Can Physicists Rewrite the Origin Story of the Universe?

“An Oscillating Universe, eternally expanding and contracting every trillion years or so”

Can Physicists Rewrite the Origin Story of the Universe?

Some cosmologists are challenging the established narrative of how the universe began. The problem, they say, is no one’s listening.

09.12.2019 / By Jess Romeo

During a 2015 conference on theoretical cosmology at Princeton University, Roger Penrose, a pioneer in the field of mathematical physics, was asked to speak on a panel about the origin of the universe. For decades, the leading theory had been that, during roughly the first trillionth of a trillionth of a nanosecond following the Big Bang, there was a single period of extremely rapid expansion, known as inflation, that formed the universe we observe today.

“I was pointing out major flaws with the theory of inflation. Nobody commented on that at all.”

When it was Penrose’s turn to speak, however, he wanted no part of that dogma. Instead, he reiterated his belief that the theory of inflation was false, and he proposed that the universe could instead be better described by an alternative theory,conformal cyclic cosmology, which posits that our universe continually alternates between periods of expansion and contraction. In Penrose’s formulation, the universe as we know it began not so much with a bang but with a bounce.

As Penrose recalls, few people in the audience seemed to pay him any attention, and those who did shot back with ridicule, murmuring their disbelief. “I was pointing out major flaws with the theory of inflation,” he says. “Nobody commented on that at all.” Inflation had secured such a strong foothold in the physics zeitgeist, it seemed, that even one of the world’s most accomplished theorists couldn’t chink its armor.

Today, Penrose and other physicists who seek to rewrite the narrative of how the universe began continue to face an uphill battle. To many of them, the dismissals and rejections feel more personal than scientific, driven by an academic job culture that penalizes risk taking. They worry that — for young professionals especially — the quest to unravel the deepest mysteries of the early universe will take a backseat to a far more mundane pursuit: career survival.

By many accounts, inflation is a hugely successful theory. Conceived nearly 40 years ago by Alan Guth, a cosmologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), it provided some of the first plausible answers to longstanding riddles about the universe. It explained the so-called flatness problem (how the universe ended up just dense enough to keep from flying apart, but not so dense that it collapsed under its own gravity) and why the universe looks uniform instead of patchy. According to University of Oxford astrophysicist Jamie Farnes, “you can kind of think of inflation as smoothing out the universe in the same way that blowing up a balloon smooths out all the creases in the rubber.”

According to its critics, however, not everything about inflation is so smooth. In early 2017, physicists Abraham Loeb, Anna Ijjas, and Paul J. Steinhardt argued in Scientific American that proponents of inflation were essentially gaming the system: Whenever an astronomy observation disagreed with one of the theory’s predictions, theorists simply added new wrinkles to their models to make them fit the data. With every new wrinkle, the theory became more complicated and, in the eyes of Loeb and company, less plausible. “Inflation is such a flexible idea that any outcome is possible,” they wrote, concluding by calling it an “empty theory.”

A few months later, Guth and 32 other prominent physicists, including the late Stephen Hawking, published a rebuttal, defending inflation as a testable, evidence-based theory that had produced numerous successful predictions. But many critics weren’t convinced.

Among those critics is Sabine Hossenfelder, a theoretical physicist at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies in Germany. In her view, a lot of people certainly want inflation to be the answer, and it’s gotten to the point where “people keep repeating statements that are obviously wrong.”

In Penrose’s formulation, the universe as we know it began not so much with a bang but with a bounce.

One example, she says, is the idea that inflation solves the flatness problem. Hossenfelder points out that there is no mathematical reason why the universe needs to be flat, so in a way, inflation is solving a problem that never existed. She says there are other explanations and that “the people who understand inflation know this perfectly well.” However, Hossenfelder says that doesn’t stop the “disturbing” pattern of promoting inflation, saying, “if you talk to them about it, they will admit that [this and other assertions] are wrong, but they keep repeating them anyway.”

But not every supporter of inflation is so philosophically entrenched. Xingang Chen, an early universe cosmologist at Harvard University, began his career at MIT working under Guth, the father of inflation himself. But lately, he’s begun to seriously explore the alternative theories. Among them are a class of cyclic universe theories — Big Bounce models, if you will — including the one that Penrose proposed at Princeton. Introduced in the 1950s, Big Bounce theories predate inflation and are championed today by prominent physicists like Steinhardt and Neil Turok. Another contender is string gas cosmology, proposed in the 1980s by cosmologists Robert Brandenberger and Cumrun Vafa, which attempts to explain the expansion of the primordial universe using the equations of string theory.

Ask Chen, and he’ll tell you those alternative theories aren’t perfect either. For one, they are more complicated and less elegant than inflation theory. And in physics, Occam’s razor — the idea that simpler answers are more likely to be correct — generally holds sway. Chen still believes that inflation is the most plausible theory of how the universe came to be. But at the same time, he recognizes that alternative theories like the Big Bounce and string gas models can explain all the same observations that inflation can. Strictly speaking, there’s nothing special about inflation.

And, yet, inflation reigns. On ArXiv, the leading repository for physics research papers, articles mentioning cosmological inflation outnumber those mentioning cyclic cosmology and string gas cosmology by approximately 14 to 1. A search of a National Science Foundation grants website finds that, of the roughly 2,000 projects actively funded under the agency’s physics and astronomy programs, three dozen mention cosmological inflation in their project descriptions. None mention string-gas or cyclic cosmology. (In an email, Keith Dienes, the NSF’s program director for theoretical astrophysics and cosmology, said the agency funds “a lot of string cosmology as well as ‘alternative cosmological theories,’” though three of the four examples he cited do not appear to have early universe cosmology as a primary focus.)

As Hossenfelder sees it, this ideological convergence around inflation is indicative of a culture that’s become overly risk-averse in its publishing, hiring, and funding practices. She’s critical of this because “you get a lot of people who start producing [inflation] models that really don’t help you with anything,” and they do it because “you can get it published.”

“It has become very politicized,” Hossenfelder contends. “This is particularly pronounced in the United States, where people are really worried about their funding.” The anxiety is evident, she says, in the way scientists talk about securing money for their research.

Penrose agrees. “The competition at the universities is horrendous,” he says. “You’ve got to get a job.” But, he adds, the people doing the hiring are the ones who believe in these fashionable ideas.

At the end of the day, Ijjas says, challenging the mainstream “shouldn’t be impossible — but it’s okay if it’s hard. Because it should be hard.”

Indeed, today’s theoretical physicists are fighting for crumbs from an increasingly shrinking pie. NSF program director Dienes says there’s one combined budget for theoretical particle physics, cosmology, and high-energy physics, approximately $13 million dollars a year, which amounts to less than 1 percent of the total allocation for research in mathematical and physical sciences. Only a fraction of that $13 million goes to theoretical cosmology.

Ijjas, a theoretical physicist at Princeton and one of the coauthors of the controversial 2017Scientific American article, is one of a handful of young theorists who have won funding to study an alternative theory of the early universe. But her funding came from the privately-run Simons Foundation, and even then only after the ideas — pertaining to Big Bounce models — were mature enough to be supported with high-level computations.

Ijjas says that, as a young researcher, there has to be a balance between risk-taking and conservatism. At the end of the day, she says, challenging the mainstream “shouldn’t be impossible — but it’s okay if it’s hard. Because it should be hard.”

When Penrose thinks back to that 2015 conference at Princeton, he recalls that at the end of the panel, a colleague stood up to comment on the field of cosmology as a whole — where it was headed and what was left to learn. As Penrose remembers it, the moderator’s message was that “there’s nothing new,” and “we really know fairly well everything … There’s a few things we can look at, but we’ve got the general picture.” It was the projection of certainty in the statement that bothered Penrose, who continues to argue that inflation is “a hugely artificial theory” — and that the physics community doesn’t afford the space, professionally or personally, to explore alternative ideas.

Hossenfelder captures the sentiment in a thought experiment. “Imagine you would want to come up with an entirely new explanation for the physics of the early universe,” she says. “This would mean that you would have to sit down for like, say five years, you know, do a lot of thinking, do a lot of reading, do a lot of calculations, and in these five years, there would probably not be much coming out of this.”

And then comes the rub, because “if you tried to do this,” she says, “you would be unemployed after two years, and that’s the end of that.”

Jessica Romeo is a freelance science writer based in New York City. She is currently an editorial intern at Popular Science. Her work has appeared in Scholastic Science World, Scientific American, and Smithsonian Magazine.


The Copper Scroll Project… Jim Barfield, The Temple Treasures and… The Temple Mound :/ The Ark Of The Covenant?

“So… I was told to listen to Two Nice Jewish Boys podcast 140… and well… I’m not saying anything!”

Two Nice Jewish Boys: Episode 140 – The Real Indiana Jones and Israel’s Buried Treasures

BY Naor Meningher and Eytan Weinstein | May 28, 2019 | Two Nice Jewish Boys

George Lucas and Steven Spielberg are undoubtedly two of the 20th century’s best and most influential directors and screenwriters. Rarely did these two collaborate, but the first time they did, they brought to life one of the greatest adventure series of all time – Indiana Jones.

What is it that draws us to Indiana Jones and his archaeological adventures? Is it the quest for hidden treasures? Is it the thrill of uncovering the secrets of our long lost past? Or is it the ridiculously life-threatening situations into which he inevitably stumbles? Probably all of the above. And more.

But for some people, watching Indiana Jones isn’t enough. Jim Barfield is a firefighter and a criminal investigator from Oklahoma, with a passion for the Bible, and a fascination with the Dead Sea Scrolls, particularly the Copper Scroll, which unlike the other dead sea scrolls, is not a literary work, but rather a list of places. But not just random places, places where supposedly, buried in the ground are various items of gold and silver. In other words, a bonafide treasure map.

So in a sense, today on the podcast we’re joined by a real-life Indiana Jones. Here to tell us the story of the Copper Scroll is Jim Barfield.

The Copper Scroll Project’s website, and the book on Amazon

Direct Download

Welcome to “The Copper Scroll Project!”

Jim Barfield and the Copper Scroll Project

An award-winning investigator discovered the secret to the most treasure laden and mystifying map in history. Artifacts from the Tabernacle of Moses, sacred possessions from Jerusalem’s Temple and massive treasures listed on the Copper Scroll chill prophecy experts, electrify historians and enrage the financial elite.  The potential of this mysterious and illusive discovery also holds the most frighteningly unpredictable influence on Middle Eastern and world stability.  After a 2400 year absence, the moment the world lays eyes on “the Ark of the Covenant,” the universe will change.

The Copper Scroll and the Ark of the Covenant


The Ark of the Covenant has not been seen since the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar.  2600 years, however, has not been long enough to kill the curiosity or exhaust the imagination of the many who ponder the Ark’s fate.  The burning question is how something so holy and central to Jewish worship could disappear without explanation.  The Babylonian’s detailed list of stolen Temple items makes no mention of the Ark; the Bible offers no resolution on whether the Ark was stolen, lost, or destroyed.  The Copper Scroll is the first archeological discovery that sheds light on the issue and could even lead to the Ark’s recovery.

The Copper Scroll is an anomaly in the Dead Sea Scroll Collection.  Found in 1952, like the other scrolls, the Copper Scroll was found in a cave near the ruins of Qumran and was thus attributed to the Essenes.  As its nickname implies it is a scroll written on thin copper sheets.  Unlike the rest of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Copper Scroll has no literary or religious content; it is an inventory of sixty-four obscure locations where gold, silver, and other treasures are said to be hidden.
Most scholars would deny any direct connection between the Copper Scroll and the Ark.  Admittedly, the Ark is not directly mentioned in the Scroll.  However, there is a common scholarly assumption that the contents that are listed in the Scroll came from the Jewish Temple.  The Copper Scroll describes a hoard of precious metals and coins estimated to be worth around two billion dollars today.  The only place in ancient Israel that would have had access to so much wealth was the Temple treasury.  Jews in the land and in the Diaspora had brought substantial wealth to the Jewish temple through regular free-will offerings.

In addition to temple tithes, the Scroll refers to other movable temple items like ‘dedicated vessels,’ ‘consecrated’ items, and priestly garments.  Temple vessels are referred to in at least three sections of the Scroll and priestly ephods are named once.  According to Copper Scroll expert B. Pixner, the fourth section of the Scroll references the Breastplate of the High Priest.  In the twenty-sixth section of the Scroll, the scribe uses the same Hebrew word for “pitcher” that is almost exclusively used for the Qalal, the urn which held the ashes of the Red Heifer.  Albert Wolters, a  professor of Religion and Theology in Ontario who focuses on the Dead Sea Scrolls, makes an argument that the proper translation for the last hiding place of the Copper Scroll reads “the Cavern of the Shekinah.”  Shekinah when used in the Bible designates the Divine Presence as it inhabits the Tabernacle (Exod. 40:35) and the Temple in Jerusalem.

There seems to also be a more cryptic reference in the Scroll to the Ark.  According to the translation of John Allegro, the first person allowed to study the Copper Scroll, the text opens with: “In the desolations of the Valley of Achor, under the hill that must be climbed, hidden under the east side, forty stones deep, is a silver chest, and with it, the vestments of the High Priest, all the gold and silver with the Great Tabernacle and all its Treasures.”  Mishkan is the Hebrew word used for the Wilderness Tabernacle, the Tabernacle that the Israelis carried during the forty years of wandering and the contents of which were later transferred to the Ark.

The prevailing opinion in Copper Scroll studies is that, like the rest of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Copper Scroll dates between 150 BCE and 70 CE.  Logic would follow that the Scroll is referring to second Temple treasures secreted away before the Roman invasion.  If this theory stands, then the Copper Scroll likely has no connection to the Ark since the Ark was absent from the Second Temple.

A less popular—but no less interesting—theory is that the Copper Scroll treasure is from the First Temple and was removed by Temple guardians before the Babylonian invasion.  The scroll would likely have been hid in a cave during the Babylonian exile.  The idea that the Copper Scroll could be a precursor to the Dead Sea Scrolls has some credibility given its unique Biblical language.  The Scroll’s script and word construction has eluded many paleographers (experts in ancient script) because it is unlike any of the other Dead Sea Scrolls or texts from the suspected period of production.  Some passages have paleographic dates around 70 CE, but other passages date back 700 years earlier.

Vendyl Jones—an explorer who has devoted thirty years to studying the Copper Scroll—and Jim Barfield—a retired fire marshal who believes he has cracked the code on the Copper Scroll (see my Copper Scroll articles from the last two issues)—believe the Second book of Maccabees and two other extra-Biblical texts give the background to the Copper Scroll.

II Maccabees tells the story of the prophet Jeremiah receiving a divine warning about the Babylonian invasion to come.  Jeremiah took the sacred Temple treasures—including the Wilderness Tabernacle, the Ark and its contents, and the Qalal—and hid them in a hollow cave near Mount Nebo (Deut. 34:1).  After Jeremiah sealed the entrance his followers complained they could not find the site.   Jeremiah replied “the place shall be unknown until God gathers His people together again and shows His mercy.”

In 1922 an eighteenth century writing called Emeq HaMelekh written by Rav Hertz, an authority on oral Torah, was found in Amsterdam.  In Emeq HaMelekh, Hertz goes into detail describing the mission directed by the prophet Jeremiah to hide the Ark and other sacred things.   Hertz wrote that seven years before the destruction of Solomon’s Temple, five holy men “concealed the vessels of the Temple and the wealth of the treasures that were in Jerusalem.”  Once the guardians hid the objects they inscribed the inventory and secret locations on a Luach Nehoshet (copper plate).  Emeq HaMelekh warns that the Temple items will “not be discovered until the day of the coming of Moschiach, son of David.”

As his source, Hertz cited in his introduction a Tosefta Mishnayot (Rabbinic writing) which was unknown to modern Talmudists until twenty years ago.  In 1990 proof of the Tosephta Mishnayot surfaced in an 8th century genizah (document deposit) recovered from Cairo, Egypt.  Though the genizah document predated Emeq HaMelekh by a thousand years, it gave the same story as Rav Hertz about the Temple rescue operation, named the same five holy men, and referenced the copper plate.

Could the Copper Scroll now sitting in a museum in Jordan be the Luach Nehoshet?  The possibility is tantalizing.  Excluding Jones and Barfield, however, few Copper Scroll experts have given the connection any merit—mostly because archeologist frown upon using ancient literary texts to aid in finding artifacts.

Even still, outside of a Hollywood movie studio, never before has there been a treasure map that held this kind of promise and suspense.  The Copper Scroll may be our closest witness to the Ark’s fate.  Watch Raiders of the Lost Ark one too many times and you can not put down the sneaking suspicion that if the Ark is ever meant to be found it will be the Luach Nehoshet—not Prof. Indiana Jones—that leads us to it.

*Shelley Neese is the vice president of The Jerusalem Connection. Click here for her articles and videos.

Jim Barfield believes the Ark of the Covenant is in Qumran, the area of the Judean Desert where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. In 1952, a fragile scroll made of copper was discovered in a cave above the Dead Sea at Qumran. The Copper Scroll is materially unique in that it was written on thin, hammered copper, rather than the less durable papyrus or parchment, which were the materials used for all of the other scrolls. Jim Barfield, founder and director of The Copper Scroll Project, believes he has found in the enigmatic Copper Scroll the key to the location of the cave where the Ark of the Covenant is hidden, along with the Tabernacle in the Wilderness and the Altar of Incense. The Copper Scroll, he believes, also shows the locations of 56 additional sites where vast hoards of sacred treasures are buried — including tons of Temple items made of gold and silver from the Temple of Solomon.

The Copper Scroll Project: In Search of the Ark of the Covenant

Written by  William F. Jasper

Readers of the Old Testament are familiar with the Ark of the Covenant, the sacred golden chest carried by the Israelites during their wanderings in the desert and finally placed in the temple built by King Solomon. The 1981 adventure/fantasy film Raiders of the Lost Ark by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas introduced a Hollywood version of the Ark to a much larger global audience outside the Jewish and Christian traditions. That movie ends with the Ark disappearing in a large crate, along with thousands of other similar crates, into a huge U.S. government warehouse.

The Ark did indeed disappear, but not following World War II, as Hollywood portrayed, and not into a top-secret warehouse. There is much dispute among scholars and researchers about when, and by whom, it was removed from the Temple. Some believe it was taken to Babylon, following the Jewish-Babylonian War, which culminated in 586 B.C. with Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II plundering and destroying Jerusalem, slaying most of the Israelites, and taking most of the survivors into captivity. Others hold that the Ark is in Aksum, Ethiopia, or that it is buried in a tunnel under the Temple, or that it is in a cave beneath Golgotha (also known as Calvary), the hill on which Jesus Christ was crucified. At any rate, it has been “missing” for well over two millennia, its location known only to God.

Jim Barfield believes it is in Qumran, the area of the Judean Desert where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. In 1952, a fragile scroll made of copper was discovered in a cave above the Dead Sea at Qumran. The Copper Scroll is materially unique in that it was written on thin, hammered copper, rather than the less-durable papyrus or parchment, which were the materials used for all of the other scrolls. Jim Barfield, founder and director of The Copper Scroll Project, believes he has found in the enigmatic Copper Scroll the key to the location of the cave where the Ark of the Covenant is hidden, along with the Tabernacle in the Wilderness and the Altar of Incense. The Copper Scroll, he believes, also shows the locations of 56 additional sites where vast hoards of sacred treasures are buried — including tons of Temple items made of gold and silver from the Temple of Solomon. 

The clues provided in the Copper Scroll, Barfield says, are reinforced by the ancient account of the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremias) in the Second Book of Maccabees, which recounts that Jeremiah removed the Temple treasures from Jerusalem before the city fell to Nebuchadnezzar. The account in II Maccabees reads:

You shall also find it set down in the dispositions made by the prophet Jeremias, that he bade the exiles rescue the sacred fire, in the manner aforesaid. Strict charge he gave them, the Lord’s commandments they should keep ever in mind, nor let false gods, all gold and silver and fine array, steal away their hearts; with much else to confirm them in their regard for the law. And here, in this same document, the story was told, how a divine oracle came to Jeremias, and he must needs go out, with tabernacle and ark to bear him company, to the very mountain Moses climbed long ago, when he had sight of God’s domain. A cave Jeremias found there, in which he set down tabernacle and ark and incense-altar, and stopped up the entrance behind him. There were some that followed; no time they lost in coming up to mark the spot, but find it they could not. He, when they told him of it, rebuked their eagerness; Nay, said he, the place must remain ever unknown, till the day when God brings his people together once more, and is reconciled; then, divinely, the secret shall be made manifest. Then once again the Lord’s majesty shall be seen, and the cloud that enshrines it; the same vision that was granted to Moses, and to Solomon when he prayed that the great God would have his temple on earth; Solomon, the master of wisdom, that in his wisdom offered sacrifice to hallow the temple he had made.

Utilizing the copper scroll, the Book of Maccabees, and other ancient sources, Barfield has created a map of Qumran depicting where he believes the 57 Temple treasure sites are. In 2009, he was able to put his theories from the copper scroll to the test. With the help of a member of the Israeli Knesset, he and his team were allowed to conduct a survey of four of the sites utilizing advanced scanning detector technology that allowed them to see 50 feet below the surface of the ground. According to Barfield, their detector showed “massive amounts” of nonferrous metal objects in precisely those locations. This, he says, is an exciting confirmation to him that they are on the right track. He is confident that the objects depicted by the detector are indeed the much-sought-after Temple treasures. Most exciting of all, he says, were the detector readings for the cave location where he believes the greatest treasures, including the Ark of the Covenant, are hidden. That’s where the detector gave off the biggest readings for nonferrous metals, indicating to him they had found the Ark and the other most important gold and silver Temple objects.

Jim Barfield has been to Israel 15 times in the past 11 years in efforts to advance the Copper Scroll Project’s mission, which he says is to “Help the Nation of Israel recover the items of the Copper Scroll.”

Barfield was not surprised that his initial approaches to Israeli authorities and archeologists were met with skepticism. Besides being an outsider, without the archeological credentials and experience of other noted authorities in this field, there are tremendous political sensitivities and rivalries involved that complicate any excavation effort. “The political and religious ramifications of this are huge,” he told The New American in a recent telephone interview. “The Palestinians certainly don’t want anything like this that would confirm Israel’s historical claim” to the area.

In addition to the Palestinians, there are also influential Israelis who are opposed to the project. Some are opposed to it because they fear a discovery of this sort would lead to increased Arab-Israeli tensions and an increase of attacks by the Palestinians against Israelis. Other Jews, says Barfield, particularly the wealthier, non-religious classes, see it as a threat because they fear it would lead to greater religious fervor among the Jews and a clamor to build a third temple, which they oppose.

Our video interview with Barfield embedded above was conducted in 2016. However, because of political instability in Israel at the time and security concerns, he asked us not to post it at that time. Since then, he says, the Copper Scroll Project has made enormous strides. “On our last visit to Israel — in September last year — we had a very good meeting with a top Israeli archeologist and a high official in the Israeli government,” he told The New American. The official from the Israeli government, when presented with all of Barfield’s evidence, became very interested and supportive.

Jim Barfield has worked on the Copper Scroll Project for more than a decade. He has experienced many delays, setbacks, and roadblocks, as well as more than his fair share of detractors. He freely admits to getting impatient and discouraged at times. However, he firmly believes that, ultimately, God is in control of world events, and he intends to remain faithful to what he believes is God’s calling for him in this historic effort. The Ark of the Covenant will be revealed “in God’s good time,” he says. “It might not be Jim Barfield whom He uses to reveal it, but that’s not what’s important — I’m not important. What’s important is that I faithfully carry out His will for me, as I understand it.”

We, at The New American, take no position on the validity or accuracy of the findings and claims of Jim Barfield and the Copper Scroll Project. Whether or not he has truly discovered the Ark of the Covenant will likely only be revealed by time — and a shovel. However, we were intrigued enough with the subject to do this interview and report. We believe our readers may find it intriguing, if not fascinating, especially in light of the recent developments concerning President Trump’s focus on Jerusalem.

“Here Lord Rothschild… How serious are we to take these claims then?… Because I’m in Indiana Jones mode over here brother!” 😀

Paul Davies -‘I predict a great revolution’: inside the struggle to define life (Maxwell, demons, life and the search for extra-terrestrials)

We have to define ‘consciousness’… what makes a being conscious? What makes a number of molecules and chemicals conscious? What defines higher levels of consciousness? How the Universe creates consciousness, becomes self aware…

(it needs explaining, because there are HUGE differences in levels of consciousness amongst human beings of supposedly the same species

‘an epoch will come when they disclaim kinship from us, as we have disclaimed kinship from the monkeys’

‘I predict a great revolution’: inside the struggle to define life

Paul Davies thinks combining physics and biology will reveal a pattern of information management

All the brain cells of life on Earth still cannot explain life on Earth. Its most intelligent species has uncovered the building blocks of matter, read countless genomes and watched spacetime quiver as black holes collide. It understands much of how living creatures work, but not how they came to be. There is no agreement, even, on what life is.
The conundrum of life is so fundamental that to solve it would rank among the most important achievements of the human mind. But for all scientists’ efforts – and there have been plenty – the big questions remain. If biology is defined as the study of life, on this it has failed to deliver.
But enlightenment may come from another direction. Rather than biology, some scientists are now looking to physics for answers, in particular the physics of information. Buried in the rules that shape information lie the secrets of life and perhaps even the reason for our existence.
That, at least, is the bold proposal from Paul Davies, a prominent physicist who explores the idea in his forthcoming book, The Demon in the Machine. Published next week, it continues a theme of thinking that landed Davies the $1m Templeton prize for contributions to religious thought and inquiry.

As director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science at Arizona State University, Davies is well placed to spot the next wave that will crash over science. What he sees on the horizon is a revolution that brings physics and biology together through the common science of information.
“The basic hypothesis is this,” Davies says. “We have fundamental laws of information that bring life into being from an incoherent mish-mash of chemicals. The remarkable properties we associate with life are not going to come about by accident.”
The proposal takes some unpacking. Davies believes that the laws of nature as we know them today are insufficient to explain what life is and how it came about. We need to find new laws, he says, or at least new principles, which describe how information courses around living creatures. Those rules may not only nail down what life is, but actively favour its emergence.

To understand what bothers Davies, consider a hypothetical device: a life meter. Wave it over a sterile rock and the dial stays at zero. Wave it over a purring cat and it swings over to 100. But what if you dunked it in the primordial soup, or held it over a dying person? At what point does complex chemistry become life, and when does life revert to mere matter? Between an atom and an amoeba lies something profound and perplexing.

Davies suspects that information is the answer because it seems increasingly fundamental to both physics and biology. In recent years, physicists have shown that information is more than the bits and bytes that course through computers. Information can be converted into energy, for example, such that physicists now build little information engines and information-powered refrigerators, if not with the appearance their names suggest.
Similar machines are found in biology. Constructed from proteins, they chunter away inside living cells where they manipulate information at the nanoscale. “What we’re seeing in the lab is these two worlds colliding in a very practical way,” he says. “The physics is really connecting with the biology and that’s why I think we’re on the verge of this great new revolution.”
Davies believes that life will turn out to bear telltale patterns of information processing that distinguish it from non-life. Few people would argue that a computer is alive no matter how the ones and zeroes zip around inside it. What Davies suspects is that life exploits, and arises from, particular patterns of information flow.
“When you look at a living system, the way information is managed is very far from random. It will show patterns that could lead us to a definition of life,” he says. “We talk about informational hallmarks and these might be used to identify life wherever we look for it in the universe.”
It is not always easy to convert speculation into science. One of the hurdles Davies raises is the difficulty in describing biological information in terms of mathematics. It is a necessary move if new laws of life are to have any meaning. “I really think we need new physics to understand how information couples to matter and makes a difference in the world,” he says.
Find these new rules and the future could look very different. Davies anticipates “digital doctors”, who will analyse information flows in cells to spot aberrant patterns driven by early cancers and other diseases. When pathological patterns are found, they could be corrected through some form of molecular shiatsu, he suggests.

Most radical, though, is Davies’s proposal that any laws of information that shape life might favour its emergence too. Under this scenario, life would not arise on habitable planets by random chance but would be nurtured by “biofriendly” rules. It is the kind of teleological argument that many scientists reject, but one that Davies cannot help finding attractive.
“People often say that the probability of life forming by chance is so low there must have been intelligent design or a miracle. I find that anathema,” he says. “Religious people have got to move on and get away from the idea that there’s a superbeing who fits it all up. What I find more congenial and much more intellectually respectable is the notion of fundamental laws of organisation that turn matter into life – a life principle built into the laws of the universe.”
He concedes: “It is wishful thinking because at this stage I can’t demonstrate it. But if we live in a universe in which the emergence of life is built into it in a fundamental way then then we can feel more at home in the universe. It’s no substitute for a caring superbeing watching over us. It won’t help us deal with the problem of death, and it doesn’t help in a moral crisis, but it would certainly be more comforting than to believe we live in an empty, sterile universe.”

Before leaving Britain for posts abroad, Davies worked under Fred Hoyle, the maverick former director of the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge University. Davies concedes that his one-time mentor helped him to keep an open mind in science. Hoyle was a brilliant academic but among his more fanciful proposals was that flu pandemics were spread by viruses that rained down on Earth from passing comets.
“He was one of these curious people who did some really great things and then some really crazy things,” Davies says. “What I did learn from Fred was not to be afraid of wild thinking.”

then we can feel more at home in the universe. It’s no substitute for a caring superbeing watching over us. It won’t help us deal with the problem of death, and it doesn’t help in a moral crisis, but it would certainly be more comforting than to believe we live in an empty, sterile universe.”

The Demon in the Machine by Paul Davies review – what is life?

A new theory, which centres on information, is providing some answers in this lucid but speculative exposition

In 1943 the great physicist Erwin Schrödinger, of both-dead-and-alive-cat fame, gave a series of lectures at Trinity College Dublin, published the next year as his book What Is Life? He supposed that genes must take the form of a “huge molecule” containing a “miniature code” to direct the subsequent development of the organism. Francis Crick and James Watson, inspired by Schrödinger’s work, later proved him right when they, along with Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins, discovered the structure of DNA.

But Schrödinger’s central question remains unanswered. There is still no agreed-on definition of what life is, let alone how it started. Maybe, some suggest, there are biology-specific laws of nature that we have yet to identify. Indeed, Schrödinger himself argued that “living matter, while not eluding the ‘laws of physics’ as established up to date, is likely to involve ‘other laws of physics’ hitherto unknown”.

One fashionable approach now in biology is to suppose that these laws have something to do with “information”. In the age of mechanical inventions, it was thought that animals were like marvellous clockwork machines, and the entire universe was a sort of fabulous Meccano construction designed by God. Now we are in the information age, it seems obvious to us that the human brain – even, in some theorists’ view, the cosmos as a whole – must be a computer, and that information itself somehow underlies reality. The conceptual problem here is that the idea of “information” makes sense only in the context of an observer for whom something out there, in the indiscriminate jumble of the world, counts as information. Before life exists, there cannot be any such thing as information.
It is to the credit of the physicist Paul Davies, then, that in this brilliantly vivid little book he is careful to remind the reader that such uses of “information” should be bracketed with provisos, even as he shows what we can do with them. It seems irresistible to say, to begin with, that cells “signal” to one another chemically, or that flocking birds and shoaling fish are exchanging “information” with their neighbours about speed and direction. But things get a lot weirder when Davies applies to biology ideas from thermodynamics and the mathematical theory of information.

The “demon” of the title is Maxwell’s Demon, named after a thought experiment by the 19th-century Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell. Imagine a box of gas with a partition containing a tiny door. A supernatural intelligence could open the door to let fast-moving particles go one way and slow-moving particles the other. This would eventually result in two different temperatures of gas either side of the partition, reversing entropy and enabling work to get done free.
The big idea is that nature itself might take advantage of the superefficiency of a demonic approach to information, and understanding the information flow in organisms might be the missing part of our scientific jigsaw puzzle. Davies proceeds to explain the maths of cellular autonoma, the ridiculously fine-tuned machinery of the cell and the workings of the “hive mind” in social insects.
The information flow in genetics, too, is far more complex than once thought, a point piquantly illustrated by some perverted worm-botherers. These researchers discovered that by cutting the head and tail off a worm and applying electricity – which disrupts the information flow in regrowth – you can get a worm with a head at both ends. If you then cut that worm in half, just for lolz, you get two new two-headed worms, even though they have exactly the same DNA as the original one-headed worm.

The informational approach, in Davies’s elegant and lucid exposition, is extremely promising, but it remains highly speculative, as he himself laudably emphasises while offering his own final thoughts on consciousness (as “integrated information”), and the possibility that “laws of nature” themselves evolve through time. Perhaps, he adds, these laws might, in some way not yet understood, be inherently “bio-friendly”.
This is a maverick idea, but not a new one. The philosopher Thomas Nagel was widely ridiculed by scientists a few years ago when, in his book Mind and Cosmos, he suggested that there might be “teleological” laws ensuring that consciousness would arise in the universe. Teleology – the ancient idea that things strive towards a purpose – is not now respectable, and Davies himself refers to it as a “problem” to be avoided. And yet right at the end of this book, he suggests that “the emergence of life, and perhaps mind, are etched into the underlying lawfulness of nature”. That idea is nothing if not teleological – which is no good reason, by itself, to think it untrue.

Maxwell’s demon and the hunt for alien life

Timo Hannay explores a study of life that takes up where Erwin Schrödinger left off.

The Demon in the Machine: How Hidden Webs of Information Are Finally Solving the Mystery of Life Paul Davies Allen Lane (2019)
Biology, long the domain of qualitative theories and experimental subjects that refuse to do the same thing twice, is now thoroughly data-driven. Propelled by the twentieth-century revolutions in molecular biology and computing, its emphasis has shifted from observing and describing to sequencing and calculating. In the process, biology has increasingly become like physics — a development that has caught the attention of quite a few physicists.
One such boundary-transcending thinker is the cosmologist and writer Paul Davies. His latest book, The Demon in the Machine, presents a case that information is central not just to doing biology, but to understanding life itself. He follows in esteemed footsteps. In 1943, the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger delivered a landmark series of public lectures at Trinity College Dublin. Published the following year as What Is Life?, it explained many principles of molecular genetics — a decade before the structure of DNA was discovered (see P. Ball Nature 560, 548–550; 2018).
As a quantum theorist, Schrödinger was particularly struck by the observation that atoms, although profoundly unpredictable, can form highly ordered systems. Furthermore, those systems persist for long periods and even replicate, thus seeming to evade the second law of thermodynamics, which states that total entropy, or disorder, can only increase.
This classic account serves as Davies’s starting point. As a cosmologist, however, his principal question arises from a consideration not of the irreducibly small, but of the incomparably large. If life exists elsewhere in the Universe, Davies wonders, how can we recognize it? Searches for signs of liquid water, organic chemistry or certain atmospheric gases (such as oxygen, carbon dioxide or methane) make sense given the characteristics of the one ecosystem we know, but to accept these as the essence of life seems to him (and me) desperately narrow-minded.
Davies claims that life’s defining characteristics are better understood in terms of information. This is not as absurd as it may seem. Energy is abstract, yet we have little trouble accepting it as a causal factor. Indeed, energy and information are closely related through entropy.
Davies explains this connection by referring to Maxwell’s demon. Victorian physicist James Clerk Maxwell’s celebrated thought experiment features a hypothetical miniature beast perching at an aperture between two containers of gas, where it allows only certain molecules to pass, depending on their kinetic energy. The demon can thus create a temperature gradient between the containers: a reduction in overall entropy, apparently breaking the second law of thermodynamics. The resolution to this paradox seems to lie in the fact that the demon must gather information about the properties of each molecule, and for this it requires a recording device, such as a brain or a miniature notebook. When its storage space eventually runs out, the information must be deleted, a process that necessarily produces an increase in total entropy.
From this perspective, living systems can be seen as composed of countless such ‘demons’ (proteins and other cellular machinery) that maintain local order by pumping disorder (often in the form of heat) into their surroundings. Davies adroitly brings Schrödinger’s account up to date by way of Claude Shannon’s information theory, Turing machines (universal computers), von Neumann machines (self-replicating universal constructors), molecular biology, epigenetics, information-integration theories of consciousness and quantum biology (which concerns quantum effects in processes from photosynthesis to insect coloration and bird navigation).
Such disparate threads might seem like unpromising material from which to weave a coherent narrative. But Davies does so admirably, with only occasional forays into areas that feel slightly out of place. One such is the brief account of his work on cancer, which he sees less as an example of broken cellular machinery and more as a regression to an earlier evolutionary state, when single-celled organisms responded to adverse conditions by replicating.
What practical difference does it make to see life as informational? We don’t yet know, but can speculate. For one thing, if the essential characteristics of life are entropic, extraterrestrial searches based on chemistry could be misguided. It might be more useful to look for phenomena such as ‘anti-accretion’ — in which matter is regularly transferred from a planet’s surface into space. Earth has experienced this since the 1950s, when the one-way traffic in asteroids and meteorites plunging into the globe was finally counteracted by the launch of the first artificial satellites. Arguably, such situations are not merely consistent with the presence of life, but almost impossible to explain in any other way.
Moreover, a definition of life that depends on its informational characteristics rather than its carbon-based substrate could force a reappraisal of our attitudes towards artificial systems embodied in computers. We are already beginning to treat these as companions; might we eventually come to see them as living creatures rather than mere imitations? With apologies to Charles Darwin, there is grandeur in this view of life.
As well as having eclectic interests, Davies is iconoclastic and opinionated. Although certainly no believer in a vital force distinct from physics or chemistry, he has little time for reductionism, believing that life cannot be fully explained in terms of lower-level laws (such as the second law of thermodynamics), even in principle. In a final nod to Schrödinger — who believed that a proper understanding of life might reveal “other laws of physics hitherto unknown” — Davies closes by arguing that biology might yet contain deep lessons for physics. This is highly speculative and, in my (biologist’s) view, probably wrong. But this is not a criticism. On the contrary, if only more of us were wrong in such thought-provoking ways, we might more readily uncover the truth.


Einstein’s Objections to Quantum Mechanics Get Industrial Confirmation in New Energies

Since 1926… you’ve all been living in a fantasy world!

Einstein’s Objections to Quantum Mechanics Get Industrial Confirmation in New Energies, Chemistry,

News provided by Santilli Foundation

Three Tributes to Albert Einstein 

DENTON, Texas, May 28, 2019 /PRNewswire/ — In the preceding releases, dated May 20 and May 24, 2019, we outlined studies by the Italian American scientist Sir Ruggero Maria Santilli (http://www.i-b-r.org/Dr-R-M-Santilli-Bio-1-10-18.pdf) and other scientists on the apparent confirmation in physics and chemistry of Einstein’s argument  that quantum mechanics is an ‘incomplete theory.’ In this news release, we outline studies on the need for a ‘completion’ of quantum mechanics for consistent treatments of new clean energies and basically novel technologies.   

Santilli states: “I never accepted quantum mechanics as a ‘complete’ theory because quantum mechanics has ‘no time arrow’ and, therefore, cannot consistently represent irreversible energy releasing processes. After learning during my graduate studies that quantum mechanics is characterized by time reversal invariant Lie algebras, I did my Ph. D. thesis in 1965 on their ‘completion’ into irreversible Lie-admissible algebras (http://www.santilli-foundation.org/docs/Santilli-54.pdf) with related irreversible dynamical equations.” 

Following various academic positions, in September 1978, Santilli joined the Department of Mathematics of Harvard University under DOE support to conduct innovative research in new clean energies. In that context, Santilli introduced the most general known realization of irreversible Lie-admissible algebras characterized by generalizing and differentiating the conventional product “ab” between number, functions, into the product of a and b to the right, a>b = arb, from the product of b and a to the left, a<b = asb, where r and s are arbitrary, positive, numbers, functions or matrices. The new multiplications, permitted the construction of new mathematics known as ‘hadronic mathematics to the right and to the left’,’ with corresponding ‘completion’ of quantum mechanics and chemistry into irreversible coverings known as hadronic mechanics and chemistry, where energy releasing processes forward in time are represented with ordered products to the right, while processes backward in time are represented with ordered products to the left. Different values of r and s assure irreversibility. Scientific and industrial applications to new clean energies were initiated only thereafter. The reversible isomathematics, isomechanics and isochemistry used in the preceding two releases are recovered for r = s= T > 0. Quantum mechanics and chemistry are recovered identically for r = s = 1 (http://www.santilli-foundation.org/elements-hadronic-mechanics.htm). 

Santilli states: “I believe that our inability to achieve controlled nuclear fusions despite the investment of billions of public funds is due to inconsistencies in their treatment with time reversal invariant 20th century sciences. By contrast, at the U. S. publicly traded company Thunder Energies Corporation (http://thunder-energies.com/), we are attempting nuclear fusions that, when represented with the new irreversible sciences, appear to have no harmful radiation or waste (http://www.santilli-foundation.org/docs/hypercombustion-2019.pdf).”

When asked how irreversible processes may verify Einstein’s argument, Santilli states: “It appears that Einstein’s objections to quantum mechanics are verified in the scattering region of ongoing high energy particle collisions. Quantum mechanics is valid during the acceleration of protons in hadron colliders. However, quantum mechanics cannot be valid at the impact of protons against a target due to the irreversibility of the scattering. Einstein’s argument appears to be verified in the interior of high energy scattering regions due to their extreme densities approaching that of black holes under which quantum uncertainties and other laws are clearly inapplicable. The importance of Einstein’s argument, as well as its lack of general acceptance by the academic community for about one century, are illustrated by the need for a revision of ‘experimental results’ in high energy scattering experiments due to currently missing irreversible contributions.”

Contact: Paul Knopick
E & E Communications

Einstein’s Objections to Quantum Mechanics Get Industrial Confirmation in Chemistry English

DENTON, Texas, May 24, 2019 /PRNewswire/ — In the preceding release, dated May 20, 2019, we outlined studies by the Italian American scientist Sir Ruggero Maria Santilli (http://www.i-b-r.org/Dr-R-M-Santilli-Bio-1-10-18.pdf) and other scientists  on the confirmation in physics of Einstein’s view  that quantum mechanics is an ‘incomplete theory.’ The confirmation  was based on the need to ‘complete’ quantum mechanics to achieve  a representation of  the neutron synthesis from the hydrogen in the core of stars since such a representation is not possible with quantum mechanics. 

While accepting the historical value of the discoveries permitted by quantum chemistry, Santilli  never accepted  the notion of molecules based on the 20th century  valence electron bonds because it is essentially a ‘nomenclature’ due to the lack of representation via equations. In fact, according to quantum mechanics and chemistry, valence electrons should repeal each other due to their equal charges and cannot possibly attract each other to form molecules. 

According to Santilli, this insufficiency is evidence on the need for a ‘completion’ of quantum chemistry along Einstein’s argument. Jointly with his studies on the completion of quantum mechanics, while being at Harvard University under DOE support, Santilli initiated in the late 1970s long term research on the ‘completion’ of quantum chemistry into a form admitting an attractive force between identical valence electrons.        

The biggest difficulty was the need of  ‘completing’  20th century mathematical methods  for point particles in vacuum, into a form representing extended electron  wavepackets  in deep mutual penetration, also called entanglement. These efforts produced the ‘completion’ of 20th century mathematics into the novel isomathematics and the consequential  ‘completion’ of quantum chemistry into isochemistry. The new methods did achieve in the late 1990s a strongly attractive force between identical valence electrons,  (see the  2001 monograph http://www.santilli-foundation.org/docs/Santilli-113.pdf).

The lack of completeness of quantum mechanics and, therefore chemistry,  is Einstein’s most important prediction because of far reaching implications in all sciences.  In this second and in the third release we shall indicate the importance of Einstein’s prediction for the solution of our  alarming environmental problem. In fact, the achievement of an attractive force between valence electrons, and the ensuing more accurate representation of  molecules, are permitting the development by the U. S. publicly traded company Thunder Energies Corporation of the novel HyperCombustion (patent pending) for the combustion of fossil fuels without appreciable carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and other combustible contaminants in the exhaust. In Santilli’s view, these  environmental advances could not be possible  via quantum chemistry due to the the ‘nomenclature’ character of its valence bond, with ensuing  lack of treatments via equations verifiable with experiments (http://www.thunder-energies.com).

When asked to indicate how his novel valence bond verifies  Einstein’s vision of classical determinism, Santilli states: “When electrons are members of atomic clouds, their point-like approximation is correct, quantum mechanics is valid and classical determinism is impossible. By contrast, when entangled wavepackets of valence electron pairs bond themselves to form molecules, their extremely small mutual distance is fixed and can only be terminated via ionization processes. Hence, the strong valence bond between  extended electrons appears to approach Einstein’s classical determinism. When in the core of stars, the same  extended electron pair comes closer to classical determinism due to surrounding large pressures. Finally, when inside a black hole, the same extended electron pair reaches full classical determinism, in my view, for the evident reason that the local pressures and density are so big to prevent any motion.” For details, visit the PubRelCo interview http://www.galileoprincipia.org/santilli-confirmation-of-the-epr-argument-chemistry.php. Santilli is available to discuss additional developments toward the solution of our environmental problems.