Sunday, February 12, 2017

Professor would not distribute his brain

The NY Times has an obituary of a mathematician:
Professor Smullyan said that to be paid so much was unfair.

“I said, ‘Raymond, isn’t it true that you’re more intelligent than most people?’ ” Mr. Kotik said during a phone interview. “ ‘Yes,’ he said. So I said, ‘I think that’s unfair. We should take out part of your brain and distribute it to people who could use it.’

“He was silent for a minute, and finally he said, ‘I can’t give you any reason, but I wouldn’t do it.’ ”
Funny. Yes, there are limits to academic leftist egalitarianism. He just cannot articulate a reason for it.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Mathematician Tao rants about visa ban

Australian citizen, UCLA professor, and mathematical genius Terry Tao writes:
Mathematical research is clearly an international activity. But actually a stronger claim is true: mathematical research is a transnational activity, in that the specific nationality of individual members of a research team or research community are (or should be) of no appreciable significance for the purpose of advancing mathematics. ...

With the recent and highly publicised executive order on immigration, many of these fundamental assumptions have been seriously damaged, if not destroyed altogether. ... This is already affecting upcoming or ongoing mathematical conferences or programs in the US, with many international speakers (including those from countries not directly affected by the order) now cancelling their visit, either in protest or in concern about their ability to freely enter and leave the country. ...

Of course, the impact of this executive order is far, far broader than just its effect on mathematicians and mathematical research.
His post has dozens of comments agreeing with him.

I kept looking for some sign of tangible harm, but skipping a conference in order to protest President Trump is not.
For instance, right now I am at MSRI, together with about a hundred other mathematicians, for semester-long programs in Analytic Number Theory and in Harmonic Analysis. ...

It was already a painful decision for us as organisers to turn away many qualified applicants due to lack of space; in the future the problem will be exacerbated by applicants being unable or unwilling to attend due to travel uncertainties that did not previously exist. ...

Such opportunities may now be denied to many promising young mathematicians, simply by accident of their country of origin.
So Tao is having a wonderful at a USA tax-funded research facility, and qualified Americans are being turned away in favor of mathematicians from hostile Moslem countries.

Tao's argument doesn't even make any sense. If fewer mathematicians can come due to visa difficulties, then that would reduce to need to reject qualified applicants.

Every position offered to a Syrian means one more rejection to a qualified American.

I understand that Tao may have no loyalties to America or to those who pay his 6-figure salary. And if Donald Trump were not the President then he would not have to listen to his fellow professors complain about him. That is about all I get out of his post. American mathematics is not dependent on visas from the 7 hostile Moslem countries.

American mathematics would probably be much healthier if American post-docs and others had better opportunities, instead of facing a system that rewards foreigners. If those Iranian mathematicians are so great, maybe they can stay in Iran and persuade their govt to stop trying to make bombs and support terrorists.

A comment says:
Council of the Australian Mathematical Society wishes to express their support ...

We are concerned in principle about any discrimination that interferes with the free exchange of mathematical ideas across borders.
No one is interfering with sending mathematical ideas across borders. Just use email!

There will not be any objective evidence of any travel ban (if enforced) on mathematics production. Maybe Americans will get better educations because their professors will speak English.

Mathematicians like Tao have been brainwashed by far-left anti-American interests. He is just lying when he pretends that Trump's order is going to cause mathematics to suffer.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Scientists, in the Age of Trump

The NY Times runs anti-Trump articles every day, and now the science section reports:
In Age of Trump, Scientists Show Signs of a Political Pulse

Michael Eisen, an evolutionary biologist, is among the elite of American scientists, with a tenured position at the University of California, Berkeley, and generous funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute for his research on fruit flies.

But late last month, dismayed over the Trump administration’s apparent disdain for evidence on climate change and other issues, Dr. Eisen registered the Twitter handle @SenatorPhD and declared his intention to run in the 2018 election for a seat in the United States Senate from California. His campaign slogan: “Liberty, Equality, Reality.”
Why is it that an evolutionary biologist can spend his career studying fruit flies, and suddenly think that he is an expert on climate change?

This seems to be a disease among evolutionary biologists, that they are eager to jump into political disputes way outside their expertise.
Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, a cosmologist and particle physicist at the University of Washington,... said she was especially incensed by what she and others viewed as efforts by some science organizations to reach out to the Trump administration. ...

“What history has taught us is that collaboration doesn’t work for science,” Dr. Prescod-Weinstein said. “When we work with extremist, racist, Islamophobic or nationalist governments, it doesn’t work for science.”
Huhh?

Almost every government that has accomplishment anything in the history of science was what would now be classified Islamophobic and nationalist.

I would expect smart scientists to make more sense than this.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Non-Empirical Confirmation in Physics

Philosopher Richard Dawid writes a new paper, The Significance of Non-Empirical Confirmation in Fundamental Physics:
During most of the 20th century, fundamental physics was perceived as a scientific field where theories typically could be empirically tested within a reasonable time frame. ...

Today, the situation is very different. String theory has been playing the role of a well established approach towards a universal theory of all interactions for over three decades and is trusted to a high degree by many of its exponents in the absence of either empirical confirmation or even a full understanding of what the theory amounts to. Cosmic inflation is being trusted by many theoreticians to a degree that in the eyes of many others goes substantially beyond what is merited by the supporting empirical data. Multiverse scenarios in the eyes of critics raise the question to what degree they can be endorsed as scientific hypotheses at all, given that their core empirical implications to a large extent seem not empirically testable in principle. What is at stake here is the understanding physicists have of the status of the theory they work on throughout their lifetimes. In the most far-reaching cases it is the status a given theory can acquire at all.
He is right that there are now hundreds of high-status seemingly-productive physicists who can spend their whole lives publishing papers on ideas that will never see any empirical tests.

Mathematicians never see their ideas empirically tested, but they prove their results, and so they know if they are correct or not. These physicists do not prove anything and never learn whether their ideas have any validity or not. For many of them, it is not clear whether it even makes any sense to say that the ideas have any validity.

Dawid tries to defend the notion that a theory can be confirmed if it is viable, without any evidence that it is true. He claims that there are three ways of doing that:
NAA: The No Alternatives Argument: Scientists have looked intensely and for a considerable time for alternatives to a known theory H that can solve a given scientific problem but haven’t found any. This observation is taken as an indication of the viability of theory H.

MIA: The Meta-Inductive Argument from success in the research field: Theories in the research field that satisfy a given set of conditions have shown a tendency of being viable in the past. This observation is taken to increase the probability that a new theory H that also satisfies those conditions is also viable.

UEA: The Argument of Unexpected Explanatory Interconnections: Theory H was developed in order to solve a specific problem. Once H was developed, physicists found that H also provides explanations with respect to a range of problems which to solve was not the initial aim of developing the theory. This observation is taken as an indication of the theory’s viability.
His best example is string theory. It passes NAA because the alternatives for quantum gravity, MIA because unified field theories have previously been successful, and UEA because it is mathematically interesting.

I say this is crazy, and quantum gravity is not even a scientific problem.

This is just another of how modern philosophers have abandoned truth. They just hate any philosophies that are based on truth.

Ricky Gervais tell Stephen Colbert on this new video:
Atheism is not a belief system ... Everything in the universe was once crunched into something smaller than an atom. ... Science is constantly proved all the time.
There must be some belief system that is telling him that the universe was once smaller than an atom. I would not call that science. We have good theory and evidence for the universe expanding, and it is reasonable to say it was once much smaller. But we cannot go back to the size of an atom. We don't have either the theory or the evidence for that.

I used to accept what he said about atheist not being a belief system. But most self-proclaimed atheists have an assortment of odd unsupported beliefs.

Here is another atheist (evolutionist professor Jerry Coyne) promoting his own beliefs:
Even though all rational people know that determinism rules human behavior, and in that sense there is no possibility of “choosing otherwise” at a moment of decision — absent quantum effects, which don’t in any way give us “free will” — this conclusion disturbs some people. Our sense of agency is so strong that it’s impossible for many of us to accept determinism of our behavior, or, if we do, to fully grasp its implications.
He is entitled to his opinion, and he may be right that he has no free will. He has written a lot on this subject, so he adequately explains himself. My quarrel here is his belief that "all rational people" agree with him. This is something that leftist atheists say. No, most rational people certainly do not agree with him.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Rovelli argues for quantum gravity

Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli says:
We know general relativity. We know quantum mechanics. What keeps together protons in atoms? What keeps together protons of quarks? These are well-defined properties. Quantum gravity — it’s the concrete stuff. What happens in the center of a black hole? Nobody knows what happens. Why? Because gravity becomes quantum. What happened in the very, very beginning of the universe? Nobody knows because gravity was quantum there. So we need a quantum theory of gravity. It’s not driven by big dreams. It’s driven by specific physical problems and specific inconsistencies in a set of theories that work well.
No, that is not correct. Nobody knows what happens in the center of a black hole because the center is not observable. Likewise for that "very, very beginning of the universe".

this is some sort of modern theology where the high priests want to tell us what happens in Hell or the Astral plane. It might be entertaining, but it has little or nothing to do with science.

The whole subject of quantum gravity is a big scam.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Blueprint for quantum computer published

Phys.org reports on a new published paper:
First ever blueprint unveiled to construct a large scale quantum computer

Prof Winfried Hensinger (2), head of Ion Quantum Technology Group (3) at the University of Sussex, who has been leading this research, said: "For many years, people said that it was completely impossible to construct an actual quantum computer. With our work we have not only shown that it can be done but now we are delivering a nuts and bolts construction plan to build an actual large-scale machine."
I haven't read the paper, so I will hold back criticism for now.

At least he concedes that many ppl (besides me) have argued that quantum computers are impossible. Some in the field pretend that they are a consequence of quantum mechanics that everyone accepts.

And he admits that no one has built a quantum computer yet. He just has a detailed plan to build one. Good luck with that. I still say that he will not succeed.

The London Daily Mail reports:
As a next step, the team will construct a prototype quantum computer, based on this design, at the University, and say it could be operational within two years.

'It is the Holy Grail of science, really, to build a quantum computer,' Hensinger told The independent.

'Life will change completely. We will be able to do certain things we could never even dream of before.'

Once built, researchers say the computer's capabilities mean it 'would have the potential to answer many questions in science; create new, lifesaving medicines; solve the most mind-boggling scientific problems; unravel the yet unknown mysteries of the furthest reaches of deepest space; and solve some problems that an ordinary computer would take billions of years to compute.'
This is like a smallpox researcher who is all excited about a new genetically engineered strain of a disease that could soon be unleashed. Exciting for the researcher, and changing life for the worse. The utility of a quantum computer is almost entirely malevolent.

Update: A reader asks:
why would anyone put their career on the line for a project that will ruin them if it turns out to be a scam?
I see a couple of possibilities. One is that he is under increasing pressure from funding agencies. Another is that it is an attempt to get new funding for a bigger project.

Maybe he is a true believer, and wants a piece of the Nobel Prize that goes to the first person to demonstrate quantum supremacy.

And maybe failure will not ruin him anyway. Prominent recent physics failures include supersymmetry, proton decay, string theory, and inflation, but I have not heard of any careers being ruining over these.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Minkowski's deeper understanding of relativity

Vesselin Petkov of the Minkowski Institute in Montreal Canada writes Might have Minkowski discovered the cause of gravitation before Einstein?:
Minkowski had created the full-blown four-dimensional mathematical formalism of spacetime physics before the end of 1907 (which could have been highly improbable if Minkowski had not been developing his own ideas), both indicate that Minkowski might have arrived at the notion of spacetime independently of Poincare (who saw it as nothing more than a mathematical space) and at a deeper understanding of the basic ideas of special relativity (which Einstein merely postulated) independently of Einstein. So, had he lived longer, Minkowski might have employed successfully his program of regarding four-dimensional physics as spacetime geometry to gravitation as well. Moreover, Hilbert (Minkowski's closest colleague and friend) had derived the equations of general relativity simultaneously with Einstein.
Apparently Max Born credited Minkowski with discovering special relativity independently of Einstein's work.

Minkowski's version was deeper because he had a fully 4-dimensional spacetime view with Maxwell's equations being covariant under the Lorentz group. Einstein's view was similar to Lorentz's.

It is strange to say that Poincare saw spacetime as nothing more than a mathematical space.
In order to understand better what Minkowski could have done, had he lived longer, it is important to take explicitly into account two indications of why he appears to have realized independently the equivalence of the times of inertial observers in relative motion (what Einstein postulated and which formed the basis of his special relativity) and that the Lorentz transformations can be regarded as rotations in a four-dimensional world (which was first published by Poincare but he did not see anything revolutionary in that observation since he believed that physical theories do not necessarily represent anything in the physical world since they are nothing more than convinient descriptions of physical phenomena).
I understand concluding that Minkowski had a much deeper understanding of relativity than Einstein, and would have gone farther if he had lived. But what is this cheap shot at Poincare?

Poincare also wrote about his philosophy of science, and understood that we could have two mathematically equivalent theories for the same physical phenomenon. One theory might be more convenient than the other. He was completely correct about this.

Somehow Petrov (and others) want to turn this around to say Poincare was just a mathematician doing convenient mathematics, and not physics. They say this as if it were possible for Poincare to get all the mathematics of relativity right without understanding the physics. Weird. It is hard to see how anyone could misunderstand the math and philosophy of Poincare so badly.

Minkowski's first paper on relativity did cite Poincare's long famous 1905 paper. It appears to me that Minkowski was strongly influenced by Poincare, but I guess it is possible that Minkowski came to some of the ideas independently.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Death is the ultimate equilibrium

Philip Ball writes in Quanta mag:
Once we regard living things as agents performing a computation — collecting and storing information about an unpredictable environment — capacities and considerations such as replication, adaptation, agency, purpose and meaning can be understood as arising not from evolutionary improvisation, but as inevitable corollaries of physical laws. In other words, there appears to be a kind of physics of things doing stuff, and evolving to do stuff. Meaning and intention — thought to be the defining characteristics of living systems — may then emerge naturally through the laws of thermodynamics and statistical mechanics.
I wonder if this inspired the current FQXi essay contest.
Biological systems don’t defy physical laws, of course — but neither do they seem to be predicted by them. In contrast, they are goal-directed: survive and reproduce. We can say that they have a purpose — or what philosophers have traditionally called a teleology — that guides their behavior.

By the same token, physics now lets us predict, starting from the state of the universe a billionth of a second after the Big Bang, what it looks like today. But no one imagines that the appearance of the first primitive cells on Earth led predictably to the human race. Laws do not, it seems, dictate the course of evolution.

The teleology and historical contingency of biology, said the evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr, make it unique among the sciences. Both of these features stem from perhaps biology’s only general guiding principle: evolution. It depends on chance and randomness, but natural selection gives it the appearance of intention and purpose. Animals are drawn to water not by some magnetic attraction, but because of their instinct, their intention, to survive. Legs serve the purpose of, among other things, taking us to the water.

Mayr claimed that these features make biology exceptional — a law unto itself. But recent developments in nonequilibrium physics, complex systems science and information theory are challenging that view. ...

So living organisms can be regarded as entities that attune to their environment by using information to harvest energy and evade equilibrium. Sure, it’s a bit of a mouthful.
Lumo says string theory can explain everything but the purpose of life, so there cannot be any scientific theory for that. But he is intrigued by some of the quotes:
Death is the ultimate equilibrium. Life is the effort to escape this equilibrium. ...

Organisms want to maximize their distance from the equilibrium which is equivalent to maximizing their freedom in the future.
Meanwhile, I see that Peter Woit has gone full Nazi:
While the US has never seen the likes of this situation, Europe has, with Trump following a playbook familiar from the history of the 1930s. At this point the US may be one terrorist attack away from full-blown Fascism, this time with nuclear weapons. This needs to be stopped, now.

The Constitution does provide two ways to deal with something like this: either the impeachment process or removal under the Twenty-Fifth Amendment as “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” Many of Trump’s recent statements are clearly the product of delusional mind that is incapable of dealing with reality, and these delusions are now reflected in his actions.
And Lumo calls out him and other Trump-haters.

I don't want to get too political here, but this Trump hatred is bizarre. Supposedly smart ppl in universities and Si Valley are ranting against him, but their arguments are at about a 5-year-old level. Surely they could find some coherent argument if Trump were only 1% as bad as they say he is.

If Trump were really Hitler, then why do so many refugees and immigrants want to come here?

Saturday, January 28, 2017

New D-Wave computer sold

ExtremeTech reports:
The D-Wave 2000Q has 2,048 qubits; a substantial increase over the 1,000-qubit D-Wave 2X. Equally important, the $15 million-dollar computer has a first customer — Temporal Defense Systems, which will use the machine “to solve some of the most critical and complex cyber security problems impacting governments and commercial enterprises.” The terms of the deal also give TDS an upgrade path to future “QPUs” (quantum processing units, natch).

“The combined power of the TDS / D-Wave quantum cyber solution will revolutionize secure communications, protect against insider threats, and assist in the identification of cyber adversaries and attack patterns,” said James Burrell, TDS Chief Technology Officer and former FBI Deputy Assistant Director. “Combining the unique computational capabilities of a quantum computer with the most advanced cyber security technologies will deliver the highest level of security, focused on both prevention and attribution of cyber attacks.”
Somebody has been conned. I don't know whether Burrell believes what he is saying, but there is no way this D-Wave machine can do what he says.

The D-Wave machine may be able to solve certain problems, but it does not really have 2048 qubits. Nobody has been able to make true qubits yet.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Philosophy professors hate Trump

Philosopher Massimo Pigliucci likes to write about pseudoscience, but also tells us:
I’ve been giving a lot of thought about the rise of Trump, and even though I rarely write about explicitly political matters on this blog, this will be one of the exceptions. I think it is necessary. WARNING: unusually strong language ahead, ...

The guy is not a political ideologue, ... He is simply a narcissistic and pampered bully, ignorant to the point of ridiculousness. ... Republican takeover ... is an unqualified disaster. ...

Please, don’t tell me I’m “biased.” If by that you mean I have reasoned, empirically informed opinions about values and politics that are different from yours, sure, I’m biased. And proud of it.
Then what follows is a lot of name-calling and obscenities.

No, I would not say he has reasoned, empirically informed opinions on Trump. I could not find any.

He is from another country, and does not appear to know much about American politics or Trump. He has probably never even met a Trump supporter, so I do not expect much from him.

Nevertheless he writes with the same over-opinionated certainty with which he writes about the philosophy of science.

Just think about that when you read philosophers of science like him. I don't say that he has to agree with Trump, but if he understands Trump less than 50 million voters and still has extremely strong opinions, then he is someone whose opinions should be disregarded.

I have criticized Pigliucci before for having anti-science and leftist-biased opinions. He is worse than I thought.

Here is an ex-philosopher ranting against Trump. I am sure that there are many others.

Update: Texas professor Scott Aaronson also suggests that Trump is another Hitler, and complains:
Today, we learned that Trump is suspending the issuance of US visas to people from seven majority-Islamic countries, including Iran ...

To the Trump regime, I make one request: if you ever decide that it’s the policy of the US government to deport my PhD students, then deport me first. I’m practically begging you: come to my house, arrest me, revoke my citizenship, and tear up the awards I’ve accepted at the White House and the State Department. I’d consider that to be the greatest honor of my career.
He is an American citizen, married to an Israeli. No one is threatening him or his students. He and Pigliucci do not have much loyalty to the USA.

Aaronson is essentially arguing that the USA should let in any quantum complexity theorist who wants to come here and pursue his useless research program. The comments are moderated, and they are all Trump-haters praising Aaronson.

Update: I am informed that Aaronson deleted this comment:
Quantum complexity is an almost entirely useless field. It would have some minor theoretical interest if quantum supremacy were demonstrated, but that is speculative and we do not need very many people in the field. We train too many students for the available jobs.

Trump was elected President of the USA. Every postdoc job given to an Iranian takes one away from an American. Trump's policies favor Americans, not countries that breed terrorism. We do not need any more Iranians in the USA.

Scott, you are pursuing your personal interests, against those of American students, against those of Amerian voters, and against those who are trying to limit the expansion of Islamic terrorism.
That must have hit a sensitive spot.

Where are the professors who are willing to stick up for the Americans who have their careers derailed by these anti-American leftists like Pigliucci and Aaronson?

Update: LuMo has a more detailed criticism of Aaronson:
Most importantly, there just isn't any "universal human right" to work as a postdoc in the U.S. – for anyone, even members of nations that are much more friendly towards America than Iran. Whoever is acting as if he were assuming that such a right exists may get rightfully burned because his assumption is idiotic. The inability to get the postdoc visa may be a personal inconvenience for the Iranian student – and indirectly for his adviser Aaronson – but it's just complete rubbish when this personal inconvenience is presented as a flaw in the new system of policies. Aaronson is pretending that he is defending some deep values but in reality, he's only defending his personal interests.

And the problem isn't really serious, anyway. There are other places outside the U.S. where one may be hired as a postdoc in similar fields.
Motl himself is an ex American postdoc who now lives in Czechia, I think.

Monday, January 23, 2017

History of general relativity

A new paper summarizes the history of general relativity:
This short exposition starts with a brief discussion of situation before the completion of special relativity (Le Verrier's discovery of the Mercury perihelion advance anomaly, Michelson-Morley experiment, Eotvos experiment, Newcomb's improved observation of Mercury perihelion advance, the proposals of various new gravity theories and the development of tensor analysis and differential geometry) and accounts for the main conceptual developments leading to the completion of the general relativity: gravity has finite velocity of propagation; energy also gravitates; Einstein proposed his equivalence principle and deduced the gravitational redshift; Minkowski formulated the special relativity in 4-dimantional spacetime and derived the 4-dimensional electromagnetic stress-energy tensor; Einstein derived the gravitational deflection from his equivalence principle; Laue extended the Minkowski's method of constructing electromagnetic stress-energy tensor to stressed bodies, dust and relativistic fluids; Abraham, Einstein, and Nordstrom proposed their versions of scalar theories of gravity in 1911-13; Einstein and Grossmann first used metric as the basic gravitational entity and proposed a "tensor" theory of gravity (the "Entwurf" theory, 1913); Einstein proposed a theory of gravity with Ricci tensor proportional to stress-energy tensor (1915); Einstein, based on 1913 Besso-Einstein collaboration, correctly derived the relativistic perihelion advance formula of his new theory which agreed with observation (1915); Hilbert discovered the Lagrangian for electromagnetic stress-energy tensor and the Lagrangian for the gravitational field (1915), and stated the Hilbert variational principle; Einstein equation of general relativity was proposed (1915); Einstein published his foundation paper (1916).
This is a good balanced view, and informative for anyone who thinks that Einstein did it all. He made some key contributions, but a lot of the crucial work was done by others.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Finding solace in the Multiverse

A string theorist writes:

In physics we’re not supposed to talk about how we feel. We are a hard-nosed, quantitative, and empirical science. But even the best of our dispassionate analysis begins only after we have decided which avenue to pursue. When a field is nascent, there tend to be a range of options to consider, all of which have some merit, and often we are just instinctively drawn to one. This choice is guided by an emotional reasoning that transcends logic. Which position you choose to align yourself with is, as Stanford University physicist Leonard Susskind says, “about more than scientific facts and philosophical principles. It is about what constitutes good taste in science. And like all arguments about taste, it involves people’s aesthetic sensibilities.” ...

Quarks are permanently bound together into protons, neutrons, and other composite particles. “They are, so to speak, hidden behind a … veil,” Susskind says, “but by now, although no single quark has ever been seen in isolation, there is no one who seriously questions the correctness of the quark theory. It is part of the bedrock foundation of modern physics.”
Notice the verbal trickery here. He does not say that no one questions single quark particles.

Susskind wants you to thing: "No one has ever seen an isolated quark but everyone believes in them anyway."

But that is not right. Lots of physicists do not even believe in particles at all. A quark is a useful fiction that helps to understand the SU(3) theory, but that's all. There is no need to believe that quark particles are real, or that they have colors.


My own research is in string theory, and one of its features is that there exist many logically consistent versions of the universe other than our own. The same process that created our universe can also bring those other possibilities to life, creating an infinity of other universes where everything that can occur, does. ...

The multiverse explains how the constants in our equations acquire the values they do, without invoking either randomness or conscious design. If there are vast numbers of universes, embodying all possible laws of physics, we measure the values we do because that’s where our universe lies on the landscape. There’s no deeper explanation. That’s it. That’s the answer.

But as much as the multiverse frees us from the old dichotomy, it leaves a profound unease. The questions we have spent so long pondering might have no deeper answer than just this: that it is the way it is. That might be the best we can do, but it’s not the kind of answer we’re used to. It doesn’t pull back the covers and explain how something works. What’s more, it dashes the theorists’ dream, with the claim that no unique solution will ever be found because no unique solution exists.

There are some who don’t like that answer, others who don’t think it even qualifies to be called an answer, and some who accept it. ...

Tasneem Zehra Husain is a theoretical physicist and the author of Only The Longest Threads. She is the first Pakistani woman string theorist.
This is the crazy world view of a string theorist. Their god is the elusive mathematical equation that is going to unify all of physics, even if it explains nothing. They believe so much that they will accept the possibility of essentially infinitely many equations driving infinitely many unobservable universes.

Gian Giudice, head of CERN’s theory group, speaks for most physicists when he says that one look at the sky sets us straight. We already know our scale. If the multiverse turns out to be real, he says, “the problem of me versus the vastness of the universe won’t change.” In fact, many find comfort in the cosmic perspective. Framed against the universe, all our troubles, all the drama of daily life, diminishes so dramatically that “anything that happens here is irrelevant,” says physicist and author Lawrence Krauss. “I find great solace in that.”
Great solace?

Even without the multiverse or even anything cosmological, our lives on the surface of the Earth are infinitesimal compared to just the interior of the Earth. That is already enuf to overwhelm his psychological sense of well-being, and I don't believe that anyone really finds any solace in the multiverse.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Quantum gravity from philosophy

From a new paper on Kant and Quantum Gravity:
In quantum gravity space and time lose their status as fundamental parts of the physical reality. However, according to Kant, space and time are the a priori conditions of our experience. Does Kantian characterization of these notions give constraints to quantum gravity, or does quantum gravity make Kantian characterization of space and time an invalid approach? This paper provides answers to these questions with a philosophical approach to quantum gravity.
You are probably going to say that this is self-evidently ridiculous, because physics is about the observable world, not the the prejudices of some silly German philosopher. Kant said a lot of stupid stuff about space and time before relativity, and there is no agreement over whether it can be reconciled with relativity.

But all quantum gravity is just philosophy. There is no data or experiment to guide the theory. Researchers are just looking for "a priori conditions of our experience", whatever that means.

Speaking of philosophy, Stanford philosophy professor Helen Longino said:
Sokal has this very sort of old-fashioned idea about science — that the sciences are not only aiming at discovering truths about the natural world but that their methods succeed in doing so.
Outside the hard sciences, I suspect that it is very common for academics to deny that science discovers truths.

Philosophers complain that they get no respect from the hard sciences. Of course they do not. Philosophers will never get respect as long as they deny the discovery of truths.

SciAm blogger John Horgan writes that the point of philosophy is not to discover truth or even to make progress:
What is philosophy? What is its purpose? Its point? The traditional answer is that philosophy seeks truth. But several prominent scientists, notably Stephen Hawking, have contended that philosophy has no point, because science, a far more competent truth-seeking method, has rendered it obsolete. ...

[David Chalmers] concedes that whereas scientists do converge on certain answers, “there has not been large collective convergence to the truth on the big questions of philosophy.” A survey of philosophers carried out by Chalmers and a colleague revealed divisions on big questions: What is the relationship between mind and body? How do we know about the external world? Does God exist? Do we have free will?

Philosophers’ attempts to answer such questions, Chalmers remarks, “typically lead not to agreement but to sophisticated disagreement.” That is, progress consists less in defending truth claims than in casting doubt on them. Chalmers calls this “negative progress.”
It appears that philosophers making negative progress are jealous of other fields that make positive progress.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Top modern philosophy books

Want to know what passes as a great modern philosophy book? Here are the top ones with some relation to science (and a couple of others):
Most-cited Anglophone philosophy books published since WWII (according to Google Scholar)

These are rounded to the nearest 100. I tried to find all post-WWII philosophy books with at least 5,000 citations. ...

1. Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) (89,500)

2. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (1971) (65,000)

8. Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (1963) (15,700)

14. Jerry Fodor, The Modularity of Mind (1983) (12,800)

16. Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained (1991) (11,100)

20. Karl Popper, Objective Knowledge:  An Evolutionary Approach (1972) (10,100)

21. Paul Feyerabend, Against Method (1975) (9,900)
Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945) (9,500)
John Searle, The Construction of Social Reality (1995) (8,400)
Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons (1984) (8,200)
David Chalmers, The Conscious Mind (1996) (7,400)
Jerry Fodor, The Language of Thought (1975) (7,300)
Daniel Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea (1995) (7,000)
Martha Nussbaum, Women and Human Development:  The Capabilities Approach (2001) (6,900)
Hubert Dreyfus, Stuart Dreyfus & T. Athanasiou, Mind over Machine (2000) (6.800)
John Searle, Intentionality (1983) (6,500)
Popper occasionally said sensible things, but those are disavowed by modern philosphers.

Where are the philosophers who have contributed to modern scientific understanding? These books have hurt the cause of science more than they are helped.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Isosceles triangles and common sense

Geography professor and popular anthropology writer Jared Diamond writes:
In fact, common sense should be invoked more often in scientific discussions, where it is sometimes deficient and scorned. Scientists may string out a detailed argument that reaches an implausible conclusion contra ...

The proof purported to demonstrate that all triangles are isosceles, i.e. have two equal sides. Of course that conclusion is wrong: most triangles have unequal sides, and only a tiny fraction has two equal sides. ...

The proof tacitly assumed that that perpendicular bisector did intersect the triangle’s base, as is true for isosceles and nearly-isosceles triangles. ...

Conclusion: don’t get bogged down in following the details of a proof, if it leads to an implausible conclusion.
He apparently never understood the flaw, as his reasoning would imply that a nearly-isosceles triange must be isosceles.

Mathematics is all about understanding what is a valid proof, and what is not. Diamond did not get the point.

It figures, as his books are filled with illogical arguments that he takes to be conclusive.

Here is his second example:
This discovery became explained only two decades later by Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, for which the Michelson-Morley experiment offered crucial support.

Another two decades later, though, another physicist carried out a complicated re-analysis of Michelson’s and Morley’s experiment. He concluded that their conclusion had been wrong. If so, that would have shaken the validity of Einstein’s formulation of relativity. Of course Einstein was asked his assessment of the re-analysis. His answer, in effect, was: “I don’t have to waste my time studying the details of that complex re-analysis to figure out what’s wrong with it. Its conclusion is obviously wrong.” That is, Einstein was relying on his common sense. Eventually, other physicists did waste their time on studying the re-analysis, and did discover where it had made a mistake.
This is a funny one, because the textbooks agree that Michelson-Morley was crucial for the development and demonstration of relativity, but Einstein himself regarded it as unimportant for his contribution. That is because Einstein's work was largely a reformulation of Lorentz's, and Einstein relied on Lorentz's analysis of Michelson-Morley.

The experiment was re-done many times. If Einstein did not care much about the first experiment, why would he bother with the subsequent ones? This is a story of indifference, not common sense.

Diamond ends up arguing that the Clovis ppl were the first settlers of the Americas. I have no idea about that.