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Natura non facit saltus
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Sunday, Oct 31, 2010
Kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being
When people idolize Einstein, it reminds me of The Manchurian Candidate (1962 film):
Shaw is awarded the Medal of Honor for his supposed actions. In addition, when asked to describe him, Marco and the other soldiers automatically respond, "Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life." Deep down, however, they know that Shaw is a cold, sad, unsociable loner. As Marco puts it: "It isn't as if Raymond is hard to like. He's impossible to like!"
Since Shaw does not match the description, you eventually figure out that his colleagues have been hypnotized to praise him that way. They were brainwashed by North Korean communists.

I have been reading some of the original papers on relativity, and I find that Einstein does not match his public image at all. Nearly everyone says glowingly positive things about him. After reading the papers, it is not just hard to see Einstein as a great genius, it is impossible. His papers are shallow and derivative.

Here are podcast lectures from a UC Berkeley course on the history of physics, and it is filled with Einstein flattery. Nobody who knows Einstein's contributions could actually believe such nonsense, unless brainwashed. Perhaps the professor has been hypnotized.

Friday, Oct 29, 2010
No Earth-like planets
The LA Times reports:
Many Earth-like planets orbit sun-like stars

At least one in every four stars like the sun has planets about the size of Earth circling in very close orbits, according to the first direct measurement of the incidence of such planets, researchers said Thursday.

That means that our galaxy alone, with its roughly 200 billion sun-like stars, has at least 46 billion Earth-size planets orbiting close to the stars, and perhaps billions more circling farther out in what scientists call the habitable zone ...

Of course, all these planets so close to their stars are exceedingly hot and are certainly not habitable.

You have to read to the last paragraph to learn that none of those other planets are really Earth-like.

Every news article on planet discoveries outside our solar system is written with the angle that experts are trying to convince us that the discoveries mean that there is more evidence of Earth-like planets, and life in outer space. In fact, there is less reason to believe in Earth-like planets today than there was 50 years ago.

Thursday, Oct 28, 2010
Motl claims that Lorentz was confused
I mentioned below that some books give explanation's of Lorentz's and Einstein's special relativity that are nearly identical. Then they say that Einstein was revolutionary, and thus a great hero.

Here is another version of Einstein's superiority over Lorentz, from today's Lubos Motl blog:

Fields "couldn't be" fundamental until 1905 when Albert Einstein, elaborating upon some confused and incomplete findings by Lorentz, realized that there was no aether. The electromagnetic field itself was fundamental. The vacuum was completely empty. It had to be empty of particles, otherwise the principle of relativity would have been violated.
At least here is something that makes some superficial sense. Lorentz believed in the aether and Einstein did not, so Einstein was different. Of course there was very little actual difference between what Lorentz and Einstein said about the aether, but Motl can pretend that there was a difference. Lorentz did not say that there were particles in the aether.

So why do relativity explanations usually include a put-down of Lorentz? Even if Einstein's theory was superior somehow, why wouldn't Lorentz simply be credited for getting the breakthru that led to the better theory? We do not see people saying:

Spacetime "couldn't be" fundamental until 1908 when Hermann Minkowski, elaborating upon some confused and incomplete findings by Einstein, realized that relativity was a consequence of 4D spacetime geometry.
Wave functions "couldn't be" fundamental until 1926 when Max Born, elaborating upon some confused and incomplete findings by Heisenberg and Schroedinger, realized that wave functions predict probability densities.
I say that there is some insecurity in this Einstein worship. It is not enough to just say what he did. Everyone must inject some phony argument about Einstein's superiority to everyone else.

Wednesday, Oct 27, 2010
Finding reality in models
Hawking's new book, The Grand Design, has a good description of Poincare's conventionalism. It says:
When such a model is successful at explain- ing events, we tend to attribute to it, and to the elements and con- cepts that constitute it, the quality of reality or absolute truth. But there may be different ways in which one could model the same physical situation, with each employing different fundamental el- ements and concepts. If two such physical theories or models ac- curately predict the same events, one cannot be said to be more real than the other; rather, we are free to use whichever model is most convenient. [p.7]

So which is true, the Ptolemaic or Copernican system? Although it is not uncommon for people to say that Copernicus proved Ptolemy wrong, that is not true. [p.41]

That's right. The book is correct that people say that Copernicus proved Ptolemy wrong, but both models are about equally valid.

Compare this to the book's comments on special relativity below, as it says that Lorentz-FitzGerald (1889-1895) and Einstein (1905) predict the same events, so one cannot be more real than the other. At best, one is more convenient.

Einstein's version is not any more convenient. The book does not even argue that it is more convenient. The only advantage it gives to Einstein is that he avoids certain speculations about the rigidity of matter. That is not really an advantage, as those speculations by FitzGerald and Lorentz proved to be entirely correct after quantum field theory was discovered decades later.

I think that the biggest difference between Lorentz-1895 and Einstein-1905 is that the latter includes a discussion of the relativity of simultaneity, as invented by Poincare in 1900. That is what the papers by Lorentz, Einstein, and others said at the time, altho they did not mention Poincare. Nobody argued that Einstein was better because he omitted a physical explanation.

In the Wikipedia article on Length contraction, someone suggested adding a physical explanation, and got this reply:

Now, the overwhelming majority of secondary sources tell me that special relativity is a kinematic theory, and length contraction is therefore a consequence of the properties of relativistic space-time (electrodynamic explanations like those of Lorentz, Larmor and Poincaré can be found in the History section).
I agree that special relativity is most commonly understood as a kinematic theory, but I think that it is bizarre to forbid a completely legitimate physical explanation. I cannot think of any other area of science where such an explanation is forbidden. It seems to be just a way of honoring Einstein for failing to give an explanation. But Einstein himself was not opposed to giving a physical explanation, and never argued that the explanation was wrong or undesirable. He just did not give one because he could not figure out how to do it.

Where the Hawking book goes wrong is by assigning reality to M-theory and other untested theories, when those theories are not successful at explaining any events. I will post later on that.

Tuesday, Oct 26, 2010
Hawking explains Einstein's idea
Stephen Hawking's new book, The Grand Design, tells the story of special relativity on p.95-97:
Inspired by Maxwell's speculation, in 1887 Michelson and Edward Morley carried out a very sensitive experiment designed to measure the speed at which the earth travels through the ether. Their idea was to compare the speed of light in two different directions, at right angles. If the speed of light were a fixed number relative to the ether, the measurements should have revealed light speeds that differed depending on the direction of the beam. But Michelson and Morley observed no such difference.

The outcome of the Michelson and Morley experiment is clearly in conflict with the model of electromagnetic waves traveling through an ether, and should have caused the ether model to be abandoned. But Michelson's purpose had been to measure the speed of the earth relative to the ether, not to prove or disprove the ether hypothesis, and what he found did not lead him to conclude that the ether didn't exist. No one else drew that conclusion either. In fact, the famous physicist Sir William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) said in 1884 that the ether was "the only substance we are confident of in dynamics. One thing we are sure of, and that is the reality and substantiality of the luminiferous ether."

How can you believe in the ether despite the results of the Michelson-Morley experiment? As we've said often happens, people tried to save the model by contrived and ad hoc additions. Some postulated that the earth dragged the ether along with it, so we weren’t actually moving with respect to it. Dutch physicist Hendrik Antoon Lorentz and Irish physicist George Francis FitzGerald suggested that in a frame that was moving with respect to the ether, probably due to some yet-unknown mechanical effect, clocks would slow down and distances would shrink, so one would still measure light to have the same speed. Such efforts to save the aether concept continued for nearly twenty years until a remarkable paper by a young and unknown clerk in the patent office in Berne, Albert Einstein.

Einstein was twenty-six in 1905 when he published his paper "Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Koerper" ("On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies"). In it he made the simple assumption that the laws of physics and in particular the speed of light should appear to be the same to all uniformly moving observers. This idea, it turns out, demands a revolution in our concept of space and time. To see why, imagine two events that take place at the same spot but at different times, in a jet aircraft. To an observer on the jet there will be zero distance between those two events. But to a second observer on the ground the events will be separated by the distance the jet has traveled in the time between the events. This shows that two observers who are moving relative to each other will not agree on the distance between two events.

Now suppose the two observers observe a pulse of light traveling from the tall of the aircraft to its nose. Just as in the above example, they will not agree on the distance the light has traveled from its emission at the plane's tall to its reception at the nose. Since speed is distance traveled divided by the time taken, this means that if they agree on the speed at which the pulse travels the speed of light-they will not agree on the time interval between the emission and the reception.

What makes this strange is that, though the two observers measure different times, they are watching the same physical process. Einstein didn't attempt to construct an artificial explanation for this. He drew the logical, if startling, conclusion that the mea-surement of the time taken, like the measurement of the distance covered, depends on the observer doing the measuring. That ef-fect is one of the keys to the theory in Einstein's 1905 paper, which has come to be called special relativity.

Get that? Lorentz and FitzGerald said that the speed of light would be measured as the same in moving frames. Ten years later, Einstein published the idea that the speed of light would appear the same to moving observers. Lorentz said that clocks would slow down and distances would shrink. But it was Einstein's idea that demanded "a revolution in our concept of space and time", and he drew the startling conclusion that the measurement of distance and time depends on the moving observer.

This is a very polished and self-contained book for the general public. Can you read that and explain to me how Einstein's idea was any different from Lorentz's? The ideas are the same. They use the same words, have the same meaning, and imply the same physical consequences.

This explanation is not unusual, and is similar to that given in textbooks, such as here.

The only difference I get out of this is that maybe Lorentz had some speculation about the aether and about "some yet-unknown mechanical effect", and Einstein made no such attempt to construct an explanation. Einstein's restatement of Lorentz's idea is called a "revolution".

Based on this, I would say that Lorentz and FitzGerald discovered special relativity, and Einstein later published a partial explanation of the theory.

Sunday, Oct 24, 2010
Obama tries to quote Einstein
John Lott points out that Pres. Obama has misquoted Einstein:
For Democratic supporters from 2008 who are thinking about switching sides this election, Obama paraphrased Albert Einstein. “The true sign of madness is if you do the same thing over and over again and expect the same result,” he said during a rally at the University of Minnesota.

“All of you have to vote,” Obama told thousands of supporters. “There is not excuse.”

No, the quote is backwards and Einstein never said it anyway. Rita Mae Brown said, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results." Sane people (and scientists believing in causality) expect the same results from doing the same thing. Obama essentially said that all scientists are mad.

This saying is currently all over the California TV stations:

Democrat Jerry Brown is out with a new campaign ad ... features alternating clips of Whitman and Schwarzenegger communicating virtually the same lines. ...

"Meg Whitman said it herself, 'Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for different results,'" said Steven Glazer, Campaign Manager for Brown.

At least Whitman and Schwarzenegger said it correctly. I guess the point of the ad is that if we elect Brown, then we can expect him to govern like a Democrat, and Whitman would govern like her Republican predecessor. Seems likely to me.

Update: The White House transcript has Obama saying slogan correctly. You can see the Obama video at 10:40. So his speech was reported incorrectly. USA Today got the quote right, but falsely attributed it to Einstein.

Saturday, Oct 23, 2010
Beck does not believe in evolution
A NY paper reports:
Glenn Beck thinks the theory of evolution is a bunch of monkey business.

The wildly popular Fox News host Wednesday called the idea that humans evolved from primates "ridiculous."

While the deeply religious Beck denouncing evolution isn't a shock, his defense was a head-scratcher: "I haven't seen a half-monkey, half-person yet. Did evolution just stop?"

Actually chimps are halfway between monkeys and humans, more or less.

Here is an explanation. See also, Why are there still monkeys? Other such questions are answered here.

I doubt that Beck would find these explanations very convincing. The problem is that no one knows how humans split from monkeys and so the explanations just cite some generalities about evolution without really answering the question.

I think that the evolutionists would be more persuasive that they have a theory with some scientific merit if they were willing to admit what they do not know. They cannot even explain why humans are not furry.

Thursday, Oct 21, 2010
It is often said that quantum mechanics violates local causality, and hence also violates my motto above. The argument is based on Bell's theorem.

The equations for relativistic quantum mechanics respect local causality, so the paradox arises in the interpretation of quantum mechanics. Some interpetations are contrary to some notions of causality. But for the more well-accepted interpretations, the problem is with counterfactual definiteness, not local causality.

The paradoxical situations are rooted in some unrealistic assumptions, such as the electron being a particle. An electron acts like a particle, it is observed as a particle, and there is good theory for treating is as a particle. But it also has wave properties, and if you take the electron to literally be a particle, then you will get confusing situations. It is not a particle. It has particle and wave properties. You can treat it as a particle, but then you have to give up counterfactual definiteness, because as you examine possible scenarios for that electron, some of them must involve some wave-like properties that are contrary to your intuition about particles.

Consider the double-slit experiment, where a particle beam is directed at a pair of slits. They form a diffraction pattern on the screen on the other side, just as you might expect from waves. The confusion occurs when you start asking questions like, "what if a particle passes thru the first slit?". There is no definite answer. You can do a measurement and get an answer, but you can just answer hypothetical questions about definite values for particle observable unless you actually do the observation.

Yes, that is confusing. The confusion is why we have about a dozen interpretations. But it is certainly false to say that quantum mechanics violates local causality.

Meanwhile, mathematicians are fond of counterfactual thinking, as illustrated by Terry Tao in The “no self-defeating object” argument.

In case you are still wondering what "counterfactual" means, it is an adjective that means contrary to fact. When used as a noun, it is an abbreviation of "counterfactual conditional". But it does not just mean a false conditional, as false conditionals are meaningless. A philosophy site defines:

A conditional statement whose antecedent is known (or, at least, believed) to be contrary to fact. Thus, for example, "If George W. Bush had been born in Idaho, then he would never have become President." Unlike material implications, counterfactuals are not made true by the falsity of their antecedents. Although they are not truth-functional statements, counterfactuals may be significant for the analysis of scientific hypotheses.
It could also be called hypothetical reasoning.

Local causality is what makes the world amenable to analysis. It is a basic postulate, like conservation of energy. It will take some hard empirical proof before either of these is rejected. It is better to reject counterfactual definiteness, because that may be just a fault of our models, and not physical reality. So I accept counterfactual thinking, but not counterfactual definiteness in quantum mechanics.

Counterfactual definiteness also causes problems for Von Neumann–Morgenstern utility theory, as noted here. You can ask people for preferences in gambling situations, but if you try to break down their choices into counterfactual scenarios, you get paradoxes that are contrary to expected utility theory. Economists argue that these paradoxes prove that people are irrational.

Counterfactual definiteness is also at the heart of an argument by philosopher Jerry A. Fodor in the essay Against Darwinism, and book What Darwin Got Wrong. I mentioned this previously here and here. He is a philosopher, so he is hoping his colleagues will say, At least he didn't confuse his epistemology with his metaphysics. Fodor is a metaphysical naturalist and atheist, but he says that natural selection is unscientific because it fails to make any counterfactual predictions. For example, evolution claims to explain why frogs snap at flies, but cannot say how frogs would evolve if there were no flies. Therefore it is more like history than science.

The Many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is a physical theory of counterfactuals. It postulates that each possible counterfactual scenario is a reality in an alternate universe.

A reader points out that my motto, Natura non facit saltus (Latin for "nature does not make jumps"), seems to be a grammar error, because saltus should be accusative. Darwin used saltum in his famous book, and so does Webster's dictionary. Usage on the web seems to be about evenly divided, with Mandelbrot having used it both ways. But the reader informs me that saltus is fourth declension, plural accusative, so it is correct.

Tuesday, Oct 19, 2010
Science of morality
There is increasing public visibility for scientists who try use science to establish Morals Without God. See also Peter Singer on morality, saying that "a new generation of scientists has emerged who seek to shed light on morality". The leader in this field got caught misinterpreting monkeys in his research, but that will not stop anyone. The new atheists are out to prove that religion is entirely useless, and that science can do anything better.

SciAm's John Horgan is skeptical about the movement. He is skeptical about everything, except maybe pacifism. About the leftist-atheist-evolutionist Sam Harris, he says:

Harris further shows his arrogance when he claims that neuroscience, his own field, is best positioned to help us achieve a universal morality. "The more we understand ourselves at the level of the brain, the more we will see that there are right and wrong answers to questions of human values." Neuroscience can't even tell me how I can know the big, black, hairy thing on my couch is my dog Merlin. And we're going to trust neuroscience to tell us how we should resolve debates over the morality of abortion, euthanasia and armed intervention in other nations' affairs?
Just listen to Harris for a while, and you will be wanting to go back to religious morality.

The trouble with these scientific morality advocates is that they mainly just just promote secular law, with a dose of egalitarianism, depending on how leftist their politics are. They sound like law professors lecturing us on the enforcibility of contracts. Anything is moral as long as it is permitted by the fine print of some contract somewhere. The only exception is when it conflicts with some egalitarian ideal. This is just not what religious folks mean by morality, as Jonathan Haidt explains.

Monday, Oct 18, 2010
Mandelbrot dies
The NY Times reports:
Benoît B. Mandelbrot, a maverick mathematician who developed the field of fractal geometry and applied it to physics, biology, finance and many other fields, died on Thursday in Cambridge, Mass. He was 85. ...

In the 1950s, Dr. Mandelbrot proposed a simple but radical way to quantify the crookedness of such an object by assigning it a “fractal dimension,” an insight that has proved useful well beyond the field of cartography.

The fractal dimension was invented in 1918, long before Mandelbrot.
His influence has also been felt within the field of geometry, where he was one of the first to use computer graphics to study mathematical objects like the Mandelbrot set, which was named in his honor.
People assume that Mandelbrot invented the Mandelbrot set, but he was not, and he was not even the first to plot it with computer graphics. He just popularized the work of others. I do not think that he has had any influence on geometry.
Dr. Mandelbrot received more than 15 honorary doctorates and served on the board of many scientific journals, as well as the Mandelbrot Foundation for Fractals. Instead of rigorously proving his insights in each field, he said he preferred to “stimulate the field by making bold and crazy conjectures” — and then move on before his claims had been verified. This habit earned him some skepticism in mathematical circles.
There is some polite language for an obituary. This is a way of saying that he talked big and accomplished nothing (in mathematics, anyway). His influence was almost entirely in popularizing some applications of math to other fields, such as modeling nature and finance. He wrote a couple of books with pretty pictures of mathematical patterns. He won some prizes. He wrote a popular essay on the coastline paradox and showed how the length of Britain's coast depends on the resolution. Instead of calling himself a mathematician, he described himself with, "I'm a mathematical scientist". That is more accurate as his contributions were to science, not math.

John Horgan explains why interest in Mandelbrot's work peaked in the 1980s.

Sunday, Oct 17, 2010
Ouwehand on Einstein and Poincare
Martin Ouwehand writes:
Why isn't the mathematician Henri Poincaré acknowledged as the true discoverer of the special theory of relativity?

because he didn't discover the theory of relativity as we now understand it.

It is true that after all the failed attempts to show the movement of the earth with respect to the aether, he and Lorentz did realise that the principle of relativity must be true and that it is impossible to detect a translation movement with constant velocity.

But despite this, Poincaré still believed somehow in the aether ...

He certainly did not explain, as Einstein did, the changes to the concepts of space and time that follow from the theory of relativity. ...

Nowhere do Lorentz or Poincaré say that the Lorentz transformation connects space-time measurements in two inertial frames in relative motion.

He gives cites to Poincare's papers, but they are refuted here.

Ouwehand has it backwards. Poincare's theory requires changes to space and time. Einstein's 1905 paper describes changes to measuring rods, clocks, and electromagnetic observables. He does not say whether the changes are to space or to the rods. For that, Einstein's view is the same as what FitzGerald published in 1889. Einstein's theory did not require space and time changes any more than what FitzGerald and Lorentz published years earlier.

Ouwehand explains:

Mathematically, the transformation (x, t) -> (x'', t'') is what we call a Lorentz transformation, but it seems clear to me that for Lorentz the transformation of space-time measurement between the two frames is (x, t) -> (x', t'), not (x, t) -> (x'' ,t''). This is what I meant by the above comment "Nowhere do they..." Poincaré's 1906 paper is silent about the space-time content of the Lorentz transformation, but as it's a follow-up to Lorentz' I take it that he agrees with him on this point.
Lorentz and Poincare were emphatic that their theory explained the Michelson-Morley experiment. To do that, Lorentz transformation had to connect space-time measurements in two different frames.

There are only two known explanations for Michelson-Morley -- special relativity and the Earth being stationary (with respect to the aether). So if Lorentz and Poincare were claiming that their theory explained it, then either they were stupid, they were advocating a stationary Earth, or they discovered special relativity. The idea that their transformations were mathematical and not physical is just nonsense. They had to be physical to explain a physical experiment.

Essentially, Ouwehand is arguing that Lorentz and Poincare got the right answer but did not understand what they were doing. You do not have to understand relativity to see that his argument is nonsense. It is like saying that Mendeleev figured out the periodic table of the elements, but he should not be credited because he had some conceptual error about elements.

Saturday, Oct 16, 2010
Weinberg says to learn physics history
Physicist Steven Weinberg writes in a 2003 essay in Nature magazine:
At the beginning of the twentieth century, several leading physicists, including Lorentz and Abraham, were trying to work out a theory of the electron. This was partly in order to understand why all attempts to detect effects of Earth's motion through the ether had failed. We now know that they were working on the wrong problem. At that time, no one could have developed a successful theory of the electron, because quantum mechanics had not yet been discovered. It took the genius of Albert Einstein in 1905 to realize that the right problem on which to work was the effect of motion on measurements of space and time. This led him to the special theory of relativity. ...

Finally, learn something about the history of science, ... For instance, now and then scientists are hampered by believing one of the over-simplified models of science that have been proposed by philosophers from Francis Bacon to Thomas Kuhn and Karl Popper. The best antidote to the philosophy of science is a knowledge of the history of science.

Wow, Weinberg gives some bogus history of science, and in the next paragraph, he advises to learn it correctly and not as simplified by the famous philosophers.

Lorentz did not just work out a theory of the electron. He worked out the effect of motion on measurements of space and time, in an 1895 paper. He credited FitzGerald for earlier work. Those effects are now known as Lorentz transformations, and you can read the History of Lorentz transformations to see that a lot of excellent work was done before Einstein's 1905 paper.

Einstein wrote more or less the same thing about the effect of motion on measurements as Lorentz and Poincare had previously written. It is only those oversimplified philosophical models that have (falsely) convinced people that Einstein did something different. For proof, see Dyson on Poincare and Einstein.

I do agree with Weinberg that physicists ought to learn science history correctly, so that they are not duped by the philosophers and Einstein worshipers.

You can see for yourself that physicists before Einstein were explicitly working on the effect of motion on measurements of space and time. From Lorentz's 1892 paper, translated from Dutch:

It was noted by Maxwell, that if the aether remains at rest, then the motion of earth must have an influence on the time, that was required by light to travel forth and back between two points regarded as fixed to earth. ...

But Michelson together with Morley repeated the experiment on a larger scale. ... I have sought a long time to explain this experiment without success, and eventually I found only one way to reconcile the result with Fresnel's theory. It consists of the assumption, that the line joining two points of a solid body doesn't conserve its length, when it is once in motion parallel to the direction of motion of Earth, and afterwards it is brought normal to it. ... Such a change in length of the arms in Michelson's first experiment, and in the size of the stone plate in the second, is really not inconceivable as it seems to me.

Lorentz then goes on to give an electrodynamic explanation:
Indeed, what determines the size and shape of a solid body? Apparently the intensity of molecular forces; any cause that could modify it, could modify the shape and size as well. Now we can assume at present, that electric and magnetic forces act by intervention of the aether. It is not unnatural to assume the same for molecular forces, but then it can make make a difference, whether the connection line of two particles, which move together through the ether, are moving parallel to the direction of movement or perpendicular to it. ...

Since we know nothing about the nature of molecular forces, it is impossible to verify the hypothesis. ...

Anyway, it seems undeniable that changes of the molecular forces and consequently of the body's size of order 1-v2/2c2 are possible. ... We cannot speak about the observation of a change in length of two hundred millionth when comparing meter sticks, and even if an observation method would allow this, then this method would be the juxtaposition of two sticks, but we would never detect the discussed changes, when they occur in the same way for both of them. The only remedy is to compare the length of two sticks perpendicular to each other, and if we want to do this by the observation of an interference phenomenon (with a light ray that travels back and forth along the first and the other ray along the second arm), then we would come back to Michelson's experiment.

He turned out to be completely correct that electromagnetism is the molecular force that determines the size and shape of a solid body. He was also correct that electric and magnetic forces act by intervention of the aether, altho we would use more modern terminology and say that electromagnetic forces act by perturbing the quantum vacuum state. And of course he was completely correct that motion causes a length contraction in the direction of the motion. Einstein said the same thing 13 years later, without mentioning the molecular forces.

Friday, Oct 15, 2010
Sparse coverage of string theory
Here is a defensive explanation of Why has Physics Today's news coverage of string theory been so sparse?

No, the real reason is that string theory has not accomplished anything. But that does not stop new book from making big claims:

The reason strings are such a hot topic nowadays, Jones explains, is that the new theory not only helps to solve some long-standing problems in physics, but it also attempts to explain other, not-yet-observed phenomena such as time travel and the possible existence of extra dimensions.

One of the great virtues of string theory is that it tries to be a theory of everything. ...

In practice, contriving a theory of everything means reconciling the two great physics theories of the previous century: quantum mechanics and general relativity. Quantum science generally deals with matter at small scales (all those nested layers of particles), while general relativity generally deals with massive things like planets and galaxies. For the past century physicists have failed to bring these two mighty theories together.

String theory, at least on paper, seems to have succeeded.

No, it has not succeeded. If it did, then there would be some paper demonstrating it, and there would be a Physics Today story about it.

Thursday, Oct 14, 2010
Varying time was forced by a dramatic experiment
NPR radio recently had an explanation of a new relativity experiment. From the Fri, 24 Sep 2010 NPR broadcast, downloadable at npr_130109040.mp3:
Joe Palca, at 11:40: ... the nature of time. It is hard to think of time as something that varies.

Carroll: It is just so counter-intuitive to our everyday lives.

Palca: Sean Carroll is a theoretical physicist at Caltech in Pasadena.

Carroll: The miracle is that Einstein's way of thinking about it wasn't forced by some dramatic experiment that anyone did. It was really just pure thought.

Palca: But pure thought led Einstein to the conclusion that light, not time, was the constant.

No, this is a myth that has been propagated in the latter part of the 20th century to promote Kuhnian paradigm shift theory. The decisive experiment was the Michelson-Morley experiment.

If you do not believe me, read Einstein's 1907 review paper or Einstein's 1909 paper:

This experiment demonstrated that matter does not completely carry along its ether but, in general, the ether is moving relative to matter. ... The most diverse experiments were performed without detecting the expected dependence of phenomena on orientation.

This contradiction was chiefly eliminated by the pioneering work of H. A. Lorentz in 1895. Lorentz showed that if the ether were taken to be at rest and did not participate at all in the motions of matter, no other hypotheses were necessary to arrive at a theory that did justice to almost all of the phenomena. In particular, Fizeau's experiments were explained, as well as the negative results of the above-mentioned attempts to detect the Earth's motion relative to the ether. Only one experiment seemed incompatible with Lorentz's theory, namely, the interference experiment of Michelson and Morley.

By this time, two Nobel prizes had been given for this work showing that a dramatic experiment leads to the concept of varying time. One to Michelson in 1907 for doing the experiment, and another to Lorentz in 1902 for his 1895 theory, which included varying time. Lorentz cited Michelson-Morley in his 1895 paper, and he and Poincare continued to stress its importance in subsequent papers.

Today, Einstein biographies say that Michelson-Morley had nothing to do with the discovery of relativity, because he was reasoning with pure thought. This is just one aspect of a false Einstein myth that gets perpetuated.

Wednesday, Oct 13, 2010
French economist opposed Einstein and his relativity
The economist Maurice Allais just died. He won the 1998 Bank of Sweden Prize, sometimes also called the Nobel prize in economics. He is famous for showing that common preferences are contrary to economic utility models.

He wrote a 2005 book saying that Einstein plagiarized the theory of relativity, and that relativity was disproved by a 1926 Dayton Miller experiment. That experiment was an attempt to detect the aether drift, like the 1887 Michelson-Morley experiment that was the main experimental support for relativity.

It is a little goofy for him to rely so heavily on a 1926 paper when dozens of others have done similar experiments, and confirmed relativity. But Allais was correct about Poincare publishing the theory before Einstein, as you can read in this blog or in Relativity priority dispute.

Tuesday, Oct 12, 2010
Isaac Newton, alchemist
The NY Times reports:
How could the man who vies in surveys with Albert Einstein for the title of “greatest physicist ever,” the man whom James Gleick has aptly designated “chief architect of the modern world,” have been so swept up in what looks to modern eyes like a medieval delusion? How could the ultimate scientist have been seemingly hornswoggled by a totemic psuedoscience like alchemy, which in its commonest rendering is described as the desire to transform lead into gold? Was Newton mad — perhaps made mad by exposure to mercury, as some have proposed? Was he greedy, or gullible, or stubbornly blind to the truth?

In Dr. Newman’s view, none of the above. Sir Isaac the Alchemist, he said, was no less the fierce and uncompromising scientist than was Sir Isaac, author of the magisterial Principia Mathematica. There were plenty of theoretical and empirical reasons at the time to take the principles of alchemy seriously, to believe that compounds could be broken down into their basic constituents and those constituents then reconfigured into other, more desirable substances.

Newton was second to Einstein in this poll.

Einstein wasted 30 years of his life on a crackpot search for a unified field theory. Newton's alchemy had more scientific validity.

Monday, Oct 11, 2010
Hockey stick graph guy hates public scrutiny
Climate professor Michael E. Mann, famous mostly for the global warming hockey stick graph, writes:
My employer, Penn State University, exonerated me after a thorough investigation of my e-mails in the East Anglia archive. Five independent investigations in Britain and the United States, and a thorough recent review by the Environmental Protection Agency, also have cleared the scientists of accusations of impropriety. ...

We have lived through the pseudo-science that questioned the link between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer, and the false claims questioning the science of acid rain and the hole in the ozone layer. The same dynamics and many of the same players are still hard at work, questioning the reality of climate change. ...

Challenges to policy proposals for how to deal with this problem should be welcome -- indeed, a good-faith debate is essential for wise public policymaking.

But the attacks against the science must stop. They are not good-faith questioning of scientific research. They are anti-science.

How can I assure young researchers in climate science that if they make a breakthrough in our understanding about how human activity is altering our climate that they, too, will not be dragged through a show trial at a congressional hearing?

I would expect most scientists to be happy to explain their breakthroughs at a congressional hearing.

Mann being cleared of impriety by a university? That is no reason to accept Mann's analysis. We should be troubled by the fact that his university finds it acceptable for him to cover up his data and methods, as revealed in those emails.

Worse, Mann says that we can question the public policy, but not the science. He is the one who is anti-science for saying this.

Also getting a lot of news is this Hal Lewis complaint about this American Physical Society policy:

The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring. If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now.
Yes, you should be wary of any statements like this.

There is an APS reply.

Saturday, Oct 09, 2010
What is fate
I like this joke:
A priest asked the Master, "What is fate?"

The Master answered:

It is that which gives a beast of burden its reason for existence.

It is that which men in former times had to bear upon their backs.

It is that which has caused nations to build byways from City to City upon which carts and coaches pass, and alongside which inns have come to be built to stave off Hunger, Thirst, and Weariness.

"And that is fate?" said the priest.

"Fate... I thought you said Freight", responded the Master.

"That's all right" said the priest, "I wanted to know about Freight too."

I like this joke because "fate" seems like a suitably profound topic for a guru's wisdom, as opposed to "freight". But the Master's answer showed that freight can be just as profound.

The Danish physicist Niels Bohr said:

The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.
This is also quoted to explain the half-truth. I cannot find the context for this, but he surely said something similar, because Bohr's son wrote:
One of the favorite maxims of my father was the distinction between the two sorts of truths, profound truths recognized by the fact that the opposite is also a profound truth, in contrast to trivialities where opposites are obviously absurd.
Supposedly, Heraclitus said something similar.

Many of the profound truths of 20th century physics are like that. You can say that there is no aether, that an electron is a particle, that the world is non-deterministic, that quantum entanglement requires spooky action at a distance, that gravity is quantized, that the fundamental forces are unified at the Planck scale, etc. Pick any popular explanation of quantum mechanics, and you will find that its profound truths are not really truths in the sense that the opposites are incorrect.

The next time you hear some wise guru tell you some profound truth, ask whether the opposite is incorrect.

Friday, Oct 08, 2010
Claiming Lorentz was opposed to relativity
Here is a typical explanation of the claim for Einstein's originality:
The mathematical work of H.A. Lorentz would prove invaluable to Albert Einstein as he attempted to work out his theory of Special Relativity.

The Dutch Physicist Hendrik Antoon Lorentz was often given credit by Albert Einstein for inspiring the notions of Time and Space Dilation. Indeed, it is the mathematical work of Lorentz which Einstein uses as a guide in determining the exact formulations of these very things. However, this credit often seems somewhat misplaced, considering the fact that Lorentz’s actual intention in creating his mathematics was to explain something very much opposing the theory of relativity.

It all started, like so many things, with the fateful experiment of Michelson and Morley in 1887, which determined once and for all the non-existence of the substance known as “ether,” which according to physicists formed the makeup of the vacuum through which light traveled so quickly. In addition, it showed that the speed of light was a constant, independent of one’s motion. As a result of this experiment, some physicists, such as Einstein, searched for entirely new laws of physics, while others, such as Lorentz, searched for ways to reconcile these findings with the existing theories, mathematically.

In other words, Lorentz’s goal was to save the theory of luminiferous ether from annihilation. As a result, he came up with some very revolutionary and very useful mathematics.

So Lorentz cited the previous work, making him opposed to revolutionary thought. Einstein built on the work of Lorentz and Michelson-Morley without citing them, making him the great genius.

Einstein never described having any intentions different from Lorentz. Einstein's 1905 relativity theory was not opposed to Lorentz's theory in any way. Neither Einstein nor Lorentz nor anyone else at the time said that it was. Lorentz lectured on the theory in 1906, and described Einstein's work as an addition to his own. Einstein did not come up with any new math -- his formulas were essentially the same as what Lorentz had already published.

People recite these silly arguments as if they mean something. Somehow you are supposed to believe that Lorentz made all the correct deductions and formulas from Michelson-Morley, but it was somehow inferior to Einstein publishing the same thing ten years later.

Wednesday, Oct 06, 2010
Deepak’s God 2.0 and quantum flapdoodle
Michael Shermer attacks quantum theology:
This last spring, however, I participated in a debate with a theologian of a different species—the New Age spiritualist Deepak Chopra -— whose arguments for the existence of a deity take a radically different tact. Filmed by ABC’s Nightline and viewed by millions, Deepak hammered out a series of scientistic-sounding arguments for the existence of a nonlocal spooky-action-at-a-distance quantum force. Call it Deepak’s God 2.0. ...

Deepak’s use and abuse of quantum physics is what the Caltech quantum physicist and Nobel laureate Murray Gell-Mann calls “quantum flapdoodle,” which is when you string together a series of terms and phrases from quantum physics and assume that explains something in the regular macro world in which we live. “The mind is like an electron cloud surrounding the nucleus of an atom,” Chopra writes in his 2006 book Life After Death.

Okay, but I am not sure why this is any worse than what Hawking does.

Shermer debated Chopra in a March 2010 ABC TV Nightline Faceoff. I expected the level-headed Shermer to make mincemeat out of the kooky Chopra, but I think Shermer lost. When asked about the reality of the Moon, Chopra said:

In the absence of a conscious entity, the Moon remains a radically ambiguous and ceaselessly flowing quantum soup.
Shermer just called this "woo-woo", and argued that quantum mechanics had no macroscopic significance.

Hawking co-author Leonard Mlodinow challenged Chopra to learn some quantum mechanics. But the Hawking-Mlodinow book has a chapter on the same non-locality that Chopra was talking about, and the book applies it to God just like Chopra. Here is what the book says about the Moon:

There might be one history in which the moon is made of Roquefort cheese. But we have observed that the moon is not made of cheese, which is bad news for mice. Hence histories in which the moon is made of cheese do not contribute to the pres- ent state of our universe, though they might contribute to others. That might sound like science fiction, but it isn't.
I get from this that they subscribe to different interpretations of quantum mechanics. But there is no proof that any one interpretation is any more correct than any other, and they are all leaping to unwarranted conclusions. It is science fiction. Hawking-Mlodinov have a much more sophisticated knowledge of math than Chopra, and are better at avoiding statements that are demonstrably false, but it is still just wild speculation. They are taking reasonable theories and extrapolating them far beyond where they have any experimental support. Apparently Hawking-Mlodinow think that it is okay to apply quantum non-locality to God's brain, but not to the human brain.

Tuesday, Oct 05, 2010
Graphene prize
Sweden just announced the Physics Nobel for graphene, a thin sheet of carbon. As usual, the predictions were for prizes in theoretical cosmology, inflation, dark matter, and string theory. All stuff that has never been substantiated. They primarily give the prizes for experimental work, not theoretical. And especially not theoretical work that has never been tested, like cosmic inflation and string theory.

The Nature magazine prediction was for a dark energy prize. I think that probably will get a physics prize in a couple of years.

Meanwhile, the Vatican is complaining about yesterday's prize for test-tube babies:

Nearly four million babies have been born using IVF fertility treatment since 1978.

Monsignor Carrasco, the Vatican's spokesman on bio-ethics, said in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) had been "a new and important chapter in the field of human reproduction".

But he said the Nobel prize committee's choice of Prof Edwards had been "completely out of order" as without his treatment, there would be no market for human eggs "and there would not be a large number of freezers filled with embryos in the world", he told Italy's Ansa news agency.

No estimate on the number of frozen or destroyed embryos.

Sunday, Oct 03, 2010
Truth of the Einsteinian or Minkowskian interpretations
A 2007 book, Einstein, relativity and absolute simultaneity By William Lane Craig, Quentin Smith, says about Special Relativity (SR):
It is an interesting historical fact that neither of the giants of late nineteenth century physics to whom Einstein looked for inspiration in his work on SR, H. A. Lorentz and Henri Poincare, was ever convinced, despite being fully apprised of the empirical facts, of the truth of the Einsteinian or Minkowskian interpretations of the Lorentz transformations.
The 1908 Minkowskian interpretation was that the Lorentz transformations are symmetries of spacetime, and that the relativity principle is a consequence of covariance under those symmetries. This is also the interpretation found in modern textbooks.

The 1905 Einsteinian interpretation of the Lorentz transformations is that they affect measuring rods and clocks, and that there is a way to extend them to electromagnetic variables so that Maxwell's equations take the same form in difference reference frames. Lorentz published the same interpretation in 1895, after FitzGerald conjectured a simplified version of it in 1889.

In around 1910, Einstein switched over to the Minkowski interpretation. Poincare had already made this switch in 1905. The book supplies quotes from Lorentz where he says (correctly) that both interpretations are consistent with the known experimental results.

Hawking's new book, The Grand Design, correctly says:

When such a model is successful at explaining events, we tend to attribute to it, and to the elements and concepts that constitute it, the quality of reality or absolute truth. But there may be different ways in which one could model the same physical situation, with each employing different fundamental elements and concepts. If two such physical theories or models accurately predict the same events, one cannot be said to be more real than the other; rather, we are free to use whichever model is most convenient. [p.7]
That is right. If Lorentz and Poincare understood that both interpretations predict the same events, then the choice is a matter of convenience. Poincare said similar things in his 1902 book, and he is famous for espousing this philosophy of conventionalism.

Sometimes Lorentz and Poincare are criticized for admitting that multiple interpretations are possible. They get blamed for not joining the paradigm shift. This criticism is wrongheaded. First, there are two major interpretations of special relativity. Lorentz created one, and Poincare created the other. So they were leaders in jumping to new ideas. Second, both interpretations are indeed possible.

Similar criticism has been mounted against those who have admitted the possibility of both the geocentric and heliocentric models of the solar system. Eg, Galileo argued that only one model was possible while some of his contemporaries argued that both were. But Galileo was the one who was wrong on this point.

Friday, Oct 01, 2010
How philosophers credit Einstein
Philosopher Marc Lange explains the discovery of relativity on a philosopher site:
I once read that, in the case of most scientific discoveries, if they hadn't been made when they were, and by who they were, the same discovery would have been made by someone else. Is this true? I also read that Einstein's general and special theories of relativity were such an original contribution that if he hadn't come up with them we would still be waiting for them. Do you think that's the case? ...

I have heard this said as well. In the history of science, there are many examples in which several researchers independently came up with the same new idea. Schrodinger and Heisenberg independently came up with the same theory (quantum mechanics) and presented it in such different forms that someone else (Born) had to figure out that they were equivalent. Darwin and Wallace (both from reading Malthus!) independently came up with the theory of natural selection. Adams and LeVerrier independently predicted the existence of the planet Neptune. Lavoisier and Priestley independently discovered oxygen. The examples are legion. These cases of simultaneous discovery are good evidence that once a problem reaches a certain point, it is widely recognized as a problem and the same solution would soon have been found even if the actual discoverer had not found it.

Einstein's theories of special and general relativity are sometimes cited as exceptions to this general rule. One reason for this view is that the "problem" as Einstein saw it was not widely recognized. Of course, many scientists knew of the Michelson-Morley experiment and realized that it was an anomaly that had to be dealt with somehow. But Einstein was motivated to develop relativity not primarily by experimental results that needed to be explained, but rather by an "asymmetry" in Maxwell's electromagnetic theory. (See the majestic opening paragraph of his 1905 relativity paper for the "asymmetry" argument.) This "asymmetry" was widely known, but very few besides Einstein regarded it as a problem of any kind.

Another reason for the view that relativity would not have been found without Einstein is that relativity was not a modest solution to a narrowly confined problem. Rather, relativity was a sharp break from all of the physics that had gone before. It dispensed with absolute time, space, and motion -- the conceptual framework of Newtonian physics as it was then understood. It is therefore more difficult to say in the case of relativity that it would still have been discovered at about the same time, had Einstein not been there to do it.

It is amazing that a university professor could say anything so silly and so wrong.

Einstein's work on relativity was not a break from previous physics. It did not reject Newtonian physics any more than papers written five and ten years before. Einstein was motivated to give an exposition of the Lorentz-Poincare theory, and that is all he did. Just look at Einstein's famous 1905 paper, and you can see that nowhere does he even claim to contradict the prevailing wisdom of the day. He only refers vaguely to previous work, and only implies an increment improvement. He says:

They suggest rather that, as has already been shown to the first order of small quantities, ... Insufficient consideration of this circumstance lies at the root of the difficulties ...
So he is only claiming to present a more precise (higher order) version of what has already been shown, and giving more consideration to foundational issues in order to clear up some difficulties. Physicists at the time considered Einstein's paper a comparatively minor philosophical gloss on Lorentz's theory.

Einstein rushed his paper into print because it was being obsoleted by papers by Lorentz and Poincare. As noted below, Watson-Crick also rushed their paper into print because they suspected that a competitor was about to publish the same thing. These two papers are credited as two of the great papers in 20th century science, but in reality, history would not be much different if these papers did not exist.

Lange also says:

Did Einstein ever engage the "scientific method" ...?

Many of Einstein's most famous papers make shockingly few references to the details of previous empirical work by other scientists. To put the same point in another way, many of Einstein's most famous arguments arise largely from "philosophical" considerations.

No, the lack of references is explained by Einstein dishonestly seeking credit for the work of others.

The myth that relativity was the result of Einstein's philosophical thought experiments is widespread. It is used to undermine science, and promote unscientific ideas that have no empirical basis.

You can see the consequences of this my in this string theory report card:

If you care, string theory gets an:

A for not being ruled out,
F for unambiguous testable predictions,
D for an LHC signal,
B for solving black hole puzzles,
A for inspiration to maths,
B for inspiration to the rest of physics,
A for unification (surely "a" solution to a previous superhard problem),
D for uniqueness,
F for solutions to the cosmological constant problem,
D for understanding of the Big Bang or the birth of the Cosmos,
A for solving Pauli's renormalizability problem of GR.

I think Andy is right that people would agree with the grades; they would disagree with whether it is a passing or failing report card. However, as Strominger emphasizes, string theory is the only student in the class. ;-) If you flunk her, you have to shut the school down.

Woit also comments on this report card.

The only reason that it has not been ruled out is that it does not make any predictions! How can a theory achieve unification without being testable?

The only reason anyone can say such nonsense with a straight face is that there is a widespread myth that Einstein invented relativity and revolutionized physics by making philosophical considerations and ignoring experimental results.

Einstein wasted the last 30 years of his life publishing unified field theories. He made no testable predictions, and his theories were garbage. He was guided only by philosophical considerations.

String theorists are doing the same thing when they say that their theory is the only only that matches their philosophical expectations, and ignore experiment.

The "cosmological constant problem" is just to explain empty space. That's right, string theory fails to say anything correct about empty space. It is said that Newtonian gravity fails to solve the 3-body problem, general relativity fails on the 2-body problem, quantum mechanics fails on the 1-body problem, and now string theory fails on the 0-body problem. Some physicists say that this is progress!