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Wednesday, Mar 31, 2010
Trying to find animal pairings
The NY Times Magazine has a long article on Can Animals Be Gay?.

People are always trying to find animal homosexuality in an attempt to prove that human homosexuality is normal. But the animal behavior they find does not resemble the human behavior, and proves nothing.

Zaotar comments:

What an overhyped and overblown article. Same-sex *asexual* pairings are not equivalent to "homosexuality" in any way that people care about. Rather the issue is same-sex *sexual* pairings. And according to the article, these albatrosses don't engage in sex between members of the same sex. The article notes that central fact, and then promptly ignores it. But why are you comparing it to homosexuality if there's no sex? It's highly misleading; the underlying facts are far more boring.

By this same absurdly overblown line of implication, everybody who keeps a pet dogs is engaging in "beastiality" because they have chosen a committed life-long interspecies relationship. Talk about missing the point. What we want to know is whether there are examples of committed *sexual* relationships amongst other animals, and if so, how they operate.

They might look for uncommitted examples also.

Monday, Mar 29, 2010
Physics magazine honors Einstein
The Jan. 2005 issue of Physics World (partially mirrored here and here)
Questions of precedence

In addition to allegations that he plagiarized the work of Maric´, Einstein has also been accused of stealing ideas from Hendrik Lorentz and Henri Poincaré. Elements of Einstein’s 1905 paper on special relativity paralleled parts of a 1904 paper by Lorentz and a contemporary paper by Poincaré. Although Einstein read earlier papers by the two, he claimed not to have seen these later works before writing his first paper on special relativity.

A frequent criticism of Einstein is that this paper did not contain any references,which might suggest that he was consciously hiding his tracks. But Stachel is doubtful. “At the time, I do not think it was that unusual,” he says. “There is no evidence that he ever consciously took from some source and neglected to mention it in order to get the credit himself.

Equally, there are questions over general relativity. One frequent accusation is that David Hilbert completed the general theory of relativity at least five days before Einstein submitted his conclusive paper in November 1915. There are marked similarities between the two men’s work, and they did squabble for some time over primacy. But Stachel says that he and co-workers have found evidence that the first proofs for Hilbert’s paper did not include the crucial field equations for general relativity. He says that these proofs were also based on Einstein’s earlier rejection of the principle of general covariance, a central tenet of general relativity that shows that the laws of relativity hold for any inertial frame. Einstein’s 1915 paper, in contrast, showed that relativity could be made generally covariant by adopting a new geometric model of space–time.

There is plenty of evidence that Einstein consciously neglected to credit others, in order to get more credit for himself. He did it all his life. Not only do his famous relativity papers fail to cite his sources, but he continued to do so in followup papers and interviews. He also did it in private letters. Stachel is an Einstein biographer, and he must know this. He is just an Einstein idol worshipper.

Stachel's analysis of Hilbert's paper has been shown to be wrong. That Hilbert draft does indeed have a correct covariant formulation of general relativity. It appears that the draft does not have the field equations because Stachel or someone else removed that half-page. Stachel's article on the subject dishonestly omitted the fact that a critical half-page was missing.

So why has Einstein attracted so much criticism? Stachel has identified three general reasons, the first being anti-semitism. ... Stachel also points out that in recent decades some feminist critics have picked on Einstein ... Finally, according to Stachel, there is simple iconoclasm.
Oh no, there are many more reasons for disliking Einstein. He had many character defects. He was a publicity-seeking phony who was nothing like what he pretended to be.

Thursday, Mar 25, 2010
Science museum decides to be scientific
The UK Times reports:
The Science Museum is revising the contents of its new climate science gallery to reflect the wave of scepticism that has engulfed the issue in recent months.

The decision by the 100-year-old London museum reveals how deeply scientific institutions have been shaken by the public’s reaction to revelations of malpractice by climate scientists.

The museum is abandoning its previous practice of trying to persuade visitors of the dangers of global warming. It is instead adopting a neutral position, acknowledging that there are legitimate doubts about the impact of man-made emissions on the climate. ...

“You can argue about how much effect the carbon in the atmosphere will have on the system and what we should do about it,” he said. “The role of the museum should be to lay out honestly and fairly what the climate science community has found out about the science.

“There are areas of uncertainty which are perfectly reasonable to raise and we will present those. For example, the extent to which the climate is as sensitive to the CO2-loading that humans have put in or not.”

This is a good sign. A museum should just show the science, and skip the leftist political messages.

Meanwhile, the hot news is a new missing link:

A previously unknown kind of human group vanished from the world so completely that it has left behind the merest wisp of evidence that it ever existed — a single bone from the little finger of a child, buried in a cave in the Altai mountains of southern Siberia.

Researchers extracted DNA from the bone and reported Wednesday that it differed conspicuously from that of both modern humans and of Neanderthals, the archaic human species that inhabited Europe until the arrival of modern humans on the continent some 44,000 years ago.

The child who carried the DNA lineage was probably 5 to 7 years old, but it is not yet known if it was a boy or a girl. ...

But they say the genetic material extracted from the bone, an element called mitochondrial DNA, belonged to a distinct human lineage that migrated out of Africa at a different time from the two known archaic human species.

So they are claiming that this tiny bone fragment is from a new human species, but they don't even know whether it was a boy or girl.

I am skeptical about this. This is just the result that evolutionary anthropologists are always hoping to find, but it might just be a contaminated DNA. I'll wait for more evidence.

The Wired mag article is titled, DNA Reveals New Hominid Ancestor. The new find is not known to be an ancestor of anything. I guess they are just desperate to make it look like a missing link.

Wednesday, Mar 24, 2010
Einstein not a founder of quantum mechanics
Besides relativity, Einstein is also credited with being a founder of quantum mechanics. The Nobel Prize considered giving him a prize for relativity, and rejected him eight times. Ultimately they gave him a prize for his 1905 photon paper.

In a 1949 book honoring Albert Einstein, Neils Bohr wrote:

Einstein's great original contribution to quantum theory (1905) was just the recognition of how physical phenomena like the photo-effect may depend directly on individual quantum effects. With unfailing intuition Einstein thus was led step by step to the conclusion that any radiation process involves the emission or absorption of individual light quanta or "photons" with energy and momentum E = hf and P = hs (1) respectively, where h is Planck's constant, while f and s are the number of vibrations per unit time and the number of waves per unit length, respectively.
Bohr really was a founder of quantum mechanics, so his opinion is worth something. But it was Planck who said in 1900 that light was absorbed and emitted in quanta. After all, it is Planck's constant and not Einstein's constant. Planck got a Nobel prize for it, and Lenard got one for confirming it with the photo-electric effect.

Bohr is really crediting Einstein for recognizing what Planck did. A lot of others did not believe it. Einstein went further than Planck by arguing that light is composed of quanta while it is being transmitted. (The word "photon" was invented later.)

I am just wondering what Einstein's contribution has to do with quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics is more like what Planck said, than Einstein, because light is only quantized when it is emitted and absorbed. It behaves like a wave as it is being transmitted.

Einstein gets closer to the modern view in his 1909 paper:

When light was shown to exhibit interference and diffraction, it seemed almost certain that light should be considered a wave. Since light can also propagate through empty space, one had to imagine a strange substance, an ether, that mediated the propagation of light waves. Since light also propagates in material objects, one had to assume that this ether was also present in material objects, and was chiefly responsible for the propagation of light in material objects. The existence of the ether seemed beyond doubt. In the first volume of Chwolson's excellent physics textbook, he states in the introduction to ether, "The hypothesis of this one agent's existence is extraordinarily close to certainty."

Today, however, we regard the ether hypothesis as obsolete. A large body of facts shows undeniably that light has certain fundamental properties that are better explained by Newton's emission theory of light than by the oscillation theory. For this reason, I believe that the next phase in the development of theoretical physics will bring us a theory of light that can be considered a fusion of the oscillation and emission theories. The purpose of the following remarks is to justify this belief and to show that a profound change in our views on the composition and essence of light is imperative.

This is a change from his 1905 opinion that light was a particle. His famous 1905 paper said:
In fact, it seems to me that the observations on “black-body radiation”, photoluminescence, the production of cathode rays by ultraviolet light and other phenomena involving the emission or conversion of light can be better understood on the assumption that the energy of light is distributed discontinuously in space. According to the assumption considered here, when a light ray starting from a point is propagated, the energy is not continuously distributed over an ever increasing volume, but it consists of a finite number of energy quanta, localised in space, which move without being divided and which can be absorbed or emitted only as a whole.
This was at a time when physicists all believed that matter was made of atoms, but some were looking for better proof. So it was natural to conjecture that light was composed of some sort of atoms also.

I am questioning whether it has ever been shown that "the energy of light is distributed discontinuously in space." According to quantum mechanics (as discovered later), the energy is continuously distributed in a wave function until an observation is made. Then the light gets absorbed as a discrete photon.

Isaacson writes:

In his 1911 Solvay lecture, Einstein put these issues into the larger context of the so-called quantum problem. Was it possible, he asked, to avoid accepting the physical reality of these atomistic particles of light, which were like bullets aimed at the heart of Maxwell's equations and, indeed, all of classical physics?

Planck, who had pioneered the concept of the quanta, continued to insist that they came into play only when light was being emitted or absorbed. They were not a real world feature of light itself, he argued. Einstein, in his talk to the conference, sorrowfully demurred: "These discontinuities, which we find so distasteful in Planck's theory, seem really to exist in nature." [quote is from Einstein's 1911 paper on specific heats] [p.169]

Some physicists may disagree with me, but I would say that Planck's opinion is closer to what is accepted today.

Later in the 1909 paper, Einstein talks about relativity:

Superficial consideration suggests that the essential parts of Lorentz's theory cannot be reconciled with the relativity principle. ... the essence of Lorentz's theory ... can be reconciled with the relativity principle. These two principles lead to certain unambiguous transformation equations characterized by the identity ...
This path leads to the so-called relativity theory.
What Einstein is saying here is that Lorentz's theory is wrong, and that it can be fixed using a certain identity. What he does not say is that the identity is copied straight out of Poincare's 1905 paper, without citing Poincare. Einstein did not have the concept in his earlier papers.

Even if you think that Einstein's failure to cite Poincare in 1905 is forgivable, what possible excuse could there be for failing to cite him in 1909?

Note also that Einstein was apparently not comfortable with the name "relativity theory" in 1909. The name came from Poincare, not Einstein, and my guess is that Einstein thought that use of the name will give credit to Poincare.

I just don't see how Einstein was contributing anything to quantum theory. Physicists had debated for centuries whether light was a particle or a wave. Maxwells equations in 1870 or so provided strong evidence that light was transmitted a wave. Planck's theory of 1900 gave evidence that light was emitted and absorbed as discrete particles, with energy proportional to frequency. These were resolved by quantum electrodynamics in the 1940s. Einstein added nothing to that.

Tuesday, Mar 23, 2010
AGW and Copernicus
Frank J. Tipler writes:
The attacks against Copernicus are astoundingly similar to the attacks on scientists like myself who are critical of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). ... a friend of Copernicus sent a copy of On the Revolutions to Pope Paul III, the man to whom Copernicus had dedicated his great work. Paul III gave the book to his personal theologian Bartolomeo Spino who, we are told, “planned to condemn it” but died before he could do so. The task of criticizing Copernicus was transferred to Spino’s close friend, the Dominican Tolosani, who penned the following:
The book by Nicholas Copernicus of Torun was printed not long ago and published in recent days. In it he tries to revive the teaching of certain Pythagoreans concerning the Earth’s motion, a teaching which had died out in times long past. Nobody accepts it now except Copernicus. … Hence, since Copernicus does not understand physics … it is stupid to contradict a belief accepted by everyone over a very long time for extremely strong reasons, unless the naysayer uses more powerful and incontrovertible proofs, and completely rebuts the opposed reasoning. Copernicus does not do this at all. For he does not undermine the proofs, establishing necessary conclusions, advanced by Aristotle the philosopher and Ptolemy the astronomer.

Aristotle absolutely destroyed the arguments of the Pythagoreans. Yet this is not adduced by Copernicus in his ignorance of it.

Note that Copernicus was criticized was criticized on scientific grounds, not biblical. It is true that Copernicus does a lousy job of rebutting the arguments that came before him.

The current weekly (March 19) ScientificAmerican.com podcast makes an analogy between AGW and the Flat Earth of 500 years ago. (It starts about 2:20.) That was the time of Copernicus, and there was an argument about the motion of the Earth, but no one believed in a flat Earth.

Monday, Mar 22, 2010
Einstein on women
In a response to the protest of a women's organization against his visit to the U.S. (Mein Weltbild, 1934) Einstein wrote:
Never yet have I experienced from the fair sex such energetic rejection of all advances; or if I have, never from so many at once.

But are they not quite right, these watchful citizenesses? Why should one open one's doors to a person who devours hard-boiled capitalists with as much appetite and gusto as the Cretan Minotaur in days gone by devoured luscious Greek maidens, and on top of that is low-down enough to reject every sort of war, except the unavoidable war with one's own wife? Therefore give heed to your clever and patriotic womenfolk and remember that the capitol of mighty Rome was once saved by the cackling if its faithful geese.

Not sure what he means here, or why they were protesting. Earlier Einstein said that men are toy dogs for women.

Sunday, Mar 21, 2010
Wrong to say Darwin was wrong
A UK newspaper criticizes itself:
"Why everything you've been told about evolution is wrong," bellows the headline in today's Guardian. Well rest easy, my anxious science fans, it's not. ...

Alas, in his feature, Oliver Burkeman has given, in my view, an insufficiently critical airing to some specious arguments put forward in a new book entitled What Darwin got Wrong. ...

"Nobody wants to provide ammunition to the proponents of creationism," says Burkeman. But he is doing just that. Unfortunately now, many people will again assert that evolution is wrong, but very few will understand that the fact that 8% of our own genome is derived from viruses enhances evolutionary theory, rather than subverts it, as Burkeman suggests.

Their dilemma is in finding a way to tell evolution news without giving ammunition to creationists. So they don't want to contradict Darwin. But no one wants to read news stories that just repeat what Darwin knew 150 years ago.

I think that they should just print the news stories, and not worry about whether the creationists are going to like them.

Saturday, Mar 20, 2010
Man overpwers nature
Leftist Bush-hating physicist Lawrence M. Krauss writes in Scientific American:
I don’t know how many e-mails I have received from children who are terrified that 2012 will somehow involve the end of life as we know it, all because of an unfounded fringe religious prophecy that has received mass-market exposure with the release of a recent Hollywood movie. I have tried to reassure those children ...
I guess you get emails like that if you write books on The Physics of Star Trek.
Sarah Palin ... twittered the world with the following: “arrogant&naive2say man overpwers nature” ...

let’s consider something that is indisputable: the measured rise of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere is numerically consistent with that predicted from the output of human industrial activity.

This fact is not in dispute. What is in dispute, apparently by Palin, is whether this rise will have any effect on “nature.” It already has.

No, Palin did not dispute that. It is funny how her critics rarely criticize what she actually says, but criticize invented meanings instead.
As that pH level continues to fall on its present trajectory, it will eventually reach a point where calcium carbonate —- a dominant component of shelled animals and coral reefs —- will dissolve in seawater.
This is an outlandish prediction about the future. To be scientific, he should give some reference to the assumptions and reasoning that went into it. It is out of Krauss's expertise, so he is obviously just relying on someone else. Krauss is the one being unscientific here.

Friday, Mar 19, 2010
Historians refuse to examine Poincare-Einstein dispute
A Yves Gingras article on Brittanica argues that historians should not credit Lorentz or Poincare over Einstein because physicists of the day credited Einstein. It says:
The task of evaluation should be left to the actors involved as it is highly probable that what historians now see as related or even identical was not seen that way by the actors involved at the time. ...

Hence it is frequent to read that it is "puzzling" that Poincare was not often cited by Lorentz or Minkowski or others, given his contribution, or that it is "surprising" that the collection of basic papers on relativity published in 1913 did not contain Poincare's 1906 paper. ...

As late as 5 July 1909, a long-time friend of Poincare, the Swedish mathematician Gosta Mittag-Leffler, wrote to Poincare: "You undoubtedly know the pamphlet by Minkowski `Raum und Zeit' published after his death as well as the ideas of Einstein41 and Lorentz on the same question. Now M. Fredholm tells me that you have touched upon similar ideas before the others, while expressing yourself in a less philosophical, more mathematical manner."42 He asked him if he could write a paper on the subject, which he would publish in his own mathematical journal (Acta mathematica). Written in a "language comprehensible by simple geometers", it would render "a great service to everyone". ...

Poincare was never awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics.45 At about the same time, in 1912, the physicists Wilhelm Wien and Clemens Schaefer proposed that the prize be given jointly to Lorentz and Einstein for their work on relativity, a further indication that the dominant perception of physicists was that the theory of relativity originated essentially with these two.46 Following Poincare's death in July 1912, a series of eulogies were published and none of them raised the question of the lack of proper recognition for his contributions to electron theory or suggested that they were equivalent to Einstein's relativity theory, which was, by then, well known in physics. The question of `priority' was not yet an issue, not even for the French physicist Paul Langevin. In a very long analysis of "Poincare le physicien", published in 1913, ...

Gingras previously published some similar ideas here.

Yes, apparently most physicists credited Einstein for special relativity. But not everyone did, as apparently the mathematicians Mittag-Leffler and Fredholm credited Poincare for priority.

If the papers from 1910 cited both Poincare and Einstein and explained why Einstein's theory was better, then that opinion should be given some weight. But ignoring Poincare suggests that something else is going on. The above article says to accept the opinions of the time, but nobody at the time said that Einstein's theory was better than Poincare's.

Maybe most physicists did not understand Poincare's papers, until others had extracted the good ideas. Maybe some thought that Poincare's papers were wrong. Maybe the German physicists did not like the French. Maybe most physicists were just blindly following the opinions of others, as the above article suggests that we do now.

The core of special relativity theory is the spacetime geometry and electromagnetic covariance. Poincare published this, and Einstein did not. The Einstein apologists refuse to address this, and instead give kooky reasons for crediting Einstein.

There are two different views of science and scientific progress at work here. One is the view that science is the pursuit of objective knowledge about the natural world. Scientists make observations, find testable hypotheses, and test them. Scientific works can be evaluated by analyzing the reasoning, and replicating the experiments. This is how the scientific method has worked for millennia.

The other view denies this, and denies that there is any such thing as objective truth. Modern philosophers view science as a big popular contest of ideas, with no ideas being objectively better than any others. People with this view always credit Einstein because scientific correctness is defined by its popularity. Einstein is popular, so he must be a great scientist.

I think that there is overwhelming objective evidence that Poincare invented special relativity, and it can only be denied by those also deny that ideas can be scientifically evaluated.

Thursday, Mar 18, 2010
Kragh on the origin of relativity
Chapter 7 of Quantum generations: a history of physics in the twentieth century By Helge Kragh is on "Einstein's relativity, and others". Here is how he dismissed Lorentz:
The famous 1887 Michelson-Morley experiment was an attempt to mea- sure the motion of the earth relative to the ether by means of an advanced interferometer technique. ...

Lorentz’s first explanation of Michelson's result was clearly ad hoc and not even based on his electrodynamic theory. During the following decade he greatly developed the theory, and in 1899 the Dutch theorist ...

The Lorentz transformations make up the formal core of the special theory of relativity, and at first glance it might thus seem that Einstein's theory was preceded by the electron theories of Lorentz and Larmor. However, this was not the case at all. In spite of having obtained the same transformations as Einstein in l905. Lorentz interpreted them in a very different way. First. Lorentz's was a dynamic theory in which the transfomtations could be as- cribed a physical cause, the interaction between the ether and the electrons of the moving body. The length contraction was seen as a compensating effect arising because of the body's motion through the ether. The earth. according to Lorentz, really moved through the ether, only the ether wind was not measurable, in accordance with Michelson's result. Second, Lo- rentz`s ether was an essential part of his theory, in which it functioned as an absolute frame of reference. For example. he maintained (implicitly in 1904 and explicitly in 1906) the existence of absolute simultaneity. That this con- cept does not agree with the modem interpretation of the time transformation only illustrates the difference between the theories of Lorentz and Einstein. [p.88]

In other words, Lorentz does not deserve any credit because he attempted to give a physical explanation of relativity, and because his interpretation differs from the modern one.

Here are Lorentz's 1906 Columbia lectures (also here), and I don't read it as requiring the existence of absolute simultaneity. He talks about the aether and "effective" and "true" coordinates, whereas Einstein preferred terms like "time of the stationary system". Some people say that these terminological differences prove that Lorentz did not understand relativity, but I think that the terms are obviously equivalent and neither set of terms is any better than the other.

He also dismisses Poincare:

No sketch of the prehistory of relativity, however brief, can avoid men- tioning Henri Poincaré alongside Lorentz. Based on his conventionalist con- ception of science, around l900 the French mathematician questioned whether the simultaneity ot two events could be given any objective meaning. As early as 1898 he wrote. "Light has a constant speed .... This postulate can- not be verified by experience. ... it furnishes a new rule for the definition of simultaneity" (Cao 1997, 64). Two years later, at the Paris world congress of physics, Poincaré discussed whether the ether really existed. Although he did not answer the question negatively. he was of the opinion that the ether was at most an abstract frame of reference that could not be given physical prop- erties. In his Science and Hypothesis of l902. Poincaré declared the question of the ether to be metaphysical, just a convenient hypothesis that some day would be discarded as useless. In his address to the St. Louis congress in l904, he examined critically the idea of absolute motion, argued that Lorentz`s local time (t') was no more unreal than his general time (t), and formulated what he called the relativity principle, namely, the impossibility of detecting absolute, uniform motion. His formulation of l904 is worth quoting: "According to the Principle of Relativity the laws of physical phe- nomena must be the same for a ‘fixed' observer as for an observer who has at uniform motion of translation relative to him ... there must arise an entirely new kind of dynamics, which will be characterized above all by the rule, that no velocity cart exceed the velocity of light" (Sopka and Moyer l986, 293). Up to this point, Poincaré's intervention in the discussion had been mainly programmatic and semiphilosophical. In the summer of l905. without know- ing about Einsteins forthcoming paper, he developed an electrodynamic the- ory that in some respects went beyond Lorentz’s. For example, he proved the relativistic law of addition of velocities, which Lorentz had not done, and also gave the correct transformation formula for the charge density. Apart from restating the principle of relativity as "a general law of nature," Poin- caré moditied Lorentz's analysis and proved that the Lorentz transformations form a group with the important property that x2 + y2 + z2 — c2t2 is invariant, that is, remains the same in any frame of reference. He even no- ticed that the invariant could be written in the symmetric way x2 + y2 + z2 + tau2 if the imaginary time coordinate tau = ict was introduced. Poincaré's theory was an important improvement, a relativity theory indeed, but not the theory of relativity. Strangely, the French mathematician did not follow up on his important insights, nor did he show any interest in Einstein's simul- taneously developed theory of relativity. [p.89]
So Poincare does not get credit because he did not formulate relativity in the same way Einstein did, and because he ignored Einstein.

Poincare showed little interest in Einstein because there was no simultaneously developed theory. All of those aspects of the theory listed about were developed years ahead of Einstein, and Einstein added nothing of value. The only thing I can find that might have been independently developed is the velocity addition law. Poincare published it a few weeks before Einstein submitted his paper, but Einstein might not have read it.

Kragh goes on to propagate some Einstein myths:

Another puzzling fact about Einstein's paper is that it did not mention the Michelson-Morley ex- periment or, for that matter, other optical experiments that failed to detect an ether wind and that were routinely discussed in the literature concerning the electrodynamics of moving bodies. There is, however, convincing evidence not only that Einstein was aware of the Michelson—Morley experiment at the time he wrote his paper, but also that the experiment was of no particular importance to him. He did not develop his theory in order to account for an experimental puzzle, but worked from much more general considerations of simplicity and symmetry. These were primarily related to his deep interest in Maxwell's theory and his belief that there could be no difference in principle between the laws of mechanics and those governing electromagnetic phe- nomena. In Einstein`s route to relativity, thought experiments were more important than real experiments. [p.90]
There is a simple explanation for Einstein ignoring the experiments. He was just giving a presentation of the Lorentz-Poincare theory, which had already been built on the experiments, as Kragh described earlier.

Einstein says in his famous 1905 paper:

The theory to be developed is based -- like all electrodynamics -- on the kinematics of the rigid body, since the assertions of any such theory have to do with the relationships between rigid bodies (systems of co-ordinates), clocks, and electromagnetic processes. Insufficient consideration of this circumstance lies at the root of the difficulties which the electrodynamics of moving bodies at present encounters.
He was saying that he was giving a kinematical presentation of the Lorentz-Poincare theory. For that, there was no reason to give any lab evidence.

Wednesday, Mar 17, 2010
Myths about epicycles
From NewScientist mag in 2005:
Around AD 130 Ptolemy produced a hugely influential book, the Almagest, which proposed a series of circular "epicycles" operating on the circles to modify the positions of the planets.

This explained observed positions fairly well, but as the centuries went by into Renaissance times, more and more epicycles had to be added to explain the latest observations. The "dark force" of the epicycles was necessary to make an unquestioned theory work, but the reason for their existence was never explained. Even when Copernicus proposed putting the sun at the centre of the universe in the 16th century, this only reduced the number of epicycles needed from 80 to 34.

It was not until Kepler's calculations in the early 17th century that it became clear the planets were actually travelling in ellipses. Isaac Newton's theory of universal gravitation published in 1687 finally gave this mathematical and academic respectability and allowed the entire panoply of unexplained epicycles to be junked.

No, this is wrong. Epicycles did not modify the positions of the planets, they only affected their appearance from Earth. There was no unquestioned theory, as the ancient Greeks debated whether the Earth moved or not. Copernicus added epicycles and did not reduce the number of them. Kepler's ellipses did give better accuracy, but mainly because of better data.

Tuesday, Mar 16, 2010
Galileo misjudged stars
Nature mag reports (with full article here):
Galileo backed Copernicus despite data
Stars viewed through early telescopes suggested that Earth stood still.
Katharine Sanderson

Galileo Galilei was right: Earth moves around the Sun, just as Nicolaus Copernicus said it did in 1543. But had Galileo followed the results of his observations to their logical conclusion, he should have backed another system — the Tychonic view that Earth didn't move, and that everything else circled around it and the Sun, as developed by Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe in the sixteenth century.

This is an interesting argument about the evidence for the distance of stars in 1600, but I don't think Galileo paid any attention to the Tychonic view anyway. The Copernican system required that the stars are very far away, but Galileo got tricked by an optical effect that the stars were closer. If he had believed what he thought he saw, then he would have doubted the Copernican system.

You can find the Galileo story here, from a Catholic point of view:

At Galileo’s request, Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, a Jesuit—one of the most important Catholic theologians of the day — issued a certificate that, although it forbade Galileo to hold or defend the heliocentric theory, did not prevent him from conjecturing it. When Galileo met with the new pope, Urban VIII, in 1623, he received permission from his longtime friend to write a work on heliocentrism, but the new pontiff cautioned him not to advocate the new position, only to present arguments for and against it. When Galileo wrote the Dialogue on the Two World Systems, he used an argument the pope had offered, and placed it in the mouth of his character Simplicio. Galileo, perhaps inadvertently, made fun of the pope, a result that could only have disastrous consequences. Urban felt mocked and could not believe how his friend could disgrace him publicly. Galileo had mocked the very person he needed as a benefactor. He also alienated his long-time supporters, the Jesuits, with attacks on one of their astronomers. The result was the infamous trial, which is still heralded as the final separation of science and religion.
Galileo's book did not even mention the Tychonic system, which had been the leading geocentric system for 40 years by then. He didn't mention Kepler either, who published his system in 1609. If Galileo had written a balanced book, or if he had presented the scientific state-of-the-art, then he would have had no problem.

Sunday, Mar 14, 2010
Einstein says American men are toy dogs for women
More newspaper archives are online, and searchable by Google. I found this funny July 8, 1921, Friday, NY Times story about Einstein. Here is a description in a book by Lewis Samuel Feuer:
ln many ways, Einstein was not a "modern." His attitude toward women, we might note, was much like that of Freud and Schopenhauer. Like Freud, he felt America was afflicted with petticoat government, a view that involved Einstein in an unpleas- ant interchange, widely publicized, shortly after his visit to the United States. On july 8, 1921, The New York Times carried a dis- patch from Berlin with arresting headlines: Einstein Declares Women Rule Here / Scientist Says He Found American Men the Toy Dogs ofthe Other Sex / People Colossally Bored / Showed Ex- cessive Enthusiasm Over Him for Lack of Other Things / He Thinks. Among its direct quotations was one that sounded like an echo of Sinclair Lewis's then popular Main Street and Babbitt: "There are cities with 1,000,000 inhabitants, despite which what poverty, intellectual poverty! . .. Above all things there are the women who, as a literal fact, dominate the entire life in America. The men take an interest in absolutely nothing at all. They work and work, the like of which I have never seen anywhere yet. For the rest they are the toy dogs of the women, who spend the money in a most unmeasurable, illimitable way and wrap themselves in a fog of extravagance. . . now quite by chance they have thrown themselves on the Einstein fashion." "The magic power of mys- tery," “of what they cannot conceive," he thought, had an allure for them. And he concluded with the remark: "[T]o compare the general scientific life in America with Europe is nonsense."

These ungenerous remarks were perhaps just another of the anti-American deprecations customary among European visitors from Charles Dickens to the worst of them, Bertrand Russell. The New York Times firmly rebuked Einstein by writing that "it is a well-known fact that high development in one direction has underdevelopment elsewhere to balance it," that a great physi- cist could be a superficial sociological observer, and that Einstein's remark was "ludicrously and offensively false." Perhaps Einstein was irritated, the editorial suggested, because he and Weizmann had largely failed in their American mission, having indeed aroused "antagonism" rather than approval. Nonetheless, Ein- stein’s bad manners and sociological ignorance said the Times, would not make them any "less ready" to honor his scientific achievement. Especially effective in rebutting Einstein was the editor of the Popular Science Monthly, Kenneth W. Payne. Ameri- cans had a higher average education than Europeans, Germans in particular he noted, and their interest in science was much greater. Payne pointed to the “over million and a half readers of the popular scientific magazines" and the three and a half million of technical magazines: "What European nation can even ap- proach such figures showing widespread popular interest in sci- ence? . . . And where are the European papers that give the same consistent play to scientific developments that we do?" Einstein "l1as completely misinterpreted the popular sensation accom- panying his reception here," he concluded.

Most of the stories after 1923 are copyrighted, and require payment.

This Jul 13, 1924 story makes fun of Einstein for miscounting his change on a street car. November 11, 1919 NY Times story

Prof. Curries of Brown University Calls Eclipse Demonstration Great Achievement.
They Want Full Reports from theObservers Before Forming Their Final Conclusions. ...

"It was not until 1915," he said, "that the four-dimensional theory of the universe, with time as a fourth dimension, was definitely conceived. This was contained in Einstein's famous relativity theory."

A Vassar professor said that she does not understand the theory, but it must be accepted anyway.

An April 5, 1922 NY Times story said that some French scientists were snubbing Einstein, altho the reasoning is not entirely clear.

December 31, 1922 NYT book review of textbook skeptical of relativity:

In one sense the London press is responsible for the tremendous exploitation of Einstein's theory. ...

We say it with regret, but it is none the less true, that mathematicians and metaphysicians in Europe and America went over almost solidly to the new cult. ...

He sees in the doctrine of relativity a happy ending of the separation of philosophy and science. They now approach each other.

The reviewer hopes the union will be long delayed.

It says that the other 98% of the books have uncritically accepted relativity.

says "Einstein has been solemnly excommunicated by the Russian Communinsts." His theory was not materialist enough, and could lead to "pure idealism".

Happy Pi-Einstein Day.

Friday, Mar 12, 2010
Britannica on Poincare
Encyclopædia Britannica writes:
Henri Poincaré (French mathematician):
...of mechanics —- led him to write a paper in 1905 on the motion of the electron. This paper, and others of his at this time, came close to anticipating Albert Einstein’s discovery of the theory of special relativity. But Poincaré never took the decisive step of reformulating traditional concepts of space and time into space-time, which was Einstein’s most profound achievement.
This is crazy. Poincare combined space and time into spacetime in his 1905 paper, and Einstein did not.

The heart of special relativity is the spacetime geometry and the covariance of physical laws. Poincare had these in his 1905 papers, but Einstein failed to take these decisive steps.

Roger Cerf claims that this 1908 Poincare quote proves that he did not understand the physical meaning of the Lorentz/FitzGerald contraction:

This hypothesis, formulated by Lorentz and FitzGerald, will at first seem extraordinary; all we can say in its favor at the moment is that it is only the immediate translation of the experimental result obtained by Michelson, if we define lengths by the time light takes to traverse them.
Even a century later, it is impossible to find fault with Poincare's statement.

The logic is slightly different from Einstein's. Einstein ignored Michelson, and assumed the relativity postulate and the constancy of the speed of light. He defined length using measuring rods, instead of using light. From those and some hidden assumptions, he deduced the Lorentz contraction.

Poincare is more careful about saying what is testable. Michelson had an experimental result. The constancy of the speed of light allows him to define distance in terms of time. Then the Lorentz contraction is a testable hypothesis. Poincare likes to distinguish experiment from convention.

I previously criticized Cerf here. There is something very bizarre about Einstein that drives his defenders to say nonsense.

Thursday, Mar 11, 2010
Einstein treated like a god
The NY Times reported:
Albert Einstein personally rewrote the laws of physics in a sparsely furnished central Berlin apartment nearly a century ago and the resulting manuscript, profoundly human and surprisingly moving to examine, has been put on display here for the first time. ...

The display of the work, which forced a redefinition of gravity, predicted the existence of black holes and illuminated how galaxies are formed, ...

“We have set it up like the Dead Sea Scrolls, to protect them but also to give the feeling of entering a kind of holy of holies, which is how we view it,” said Hanoch Guttfreund, a physics professor, former president of the Hebrew University and curator of the exhibition. “And you can actually see Einstein work as you look at the pages.”

Einstein did not even believe in black holes, and certainly did not predict them.

This is really ridiculous. The main equations for general relativity were discovered by someone else two years earlier. These papers were the result of Hilbert explaining the theory to Einstein, and Einstein did not credit Hilbert of anyone else.

Wednesday, Mar 10, 2010
No science theory created by conceptual clarification
Alan Sokal interview:
Conceptual clarification can be useful for pushing science ahead, ...

Certainly Einstein spent a lot of time doing conceptual clarification in his own mind, leading him to general relativity and special relativity, and that played a crucial role. You can call that philosophy or you can call it deep thinking about physics. Quantum mechanics was born mostly without that kind of conceptual clarification, so it shows that you can get instrumental physics without clarifying the concepts – it can go both ways.

Sokal subscribes to the myth that Einstein created relativity with pure thought, as argued by Polanyi below.

A lot of physicists are so gullible as to believe that Einstein had some peculiar methodology (that Sokal calls conceptual clarification) to create relativity theory, but this methodology has never successfully created any other scientific theory. What makes them think that it worked for relativity?

The simple answer is that no physical theory was created by conceptual clarification. Lorentz and Poncare created relativity, not Einstein.

Tuesday, Mar 09, 2010
Philosophers Rip Darwin
Philosopher and self-proclaimed evolutionist Michael Ruse writes a long attack on fellow philosophers who are skeptical about Darwinism:
Plantinga is an open enthusiast of intelligent design, the belief that at some points in life's history an intelligent being intervened to move the process along. Why does Plantinga feel this way? In his view, Darwinism implies that there is and can be no direction in life's history.

Jerry Fodor, no less distinguished than Nagel and Plantinga, is well known for his claim that the mind is composed of separately functioning modules. And he, too, has taken to criticizing Darwinian theory, first in an article in the London Review of Books and now in What Darwin Got Wrong. ...

To Fodor the notion of natural selection is flawed. He has long been on record arguing that metaphors in science are misleading, and that they must be eliminated as science matures. In the case of Darwinism, we have an analogy or metaphor at work, between the artificial selection that breeders use when they improve livestock ...

What does one say about these critics? One could certainly pick apart individual things, for instance Fodor's claims about selective breeding versus natural selection. ... But rather than work over the details, I want to draw attention to the way this crop of critics ignores evolutionary biology —- aside from the kind of cherry-picking in which Fodor engages.

And then there is Fodor. The final section of his new book is very revealing. As a dreadful warning to those who do not accept his main conclusions, Fodor prints passage after passage of claims by Darwinians that one can understand human nature and thinking as the product of natural selection: This is where we will all end up if we don't stop the rot right now. My suspicion is that Fodor doesn't really give a damn about fruit flies or finches or anything else out there. But when it comes to Homo sapiens, he wants no part of a naturalistic explanation that reduces design to the workings of blind law.

This seems weak to me. Fodor ought to be able to criticize Darwinian analysis of human nature without going into a detailed analysis of finches. And Ruse wrote a lot of words without rebutting very much.

Monday, Mar 08, 2010
Polanyi on Copernicus and Einstein
The Hungarian philosopher Michael Polanyi wrote the book, Personal Knowledge (University of Chicago, 1958). He was interested in the separation between reason and experience, and argued that the scientific method was overrated. He said objectivity is a delusion, and he preferred reason.

His best examples were Copernicus and Einstein. His book says this on Copernicus:


IN the Ptolemaic system, as in the cosmogony of the Bible, man was assigned a central position in the universe, from which position he was ousted by Copernicus. Ever since, writers eager to drive the lesson home have urged us, resolutely and repeatedly, to abandon all sentimental ego- ism, and to see ourselves objectively in the true perspective of time and space. ...

What is the true lesson of the Copernican revolution? Why did Coper- nicus exchange his actual terrestrial station for an imaginary solar stand- point? The only justification for this lay in the greater intellectual satisfaction he derived from the celestial panorama as seen from the sun instead of the earth. Copernicus gave preference to man's delight in abstract theory, at the price of rejecting the evidence of our senses, which present us with the irresistible fact of the sun, the moon, and the stars rising daily in the east to travel across the sky towards their setting in the west. In a literal sense, therefore, the new Copernican system was as anthropocentric as the Ptolemaic view, the difference being merely that it preferred to satisfy a different human affection.

It becomes legitimate to regard the Copernican system as more object- ive than the Ptolemaic only if we accept this very shift in the nature of intellectual satisfaction as the criterion of greater objectivity. ...

It seems to me that we have sound reasons for thus considering theoretical knowledge as more objective than immediate experience. ...

Thus, when we claim greater objectivity for the Copernican theory, we do imply that its excellence is, not a matter of personal taste on our part, but an inherent quality deserving universal acceptance by rational creatures. We abandon the cruder anthropocentrism of our senses but only in favour of a more ambitious anthropocentrism of our reason. In doing so, we claim the capacity to formulate ideas which command respect in their own right, by their very rationality, and which have in this sense an objective standing.

Wow. This explains how Thomas Kuhn got some of his bad ideas. I had blamed Kuhn for a lot of this Copernican Revolution nonsense, but now it appears that much of it was stolen from Polanyi.

On Einstein:

The story of relativity is a complicated one, owing to the currency of a number of historical fictions. The chief of these can be found in every text- book of physics. It tells you that relativity was conceived by Einstein in 1905 in order to account for the negative result of the Michelson-Morley experiment, carried out in Cleveland eighteen years earlier, in 1887. Michelson and Morley are alleged to have found that the speed of light measured by a terrestrial observer was the same in whatever direction the signal was sent out. ...

The usual textbook account of relativity as a theoretical response to the Michelson-Morley experiment is an invention. It is the product of a philosophical prejudice. When Einstein discovered rationality in nature, unaided by any observa- tion that had not been available for at least fifty years before, our posi- tivistic textbooks promptly covered up the scandal by an appropriately embellished account of his discovery. ...

But the historical facts are different. Einstein had speculated already as a schoolboy, at the age of sixteen, on the curious consequences that would occur if an observer pursued and kept pace with a light signal sent out by lifm. His autobiography reveals that he discovered relativity

after ten years* reflection ... from a paradox upon which I had already hit at the age of sixteen: If I pursue a beam of light with the velocity c (velocity of light in a vacuum), I should observe such a beam of light as a spatially oscillatory electromagnetic field at rest. However, there seems to be no such thing, whether on the basis of experience or according to Maxwell's equations. From the very beginning it appeared to me intuitively clear that, from the standpoint of such an observer, everything would have to happen according to the same laws as for an observer who, relative to the earth, was at rest. For how should the first observer know or be able to determine, that he is in a state of fast uniform motion? One sees in this paradox the germ of the special relativity theory is already contained.
There is no mention here of the Michelson-Morley experiment. Its findings were, on the basis of pure speculation, rationally intuited by Einstein before he had ever heard about it. To make sure of this, I addressed an enquiry to the late Professor Einstein, who confirmed the fact that *the Michelson-Morley experiment had a negligible effect on the discovery of relativity*.
This is breathtakingly stupid. Einstein did not discover relativity, and would have just said whatever fed his ego the most.

Einstein wrote a 1909 paper saying that Michelson-Morley was crucial because Lorentz's 1895 theory explained all the other relativity experiments. It was crucial to Lorentz and Poincare in their papers during 1899-1905. So Einstein contradicted himself.

It is not too hard to explain. Einstein was telling half-truths both times. In 1909 he needed to show that his relativity was better that Lorentz's 1895 theory, so he cited Michelson-Morley. After Lorentz was long gone and was no threat anymore, Einstein could claim even more credit for himself by acting like he was divinely inspired.

Polanyi seems like a nut, but he seems to have spread his foolishness. I think that he coined the term "Copernican Revolution" to mean something other than its original meaning, which was the revolutions of the planets around the Sun.

Sunday, Mar 07, 2010
Rush was right about missing link
Leading evolutionist Jerry Coyne writes:
On May 20 of last year, at a remarkable press conference in New York, a group of researchers announced—with much ballyhoo—that they’d found a 47-million-year-old primate fossil named Darwinius masillae (nicknamed “Ida”). Ida, the finest fossil primate in existence, was touted loudly as the missing link between the two major branches of primates, ...

Well, a paper just out in the Journal of Human Evolution, by Blythe Williams et al. (including my Chicago colleague Callum Ross), appears to drive the final nail in Ida’s coffin—at least regarding her status as a missing link between the major branches of primates. ...

I quoted Rush Limbaugh calling this BS, on the day of the announcement. He was right.

Saturday, Mar 06, 2010
Albert Einstein: A Selective Skeptic
Skeptical Inquirer magazine wrote in 2007 The Myth of Consistent Skepticism (also here). Even one of their biggest heroes, Einstein, was a commie sympathizer:
Albert Einstein’s scientific contributions, like those of Charles Darwin or Isaac Newton, have shaped the way we view the universe. Einstein had a great mathematical mind, and has become a scientific icon. Einstein, most likely because of his scientific achievements, was voted one of the ten outstanding skeptics of the twentieth century ...

Einstein, a professed believer in political liberty, virtually refuses to criticize the Soviet government and justifies the murders and creation of slave labor camps. The closest Einstein comes to criticism of the Soviet government is contained in the first sentence of the following quote. However, the next sentence speaks for itself. According to Einstein in 1948, “I am not blind to the serious weaknesses of the Russian system of government and I would not like to live under such government. But it has, on the other side, great merits and it is difficult to decide whether it would have been possible for the Russians to survive by following softer methods” (Einstein quoted in Hook 1987, p. 471).

Hook responded with a lengthy letter, pointing out many inconsistencies in Einstein’s reasoning when it came to the Soviet Union:

Precisely what methods have you in mind? I am puzzled on what evidence anyone can assert that cultural purges and terror in astronomy, biology, art, music, literature, the social sciences, helped the Russians to survive, or how the millions of victims in concentration camps of the Soviet Union, not to speak of the wholesale executions, contributed in any way to the Russian victory over Hitler. The Russians defeated Napoleon who was relative to his time even mightier than Hitler. But I don’t believe you would find it difficult to decide that this in no way constituted a historic justification of serfdom. (p. 473)
Einstein did not respond to Hook’s letter.
Einstein's FBI file says:
An investigation was conducted by the FBI regarding the famous physicist because of his affiliation with the Communist Party. Einstein was a member, sponsor, or affiliated with thirty-four communist fronts between 1937 and 1954. He also served as honorary chairman for three communist organizations.
Another article is on Special Relativity after 100 Years:
One hundred years after Albert Einstein gave us the theory of special relativity, we have made good progress in applying the equations he gave us, but we have difficulty absorbing his central message about time and simultaneity.
That central message was published five years ahead of Einstein.

From a Carl Sagan interview:

Einstein had some difficulties with special relativity. His Nobel prize was not even for relativity, it was for the photoelectric effect, because relativity was considered to be worrisome. Nevertheless, there were many scientists who recognized the value of what Einstein said. He was not challenging Isaac Newton; Isaac Newton was dead. The value of what Einstein said was there plain for anyone to see; nobody had thought of it before. As soon as people had worked through the arguments on the idea that simultaneity was a nonsensical idea, many were converted on the spot. I don’t say that everybody was; I don’t say that there weren’t some problems with it, but there is a reward structure built in. And Einstein, just a few years after his 1905 relativity paper, was Full Professor and at the top of his profession.
Sagan should have known better. Einstein's ideas were not new; people had published them before. Of course they were not convinced by pure reason; they wanted to see some experimental evidence. Einstein did not get the Nobel Prize for special relativity because the committee knew that he was not the inventor of it.

From a book review:

Einstein’s Cosmos: How Albert Einstein’s Vision Transformed Our Understanding of Space and Time. By Michio Kaku.

Kaku addresses these last few decades of Einstein’s life with great sympathy and admiration. Most biographers gloss over this period as the fading glory of a once-great scientist, but Kaku argues persuasively that the groundwork for much latter-day research was laid during these years. As Kaku writes, “crumbs that have tumbled off Einstein’s plate are now winning Nobel Prizes for oth- er scientists.”

No, Einstein's later work only fueled crackpots.

Friday, Mar 05, 2010
Father of modern physics
Someone just edited the Wikipedia article on Einstein to say that Einstein "is often regarded as the father of modern physics." The source is a book on Poincare that says:
Together with Einstein, Poincaré can therefore be regarded as the founding father of modern physics.
The book credits Poincare with doing work on Hamiltonian mechanics that helped inspire quantum mechanics. I knew that he did some early work on quantum mechanics, but I don't know how important it was.

I'll be interested to see if the edit sticks. Einstein is only credited for relativity by those who ignore Poincare, and they might not like any comparisons. Poincare's work on relativity was much more modern and sophisticated than Einstein's.

Knowing the mind of God
NewScientist reports:
The "theory of everything" is one of the most cherished dreams of science. If it is ever discovered, it will describe the workings of the universe at the most fundamental level and thus encompass our entire understanding of nature. It would also answer such enduring puzzles as what dark matter is, the reason time flows in only one direction and how gravity works. Small wonder that Stephen Hawking famously said that such a theory would be "the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we should know the mind of God".
The seven theories of everything are: String theory, Loop quantum gravity, CDT, Quantum Einstein gravity, Quantum graphity, Internal relativity, E8.

No, this is wrong. None of these theories say anything about dark matter, the arrow of time, or how gravity works. They don't even say anything testable.

This shows how much theoretical physics has degenerated. There are seven theories of anything, and no one can say how any of them are any better or worse than any of the others. And the list omits the theories that really do explain the experiments that we can do.

Thursday, Mar 04, 2010
Darwin Foes Add Warming to Targets
The NY Times reports:
The linkage of evolution and global warming is partly a legal strategy: courts have found that singling out evolution for criticism in public schools is a violation of the separation of church and state. By insisting that global warming also be debated, deniers of evolution can argue that they are simply championing academic freedom in general.

Yet they are also capitalizing on rising public resistance in some quarters to accepting the science of global warming, particularly among political conservatives who oppose efforts to rein in emissions of greenhouse gases.

In South Dakota, a resolution calling for the “balanced teaching of global warming in public schools” passed the Legislature this week.

“Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant,” the resolution said, “but rather a highly beneficial ingredient for all plant life.”

The measure made no mention of evolution, but opponents of efforts to dilute the teaching of evolution noted that the language was similar to that of bills in other states that had included both. The vote split almost entirely along partisan lines in both houses, with Republican voting for it and Democrats voting against.

For mainstream scientists, there is no credible challenge to evolutionary theory. They oppose the teaching of alternative views like intelligent design, the proposition that life is so complex that it must be the design of an intelligent being. And there is wide agreement among scientists that global warming is occurring and that human activities are probably driving it. Yet many conservative evangelical Christians assert that both are examples of scientists’ overstepping their bounds.

This is funny. Why are they so afraid of “balanced teaching”? Real scientists are happy to explain the bounds of their knowledge. They should not be afraid that students would learn that carbon dioxide is a beneficial ingredient for plant life.

Every other area of science teaches the competing theories, even if they have been proved wrong. The germ theory of disease gets taught with the non-germ theory. The Copernican theory gets taught with the Ptolemaic. They teach the Bohr atom and Newtonian gravity, even tho these have been superseded. No one gets excited about it.

What's different about evolution and global warming is that there is a political agenda that goes with it. And some people want that political message undiluted.

Wednesday, Mar 03, 2010
A measure for the multiverse
NewScientist has a cover story on the multiverse:
Several strands of theoretical physics - quantum mechanics, string theory and cosmic inflation - seem to converge on the idea that our universe is only one among an infinite and ever-growing assemblage of disconnected bubble universes.

What's more, the multiverse offers a plausible answer to what has become an infuriatingly slippery question: why does the quantity of dark energy in the universe have the extraordinarily unlikely value that it does? No theory of our universe has been able to explain it. But if there are countless universes out there beyond our cosmic horizon, each with its own value for the quantity of dark energy it contains, the value we observe becomes not just probable but inevitable.

What it is saying is that the density of the vacuum is very small in units that are used to describe matter, and unified field theories like string theory cannot explain it.

Unlikely value? I think that the multiverse is a lot more unlikely.

Tuesday, Mar 02, 2010
Janssen on Einstein
I found Michael Heinrich Paul Janssen's 1995 dissertation on a server at the Max Planck Institute for the history of science in Germany.
In this dissertation, I want to compare the ether theory of the great Dutch physicist Hendrik Antoon Lorentz (1853–1928) to Einstein’s special theory of relativity. To the end of his life, Lorentz maintained, first, that his theory is empirically equivalent to special relativity, and, second, that, in the final analysis, it is a matter of taste whether one prefers the standard relativistic interpretation of the formalism of the theory or his own ether theoretic interpretation (see, e.g., Nersessian 1984, pp. 113–119). I will argue that Lorentz’s first claim, when understood properly, should be accepted, but that the second should be rejected.
He seeks to justify this assertion published with Einstein's complete works:
Einstein was the first physicist to formulate clearly the new kinematical foundation for all of physics inherent in Lorentz’s electron theory. (Stachel et al. 1989, p. 253)
Here are some of Janssen's points:
  • Lorentz exhibits the wrong degree of adhocness, and hence he was not truly scientific.
  • Lorentz does not recognize his "local time" and other variables as being observables until after Einstein's 1905 paper.
  • Poincare wrote in 1900 and afterwards that Lorentz's local time was observable, and credited Lorentz, but Lorentz does not deserve the credit because he never acknowledged Poincare.
  • Lorentz even republished some of Poincare's ideas under his own name, without crediting Poincare.
  • Lorentz deduced his theory from electromagnetism, while Einstein took an axiomatic approach.
  • Einstein had a different ontology.
There are more papers on Janssen's home page.

Here is another contorted explanation of why Einstein's theory was better than Lorentz's:

The relation between Einstein's special theory of relativity and Lorentz's ether theory is best understood in terms of competing interpretations of Lorentz invariance. In the 1890s Lorentz proved and exploited the Lorentz invariance of Maxwell's equations, the laws governing electromagnetic fields in the ether, with what he called the theorem of corresponding states. To account for the negative results of attempts to detect the earth's motion through the ether, Lorentz, in effect, had to assume that the laws governing the matter interacting with the fields are Lorentz invariant as well. This additional assumption can be seen as a generalization of the well-known contraction hypothesis. In Lorentz's theory, it remained an unexplained coincidence that both the laws governing fields and the laws governing matter should be Lorentz invariant. In special relativity, by contrast, the Lorentz invariance of all physical laws directly reflects the Minkowski space-time structure posited by the theory. One can thus produce a common cause argument to show that the relativistic interpretation of Lorentz invariance is preferable to Lorentz's interpretation.
Got that? Lorentz said that fields and matter had to be Lorentz invariant, but Einstein was better because he said all physical laws had to be Lorentz invariant. That is not only silly, but Einstein did not even say that. It was Poincare who said all the physical laws had to be Lorentz invariant, and he said it before Einstein said anything on the subject.

I don't think that it is correct to say that Lorentz separately assumed that matter and fields were Lorentz invariant. He believed that the basic properties of matter were electromagnetic in origin. In particular, he thought that the Lorentz contraction of a meter stick was a consequence of the contraction of the electromagnetic fields binding the atoms together. So he really just assumed that the fields were invariant.

He gives this explanation for historians not crediting Lorentz and Poincare:

The tendency to think of the dispute between Lorentz and Einstein in terms of competing research programmes etc. can be traced back, I think, to the myth of the Michelson-Morley experiment, which glorifies Einstein to the exclusion of everybody else. It is against this background, that Whittaker’s often quoted put-down of Einstein’s 1905 paper, as a “paper which set forth the relativity theory of Poincaré and Lorentz with some amplifications, and which attracted much attention” (Whittaker 1953, II, p. 40) must be seen. However, if Whittaker indeed tried to restore some balance in this way, he achieved just the opposite of what he intended. For years, historians writing on Lorentz and Poincaré understandaby felt the need to distance themselves from Whittaker’s preposterous remarks, often inadvertently giving Lorentz and Poincaré less than their fair share of the credit in the process. It is my impression that this situation is finally changing.
Really? The Einstein lovers have been artificially inflating his work because they are still mad about some 1953 book? I would think that the Einstein fans would be happy that a book on the aether did not credit him. Their main argument that Einstein created special relativity is that Lorentz and Poincare believed in the aether.

I conclude:

  • The Lorentz Aether Theory, as corrected by Poincare, was mathematically and observationally equivalent to Einstein's theory.
  • Einstein's point of view was superior to Lorentz's, but not to Poincare's.
  • Poincare generously credited Lorentz.
  • Lorentz and Einstein ignored Poincare, and plagiarized his work without crediting him.
  • Whittaker was right in 1953.
  • The Einstein fans will devise some very contorted arguments to support their hero.
The main problem in comparing LET to SR is in deciding whether to include Poincare's work in LET. If you do, the LET is really the same as SR, and there is no advantage to SR at all. If you don't, and say that local time is not real, then LET is no longer observationally equivalent to SR, as clocks would not slow down on a spaceship.

The natural solution would be to take Lorentz's own words for what LET meant, but I don't know what he thought of Poincare's work. Lorentz certainly knew about Poincare, as they exchanged letters on the subject. Lorentz did comment publicly on Einstein's work. But Lorentz is strangely silent on Poincare.

Regardless of what Lorentz may have thought, the more useful comparison is from the pre-Einstein Lorentz-Poincare theory to the Einstein 1905 theory. That is where everyone claims that Einstein made the big breakthru, and that is where everyone is wrong. The pre-Einstein theory is actually superior because it had the spacetime metric, Lorentz group, and Lorentz invariance applied to gravity.

Monday, Mar 01, 2010
Scientists reveal driving force behind evolution
New research from the British journal Nature:
Scientists at the University of Liverpool have provided the first experimental evidence that shows that evolution is driven most powerfully by interactions between species, rather than adaptation to the environment. ...

The study shows, for the first time, that the American evolutionary biologist Leigh Van Valen was correct in his 'Red Queen Hypothesis'. The theory, first put forward in the 1970s, was named after a passage in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass in which the Red Queen tells Alice, 'It takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place'. This suggested that species were in a constant race for survival and have to continue to evolve new ways of defending themselves throughout time.

Dr Steve Paterson, from the University's School of Biosciences, explains: "Historically, it was assumed that most evolution was driven by a need to adapt to the environment or habitat. The Red Queen Hypothesis challenged this by pointing out that actually most natural selection will arise from co-evolutionary interactions with other species, not from interactions with the environment.

Evolutionists have long told us that natural selection is well-understood as the main driving force behind evolution, with the other forces being mutation, random genetic drift and gene flow.

This article shows that natural selection is not so well understood. It is just a buzz phrase for whatever happens in nature, without telling us anything about what really happens.

I am not saying that natural selection is wrong. Just that there isn't much substance to it. Believing in natural selection is like believing in life. It just doesn't tell us much.

A couple of philosophers have a new book on What Darwin got Wrong. You can find part of the argument, with rebuttals, here. It seems to be mainly an attack on Darwin's reasoning, not his conclusions.