Thursday, April 29, 2021

Feynman quote on Leftist Groupthink

...There was a special dinner at some point, and the head of the theology place, a very nice, very Jewish man, gave a speech. It was a good speech, and he was a very good speaker, so while it sounds crazy now, when I’m telling about it, at that time his main idea sounded completely obvious and true. He talked about the big differences in the welfare of various countries, which cause jealousy, which leads to conflict, and now that we have atomic weapons, any war and we’re doomed, so therefore the right way out is to strive for peace by making sure there are no great differences from place to place, and since we have so much in the United States, we should give up nearly everything to the other countries until we’re all even. Everybody was listening to this, and we were all full of sacrificial feeling, and all thinking we ought to do this. But I came back to my senses on the way home. The next day one of the guys in our group said, “I think that speech last night was so good that we should all endorse it, and it should be the summary of our conference.” I started to say that the idea of distributing everything evenly is based on a theory that there’s only X amount of stuff in the world, that somehow we took it away from the poorer countries in the first place, and therefore we should give it back to them. But this theory doesn’t take into account the real reason for the differences between countries—that is, the development of new techniques for growing food, the development of machinery to grow food and to do other things, and the fact that all this machinery requires the concentration of capital. It isn’t the stuff, but the power to make the stuff, that is important. But I realize now that these people were not in science; they didn’t understand it. They didn’t understand technology; they didn’t understand their time. The conference made me so nervous that a girl I knew in New York had to calm me down. “Look,” she said, “you’re shaking!..."

Thursday, April 22, 2021

New book on Free Will Debate

Philosophers Dan Dennett and Greg Caruso wrote a a 2018 debate on free will, and now they have expanded it into a book. From a review, they agree more than they disagree:
Both are naturalists (JD p.171) who see no supernatural interference in the workings of the world. That leaves both men accepting general determinism in the universe (JD p.33), which simply means all events and behaviours have prior causes. Therefore, the libertarian version of free will is out. Any hope that humans can generate an uncaused action is deemed a “non-starter” by Gregg (JD p.41) and “panicky metaphysics” by Dan (JD p.53). Nonetheless, both agree that “determinism does not prevent you from making choices” (JD p.36), and some of those choices are hotly debated because of “the importance of morality” (JD p.104). Laws are written to define which choices are criminal offenses. But both acknowledge that “criminal behaviour is often the result of social determinants” (JD p.110) and “among human beings, many are extremely unlucky in their initial circumstances, to say nothing of the plights that befall them later in life” (JD p.111). Therefore “our current system of punishment is obscenely cruel and unjust” (JD p.113), and both share “concern for social justice and attention to the well-being of criminals” (JD p.131).
Their hair-splitting philosophical differences are not that interesting. What interests me is how they could both have such a screwed-up view of life, and still think that they are on opposite sides of a big issue.

Caruso says we have no free will. Dennett says that we think that we do, and it is useful to maintain the illusion, but it is not real.

Without free will, there ia no consciousness. Our systems of law, ethics, morality, and politics depend on free will. Christianity is based on it. So is the scientific method. It is hard to imagine how modern civilization could even exist without free will.

These philosophers discard it all based on a belief that all events have prior causes.

When a uranium nucleus decays, is it determined by prior causes? Our best scientists cannot answer this question. But somehow these philosophers can get the answer by playing silly word games? No, it is all nonsense.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Trans Ideology and the New Ptolemaism

The social sciences often make cosmological analogies, and screw them up so badly that I cannot even tell what point they are making.

Here is a new scholarly paper on an academic dispute:

Trans Ideology and the New Ptolemaism in the Academy ...

Ptolemy constructed an inordinately complex model of the universe in order to make all of the empirical data conform to a central, organizing false assumption, namely, that the earth was at the center.

Foucault’s influence in the academy is at least as often lamented as celebrated, and I will not attempt in what follows a comprehensive critique of his work. Instead, I will focus on one tendency his example has encouraged, which, using Rockhill’s analogy, I will call the “new Ptolemaism.” This is a push for scholarship to be insistently insular and to be much less interested in the study of the world than in the study of the study of the world. This kind of work, which is by now very common in the social sciences and humanities, performs the same neat trick every time. It turns out, in every such analysis, that the framing of inquiry turns out to be more significant than the object of inquiry. ... ...

Consider present day calls to remake the academy. There should be more soft sociology of the hard sciences; there should be more women in male dominated disciplines; we should “indigenize” the university. There are two terms in each case; we should reverse the conventional hierarchy of those terms; and the results will be profoundly liberatory, because, Ptolemaically, the university rather than the world is the most important locus of struggle. ...

Gender critical feminists like me notice, of course, that one infinitely more often sees and hears the slogan “transwomen are women” than its counterpart “transmen are men.” To understand why this is the case, you’d have to pay attention to patterns of power in the world rather than to Ptolemaic valence-flipping. One of the signs on my office door that most infuriated feminist academic women colleagues on social media described the parallels between men’s rights activism and trans rights activism. Many feminist academic women clearly saw it as their moral and intellectual duty to decry this assertion.

The Foucealt here has nothing to do with the Foucault pendulum, which helped prove Ptolemy wrong about the motion of the Earth. No, it is a French post-modernist and pedophile rapist.

The author might have some valid points about feminism and trans ideology, but the Ptolemy stuff is nonsense, and the Foucealt stuff probably is also.

Ptolemy did not construct an inordinately complex model of the universe. It was not any more complicated that any other model achieving similar accuracy. He did assume that the Earth was at the center, but the model is not really any different or more complicated from that. He descibed the stars, Sun, planets, and Moon as seen from Earth, so he would have to include the calculations needed for that whether the Earth moved or not. It was not really a false assumption that the Earth was at the center, but a way of defining an Earth-centered coordinate system that is a completely legitimate way of recording observations.

The motion of the Earth was one of the great scientific issues in the history of mankind, but it is nearly always misrepresented.

This Babylon Bee parody is a lot more entertaining on the subject. To understand it, it helps to have seen the November 3, 1961 episode of The Twilight Zone.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Israeli prize nominee is quantum skeptic

Scott Aaronson write:
Oded Goldreich is a theoretical computer scientist at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel. He’s best known for helping to lay the rigorous foundations of cryptography in the 1980s, ... Since then, I’ve interacted with Oded from time to time, partly around his firm belief that quantum computing is impossible.

Last month a committee in Israel voted to award Goldreich the Israel Prize (roughly analogous to the US National Medal of Science), for which I’d say Goldreich had been a plausible candidate for decades. But alas, Yoav Gallant, Netanyahu’s Education Minister, then rather non-gallantly blocked the award, solely because he objected to Goldreich’s far-left political views (and apparently because of various statements Goldreich signed, including in support of a boycott of Ariel University, which is in the West Bank). ...

[Nick] Is there any kind of correlation between leftist political views and QC skepticism?

Nick #33: I can’t say I’ve noticed any such correlation. On the other hand, maybe not surprisingly, I have noticed a strong correlation between QC skepticism and just general contrarianism, about politics, climate science, high-energy physics, or whatever else.

Some people just don't go along with the program for what everyone is supposed to believe, I guess.

Most of Aaronson's post and comments have to do with whether professors should be denied academic prizes because of their political opinions. This is how far we have gone. No bright young ambitious academic researcher expresses a politically incorrect opinion anymore.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Philosophers try to discredit Realism

John Horgan writes in SciAm:
Although my realism has been wobbling lately, I remain a realist. ...

Filmmaker Errol Morris, who studied under Kuhn in the 1970s and ended up loathing him, contends that Kuhnian-style postmodernism makes it easier for politicians and other powerful figures to lie. Philosopher Timothy Williamson makes a similar point in “In defence of realism.” “Imagine a future,” Williamson writes, “where a dictator or would-be dictator, accused of spreading falsehoods, can reply: ‘You are relying on obsolescent realist ideas of truth and falsity; realism has been discredited in philosophy.’”

I agree with methat, but I am afraid it is a losing battle.

Not only are philosohers denying realism, so are physicists, increasingly. And even those who agree with me on interpretations of quantum mechanics have conceded the term realism. That is, they will say that Copenhagen is not a realist interpretation, because we cannot simultaneously say the electron's position and momentum are.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Good videos about Quantum Mechanics

I have criticized popular accounts of quantum mechanics, but they are not all bad.

Lubos Motl praises a series of 3 elementary videos.

I also recommend Quantum Mechanics Isn’t Weird, We’re Just Too Big | Qiskit Seminar Series with Phillip Ball. Ball is a well-known science writer.

I am sure that there are many others. There have been good textbooks since 1930. Just be wary of anything talking about cats, parallel universes, and nonlocality.

There are lots of good videos on relativity, but I have a quibble with this one on general relativity mishaps. Most of it is about distinguishing the time dilation from velocity, which it calls special relativity, from the time dilations from gravity, which it calls general relativity.

He says that if the GPS satellites were the right height, the the effects would cancel out.

All that is correct, except that both time dilations are part of what used to be called special relativity. You don't need any metric geometry, and Einstein derived the gravity time dilation from just special relativity.

Some people say that special relativity is just about constant velocities (ie, uniform motion), but it was applied to accelating objects from the very start. The GPS satellite is just an accelating object. So is the ground receiver, if you figure in the acceleration of gravity.