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Variation found in a dimensionless constant! April 1, 2009

Posted by dorigo in cosmology, mathematics, news, physics, science.
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I urge you to read this preprint by R.Scherrer (from Vanderbilt University), which appeared yesterday on the arxiv. It is titled “Time variation of a fundamental dimensionless constant“, and I believe it might have profound implications in our understanding of cosmology, as well as theoretical physics. I quote the incipit of the paper below:

“Physicists have long speculated that the fundamental constants might not, in fact, be constant, but instead might vary with time. Dirac was the first to suggest this possibility [1], and time variation of the fundamental constants has been investigated numerous times since then. Among the various possibilities, the fine structure constant and the gravitational constant have received the greatest attention, but work has also been done, for example, on constants related to the weak and strong interactions, the electron-proton mass ratio, and several others.”

Many thanks to Massimo Pietroni for pointing out the paper to me this morning. I am now collecting information about the study, and will update this post shortly.


1. Higgsterics - April 1, 2009

That’s nothing compared with another preprint I’m writing on the implications of the time variation of pi.

2. Higgsterics - April 1, 2009

Ohhhh shit! That was my result!!!!

3. Ptrslv72 - April 1, 2009

The guy screwed it, he should have submitted it yesterday for the time stamp to be April 1st.

Personally, I must add that I am not that enthusiastic about April fools posted on the arXiv (another example from a few years ago was hep-th/0503249, which was even cited as a serious paper by some people who should have known better). The (semi)public nature of the arXiv rests on the assumption that people will use it responsibly, just imagine what would happen if everybody started posting their own jokes (or political statements, or whatever) when they see it fit. There is already enough bull$#!t floating around masqueraded as serious papers, do we really need this additional pollution?

Cheers Ptrslv72

4. Daniel de França MTd2 - April 1, 2009

Gmail 1gb account was released on april 1st…

5. Astronomy Link List - April 1, 2009

This article has been added to the Astronomy Link List.

6. Andrea Giammanco - April 1, 2009

This made me laugh out loudly:

No discussion of the time-variation of fundamental constants
would be complete without a mention of the Oklo
natural fission reactor.

7. dorigo - April 1, 2009

Yes Andrea, I also found that quite funny. Perhaps the most ironic part.


8. Anonymous - April 1, 2009

Let’s just make it official that NO serious business should be conducted on April 1-st.

We really need one day in a year when jokes are not prohibited by a company policy 🙂

9. Anonymous - April 1, 2009

Hey — that’s _my_ name!

10. Luboš Motl - April 1, 2009

I am sorry, Tommaso, but this is plagiarism. This discovery was first made by Prof Alan Sokal:


“In this way the infinite-dimensional invariance group erodes the distinction between observer and observed; the of Euclid and the G of Newton, formerly thought to be constant and universal, are now perceived in their ineluctable historicity; and the putative observer becomes fatally de-centered, disconnected from any epistemic link to a space-time point that can no longer be defined by geometry alone.”

You can ask the superintelligent ladies who are currently in charge of Harvard University. They will happily confirm that they have known about this discovery for years.

11. Luboš Motl - April 1, 2009

“pi of Euclid” should be above…

12. Kea - April 1, 2009

LOL, the paper is hilarious! But why do I suspect that the arxiv didn’t vet it in any way, taking it to be serious research?

13. M - April 1, 2009

hi Lubos. I learn from the reference you quote that superstring theory is a feminist soft science that can be understood as a social phenomenon. Are you sure that Sokal wrote an hoax?

14. Luboš Motl - April 1, 2009

Dear M,

assuming that superstring theory and M-theory are physically equivalent and M-theory is named after you, your characterization of superstring theory is correct.

Best wishes

15. Anonymous - April 1, 2009

A (slightly) crazy question: if we lived in a 3.0000001 + 1 dimensional universe (i.e. a “very slightly fractal” one: think of the reverse of tiny holes in a Sierpinski triangle) — would the effective value of “pi” (i.e. the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle) be the same? I think actually not, it would be pi^((3.0000001-1)/2)/Gamma((3.0000001-1)/2, right? (I’m using the formula for the area of a d-dimensional unit sphere, from the dimensional regularization formulae in Peskin & Schroeder.)

So the April Fool’s joke might be even less funny than you think! 😉 🙂

16. Anonymous - April 1, 2009

Mathematical PI does not depend on dimensionality of the Universe, it’s just a constant.

However, if you try to measure real diameter-to-circumference value then your measurements can vary (because space is warped by gravity, you can’t get smaller than Plank size, etc).

17. Anonymous - April 2, 2009

Yes, and yes — but in the parentheses in your second point you’re talking about deviations within the framework of our usual 3+1 dimensions. Even if (obviously hypothetically) space were entirely a vacuum and not warped by gravity, and Planck’s constant were zero, if there were somehow a small deviation from 3+1, the diameter to circumference ratio would change, I believe. No?

And that’s _still_ my name, by the way!

18. N - April 2, 2009

I’ve been gathering evidence that the fundamental constant (1/0) used to be significantly smaller and was often written as a sideways 7.

19. N - April 2, 2009

R. Scherrer’s work is subtly related to my own discovery that the last digit of pi is 9. I have a truly marvelous proof of this proposition which this comment is too narrow to contain.

20. Anonymous - April 2, 2009

To fake Anonymous:

Ratio of PI in this case depends on structure of space. And definition of a circle will be the first hurdle 😉

Well, it’s quite an interesting thought. I’ll have to give it some time…

PS: Well, that’s my name also 🙂

21. Crackpot#1729 - April 2, 2009

Me, I’m finishing my paper on Wick-rotation-regularization that swiftly converts infinities in 8’s… I wonder why nobody thought about this obvious trick before!! But then, sometimes it takes a genius to see the obvious, doesn’t it?

22. goffredo - April 2, 2009

ciao crackpot#1729. You really made me laugh! Good one. Got to remember it

23. Adam Helfer - April 2, 2009


I heard an expanded version of this joke thirty years ago from Carl Bender. It goes like this: While infty [it’s crucial in what follows to imagine the standard symbol for infinity here] and 0 may have different meanings in different mathematical settings, and the usual rules of algebra may not apply to them, there is a general argument to the effect that 1/ infty =0 iff 1/0= infty.


(a) 1/ infty =0
(b) Rotate each side by +pi /2, to get
(c) Add 8 to each side, giving
(d) Now simply rotate back,
1/0 = infty.

Obviously, this argument is reversible.

24. unbeliever - April 5, 2009

Mmm, I am not fully sure that our beloved Tommaso was truly aware of the joke…

26. island - April 6, 2009

Inspired by string theory [12], we propose the following
model for the time variation of pi.

[12] And who isn’t?

I’m surprised that Lumo caught the humor.

unbeliever says:
Mmm, I am not fully sure that our beloved Tommaso was truly aware of the joke…

phhhhtt… you don’t know T, which would have made last years joke perfect to play on you.

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