Stranger Than Strange

ACCORDING TO THE popular television science presenter/academic Prof Brian Cox, gravity may not be a force at all but is better described as a reaction to mass and movement. Others believe that gravity is a force but is so weak, because we only experience a very small part of it. According to them, the rest of the force it exerts leaks away into the ‘multiverse’ via the extra dimensions that String Theory requires to make it work. I have a theory that ‘leaked’ is the wrong word. What if our universe’s link with its neighbouring universes is shared gravity? What if the ‘curled up’ extra dimensions string theorists are so fond of only exist at the contact boundaries (the ‘branes’) with our neighbouring universes in this multiverse? What if the missing gravitational force is what is needed to maintain our universe’s position in hyperspace?

Most of the theoretical and practical work on this fascinating subject is taking place at the internationally renowned Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, where they are constantly searching for smaller and smaller particles (the Russian doll used in television documentaries (find and follow them on U Tube) is a superb analogy). Particle scientists do not believe in the fundamentality of fundamental particles and are engaged in the search to split even those into their fundamentals: spinons, orbitons and holons. They now claim to have split a free electron into its two remaining parts (as a ‘free’ electron, it does not possess an orbiton, because it is not orbiting a nucleus). Names are not the least strange part of what is coming out of the LHC experiments!

Is there a limit to the smallness of particles? A constant known as The Planck Length is claimed to be this defining size, although if they ever get there, will particle physicists finally think they’ve arrived at their destination? The Planck Length is said to be a hundred million, billion times smaller than an electron, the best known of the 24 fundamental particles of matter that comprise quarks, bosons, muons, etc (take a look at Wikipaedia for a more detailed explanation).

Brian Cox tells us that gravity is not always weak. It is highly variable depending where you’re standing in the universe. On Earth our gravity is relatively weak. It can easily be overcome by magnetic force. Our Moon’s gravity is less than a sixth of that we experience, while on Mars it is about a third. On the Sun it is many times greater – even if we weren’t vaporised by the colossal heat on the Sun’s surface, we would be crushed instantaneously by its gravity. Since gravity is proportional to mass, the strength of gravitational force can be calculated for all the bodies in the universe, from galaxies to supernovae, from black holes to pulsars to gas particles.

Using string theory scientists can calculate the amount of matter in the universe. However, their quantum gravity calculations show that there is insufficient visible mass present in the universe to produce the gravitational reactions observed through the powerful telescopes operating in space and on the Earth’s surface. For instance, just as the speed of a wheel measured at its rim is slower than that at its hub, so the suns and planetary systems in the outer reaches of galaxies should be moving slower around their galactic centres – but they’re not. They are moving at the same speed as those closer in. Similarly, the expansion of the universe should be slowing down but it isn’t.

The only answer to the problem is that something must be missing from the equations used in the Standard Model of Cosmology, a model, which has already been ‘fixed’ with modifications to allow for ‘inflation’ (an as yet unexplained phenomenon), ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’. The latest fix needed is for ‘dark flow’ for which there is as yet no explanation.

In mathematics I never progressed beyond the fundamentals of algebra, geometry and trigonometry. The mysteries of the calculus, although not totally unknown to me, were never properly explained by a good teacher and so never became a useful tool in my limited skill pool. The ‘beautiful’ equations referred to by cosmologists and particle physicists totally elude me: on me their so-called beauty is lost.

I can only accept what I’m told in plain English. When mathematical equations, supposed to describe the actions and reactions of the world around us, don’t work or don’t result in what happens in reality, they can usually be solved by the inclusion of ‘fudge factors’, as we used to call them at the simple technologist level. These fudge factors, put simply, were created to get the answers right.

The mathematicians can then go away privately and try to work out why the fudge factor was needed. Sometimes they don’t manage to do that. They then call the fudge factor a constant (usually Someone’s Constant that earns Someone a Nobel Prize). Such constants often remain in use for many years, until a more powerful measuring device comes along with results (observed phenomena) that re-set the parameters in the Standard Model. Inflation, Dark Matter, Dark Energy and Dark Flow are all simply Dark Fudge Factors that keep our scientists in useful and lucrative employ, which I do not begrudge them. They have brilliant minds and illuminate our dull lives with their flights of fancy and original thinking. They are not always right first time but they seldom give up. Even when they do – usually because of the passage of time – the succeeding generation of brilliant minds continues the search for answers. Such is the nature of mankind*… thank the Supreme Fudge Factor (or should it be the Supreme Constant by now).

*(No, I don’t mean the politically correct ‘humankind’ – a word that didn’t exist when women were real women in long dresses, with flowing locks and children at home and still produced superb scientists, without descending to the level of ignorant English gender semantics and bastardising our beautiful language).