Thursday, March 28, 2024

“Don’t be a monkey!”

Lawrence M. Krauss writes:
I vividly remember the first time he showed me his famous video of capuchin monkeys—later to feature in a TED talk that has 23 million views and counting — in which two capuchin monkeys, kept in adjoining cages, are fed treats for exhibiting a certain behaviour. The monkeys were perfectly happy performing their task for cucumbers until, one day, one of the monkeys was rewarded with a grape instead. When the monkey’s companion was given a cucumber for the same task, he immediately proceeded to throw a temper tantrum worthy of a three-year old child — even though, five minutes earlier, he had been content with that reward. 

I immediately recognized the behaviour in myself! I showed the video to my wife, and ever since then, whenever I start to feel envious of someone for receiving any sort of reward that appears to be greater than that which I had previously been perfectly happy to receive during a similar experience, I tell myself, or my wife tells me: “Don’t be a monkey!”

He vividly recalls this, because he watched a cherry-picked video. You can read more in the Wikipedia article on Inequity aversion in animals.

The experiment has been repeated many times, with mixed results. Female (but not male) capuchin monkeys showed the effect, and so did some other species. Many experiments failed to find the effect.

I think the most interesting part of this is watching humans, like Krauss, watch this video and interpretation, and somehow think that they know what is going on inside the monkey's mind. I think they are projecting their own views onto the monkeys.

It is not clear that the monkey is feeling envy, or disapproval of the inequitable reward. If the monkeys were really rejecting inequity, then maybe the monkey getting the grape would give it to the other monkey. No, that does not happen.

It is hard to see how this says anything about cooperation, as these monkeys are lousy at cooperating on anything.

As for envy, it is not clear that the monkey cares at all what the other monkey is getting. Maybe the monkey notices that she could be getting a grape, and then rejects the lesser reward in order to get the grape. Indeed, this experiment has been done with just one monkey, and it just shows that the monkey wiil show that it wants the better reward.

I just tried showing the video to a ten-year-old boy, and asked him what he saw. He said, "i see a monkey who wanted a grape." When I explained that the grownup scientist interpreted this as a monkey protesting pay unfairness, he looked puzzled, and did not see why anyone would think that.

The TED Talk has a slide saying the Pillars of Morality are Reciprocity/Fairness and Empathy/Compassion. This is a very left-wing view that I call Kindergarten Morality. Kindergarten teachers commonly tell kids that they all have to share the toys equally, and show compassion to all. Older kids usually understand that such equality is impractical, and other moral concepts are more important. For more on how leftists have crippled moral outlooks, see Jonathan Haidt's Moral foundations theory.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Stealing our cutting edge String Theory

Eric Weinstein tweeted:
Q: How do you know that String Theory isn’t working as physics despite expert assurances to the contrary?

A: No one at all is in any way worried about the Iranians, Russians or Chinese getting their hands on our cutting edge String Theory.

Ha ha. Do they worry about enemies stealing our fusion reactor or quantum computer technology? Maybe a little bit.

Our semiconductor, rocket, and AI technology? A lot.

Weinstein has his own pet theories to replace the Standard Model of high-energy physics, but it has gone nowhere.

Update: Here is a video clip with more from him and Lee Smolin. Smolin also has his pet theories that have gone nowhere. Their complaint is not just that string theory does not work, but that it gets more attention than other thoeries that do not work.

For someone negative on the whole high-energy research program, see Unziger.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Deutsch defends Many-Worlds Theory

New podcast: The Multiverse is REAL - David Deutsch.

He says the double-slit experiment conclusively proves the many-worlds theory. He accepts the parallel worlds for the same reason he accepts the existence of dinosaurs (millions of years ago). It is the only way to explain the evidence.

He admits that the photons are not really particles, and that any waves show a similar diffraction pattern. But he says that for the photon to behave as a wave, it must exist in multiple copies.

He also admits that all this has been known for decades, and yet most physicists do not accept this argument for many-worlds.

I do not see any merit to this argument. The double-slit experiment only proves that light, and other beams like electron beams, have wave properties. That's all. It is not even evidence for quantum mechanics, as this wave explanation was accepted before quantum mechanics was invented.

When asked about alternative theories, he says the von Neumann had this crazy idea that if you observe an electron in one place, then the possibility of it being somewhere else ceases to exist.

I do not see the problem with that. I do not even think the issue has anything to do with quantum mechanics. Anytime you estimate the probability of an event, and then observe it, that means that the other possibilities did not happen. That is how probabilities work.

He pushes quantum computing, but admits that he has not followed the latest technology.

I see the argument for many-worlds as nothing more than a rejection of probability theory. You could take any scientific theory that predicts probabilities, deny that the probabilities make any sense, and conclude that there are parallel worlds of unobserved possibilities.

That is all many-worlds theory is. I don't think that it even has anything to with quantum mechanics. It is only expressed in terms of quantum mechanics, because textbook QM emphasizes the probabilities. But other theories use probabilities the same way, and could have many-worlds interpretations.

Many-worlds thsoey is just the same as taking a science textbook, announcing some philosophical disagreement with probability theory, and redacting all the sections mentioning probability. It adds nothing. It just removes the theory's predictive power.

It is hard to see how any intelligent man takes many-worlds seriously. It offers nothing. Maybe they just don't understand probability theory, as I do not see anywhere that they recognize that they are just rejecting probability.

PBS TV has a news item:

How quantum computing could help us understand more about the universe

Scientists, researchers and some big companies are eager to jumpstart the next generation of computing, one that will be far more sophisticated and dependent on understanding the subatomic nature of the universe. But as science correspondent Miles O’Brien reports, it’s a huge challenge to take this new quantum leap forward.

A lot of hype. They admit that a fault tolerant quantum computer might be decade away. No one admits that it might be impossible.

Monday, March 11, 2024

Physics v. Magic

From xkcd comics.

His point here is that Physics is inherently causal. Things happen because there is some causal sequence of interactions from event A to event B, when A causes B.

For example, the Sun's gravitational pull on the Earth was once thought to be action-at-a-distance, but is not thought of as the Sun perturbing spacetime and a wave traveling to Earth. Or gravitons traveling to Earth.

However Physics often reasons from results, without following a causal chain. Examples are thermodynamics, conservation laws, and Lagrangians.

There are also examples in quantum mechanics. A particle might tunnel through a wall, without any understanding of how it gets through the wall.

In spite os these example, I still believe the universe is inherently local, in cause and effect. Sometimes our reasoning can skip some steps, but only as a mathematical convenience. There is no action-at-a-distance, and no magic.

Monday, March 4, 2024

Poincare was Five Years ahead of Einstein

It is funny to see historians try to credit Einstein. Here is a 2013 essay I had not seen before:
On some points, such as the principle of relativity or the physical interpretation of the Lorentz transformations, Poincaré’s contributions preceded by at least 5 years those of Einstein’s published in 1905. On the other hand, many of their contributions were practically simultaneous. In 1905 Poincaré published an abridged version of his “Sur la dynamique de l’électron” [3] (which preceded the work of Einstein); the expanded version of the article appeared in 1906 [4].

What are the conceptual differences? According to Darrigol,

Einstein completely eliminated the ether, required that the expression of the laws of physics should be the same in any inertial frame, and introduced a “new kinematics” in which the space and time measured in different inertial systems were all on exactly the same footing. In contrast, Poincaré maintained the ether as a privileged frame of reference in which “true” space and time were defined, while he regarded the space and time measured in other frames as only “apparent.” …Einstein derived the expression of the Lorentz transformation from his two postulates (the relativity principle and the constancy of the velocity of light in a given inertial system), whereas Poincaré obtained these transformations as those that leave the Maxwell–Lorentz equations invariant [1].
These are conceptual differences that have no actual experimental consequences as far as electromagnetism and optics are concerned. As Lorentz commented, the difference is purely epistemological: it concerns the number of conventional and arbitrary elements that one wishes to introduce in the definitions of the basic physical concepts.

Are we then dealing with a case of simultaneous discovery?

No, it was not simultaneous. Poincare was five years ahead of Einstein. Poincare was years ahead of Einstein with the relativity principle, rejection of the aether, local time, synchronizing clocks, interpreting Michelson-Morley, Lorentz group, mass-energy equivalence, four-dimensional spacetime, and relativistic theories of gravity. Einstein's only claim to originality is to certain epistemological differences of no physical significance.

Credit Einstein with those obscure conceptual differences if you want, but there is no mathematical or physical value to any of them. Mostly they consist of mathematical misunderstandings by Einstein and other physicists. For example, there is nothing erroneous about choosing a privileged frame on a symmetric space. It does not break the symmetry. Those who criticize Poincare for occasionally choosing a privileged frame are just mathematically ignorant.

The essay concludes:

As Darrigol suggests, it seems wiser to concede that Lorentz, Poincaré and Einstein all contributed to the emergence of the theory of relativity, that Poincaré and Einstein offered two different versions of the theory, and that Einstein gave form to what today is considered the best one.
No, Einstein's is not considered best today. Nearly everyone prefers the spacetime formulation that Poincare advanced in 1905 and Minkowski perfected in 1907. Einstein was still rejecting it in 1911, and did not even speak positively about it until after that, and never really accepted the geometrical significance.

A lot of historians concede that Lorentz and Poincare had all the mathematics of special relativity, and all the physical consequences, but insist that Einstein had a more modern viewpoint or superior understanding, leading to how we understand the theory today. But that is false. The Poincare-Minkowski geometrical interpretation has been preferred by nearly everyone but Einstein, since 1908.