Friday, March 30, 2012

What Lorentz meant by the aether

Historians regard the Lorentz aether theory as inferior to special relativity mainly because it is alleged that Lorentz believed in a stationary aether and Einstein did not. For example, a scholar argues that the "fundamental assumption of Lorentz's theory" of 1895 was the stationary aether. The support for this is Einstein's 1907 paper (pdf):
... through the brilliant confirmations which the electrodynamic theory of H.A. Lorentz has experienced. That theory is founded, namely, on the assumption of a stationary immobile aether: ...
The quote is misleading. Here is what Lorentz said in his 1895 paper:
It is not my intention to ... express assumptions about the nature of the aether. ... 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 ...
Einstein said the same thing in his 1909 paper:
This contradiction was chiefly eliminated by the pioneering work of H. A. Lorentz in 1895. Lorentz showed that if the ether were taken to be at rest and did not participate at all in the motions of matter, no other hypotheses were necessary to arrive at a theory that did justice to almost all of the phenomena.
Thus they both say that Lorentz needed no hypotheses about the aether except that it did not participate at all in the motions of matter. Some people read a lot into that "at rest" phrase, but Lorentz explicitly disavows meaning an absolute rest of the aether. He only means that he is rejecting Stokes' view.

Einstein's 1907 paper takes a little more explanation. That Einstein quote on Lorentz's assumption is from a paragraph on Galilean invariance. "That theory" refers to Maxwell's equations, which Einstein goes on to say "are not so constructed that they go over into equations of the same form upon application of the above transformation equations."

Einstein only starts discussing the Lorentz 1895 theory in the next paragraph. The paragraph after that says that the Lorentz-FitzGerald contraction was "ad hoc", and then "It appeared thus that Lorentz's theory had to be abandoned again, and replaced by a theory whose foundations agreed with the principle of relativity". He then credits that replacement theory to Lorentz 1904 and Einstein 1905.

I read this as saying that there are 3 Lorentz theories. Lorentz-1 is Maxwell's equations, aka Maxwell-Lorentz theory, with Galilean transformations for a different velocity frame. Lorentz-2 is the Lorentz 1895 relativity paper. Lorentz-3 is the Lorentz-1904 paper and Einstein 1905 paper. When Einstein says "Lorentz's theory had to be abandoned again", he means that Lorentz was abandoned once going from Maxwell-Lorentz to Lorentz-1895, and abandoned a second time going from Lorentz-1895 to Lorentz-1904.

Thus I do not agree that the "fundamental assumption of Lorentz's theory" of 1895 was the stationary aether. I do not think that Lorentz or Einstein would have made such a statement.

Lorentz said in that 1895 introduction, "so far none of the two contested theories, neither that of Fresnel, nor that of Stokes, were fully confirmed with respect to all observations ... By that I was long ago led to believe that with Fresnel's view, i.e. with the assumption of a stationary aether, we are on the right way." Lorentz was scrupulous about crediting others. He was careful to distinguish Fresnel from Stokes, and to say he preferred Fresnel. He goes on to explain the "difficulties for Fresnel's theory". So he likes Fresnel better than Stokes, but Fresnel is not the foundation for his proposed theory. The foundation is Maxwell's equations, Fizeau, and Michelson-Morley.

By comparison, Einstein's 1905 paper said only 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.
Einstein was saying essentially the same as what Lorentz said -- that he was avoiding assumptions about the aether, that there is no absolute rest, and that motion is relative.

As Lorentz's theory was well-known in 1905, the burden was on Einstein to explain how his theory was any different from Lorentz's, if indeed he was claiming a difference. Einstein's 1907 paper describes his 1905 paper as being essentially the same as Lorentz's 1904 paper. Einstein only claims minor differences with Lorentz. The main one was where Einstein claims a terminological advantage over Lorentz's 1895 paper:
It required only the recognition that the auxiliary quantity introduced by H.A. Lorentz, and called by him "local time", can be defined as simply "time."
This point about time was not original to Einstein. Poincare wrote in a 1900 paper that Lorentz's local time is the same as the time measured by clocks. (And Einstein acknowledged in 1906 having read Poincare's 1900 paper.)

Most of these points are also discussed in my book. Einstein's 1905 relativity paper is widely considered to be one the greatest scientific papers ever written, but it is hard to find anything original about it. The original work was done by Lorentz and Poincare, and Einstein added nothing substantial.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Public discovers Emmy Noether

The NY Times reports:
Scientists are a famously anonymous lot, but few can match in the depths of her perverse and unmerited obscurity the 20th-century mathematical genius Amalie Noether.

Albert Einstein called her the most “significant” and “creative” female mathematician of all time, and others of her contemporaries were inclined to drop the modification by sex. She invented a theorem that united with magisterial concision two conceptual pillars of physics: symmetry in nature and the universal laws of conservation. Some consider Noether’s theorem, as it is now called, as important as Einstein’s theory of relativity; it undergirds much of today’s vanguard research in physics, including the hunt for the almighty Higgs boson. Yet Noether herself remains utterly unknown, not only to the general public, but to many members of the scientific community as well.
She should be known to readers of this blog. I listed her theorem as one of the more important advances in theoretical physics of the 20th century, and it is explained further in my book.
In 1915 Einstein published his general theory of relativity. The Göttingen math department fell “head over ear” with it, in the words of one observer, and Noether began applying her invariance work to some of the complexities of the theory. That exercise eventually inspired her to formulate what is now called Noether’s theorem, an expression of the deep tie between the underlying geometry of the universe and the behavior of the mass and energy that call the universe home.

What the revolutionary theorem says, in cartoon essence, is the following: Wherever you find some sort of symmetry in nature, some predictability or homogeneity of parts, you’ll find lurking in the background a corresponding conservation — of momentum, electric charge, energy or the like.
The NY Times always finds a way to put Einstein at the center of these stories, but it was David Hilbert who got the Göttingen math department excited about relativity. He published the Lagrangian formulation that emphasized the symmetries, not Einstein. He said:
Every boy in the streets of Gottingen understands more about four dimensional geometry than Einstein...
I do think that Hilbert and Noether were more important to 20th century physics than Einstein. I do not think that Noether is under-appreciated because she was a woman. They don't give Nobel prizes for that sort of theoretical work whether it is done by a man or a woman.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Insubstantial arguments for Einstein's priority

In response to a book review, John Bonaccorsi gave an assortment of arguments for crediting Einstein for special relativity. Here is an outline. You can check the source for details.
Lorentz and Poincare were holding to — or, at least, not clearly breaking from — the idea of a “real” cosmic-coordinate system, in which light was propagated in a stationary ether.
Lorentz and Poincare never said that there was a cosmic coordinate system, Einstein never said that there was no cosmic coordinate system, and there is no explanation of why the issue would have any physical significance.
while he (Lorentz) was attempting to make sense of his experimental results with the concept of “local time,” Einstein understood that these and other results were a reflections of the very nature of time.
Lorentz and Einstein did use slightly different terminology. Lorentz used “local time” in 1895. Einstein’s 1905 term was “time of the stationary system”. Einstein’s 1905 time used the same definitions and formulas as had been previously used by Lorentz and Poincare. Einstein did not understand that time was the fourth dimension and that time can be understood to have a geometrical relationship to the three spatial dimensions. That is one of the chief lessons of special relativity, and Einstein missed it entirely.
Do you know who first brought attention to that 1905 article? It was Max Planck.
Yes, Planck was the journal editor who accepted the paper, and he wrote a couple of relativity papers himself. Maybe he was even partial to German scientists. But he never said that Einstein's work was any better than that of Lorentz and Poincare.
Let’s take a look at the first paragraph ... “It is known that Maxwell’s electrodynamics ...”

Einstein is being gracious when he says that that asymmetry is “known.” He was the only person on Earth who was bothered by it.
The asymmetry was described in common textbooks and was solved by Lorentz transformations. That is why they are called Lorentz transformations and not Einstein transformations.
Lorentz: ... “I did not indicate the transformation which suits best. That was done by Poincaré and then by Mr. Einstein and Minkowski....”
Yes, Lorentz credited Poincare over Einstein. So did everyone else who read Poincare.
Lorentz: “[T]he chief difference [is] that Einstein simply postulates what we have deduced,...”
Yes, that is the chief difference between Einstein's 1905 paper and the previous published papers of Lorentz and Poincare.
“Poincaré’s reaction to Einstein’s 1905 paper was rather strange. When Poincaré lectured in Göttingen in 1909 on relativity he did not mention Einstein at all...”
To a mathematician like Poincare, postulating someone else's theorems is a trivial thing to do. Poincare had no need to cite someone who merely postulated a result in an expository paper; he would cite the man who actually proved it previously.
Poincare: “Perhaps … we should construct a whole new mechanics, of which we only succeed in catching a glimpse, where inertia increasing with the velocity, the velocity of light would become an impassable limit....”
That is what Poincare said in his 1904 St. Louis lecture, and he was exactly correct. Relativity was the new mechanics.

The most striking thing about these pro-Einstein arguments is how the Einstein idolizers are dogmatically persistent with insubstantial arguments. I don't blame John as he is just repeating the conventional wisdom of the Einstein fans. They use phrases like “greatest physicist that ever lived” based largely on the originality of the 1905 relativity paper, and yet they cannot point to any formula, mathematical argument, or physical consequence that was new. They base their idolotry entirely in insubstantial arguments about minor differences in terminology, and a belief that no one could have been as smart as Einstein.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Comparing Einstein to Freud

Mark Green reviewed my book on the Occidental Observer. He is interested in Jewish issues:
Though Schlafly makes only a handful of oblique references to Einstein’s Jewishness, the veneration of Einstein by elite media and the academic world fits the guru phenomenon identified in The Culture of Critique in which Jewish intellectuals such as Freud, Boas and Trotsky become the focus of a cult following among Jews, just as charismatic rabbis were venerated among traditional Jews. This type of abstract theorizing that rejects observation-hypothesis-experimentation methodology is also reminiscent of the theorizing of Freud and the Frankfurt School: top-down theorizing in the absence of any empirical data. Over the past generation, Freud’s theories have been quietly and gently downgraded to a creative mix of quasi-scientific conjecture, sexual fantasy and therapeutic snake oil.

(These topics have been discussed previously on TOO. Dan Michaels’ “Ethnic Conflict in German Physics” describes hostility between Germans devoted to the observation-hypothesis-experiment method, whereas Jewish physics was “dogmatic, intuitive, overly abstract and theoretical.” The Germans were also angry because “a number of Jews, domestic and foreign, who studied in Germany, were soon getting an exorbitant amount of publicity and credit for research that had been pioneered earlier by Germans and others.” In his comment on Michaels’ article, Kevin MacDonald notes similar phenomena in psychology, sociology, and biology, and he finds similar tendencies in traditional Jewish theology: “These groups saw the world through the lens of a non-falsifiable, abstract theological theory, and they were centered around charismatic rabbis, with heretics and other non-conformists expelled from the group.”)
The subject of Jewish influence is out of my expertise. The book is about physics, and the larger issues of what science is all about. Freud is another example of someone whose reputation far exceeds his actual accomplishments. There are plenty of non-Jews who idolize Freud, in spite of the lack of evidence for his theories.

The above review has comments about Einstein, and I posted comments also defending the book. Anyone is welcome to criticize or comment here also.

Some of the comments emphasize the ethnic angle:
For jews to admit Einstein was a fraud would cause their entire worldview to fail. I’m surprised they don’t send out their over hyped Mossad agents to assassinate anyone who suggests we shouldn’t sit around kissing the arse of Einsteins reputation.

Einstein signifies jewish supremacism. They will defend his public stature as vigorously as they do their holocaust religion. It is the duty of all humans to break this stranglehold and allow the truth to come to the fore.
These views are a little extreme. I would not call Einstein a fraud or a Jewish supremacist. I would like to see discussion of why Einstein is praised so much.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Something rather than nothing

David Albert (professor of philosophy at Columbia) writes a NY Times book review:
Lawrence M. Krauss, a well-known cosmologist and prolific popular-science writer, apparently means to announce to the world, in this new book, that the laws of quantum mechanics have in them the makings of a thoroughly scientific and adamantly secular explanation of why there is something rather than nothing. Period. Case closed. End of story. I kid you not. Look at the subtitle. Look at how Richard Dawkins sums it up in his afterword: “Even the last remaining trump card of the theologian, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?,’ shrivels up before your eyes as you read these pages. If ‘On the Origin of Species’ was biology’s deadliest blow to super­naturalism, we may come to see ‘A Universe From Nothing’ as the equivalent from cosmology. The title means exactly what it says. And what it says is devastating.” ...
Really? Dawkins compares Krauss to Darwin because their books are both deadly blows to religion?

Dawkins is probably the world's most famous spokesman for science, and he considers this book a "thoroughly scientific" explanation of why the universe exists?

No, there is no such scientific explanation. Dawkins hates religion, and he will call anything scientific if it is anti-religious. I don't mind Dawkins aggressively pushing his atheist beliefs, but I do object when he takes a mixture of pseudo-science and bad philosophy, and tries to pass it off as some great scientific work that somehow proves his atheist beliefs.

Albert is not so impressed with the book.
And I guess it ought to be mentioned, quite apart from the question of whether anything Krauss says turns out to be true or false, that the whole business of approaching the struggle with religion as if it were a card game, or a horse race, or some kind of battle of wits, just feels all wrong — or it does, at any rate, to me. When I was growing up, where I was growing up, there was a critique of religion according to which religion was cruel, and a lie, and a mechanism of enslavement, and something full of loathing and contempt for every­thing essentially human. Maybe that was true and maybe it wasn’t, but it had to do with important things — it had to do, that is, with history, and with suffering, and with the hope of a better world — and it seems like a pity, and more than a pity, and worse than a pity, with all that in the back of one’s head, to think that all that gets offered to us now, by guys like these, in books like this, is the pale, small, silly, nerdy accusation that religion is, I don’t know, dumb.
Peter Shor says:
Couldn’t we agree that the question “why is there something rather than nothing?” is outside the purview of science? Physicists who start trying to answer it are only going to end up making fools of themselves and giving the creationists and other religious extremists more ammunition.
Dawkins is making a fool of himself also. Dawkins was just on MSNBC attacking the Tennessee proposal to "encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues". Now he encourages fellow atheists to ridicule those who claim to be religious. I am not a creationist, and I do not favor teaching religion in the public schools. But it seems to me that Dawkins spends much of his time promoting questionable and unscientific ideas, and I don't think that those should be promoted in the public schools either.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Darwin and Einstein stole credit

Ian McEwan compares Darwin to Einstein in the UK Guardian:
A frenzied desire to be first inspired Darwin and Einstein to bursts of creativity. Like writers and artists, scientists strive to have their names attached to a work of brilliance, but any breakthrough depends on the efforts of countless predecessors. ... In 1858 and 1915, Darwin and Einstein, driven in part by the somewhat ignoble or worldly ambition to be first, redirected not only the course of science, but redefined our sense of ourselves.
They are both famous for popularizing ideas that were first written down by others.
Einstein, another great creator, could not have begun his special theory of relativity without the benefit of countless others, including Hendrik Lorentz and Max Planck. He was entirely dependent on mathematicians to give expression to his ideas.
Planck was not a mathematician and did not help Einstein begin his relativity work. He helped Einstein later. Einstein was dependent on mathematicians, but not for giving expression to his ideas. It was more a matter of Einstein popularizing the ideas of mathematicians.
Isaacson quotes the physicist James Hartle: "The central idea of general relativity is that gravity arises from the curvature of space-time." Two complementary processes were to be described – how matter is affected by a gravitational field, and how matter generates a gravitational field in space-time and causes it to curve. These startling, near-ungraspable notions were eventually to find expression in Einstein's adaptation of the non-Euclidean geometry of tensors devised by the mathematicians Riemann and Ricci. By 1912 Einstein had come close to a mathematical strategy for an equation, but then he turned aside, looking for a more physics-based route. It was only partially successful, and he had to be satisfied with publishing with his colleague Marcel Grossmann an outline of a theory, the famous "Entwurf" of 1913, which, as Einstein came to realise, contained important errors.
Grossmann was one of those mathematicians. The errors were Einstein's, not Grossmann's. Einstein spent a couple of years trying to understand what Grossmann did in that 1913 paper.
By his third lecture, Einstein's theory in its present state accurately predicted the shift in Mercury's orbit – he was, he wrote to a friend, "beside myself with joyous excitement". Just days before Einstein was about to give his final lecture, Hilbert submitted his own formulation of general relativity to a journal in an essay with the not-so-humble title of "The Foundation of Physics". Einstein wrote bitterly to a friend: "In my personal experience I have hardly come to know the wretchedness of mankind better."
While this may have seemed like competition, these papers had little in common. They were both based on Grossmann's 1913 Entwurf equations. Einstein was applying the equations to Mercury's orbit while Hilbert found a Lagrangian formulation of the equations. Everyone agrees that these works were independent.
Unlike Wallace, who worked independently of Darwin, Hilbert was trying to give mathematical expression to theories that were Einstein's. Nevertheless, Einstein, like Darwin, was driven to a great creative outpouring for fear of losing priority. The formulation he gave in his final lecture on 28 November was described by the physicist Max Born as "the greatest feat of human thinking about nature, the most amazing combination of philosophical penetration, physical intuition and mathematical skill". Einstein himself said of the theory that it was of "incomparable beauty".
This story does not even make any sense. If Einstein's work was such a great feat, why would he be so concerned about priority? Einstein was a big-shot professor who had very quickly published all of his ideas, both good and bad, so he was in no danger of not being recognized.

The explanation is that Einstein and Hilbert worked jointly on relativity for a couple of months, and Hilbert convinced Einstein that Grossmann had been right in 1913. Einstein was a jealous egomaniac, and he was horrified at the idea that Grossmann might get credit for general relativity. Einstein and Hilbert should have published on joint paper on why Grossmann was right.
The Einstein-Hilbert priority dispute still rumbles on in its small way. But it should be noted that both Wallace and Hilbert were quick and generous to concede priority to Darwin and Einstein.
The priority dispute is mainly over a fairly minor technical issue. They agreed that Grossmann equations (Ricci tensor equals stress-energy tensor, in appropriate units) was correct for the solar system, but one of the ten equations needs an extra term if the solar system is immersed in a giant cosmic fluid. Einstein and Hilbert separately published the equations with that extra term, and there is some dispute over who discovered the term first. The main argument for Hilbert is that Hilbert's paper is dated first, and it gave a good mathematical argument for the necessity of the term. The main argument for Einstein is that he had worked on relativity for ten years, and it was unfair for Hilbert to get credit by doing just a few months of work polishing up the equations.
Darwin and Einstein came first and were overwhelmed by celebrity and profound respect, and became icons in the culture, while Wallace and Hilbert languished in relative obscurity. And this "first", this originality, is precisely defined. Not first along an absolute Newtonian timeline, but first in a recognisable and respectable public forum.
So Darwin and Einstein were not first to come up with the scientific ideas, but they were first to become public celebrities.

Darwin and Einstein had the advantage that their rivals were gentlemen who generously credited others. Darwin and Einstein were publicity seeking narcissists who were willing to fight for priority, while others were content to simply publish their ideas and let them stand on their own.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Neutrinos must be slower than light

The UK BBC reports on the Faster-than-light neutrino anomaly:
An experiment to repeat a test of the speed of subatomic particles known as neutrinos has found that they do not travel faster than light. ...

"We are completely compatible with the speed of light that we learn at school," said Sandro Centro, co-spokesman for the Icarus collaboration. ...

"In fact I was a little sceptical since the beginning," he told BBC News. "Now we are 100% sure that the speed of light is the speed of neutrinos."
Physicist Michio Kaku writes:
Headlines blared that Einstein, an iconic figure in science for a century, was finally proven wrong. The world of physics was thrown into turmoil because the bedrock of modern physics would disintegrate if that were true. My research is in string theory, for example, which extends Einstein's theory of relativity. So if his theory is wrong, my own life's work would go out the window as well. ...

But the floodgates finally burst open last week when a second group of physicists announced that they redid the entire experiment and found that Einstein was correct all along: Their neutrinos traveled at precisely the speed of light, not faster or slower.

This is not correct. The consensus is that neutrinos have rest mass:
All evidence suggests that neutrinos have mass but that their mass is tiny even by the standards of subatomic particles. Their mass has never been measured accurately.
Relativity requires that all massive particles go slower than the speed of light. Neutrinos do not travel at the speed of light.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Tennessee critical thinking skills

An evolutionist blog complains:
Here’s a summary of the bill from the Tennessee General Assembly:

Bill Summary

This bill prohibits the state board of education and any public elementary or secondary school governing authority, director of schools, school system administrator, or principal or administrator from prohibiting any teacher in a public school system of this state from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught, such as evolution and global warming. This bill also requires such persons and entities to endeavor to:

(1) Create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues; and

(2) Assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies.
The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) reports on the opposition:
Among those expressing opposition to the bill are the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, the American Institute for Biological Sciences, the Knoxville News Sentinel, the Nashville Tennessean, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, the National Earth Science Teachers Association, and the Tennessee Science Teachers Association, whose president Becky Ashe described (PDF) the legislation as “unnecessary, anti-scientific, and very likely unconstitutional.”
There is a war going on to define science. The establishment scientist activists want to define science in such a way that the folks in Tennessee have to accept scientific authority without question. They want uncritical acceptance of evolution because that undermines religion, and uncritical acceptance of global warming because that promotes environmentalism. That is not science. Real scientists are not afraid of scientific evidence on controversies.

Update: Coyne complains that anyone would mention this Tennessee bill without explaining that religion is behind it. I do not know that religion is behind it. It seems plausible to me that some legislators in Tennessee are against alarmist global warming policies that have nothing to do with religion. Whether that is true or not, I favor evaluating escience with scientific data, regardless of suspected motives of politicians wanting an open and honest debate of the issues.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Einstein did not patent his formula

Yesterday's unanimous US Supreme Court decision, Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc., opened:
Section 101 of the Patent Act defines patentable subject matter. It says:

“Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent therefor, subject to the conditions and requirements of this title.” 35 U. S. C. §101.

The Court has long held that this provision contains an important implicit exception. “[L]aws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas” are not patentable. ... Thus, the Court has written that “a new mineral discovered in the earth or a new plant found in the wild is not patentable subject matter. Likewise, Einstein could not patent his celebrated law that E=mc2; nor could Newton have patented the law of gravity. Such discoveries are ‘manifestations of ... nature, free to all men and reserved exclusively to none.’ ” ...

A patent, for example, could not simply recite a law of nature and then add the instruction “apply the law.” Einstein, we assume, could not have patented his famous law by claiming a process consisting of simply telling linear accelerator operators to refer to the law to determine how much energy an amount of mass has produced (or vice versa). Nor could Archimedes have secured a patent for his famous principle of flotation by claiming a process consisting of simply telling boat builders to refer to that principle in order to determine whether an object will float. ...

That is to say, these clauses tell the relevant audience about the laws while trusting them to use those laws appropriately where they are relevant to their decisionmaking (rather like Einstein telling linear accelerator operators about his basic law and then trusting them to use it where relevant). ...

A patent upon a narrow law of nature may not inhibit future research as seriously as would a patent upon Einstein’s law of relativity, but the creative value of the discovery is also considerably smaller.
This was a big and closely-watched case, and a reversal of the lower (patent) court. I agree with the conclusion in this case, but not the reasoning. As I said in 2006:
It is not so obviously bad if Einstein had been able to patent E=mc2.

Suppose it were really true that anyone who thinks of a new formula for generating energy could get a US patent on it, and collect royalties on the energy generated for the next 17 to 20 years. Then Einstein would have had the exclusive rights to nuclear bombs and power plants from 1905 to 1922. Nuclear power didn't even start to become feasible until 1945. What exactly would have been the harm?

Einstein did not foresee the practical utility of his formula, so he would not have been eligible for a patent even if the Metabolite patent is approved. The first one to figure out that the formula could be used in a fission chain reaction to generate energy was Leo Szilard and he did patent it. If the patent system provided him with an incentive to figure out a new energy source, then why is that a bad thing?

I am not saying that I agree with the Metabolite patent claim. I think that it ought to be rejected. But the Einstein analogy is a stupid legal argument.
The formula E=mc2 is not even original to Einstein, as I have explained in my book last year, and by others since then.

The Newton example is just as ridiculous. Newton did not discover gravity, as it had been know since ancient times. Robert Hooke had the inverse square law before Newton, and applied it to planets. Newton's famous contribution was to derive Kepler's laws from that inverse square law. So suppose Newton got a patent on that derivation, and got a 17-year patent on it. Exactly how would that be a bad thing? Such a patent would not stop apples from falling, or planets from orbiting.

It may seem tiresome that I am so insistent on getting the Einstein story right, but as you can see, he is used as an example for all sorts of silly things. If so, we should get the history right, so we don't have a unanimous supreme court giving faulty reasoning.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Einstein borrowed from Lorentz

A Wikipedia editor complained about the Lorentz aether theory article saying this:
And in 1910[A 24] and 1912[A 25] Einstein explained that he borrowed the principle of the constancy of light from Lorentz's immobile ether, but he recognized that this principle together with the principle of relativity makes the ether useless and leads to special relativity.
It is curious that anyone would question such an innocuous statement since it is footnoted with Einstein's own words. Furthermore, why would anyone doubt that a scientist relied on the prior published and famous work of another scientist?

The answer is that historians and philosophers adamantly maintain that Einstein's 1905 relativity paper was a wholly original paradigm shift that did not depend on any previous theory or experiment.

A German Einstein scholar answered with his own translations:
Read the 1912 paper (Relativity and Gravitation: Reply to a Comment by M. Abraham, translation in Einstein's Collected papers, vol. 4). Einstein wrote:
English " is impossible to base a theory of the transformation laws of space and time on the principle of relativity alone. As we know, this is connected with the relativity of the concepts of “simultaneity” and “shape of moving bodies.” To fill this gap, I introduced the principle of the constancy of the velocity of light, which I borrowed from H. A. Lorentz’s theory of the stationary luminiferous ether, and which, like the principle of relativity, contains a physical assumption that seemed to be justified only by the relevant experiments (experiments by Fizeau, Rowland, etc.). " German: "Es ist allgemein bekannt, dass auf das Relativitätsprinzip allein eine Theorie der Transformationsgesetze von Raum und Zeit nicht gegründet werden kann. Es hängt dies bekanntlich mit der Relativität der Begriffe „Gleichzeitigkeit“ und „Gestalt bewegter Körper“ zusammen. Um diese Lücke auszufüllen, führte ich das der H. A. Lorentzschen Theorie des ruhenden Lichtäthers entlehnte Prinzip der Konstanz der Lichtgeschwindigkeit ein, das ebenso wie das Relativitätsprinzip eine physikalische Voraussetzung enthält, die nur durch die einschlägigen Erfahrungen gerechtfertigt erschien (Versuche von Fizeau, Rowland usw.)"
Or the 1909 paper:
English: "According to Lorentz's theory, if a light beam propagates through space, it does so with a speed c in the resting frame K of the ether, independently of the state of motion of the emitting object. Let's call this the constancy of the speed of light principle." German: "Pflanzt sich nämlich ein Lichtstrahl im Vakuum fort, so geschieht dies nach der LORENTZschen Theorie in bezug auf ein im Äther ruhendes Koordinatensystem K stets mit der bestimmten Geschwindigkeit c, unabhängig vom Bewegungszustande des emittierenden Körpers. Wir wollen diesen Satz das Prinzip von der Konstanz der Lichtgeschwindigkeit nennen."
See also the link you gave (
The second of Einstein's principles is based on an important consequence of Maxwell's laws of electricity, magnetism, and optics, as interpreted by H. A. Lorentz near the end of the nineteenth century.
You can read more about how Einstein's relativity was based on earlier work by Lorentz and Poincare in my book, How Einstein Ruined Physics.

As you can see, Einstein acknowledged in the above papers getting his famous two relativity postulates from Lorentz. Sometimes Einstein's originality is claimed to be in formulating Lorentz's theory in terms of postulates, but Einstein got the postulates from Lorentz also.

My book accuses Einstein of insufficiently crediting Lorentz and Poincare, so perhaps the above quotes should have been included. But the book does say that in the several years after 1905, relativity was sometimes called the "Lorentz-Einstein theory", and Einstein himself used that term in papers. It was widely known that Einstein got his main ideas from Lorentz's papers, and no one could deny it. My criticism of Einstein is that he failed to describe his sources in his famous 1905 relativity paper, and after he got famous, he claimed sole credit for relativity in dozens of speeches, interviews, and writings for the rest of his life.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Neutrinos obey speed limit

AP reports on the latest neutrino experiment:
Einstein may have been right after all.

European researchers said Friday they had measured again the speed of a subatomic particle that a September experiment suggested traveled faster than the speed of light, violating Einstein’s special theory of relativity, which underlies much of modern physics. ...

Einstein’s theory of relativity, a pillar of modern physics, says nothing in the universe can travel faster than the speed of light in a vacuum, approximately 186,282 miles per second. ...

“I’m not displeased that Einstein was right again,” Mr. Rubbia said.
Everyone in these articles always idolizes Einstein. But before Einstein wrote his first paper on the subject, Poincare's 1904 St. Louis World's Fair lecture said:
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.
Einstein was just describing the Lorentz theory when he wrote about the constant speed of light in 1905.

For the last 10 years or so, conventional wisdom has been that the neutrinos have mass, and hence travel slightly slower than light. But they have been measured as being very close to the speed of light, and I guess these latest measurement was not accurate enough to detect if they were any slower than light.

Friday, March 16, 2012

President recites Flat Earth myth

Clayton Cramer explains:
Obama gives a speech where he criticizes Republican opposition to his green bankruptcy program, and says:
Those same people, Obama said, would’ve thought the Earth was flat, that television wouldn’t last, that the automobile was only a passing fad.

“If some of these folks were around when Columbus set sail, they must have been founding members of the Flat Earth Society,” he said. “They would not have believed that the world was round.”
Now, if you attended high school, or college, you would know (or should know) that there was no educated European who thought the Earth was flat. None. The dispute that made it hard for Columbus to get funding was that insisted the Earth was 18,000 miles in circumference, so the Indies were a plausible voyage west from Spain. The experts who told the various governments of Europe that Columbus wasn't going to be successful thought the Earth was closer to 25,000 miles around -- and sailing west to the Indies was going to be a failure. Had there not been the Americas in the way, Columbus and crew would have died of thirst.
The flat Earth myth is also explained by NASA and Wikipedia. I have also made the point several times on this blog, such as here. The Flat Earth Myth is a creation of evolutionists who were trying to make fun of Christians.

It is distressing to hear an American president say something so stupid. These were prepared remarks, so it appears that Pres. Obama and his advisors have some basic misunderstandings about the Earth. Columbus sailed from Spain to some islands near Florida. He did not sail around the Earth. He merely crossed the Atlantic ocean.

Update: The same speech got another historical fact completely wrong:
There always have been folks who are the naysayers and don't believe in the future, and don't believe in trying to do things differently. One of my predecessors, Rutherford B. Hayes, reportedly said about the telephone, ‘It’s a great invention, but who would ever want to use one?’ That's why he's not on Mount Rushmore because he’s looking backwards. He’s not looking forwards. He’s explaining why we can't do something, instead of why we can do something.
The Wash. Post fact checker gives Obama its worst Pinocchio whopper rating:
According to Ari Hoogenboom, who wrote the definite biography, “Rutherford B. Hayes: Warrior and President,” Hayes entertained Thomas A. Edison at the White House. Edison demonstrated the phonograph for the president. “He was hardly hostile to new inventions,” Hoogenboom said.

Hayes, in fact, was such a technology buff that he installed the first telephone in the White House. A list of telephone subscribers published in the article “The Telephones Comes to Washington,” by Richard T. Loomis, shows that the White House was given the number “1.”

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Pi Day

Today is Pi Day, and Albert Einstein Is Everywhere. He would have been 133 years old today.

Monday, March 12, 2012

New spacetime conception in 1905

Mario Bacelar Valente just posted Did the concepts of space and time change that much with the 1905 theory of relativity?, saying:
The advent of the 1905 theory of relativity is rightly considered as a breakthrough moment in the history of physics; in particular. it is widely accepted that it brought a new conception of space and time. The purpose of this work is to reevaluate to what point and in what sense can we consider that the conception of space and time went through a transformation when going from Newtonian mechanics to the theory of relativity.
It is widely accepted that the new conception of space and time became popular from Minkowski's 1908 paper. As explained in How Einstein Ruined Physics, Minkowski got his ideas from Poincare's 1905 paper, not Einstein's.

Valente relegates Lorentz and Poincare to a footnote:
53 Let us not forget that to Lorentz the so-called local time was just a mathematical artifact to help in calculations (see, e.g. Lorentz 1916, 57-8 and 187-9; Darrigol 2006, 11). Poincaré did notice that the local time had operational meaning since actually this is the time measured by an observer in absolute motion in relation to the ether; However Poincaré still considered a sort of absolute time (‘le temps réel’), the time measured by an observer in absolute rest in relation to the ether (see, e.g., Poincaré 1913, 43-6; Darrigol 2006, 17-9). It was Einstein who for the first time presented a truly relativistic notion of time in which physical time has to be defined and ‘spread’ within an inertial reference frame, and there is no preferred reference frame (see, e.g., Einstein 1905; Paty 1993, 148-52).
Like other modern historians, Valente is criticizing Lorentz and Poincare for their terminology in later years. The criticism is silly and misinformed. And it proves nothing, because even if they did use inferior terminology in 1913 and 1916, it would not have anything to do with who had the new space-time theory in 1905.

Valente credits Einstein for abolishing the aether (ether):
In 1905, in his criticism of Lorentz's electron theory Einstein, like others (see, e.g., Darrigol 2000, 366-72), defended the view that we must “give up [on] the ether” (Einstein 1910, 124). Einstein argument is based on the idea that the ether seems to enable a special reference frame in relation to which things might still be said to be in 'absolute' rest or motion. Since it turns out that it is not possible to determine experimentally the velocity of material things in relation to the ether, there is no way to distinguish the ether's reference frame from other inertial reference frames. Accordingly, Einstein considers that one should “give up the notion of a medium filling all of space” (Einstein 1910, 124). ... Later, within his theory of gravitation, Einstein put forward the idea that the curved space-time is a sort of ether (Einstein 1920).
Note that Valente is crediting Einstein for what he said about the aether in 1910, in spite of what he said in 1905 and 1920. Einstein did not criticize Lorentz's theory in 1905, and in succeeding years, Einstein and others called it the Lorentz-Einstein theory.

The answer to Valente's question is the Lorentz changed our conception of space and time in 1895, and Poincare changed it again in 1905. Einstein's 1905 paper was mostly an explanation of Lorentz's theory, and did not have any significant new conceptions.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Goldreich is also a QC skeptic

I explained how I can believe that quantum mechanics (QM) is true while quantum computing (QC) is false, while Scott Aaronson argues that the burden of proof is on me to show that QC is false. Computer science professor Oded Goldreich explained in 2005 what is wrong with Aaronson's position:
Some (but I'm told that not all of the) believers of Quantum Computing (QC) assert that its possibility is ensured (or even required) by the Laws of Quantum Mechanics (QM). In my opinion, such an assertion is based on two fundamental confusions.

Firstly, the Laws of QM are merely a refutable model (or assumption) about the real world, they are not the reality itself nor can they ever be proved to provide a full description of reality. (This is indeed a generic remark that applies to any model of reality, but it is good to bear it in mind when one wants to talk about ``lack of assumptions'': The assumption that QM provides a ``correct'' description of reality is no less an assumption than the conjecture that one-way functions exist. On the contrary, it seems that the latter assumption may be proved correct whereas the former can only be refuted (and can never be proved correct).) [See further discussion (Nov. 2011).]

Secondly, as far as I know (and here I may be wrong), QM says that certain things are not impossible, but it does not say that every thing that is not impossible is indeed possible. For example, it says that you cannot make non-Unitary transformations, but this by itself does not mean that you can effect any Unitary transformation that you want. ... [I have held the aforementioned opinions since I first heard of QC in the early 1990's.]
Goldreich argues that QC is based on an idealized model that has been extrapolated far beyond what has ever been established in QM, and any such model has to be considered speculative, especially when it makes surprising or counter-intuitive predictions. So he says that "Being skeptic of this [QC] speculation seems to be the default and natural position."

I agee with Goldreich. Experiments have confirmed aspects of QM to fantastic accuracy, but QC may still be completely false. Aaronson wants to dismiss because I wrote a book on How Einstein Ruined Physics, but Oded Goldreich even more of a big-shot computer science professor than Aaronson, and he is also a QC skeptic.

Goldreich has written papers on one-way functions, even tho no one has proved that they exist. So his situation is somewhat analogous to Aaronson, who has written most of his papers assuming QC, even tho QC may not exist. The difference is that Goldreich admits that his position is speculative.

Goldreich also says that he sees no point in arguing, so I guess that is why he does not argue in the comments on Aaronson's blog. My guess is that there are a lot of professors who are skeptical about QC, but consider it rude to badmouth a huge source of research grant money.

Update: Aaronson just got to be more of a big-shot with today's announcement:
Today the National Science Foundation (NSF) named two young scientists, Robert Wood of Harvard University and Scott Aaronson of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to receive this year's Alan T. Waterman Award.

The annual award recognizes an outstanding researcher under the age of 35 in any field of science or engineering NSF supports.

In addition to a medal, each of this year's awardees will receive a $1 million grant--twice the amount of last year's award--over a five year period for further advanced study in his field.

"Robert and Scott embody the best in young, bold and talented researchers," said NSF Director Subra Suresh noting that computing is central to both of their research pursuits. "I have no doubt that these two researchers will continue to have an extraordinary impact on our nation and the world in the years to come." ...

Scott Aaronson is an associate professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT, affiliated with MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the largest Interdepartmental lab at MIT. Aaronson, a theoretical computational scientist, pursues research interests that focus on the limitations of quantum computers and computational complexity theory more generally. ...

"By illuminating the fundamental limits on what can be computed in the physical world, and the potential implications of those limits, Scott Aaronson has staked out important new ground in computational theory," said MIT President Susan Hockfield, "I am delighted that the National Science Foundation has recognized his dual abilities, both to articulate key research questions and to offer new methods and ideas for addressing them, with the Alan T. Waterman Award."
Wow, he offers a $0.1M prize in an attempt to prove me wrong, and then a couple of weeks later the feds give him a $1.0M prize for being such a visionary. He could be proved wrong and have to pay that $0.1M, and still make a $0.9M profit on the deal!

No wonder no one wants to admit that quantum computers can only do what regular computers can do. Another physicist has already remarked:
Not only is this great news for Scott, but a rising tide lifts all boats: the entire field of quantum computing benefits when our talented researchers get recognition for their achievements.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Wigner on Einstein

Famous physicist Eugene Wigner said:
I have known a great many intelligent people in my life. I knew Planck, von Laue and Heisenberg. Paul Dirac was my brother in law; Leo Szilard and Edward Teller have been among my closest friends; and Albert Einstein was a good friend, too. But none of them had a mind as quick and acute as Jansci [John] von Neumann. I have often remarked this in the presence of those men and no one ever disputed me.

... But Einstein's understanding was deeper even than von Neumann's. His mind was both more penetrating and more original than von Neumann's. And that is a very remarkable statement. Einstein took an extraordinary pleasure in invention. Two of his greatest inventions are the Special and General Theories of Relativity; and for all of Jansci's brilliance, he never produced anything as original.
Wigner was born in 1902 and probably did not even meet Einstein until the 1930s. Those two "greatest inventions" were in 1905 and 1915. Wigner is famous for his contributions to quantum mechanics, which Einstein never appreciated. Einstein never accomplished anything after about 1920.

I would take Wigner seriously if he had some first-hand experience of Einstein's originality. Instead, Wigner is only crediting Einstein for originality that was reported in textbooks. As I explain in How Einstein Ruined Physics, very little of relativity was original to Einstein. Special relativity was due to Maxwell, FitzGerald, Lorentz, Poincare, and Minkowski. General relativity was due to Poincare, Grossmann, Hilbert, and Schwarzschild, with cosmological applications done by others. For more info, see Relativity priority dispute.

John von Neumann did invent ordinals (for use in axiomatic set theory), the Hilbert space formulation of quantum mechanics, operator algebras, game theory, and computers (for use in numerical simulations). A recent WSJ review of Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe says:
The mathematician John von Neumann, born Neumann Janos in Budapest in 1903, was incomparably intelligent, so bright that, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Eugene Wigner would say, "only he was fully awake." One night in early 1945, von Neumann woke up and told his wife, Klari, that "what we are creating now is a monster whose influence is going to change history, provided there is any history left. Yet it would be impossible not to see it through." Von Neumann was creating one of the first computers, in order to build nuclear weapons. But, Klari said, it was the computers that scared him the most.
After von Neumann died, his Princeton IAS employer shut down the project and resolved to never do anything so practical again.

Update: Steve Hsu is another von Neumann fan.

Monday, March 5, 2012

No prizes for theoretical physics

A reader commented that proving the impossibility of quantum computers would surely win a Nobel Prize. I doubt it.

I cannot think of an example of a Nobel prize for something similar. The prize usually goes to experimental discoveries of various sorts. Here is a list of some of the more important advances in theoretical physics of the 20th century. None of these won a Nobel prize directly, altho applications of these ideas did win a few prizes. For examples, many prizes were given for relativistic theories, but no prize for relativity itself. For another example, no prize has been given for the Higgs yet, even tho prizes have been given for the consequences. The current Economist magazine says:
Without the Higgs to spur spontaneous symmetry-breaking, it turns out, the edifice of fundamental physics — and no fewer than eight of the Nobel prizes awarded to 20 physicists over 35 years — would stand on shaky ground. No wonder boffins have their eye on the news from Geneva.
I am deliberately omitting the supposed great breakthrus of the last 30 years, such as String theory, Supersymmetry, Multiverse, and cosmological inflation. These are very unlikely to ever win Nobel prizes.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Life of Galileo

NPR Science Friday had a program on Life of Galileo, a play by Bertolt Brecht. They kept making analogies between Galileo and global warming alarmists and others.

They should have explained that this was a fictionalized play by a German Marxist, that the arguments given by Galileo about telescopes and tides were fallacious, and that his conflict did not really destroy his daughter's marriage.

I can see the appeal of a story about a scientist who stands up to authority to tell the truth about his discoveries. But when the story does not tell the truth about the science, then it defeats the point.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Weak mathematical universe hypothesis

The Mathematical universe hypothesis is:
In physics and cosmology, the mathematical universe hypothesis (MUH), also known as the Ultimate Ensemble, is a speculative "theory of everything" (TOE) proposed by the theoretical physicist, Max Tegmark.

Tegmark's sole postulate is: All structures that exist mathematically also exist physically. That is, in the sense that "in those [worlds] complex enough to contain self-aware substructures [they] will subjectively perceive themselves as existing in a physically 'real' world". The hypothesis suggests that worlds corresponding to different sets of initial conditions, physical constants, or altogether different equations should be considered equally real.
This seems silly to me. I am more interested in what I call the weak mathematical universe hypothesis (WMUH). It merely says that there exists at least one structure that exists both mathematically and physically.

For example, if we had a faithful mathematical representation (model) of an electron, then that would qualify. We do not. By faithful, I mean that some set of numbers, formulas, and other mathematical entities fully capture all aspects of the electron.

Tegmark seems to assume that our universe has a perfect mathematical representation, so he thinks that related models could correspond to other universes. But the statement that our own universe can be so mathematized requires a huge leap of faith. As far as I know, there is no known way to do it, and no good reason to believe that it is possible.

If an electron were a (classical) particle, then it could be faithfully represented by its position, velocity, mass, electric charge, and maybe its spin (angular momentum). This is impossible for a quantum particle, because of the uncertainty principle.

Tegmark argues:
So here is the crux of my argument. If you believe in an external reality independent of humans, then you must also believe in what I call the MUH: that our physical reality is a mathematical structure. In other words, we all live in a gigantic mathematical object – one that is more elaborate than a dodecahedron, ... Everything in our world is purely mathematical – including you.
I say that we should start with the weak MUH hypothesis that something in our world is purely mathematical. I do believe in an external reality independent of humans, but I don't see any reason to believe in the weak MUH. I prefer to reject it, until someone shows how it can be true.

The belief that physical reality has an objective mathematical structure has been known as hidden variable theory for most of the 20th century. It has been a complete failure, and the consensus is that these theories are wrong.

Tegmark also confusingly calls his view an “extreme shut-up-and-calculate approach to physics”. This terminology refers to using quantum mechanics to predict experiments, without having a realistic model of the underlying physics. The "shut up" is an admonition to ignore the underlying physics as long as you can calculate answers. So the shut-up-and-calculate approach is directly contrary to the mathematical universe hypothesis, because it disavows any need for the physical universe to be a mathematical structure.

I think that Tegmark's MUH is at the core of many misunderstandings of modern physics. The WMUH is implicitly assumed by most physicists, in spite of decades of evidence to the contrary. It is time to recognize it as the implausible hypothesis that it is, and to only use it when it is explicitly stated as a dubious assumption.

When physicists are presented evidence against the WMUH, they will often despair that reality does not exist, or that nature is incomprehensible, or some such nonsense. None of that follows. We just have to reject Tegmark's extreme views.