Monday, July 30, 2012

Timeline for special relativity

There is a discussion on St ormfront about my book. The most detailed argument appeared in 2009 under the name Karl Radl, and is being repeated under the name LionAxe. also on this blog, under the name Hans Blackthorne.

There are too many points to answer here, but I just mention some major ones. It quotes Cerf and Darrigol that I have answered on this blog.
First of all: Poincaré did maintain the mechanist aether as crucial.
Absolutely not. You will never see a quote to back this up, as Poincare always said that the aether "is only a convenient hypothesis ... will be thrown aside as useless." His theory did not depend on the aether.
The space and time transformations improved by Poincaré from Lorentz were therefore based on a set of "fictitious" transformations: since they had been obtained based on systematic errors during their measurements. Einstein's theories differed greatly.
I don't know whom he is quoting, but Poincare was the first (in 1905) to say that the transformations form a symmetry group of space and time. That view was adopted by Minkowski in 1907, by most other physicists in 1908, and finally by Einstein in 1909.
The fact that Einstein's work on Special Relativity put the pieces together and revealed the complete theory in a coherent, correct and provable formulation is not really disputable.

Lorentz and Poincare developed most of the math used, but never fully embraced the principles behind it.
This is nonsense. Ever single principle was adopted by Lorentz and Poincare years ahead of Einstein. Einstein added nothing.
You have been given the facts of how Einstein's and Poincaré's work are not interchangable, how they differed, how they did not accept each others work et al.
Einstein told the story dozens of times about how he invented special relativity, but he was never able to explain how his theory was better than Poincare's. Einstein sometimes attempted to explain how his 1905 work was better than Lorentz's, but always gave arguments based on what Lorentz had done ten or more years earlier, and avoided Lorentz's recent work.

Poincare did explain how his theory differed from Lorentz's. After Einstein's 1905 paper appeared, it was called the "Lorentz-Einstein theory" as everyone agreed that Einstein's paper was just a recapitulation of Lorentz. Within a couple of years, it was universally recognized that Poincare's approach was superior.

Here is a timeline if the major concepts of special relativity.

  • length contraction (FitzGerald 1889, Lorentz 1892)
  • aether is just a convention (Poincare 1889)
  • first-order Lorentz transformations (Lorentz 1895)
  • relativistic time (Lorentz 1895)
  • relativity principle (Poincare 1895)
  • relativistic mass (Lorentz 1899, experimentally tested in 1902)
  • constant speed of light (Maxwell, Lorentz, Poincare pre-1900)
  • light synchronization of clocks (Poincare 1900)
  • E = mc2 (Poincare 1900)
  • full Lorentz transformations (Lorentz 1904)
  • 4-dimensional spacetime geometry (Poincare 1905)
  • electromagnetic covariance (Poincare 1905)

    Einstein's first relativity paper was in 1905. He had an exposition of most of the above concepts, but did not have the most crucial ones -- the 4-dimensional spacetime geometry and the electromagnetic covariance. He had no new ideas or formulas. He did not have the essence of the theory as it is known today, or even as it was known in 1908.

    The attacks on Lorentz and Poincare are mostly based on allegations about their beliefs, and not what they said. This is especially true about the aether. Their theories did not depend on any properties of the aether, and they explicitly said so. While they occasionally later used the word, so did Einstein.

    I don't know how anyone can understand relativity, read the above timeline, and still credit Einstein. If you read an article by someone defending Einstein, I suggest trying to figure out whether he agrees with the above timeline.

    Update: LionAxe has it backwards about the aether. Lorentz wrote in 1895 that "It is not my intention to ... express assumptions about the nature of the aether. ... we cannot speak about an absolute rest of the aether". Einstein wrote in 1905 that "the view here to be developed will not require an 'absolutely stationary space' provided with special properties". Einstein always admitted that he based his 1905 paper on Lorentz's 1895, and they were saying essentially the same thing about the aether.

    Poincare proved in 1905 that there was a symmetry group making all moving frames equivalent, and that there was therefore no privileged frame. Poincare never said that there was a privileged frame. If you think that he did, then show me the quote, and show me just what privilege that frame had in the theory.

    LionAxe continues to complain about things that Poincare got completely correct, such as clocks in a moving frame showing the local time in that frame. That is an essential concept of special relativity due to Lorentz and Poincare, and it has been taught in the textbooks ever since. Einstein never had such an original and brilliant idea in his whole life. Lorentz got the Nobel Prize in 1902, and one of the arguments for it was his invention of local time.

    Update: I asked LionAxe to show me where a mechanist aether was ever crucial to Poincare's work. He supplied "We know nothing as to what the aether is" (1904 lecture) "Does our aether actually exist? We know the origin of our belief in the aether." (1902 book) "Thus Lorentz's hypothesis is the only one consistent with the inability to demonstrate absolute motion" (1905 long paper) I have corrected the quotes using my sources.

    In none of these does Poincare say that the aether exists, or that a privileged frame exists, or that the aether is needed for his theory. On the contrary, he repeatedly says that the aether is just a convention, that it will eventually be considered useless, and that a symmetry group makes all frames equivalent.

    On the other hand, Einstein frequently says things like "It is essential to have time defined by means of stationary clocks in the stationary system". Einstein uses a privileged frame throughout his famous 1905 paper, and he is never able to show independence of that frame. Poincare proves independence using the symmetry group.

    Update: I did not realize that Bjerknes had already refuted LionAxe.
  • Friday, July 27, 2012

    Many-worlds skepticism needed

    Skeptic Michael Shermer writes:
    Why is there something rather than nothing? The question is usually posed by Christian apologists as a rhetorical argument meant to pose as the drop-dead killer case for God that no scientist can possibly answer. Those days are over. Even though scientists are not in agreement on a final answer to the now non-rhetorical question, they are edging closer to providing logical and even potentially empirically testable hypotheses to account for the universe. ...

    According to the “many worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics, there are an infinite number of universes in which every possible outcome of every possible choice that has ever been available, or will be available, has happened in one of those universes. This many-worlds multiverse is grounded in the bizarre findings of the famous “double-slit” experiment, in which light is passed through two slits and forms an interference pattern of waves on a back surface ...

    Carroll then cautioned: “Obviously the entire set of ideas is controversial and speculative, and should be presented as such, but it’s taken very seriously by a large number of extremely smart and respectable people.” For example: Leonard Susskind, Alex Vilenkin and Alan Guth (on the pro-multiverse side) and David Gross, Paul Steinhardt, and Edward Farhi (skeptical of the multiverse side).
    No, the many-worlds multiverse is not grounded in the double-slit experiment. That experiment is not bizarre at all, if you believe in the wave nature of light (or electrons).

    Instead of just saying that some light goes thru each slit, many-worlds says that the light goes thru differenct universes. Because the light could have gone thru either slit in the past, many-worlds says that the light is split into different universes in the future. The theory is bizarre and does not explain the simplest experiments.

    Many-worlds says that all possibilities happen in alternate universes. That deflates the predictive power of quantum mechanics. It is hard to say that an experiment is contrary to theory, because we might be in the alternate universe where the improbable happens.

    The belief in many-worlds is largely based on a belief in a certain sort of time symmetry called unitarity. People argue that if there are multiple possibilities for events in the past, then there should be multiple possibilities in the future. In the case of the double-slit, the two slits are not just possibilities, but understanding the interference requires that the light really goes thru both slits. So the many-worlds advocates make the leap to saying that future possibilities must really happen also, even if in alternate universes.

    Shermer points to smart people instead of giving evidence, and uses this as an example of how science is better than religion. That is foolish. There are plenty of smart people who believe in religion also.

    Sunday, July 22, 2012

    Book on science anarchy

    Michael Brooks was on Stossel TV plugging his book, Free Radicals: The Secret Anarchy of Science. He talked about 10% of scientists taking drugs, and Einstein didn't really prove his famous equation. A review says:
    According to Brooks, in Science anything goes. The competition is so tough and the prizes so valuable that no punches are pulled. Drugs, lies, fraud, politics - all are part of the game. He exposes famed personalities from Newton to Einstein - showing how human they all are; and how the successful ones never hesitated to break the rules. Most of us have heard of Newton's famous statement on '..standing on the shoulders of giants', but we would not have heard of his skill of stomping down other scientists!. Any literate person would have heard of Einstein and his E=MC2 equation, but it is unbelievable to hear that he could not fully prove it in spite of eight attempts!!
    I explain this history in my book.

    Friday, July 20, 2012

    The Beginning of Infinity

    Physicist and many-worlds guru David Deutsch had a new book last year, The Beginning of Infinity, where he argues for judging a scientific theory by its explanatory power. He is known for arguing that multiple universe quantum theory explains quantum computing.

    Everyone is all in favor of scientific explanation, so with whom is he disagreeing? It seems that he wants to carve out a position that is opposite to mathematical Finitism and Logical positivism. He also dislikes the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics.

    I defend logical positivism and Copenhagen. I should defend finitism also, as most math can be done from a finitary viewpoint.

    Jared Diamond got famous for giving grand explanations for the history of civilization, but, as Deutsch points out, the evidence for those explanations is very weak.

    Deutsch's book is interesting for his view of the world. However his specific arguments are not substantiated well enough to take seriously.

    Wednesday, July 18, 2012

    No good biography of Poincare

    Einstein scholar Galina Weinstein just posted this paper:
    In this paper I present a personal and scientific biographical sketch of Poincare,... He was so encyclopedic that he dealt with the outstanding questions in the different branches of physics and mathematics; he had altered whole fields of science such as non-Euclidean geometry, Arithmetic, celestial mechanics, thermodynamics and kinetic theory, optics, electrodynamics, Maxwell's theory, and other topics from the forefront of Fin de Siecle physical science. It is interesting to note that as opposed to the prosperity of biographies and secondary papers studying the life and scientific contributions of Albert Einstein, one finds much less biographies and secondary sources discussing Poincare's life and work. As opposed to Einstein, Poincare was not a cultural icon. Beginning in 1920 Einstein became a myth and a world famous figure.
    She makes several comparisons, including this:
    In 1900 Poincaré was indeed in his highest ranks, and he was the most successful scientist in France and maybe in the whole world. However, Poincaré felt deep inside a very big crisis. The contents of his lectures, which he presented in the two international conferences (of physics and philosophy), and the talk presented in the Lorentz Festschrift celebrations, reveal this crisis pertaining to reconciling Lorentz's theory with the principle of relativity and the principle of reaction.Q

    It is interesting to note that Einstein had a crisis at about the same time. Einstein appeared to have been trying to solve the conflict between the principle of Galilean relativity and that of the constancy of the velocity of light in Maxwell's theory; and the conflict between the principle of Galilean relativity and Maxwell's theory and Faraday's law. Although both Einstein and Poincaré were feeling a crisis at about the same time, they followed completely different routes.
    Yes, they had different routes. Poincare's approach was to use the constant speed of light to synchronize clocks and define space and time; insist on the relativity principle as the best explanation of the Michelson-Morley experiment; invent a non-Euclidean geometry for four-dimensional spacetime using the Lorentz group and Minkowski metric; prove the covariance of Maxwell's equations for electromagnetism; and use symmetry invariance to find new laws of physics so that relativity becomes a spacetime theory that applies to everything.

    Einstein's approach was to make Lorentz's theorem of corresponding states into a postulate, and to use Poincare synchronization to give an exposition of Poincare's physical interpretation of Lorentz's local time. He is thus able to give a presentation of Lorentz's electron theory. Lorentz explained, "Einstein simply postulates what we have deduced".

    Poincare's approach quickly became the backbone of special relativity. This is all explained in my book.

    Monday, July 16, 2012

    The map is not the territory

    I got some good comments on my FQXi essay. Jonathan Burdick reduced me to 6 words:
    Our friend Rog needs 10 pages to opine that "the map is not the territory"? :-)
    That's right, the mathematics is the map that describes how to observe the physics, but it is not identical to the physics. His slogan would have made a great title.

    Another said:
    I enjoyed reading your essay. It is really clearly written and thoroughly accessible, even to someone without a maths or physics background. You have set out your arguments very clearly and I might have been convinced had I not previously given this subject quite a bit of thought.
    In other words: Good argument, but my mind was already made up!
    I'm somewhat in sympathy with Jonathan Burdick's pithy response, but of course in ten pages you do more that say that the map is not the territory. I take you also to say that the territory (reality) is not mathematical. ...

    What is left to do is very hard, in the usual story of all the low-hanging fruit having been picked, but we have made better tools than our forebears. It is also possible that there is some part of the territory that only ever happens once, so that it cannot be subject of Physics taken to be a repeatable experimental subject. ...

    In any case, there has been a constant interplay between Mathematics and Physics, ...
    I like his phrase "construction of a new systematization of experimental data." Yes, that is a laudable goal and mathematics is a terrific tool. I also "accept that Physics is the systematic description of reproducible experimental results."

    My purpose is to better understand the limits to mathematical reasoning in physics. For example, consider the No-cloning theorem. If a physical state is perfectly representable by some numbers or other mathematical objects, then it is very hard to understand why a perfect copy cannot be made. Perfect cloning of mathematical objects is axiomatic. I say that the quantum state is great for systematizing experimental data, but when you take it too literally as being reality then paradoxes result. It is better to step back, and admit that our mathematical models may be necessarily imperfect.

    My essay's public rating is currently a meager 4.4 out of 10. My essay goes against conventional wisdom, but I don't expect a high rating, but I hope that it is good enough to qualify for judging this fall. At least my essay answers the contest question:
    Questioning the Foundations: Which of Our Basic Physical assumptions are Wrong?

    What assumptions are ripe for rethinking? ...

    What are the implicit assumptions we tend to forget we have postulated, or that have become so ingrained that they have become unquestioned dogma? ...

    Note: Successful and interesting essays will not use this topic as an opportunity to trot out their pet theories simply because those theories reject assumptions of some other or established theory. Rather, the challenge here is to create new and insightful questions or analysis about basic, often tacit, assumptions that can be questioned but often are not.

    Friday, July 13, 2012

    Grossmann's help on general relativity

    Galina Weinstein posted Genesis of general relativity - Discovery of general relativity
    The intermediate stage of the development of general relativity is inseparable of Marcel Grossmann's mathematical assistance. Einstein acknowledges Grossmann's help during 1912-1914 to the development of general relativity. ...

    Einstein and Grossmann's first joint paper entitled, "Entwurf einer verallgemeinerten Relativitätstheorie und einer Theorie der Gravitation" ("Outline of a Generalized Theory of Relativity and of a Theory of Gravitation") is called by scholars the "Entwurf" paper. ... Grossmann wrote the mathematical part of this paper and Einstein wrote the physical part. ...

    The "Entwurf" theory was already very close to Einstein's general theory of relativity that he published in November 1915. The gravitational field is represented by a metric tensor, the mathematical apparatus of the theory is based on the work of Riemann, Christoffel, Ricci and Levi-Civita on differential covariants, and the action of gravity on other physical processes is represented by generally covariant equations (that is, in a form which remained unchanged under all coordinate transformations). ...

    Scholars asked: Why did Einstein discard in winter 1912-1913 what appears in hindsight to be essentially the correct gravitational field equation, and what made his field equation acceptable in late 1915? Why did he reject equations of much broader covariance in 1912-1913? ... His rejection of the Ricci tensor need not be explained in terms of simple error. He was rather not prepared to accept generally covariant equations as a result of a number of misconceptions. ...

    He introduced an ingenious argument – the Hole Argument – to demonstrate that generally covariant field equations were not permissible. The Hole Argument seemed to cause Einstein great satisfaction, or else he persuaded himself that he was satisfied. Having found the Hole argument, Einstein spent two years after 1913 looking for a non-generally covariant formulation of gravitational field equations.
    The Einstein-Grossmann collaboration was one where Einstein wrote the wrong stuff and Grossmann wrote the correct stuff. Einstein argued for two years that Grossmann was wrong to require generally covariant field equations, even tho Levi-Civita explained the advantages of covariant equations, until David Hilbert eventually convinced Einstein of those equations.

    Einstein's famous 1916 general relativity paper starts:
    The theory which is sketched in the following pages forms the most wide-going generalization conceivable of what is at present known as "the theory of Relativity;" this latter theory I differentiate from the former "Special Relativity theory," and suppose it to be known. The generalization of the Relativity theory has been made much easier through the form given to the special Relativity theory by Minkowski, which mathematician was the first to recognize clearly the formal equivalence of the space like and time-like co-ordinates, and who made use of it in the building up of the theory. The mathematical apparatus useful for the general relativity theory, lay already complete in the "Absolute Differential Calculus", which were based on the researches of Gauss, Riemann and Christoffel on the non-Euclidean manifold, and which have been shaped into a system by Ricci and Levi-Civita, and already applied to the problems of theoretical physics. I have in part B of this communication developed in the simplest and clearest manner, all the supposed mathematical auxiliaries, not known to Physicists, which will be useful for our purpose, so that, a study of the mathematical literature is not necessary for an understanding of this paper. Finally in this place I thank my friend Grossmann, by whose help I was not only spared the study of the mathematical literature pertinent to this subject, but who also aided me in the researches on the field equations of gravitation. [1920 translation]
    About half the paper is an explanation of tensor analysis. There is no reference to the Entwurf theory or Hilbert. The only papers cited were those by Einstein and K. Schwarzschild showing how Grossmann's covariant equations affect the precession of Mercury's orbit. The assistance from Levi-Civita and Grossmann is understated.

    The Wikipedia article on general relativity mentions Einstein about 50 times, and says nothing about Grossmann or Hilbert. There is a lot more historical info at Relativity priority dispute.

    Wednesday, July 11, 2012

    Positivist interpretation

    There are many interpretations of quantum mechanics, and no experiment to prove that any one is better than any other. So choosing one is a matter of convention. You might even prefer one interpretation for some problem, and another interpretation for others. Medieval astronomers sometimes used a geocentric model for some planets, and a heliocentric model for others, even tho the models conflict.

    The founders of quantum mechanics were believers in positivism, a philosophy that has since gone out of favor. Positivists believe in what is observable, and avoid giving opinions on what is not. I believe that the more the interpretations stray from positivism, the harder it is to make sense out of them. Therefore I propose what I call the positivist interpretation as the core minimalist way to understand the theory.

    The positivist interpretation is instrumentalist. However the terms are confusing because a lot of physicists talk as if they are instrumentalists, but they are not positivists. For example, Max Tegmark (MIT) writes:
    I advocate an extreme "shut-up-and-calculate" approach to physics, where our external physical reality is assumed to be purely mathematical.
    But that assumption is extremely dubious, and not substantiated by any observation. I cannot prove him wrong, but a positivist would reject it just because there is no observational support for it, and because it is not even particularly useful in modern physics. I have written a FQXi essay against it.

    The original Copenhagen interpretation was positivist, but it is widely misunderstood. The Ensemble interpretation is supposed to be minimalist, but it is not truly positivist because it does not predict single experiments. Other interpretations assume all sorts of things that can never be observed.

    English science writer Philip Ball writes:
    Most physicists accept something like Bohr and Heisenberg’s Copenhagen interpretation. This holds that there is no essential reality beyond the quantum description, nothing more fundamental and definite than probabilities.
    This is close to being positivist, but a true positivist would not say that there is no essential reality. He would accept the observable realities, and dismiss talk of other realities as being meaningless until someone relates them to observables. He also would not say that probabilities are fundamental, as they are interpretational and not observable.

    Here are characteristics of the positivist interpretation.

    It is local. No action-at-a-distance has ever been observed, nor is it possible in a relativistic theory. Lumo gives recent explanation of why nonlocality research is pseudoscience.

    It rejects hidden variables, as they are not observed and all evidence is to the contrary. Even the wave function is not real, as it is not directly observable.

    Positivism also rejects Counterfactual definiteness. As A. Peres said, Unperformed Experiments Have no Results.

    I am neutral on Determinism. I am convinced that no quantum probabilities are needed. If the theory does not need them, and they are not observable, then they are not part of the positivist interpretation.

    I am also neutral on what I call the weak mathematical universe hypothesis. When a positivist says he is neutral, that means that he rejects it as extraneous. I have never seen anyone explicitly reject it, but I believe that it will eventually be seen to be false.

    Explanations of quantum mechanics often get hung up on trying to attach some meaning to reality that is independent of what is observed. Physicists will even say that quantum mechanics proves that there is no such thing as reality. What they are really saying is that non-positivist interpretations are hard to understand. Adopt a positivist philosophy, and the problems disappear.

    A good explanation of positivist quantum mechanics is this essay on Quantum Reality. The author favors a positivist variant of the Copenhagen interpretation that he calls the London (Ticker-Tape) Interpretation. He says "Bohr got it pretty much right" and positivism has the virtue of "no deeper meaning than that obtained through measurement".

    Positivists are sometimes criticized for saying that there is no deeper meaning, when they cannot prove that there is no deeper meaning. But that criticism misunderstands positivism. The more correct statement is that positivists admit that there might be a deeper meaning involving determinism or probability, mathematical or physical universe, waves or particles, etc. But quantum mechanics experiments are unable to resolve these issues, so they are not worthy of scientific discussion.

    Adding to the confusion, modern philosophers not only reject positivism, they also deny that Bohr was a positivist.

    Yes, Bohr did get it right with his positivism, and he was considered the winner of the Bohr–Einstein debates. But as positivism has gone out of fashion, so has Bohr's view. Probably a lot of physicists and philosophers today would say they prefer Einstein's view because it is more realist. They cause a lot of confusion. It would be better if quantum mechanics were taught with the positivist interpretation.

    The main virtue of the positivist interpretation is that it only requires you to believe in the core physics, and does not require you to take a position on determinism, many-worlds, consciousness, or anything like that.

    Lumo writes today:
    In the last 85+ years since the discovery of quantum mechanics, all people opposing quantum mechanics have lost, all of their predictions differing from the predictions of quantum mechanics have been proved wrong, and the whole philosophy of trying to find and promote "problems" with the proper Copenhagen quantum mechanics – and all these efforts are always driven by the desire to undo the quantum revolution and return physics to the age when the classical framework was dominant – has been an utter failure, an embarrassing pseudointellectual catastrophe, a huge pile of stinky junk that no sensible scientist would associate herself with.

    I am amazed that even this modest and balanced summary of the situation may be considered controversial by some physicists in 2012. I am amazed that Brian Greene may be on the evil side, too.

    Niels Bohr treated the theories about many worlds as garbage bringing nothing new and correct to physics for a simple reason: they were garbage that was bringing nothing that was both new and correct.
    I agree with this. I believe that the richer interpretations of quantum mechanics are wrong for reasons explained in my FQXi essay. I differ from him in that I subscribe to an even more minimalist interpretation, as I say that no quantum probabilities are needed, not even for the double slit.

    Monday, July 9, 2012

    Contrarian books

    A reader tells me that she found my book, How Einstein Ruined Physics, in a bookstore next to the new book, How The Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music. That's funny. I am going to contact the publisher and suggest a series of books. I will propose How Babe Ruth Ruined Baseball, How Mark Twain Ruined Literature, How Pablo Picasso Ruined Art, How Margaret Mead Ruined Anthropology, and How Steve Jobs Ruined Computers.

    Friday, July 6, 2012

    The Higgs aether

    With all the publicity about the discovery of the Higgs boson, hardly anyone is explaining that it is a confirmation of modern Aether theories. Usually any mention of the aether is followed by saying that it was a quaint 19th century concept that was disproved by Einstein's relativity. But that is not true, and was not even Einstein's view.

    The concept of the luminiferous aether dates back to ancient times, and refers to whatever fills outer space that allows us to see the light of the stars. It is sometimes said that the vacuum is empty space, and that no such aether is needed to explain the propagation of light. But that is not true either, as modern theories of light require a nonempty vacuum. Quantum electrodynamics is a perturbation theory of the aether.

    The authoritative description of the 19th century aether is J.C. Maxwell's 1878 encyclopedia article. That concluded:
    No theory of the constitution of the aether has yet been invented which will account for such a system of molecular vortices being maintained for an indefinite time without their energy being gradually dissipated into that irregular agitation of the medium which, in ordinary media, is called heat.

    Whatever difficulties we may have in forming a consistent idea of the constitution of the aether, there can be no doubt that the interplanetary and interstellar spaces are not empty, but are occupied by a material substance or body, which is certainly the largest, and probably the most uniform body of which we have any knowledge.

    Whether this vast homogeneous expanse of isotropic matter is fitted not only to be a medium of physical interaction between distant bodies, and to fulfil other physical functions of which, perhaps, we have as yet no conception, but also, as the authors of the Unseen Universe seem to suggest, to constitute the material organism of beings exercising functions of life and mind as high or higher than ours are at present, is a question far transcending the limits of physical speculation.
    Maxwell's view was that the aether was pervasive, uniform, invisible, frictionless, and permeating matter. It is sometimes said that the aether presupposed some sort of fixed coordinate system, but Maxwell does not say that.

    What I say here is the consensus view, except that not everyone uses the word "aether". Frank Wilczek, the 2004 Nobel Prize winner in physics, wrote the book, The Lightness of Being: Mass, Ether, and the Unification of Forces:
    In the first part of the twentieth century, the upheavals of relativity and (especially) quantum theory shattered the foundations beneath classical physics. Existing theories of matter and light were reduced to rubble. That process of creative destruction made it possible to construct, over the second part of the twentieth century, a new and deeper theory of matter/light that removed the ancient separation. The new theory sees a world based on a multiplicity of space-filling ethers, a totality I call the Grid. The new world-model is extremely strange, but also extremely successful and accurate.
    He details:
    What is Space? Is it an empty stage, where the physical world of matter acts out its drama -- an equal participant, like the classical Ether, that both provides background and has a life of its own -- or the primary reality, of which matter is a secondary manifestation? Today, the third view is triumphant. Where our eyes see nothing our brains, pondering the revelations of sharply tuned experiments, discover the Grid that powers physical reality.
    The Higgs boson is not just some isolated particle. It is the quantization of an aether that is pervasive, uniform, invisible, frictionless, and permeating matter. And that aether is completely essential to modern physics.

    The Higgs aether gives mass to the electrons and quarks, the basic constituents of matter. All electrons are identical, and have the same mass. So the Higgs is the same everywhere. The aether is the largest and most uniform body, just as Maxwell said.

    You could also say that there is an electron field in a vacuum, with fluctuations making virtual electrons. But there is no net number of electrons. The Higgs aether is different in that the Higgs field is nonzero in the vacuum.

    Tuesday, July 3, 2012

    Higgs boson discovered

    The Higgs boson discovery is being announced:
    On Wednesday (July 4), scientists heading two major experiments at the LHC plan to announce their most recent findings ...

    The Higgs boson is the last piece of the physics Standard Model, a collection of theories that underpin all modern physics. The Higgs particle is theorized to mediate mass -- like a photon (also a boson) mediates the electromagnetic force, i.e., light -- and creates the "Higgs field" that must pervade the entire Universe, endowing matter with mass.
    Dennis Overbye writes:
    Known as the Higgs boson, it explains why things in the universe have mass, and is a cornerstone of modern physics despite never being seen.
    Here is why we believe in the Higgs, and why it was really discovered decades ago.

    Geometry symmetry is the most important concept in 20th century physics. Poincare introduced it with his 1905 geometric version of special relativity, and his search for physical laws that obey symmetries. Its crucial importance to classical mechanics was shown by Noether, and the importance to quantum mechanics by Hermann Weyl. The concept can be used to generalize electromagnetism to other fields (like strong and weak forces), as shown by Weyl, Higgs, 'tHooft, and others.

    The Standard Model is based on geometric symmetries, but if there are too many of them, then all particles are massless like photons and nothing interesting happens. So there has to be a field that breaks the symmetry. All fields are quantized, so there has to be a particle also. That is what is being found at 125 GeV.

    In a sense, the Higgs is like an aether that is uniform, everywhere, and invisible. You could say that mass is just a measure of resistance to passing thru the Higgs aether. This description is a little misleading because most of the proton mass comes from the binding energy of the quarks, but the quark mass is believed to be derived from the Higgs breaking the symmetry. This is all explained in my book. For a recent survey by an expert, see Wilczek, Origins of Mass.

    If you have been watching PBS TV science shows, you might have been expecting LHC announcements on string theory, supersymmetry, and the multiverse. However, all of the evidence has been against those misguided concepts.

    Update: Overbye adds in the July 4 NY Times:
    Physicists working at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider said Wednesday that they had discovered a new subatomic particle that looks for all the world like the Higgs boson, a potential key to understanding why elementary particles have mass and indeed to the existence of diversity and life in the universe. ...

    Confirmation of the Higgs boson or something very like it would constitute a rendezvous with destiny for a generation of physicists who have believed in the boson for half a century without ever seeing it. And it reaffirms a grand view of a universe ruled by simple and elegant and symmetrical laws, but in which everything interesting in it, such as ourselves, is due to flaws or breaks in that symmetry.

    According to the Standard Model, which has ruled physics for 40 years now, the Higgs boson is the only visible and particular manifestation of an invisible force field, a cosmic molasses that permeates space and imbues elementary particles that would otherwise be massless with mass. Particles wading through it would gain heft.

    Without this Higgs field, as it is known, or something like it, physicists say all the elementary forms of matter would zoom around at the speed of light, flowing through our hands like moonlight. There would be neither atoms nor life. ...

    Although they have never been seen, Higgs-like fields play an important role in theories of the universe and in string theory. Under certain conditions, according to the strange accounting of Einsteinian physics, they can become suffused with energy that exerts an anti-gravitational force. Such fields have been proposed as the source of an enormous burst of expansion, known as inflation, early in the universe, and, possibly, as the secret of the dark energy that now seems to be speeding up the expansion of the universe.
    The Higgs boson is the most unusual known particles, being spin 0 and playing a unique symmetry-breaking role. Its discovery is the most dramatic achievement of theoretical physics in history. It is part of the aether that is completely essential to modern physics. The aether is everywhere, uniform, and invisible.

    The aether probably explains dark energy, but none of this has anything to do with string theory. String theory does not predict an aether, Higgs boson, or dark energy. After 30 years of work by the world's smartest physicists, it has never had a success like the Higgs. The Higgs is a confirmation of the theory that string theory was supposed to replace.

    SciAm blogger John Horgan writes:
    Hearing all the hoopla about the Higgs, the public might understandably assume that it represents a crucial step toward a unified theory–and perhaps at least tentative confirmation of the existence of strings, branes, hyperspaces, multiverses and all the other fantastical eidolons that Kaku, Stephen Hawking, Brian Greene and other unification enthusiasts tout in their bestsellers.

    But the Higgs doesn’t take us any closer to a unified theory than climbing a tree would take me to the Moon.
    That's right. The LHC spent $10B to confirm the high-energy physics of the 1970s, but all hopes for a grander theory have been a total failure.

    Horgan also says:
    Physicists have already produced theories –- Newtonian mechanics, quantum mechanics, general relativity, nonlinear dynamics –- that work extraordinarily well in certain domains, and there is no reason why there should be a single theory that accounts for all the forces of nature. The quest for a unified theory will come to be seen not as a branch of science, which tells us about the real world, but as a kind of mathematical theology.
    I agree with that, and I go further in my FQXi essay. I say that there is no reason that this mathematical theology should even be valid for those domains like quantum mechanics. Theoretical physicists are chasing the impossible.

    Sunday, July 1, 2012

    Copernicus cartoon

    This is from The Argyle Sweater by Scott Hilburn. Sometimes people assume that Copernicus was particularly novel or courageous by saying that the Sun does not revolve around the Earth. Maybe not.