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Michael Kieth Adams

Could the solar system be an artifact?

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Just a thought, Our solar system seems to be something quite out of the ordinary.   Planets are everywhere,but systems like ours seem to be rare.  Could our solar system be the product of some form of construction, or intelligent direction?  I’m not a creationist  nut case, the creationist museum outside of dinosaur park in Texas is hilarious.  Just because we can’t imagine how something was done doesn’t mean it wasn’t.  I have trouble trying to think of some way to test this.  I haven’t come up with anything.  Maybe by studying other systems we can discover how rare we are or if we are rare.  I’m a disabled high school science teacher, with a lot of time on my hands.  I’m in the process of learning to walk again, not so easy in your late sixties but I’ll make it.  I just wanted to pass this on.

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There are lots of solar systems in the galaxy, we have discovered many.  They may not have the same sized plants ir have the same size or type of Sun, but many are also in the "goldilocks zone", why do you think our solar system is out of the ordinary? 

What could be unique is having a Goldilocks planet like ours with life on it, but it could be just as likely given the number of Solar systems out there that we are not unique.  But we may never know because of the distance and the time it takes for light and sound to travel.  

Carole 

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The best we can do is show that simulations of the evolution of planetary systems can develop to be like ours. They do. So you don't need design just the right range of initial conditions.

Regards Andrew 

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I agree with Andrew here but all of the right conditions have been met to evolve a species intellectual enough to bring such a question as you ask, that in itself might que the question beyond just the slight unique character of the system and would be my reason to ask the question but of course I am not.

To construct such a solar system would require a 4.5 billion year ongoing project still underway as we speak so as this would not be a set it and forget it task, so at random it is entirely possible but planned it would be quite  impossible.

                          Freddie...

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The thing is that we can't exclude either with 100% certainty.

What I mean by this is following:

- let's suppose that our solar system is unique in some aspect, and we determine that only cause for this was in initial conditions. We can't distinguish if those initial conditions were fluke random event, or if indeed there was some sort of "designer". Sufficiently advanced "intelligence" could "foresee" outcome and adjust initial conditions to suit outcome, on the other hand - random events are just that - random, so no point in asking "but why like that?" - it's a bit like asking why did a die fall on number 4 and not any other number.

If we want to follow logic and scientific reasoning and proofs - that is what we should do - examine other star systems, develop models / simulations, understand mechanics of it and draw conclusions. On the other hand, nothing wrong with beliefs, it is a part of human nature, even scientists often employ it (they believe in a new theory until it is proven wrong and many theories were formulated based on scarce evidence at the time and it took "faith" to propose them, even more since they were quite radical and often not generally accepted at the time), but one needs to be aware when using beliefs - that they don't represent reality in scientific sense - they are just beliefs (and often personal).

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Predicting the future behaviour of a non-linear dynamical system the size and complexity of the solar system (leaving aside any influence from nearby exploding stars) is mathematically impossible even when using classical mechanics (without all that newfangled uncertainty stuff), unless you have perfect knowledge of the initial state (infinite precision), and infinite precision in your numerical solution (not possible on any finite machine). Mathematically speaking just a single positive Lyapunov exponent means that any non-zero error will explode. In other words, the only way to know how the story ends is to set up some initial state, and wait for it to evolve for 4.5 billion years. We might feel that the solar system is special in that life could evolve in the first place, but then (as stated in the weak anthropic principle) we could not have evolved in any solar system that didn't allow life to evolve. Given the trillions upon trillions of stars out there, statistics doesn't just allow for the existence of special places, it quite literally demands them. Among a trillion stars, a million are one-in-a-million long shots (but then one-in-a-million chances come up 9 times out of ten ;))

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There are also going to be selection effects since, although observations are improving, detection favours the kind of systems we are currently finding.

Historically, anthropomorphic explanations have arisen from incomplete information and missing or inadequate theories. The Copernican principle warns us to mistrust any explanation requiring us to be in a special place, so I think the warning should sound here as it sounds, for me, whenever the anthropomorphic appears. That's why it sounds for me whenever 'living in a simulation' comes up.

Of passing interest, if I step out of my front door and look straight ahead I see a low, wooded hill. On the other side of that hill (and a couple of others) lies the Observatoire de Haute Provence where the first exo-planet discovery was made.

Olly

 

 

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1 hour ago, michael.h.f.wilkinson said:

Predicting the future behaviour of a non-linear dynamical system the size and complexity of the solar system (leaving aside any influence from nearby exploding stars) is mathematically impossible even when using classical mechanics (without all that newfangled uncertainty stuff), unless you have perfect knowledge of the initial state (infinite precision), and infinite precision in your numerical solution (not possible on any finite machine). Mathematically speaking just a single positive Lyapunov exponent means that any non-zero error will explode. In other words, the only way to know how the story ends is to set up some initial state, and wait for it to evolve for 4.5 billion years. We might feel that the solar system is special in that life could evolve in the first place, but then (as stated in the weak anthropic principle) we could not have evolved in any solar system that didn't allow life to evolve. Given the trillions upon trillions of stars out there, statistics doesn't just allow for the existence of special places, it quite literally demands them. Among a trillion stars, a million are one-in-a-million long shots (but then one-in-a-million chances come up 9 times out of ten ;))

I would be very careful when using word infinity in physical context (like infinite precision, or perfect knowledge of initial state).

In principle any system with finite number of elements under our current understanding of physics is calculable to arbitrary precision (of calculation subject to uncertainty). Fact that we have uncertainty in experiments and "branching" is no obstacle for calculability (think of non deterministic Turing machine).

There are quite a few pitfalls when discussing any sort of "creation" theory of universe. Here I don't mean any religious aspect, nor want to lead discussion in that direction. On the other hand I have a sense that there is distinct avoidance of this topic by people that deal with science - possibly because it's historical ties to religion and "creationism" (in religious sense) or that it is slippery slope. However, I do believe that it is valid theoretical / philosophical direction to follow without prejudice / bias.

I'll just list few pitfalls that people should be aware when thinking / discussing such topic.

- precise definition of term to "create" - which implies free will / decision. We don't quite understand concept of free will / decision in framework of our current understanding of physical world. Our physics does not allow for any sort of free will (regardless if universe is deterministic or probabilistic in nature), yet we do seem to have a free will, or at least very persistent illusion of it.

- causality / time relation and existence of time. This is related to internal/external nature of creator entity. If creator entity is postulated to be external - and it needs to be, because internal creator is again product of our universe and part of it - which does not answer the question how universe came into being, can we apply any sense of time to that entity? Time is tied to our universe - it is property of "creation" rather than eternal and ever present - we see that from relativity - time flows at different rates and is connected to space in single entity called space-time. It can be "bent". For something to be created - creator entity needs to decide and then do act of creation - these imply causality and time - which we can't be certain exist outside of our universe. We try to impose our concepts on something that is very probably completely outside domain of our experience / reasoning.

- constraints in our imagination / perception / reasoning and limits of knowable. Since we are part of this universe - we are accustomed to think in terms of our experience / perception. People have hard time understanding even processes in our universe that are far from everyday experience (like relativity and quantum mechanics) - how are we going to discuss something completely different from anything we are used to, and which we have no way of probing / testing because it lies outside of our existence?

In light of all of above - it would be foolish to dismiss that some creator entity would not be capable of setting initial conditions (of universe) with exact knowledge of how it will unfold in internal time time evolution - we can even imagine that creator entity does not know the time as we perceive it - so there is no large amount of time needed to do calculation.

On the other hand - this shows inherent level of speculation when we discuss such ideas, and there is a great chance that one would be wasting time when contemplating these matters - regardless of what is "true" - maybe we simply don't have capacity or means to assert that truth. I guess there is at least some benefit in doing so - it enhances capacity for abstract thought in same way chess or abstract mathematics do.

 

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As with the weather you can run simulations with a range of initial conditions (limited to some region of phase space) and see how it evolves. If you get convergence then you can be reasonably sure that the outcome is stable in that region. If not then it diverges and the system is chaotic in that region.

This is both what weather forecasters and solar system modellers do. If stable we can rely on the forecast if chaotic then not.

If this were not the case we would not be able to predict where are planets will be year on year even if the solar system is dynamically unstable long term.

Regards Andrew 

Edited by andrew s
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To know that our solar system was a created artifact wouldn't we either have to find some exceptional evidence to support that idea, or know almost for certain that our solar system as it is now could not have formed by natural means?

I tend to the view that it's usually best to stick with the simplest explanations unless the evidence suggests otherwise. i.e. The solar system although perhaps unusual is probably natural in origin. 

Anyway, with so many billions of solar systems across the galaxy, let alone the universe, some unusual ones are bound to occur. They're just rare. 

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What we should do is be acutely aware of the filtration effects of our perception, both instrumental and cerebral. What we should not do is build models we consider definitive and which are created through that filtration. This is very difficult for us because because we evolved to function in a local environment but we are trying to comprehend a far wider and less predictable one. I think we should proceed with what we have but be aware of its power to deceive.

Olly

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I think Olly touched on the point that we are detecting lots of large gas giants orbiting close to their star because thats all we can do, Jupiter orbits once every 12 years so would be missed if our system was viewed from afar and the inner planets might not be detected at all..

Alan

Edited by Alien 13
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3 hours ago, vlaiv said:

I would be very careful when using word infinity in physical context (like infinite precision, or perfect knowledge of initial state).

In principle any system with finite number of elements under our current understanding of physics is calculable to arbitrary precision (of calculation subject to uncertainty). Fact that we have uncertainty in experiments and "branching" is no obstacle for calculability (think of non deterministic Turing machine).

There are quite a few pitfalls when discussing any sort of "creation" theory of universe. Here I don't mean any religious aspect, nor want to lead discussion in that direction. On the other hand I have a sense that there is distinct avoidance of this topic by people that deal with science - possibly because it's historical ties to religion and "creationism" (in religious sense) or that it is slippery slope. However, I do believe that it is valid theoretical / philosophical direction to follow without prejudice / bias.

I'll just list few pitfalls that people should be aware when thinking / discussing such topic.

- precise definition of term to "create" - which implies free will / decision. We don't quite understand concept of free will / decision in framework of our current understanding of physical world. Our physics does not allow for any sort of free will (regardless if universe is deterministic or probabilistic in nature), yet we do seem to have a free will, or at least very persistent illusion of it.

- causality / time relation and existence of time. This is related to internal/external nature of creator entity. If creator entity is postulated to be external - and it needs to be, because internal creator is again product of our universe and part of it - which does not answer the question how universe came into being, can we apply any sense of time to that entity? Time is tied to our universe - it is property of "creation" rather than eternal and ever present - we see that from relativity - time flows at different rates and is connected to space in single entity called space-time. It can be "bent". For something to be created - creator entity needs to decide and then do act of creation - these imply causality and time - which we can't be certain exist outside of our universe. We try to impose our concepts on something that is very probably completely outside domain of our experience / reasoning.

- constraints in our imagination / perception / reasoning and limits of knowable. Since we are part of this universe - we are accustomed to think in terms of our experience / perception. People have hard time understanding even processes in our universe that are far from everyday experience (like relativity and quantum mechanics) - how are we going to discuss something completely different from anything we are used to, and which we have no way of probing / testing because it lies outside of our existence?

In light of all of above - it would be foolish to dismiss that some creator entity would not be capable of setting initial conditions (of universe) with exact knowledge of how it will unfold in internal time time evolution - we can even imagine that creator entity does not know the time as we perceive it - so there is no large amount of time needed to do calculation.

On the other hand - this shows inherent level of speculation when we discuss such ideas, and there is a great chance that one would be wasting time when contemplating these matters - regardless of what is "true" - maybe we simply don't have capacity or means to assert that truth. I guess there is at least some benefit in doing so - it enhances capacity for abstract thought in same way chess or abstract mathematics do.

 

I always use the word infinity with care (studying astronomy and physics at university teaches a certain rigour in that area). Chaos theory states that we cannot calculate the future of a system with positive real parts of the Lyapunov exponents unless there is zero error in both observation of the initial state, and zero round-off error in the calculations. This holds true even for a spring-mass magnet system of a handful of elements. Zero round-off error is impossible on finite bit resolution machines. Any error will make the calculations deviate further and further from the system's "true" orbit. We can do ensembles of simulations, as the shadowing lemma states that the computed orbits will be a reasonable representation of some possible orbit of the system at some starting point near the initial state. My point is therefore, that even without quantum mechanics, the future if the solar system would by very unpredictable, and that it would therefore not be feasible to design it.

Turing machines don't come into this as these are essentially about integer computation.

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I agree that it would not be practical for us to design the solar system but that is not to say that someone else could or could not.  If we were to open a discussion about quantum mechanics with Greeks several thousand years ago at some point they would want to know when we sacrificed the goat.  I am not talking about religion though there may be no difference between an alien who could design and build a solar system and God.  

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50 minutes ago, michael.h.f.wilkinson said:

I always use the word infinity with care (studying astronomy and physics at university teaches a certain rigour in that area). Chaos theory states that we cannot calculate the future of a system with positive real parts of the Lyapunov exponents unless there is zero error in both observation of the initial state, and zero round-off error in the calculations. This holds true even for a spring-mass magnet system of a handful of elements. Zero round-off error is impossible on finite bit resolution machines. Any error will make the calculations deviate further and further from the system's "true" orbit. We can do ensembles of simulations, as the shadowing lemma states that the computed orbits will be a reasonable representation of some possible orbit of the system at some starting point near the initial state. My point is therefore, that even without quantum mechanics, the future if the solar system would by very unpredictable, and that it would therefore not be feasible to design it.

Turing machines don't come into this as these are essentially about integer computation.

I'm not quite following, are you saying that for any given (chaotic) physical system, there is no upper bound in initial conditions uncertainty and acceptable round off error that will provide calculations of further system trajectory up to selected time T that will not deviate from true system trajectory less than specified distance in phase space?

 

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22 minutes ago, vlaiv said:

I'm not quite following, are you saying that for any given (chaotic) physical system, there is no upper bound in initial conditions uncertainty and acceptable round off error that will provide calculations of further system trajectory up to selected time T that will not deviate from true system trajectory less than specified distance in phase space?

 

The shadowing lemma states that when performing calculations with limited accuracy (at least limited by numerical precision of your floating point representation), starting from point P in phase space, what you get is a reasonably close trajectory starting from some unknown point P' close to P. However, it may deviate arbitrarily far from the true trajectory starting at P. This is why we always make simulations with many starting points around P,  and see where they end up. If they all end up roughly the same, we have a good idea where the trajectory starting at P should end up. If they diverge wildly, all bets are off. After sufficient time, wild divergence is rule rather than exception, and 4.5 billion years is generally sufficient.

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46 minutes ago, Michael Kieth Adams said:

I agree that it would not be practical for us to design the solar system but that is not to say that someone else could or could not.  If we were to open a discussion about quantum mechanics with Greeks several thousand years ago at some point they would want to know when we sacrificed the goat.  I am not talking about religion though there may be no difference between an alien who could design and build a solar system and God.  

If modelling of physics through any form of differential equations is correct, the kind of design needed would be mathematically impossible for any finite computational device, because the kind of design you want requires a precision which is impossible in such a device. So either you need an infinite computer, or you need a totally different kind of physics.

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15 minutes ago, michael.h.f.wilkinson said:

The shadowing lemma states that when performing calculations with limited accuracy (at least limited by numerical precision of your floating point representation), starting from point P in phase space, what you get is a reasonably close trajectory starting from some unknown point P' close to P. However, it may deviate arbitrarily far from the true trajectory starting at P. This is why we always make simulations with many starting points around P,  and see where they end up. If they all end up roughly the same, we have a good idea where the trajectory starting at P should end up. If they diverge wildly, all bets are off. After sufficient time, wild divergence is rule rather than exception, and 4.5 billion years is generally sufficient.

Again, not following, and for sake of argument let's not think solar system and 4.5 billion years but let's think universe.

Let's postulate that universe is finite in extent (bounded), and given the fact that density is finite - there is finite amount of stuff in universe. Let's also take currently accepted value for age of universe (or rather let's just assume that there has been finite amount of time since start, or even better - let's take some future finite time T where universe will have such high entropy that any meaningful possibility of information processing will not exist). One more postulate is needed - there is no continuity (no infinitely small same as no infinitely large - no mathematical infinities within physical world).

You are saying that with arbitrary high precision but finite, and finite amount of time on device that has properties of non deterministic Turing machine it would not be possible to find initial conditions that would predict all possible trajectories of universe as a whole and hence particular history of the universe up to a set time T with error in phase space within uncertainty present in nature?

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7 minutes ago, vlaiv said:

Again, not following, and for sake of argument let's not think solar system and 4.5 billion years but let's think universe.

Let's postulate that universe is finite in extent (bounded), and given the fact that density is finite - there is finite amount of stuff in universe. Let's also take currently accepted value for age of universe (or rather let's just assume that there has been finite amount of time since start, or even better - let's take some future finite time T where universe will have such high entropy that any meaningful possibility of information processing will not exist). One more postulate is needed - there is no continuity (no infinitely small same as no infinitely large - no mathematical infinities within physical world).

You are saying that with arbitrary high precision but finite, and finite amount of time on device that has properties of non deterministic Turing machine it would not be possible to find initial conditions that would predict all possible trajectories of universe as a whole and hence particular history of the universe up to a set time T with error in phase space within uncertainty present in nature?

A Turing machine is infinite, so must be ruled out. The more general answer is that even assuming classical, deterministic mechanics, the computation you propose is impossible on any finite precision device.

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11 minutes ago, michael.h.f.wilkinson said:

A Turing machine is infinite, so must be ruled out. The more general answer is that even assuming classical, deterministic mechanics, the computation you propose is impossible on any finite precision device.

Well, I'm having trouble comprehending that statement, so I better dive into chaos theory and examine the evidence for it.

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11 minutes ago, vlaiv said:

Well, I'm having trouble comprehending that statement, so I better dive into chaos theory and examine the evidence for it.

A good introduction is James Gleick's book: Chaos

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1 hour ago, michael.h.f.wilkinson said:

A Turing machine is infinite, so must be ruled out. The more general answer is that even assuming classical, deterministic mechanics, the computation you propose is impossible on any finite precision device.

I will have to disagree, and I will give you an example - lets take well known chaotic system - iterative function in complex plane, for example F(z) = Z^2 - 1.

If I give you following task, would you be able to write computer program that finds a solution?

Task is - given parameters N - number of steps, Zx - being complex number, and epsilon - a real number, find Z0 such that after N iterations of above formula starting with Z0, result of iterations Z is less than epsilon in distance to Zx?

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8 hours ago, vlaiv said:

I will have to disagree, and I will give you an example - lets take well known chaotic system - iterative function in complex plane, for example F(z) = Z^2 - 1.

If I give you following task, would you be able to write computer program that finds a solution?

Task is - given parameters N - number of steps, Zx - being complex number, and epsilon - a real number, find Z0 such that after N iterations of above formula starting with Z0, result of iterations Z is less than epsilon in distance to Zx?

It is possible, but the orbit found, ending up at Zx (or ZN if you like) does not actually start at Z0, but at some epsilon distance from it. The actual orbit starting from Z0 may end up elsewhere. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shadowing_lemma

 

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3 hours ago, michael.h.f.wilkinson said:

It is possible, but the orbit found, ending up at Zx (or ZN if you like) does not actually start at Z0, but at some epsilon distance from it. The actual orbit starting from Z0 may end up elsewhere. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shadowing_lemma

 

By the definition of the problem, found solution will start at Z0 and end up at ZN which is in epsilon vicinity of Zx.

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1 minute ago, vlaiv said:

By the definition of the problem, found solution will start at Z0 and end up at ZN which is in epsilon vicinity of Zx.

But it will be a pseudo-orbit, not a true orbit.

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