Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Message in the Sky

New paper! To appear 10/12 (evening) on arxiv.org. It sounds a bit like science fiction, but the basic observation is true: by fine-tuning the fundamental interactions of physics (i.e. the inflaton potential), a supreme being could have encoded a message visible to all sufficiently advanced civilizations in the universe. The message requires no further intervention in the universe after the Big Bang. Now, the question is: is there any message hidden in the CMB? What would it be? In my opinion, the consequences are much more profound that those of SETI!


Title: Message in the Sky
Authors: S. Hsu and A. Zee

We argue that the cosmic microwave background (CMB) provides a stupendous opportunity for the Creator of our universe (assuming one exists) to have sent a message to its occupants, using known physics. The medium for the message is unique. We elaborate on this observation, noting that it requires only careful adjustment of the fundamental Lagrangian, but no direct intervention in the subsequent evolution of the universe.


Anonymous said...

Holy moly. Can't wait to hear the feedback on this one.

Anonymous said...

Let me guess: you're trying to get a grant from the Templeton Foundation.

Steve Hsu said...

Actually we weren't thinking of the Templeton Foundation at all when we first discussed the idea, but later realized that they might be interested in this kind of thing.

We submitted it to astro-ph, but the moderator at arxiv.org thought it belonged in the general physics category 8-\

I maintain that this is a legitimate topic for theoretical physics - at least as much as SETI or the Drake equation, and certainly more so than Landscape (stringy anthropic) stuff. Ultimately the CMB will be measured quite precisely and if there are strange patterns people will be quite interested.

We merely note that someone with control over the inflaton potential could send a message that is visible to everyone in the late universe. Also, such a message could only have been sent by someone with such capabilities, since it is spread over (what appear to be) causally disconnected domains.

For related work, see Farhi and Guth's work (late 80's) on whether a false vacuum bubble created in the lab will inflate inside to create a baby or pocket universe. If you had created such a universe, would you not also have encoded a message for its future inhabitants?

Anonymous said...

I think you will be intersting with the David Deutsch's finding that "a remarkable similarity between the map of anisotropies in the microwave background radiation revealed by the WMAP satellite and a map of our own planet".

Anonymous said...

A *really* clever Creator would have embedded a message in the digits (bits?) of pi or e.

I think Greg Egan discussed this, maybe in "Permutation City".

-- DB (David Brahm, not Dave Bacon, by the way)

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Steve, but Paleolithic humans beat you to it. They found that God encoded messages at the beginning of the universe, in the star constellations. Here is the message they found, as read by one of them: “grunt , gaa, puhh, puhh, peepee, garr” The Ancient Greeks and Romans, having better mathematical tools than Paleo man, were able to improve on his findings. They read: “doggie, quack, horsie, hunter, belt, arrow, Mmm, donuts”

Wolfgang said...

Marshall McLuhan thought that "The Medium is the Message". Apparently he was right, but did not consider the CMB as the important medium 8-)
And I always thought the unisverse is the message ...

Wolfgang said...

Unfortunately I screwed up the joke:
I meant to write uni-verse.

Anonymous said...


pretty soon you will shift to the intelligent design crowd :)

Anonymous said...

"I think Greg Egan discussed this, maybe in "Permutation City"."

I don't know about that, but a message in PI along those lines did appear in Carl Sagan's Contact. The aliens dropped a hint, the main scientist chick went looking for the message after the folks back home refused to believe she went anywhere, and right at the end, there was the image of a circle drawn in ones and zeros when you figured PI in base 11 to a ridiculous number of digits.

Now PI is a fundamental mathematical constant, not a physical constant, which would make a message in it a message from the ultimate God and not a message from an alien inflating a baby universe in his lab. Math would be the same everywhere, in every universe, including that lab that the alien was working in.

Steve Hsu said...

It's not obvious to me that mathematics must be the same everywhere :-)

Our proposal allows a Being ("physicist hacker" a la Linde) to have sent the message, who is far from omnipotent - he doesn't interfere other than setting up the Lagrangian and initial conditions.

Anonymous said...

Steve: If you were the "physicist hacker" what message would you send?

Anonymous said...

Maybe Futurama was onto something when they had the Universe In A Box!

"Hey! That galaxy's signalling to me in binary! But I only know enough binary to ask where the bathroom is..."

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve, there is, maybe, something that would make Greg Egan
happy; it's in "Permutation City". Could the hypothetic message also be in the flesh?


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