Insights from The Galaxy by the world’s leading scientists on physics, evolution, climate change, technology and extraterrestrial life.
Incredibly Weird Dark Energy
“Dark energy is incredibly strange, but actually it makes sense to me that it went unnoticed,” said Noble Prize winning physicist Adam Riess. “I have absolutely no clue what dark energy is. Dark energy appears strong enough to push the entire universe – yet its source is unknown, its location is unknown and its physics are highly speculative.
Physicists have found that for the last 7 billion years or so galactic expansion has been accelerating. This would be possible only if something is pushing the galaxies, adding energy to them. Scientists are calling this something “dark energy,” a force that is real but eludes detection.
One of the most speculative ideas for the mechanism of an accelerating cosmic expansion is called quintessence, a relative of the Higgs field that permeates the cosmos. Perhaps some clever life 5 billion years ago figured out how to activate that field, speculates astrophysicist Caleb Scharf in Nautil.us.
The Most Dangerous Idea in Physics
“The multiverse may be the most dangerous idea in physics” argues the South African cosmologist George Ellis. The multiverse may be an artifact of a deeper reality that is comprehensible and unique.
Almost all physicists agree that if the amount of dark energy in the universe were slightly different, life could never have emerged. The amount of dark energy is astoundingly small compared to the theoretically large range it could be (it has been measured to be about one-hundred-millionth of an erg per cubic centimeter). We happen to live in a universe with a small dark energy value, allowing for expansion rather than contraction, and for the emergence of life.
“The miraculous shape-shifting property of the laws is the single most amazing thing I know about them,” Nima Arkani-Hamed told Natalie Walchover for The New Yorker this past fall. It “must be a huge clue to the nature of the ultimate truth.”
“The ascension to the tenth level of intellectual heaven,” he told Walchover, “would be if we find the question to which the universe is the answer, and the nature of that question in and of itself explains why it was possible to describe it in so many different ways.”
It’s as though physics has been turned inside out, observes Walchover. “It now appears that the answers already surround us. It’s the question we don’t know.”
“We’re not building a machine that calculates answers,” says Nima Arkani-Hamed. “Instead, we’re discovering questions. Nature’s shape-shifting laws seem to be the answer to an unknown mathematical question.”
Hyper-Advanced Alien Life
“It’s a great mind-bending twist,” says Caleb Scharf, a research scientist at Columbia University and director of the Columbia Astrobiology Center. “Perhaps hyper-advanced life isn’t just external,” says Scharf. “Perhaps it’s already all around. It is embedded in what we perceive to be physics itself, from the root behavior of particles and fields to the phenomena of complexity and emergence.”
“It would neatly explain why we have yet to see advanced intelligence in the cosmos around us, Scharf adds in an article in Nautil.us. “despite the sheer number of planets it could have arisen on—the so-called Fermi Paradox. perhaps our universe is one of the new forms into which some other civilization transcribed its world.”
In other words says Scharf, “What we think might be the effects of mysterious forces such as dark energy and dark matter in the Universe, could actually be the influence of alien intelligence – or maybe even aliens themselves.”