Monday, June 18, 2018

Video rant against Jewish Physics

I just found an amusing video from a couple of years ago titled Weev talks about relativity. Weev is a well-known internet troll, and doesn't actually say much about relativity, but has two others talking about relativity.

While they talk, the video shows flashes of Donald Trump, and news footage related to Trump. I guess this was posted during Trump's campaign for the Presidency, and Weev was a Trump supporter.

One rants about "Jewish Physics", while the other is a skeptic. The main guy talks about how physics has gotten away from experiment, and says a lot of it is "academic circle jerk ... like the epicircles of astronomy". He means "epicycles".

He argues that Einstein's special relativity was just untestable philosophical ideas, not physics. He just took the math and theory from Lorentz's papers of 10 years earlier, and added some untestable philosophical re-imagining about there being no place of rest. Weev adds that Einstein did not cite his sources.

The skeptic doubts that there could be a Jewish conspiracy about such matters, and the main guy says that it is not really a conspiracy, and not just Jews. It is more a matter that Jews like philosophical unscientific ideas.

The explanations are a little garbled, but most of it is essentially correct. It is true that Einstein's famous 1905 special relativity theory was mathematically and observationally equivalent to what Lorentz has already published, and what Einstein failed to cite. Historians of science agree to this.

It is also true that saying that there is no rest frame, or no aether, is just untestable philosophy. It does not add anything useful to Lorentz's theory.

You might say that it is testable, because you could prove Einstein wrong by finding a rest frame or aether. In fact, you can define a rest frame in terms of the cosmic background microwave radiation, and an aether in terms of the quantum electrodynamic vacuum, but nobody says this proves Einstein wrong.

You might say that Einstein's 1905 paper was a big advance if it were conceptually superior, or if led to other advances in the field. But that is not true. Einstein's approach was not seen as being much different from Lorentz's at the time. The conceptually superior approach was considered to be the spacetime geometry relativity of Poincare and Minkowski, and subsequent work built on Minkowski's, not Einstein's.

Einstein has sort of a cult following, and most of the followers appear to be non-Jews. So how is this Jewish Physics?

The term "Jewish Physics" is inaccurate and unnecessarily inflammatory, but there can't be any doubt that Einstein is a Jewish saint. He was aggressively promoted and idolized by Jews. I hesitate to call it a religious thing, as Einstein was not very religious and it is the secular Jews who idolize him, not the orthodox Jews.

It is also hard to separate Einstein's science from his ideological beliefs. His deepest beliefs include Zionism, determinism, Jewish pantheism, anti-positivism, and Communism. When he attacks quantum mechanics, he relied on his anti-positivism and determinism. When he promoted his version of relativity over that of Lorentz, he relied on his beliefs, and not any math or empirical science.

You would think that his membership in Communist front organizations would detract from his popularity, but it does not seem to have had any such effect. It is also well-known that Einstein did not really contribute anything to special relativity, as Whittaker explained it in his 1953 book.

Einstein did have substantial scientific accomplishments, but not nearly enough to be TIME Man of the Century. Idolizing him is largely ideological.

On another topic, some freshman physics courses give a problem on what would happen if everyone in China jumped up and down at the same time. Pure fiction, right? Apparently everyone in Mexico jumped at the same time, and it caused an earthquake!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Rovelli defends ancient philosophy for physics

Carlo Rovelli writes Physics Needs Philosophy. Philosophy Needs Physics.
Against Philosophy is the title of a chapter of a book by one of the great physicists of the last generation: Steven Weinberg, Nobel Prize winner and one of the architects of the Standard Model of elementary particle physics. Weinberg argues eloquently that philosophy is more damaging than helpful for physics - although it might provide some good ideas at times, it is often a straightjacket that physicists have to free themselves from. More radically, Stephen Hawking famously wrote that "philosophy is dead" because the big questions that used to be discussed by philosophers are now in the hands of physicists. Similar views are widespread among scientists, and scientists do not keep them to themselves. Neil de Grasse Tyson, a well known figure in the popularisation of science in America, publicly stated in the same vein: ".we learn about the expanding universe, . we learn about quantum physics, each of which falls so far out of what you can deduce from your armchair that the whole community of philosophers . was rendered essentially obsolete."
That's right, many modern physicists have concluded that philosophy is dead to them.

Rovelli disagrees, but his argument is almost entirely based on Aristotle and other long-dead philosophers, and by arguing in favor of philosophical thinking.

His examples:
But the direct influence of philosophy on physics is certainly not limited to the birth of modern physics. It can be recognised in every major step. Take the twentieth century. Both major advances made by twentieth century physics were strongly influenced by philosophy. They would have been inconceivable without thephilosophy of the time. Quantum mechanics springs from an intuition due to Heisenberg, grounded in the strongly positivist philosophical atmosphere in which he found himself: one gets knowledge by restricting oneself to what is observable. The abstract of Heisenberg's 1925 milestone paper on quantum theory is explicit about this:

"The aim of this work is to set the basis for a theory of quantum mechanics based exclusively on relations between quantities that are in principle observable."

The same distinctly philosophical attitude nourished Einstein's discovery of special relativity: by restricting to what is observable, we recognise that the notion of simultaneity is misleading. Einstein explicitly recognised his debt to the philosophical writings of Mach and Poincaré. Without these inputs, his special relativity would have been inconceivable. Although not the same, the philosophical influences on Einstein's conception of general relativity were even stronger. Once again, he was explicit in recognising his debt to philosophy, this time to the critical thinking of Leibniz, Berkeley, and Mach.
That's right, the discoveries of relativity and quantum mechanics were strongly influenced by logical positivist thinking.

His history is not quite correct. Einstein did not discover special relativity or the problem of simultaneity. He got most of SR from Lorentz, and got synchronization from Poincare. Up to his dying day, he never acknowledged his debt to Poincare. Einstein did not really buy into the positivist philosophy, and disavowed positivist thinking about QM. He explicitly disavowed positivism in 1945.

I agree that logical positivism has been important to physics, but it has been a dead philosophy since WWII.

I defend logical positivism, but I am in very small minority. There are no reputable philosophers who defend it.

Post-WWII philosophers not only reject logical positivism, they reject the scientific method and much of what modern science is all about.

Siding with today's philosophers is essentially the same as being anti-science. Modern philosophy is at war with modern science.

The only philosophers of the last century discussed by Rovelli are Popper and Kuhn, and Rovellis concedes that they have had a negative influence on physics.
I suspect that part of the problem is precisely that the dominant ideas of Popper and Kuhn have misled current theoretical investigations. Physicists have been too casual in dismissing the insights of successful established theories. Misled by Kuhn’s insistence on incommensurability across scientific revolutions, they fail to build on what we already know, which is how science has always moved forward.
Rovelli says his "own technical area", loop quantum gravity, does not make any sense, and he hopes philosophers will help make sense of it. No chance of that. Loop quantum gravity is a dead end. No good physics has come out of that field, and nothing ever will.

His article is really a defense of ancient philosophy. There is no example of any good from modern philosophers.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

We dummies should not question the super-smart

Dr. Bee has written a book about failed theories in modern physics, and complains:
“By writing [this book], I waived my hopes of ever getting tenure.” ...

I am not tenured and I do not have a tenure-track position, so not like someone threatened me. I presently have a temporary contract which will run out next year. What I should be doing right now is applying for faculty positions. Now imagine you work at some institution which has a group in my research area. Everyone is happily producing papers in record numbers, but I go around and say this is a waste of money. Would you give me a job? You probably wouldn’t. I probably wouldn’t give me a job either. ...

I have never been an easy fit to academia. I guess I was hoping I’d grow into it, but with time my fit has only become more uneasy. At some point I simply concluded I have had enough of this nonsense. I don’t want to be associated with a community which wastes tax-money because its practitioners think they are morally and intellectually so superior that they cannot possibly be affected by cognitive biases. You only have to read the comments on this blog to witness the origin of the problem, as with commenters who work in the field laughing off the idea that their objectivity can possibly be affected by working in echo-chambers. I can’t even.
I haven't read her book, but it is definitely true that a huge amount of money is pumped into worthless theories, but the leading scholars will not tell the truth about them.

This triggers LuMo into one of his usual rants:
Less than 1,000 people are actually being paid as string theorists or something "really close" in the world now, and even if you realistically assume that the average string theorist is paid more than the average person, the fraction of the mankind's money that goes to string theory is some "one millionth" or so. Or 1/100,000 of the money that goes to porn or any other big industry. Moreover, the funds are allocated by special institutions or donors – they're too technical decisions that the taxpayer simply shouldn't make directly. ...

You don't really need to be a string theorist to understand that string theorists are the cream of the cream of the cream. Most people have met someone who belongs to the cream of the cream, e.g. an astronaut. Well, there's some extra selection related to the theoretical physics-related abilities needed to become a string theorist. ...

If someone has dedicated a few years to these matters and he has failed to learn string theory and to understand that it's the only known promising way to go beyond quantum field theory as of 2018, then I can assure you that his IQ is below 150. ...

If you investigate what smart enough people – who have cared about these matters – honestly think about string theory, you may really measure their intelligence in this way. The more they appreciate string theory, the smarter they are.
Okay, I admit it, my IQ is only 149, and I do not see how string theory offers any promise to move quantum field theory forward. Research in the field peaked in the 1990s, and it has not even made any significant progress in the last 20 years. The theory still has no known relationship to any observable phenomenon. It is just a mathematical idea that did not pan out.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Elegance is the fuzziest aspect of beauty

Physicist Dr. Bee writes, in connections with her new book:
Elegance is the fuzziest aspect of beauty. It is often described as an element of surprise, the “aha-effect,” or the discovery of unexpected connections. One specific aspect of elegance is a theory’s resistance to change, often referred to as “rigidity” or (misleadingly, I think) as the ability of a theory to “explain itself.”

By no way do I mean to propose this as a definition of beauty; it is merely a summary of what physicists mean when they say a theory is beautiful. General relativity, string theory, grand unification, and supersymmetry score high on all three aspects of beauty. The standard model, modified gravity, or asymptotically safe gravity, not so much.

But while physicists largely agree on what they mean by beauty, in some cases they disagree on whether a theory fulfills the requirements. This is the case most prominently for quantum mechanics and the multiverse.
I do not agree that grand unification and supersymmetry are beautiful. They require 100s of new parameters and particles in the theory, over the standard model's 20 or so.

A comment says:
A beautiful equation is also one that exhibits the fewest free parameters while explaining the most physics. That's why general relativity is beautiful while the Lagrangian of the Standard Model is ugly as hell. They both work, one by itself and the other by brute force, although I would never compare one with the other.
No, I disagree. This is like saying that the periodic table of the chemical elements is ugly as hell, because it have 92+ elements and some irregularities. It was vastly simpler than any other categorization of the 1000s of known substances, and put them into simple patterns.

The standard model is just quarks, electrons, and neutrinos, with some flavors, generations, colors, and anti-particles, and some bosons for transmitting forces.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Denying laws of physics in a multiverse

Einstein spent the last 20 years of his life at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, attacking quantum mechanics and pursuing unified field theory. None of that work amounted to anything.

The current director there is physicist and string theorist Robbert Dijkgraaf. He writes a Quanta mag article:
There Are No Laws of Physics. There’s Only the Landscape.

Scientists seek a single description of reality. But modern physics allows for many different descriptions, many equivalent to one another, connected through a vast landscape of mathematical possibility. ...

Did nature have any choice in picking its fundamental laws? Albert Einstein famously believed that, given some general principles, there is essentially a unique way to construct a consistent, functioning universe. In Einstein’s view, if we probed the essence of physics deeply enough, there would be one and only one way in which all the components — matter, radiation, forces, space and time — would fit together to make reality work, just as the gears, springs, dials and wheels of a mechanical clock uniquely combine to keep time.

The current Standard Model of particle physics is indeed a tightly constructed mechanism with only a handful of ingredients. ...

If our world is but one of many, how do we deal with the alternatives? The current point of view can be seen as the polar opposite of Einstein’s dream of a unique cosmos. Modern physicists embrace the vast space of possibilities and try to understand its overarching logic and interconnectedness. From gold diggers they have turned into geographers and geologists, mapping the landscape in detail and studying the forces that have shaped it.

The game changer that led to this switch of perspective has been string theory. At this moment it is the only viable candidate for a theory of nature able to describe all particles and forces, including gravity, while obeying the strict logical rules of quantum mechanics and relativity. The good news is that string theory has no free parameters. It has no dials that can be turned. ...

Why is this all so exciting for physics? First of all, the conclusion that many, if not all, models are part of one huge interconnected space is among the most astonishing results of modern quantum physics. It is a change of perspective worthy of the term “paradigm shift.”
If I did not see the source, I would say that this is the babbling of a crackpot. But this is a top physicist at a top institution publishing in a respected magazine. See also critical comments by Woit.

This is a good example anti-positivist thinking that is the opposite of good science.

Science is all about observing the universe, and developing theories for predicting experiments. Dijkgraaf's approach is to ignore observations, and develop a theory from non-empirical principles.

Some philosophers claim that Einstein discovered relativity with Dijkgraaf-like anti-positivist thinking, but I disprove that in my book and on this blog.

Then Dijkgraaf argues that the exciting part is that theory has no predictive power at all, and is really just a framework for discussing all possible models.

The proponents of many-worlds theory similarly argue that the exciting part of their theory is that all possibilities can happen, and the theory has no predictive power. Their reasoning is different, but the worthlessness of the result is the same.

So why study something that is so transparently worthless? Because it is a paradigm shift, of course, and philosophers assure us that paradigm shifts are not rational.

This article is an even better example of why I wrote a book on How Einstein Ruined Physics. The whole Physics profession has been infected by the most anti-science thinking imaginable.

LuMo's response to defend string theory:
There's no reason to think that the total number of spacetime dimensions is 4, there is nothing wrong mathematically about the numbers 10 and 11, they're in fact preferred by more detailed calculations, and there's nothing unnatural about the compactification to microscopic radii.

But the main point I wanted to convey is that Dijkgraaf seems to deny the reality in these media altogether. He wrote the text as if no "string wars" have ever taken place. But the string wars did take place more than a decade ago. Dijkgraaf was among those who preferred his convenience and didn't do anything at all to help me and others to defeat the enemy – so the enemy has won the battle for the space in the mainstream media.
...

If you ever want articles written for the popular magazines – including the Quanta Magazine – about modern theoretical physics to be meaningful again, you will first have to restart the string wars and win them. I am afraid that the society has sufficiently deteriorated over those 10+ years of your inaction that a physical elimination of the enemy may be needed.
Got that? It is no use promoting string theory to the general public unless the enemies of string theory are physically eliminated.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Congress Democrats want to fund quantum computing

The quatum hype continues:

Quantum computing has made it to the United States Congress. "Quantum computing is the next technological frontier that will change the world, and we cannot afford to fall behind," said Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) in a statement passed to Gizmodo. "We must act now to address the challenges we face in the development of this technology -- our future depends on it." From the report:

The bill introduced by Harris in the Senate focuses on defense, calling for the creation of a consortium of researchers selected by the Chief of Naval Research and the Director of the Army Research Laboratory. The consortium would award grants, assist with research, and facilitate partnerships between the members. Another, yet-to-be-introduced bill, seen in draft form by Gizmodo, calls for a 10-year National Quantum Initiative Program to set goals and priorities for quantum computing in the US; invest in the technology; and partner with academia and industry. An office within the Department of Energy would coordinate the program. Another group would include members from the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Department of Energy, the office of the Director of National Intelligence to coordinate research and education activity between agencies. Furthermore, the draft bill calls for the establishment of up to five Quantum Information Science research centers, as well as two multidisciplinary National Centers for Quantum Research and Education.
According to some big-money Democrat donors, Harris is their best hope for winning the USA Presidency in 2020. Her father is Jamaican and her mother east Indian, so they think that she will play well to current Democrat identity politics, where white males are despised. She has been successful in California politics, but would be considered a leftist kook in much of the rest of the USA.

Here are some comments:
Sure, nobody could so far put up any evidence that Quantum Computing will ever be able to be more efficient than conventional computing, but hey, let's allocate billions to the belief in the hype.
AFAIK, your post is complete nonsense. It is perfectly well known for which tasks quantum computing will be more efficient than conventional computing and how many functioning Qbits you need (with given error rates). Note that the computational power does not increase linearly when doubling qbits. Apart from the tasks that we know can be solved, there is an ever expanding list of research results of more tasks that quantum computers are suitable for. You have to think of a quantum computer like a giant and fragile (unfortunately) co-processor that is insanely fast for certain tasks, not as a replacement for conventional computers.
But as the poster you rudely accused of posting nonsense wrote, it's never been demonstrated.

There are legitimate reasons to think it will never happen: Noise, cost scaling of maintaining low entropy space, incompatibility between quantum error correction on qbits and doing logic on those qbits.

I'm a sceptic. I don't expect to see the ECDLP for deployed key sizes solved by quantum computers, ever.
I agree with that last comment.

The physics community is much too corrupt to point out that the Harris bill is a big waste of money.

Friday, June 8, 2018

A foolish unified field theory using E8

Someone asked me about this SciAm article:
A Geometric Theory of Everything
Deep down, the particles and forces of the universe are a manifestation of exquisite geometry
A. Garrett Lisi, James Owen Weatherall
December 1, 2010

This quest for unification is driven by practical, philosophical and aesthetic considerations. When successful, merging theories clarifies our understanding of the universe and leads us to discover things we might otherwise never have suspected. Much of the activity in experimental particle physics today, at accelerators such as the Large Hadron Collider at CERN near Geneva, involves a search for novel phenomena predicted by the unified electroweak theory. In addition to predicting new physical effects, a unified theory provides a more aesthetically satisfying picture of how our universe operates. Many physicists share an intuition that, at the deepest level, all physical phenomena match the patterns of some beautiful mathematical structure.

The current best theory of nongravitational forces — the electromagnetic, weak and strong nuclear force — was largely completed by the 1970s and has become familiar as the Standard Model of particle physics. Mathematically, the theory describes these forces and particles as the dynamics of elegant geometric objects called Lie groups and fiber bundles. It is, however, somewhat of a patchwork; a separate geometric object governs each force. Over the years physicists have proposed various Grand Unified Theories, or GUTs, in which a single geometric object would explain all these forces, but no one yet knows which, if any, of these theories is true.

This article is a good example of why I wrote a book on How Einstein Ruined Physics.

The paper does not solve any physical or mathematical problems. It does not explain any experiments. The only thing going for it is a philosophical belief in unification, which is essentially the opposite of reductionism.

In science, reductionism is a good thing, not unification. The Standard Model reduces the 100s of known particles to a 12-parameter Lie group. The philosophy behind these grand unified models is that this was too much reductionism, and we should use a much larger group that does not separate the forces. The above paper uses a 248-parameter group. That means at least 236 more particles than have ever been seen in nature.

The term "simple" in the title does not mean it is a simple model. It means that it uses a mathematical group that is simple in the sense of not being reducible to smaller groups.

Got that? We have a 12-parameter model that matches experiments perfectly, and that allows the fundamental forces to be understood as strong, weak, electromagnetic, and gravity. Lisi and Weatherall say that it is philosophically desirable to trade that for a 248-parameter model that does not match any experiments, but which is supposed to be better because it does not allow treating the fundamental forces separately.

I believe this entire line of research into unified field theories to be wrong-headed. Reductionism is what makes the Standard Model and other good theories great, and not a bad thing. The unified field theorists hate the Standard Model for the same reasons that made it so successful.

These researchers are widely believed to be crackpots, but somehow they got an article in Scientific American. That magazine has really gone downhill.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Maudlin attacks positivism in book review

Philosopher of Physics Tim Maudlin writes in a book review, which is really just an excuse to write a nice essay on his favorite topics:
Logical positivism is a very attractive view for people who do not want to worry about what they cannot observe. It is ultimately a theory about meaning, about the content of a theory. According to the positivists, a theory says no more than its observable consequences.

Logical positivism has been killed many times over by philosophers. But no matter how many stakes are driven through its heart, it arises unbidden in the minds of scientists. For if the content of a theory goes beyond what you can observe, then you can never, in principle, be sure that any theory is right. And that means there can be interminable arguments about which theory is right that cannot be settled by observation. ...

Einstein was the great anti-positivist. His position is often called realism, but a better name is perhaps common sense. ...

So Einstein and Bohr were polar opposites in their approach to physics. Einstein demanded a clear and comprehensible account of what is going on in the physical world — at all scales — in space and time. Bohr thought that the key to quantum mechanics was the realization that no such thing could be had.

When the Copenhagen interpretation got imported to the pragmatic soil of the United States, Bohr’s incomprehensible nonsense was replaced by the more concise “shut up and calculate.” That is the philosophy that dominates physics to this day.
Maudlin is partial to interpretations of quantum mechanics that try to theorize about things that cannot be observed.

He is right that philosophers have done everything they can to kill logical positivism, but their arguments are unconvincing to many scientists. Einstein's anti-positivism has been a gigantic failure. Nothing good has come out of it.

On the other hand, all the great Physics triumphs of the XX century have been explicitly or implicitly positivist.

Einstein's early work was considered to be implicitly positivist. Many physicists praise him for what appeared to be positivist thinking. But he repudiated positivism in later life, and pursued unified field theories and attacked quantum mechanics.

"Realism" is a poor name for anti-positivism. The observations are what is real. Speculating about what cannot be seen is not.

The quantum (anti-positivist) realist seeks to find some intuitive simplistic mathematical model of the atom, like the Bohr atom of the old quantum theory. That might be nice, but there is good reason to believe that no such thing exists. The electron is not really a particle or a wave or anything else similar to any macroscopic object. The faulty models of the non-standard quantum interpretations have not been helpful.

As the great physicist Murray Gell-Mann said, after conversations with Putnam, “Bohr brainwashed a generation of physicists.” A vivid illustration of Kuhn’s kinship to Bohr in this respect can be drawn from Morris: “What I hated most about Kuhn’s lectures was the combination of obscurantism and dogmatism. On one hand, he was extremely dogmatic. On the other, it was never really clear about what.” It is no stretch to apply this precise description to Bohr, and not much of one to apply it to The Critique of Pure Reason as well.
There is something very strange about accusing a positivist of being obscure and dogmatic. The positivist is just the opposite.

The positivist talks about what is measurable and demonstrable. His conclusions can all be shown by experiments and logic. He remains silent on matters that cannot be empirically or logically decided.

I agree that Kuhn and later philosophers were obscure and dogmatic. Kuhn claimed to have some grand theory about how science works, but none of it makes any sense on closer inspection. He was mainly famous for his "paradigm shift" book, but no one can agree on what a paradigm shift is.
The difference between indicative propositions about the actual world and counterfactual propositions about mere possibilities is illustrated by these two conditionals: if Lee Harvey Oswald did not shoot John F. Kennedy, then someone else did (indicative and true); and if Oswald had not shot Kennedy, then someone else would have (counterfactual and probably false).
I do think that this sort of confusion about counterfactuals is at the root of some of the gripe about quantum mechanics. If you ask questions like "if the photon went thru this slit, then where would it hit the screen?", then it is hard to see why there is a diffraction pattern on the screen.
Kuhn implicitly accepts the descriptive view. The meanings of theoretical terms such as “mass” are determined by the theories in which they are deployed. Mass as used by Newton means something different from mass as employed by Einstein because the theories they are embedded in are different. Therefore Newtonians cannot really communicate with Einsteinians, Ptolemaic astronomers cannot really communicate with Copernican astronomers, and so on. This is why, for Kuhn, scientific revolutions cannot be settled by rational means: the disputants necessarily speak different languages.

The descriptive view was demolished by Kripke and Putnam in a series of lectures and papers in the 1970s.
Yes, that is at the core of what is wrong with Kuhn. Kuhn deduces that science is an irrational process (or "arational", which is the term he prefers). Denying that science is rational is a direct attack on the whole idea that scientists seek truth.

LuMo writes about a tweet:
The Defeat of Reason: Philosopher Tim Maudlin rebuts the influential relativism of Bohr's interpretation of quantum mechanics and Kuhn's interpretation of science. https://t.co/YLo5oYnCzh
— Steven Pinker (@sapinker) June 3, 2018
Pinker has basically endorsed an embarrassing, supportive review by Tim Maudlin of the painful anti-quantum book by Adam Becker. It's no coincidence that the title of Maudlin's reason describes quantum mechanics (plus, less importantly, Kuhn's views about the evolution of science as a human enterprise) as a "defeat of reason".
Again, it is odd to conflate Bohr's positivism with Kuhn's arational anti-positivism. Arguing that quantum mechanics is somehow a defeat of reason is really wacky. Pinker should stick to his field, which is psychology and language.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Relativity founded on experiment, not ad hoc

Wikipedia is a great resource on relativity, but of course it cites a lot of oddball reasons for crediting Einstein. In particular, it gives a silly argument cooked up the Einstein-loving historians about being "ad hoc", such as here:
Eventually, Albert Einstein (1905) was the first[4] to completely remove the ad hoc character from the contraction hypothesis, by demonstrating that this contraction did not require motion through a supposed aether, but could be explained using special relativity, which changed our notions of space, time, and simultaneity.[5] Einstein's view was further elaborated by Hermann Minkowski, who demonstrated the geometrical interpretation of all relativistic effects by introducing his concept of four-dimensional spacetime.[6]
and here:
In 1907 Einstein criticized the "ad hoc" character of Lorentz's contraction hypothesis in his theory of electrons, because according to him it was an artificial assumption to make the Michelson–Morley experiment conform to Lorentz's stationary aether and the relativity principle.[A 25] Einstein argued that Lorentz's "local time" can simply be called "time", and he stated that the immobile ether as the theoretical foundation of electrodynamics was unsatisfactory.[A 26]

FitzGerald and Lorentz looked at the Michelson-Morley experiment, and other experiments, and deduced that the speed of light appeared the same for all observers. This could be explained by a length contraction.

Einstein looked at the work of Lorentz, and postulated that the speed of light was the same for all observers. Then he deduced the same length contraction.

FitzGerald's and Lorentz's works are said to be ad hoc, because they based it on experiment. Einstein's was not, according to this argument, because he based it on postulates.

Einstein did not have the modern geometrical understanding of relativity. Minkowski demonstrated the geometrical view and elaborated on Poincare's concept of four-dimensional spacetime, but it does not appear that Einstein had any influence on Minkowski.

Special relativity did change our notions of space, time, and simultaneity, but not because of anything Einstein said. Everything Einstein said on these subjects was said earlier and better by Lorentz, Poincare, and Minkowski.

Poincare argued several years earlier that Lorentz's local time can be simply called time. Einstein was just agreeing with Poincare.

I cannot correct Wikipedia, because policy favors the so-called "reliable sources", such as Einstein biographies. The fact is that most of the historians favor Einstein. But if you trace Wikipedia articles to the primary sources, you can see that Einstein's contributions were merely expository.

There is something insidious about this whole concept of a theory being ad hoc. Basing a theory on experiment is a good thing, not a bad thing. If an experiment comes along that challenges your theories, like Michelson-Morley did, then finding some way to modify your theories to accommodate the experiment is just what a good scientist should do.

You might say that you don't just want to fudge your formulas to match the data. It is better to have an underlying theory to explain the fudge. But FitzGerald and Lorentz had exactly that. They had a belief that solid matter was held together by electromagnetic forces, and that changes in the fields would contract the matter. Wikipedia denigrates this, because detailed theories for molecular forces were only worked out later. But nevertheless, their beliefs turned out to be correct, and solid matter is held together by electromagnetic forces. The length contraction can be derived from Lorentz transformations and Maxwell's equations, as Lorentz proved, long before Einstein.

But Einstein had a better explanation, you might say. But that is not true. Einstein did not have the geometrical interpretation that is preferred today, and rejected it for years after others accepted it.

No, the rationale for crediting Einstein is based on anti-scientific ideologies, such as preferring postulates to experiments, and deriving theories grounded in experiemnt as being ad hoc.

For details, see my book, How Einstein Ruined Physics, and postings on this blog, such as this 2017 book update.

Friday, June 1, 2018

How mathematicians connected with physicists

ProfessorDavid R. Morrison just posted Geometry and Physics: An Overview:
We present some episodes from the history of interactions between geometry and physics over the past century.
He says "we", but he is the sole author.
In 1954, during the era of minimal communication between mathematics and theoretical physics, C. N. Yang and R. L. Mills [YM54] introduced gauge transformations consisting of locally varying symmetries taking values in a compact Lie group3 G, and studied physical theories which are invariant under such gauge transformations. These generalized the already-familiar abelian gauge transformations from electromagnetism - the same ones we encountered in Section 1 - for which G = U(1). These gauge theories (or "Yang-Mills theories") eventually became the basis of the Standard Model of particle physics, the formulation of which was finalized in the mid 1970s using the group4 G = (SU(3) x SU(2) x U(1))/Z6.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Yang got acquainted with James Simons, then the mathematics department chair at SUNY Stony Brook where Yang was a professor of physics. In the course of their conversations,5 Yang and Simons came to recognize that there were important similarities between formulas which were showing up in Yang's work, and formulas which appeared in parts of mathematics which Simons was familiar with. Simons identified the relevant mathematics as the mathematical theory of connections on fiber bundles, and recommended that Yang consult Steenrod's foundational book on the subject [Ste51] (which coincidentally was published just a few years prior to the work of Yang and Mills). Yang found the book difficult to read, but through further discussions with Simons and other mathematicians (including S.-S. Chern) he came to appreciate the power of the mathematical tools which fiber bundle theory offered. ...

Simons communicated these newly uncovered connections with physics to Isadore Singer at MIT who in turn discussed them with Michael Atiyah of Cambridge University. It is likely that similar observations were made independently by others.
I have heard this story directly from Singer, Chern, and others, but I find it hard to believe.

I believe Chern said that Yang took a differential geometry course from him in China, before that 1954 paper was written. So Yang did not really re-invent gauge theories. Yang was also an ego-maniac, so maybe he pretended to.

Indeed, the names "gauge theory" and "gauge transformation" date back to some mathematical physics by Hermann Weyl in 1918. Wikipedia says that Pauli popularized the first widely accepted gauge theory in 1941. Some of the main ideas seem to have been published as early as 1914.

At some point it must have been obvious that special relativity could be elegantly described as spacetime with the metric dx2 + dy2 + dz2 - dt2, with electromagnetism being a connection on a circle (S1) bundle. But I cannot find who explicitly said this first.

Weyl was very close to saying this in 1919, and so was Kaluza, also in 1919. So the idea that this formulation was only discovered in the 1970s is absurd.

One possible explanation is that mathematicians did not realize the importance of bundles, not derived from tangent spaces, until the 1950s. Also, mathematicians quit talking to physicists around 1950. So mathematicians had an intuitive understanding in the 1920s, but would not have expressed it in terms of bundles until the 1950s, and physicists never learned it. I am not sure it ever made it into physics textbooks until recently.

At any rate, the standard model of particle physics is based on replacing the circle with SU(3)xSU(2)xU(1), and using the same geometric formalism. So you would think that physicists would think that the geometric interpretation of electromagnetism would be fundamental and important enough for elementary textbooks.

While Morrison's paper has many examples of mathematical advances related to geometry and physics, the gauge theory of the standard model is the only one that involves genuine physics. The others could be more accurately described as mathematics that was partially inspired by physics, but which does not actually apply to any physical situation.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Research shows 2-qubit nuclear computation

One of the supposed applications of quantum computers is to simulate quantum mechanics. Enthusiasts claim that they will be able to calculate the structure of drug molecules and protein folding, and maybe cure cancer and find other miracles.

Here is the latest cutting edge research:
You see, theorists — the potential users of quantum computers — have a dilemma. Quantum computers hold a lot of promise. It is highly likely that a good quantum computer can calculate the properties of things like molecules and atomic nuclei much more efficiently than a classical computer. Unfortunately, the current generation of quantum computers, especially those that the average theorist can get access to, are rather limited. This gives the theorists a challenge: can they make computations less resource-intensive so that they can be performed on the currently available hardware? ...

They reduced the calculation of nucleon energy levels to mostly single-qubit operations, with just a few two-qubit ones thrown in. From this, they were able to calculate the ground state energy and estimate the binding energy (the energy required to break up the nucleus) for a deuterium nucleus.

As with all quantum computations, the results are statistical in nature, so the researchers have to perform the computation many times and take the average result. In this case, the researchers made use of two quantum computers — the IBM QX5 and the Rigetti 19Q — via their publicly available cloud computing APIs. This limited the number of computations that they could perform. Despite this, they obtained results within a few percent of the experimental values.

The calculation itself is nothing special. This particular nucleus has long been solvable with classical computers.
Got that? One or two qubits. You could simulate those qubits on a 1970s era pocket calculator.

This is a very very very long way from doing anything worthwhile.

Quantum computers have also claimed to have factored 15 into 3x5, but most of the cleverness went into reducing the work that the quantum computer had to to, so the quantum computer just had to do a couple of steps that any fool could do by hand.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

New book trashes paradigm theory

I mentioned that Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Error Morris is writing a book trashing his old philosophy of science professor, Mr. Paradigm shift. The book is now out: The Ashtray: (Or the Man Who Denied Reality).

The late Thomas Kuhn does seem to have convinced most of academia that there is no objective truth, or progress in science. So his fans will probably trash this book. I haven't seen the book, but Morris is right that Kuhn's central theses don't even make any sense. And yet he was probably the most widely praised philosopher of the last 50 years.

I think that it is fair to say he was the man who denied reality. More than anyone else, he has convinced intellectuals that there is no reality. I don't know whether he really threw an ashtray and kicked out a grad student.

Kuhn went astray by doing a detailed historical analysis of Ptolemaic and Copernican astronomy. He found that Copernican astronomy was not really any simpler or more accurate or having any compelling scientific advantage. And yet it was a revolution in the sense of the Earth revolving around the Sun. So he concluded that scientific revolutions don't have any advantages over the alternatives. Yeah, it was that stupid. It is amazing that so many people bought into his theory of science.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Arizona revises school science standards

Biology professor Jerry Coyne complains about Arizona watering down education standards for evolution. I am more offended by some of the others, such as:
P2: Objects can affect other objects at a distance
This is clearly wrong. No objects ever affect other objects at a distance. Newton had a theory that gravity worked that way, but even he was not happy about it.

Others are also questionable. Matter is made of quantum fields, not particles.

One says "human processes ... shape the Earth's surface ..." I guess that can be true if humans build a dam, but the effect on the shape of the Earth's surface is extremely tiny.

Coyne doesn't like evolution being called a "theory".
“What we know is true and what we believe might be true but is not proven and that’s the reality,” Diane Douglas, state superintendent of public instruction, tells 3TV/CBS 5. “Evolution has been an ongoing debate for almost 100 years now. There is science to back up parts of it, but not all of it.”

“Not proven”!!!?? She fails to clarify, of course, that nothing is “proven” in science: we just get better and better explanations. But if you use “proven” in the vernacular sense, as something on whose truth you’d bet your house and life savings, then yes, evolution is as “proven” as is the fact that the Earth goes around the Sun and that benzene has six carbon atoms arranged in a ring.
Coyne wrote a pretty good book on this subject, but he needs better examples of scientific facts.

Earth only goes around the Sun if you take the Sun as a frame of reference. So I would not call that a proven fact.

I guess it is okay to say benzene is a ring, but the wave function is more complicated than that.

Update: A comment quotes from the full document:
All objects have an effect on other objects without being in contact with them. In some cases, the effect travels out from the source to the receiver in the form of radiation such as visible light. In other cases, action at a distance is explained in terms of the existence of a field of influence between objects, such as a magnetic, electric, or gravitational field. Gravity is a universal force of attraction between all objects, however large or small, keeping the planets in orbit around the Sun and causing terrestrial objects to fall towards the center of the Earth.
This reads as if it were written 150 years ago. Since about 1880 we have known that visible light is a pulsing electromagnetic field. Since about 1915, gravity has been understood as curved spacetime, and not a force acting at a distance.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Giant black hole is cosmic vacuum cleaner

Science popularists used to go around telling ppl that it is a big myth that a black hole can act as a cosmic vacuum cleaner. The Wikipedia List of common misconceptio used to say so.

The NY Times reports:
Astronomers in Australia now say they have found the hungriest heart in all the cosmos. It is a black hole 20 billion times the mass of the sun eating the equivalent of a star every two days.

The black hole is growing so rapidly, said Christian Wolf, of the Australian National University, who led the team that found it in the depths of time, “that it is probably 10,000 times brighter than the galaxy it lives in.” So bright, that it is dazzling our view and we can’t see the galaxy itself. ...

Black holes are a one-way gate to gravitational oblivion, according to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, but they can only swallow so much, depending on their size; the rest of the matter and energy gets splashed out across space, producing the fireworks popularly known as quasars.
Continue reading the main story

The blaze from material swirling around this newly observed drainpipe into eternity — known officially as SMSS J215728.21-360215.1 — is as luminous as 700 trillion suns, according to Dr. Wolf and his collaborators. If it were at the center of our own galaxy, the Milky Way, it would be 10 times brighter than the moon and bathe the Earth in so many X-rays that life would be impossible.
Based on this, I'd say that it is fair to call a black hole a cosmic vacuum cleaner. No space traveler would want to get anywhere near such a thing.

This is also one of the brightest objects in the universe. Not so black, I guess.

NY Times also reports:
It happens every 405,000 years. The Earth’s orbit gradually changes shape from almost circular to slightly elliptical over a period of 202,500 years, and then starts returning to form over the next 202,500 years — like a metronome swinging side to side.

Right now, we are in an almost perfectly circular orbit around the sun, and soon — within some thousands of years, that is — we will start moving toward the elliptical.

This happens because of the Earth’s gravitational interactions with other planets, especially Jupiter and Venus — Jupiter because it is very large, and Venus because it is very near.
Is this settled science? It seems like it could have far-reaching consequences. Maybe life on Earth was only possible because Earth is stabilized by the Moon, Venus, and Jupiter.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Quantum supremacy delayed to attend funerals

Scott Aaronson announces:
a weeklong visit to Google’s quantum computing group in LA. While we mourned tragedies—multiple members of the quantum computing community lost loved ones in recent weeks — it was great to be among so many friends, and great to talk and think for once about actual progress that’s happening in the world, as opposed to people saying mean things on Twitter. Skipping over its plans to build a 49-qubit chip, Google is now going straight for 72 qubits. And we now have some viable things that one can do, or try to do, with such a chip, beyond simply proving quantum supremacy — I’ll say more about that in subsequent posts.
When you are overdue on a high-profile project, the last thing you want to admit is that your goal is unrealizable.

No, a better strategy is to (1) say that you are attending funerals of family members, and (2) raise the stakes, and say that a higher goal can be achieved instead if only managed supplies more time, staff, and money.

Am I being too cynical here? Okay, maybe.

Google and IBM both bragged that they would achieve quantum supremacy in 2017. They said that 50 qubits was the magic threshold. They they dropped back to 49 qubits, a number that seems carefully chosen to allow them to claim the first real quantum computer, but such that they would not have to show the performance that we expect from quantum supremacy.

2017 ended with no new 49-qubit quantum computer, no quantum supremacy, and no explanation for the failed promises.

Okay, maybe they really did have some funerals to attend. Maybe quantum supremacy is really just around the corner.

I don't believe it. They are stringing along with empty promises, as this community has done for 20 years.

I will be watching for any proof that I am wrong. I will post it as soon as it is announced. Then you can all laugh at me.

But if there is still no quantum supremacy in 5 or 10 years, what will you say then?