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Science fiction, science fact: reports from the frontiers of physics

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Over the last couple of years we've been running a project in which you've been voting for the questions from the frontiers of physics you'd most like to have answered. The last question you chose is "What is space?" and we're talking to the experts now to bring you the answers. Previous questions were

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Latest from FQXi

Black holes: Paradox regained

In 2004 Stephen Hawking famously conceded that black holes do not devour all information when they swallow matter — seemingly resolving the black hole information paradox that had perplexed physicists for decades. But some argue that the paradox remains open, and we must abandon our simple picture of spacetime to unravel it.

Thanks for taking part in the project and happy reading and listening!



This project is a collaboration between Plus and FQXi, an organisation that supports and disseminates research on questions at the foundations of physics and cosmology. The FQXi community website does for physics and cosmology what Plus does for maths: provide the public with a deeper understanding of known and future discoveries in these areas, and their potential implications for our worldview.

Here are some of the questions we put to you which didn't win — post a comment on a blog if you'd like us to look at them again!

How did the Universe start?

What does modern physics say about the origin (or non-origin) of the Universe? And how can we test these theories? Vote for the start of the Universe or read these taster articles:



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What's the role of chance in the Universe?

Did chance have a hand in the early stages of the Universe? What does this mean for physics and how can we calculate the probabilities of different outcomes? To find out, vote for chance or read these articles:


  • On Plus: Lambda marks the spot — is the biggest mystery of theoretical physics, the cosmological constant, a result of chance?
  • On FQXi: Phantasms of infinity — can you define probabilities in the face of infinity?
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What is information?

What does information really look like? Are there fundamental laws of information processing? And can they lead us to a physical theory of everything? Vote for information and read these articles:


  • On Plus: The illusory Universe — what happens to information when it falls down a black hole?
  • On FQXi: DoubleThink — storing information using quantum physics.
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Will there be a theory of everything?

Finding a theory of everything is the biggest challenge for modern physics. Will we ever find it? And what will it look like? Vote for the theory of everything and read these articles:


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What is quantum cosmology?

We've all heard of quantum mechanics, the physical theory that describes the microscopic world so well. But what happens when you apply quantum mechanics to the whole Universe? If you'd like to find out, then vote for quantum cosmology or read our taster article:


  • On FQXi: The holographic Universe — Take one universe, turn it into a hologram, find its quantum wavefunction and understand the birth of the cosmos.

Comments

The Human Brain and the Universe

How can the Human Brain "understand" the Universe or are we imposing our logic on to it ? If it does follow our logic then is the Human Brain really the Brain of the Universe or "dare I say it" is the Human Brain a cut down version of the brain of the creator of the Universe ????

I wouldn't dare say it if I

I wouldn't dare say it if I were you.

On the Higgs Boson

I don’t know too much about this stuff so my questions may be non-sensical, but here goes: As I understand it, electrons consist mostly of energy and the top quark mostly of mass. Do these particles only "acquire" their mass i.e. Higgs Bosons, when they pass through the Higgs field? What properties do they possess before they pass through the Higgs field? Why does the top quark "gain" more mass as it passes through than the electron for instance? Do protons, electrons and neutrons exist on their own or do they only exist in the nucleus of an atom? What I am asking is: can a proton or neutron pass through the Higgs field and acquire mass, or is this the theory of how they DO acquire mass? Do they not have mass before they go through the HF? Are the protons that are found in the nucleus of an oxygen atom the same as the protons found in the nucleus of a carbon atom, for instance? I seem to recall that it is the number of protons, neutrons and electrons that give an atom its atomic mass and determine what element it is? Is it this "atomic mass" that is referred to when scientists speak of the mass of a particle? So many questions.....

" As I understand it,

" As I understand it, electrons consist mostly of energy and the top quark mostly of mass" Not really. Both possess mass, and both are made of matter-energy, as are all things. 'Mostly made of mass' and 'mostly made of energy' don't make sense as concepts.

" Do protons, electrons and neutrons exist on their own or do they only exist in the nucleus of an atom?" Yes, easily. Electrons are free from atoms when they are conducting charge moving through a wire, and a 'proton accelerator' uses free protons.

"can a proton or neutron pass through the Higgs field and acquire mass, or is this the theory of how they DO acquire mass?" This is how everything acquires mass, but it's not 'passing through' the Higss field, we are all immersed in it all the time.

"Do they not have mass before they go through the HF?" Faulty question: the Higgs field is everywhere. It's a bit like asking if a fish was dry before it went in the sea for the first time.

" Are the protons that are found in the nucleus of an oxygen atom the same as the protons found in the nucleus of a carbon atom, for instance?" Yes, all protons are identical.

"Is it this "atomic mass" that is referred to when scientists speak of the mass of a particle?" Yes.

You could have looked all these up on wiki; as I understand it this page is for questions that don't really have firm answers.

Higgs +

Now that we are reasonably certain that the Higgs boson exists, this gives extra certainty to the Standard Model of matter. As I understand it, the Higgs was the last undiscovered particle predicted by the Standard model. If this is now complete, what are we looking for next?

How many universes exists?

Is it not completly reddiciless :P that out of nothing an exact amount of energy was given to our universe and to create an exact number of atoms..

Pi

Could there be a universe where the circumference of a circle
is EXACTLY the diameter times three?

yes

In a non euclidean / non flat universe unlike the one we appear to live in. Rules about triangles angles are affected by the curvature of space. In curved space the diameter could be curved to extend its length so it proportion to the circumference is exactly 3 times.

Please note I am not saying Pi becomes 3. As pointed out on other sites I have read, Pi is an irational constant whos value is set exactly to 3.14..... Its value as a constant is invariant within mathematics. For curved universes in which circle diameter to circumference ratios are different then a different constant is needed to distinguish - they are different universes with potentially different mathematical properties.

universe ruled by integers

Only not so fast there friend... I think what the gentlemen might have been discussing is the possibility of a universe where everything (at least in geometry) has an integral relationship. That would be most everything :) Consider that if it did there would be no real numbers. That's going to be bad for manifold reasons. Physics just got broken! As did things like compound interest. I am just a humble engineer, but I dont think life itself can exist without irrational numbers. I'll say NO, and throw in the fact that you meant to write "an irrational constant whose value is set exactly 3.14" ;) So there! take that and stuff.

Couple Other Questions

Are there Parallel Universes?
What is thinking?
If we successfully created a real Human-like Artificial Intelligence, what he/she will think about God?
or/And:
What a higher Intelligent creatures like Aliens will think about god?
And Finlay my favorite Einstein's Question: If there is a Creator/God, Dose he had a choice how to create the universe?

Collapse of the wave function

What is the wave function and what causes its collapse?

Consciousness

Is consciousness an illusion, or do 'I' exist?

Consciousness

No, Anonymous, we don't exist. We are just a process so the 'I' does not exist as an entity.
Regards
Synonimous

Consciousness

@Synonimous: We don't exist as a "measurable" entity, our "I" is perhaps a singulairity, the center of a "subjective simulltaneity sphere", the source of all incoming data. See for more : http://fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/1370
Wilhelmus

Answers to some fundamental questions

Is space discrete? What is time? Is string theory spacetime a fundamental concept or just an approximation to a more deep and elegant model of nature? This and other foundational questions are covered in the recent FQXI essay Continuum and Discrete Features of Nature From a Canonical Science Perspective