On the collaboration between Steven Weinberg and John Wheeler


The First Three Minutes Revisited

BY BRUCE CAMBER  Related pages: Overview, Open Letter, Dark Matter/dark energy

Abstract: For his classic book, The First Three Minutes (1976)Steven Weinberg begins his analysis of the beginning of the universe at 1/100 of a second. Too much comes before that time and he misses the possibilities of key constructions that might help us to understand the current problems of elementary particles within a continuum that relates to the current problems of cosmology.  If, for example, we were to consider the first moment of time to be Planck Time, a simple continuum for this discussion is a base-2 application whereby there are 202 notations or doublings that totally encapsulate the universe. That first hundredth of a second is within the 138th notation. The conclusion is that to begin to understand this continuum requires knowing something about notations 1 to 138, especially the first ten or so, the most formative notations.

I. Introduction

Steven Weinberg and his book, The First Three Minutes. By the time Weinberg begins his analysis at the first hundredth of a second, already too much has happened. The key steps occur closest to something like the Planck Scale. Yet, Weinberg is a critical thinker so we naively invited him to take a look at the first 138 mathematically-defined steps that preceded the first 100th of a second. There are a total of 202 steps (doublings), each a successive doubling from the four Planck base units, Length-Time-Mass-Charge, to the size and age of the universe today (“the Now”).

In  2016, his Theory Group at the University of Texas-Austin received an NSF research grant for “String Theory and Quantum Field Theory: From the Planck Scale to the Hubble Scale.” This group, by definition, is now examining Quantum Field Theory (QFT) down to the Planck Scale. In 1980 Weinberg co-authored an article with Edward Witten, “Limits on massless particles.” They had to look down into the Planck Scale yet they never calculated that there were at least 64 base-2 steps that were out of bounds for all of our measuring devices. The Weinberg-Witten theorem, one of the results of that collaboration, opened the Standard Model of particle physics, yet we anticipate that the first 64 of the 202 notations (doublings, steps, etc.) will open it further.

II. Tools

Beyond Measurement. A rather different approach is needed to get inside those first 64 notations.  Logic, commonsense, a sense of simplicity, mathematics, a highly-unified theory of mathematics, and the basic-basics of physics — constants, universals and the nature of infinity – are a few of the proposed tools. Yet, red flags pop up everywhere. For many physicists, universals spells philosophy and it is not welcomed. And, for even more physicists, the nature of infinity is highly problematic.  A tough sell.  Of the most elite thinkers within the sciences, and Weinberg is assuredly among them, there is very little patience with anything that looks like religion.

Universals, constants and infinity.  And, the hot button is infinity. Physicists do not want to invoke any aspect of theology and the use of the concept of infinity is avoided at all costs. On the surface, that’s smart. Renormalization is smart. Steven Weinberg’s reformulation of  the processes of renormalization is smart.  But, if it is academic elitism, blinders are put on our sciences.

So, of all of these tools on hand, perhaps simplicity will open a reasonable path forward.

III. Simplicity

Simplicity, John Wheeler Style. In 1981, Steven Weinberg was cajoled to leave Harvard for the University of Texas-Austin by a most distinguished physicist who also had roots in Princeton. That was John Archibald Wheeler. In 1986, Wheeler wrote these words, “Behind it all is surely an idea so simple, so beautiful, that when we grasp it — in a decade, a century, or a millennium — we will all say to each other, how could it have been otherwise?”

A possible passageway to simplicity just may be this application of base-2 to the Planck base units based on these observations made over the years:

  1. Everything, everywhere, for all time is encapsulated by starting with the Planck base units, doubling each, then doubling again and again, 202 times to the Age of the Universe and the size of our universe.  “That’s inclusive.”
  2. A natural inflation is defined by these numbers.  “Now, that’s a challenge.”
  3. A formula for light-time-and-space according to Max Planck: light is equal to Planck Length divided by Planck Time.  “Planck’s formula appears more basic than Einstein’s!”
  4. The Now. All notations are always active and deeply-and-profoundly interrelated. Though the first-64 notations are beyond our ability to measure, there are still four numbers in each notation to study. “What is time? Space? Mass? Charge? See #3 above.”
  5. Plancksperes. If simplicity is what we need, let us consider how the four Planck base units could manifest first within space-time as spheres. “It is simple and ubiquitous… pi.”
  6. Infinity is defined by pi as continuity/order, symmetry/relations, and harmony/dynamics.
  7. Emergence may begin with sphere stacking and the thrust within those base units.
  8. An infinite number of symmetry groups are possible within the first-64 notations.
    Even today, it happens in one picosecond (just 10-12 seconds or one-trillionth of a second).

That should be enough to get us going!  -BEC

PS.  There is a comment field just below. If you would like to help, we encourage your comments.

Endnotes, footnotes, resources, references

First draft: 31 October 2018.  

• John Archibald Wheeler (1911-2008), How Come the Quantum? from New Techniques and Ideas in Quantum Measurement Theory, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Vol. 480, Dec. 1986 (p.304–316), DOI:10.1111/j.1749-6632.1986.tb12434.x 

Weinberg, Steven; Witten, Edward (1980). “Limits on massless particles”. Physics Letters B. 96 (1–2): 59–62. Bibcode:1980PhLB…96…59W. doi:10.1016/0370-2693(80)90212-9Personal note to both Weinberg and Witten: “If there are no massless particles, just particles whose mass is below the thresholds of measurement, how does this change these calculations?”

• Robert BrandenbergerJerome Martin: “The trans-Planckian problem also appears in inflationary cosmology. The cosmological scales that we nowadays observe, correspond to length scales smaller than the Planck length at the onset of inflation.”

• From Wikipedia: In 1979 Weinberg pioneered the modern view on the renormalization aspect of quantum field theory that considers all quantum field theories as effective field theories and changed the viewpoint of previous work (including his own in his 1967 paper) that a sensible quantum field theory must be renormalizable.[15] This approach allowed the development of effective theory of quantum gravity,[16] low energy QCD, heavy quark effective field theory and other developments, and it is a topic of considerable interest in current research.

• L.V. Laperashvili,  H.B. Nielsen  and B.G. Sidharth, Planck Scale Physics, Gravi-Weak Unification and the Higgs Inflation  https://arxiv.org/pdf/1503.03911.pdf

• Michael KachelriessQuantum Fields: From the Hubble to the Planck Scale (Oxford, 1st Edition)

• Achim Kempf, On the Structure of Space-Time at the Planck Scale,  and Hilbert space representation of the minimal length uncertainty relation (1995), Perimeter Institute, Waterloo

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Source for Einstein’s quote, “…the pursuit of truth and beauty is the sphere in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives.”
See Pierre Cartier note from 4 October 2018.
See Ellis note on Defending the Integrity of Physics