Thursday, October 24, 2019

Many-worlds cannot explain fine tuning

There are several independent lines of argument that are used to support the idea of a multiverse: the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, the ``landscape problem'' in string theory, and the fine-tuning of fundamental physical constants. Previously, I wrote about four distinct responses to the fine-tuning of the cosmological constant.

I was recently trying to explain the above to a group of non-physicists. One of them [Joanna] had the following objection that I had not heard before. Schrodinger's cat can only exist in one universe within the multiverse. The multiverse involves zillions of universes. However, because of fine-tuning carbon-based life is so improbable that it can only exist in one (or maybe a handful?) of the universes, within the multiverse. Thus, when one observes whether the cat is dead or alive, and the universe ``branches" into two distinct universes, one with a dead cat and the other with a living cat, there is a problem. It is possible that many-worlds interpretation is still correct, but it does not seem possible to claim that many-worlds and the multiverse needed to ``explain'' fine-tuning are the same type of multiverse.

One response might be that Schrodinger's cat is just a silly extrapolation of entanglement to the macroscopic scale. However, the problem remains. Just consider radioactive decay of atoms. Each decay of a single atom should be associated with branching to two distinct universes. Both of those universes are identical, except for whether that single atom has decayed or not. Over history, zillions of radioactive decays have occurred. This means that there are zillions of universes almost identical to the one we live in right now. But, all these zillion universes are fine-tuned to be just like ours.

Is there a problem with this argument?

Addendum. (25 October, 2019).
Fine-tuning got a lot of attention after the 1979 Nature paper, The anthropic principle and the structure of the physical world, by Bernard Carr and Martin Rees.
The end of the article makes explicit the connection with the many-worlds interpretation of quantum theory.
...nature does exhibit remarkable coin- cidences and these do warrant some explanation.... the anthropic explanation is the only candidate and the discovery of every extra anthropic coincidence increases the post hoc evidence for it. The concept would be more palatable if it could be given a more physical foundation. Such a foundation may already exist in the Everett 'many worlds' interpretation of quantum mechanics, according to which, at each observation, the Universe branches into a number of parallel universes, each corresponding to a possible outcome of the observation. The Everett picture is entirely consistent with conventional quantum mechanics; it merely bestows on it a more philosophically satisfying interpretation. There may already be room for the anthropic principle in this picture. 
Wheeler envisages and infinite ensemble of universes all with different coupling constants and so on. Most are 'still-born', in that the prevailing physical laws do not allow anything interesting to happen in them; only those which start off with the right constants can ever become 'aware of themselves'. One would have achieved something if one could show that any cognisable universe had to possess some features in common witti our Universe. Such an ensemble of universes could exist in the same sort of space as the Everett picture invokes. Alternatively, an observer may be required to 'collapse' the wave function. These arguments go a little way towards giving the anthropic principle the status of a physical theory but only a little: it may never aspire to being much more than a philosophical curiosity...
In a review of a book based on a conference about the multiverse, Virginia Trimble states that:
There is also among the authors strong divergence of opinion on whether Hugh Everett's version of many worlds is (just) a quantum multiverse (Tegmark), almost certainly correct and meaningful (Page), or almost certainly wrong or meaningless (Carter). 

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

2019 Nobel Predictions

It is that time of year again. I have not made predictions for a few years.

For physics this year I predict
Experiments for testing Bell inequalities and elucidating the role of entanglement in quantum physics
Alan Aspect, John Clauser, and Anton Zeilinger
They received the Wolf Prize in 2010, a common precursor to the Nobel.

My personal preference for the next Nobel for CMP would be centred around Kondo physics, since that is such a paradigm for many-body physics, maybe even comparable to BCS.

Kondo effect and heavy fermions
Jun Kondo, Frank Steglich, David Goldhaber-Gordon

Arguably the latter two might be replaced with others who worked on heavy fermions and/or Kondo in quantum dots.
Steglich discovered heavy fermion superconductivity.
Goldhaber-Gordon realised tuneable Kondo and Anderson models in quantum dots (single-electron transistors).

Unlike many, I still remain to be convinced that topological insulators is worthy of a Nobel.

For chemistry, my knowledge is more limited. However, I would go for yet another condensed matter physicist to win the chemistry prize: John Goodenough, inventor of the lithium battery.
He also made seminal contributions to magnetism, random access memories, and strongly correlated electron materials.

What do you think?

Postscripts (October 10).

I got confused about the day of the physics prize and I think when I posted my ``prediction'' the prize may have already been announced.

A few years ago I read Goodenough's fascinating autobiography. It was actually in that book that I learned about U. Chicago requiring PhD students to publish a single author paper. This observation featured in my much commented on recent post about PhD theses.

I also have a prediction for the Peace Prize. First, I hope it is not Greta Thunberg, as much as I admire her and agree with the importance of her cause. I worry whether it may ruin her life.
My wife suggested the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed and the President of Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki. I find it truly amazing what Ahmed has achieved.
Another great choice would be some of the leaders of Armenia, which has seen significant increases in human rights, political freedoms, and freedom the press. It was selected as The Economist's country of the year in 2018.

Postscript (October 30).
I was really happy about the economics prize. Six years ago, I read Poor Economics, by Banerjee and Duflo, with my son (an economics student), and blogged about it. Below a respond to a commenter who was critical of this prize.

Estimating the Ising interaction in spin-crossover compounds

I previously discussed how one of the simplest model effective Hamiltonians that can describe many physical properties of spin-crossover compounds is an Ising model in an external "field". The s_i=+/-1 is a pseudo-spin denoting the low-spin (LS) and high-spin (HS) states of a transition metal molecular complex at site i.
The ``external field" is one half of the Gibbs free energy difference between the LS and HS states. The physical origin of the J interaction is ``believed to be'' elastic, not magnetic interactions. A short and helpful review of the literature is by Pavlik and Boca.

Important questions are:

1. What is a realistic model that can explain how J arises due to elastic interactions?
2. How does one calculate J from quantum chemistry calculations?
3. How does one estimate J for a specific material from experimental data?
4. What are typical values of J?

I will focus on the last two questions.
One can do a mean-field treatment of the Ising model, leading to a model free energy for the whole system that has the same form as that of an ideal binary mixture of two fluids where
x = (1 + av(s_i))/2, is the relative fraction of low spins. 
This model free energy was proposed in 1972 by Slichter and Drickmamer.
The free energy of interaction between the two "fluids" is of the form -Gamma x^2.
Gamma is often referred to as the ``co-operativity" parameter.
Minimising the free energy versus x gives a self-consistent equation for x(T).
This can be compared to experimental data for x vs T, e.g. from the magnetic susceptibility, and a Gamma value extracted for a specific material.

Values for Gamma obtained in this way for a wide-range of quasi-one-dimensional materials [with covalent bonding (i.e. strong elastic interactions) between spin centres] are given in Tables 1 and 2 of Roubeau et al. The values of Gamma are in the range 2-10 kJ/mol. In temperature units this corresponds to 240-1200 K.

My calculations [which may be wrong] give that Gamma = 4 J z, where z is the number of nearest neighbours in the Ising model. This means that (for a 1d chain with z=2) that J is in the range of 0.3-1.5 kJ/mol, or 30-150 K.

In many spin-crossover materials, the elastic interactions are via van der Waals, hydrogen bonding, or pi-stacking interactions. In that case, we would expect smaller values of J.
This is consistent with the following.
An analysis of a family of alloys by Jakobi et al. leads to a value of Gamma of 2 kJ/mol.
[See equation 9b. Note B=Gamma=150 cm^-1.  Also in this paper x is actually denoted gamma and x denotes the fraction of Zn in the material.].

I thank members of the UQ SCO group for all they are teaching me and the questions they keep asking.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Marks of an excellent PhD thesis

As years go by the PhD thesis in science and engineering is less and less of a ``thesis'' and more just a box to tick. There was a time when the thesis was largely the work of the student and tackled one serious problem. Decades ago at the University of Chicago, students were meant to write a single author paper that was based on their thesis.
At some universities, including my own, students can now staple several papers together, write an introductory chapter, and submit that as a thesis. One obvious problem with that system is the question of how large was the contribution of the student multi-author papers, both in terms of the writing and doing the experiments or calculations.

Previously I have argued that A PhD is more than a thesis, a PhD should involve scholarship, and a thesis should suggest future directions and be self-critical. In some sense these posts were negative, focusing on what may be missing. Here I just want to highlight several positive things I recently saw in a thesis.

A coherent story
The thesis should be largely about one thing looked at from several angles. It should not be ``several random topics that my advisor got excited about in the past 3 years.''

Meticulous detail
This should cover existing literature. More importantly, there should be enough detail that the next student can use the thesis as a reference to learn all the background to take the topic further.

Significant contributions from the student
A colleague once said that a student is ready to submit the thesis when they know more about the thesis topic than their advisor.

The situation in the humanities is quite different. Students largely work on their own and write a thesis that they hope will eventually become a book.

I think the decline of the thesis reflects a significant shift in the values of the university as a result of neoliberalism. The purpose of PhDs is no longer the education of the student, but rather to have low-paid research assistants for faculty to produce papers in luxury journals that will attract research income and boost university rankings.

What do you think are the marks of an excellent PhD thesis?