Saturday, August 21, 2021

Everything vibrates. It really does.

[This is a transcript of the video embedded below.]

I’ve noticed that everything vibrates is quite a popular idea among alternative medicine gurus and holistic healers and so on. As most of the scientific ideas that pseudoscientists borrow, there’s a grain of truth to it. So in just which way is it true that everything vibrates? That’s what we’ll talk about today.

Today’s video was inspired by these two lovely ladies.

    We don't have the vibrational frequency to host that virus.  
    And I taught her that. 
    So if you don't have that vibrational frequency right here you're not going to get it. 
    We don't have the vibrational frequency to get COVID? 
    Correct. Do you know that everything in this universe vibrates. And is alive. There is life with that. That's what I'm talking about. I don't put life into COVID. I'm not going to wear a mask. 
    I'm not going to wear a mask either. I never wear a mask. Ever.

Now. There’s so much wrong with that, it’s hard to decide where to even begin. I guess the first thing to talk about is what we mean by vibration. As we’ve already seen a few times, definitions in science aren’t remotely as clear-cut as you might think, but roughly what we mean by vibration is a periodic deformation in a medium.

The typical example is a gong. So, some kind of metal that can slightly deform but has a restoring force. If you hit it, it’ll vibrate until air resistance damps the motion. Another example is that the sound waves created by the gong will make your eardrum vibrate. The earth itself also vibrates, because it’s not perfectly rigid and small earthquakes constantly make it ring. Indeed, the earth has what’s called a “breathing mode”, that’s an isotropic expansion and contraction. So the radius of earth expands and shrinks regularly with a period of about twenty point five minutes.

But. We also use the word vibration for a number of more general periodic motions, for example the vibration of your phone that’s caused by a small electric motor, or vibrations in vehicles that are caused by resonance.

What all these vibrations have in common is that they are also oscillations, where an oscillation is just any kind of periodic behavior. If you ask the internet, “vibrations” are a specific type of “mechanic” oscillation. But that doesn’t make sense because material properties, like those of the gong, are consequences of atomic energy levels of electrons, so, that’s electromagnetism and quantum mechanics, not mechanics. And we also talk of vibrational modes of molecules. Just where to draw the line between vibration and oscillation is somewhat unclear. You wouldn’t say electromagnetic waves vibrate, you’d say they oscillate, but just why I don’t know.

For this reason, I think it’s better to talk about oscillations than vibrations, because it’s clearer what it means. An oscillation is a regularly recurring change. In a water-wave for example, the height of the water oscillates around a mean value. Swings oscillate. Hormone levels oscillate. Traffic flow oscillates, and humans, yeah, humans can also oscillate.

With this hopefully transparent shift from the vague term vibration to oscillation, I’ll now try to convince you that everything oscillates. The reason is that everything is made of particles, and according to quantum mechanics, particles are also waves, and waves, well, oscillate.

Indeed, every massive particle has a wave-length, to so-called Compton wave-length, that’s inversely proportional to the mass of the particle. So here, lambda is the Compton wave-length, h is Planck’s constant, and c is the speed of light. The frequency of this oscillation is the speed of light divided by the wave-length. But just what is it that oscillates? Well, it’s this thing that we call the wave-function of the particle, usually denoted Psi. I have talked about psi a lot in my earlier videos. The brief summary is that physicists don’t agree on what it it, but they agree that Psi gives us the probability to observe the particle in one place or another, or with one velocity or another, or with spin or another, and so on.

For an electron, the wave-function oscillates about ten to the twenty times per second. This means, the particle carries its own internal clock with it. And all particles do this. The heavier ones, like protons or atoms, oscillate even faster than electrons because the frequency is proportional to the mass.

Neutrinos, which are lighter than electrons, don’t just oscillate by themselves, they actually oscillate into each other. This is called neutrino-mixing. There are three different types of neutrinos, and as they travel, the fraction between them periodically changes. If you start out with neutrinos of one particular type, after some while you have all three types of them. This can only happen if neutrinos have masses, so the neutrino oscillations tell us neutrinos are not massless, and a Nobel Prize was awarded for this discovery in 2015.

Photons, the particles that make up light, are, for all we know massless. This means they do not have an internal clock, but they also oscillate, it’s just that their oscillation frequency depends on the energy.

Okay, so we have seen that all particles oscillate constantly, thanks to quantum mechanics. But, you may say, particles alone don’t make up the universe, what about space and time. Well, unless you’ve been living under a rock you probably know that space-time can wiggle, that’s the so-called gravitational waves, which were first detected in twenty fifteen by the LIGO gravitational wave interferometer.

The gravitational waves that we can presently measure come from events in which space-time gets particularly strongly bent and curved, for example black holes colliding or a black hole eating up a neutron stars or something like that. But it’s not that this is the only thing that makes space-time wiggle. It’s just that normally the wiggles are way, way too small to measure. Strictly speaking though, every time you move, you make gravitational waves. Tiny ripples of space-time. So, yes, space-time also vibrates. Really, everything vibrates, kind of, all the time. It’s actually correct. But it doesn’t help against COVID.


  1. So, confession time:

    Mid-last decade I tried this light-and-chakras-key words-kinesiology treatment offered by a bloke I knew (I was trying to get my life moving, turns out the best way is Do Not-Woo Things) during some parts of which I wore coloured safety-glass type shades that were supposed to help fix the frequency of my emotional vibrations, and I was also making vision boards and stuff... Spoiler: IT DID NOT WORK. Now I accept that I can be grumpy and still get on with life.

    I wish I knew this blog existed back then; I would've been depressed still but I'd know a bit more about the Universe by now if I were hanging around here instead.

    1. I've known several people who did some kind of energy-aura treatments or such. I understand that it can be difficult to identify pseudoscience when it's designed to look and smell much like science.

    2. I wasn't so much ignorant as in a bit of a desperate phase. I wasn't getting where I wanted to go in life even with all the personal-development stuff I was doing and a friend I knew from that stuff offered it to me for free. It offered emotional catharsis, if nothing else.

      I also got involved with 'inspiration/manifestation/abundance type stuff with someone who was all about 'authenticity/self-expression/being vulnerable/following your passion...' Turns out I am way too self-expressed and honest for the likes of her, even though I though I was being how she prescribed - blocked and banned!
      'Be Honest and Authentic - NOT LIKE THAT'
      The best way to get what one wants is to work out how to get there backwards, then research and execute. No vibrational raising required!

    3. Hi C Thompson,
      I would recommend to you the Philosophy of Stoicism. It has been of great value to me, and I recommend The Beginner’s Guide to Stoicism by Matthew J. Van Natta.
      Meditation is a great help also, and Tibetan Bowl music helps to clear the mind. You can stream it on youtube.

      The best way for me to get what I want is to:
      A. Visualize my long-term goals.
      B. Set multiple short-term goals in place leading up to my long-term goals.
      C. Put procedures in place to accomplish them.
      D. Keep my eyes on the long-term goals.

      No, that’s not multiple choice.
      Hope that you are well.
      Oh! And E. Never Give Up!

  2. Hi Sabine,

    one question, everything oscillates, so is there something else physical other than a) some kind of substrate that oscillates and b) its oscillations?


    (typo? "physicists don’t agree on what it it").

  3. The two ladies said:
    "...We don't have the vibrational frequency to host that virus..."

    Well, clearly, they also don't seem to have the vibrational (oscillational) frequency that would allow them to host any semblance of logical thinking or common sense.

    It is precisely that type of misappropriation of quantum theory that justifiably elicits the use of the term "woo-woo" and makes it near impossible to introduce any sort of metaphysical thought into science.

    However, I will say that the one thing that they may have gotten right is in the suggestion that:

    "...everything in this alive..."

    1. Hi Keith,

      I think the difference between 'woo-woo' and metaphysics is that metaphysics can be used to think and discuss scientific knowledge and ideas whereas woo denies science, or seeks to twist the language into false uses.

      Vibrations, frequencies, quantum, etc. are common victims of the latter.

      Virions are on the borderline between alive and not, since they cannot reproduce by themselves and must invade a host to utilise them.

    2. C Thompson wrote:
      "I think the difference between 'woo-woo' and metaphysics is that metaphysics can be used to think and discuss scientific knowledge and ideas whereas woo denies science, or seeks to twist the language into false uses."

      Hello C (I hope you are recovering nicely from your recent medical issue).

      Yeah, well, the problem is that the nonsense that those two women stated in the video is the type of drivel that hardcore materialists (such as our mutual friend Steven E.) point to in an effort to paint all metaphysical (supernatural-sounding) thought as being "woo."

      C Thompson wrote:
      "Virions are on the borderline between alive and not, since they cannot reproduce by themselves and must invade a host to utilise them."

      When I said that I agreed with their assertion that everything in the universe is alive, I was coming from the perspective of a certain interpretation of idealism that suggests that all material reality is created from a "mindlike" substance.

      In other words, the "aliveness" to which I am referring has nothing to do with the superficial reality of virions seeming to be on the borderline between alive and not alive, but more on the possibility that the fundamental substance from which matter is formed could be alive (as in saturated or imbued with the very essence of life itself).

      And that would be similar to how the fundamental essence that composes our thoughts and dreams is alive because it is imbued with our own life essence.

      Now, of course, that too will be thought of as being "woo" by many of the contributors to Sabine's blog. 

    3. I'm doing well, getting back to normal, thanks.
      I do think though, one needs to keep a hard line between science and personal beliefs/speculation, and I think we're pretty good at that. As I've said, I enjoy those excursions here.
      I don't think everything is alive but if one accepts Superdeterminism, the Universe is all interconnected, so our thoughts and dreams, living matter and the rest of the Universe are the same stuff. In my view the Universe is not interested in what we do so it's all up to us.

  4. It's nice to feel smug and pull people up on imprecise language but we have to remember that language is not exclusively owned by physicists - in fact many of the words we used come from antiquity and have been borrowed.

    Leave people free to their thoughts and opinions as long as those don't create a risk for others or themselves, especially for children and those who cannot make consensual judgements themselves.

    It's just best to leave people alone in what they believe, unless they challenge and engage one. Being smug should be an 8th sin.

    1. I'd even say that the smug know-it-all-ness of scientists puts people off science. There comes a time in people's life where they are too old to be lectured to, no matter what level they finished their education.

      To constantly berate someone with higher learning is a form of psychological abuse designed to take their independence away and control them. Right thinking adults are naturally wary of know-it-alls for that reason - one can't function as an adult and make adult decisions if someone keeps berating them and trying to take them back to the classroom.

      If they want to learn, they will come to you. If they ask for advice, give it but don't talk down to people.

    2. HI Remi,

      Then there's dangerous misinformation and wrong ideas that get spread. Other people take that as evidence to affirm their beliefs, who then spread that misinformation, and then people are put at risk from sheer ignorant stupidity, which is what gets people killed when they needn't have died. Like hundreds of infections from cases of Measles in children who were not immunised because of their parents' obstinate insistence that they know better than doctors and virologists, same with many COVID-19 deaths now. Those women are literally a risk to themselves and others. Screw them.

      It looks like Dr. Hossenfelder left it to her viewers to form their own opinions. The two women were quite adept at making themselves look and sound misinformed. 'There for the grace of God/science, go I.'

      I personally feel contempt and anger at them and their like, rather than smug.
      I see denialist shit on my Facebook timeline from people who are pushing a narrative that we're all lied to. They don't accept that we all need to take responsibility for protecting ourselves, loved ones and communities, so stuff that too.

      Words have meanings and those meanings are important and their usage is important,even allowing for different meanings in different contexts. Woo makes a mockery of scientific knowledge.

    3. Did I leave you with the impression that I need or want advice on science communication?

    4. Remi, there's a video Dr. Hossenfelder made that discusses whether religion is scientific; I found it was thoughtful and fair. I reccommend watching that and similarly philosophical videos if you want another side of Dr. Hossenfelder as a communicator.

    5. Well, you were wrong. It is abundantly clear from your comment that you completely misunderstand my target audience. It never ceases to amaze me how many people believe themselves to be experts in all kinds of matters they know absolutely nothing about.

    6. This comment will probably be censored: Several well-regarded scientists, as well as a Nobel Laureate have expressed concerns about vaccinating during a pandemic and risking viral escape. They have also expressed concerns about "Original viral sin" with powerful modern vaccines. Now this is not the place to discuss such matters and one couldn't, unless one had the medical or pharmaceutical knowledge, however, what I am saying is that the story still hasn't run its course with COVID and one set of advisors giving advice to government is just that - one set of advisors.

      Take a more critical or at least, a more critically aware view on science reporting.

      Furthermore scientists, as someone told me, are not only human but human more-so. They are prone to passions, envies, pet theories, pig-headedness, wrong-ness, prejudices, bigotry and protecting their field against newcomers for financial reasons and fraud just like any other member of the population but are maybe more able to do it in a (literally) sophisticated manner to hide their tracks.

      Engage the mind and don't be intimidated by letters before and after their names. You could sit as a jury member in judgement of them - and you'd be right to have an opinion.

    7. >> Well, you were wrong. It is abundantly clear from your comment that you completely misunderstand my target audience. It never ceases to amaze me how many people believe themselves to be experts in all kinds of matters they know absolutely nothing about.

      Oh dear. Narcissism, (it's complex).

      Let's just be grown up and not try to dominate other people. We can all play with the toys in the sandpit together.

    8. @ Remi: I remember one day as an undergraduate I had a number of friends come to me with all sorts of questions about ancient aliens. There had been a program on TV the night before, yes I did go to college towards the end of a time documentaries were broadcast, and it featured Eric Von Daniken's ideas about how space aliens came to Earth in our past. It is of course pure hokum and nonsense, but Daniken (sp?) still sold books, and even last decade there was an A&E feature on this.

      The problem is that hustler's and con-artists are at work. I see a part of the ideological strife today as being due to this sort of info-hustle, and it most often involves falsehoods, lies and rubbish sold to the gullible. The video with the MAGA hat wearing overweight women is a perfect example of Americans who have been taken in by various mind-cons.

    9. Sabine, to whom are you speaking here? What are they misunderstanding? What matters are they erroneously believing themselves to be experts about? Just asking...

    10. Sabine, to whom are you speaking here? What exactly is being misunderstood? Who of all the above, are claiming to be experts? You know that thing about being precise in communication?

    11. Remi,

      This blogpost is not about vaccination. Your comment is off-topic and I will not approve further of your off-topic comments. Please try to distribute your awesome insights elsewhere, thanks.

    12. BillD,

      Sorry about that.

      I was responding to the commenter who posts under the name Remi, one of those people who know nothing about science communication but do not hesitate to give advice to successful science communicators.

      And who then go on to proclaim that I must have a mental health problem because I know I'm good at my job. Yeah. I think that person needs to go on the straight-to-junk list.

    13. Remi didn't read what was on the tin, obviously.

  5. I went to a session that claimed to induce some form of alternative mental state by sound. At the time I was humoring a friend, and I figured why not? This involved Peruvian vessels, which are these wooden, sort of Marijuana bong looking things with some statuary carved on it in the motif of pre-Colombian art. If you blew into one there was a reed that vibrated much in the same way a recorder or shawm works. My friend and his girlfriend and the facilitator and I then started blowing and they all made the same sound with close to the same pitch, but there were these wildly oscillating, even chaotically varying, harmonics one heard. It was interesting and had a meditative quality to it.

    At the time I did not think that deeply of it. In quantum mechanics we have with a finite dimensional Hilbert space ℋ of n+1 dimensions the metric space ℂℋ^n. This is a fairly standard metric given by the inner product of states 〈ψ|φ〉 = Acos(θ_{ψφ}). This is elliptic and fairly regular. There is though an internal space given by the distance between these “phasors,” here a vector associated with the phase and not Star Trek, and this is hyperbolic and vast. It is a measure of quantum complexity. What we were hearing was an acoustical analogue of this.

    That everything vibrates is a common idea and tends to be in the poor man’s toolbox of bad ideas about how things work. Sure, everything oscillates, and even a block of metal has lots of lattice vibrations of its atoms which quantum mechanically are phonons. Lots of this is everywhere. Then people get the idea, usually from some hustler-guru, they can mentally control or use this.

    1. I don't give much credence to sound-healing using Tibetan bowls or other means, but a friend sounded one of his metal bowls and I felt a distinct difference in the air near the bowl vs. the usual room air. Whether there are healing properties or not, I surmised I was feeling some sort of unusual pattern of vibrations.
      Some people insist cats' purrs can heal, maybe a bit, but not in any medical useful way. I did tell this same friend to watch a Science Without The Gobbledygook video the other week, so he's at least willing to entertain some scientific knowledge.

    2. As Sagan said, "Keep an open mind but don't let your brains fall out". It's also incredibly rude to lecture adults in their beliefs - leave them to it. If they come to you or challenge you, that is the time.

      You're also forgetting the history of science and all the smug people that made comments like:-

      “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”
      Charles H. Duell, Commissioner of US patent office 1899.

      "The most important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote. . . Our future discoveries must be looked for in the sixth place of decimals."
      A. A. Michelson, 1894.

      “If your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.”
      Eddington 1928.

      And yet on the last one, Sheehan and Capek are published in peer reviewed literature with devices that palpably break the 2nd law.
      Epicatalytic Thermal Diode. Phys. Rev. E 57, 6660 (1998).
      Phys, Rev. E, (2013).

      I like the approach of John S. Bell,
      "What impossibility proofs show is lack of imagination."

      Or even Hector Berlioz on Sans-Saint,
      "Saens-Saint knows everything but lacks inexperience."

      So as I say, scientists shouldn't be so smug and convinced that they know it all, know for all time and that that knowledge doesn't change and sometimes radically too - after all, didn't the little boy in the Grimm fairytale say "The Emperor has no clothes" and pointed out to people what they were too stupid to see with their own eyes?

    3. I am well aware I have much about physics to learn but I've quite a lot of personal and online experience with people who believe different things.
      The ones I've known personally can be quite thoughtful and intelligent; some also believe in science and medicine along with it. I've time to have discussions with them, and understand where they're coming from.

      Others believe conspiracy theories, woo-f_ckery and debunkable misinformation; they get told pretty directly how and why they're wrong. I don't see how that's disrespectful, if they're flat-out wrong and passing that on as factual.

      There's nothing disrespectful about making videos to correct misunderstanding and provide correct information, and if people are going to be on record saying stupid things, they are naturally going to be seen as stupid. Those people are going to uave a hard time believing their Emperor is naked anyway.

    4. And, Dr. Hossenfelder can be corrected and say thanks, as well as admit to not understanding or knowing something, so rather un-smug. That's on her blog, YouTube channel and elsewhere.

    5. I would say that Eddington is still largely right. The deviations from the second law are for observations of semi-classical or quantum physics. The second law is pretty air tight on the large scale.

      IT is Saint-Saens.

      I mentioned this event in my life with Peruvian vessels, which occurred during graduate school years, because the wildly varying harmonic shifts that occurred did have a sort of meditative quality to it. I don't entertain any idea of there being any magic involved though. I also found it curious that contrary to western music with its need for near exact tuning, consider the warbling sound to two flutes slightly out of tune, these vessels were such that a note had a wildly shifting set of Fourier harmonics. Then with two or more of these they would appear audibly as differences in these Fourier harmonics between the instruments.

    6. Anyone hearing - experiencing - J.S.Bach's "Tocata and fugue in D minor" played on a cathedral organ will tell you it's way more impressive than hearing it even on the best home hi-fi. Same frequencies, same note patterns, same tempos, but the spectral amplitudes are way different.

      That, having experienced both, corresponds exactly with C. Thompson's comment.

    7. Remi1:06 PM, August 21, 2021

      "It's also incredibly rude to lecture adults in their beliefs "

      But the vast majority of people who qualify as adults by chronological age hold beliefs from the other side of the Enlightenment, so knowledge-wise can be considered to be -500 years old or younger.

  6. A large part of my career was spent in analysing and testing mechanical vibration, so I had a personal feeling about the difference between vibration and oscillation, but decided to check the Internet, which says:

    "Oscillation itself is a more complex phenomenon, which can be described as a variation usually in time, but it does not have to be mechanical (it can be but not only). Oscillation can be used for non-mechanical types of variations too. Whereas vibration can only be mechanical. Thus, vibration is defined as a type of oscillation."

    That fits with my experience, as to how these terms are used in practice, in English. Vibration implies an external interaction (the gong being hit), oscillation is more general, e.g., EM radiation.

    Nobody is born knowing these things, but schools require us to pass courses which gives a basic grounding, which can be expanded by further courses in college, and reading books, plus today we have the Internet. I think it was Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) who said something like, "What we don't know is not as dangerous as the things we know which aren't so." (Aren't true.) I don't think I feel smug hearing such things as much as an acute feeling of the danger, and a desire to prevent it, as best I can. But as the raccoon said in Eddie Murphy's Dr. Dolittle movie, I can only do so much.

    1. Hi JimV, thanks for the clarification. I agree with your last comment. (And wish blogs had 'like' buttons.)

  7. Does this mean that the answer to the question (paradox) "What happens when the irresistible force meets the immovable object?" is "It oscillates".

  8. That’s a tough crowd over there on youtube.
    You make a little mistake in the comment section, and they treat you like you said that Lambda wasn’t a free constant in GR, or something!
    Thanks for the heart emoji, Sabine.

  9. Oscillations are related to interactions and decoherence. Then we are talking about accelerations.

    In the Special Relativity you can interprete that accelerated frame causes age for an inertial frame when acceleration towards - the farther away an inertially moving reference object is the stronger is aging.

    Acceleration is absolute unlike relative inertial motion. Lightlike emission is the extreme acceleration.

    We can conclude that time is due to vibrations and oscillations. In atom structure they are quantized in energy levels with microscopic distances. But if only in galaxies there are bounded states of weak gravitational waves? They can have a significant contribution to the extra inertia i.e. gravitational fuzzy sink of dark "matter" because of huge backreaction distances, can't they? The longer the localized galaxy scale bonding structure is affected, the more gravitational significance accumulates.

  10. *Sigh* Of course, those two lovely ladies are fellow Americans, and I'll bet anything they're from one of the Southern States. I've heard of ignorance, willful ignorance and stupidity, but never willful stupidity. God help us.

  11. Hi All,

    I've just deleted some comments of people insulting each other and I'm turning comments off. That's it. I have other things to do. Please find some other place to have fun.


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