Friday, September 30, 2011

Neutrinos and the Einstein myth

Saswato R. Das writes in a NY Times op-ed:
Was Einstein Wrong?

The results of a recent experiment at CERN, the giant particle accelerator near Geneva, seem to attack one of physics’ sacred cows: Albert Einstein’s postulate that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. ...

Einstein’s near-mythic fame rests on his theory of relativity, which says that the speed of light in a vacuum, approximately 186,282 miles per second, is the ultimate speed limit. Nothing in the universe can travel faster. ... Physicists everywhere are scratching their heads. Could it be that another scientific revolution is at hand? Are we witnessing a paradigm shift?

Testing theories through experimentation has always been the basis for scientific progress. The philosopher Karl Popper called this the notion of falsifiability of scientific theories.

Einstein himself was motivated by an experiment that disproved a 19th century scientific belief. Back then, it was widely held that light, like sound, needed a medium in order to travel. Physicists called it the “luminiferous ether.” Since the Earth revolved around the Sun and the Sun revolved around the center of the galaxy, they reasoned that the presence of ether would cause the speed of light to be different in different directions. Albert Michelson and Edward Morley set out to measure this difference. Instead they found that the speed of light was the same in every direction. In 1887, they published a paper, which then influenced Einstein.
The trouble with this story is that it is directly contrary to what the academic Einstein worshipers say about him. They say that Einstein's famous relativity work was not motivated by Michelson–Morley experiment at all. Einstein himself, in his later life, denied that he even knew about the experiment.

Furthermore, the dominant academic philosophy of science rejects falsifiability in favor of Kuhnian paradigm shifts. That is where some young turk like Einstein cooks up a new theory that catches on without experimental evidence. Einstein is supposed to be a good example because he ignored the experimental evidence.

This is all nonsense, of course. The inventors of relativity were indeed motivated by the experiment that falsified previous ideas. Then Einstein just summarized their theory. The paradigm shift philosophy is garbage. This is all documented in my book.

Here is a slightly edited version of a recent Wikipedia discussion:
Colin Howson [5]: "Lorentz was justified in asserting that: ... the chief difference [is] that Einstein simply postulates what we have deduced ..."

Credit is usually given to the person making the initial deduction rather than some randomly selected scholar using it as a postulate later.

Yes, that is a funny thing about relativity. There are historians and philosophers who have written entire essays on how, in Einstein's case only, it is better to credit the one who postulated what others proved.

I think the both of you are precisely missing the entire point here. ... Since you insist, the point you are missing is this: "As to the ether... though the conception of it has certain advantages, it must be admitted that if Einstein had maintained it he certainly would not have given his theory, so we are grateful to him for not having gone along old-fashioned roads." (Lorentz, 1922). Lorentz seems to know who gets the credit. Resting case. [Quote is from Hendrik Antoon Lorentz, "Problems of Modern Physics; a course of lectures delivered in the California Institute of Technology," Edited by H. Bateman, _Ginn_, 1927.]

That quote is from 1922, and by then Einstein had reversed himself. In 1920, he said, "More careful reflection teaches us, however, that the special theory of relativity does not compel us to deny ether."
So Einstein's main contribution was to postulate what Lorentz and Poincare had proved, but we are supposed to credit Einstein anyway because of some vague kind remark that Lorentz made in his old age.

Greene's Einstein analogy

The last chapter of The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos, by Brian Greene, says:
In the early 20th century, Einstein argued that scientists needed to take Maxwell's equations more seriously. If Maxwell's equations didn't refer to a standard of rest, then there was no need for a standard of rest. ... Everyone had access to Maxwell's mathematics, but it took the genius of Einstein to embrace the mathematics fully. And with that move, Einstein broke through to the special theory of relativity, overturning centuries of thought regarding space, time, matter, and energy.
Much of his argument for alternate universes is based on a weird analogy to Einstein, but it doesn't even make any sense. Einstein did not take the equations any more seriously than anyone else. His famous 1905 special relativity paper did say:
the electrodynamic foundation of Lorentz's theory of the electrodynamics of moving bodies is in agreement with the principle of relativity.
But Lorentz and Poincare said that years earlier. As noted below, Einstein did not embrace or even understand the mathematics. He claimed later that he did not even believe in Maxwell's equations because he thought that light was composed of particles.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Galileo moment

When scientists attack religion, they always cite Galileo, and they always get the story wrong.

NPR radio had a program on the veracity of the Biblical Adam and Eve, with this summary:
Several other well-known theologians at Christian universities have also been forced out. Of course, science has clashed with church doctrine before.

Unidentified Man #2: Galileo Galilei having held and believed a doctrine which is false and contrary to Scripture that the sun is the center of the world, that the earth is not the center of the world, we condemn you to formal imprisonment in this holy office.

Mr. KARL GIBERSON (Author): The evolution controversy today is, I think, a Galileo moment.

HAGERTY: Karl Giberson is author of "Saving Darwin: How To Be A Christian and Believe In Evolution."

Mr. GIBERSON: When you ignore science, you end up with egg on your face. And the Catholic Church has had an awful lot of egg on its face for centuries because of Galileo. And Protestants would do very well to look at that and to learn from it.
From this interview:
CONAN: Albert Mohler and Daniel Harlow are with us. Daniel Harlow, a religion professor at Calvin College, Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. And, Barbara Bradley Hagerty, I wanted to bring you back into this conversation. You describe this in your story as the Galileo moment - of course, the great Italian who argued that the Earth revolves around the sun, not the other way around, as some interpretations of the Bible would have you believe. He got into a little trouble for that from the Catholic Church, which apologized only 350-odd years later.

HAGERTY: That's right. That's right. Well, there's a debate. I think Albert Mohler would not say this is a Galileo moment. I think others would. The scientists who don't take literal interpretation of the Bible would. But what everyone agrees on is that this is a huge debate of the size of the Galileo moment. This is a clash of science and religion, where some people are going to decide that science trumps the interpretation. That we have to take account of the science and the genomic evidence, and therefore we have to - this is what some people say - therefore we have to think about the Bible, the Genesis account a little bit differently. Is it a metaphor? Is it a story? Is it allegory? What is it? Does it have great themes, great ideas, but is it not literal? And so in that sense, what you have is just a parallel clash of religion and science. And people are duking it out right now, trying to figure out which is right.
No, the Catholic Church did not ignore science in the Galileo affair. Galileo was the one who gave fallacious science arguments, as I explain in my book.

There has been recent DNA evidence about human origins, and it appears to be contrary to the most literal interpretations of Genesis. It also appears contrary to the prevailing out-of-Africa theory, as noted

The leftist-atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coyne argues:
Yes, you’ve got a problem. Because if Adam and Eve didn’t really exist in the way the Bible describes them, maybe Jesus didn’t either. And if he didn’t, there goes Christianity. For even non-literalist but evangelical Christians, like Francis Collins, hold fast to the literal truth of the divinity and resurrection of Christ. Why does that story bear more veracity than Adam and Eve? If it doesn’t, there’s simply no good reason to continue being a Christian.
That is pretty crazy. People are Christians because they believe in the teachings of the Gospels, and they do not even mention Adam and Eve. Scientists are not abandoning science because of weaknesses in the out-of-Africa theory.

As another example of a silly Galileo argument, a WSJ blog just had this:
In a debate early this month, Rick Perry likened skeptics of global-warmist doctrine to Galileo, a scientist who was persecuted for questioning an earlier era's dogma. Naturally, this infuriated global warmists such as Joe Romm, who writes a blog called Climate Progress for the left-liberal site
The media may not be ready to offer a full-throated defense of climate science, but they know that Galileo was the scientist, that the Inquisition were composed of religious zealots analogous to Perry (who prayed for the EPA to stop environmental regulations), and Galileo didn't get "outvoted."
Invoking "Galileo" is Perry's "dog-whistle" to the deniers, a name they like to invoke on their side, as laughable as that may sound.
Laughable? An Associated Press dispatch published yesterday questions why Americans have an "urge to deny" global warming, a doctrine to which the supposedly impartial news organization apparently subscribes. Read all the way to the bottom and you'll get this:
Last May the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences, arm of an institution that once persecuted Galileo for his scientific findings, pronounced on manmade global warming: It's happening. Said the pope's scientific advisers, "We must protect the habitat that sustains us."
In citing Galileo, Perry might have been even more right than he knew.
These are strained analogies. If Galileo is going to define science for public discussions, then we ought to get the story right.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Fast neutrinos are possible

Steve Landsburg compares believing that neutrinos go faster-than-light with believing that the South won the American civil war.

This is crazy. I very much doubt that neutrinos go faster than light, but it is possible.

The Standard Model of particle physics said that neutrinos are massless, and go at the speed of light. The model says that there are three kinds of neutrinos, the usual plus two others.

Light and neutrinos from the 1987A supernova were detected on Earth at about the same time, indicated that light and neutrinos go at the same speed, or nearly the same speed.

Measurements of solar neutrinos only found a third of those predicted by model nuclear reactions in the Sun. After many years of debate, this was eventually resolved by saying that the neutrinos have mass, and they oscillate into the other two kinds of neutrinos. This was contrary to the Standard Model.

A bunch of physicists in recent years have pursued theories of Lorentz-violating neutrino oscillations.

Thus we really cannot be sure that neutrinos obey the laws of relativity.

Physicist and Einstein worshiper Brian Cox says that the experiment might prove extra dimensions and be the most profound of the last century. Cox is an example of Einstein's bad influence.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Multiverse man interviewed

David Deutsch was interviewed on this morning, plugging his new book.

He is mainly known as the leading advocate of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, which he prefers to call the multiverse. He admits that only about 10% of physicists agree with him.

Like most physicists who promote crackpot ideas, he relies heavily on the concept of a Kuhnian paradigm shift. As Deutsch explains the concept, it is a new worldview like those brought by Copernicus, Galileo, and Darwin. He says that Galileo had a tough time convincing the Inquisition about heliocentrism because he had no demonstrable advantages to his view.

What is really important, says Deutsch, is not predicting experiments but having a properly satisfying explanation of reality. That is what Galileo and Darwin did, he says.

I think that this whole story exemplifies what is wrong with physics. Deutsch did not rely on any empirical evidence or any objectively verifiable theory. None of that is needed for a paradigm shift. As I explain in my book, Kuhnian paradigm shifts are not scientific advances at all, but merely fads among scientists.

What gets me the most is his insistence that he is describing reality, and that the multiverse is more realist than the alternatives.

Here is how many-worlds works. Suppose that you have a laser beam, and a polarized filter that lets 75% of the light thru. Quantum mechanics interprets this as making observations of photon spin, with each photon having a 75% chance of getting thru the filter. The theory has very precise agreement with experiment.

Many-worlds says that each time a photon strikes the filter, the universe splits into two, with the photon going thru the filter in one universe and not the other. We live in one of those universes, and we have no way of gaining knowledge about what happens in the other universe.

The main difference is that instead of saying that the photons have a 75% chance of passing thru the filter, as the standard interpretations say, many-worlds does away with the probabilities and has no way of explaining why 75% of the light passes thru, except to say that we happen to be in one of those universes where that happens. Plus many-worlds hypothesizes all those alternate universes that we can know nothing about.

The many-worlds theory explains nothing, and wrecks perfectly good explanations that we have for many common experiments. I see no merit to it at all. The main argument for it is that it is somehow more realist, if you choose to believe in the reality of the alternate universes. This is not realism. This is a mockery of realism.

Deutsch denied that he is religious or spiritual in any way. I don't see much philosophical difference between his belief in unseen worlds and common religious beliefs in unseen worlds. They are not scientific because they are not based on observable data.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Neutrinos break cosmic speed law

The UK Telegraph reports:
Antonio Ereditato, spokesman for the international group of researchers, said that measurements taken over three years showed neutrinos pumped from CERN near Geneva to Gran Sasso in Italy had arrived 60 nanoseconds quicker than light would have done. ...

If confirmed, the discovery would undermine Albert Einstein's 1905 theory of special relativity, which says that the speed of light is a "cosmic constant" and that nothing in the universe can travel faster.

That assertion, which has withstood over a century of testing, is one of the key elements of the so-called Standard Model of physics, which attempts to describe the way the universe and everything in it works.
AP also says:
GENEVA (AP) — A startling find at one of the world's foremost laboratories that a subatomic particle seemed to move faster than the speed of light has scientists around the world rethinking Albert Einstein and one of the foundations of physics. ...

Plunkett said he is keeping an open mind on whether Einstein's theories need an update, but he added: "It's dangerous to lay odds against Einstein. Einstein has been tested repeatedly over and over again."

Going faster than light is something that is just not supposed to happen according to Einstein's 1905 special theory of relativity — the one made famous by the equation E equals mc2. The speed of light — 186,282 miles per second (299,792 kilometers per second) — has long been considered a cosmic speed limit.

"We'd be thrilled if it's right because we love something that shakes the foundation of what we believe," said famed Columbia University physicist Brian Greene. "That's what we live for."
This is very unlikely to be confirmed. Physicist Brian Cox says that this would be the most profound discovery of the last 100 years.

Einstein's 1905 relativity paper said:
We will raise this conjecture (the purport of which will hereafter be called the “Principle of Relativity”) to the status of a postulate, and also introduce another postulate, which is only apparently irreconcilable with the former, namely, that light is always propagated in empty space with a definite velocity c which is independent of the state of motion of the emitting body.
He did not explicitly say that nothing could go faster than light. It could be inferred from the way that light is used to define time, or the way that mass increases with velocity. So going faster than light is like going backwards in time or exceeding infinite mass. But you could also infer that from previous results, as Poincare used light to define time in 1898 and 1900, and Lorentz showed that mass increases with velocity in 1899.

Neutrinos were not even suspected until the 1930s, and thought to be massless until the 1990s.

Poincare was the first to explicitly say that relativity requires a cosmic speed limit, as he said in his 1904 St. Louis lecture:
From all these results, if they were confirmed, would arise an entirely new mechanics, which would be, above all, characterized by this fact, that no velocity could surpass that of light, (1 Because bodies would oppose an increasing inertia to the causes which would tend to accelerate their motion; and this inertia would become infinite when one approached the velocity of light.) any more than any temperature can fall below absolute zero.

No more for an observer, carried along himself in a translation he does not suspect, could any apparent velocity surpass that of light; and this would be then a contradiction, if we did not recall that this observer would not use the same clocks as a fixed observer, but, indeed, clocks marking 'local time.'
Poincare was also the first to apply these laws of relativity to all physics. Einstein just applied them to electromagnetism in 1905.

There is already an xkcd comic about the neutrinos, and about how news stories about new physics sometimes "end up in pointless arguments about Galileo." Yes, those pointless arguments nearly always are triggered by someone claiming to support science by giving some completely bogus Galileo argument.

While I think that it is very unlikely that neutrinos can go faster than light, it is not impossible. Neutrinos are very hard to detect, and this is a very slight effect. They were thought to travel at the speed of light until about 10 years ago, and now it is thought that they are slower. It is possible that the maximum speed of communication is actually somewhat faster than the speed of light, and light is slowed down by the aether just as it is slowed by glass. And maybe neutrinos are not slowed down by the aether. That would disrupt a lot of known physics, but I do not think that it would cause any time-travel paradoxes. There are actually a bunch of reasons for thinking that neutrinos might violate special relativity.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

2011 Nobel speculation

Here is some speculation about the upcoming Nobel prizes:
REUTERS - Researchers who developed ground-breaking leukaemia drugs, discovered dendrimers and confirmed Einstein's view that quantum entanglement is "spooky" are among Thomson Reuters 2011 top tips to win Nobel prizes for science. ...

Physics, to be announced on Tuesday Oct. 4

* Alain Aspect of the Institut d'Optique, Palaiseau France and the Ecole Polytechnique France, John Clauser, a research physicist at the U.S.-based J.F. Clauser & Associates, and Anton Zeilinger of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, for their tests of Bell's inequalities and research on quantum entanglement.

* Sajeev John of the University of Toronto and Eli Yablonovitch of the University of California Berkeley, for their invention and development of photonic band gap materials.

* Hideo Ohno, director of the Center for Spintronics Integrated Systems at Tohoku University in Japan for contributions to ferromagnetism in diluted magnetic semiconductors.
Einstein did not believe in quantum mechanics. Clauser thought that he was going to get a Nobel Prize for doing the experiment that disproves quantum mechanics.

But all those Bell test experiments confirmed quantum mechanics, and are consistent with the way that the theory has been understood since 1930. Many physicist view these experiments as a silly waste of time because they just confirm existing knowledge, and do not tell us anything new. Others say that it is the most profound work in the history of science.

No Nobel prize has been given for these experiments before. I would bet against. I think that a prize for something new is more likely, such as one for dark energy.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Physicists bid farewell to reality?

An 18 April 2007 Nature story reports:
There's only one way to describe the experiment performed by physicist Anton Zeilinger and his colleagues: it's unreal, dude.

Measuring the quantum properties of pairs of light particles (photons) pumped out by a laser has convinced Zeilinger that "we have to give up the idea of realism to a far greater extent than most physicists believe today."

By realism, he means the idea that objects have specific features and properties — that a ball is red, that a book contains the works of Shakespeare, or that an electron has a particular spin.
No, there is no evidence at all against realism, with that definition. There is only a problem if you define realism as requiring that the properties of objects be unchanged by observation. For example, you can measure an electron's position, but it will not stay put.
Allied to this assault on reality was the apparent prediction of what Albert Einstein, one of the chief architects of quantum theory, called 'spooky action at a distance'. Quantum theory suggests that disturbing one particle can instantaneously determine the properties of a particle with which it is 'entangled', no matter how far away it is. This would violate the usual rule of locality: that local behaviour is governed by local events.

Einstein could not believe that the world was really so indeterminate. He supposed that a deeper level of reality had yet to be uncovered — so-called 'hidden variables' that specified an object's properties precisely and in strictly local terms.
No, Einstein was not one of the chief architects of quantum theory. He did not believe in it, or even understand it, if he thought that local hidden variable theories were intuitive and plausible alternatives to quantum mechanics. No one has ever been able to make any sense out of those theories.

Nowadays, realism is often mean to imply something like the De Broglie–Bohm theory or Many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. But these theories have bizarre and incomprehensible features that do not seem realistic to me.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Knocking on Heaven’s Door

Harvard string theorist Lisa Randall is plugging her new book here (and also here and PBS Charlie Rose):
But I wanted to do more than just summarize the physics. The second important category of ideas I wanted to address has to do with the nature of science itself, and how active scientists go about advancing their field. ... The ideas that underlie science are critical to rational thinking in general and should be widely known ...

The underlying ideas here are the notions of “scale” such as energy or distance scales, and what it means to be right and wrong -— both themes that resonate in other topics I’ll later address. ...

The first section also expands on the nature of science, taking Galileo, whose work recently held its four hundredth birthday, as a departure point. Given my book’s title, I figured I also had to address the relation of religion and science (though that is not what the title really refers to).
It is embarrassing for a physicist to be lecturing us on "the nature of science itself" and "right and wrong", using Galileo as the prime example in his dispute with the Catholic Church over the Copernican revolution.

She explains that Galileo had 3 arguments for the Copernicus model: 4 Jupiter moons, Moon topography, and Venus phases. As she correctly says, he found these with his telescope and immediately published his observations in a 1610 book. As she also says, these were accepted by the Church and everyone else without much controversy.

The trouble with explanation is that the leading geocentric model of the day was Tycho's, and those Galileo observations were not contrary to Tycho's model at all. Galileo's main argument against geocentrism (and for the motion of the Earth) was based on an entirely fallacious theory of the tides. The Church scientists had correctly refuted his tidal theory, and the dispute was only about whether his arguments disproved geocentrism. On that point, the Church was correct.

Nevertheless, Randall makes a big point out of saying that Galileo was right, Tycho was wrong, and modern physics should learn from their examples. She is more evidence of How Einstein Ruined Physics.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Italian scientists on trial

BBC reports:
Next week six scientists and an official go on trial in Italy for manslaughter over the earthquake in L'Aquila that killed 309 people two years ago.

This extraordinary case has attracted international attention because science itself seemed to be on trial, with the seven defendants apparently charged for failing to predict the magnitude 6.3 earthquake that struck on the night of 6 April 2009. ...

The signatories to the letter say the authorities should focus on earthquake protection, instead of pursuing scientists in what some feel is a Galileo-style inquisition. ...

The prosecution team said they never intended to put science on trial, that they know it is not possible to predict an earthquake.
There is more info in Nature mag.

The scientists are not on trial for failing to predict an earthquake. They were called to the town 6 days before Italy's biggest quake of the last 30 years, and asked for their professional opinions on evidence that a quake was imminent. If they presented the best available scientific info, then they should have no problem.

The scientists apparently assured the residents that there would be no quake. Some lives were saved by local officials who did not believe the scientists, and moved people to safer buildings.

If Galileo had presented the best available scientific info, then he whould have no problem either.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Defining the relativity principle

This new article by a couple of Hungarian philosophers claims to explain the precise mathematical difference between the relativity principle and Lorentz covariance.

The relativity principle was named and popularized by Poincare in 1902, and he believed in it when no one else did. He attributed it to Lorentz, but it is not clear that Lorentz accepted it for all velocities until 1904. Einstein used it in 1905 without mentioning Poincare, and said that he was promoting it from being the “Principle of Relativity” to the status of a postulate. These facts are commonly explained in the history of special relativity.

But what no one explains is that Poincare and Einstein meant very different things by the principle. Einstein meant the same as Lorentz's 1895 theorem of the corresponding states, and Poincare meant covariance. Minkowski's 1908 version also meant covariance, and after that, the Lorentz-Einstein version became just a historical footnote. No one has used it since.

More than anything else, it is this simple fact that has caused me to lose respect for Einstein scholars. They publish involved explanations of why Einstein should be credited, but they do not even recognize what Einstein meant by the relativity principle.

It is the covariance that makes time the fourth dimension and makes relativity the study of spacetime geometry. It is the most central and core concept in the whole theory. Einstein missed it. Not only is it absent from his 1905 paper, but when he was asked to write a relativity review paper in 1907, he failed to understand it in Poincare's 1905 paper, and did not even mention it. And when Minkowski's 1908 paper on the subject caused an international sensation, he denounced the concept. After Grossmann published a covariant description of gravity in 1913, Einstein published papers (wrongly) saying that covariant gravity was impossible.

As the Walter Isaacson biography says:
Einstein, who was still not yet enamored of math, at one point described Minkowski's work as "superfluous learnedness" and joked, "Since the mathematicians have grabbed hold of the theory of relativity, I myself no longer understand it."
Einstein's 1905 version of the relativity principle simply postulated what Lorentz proved. That is what Lorentz, Einstein, and everyone else said at the time. And yet no Einstein scholars ever mention this today.

I explain the history of covariance in in How Einstein Ruined Physics.

Update: Another new paper by the same Hungarians tries to show that electromagnetism is covariant. This looks like standard textbook stuff, made confusing by weird philosophical viewpoints.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Dirac was not so strange

A new review (pdf) of The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom, by Graham Farmelo, 2009, says:
Much of Farmelo’s account contains tiresome family drama involving Dirac’s despotic father and suffocating mother. The excessive detail seems to have been included to bolster the hypothesis that Dirac was doomed to strangeness by nurture rather than by nature. There is even a prologue that has no other purpose than to establish this behavioral theory. It is only after 420 pages that Farmelo comes clean: he does not subscribe to the rationale he previously seemed to have been documenting so thoroughly—it was nature, not nurture, after all. “Dirac was born to be a child of few words and was pitiably unable to empathise with others,” he announces. Dirac, Farmelo finally reveals, had autism.

... After reading Farmelo’s biography, you will likely find Dirac’s personality amiable and his character admirable. Chances are, you will not need to know whether Dirac was neurotypical. The strangest man might not even redline your strangeness meter.
I agree with this review. Dirac does not redline my meter, The pop psychology is offensive.

Dirac's biggest problem was that he acquired Einstein's disease, and rejected modern physics in favor of his own theorizing about how the world ought to be. They both wasted their later careers on misguided efforts.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Avoiding aether assumptions

The opinions of several scholars have been added to the Relativity priority dispute article on Wikipedia. This is a useful and informative article, but it suffers from the pro-Einstein bias of most of the scholars.

As a simple example, there are many claims that Lorentz and Poincare clung to a stationary aether, while Einstein abolished it. It is much more accurate to say that Lorentz and Einstein had the same beliefs about the aether, and Poincare abolished it.

Lorentz's 1895 paper says, after a discussion of previous aether theories:
It is not my intention to enter into such speculations more closely, or to express assumptions about the nature of the aether. I only wish to keep me as free as possible from preconceived opinions about that substance, and I won't, for example, attribute to it the properties of ordinary liquids and gases. ...

That we cannot speak about an absolute rest of the aether, is self-evident; this expression would not even make sense. When I say for the sake of brevity, that the aether would be at rest, then this only means that one part of this medium does not move against the other one and that all perceptible motions are relative motions of the celestial bodies in relation to the aether.
Einstein's 1905 paper only says this about the aether:
The introduction of a “luminiferous ether” will prove to be superfluous inasmuch as the view here to be developed will not require an “absolutely stationary space” provided with special properties, nor assign a velocity-vector to a point of the empty space in which electromagnetic processes take place.
So Lorentz said that he was not expressing assumptions about the aether, and Einstein said that the introduction of aether was superfluous to his presentation. Lorentz said that the absolute rest of the aether makes no sense, and Einstein said that absolutely stationary space was not required.

In the three years after 1905, there is no record of Lorentz or Einstein expressing any disagreement about the aether, or of anyone else finding any such difference. Their theory was called Lorentz-Einstein theory. After 1908, the Poincare-Minkowski spacetime approach became popular, and the Lorentz-Einstein theory was obsolete.

Poincare wrote:
Whether the ether exists or not matters little - let us leave that to the metaphysicians; what is essential for us is, that everything happens as if it existed, and that this hypothesis is found to be suitable for the explanation of phenomena. ... while some day, no doubt, the ether will be thrown aside as useless. [1889]

There is no absolute space, and we only conceive of relative motion; and yet in most cases mechanical facts are enunciated as if there is an absolute space to which they can be referred. 2. There is no absolute time. When we say that two periods are equal, the statement has no meaning, and can only acquire a meaning by a convention. [1901]
It is very strange that anyone would attach such great importance to the aether, when it played no part in Poincare's theory.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Challenging the status quo

A NewScientist letter complains:
How the Earth wasn't

RESIDENTS of Winnipeg in Canada (and doubtless elsewhere) have recently been bombarded with a television advert for Infiniti, apparently a brand of luxury personal transport, that opens with the suggestion that: "If no one ever challenged the status quo, the Earth would still be flat."

James Daun, clearly a believer in an objective reality that exists independently of our beliefs, says he "would hesitate to deal with a company that believed that the Earth ever was flat".
The ad goes on to Einstein E=mc2, Elvis Presley, and the Berlin Wall.

Of course the Earth was never flat, and there was never a prevailing scientific opinion that it was flat. The ancient Greeks knew the diameter of the Earth. See Myth of the Flat Earth.

It is a big myth that Einstein's special relativity was challenging the status quo. At the
time of his big paper (1905), it was the best established theory as Lorentz had already
gotten the Nobel Prize in 1902 and Michelson was about to get it (in 1907).

If anything, the theory at the time that was challenging the status quo was that of Max Abraham. It was popular mainly among younger physicists.

At least the ad did not credit Columbus or Galileo with disproving the flat Earth.

Update: There are ancient Roman coins showing a round Earth. For example, here is a picture of one with the description, Gordian in military dress, standing r., holding transverse scepter and globe.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The most powerful idea

Darwinists say that Natural selection is the most powerful idea ever discovered. I am trying to understand why they say this, even tho the idea is very nearly a tautology with no direct scientific consequences. So I looked for analogies in other sciences.

The closest I found in physics was Maxwell–Boltzmann statistics, but that has direct quantitative consequences and is not politicized. The best analogy is the Invisible hand in economics.

Here are the similarities between the invisible hand and natural selection.
  • Sacred words. Each phrases was invented and popularized by a great master
    who wrote a great book that became the bible of the field.
  • Tautology. Both are true by definition, and not subject to empirical test.
  • Metaphor. Among the more serious scholars, the phrase is treated as just
    a metaphor to guide further investigations.
  • Emergent. Both phrases are about how individual selfishness can lead to
    system equilibrium, without the pieces understanding events in the large.
  • Anthropomorphizing nature. Both attempt to describe a force of nature,
    but do it by pretending that there is some imaginary being applying the force.
    The word "select" normally means the voluntary choice of a conscious being. Likewise with "hand".
  • Deity denial. While the metaphor suggests a conscious force, it also denies that a
    supernatural god is involved.
To Dawkins, the really important point is that natural selection allows an atheistic worldview:
Although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.
Just for comparison, here are some powerful ideas from the 20th century, mostly in mathematics.
  • Goedel's completeness and incompleteness theorems
  • Axiomatization of set theory
  • Infinite dimensional metric spaces
  • Noether's theorem on symmetry and conservation laws
  • DNA digitally encodes components for proteins
  • Relativistic symmetry and causality
  • Algebraic topology
  • Noncommuting observables
  • Connections on bundles

Friday, September 9, 2011

Kragh on scientific revolutions

The Danish historian Helge Kragh has a new book on failed physics theories, as discussed below. He is mainly known for writing Quantum Generations, a 1999 overview of 20th century physics. His account of relativity recites some common myths:
The famous 1887 Michelson Morley experiment was an attempt to measure the motion of the earth relative to the ether by means of an advanced interferometer technique. The experiment was performed at the Case School for Applied Science in Cleveland, Ohio, where Michelson was a professor of physics. ...

Lorentz’s first explanation of Michelson’s result was clearly ad hoc and not even based on his electrodynamic theory. During the following decade he greatly developed the theory, and in 1899 the Dutch theorist was able to derive the length contraction from the more general transformation formulas between the coordinates of a body moving through the ether and those of one at rest with regard to the ether. Lorentz wrote these transformations in a more complete form in 1904, the same form that we know today. He was not, however, the first to put the full "Lorentz transformations" in print. As a purely mathematical transformation, they can be found in a work on the Doppler effect published by Woldemar Voigt as early as 1887. More to the point, in 1900 Larmor derived the equations from his own version of electron theory. By means of the Lorentz Larmor transformations, the null result of the Michelson Morley experiment could be explained easily. Indeed, it followed from Lorentz’s theory that there could be no detectable effects of uniform motion through the ether, not just to the second order in v/c, but also to all orders.
That's right, Lorentz interpreted Michelson-Morley as showing that the speed of light is constant for all observers, and deduced his transformations from that. He later integrated electromagnetism into his relativity theory, and showed that the relativity principle held to all orders. By 1904, he had a relativity theory that could explain all of the known experiments. Others had similar formulas.

Kragh also credits Poincare:
No sketch of the prehistory of relativity, however brief, can avoid mentioning Henri Poincaré alongside Lorentz. Based on his conventionalist conception of science, around 1900 the French mathematician questioned whether the simultaneity of two events could be given any objective meaning. As early as 1898 he wrote, “Light has a constant speed.... This postulate can¬not be verified by experience, ... it furnishes a new rule for the definition of simultaneity” (Cao 1997, 64). Two years later, at the Paris world congress of physics, Poincaré discussed whether the ether really existed. Although he did not answer the question negatively, he was of the opinion that the ether was at most an abstract frame of reference that could not be given physical properties. In his Science and Hypothesis of 1902, Poincaré declared the question of the ether to be metaphysical, just a convenient hypothesis that some day would be discarded as useless. In his address to the St. Louis congress in 1904, he examined critically the idea of absolute motion, argued that Lorentz’s local time (t') was no more unreal than his general time (t), and formulated what he called the relativity principle, namely, the impossibility of detecting absolute, uniform motion. His formulation of 1904 is worth quoting: “According to the Principle of Relativity the laws of physical phenomena must be the same for a ‘fixed’ observer as for an observer who has a uniform motion of translation relative to him ... there must arise an entirely new kind of dynamics, which will be characterized above all by the rule, that no velocity can exceed the velocity of light” (Sopka and Moyer 1986, 293). Up to this point, Poincaré’s intervention in the discussion had been mainly programmatic and semiphilosophical. In the summer of 1905, without knowing about Einstein’s forthcoming paper, he developed an electrodynamic theory that in some respects went beyond Lorentz’s. For example, he proved the relativistic law of addition of velocities, which Lorentz had not done, and also gave the correct transformation formula for the charge density. Apart from restating the principle of relativity as “a general law of nature,” Poincaré modified Lorentz’s analysis and proved that the Lorentz transformations form a group with the important property that x2 + y2 + x2 - c2 t2 is invariant, that is, remains the same in any frame of reference. He even noticed that the invariant could be written in the symmetric way x2 + y2 + z2 + T2 if the imaginary time coordinate T = ict was introduced. Poincaré’s theory was an important improvement, a relativity theory indeed, but not the theory of relativity. Strangely, the French mathematician did not follow up on his important insights, nor did he show any interest in Einstein’s simultaneously developed theory of relativity.
Yes, this is correct up to the point were he says that Poincare's relativity theory was not the theory of relativity. It is Poincare's theory that was accepted by physicists, not Einstein's.

Kragh explains Einstein's version:

When twenty six year old Albert Einstein constructed the special theory of relativity in June 1905, he was unknown to the physics community. The paper he submitted to the Annalen der Physik was remarkable in several ways, quite apart from its later status as a work that revolutionized physics. For example, it did not include a single reference and thus obscured the sources of the theory, a question that has been scrutinized by later historians of science. Einstein was not well acquainted with the literature and came to his theory wholly independently. He knew about some of Poincaré’s nontechnical works and Lorentz’s work of 1895, but not about Lorentz’s (or Larmor’s) derivation of the transformation equations. Another puzzling fact about Einstein’s paper is that it did not mention the Michelson Morley experiment or, for that matter, other optical experiments that failed to detect an ether wind and that were routinely discussed in the literature concerning the electrodynamics of moving bodies. There is, however, convincing evidence not only that Einstein was aware of the Michelson Morley experiment at the time he wrote his paper, but also that the experiment was of no particular importance to him. He did not develop his theory in order to account for an experimental puzzle, but worked from much more general considerations of simplicity and symmetry. These were primarily related to his deep interest in Maxwell’s theory and his belief that there could be no difference in principle between the laws of mechanics and those governing electromagnetic phenomena. In Einstein’s route to relativity, thought experiments were more important than real experiments.
Yes, Einstein did not cite his sources or explain how his theory was any better than Lorentz's. Lorentz was one of the most famous theoretical physicists in Europe, and some say that it is very likely that Einstein had access to Lorentz's papers and lied about it. Even if Einstein did not have all the papers in 1905, he certainly did later, and there can be no excuse for his failure to acknowledge previous work throughout his life.

Einstein was able to ignore the experimental evidence because he was just giving an exposition of Lorentz's theory. He trusted Lorentz to have interpreted the experiments correctly. No one thought that Einstein's paper was revolutionary because it was seen as the same as Lorentz's theory.
Most unusually at the time, the first and crucial part of Einstein’s paper was kinematic, not dynamic.
No, that was not unusual. That is the same thing that Lorentz did 13 years earlier, as explained above. The first part was based on the speed of light being constant for all observers, and the second part reconciles the transformations with the equations for electrodynamics.
Contrary to those of Lorentz and Poincaré, Einstein’s formulas related to real, physically measurable space and time coordinates. One system was as real as the other.
Other historians say this, but it is nonsense. Lorentz and Poincare were directly and explicitly concerned with explaining the Michelson-Morley and other experiments. Those explanations do not make any sense unless they concern real physical measurements. Of course Lorentz's and Poincare's formulas used real space and time coordinates.

Those who credit Einstein need to say that he was original and that he revolutionized physics with pure thought. They have the problem that others had all the formulas years beforehand. So they have to somehow discount the meaning of those formulas, and deny that Einstein relied on experiments. The result is a story that does not make any sense.
Einstein’s theory was taken up and discussed fairly quickly, especially in Germany. Its true nature was not recognized immediately, however, and it was often assumed to be an improved version of Lorentz’s electron theory. The name “Lorentz Einstein theory” was commonly used and can be found in the literature as late as the 1920s. The most important of the early relativity advocates was Max Planck, ... Another important advocate was the Göttingen mathematician Hermann Minkowski who, in a 1907 lecture, presented relativity theory in a four dimensional geometrical framework with a strong metaphysical appeal. Minkowski introduced the notion of a particle’s world-line and explained enthusiastically how radical a break with the past the theory of relativity was: “Henceforth space by itself, and time by itself, are doomed to fade away into mere shadows, and only a kind of union of the two will preserve an independent reality” (Galison 1979, 97). However, Minkowski considered Einstein’s theory to be a completion of Lorentz’s and interpreted it, wrongly, to be within the framework of the electromagnetic worldview.
Yes, Minkowski and everyone else considered Einstein's theory to be an improved version of Lorentz’s electron theory. They were correct.

That four dimensional geometrical framework for relativity was what made the theory take off. Minkowski's paper was very widely circulated in 1908, and it was based on the work of Lorentz and Poincare. Einstein's paper was irrelevant to Minkowski and nearly everyone else. It only influenced Planck, as far as I can tell.

As you can see on this chart from Kragh's book, relativity papers took off in 1908, not 1905.
The picture of Einstein as an all knowing and somewhat arrogant rationalist who did not care about experiments is undoubtedly widespread and part of the Einstein myth. But it is basically wrong, at least as far as the younger Einstein is concerned.
Kragh has helped promote this myth by denying that relativity theory is the result of experiments.
Einstein’s theory of relativity shared with Darwin’s evolutionary biology, Röntgen’s invisible rays, and Freud’s psychoanalysis the fact that it was met with an enormous interest outside as well as within the scientific community. It became one of the symbols of the modernism of the interwar period and, as such its importance extended far beyond physics. Einstein’s theory was labeled “revolutionary,” a term commonly associated with the passage from Newtonian to Einsteinian physics. The theory of relativity was indeed a kind of conceptual revolution and in the early 1920s the revolution metaphor, freely associating to political revolutions, became a trademark of Einstein’s theory. It was a trademark that Einstein did not want to sanction. Einstein did not consider himself a revolutionary; in papers and addresses, he repeatedly stressed the evolutionary nature of the development of science. The theory of relativity, he often said, was the natural outcome of the foundations of physics laid by Newton and Maxwell. Thus, in a 1921 paper, Einstein noted, “There is someting [sic] attractive in presenting the evolution of a sequence of ideas in as brief a form as possible, and yet with a completeness sufficient to preserve throughout the continuity of development. We shall endeavour to do this for the theory of relativity and to show that the whole ascent is composed of small, almost self evident steps of thought” (Hentschel 1990, 107).
No, Einstein lied about his sources throughout his life, and always describe his relativity work as a revolutionary flash of genius that has no need for the work of Lorentz and Poincare.
. In his best selling The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn argued against the positivistic view of science, suggested that there is no such thing as scientific progress across periods of revolutionary change, and hinted that science develops in a nonrational manner. The message, it seemed to many of his young readers, was that physics was no more scientific than psychology, art history, or literary criticism. Nor was modern astronomy to be believed any more than astrology. ...

The works of Kuhn and Feyerabend formed the background of other historical, philosophical, and sociological studies of science, the latest fashion being known as the program of sociology of scientific knowledge or social constructivism. Contructivist [sic] sociologists of the 1980s and 1990s denied that the scientific world view is grounded in nature and should therefore be given higher priority than any other worldview. Science, they said, is basically a social and cultural construction fabricated by negotiations, political decisions, rhetorical tricks, and social power. Since truth and falsehood are always relative to a given local framework, scientists’ beliefs about nature are not inherently superior to those of any other group.
Kragh ends up concluding:
The great changes that have occurred in twentieth century physics have built on existing knowledge and a healthy respect for traditions. There have been several attempts to base physics on an entirely new worldview (such as those proposed by Eddington and Milne in the 1930s), but they have all failed. It may seem strange that respect for traditions can produce revolutionary changes, but this is just what Thomas Kuhn described in 1962 under the label “normal science.” On the other hand, the changes that sometimes follow paradigm ruled or “normal” science are not revolutions in the strong sense that Kuhn suggested in 1962, namely, new paradigms incompatible with and totally different from the old ones. No such revolution has occurred in twentieth century physics. After all, a theoretical physicist of the 1990s will have no trouble in understanding the spirit and details of Planck's work of 1900 in which the quantum discontinuity was introduced, nor will a modern experimentalist fail to appreciate J. J. Thomson's classical paper of 1897 in which the electron was announced. There is no insurmountable gap of communication, no deep incommensurability, between the physics of the 1990s and that of a century earlier.

The lesson to be extracted from the latest century of physics is that physical knowledge has greatly expanded and resulted in new and much improved theories, but that these have been produced largely cumulatively and without a complete break with the past. It has always been important to be able to reproduce the successes of the old theories, and this sensible requirement guarantees a certain continuity in theoretical progress. The great discoveries and theories of our century have not, of course, left earlier knowledge intact, but neither have they turned it wholesale into non knowledge. Most experimental facts continue to be facts even in the light of the new theories. ...
I agree with this. Kuhn's ideas are widely accepted, but wrong.

My quarrel with Kragh is that he seems to concede that Kuhn's thesis was correct insofar as Einstein's relativity was revolutionary break from previous theories. If Einstein's 1905 paper were really so original, so radical, so independent of experiment, and so influential, then there might be some merit to Kuhn's view of revolutionary science. But all of that is completely wrong, as you can see by parsing Kragh's own facts.

I think that there is an Einstein reality distortion field. People idolize him even when it goes against their own facts and theories.

All of this is explained in my book, altho I did not know of Kragh's work when I wrote it. Kragh confirms everything I say, and I would have mentioned him if I had known about him.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Particles lead to paradoxes

A new paper by Randall C. O’Reilly, a non-physicist, says:
about some foundational issues in the way the field has developed. The quantum world apparently exhibits a number of strange properties, including randomness, complementarity, wave-particle duality, and nonlocality. Virtually every major figure in the field has attested to the fundamental incomprehensibility of this world, e.g., Feynman’s famous claim that “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.” As I’ve delved deeper into the primary literature, I can see why: the verbal descriptions of quantum physics in introductory material are often completely at odds with the actual mathematical and conceptual frameworks that experts actually use (e.g., Klassen, 2011), and these frameworks are obviously just calculational tools, rife with virtual, non-physical entities and gratuitous non-localities. But in this primary literature, I also found the apparently neglected work of a number of physicists, that seems to paint an entirely sensible and comprehensible alternative, physical model.

This physical model is based entirely on the ontology of waves, which is (to my surprise) in fact the effective ontology of the vast majority of the mathematics of QM (Nikolic, 2007), despite the seemingly perverse continued insistence on describing things in terms of particles. Doing away with particles entirely seems to resolve a large number of apparent paradoxes and fundamental confusions. To make this pure-waves viewpoint work, one still needs to wrestle with a number of unsolved problems, but there are plausible solutions to each of these problems, even with the tiny smattering of attention they have received. The prospects of obtaining a sane and comprehensible quantum worldview would seem to be sufficient motivation to put significant effort into solving these problems.
I have come to similar conclusions.

A basic premise of quantum mechanics is wave-particle duality, which means that electrons and photons are not really waves or particles, but show properties of both. The quantum paradoxes all start by assuming that electrons and photons are particles, not waves. They are certainly not particles in any ordinary sense of the word. You can treat them as particles for some purposes, as long as you also apply the uncertainty principle and other quantum ideas.

When it comes to foundational issues of quantum mechanics, the particle model may be more trouble than it is worth. Stop calling them particles, and maybe you will be less confused.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Essence of time

Sean M. Carroll and Lubos Motl argue about the essence of time.

Motl starts by saying that imaginary time "is the basic insight of Albert Einstein's theory of relativity." Not true. It was a basic insight of Poincare's 1905 theory and Minkowski's 1908 theory, but Einstein had nothing to do with it. Einstein did not even accept it until after all the other experts accepted it.

Einstein is often credited with being a great genius primarily because time is the most important concept in all of science, and Einstein's abstract theorizing gave us a new understanding of time. But that is entirely false. Einstein did not say anything original about time, and everything he said on the subject had been previously said better by someone else.

Separately, Motl posts 2006 videos on PBS: Albert Einstein, How I See the World:
Albert Einstein is considered one of the greatest scientific thinkers of all time. His theories on the nature of time and space profoundly affected the human conception of the physical world and set the foundations for many of the scientific advances of the twentieth century. As a thinker on the human condition, politics, and all issues of the day, he was as well-respected as anyone in his time. ...

By 1905 Einstein had brought together much of the works of contemporary physicists with his own thoughts on a number of topics including the nature of light, the existence of molecules, and a theory concerning time, mass, and physical absolutes. The “Theory of Relativity” proposed a revolutionary conception of the physical world, suggesting that time, mass, and length were not fixed absolutes, but dependent on the motion of the observer. Two years later he presented his equation E=MC2 (Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared). With this early work Einstein unhinged the assumptions of the absolute within the physical world and set the course for the scientific investigations of the century. ...

Not immediately recognized for the important thinker he was, Einstein moved through a number of teaching jobs before being offered a research position at the University of Berlin in 1914.
This is pretty crazy. Einstein's politics were that of Communist fellow traveler. No decent person had any respect for such views. His early relativity papers did not get him recognized as an important thinker because everyone regarded them as a rehash of Lorentz's theory.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Reality versus realism

Quantum phsysics theorist David Deutsch writes on Einstein the Realist:
Likewise, the mid-twentieth century “Bohr-Einstein debate” about quantum theory is often misinterpreted as a personal clash between wizards. So counter-intuitive are quantum theory’s predictions that, under the leadership of one of its pioneers, Neils Bohr, a myth grew that there is no underlying reality that explains them. Particles get from A to B without passing through the intervening space, where they have insufficient energy to exist; they briefly “borrow” the energy, because we are “uncertain” about what their energy is. Information gets from A to B without anything passing in between – what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance.” And so on.

What these paradoxical interpretations have in common is that they abandon realism, the doctrine that a physical world, existing in reality, accounts for all of our experience. Anti-realism remains popular and appears in various guises in textbooks and popular accounts of quantum theory. But Einstein insisted that physical phenomena have explanations in terms of what he called “elements of reality.”

Fortunately, a minority of physicists, myself included, likewise side unequivocally with realism, by adopting Hugh Everett’s multiple-universes interpretation of quantum theory. According to this view, no particles exist where they have insufficient energy to be; it is simply that in some universes they have more energy than average, and in others, less. All alleged “paradoxes” of quantum theory are similarly resolved.
Einstein denied that he was a realist. His most widely praised work, his famous 1905 special relativity paper, is credited primarily for its anti-realist approach. He later abandoned that anti-realism, as partial explained in my book, How Einstein Ruined Physics.

The term realism means that ordinary things exist and have an objective meaning. In science, it often means that atoms are real, even tho they are only measurable with special instruments. I am not sure that it is a useful term, if means that there are alternate universes that are not measurable by our universe in any way.

Bohr was really a positivist, and not a reality denier, in the Bohr–Einstein debates. There are textbooks today that say that quantum mechanics is contrary to local realism, and hence is somewhat spooky.

Depending on whom you read, realism is supposed to be opposite to positivism, and also to idealism. Yet both of those seem more realist to me than Deutsch's multiple universes.

Here is the best argument for Deutsch's many worlds. In Young's double-slit experiment, light goes thru two slits and forms a diffraction pattern, just as you would expect from light being a wave. But if you assume that light consists of particles called photons, then the diffraction is explained by each photon going thru both slits at once. If you also assume time symmetry, then it seems reasonable to say that if a photon can be two places at once in the past, then it can also be two places at once in the future. But we never observe a photon being in two places at once, as that would violate energy conservation. So we say that the alternate places for those photons in the future exist in alternate universes that we cannot see.

Deutsch also says that a quantum computer would prove the existence of the many worlds, because the parallel worlds would be the answer to the question about where the mysterious parallel computation is taking place. No one has ever made a quantum computer, and no one knows whether it is possible.

Does any of this convince you of many worlds? Not me. It only convinces me to stop calling myself a realist.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Einstein was a Zionist

A Palestinian Arab blog ccclaims:
Albert Einstein, the physics guru of all times, was also an active Jewish personality. However, unlike most 20 Century Jews, Einstein was a loud critic of the Zionist movement. He even proposed creating a Jewish state in Peru (of course today he would've been called a "Self-Hating Jew). I've put together 4 original documents that show us the standpoint of one of humanity's most notable scientists on one of humanity's most unjust conflicts.
The letters show that Einstein advocated peaceful co-existence with Arabs. But he was still a Zionist, as Wikipedia explains. A Zionist site explains:
Asking if Albert Einstein was a Zionist is about like asking if St. Francis Xavier was a Catholic. ... Einstein gave the rights to his name and most of his private papers to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem of which he was a founder and member of the board of trustees. Other papers went to the Weizmann Institute of Science. He spoke and worked for Zionism for much of his life, beginning in the 1920s. He raised money for Zionism. He congratulated President Truman on the founding of the Jewish State. If everyone was an "anti-Zionist" like Albert Einstein, we would hardly need any Zionists. ...

When President Harry Truman recognized Israel in May 1948, Einstein declared it “the fulfillment of our dreams.” Perceiving its vulnerability after independence, he again set aside his pacifism in the name of human preservation. “No one respects or bothers about those who do not fight for their rights,” a changed Einstein wrote to his cousin in Uruguay. As planned, the cousin auctioned off Einstein’s letter, raising $5,000 to buy arms for the Haganah.
Einstein's Zionism was not just a private political opinion. His first trip to the United States in 1921 was not for scientific purposes or vacation, but for Zionist fund-raising in New York. Here is the 1921 NY Times article. The 1955 obituary said, "His love for the oppressed also led him to become a strong supporter of Zionism."

Christopher Jon Bjerknes wrote a book on Einstein and has a Jewish Racism blog. He has many offensive opinions there about Jews, and has very harsh criticisms of Einstein. You can download his book. If you can get past his opinions, he carefully documents what he says, and as far as I know, his quotes and references are all authentic. He documents Einstein's Zionism.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Neuroscientists against free will

The current Nature magazine (the British Scientific American, 31 August 2011 | Nature 477, 23-25 (2011) | doi:10.1038/477023a) features Neuroscience vs philosophy: Taking aim at free will:
The experiment helped to change John-Dylan Haynes's outlook on life. In 2007, Haynes, a neuroscientist at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience in Berlin, put people into a brain scanner in which a display screen flashed a succession of random letters1. He told them to press a button with either their right or left index fingers whenever they felt the urge, and to remember the letter that was showing on the screen when they made the decision. The experiment used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to reveal brain activity in real time as the volunteers chose to use their right or left hands. The results were quite a surprise.

"The first thought we had was 'we have to check if this is real'," says Haynes. "We came up with more sanity checks than I've ever seen in any other study before."

The conscious decision to push the button was made about a second before the actual act, but the team discovered that a pattern of brain activity seemed to predict that decision by as many as seven seconds. Long before the subjects were even aware of making a choice, it seems, their brains had already decided.

As humans, we like to think that our decisions are under our conscious control — that we have free will. Philosophers have debated that concept for centuries, and now Haynes and other experimental neuroscientists are raising a new challenge. They argue that consciousness of a decision may be a mere biochemical afterthought, with no influence whatsoever on a person's actions. According to this logic, they say, free will is an illusion. "We feel we choose, but we don't," says Patrick Haggard, a neuroscientist at University College London.

You may have thought you decided whether to have tea or coffee this morning, for example, but the decision may have been made long before you were aware of it.
(Free registration required for the whole article.) Using brain scans, they can predict choices a couple of seconds in advance 60% of the time, whereas random guessing would predict 50%.

The new atheists have declared that nature is deterministic, that these experiments prove that we have no free will, and that religion falsely makes us morally responsible for our actions.

I think that it is baffling why anyone would think that the above experiment has anything to do with free will. The article gives some explanation, but also cites philosophers who say that the atheist neuroscientists are wrong.

It seems obvious to me that it is very difficult to make a decision faster than about ten seconds. Athletes, cops, traders, and others seem to make faster decisions, but only after extensive training that allows them to decide in advance about a wide range of scenarios. Given an unfamiliar situation, and they cannot make a quick decision.

There is no evidence against free will. These experiments only show that our detection equipment is much quicker than our decision making ability.