Thursday, May 16, 2019

Astronomer writes book on Bell

A new book asserts:
The fastest route to the insight into the ultimate nature of reality revealed by quantum mechanics, Greenstein writes, is through Bell's Theorem, which concerns reality at the quantum level; and Bell's 1964 discovery drives Greenstein's quest. Greenstein recounts a scientific odyssey that begins with Einstein, continues with Bell, and culminates with today's push to develop an industry of quantum machines. Along the way, he discusses spin, entanglement, experimental metaphysics, and quantum teleportation, often with easy-to-grasp analogies. We have known for decades that the world of the quantum was strange, but, Greenstein says, not until John Bell came along did we know just how strange.
No. The essence of Bell's theorem is that quantum mechanics is not a classical theory. In particular, the quantum probabilities are not just hiding a lack of knowledge about classical physical variables.

Bell just confirmed what had been conventional wisdom for 40 years.

The author explains in SciAm:
For in truth I believe that it is the story of everyone who has encountered this bizarre world. The realm of the quantum is utterly unfamiliar, utterly strange and utterly incomprehensible. Nothing in it corresponds to everyday reality. And more than that: nothing in it can be comprehended in ordinary terms.

“How can an electron be in two places at once?” I had been asking for so many years. “How can something happen without a cause?” I have not answered these questions. But so what? At long last I have achieved what to me is a great victory. I have expressed to myself clearly what the mystery is.

And sometimes I wonder if it is a mystery. Perhaps it is just a fact. This is the way the world is. Do I like this new cosmos that we have stumbled into? Do I dislike it? Is it congenial to my thoughts, or utterly alien to them?

It makes no difference: this is the new world — get used to it. ...

George Greenstein is professor emeritus of astronomy at Amherst College. He is the author of the new book, Quantum Strangeness: Wrestling with Bell's Theorem and the Ultimate Nature of Reality (The MIT Press, 2019).
I haven't seen the book, but this does not sound helpful. Electrons are not really in two places at once.

The electron goes thru both slits of the double-slit experiment, but that is because the electron is a wave that is not localized to a point. To describe the electron as being localized to two different points in different locations is weird.

Denying causation is even weird. Nothing in quantum mechanics is inconsistent with causality. It may be that you can only give a probability for a radioactive decay, but something is still causing that decay, as far as we know.

Lubos Motl explains explains why he rejects reality in the quantum domain:
As an undergraduate freshman, I was already exposed to basic texts on string theory – a librarian generously xeroxed a textbook by Green, Schwarz, Witten for me (for free), she probably risked copyright infringements as well – and I knew something about T-duality soon afterwords (other dualities were only discovered in the mid 1990s and made the picture thicker). So even if I had some tendencies for "realism" at that time, I had to choose: T-duality or the realist prejudices? Clearly, I would have chosen T-dualities because they're beautiful. They are really local symmetries of string theory and a symmetry is always a great improvement of a theory that makes the theory more likely. There exists absolutely no reason why the symmetry should be fundamentally broken so it's almost certainly not broken. Arguments based on symmetries and other kinds of mathematical beauty always trump purely metaphysical prejudices – everyone who has at least some physical intuition agrees.
His reasoning is a little peculiar. He sounds like a medieval monk who bases his belief on a rare sacred text that was recently transcribed for him.

Realism, in this context, means believing in things and mechanisms that are not directly observed. It is okay to believe in the dark side of the Moon, because that is consistent with our best theories. But believing in local hidden variables controlling electrons is not.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Quantum Hype and Quantum Skepticism

Communications of the ACM has published a short article on Quantum Hype and Quantum Skepticism:
The first third of the 20th century saw the collapse of many absolutes. Albert Einstein's 1905 special relativity theory eliminated the notion of absolute time, while Kurt Gödel's 1931 incompleteness theorem questioned the notion of absolute mathematical truth. Most profoundly, however, quantum mechanics raised doubts on the notion of absolute objective reality. Is Schrödinger's cat dead or alive? Nearly 100 years after quantum mechanics was introduced, scientists still are not in full agreement on what it means.

The problem with objective reality stems from the superposition principle. In a nutshell, quantum systems can exist in a superposition of their possible observable states before measurement. While a classical bit has a unique value, 0 or 1, a quantum bit, or qubit, exists as a superposition of two classical bits.
This is wrong on many levels. Relativity did not eliminate absolute. It just clarified it. Einstein added nothing to our understanding of time. Goedel remained a firm believer in absolute mathematical truth.

Saying that Schroedinger's cat is dead and alive at the same time is just another bit of bad philosophy.

Superpositions do not really create a problem with objective reality. Just saying that two measurements are possible does not mean that none are real.
In fact, several quantum-computing researchers have expressed skepticism regarding the physical realizability of the quantum-computing dream.a Quantum skeptics agree that quantum computation does offer an exponential advantage of classical computation in theory, but they argue it is not physically possible to build scalable quantum computers. Gil Kalai is one of the most prominent quantum skeptics. All physical systems are noisy, he argues,b and qubits kept in highly sensitive superpositions will inevitably be corrupted by any interaction with the outside world. In contrast, quantum-skepticism skeptics, such as Scott Aaronson, view the realizability of quantum computing as an outstanding question in physics,c and regard the skeptical view as representing an implausible revolution in physics.
Aaronson is professionally invested in the possibility of quantum computing. There are good scientific reasons for skepticism about quantum computing, both in theory and in practice.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

NY Times joins the time reversal hype

The NY Times reports:
Using an IBM quantum computer, they managed to undo the aging of a single, simulated elementary particle by one millionth of a second.
...
The algorithm almost always worked. It succeeded in returning the qubits to their youthful states 85 percent of the time when the calculation involved two qubits, but only half the time when three qubits were used.
This result as already been overhyped elsewhere, and Scott Aaronson had debunked it:
Incredibly, the time-reversal claim has now gotten uncritical attention in Newsweek, Discover, Cosmopolitan, my Facebook feed, and elsewhere — hence this blog post, which has basically no content except “the claim to have ‘reversed time,’ by running a simulation backwards, is exactly as true and as earth-shattering as a layperson might think it is.”
Dennis Overbye gives this explanation of time reversal:
On paper, the basic laws of physics are reversible; they work mathematically whether time is running forward or backward. But if time is just another dimension of space-time, as Einstein said, it’s a strange one-way dimension. In the real world we can climb out of the subway and turn left or right, but we don’t have the choice of going forward or back in time. We are always headed toward the future. ...

But the arrow of time takes its direction not only from big numbers. According to quantum theory, that paradoxical body of rules governing the subatomic universe, not even a single particle can reverse its own course through time. ...

The wave function extends throughout space and time. The law describing its evolution, known as the Schrödinger equation, after Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger​, is equally valid running forward or backward. But getting a wave function to go in reverse is no small trick. ...

“It remains to be seen,” the team wrote in their paper posted online in February, “whether the irreversibility of time is a fundamental law of nature or whether, on the contrary, it might be circumvented.”
This is what a lot of physicists say, but it doesn't make much sense. How is it that the basic laws of physics are reversible, but you cannot actually reverse anything? I think it is more accurate to say that the basic laws of physics are not time reversible.

He gives this explanation of quantum computers:
Unlike regular computers, which process a series of zeros and ones, or bits, quantum computers are made of so-called qubits, each of which can be zero and one at the same time. A quantum computer can perform thousands or millions of calculations simultaneously, so long as nobody looks to see what the answer is until the end.

Many of the largest tech companies, including Google, Microsoft and IBM, are racing to build such machines, which eventually could solve problems that regular computers can’t, such as breaking currently unbreakable cryptographic codes. Some scientists argue that nature itself is a quantum computer, and that the greatest utility of such a computer will be in simulating and exploring the paradoxes of quantum weirdness. ...

The IBM computer they used represents a baby step in the direction of what theorists call “quantum supremacy.”
Aaronson would say that this explanation is wrong, because the power of quantum computers comes from probabilities being negative, not qubits being zero and one at the same time.

I think that it is more accurate to say that quantum computers get their power from time reversible operations. All of the quantum algorithms depend on qubits, and on electronic gates that do time reversible operations on qubits.

But we can't do any time reversible operations. Not significantly. According to the above paper, a state-of-the-art quantum computer can do it for a millionth of a second on two qubits 85% of the time.

This is like saying someone invented a perpetual motion machine that works for a millionth of a second 85% of the time.

Quantum supremacy has not been achieved. Everyone now acknowledges this. The above paper is supposed to be a baby step toward that end. On the contrary, it shows how difficult the task is.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Scaling back Quantum Computing Expectations

Christopher Monroe writes:
If you watch the technology headlines you might think something called quantum computing is the Next Big Thing. ...

We must be clear, however, about what is and isn’t happening next. The big quantum computing discoveries that will most impact society are still years away. In the meantime, we will see breathless announcements of records broken as the technology rapidly develops. ...

In 3-5 years, these machines will perform certain calculations that would not be possible using ordinary computers. But it may be 5-10 years before any of these machines have the capacity and accuracy to solve useful problems. Along the way, I worry that some who read about quantum computing being the next big thing will feel let down and lose interest. We can’t let that happen. Government needs to continue to support ...
This has the tone of a scammer who is trying to keep the money flowing while he manages expectations.

He is predicting quantum supremacy in 3-5 years. Okay, I will note that, if this blog is still around. For the past several years, experts from IBM, Google, and Microsoft have been saying to expect it in the next year.

They want continued funding, even if none of the promises are realized.

Scott Aaronson endorses this view, tho he has personally stopped commenting to the press. But he has commented to the press on the scientific accuracy of time travel in the new Marvel Avengers movie!

Update: I see Scott has commented to the press about using quantum computers for reversing time. I will post more on this later.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

How string theory changed Physics

Lubos Motl still defends string theory:
To make it brief, string theory has been rather essential to realize – and make explicit – all the ideas that we call the holography of quantum gravity.

There's no qualitative difference between elementary particles and black hole microstates

Black holes look like qualitatively different, large "beasts" that differ from the elementary particles. But string/M-theory has shown us that the black hole microstates – there are many microstates because the black hole entropy is large for a large black hole – are nothing else than the "very massive" counterparts of elementary particle species.

The qualitative difference between an electron and a black hole could have looked – and arguably did look to most people – "obvious" but we already know it's wrong. ...

The idea that physicists will "return" to an epoch in which string theory and its lessons may be ignored is as childish as the idea of a "return" to the Flat Earth. Science just doesn't work like that.
Wow, thanks to string theory we now know the difference between an electron and a black hole, and this knowledge cannot be unlearned. Because ... that's how science works!

I thought that science worked by testing hypotheses. The ancient Greeks disproved the Flat Earth hypothesis by watching ship go over the horizon, by watching lunar eclipses, and by measuring how the Sun was higher in the sky at lower latitudes.

Lubos is so ridiculous here that I wonder if he is just trolling us.

A century ago, the Bohr atom made some analogies between electron and larger objects. But the model made some testable quantitative predictions, and some of those were confirmed.

Analogizing an electron with a black hole has gone nowhere. Neither has quantum gravity holography or any of the other string theory nonsense.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

How Bee lives without free will

Sabine Hossenfelder argues:
Physics deals with the most fundamental laws of nature, those from which everything else derives. These laws are, to our best current knowledge, differential equations. Given those equations and the configuration of a system at one particular time, you can calculate what happens at all other times.

That is for what the universe without quantum mechanics is concerned. Add quantum mechanics, and you introduce a random element into some events. Importantly, this randomness in quantum mechanics is irreducible. It is not due to lack of information. In quantum mechanics, some things that happen are just not determined, and nothing you or I or anyone can do will determine them.

Taken together, this means that the part of your future which is not already determined is due to random chance. It therefore makes no sense to say that humans have free will.
I am amazed to see otherwise-intelligent physicists make this silly argument.

Her argument is that the world must be either deterministic or non-deterministic, by the law of the excluded middle. Determinisic is defined as caused by the dynamics of unconscious particles, and non-deterministic is defined as being not determined by anyone's conscious thoughts. So the possibility of free will is defined away in both cases.

The word "random" just means that someone does not know how to predict something. Free will appears to others as randomness, because a choice is being made that others cannot predict. So randomness does not refute free will. Randomness of just one of our descriptive terms for free will.

She says, "randomness in quantum mechanics ... is not due to lack of information." It has indeed been proved that quantum randomness is not due to our lack of info about local hidden variables in a classical theory. But that's all. If you drop the local hidden variable assumption, and assume we live in a non-classical world, then we no longer have any good reason to think that the randomness is due or not due to a lack of information. Quantum mechanics is silent on the issue.
Others try to interpret quantum randomness as a sign of free will, but this is in conflict with evidence. Quantum processes are not influenced by conscious thought. Chaos is deterministic, so it doesn’t help. Goedel’s incompleteness theorem, remarkable as it is, has no relevance for natural laws.

The most common form of denial that I encounter is to insist that reductionism must be wrong. But we have countless experiments that document humans are made of particles, and that these particles obey our equations. This means that also humans, as collections of those particles, obey these equations. If you try to make room for free will by claiming humans obey other equations (or maybe no equation at all), you are implicitly claiming that particle physics is wrong. And in this case, sorry, I cannot take you seriously.

These are the typical objections that I hear, and none of them makes much sense.
It is a little strange to use reductionism to make an argument about the limits of consciousness. Whatever consciousness is, reductionist arguments have told us nothing about it. More broadly, a comment says:
"Physics deals with the most fundamental laws of nature, those from which everything else derives." -This is utterly untrue, as well as the statement that differential equations are THE laws of nature. This is most clear in biology. In biology, nothing of importance (nothing general to ALL biological systems) can be derived from physics, or described with any set of differential equations, however complicated they are. Classical mechanics deals with context-independent "particles" obeying some "law" in a defined "boundary" (and initial conditions), whereas all in biology is context-dependent and has no defined boundary condition. This is what Schrodinger, Einstein, von Bertalanffy, Rashevsky, Rosen, Maturana, Kauffman, and many other serious scientists have been pointing out for a while now (that contemporary physics cannot deal with biology).
Saying that "Quantum processes are not influenced by conscious thought" is another verbal slight-of-hand. If you take the reductionist view that all biological processes can be derived from the laws of physics, then consciousness is a quantum process. What else could it be?

When your conscious mind makes a decision, a quantum process in your brain makes a measurement. Outside observers might be able to make some probabilistic predictions, but they will not know your decision for sure until they see it. That is how quantum mechanics works. It is bizarre to see a physicist say anything else.

A physicist in 1900 might well have said that it is hard to imagine a mathematical theory of everything that accommodates free will. Such a person, when confronted with quantum mechanics in 1930, might very well have declared that the theory is perfectly designed to defeat of his arguments.

A comment says:
I enjoyed reading this discussion of free will. It left me puzzled, however. I have had the same difficulty when members of my church wrote about free will. (I grew up Catholic, by the way.)

What is free will? I can't find in scriptures. Church sources affirm it, but do not explain clearly what it is. I have concluded that the consequences of good or bad actions are unavoidable, and that it is better to choose the good.

As an answer, I think, this is not completely satisfactory.
You can find a good Catholic explanation in the Catholic Encyclopedia. And yes, you can find it in Scripture, such as when Jesus said, "No go and sin no more." Other religions like Islam reject free will.

Some people consider freedom and choice essential to the human spirit. Others are happy to be slaves to their programming.

Bee concludes:
I have come to the conclusion that a large fraction of people are cognitively unable to question the existence of free will, and there is no argument that can change their mind. Therefore, the purpose of this blogpost is not to convince those who are resistant to rational arguments.
This is like saying most people are unable to cognitively question the claim that we all live in an artificial simulation.

No, it is not hard to understand the possibility of people being entirely pre-programmed. If Bee says that she is unable to make a decision on her own, I will take her word for it. Watching Trump-haters on CNN leads me to believe that they are all pre-programmed.

A reader points out:
You conclude there is no free will on the basis that the universe follows differential equations and quantum mechanics, so as I understand it its determinism plus randomness, which cannot add up to free will. Fair enough.

Presumably, we developed a system of differential equations to explain our observations of the universe, and then later developed a theory of quantum mechanics to explain other observations that could not be explained by the former. So an extra system was developed to address observations not covered by the previous system. On the correct basis that free will cannot be explained by these two systems, you reject it. However, what of the alternative possibility that there is yet another system that we have not yet considered that does allow for free will? Quantum mechanics was developed to explain observations that were unexplainable by determinism; we didn't just say that those observations were clearly wrong or somehow explained in a hitherto unknown way by the previous determinism-only paradigm.
Bee responds:
I wish to respectfully disagree that "it just can't be" sums up my position. I am pointing out it is in conflict with theories that are built on a huge amount of evidence.

Sure, free will deserves an explanation, but it's not difficult to explain. Free will is a consequence of our inability to predict our own actions with certainty. Ie, your brain arrives at decisions by evaluating the benefits of certain courses of action. You take the one that seems to suit your goals best. But since you are not able to predict what you will do before you actually do it (that being the purpose of the evaluation), you think the decision was "free".
No, this is backwards. Free will is evidenced by the failure of one person to predict the actions of another. I might make prediction of my own actions using the same mental processes that I use to make decisions.

There is no evidence against free will. None at all. She fudges this point by saying that there is evidence for theories that conflict with free will.

By this she means that there is evidence for Newtonian dynamics, and Newtonian dynamics is deterministic. But Newtonian dynamics is not truly deterministic. If you ask for positions of planets, moons, and asteroids a millennium from now, the theory can only make probabilistic predictions. Likewise, you can make probabilistic predictions about what decisions President Trump will make. There is no conflict.

Only philosophers, physicists, and other such people have any trouble with free will. Most people have no trouble understanding that they make decisions. It takes a lot of explanation to see how someone can deny it.

Update: I just spotted a blogger making this comment today in another context:
As Bertrand Russell said, this is one of those views which are so absurd that only very learned men could possibly adopt them.
Brilliant. Denying free will is another of those views. So is many-worlds, or believing that we all live in a simulation.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Philosophy is now Feminist

Philosopher of pseudoscience Massimo Pigliucci wrote an essay with his opinions on the string wars. He quotes some physicists who put down current philosophers, and then goes into a rant in defense of philosophical thinking.

Those physicists were putting down philosophers, not philosophy.

He then complains that physicists talk about Popper instead of subsequent work on paradigm shifts.

Maybe that is because the work on paradigm shifts is just too stupid to discuss.

Finally he thinks that physicists should quit philosophizing about string theory, and join the fight against homeopaths and psychics.

I could get that criticism also -- why do I attack bogus physics when there are so many more bogus things to attack?

Sorry, I have no knowledge or interest in homeopaths and psychics.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a useful resource. It has articles by philosophers, as opposed to Wikipedia, which allows editing by anyone.

If you want to see how philosophy has degenerated, see this comment:
SEP articles devoted to feminism and feminist philosophy:

Feminist Philosophy

Feminist Perspectives on Trans Issues
Feminist Perspectives on Rape
Latin American Feminism
Feminist Perspectives on Objectification
Feminist Epistemology and Philosophy of Science
Feminist Moral Psychology
Feminist Bioethics
Feminist Philosophy of Law
*Feminist Perspectives on Science
Identity Politics
Feminist Perspectives on Sex Markets
Feminist Perspectives on the Body
Feminist Ethics
Feminist Perspectives on Disability
Feminist Philosophy of Religion
Feminist Philosophy of Language
Feminist Perspectives on the Self
Feminist Social Epistemology
*Feminist Perspectives on Sex and Gender
Feminist Metaphysics
Feminist Environmental Philosophy
Feminist Philosophy of Biology
Feminist Aesthetics
Feminist Perspectives on Class and Work
Feminist History of Philosophy
Feminist Perspectives on Globalization
Feminist Perspectives on Power
Feminist Political Philosophy
*The History of Feminism: Marie-Jean-Antoine-Nicolas de Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet
Intersections Between Analytic and Continental Feminism
Intersections Between Pragmatist and Continental Feminism
Psychoanalytic Feminism
Continental Feminism
Pragmatist Feminism
Analytic Feminism
Liberal Feminism

There are a total of thirty-seven articles devoted to feminism and feminist issues in the SEP. I have omitted from the above list (complete) articles devoted to a number of significant feminist philosophers and thinkers.
The field is still mostly male, as opposed to some social sciences that are overrun with women.

There is no agreement in these articles on what term feminism means, nor is there any anti-feminism view described.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Tegmark believes in math, but not time

Nautilus interview:
In his book Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality, Max Tegmark writes that “time is not an illusion, but the flow of time is.” ...

[Tegmark] It certainly feels to us like time is flowing. Yet that’s not the only way of looking at this reality. ... Einstein pointed out that the most elegant way of describing this mathematically is to say, Let’s look at where each particle is in the three-dimensional space at each time, and draw this in a four-dimensional spacetime, where time is the fourth dimension.
He is referring to the Minkowski diagram. Einstein had nothing to do with it. Minkowski relied on Lorentz and Poincare, not Einstein.
We’ve seen a lot of examples of how things feel very different from the way they look in the equations. I would argue that almost all of the big breakthroughs in physics have this as their most difficult element. If you rewind to when Einstein came up with special relativity, you would find people like Lorentz and Minkowski had already written down a lot of the math. But Einstein was the guy who managed to figure out what it was going to feel like. He said if these are the equations, the way it’s going to feel is if you go near the speed of light, you’re going to feel time slowing down.
This is just nonsense. Einstein added nothing to that.

It is very strange how everyone who explains some aspect of relativity goes into a digression about Einstein deserves more credit than others. Why? It is almost as if he has been hypnotized by the Einstein fans.
David Wineland ... told me that he’d built two atomic clocks that are super precise, and put one of them one foot below the other, and was able to measure that it runs slower!
I think Einstein could be fairly credited for that. If Tegmark said that, I wouldn't mind.
Then quantum mechanics came along. It’s so complicated people still argue about it 100 years later! The math, though, is beautiful and clean. Randomness is fundamentally an illusion because there is no randomness in the math, even though it might feel random. I’m saying the same thing about time. Even though the flow of time is fundamentally an illusion, there is nothing flowing about the math, the equations aren’t changing, there is just a single four-dimensional pattern, albeit a very complicated and beautiful one, in spacetime. If you study it carefully, you’ll realize it’s going to feel like a flow of time.
Now Tegmark is back to complete nonsense. Yes, of course quantum mechanics has randomness in the math. How else would we calculate probabilities?

Yes, there is something flowing about the math. How else would we make predictions?

Saying "there is just a single four-dimensional pattern" is a way of arguing for the philosophy of Eternalism, but it has little to do with physics. If you look at the quantum history of an electron, it is not just a curve in spacetime. That would violate Heisenberg uncertainty. It has a funny wave-like existence, best represented by a wave-function. Its future is random and indeterministic, as far the theory says.

Tegmark claims to be a big believer in whatever the math says, but all this stuff about does not follow from the math.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Bodziony finishes his Einstein trilogy

Tomasz Bodziony as another article on Einstein, to follow this and this.

He has a speculative theory that Einstein did not really write his famous 1905 special relativity paper.
What does H. Poincaré's work, published earlier than the Einstein's one, contain? This question was answered by A. A. Logunov, who went to trouble of reaching the original works of H. Poincaré and H. Lorentz. A. A. Logunov also critically compared them with Einstein's work. STR consists of two parts: assumptions or postulates, that are currently called Einstein's postulates and a theoretical part - calculations resulting from these assumptions, including Lorentz transform. The postulates of STR, or Einstein's postulates are as follows: 1) all inertial systems are equivalent to each other and 2) the speed of light is the maximum speed. These postulates are considered to be the revolutionary contribution of Albert Einstein. The first postulate is nothing more than the renewed principle of Galileo. The second postulate is the conclusion of Michelson's - Morley's experiment. Both postulates can be found in the works of H. Poincare from 1904 and 1905, as shown by A. Logunov [2]. Therefore, these are not Einstein's postulates but Poincare's. Henri Poincaré solved the problem first! Incidentally, in the work "Zur Elektrodynamik...", the famous Einstein formula was derived: E = mc2, but with an error. The correct form of the formula was provided by Einstein in the next work 9published after a few months. The equation was also the first to be derived by Poincaré [2]. The most famous physics pattern should be called Poincaré-Einstein equation, or even Poincaré equation.

Is Einstein's article not original, but rather a secondary one to Poincaré's work? Was Henri Poincaré the factual creator of the Special Theory of Relativity? Is the situation even worse for Einstein? There are three explanations for the strange coincidences of June 1905. The first one is the traditional version: Einstein himself wrote his work without reading the works of Lorentz and Poincaré. The date-specific similarity between the publication of Einstein's work and the publication of Poincaré's works was a coincidence. The Göttingen conference had no connection with the discussed events. The second possibility is that Einstein got acquainted with the works of Poincaré and Lorentz and his work was written in a hurry as it had been ordered by the participants of the seminar in Göttingen: David Hilbert and/or Hermann Minkowski, and was quickly accepted for publication in order to precede the publication of H. Poincaré's works. If that was the case, then the work "Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper" from 1905 would be plagiarized. Finally, the third possibility is the most radical one.

Was the "Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper" paper written by Einstein at all?
He is correct that the mainstream historical accounts don't make any sense.

Bodziony finds the 1905 Einstein paper so mysterious because he rates it so highly. That is where I different from him. Einstein's paper is just a rehash of Lorentz's theory, with some of Poincare's ideas thrown in. It only seems original because there are no references and Einstein refused to credit anyone. Once you realize that there is nothing original in the article, then there is very little to explain. It is just an expository paper.

Apparently physics was dominated by Germany. German physicists would rather credit Minkowski or even Lorentz, over a French mathematician. Then Minkowski and Poincare died, and Einstein could take all the credit.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Walter finds new ways to credit Einstein

Historian Scott Walter writes in a new paper:
Albert Einstein's bold assertion of the form-invariance of the equation of a spherical light wave with respect to inertial frames of reference (Einstein 1905) became, in the space of six years, the preferred foundation of his theory of relativity. Early on, however, Einstein's universal light-sphere invariance was challenged on epistemological grounds by Henri Poincaré, who promoted an alternative demonstration of the foundations of relativity theory based on the notion of a light ellipsoid. A third figure of light, Hermann Minkowski's lightcone also provided a new means of envisioning the foundations of relativity. Drawing in part on archival sources, this paper shows how an informal, international group of physicists, mathematicians, and engineers, including Einstein, Paul Langevin, Poincaré, Hermann Minkowski, Ebenezer Cunningham, Harry Bateman, Otto Berg, Max Planck, Max Laue, A. A. Robb, and Ludwig Silberstein, employed figures of light during the formative years of relativity theory in their discovery of the salient features of the relativistic worldview.
It is amazing how these historians jump thru hoops to credit Einstein.

Einstein's 1905 paper does say that light rays are preserved by Lorentz transformations, but Poincare's 1905 paper has the more general statement that the Lorentz metric is preserved. This is more general, because the light rays are those with a Lorentz metric of zero.
Acceptance of relativity theory, according to the best historical accounts, was not a simple function of having read Einstein’s paper on the subject.1 A detailed understanding of the elements that turned Einsteinian relativity into a more viable alternative than its rivals is, however, not yet at hand. ...

Planck also praised Hermann Minkowski’s four-dimensional approach to relativity, the introduction of which marked a turning-point in the history of relativity (Walter 1999a).
This is a very strange way of saying it, but Einstein's 1905 was not widely accepted, and was not turned into a more viable alternative than its rivals. One of those rivals was Minkowski's 4D spacetime theory, and that is what achieved wide acceptance.
Poincare (1905b) was quick to grasp the idea that the principle of relativity could be expressed mathematically by transformations that form a group. This fact had several immediate consequences for Poincare’s understanding of relativity.
This credits Poincare with understanding some aspects of relativity, but suggests that he was merely learning the work of others.

In fact, Poincare was the one who convinced Lorentz and Einstein of the principle of relativity. Poincare believed it and publicly promoted it when no one else did. And Poincare was the first to discover and publish that the transformations form a group. Today we call it the "Lorentz group" because Poincare did.

And of course he ends by trying to overcredit Einstein again:
Closely related to Einstein’s belief, the derivation of the Lorentz transformation via covariance of the light-sphere equation stabilized interpretations of the transformation along Einsteinian lines, and contributed powerfully to the emergence of a unified doctrine of the physics of inertial frames. One consequence of this movement was a heightened recognition of Einstein as the principal architect of the theory of relativity, as expressed by Laue’s 1911 treatise and its six re-editions.
Walter reads the original papers, so he must know better than this. Lorentz covariance was discovered by Poincare and developed and popularized by Minkowski. Neither paid any attention to Einstein, and it is not even clear that Einstein understood the concept. Nobody got the concept from Einstein.

BTW, the author's name is Scott Walter, and he credits Poincare's Science and Hypothesis book as being published by Walter Scott. What's the deal with that? Is that some sort of Easter Egg joke inserted at the end of the paper just to see if we read it to the end?

Monday, April 15, 2019

Tracing Einstein's struggles with the Ricci tensor

Galina Weinstein writes:
The question of Einstein's rejection of the November tensor is re-examined in light of conflicting answers by several historians. I discuss these conflicting conjectures in view of three questions that should inform our thinking: Why did Einstein reject the November tensor in 1912, only to come back to it in 1915? Why was it hard for Einstein to recognize that the November tensor is a natural generalization of Newton's law of gravitation? Why did it take him three years to realize that the November tensor is not incompatible with Newton's law? I first briefly describe Einstein's work in the Zurich Notebook. I then discuss a number of interpretive conjectures formulated by historians and what may be inferred from them. Finally, I offer a new combined conjecture that answers the above questions.
It is funny how many papers are devoted to trying to figure out how Einstein discovered general relativity, without considering the obvious hypothesis that he got the crucial ideas from others.

General relativity is just the obvious generalization of special relativity to gravity, once you accept the role of the Ricci tensor. How did Einstein reach that conclusion? Well, Grossmann, Levi-Civita, and Hilbert told him so, and after a couple of years he accepted it. What is the big mystery?

Friday, April 12, 2019

Smolin joins quantum mysticism

Smolin's new book gets this SciAm review:
Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution: The Search for What Lies beyond the Quantum
by Lee Smolin.
Penguin Press, 2019 ($28)

Quantum mechanics—the basis for our understanding of particles and forces—is arguably the most successful theory in all of science. But its success has come at a price: unresolved mysteries at the theory's heart, such as the paradoxical wave-particle duality of quantum objects, can make modern physics seem decidedly metaphysical. Simply put, if mainstream interpretations of quantum mechanics are true, then the central, most cherished tenet of physics — that an objective reality exists independently of our mind but is still comprehensible — must be false. Smolin, a member of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Ontario, argues against this vexing status quo: “It is possible to be a realist while living in the quantum universe.” —Lee Billings
His Amazon blurb has even more contradictions:
In Einstein's Unfinished Revolution, theoretical physicist Lee Smolin provocatively argues that the problems which have bedeviled quantum physics since its inception are unsolved and unsolvable, for the simple reason that the theory is incomplete. There is more to quantum physics, waiting to be discovered. Our task -- if we are to have simple answers to our simple questions about the universe we live in -- must be to go beyond quantum mechanics to a description of the world on an atomic scale that makes sense.
I haven't seen the book, but he obviously buys into the Einstein foolishness that quantum mechanics needs to be completed by adding some hidden variables, or some such nonsense.

It is simply not true that mainstream interpretations of quantum mechanics deny that an objective reality exists independently of our mind. Obviously there is an objective reality, and almost all scientific work is based on that assumption whether it is true or not.

The interpretations do deny that there is an objective reality that is codified in classical hidden variables. That's all. That has been the understanding since 1930 or so. Based on the above, Smolin's is just going to confuse people. But I haven't read it, so I cannot be sure.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

First picture of a black hole


In one of the most anticipated and hyped announcements in the history of science, we now have a picture of a black hole. Of course the articles credit Einstein:
The image offered a final, ringing affirmation of an idea so disturbing that even Einstein, from whose equations black holes emerged, was loath to accept it. If too much matter is crammed into one place, the cumulative force of gravity becomes overwhelming, and the place becomes an eternal trap, a black hole. Here, according to Einstein’s theory, matter, space and time come to an end and vanish like a dream.

On Wednesday morning that dark vision became a visceral reality. As far as the Event Horizon team could ascertain, the shape of the shadow is circular, as Einstein’s theory predicts. ...

“Einstein must be totally chuffed,” said Priyamvada Natarajan, an astrophysicist at Yale. “His theory has just been stress-tested under conditions of extreme gravity and looks to have held up.”
The picture doesn't really have much to do with Einstein or relativity. Long before relativity, scientists predicted that a sufficiently dense object would have a gravitational force so great that light could not escape. Also, stars collapse when they run out of fuel, for reasons that have little to do with relativity.

Wikipedia used to say that it is a common misconception that black holes act as a cosmic vacuum cleaner. But they do act as cosmic vacuum cleaners, and that is why you see light surrounding the hole in the above picture. Wikipedia has been corrected, but now it is not clear what the supposed misconception is.

Update: The stories give the impression that the image was being released as soon as it was obtained. There are already two xkcd cartoons making fun of it. 2133 2135

I assume that they did not start hyping this until they were sure that they could present a could picture. I also assume that there was a lot of image enhancement. I hope they release the raw data, so we can see just how fake this is.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Most people are above-average drivers

Spencer Greenberg and Seth Stephens-Davidowitz write in the NY Times:
Do you think you are an above-average driver, as most people do? How do you compare with others as a parent? Are you better than most at dancing? Where do you rank in your capability to save humanity?

Many of you will answer these questions incorrectly. For some of these skills, you will think you are better than you actually are. For others, you will think you are worse.

We have long known that, for particular skills, people tend to rate themselves imperfectly. In a famous study from 1981, researchers asked people to rate their driving ability. More than 90 percent considered themselves above average.

Of course, some people who think they are above-average drivers really are. But the 90 percent statistic shows that many people inflate how they compare with others. By definition, only 50 percent of people can rate above the median. ...

People are indeed overconfident in their ability to drive. (In our sample, people thought they would outperform 66 percent of others in driving.) But people think they are better than 52 percent of others at driving on ice, something that is more difficult and that they do less frequently. And they think they would be better than only 42 percent of others in driving a racing car, something that is really difficult and that most people never try.
I agreed with this, until I talked to people about why they thought that they were good drivers. One woman told me that I was a terrible driver because I was a late merger. I thought that she was a terrible driver because of how many cars passed her on the right.

So it can be quite correct for 90% of drivers to believe that they are above average, according to their own standards.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Bodziony on the genius of Einstein

Tomasz Bodziony has written a couple of essays on how Albert Einstein was the greatest genius who ever lived, focusing on 1905 special relativity and 1915 general relativity:
Einstein was lucky. As some may say: he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. However, Albert Einstein also heled his luck very skillfully. The rule of Adolf Hitler and his party brought despair to Europe and to Germans, as well as the death of millions of people, including Jews with them. Nevertheless, some people won, Jews among others. The USA as a country won. The victory was also achieved by some individuals. It has to be that way. One has to lose for the other to win. There is no misery that would not be an opportunity to some other person. Some gained profit even from mass murders and executions as well. Up to 1933, Albert Einstein worked as a German scholar. When Hitler started ruling the country, he became an American, anti-German scientist. The man had a lot of luck. Contrary to what some may think, the rule of Adolf Hitler was very beneficial for Einstein, even though the Nazis killed some of his relatives. Einstein was as huge an egocentric as Hilbert. Had he stayed in Germany, he would have been killed without a doubt. However, in the USA, in the country of the free, there was no one to discredit Einstein's genius and prove that he was not the creator of the General Theory of Relativity or Special Theory of Relativity. People who knew the truth went silent. The non-believers stopped asking. The rebellious ones started being called Nazis or antiSemites to stop them talking. Albert Einstein became the greatest scholar in history. The became an idol, the symbol of the 20th century. He was the protagonist of many films, cartoons, books, and comics. He was the pride of the USA. America won and once again showed that it was the best country of all. Also, it had the biggest genius of them all - Albert Einstein.
I am not sure how serious Bodziony. He seems to be sarcastic, as he says it was just Einstein's luck that Poincare and Hilbert got cheated out of credit for relativity.

It is true that Einstein is widely regarded as the world's greatest genius, and that this assessment is mainly based on his work on relativity.

However, as I have detailed on this blog and in my book, Einstein contributed nothing to special relativity, and his significant contributions to general relativity were done in collaboration with others.

What I say is not really new, as Whittaker pointed in the 1950s that Lorentz and Poincare had all of special relativity before Einstein in 1905. I go somewhat further, and argue:

Einstein's special relativity was essentially the same as that of Lorentz's. As Lorentz said, Einstein just postulated by he and Poincare proved.

Einstein's constancy of the speed of light, transformation of Maxwell's equations, and superfluous of the aether are all directly from Lorentz. Einstein's light synchronization, relativity principle, and interpretation of Lorentz's local time are all directly from Poincare. Deriving the Lorentz transformations from the relativity principle and the constancy of the speed of light was how FitzGerald did it in 1889. Einstein could never explain how his 1905 paper differed from previous work.

Poincare's 1905 work explains how it differs from Lorentz's. The Lorentz transformations form a group, making covariance the core of the theory. Poincare makes it a non-Eudlidean spacetime theory, and not merely an electromagnetic theory. He applies the theory to gravity, to explain gravitational causality. Einstein did not even understand these advances until many years later.

Minkowski's improvements to special relativity were based on the works of Lorentz and Poincare, not Einstein.

Public acceptance of special relativity followed the work of Minkowski, and had almost nothing to do with Einstein.

The modern geometrical views of relativity are not due to Einstein, and even years later he disagreed with those who attributed the geometrical views to him.