Inaugural Blog Post: Announcements and Quantum Gravity

Hi everyone. It’s been a while since the first two books of the Luminous Fleet series came out. I’m happy to announce that the third book in the series will come out sometime in Dec. 2021. This very month in fact. We’re down to the final cover layout. I’ll release the entire series as an omnibus edition a little later on. That’s how I wrote it initially, as one very long novel. What with pandemic and my day job, I kind of fell down on the production aspect of my writing. I’m also hard at work on the sequel to Luminous Fleet as we speak. I had been planning on letting that sit while I worked on other novels, but the themes I outlined for the story took on eerie relevance to the present so I decided to just write the sucker. In the meantime, I’ve been getting a little lost in the research I do to make my world feel solid.

This research finally gave me an excuse to crack open my book on Abstract Algebra and Group Theory. I picked it up a few years ago because I needed to exceed a certain amount to get free shipping and the book came up in the “better with” recommendations. I took a course on group theory, lo these many years ago, and it kicked my ass. Hard. Part of it was the lousy text book which mixed Group Theory and Molecular Symmetry. Plus, the prof expected us to learn both and apply them to experimental x-ray crystallography in ten weeks (all as part of the same course). This was part of my accidental minor in chemistry. Never listen to college guidance counselors who smell of cloves at a small liberal arts college. “At this level, Physics and Chemistry are the same, so if a course you need isn’t offered in one, take it in the other”. No, no they’re not as I learned the hard way with my first course in PChem. Quantum Chemistry was a good class, though. So were all the courses in Spectroscopy I took. Cystrallography was fun because of the Frankenstein lab equipment we used for it. But, Group Theory sucked as did writing FORTRAN code to interpret the data we’d glean from our glass plates (that’s how old the lab equipment was). I always meant to come back to the subject because it’s integral to the advanced Quantum Mechanics I planned to take in grad school. Life happened and I never did my doctorate in Physics. Today, though, my writing got me going on an intellectual tangent. Last time it did that, I got a four book series and a shiny new graduate degree in Public Policy. So, maybe I’ll wind up with that Physics doctorate yet.

Anyway… I was pondering the sci-fi ship in my story. How does it generate the gravity that humans need for proper health? My course work in Relativity didn’t cover that. It’s really annoying when undergraduate courses don’t cover the cool sci-fi scenarios. So, one approach that purveyors of science fiction, from Chesley Bonisteel to J. Michael Straczynski use is centrifugal force from spinning the vessel on its long axis. But, really, that’s so Newtonian. Lots of engineering issues there as well. The ships from Star Wars just have artificial gravity. Somehow. That somehow bit bugged me. Gravity comes from mass, and mass takes up space. Well, the mass we’re familiar with, the mass generated by fermion particles. Fermions are all the matter we see around us. Like The Cat Empire sang “We’re all just protons, neutrons, electrons at rest on a Sunday”. All the constituents of matter are fermions because they obey Fermi-Dirac statistics which say that no two particles can share the same space at the same time. Specifically, it says that no two particles can occupy the same quantum state as described by their quantum numbers which, in turn, describe the possible degrees of freedom for particles. This is what makes normal matter solid in that all normal matter takes up space. There’s a different class of particles which mediate the fundamental interactions of physics–the so called fundamental forces. These are bosons. They obey Bose-Einstein statistics. This means, among other things, you can stack an arbitrary number of bosons right on top of one another in the place, at the same time. This makes sense. Take a photon, the force carrier for the Electromagnetic force. Most people just call photons ‘light’. The more photons you add, the brighter the light. Bosons like photons have no mass and this makes them travel only at the speed of light. So they do you no good for generating gravity (in a normal sense) and you can’t hold onto them anyway. But, there is a class of boson which does, in fact, have mass. These are the W and Z bosons of the Electroweak interaction (the unified forces of Electromagnetism and the Weak Force). These force carriers, in and of themselves, weigh more than an entire atom of iron. Now, these things have potential (no pun intended). The problem is that they are only produced in very high energy environments and decay pretty much immediately into more mundane particles and photons (I think). However, it probably would be no problem for a humans at a science-fiction tech level to produce large numbers of W and Z bosons. We produced and observed them way back in the 1980s. Confining them would a whole nuther thing, especially in such a way that they remain stable. But, I could easily see a starship having some kind of conduit which maintains those conditions. Whatever they might be. Or, they might have something that directly interacts with the Higgs field. The Higgs field is the scalar field which permeates the universe and has the same value everywhere. The interaction between it and weak isospin and hypercharge of the electroweak force give the W and Z bosons their mass. It’s thought that fermions also get their mass from the Higgs field through another interaction, with Yukawa Coupling being a leading candidate. So, any sci-fi starship that generates gravity artificially is either containing these kinds of bosons or working directly with the Higgs field.

Whither Group Theory in all this? So far, what I’ve done is quote The Standard Model of Physics chapter and verse. The Standard model is where we get all the cool particles like Quarks, Leptons, Neutrinos, Gluons and so forth. The names sound weird because once Physicists began dealing with the forces that hold atoms and their parts together, they kind of ran out names. Electric charge is already abstract, and now there’s something else that’s responsible for atomic decay? Oh man, that’s hyper charge. Yeah, that’s it. Then there’s the thing that holds atoms and protons and neutrons together that’s… Uhm, color charge. Sure, that’s good. Next thing you know you’re talking about quarks that come in flavors. When looked at from even a Physics undergrad’s eye, the Standard Model looks like a just-so story. In fact, it’s the same old Schrodinger Equation, but with more terms added to describe the additional degrees of freedom and to deal with things like momentum. Those terms can contain entire worlds and those worlds are the basis of Quantum Chromodynamics. The worlds in the terms are tangled messes of Linear Algebra. However, as messy as the matrices look, they follow a tidy set of rules describing their symmetries and operations. That set of rules is Group Theory. My whole imagined engineering discipline of mass and gravitation would be grounded in this branch of mathematics. And, this is where things get interesting. By creating and dissipating mass in the form of the W and Z bosons, you are manipulating gravity. Not only do you get artificial gravity out of that, but you can also create a negative mass gradient and that might be what would make an Alcubierre or Warp Drive real. Or stable wormholes for that matter. And, creating artificial interactions with the Higgs field could be the basis of the most terrifyingly destructive weapons ever conceived. Or, worse, they could change the value of the Higgs field, leading to vacuum collapse that radiates outward across the universe at the speed of light destroying space and all time (past and future). This would be the weapon with which Doctor Who fought his ‘Reality War’ against the Daleks. And, so far as we know, Group Theory is the key to understanding all this.

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