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Anthony Aguirre: on 10/21/07 at 22:19pm UTC, wrote Hi Kate, Thank for this very nice piece on Peik, and also for pointing out...

Kate Becker: on 10/4/07 at 17:39pm UTC, wrote The fine structure constant earned a mention in this story in the...

March 27, 2017

ARTICLE: Magic Numbers [back to article]
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Kate Becker wrote on Oct. 4, 2007 @ 17:39 GMT
The fine structure constant earned a mention in this story in the July/August issue of the Skeptical Inquirer. Ralph Estling writes:

"Some physicists have begun challenging long-held shibboleths about the 'constants' of nature, like gravity’s strength, light’s velocity, the ratio between the proton’s mass and that of the electron, and the 'fine-structure constant,' which governs the interaction of light and electrons."

I'm not sure if I agree that some physicists "hotly reject this blasphemy, this shattering of physics’ holy-of-holies." (Dr. Peik, if you come home every day to hate mail from the campaign to keep constants constant, please correct me.) But Estling's point is that even ideas on the cutting edge (*especially* ideas on the cutting edge) should be given their day in the lab.

Estling's moral:

"A balance must be struck so that nonestablishment science ideas are given a public outing, while nonscientific ideas masquerading as science are not allowed to get away with calling themselves science."

That's a tough balance to strike, of course--but I think FQXi does a model job of staying on the right side of the line.

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FQXi Administrator Anthony Aguirre wrote on Oct. 21, 2007 @ 22:19 GMT
Hi Kate,

Thank for this very nice piece on Peik, and also for pointing out the fun Estling article. Changing constants is indeed an interesting case study on the borderline between 'plausible' and 'implausible' physics. The experimental results are mixed, with some tantalizing evidence from astrophysics facing off against mostly negative evidence from the lab and ground-based measurements. So it is exciting. And the theory side is...mixed. On the one hand, lots of recent thinking (especially in terms of string theory) make different possible values of, say, alpha, very reasonable. But at the same time, thinking about whether *we* could see alpha vary reveals big hurdles. Perhaps most formidable are those pointed out by my UCSC colleagues, who showed quite generally (Phys.Rev.Lett. 88 (2002) 131301; that quantum effects would cause a changing alpha to create a *hugely* changing vacuum energy, not allowed by observation. So if alpha changes, it must do so in a very wierd and tricky way. Thus I'm pessimistic -- but the stakes are high, and so I say: measure away!!

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