Saturday, July 04, 2009

How about a Science Fiction Journal?

I think we should have a journal dedicated to scientific fiction. Occasionally, I stumble on the arxiv across a paper that actually wanted to to be a science fiction story. It is scientifically accurate but somewhat far fetched - and begging for a narrative.

A good example is the Learned et al's recent paper on The Cepheid Galactic Internet, arguing that aliens would use modulation of Cepheid variable stars to encode messages to other civilizations. The Dyson Sphere is an older example. A more recent one, Hsu and Zee's suggestion that the CMB contains a messages. Various papers on warp-drives, wormholes and time-travel would also qualify. What do you think?


  1. Brilliant idea! Although one cannot help but wonder at the possible low quality of the resulting fiction, in a literary sense. So few scientists have the gift of gab and the can achieve the turn of speech necessary for the storiesmto be engaging (a few come to mind, from clarke to Reynolds and Watts today, tho). Perhaps, collaborative efforts?

  2. I was thinking of it as the scientifically more detailed, but literally poorer, part of science fiction literature. The part for the real nerds, you know, just the facts without the story. I agree that most physicists are likely not to be very skilled fiction writers (you never know though...).

  3. arxiv:physics/0205089
    Turn a dial. 60.5 kg exhibits 41 kg of buoyancy instead, shooting up from the bench.

    "Impulse Gravity Generator Based on Charged YBa2Cu3O7-y Superconductor with Composite Crystal Structure"
    E. Podkletnov and G. Modanese

    The antigravity beam is in a lab. Switch it on, wait, switch it off. What about mgh for the steel, concrete... and atmosphere above? It's a perpetual motion machine of the First Kind or the antigravity gismo alternately freezes and explodes.

    String and M-theory, The God(damned) Particle (a historic FUBAR), SUSY; controlled hot fusion by any means. Zero empirical validation. Invalid theory patched with perturbation methods or a Yukawa potential remains invalid.

  4. I'd read it. And everyone else would too, but not admit it.

  5. Interesting proposition. Anyway, it's all that remains, with the current state of science. :) It's true that practically everything published in official journals of fundamental science is pure fiction, but the level is too low, cannot be qualified as “scientific”. However, in view of that dominating level of post-modern, officially great and exclusively supported fiction, it will be practically different to raise it to anything scientifically plausible. Maybe writers and journalists could help? Some of them are quite cute logically and certainly greater so than many “advanced” science institutes adherents. There is a yet more fascinating task of having not only true science fiction, but even true, problem-solving and creative science, but that may only remain an unrealistic dream, with that kind of terrestrials... It remains to wait for ours to come back soon to this godforsaken, degrading planet... :) Where the hell are you, guys?!

  6. Hi Bee,

    Such a journal would end up publishing a lot of science, because all radically new fundamental scientific theories appear to be fiction until finally confirmed experimentally, and are impossible to understand in terms of the existing theories they replace:

    ‘Most of the crackpot papers that are submitted to the Physical Review are rejected, not because it is impossible to understand them, but because it is possible. Those that are impossible to understand are usually published.’

    - Freeman Dyson, ‘Innovations in Physics’, Scientific American, Vol. 199, No. 3, pp. 74-82, September 1958.

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  8. Hi Bee,

    “I agree that most physicists are likely not to be very skilled fiction writers (you never know though...)”

    One of the papers you have listed here entitled, “Message in the Sky” , has one of the two authors as being A.Zee ,which I assume is Anthony Zee, who is actually an author of several books, ranging from those written for the serious student such as “Quantum Field Theory in a Nutshell” to those for the more general reader such as “Fearful Symmetry”, being one I have a particular fondness for. So much so that I bought it again on its rerelease, published this time by Princeton Science Library.. This was resultant of my original 1986 MacMillan edition having become thread bare:-)

    None of these are fiction, however his vivid writing style leads me to believe he would have no problem in writing fiction of he so decided. As for the journal you are suggesting, perhaps if it serves for nothing else it would have the general public get their fictional beliefs from more reliable sources :-)



  9. Hi Phil,

    Zee's "Quantum Field Theory in a Nutshell" contains some QFT facts but in a fictional setting, from the very start (a pseudoscientific Feynman) to the end (speculation).

    E.g., Feynman explained path integrals scientifically in his book QED (Princeton, 1985):

    ‘Light ... uses a small core of nearby space. (In the same way, a mirror has to have enough size to reflect normally: if the mirror is too small for the core of nearby paths, the light scatters in many directions, no matter where you put the mirror.)’ – R. P. Feynman, QED, Penguin, 1990, page 54.

    Hence, the double slit experiment interference pattern is explained by Feynman as being due to the transverse spatial extent of a photon overlapping both slits!

    Zee however attributes to Feynman a wrong interpretation of the path integral in which light is diffracted by slits even if those slits are removed entirely! This interpretation is physically wrong because diffraction is caused by electromagnetic field interference between the photon's fields and those of the matter at the edge of the slit. So Zee's QFT is based on his own non-Feynman science fiction (or fantasy). There is no use by Zee of either basic physics or even a look at Feynman's 1985 book, to check the facts. Just bacause he includes some basic mathematics in his book, this does not turn his false science claims into science. However, if you are confused by the difference between science and science fiction, I expect you will dismiss my facts as "hostile" (actually, I'm laughing and not hostile) or "unorthodox" (which I certainly am, and which I think is needed for new ideas in science where the well worn paths have been spectacularly unsuccessful since 1980).

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  11. Hi Nige,

    I’m not here to stand in defence of either Zee or Feynman, only to say that they would both be considered by most of their peers to be serious and professional scientists. It sounds perhaps what we have here is actually at worst a misinterpretation of an interpretation, which in essence is all Feynman’s or anyone for that matter are.

    In the end Feynman was the kind of scientist that considered all these thing at best only models (pictures), which serves only to aid one to make prediction ; which for example are the intention of his famous diagrams. In the end he took none of them very seriously, even his own. To emphasis this to his students in his lectures on quantum mechanics he summed this all up in saying:

    “One might still like to ask: “How does it work?. What is the machinery behind the law?” No one has found any machinery behind the law. No one can “explain” any more than we have just “explained” . No one will give you a deeper representation of the situation. We have no ideas about a more basic mechanism from which these results can be deduced.”

    -The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Volume 3, page 1-10)

    I would submit then. for you to make note of a misinterpretation of a interpretation, which even the author would not take very seriously is not to understand Feynman or his position when it comes to such considerations.



  12. Hi Phil,

    Richard P. Feynman, QED, Penguin, 1990, pp. 55-6, and 84:

    ‘I would like to put the uncertainty principle in its historical place: when the revolutionary ideas of quantum physics were first coming out, people still tried to understand them in terms of old-fashioned ideas ... But at a certain point the old fashioned ideas would begin to fail, so a warning was developed that said, in effect, “Your old-fashioned ideas are no damn good when ...”. If you get rid of all the old-fashioned ideas and instead use the ideas that I’m explaining in these lectures – adding arrows [arrows = path amplitudes] for all the ways an event can happen – there is no need for an uncertainty principle! ... on a small scale, such as inside an atom, the space is so small that there is no main path, no “orbit”; there are all sorts of ways the electron could go, each with an amplitude. The phenomenon of interference [by field quanta] becomes very important ...’

    He took the path integral more seriously in QED, than in the 1960s lectures, because of its success in evaluating the gauge theory lagrangians of particle physics which were discovered and experimentally confirmed for all fundamental forces apart from gravity in the period after he got his Nobel Prize in 1965.

  13. ‘It always bothers me that, according to the laws as we understand them today, it takes a computing machine an infinite number of logical operations to figure out what goes on in no matter how tiny a region of space, and no matter how tiny a region of time. How can all that be going on in that tiny space? Why should it take an infinite amount of logic to figure out what one tiny piece of spacetime is going to do? So I have often made the hypothesis that ultimately physics will not require a mathematical statement, that in the end the machinery will be revealed, and the laws will turn out to be simple, like the chequer board with all its apparent complexities.’

    - R. P. Feynman, The Character of Physical Law, November 1964 Cornell Lectures, broadcast and published in 1965 by BBC, pp. 57-8.

    ‘... nature has a simplicity and therefore a great beauty.’

    - Richard P. Feynman, The Character of Physical law, p. 173.

  14. At best Bee we would see where the departure exists for "calorimetric evidence" as too, what current measures humanity has been able to identify too what now is realized naturally, had been set up by "introspection in other elements of by theoretics."

    So while bordering on the fictional real, what comes to fruition is phenomenologically realized, and where one would like to hang their hat, cheating, the proposal of insight toward use of a possible theoretical future?

    Not very creative without this theoretical implication?


  15. i submit that scifi is tedious, boring and terminally live as if the technical consecution of ideas is there any proof of it? zilch ...yeah we made it to the big deal...why dont we concentrate in making sense of physics?? is it possible. lets not behave as if it makes sense because it doesnt

  16. Hi Bee,

    have you checked LabLit?
    That's though it won't contain mostly Physics.

  17. Hi Nige,

    I’m not certain (no pun intended) how what you quoted serves as to dispute what I said about Feynman. That is as to how he viewed interpretations or devices in respect to what they actually represented as being. I can also see, that like in many such debates, you and I will continue to talk past one another, instead of to one another. Now I’m sure you have lots of books by Feynman and even perhaps several written about him as I have. Also, in all likelihood, if not indeed a certainty you know more about the subject to make use of it in a practical way.

    However, what I’m talking about isn’t meant to deny how useful his models and related interpretations serve as being. No, rather it’s about how seriously he actually regarded any of them, as to represent what is actually going on in the physical sense. So in support of this, in what seems to have become the battle of quotes, I offer the following:

    “What I’m going to tell you about is what we teach our physics students in the third or fourth year of graduate school—and you think I’m going to explain to you so you can understand it? No, you’re not going to be able to understand it. Why then, am I going to bother you with all this? Why are you going to sit here all this time, when you won’t be able to understand what I’m going to say? It is my task to convince you not to turn away because you don’t understand it. You see, my physics students don’t understand it either. That is because I don’t understand it. Nobody does. “

    -QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter (page 8)- Richard Feynman- Princeton Free Press (1985)

    As this book was published just three year prior to his untimely death in 1988, I would say it serves as being a summation as to what he finally thought in such regard. I would also say it be fair to suggest in comparison, that where Einstein said he only wanted to know his mind, on the contrary if given oppertunity as to actually make such an inquiry, Feynman might have asked the question which Joe Friday is so remembered for , ‘the fact please, I want only the facts’. This is in no way meant as being in criticism of the man, for he only deserves praise; rather it’s simply out of having respect and appreciation I give to him, as not to overlay my own feelings, being as to what he himself thought it all meant as to understand.



  18. Well, we have Nature Futures. Not a whole journal in itself, but anyway. And actually, isn't Analog in some bits and parts already what you are asking for? I think many hard science fiction authors read lots of science. And some scientists write sf.

    But maybe we should have a mechanism for handing those ideas to authors, or for finding the stories that correspond to the ideas that we would like to read about.

  19. Hi Phil,

    "However, what I’m talking about isn’t meant to deny how useful his models and related interpretations serve as being. No, rather it’s about how seriously he actually regarded any of them, as to represent what is actually going on in the physical sense." - Phil

    In quoting Feynman saying that nobody understands QED, you're being misleading and I must explain this clearly.

    Feynman takes the path integral very seriously indeed, which is why he wrote that book.

    What he states nobody undererstands, is why nature is the way it is.

    This has nothing to do with taking the path integral interpretation seriously.

    Physics is about making calculations based on a model that works, not about philosophical "understanding" why nature appears to be the way that we see it. Feynman is not saying that we can't understand the accurate quantum field theory model.

    You observe from experiments the basic symmetries of nature and by Noether's theorem these symmetries tell you conservation laws and allow you to construct a lagrangian equation that describes the energy of particles during an interaction. Then since nature on large scales follows least action, you find the the action which is the integral of that lagrangian over time (or the lagrangian density integrated over all spacetime). Finally you find the path amplitude which is the exponential function with the action and a complex number in the power, and the path integral is then the sum over all path amplitudes. This process allows accurate predictions.

    Feynman breaks all this down into simple geometric summations of vectors in pictures in his book. Each path can be represented as a little arrow of fixed magnitude (length) but varying direction, since exp(iS) can be represented by such a such a vector using Euler's formula, exp(iS) = (cos S) + i(Sin S).

    Feynman's whole point is that you can understand it, anyone can understand it, even without understanding the formal calculus. If he didn't take it seriously as an interpretation of nature, he wouldn't have written the book or worked on it against such opposition in 1948 when his first paper was rejeced by Physical Review.

    Feynman's path integral "interpretation" of nature must be taken seriously - and was taken seriously - because it makes confirmed predictions and is useful.

    The fact that nobody understands why this "interpretation" models nature, isn't the same thing as saying that the interpretation is not taken seriously.

    Maybe you can understand the distinction if I give some different examples of situations. Let's take terrorists who kill innocent people. Nobody understands why they do it. But that doesn't mean that we don't take the threat seriously.

    Another example. Nobody understands why an aircraft crashed in the Atlantic. But we don't have to dismiss it as serious just because we don't understand it.

    We understand Feynman's interpretation and that it is the most useful, best tested interpretation of nature. We don't have to claim that Feynman didn't take it seriously because nobody knows why nature is the way it would appear to be.

    Zee's interpretation is provably wrong, because we know that interactions between the fields in the matter in the edge of a slit and the fields in a photon cause diffraction. That shouldn't be taken seriously, but Feynman's interpretation should be.

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  21. Hi Nige,

    “In quoting Feynman saying that nobody understands QED, you're being misleading and I must explain this clearly.”

    First off, your definitive statement accusing me of being misleading is a political styled response, while I thought what we were discussing here was science. Further, as I said the last time, I feared we would only be talking past one another, rather than to one another; which I find as unfortunate, yet when it comes to this sort of thing it’s usually the way it goes. The quotes that I left are quite straight forward as to be able to stand on their own and yet you feel they require interpretation; which is how all this got started in the first place. I see little point in spending a lot of time making a case on something that we see in entirely different ways, where you have already made up your mind, with nothing that you’ve raised having me thinking any differently myself.

    The way I will leave it is to insist as before, that although the path integral method is by and large the most efficient and straight forward way to address QM and its extensions in terms of result, as you correctly noted; it still fails in being able to lend a clear (unambiguous) description as to what’s actually going on in the physical sense. In fact as Feynman has argued quite often, he didn’t believe any model or interpretation does. That is the reason for the two statements I made note of and they are consistent with many others attributable to him. Now if you want to make a case that the path integral does form to be such a physical description, that’s a completely different matter and yet this is not relevant in regards to my contention as to what Feynman thought in such regard.. .



    P.S. I think also you would have to acknowledge, that soon as this line of discussion started we have been totally off topic in the context of Bee’s original thought and direction of inquiry. Which has us both being irrelevant in such regard or perhaps even lack of the same;-)

  22. Hi Nige,

    I just wanted to add one more thing, so you might understand I have over the years paid some attention to all this at a level that isn’t simply superficial. That is to say this path integral or sum over histories approach of Feynman’s is in a way his explanation to something he thought about from a young age; just as Einstein had wondered what it would like to be able to catch up with a beam of light.

    This was resultantly due to something told to him by his high school science teacher, which was that Fermat had long ago demonstrated that the bending of a light ray, while passing through different (multiple) transparent media was a result of it selecting the shortest path in terms of time it travelled through the media, taking in all the medias corresponding distances as to arrive at its destination; that is rather than the shortest distance through simply space (least action). This Feynman could neither come to either accept or understand, for it stood for him as to suggest something external required (intelligence) to decide what those actually are before the journey began.

    The path integral therefore could be looked at as his own method of getting around this difficulty, yet at the cost of each particle having infinitely many histories and yet no time allowed in which they can be differentiated . This is where Feynman’s explanation fails even his own expectation of which he was well aware. John Crammer some years ago tried to do away with this difficulty with allowing for both forward and backward transactions through time, which would almost ironically require another explanation resultant of another first thoughts of a child to fail; and so the wondering and speculation continues which is possibly Zee’s fault in not making clear what being his own, just as it was for Feynman.




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