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Posted by: schrodingerscat ( )
Date: September 07, 2021 12:23AM

"IT IS a well-kept secret, but we know the answer to life, the universe and everything. It’s not 42 – it’s 1/137.

This immutable number determines how stars burn, how chemistry happens and even whether atoms exist at all. Physicist Richard Feynman, who knew a thing or two about it, called it “one of the greatest damn mysteries of physics: a magic number that comes to us with no understanding”.

Now its mystery is deepening. Controversial hints suggest this number might not be the universal constant we had assumed, instead varying subtly over time and space. If confirmed, that would have profound consequences for our understanding of physics, forcing us to reconsider basic assumptions about the structure of reality. While arguments about the true significance of the findings rage, experiments looking both deep into the cosmos and at the fine-grained structure of reality in the lab are now set to deliver a definitive verdict – perhaps.

The idea that constants of nature – things like the speed of light, strength of forces and the masses of various particles – might not be so constant has an illustrious history. In 1937, physicist Paul Dirac wrote to the journal Nature, questioning astronomer Arthur Eddington’s attempts to calculate the constants from scratch. How could we be sure they haven’t changed over cosmological time?

The fine structure constant, also known as alpha, is a case in point. Alpha lies at the centre of a theory Dirac initiated and Feynman worked on: quantum electrodynamics, or QED. This is the quantum theory of the electromagnetic force, and describes the interactions between light and matter. Alpha determines their strength. It is itself constructed from the speed of light, the electron’s charge, pi – few physical theories are complete without pi – and a couple of other fundamental constants, carefully arranged so that it is just a pure number, independent of human influence: 0.00729735, just a whisker away from 1/137.

Change this number by a smidgen, and you change the universe. Increase it too much, and protons repel each other so strongly that small atomic nuclei can’t hold together. Go a bit further and nuclear fusion factories within stars grind to a halt and can no longer produce carbon, the element on which life is based. Make alpha much smaller, and molecular bonds fall apart at lower temperatures, altering many processes essential to life."

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Posted by: bradley ( )
Date: September 07, 2021 05:02AM

And by the way, you know, when you're telling these little stories? Here's a good idea: have a point. It makes it so much more interesting for the listener!

Maybe you're here from the end of the universe by way of an infinite probability drive.

Are you agreeing with Rupert Sheldrake about the laws of nature being more like habits?

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/07/2021 05:03AM by bradley.

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Posted by: Elder Berry ( )
Date: September 07, 2021 10:43AM

Does a decimal point help it?


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Posted by: Tyson Dunn ( )
Date: September 07, 2021 11:08AM

α is near 1/137, but it most definitely isn't 1/137. As of the most recent measurements, it's the reciprocal of 137.035999206(11).

For whatever reason, folks get hung up on the numerology of it. An error of the same order of magnitude is to say that π is 223/71. It looks pretty, but it's just as inaccurate.


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/07/2021 11:09AM by Tyson Dunn.

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Posted by: Done & Done ( )
Date: September 07, 2021 11:16AM

So some a human or some humans, the animals on some insignificant little orb out in the middle of the unending cosmos, a cosmos in which these little beings haven't even gotten more than a stone's throw statistically speaking, have found the answer to the entire universe? And it's four digits and a slash?

We keep bringing the concept of RIDICULOUS to new levels, don't we, SCat?

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Posted by: elderolddog ( )
Date: September 07, 2021 12:05PM

Can you imagine The Cat as a TBM? Can you imagine him in Gospel Doctrine class, lecturing the teacher?

Unless he WAS the teacher!!!

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Posted by: Razortooth ( )
Date: September 07, 2021 12:55PM

As long as pizza is real.

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