Thursday, October 31, 2013

Einstein book update

If you bought my book, How Einstein Ruined Physics, then check out this blog for updated info. In particular, there has been some new scholarly work on Einstein, and nearly all of it supports the thesis of the book. See: I also elaborate on some technical points about relativity from the book: In short, the scholarship points to Lorentz and Poincare discovering relativity, not Einstein.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Confused about Black Hole Paradox

SciAm reports:
Physicists Euphoric but Confused about Black Hole Paradox

“The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘eureka!’ but ‘that's funny,’” Isaac Asimov once said. Well, something seriously funny is going on in theoretical physics these days. A recent conundrum about black holes is threatening to overturn some of the most basic tenets of physics, and many scientists are nothing but thrilled.

“To me it’s the best thing that’s happened in awhile,” says University of California, Berkeley, physicist Raphael Bousso of the so-called “black hole firewall paradox,” which concerns what happens at the boundary of a black hole. “This is a 9 on the Richter earthquake scale—it’s by far the most shocking and surprising thing that has happened in my career.” The quandary prompting such jubilation is an idea first put forward in July 2012, which was extended in a paper published October 21 in Physical Review Letters. Physicists have long assumed that space is smooth at a black hole’s event horizon—the point of no return where nothing that passes through can escape. A person crossing over that line shouldn’t immediately notice anything amiss, however, and neither should a distant observer watching that person. But physicists have also assumed that information can never be destroyed. The new work says those two ideas are mutually incompatible. “It’s a paradox because several things we believed were true can’t all be true,” says Joseph Polchinski of the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics and U.C. Santa Barbara, one of the main architects of the firewall idea.

Polchinski and his colleagues conclude that not only is space not smooth at a black hole horizon—at that point the laws of physics completely break down. Instead of an unobtrusive boundary, the scientists argue that there must actually be a sharp division they call a firewall. “The firewall is kind of a wall of energy—it could be the end of spacetime itself,” Polchinski says. “Anything hitting it would break up into its fundamental bits and effectively dissolve.” ...

“The last year has witnessed the kind of development we live for,” Columbia University physicist Brian Greene says. “It’s where the rubber hits the road.” ...

How to move forward now is less than clear, however. “I think it’s fair to say quantum gravity is stuck,” says Matt Strassler, a visiting physicist at Harvard University. “It’s not obvious that any big progress is being made at the moment.”
Is there any better proof that physics has lost its way?

First, the interior of a black hole is not observable. You can say whatever you want about it, and no one can ever prove you right or wrong.

Second, quantum mechanics has almost nothing to do with cosmology. Quantum mechanics might help explain fusion reactions in stars, and a few things like that of cosmological relevance, but no good has come from trying to look at the wave function of a galaxy or black hole or anything like that.

Third, the firewall paradox is based on the supposed conservation of information, but no one has ever been able to show that information is conserved in any experiment, and there is no good theoretical reason for believing that it should be conserved.

Fourth, there seem to be some other quantum assumptions that no one has verified.

Fifth, you have to subscribe to a particular wave function ontology. The wave function may represent our knowledge of reality, instead of reality.

Friday, October 25, 2013

In defense of compatibilism

I criticized leftist-atheist-evolutionust professor Jerry Coyne, and now he adds to his attack on free will:
the rise of “compatibilism.” That is the notion that although the universe may be deterministic in a physical way—so that our actions and thoughts are not only determined by the laws of physics, but also predictable if we had enough foreknowledge—we nevertheless have “free will.”  What philosophers did was redefine the meaning of “free will” away from its historical and religious sense, so that “free”, instead of meaning “independent of the strictures of your bodily makeup and environmental influences”, now meant a variety of other things, like, “your decision isn’t being made with a gun to your head.”

There is no one form of compatibilism: various philosophers have suggested various tweaks that allow us to say we have “free will.”

To me, the important aspect of this debate came not from philosophy but from science: we realized that our brains, like all physical objects, are subject to the laws of physics, and there was no way that some nonmaterial spook in one’s head could make “free decisions”. That was something new.
No one has redefined free will. A typical dictionary definition is "The power of making free choices that are unconstrained by external circumstances or by an agency such as fate or divine will."
So determinism, and its view that the mind is what the brain does, was a tremendous advance in science. And it completely dispelled the notion of dualistic free will. Here are the questions, then, that I have for compatibilists.

What kind of comparable advance was achieved by redefining “free will” so that the only thing “free” about it was its freedom to accept determinism?
If determinism were such an advance, why don't the textbooks mention it? Why hasn't anyone credited determinism when making a Nobel prize winning discovery?

Free will means freedom to make choices, and compatibilism does not require a belief in determinism.
Has compatibilism had an important (or might have a potentially important) influence on humanity or its behavior?
Nearly all of western civilization has arisen in a culture of belief in scientific causality and Christian free will. The compatibility of these views has been the dominant thinking of most of the great intellectuals of the last 500 years.
Is compatibilism anything more than a semantic gesture?

How has compatibilism helped us understand the human brain or human behavior?

I see compatibilism as a branch of philosophy, and determinism as something that is largely scientific but has philosophical implications. And — I won’t pull any punches here — I don’t think compatibilism is of any importance to humanity.
Yes, compatibilism is essential to making sense out of the world.
determinism itself has a long and distinguished history. Here are two examples:

Spinoza (in Ethics): ?the infant believes that it is by free will that it seeks the breast; the angry boy believes that by free will he wishes vengeance; the timid man thinks it is with free will he seeks flight; the drunkard believes that by a free command of his mind he speaks the things which when sober he wishes he had left unsaid. … All believe that they speak by a free command of the mind, whilst, in truth, they have no power to restrain the impulse which they have to speak.?

Laplace: “We ought to regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its antecedent state and as the cause of the state that is to follow. An intelligence knowing all the forces acting in nature at a given instant, as well as the momentary positions of all things in the universe, would be able to comprehend in one single formula the motions of the largest bodies as well as the lightest atoms in the world, provided that its intellect were sufficiently powerful to subject all data to analysis; to it nothing would be uncertain, the future as well as the past would be present to its eyes. The perfection that the human mind has been able to give to astronomy affords but a feeble outline of such an intelligence.”
Einstein also had a religious belief in determinism, like Spinoza. That is what led him to reject quantum mechanics, and to waste the last 30 years of his life.

The vast majority of scientists have not been determinists in Coyne's sense. For the last century, the leading theory of physics has been quantum mechanics, and the most popular textbook explanation of it is that it is not deterministic. There are a few physicists, like 't Hooft, who believe that there ought to be a way to make it deterministic, but most do not.

Laplace refers to an "intelligence knowing all the forces", but a premise of quantum mechanics, the no cloning theorem, says that no such knowledge is ever possible, even for small systems.
I still want to know why compatibilism is considered a serious achievement in philosophy. Contrary to determinism, which does have serious implications for how we live our lives and run our socieites, compatibilism is an arcane backwater of philosophy. It is not a philosophical achievement on the order of, say, Singer’s arguments for animal rights, which have real practical consequences, or Rawls’s musings on justice, which makes us rethink how we conceive of fairness and people’s rights. I see no practical consequences of compatibilism save soothing the distress of people who, upon finally grasping determinism, get distressed that they are puppets on the strings of physical laws.

Which is pretty much how it is.
Singer is the professor who says that a healthy mouse should have more rights than a disabled human. Rawls was just a naive egalitarian.

Coyne portrays himself as someone defending science against attacks by religious folks. He is doing a lousy job, because he is promoting his own religious beliefs that have no scientific backing. His concept of determinism is unscientific.

One of Coyne's reader's comments:
“unless we have perfect knowledge.”
According to Heisenberg we can’t have perfect knowledge. Your entire argument is based on a wrong assumption.

“we realized that our brains, like all physical objects, are subject to the laws of physics.”
As if this is something new. Just look up Carvaka on Wikipedia: 600 BCE.

“it completely dispelled the notion of dualistic free will.”
Quite obvious if you are a materialist. I really don’t get why you spend gazillions of words to something that can be summarized as “I’m a materialist so I reject dualistic free will”.

“So determinism …. was a tremendous advance in science.”
It was. And throwing determinism out of the window was another tremendous advance. The key word is probabilism.
In the previous article you gave examples like flying a plane, cutting your finger. What you omitted is that these are also perfectly described by probabilistic Quantum Mechanics. ...

In case anyone jumps to a premature conclusion: I’m a materialist myself. It’s just that materialism hence determinism hence no free will is a non-sequitur. ...

Reading a quote of Laplace on a website of a reputed scientist to back up an argument related to science is very weird. Laplace since many decades has become irrelevant for physics.

“our brains, like all physical objects, are subject to the laws of physics”
Our 21st Century laws of physics, the ones that recently gave us the higgs-boson, are completely contradicting Laplace. I refer to Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, chapter 4.
Another says:
You note that determinism also has a long history and mention Laplace (1749-) and Spinoza (1632-). But in point of fact there were compatibilists who lived before these individuals. Aristotle (343BC-) and Hobbes (1588-) are considered to be compatibilists. What are we to say about Aristotle’s views in this context? That he was responding to developments during the scientific revolution? That doesn’t seem very plausible I take it. This also suggests that the language of “the rise of compatibilism” is misleading. Compatibilism is not some newfangled theory that philosophers just concocted to give themselves jobs. Aristotle, Hobbes, Hume, Ayer, Stace, Dennett, etc. have been defending compatibilism for years.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Death of SUSY

Tom Siegfried writes in Science News about his belief in physics ideas in spite of the evidence:
SUSY is shorthand for supersymmetry, the odds-on favorite to solve many of the mysteries about the physical world that have stumped theorists for decades. Supposedly the LHC should produce actual evidence for SUSY, but it hasn’t. And so some physicists have begun to declare SUSY dead, or at least on life-support. Consequently, they say, physics now faces one of the greatest crises in its history. A typical lament, from one recent paper:

“After three years of very successful experimental work at Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, theoretical physics is apparently in the greatest crisis in its history.” The experimental findings “have nearly eliminated supersymmetry as a possible physical theory. It seems inevitable that we have to face the Nightmare Scenario (i.e. no signs of new physics at LHC) and the unprecedented collapse of decades of speculative work.”

In September, Neil Turok, director of the Perimeter Institute in Canada, squirted lighter fluid into the flames during a lecture to students.  “Theoretical physics is at a crossroads right now. In a sense we’ve entered a very deep crisis,” he said. SUSY (and other theories) predicted that the LHC would find new particles. “And they’re not there,” Turok declared. “And so to a large extent, the theories have failed.”

Well, maybe. But it might not really be so bad. Perhaps a little context is in order, starting with why physicists loved SUSY so much in the first place and then investigating the reasons for concern a little more deeply. There may turn out to be various ways the play could end without everybody having to die.

First of all, supersymmetry seems like such a good idea to physicists because symmetry even without the super was so successful. (After all, isn’t a supernova better than a nova? Supermodel better than a model? Superman better than Clark Kent?) Symmetry showed its power in Einstein’s theory of relativity, for example, and later on in the development of the modern theory of particles and forces, the standard model (or as Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek likes to call it, the Theory of Matter).

This is the nightmare for theoretical physicists. We got a very nice theory of everything in the 1970s, and since then all the big shots have been telling us that the theory must be wrong and we need to spend tens of billions of dollars building accelerators to prove it.

So far, the LHC has only confirmed the Standard Model of the 1970s.

Note how all these guys go out of their way to credit Einstein, even when he has nothing to do with the subject. Einstein did not discover the power of symmetry in relativity. The symmetry group is called the Lorentz group, because Poincare named it before Einstein ever wrote a paper on relativity.
Einstein was particularly skillful when it came to symmetry. His theory of relativity embodies the principle that the laws of physics stay the same no matter how you move.
No it was Lorentz who figured out how the laws of electromagnetism stayed the same no matter how you move, and Poincare who looked for a relativistic gravity by looking for laws invariant under the Lorentz group.

The only symmetry argument that Einstein discovered on his own, as far as I know, was that the inverse Lorentz transformation had the same form. Apparently Lorentz did not notice that in his 1904 paper. Of course Poincare had it all, and had it before Einstein.

Siegfried also believes in the multiverse, but not the Higgs.

Quantum Frontiers names the 10 biggest breakthroughs in physics over the past 25 years. My problem with the list is that several of them have no known relation to the real world: Shor’s Algorithm, Quantum Error Correction (QEC), AdS/CFT, Quantum Teleportation. The first two are pure math and might be realizable if quantum computers were possible, but all attempts have fails. AdS/CFT is math, and is not realizable. Teleportation is an interpretation given to certain experiments, but it is not really teleportation and none of the supposed practical advantages of teleportation have ever been realized.

The blog also promises to list the biggest open problems, including quantum gravity, firewalls, harnessing quantum weirdness, and what is time. I'll have to wait and see what he says, but I do not agree that these are open problems.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

QM silent on free will, whether complete or not

Leftist-atheist-evolutionust professor Jerry Coyne posts his latest anti-religion rant:
While I think most of us reject the notion of contracausal free will (although many of us accept other forms of “free will”), Eric refuses to do so.  Because we don’t fully understand physics, he sees the acceptance of determinism as unscientific — indeed, metaphysical:
There is not a shred of evidence for the claim that physics is complete, so that we can simply say that the whole of reality is tied up in a causal nexus such that all our “actions” are determined. Indeed, as John Dupré points out in his book Human Nature and the Limits of Science, science, and therefore, empirical demonstration, only works on very carefully isolated phenomena, where the effects of each underlying particle or force are known, and all extraneous (and therefore incalculable) causes are excluded. Science works by means of models and abstraction, and does not provide a unified theory of reality.
But physics does not have to be complete for us to accept determinism on a macro level.  Although I don’t know many physicists, the two I’ve spoken to about this at length (Sean Carroll and Steve Weinberg) agree that we know enough about the physics of “everyday life” to provisionally accept that human behavior is indeed determined by the laws of physics. Even if quantum mechanics produces some fundamental unpredictability in our neurons and hence in our behavior, that gives no leeway for “free choice”. Such choice would be equivalent to tossing a coin, and nobody wants to think of free will as anything like that.
Just addressing the physics (and avoiding the religion and poetry issues), Coyne has some big misunderstandings of quantum mechanics.

Sure, I provisionally accept that human behavior is indeed determined by the laws of physics. In spite of claims by Weinberg and others, there is no evidence that physics is complete, whatever that means.

When it comes to free will, quantum mechanics is remarkably neutral on the subject. A century ago, a scientist probably would have said that a hypothetically complete theory of physics must necessarily prohibit free will, or maybe explicitly allow it somehow. But quantum mechanics does neither. Quantum mechanics seems almost designed to make it impossible to draw conclusions about free will.

Steven Weinberg has just published Physics: What We Do and Don’t Know in the NY Review of Books:
Even so, the standard model is clearly not the final theory. Its equations involve a score of numbers, like the masses of quarks, that have to be taken from experiment without our understanding why they are what they are. If the standard model were the whole story, it would require neutrinos to have zero mass, while in fact their masses are merely very small, less than a millionth the mass of an electron. Further, the standard model does not include the longest-known and most familiar force, the force of gravitation. We commonly describe gravitation using a field theory, the general theory of relativity, but this is not a quantum field theory in which infinities cancel as they do in the standard model.
He has been saying for decades that there is something wrong with the standard model. He even wrote a book about it. But the evidence from the LHC has overwhelmingly confirmed the standard model, and proved everyone else wrong. So far, anyway.

I don't see how physics can be both "complete" and "clearly not the final theory." And even if human behavior is determined by the laws of physics, those laws are not even deterministic, so they do not imply that human behavior is determined.

Coyne's coin toss argument is strangest of all. If physicists say that they cannot predict a nuclear decay or some other phenomenon, they say it is like a coin toss. So maybe a human free choice is like a coin toss in that sense. But Coyne says "nobody wants to think of free will as" like a coin toss. Yes, they do. Free will is like a coin toss in that it cannot be externally predicted. That is exactly how everyone wants to think about free will.

Monday, October 21, 2013

How Lorentz arrived at the deformation hypothesis

Much of Albert Einstein's fame is based on claims that his presentation of the Lorentz transformations was somehow superior to what had been done previously.

Philosopher Harvey R Brown wrote in 2001 about how FitzGerald and Lorentz brilliantly and correctly analyzed the Michelson-Morley experiment in The origins of length contraction: I. The FitzGerald-Lorentz deformation hypothesis:
In a letter to Einstein written in 1915 and unearthed many years later by A.J. Kox 64, Lorentz admitted that he had arrived at the deformation hypothesis shortly before he developed the plausibility argument based on molecular forces. But he expressed regret that he had not emphasised the dynamical argument more from the beginning: had he done so “the hypothesis would have made less an impression of having been devised ad hoc.”
The most startling part of relativity is that motion affects space and time. Brown traces the origin of this concept to 1889, long before Einstein. As Brown shows, both FitzGerald and Lorentz arrived at the contraction hypothesis as a logical consequence of the MM experiment showing that the speed of light is the same in all frames, together with other experiments rejecting the aether drift theory.

Brown notes that the MM experiment only showed that the length is contracted relative to the width. FitzGerald and Lorentz were not sure whether the length is contracted, or the width is expanded, or some combination. Lorentz eventually concluded that the deformation was purely a length contraction, and published that in 1904. FitzGerald died in 1901, without knowing that his 1889 letter was published in AAAS Science, or that it contained what would later be considered one of the greatest insights in the history of science.

Einstein wrote his first relativity paper in 1905. He relied on Lorentz's analysis of the MM experiment, but did not mention the experiment and later denied that he even knew about it. His main argument was that the Lorentz transformations can be deduced from the speed of light being the same in all frames, without mentioning experiments. Anti-positivist philosophers have praised Einstein largely for ignoring the experiments. He did not mention the dynamically argument because he could not get it to work, and he explained many years later.

Thus FitzGerald and Lorentz discovered (independently) the length contraction using the speed-of-light argument, and then tried to support it with a dynamical argument. 13+ years later, Einstein published a paper presenting the length contraction using the speed-of-light argument, and did not mention the dynamical argument.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Google uses quantum computer for global warming

MIT professor Scott Aaronson writes about the latest quantum computer hype:
according to an article by Victoria Woollaston in the Daily Mail, Google hopes to use its D-Wave quantum computer to “solve global warming,” “develop sophisticated artificial life,” and “find aliens.”  (No, I’m not making any of this up: just quoting stuff other people made up.)  The article also repeats the debunked canard that the D-Wave machine is “3600 times faster,” and soberly explains that D-Wave’s 512 qubits compare favorably to the mere 32 or 64 bits found in home PCs (exercise for those of you who aren’t already rolling on the floor: think about that until you are).  It contains not a shadow of a hint of skepticism anywhere, not one token sentence.  I would say that, even in an extremely crowded field, Woollaston’s piece takes the cake as the single most irresponsible article about D-Wave I’ve seen.  And I’d feel terrible for my many friends at Google, whose company comes out of this looking like a laughingstock. 
This is more hype than usual, but none of the quantum computer admit that there has been very little progress making such computers and they will probably be impossible.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Paradigm shift thinking led to fraud

The philosophy of science is dominated by silly and destructive ideas about Kuhnian paradigm shifts.

A Finnish philosopher writes:
Research ethics and philosophy of science meet in one of the most disturbing and wideranging scientific frauds to date, the Stapel Case of the Netherlands. I will argue that, beyond the obviously blatant violation of research ethics concerning data cooking and deceit, the nature of the case raises issues about the implications of some relatively widespread issues in the philosophy of science. In particular, I want to point my finger at Kuhnian philosophy of science, or rather its later and largely derailed interpretations that came to be allied with the strong version of the underdetermination thesis. ...

What I want to argue here is that the overall increase in fraudulent practices that we have witnessed of late have become a symptom of two largely questionable and in many respects faulty ideas in philosophy of science having gone into their extremes: Kuhn's or his posse's willingness to displace facts and evidence with subjective interests and points of views, and Quine's thesis of underdetermination of theory by evidence under its strong interpretation. Stapel's case fits in with the pattern of strong underdetermination, and no more blatant and direct example of subjective interests driving the inquiry can be found. According to his own assertion, “the freedom we have in the design of our experiments is so enormous that when an experiment does not give us what we are looking for, we blame the experiment, not our theory. (At least, that is the way I work). Is this problematic? No” (Stapel 2000, quoted in LNDC 2012, p. 40). What goes under such freedom here? This guy in fact had directly admitted early on that he has no qualms accepting the strong thesis of underdetermination. ...

But unfortunately, philosophy of science has been contaminated by movements that do not strive to the understanding of the real content of scientific work.5 Courses in philosophy of science are often taught by scholars who do not endeavour to explain the nature of scientific practice, or the methodological tools employed, or the semantics of the key terms involved in the investigation. I feel that philosophers, sociologists or historians of sciences may in fact not the best persons to achieve that knowledge. Kuhn and Quine were outsiders to real science.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Different explanations for the length contraction

There is some disagreement as to how to best explain special relativity. The original approach of FitzGerald and Lorentz was to interpret the Michelson-Morley experiment as requiring a contraction, and then the deducing the Lorentz transformations while looking for an electromagnetic explanation. Einstein's approach was the same, except that he accepted Lorentz's analysis of Michelson-Morley and said that he failed to find a constructive electromagnetic explanation.

Poincare and Minkowski found a spacetime geometry explanation, and that has been the preferred explanation ever since.

Some philosophers have been debating the merits of these approaches. A new paper, Matter or geometry as fundamental in relativity theory: How not to teach special relativity, reviews them:
In this paper, I review a number of interpretational frameworks for relativistic phenomena like length contraction and relativity of simultaneity. Of central focus is the book Physical Relativity by Harvey Brown, where Brown advocates a view in which matter takes ontological priority over geometry. I discuss Brown’s claims and examine some of the criticisms they have received. I discuss the nature of simultaneity in particular, sketching the historical context and commenting on its relation to some of Brown’s broader arguments. Finally, I examine the consequences that Brown’s thesis has for what constitutes good pedagogy when teaching special relativity. ...

The lesson, then, from all this talk of kinematics vs. dynamics, principles vs. constructions, and so on, can be concisely stated: relativity, viewed as part of a broader investigation into the quantum field theoretic nature of particles, is fundamentally a theory about matter and how it interacts. While it may be formulated in terms of space-time geometry, viewing it as a theory about space-time geometry is putting the cart before the horse [5, p. 12]. Building a picture of relativistic physics from the bottom-up in this manner does, admittedly, lack some of the elegant conciseness of Minkowski's geometric formulation. Nonetheless, as John Bell said: "The longer road sometimes gives more familiarity with the country [1, p. 77]."
Lots of phenomena have multiple explanations. Something can be learned from each one.

It is sometimes said that Lorentz had a different view from Einstein, but Einstein denied that there was any such difference:
In 1911 Vladimir Varićak asserted that length contraction is "real" according to Lorentz, while it is "apparent or subjective" according to Einstein. Einstein replied:

The author unjustifiably stated a difference of Lorentz's view and that of mine concerning the physical facts. The question as to whether length contraction really exists or not is misleading. It doesn't "really" exist, in so far as it doesn't exist for a comoving observer; though it "really" exists, i.e. in such a way that it could be demonstrated in principle by physical means by a non-comoving observer.[16]

Source: Einstein, Albert (1911). "Zum Ehrenfestschen Paradoxon. Eine Bemerkung zu V. Variĉaks Aufsatz". Physikalische Zeitschrift 12: 509–510. Original: Der Verfasser hat mit Unrecht einen Unterschied der Lorentzschen Auffassung von der meinigen mit Bezug auf die physikalischen Tatsachen statuiert. Die Frage, ob die Lorentz-Verkürzung wirklich besteht oder nicht, ist irreführend. Sie besteht nämlich nicht „wirklich“, insofern sie für einen mitbewegten Beobachter nicht existiert; sie besteht aber „wirklich“, d. h. in solcher Weise, daß sie prinzipiell durch physikalische Mittel nachgewiesen werden könnte, für einen nicht mitbewegten Beobachter.
The above paper uses the term "Larmor dilation" for the relativistic slowing of clocks, and maybe that is a good way of crediting his early work on what we now call Lorentz transformations.

Here is a 2010 paper that wrongly alleges a difference between Lorentz and Einstein:
On the face of it, Lorentz and others make factual claims about physics: there is a luminiferous aether; the rod’s contraction is intrinsic, caused by motion through it, as described by Maxwell’s equations. The sentence “A moving rod contracts” is semantically like “A cooling rod contracts”: i.e. no reference to another relatum is implied.3

On the face of it, still, Einstein dissents, countering with different claims about the facts of physics: there is neither an aether nor an absolute motion to cause the contraction; it is not intrinsic, but a relation between a thing and an inertial frame of reference. If that first-face comparison is correct, then Lorentz and Einstein do differ over physical facts; the difference obliges us to choose between them for the purposes of physics.
But all of this is false, as Lorentz and Einstein did not disagree about any factual claims about the aether, nor did they disagree about whether the rod's contraction is intrinsic.

The paper does cite Lorentz:
Earlier in his book, Lorentz puts length contraction on a par with the expansion of an object or a gas upon heating it: “We may, I think, even go so far as to say that that, on this assumption [i.e., the contraction hypothesis], Michelson’s experiment proves the changes of dimension in question, and that the conclusion is no less legitimate than the inferences concerning the dilatation by heat or the changes of the refractive index that have been drawn in many other cases from the observed positions of interference bands” (Lorentz 1916, p. 196).
I doubt that Einstein would have disagreed with this statement.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Lloyd gives opinion on free will

MIT professor Seth Lloyd just posted his opinions on free will with A Turing test for free will. But he goes wrong in his discussion of quantum mechanics:
Moreover, one of the central questions of free will – Is the universe deterministic or probabilistic? – is a scientific one whose answer lies at the foundations of physics. ...
No, it is not a scientific one. There is no theory or experiment that can resolve the issue, and there never will be.
From Newton up to the twentieth century, the philosophical debate over free will by and large assumed that the world is deterministic. In such a deterministic world, there are two antagonistic philosophical positions [3]. Incompatibilism claims that free will is incompatible with a deterministic world: since all events, including our decisions, were determined long ago, there is no space for freedom in our choices. Compatibilism, by contrast, asserts that free will is compatible with a derministic [sic] world.
This is the Standard argument against free will.
In contrast to classical mechanics, the theory of quantum mechanics that emerged as the fundamental physical framework at the beginning of the twentieth cnetury [sic] predicts that the world is intrinsically probabilistic. Despite Einstein’s opinion that ‘God does not play dice,’ experiment and theory have repeatedly confirmed the probabilistic nature of events in quantum mechanics. For example, the Kochen-Specher theorem [18] shows that certain types of deterministic hidden-variable theories are incompatible with the predictions of quantum mechanics, a result extended by the Conway-Kochen ‘free will theorem’ [19].
No, the theory of quantum mechanics does not predict that the world is intrinsically probabilistic. The fallacious reasoning is that deterministic hidden variable methods do not work, so the world is not deterministic. But the non-deterministic (probabilistic) hidden variables do not work either, so the conclusion does not follow. Attempts to prove randomness have failed. A recent survey found that 64% of physicists believe that randomness is a fundamental concept in nature, but that is just an unproven belief.

Not that Lloyd is alone. Today's NY Times article starts:
Quantum theory tells us that the world is a product of an infinite number of random events. Buddhism teaches us that nothing happens without a cause, trapping the universe in an unending karmic cycle.

Reconciling the two might seem as challenging as trying to explain the Higgs boson to a kindergarten class.
No, quantum theory does not teach that. And there is no evidence that anything ever happens without a cause.

None of this resolves whether or not we have free will.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Feynman textbook now online

The great textbook, The Feynman Lectures on Physics, is being put freely online. Here is what it says on special relativity:
However, the Maxwell equations did not seem to obey the principle of relativity. ...

When the failure of the equations of physics in the above case came to light, the first thought that occurred was that the trouble must lie in the new Maxwell equations of electrodynamics, which were only 20 years old at the time. It seemed almost obvious that these equations must be wrong, so the thing to do was to change them in such a way that under the Galilean transformation the principle of relativity would be satisfied. When this was tried, the new terms that had to be put into the equations led to predictions of new electrical phenomena that did not exist at all when tested experimentally, so this attempt had to be abandoned. Then it gradually became apparent that Maxwell’s laws of electrodynamics were correct, and the trouble must be sought elsewhere.

In the meantime, H. A. Lorentz noticed a remarkable and curious thing when he made the following substitutions in the Maxwell equations:... Einstein, following a suggestion originally made by Poincaré, then proposed that all the physical laws should be of such a kind that they remain unchanged under a Lorentz transformation. In other words, we should change, not the laws of electrodynamics, but the laws of mechanics. ...

As mentioned above, attempts were made to determine the absolute velocity of the earth through the hypothetical “ether” that was supposed to pervade all space. The most famous of these experiments is one performed by Michelson and Morley in 1887. It was 18 years later before the negative results of the experiment were finally explained, by Einstein. ...

It was ultimately recognized, as Poincaré pointed out, that a complete conspiracy is itself a law of nature! Poincaré then proposed that there is such a law of nature, that it is not possible to discover an ether wind by any experiment; that is, there is no way to determine an absolute velocity.
The physics is excellent but the history is incomplete. Yes, Einstein follows Lorentz and Poincare, as his famous 1905 paper alludes to their work without mentioning them:
Examples of this sort, together with the unsuccessful attempts to discover any motion of the earth relatively to the “light medium,” suggest that the phenomena of electrodynamics as well as of mechanics possess no properties corresponding to the idea of absolute rest. They suggest rather that, as has already been shown to the first order of small quantities, the same laws of electrodynamics and optics will be valid for all frames of reference for which the equations of mechanics hold good.1 We will raise this conjecture (the purport of which will hereafter be called the “Principle of Relativity”) to the status of a postulate, and also introduce another postulate,
The paper does not explain or even mention the Michelson-Morley experiment, and historians now
agree that it played no part in Einstein's reasoning. Einstein's contribution was to postulate what Lorentz and Poincare had deduced from Maxwell and Michelson-Morley.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Book cover threatened by Einstein estate

I have a picture of Albert Einstein on the cover of my book, How Einstein Ruined Physics. Nobody threatened me, but physicist Tony Rothman was not so lucky:
Several years ago I had a book in press, Everything’s Relative and Other Fables From Science and Technology. Given the title, the publisher’s house artist not unreasonably designed a cover that included a photographic image of Albert Einstein. The publisher (Wiley) had properly licensed the photo from Bill Gates’ firm Corbis. One would have thought that would end the matter.

One would have thought. Six weeks before publication I received a frantic email from the editor. Albert was to be stricken from the cover. Why? For fear of being sued by the “Einstein estate.”
I am not worried, as Einstein is now in public domain.