Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Radio interview trashes multiverse

Here is a downloadable (mp3) interview about my book.

One of the points I made is that Einsteinian thinking is used to promote the multiverse, and alternate universes containing slightly alterred versions of our world.

Mathematical physicist Peter Woit writes:
Yet another cover story about the Multiverse can be found this week at New Scientist, which calls it The Ultimate Guide to the Multiverse. As just one more in a long line of such stories over the last decade, a trend that shows no signs of slowing down, one can be pretty sure that this is not the yet the “ultimate” one, nor even the penultimate one.

The content is the usual: absolutely zero skepticism about the idea, and lots of outrageous hype from the usual suspects (Bousso, Tegmark, Susskind, etc.) ...

This past week also saw the premiere of the Multiverse episode of Brian Greene’s Fabric of the Cosmos series on PBS. It’s more or less an hour-long infomercial for the Multiverse, with the argument against it pretty much restricted to some short grumpy comments by David Gross about how he didn’t like it. ...

The multiverse propaganda machine has now been going full-blast for more than eight years, since at least 2003 or so, and I’m beginning to wonder “what’s next?”. Once your ideas about theoretical physics reach the point of having a theory that says nothing at all, there’s no way to take this any farther.
Woit is right. This is science fiction, not science. There is no experimental evidence for it, and there can be none. The only reason for believing in it is that they say that mathematical speculation can lead to a paradigm shift if they follow Einstein's example. The argument is wrong on many levels.

One comment on Woit's blog said, "It’s not hard to see why physics hasn’t gone anywhere in 20 years, after watching part of that episode." Another argues for the multiverse by some sort of weird analogy to how Einstein supposedly replaced the aether theory in 1905. But that aether theory was able to explain experiments. The multiverse explains nothing.

Another comment quotes Lee Smolin saying:
We ought to be giving the advantage to the Einsteins – people who think for themselves and ignore the established ideas of powerful senior scientists.
This is crazy. Einstein got famous by promoting the ideas of powerful senior scientists, and not by finding new ideas that went against those scientists. At the time that he did his relativity work, relativity was the theory favored by the physics big-shots.

Lubos Motl summarizes part 3 and part 4 of the PBS Nova series, and gives links to the videos. He likes the string theory and other untestable ideas.

Monday, November 28, 2011

How the aether became dark energy

The luminiferous aether was part of ancient Greek cosmology, Maxwell's electrodynamics, and this year's Nobel prize for astronomical evidence for dark energy, as explained below. It is also an essential part of quantum field theory, where it is usually called the vacuum state or the zero-point field. The universality and uniformity of the aether is one of those bedrock scientific principles, like conservation of energy.

But if you try to learn about the history of the aether, you are likely to be fooled by the widespread misconception that Einstein abolished the aether as an Aristotelian prejudice in his 1905 paradigm shift. Thus it is hard to get a grip on how physicists started to believe in the aether again after 1905, how they came to realize that the quantum vacuum energy is the same as the cosmological aether.

Now the distinguished Danish historian Helge Kragh has filled the gap with Preludes to dark energy: Zero-point energy and vacuum speculations.
However, if one wants to point to pre-quantum and pre-relativity analogies to dark energy, a more sensible arena might be the ethereal world view of the late nineteenth century. The general idea that cosmic space is permeated by an unusual form of hidden energy - a dark energy of some sort - was popular during the Victorian era, where space was often identified with the ether. The generally accepted ethereal medium existed in many forms, some of them assuming the ether to be imponderable while others assumed that it was quasi-material and only differed in degree from ordinary matter. The ether was sometimes thought of as a very tenuous, primordial gas. According to the vortex theory, cultivated by British physicists in particular, the discreteness of matter (atoms) was epiphenomenal, derived from stable dynamic configurations of a perfect fluid. This all-pervading fluid was usually identified with the continuous ether. The highly ambitious vortex theory was not only a theory of atoms, it was a universal theory of ether (or space) and matter, indeed of everything.

The point is that by the turn of the nineteenth century few physicists thought of "empty space" as really empty, but rather as filled with an active ethereal medium. H. A. Lorentz and other physicists in the early twentieth century often spoke of the ether as equivalent to a vacuum, but it was a vacuum that was far from nothingness. Although Lorentz was careful to separate ether and matter, his ether was "the seat of an electromagnetic field with its energy and its vibrations, . [and] endowed with a certain degree of substantiality." On the other hand, the popular belief in a dynamically active ether was rarely considered in astronomical or cosmological contexts.
Einstein was at the center of this work, but he missed the boat:
Already in the fall of 1913 Einstein withdrew his support of the zero-point energy and the results reported in his paper with Stern. During the second Solvay conference in late October 1913 the question of the zero-point energy was discussed by Einstein, Wien, Nernst, and Lorentz. Einstein commented: "I no longer consider the arguments for the existence of zero-point energy that I and Mr. Stern put forward to be correct. Further pursuit of the arguments that we used in the derivation of Planck's radiation law showed that this road, based on the hypothesis of zero-point energy, leads to contradictions." In a letter to Ehrenfest a few days later he declared the zero-point energy "dead as a doornail" (Mausetot). However, the announcement of death was premature. ...

Einstein would have nothing of it. "It is well known that all theories characterized by a `zero-point energy' face great difficulties when it comes to an exact treatment," he wrote in a paper of 1915. "No theoretician," he continued, "can at present utter the word `zero-point energy' without breaking into a half- embarrassed, half-ironic smile." ...
Kragh credits Walther Nernst and Georges Lemaitre with making the link from the quantum aether to the cosmological aether. To Einstein, the big bang made the cosmological constant unnecessary, but that is not the way Lemaitre saw it. Kragh calls Lemaitre the father of the big bang, and says he foresaw the quantum vacuum as causing what is now called dark energy.
With the exception of Nernst, the zero-point energy of free space was an unwelcome concept that found no place in quantum physics until the 1930s. Moreover, it remained isolated from the vacuum energy associated with the cosmological constant also after 1934, when Lemaître clearly formulated the connection between vacuum energy, negative vacuum pressure, and the cosmological constant. This insight, which did not rely specifically on the expanding universe, could have been stated many years earlier. But it was not, and when it was stated it attracted no interest. Although the cosmological constant is mathematically equivalent to the gravitational effects of vacuum energy, conceptually the two quantities are entirely different: while the first is a property of space, the latter is a quantum effect. It was only after the establishment of modern big bang theory in the mid-1960s that Zel’dovich thought of integrating the quantum-mechanical zero-point energy with the vacuum energy of the cosmological constant, thereby starting a line of development that would lead to the famous cosmological constant problem and give the vacuum energy a central role in cosmological research.

Vacuum energy in the form of the cosmological constant appeared as a crucial element in the inflation scenarios of the early 1980s, but limited to the very early universe. Lemaître’s version of vacuum energy, on the other hand, had an effect that became relatively more important as the expansion proceeds, and in this sense it was closer to the dark energy of modern cosmology.
Someday phyaicists will be embarrassed that they every abandoned the aether.

For completeness, I should say that this paper denies that zero-point energy has been observed, and that energy density does not agree with dark energy density. Presumably there is some reason why the large scale effects are less than the naive sum of the small scale effects.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Keeping the Divine Foot out

Berlinsky quotes the Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin:
Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.
Jerry Coyne was a student of Lewontin, and attacks Berlinsky

The context for this is using biological evolution to repudiate religion.

It seems to me that physics does not have this commitment to materialism at all, as it accepts all sorts of theories and explanations that do not involve matter. There is light, electricity, magnetism, aether, gravity, and exotic particles. There is dark energy and dark matter, which is not really matter. Quantum mechanics uses wave functions that are not directly observable.
There are theories like string theory and multiverse that have no observable consequences at all. So I do not agree that materialism is absolute.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Einstein's Dream

PBS TV recently rebroadcast The Elegant Universe: Pt 1 - Einstein's Dream. Brian Greene says:
At the age of 26, Einstein made a startling discovery: that the velocity of light is a kind of cosmic speed limit, a speed that nothing in the universe can exceed. But no sooner had the young Einstein published this idea than he found himself squaring off with the father of gravity. ...

What's more, Einstein calculated that these ripples of gravity travel at exactly the speed of light. And so, with this new approach, Einstein resolved the conflict with Newton over how fast gravity travels.
No, Poincare resolved that in 1905, many years ahead of Einstein. Poincare's first 1905 paper said:
It was important to examine this hypothesis more closely and in particular to examine what changes it would require us to make on the law of gravitation. That is what I sought to determine; I was first led to suppose that the propagation of gravitation is not instantaneous, but happens with the speed of light. This seems at odds with results obtained by Laplace, who announced that this propagation is, if not instantaneous, at least much faster than that of light. But in reality, the question posed by Laplace differs considerably from that which occupies us here. For Laplace, the introduction of a finite velocity of propagation was the only change he brought to Newton's law. Here, on the contrary, this change is accompanied by several others; it is possible, and that is indeed what happens, that there occurs between them a partial compensation.

When we therefore speak of the position or velocity of the attracting body, it will be the position or the velocity at the time when the gravitational wave leaves the body; when we talk about the position or velocity of the attracted body, it will be the position or the velocity at the moment when this body was reached and attracted by the gravitational wave emanating from the other body; it is clear that the first instant precedes the second.
This was published and widely distributed before Einstein ever submitted anything on relativity.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Light pulled out of empty space

NewScientist reports:
YOU can get something from nothing - as long as you are moving close to the speed of light. The discovery confirms a 41-year-old prediction on how to pull energy from empty space and produce light.

The phenomenon relies on the long-established fact that empty space is not at all empty, but fizzing with particles that pop in and out of existence (see "Out of the ether: the changing face of the vacuum"). This is down to the laws of quantum mechanics, which say that even a vaccum cannot have exactly zero energy but must exhibit small fluctuations of energy. These fluctuations show themselves as pairs of short-lived particles.

The presence of these "virtual" particles, usually photons, has long been proved in experiments demonstrating the standard Casimir effect, in which two parallel mirrors set close together will feel a pull towards each other. ...

"This is a significant breakthrough," says Diego Dalvit, a physicist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. The energy of virtual photons is cosmologists' best guess of what lies behind the dark energy that is causing the universe's expansion to accelerate. The experiment will "open possibilities for doing table-top experiments of cosmology", Dalvit says.
Everyone agrees that empty space is not empty, but they are not sure what to call it. Here is a recent interview of this year's Nobel prizewinner:
GROSS: So does this finding challenge the law of gravity?

PERLMUTTER: There are a couple of ways that people are trying out to explain what's going on. Why is it that the universe is expanding faster and faster? Some of them involve considering a new energy that could be spread throughout all of space. And we're calling it dark energy for the moment as a placeholder, just because we don't yet know what its properties are.

If that is the explanation, then most of the universe is actually made up of this dark energy that we've never previously studied. ...

GROSS: So when you say it's three-quarters of the universe, is it the space between planets and galaxies?

PERLMUTTER: This dark energy, if that turns out to be the right explanation, is thought to be an energy that's associated with all of empty space. Any space at all in the universe would have some of this energy that's basically making space want to reproduce itself faster and faster, that's making, you know, our universe expand at an accelerated rate.
The best name for what permeates empty space is the luminiferous aether. It is an old-fashioned term, whose popularity might have peaked with J.C. Maxwell's 1878 encyclopedia article on it. It is an outstanding explanation of the pre-relativity aether. He speculates about the mass and energy of empty space, and today's aether is the logical descendant of Maxwell's.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Reality of the quantum wave function

The current Nature issue reports:
At the heart of the weirdness for which the field of quantum mechanics is famous is the wavefunction, a powerful but mysterious entity that is used to determine the probabilities that quantum particles will have certain properties. Now, a preprint posted online on 14 November1 reopens the question of what the wavefunction represents — with an answer that could rock quantum theory to its core. Whereas many physicists have generally interpreted the wavefunction as a statistical tool that reflects our ignorance of the particles being measured, the authors of the latest paper argue that, instead, it is physically real.

“I don't like to sound hyperbolic, but I think the word 'seismic' is likely to apply to this paper,” says Antony Valentini, a theoretical physicist specializing in quantum foundations at Clemson University in South Carolina.

Valentini believes that this result may be the most important general theorem relating to the foundations of quantum mechanics since Bell’s theorem, the 1964 result in which Northern Irish physicist John Stewart Bell proved that if quantum mechanics describes real entities, it has to include mysterious “action at a distance”.
Seems doubtful to me. Lubos Motl debunks it.

The same Nature reporter claims that Neutrino Experiment Replicates Faster-Than-Light Finding. But she is misleading. It is just a slight refinement of the original experiment, and nothing was replicated.

This week PBS TV broadcast Brian Greene's The Fabric of the Cosmos: Quantum Leap. This was an explanation of quantum mechanics, but I found it disappointing.

I thought that it misrepresented the Bohr–Einstein debates, and implied that they were resolved by the Bell test experiments. It ended with goofy speculation about quantum teleportation, quantum computing, and the many-world interpretations of quantum mechanics.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Physics Today on the big paradigms

Steven Sherwood writes in Physics Today about science controversies and paradigm shifts:
Reactions to the science of global warming have followed a similar course to those of other inconvenient truths from physics. ...

The decision [whether to accept the new theory] was not exclusively, or even primarily, a matter for astronomers, and as the debate spread from astronomical circles it became tumultuous in the extreme. To most of those who were not concerned with the detailed study of celestial motions, Copernicus’s innovation seemed absurd and impious. Even when understood, the vaunted harmonies seemed no evidence at all. The resulting clamor was widespread, vocal, and bitter.2

Thus does science historian Thomas Kuhn describe the difficulties experienced by astronomers in convincing the public of the heliocentric theory of the solar system, which ultimately ushered in the scientific revolution. The “clamor” prevailed around the time of Galileo Galilei, more than a half century after Nicolaus Copernicus, on his deathbed, published the heliocentric model in 1543. Copernicus’s calculations surpassed all others in their ability to describe the observed courses of the planets, and they were based on a far simpler conception. Yet most people would not accept heliocentricity until two centuries after his death.

Why did it take so long? To modern minds, the Ptolemaic model of the solar system, with its nested cycles and epicycles, seems rather silly. Surely, the need for a new tweak to the model each time more accurate observations came along should have been a tip-off that something fundamental was wrong. The heliocentric model’s elegance and simplicity, on the other hand, are now appreciated as the hallmarks of credibility for a scientific theory.
When people lecture us on the progress of science, they often cite Copernicus, Galileo, and Einstein as their favorite examples. But they nearly always get the facts wrong, as I detail in my book.

This is important because it leads to some lesson about climate change, or some other very important policy issue of the day. If the examples are wrong, then the science policy argument is probably wrong also.

In the cases of Copernicus, Galileo, and Einstein, the facts are extremely well documented, and there is no excuse for getting them wrong. They get them wrong for ideological reasons.

The above descriptions are nonsense. Copernicus did not have superior calculations, and his model was no simpler or more accurate. The Ptolemaic system did not have nested epicycles. The idea of heliocentrism did not eliminate the need to tweak the model. It is true that a lot of astronomers of the day did not accept the Copernicus model, but it is for scientific reasons that Copernicus could not answer.
Even Albert Einstein was not immune to political backlash. His theory of general relativity, excerpted on the notebook page in figure 2, undermined our most fundamental notions of absolute space and time, a revolution that Max Planck avowed “can only be compared with that brought about by the introduction of the Copernican world system.”5 Though the theory predicted the anomalous perihelion shift of Mercury’s orbit, it was still regarded as provisional in the years following its publication in 1916.
Planck said that in 1910, so he was talking about special relativity, not general relativity.

Here is the lesson -- trust the experts:
It was easy for those not wishing to accept Copernicus’s insight to devise persuasive counterarguments against it. For example, in 1597 one prominent commentator declared that a moving Earth would “see cities and fortresses, towns and mountains thrown down,” and that “neither an arrow shot straight up, nor a stone dropped ... would fall perpendicularly.”2 Those arguments would not fly today because nearly everyone has experiential knowledge, from riding in cars and airplanes, of what are now called the Galilean principles of invariance. But laypeople in the 17th century did not. To explain those abstractions to them would have been much more difficult than to make the neat, simple, and wrong argument advanced by naysayers. As the 17th century progressed, arguments against heliocentricity tended to veer more toward scriptural rather than scientific ones, but both types persisted.

Greenhouse warming today faces an even greater array of bogus counterarguments based on the uninformed interpretation of data from ice cores, erroneous views about natural carbon sources, alleged but unobserved alternative drivers of climate change, naive expectations of the time scales over which models and observations should match, and various forms of statistical chicanery and logical fallacy. Many of the arguments sound reasonable to an inexpert but intelligent layperson. Critics use the alleged ?aws to attempt to discredit the entire field.

Debates between mainstream scientists and silver-tongued opponents cannot be won by the side of truth no matter how obvious the fallacies may be to an expert.
If you subscribe to Kuhn's philosophy, there is no such thing as truth anyway. You cannot hope to make your own independent assessment of what is correct. You just have to trust the experts who are following the right paradigm.

Here is a current example of experts demanding that we accept their policy recommendations:
"More than 99 percent of the medical/scientific world simply are not wrong," Kaplan said. "Moderate salt reduction is an absolute necessity and can be attained by deletion of some of the salt added to virtually all processed food."
I suspect that these experts are wrong. They have done lots of studies on low-salt diets. The diets help some people lower their blood pressure, but that is about all. For most people, there is no measurable benefit to a low-salt diet.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Anti-Einstein movement of the 1920s

Jeroen van Dongen has posted a couple of new papers on early opposition to Einstein. He says:
The Anti-Einstein Rally at the Berlin Philharmonic The anti-Einstein campaign kicked off on August 6, 1920, with an inflammatory article in the Tägliche Rundschau, a Berlin daily newspaper: “Herr Albertus Magnus has been resurrected”; he has stolen the work of others and has mathematized physics to such an extent that fellow physicists have been left clueless. ...

Most of Weyland’s accusations were not new. His charges of plagiarism and propaganda had been leveled earlier by Ernst Gehrcke (1878-1960), ...

In 1919 it had carried an article announcing the results of the British solar eclipse
expedition that rose to laudatory hyperbole, not shying away from declaring that “a highest truth, beyond Galileo and Newton, beyond Kant” had been unveiled by “an oracular saying from the
depth of the skies.” Its author, Alexander Moszkowski (1851-1934), was a close acquaintance of Einstein’s -- and also Jewish. Further, Einstein himself had published a short note on the results of the British eclipse expedition in Die Naturwissenschaften, a highly visible journal whose editor-in-chief was Arnold Berliner (1862-1942) -- another Jew. Finally, on December 14, 1919, the front page of the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung carried a large close-up portrait of Einstein (figure 2) whose caption read: “A new eminence in the history of the world: Albert Einstein, whose researches signify a complete revolution of our understanding of Nature and whose insights equal in importance those of a Copernicus, Kepler, and Newton.” This newspaper had been founded by Leopold Ullstein (1826-1899), yet another prominent Berlin Jew. Weyland thus had seen enough of Einstein's methods: If “German science” now decided to close ranks and take action against Einstein, “settling scores,” Einstein had only himself to blame.
It does appear that most of the early popular press that praised Einstein as the new Copernicus-Kepler-Newton was written and published by Jews. Later on, in the 1930s, there was some Nazi opposition, but most of the opposition was scientific.
Einstein was present at Weyland’s lecture and seemed to be unshaken by it, but it must have upset him. Ernst Gehrcke spoke after Weyland: He too claimed that relativity was nothing but “scientific mass hypnosis”; it was inconsistent, led to solipsism, and was not confirmed by observation--but at least Gehrcke did not rant and rave. To Einstein, it was completely clear that his opponents were politically motivated. According to one account, anti-Semitic pamphlets were handed out, and according to another, swastika lapel pins were being sold.
His other paper says:
Einstein was convinced that the fierceness of his opponents was foremost politically motivated; after all, he was a prominent pacifist, democrat and Jew, hence an ideal scapegoat for German reactionaries, frustrated with the outcome of World War I and the November Revolution. The organizer of the event in the Berlin Philharmonic, Paul Weyland, has indeed been identified as a right-wing rabble-rouser with nationalist and völkisch ideals. It thus seems obvious that the fiery character of the opposition to Einstein in the years of the Weimar Republic should be explained by the volatile nature of the latter’s politics. Historians, in any case, have largely agreed with Einstein’s assessment of his opponents’ deeper motivations. ...

Surprisingly, however, Wazeck finds that the fierceness of the opposition to Einstein was, in fact, not primarily due to the highly charged political atmosphere of the Weimar years. Einstein’s critics could disagree with relativity for a number of reasons: either they maintained a belief in the ether, or in the absolute nature of time, or e.g. found that the theory left too little room for various metaphysical perspectives. Wazeck’s analysis shows that such positions could be found within the academic world, or beyond its perimeter, with “amateur” researchers, of which there were many in the first decades of the last century. These would consider themselves bona fide natural scientists, engaged in proper research in the tradition of the 19th-century gentleman scientist, often believing that the perspective of their academic counterparts had become unduly compartmentalized. Wazeck further identifies three groups of opponents: physicists, philosophers, and, most interestingly, those that had found their own private solution to the riddles of the universe, based on their own newly found principles; in German, the “Welträtsellöser.”
So Einstein has somehow convinced historians that opposition to him was based on his Jewishness or Zionism. But the evidence does not support that. The anti-relativists gave scientific arguments for their positions, even if fallacious.

I think that it is wrong to write off all these anti-relativistics as Nazis or crackpots. While most of their arguments were weak, relativity had been wildly oversold to the public, and so had Einstein's contribution to it. The 1919 eclipse supposedly proved general relativity, but it was really just barely distinguishable from the pre-relativity prediction. Einstein's contributions were so grossly exaggerated that he must have seemed like a charlatan to many people. And if Einstein was a charlatan, that was reason to doubt relativity also.

I am guess that none of this would have happened if Einstein and others had honestly presented the evidence for relativity.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Esterson and Holton on Einstein

Allen Esterson wrote in 2010:
Some big guns among historians of physics have since disputed Whitaker's view, for example, Gerald Holton Holton writes: "If we examine Whitaker's analysis closely, it turns out to be an excellent example of a scholar's prior commitments and prejudgements." He goes on to discuss the issue over the next dozen pages to demonstrate how Whitaker misconceived the historical facts. (*Thematic Origins of Scientific Thought*, 1988, pp. 196-206)
Esterson convinced a PBS Ombudsman that an Einstein show was biased towards claims about his first wife. Some of Holton's book is online. The supposedly misconceived facts are:
1. Whittaker said that Einstein's paper "attracted much attention" but it was actually ignored or criticized in the first few years.
2. Poincare's 1904 lecture/paper only outlined what the principle of relativity might do.
3. Whittaker incorrectly dated Lorentz's 1904 paper as 1903. Holton says, "It is at least a symbolic mistake, symbolic of the way a biographer's preconceptions interact with his material."
4. Einstein denied that he read Lorentz's 1904 paper or Poincare's papers.
5. Einstein did not need Lorentz's 1904 paper, and would have credited it if he did.
6. Lorentz's 1904 paper was titled, "Electromagnetic phenomena in a system moving with any velocity smaller than that of light", but he did not really mean that title.
7. Einstein should get the last word, and he claimed that his work was indepedent.

Holton says that Lorentz was "valiant", Poincare was "gradualist", and Einstein was "creative".

Could anyone be persuaded by such silly arguments? None of it refutes the historical fact that Lorentz and Poincare published relativity theory before Einstein. At best it says that Einstein reinvented part of relativity, if you believe Einstein. One of the things that changed my mind about Einstein was that so many Einstein-worshiping scholars had expended so much effort to prove his originality, and yet their arguments are transparently trivial or ideological or incorrect. It is absurd to say that Einstein would have credited his sources. He spent his whole life lying about his sources. Anyone who knows the first thing about Einstein's personality knows that he was a publicity-seeking egomaniac who never shared credit unless he had to.

Holton is correct that the initial reception to Einstein's 1905 paper was that it was just an elaboration of Lorentz's ideas. No one thought that it was important until years later, when people learned relativity from textbooks that said that Einstein's paper was important. As far as I can tell, the paper had very little direct impact on the growth of interest in relativity. And yet some people say today that the paper was the greatest science paper ever written.

Esterson has recently argued on Wikipedia that Einstein's wife did not contribute anything significant to his papers. (To see it, you have to click to show "Interesting discussion follows, but off-topic in article talk space".) That may be true, but as I said there:
I think that we have a pretty good idea of the influences on Einstein's 1905 relativity paper, but Einstein denied having read Poincare, denied knowing about Michelson-Morley, and denied having read Lorentz except for Lorentz's 1895 paper. And Einstein did not cite any sources in that paper. I am not saying that Maric deserves more credit than Einstein. But there is a myth that Einstein did it all by himself just because he did not cite any sources, and that is false. He surely read some of those papers by Lorentz and Poincare, and he surely got help from his wife.
In arguing for giving Einstein sole credit for relativity, Esterson quotes Lorentz's 1927 praise for Einstein:
I considered my time transformation only as a heuristic working hypothesis. So the theory of relativity is really solely Einstein's work. And there can be no doubt that he would have conceived it even if the work of all his predecessors in the theory of this field had not been done at all. His work is in this respect independent of the previous theories.
Yes, Lorentz was scrupulous about crediting his sources. An article about Lorentz could reasonably assume that Lorentz's influences were exactly what he said that they were. But Einstein gave interviews all his life about how he invented relativity all by himself. Maybe Lorentz, Holton, and Pais believed it, but Darrigol and a lot of others do not give Einstein sole credit. Esterson also recommends Darrigol's article, and he says that Einstein may have read Lorentz's 1904 paper and Poincare's 1898 and 1900 papers (as well as Lorentz 1895 and Poincare 1902).

As I explain in my book, Lorentz's time was heuristic in the sense that he did not have a way of systematically synchronizing clocks so that the time in a moving frame could be related to time in some other frame. Poincare published it in 1900, and it is known as Poincaré–Einstein synchronisation. Lorentz surely read Poincare's 1900 paper, but apparently did not appreciate it, because Lorentz identified the synchronization as one of the main contributions of Einstein's 1905 paper.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The real father of the big bang

Edwin Hubble is widely credited with discovering the expansion of the universe. But Georges Lemaître published both the theory and the data a couple of years ahead of Hubble, and I argue in my book that he should be credited.

Since then, the UK Nature journal has published this:
Amateur historians and astronomers are buzzing with intrigue over allegations that the legendary US astronomer Edwin Hubble, after whom NASA's Hubble Space Telescope is named, may have actively censored the work of a competitor to advance his own career.
and this:
In all fairness, it seems that the 'Hubble constant' ought to be called the 'Lemaître constant' after Belgian physicist Georges Lemaître, who reported findings akin to Hubble's — and with a deeper theoretical backing — two years earlier.
Now, Nature claims to have the last word on the subjects, and this week's issue says:
The charges against Hubble certainly warranted examination. In 1927, the Belgian astronomer Georges Lemaître published a French-language paper in the Annales de la Société Scientifique de Bruxelles that laid out the essentials of a picture of galaxies expanding away from one another, and derived an expansion parameter on the basis of then-recent observations. In 1929, Hubble independently put forward and confirmed the same idea, and the parameter later became known as the Hubble constant. In 1931, Lemaître's paper was translated into English and published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, but most English speakers probably learned of Hubble's contribution before they learned of Lemaître's.

Suspicions of foul play emerged earlier this year, when amateur historians noticed that the derivation of the expansion constant is missing from the English translation of Lemaître's work. ... The case against Hubble is closed,...
The article suggests that this is a matter for professional historians, not amateurs, and we should all accept that the professionals say.

But this says that Hubble's 1929 discovered the expansion "independently", but that contradicts the testimony of his assistant. A 1965 interview with Dr. Milton Humason says:
The velocity-distance relationship started after one of the IAU meetings, I think it was held in Holland. And Dr. Hubble came home rather excited about the fact that two or three scientists over there, astronomers, had suggested that the fainter the nebulae were the more distant they were and the larger the red shifts would be. And he talked to me and asked me if I would try and check that out. Well, our trouble was that our spectrographs were extremely slow -- that was back in about 1927 or ‘28.
Hubble ddid not even believe in the explansion, and published papers in 1936 and 1937 doubting it. Einstein also doubted it for many years.

Brian Greene's new book credits Lemaitre as being the father of the big bang. His TV show this week talked a lot about the big bang and Einstein, but did not mention Hubble or Lemaitre. But the previous show, last week, said:
BRIAN GREENE: But about a dozen years later, the astronomer Edwin Hubble discovered the universe is not static. It's expanding due to the explosive force of the Big Bang, 14-billion years ago.

That meant Einstein's original equations no longer had to be altered, and so, suddenly, the need for a cosmological constant went right out the window.
No, Hubble did not discover that. Lemaitre did.

I also credited Lemaitre over Hubble in Nov 2007 and April 2010.

My theory is that leftist scientists love to talk about the discovery of the universe's expansion because it shows that nothing is permanent, that Man is insignificant, and that Earth has a non-Biblical origin. In short, it undermines religion. It bugs them to no end that the expansion was really discovered by a conservative Catholic priest who saw no conflict between the expansion and religion. Every time you hear someone crediting Einstein for relativity or Hubble for the big bang, there is an underlying ideological purpose.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

New science from old men

A new study says:
Scientists under the age of 40 used to make the majority of significant breakthroughs in chemistry, physics and medicine – but that is no longer the case, new research suggests.

A study of Nobel Laureates from 1901 to 2008 in these three fields examined the age at which scientists did their prize-winning work.

Results showed that before 1905, about two-thirds of winners in all three fields did their prize-winning work before age 40, and about 20 percent did it before age 30.

But by 2000, great achievements before age 30 nearly never occurred in any of the three fields. In physics, great achievements by age 40 only occurred in 19 percent of cases by the year 2000, and in chemistry, it nearly never occurred.

"The image of the brilliant young scientist who makes critical breakthroughs in science is increasingly outdated, at least in these three disciplines," said Bruce Weinberg, co-author of the study and professor of economics at Ohio State University.

"Today, the average age at which physicists do their Nobel Prize winning work is 48. Very little breakthrough work is done by physicists under 30."
A previous study said that Nobel work peak in the 30s. Einstein supposedly said, "A person who has not made his great contribution to science before the age of thirty will never do so", but I have not verified that quote.

A lot of the credit for Einstein depends on this myth. Relativity was invented by men who had well-established careers, but the paradigm shift academics say that only a 25-year-old outsider like Einstein could have revolutionized physics. Thomas Kuhn's famous book said:
Almost always the men who achieve these fundamental inventions of a new paradigm have been either very young or very new to the field whose paradigm they change.*88 And perhaps that point need not have been made explicit, for obviously these are the men who, being little com-mitted by prior practice to the traditional rules of normal science, are particularly likely to see that those rules no longer define a playable game and to conceive another set that can replace them. The resulting transition to a new paradigm is scientific revolution;... [p.90]

[footnote 88] This generalization about the role of youth in fundamental scientific research is so common as to be a cliché. Furthermore, a glance at almost any list of fundamental contributions to scientific theory will provide impressionistic confirmation. ...

What is the process by which a new candidate for paradigm replaces its predecessor? Any new interpretation of nature, whether a discovery or a theory, emerges first in the mind of one or a few individuals. It is they who first learn to see science and the world differently, and their ability to make the transition is facilitated by two circumstances that are not common to most other members of their profession. Invariably their attention has been intensely concentrated upon the crisis-provoking problems; usually, in addition, they are men so young or so new to the crisis-ridden field that practice has committed them less deeply than most of their contemporaries to the world view and rules determined by the old paradigm. [p.144]
As the above study shows, most of the great ideas have come from older scientists. It takes many years of study to learn enough to make a big contribution.

Kuhn's paradigm shift theory is the leading philosophy of science today, but it is nonsense, as explained in my book.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Copernicus story on the radio

NPR radio had a story on Copernicus this morning:
In the year 1500, every learned person in Europe knew one thing for absolutely certain: The sun and the planets travel around Earth. All astronomy texts said so. The Bible said so. There was no doubt.

Oh, sure, there were a few bits of conflicting evidence. For example, the planets seem to move first one way and then the other in the sky. But never mind that. Earth was at the center of the universe. Period.

And then came Copernicus.
I am not convinced that Copernicus was so important. His book was widely read among astronomers, but few were convinced.

The next big advance was by Tycho, and he used a geocentric model. Then Kepler discovered a much better heliocentric model, but he built on Ptolemy and Tycho, and rejected the uniform circular orbits and epicycles of Copernicus.
Westman says any sophisticated scientific argument that seems to defy common sense will be hard for nonscientists to accept. Take the strange weather patterns we're beginning to see around the world. How does a nonscientist decide if that's related at all to climate change?

"It depends on which authorities you trust," says Westman. "If you trust the scientific community, then you might be willing to say it has something to do with global warming. But it's not because you go to your laboratory and do experiments."

While the public debate over global warming continues, the debate over Copernicus' theories is long over.
These science lessons are dubious. The scientific community rejected Copernicus. It is not hard to accept the idea that strange weather patterns are related to climate change. I think he is trying to say that we should believe in climate change because Copernicus was right, but the argument does not make any sense.

Death of positivism

According to this book, positivism has been dead for 50 years. Apparently Logical positivism is in such disrepute that it is more commonly known by a pejorative term, scientism. They both mean adherence to a strictly scientifc worldview.

The Stanford Philosophy encyclopedia says:
In 1967 John Passmore reported that: “Logical positivism, then, is dead, or as dead as a philosophical movement ever becomes.” (1967, 57) Earlier in the same article he had equated logical positivism with logical empiricism, so presumably that was dead too. At that time few would have disagreed with Passmore, even though Carnap was still alive and active.
And yet many science advocates express such views, such as:
Carl Sagan: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
Christopher Hitchens: Claims that are made without evidence may be dismissed without evidence.
These are positivist ideas, but it is hard to find someone who identifies himself as a positivist. It is easier to find an atheist.

I suspect that many of these skeptic-atheist-scientist types are not really positivists. If they were, then why wouldn't they say so?

I think the reason is that they have beliefs, ethics, and political views that they cannot substantiate, and they do not want to have to try. Complaining about someone else's lack of evidence is a rhetorical device for undermining an argument, and does not necessarily mean that all beliefs require evidence. Sagan believed in all sorts of things without good evidence, such as extraterrstial life, triune brain, and nuclear winter.

Einstein expressed anti-positivist views in his later life.

Positivism has been replaced by paradigm shift theory, which rejects objective reality and rationalism, and validates anything that can be interpreted within the appropriate paradigm.

I think that positivism is a much better philosophy of science than paradigm shift theory and its other modern replacements.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Galileo of climate science

Leftist science writer Chris Mooney writes:
Yesterday in a Virginia courtroom, Michael Mann — who is quickly becoming the Galileo of climate science — triumphed over the conservative American Tradition Institute, and ongoing attempts at scientist-harassment. ...

I called Mann the “Galileo of climate science,” and increasingly, I think this is not mere hyperbole.

I’ve been following climate science, and political attacks on it, for nearly a decade. Throughout that period, conservatives have been relentlessly attacking Mann because of the hockey stick graph. And starting in 2005, there have been attempts — first in Congress, then using the legal process — to wrest information from Mann, information whose disclosure would simply allow conservative motivated reasoners to come up with new reasons to criticize and attack him. This is a beast that, at all costs, must not be fed.
So Mann is some sort of scientific hero for refusing to release his data? I am not seeing this analogy to Galileo.

Science writers are always using the Galileo story as a metaphor. Usually it is to show that religion is wrong, or that new ideas get persecuted by authorities, or that a paradigm shift is needed. But the Mann story is none of those. He has the establishment view, and he is using legal arguments to avoid defending it.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Empty space is not empty

PBS TV showed the first episode of Brian Greene's The Fabric of the Cosmos last night. It had the usual Einstein idol worship.

It said that combining space and time into spacetime was greatest idea of all time. When Minkowski published it in 1908 based on Poincare's ideas, Einstein denounced it.

The biggest point of the show was that empty space is not really empty. That's right, it contains the luminiferous aether. Nobody wants to call it that anymore, but that is what it is.

Wikipedia recently considered changing the British spelling "aether" to the American spelling "ether", and rejected the change. I nearly always prefer the American spellings, but I also kept the "aether" spelling in my book. I was mainly quoting Europeans on the subject, and most of them used the British spelling. That spelling also has the advantage that it is not confused with the chemical anesthetic ether.

Here is Maxwell's brilliant Encyclopædia Britannica article on the aether, written before he died in 1879. He used both spellings.

While aether is a dead term, there are advantages to using dead terms. Gauss used to write math papers in Latin because it was a dead language. The spoken languages were not sufficiently standardized for precise work. He could use Latin, and be sure that popular usage will not change the meaning.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Quantum keys for submarines

NewScientist reports:
Submarines employ random "keys" known as one-time pads to encrypt messages. Each key can only be used once, making it impossible for eavesdroppers to crack the code.

One problem with this is that the key must be securely agreed before the submarine leaves base. There is a risk involved in having many keys on board, in case the sub is captured and they fall into hostile hands.

The other problem is that submarines receive messages using low-frequency radio waves that can penetrate water, but only a few characters per second can be transmitted at these frequencies. To receive high frequencies, which can boost the data rate, submarines have to surface and risk detection. ...

He suggests that a technique called quantum key distribution (QKD) could solve these problems.
No, QKD does not solve these problems. Conventional cryptography solves the first
problem. QKD does nothing about the second.
To establish a secure link while remaining 100 metres underwater, submarines could transmit photons of laser light to satellites, for retransmission to base. With the key exchanged, the submarine could then communicate via laser pulses with guaranteed security.
If the submarines are close enough to the surface that they can communicate with laser beams, then they do not need the low-bandwidth radio waves of the 2nd problem. Regardless, trying to control the quantum state of the photons will not solve any problems.

This is crackpot stuff. No military submarine would ever try to use anything so crazy. Why aren't there any quantum physicists debunking this nonsense?