Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Site compares Poincare to Einstein

Craig Feinstein sends this 2010 site:
The father of relativity theory : Einstein vs Poincaré

We saw that it is Poincaré who names and formulates the principle of relativity, names and corrects Lorentz transformations, reports and exploits its group structure. To these examples, we could add that he establishes the method for synchronizing clocks by light signals (La mesure du temps, Revue de métaphysique et de morale, T.6, janv 1898), the formula of additivity of velocities, the invariance of Maxwell's equations in vacuum, and the hypothesis of the speed of light limit (Poincaré, 1905). Let's not forget that he also already uses a quadridmensional formalism that will inspire the future works of Minkowski, and then some. What is left?

He clearly masters most of the concepts and technical tools of what we call now the special relativity theory, except (and it is fundamental!) that it is to him just corrections brought to Lorentz works, part of a dynamics, and what's more, depending upon Maxwell's electromagnetic theory.
That is correct. Lorentz created special relativity theory as a way of reconciling Maxwell's electromagnetic theory with the Michelson-Morley experiment, and Poincare perfected Lorentz's theory.
Moreover, the principle of relativity concerns space-time and gives to it a physical meaning even if this space is empty, baring no body (it is a kinematics, that is to say a condition for the expression of dynamics), which Poincaré thinking about dynamics only could neither conceive, nor accept (Paty, 1987, p15).
This is crazy. Einstein does not have a spacetime theory. Poincare certainly did conceive and accept a spacetime theory where the Lorentz transformations are realized as the isometries of a 4-dimensional non-Euclidean geometry.

Like most everyone else, Johann reviews the facts and somehow credits Einstein anyway:
That's what makes Einstein the real father of the theory, because he presents in his 1905 paper all of these points (except the importance of the group structure of Lorentz transformations) in a coherent theory, building a kinematics on which the laws of physics will depend (and not the other way around), including those of electromagnetism.

Still, Poincaré surely stays a great and major precursor amongst all physicists and mathematicians who played a role in the history of the theory of special relativity.
No, Einstein did not present all of those points. He did not have the Lorentz group, the covariance of Maxwell's equations, or the 4-dimensional structure of spacetime. And where Einstein is getting relativity points correct, he is mostly recapitulating what was done years earlier by Lorentz and Poincare.

The main credit for Einstein is for claiming a theory broad enough for all the laws of physics. But it was Poincare who did that, not Einstein. Poincare had a spacetime theory that he applied to gravity. Einstein only had a way of understanding electromagnetism.

Johann admits that Einstein did not have the 4-dimensional spacetime, and only got it from Poincare and Minkowski years later:
To respond ..., first you're right saying that Minkowski popularized Poincaré's work and influenced Einstein, but it was AFTER its Cologne lecture of 1908. ... You could say that Einstein didn't grasp the 4 dimensionality of the theory before Minkowski and you would be right! He even said to Minkowski that it was an unnecessary complication, and recognized only later when working on the generalized theory that he was wrong.
That's right, and if you view the 4-dimensional spacetime as the crucial idea, that idea can be traced from Lorentz to Poincare to Minkowski to widespread acceptance, without Einstein having anything to do with it.
To conclude, I'd like to add that even if Einstein had read "La dynamique des électrons" (which I firmly believe he didn't, even if I can't prove it any more than you can prove he did), contrary to what you say his article did bring something fundamentally new and different than any previous work, including Poincaré's, namely 1° the concept of condition for the laws of physics, 2° the correct interpretation of space and time measurements and 3° A STRUCTURED AND CLEAN THEORY.
A condition for the laws of physics? Only Poincare explicitly looked for laws of physics obeying Lorentz group invariance. Only Poincare said relativity was a theory about our methods of measurement. And the only way I know to describe relativity as a coherent structured clean theory is to express it a non-Euclidean geometry, and that was done by Poincare in 1905 and Minkowski in 1908.

A separate post says:
Note that Henri Poincaré was already looking for all the invariants of the Lorentz group, using infinitesimal generators (which relates to the Lie algebra approach of our days) ! and this in 1905 (see our second bibliographic reference), the same year Einstein published his article, which Poincaré had still no knowledge...

However, let's not make the mistake of attributing relativity theory to Poincaré, since he never built any complete theory (in physics anyway), and was merely correcting and improving other physicists' work (Maxwell, Lorentz, etc.).
Not a complete theory? Poincare has all of the relativity formulas that Einstein had in 1905 and more, and somehow it was not a complete theory? That is ridiculous.

Crediting Einstein has to be based on what was different about Einstein's 1905 work, and his main virtue here seems to be that he never credited his sources. Lorentz and Poincare showed how their work built on previous work, so I guess they "merely" improved it. All science is correcting and improving previous work.

Craig writes:
If this is true, I can't see how Einstein got credit. Poincare's theory predicts everything that Einstein's theory predicts. The only thing that Einstein did was clean it up, get rid of the aether, make it sound nicer. But that is not science.

I think in that period of time, the early 1900's, the idea that there are no absolute standards was becoming popular in intellectual circles. Einstein came along and showed that physics could be put into this relativistic framework. Because of this, the intellectuals of that time crowned Einstein a hero, since it justified their worldview.

Today, society accepts the idea that there are no absolute standards. And Einstein is still the king. He was even made Time's man of the century. Poincare was just a man who played along with equations that predicted the motion of bodies, while Einstein was a man who got rid of absolutism in nature. So what if Poincare was just as right as Einstein?
Poincare was the one who wrote a popular 1902 book saying that there is no absolute space or time, and no aether.

I have heard it claimed that relativity and Einstein were popular among intellectual non-scientists because of confusion with relativism.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Dilbert cat in a box

Today's Dilbert carton is on Schrödinger's cat:
207819.strip - Dilbert Copenhagen cat
Actually, this is a common misunderstanding. The Copenhagen interpretation never says that a cat "is neither dead nor alive". It says that the cat's wave function can be represented as a superposition of dead and alive states until a determination (ie, measurement) can be made. You can interpret the superposition as the observer's lack of knowledge. Some other interpretations require the cat to be dead and alive in parallel universes, or some such nonsense. Copenhagen says nothing of the kind, as it takes the more scientific approach of only addressing what is observable. There are 100s of published papers where physicists excitedly brag about putting an electron or something else into a "cat state". A recent example is Storing Quantum Information in Schrödinger's Cats. These superpositions are part of quantum theory, and always have been.

Plain English arguments for quantum computers

MIT professor Scott Aaronson is forever trying to explain the wonders of nonexistent quantum computers, and now he tries with only common words:
You might wonder, why is it so hard to build these new computers? Why don’t we have them already? This part is a little hard to explain using the words I’m allowed, but let me try. It turns out that the new computers would very easily break. In fact, if the bits in such a computer were to “get out” in any way — that is, to work themselves into the air in the surrounding room, or whatever — then you could quickly lose everything about the new computer that makes it faster than today’s computers. For this reason, if you’re building the new kind of computer, you have to keep it very, very carefully away from anything that could cause it to lose its state — but then at the same time, you do have to touch the computer, to make it do the steps that will eventually give you the right answer. And no one knows how to do all of this yet. So far, people have only been able to use the new computers for very small checks, like breaking 15 into 3 × 5. But people are working very hard today on figuring out how to do bigger things with the new kind of computer.

In fact, building the new kind of computer is so hard, that some people even believe it won’t be possible! But my answer to them is simple. If it’s not possible, then that’s even more interesting to me than if it is possible! And either way, the only way I know to find out the truth is to try it and see what happens.
Does that sound as it he is on track to prove something possible? Not to me. I am among those who believe it will be impossible, and I am very skeptical of the supposed progress.

He also argues that P != NP because verifying a proof ought to be much easier than finding an original proof. That is a reasonable argument. If it turns out that P = NP, then we would have to revise a lot of what we think about complexity, so we should be very skeptical of any such claim. Likewise we should be skeptical about quantum computing.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Silly use of uncertainty metaphor

People are often saying nonsense about the uncertainty principle, but it is annoying to see it in a reputable science magazine.

Walter G. Montgomery says he has a PhD and writes in Scientific American:
In quantum mechanics, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle holds that it is impossible to determine both the position and momentum of a particle. Heisenberg’s breakthrough relates to a subject of vital importance to America: the need for better communications practices in the science and technology fields.

Communications is my profession, and I am concerned by what I see. ...

The third and most challenging way in which science and technology communications differ from communications practices in other fields brings us back to the Uncertainty Principle. In other realms, superior communications professionals work side-by-side with clients to craft consistent and compelling messages and documents that concern finite situations that occur in specific spaces and points in time. They may, for example, draft a press release to announce a company acquisition, a statement explaining a C-level executive succession or an internal communications piece that describes to company employees the importance of a new product or service launch. In each of those cases, our job is to explain what has happened in terms that are as concrete and definitive as possible.

Messaging around science and technology, however, is a different story, because science rarely involves certainty. Rather, science is a quest for objective truth that might never achieve a final, definitive outcome. Given that science is an ever-unfolding story in which the goal posts keep moving—and that today’s vouchsafed hypothesis might be modified six months from now—crafting solid messaging around uncertainty becomes a unique communications challenge.
No, the uncertainty principle is not about our lack of knowledge about some final objective truth that we can might never achieve. There is plenty of certainty in science. Science has more certainty than any other field, except mathematics. Reporting on scientific experiments and other progress is just as certain as reporting in the business world, if not much more so. Usually scientists are at least trying to tell the truth in their press releases, while business press releases nearly always tell some partial truth designed to promote the sale of a product.

Lumo rants:
The probabilities in quantum mechanics do have exactly the same physical interpretation as the probabilities resulting from ignorance in classical statistical physics – i.e. as the probabilities calculable from the distribution functions on the classical phase space. The actual difference between classical statistical physics and quantum mechanics is the uncertainty principle that governs the latter. The uncertainty principle says that some degree of the ignorance is fundamentally unavoidable, independently of the chosen observer, her measuring apparatus, or methodology. Mathematically speaking, the new feature of quantum mechanics is the nonzero commutator between generic enough observables. It is not just a specific technical feature of some particles; it is a key conceptual rule that holds everywhere in this quantum world: The truths themselves refuse to commute in this Universe.

It seems very obvious to me that Scott Aaronson doesn't understand these basic conceptual findings about the character of probabilities in statistical physics and quantum mechanics. He's not the only one; almost everyone else who loves to write "popular" texts about quantum mechanics these days is similarly deluded. These people maintain some insane anti-Bohr, anti-Heisenberg sentiments that prevent them from seeing that by these assaults against the deepest findings done by these two men (and their school), they are exactly as canonical crackpots as "biologists" who love to constantly assault Darwin's "mistakes".
He is a little hard on Aaronson, who obviously understands quantum mechanics very well, but is correct about the uncertainty principle. The fundamental new feature of quantum mechanics is that observables do not commute, thereby necessitating and uncertainty in their measurements. Bohr and Heisenberg had this part of the theory exactly correct, and Einstein had it wrong. Progress in the last 75 years has only affirmed what Bohr and Heisenberg said. I cannot explain why Aaronson seems to have a different view, and writes:
You might say that Bohr and Heisenberg got closer to what we now know to be the truth about QM (i.e., that local hidden-variable theories can’t work, and the probabilities in QM can’t have an ordinary ignorance interpretation like in QM). ...

Bohr and Heisenberg both had the properties of

(1) putting way more stress on “wave/particle complementarity” and the uncertainty principle than we’d put today,

(2) bizarrely, saying almost nothing about the aspects of QM we do see as central today, like entanglement, the enormous size of Hilbert space, or amplitudes being complex-valued analogues of probabilities, ...
The probabilities in QM certainly do have an ordinary ignorance interpretation, with that ignorance being the ignorance of measurement. They are not interpreted as probabilities of hidden variables, of course, as Bohr and Heisenberg rejected the sort of hidden variable theories that Einstein and others stubbornly and wrongly clung to.

Entanglement is overrated. The enormous size of Hilbert space is a trivial mathematical fact, and not that important unless you are arguing for some silly theory like the Many Worlds Interpretation. I also do not agree that the amplitudes are complex-valued analogues of probabilities. The amplitudes can be used to calculate probabilities, but that's all. Aaronson has his own popular book on quantum mechanics, but he has some distorted views.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

More evidence against SUSY

Here is the evidency against supersymmetry (SUSY):
New measurements of the electron have confirmed, to the smallest precision attainable, that it has a perfect roundness. This may sounds nice for the little electron, but to one of the big physics theories beyond the standard model, it's very bad news. 'We know the Standard Model does not encompass everything,' said physicist David DeMille, of Yale University and the ACME collaboration, in a press release. 'Like our LHC colleagues, we're trying to see something in the lab that's different from what the Standard Model predicts.' Should supersymmetrical particles exist, they should have a measurable effect on the electron's dipole moment. But as ACME's precise measurements show, the electron still has zero dipole moment (as predicted by the standard model) and is likely very close to being perfectly round. Unfortunately for the theory of supersymmetry, this is yet another blow.
The LHC has also failed to find evidence for SUSY, but the leading experts are unfazed:
The embarrassing fact of no SUSY at the LHC does get fleeting mention, but John Schwarz assures everyone that in his view, there is no question that superpartners exist, whether or not the LHC ever sees them. The multiverse is seen as the answer to all problems, ...
SUSY is mathematically interesting, and has some conceptual appeals, but it conflicts with the evidence. Are we scientists or not? It is time to accept reality.

Update: Here is a Slashdot comment:
But the proponents of SuSy claim that their theories are elegant!

Have you ever seen a Nima Arkani-Hamed talk? (there are some on youtube and elsewhere). Most annoying is that not only does he rant and rave about how wonderfully simple and elegant his supersymmetry is, but he decorates those claims with embellishments like "they must be true".

Even more annoying is when a big potentially-confirming experiment is concluding, he's proud to say what result he expect that will confirm this theories, add that if he doesn't get them he'll scrap his theories, and then when the results don't confirm his theories, he shuts the f*** up briefly, and then resumes pushing the same old theories.

If you want good science. Don't look in the direction of that branch of physics, you'll have more luck in psychotherapy, economics, or astrology.
Supersymmetry is not really simpler or more elegant. It requires twice as many particles and about five times as many free parameters. We would never have any hope of determining those parameters.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Grossmann's contribution to relativity

Tilman Sauer just wrote a detailed paper on Marcel Grossmann and his contribution to the general theory of relativity.
Grossmann's contribution to the Entwurf theory consisted in the following.

* He clarified the mathematical foundation of the theory based on a general line element (8) and generalized the concept of a tensor to a structure of n th rank in m-dimensional space.

* He identified the absolute differential calculus by Ricci and Levi-Civita as the relevant mathematical toolbox for the problem of a relativistic theory of gravitation and transformed it into a tensor calculus both with respect to notation and by generalizing it to mixed tensor densities.

* He proved that the conservation law for matter (11) was a generally covariant equation by showing that it expresses the covariant divergence of Theta-mu-nu.

* He identified the Riemann tensor as a relevant and rich resource for the problem of constructing generally covariant gravitational field equations, and he showed Einstein several ways of extracting a second rank object from the Riemann tensor that would have the desired limiting form in the case of weak static fields.

* After the failure of the mathematical strategy of constructing a field equation from the Riemann tensor, he proved the central identity (39) from which the gravitational field equations of the Entwurf theory were read off.

* In joint work with Einstein, he showed how the Einstein-Grossmann theory can be formulated in terms of a variational principle and clarified its transformational properties in light of the hole argument
This is a substantial part of the theory, but Einstein wrote privately:
Grossmann will never lay claim to being co-discoverer. He only helped in guiding me through the mathematical literature but contributed nothing of substance to the results.
Grossmann ought to be considered a co-discoverer. After the collaboration, Einstein wrote nonsense papers for over a years, and did not get back on track until he collaborated with Hilbert in 1915.

It appears that Grossmann and Hilbert are not credited because of a prejudice against mathematicians. Their contributions are considered to be just math, not physics. But finding the equations of general relativity was largely a mathematical problem, given Newtonian gravity and special relativity.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Rovelli defends Aristotle

Physicist Carlo Rovelli has just written an excellent summary of Aristotle's physics
I show that Aristotelian physics is a correct approximation of Newtonian physics in its appropriate domain, in the same precise sense in which Newton theory is an approximation of Einstein's theory. Aristotelian physics lasted long not because it became dogma, but because it is a very good theory.
This is important because Aristotle is widely reviled for stunting physics with wrong ideas, and requiring a Kuhnian revolution to overturn them.
Aristotelian physics is often presented as the dogma that slowed the development of science. I think that this is very incorrect. The scientists after Aristotle had no hesitation in modifying, violating, or ignoring Aristotle's physics. ...

In my own field of research, theoretical physics, a "vulgata" of Kuhn's incommensurability thesis has strong hold. According to this vulgata, advance in science is marked by discontinuity, the greatest the discontinuity the strongest the advance, and not much more than the phenomena survives across the discontinuity. This has fostered a style of research based on the ideology of discarding past knowledge as irrelevant and working by "guessing" possible theories. In my opinion this ideology is one of the reasons for the current sterility of theoretical physics.

Science generates discontinuities and constantly critically reevaluates received ideas, but it builds on past knowledge and its cumulative aspects by very far outnumber its discontinuities.
Rovelli is exactly correct. This blog's motto, that nature makes no jumps, refers both to physical law and to the accumulation of scientific knowledge. The whole concept of scientific revolutions is mistaken because the supposed discontinuities do not exist.

(The term vulgata means early Latin and Greek translations of the Bible.)
From this perspective Aristotle's physics deserves a sharp reevaluation. With all its limitations, it is great theoretical physics. Its major limitation is that it is not mathematical. ...

Of course Galileo, master of propaganda and grand master in the use of words, did his best to ridicule Aristotle, in the effort to win a difficult battle against a giant. From this, much of the bad press suffered by Aristotle's physics followed. ...

Aristotle's physics bad reputation is undeserved, and leads to diffused ignorance:
Right again. Aristotle was a genius who greatly advanced science. Sure, his work seems primitive compared to today's quantitative physics, but he was on the right track and he inspired progress.

It was not just just Galileo and Kuhn who unfairly trashed Aristotle, Bertrand Russell also did:
Then we get a hint of Russell's frustration: "almost every serious intellectual advance has had to begin with an attack on some Aristotelian doctrine; in logic, this is still true at the present day" (160).
and this:
“Aristotle maintained that women have fewer teeth than men; although he was twice married, it never occurred to him to verify this statement by examining his wives' mouths.”
Maybe Aristotle miscounted teeth, but his works are filled with brilliant observations. Observing the natural world certainly did occur to him. Richard Dawkins is one of those who believe that Aristotle stunted science. But only because someone told him, and not from any facts.

I defended Aristotle against Kuhnian criticisms last year. I have also posted at great length about how modern theoretical physics like string theory has lost its way because of a failure to connect with pre-existing science. These supposed proposed paradigm shifts and revolutions are usually justified with entirely fallacious analogies to faulty historical accounts of Aristotle, Copernicus, Galileo, and Einstein. We need to get the history correct if it is to be used as an example.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Modifying space and time

One of the main points of my book, How Einstein Ruined Physics, is that the essence of special relativity is that the electromagnetic covariance is deduced from the spacetime geometry. That is what gives relativity its central importance in physics.

I also argue that Einstein had no role in either discovering or popularizing this crucial idea. He did not even understand it until after many other physicists did.

Briefly, here is the history of special relativity. Maxwell discovered the first relativistic theory, following the work of Gauss, Faraday, and others, and coined the word "relativity". Michelson did the crucial experiment on the relativity of motion, following a suggestion of Maxwell. Lorentz built on Maxwell's theory, and discovered the transformations that reconciled the theory with Michelson's experiments. Poincare perfected Lorentz's work, and discovered the 4-dimensional spacetime geometry and electromagnetic covariance in 1905. Minkowski extended and elaborated Poincare's ideas, emphasizing the geometry, and published the 1908 paper that got everybody excited about relativity.

Einstein played no part in any of this. Historians say that he paid no attention to the relativity experiments that inspired Lorentz, Poincare, and Minkowski, that the main point of his paper was that he postulated what Lorentz had proved, and that the physics community was not impressed by his 1905 paper at the time.

More importantly, Einstein's 1905 paper and subsequent papers lack the crucial concepts of spacetime geometry and electromagnetic covariance. I explain this in my book, and refute scholars who say otherwise.

I neglected to address a comment from a 1905 Einstein private letter where he seems to say that he had a spacetime theory. Noted science writer James Gleick writes about Einstein's 1905 papers:
The name echoes through the language: It doesn't take an Einstein. A poor man's Einstein. He's no Einstein. In this busy century, dominated like no other by science—and exalting, among the human virtues, braininess, IQ, the ideal of pure intelligence -— he stands alone as our emblem of intellectual power. We talk as though humanity could be divided into two groups: Albert Einstein and everybody else.

... Einstein said in a letter to a friend, it "modifies the theory of space and time." Ah, yes. Relativity.
The quote is from a letter to Einstein's friend, Conrad Habicht. Here is a little more context:
Such movement of suspended bodies has actually Been observed by biologists who call it Brownian molecular movement. The fourth work is based on the concepts of electrodynamics of moving bodies and modifies the theory of space and time; ... [quoted in Einstein: the life and times, by Ronald W. Clark, p.87]
He says that his paper is based on electrodynamics. Compare that to what Minkowski said in 1908:
The views of space and time which I wish to lay before you have sprung from the soil of experimental physics, and therein lies their strength. They are radical. Henceforth space by itself, and time by itself, are doomed to fade away into mere shadows, and only a kind of union of the two will preserve an independent reality.
But Einstein misses all of these points. He fails to say that he has a spacetime theory, that it is a consequence of experiments, that it makes space and time inseparable, and that it is a radical new idea.

Einstein's 1905 paper does give formulas for modifying space and time, but they are the same formulas previously given for the FitzGerald contraction and the Larmor dilation of Lorentz local time. Einstein later acknowledged that he got Lorentz transformations out of the Lorentz 1895 paper, and may have also read subsequent papers on the subject by Lorentz and Poincare.

Some say that Einstein followed experiments, but Clark's biography documents on p.128-130 that Einstein said contradictory things about the Michelson-Morley experiment. Sometimes he said that it was important, and other times he said that it was unimportant or that he never even heard of it. Most Einstein historians now say that he ignored experiments like Michelson-Morley, and that they praise him for using postulates instead. I think that Einstein ignored experiments because he was just reciting Lorentz's theory, and he knew that the experimental evidence would be the same as that for Lorentz's theory. Einstein did not even claim (until years later) that he was doing anything different from Lorentz. Lorentz's approach was very different because he was creating a new theory to explain the experiments.

It sounds as if Einstein was getting close when he says his paper "modifies the theory of space and time", but he is basing it on electrodynamics just as Lorentz did 10 years earlier. Lorentz also modifies space and time with his Lorentz transformations. The core of Lorentz's theory was that the experiments could be explained by coupling motion to changes in space and time. It is silly to assume that Einstein meant something different from Lorentz unless Einstein actually said that he meant something different from Lorentz. He did not, and he was happy to see other physicists call it the "Lorentz-Einstein theory".

If Einstein had said, "I show that a new non-Euclidean geometry of space and time can be used to explain the electrodynamics of moving bodies", then I would have to agree that Einstein understood the essence of special relativity, and that he could be called a co-discoverer of the theory. But he did not. Poincare and Minkowski said it, and everyone else got it from them, and not Einstein. Einstein did not even understand or accept it until after the mainstream European physicists did after 1908.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Non-local theories violate causality

A new paper by Egg and Esfeld has this abstract:
The paper argues that a causal explanation of the correlated outcomes of EPR-type experiments is desirable and possible. It shows how Bohmian mechanics and the GRW mass density theory offer such an explanation in terms of a non-local common cause.
This is nonsense. A non-local theory is not a causal explanation of anything.

An explanation of how an event A causes an event B means that there is a continuous chain of causes from A to B moving forward in time. A non-local theory is just the opposite, as it posits some sort of action-at-a-distance.

The article says:
There are two principled ways of causally explaining correlations between two distinct events: one can either postulate a direct causal influence of one event on the other or one can suppose that a common cause of the two events accounts for the correlation. In everyday contexts, this distinction is crucial, because it has consequences for the kinds of manipulations that we can perform. If there is a direct causal link from event A to event B, then we can (in principle) bring about changes in B by intervening on A, whereas this is not possible if A and B are only connected via a common cause. In the context of quantum mechanics, however, the distinction between a direct cause (DC) and a common cause (CC) is much more elusive, since we cannot control the outcomes of quantum measurements in the right way to perform the intervention on A that is necessary to distinguish between these two causal structures.

Bohmian mechanics is thus not committed to superluminal causation in an operational sense, but it is so committed in a metaphysical sense: given any initial particle configuration, the theory supports counterfactual claims of the type: “If Alice had chosen a different setting, Bob would have obtained a different outcome”. This might sound like a kind of action at a distance that should be understood in terms of a DC model (see section 2), rather than as the manifestation of a common cause.
I am not why anyone likes a silly theory like Bohmian mechanics, but some people mistakenly believe that it gives a causal interpretation to quantum mechanics. It does not. The ordinarly Copenhagen interpretation is much more compatible with causality than Bohmian mechanics.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Russell denies the law of causality

Explanations of quantum mechanics can get very confusing on the subject of causality. It is odd that people get tripped up on such a simple concept. Apparently there is a long history of smart people saying stupid things about causality.

Bertrand Russell wrote in a 1913 essay on causality:
In the following paper I wish, first, to maintain that the word "cause" is so inextricably bound up with misleading associations as to make its complete extrusion from the philosophical vocabulary desirable; secondly, to inquire what principle, if any, is employed in science in place of the supposed "law of causality" which philosophers imagine to be employed; thirdly, to exhibit certain confusions, especially in regard to teleology and determinism, which appear to me to be connected with erroneous notions as to causality.

All philosophers, of every school, imagine that causation is one of the fundamental axioms or postulates of science, yet, oddly enough, in advanced sciences such as gravitational astronomy, the word "cause" never occurs. Dr. James Ward, in his Naturalism and Agnosticism, makes this a ground of complaint against physics: the business of those who wish to ascertain the ultimate truth about the world, he apparently thinks, should be the discovery of causes, yet physics never even seeks them. To me it seems that philosophy ought not to assume such legislative functions, and that the reason why physics has ceased to look for causes is that, in fact, there are no such things. The law of causality, I believe, like much that passes muster among philosophers, is a relic of a bygone age, surviving, like the monarchy, only because it is erroneously supposed to do no harm. ...

We may now sum up our discussion of causality. We found first that the law of causality, as usually stated by philosophers, is false, and is not employed in science. We then considered the nature of scientific laws, and found, instead of stating that one event A is always followed by another event B, they stated functional relations between certain events at certain times,
This is all nonsense. Of course gravitational astronomy speaks of causes, as does all other advanced sciences. It is hard to see how something could be scientific without recognizing causes.

I am trying to understand how people could be so confused about time, causality, determinism, and free will.

Russell appears to believe that determinism is some empirical fact, but it cannot be. Charlotte Werndl shows:
The central question of this paper is: are deterministic and indeterministic descriptions observationally equivalent in the sense that they give the same predictions? I tackle this question for measure-theoretic deterministic systems and stochastic processes, both of which are ubiquitous in science. I first show that for many measure-theoretic deterministic systems there is a stochastic process which is observationally equivalent to the deterministic system. Conversely, I show that for all stochastic processes there is a measure-theoretic deterministic system which is observationally equivalent to the stochastic process.
So some formulation of quantum mechanics may be deterministic or not, but that tells us nothing about whether the real world is.

I don't know why Russell was so opposed to causality, except maybe it is related to his atheism. Leftist-atheist-evolutionist Chris Mooney argues that belief in "teleological thinking" or causality is a major deterrent to people accepting evolution over God.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Kinematics did not distinguish Einstein

Alberto A. Martínez wrote in an article on relativity:
Due to his research on relative motion in optics and electromagnetics, he advanced a series of modifications to the traditional transformations that eventually led to the equations advocated by Larmor, Poincaré, Einstein, and others.8 Hence, Poincaré gave the name ‘‘Lorentz transformations’’ to these new equations, although Woldemar Voigt had published equivalent equations in 1887.9 In 1909 the simpler and older transformation equations were named the ‘‘Galilean transformations’’ by Philipp Frank.10

What distinguished the new transformations in Einstein’s work in comparison to the equivalent equations in the earlier work of other physicists was that Einstein introduced such transformations by means of general kinematic arguments, rather than introducing them exclusively for the solution of problems in optics and electrodynamics.
This is a typical strained effort to credit Einstein, even tho the Lorentz transformations were named after Lorentz before Einstein wrote about them.

The explanation is nonsense. Lorentz devised the transformations to explain the Michelson-Morley experiment and other electromagnetic puzzles. So yes, Michelson-Morley was an experiment on the speed of light, so it was for optics and electrodynamics. Einstein's method was also for optics. After all, the transformations involve the speed of light and he used light throughout his analysis.

Kinematics is a word meaning the study of motion without considering forces. It has nothing to do with whether optics and electrodynamics are used. Einstein believed that he had a conceptual simplification in explaining Lorentz's theory by first describing the consequences when no forces are involved.

But Einstein failed to get to the heart of relativity. Poincare and Minkowski introduced the transformations with non-Euclidean geometry, and that is the preferred method today, and has been since about 1908. That is, they removed the motion and the forces, and made it a theory of spacetime geometry. Then they showed how the motion and forces are affected by the geometry. They were not influenced by Einstein who did not even understand what they did.

Martinez is typical of Einstein idolizing scholars. They know about the work of Lorentz and Poincare, so they are hard-pressed to say that Einstein did anything original. The closest they can come is to mumble something about kinematics, meaning that Einstein took Lorentz's equations and observed that they apply when forces are absent. They try to trick you into believing that this was a step towards the spacetime geometry, but it was not, as Poincare wrote his 1905 paper on the spacetime geometry before Einstein's paper was published.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Lorentz was an honorable man

In response to Equivalence between Lorentz and Einstein, I got this comment:
[ad hominem attack snipped] Lorentz has been quoted from 1905 to his death that Einstein was the sole architect of special relativity. I don't understand what you don't understand about that. Moreover, they were very close friends, another fact that would repudiate your "argument" if you had one other than citing arcane quotes without proper context or citation. Case closed. And special relativity is NOT Einstein's greatest paper. That statement alone invalidates the rest of your hogwash.
It is simply not true that Lorentz credited Einstein with all of special relativity. As quoted on the above post, Lorentz said "Einstein simply postulates what we have deduced". Also, Einstein did not refute Lorentz.

Lorentz and Einstein were not close friends. Lorentz was an honorable man who always scrupulously credited his sources. Einstein was not.

Eisntein's 1905 relativity paper is widely regarded as his greatest paper, if not the greatest physics paper of the 20th century. I agree that the paper was not so great, but I am reciting popular opinion.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Einstein was a monster

I just stumbled across a web page on THE EINSTEIN MONSTER:
I have posted mainly about Einstein's scientific contributions. Yes, he was a plagiarist in the sense that he published the ideas of others, and failed to credit them. Most of his fame is for work that was actually done previously by others.

I am more interested in the science because there are some lessons about how scientific progress happens.

But if you read any of the Einstein biographies, you will see that he was a pretty horrible human being.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The word is science

The Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year is Science. Strange. Did science suddenly become important last year?

The runners-up were: cognitive, rapport, communication, niche, ethic, paradox, visceral, integrity, metaphor.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Irreversible loss of information

Physicist Sean M. Carroll writes:
This year we give thanks for an idea that establishes a direct connection between the concepts of “energy” and “information”: Landauer’s Principle. ...

Landauer’s Principle states that irreversible loss of information — whether it’s erasing a notebook or swiping a computer disk — is necessarily accompanied by an increase in entropy. Charles Bennett puts it in relatively precise terms:
Any logically irreversible manipulation of information, such as the erasure of a bit or the merging of two computation paths, must be accompanied by a corresponding entropy increase in non-information bearing degrees of freedom of the information processing apparatus or its environment.
The principle captures the broad idea that “information is physical.”
Okay, fine, but various big-shot physicists foolishly insist that information is always preserved. They have to deny information loss in order to argue for many-worlds (MWI) and black hole firewalls.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Dutch reception of relativity

A new Dutch paper on The reception of relativity in the Netherlands says:
This article reviews the early academic and public reception of Albert Einstein's theory of relativity in the Netherlands, particularly after Arthur Eddington's eclipse experiments of 1919. Initially, not much attention was given to relativity, as it did not seem an improvement over Hendrik A. Lorentz' work.
Hardly anyone anywhere saw Einstein's 1905 relativity theory as a significant improvement over Lorentz's previous relativity theory. The theories had the same assumptions, formulas, and consequences.

Excitement about (special) relativity spread dramatically in 1908 with publication of the Poincare-Minkowski non-Euclidean geometry theory of relativity. Then the Lorentz-Einstein view became obsolete. In just a couple of more years, relativity textbooks were being written based on the geometry view.

Monday, November 25, 2013

A skeptical view of black holes

A reader writes:
I am skeptical about black holes, because they involve infinity. There is an opinion that they don't actually solve Einstein's equations.
There is a lot of evidence for black holes, where they are defined:
A black hole is a region of spacetime from which gravity prevents anything, including light, from escaping.
Belief in such objects dates back two centuries, and has little to do with relativity. If the mass is sufficiently concentrated, the gravity will be sufficiently strong to contain light.

Relativity teaches that the black hole has a boundary, called the event horizon or Schwarzschild radius, and a singularity at the middle. Furthermore, nothing inside the event horizon is observable to anyone on the outside. In particular, the singularity is not observable.

Physics has other infinities that are not observable. For example, the electron is widely assumed to be a point particle, in which case it has infinite density, and the charge concentration gives it infinite energy. These infinities are not observable, and the usual explanation is QED renormalization.

Getting back to my reader's comment, does a rational skeptic really need to believe in physical infinities that can never be observed? I say no. I believe in black holes right up to that event horizon. Discussion of what happens inside the event horizon is just metaphysical fluff that is outside the scope of science. You can say anything you want, and no one can ever prove you right or wrong. Not even in principle, according to relativity.

Likewise, there is no real reason for anyone to believe in the electron infinities. The infinity renormalization schemes may be the most convenient way to calculate electron scattering, but there could well be new physics on other scales to prevent the infinities, such as string theory. As long as the infinities are not observable and not truly required by the theory, there is no reason anyone has to believe in them.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sentient life is a freak phenomenon

Arizona State physicist Paul Davies
When I was a student in the 1960s, the prevailing view among scientists was that life on Earth was a freak phenomenon, the result of a sequence of chemical accidents so rare that they would be unlikely to have happened twice in the observable universe.
No, Drake said in 1961 that there could be millions of civilizations in our galaxy. The evidence and arguments for extraterrestial life have not increased much in the last 50 years.

I also don't agree with his reasoning that microbes may be improbable, but if there are microbes then they probably evolve into sentient life. My hunch is that the reverse. I think that it is plausible that microbes are common in our galaxy, but that they have not evolved into sentient life anywhere but Earth.

Life started fairly early in the history of the Earth, but we have no idea how it happened. Maybe it was a freak event, or maybe it would have happened on any similar planet.

We know a lot about the evolution of life on Earth, and intelligent life is a byproduct of a long list of freak accidents. It seems very unlikely to me that all those accidents would be replicated elsewhere in the galaxy.

Update: In the 1980 Cosmos TV series, Carl Sagan also used the Drake equation to estimate millions of advanced civilizations in our galaxy.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Sluggishly expanding wave function

Leftist-atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coyne attacks Deepak Chopra for saying things like these:
Consciousness may exist in photons, which seem to be the carrier of all information in the universe.

You know, the idea here is that if we quieten the turbulence in our collective mind and heal the rift in our collective soul, could that have an effect on nature's mind, if nature has a mind? The gaia hypothesis says nature does have a mind, that the globe is conscious. So a critical mass of people praying or a critical mass of people collectively engaging in meditation could conceivably, even from modern physics point of view, through non-local interactions, actually simmer down the turbulence in nature.

The moon exists in consciousness — no consciousness, no moon — just a sluggishly expanding wave function in a superposition of possibilities. All happens within consciousness and nowhere else.
See also Coyne's blog, here and here.

I might agree with Coyne that this is unscientific "woo", except that it is not too different from goofy interpretations of quantum mechanics espoused by big-shot physicists.

For a more sane view, Federico Laudisa writes Non-Local Realistic Theories and the Scope of the Bell Theorem:
According to a widespread view, the Bell theorem establishes the untenability of so-called 'local realism'. On the basis of this view, recent proposals by Leggett, Zeilinger and others have been developed according to which it can be proved that even some non-local realistic theories have to be ruled out. As a consequence, within this view the Bell theorem allows one to establish that no reasonable form of realism, be it local or non-local, can be made compatible with the (experimentally tested) predictions of quantum mechanics. In the present paper it is argued that the Bell theorem has demonstrably nothing to do with the 'realism' as defined by these authors and that, as a consequence, their conclusions about the foundational significance of the Bell theorem are unjustified.
That's right, there is no proof that either locality or realism is wrong. Those who say otherwise sound just like Deepak Chopra to me.

A new paper, An Introduction to QBism with an Application to the Locality of Quantum Mechanics, by Christopher A. Fuchs, N. David Mermin, Ruediger Schack, explains:
We give an introduction to the QBist interpretation of quantum mechanics. We note that it removes the paradoxes, conundra, and pseudo-problems that have plagued quantum foundations for the past nine decades. As an example, we show in detail how it eliminates quantum "nonlocality".
They act as if they have something new, but they admit that their interpretation is essentially the same as Bohr's, and so all of those problems were solved by the Copenhagen interpretation decades ago.

It is a consequence of the Schroedinger equation that the wave function of the Moon, or of an electron, is indeed a sluggishly expanding wave function in a superposition of possibilities. But electrons and moons are never observed to sluggishly expand. The obvious conclusion is that the electrons and moons are real, but the wave function is a description of our knowledge of their states. That is, my interpretation is epistemic, not ontic. You can believe in that sluggish expansion if you wish, but if you take the wave function too seriously, you can reach some faulty conclusions.

I say that the possibility of quantum computing is an open question, but my personal belief is that it will be impossible for these reasons:

1. The argument for quantum computing is not based on any proven properties of quantum mechanics, but on our inability to simulate quantum systems efficiently in a Turing machine.

2. A lot of smart people have spent a lot of money over decades to demonstrate some super-Turing computing, and no one has succeeded, in spite of recent claims.

3. The computational complexity implications would be sufficiently surprising and contrary to conventional wisdom that claims about a quantum computer should be met with the same extreme skepticism as claims of faster-than-light communication.

4. Quantum computing is an attempt to take advantage of quantum nonlocality, but there is no such thing.

5. Quantum computing requires an interpretation similar to Chopra saying that the Moon is "just a sluggishly expanding wave function in a superposition of possibilities." That sluggish superposition exists in the mind, and it is implausible that it can be used for useful computation.

Other sensible people disagree, such as Scott Aaronson betting that I am wrong. So far, no Nobel prizes have been awarded for quantum computing.

Update: Steven Salzberg piles on:
Chopra’s claim that photons have consciousness, I have to say, is the purest nonsense. Does Chopra even know what a photon is? ... So both photons and the entire planet are conscious. I can see why Coyne called this psychobabble.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Science doesn’t explain everything

Baptist (Christian) pastor David Sweet writes in a Texas newspaper:
A proven scientific theory is consistently disliked and opposed for philosophical reasons. Alternative theories are offered, primarily driven by ideology.

I’m referring to the more than 80 years of disdain materialistic-minded thinkers have had for a model so well-proven that it earned the name “The Standard Theory” (“The Big Bang”.) Many decades and millions of dollars have been committed to replacing it, yet it still stands.

Why so much energy given to overthrowing the Standard Model in the face of consistent, confirming evidence? Because a singular origin of the universe is too close for comfort to certain religious explanations of origins. Also, the perceived odds against a singular beginning resulting in a universe like the one we have appear to be mind-numbingly astronomical. One way to try to slightly mitigate against these crazy odds is to add more universes. It turns out that it’s not just fundamentalist Christians who have ideological issues with science. ...

An overly-simplified teaching of evolution without any disclaimer leads students to assume that the enterprise of science itself claims that the origins of the universe and other phenomena can be entirely explained in terms of a closed universe and physical laws? Science does not — and thus far — cannot make such a claim.
I am not sure about some of his reasoning, but it is a little strange that the Standard Model is so disliked and opposed, and ideology-driven substitutes are proposed.

Maybe I should not comment until I see what evolution disclaimer he wants, but scientists should not have a problem admitting the limits of scientific knowledge.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Lorentz explained the physics

A reader refers to Einstein historians Isaacson and Holton, and writes:
Lorentz, for example, simply used the equations found in Special Relativity purely as a mathematical formulation with no actual physical reference.
Just read Lorentz's 1895 paper where he explicitly uses those equations to explain the Michelson-Morley experiment (MMX) and other experiments.

The consensus of physics textbooks is that the MMX was the crucial experiment for special relativity. Those Einstein historians say that Einstein was not influenced by the MMX and may not have even known about it.

When Lorentz, Poincare, and Minkowski argued for the correctness of the Lorentz transformations, they all cited the MMX. When Einstein wrote his first paper on the subject in 1905, he did not specifically mention the MMX. Einstein did write a 1909 survey paper where he credited Lorentz with using the Lorentz transformations to explain MMX.

Thus Lorentz's special relativity was certainly not a purely mathematical formulation with no actual physical reference. He explained the physics much better than Einstein, and did it 10 years earlier. Among those who credit Einstein, it is largely for giving an alternative mathematical derivation of the Lorentz transformation, and avoiding the physics.

Those who credit Einstein must somehow explain the undisputed fact that Lorentz and Poincare had published all the equations for special relativity before Einstein. So they make silly arguments about how Lorentz and Poincare did not understand what they were doing, or that "Lorentz and Einstein were great friends", or that anyone who does not recognize that "Einstein is the greatest mind of the 20th century" must be "some kind of neo-nazi or anti-semite".

The reader asks:
Can you even explain how GR predicts blackholes, and why? Do you even understand the theory?
Einstein is the one who did not. The Wikipedia article on black hole explains:
Considering the exotic nature of black holes, it may be natural to question if such bizarre objects could exist in nature or to suggest that they are merely pathological solutions to Einstein's equations. Einstein himself wrongly thought that black holes would not form, because he held that the angular momentum of collapsing particles would stabilize their motion at some radius.[70] This led the general relativity community to dismiss all results to the contrary for many years. However, a minority of relativists continued to contend that black holes were physical objects,[71] and by the end of the 1960s, they had persuaded the majority of researchers in the field that there is no obstacle to forming an event horizon.
Einstein was famously wrong about the big bang and gravity waves, the other big consequences of general relativity.

The reader also writes:
Planck wrote (and there are many sources for this info) that he did NOT believe that light was truly a particle! I give up.
That is correct. I said:
Planck's view is closer to the modern view that light is quantized when absorbed or emitted (ie, observed), but has wave properties otherwise.
It was proved in 1801 that light was not truly a particle, and that has been the dominant view ever since. If it were truly a particle then it would have localized position and momentum, and quantum mechanics teaches that is impossible.

I realize that A. Douglas Stone is an expert on lasers and surely understands this, but he is not correct in the way that he promotes Einstein.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Hubble did not convince Einstein

Harry Nussbaumer writes Einstein's conversion from his static to an expanding universe:
It has become a popular belief that Albert Einstein abandoned his static universe when, on a visit to Pasadena in January and February 1931, Edwin Hubble showed him the redshifted nebular spectra and convinced him that the universe was expanding, and the cosmological constant was superfluous. “Two months with Hubble were enough to pry him loose from his attachment to the cosmological constant” is just one example of such statements [Topper 2013]. There are variations of the theme, but the essence remains the same: Hubble personally convinced Einstein that the universe was in a state of expansion.

The present investigation shows that this stereotype misses the truth by a large margin. ...

The available documentation strongly suggests that Einstein’s reluctant conversion began in Cambridge, when in June 1930 Eddington confronted him with the fact that the static Einstein-model was unstable. In addition, Eddington certainly informed Einstein about de Sitter’s switch of allegiance to Lemaître’s expanding universe, and that the dynamical universe had received strong observational backing from Hubble’s publication of 1929, which de Sitter had verified in 1930.

When in December 1930 Einstein finally followed a long standing invitation of Millikan to visit Caltech, he already knew about Hubble’s observational discoveries and Lemaître’s hypothesis of an expanding universe, and he knew that Caltech’s Tolman was involved in the cosmological debate. All this is clear from his January 2, 1931 New York Times interview. There is no evidence that Hubble and Einstein indulged in any profound discussions, which would have influenced the latter’s cosmological concepts.

The available information strongly contradicts a popular cliché, which claims that Einstein was converted to the expanding universe by Hubble, when he showed him his observations in January 1931.
I am not sure why is matters what Hubble said to Einstein. The discovery of the expanding universe was by Lemaître and others.

How non-Euclidean geometry entered physics

Danish historian Helge Kragh wrote Geometry and Astronomy: Pre-Einstein Speculations of Non-Euclidean Space in 2012. This appears to be a free copy of what was published in a journal under the title, The first curved-space universe, altho this version seems somewhat different.
This paper examines in detail the attempts in the period from about 1830 to 1910 to establish links between non-Euclidean geometry and the physical and astronomical sciences, including attempts to find observational evidence for curved space. Although there were but few contributors to "non-Euclidean astronomy," there were more than usually supposed. The paper looks in particular on a work of 1872 in which the Leipzig physicist K. F. Zoellner argued that the universe is closed in accordance with Riemann's geometry. ...

Whereas non-Euclidean geometry flourished as a mathematical research field in the last half of the nineteenth century (see the figure on p.8), its connection to the real space inhabited by physical objects was much less cultivated. The large majority of mathematicians did not care whether real space was Euclidean or not; and those who did care only dealt with the subject in a general and often casual way, avoiding to deal seriously with the possibility of determining a space curvature different from zero. After all, that was supposed to be the business of the astronomers.
This paper has a lot of good info, but some things are conspicuously missing.

By far the most important development in this subject is the 1905-8 formulation of special relativity as a 4-dimensional non-Euclidean geometry. That theory gave a geometrical spacetime interpretation to the FitzGerald contraction, Lorentz local time, Maxwell's equations, and various experiments. Poincare had the metric, symmetry group, and covariance, and Minkowski elaborated on those with diagrams and world-lines. This theory was one of the biggest breakthrus in the history of physics, and is in all the textbooks today. There is no evidence that Einstein or anyone else had these ideas independently.

Perhaps Kragh omits this because he is more interested in curved space. But I doubt it because he also says, "The present consensus view, in part based on the inflationary scenario, is that we live in a flat or Euclidean space". Minkowski space is a flat non-Euclidean geometry. He never explains that geometries can be Euclidean or non-Euclidean, and non-Euclidean geometry can be flat or curved. What he says is that he is interested in non-Euclidean geometry entering physics, and Minkowski space did exactly that.

I am not sure who introduced curved space into relativity. That is, I don't know who first had the idea that Minkowski space might be curved. It was probably Marcel Grossmann. He was an expert in non-Euclidean geometry and he proposed such a theory in 1913, with the condition that a gravitational field in empty space has Ricci tensor zero. Einstein published papers denying that such a non-Euclidean geometrical theory was possible, and suggesting less geometrical theories. Grossmann turned out to be exactly correct, until the recent discovery of dark energy. It appears that Levi-Civita and Hilbert eventually convinced Einstein that Grossmann was correct.

According to recent scholarship, Einstein never really accepted the non-Euclidean geometrization of gravity.

Kragh only says this about Grossmann:
In Zurich, Fiedler taught geometry to, among others, Einstein and his friend Marcel Grossmann, who wrote his doctoral thesis under Fiedler. As well known, Einstein’s development of the general theory of relativity relied crucially on Grossmann’s mathematical expertise.
Specifically, what Einstein got from Grossmann was the metric, stress-energy, and Ricci tensors, the gravitational field equations for empty space, and covariant geometrical formulation of the theory.

The story of how non-Euclidean geometry because essential to modern physics is an important one, as it underlies much of 20th century physics from relativity to particle interactions, and everyone gets it wrong. I cannot explain how Kragh overlooks the elephant in the room. Kragh is a well-respected historian and does excellent work. But somehow all of these professors have blinders on when it comes to crediting Einstein, as I have criticized Kragh in 2010 and 2011.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Einstein was wrong about light

Science Friday interviewed the author of a new book, Einstein and the Quantum: The Quest of the Valiant Swabian, by A. Douglas Stone.
Einstein and the Quantum reveals for the first time the full significance of Albert Einstein's contributions to quantum theory. Einstein famously rejected quantum mechanics, observing that God does not play dice. But, in fact, he thought more about the nature of atoms, molecules, and the emission and absorption of light -- the core of what we now know as quantum theory -- than he did about relativity.

A compelling blend of physics, biography, and the history of science, Einstein and the Quantum shares the untold story of how Einstein--not Max Planck or Niels Bohr--was the driving force behind early quantum theory. It paints a vivid portrait of the iconic physicist as he grappled with the apparently contradictory nature of the atomic world, in which its invisible constituents defy the categories of classical physics, behaving simultaneously as both particle and wave. And it demonstrates how Einstein's later work on the emission and absorption of light, and on atomic gases, led directly to Erwin Schrödinger's breakthrough to the modern form of quantum mechanics. The book sheds light on why Einstein ultimately renounced his own brilliant work on quantum theory, due to his deep belief in science as something objective and eternal.
Max Planck proposed a quantum theory of light in 1900, and Einstein proposed to extend it by saying that light was fundamentally composed of particle. Stone says that Planck and Lorentz argued with that, saying that Einstein had gone too far.

Stone is wrong where he says that Einstein's view of light was ultimately proved correct 20 years later. It was not. Planck's view is closer to the modern view that light is quantized when absorbed or emitted (ie, observed), but has wave properties otherwise.

There are modern textbooks that say that light is composed of particles, but then they say that they are a very funny kind of particle that can be in two places at once, obey probabilistic laws for existence, and show interference patterns like a wave. To me this is like saying that a dog is a cat, if you suitably redefine dog and cat. Light is not composed of particles, as the words were understood in Einstein's day.

People like to credit Einstein, but the fact is that he stubbornly refused to accept quantum mechanics his whole life. An essential part of the theory is that light and matter have wave properties that are quantized when observed. Planck brilliantly stumbled on that idea in 1900, and Einstein always rejected it.

Stone says:
Why is Einstein’s role in quantum theory important and interesting?
It is important because a careful examination of the historical record shows that Einstein was responsible for more of the fundamental new concepts of the theory than any other single scientist. This is arguably his greatest scientific legacy, despite his fame for Relativity Theory. He himself said, “I have thought a hundred times more about the quantum problems than I have about Relativity Theory”. It is interesting because he ultimately refused to accept quantum theory as the ultimate truth about Nature, because it violated his core philosophical principles.

So you are saying that Einstein is famous for the wrong theory?
In a certain sense, yes. All physicists agree that the theory of relativity, particularly general relativity, is a work of staggering individual genius.
No relativity was not individual genius. Nearly all of the good ideas came from Lorentz, Poincare, Grossmann, and others. And Einstein contributed very little to quantum mechanics.

Update: Stone says:
I was absolutely staggered to discover that the most famous scientist in human history actually wasn't getting as much credit as he deserved.
This is crazy. Einstein did recognize discoveries by Planck and Bose, but did not add much.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The story of relativistic synchronization

Max Jammer wrote in a 2004 paper:
In his Gifford Lecture, delivered at the University of St. Andrews in the winter-semester 1955/56, Heisenberg declared: “Within the field of modern physics the theory of relativity has played a very important role. It was in this theory that the necessity for a change in the fundamental principles of physics was recognized for the first time.”(8)

A similar statement had been made by Heisenberg already in 1934 when he declared: “The fundamental presuppositions of classical physics, which led to the scientific picture of the 19th century, had been challenged for the first time by Einstein’s special relativity.”(9) Specifying exactly the premise of classical physics which gave rise to this challenge, Heisenberg continued: “It was the assumption that it is meaningful without further consideration to call two events simultaneous in the case they do not occur at the same place.”

Heisenberg’s statement, that Einstein’s 1905 analysis of the notion of simultaneity and of the concept of time, which — as we shall see later on — Einstein based on the notion of simultaneity, inaugurated the mod-ern physical world picture can be confirmed by the fact that already in 1907 Einstein himself admitted: “It turned out, surprisingly, that it was only necessary to provide a sufficiently precise formulation of the notion of time in order to resolve the difficulty encountered.” (10) Also later, in an impromptu talk, entitled “How I created the theory of relativity,” deliv-ered at Kyoto University on December 14, 1922, Einstein reportedly gave the following account: “Why do the two concepts [i.e., the relativity pos-tulate and the light postulate] contradict each other? I realized that this difficulty was really hard to overcome. I spent almost a year in vain to resolve this problem... Suddenly I understood where the key to this prob-lem lay... An analysis of the concept of time was my solution. Time can-not be absolutely defined, and there is an inseparable relation between time and signal velocity. With this new concept I could resolve all the diffi-culties completely for the first time. Within 5 weeks the special theory of relativity was completed.” (11) ...

Fifty years ago nearly a hundred physicists from all over the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of the theory of relativity in a congress that convened in Bern, where Einstein had written his 1905 relativity paper. At the concluding festive meeting the final lecture was delivered by Max Born who at the end of his talk declared: “Einstein’s leading princi-ple was simply that something of which you could think and form a con-cept, but which from its very nature could not be submitted to an experi-mental test, like the simultaneity of events at distant places, has no phys-ical meaning.” (62) [Jammer, Max, “The Strange Story of the Concept which Inaugurated Modern Theoretical Physics,” Foundations of Physics 34, No. 11 (November 2004), 1617-1641.]
Really? The greatest idea in physics of a century ago was an assumption with no physical meaning, according to Born? There are some who argue that Einstein's genius was to apply pure thought to propose untestable ideas.

You can read about Poincaré–Einstein synchronisation. It was a good idea, but not original to Einstein. There is some dispute about how he learned it. Alberto A. Martínez writes:
Specifically, he complains that I follow Einstein’s account of how clocks synchronized by out-and-back light signals require a convention: the assumption that the speeds of light in opposite directions are equal. Ohanian claims that “Einstein took this procedure from Poincaré’s Science and Hypothesis.” But Ohanian’s claim is mistaken. Ohanian footnotes the English translation (1905) of Poincaré’s book. The problem is that Einstein did not read English at all. As I explained in my book, Einstein read either the original French edition of Poincaré’s book (1902), or its German translation (1904), and neither of these editions says anything about how to synchronize clocks using out-and-back light signals. Ohanian’s confusion arises because he did not use primary sources, he just looked at the English translation which includes an Appendix: Poincaré’s article on “The Principles of Mathematical Physics,” which was absent in the original editions of the book because it was a later address which he presented to the International Congress of Arts and Science in St. Louis, in 1904. Notwithstanding Ohanian’s confusion, we just don’t know where Einstein learned the procedure he described for synchronizing clocks. As I show in my Kinematics, it is conceivable that Einstein learned it from a paper by Poincaré from 1900, which we know Einstein had read by 1906, or perhaps from someone who had read it, or perhaps from Poincaré’s book, which was published in 1905 (Einstein read it in 1905, but we do not know if he read it before writing his first paper on relativity), or perhaps from another source; we just don’t know.
Yes, that is right. Einstein wrote an account in 1949 of how he discovered relativity, and he did not even mention Poincare. When asked about Poincare, he was evasive.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Quantum mechanics can affect the weather

Nate Silver has become the public face of statistics, and his The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail -- but Some Don't is pretty good, so maybe I should not nitpick. But parts of it are really confused.
Laplace's Demon has been controversial for all its two-hundred year existence. ...

Physicists interpret the uncertainty principle in different ways, but it suggests that Laplace's postulate cannot literally be true. Perfect predictions are impossible if the universe itself is random.

Fortunately, weather does not require quantum mechanics for us to study it. It happens at a molecular (rather than an atomic) level, and molecules are much too large to be discernibly impacted by quantum physics. Moreover, we understand the chemistry and Newtonian physics that govern the weather fairly well, and we have for a long time. [p.113-4]
No, the uncertainty principle has nothing to do with Laplace's Demon. The Schroedinger equation is deterministic, but wave solutions exhibit the uncertainty inequality anyway.

Molecules cannot be too large to be impacted by quantum physics. Most of the molecules only have two atoms, so the idea that quantum mechanics affects atoms but not molecules is silly.

Yes, meteorologists model air as an ideal gas of non-quantum particles, but Silver is leading up to an explanation of how chaos theory put limits on predictability, but those limits are ultimately quantum mechanical.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Einstein book update

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

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Confused about Black Hole Paradox

SciAm reports:
Physicists Euphoric but Confused about Black Hole Paradox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 25, 2013

In defense of compatibilism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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