Monday, March 25, 2019

Even Feyerabend accepted Copenhagen

A recent paper quotes a well-known philosopher of science making a point about quantum mechanics in 1962:
If I am correct in this, then all those philosophers who try to solve the quantum riddle by trying to provide an alternative interpretation of the current theory which leaves all laws of this theory unchanged are wasting their time. Those who are not satisfied with the Copenhagen point of view must realize that only a new theory will be capable of satisfying their demands (Feyerabend 1962b, 260, fn 49).
The paper notes that John von Neumann said something similar in 1932.

Feyerabend had a lot of goofy views, but he was right about this.

I mention this because there are a lot of people today who admit that quantum mechanics is quantitatively correct in the sense that it makes very accurate predictions, but argue taht the Copenhagen interpretation is flawed, and we must find a better interpretation.

Dream on. It's okay if you prefer QBism or consistent histories or decoherence, as these are just minor variations on Copenhagen. Those who attack Copenhagen as untenable really have a problem with quantum mechanics, and no interpretation is going to make them happy.

This was all recognized by experts in 1932 and by informed outsiders in 1962. Today's Copenhagen deniers are going against what has been conventional wisdom for a long time.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Physicist says Atheism is Unscientific

SciAm reports an interview:
Marcelo Gleiser, a 60-year-old Brazil-born theoretical physicist at Dartmouth College and prolific science popularizer, has won this year’s Templeton Prize. ...

Why are you against atheism?

I honestly think atheism is inconsistent with the scientific method. What I mean by that is, what is atheism? It’s a statement, a categorical statement that expresses belief in nonbelief. “I don’t believe even though I have no evidence for or against, simply I don’t believe.” Period. It’s a declaration. But in science we don’t really do declarations. We say, “Okay, you can have a hypothesis, you have to have some evidence against or for that.” And so an agnostic would say, look, I have no evidence for God or any kind of god (What god, first of all? The Maori gods, or the Jewish or Christian or Muslim God? Which god is that?) But on the other hand, an agnostic would acknowledge no right to make a final statement about something he or she doesn’t know about.
Really? We don't do declarations in science?

Atheism is just a denial of God. Most atheists would probably say that they see some evidence for God, some evidence against it, and on balance they do not believe in God. Maybe it is a rational decision, and maybe not.

An agnostic is just someone who thinks that God is unknowable.

Of course not everyone follows the definitions, and atheism becomes identified with the view of prominent atheists who profess their atheism. The funny thing is that those guys talk about their leftist political beliefs much than their evidence against God. So now atheism is widely understood as a leftist political movement.

Also in SciAm, astrophysicist Ethan Siegel and a microbiologist write:
The ongoing measles outbreaks across the United States and Europe prove definitively that our personal choices affect everybody around us. Although you have a right to your own body, your choice to willfully be sick ends where another’s right to be healthy begins. For that reason, people who “opt out” of vaccines should be opted out of American society. ...

No public or private school, workplace or other institution should allow a non-exempt, unvaccinated person through their doors. A basic concern for the health and safety of others is the price it costs to participate. ...

People falsely believe that diseases like measles have “gone away,” but they have not. They’re always there, waiting to strike as soon as our collective guard goes down.
Actually, measles has been eradicated from the USA. The only cases come in from foreigners.

If Americans are all vaccinated, then measles is not a threat.

So it makes more sense for foreigners to be opted out of American society. No public or private school, workplace or other institution should allow a foreigner through their doors.
Unfortunately, there’s no vaccine that can inoculate someone against a counterfactual, unscientific mindset.

There are, however, vaccines that can prevent dozens of harmful diseases. Those who refuse, and recklessly endanger others, should be put in quarantine.
The unscientific mindset blames children, when the measles vector is foreigners. Maybe we should also quarantine those who meet with foreigners. That is the result of Siegel's logic.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Horgan admits math proofs are not dying

SciAm writer John Horgan finally concedes
Okay, Maybe Proofs Aren't Dying After All

Two experts argue that proofs are doing fine, contrary to a controversial 1993 prediction of their impending demise
It appears that a famous mathematician led him astray:
But influential figures were behind the changes. One was William Thurston, who in 1982 won a Fields Medal — the mathematical equivalent of a Nobel Prize — for delineating links between topology and geometry.

Thurston, who served as a major source for my article, advocated a more free-form, “intuitive” style of mathematical research, communication and education, with less emphasis on conventional proofs. He sought to convey mathematical concepts with computer-generated models, including a video that he called “Not Knot.”

“That mathematics reduces in principle to formal proofs is a shaky idea” peculiar to the 20th century, Thurston told me. Ironically, he pointed out, Bertrand Russell and Kurt Godel demonstrated early in the century that mathematics is riddled with logical contradictions. “Set theory is based on polite lies, things we agree on even though we know they're not true,” Thurston said. “In some ways, the foundation of mathematics has an air of unreality.”
The Fields Medal is not really the mathematical equivalent of a Nobel Prize. The Abel Prize is much closer.

No one showed that mathematics is riddled with logical contradictions. Thurston was not knowledgeable about the foundations of math. He was a brilliant mathematician, and he was good at explaining his work to others, but he was lousy at writing up his proofs. Some of his best work was written up by others.

Thurston's ideas were not accepted until proofs were written and published. Probably his biggest idea was that all three-dimensional manifolds could be decomposed into one carrying one of about eight geometric structures. This was always called a conjecture, until Perelman published what appeared to be a proof, and others filled in the gaps so that everyone was convinced that it really was a proof.

Russell showed that certain set theory operations led to contradictions, and then showed how an axiomatic approach could resolve them. Goedel gave much better axiomatizations of set theory, can examples of undecidable statements. An undecidable is the opposite of a contradiction.

Horgan's concession is based on quoting two bloggers. It would have been better if he had asked someone who was trained in mathematical foundations, instead of computer science and particle physics.

BTW, Scott Aaronson comments:
More importantly, I’ve been completely open here about my unfortunate psychological tic of being obsessed with the people who hate me, and why they hate me, and what I could do to make them hate me less. And I’ve been working to overcome that obsession.
I seem to be one of his enemies, but I do not hate him. I don't disagree with his comments about proof, but he is not a mathematician and he does not speak for mathematicians.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Why Cosmologists hate Copenhagen

James B. Hartle explains:
Textbook (Copenhagen) formulations of quantum mechanics are inadequate for cosmology for at least four reasons: 1) They predict the outcomes of measurements made by observers. But in the very early universe no measurements were being made and no observers were around to make them. 2) Observers were outside of the system being measured. But we are interested in a theory of the whole universe where everything, including observers, are inside. 3) Copenhagen quantum mechanics could not retrodict the past. But retrodicting the past to understand how the universe began is the main task of cosmology. 4) Copenhagen quantum mechanics required a fixed classical spacetime geometry not least to give meaning to the time in the Schrödinger equation. But in the very early universe spacetime is fluctuating quantum mechanically (quantum gravity) and without definite value.
There is some merit to this reasoning, but jumping to Everett many-worlds is still bizarre, and does not help.

The decoherence and consistent histories interpretations of quantum mechanics are really just minor variations of Copenhagen.

While Copenhagen says that observers notice quantum states settling into eigenstates, these newer interpretations say it can happen before the observer notices.

Many-worlds just says that anything can happen, and it is completely useless for cosmology.

Sean M. Carroll has announced that he is writing a new book on many-worlds theory. He will presumably take the position that it is a logical necessity for cosmology. Or that it is simpler for cosmology. However, I very much doubt that any benefit for cosmology can be found.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Physicist fired for expressing valid opinion

Lubos Motl writes:
After five months of "investigations" that weren't investigating anything, the vicious, dishonest, and ideologically contaminated individuals who took over CERN have said "good-bye" to Alessandro Strumia, a top particle phenomenologist with 38k citations according to Google Scholar and 32k according to Inspire.
This firing was political, obviously. You can compare male and female employment, but your conclusion must favor females, or else you will be censored, fired, and ostracized.

I don't think that the Physics community has thought this thru. Everyone now knows that women are promoted over more competent men, and the system is maintained by firing anyone who points out the facts.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Nature mag denies existence of gendered brains

You would think that our leading scientific journal would not be consumed by leftist ideology.

Nature mag reports:
The history of sex-difference research is rife with innumeracy, misinterpretation, publication bias, weak statistical power, inadequate controls and worse. ...

Yet, as The Gendered Brain reveals, conclusive findings about sex-linked brain differences have failed to materialize. Beyond the “missing five ounces” of female brain — gloated about since the nineteenth century — modern neuroscientists have identified no decisive, category-defining differences between the brains of men and women. ...

Whatever the subtitle, the book accomplishes its goal of debunking the concept of a gendered brain. The brain is no more gendered than the liver or kidneys or heart. Towards the end, Rippon flirts with the implications of this finding for the growing number of people transitioning or living between current binary gender categories.
If the concept is bunk, then why is anyone transitioning?

The world is crackpots saying silly things, but I get worried when I see those things in our most elite intellectual journals. I would be similarly dismayed if Nature started publishing an Astrology column.

When some otherwise intelligent man denies human consciousness, or denies free will, I wonder how they get thru the day and manage their lives. Likewise, when they believe in infinite doppelgangers, or that we live in a simulation, or when they have certain religious or anti-religious opinions.

Men and women obviously think differently. Otherwise, why would feminism be a thing?

The differences are obvious to anyone who has gone out on a date. This article is silly.

Friday, March 1, 2019

But what’s contracting in relativity?

The "Ask a Physicist" blog explains:
Q: In relativity, length contracts at high speeds. But what’s contracting? Is it distance or space or is there even a difference? ...

This situation is sometimes explained as a consequence of length contraction. But what is it that’s contracting? Some authors put it down to space itself contracting, or just distance contracting (which it seems to me amounts to the same thing) and others say that’s nonsense because you could posit two spaceships heading in the same direction momentarily side by side and traveling at different speeds, so how can there be two different distances?

So what is the correct way to understand the situation from the astronaut’s perspective?

Physicist: Space and time don’t react to how you move around. They don’t contract or slow down just because you move fast relative to someone somewhere. What changes is how you perceive space and time. ...

Einstein’s big contribution (or one of them at least) was “combining” time and space under the umbrella of “spacetime”, so named because Germans love sticking words together
I agree with his explanation, except that the view he described was not Einstein's view.

Minkowski was the German who combined space and time into spacetime, and he based it on Poincare, not Einstein.

Einstein's contribution was not putting time and space together, and he very much disagreed with the view that what changes is our perception of space and time. I explain the point here and in my book, and in other posts. Einstein insisted that his view of the contraction was essentially the same as Lorentz's, and contrary to the non-Euclidean geometry view that is nicely explained in the above blog.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Leftist scientists endorse Green New Deal

From SciAm blogs:
Scientists Must Speak Up for the Green New Deal

The resolution’s focus on climate and social justice highlights the central challenges — and opportunities — of our time ...

Support and promote movements led by marginalized groups. We have an obligation to use our positions of privilege and resources to create space for underrepresented and marginalized groups in the pursuit of climate change solutions. Scientists and the scientific community must engage, through partnership and participation, to provide evidence and analysis in order to inform community-based decisions. We need to embrace a departure from the status quo of patriarchal leadership, and to embrace the new leadership’s vision for climate policy and solutions that includes all people of the United States.

This new style of leadership emphasizes collaboration and community-based solutions, reflected in the language of the resolution: “a Green New Deal must be developed through transparent and inclusive consultation, collaboration, and partnership with frontline and vulnerable communities, labor unions, worker cooperatives, civil society groups, academia, and businesses.”
It is amazing that scientists are falling for this garbage.

The Congressional resolution starts with a supposedly scientific declaration that "human activity is the dominant cause of observed climate change over the past century".

Not really. The IPCC report said that it is extremely likely that most of the observed warming since 1950 can be attributed to human influence, mainly CO2 emissions.

But the climate has been changing for millions of years, and I am not sure it makes sense to talk about how much of it is caused by human activity.

Many of the changes are beneficial, but the resolution and the scientists do not mention those. This is a little like complaining about down days on Wall Street, without mentioning the up days, and wanting to stop the changes.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Early relativity physicists rejected non-Euclidean geometry

Scott Walter wrote a 1999 paper on The non-Euclidean style of Minkowskian relativity, which has a lot of historical info on the use of non-Euclidean geometry for relativity during 1905-1913. After about 1913, the field went fully non-Euclidean to accommodate gravity via general relativity. But before that, there was a split between mathematicians and physics on whether relativity was a non-Euclidean geometry:
Where Minkowski underlined the conceptual continuity of non-Euclidean geometry and the notion of time in relativity, Planck refused the analogy, and emphasized the revolutionary nature of Einstein's new insight.32 For Planck, however, there was at least an historical similarity between non-Euclidean geometry and relativity. The relativity revolution was similar to that engendered by the introduction of non-Euclidean geometry: after a violent struggle, Planck recalled, the Modernisten finally won general acceptance of their doctrine (1910, 42-43).

In his address to the German Association in September, 1910, Planck acknowledged that progress in solving the abstract problems connected with the principle of relativity was largely the work of mathematicians. The advantage of mathematicians, Planck noted (1910, 42), rested in the fact that the "standard mathematical methods" of relativity were "entirely the same as those developed in four-dimensional geometry." Thus for Planck, the space-time formalism had already become the standard for theoretical investigations of the principle of relativity.

Planck's coeditor at the Annalen der Physik , Willy Wien (1864-1928), reiterated the contrast between non-Euclidean geometry and physics in his review of Einstein's and Minkowski's views of space and time. Wien portrayed Einstein's theory of relativity as an induction from results in experimental physics; here, according to Wien (1909, 30), there was "no direct point of contact with non-Euclidean geometry." Minkowski's theory, on the other hand, was associated in Wien's lecture with a different line of development: the abstract, speculative theories of geometry invented by mathematicians from Carl Friedrich Gauss to David Hilbert.

Wien admitted there was something "extraordinarily compelling" about Minkowski's view. The whole Minkowskian system, he said, "evokes the conviction that the facts would have to join it as a fully internal consequence." As an example of this, he mentioned Minkowski's four equations of motion, the fourth of which is also the law of energy conservation (see Minkowski, 1909, p. 85). Wien nonetheless distanced himself from the formal principles embodied in Minkowski's contribution to relativity when he recalled that the physicist's credo was not aesthetics but experiment. "For the physicist," Wien concluded, "Nature alone must make the final decision."33 ...

In summary, certain mathematicians and physicists cast Minkowski's work in a tradition of research on non-Euclidean geometry. For the mathematicians Mansion and Mathews, relativity theory was ripe for study and development by geometers. The physicists Planck and Wien, on the other hand, denied any link between non-Euclidean geometry and Einstein's theory of relativity. ...

Wien, for one, had silently retracted his opinion (see § 4 above), by excising the offending passage of his 1909 lecture for reedition ...
It is commonly remarked that special relativity was quickly accepted, even tho it was a radical shift from Newtonian mechanics. But this shows that only the mathematicians accepted the non-Euclidean geometrical core of the theory, while the physicists Einstein, Planck, and Wien did not.

Here is a striking example:
In a footnote to this work, Sommerfeld remarked that the geometrical relations he presented in terms of three real and one imaginary coordinate could be reinterpreted in terms of non-Euclidean geometry. The latter approach, Sommerfeld cautioned (1910a, 752), could "hardly be recommended."

Equally omitted from Varicak's report was his explanation of the Lorentz-FitzGerald contraction (according to which all moving bodies shrink in their direction of motion with respect to the ether) as a psychological phenomenon. Earlier in the year, Einstein had contested his argument by maintaining the reality of the contraction. 46

Thus ignoring both Sommerfeld's dim view of his non-Euclidean program, and Einstein's correction of his interpretation of relativity theory, Varicak went on to demonstrate the formal simplicity afforded by hyperbolic functions in the theory of relativity.
Calling the contraction a "psychological phenomenon" sounds bogus, but Varicak's point was that the contraction is just a non-Euclidean geometrical artifact, and objects just seem contracted because of the way we use Euclidean coordinates.

Varicak was completely correct about this. So were Mathematicians Poincare and Minkowski at the time, and that is how modern textbooks describe the contraction.

Walter refers to "Einstein's correction of his interpretation". Varicak thought that he was agreeing with Einstein, but Einstein actually published a paper in 1911 specifically disavowing Varicak's geometrical interpretation, and insisting on Lorentz's view of objects actually contracting by motion thru the aether or whatever. For details, see The Einstein-Varicak Correspondence on Relativistic Rigid Rotation.

Varicak's paper started:
The occurrence of Ehrenfest's paradox is understandable, when one clings to the standpoint taken by Lorentz in the formulation of his contraction hypothesis, i.e., when one sees the contraction of moving rigid bodies in the direction of motion as a change which takes place in an objective way. Every element of the periphery will be changed independently of the observer according to Lorentz, while the elements of the radius remain non-contracted.

However, if one employs Einstein's standpoint, according to whom the mentioned contraction is only an apparent, subjective phenomenon, caused by the manner of our clock-regulation and length-measurement, then this contradiction doesn't appear to be justified.
Varicak is completely correct, except that he is attributing the Poincare-Minkowski geometric view of relativity to Einstein. Einstein published a rebuttal to this, where he sided with Lorentz's interpretation of the contraction.

For his source, Varicak cited a 1909 paper. Two Americans wrote The Principle of Relativity, and Non-Newtonian Mechanics:
Let us emphasize once more, that these changes in the units of time and length, as well as the changes in the units of mass, force, and energy which we are about to discuss, possess in a certain sense a purely factitious significance; although, as we shall show, this is equally true of other universally accepted physical conceptions. We are only justified in speaking of a body in motion when we have in mind some definite though arbitrarily chosen point as a point of rest. The distortion of a moving body is not a physical change in the body itself, but is a scientific fiction.

When Lorentz first advanced the idea that an electron, or in fact any moving body, is shortened in the line of its motion, he pictured a real distortion of the body in consequence of a real motion through a stationary ether, and his theory has aroused considerable discussion as to the nature of the forces which would be necessary to produce such a deformation. The point of view first advanced by Einstein, which we have here adopted, is radically different. Absolute motion has no significance. Imagine an electron and a number of observers moving in different directions with respect to it. To each observer, naïvely considering himself to be at rest, the electron will appear shortened in a different direction and by a different amount; but the physical condition of the electron obviously does not depend upon the state of mind of the observers.

Although these changes in the units of space and time appear in a certain sense psychological, we adopt them rather than abandon completely the fundamental conceptions of space, time, and velocity, upon which the science of physics now rests. At present there appears no other alternative.
The paper endorses views that "appear in a certain sense psychological". By that, he means that our measures of distance and time require referring to an observer. That is the geometric relativistic view that nearly everyone accepts today.

You would think that Einstein would jump at the chance to claim credit for having a superior understanding than what Lorentz had, and to accept credit for the more modern geometrical interpretation. By 1911, the geometrical interpretation was widely understood and accepted. He must have strongly disagreed with the geometrical interpretation.

I don't see how anyone can credit Einstein for special relativity in view of the fact that he disavowed the geometrical interpretation.

The non-Euclidean geometry of relativity was discovered by Poincare in 1905, popularized by Minkowski in 1907, and widely accepted in 1908. In 1911, Einstein still did not understand or accept it.

This is a reason I do not credit Einstein for relativity. It is not that he and Poincare published the same thing in 1905. It is that Poincare was 6 years ahead of Einstein.

Walter's historical analysis ends in about 1913, so he gives the impression that the use of non-Euclidean geometry in relativity was just some topic to amuse mathematicians, and was a big dead-end for physicists. In fact, the non-Euclidean geometry view of relativity has dominated from 1913 to the present day.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Myth of bad science behind vaccination

NPR Radio reports:
Now we're going to look at the staying power of bad science and a group of volunteers trying to fight it. Take the infamous 1998 study by a British scientist that suggested a link between childhood vaccines and autism. It was retracted more than a decade later. And its author Andrew Wakefield had his medical license revoked. But the myth that vaccines cause autism persists today with serious public health consequences. It's this kind of bad science that ...
The 1998 paper was not a study, but just a note based on a few observations. Retracting it did not say anything about whether vaccines cause autism.

If you want to show that vaccines do not cause autism, you have to do a scientific study on the subject. Punishing the guy who suggested a link does not help.

There is a famous quote from a popular TV show:
“When you tear out a man's tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you're only telling the world that you fear what he might say.”

― George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings
Taking away Wakefield's license did not prove that he was a liar. It proved that the authorities feared what he was saying.

I am amazed that science advocates today like to cite this Wakefield story as an example to show that some papers should be suppressed, and some non-conforming individuals must be ostracized. It would have been much better to rebut Wakefield with scientific evidence.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Claims that Einstein got relativity from Hume

London Telegraph:
Albert Einstein was inspired to propose his Theory of Relativity after reading the works of a 18th century Scottish philosopher, it has emerged.

A new letter, discovered at the University of Edinburgh shows that the German-born theoretical physicist had studied David Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature just before proposing special relativity in 1905.

The groundbreaking theory suggested that the speed of light remained the same even if the observer was speeding up or slowing down, suggesting that time and space therefore could not be constant.
London Daily Mail:
A newly discovered letter from the University of Edinburgh shows that Einstein's Theory of Relativity was inspired by 18th century Scottish philosopher, David Hume.

The letter from the German physicist describes his avid reading of David Hume's 'A Treatise of Human Nature', just before proposing his own theory of special relativity in 1905.

The physicists even admits in the letter that it is 'very possible' that he may not have achieved his theory of relativity were it not for Hume's questions.

Hume was a famous philosopher, historian and economist was known for his ideas of naturalism and scepticism.

His book 'A Treatise of Human Nature', was first published in 1738, sixty-one-years before the birth of Einstein, and in it he questions the idea of time and space being related in the context of science.

Hume writes: 'The chief objection against all abstract reasoning is derived from the ideas of Space and Time. Ideas in everyday life may appear clear and intelligible, but when they pass through the scrutiny of the profound Sciences... they seem full of absurdity and contradiction.'
This view is not really new. The letter was discussed in 2105, and the
Hume influence in a 2004 paper.

This is all so absurd. Einstein did not discover special relativity in 1905. He later told interviewers that he had been working on that 1905 paper for about 8 years. The theory that we know today as special relativity was almost entirely the work of Lorentz, Poincare, and Minkowski. Einstein had almost nothing to do with it.

The credit to Hume and Mach is based on Moritz Schlick writing a 1915 essay discussing relativity and Mach's and Hume's philosophies. Einstein wrote a complimentary letter to him at the time, and later wrote:
The type of critical reasoning required for the discovery of this central point [the denial of absolute time, or simultaneity] was decisively furthered, in my case, especially by the reading of David Hume’s and Ernst Mach’s philosophical writings. (Einstein 1949a, 53)
But this was just Einstein's way of stealing credit for himself. Saying that he got inspiration from dead philosophers is about like saying that he got inspiration from the Bible or Shakespeare. It is just a sneaky way of denying that his ideas from contemporary relativity publications. It is known that he read Poincare's works on the relativity of time, and what Einstein wrote was the same.

These sorts of myths are promoted by the Einstein idolizers and the anti-positivists.

The anti-positivist angle is not so obvious. Positivists believe that scientific knowledge is based on experiments and reason. The anti-positivists deny this, and say that great geniuses like Einstein can just invent a theory without relying on empirical knowledge, and his ideas will catch on like a big fad.

So they say Einstein invented relativity based on philosophical ideas from decades, or even centuries, earlier.

This is crazy. Everything Einstein said about special relativity was published better and earlier by Lorentz and Poincare, and they explicitly relied on experiments like the Michelson-Morley.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Prominent skeptic announces what he believes

I don't know how a psychologist got to be such a prominent spokesman for what science is all about, but that's what Michael Shermer is, and he now writes:
I have been defending atheism and religious skepticism since we founded Skeptic in 1992, both through the magazine and in my books, and have continued the tradition throughout my nearly 18 years as a Scientific American columnist, for example on the rise of atheism. . . . and the death of God. 

One problematic aspect of the “atheist” label is that believers and “faitheists” (as you so effectively call atheists who believe in belief — for others, of course), is that we allow others to define us by what we don’t believe. That will never suffice. We must define ourselves by what we do believe: science, philosophy, reason, logic, empiricism and all the tools of the scientific method, along with civil rights, civil liberties, women’s rights, gay rights, animal rights, and moral progress as a result of these components of our worldview, which might better be described as humanism or one of its variants: secular humanism, Enlightenment humanism, or as I’m now suggesting, Scientific Humanism, the subject of my final Scientific American column.

Defining ourselves by what we do believe prevents believers and faitheists from calling us “atheists” and then attacking whatever that word means to them, instead of what it means to us (namely, a lack of belief in a deity, full stop).
I usually expect to agree with him, and then discover that I don't.

If atheism just means "a lack of belief in a deity, full stop", then what are all those other issues he brings up in the preceding paragraph?

No, that is not what atheism has come to mean. Atheists attend conferences led by gurus who have written best-selling books, and they have redefined the term. In particular, they have adopted a left-wing agenda that has little to with belief in a deity.

For example, Shermer lists his positive atheist beliefs as including "animal rights"!

More importantly, the atheist gurus seem to all believe in a leftist notion of moral progress. You won't see Trump supporters at an atheist convention.

Shermer calls himself a "skeptic", but what is he skeptical about? He appears to take the most boring and conventional positions that you would expect from our current batch of leftist groupthink academics.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

An orbit is a perpetual fall, said in 1614

Christopher M. Graney writes:
In 1614 Johann Georg Locher, a student of the Jesuit astronomer Christoph Scheiner, proposed a physical mechanism to explain how the Earth could orbit the sun. An orbit, Locher said, is a perpetual fall. He proposed this despite the fact that he rejected the Copernican system, citing problems with falling bodies and the sizes of stars under that system. In 1651 and again in 1680, Jesuit writers Giovanni Battista Riccioli and Athanasius Kircher, respectively, considered and rejected outright Locher's idea of an orbit as a perpetual fall.
This is interesting because it is widely assumed that medieval geocentrists suffered from too much religion or a lack of imagination or a refusal to consider scientific arguments.

In fact, someone had a model of Earth's orbit that was conceptually similar to Newton's. Earth is in free fall towards the Sun.

Like Tycho Brahe, Locher accepted that the other planets revolved around the Sun. He didn't think that Earth moved because of the failure to observe the Coriolis force, among other reasons.

The Coriolis force was demonstrated a couple of centuries later.

Occasionally someone says Copernicus or Galileo created modern science, as the previous geocentrism was completely unscientific. This is nonsense. In 1600, there were legitimate scientific arguments for and against geocentrism.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The big tech firms can be wrong

You might think that if well-respected technology companies, like IBM, Google, and Microsoft, are solidly pursuing quantum computing, then it must have some commercial viability.

I thought so too, until the Intel Itanium chip. Just look at this chart. Everyone in the industry was convinced that the chip would take over the whole CPU market. It is still hard to understand how everyone could be so wrong.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Building Quantum Computers Is Hard

ExtremeTech reports:
You may have read that quantum computers one day could break most current cryptography systems. They will be able to do that because there are some very clever algorithms designed to run on quantum computers that can solve a hard math problem, which in turn can be used to factor very large numbers. One of the most famous is Shor’s Factoring Algorithm. The difficulty of factoring large numbers is essential to the security of all public-private key systems — which are the most commonly used today. Current quantum computers don’t have nearly enough qubits to attempt the task, but various experts predict they will within the next 3-8 years. That leads to some potentially dangerous situations, such as if only governments and the super-rich had access to the ultra-secure encryption provided by quantum computers.

Why Building Quantum Computers Is Hard

There are plenty of reasons quantum computers are taking a long time to develop. For starters, you need to find a way to isolate and control a physical object that implements a qubit. That also requires cooling it down to essentially zero (as in .015 degrees Kelvin, in the case of IBM‘s Quantum One). Even at such a low temperature, qubits are only stable (retaining coherence) for a very short time. That greatly limits the flexibility of programmers in how many operations they can perform before needing to read out a result.

Not only do programs need to be constrained, but they need to be run many times, as current qubit implementations have a high error rate. Additionally, entanglement isn’t easy to implement in hardware either. In many designs, only some of the qubits are entangled, so the compiler needs to be smart enough to swap bits around as needed to help simulate a system where all the bits can potentially be entangled.
So quantum computing is extraordinarily difficult, but they will break most of our computer security systems, and experts predict it within the next 3-8 years.