirring of theology begins:

    Thelonious Monk: “It’s always night, or we wouldn’t need light.”

    I have seen the light? Fuck off.

    To darkness!


    Posted on September 3rd, 2014 at 4:10 pm Reply | Quote
  • Aeroguy Says:

    Clarke and Baxter’s Time Odyssey series explores space-time expansion rips quite a bit. What makes it less horrifying is that the concealment is a known unknown, like the dark side of the moon. Far more horrifying would be something that if not observed would create an unknown unknown. Though this would work for maximum horror through an unknowable mechanism. The fact that entropy can’t be destroyed shows that the universe isn’t entirely shy with her secrets. I still think it is too soon to say it’s impossible for all the universe’s secrets to potentially be discovered. Although, I don’t think we’ll ever be able say with absolute certainty that the unknown unknown doesn’t exist either.


    Posted on September 3rd, 2014 at 4:12 pm Reply | Quote
  • Bryce Laliberte Says:

    We need to hurry up and terraform the universe.


    Bryce Laliberte Reply:

    Of course, I should point out that part of this probably involves figuring out what’s going on way down in the nooks and crannies (e.g. sub-Planck length), which is where I think all the alien civilizations could be hiding, and where I also suspect ”place” as we understand it at this scale of reference doesn’t really have the same meaning.

    This is highly, highly speculative of course, but I’m just trying to be optimistic.


    scientism Reply:

    If something as simple as “place” doesn’t have the same meaning how on Earth do “hiding” and “civilisation” have the same meanings?


    Bryce Laliberte Reply:


    Posted on September 3rd, 2014 at 5:53 pm Reply | Quote
  • William Newman Says:

    There is a strong intellectual tradition within non-woo physics, dating back to at least the early days of quantum mechanics, of punting on a disagreement unless it can be phrased in terms of what can be observed. For example, let’s agree to disagree about whether the particle did go through two different slits at the same time when we weren’t looking: as long we we can agree on what we will find when we look for the particle, that’s the important thing, not some hypothetical about what’s “really” happening when unobserved.

    That tradition seems sensible to me. (And I know enough quantum mechanics to make me very leery of alternatives. Mother Nature leans hard on physicists to push them into thinking that way, so that other approaches end up being silly when you get serious about exploring them. I also know enough about information theory and statistics to notice other practical pressures in those fields seem to be pushing to the same attitude, and IIRC I even read this stated explicitly in a book or paper about Minimum Description Length methods. Also a weaker vaguer version can be seen in philosophy up through Popper.)

    Steeped as I am in that tradition, it is hard to get too disturbed by things like distant galaxies becoming unobservable. As long as the unobservables are things which fundamentally cannot affect the outcome of any experiment I could ever do — even when ‘experiment’ is loosely defined, something almost like ‘anything I could ever end up experiencing’ — then I find that I can live with never being able to figure out those unobservables by observation and inductive reasoning. “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

    Also, FWIW, it’s hard to know how much to trust the conclusion that these things become absolutely unobservable forever. That conclusion may follow from equations which have been exceedingly accurate for all of our experiments, sure. But physics is full of things that look simple and precise until you put them under more extreme conditions and discover that their behavior becomes more complicated. (Things like nuclei being blown apart into protons and neutrons, or protons being blown apart into quarks, or equations of motion containing previously-insignificant terms which become noticeable as speed approaches the speed of light.) And the equations we use are known to break down for cosmology (giving bizarre math inconsistencies vaguely in the spirit of dividing 0/0) under the insane conditions that would hold in the early moments of a universal “big bang”, and we don’t have a good replacement to use under those conditions. (String theory aims to be at least an important part of that replacement, and it might become that replacement someday, but it’s not today: too much “not even wrong”.) It is quite possible that such a replacement will someday be found, and when found will reveal that some conclusions like the one in the original article no longer hold.


    Posted on September 3rd, 2014 at 5:58 pm Reply | Quote
  • orlandu84 Says:

    @ admin
    “If we can see that the cosmos is going to hide, so successfully that the fact it has hidden itself will itself have become invisible, upon what do we base any present confidence we may have that an analogous process of profound cosmic concealment has not already taken place?”

    I think Thomas Kuhn would point out that this type of paradox occurs a lot as a scientific paradigm goes senile. As we maximize our current paradigm, its limitations become more and more apparent. Ironically, just as we should have our greatest confidence in the paradigm due to it explaining the most things, we will instead have our greatest doubts on account of seeing its limits. In other words, despair replaces hopes when a paradigm grows old.

    A quick exit question for people who know physics: if fractals model complex systems pretty well, where are the fractals in illustrating our complex universe? Would such an illustration acknowledge our lack of understanding too profoundly?


    Aeroguy Reply:

    I love fractals and they are useful in modeling some things, biological structures in particular. Sadly however our universe doesn’t seem to be a fractal, there’s an upper limit on observed large structures that falls below what we would expect from a fractal universe. Rather its consistent with a pattern we would expect from order emerging out of chaos. Our gods aren’t the beautiful celestial beings out of a fractal order, but the dark old ones who emerged from chaos.


    Orthodox Reply:

    As we maximize our current paradigm, its limitations become more and more apparent. Ironically, just as we should have our greatest confidence in the paradigm due to it explaining the most things, we will instead have our greatest doubts on account of seeing its limits.

    C.S. Lewis said something similar in the Abolition of Man.

    It is the magician’s bargain: give up our soul, get power in return. But once our souls, that is, ourselves, have been given up, the power thus conferred will not belong to us. We shall in fact be the slaves and puppets of that to which we have given our souls.

    I have described as a ‘magician’s bargain’ that process whereby man surrenders object after object, and finally himself, to Nature in return for power. And I meant what I said. The fact that the scientist has succeeded where the magician failed has put such a wide contrast between them in popular thought that the real story of the birth of Science is misunderstood. You will even find people who write about the sixteenth century as if Magic were a medieval survival and Science the new thing that came in to sweep it away. Those who have studied the period know better. There was very little magic in the Middle Ages: the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are the high noon of magic. The serious magical endeavour and the serious scientific endeavour are twins: one was sickly and died, the other strong and throve. But they were twins. They were born of the same impulse. I allow that some (certainly not all) of the early scientists were actuated by a pure love of knowledge. But if we consider the temper of that age as a whole we can discern the impulse of which I speak.


    At the moment, then, of Man’s victory over Nature, we find the whole human race subjected to some individual men, and those individuals subjected to that in themselves which is purely natural’ — to their irrational impulses. Nature, untrammelled by values, rules the Conditioners and, through them, all humanity. Man’s conquest of Nature turns out, in the moment of its consummation, to be Nature’s conquest of Man. Every victory we seemed to win has led us, step by step, to this conclusion. All Nature’s apparent reverses have been but tactical withdrawals. We thought we were beating her back when she was luring us on. What looked to us like hands held up in surrender was really the opening of arms to enfold us for ever. If the fully planned and conditioned world (with its Tao a
    mere product of the planning) comes into existence. Nature will be troubled no more by the restive species that rose in revolt against her so many millions of years ago, will be vexed no longer by its chatter of truth and mercy and beauty and happiness. Ferum victorem cepit: and if the eugenics are efficient enough there will be no second revolt, but all snug beneath the Conditioners, and the Conditioners beneath her, till the moon falls or the sun grows cold.


    Posted on September 4th, 2014 at 12:31 am Reply | Quote
  • Michael Says:

    Hes just an idiot he got me all worked up with that nothing is unstable crap then I got out a pencil and did the maths it aint so nothing is very still
    now here he is quoting Thoreau while trashing god WTF how does he know in a trillion years cars wont go faster than light too.hes a commie jew dont listen we got his type in brooklyn by the truckload–


    Posted on September 4th, 2014 at 3:35 am Reply | Quote
  • John Hannon Says:

    In his book, Cycles of Time, Roger Penrose argues that the Kraussian picture of indefinite cosmic expansion portrays merely one “aeon” of a continual succession of such aeons, where the remote future oblivion of each aeon becomes the low-entropy Big Bang state of the next aeon cycle.
    The beginning and the end of the universe are thus, according to what he calls “conformal cyclic cosmology,” effectively the same, since these two phases of its evolution contain only massless particles for which there is no such thing as time.


    Posted on September 4th, 2014 at 12:04 pm Reply | Quote

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