Thursday, May 21, 2015

Lady Gaga of French mathematicians

The New Yorker magazine has a profile of a famous mathematician:
Villani has been called the Lady Gaga of French mathematicians. ...

Given the chance, not many of Villani’s colleagues would choose fame over mathematics. “A mathematician would usually be very reluctant to say half-lies,” Mouhot said, or to omit or overstate something. Villani has taken flak for involving himself in politics ...

Many mathematicians are glad that Villani is willing to participate in public life, Mouhot said, so that they don’t have to.
Yes, you rarely see publicity-seeking mathematicians who go around overstating things to get attention. In contrast, there are lots of physicists who do this all the time, such as Stephen Hawking, Sean M. Carroll, Brian Greene, and Lawrence Krauss. An extreme example is Michio Kaku.

Peter Woit used to be a physicist, but after switching to mathematics, he is now repulsed by overblown and unjustifiable claims.

Einstein's colleagues used to tell him that he was embarrassing himself with all the publicity seeking. So did Carl Sagan's.

The mathematicians who solved the biggest problems of the last 25 years, Fermat's Last Theorem and the Poincare Conjecture, are recluses who refuse to do any interviews.

I side with the mathematicians. A theme of this blog is that leading physicists have really embarrassed themselves by promoting wacky theories.
He was high on his soapbox now. “Languages were invented all around the world; technology was invented many times. Mathematics was developed once and collectively —- your culture cannot be complete if you don’t have at least a glimpse of what is mathematical reasoning.”
This is a good point. You sometimes hear people say that math is a language, but that misses the point of what math is all about.

I occasionally see claims that Chinese proved Pythagorean Theorem, or other claims that math was separately invented. These are nearly all false, as far as I can see. The axiomatic method, as in Euclid's Elements, was only developed by the ancient Greeks, as far as I know.

Yes, there are examples of some independent discovery, such as Newton and Leibniz finding calculus. But even in that case, they are more access to each others ideas that they wanted to admit.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Bell was only partially misguided about relativity

Lubos Motl argues that John Bell actually misunderstood relativity, too:
Just a few hours ago, I believed that Bell was simply ready to abandon special relativity because "realism" (i.e. the faith that quantum mechanics must ultimately be wrong) was a more important dogma than relativity for him. But only today in the afternoon, I was led to a text that shows that it was just a part of the story. He was actually ready to abandon relativity because he was a relativity denier. To say the least, he denied that Einstein has changed anything about the content of physics. In his opinion, the previous theories based on the aether were already OK and Einstein has only changed the style, philosophy, and pedagogy!

The reason why relativity – and quantum mechanics – are taught as a "discontinuity" is that they are a "discontinuity", a radical conceptual change within the basic assumptions of physics. ...

He is frequently repeating the thesis that what Fitzgerald and the other people believed was physically equivalent to Einstein's special relativity – it only differed in "style, pedagogy, and philosophy". Those claims are clearly wrong, as I will discuss. ...

Physics just doesn't care about "style, pedagogy, and philosophy".
I cannot agree with Motl here. This blog celebrates continuity, and shown in the Latin slogan. Einstein's special relativity was equivalent to previous theories, as even Wikipedia details. If it were really true that Physics just doesn't care about "style, pedagogy, and philosophy", then Einstein would not be such a big-shot.

I do agree with Motl that Bell showed an incompatibility between quantum mechanics, relativistic locality, and what is confusingly called "realism". And that Bell foolishly preferred to keep realism instead of relativity, and that is where many of his followers go wrong also. And that the geometric view of relativity is clearly superior, and Bell is peculiar not to embrace it.
Fitzgerald and others believed in the aether – in fact, I think that he did so even after 1905 because this guy didn't understand relativity. Relativity has killed the aether.
No, relativity did not kill the aether. As Wilczek said, "the truth is more nearly the opposite". See more here.

Relativity suggests that the aether be Lorentz covariant, but does not say anything about whether it exists or not.
Bell has never explicitly "endorsed" the aether but everything about his "solutions" to the problem make it clear that he believed exactly the same crap as e.g. Fitzgerald did. That's also why he consistently talks about the "Fitzgerald contraction" – even though a sane modern physicist would talk about the "Lorentz contraction". But if he believed his claim that the Fitzgerald's and Einstein's treatments were physically equivalent, then the Fitzgerald contraction and the (relativistic) Lorentz contraction would have to be the same thing, too, right?

He seems totally unaware of this waterproof logic. Also, he never actually explains what is the difference between the effect he calls the "Fitzgerald contraction" and the actual relativistic "Lorentz contraction".
The terms FitzGerald and Lorentz contraction are used interchangeably on Wikipedia. They both (independently) proposed the contraction first as a logical consequence of the Michelson-Morley experiment, and then proposed an explanation in terms of molecular forces.

The preferred explanation since 1908 has been the non-Euclidean spacetime geometry one due to Poincare and Minkowski.

Einstein's 1905 approach was to postulate what Lorentz had proved, and to endorse Lorentz's view of the contraction. He used Lorentz transformations of space and time, but did not attribute the contraction to a purely geometrical spacetime effect, as did Poincare and Minkowski. The modern view that relativity is a about measurement, not objects, was due to Poincare and Minkowski, and Einstein never liked the geometrical view.

I guess Bell liked the molecular force explanation, and for some reason that drives Motl and other modern physicists nuts. A respected British philosopher named Harvey Brown likes the explanation, but few others today. As I say, it is not the preferred view, but it is a view that is legitimate and justifiable. Physics often has more than one explanation for a phenomenon, and that is a good thing, not bad.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Philosophers for censoring religion

I have criticized Sean M. Carroll and Massimo Pigliucci for promoting their unscientific beliefs as science, and now I see that they are joined by another atheist philosopher in protesting a scientific event with only the vaguest connection with religion.

Religion News Service reports:
A prominent philosopher-scientist has pulled out of a popular public science forum over concerns about one of its funders, the John Templeton Foundation.

Daniel Dennett, co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, said he will not appear at the World Science Festival due to a long-standing “personal embargo” against Templeton money. The World Science Festival will be held May 27-31 in New York City and attracts upwards of 100,000 people to its public events.

The John Templeton Foundation, named for Sir John Templeton, a British-American businessman and philanthropist who died in 2008, funds numerous projects centered on creativity, love, freedom and gratitude. It focuses on what it calls “Science and the Big Questions,” and has regularly sponsored projects that investigate links between science and religion.

Dennett said he objects to Templeton sponsorship because he finds some of the projects they fund scientifically questionable. He is one of several scientists and philosophers who have refused to take Templeton money in the past, including physicist Sean Carroll and philosopher Massimo Pigliucci. ...

“I would be very happy to have the Templeton Foundation sponsor research on religion and science,” he said in a phone interview from Spain, where he is lecturing. “But what they are doing now is sponsoring some very fine science with no strings attached and then using their sponsorship of that to try and win prestige for other projects that are not in the same league.”
That sounds a little crazy to me. Anyone who sponsors projects finds that some of them end up much better than others.

This is like refusing money that has "In God We Trust" on it.

Dennett is against any association with religious folks:
In the Wikipedia entry on Templeton, Dennett describes the experience of debating astrologers at an event and finding to his dismay that just doing this raised the respectability of astrology in the eyes of the audience. Templeton is not about the study of religion but about making sure that religion keeps a seat at the table when it comes to big questions. There is no better way to do this than to mix it up with scientists and philosophers. Can you imagine the reverse ever being necessary?
By this reasoning, physicists should avoid all association with philosophers.

Leftist-atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coyne agrees with Dennett, and complains about the
Templeton Mission:
The John Templeton Foundation serves as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality. We support research on subjects ranging from complexity, evolution, and infinity to creativity, forgiveness, love, and free will. We encourage civil, informed dialogue among scientists, philosophers, and theologians and between such experts and the public at large, for the purposes of definitional clarity and new insights.

Our vision is derived from the late Sir John Templeton's optimism about the possibility of acquiring “new spiritual information” and from his commitment to rigorous scientific research and related scholarship. The Foundation's motto, "How little we know, how eager to learn," exemplifies our support for open-minded inquiry and our hope for advancing human progress through breakthrough discoveries.
Coyne particularly opposes anyone advocating free will.

I am all in favor of people denouncing that they think is superstitious, or unsubstantiated, or immoral, or whatever, but this is just ridiculous. Dennett was going to be on a panel with Steve Pinker and two others. Pinker is a Jewish atheist who is active in anti-religion organizations.

Dennett once trashed a book on free will because the author got some Templeton funding. Don't these guys realize that the US Government has funded some questionable projects? So has Harvard, and everyone else. They are giving atheism a bad name.

I am not expecting science to have too much to say about "forgiveness, love, and free will", but if someone wants to have an informed dialog between scientists and theologians, I do not see this as anything to be afraid of.
Meanwhile, here is Pigliucci in one of his rants:
“Pigliucci has always come across as anti-science to me — saying things like “every scientific theory has been proven wrong” and other screeds”

I didn’t make that up, it is a trivial result of studying history of science.

“He strikes me as bitter that scientists don’t take his cherished philosophical musings as seriously as he would like”

Sigh. For the umpteenth time: I am also a scientist. Indeed, I have spent most of my academic career in a biology lab.

“going so far as to fabricate the label “scientism””

Scientism is a widely discussed concept, which I most certainly did not invent.
No, every scientific theory has not been proven wrong. His attitude shows why scientists have no respect for philosophers. The problem is not just him; apparently it is considered "a trivial result of studying history of science" that all scientific theories have been proven wrong. He writes books attacking pseudoscience but he is also part of an academic philosophy enterprise that is anti-science to the core. See also how he trashes someone for being skeptical about global warming.

Isaac Asimov wrote an essay on The Relativity of Wrong, where he attacked the foolishness of a non-scientist for criticizing science for having their theories proved wrong:
The young specialist in English Lit, having quoted me, went on to lecture me severely on the fact that in every century people have thought they understood the universe at last, and in every century they were proved to be wrong. It follows that the one thing we can say about our modern "knowledge" is that it is wrong. The young man then quoted with approval what Socrates had said on learning that the Delphic oracle had proclaimed him the wisest man in Greece. "If I am the wisest man," said Socrates, "it is because I alone know that I know nothing." the implication was that I was very foolish because I was under the impression I knew a great deal.

My answer to him was, "John, when people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together." ...

Naturally, the theories we now have might be considered wrong in the simplistic sense of my English Lit correspondent, but in a much truer and subtler sense, they need only be considered incomplete.
That's right. Theories like the round Earth, Newtonian celestial mechanics, and Maxwell's electromagnetic are incomplete, and not wrong. When Philosophy and English Lit majors say that they were wrong, they are just showing an ignorant contempt for modern science.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Review of Weinberg's new book

I mentioned that Weinberg was writing a new book on the history of science, and now it is out and reviewed:
Steven Weinberg became famous for his elegant The First Three Minutes (1977), which described what happened during the Big Bang. Two years later, he shared a Nobel Prize for unifying electromagnetism and the nuclear weak force – a large step towards today’s Standard Model of particle physics. The citation for his Benjamin Franklin Medal of 2004 said he was widely considered “the preeminent theoretical physicist alive today”. To Explain the World, his twelfth book, tells of the long, hard struggle to arrive at modern science, which started to take something like its present form only in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The book is a magnificent contribution to the history and philosophy of science.

It tells an exciting story. Why on earth did good science take so long to arrive? Weinberg’s answer, the book’s main theme, is that it was so immensely difficult to learn what there was to explain, and how to set about explaining it. Explanation by bringing a wide range of facts under a single theory; the need, often, to state theories mathematically; which principles (looking for simplicity, for instance) were sometimes helpful in arriving at theories – all such things had to be painfully learned. Other principles (such as seeking purpose and the good) called for painful unlearning. At first, even the need to submit theories to observational tests was not grasped by the world’s best brains. For, Weinberg comments, people “had never seen it done”.

The tale begins with Ancient Greece. The Pythagoreans, inspired perhaps by comparing the lengths of harmoniously tuned strings, concluded that mathematics dictated all the laws of the cosmos. In reality, Weinberg points out, mathematics by itself “cannot tell us anything about the world”; we need actual observations as well. Without observational support, Plato declared that the world’s four elements, water, air, earth and fire, were composed of regular polyhedrons. Fire was the tetrahedrons, earth the cubes. Weinberg thinks we should best understand such declarations as “poetry”, not as trying “to say clearly what one actually believes to be true”. “Intellectual snobbery” among the early Greeks often made them dismiss as “not worth having” any grubbily acquired knowledge of the material world. Weinberg gives Democritus no praise for proposing atoms. The man seems to have made no effort to show “that matter really is composed of atoms”.
This review might not stay freely available.

He seems to emphasize astronomy as being crucial for the development of mathematical science. This seems right to me.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Jaynes on uncertainty or obscurity

A reader refers me to the papers of probability theorist E.T. Jaynes.

His 1996 Probability in Quantum Theory says:
For some sixty years it has appeared to many physicists that probability plays a fundamentally different role in quantum theory than it does in statistical mechanics and analysis of measurement errors. It is a commonly heard statement that probabilities calculated within a pure state have a different character than the probabilities with which different pure states appear in a mixture, or density matrix. As Pauli put it, the former represents "Eine prinzipielle Unbestimmtheit, nicht nur Unbekanntheit". But this viewpoint leads to so many paradoxes and mysteries that we explore the consequences of the unified view, that all probability signifies only incomplete human information. We examine in detail only one of the issues this raises: the reality of zero point energy.
The German means "A fundamental uncertainty, not only obscurity", but probably sounds better when Pauli says it.

A lot of other smart physicists have said that quantum mechanics shows that nature is intrinsically probabilistic, such as R.P. Feynman.

These physicists are smarter than I am, but I say that they are wrong about this. It is crazy to say that probability is a physically real thing, and quantum mechanics does not require such a view. I detailed my opinion in this post on probability last year, and in many other postings and essays on this blog.

Probability is mathematics, not physics. It is essential to nearly all empirical quantitative science, because it gives the tools for comparing theory to experiment. As Jaynes explains, probability gets used in statistical mechanics and analysis of measurement errors, and the use in quantum mechanics is not much different.

Pauli's phrase is reasonable if interpreted to just mean that quantum uncertainty is not just the obscurity of not knowing the values of hidden variables. The hidden variable theories have all failed, as best demonstrated by the Bell test experiments.

Most physicists go farther, and argue that quantum uncertainty is some sort of physical thing that is fundamental to the theory, that proves indeterminism, that can be used for super-Turing computation, and that is even conserved in black holes.

Probability does none of those things. (The world may be indeterministic, but for other reasons.) It is just a mathematical construct that tells us what to expect.

Just look at the picture of Jaynes, and compare it to the wild-haired physicists! Who is more likely to give you the straight truth about the nature of reality?

Here is a statistician squirming about a blown prediction:
Data guru Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com tells NPR's Scott Simon how all the forecasts, including his own, were so far off in predicting the results of this week's British election. ...

SIMON: Yeah. I've got to tell you, Mr. Silver, you're not giving people much of an incentive to read FiveThirtyEight seriously if you're essentially backing away from the idea that you can reach any conclusions. That's why people read you.

SILVER: Sometimes the right conclusion is to say that people are too sure of themselves, right?

SIMON: Yeah.

SILVER: Sometimes it's to anticipate uncertainties in your environment. And over the whole course of our life span at FiveThirtyEight - and we've predicted many things in politics and sports and other events for many, many years - historically, one thing that's distinguished us is that our probabilities have been right over the long run. That when we say something has an 80 percent of happening, it happens about 80 percent of the time and it doesn't happen about 20 percent of the time.
Probability is what allows him to explain away his failure.

Quantum mechanics is similar. If an atom is in a superposition making one energy value 80% likely, then probability is what lets you explain away a measurement that gives another energy value.

The election is analogous to the atom energy measurement. Silver's view is that elections have fundamental uncertainties, so he can just give probabilities. Just like the quantum mechanics professors.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Philosophers in denial about race

I have pointed out that philosophers are hostile to physics, but they are really more broadly anti-science. An example is Scientia Salon, where philosophers of science defend all sorts of crackpot ideas. The latest is a complaint about people exposing bad science of Stephen Jay Gould. Essentially they say that Gould may have been wrong, but he faked his results for the purpose of promoting leftist politics, so he should not be criticized. And there is no such thing as race, because believing in race makes you a racist.

I do not know how skull measurements might correlate with race or intelligence, but it is a scientific question that can be settled with objective data. Instead Gould wanted to speculate about the possible racial biases of some guy who died in 1851. These leftist modern academic philosophers want to do the same thing.

One of the authors, M. Pigliucci, has abandoned the Rationally Speaking Podcast. It continues with:
In this episode of Rationally Speaking, Caltech physicist Sean Carroll describes an "embarrassing" state of affairs in modern physics: that we still don't know how to interpret quantum mechanics, almost a century after its discovery. Sean explains why he thinks the "Many Worlds Interpretation" (MWI) is the most plausible one we've got, and Julia explores his thoughts on questions like: Can MWI be tested? Is it "simpler" than other interpretations, and why? And does MWI threaten to destroy our systems of ethics?

Sean Michael Carroll is a research professor in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. He is a theoretical cosmologist specializing in dark energy and general relativity.
I am pretty sure that Carroll is not a professor. Not in this universe, anyway.

The MWI cannot even say that anything is probably true. There is nothing plausible about it.

Update: Anti-science philosopher Massimo Pigliucci responds:
When they talk about “race,” however, they talk about a category that has no biological meaning: there isn’t any such thing as the “East Asian, European, and African” races, so any statistics derived about these non-existent entities is biologically meaningless. On top of which, they are correlating brain size with “g,” a reified statistical entity based on IQ tests, the relationship of which with “intelligence” (however one wishes to define it) is at best problematic.
Modern geneticists and anthropologists routinely divide people that way. In fact, this
recent NY Times article describes research showing that those of East Asian, European, and African ancestry have 2.4%, 2%, and 0% Neanderthal DNA.

Of course these populations have more obvious differences that people have remarked on for millennia.

Pigliucci repeatedly defends Gould by denying that he accused Morton of mis-reporting skull sizes from ideological bias. But reader Coel points out:
This is from Gould’s “Mismeasure of man” (p94 of revised edition):

“Morton often chose to include or delete large subsamples in order to match group averages with prior expectations. He included Inca Peruvians to decrease the Indian average, but deleted Hindus to raise the Caucasian mean. He also chose to present or not to calculate the averages of subsamples in striking accord with desired results. He made calculations for Caucasians to demonstrate the superiority of Teutons and Anglo-Saxons, but never presented data for Indian subsamples with equally high averages.”

And:

“All miscalculations and omissions that I have detected are in Morton’s favor. He rounded the negroid Egyptian average down to 79, rather than up to 80. He cited averages of 90 for Germans and Anglo-Saxons, but the correct values are 88 and 89. He excluded a large Chinese skull and an Eskimo subsample from his final tabulation for mongoloids, thus depressing their average below the Caucasian value.”

How does that *not* amount to “Gould explicitly accused Morton of allowing his ideology to bias his results”?
Pigliucci is repeating Gould's libel by arguing that there is no such thing as intelligence because entirely false allegations about someone who died in 1851.

He also says:
Whether Gould was or was not a Marxist (which in my vocabulary is hardly a worse word than, say, libertarian) is irrelevant to the arguments.
To me, Marxist is a worse word, because libertarians believe in the free exchange of ideas, while Marxists believe in lying about race in order to promote racial animosity.

Remember that Gould was a Harvard professor in the History of Science, and he is most revered by academics in the periphery of science. Real scientists are disgusted by this ideological distortion of the facts.

Update: Here is a Pigliucci defender:
C. Van Carter wrote:
That’s known as Lewontin’s fallacy (Lewontin was a Marxist too). I’m sure you will repeat it many more times. Race deniers speaking of “groups” and “populations” is more semantic games.
Do you actually have anything productive to contribute? Or are you just here to go to the bathroom on this thread?

Dr. Pigliucci is both a practicing biologist and a professional philosopher, sporting at least two PhDs and with an impressive publishing record, in which he has demonstrated substantial expertise in the subject currently under discussion. I suspect that there is not a single thing that you understand that he doesn’t understand better. Especially, when it comes to “groups” and “populations,” and “races.”

You sound like a caricature of special pleading for racism. Why not go post on Stormfront or something?
The pattern here is to defend a Marxist who was wrong, brag about how smart the leftist is, and call anyone who disagrees a racist.

Update: Pigliucci doubles down, saying that there is no Lewontin's Fallacy, that the Marxists know better than everyone else, that all criticism of them is meaningless, that there is no scientific objectivity, and that there are no biologically relevant distinctions between human racial groups. (He now admits that there are statistically significant differences.)

I have criticized Pigliucci several times on this blog, and I did not even know that he was a human biodiversity denialist and a Marxist sympathizer My criticisms have more to with his anti-science attacks on physics, such as denying that causality is involved in fundamental physics, and subscribing to a paradigm shift view of its history.

Marxist love paradigm shift theory because they love viewing everything in terms of revolutions and grand social causes. They hate objective facts, reductionism, and much of hard science. Those are just distractions for lesser minds. What is important is the class struggle between the oppressor and victim classes.

Physicists do not just ignore philosophers for being irrelevant. Philosophers have declared war on modern science. Many scientists see philosophers as undermining science.

Monday, May 4, 2015

IBM claims quantum computing progress

ExtremeTech reports:
For all of this to happen, though, someone has to build a working quantum computer. And that hasn’t happened yet, arguably aside from that giant (and controversial) D-Wave machine. We’re a big step closer now, though. IBM researchers, for the first time, have figured out how to detect and measure both bit-flip and phase-flip quantum errors simultaneously. They also outlined a new, square quantum bit circuit design that could scale to much larger dimensions.
“Quantum computing could be potentially transformative, enabling us to solve problems that are impossible or impractical to solve today,” said Arvind Krishna, senior vice president and director of IBM Research, in astatement.
IBM, Microsoft, and Google are betting heaving on quantum computing research. I do not know how so many smart people could be so wrong.

I remember when the experts were unanimous that the Intel Itanium was going to take over the server CPU market. It was so technologically superior, that no one was going to be able to seriously compete. I must have read dozens of articles about it, and no one expressed any skepticism.

The chip was a big failure, and is now dead.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Defending philosophers of physics

Tim Maudlin writes on Why Physics Needs Philosophy:
How can we understand the world in which we find ourselves? How does the universe behave? What is the nature of reality?….Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge. —Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow

This passage from the 2012 book “The Grand Design” set off a firestorm (or at least a brushfire) of controversy. ...

In fact, several leading philosophers of physics hold doctorates in physics. Yet they chose to affiliate with philosophy departments rather than physics departments because so many physicists strongly discourage questions about the nature of reality. The reigning attitude in physics has been “shut up and calculate”: solve the equations, and do not ask questions about what they mean. ...

Comprehending quantum theory is an even deeper challenge. What does quantum theory imply about “the nature of reality?” Scientists do not agree about the answer; they even disagree about whether it is a sensible question.
The problems surrounding quantum theory are not mathematical. They stem instead from the unacceptable terminology that appears in presentations of the theory. ...

Philosophers strive for conceptual clarity.
Maudlin is a smart guy who understands a lot of physics, but do physicists really need philosophers to lecture them on the nature of reality?

I just don't see that Philosophy has told Physics anything significant about quantum theory. He does not want to accept the common understanding of 1930, but what we have today is not much better.

On the other hand, Physics is overrun with crackpots of their own. Even Scientific American articles talk about parallel universes, black hole firewalls, and other nonsense.

I do not think that physicist hostility to philosopher is based on a differing view of realism, or in the lack of important contributions by philosophers. Most important are the philosophers at war with physics. Notice how Maudlin attacks physicists for ignoring the meaning of what they do, and of using unacceptable terminology. Other philosophers actively deny that physics are rational, or that they make progress, or that they find objective truths. So of course physicists do not think much of those philosophers.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Poincare applied theory to wireless telegraphy

A new paper on Poincare's forgotten conferences on wireless telegraphy:
At the beginning of the twentieth century while Henri Poincaré (1854-1912) was already deeply involved in the developments of wireless telegraphy, he was invited, in 1908, to give a series of lectures at the Ecole Supérieure des Postes et Télégraphes (today Sup’Télecom). In the last part of his presentation he established that the necessary condition for the existence of a stable regime of maintained oscillations in a device of radio engineering completely analogous to the triode: the singing arc, is the presence in the phase plane of stable limit cycle.

The aim of this work is to prove that the correspondence highlighted by Andronov between the periodic solution of a non-linear second order differential equation and Poincaré’s concept of limit cycle has been carried out by Poincaré himself, twenty years before in these forgotten conferences of 1908.
This work was intended for engineers, and was not included in his complete works.

Physics books often discount Poincare as a mathematician who did not really understand physics like electromagnetism. However, the record shows that he understood it better than Einstein or anyone else in Europe:
During the last two decades of his life, Poincaré had been involved in many research on the propagation of electromagnetic waves. In 1890, he wrote to Hertz to report a miscalculation in his famous experiments. Three years later, he solved the telegraphists equation [Poincaré, 1893]. The following year he published a book entitled: “Oscillations électriques” [Poincaré, 1894] and in 1899 another one: “La Théorie de Maxwell et les oscillations hertziennes” [Poincaré, 1899]. This book, also published in English and German in 1904 and reprinted in French in 1907, has been considered as a reference. In Chapter XIII, page 79 Poincaré stated that the singing arc and the Hertz spark gap transmitter were also analogous except that oscillations are maintained in the first and damped in the second. Thus, from the early twentieth century until his death Poincaré continued his research on wireless telegraphy and on maintained waves and oscillations [Poincaré, 1901, 1902, 1903, 1904, 1907, 1908, 1909abcde, 1910abc, 1911,1912].

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Bell doubted quantum mechanics and relativity

Physicist John Stewart Bell was famous for Bell's theorem, and considered by many a great genius who should have gotten a Nobel prize.

A physics article says:
But despite the ascendancy of the Copenhagen interpretation, the intuition that physical objects, no matter how small, can be in only one location at a time has been difficult for physicists to shake. Albert Einstein, who famously doubted that God plays dice with the universe, worked for a time on what he called a "ghost wave" theory of quantum mechanics, thought to be an elaboration of de Broglie's theory. In his 1976 Nobel Prize lecture, Murray Gell-Mann declared that Niels Bohr, the chief exponent of the Copenhagen interpretation, "brainwashed an entire generation of physicists into believing that the problem had been solved." John Bell, the Irish physicist whose famous theorem is often mistakenly taken to repudiate all "hidden-variable" accounts of quantum mechanics, was, in fact, himself a proponent of pilot-wave theory. "It is a great mystery to me that it was so soundly ignored," he said.
It got this comment:
The author of pilot-wave theory Louis deBroglie was an aetherist and he wrote, for example:
"any particle, even isolated, has to be imagined as in continuous "energetic contact" with a hidden medium ... It certainly is of quite complex character. It could not serve as a universal reference medium, as this would be contrary to relativity theory."
It's not surprising, the guy promoting the aether and even doubting of relativity theory gets ignored with no mercy for century with mainstream physics.
People assume that Bell was a champion of quantum mechanics, but actually he and his early followers were trying to prove quantum mechanics wrong. His theorem gave a way to distinguish quantum mechanics from hidden variable theories. Subsequent experiments verified quantum mechanics, and ruled out hidden variable theories.

The de Broglie Bohm pilot wave theory is considered an interpretation of quantum mechanics, but it is really only an interpretation of some non-relativistic special cases. It is supposedly more intuitive because it tells you where the electron really is, but it also requires you to believe in action-at-a-distance ghosts that accompany the electrons. So it is a lot more bizarre than quantum mechanics.

Bell did not believe in relativity as a spacetime theory either, as he is quoted in this 2009 paper:
If it is just long enough to span the required distance initially, then as the rockets speed up, it will become too short, because of its need to Fitzgerald contract, and must finally break. It must break when, at a sufficiently high velocity, the artificial prevention of the natural contraction impose s intolerable stress.
In the Minkowski spacetime relativity, the FitzGerald contraction is a geometric illusion, and does not cause any stresses. Bell's explanation is wrong, as explained in that paper.

Relativity and quantum mechanics are the pillars of XX-century physics. It is good to have skeptics who keep the mainstream physicists honest, I guess, but nobody gets a Nobel prize for that. If experiments had overthrown the conventional wisdom, then Bell would be hailed as a great genius, but that did not happen. In the end, all Bell had was an argument against hidden variables that was more persuasive than the existing arguments that had already convinced everyone.

I use the The Son of Man painting because it is the symbol of the John Stewart Bell Prize. Something about reality being obscured, I guess.

Here is a recent paper for a book honoring Bell.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Concise argument against quantum computing

I summarize my arguments against quantum computers (QC). By QC, I mean super-Turing scalable quantum computing. I have posted similar arguments before in Sluggishly expanding wave function, The universe is not a quantum computer, and Ivan Deutsch says no true qubit yet.

People have claimed to have done quantum computations, such as factoring 15, but there is no true qubit, and no quantum speedup over a conventional computer.

Here are the main 3 reasons.

1. The same reason I am skeptical about supersymmetry (SUSY): the theory is interesting and the math is sound, but when our leading experts spend a billion dollars looking for ten years and see no sign of it, it is time to consider that it may not exist.

2. Disproving Church-Turing Thesis as a characterization of computable functions would be a very surprising result. Quantum mechanics (QM) is also surprising, but it doesn't actually conflict with Church unless it is strictly valid to a very high precision where it has never been tested.

3. QC is unexpected in positivist interpretations of QM. I see QM as a clever calculus for tracking electrons possibly being in 2 or more places at once. For example, the famous double-slit experiment can be interpreted as a electron going thru both slits at once, and the wave function giving probabilities for each slit.

To a positivist like myself, the electron is never really in two places at once, as that is never observed and the theory does not require it. That is just a convenient fiction for visualizing a quantum that has some particle-like and some wave-like properties, but no exact classical counterpart.

If I really believed that an electron could be in two places at once, then I might believe in QC. The whole idea behind QC is that the multi-positional property of electrons can somehow be used for computational advantage. Whereas regular computers are built out of on-off switches and gates, a QC would be built out of gates that act like little double-slits, dividing reality into pieces and simultaneously operating on the pieces.

QC teaches complementarity, meaning that an electron can be considered a particle and a wave, but if you try to do both at the same time, you get into trouble. That is just what QC does -- try to make an electron a particle and a wave at the same time.

Scott Aaronson would say that I have fallen for the fallacy that a QC is a parallel computer, or that I have not fully accepted QM, or that I have failed to give a precise mechanism that is going to prevent a QC from achieving super-Turing results. He says:
With quantum computing the tables are turned, with the skeptics forced to handwave about present-day practicalities, while the proponents wield the sharp steel of accepted physical law.
Maybe so. When the experts figure out whether QC is possible, we can revisit this page and see who was more right.

Meanwhile, Aaronson explains some of those sharp edges of accepted physical law:
I would not recommend jumping into a black hole as a way to ensure your privacy. ...

But a third problem is that even inside a black hole, your secrets might not be safe forever! Since the 1970s, it’s been thought that all information dropped into a black hole eventually comes out, in extremely-scrambled form, in the Hawking radiation that black holes produce as they slowly shrink and evaporate. What do I mean by “slowly”? Well, the evaporation would take about 1070 years for a black hole the mass of the sun, or about 10100 years for the black holes at the centers of galaxies. Furthermore, even after the black hole had evaporated, piecing together the infalling secrets from the Hawking radiation would probably make reconstructing what was on the burned paper from the smoke and ash seem trivial by comparison! But just like in the case of the burned paper, the information is still formally present (if current ideas about quantum gravity are correct), so one can’t rule out that it could be reconstructed by some civilization of the extremely remote future.
Sorry, but I do not accept conservation of information as a physical law. I say that if you burn a book, you destroy the information in it. He says that the information is retained in the ashes somehow, but there is no practical or conceivable way of getting the info out of the ashes. Saying that the ashes retain the info is not a scientific statement.

The same kind of people, who believe in the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, also believe in time-reversibility, and in information conservation. I guess you could believe in these things separately, as I don't think Aaronson believes in many-worlds. But they are all just abstract prejudices that have no real theoretical or experimental grounding.

Conservation of information is nothing like conservation of energy or momentum. Those types of conservation laws are theoretically grounded in symmetry principles, and experimentally tested to high accuracy. Conservation of information is just based on a belief about how people should think of probability.

When Aaronson talks about the "sharp steel of physical law", he means things like information conservation. And by that, he means that your privacy is not safe in a black hole because info might leak out over the next 1070 years.

Making a quantum computer might be like extracting info from a black hole. Certain experts will always say that it is possible, but it is so far removed from anything observable that it is just idle speculation.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The problems with Everett's many worlds

Lubos Motl attacks Hugh Everett's thesis, and a new paper discusses The Problem of Confirmation in the Everett Interpretation:
I argue that the Oxford school Everett interpretation is internally incoherent, because we cannot claim that in an Everettian universe the kinds of reasoning we have used to arrive at our beliefs about quantum mechanics would lead us to form true beliefs. I show that in an Everettian context, the experimental evidence that we have available could not provide empirical confirmation for quantum mechanics, and moreover that we would not even be able to establish reference to the theoretical entities of quantum mechanics. I then consider a range of existing Everettian approaches to the probability problem and show that they do not succeed in overcoming this incoherence.
I criticized the author, Emily Adlam, for a paper on relativity history.

Everett is the father of the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics. I agree that it is incoherent. Some people prefer to call it the Everett interpretation so that it sounds less wacky. It is amazing how many seemingly-educated people take it seriously. It is like a stupid science fiction plot, and there isn't much substance to the theory at all.

There are not really any theoretical or empirical reasons for preferring MWI. The arguments for it are more philosophical. Its adherents say that it is more objective, or more deterministic, or more localized, or something like that. I don't know how postulating the spontaneous creation of zillions of unobservable parallel universes can do any of those things, but that is what they say.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Galileo got ship relativity from Bruno

I have posted many times on the origin of special relativity, but this is a new one to me. A new paper credits Bruno in 1584:
The trial and condemnation of Giordano Bruno was mainly based on arguments of philosophical and theological nature, and therefore different from Galilei's. Such elements contribute to unfairly devalue the scientific contribution of Bruno and do not properly account in particular for his contribution to physics. This paper discusses the contribution of Bruno to the principle of relativity. According to common knowledge, the special principle of relativity was first enunciated in 1632 by Galileo Galilei in his Dialogo sopra i due massimi sistemi del mondo (Dialogue concerning the two chief world systems), using the metaphor today known as "Galileo's ship": in a boat moving at constant speed, the mechanical phenomena can be described by the same laws holding on Earth. We shall show that the same metaphor and some of the examples in Galilei's book were already contained in the dialogue La cena de le Ceneri (The Ash Wednesday Supper) published by Giordano Bruno in 1584. In fact, Giordano Bruno largely anticipated the arguments of Galilei on the relativity principle. It is likely that Galilei was aware of Bruno's work, and it is possible that the young Galilei discussed with Bruno, since they both stayed in Venezia for long periods in 1592.
I knew that Bruno was a Catholic monk who denied the divinity of Jesus and argued for many other heresies, and was executed. And I knew that he speculated about an infinity of worlds. But I did not that he had any legitimate scientific contributions.

There were ancient Greeks who argued for the motion of the Earth, such as Aristarchus of Samos, but his works have been lost and we don't know his arguments. Since we do not feel the motion of the Earth, he surely must have argued for some sort of relativity principle. Aristotle argued that our failure to feel the motion suggests that the Earth is not moving. So I do not see how the principle can possibly be due to Bruno or anyone of that time period.

This paper does show that Galileo could have met Bruno and gotten important ideas from him, including the relativity of a moving ship.

Modern relativity got started when James Clerk Maxwell observed that his theory of electromagnetism appeared to be incompatible with the relativity principle. He coined the word "relativity", and suggested an experimental test.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Aaronson's first paragraph

Since I often mention MIT complexity theorist Scott Aaronson, I am giving a plug for his book.

You can tell a lot from the first paragraph of the first chapter of a book. That is where the author carefully attempts to grab your attention and give you a flavor of the book. Some authors will rewrite it 20 times until they get it right.

Here is how Quantum Computing since Democritus starts:
So why Democritus? First of all, who was Democritus? He was this Ancient Greek dude. He was born around 450 BC in this podunk Greek town called Abdera, where people from Athens said that even the air causes stupidity. He was a disciple of Leucippus, according to my source, which is Wikipedia. He's called a “pre-Socratic,” even though actually he was a contemporary of Socrates. That gives you a sense of how important he's considered: “Yeah, the pre-Socratics – maybe stick ’em in somewhere in the first week of class.” Incidentally, there's a story that Democritus journeyed to Athens to meet Socrates, but then was too shy to introduce himself.
The book is 370 pages of this.

He is writing a new book, from his blog posts on similar topics. He has acknowledged that his own book has led people to quantum computer over-hype, and proclaims: "Single most important application of QC (in my opinion): Disproving the people who said QC was impossible!" He laments that "we as a community have failed to make the honest case for quantum computing". Much of the content of his book is on his web site.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Lemaitre's Big Bang

There is a new paper on Lemaitre's Big Bang:
I give an epistemological analysis of the developments of relativistic cosmology from 1917 to 1966, based on the seminal articles by Einstein, de Sitter, Friedmann, Lemaitre, Hubble, Gamow and other historical figures of the field. It appears that most of the ingredients of the present-day standard cosmological model, including the acceleration of the expansion due to a repulsive dark energy, the interpretation of the cosmological constant as vacuum energy or the possible non-trivial topology of space, had been anticipated by Georges Lemaitre, although his articles remain mostly unquoted.
I have posted before that Lemaitre should be credited with the Big Bang more than any other single person. This paper confirms that, and describes later contributions of others as well.