Friday, May 24, 2019

Doctor Quark dies

From the NY Times obituary of Murray Gell-Mann:
As with strangeness, the Eightfold Way and quarks were independently discovered by other theorists, but the breadth of Dr. Gell-Mann’s accomplishments and his flare for nomenclature ensured that his would be the name most remembered.

His instincts weren’t infallible. At first he dismissed quarks as mathematical abstractions — an accounting device with no real correlate in the physical world. There was good reason for his skepticism: Quarks would have to have electrical charges measured in thirds, something that was never observed.

After quarks were confirmed indirectly in an experiment at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, in Menlo Park, Calif., Dr. Gell-Mann denied that he had ever doubted their existence. He went on to help explain how the tiny particles are permanently stuck together, keeping their fractional charges hidden from view.
So Gell-Mann wasn't sure if the quarks were real, but he gets the credit because he gave them a good name!

This isn't as ridiculous as it sounds. Coincidentally, Dr. Bee has an essay:
What do scientists mean when they say that something exists? Every time I give a public lecture, someone will come and inform me that black holes don’t exist, or quarks don’t exist, or time doesn’t exist. Last time someone asked me “Do you really believe that gravitational waves exist?” ...

When we say that these experiments measured “gravitational waves emitted in a black hole merger”, we really mean that specific equations led to correct predictions.

It is a similar story for the Higgs-boson and for quarks. The Higgs-boson and quarks are names that we have given to mathematical structures. In this case the structures are part of what is called the standard model of particle physics. We use this mathematics to make predictions. The predictions agree with measurements. That is what we mean when we say “quarks exist”: We mean that the predictions obtained with the hypothesis agrees with observations.
That's right. A quark is just a useful name for part of a mathematical model, it is not clear that it makes any sense to even talk about whether it is any more real than that.

The obituary does partially explain the hyphen in his name: His father was born Isidore Gellmann in Eastern Europe, and changed his name in New York to Arthur Gell-Mann.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Why science cannot prove or disprove free will

Leftist-atheist-evolutionist says that he was persuaded that he has no free will by this PNAS article:
The beauty of the mind of man has nothing to do with free will or any unique hold that biology has on select laws of physics or chemistry. This beauty lies in the complexity of the chemistry and cell biology of the brain, which enables a select few of us to compose like Mozart and Verdi, and the rest of us to appreciate listening to these compositions. The reality is, not only do we have no more free will than a fly or a bacterium, in actuality we have no more free will than a bowl of sugar. The laws of nature are uniform throughout, and these laws do not accommodate the concept of free will.
I mention Coyne's views here. That article yielded this rebuttal:
In his reply (1) to the letter by Anckarsäter (2) commenting on his original article (3), Anthony Cashmore expresses the view that a belief in free will would require at least a molecular model as a justification. However, such a model cannot exist, as I will explain in the following.

The behavior of an agent possessing free will is by definition unpredictable. In contrast to stochastic phenomena, it is not even possible to predict all observable statistical properties of the behavior of such an agent. A molecular model for free will, or in fact any scientific model for free will, would thus have to contain some property labeled as unpredictable.

However, the scientific method that we apply today, which is based on the formulation of hypotheses that are then tested by observation and experiment, cannot accommodate unpredictability. The statement that "property X is unpredictable" cannot be tested by observation and is thus not a scientific hypothesis. Moreover, even if property X itself is observable, its supposed unpredictability makes it impossible to formulate scientific hypotheses about it. As a consequence, free will cannot be integrated into any scientific model.

The only way in which the scientific method could resolve the question of the existence of free will is by showing its nonexistence. This would require a scientific model that permits a complete prediction of human behavior, or at least of all its observable statistical properties. However, as Anckarsäter pointed out (2), we are very far from having such a model.

Cashmore goes on to claim that in the absence of a good reason to believe in free will, we should believe in its nonexistence. A pragmatically minded person would counter that, in the absence of solid evidence to the contrary, we should trust our perception, which tells us that we do have free will. However, neither point of view can claim science as its justification. For a believer in the scientific method, the only coherent point of view is agnosticism about the existence of free will.
I agree that free will cannot be scientifically proved or disproved.

I also agree that our perception gives us good reason to believe in free will, even if it cannot be proved.

He says: "A molecular model for free will ... would thus have to contain some property labeled as unpredictable." Yes, that is right, and our best molecular models do indeed have properties labeled as unpredictable. All quantum systems do. Whether that unpredictability has anything to do with free will is an open question. The question may never be solved, for the reasons he gives. Maybe molecules have a tiny bit of free will, and human free will is derived from the collective free will of molecules.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Free will is indispensable for explaining our world

A podcast defends free will:
Unlike those who defend free will by giving up the idea that it requires alternative possibilities to choose from, Christian List retains this idea as central, resisting the tendency to defend free will by watering it down. He concedes that free will and its prerequisites — intentional agency, alternative possibilities, and causal control over our actions—cannot be found among the fundamental physical features of the natural world. But, he argues, that’s not where we should be looking. Free will is a “higher-level” phenomenon found at the level of psychology. It is like other phenomena that emerge from physical processes but are autonomous from them and not best understood in fundamental physical terms — like an ecosystem or the economy. When we discover it in its proper context, acknowledging that free will is real is not just scientifically respectable; it is indispensable for explaining our world.
List is correct about those last couple of points. Free will is not best understood in fundamental physical terms; acknowledging that it is real is not just scientifically respectable; and it is indispensable for explaining our world.

Even if you don't believe in free will, you still need to explain why some non-respectable concept is indispensable for explaining our world.

Jerry Coyne calls this incoherent:
In other word, some form of true libertarian free will arises mysteriously between the molecules that make up our brain and the behaviors that emanate from that brain.

Sadly, I cannot find anywhere in List’s spiel where he say how this emergent free will arises, or how it manages to defy the laws of physics. He uses weak analogies, like saying that while the “weather” arises from motions of molecules in the atmosphere, meterologists use models that abstract from the microphysical to the macrophysical and are indeterministic, giving probabilities of weather events. But that’s a bogus analogy, for the macro-“weather” is certainly consistent with, and arises from, lower-level phenomena. True, “rain” is an emergent property, but it is absolutely consistent with the laws of physics. List’s free will isn’t.
How is it that weather is any more consistent with the laws of physics than free will? There is no theory or experiment to substantiate this claim.

There is a long list of things that we cannot reduce to the motions of molecules. Weather is one, but many believe that is possible with sufficient info and computer resources. Consciousness is another, and no one knows how a computer would even start on that problem.

Coyne is right that no one can say how this emergent free will arises. I am not sure we can truly say how turbulence or phase transitions arise.

He is wrong to say free will (if it exists) must manage to defy the laws of physics. What laws are those? This is like people who say that the flying bumblebee defies the laws of physics.

Coyne elaborates on his opposition to libertarian free will, which he defines:
Libertarian free will means a form of free will independent of physical causality: a kind of free will that says, at any given moment when you face making a decision, you are not constrained to make a single decision. You could have done otherwise. ...
At a higher level of description, your decisions can be truly open. When you walk into a store and choose between Android and Apple, the outcome is not preordained. It really is on you.
If the outcome is not preordained, then it is a form of libertarian free will and not determinism. Period.
I agree with this, except that I am not sure what he means by "independent of physical causality". I believe in free will, I believe that I can choose between Android and Apple, and I also believe in physical causality. When I make that choice, it is a physical process, and my decision physically causes consequences.

Physical causality means that events are effected by what is inside the backward light cone. I include my mental processes as contributing to causality.

List argues:
One can have long debates about whether current AI systems are sufficiently advanced, but there is no conceptual reason why sophisticated AI systems could not qualify as bearers of free will. Much like corporate agents, which we also think should be held responsible for their actions, AI systems ideally should display a certain form of moral agency and not just rigid goal-seeking behavior in the interest of profit or whatever else their objective function might be. As we employ more and more AI systems in high-stakes settings, we would like those systems to make ethically acceptable decisions.
I may differ with him here. Those AI systems are nearly always deterministic. They may have ethical decision-making programmed in, but that is not free will.

There are those who think that the human mind is just a programmed Turing machine. There are others who believe that the mind is a window into the soul, separate from the body, and not constrained by physical law.

I think that there could be a middle ground, where the mind just functions according to material properties of the brain, but it is not a pre-programmed Turing machine either. It has consciousness, and the ability to make libertarian free choices.

Update: Coyne has a third rant against List, with a link to a technical 2014 List paper on the subject.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Astronomer writes book on Bell

A new book asserts:
The fastest route to the insight into the ultimate nature of reality revealed by quantum mechanics, Greenstein writes, is through Bell's Theorem, which concerns reality at the quantum level; and Bell's 1964 discovery drives Greenstein's quest. Greenstein recounts a scientific odyssey that begins with Einstein, continues with Bell, and culminates with today's push to develop an industry of quantum machines. Along the way, he discusses spin, entanglement, experimental metaphysics, and quantum teleportation, often with easy-to-grasp analogies. We have known for decades that the world of the quantum was strange, but, Greenstein says, not until John Bell came along did we know just how strange.
No. The essence of Bell's theorem is that quantum mechanics is not a classical theory. In particular, the quantum probabilities are not just hiding a lack of knowledge about classical physical variables.

Bell just confirmed what had been conventional wisdom for 40 years.

The author explains in SciAm:
For in truth I believe that it is the story of everyone who has encountered this bizarre world. The realm of the quantum is utterly unfamiliar, utterly strange and utterly incomprehensible. Nothing in it corresponds to everyday reality. And more than that: nothing in it can be comprehended in ordinary terms.

“How can an electron be in two places at once?” I had been asking for so many years. “How can something happen without a cause?” I have not answered these questions. But so what? At long last I have achieved what to me is a great victory. I have expressed to myself clearly what the mystery is.

And sometimes I wonder if it is a mystery. Perhaps it is just a fact. This is the way the world is. Do I like this new cosmos that we have stumbled into? Do I dislike it? Is it congenial to my thoughts, or utterly alien to them?

It makes no difference: this is the new world — get used to it. ...

George Greenstein is professor emeritus of astronomy at Amherst College. He is the author of the new book, Quantum Strangeness: Wrestling with Bell's Theorem and the Ultimate Nature of Reality (The MIT Press, 2019).
I haven't seen the book, but this does not sound helpful. Electrons are not really in two places at once.

The electron goes thru both slits of the double-slit experiment, but that is because the electron is a wave that is not localized to a point. To describe the electron as being localized to two different points in different locations is weird.

Denying causation is even weird. Nothing in quantum mechanics is inconsistent with causality. It may be that you can only give a probability for a radioactive decay, but something is still causing that decay, as far as we know.

Lubos Motl explains explains why he rejects reality in the quantum domain:
As an undergraduate freshman, I was already exposed to basic texts on string theory – a librarian generously xeroxed a textbook by Green, Schwarz, Witten for me (for free), she probably risked copyright infringements as well – and I knew something about T-duality soon afterwords (other dualities were only discovered in the mid 1990s and made the picture thicker). So even if I had some tendencies for "realism" at that time, I had to choose: T-duality or the realist prejudices? Clearly, I would have chosen T-dualities because they're beautiful. They are really local symmetries of string theory and a symmetry is always a great improvement of a theory that makes the theory more likely. There exists absolutely no reason why the symmetry should be fundamentally broken so it's almost certainly not broken. Arguments based on symmetries and other kinds of mathematical beauty always trump purely metaphysical prejudices – everyone who has at least some physical intuition agrees.
His reasoning is a little peculiar. He sounds like a medieval monk who bases his belief on a rare sacred text that was recently transcribed for him.

Realism, in this context, means believing in things and mechanisms that are not directly observed. It is okay to believe in the dark side of the Moon, because that is consistent with our best theories. But believing in local hidden variables controlling electrons is not.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Quantum Hype and Quantum Skepticism

Communications of the ACM has published a short article on Quantum Hype and Quantum Skepticism:
The first third of the 20th century saw the collapse of many absolutes. Albert Einstein's 1905 special relativity theory eliminated the notion of absolute time, while Kurt Gödel's 1931 incompleteness theorem questioned the notion of absolute mathematical truth. Most profoundly, however, quantum mechanics raised doubts on the notion of absolute objective reality. Is Schrödinger's cat dead or alive? Nearly 100 years after quantum mechanics was introduced, scientists still are not in full agreement on what it means.

The problem with objective reality stems from the superposition principle. In a nutshell, quantum systems can exist in a superposition of their possible observable states before measurement. While a classical bit has a unique value, 0 or 1, a quantum bit, or qubit, exists as a superposition of two classical bits.
This is wrong on many levels. Relativity did not eliminate absolute. It just clarified it. Einstein added nothing to our understanding of time. Goedel remained a firm believer in absolute mathematical truth.

Saying that Schroedinger's cat is dead and alive at the same time is just another bit of bad philosophy.

Superpositions do not really create a problem with objective reality. Just saying that two measurements are possible does not mean that none are real.
In fact, several quantum-computing researchers have expressed skepticism regarding the physical realizability of the quantum-computing dream.a Quantum skeptics agree that quantum computation does offer an exponential advantage of classical computation in theory, but they argue it is not physically possible to build scalable quantum computers. Gil Kalai is one of the most prominent quantum skeptics. All physical systems are noisy, he argues,b and qubits kept in highly sensitive superpositions will inevitably be corrupted by any interaction with the outside world. In contrast, quantum-skepticism skeptics, such as Scott Aaronson, view the realizability of quantum computing as an outstanding question in physics,c and regard the skeptical view as representing an implausible revolution in physics.
Aaronson is professionally invested in the possibility of quantum computing. There are good scientific reasons for skepticism about quantum computing, both in theory and in practice.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

NY Times joins the time reversal hype

The NY Times reports:
Using an IBM quantum computer, they managed to undo the aging of a single, simulated elementary particle by one millionth of a second.
...
The algorithm almost always worked. It succeeded in returning the qubits to their youthful states 85 percent of the time when the calculation involved two qubits, but only half the time when three qubits were used.
This result as already been overhyped elsewhere, and Scott Aaronson had debunked it:
Incredibly, the time-reversal claim has now gotten uncritical attention in Newsweek, Discover, Cosmopolitan, my Facebook feed, and elsewhere — hence this blog post, which has basically no content except “the claim to have ‘reversed time,’ by running a simulation backwards, is exactly as true and as earth-shattering as a layperson might think it is.”
Dennis Overbye gives this explanation of time reversal:
On paper, the basic laws of physics are reversible; they work mathematically whether time is running forward or backward. But if time is just another dimension of space-time, as Einstein said, it’s a strange one-way dimension. In the real world we can climb out of the subway and turn left or right, but we don’t have the choice of going forward or back in time. We are always headed toward the future. ...

But the arrow of time takes its direction not only from big numbers. According to quantum theory, that paradoxical body of rules governing the subatomic universe, not even a single particle can reverse its own course through time. ...

The wave function extends throughout space and time. The law describing its evolution, known as the Schrödinger equation, after Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger​, is equally valid running forward or backward. But getting a wave function to go in reverse is no small trick. ...

“It remains to be seen,” the team wrote in their paper posted online in February, “whether the irreversibility of time is a fundamental law of nature or whether, on the contrary, it might be circumvented.”
This is what a lot of physicists say, but it doesn't make much sense. How is it that the basic laws of physics are reversible, but you cannot actually reverse anything? I think it is more accurate to say that the basic laws of physics are not time reversible.

He gives this explanation of quantum computers:
Unlike regular computers, which process a series of zeros and ones, or bits, quantum computers are made of so-called qubits, each of which can be zero and one at the same time. A quantum computer can perform thousands or millions of calculations simultaneously, so long as nobody looks to see what the answer is until the end.

Many of the largest tech companies, including Google, Microsoft and IBM, are racing to build such machines, which eventually could solve problems that regular computers can’t, such as breaking currently unbreakable cryptographic codes. Some scientists argue that nature itself is a quantum computer, and that the greatest utility of such a computer will be in simulating and exploring the paradoxes of quantum weirdness. ...

The IBM computer they used represents a baby step in the direction of what theorists call “quantum supremacy.”
Aaronson would say that this explanation is wrong, because the power of quantum computers comes from probabilities being negative, not qubits being zero and one at the same time.

I think that it is more accurate to say that quantum computers get their power from time reversible operations. All of the quantum algorithms depend on qubits, and on electronic gates that do time reversible operations on qubits.

But we can't do any time reversible operations. Not significantly. According to the above paper, a state-of-the-art quantum computer can do it for a millionth of a second on two qubits 85% of the time.

This is like saying someone invented a perpetual motion machine that works for a millionth of a second 85% of the time.

Quantum supremacy has not been achieved. Everyone now acknowledges this. The above paper is supposed to be a baby step toward that end. On the contrary, it shows how difficult the task is.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Scaling back Quantum Computing Expectations

Christopher Monroe writes:
If you watch the technology headlines you might think something called quantum computing is the Next Big Thing. ...

We must be clear, however, about what is and isn’t happening next. The big quantum computing discoveries that will most impact society are still years away. In the meantime, we will see breathless announcements of records broken as the technology rapidly develops. ...

In 3-5 years, these machines will perform certain calculations that would not be possible using ordinary computers. But it may be 5-10 years before any of these machines have the capacity and accuracy to solve useful problems. Along the way, I worry that some who read about quantum computing being the next big thing will feel let down and lose interest. We can’t let that happen. Government needs to continue to support ...
This has the tone of a scammer who is trying to keep the money flowing while he manages expectations.

He is predicting quantum supremacy in 3-5 years. Okay, I will note that, if this blog is still around. For the past several years, experts from IBM, Google, and Microsoft have been saying to expect it in the next year.

They want continued funding, even if none of the promises are realized.

Scott Aaronson endorses this view, tho he has personally stopped commenting to the press. But he has commented to the press on the scientific accuracy of time travel in the new Marvel Avengers movie!

Update: I see Scott has commented to the press about using quantum computers for reversing time. I will post more on this later.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

How string theory changed Physics

Lubos Motl still defends string theory:
To make it brief, string theory has been rather essential to realize – and make explicit – all the ideas that we call the holography of quantum gravity.

There's no qualitative difference between elementary particles and black hole microstates

Black holes look like qualitatively different, large "beasts" that differ from the elementary particles. But string/M-theory has shown us that the black hole microstates – there are many microstates because the black hole entropy is large for a large black hole – are nothing else than the "very massive" counterparts of elementary particle species.

The qualitative difference between an electron and a black hole could have looked – and arguably did look to most people – "obvious" but we already know it's wrong. ...

The idea that physicists will "return" to an epoch in which string theory and its lessons may be ignored is as childish as the idea of a "return" to the Flat Earth. Science just doesn't work like that.
Wow, thanks to string theory we now know the difference between an electron and a black hole, and this knowledge cannot be unlearned. Because ... that's how science works!

I thought that science worked by testing hypotheses. The ancient Greeks disproved the Flat Earth hypothesis by watching ship go over the horizon, by watching lunar eclipses, and by measuring how the Sun was higher in the sky at lower latitudes.

Lubos is so ridiculous here that I wonder if he is just trolling us.

A century ago, the Bohr atom made some analogies between electron and larger objects. But the model made some testable quantitative predictions, and some of those were confirmed.

Analogizing an electron with a black hole has gone nowhere. Neither has quantum gravity holography or any of the other string theory nonsense.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

How Bee lives without free will

Sabine Hossenfelder argues:
Physics deals with the most fundamental laws of nature, those from which everything else derives. These laws are, to our best current knowledge, differential equations. Given those equations and the configuration of a system at one particular time, you can calculate what happens at all other times.

That is for what the universe without quantum mechanics is concerned. Add quantum mechanics, and you introduce a random element into some events. Importantly, this randomness in quantum mechanics is irreducible. It is not due to lack of information. In quantum mechanics, some things that happen are just not determined, and nothing you or I or anyone can do will determine them.

Taken together, this means that the part of your future which is not already determined is due to random chance. It therefore makes no sense to say that humans have free will.
I am amazed to see otherwise-intelligent physicists make this silly argument.

Her argument is that the world must be either deterministic or non-deterministic, by the law of the excluded middle. Determinisic is defined as caused by the dynamics of unconscious particles, and non-deterministic is defined as being not determined by anyone's conscious thoughts. So the possibility of free will is defined away in both cases.

The word "random" just means that someone does not know how to predict something. Free will appears to others as randomness, because a choice is being made that others cannot predict. So randomness does not refute free will. Randomness of just one of our descriptive terms for free will.

She says, "randomness in quantum mechanics ... is not due to lack of information." It has indeed been proved that quantum randomness is not due to our lack of info about local hidden variables in a classical theory. But that's all. If you drop the local hidden variable assumption, and assume we live in a non-classical world, then we no longer have any good reason to think that the randomness is due or not due to a lack of information. Quantum mechanics is silent on the issue.
Others try to interpret quantum randomness as a sign of free will, but this is in conflict with evidence. Quantum processes are not influenced by conscious thought. Chaos is deterministic, so it doesn’t help. Goedel’s incompleteness theorem, remarkable as it is, has no relevance for natural laws.

The most common form of denial that I encounter is to insist that reductionism must be wrong. But we have countless experiments that document humans are made of particles, and that these particles obey our equations. This means that also humans, as collections of those particles, obey these equations. If you try to make room for free will by claiming humans obey other equations (or maybe no equation at all), you are implicitly claiming that particle physics is wrong. And in this case, sorry, I cannot take you seriously.

These are the typical objections that I hear, and none of them makes much sense.
It is a little strange to use reductionism to make an argument about the limits of consciousness. Whatever consciousness is, reductionist arguments have told us nothing about it. More broadly, a comment says:
"Physics deals with the most fundamental laws of nature, those from which everything else derives." -This is utterly untrue, as well as the statement that differential equations are THE laws of nature. This is most clear in biology. In biology, nothing of importance (nothing general to ALL biological systems) can be derived from physics, or described with any set of differential equations, however complicated they are. Classical mechanics deals with context-independent "particles" obeying some "law" in a defined "boundary" (and initial conditions), whereas all in biology is context-dependent and has no defined boundary condition. This is what Schrodinger, Einstein, von Bertalanffy, Rashevsky, Rosen, Maturana, Kauffman, and many other serious scientists have been pointing out for a while now (that contemporary physics cannot deal with biology).
Saying that "Quantum processes are not influenced by conscious thought" is another verbal slight-of-hand. If you take the reductionist view that all biological processes can be derived from the laws of physics, then consciousness is a quantum process. What else could it be?

When your conscious mind makes a decision, a quantum process in your brain makes a measurement. Outside observers might be able to make some probabilistic predictions, but they will not know your decision for sure until they see it. That is how quantum mechanics works. It is bizarre to see a physicist say anything else.

A physicist in 1900 might well have said that it is hard to imagine a mathematical theory of everything that accommodates free will. Such a person, when confronted with quantum mechanics in 1930, might very well have declared that the theory is perfectly designed to defeat of his arguments.

A comment says:
I enjoyed reading this discussion of free will. It left me puzzled, however. I have had the same difficulty when members of my church wrote about free will. (I grew up Catholic, by the way.)

What is free will? I can't find in scriptures. Church sources affirm it, but do not explain clearly what it is. I have concluded that the consequences of good or bad actions are unavoidable, and that it is better to choose the good.

As an answer, I think, this is not completely satisfactory.
You can find a good Catholic explanation in the Catholic Encyclopedia. And yes, you can find it in Scripture, such as when Jesus said, "No go and sin no more." Other religions like Islam reject free will.

Some people consider freedom and choice essential to the human spirit. Others are happy to be slaves to their programming.

Bee concludes:
I have come to the conclusion that a large fraction of people are cognitively unable to question the existence of free will, and there is no argument that can change their mind. Therefore, the purpose of this blogpost is not to convince those who are resistant to rational arguments.
This is like saying most people are unable to cognitively question the claim that we all live in an artificial simulation.

No, it is not hard to understand the possibility of people being entirely pre-programmed. If Bee says that she is unable to make a decision on her own, I will take her word for it. Watching Trump-haters on CNN leads me to believe that they are all pre-programmed.

A reader points out:
You conclude there is no free will on the basis that the universe follows differential equations and quantum mechanics, so as I understand it its determinism plus randomness, which cannot add up to free will. Fair enough.

Presumably, we developed a system of differential equations to explain our observations of the universe, and then later developed a theory of quantum mechanics to explain other observations that could not be explained by the former. So an extra system was developed to address observations not covered by the previous system. On the correct basis that free will cannot be explained by these two systems, you reject it. However, what of the alternative possibility that there is yet another system that we have not yet considered that does allow for free will? Quantum mechanics was developed to explain observations that were unexplainable by determinism; we didn't just say that those observations were clearly wrong or somehow explained in a hitherto unknown way by the previous determinism-only paradigm.
Bee responds:
I wish to respectfully disagree that "it just can't be" sums up my position. I am pointing out it is in conflict with theories that are built on a huge amount of evidence.

Sure, free will deserves an explanation, but it's not difficult to explain. Free will is a consequence of our inability to predict our own actions with certainty. Ie, your brain arrives at decisions by evaluating the benefits of certain courses of action. You take the one that seems to suit your goals best. But since you are not able to predict what you will do before you actually do it (that being the purpose of the evaluation), you think the decision was "free".
No, this is backwards. Free will is evidenced by the failure of one person to predict the actions of another. I might make prediction of my own actions using the same mental processes that I use to make decisions.

There is no evidence against free will. None at all. She fudges this point by saying that there is evidence for theories that conflict with free will.

By this she means that there is evidence for Newtonian dynamics, and Newtonian dynamics is deterministic. But Newtonian dynamics is not truly deterministic. If you ask for positions of planets, moons, and asteroids a millennium from now, the theory can only make probabilistic predictions. Likewise, you can make probabilistic predictions about what decisions President Trump will make. There is no conflict.

Only philosophers, physicists, and other such people have any trouble with free will. Most people have no trouble understanding that they make decisions. It takes a lot of explanation to see how someone can deny it.

Update: I just spotted a blogger making this comment today in another context:
As Bertrand Russell said, this is one of those views which are so absurd that only very learned men could possibly adopt them.
Brilliant. Denying free will is another of those views. So is many-worlds, or believing that we all live in a simulation.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Philosophy is now Feminist

Philosopher of pseudoscience Massimo Pigliucci wrote an essay with his opinions on the string wars. He quotes some physicists who put down current philosophers, and then goes into a rant in defense of philosophical thinking.

Those physicists were putting down philosophers, not philosophy.

He then complains that physicists talk about Popper instead of subsequent work on paradigm shifts.

Maybe that is because the work on paradigm shifts is just too stupid to discuss.

Finally he thinks that physicists should quit philosophizing about string theory, and join the fight against homeopaths and psychics.

I could get that criticism also -- why do I attack bogus physics when there are so many more bogus things to attack?

Sorry, I have no knowledge or interest in homeopaths and psychics.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a useful resource. It has articles by philosophers, as opposed to Wikipedia, which allows editing by anyone.

If you want to see how philosophy has degenerated, see this comment:
SEP articles devoted to feminism and feminist philosophy:

Feminist Philosophy

Feminist Perspectives on Trans Issues
Feminist Perspectives on Rape
Latin American Feminism
Feminist Perspectives on Objectification
Feminist Epistemology and Philosophy of Science
Feminist Moral Psychology
Feminist Bioethics
Feminist Philosophy of Law
*Feminist Perspectives on Science
Identity Politics
Feminist Perspectives on Sex Markets
Feminist Perspectives on the Body
Feminist Ethics
Feminist Perspectives on Disability
Feminist Philosophy of Religion
Feminist Philosophy of Language
Feminist Perspectives on the Self
Feminist Social Epistemology
*Feminist Perspectives on Sex and Gender
Feminist Metaphysics
Feminist Environmental Philosophy
Feminist Philosophy of Biology
Feminist Aesthetics
Feminist Perspectives on Class and Work
Feminist History of Philosophy
Feminist Perspectives on Globalization
Feminist Perspectives on Power
Feminist Political Philosophy
*The History of Feminism: Marie-Jean-Antoine-Nicolas de Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet
Intersections Between Analytic and Continental Feminism
Intersections Between Pragmatist and Continental Feminism
Psychoanalytic Feminism
Continental Feminism
Pragmatist Feminism
Analytic Feminism
Liberal Feminism

There are a total of thirty-seven articles devoted to feminism and feminist issues in the SEP. I have omitted from the above list (complete) articles devoted to a number of significant feminist philosophers and thinkers.
The field is still mostly male, as opposed to some social sciences that are overrun with women.

There is no agreement in these articles on what term feminism means, nor is there any anti-feminism view described.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Tegmark believes in math, but not time

Nautilus interview:
In his book Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality, Max Tegmark writes that “time is not an illusion, but the flow of time is.” ...

[Tegmark] It certainly feels to us like time is flowing. Yet that’s not the only way of looking at this reality. ... Einstein pointed out that the most elegant way of describing this mathematically is to say, Let’s look at where each particle is in the three-dimensional space at each time, and draw this in a four-dimensional spacetime, where time is the fourth dimension.
He is referring to the Minkowski diagram. Einstein had nothing to do with it. Minkowski relied on Lorentz and Poincare, not Einstein.
We’ve seen a lot of examples of how things feel very different from the way they look in the equations. I would argue that almost all of the big breakthroughs in physics have this as their most difficult element. If you rewind to when Einstein came up with special relativity, you would find people like Lorentz and Minkowski had already written down a lot of the math. But Einstein was the guy who managed to figure out what it was going to feel like. He said if these are the equations, the way it’s going to feel is if you go near the speed of light, you’re going to feel time slowing down.
This is just nonsense. Einstein added nothing to that.

It is very strange how everyone who explains some aspect of relativity goes into a digression about Einstein deserves more credit than others. Why? It is almost as if he has been hypnotized by the Einstein fans.
David Wineland ... told me that he’d built two atomic clocks that are super precise, and put one of them one foot below the other, and was able to measure that it runs slower!
I think Einstein could be fairly credited for that. If Tegmark said that, I wouldn't mind.
Then quantum mechanics came along. It’s so complicated people still argue about it 100 years later! The math, though, is beautiful and clean. Randomness is fundamentally an illusion because there is no randomness in the math, even though it might feel random. I’m saying the same thing about time. Even though the flow of time is fundamentally an illusion, there is nothing flowing about the math, the equations aren’t changing, there is just a single four-dimensional pattern, albeit a very complicated and beautiful one, in spacetime. If you study it carefully, you’ll realize it’s going to feel like a flow of time.
Now Tegmark is back to complete nonsense. Yes, of course quantum mechanics has randomness in the math. How else would we calculate probabilities?

Yes, there is something flowing about the math. How else would we make predictions?

Saying "there is just a single four-dimensional pattern" is a way of arguing for the philosophy of Eternalism, but it has little to do with physics. If you look at the quantum history of an electron, it is not just a curve in spacetime. That would violate Heisenberg uncertainty. It has a funny wave-like existence, best represented by a wave-function. Its future is random and indeterministic, as far the theory says.

Tegmark claims to be a big believer in whatever the math says, but all this stuff about does not follow from the math.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Bodziony finishes his Einstein trilogy

Tomasz Bodziony as another article on Einstein, to follow this and this.

He has a speculative theory that Einstein did not really write his famous 1905 special relativity paper.
What does H. Poincaré's work, published earlier than the Einstein's one, contain? This question was answered by A. A. Logunov, who went to trouble of reaching the original works of H. Poincaré and H. Lorentz. A. A. Logunov also critically compared them with Einstein's work. STR consists of two parts: assumptions or postulates, that are currently called Einstein's postulates and a theoretical part - calculations resulting from these assumptions, including Lorentz transform. The postulates of STR, or Einstein's postulates are as follows: 1) all inertial systems are equivalent to each other and 2) the speed of light is the maximum speed. These postulates are considered to be the revolutionary contribution of Albert Einstein. The first postulate is nothing more than the renewed principle of Galileo. The second postulate is the conclusion of Michelson's - Morley's experiment. Both postulates can be found in the works of H. Poincare from 1904 and 1905, as shown by A. Logunov [2]. Therefore, these are not Einstein's postulates but Poincare's. Henri Poincaré solved the problem first! Incidentally, in the work "Zur Elektrodynamik...", the famous Einstein formula was derived: E = mc2, but with an error. The correct form of the formula was provided by Einstein in the next work 9published after a few months. The equation was also the first to be derived by Poincaré [2]. The most famous physics pattern should be called Poincaré-Einstein equation, or even Poincaré equation.

Is Einstein's article not original, but rather a secondary one to Poincaré's work? Was Henri Poincaré the factual creator of the Special Theory of Relativity? Is the situation even worse for Einstein? There are three explanations for the strange coincidences of June 1905. The first one is the traditional version: Einstein himself wrote his work without reading the works of Lorentz and Poincaré. The date-specific similarity between the publication of Einstein's work and the publication of Poincaré's works was a coincidence. The Göttingen conference had no connection with the discussed events. The second possibility is that Einstein got acquainted with the works of Poincaré and Lorentz and his work was written in a hurry as it had been ordered by the participants of the seminar in Göttingen: David Hilbert and/or Hermann Minkowski, and was quickly accepted for publication in order to precede the publication of H. Poincaré's works. If that was the case, then the work "Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper" from 1905 would be plagiarized. Finally, the third possibility is the most radical one.

Was the "Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper" paper written by Einstein at all?
He is correct that the mainstream historical accounts don't make any sense.

Bodziony finds the 1905 Einstein paper so mysterious because he rates it so highly. That is where I different from him. Einstein's paper is just a rehash of Lorentz's theory, with some of Poincare's ideas thrown in. It only seems original because there are no references and Einstein refused to credit anyone. Once you realize that there is nothing original in the article, then there is very little to explain. It is just an expository paper.

Apparently physics was dominated by Germany. German physicists would rather credit Minkowski or even Lorentz, over a French mathematician. Then Minkowski and Poincare died, and Einstein could take all the credit.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Walter finds new ways to credit Einstein

Historian Scott Walter writes in a new paper:
Albert Einstein's bold assertion of the form-invariance of the equation of a spherical light wave with respect to inertial frames of reference (Einstein 1905) became, in the space of six years, the preferred foundation of his theory of relativity. Early on, however, Einstein's universal light-sphere invariance was challenged on epistemological grounds by Henri Poincaré, who promoted an alternative demonstration of the foundations of relativity theory based on the notion of a light ellipsoid. A third figure of light, Hermann Minkowski's lightcone also provided a new means of envisioning the foundations of relativity. Drawing in part on archival sources, this paper shows how an informal, international group of physicists, mathematicians, and engineers, including Einstein, Paul Langevin, Poincaré, Hermann Minkowski, Ebenezer Cunningham, Harry Bateman, Otto Berg, Max Planck, Max Laue, A. A. Robb, and Ludwig Silberstein, employed figures of light during the formative years of relativity theory in their discovery of the salient features of the relativistic worldview.
It is amazing how these historians jump thru hoops to credit Einstein.

Einstein's 1905 paper does say that light rays are preserved by Lorentz transformations, but Poincare's 1905 paper has the more general statement that the Lorentz metric is preserved. This is more general, because the light rays are those with a Lorentz metric of zero.
Acceptance of relativity theory, according to the best historical accounts, was not a simple function of having read Einstein’s paper on the subject.1 A detailed understanding of the elements that turned Einsteinian relativity into a more viable alternative than its rivals is, however, not yet at hand. ...

Planck also praised Hermann Minkowski’s four-dimensional approach to relativity, the introduction of which marked a turning-point in the history of relativity (Walter 1999a).
This is a very strange way of saying it, but Einstein's 1905 was not widely accepted, and was not turned into a more viable alternative than its rivals. One of those rivals was Minkowski's 4D spacetime theory, and that is what achieved wide acceptance.
Poincare (1905b) was quick to grasp the idea that the principle of relativity could be expressed mathematically by transformations that form a group. This fact had several immediate consequences for Poincare’s understanding of relativity.
This credits Poincare with understanding some aspects of relativity, but suggests that he was merely learning the work of others.

In fact, Poincare was the one who convinced Lorentz and Einstein of the principle of relativity. Poincare believed it and publicly promoted it when no one else did. And Poincare was the first to discover and publish that the transformations form a group. Today we call it the "Lorentz group" because Poincare did.

And of course he ends by trying to overcredit Einstein again:
Closely related to Einstein’s belief, the derivation of the Lorentz transformation via covariance of the light-sphere equation stabilized interpretations of the transformation along Einsteinian lines, and contributed powerfully to the emergence of a unified doctrine of the physics of inertial frames. One consequence of this movement was a heightened recognition of Einstein as the principal architect of the theory of relativity, as expressed by Laue’s 1911 treatise and its six re-editions.
Walter reads the original papers, so he must know better than this. Lorentz covariance was discovered by Poincare and developed and popularized by Minkowski. Neither paid any attention to Einstein, and it is not even clear that Einstein understood the concept. Nobody got the concept from Einstein.

BTW, the author's name is Scott Walter, and he credits Poincare's Science and Hypothesis book as being published by Walter Scott. What's the deal with that? Is that some sort of Easter Egg joke inserted at the end of the paper just to see if we read it to the end?

Monday, April 15, 2019

Tracing Einstein's struggles with the Ricci tensor

Galina Weinstein writes:
The question of Einstein's rejection of the November tensor is re-examined in light of conflicting answers by several historians. I discuss these conflicting conjectures in view of three questions that should inform our thinking: Why did Einstein reject the November tensor in 1912, only to come back to it in 1915? Why was it hard for Einstein to recognize that the November tensor is a natural generalization of Newton's law of gravitation? Why did it take him three years to realize that the November tensor is not incompatible with Newton's law? I first briefly describe Einstein's work in the Zurich Notebook. I then discuss a number of interpretive conjectures formulated by historians and what may be inferred from them. Finally, I offer a new combined conjecture that answers the above questions.
It is funny how many papers are devoted to trying to figure out how Einstein discovered general relativity, without considering the obvious hypothesis that he got the crucial ideas from others.

General relativity is just the obvious generalization of special relativity to gravity, once you accept the role of the Ricci tensor. How did Einstein reach that conclusion? Well, Grossmann, Levi-Civita, and Hilbert told him so, and after a couple of years he accepted it. What is the big mystery?

Friday, April 12, 2019

Smolin joins quantum mysticism

Smolin's new book gets this SciAm review:
Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution: The Search for What Lies beyond the Quantum
by Lee Smolin.
Penguin Press, 2019 ($28)

Quantum mechanics—the basis for our understanding of particles and forces—is arguably the most successful theory in all of science. But its success has come at a price: unresolved mysteries at the theory's heart, such as the paradoxical wave-particle duality of quantum objects, can make modern physics seem decidedly metaphysical. Simply put, if mainstream interpretations of quantum mechanics are true, then the central, most cherished tenet of physics — that an objective reality exists independently of our mind but is still comprehensible — must be false. Smolin, a member of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Ontario, argues against this vexing status quo: “It is possible to be a realist while living in the quantum universe.” —Lee Billings
His Amazon blurb has even more contradictions:
In Einstein's Unfinished Revolution, theoretical physicist Lee Smolin provocatively argues that the problems which have bedeviled quantum physics since its inception are unsolved and unsolvable, for the simple reason that the theory is incomplete. There is more to quantum physics, waiting to be discovered. Our task -- if we are to have simple answers to our simple questions about the universe we live in -- must be to go beyond quantum mechanics to a description of the world on an atomic scale that makes sense.
I haven't seen the book, but he obviously buys into the Einstein foolishness that quantum mechanics needs to be completed by adding some hidden variables, or some such nonsense.

It is simply not true that mainstream interpretations of quantum mechanics deny that an objective reality exists independently of our mind. Obviously there is an objective reality, and almost all scientific work is based on that assumption whether it is true or not.

The interpretations do deny that there is an objective reality that is codified in classical hidden variables. That's all. That has been the understanding since 1930 or so. Based on the above, Smolin's is just going to confuse people. But I haven't read it, so I cannot be sure.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

First picture of a black hole


In one of the most anticipated and hyped announcements in the history of science, we now have a picture of a black hole. Of course the articles credit Einstein:
The image offered a final, ringing affirmation of an idea so disturbing that even Einstein, from whose equations black holes emerged, was loath to accept it. If too much matter is crammed into one place, the cumulative force of gravity becomes overwhelming, and the place becomes an eternal trap, a black hole. Here, according to Einstein’s theory, matter, space and time come to an end and vanish like a dream.

On Wednesday morning that dark vision became a visceral reality. As far as the Event Horizon team could ascertain, the shape of the shadow is circular, as Einstein’s theory predicts. ...

“Einstein must be totally chuffed,” said Priyamvada Natarajan, an astrophysicist at Yale. “His theory has just been stress-tested under conditions of extreme gravity and looks to have held up.”
The picture doesn't really have much to do with Einstein or relativity. Long before relativity, scientists predicted that a sufficiently dense object would have a gravitational force so great that light could not escape. Also, stars collapse when they run out of fuel, for reasons that have little to do with relativity.

Wikipedia used to say that it is a common misconception that black holes act as a cosmic vacuum cleaner. But they do act as cosmic vacuum cleaners, and that is why you see light surrounding the hole in the above picture. Wikipedia has been corrected, but now it is not clear what the supposed misconception is.

Update: The stories give the impression that the image was being released as soon as it was obtained. There are already two xkcd cartoons making fun of it. 2133 2135

I assume that they did not start hyping this until they were sure that they could present a could picture. I also assume that there was a lot of image enhancement. I hope they release the raw data, so we can see just how fake this is.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Most people are above-average drivers

Spencer Greenberg and Seth Stephens-Davidowitz write in the NY Times:
Do you think you are an above-average driver, as most people do? How do you compare with others as a parent? Are you better than most at dancing? Where do you rank in your capability to save humanity?

Many of you will answer these questions incorrectly. For some of these skills, you will think you are better than you actually are. For others, you will think you are worse.

We have long known that, for particular skills, people tend to rate themselves imperfectly. In a famous study from 1981, researchers asked people to rate their driving ability. More than 90 percent considered themselves above average.

Of course, some people who think they are above-average drivers really are. But the 90 percent statistic shows that many people inflate how they compare with others. By definition, only 50 percent of people can rate above the median. ...

People are indeed overconfident in their ability to drive. (In our sample, people thought they would outperform 66 percent of others in driving.) But people think they are better than 52 percent of others at driving on ice, something that is more difficult and that they do less frequently. And they think they would be better than only 42 percent of others in driving a racing car, something that is really difficult and that most people never try.
I agreed with this, until I talked to people about why they thought that they were good drivers. One woman told me that I was a terrible driver because I was a late merger. I thought that she was a terrible driver because of how many cars passed her on the right.

So it can be quite correct for 90% of drivers to believe that they are above average, according to their own standards.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Bodziony on the genius of Einstein

Tomasz Bodziony has written a couple of essays on how Albert Einstein was the greatest genius who ever lived, focusing on 1905 special relativity and 1915 general relativity:
Einstein was lucky. As some may say: he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. However, Albert Einstein also heled his luck very skillfully. The rule of Adolf Hitler and his party brought despair to Europe and to Germans, as well as the death of millions of people, including Jews with them. Nevertheless, some people won, Jews among others. The USA as a country won. The victory was also achieved by some individuals. It has to be that way. One has to lose for the other to win. There is no misery that would not be an opportunity to some other person. Some gained profit even from mass murders and executions as well. Up to 1933, Albert Einstein worked as a German scholar. When Hitler started ruling the country, he became an American, anti-German scientist. The man had a lot of luck. Contrary to what some may think, the rule of Adolf Hitler was very beneficial for Einstein, even though the Nazis killed some of his relatives. Einstein was as huge an egocentric as Hilbert. Had he stayed in Germany, he would have been killed without a doubt. However, in the USA, in the country of the free, there was no one to discredit Einstein's genius and prove that he was not the creator of the General Theory of Relativity or Special Theory of Relativity. People who knew the truth went silent. The non-believers stopped asking. The rebellious ones started being called Nazis or antiSemites to stop them talking. Albert Einstein became the greatest scholar in history. The became an idol, the symbol of the 20th century. He was the protagonist of many films, cartoons, books, and comics. He was the pride of the USA. America won and once again showed that it was the best country of all. Also, it had the biggest genius of them all - Albert Einstein.
I am not sure how serious Bodziony. He seems to be sarcastic, as he says it was just Einstein's luck that Poincare and Hilbert got cheated out of credit for relativity.

It is true that Einstein is widely regarded as the world's greatest genius, and that this assessment is mainly based on his work on relativity.

However, as I have detailed on this blog and in my book, Einstein contributed nothing to special relativity, and his significant contributions to general relativity were done in collaboration with others.

What I say is not really new, as Whittaker pointed in the 1950s that Lorentz and Poincare had all of special relativity before Einstein in 1905. I go somewhat further, and argue:

Einstein's special relativity was essentially the same as that of Lorentz's. As Lorentz said, Einstein just postulated by he and Poincare proved.

Einstein's constancy of the speed of light, transformation of Maxwell's equations, and superfluous of the aether are all directly from Lorentz. Einstein's light synchronization, relativity principle, and interpretation of Lorentz's local time are all directly from Poincare. Deriving the Lorentz transformations from the relativity principle and the constancy of the speed of light was how FitzGerald did it in 1889. Einstein could never explain how his 1905 paper differed from previous work.

Poincare's 1905 work explains how it differs from Lorentz's. The Lorentz transformations form a group, making covariance the core of the theory. Poincare makes it a non-Eudlidean spacetime theory, and not merely an electromagnetic theory. He applies the theory to gravity, to explain gravitational causality. Einstein did not even understand these advances until many years later.

Minkowski's improvements to special relativity were based on the works of Lorentz and Poincare, not Einstein.

Public acceptance of special relativity followed the work of Minkowski, and had almost nothing to do with Einstein.

The modern geometrical views of relativity are not due to Einstein, and even years later he disagreed with those who attributed the geometrical views to him.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Quantum No Threat to Supercomputing

Essay:
In short, Cray is not pursuing any kind of quantum strategy at the moment following a detailed evaluation.

“We are probably five-plus years from the first demonstration of quantum beating a classical computer on a contrived problem—one that highlights capability but not problems people are actually trying to solve. We are probably ten-plus years from practical quantum advantage where quantum is the most effective and cost-effective way to solve an actual problem. And we are at least 15-20 years away from having algorithms with strong advantage. There are a variety of algorithms that require reliable qubits and a large number of them, but we are a long way from having that,” Scott argues.
The article goes on to explain that even if all those things are accomplished in the next 20 years, the quantum computers will still be no substitute for Cray supercomputers.

I am skeptical that quantum computers will be a threat to anything, but we shall soon see.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Horgan on the evil of paradigms

John Horgan writes in his SciAm blog:
In 1972 Thomas Kuhn hurled an ashtray at Errol Morris. Already renowned for The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, published a decade earlier, Kuhn was at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and Morris was his graduate student in history and philosophy of science.

During a meeting in Kuhn’s office, Morris questioned Kuhn’s views on paradigms, the webs of conscious and unconscious assumptions that underpin, say, Aristotle’s, Newton’s or Einstein’s physics. You cannot say one paradigm is truer than another, according to Kuhn, because there is no objective standard by which to judge them. Paradigms are incomparable, or “incommensurable.”

If that were true, Morris asked, wouldn’t history of science be impossible? Wouldn’t the past be inaccessible -- except, Morris added, for “someone who imagines himself to be God?” Kuhn realized his student had just insulted him. He muttered, “He’s trying to kill me. He’s trying to kill me.” Then he threw the ashtray at Morris and threw him out of the program.

Morris went on to become an acclaimed maker of documentaries. He won an Academy Award for The Fog of War, his portrait of “war criminal” — Morris’s term — Robert McNamara. His documentary The Thin Blue Line helped overturn the conviction of a man on death row for murder. ...

I agree, to an extent, with Morris’s take on Kuhn. I spent hours talking to Kuhn in 1992, when he was at MIT, and he struck me as almost comically self-contradicting. He tied himself in knots trying to explain precisely what he meant when he talked about the impossibility of true communication. He really did seem to doubt whether reality exists independently of our flawed, fluid conceptions of it.
Kuhn is dead now, and his followers are worse than he ever was. We should blame the living scholars who substitute paradigms for reality.
Morris proposes that postmodernism is an attractive ideology for right-wing authoritarians. To support this claim, he notes the scorn for truth evinced by Hitler and the current U.S. President, for whom power trumps truth. Morris suggests that “belief in a real world, in truth and in reference, does seem to speak to the left; the denial of the real world, of truth and reference, to the right.”

That’s simply wrong.
Horgan is right, and the reality deniers are almost all on the political left. The leftists are the ones who always want to ban facts and views from Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple, and Twitter. Free speech is primarily championed by right-wingers.

The paradigm shifters are one major faction of reality deniers, and the other big faction is the quantum Bell-heads who argue that certain experiments have disproved realism. For example, see this recent paper.

Stephen Boughn writes Against "Reality" in Physics:
The concept of "reality" is often raised in the context of philosophical foundations of physics or interpretations of quantum mechanics. When this term is so raised, it is a warning to me that I am about to be led down a rabbit hole. Such diversions usually lead nowhere unless you consider endless discussions of Schrodinger's cat, wave function collapse, quantum non-locality, and parallel universes to be useful. A prime example is the famous Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen paper wherein they concluded that the quantum wave function cannot provide a complete description of physical reality. In this essay I suggest that, in physics discourse, the term "reality" should be avoided at all costs.
It has become commonplace to define "reality" as meaning a certain type of hidden variables theory. When the stupid hidden variables theory fails, they say that reality does not exist.

Also on the reality denial front, statisticians urged killing statistical significance:
When was the last time you heard a seminar speaker claim there was ‘no difference’ between two groups because the difference was ‘statistically non-significant’? ...

Our call to retire statistical significance and to use confidence intervals as compatibility intervals is not a panacea. Although it will eliminate many bad practices, it could well introduce new ones. Thus, monitoring the literature for statistical abuses should be an ongoing priority for the scientific community. But eradicating categorization will help to halt overconfident claims, unwarranted declarations of ‘no difference’ and absurd statements about ‘replication failure’ when the results from the original and replication studies are highly compatible. The misuse of statistical significance has done much harm to the scientific community and those who rely on scientific advice. P values, intervals and other statistical measures all have their place, but it’s time for statistical significance to go.
The Nature article had 800 signatories endorsing it, which is a strange way to lobby for a scientific idea.

They are right that P-values are commonly abused, but that is because they are so useful. Replacing them with something else will not be so easy.

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 that 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.