Monday, June 14, 2021

New Book on Poincare and Relativity

There is a new book on Henri Poincare, and the author has posted a summary on Wikipedia::
Bruce Popp (2020) [1] argues that Poincaré ([Poi05] and [Poi06]) developed a correct relativistic theory of electrodynamics that achieved both substantial and incomplete progress to a theory of special relativity by a different route from Einstein. This route had its origins in work on radioactivity and electrons. His 1905 and 1906 papers are immediately based on his close reading of [Lor04] and the three divergences from Lorentz that Poincaré identified. For example, he understood Lorentz’s presentation of the transformations based on corresponding states was flawed. Poincaré provided the correct form for the transformations and the understanding that they were coordinate transformations. It is this corrected form that Poincaré named “Lorentz transformations” and that match the form and understanding given to them by Einstein [Ein05c]. Poincaré shows that thus corrected the transformations are a group corresponding to a rotation in four-dimensional space with three spatial and one time dimension and that the space-time interval is an invariant of this group. 
Popp emphasizes that while, as this summary suggests, Poincaré would have been justified in making a series of strong statements about his findings, very surprisingly he did not. In fact, Poincaré does not seem to have understood and synthesized what he showed in 1905. Worse, he contradicts himself in later writing adding to confusion about his work and positions, notably concerning the ether. Popp indicates that this is one reason why Poincaré’s alternate path to special relativity is not fully realized. Another is that Poincaré shows no appreciation of the implications for simultaneity and time; in brief there is nothing comparable to Einstein’s discussion of moving watch hands and trains arriving.

References Popp, Bruce D. (2020). Henri Poincaré: Electrons to special relativity: Translation of selected papers and discussion. Cham: Springer International Publishing. ISBN 978-3-030-48038-7.

This is all conventional wisdom, and here are his main arguments.

Poincare did not brag about his work, as Einstein did. Poincare obviously thought that his papers speak for themselves. He didn't brag about his many other original works either. That was common for scientists. Einstein was the exception, as he made great effort to claim credit for the work of others.

If Poincare understood what he wrote, then he was years ahead of Einstein. The Einstein fans say that this proves that Poincare did not understand what he wrote, but of course that never happens. Obviously Poincare understood what he wrote.

Poincare did not emphasize simultaneity in 1905. As you can read in the Wikipedia article on the subject, Poincare discovered relativistic time synchronization in 1898, and regarded it as a solved problem.

Poincare's contribution has been forgotten. There is some truth to this, as Poincare's work is mostly remembered in two papers by Minkowski, who died shortly afterwards, and in all subsequent work that considers relativity a 4-dimensional theory.

It is amazing how scholars concoct these stories to credit Einstein over Poincare. Our current understanding of relativity is based much more on the work of Poincare than Einstein.

Poincare's works get mentioned on Jordan Ellenberg: Mathematics of High-Dimensional Shapes and Geometries | Lex Fridman Podcast #190. He is praised for his work on celestial mechanics, stability of dynamics, and topology. Discovering relativity is not even mentioned. Einstein's greatest accomplishment was just a poor plagiarization of one of Poincare's minor papers.

After some discussion, the Wikipedia article on Einstein recently removed:

[Einstein is] universally acknowledged to be one of the two greatest physicists of all time, the other being Isaac Newton.
Someone pointed out that polls by PhysicsWorld and UK BBC showed physicists saying that Einstein was the greatest, with Newton in second place.

There continues to be crazy over-the-top idolization of Einstein. Normally a book about a great scholar will simply describe what he did, without gratuitous insults about him being inferior to some other great man.

That's what the above book does. It recognizes what Poincare did, and then makes nonsensical disparaging remarks in order to say that Einstein was better. Maybe someday I will see an Einstein scholar write something like this:

Einstein's 1905 relativity paper was a nice exposition of Lorentz's theory. But it lacked references to earlier theoretical work by Lorentz, FitzGerald, Poincare, and others, and to crucial experimental work by Michelson-Morley and others. It failed to explain how his theory was any different from Lorentz's. Nobody saw any difference, and called it the Lorentz-Einstein theory. Einstein failed to grasp the spacetime geometry, the Lorentz group, the covariance of Maxwell's equations, or the implications for gravity. Einstein shows no appreciation of relativity as a 4-dimensional theory; in brief there is nothing comparable to Poincare's 1905 work, and nothing that led to further work.
Whittaker did say something similar in his 1954 book. Einstein was sill alive, and could not refute it, even though his friend Max Born tried. So all serious scholars know that this Einstein credit for relativity is a hoax. The Einstein worship has only accelerated since then.

Monday, June 7, 2021

The Current War on Science

Science and medicine are being politicized, and there are so many examples that it is tiresome to list them.

During the Trump administration, it was common to hear academic and news media complaints that he was anti-Trump. But they never had any examples of acting against accepted research or not funding mainstream science programs.

Anthony Fauci was interviewed on Science Friday. He has been embarrassed by emails, but those emails are not that much different from his public statements. He has said a long list of foolish and unscientific things.

Friday he talked about AIDS a lot. He tried to blame it on Pres. Ronald Reagan. He tried to say it was not a gay disease, as proved by Magic Johnson getting it. (Johnson was rumored to be participating in dangerous homosexual practices, even before the AIDS story.)

Fauci and other experts have told us for a year that the coronavirus could not have been a Wuhan lab leak, when that is still the most plausible explanation.

Here is an essay onWhat Happens When Doctors Can't Tell the Truth?

Here is a paper by a Black woman a PhD from the Perimeter Institute, home to a lot of crackpot physics:

To provide an example of the role that white empiricism plays in physics, I discuss the current debate in string theory about postempiricism, motivated in part by a question: why are string theorists calling for an end to empiricism rather than an end to racial hegemony? I believe the answer is that knowledge production in physics is contingent on the ascribed identities of the physicists. ...

For these reasons, the area of quantum gravity, a physics subdiscipline considered by many to be the pinnacle of physics prestige, objectivity, universality, and culturelessness, is a natural starting point for a discussion about how social prestige asymmetries affect epistemic outcomes in physics. Ultimately, the discourse about the quantum gravity model of string theory provides an example of how white supremacist racial prestige asymmetry produces an antiempiricist epistemic practice among physicists, white empiricism. In string theory, we find an example wherein extremely speculative ideas that require abandoning the empiricist core of the scientific method and which are endorsed by white scientists are taken more seriously than the idea that Black women are competent observers of their own experiences.

Maybe the Perimeter Institute considers quantum gravity to be "the pinnacle of physics prestige, objectivity", but nothing good has ever come out of that subject.

Environmentalism has been hopelessly politicized for years. If they really cared about global warming, their top priorities would be building nuclear power plants and blocking Third World immigration into the First World.

Larry Krauss has a decent defense of objective science in Quillette. He is probably also a Trump-hating leftist, but I cite him to show that not all academics have bought into the current nonsense.

Authors are constantly chastened for terminology. I see Scott Aaronson still uses "quantum supremacy", but probably only because he has tenure and his enemies have other grounds for attacking him.

Reason reports:

Last month, the Journal of Hospital Medicine published an article titled, "Tribalism: The Good, the Bad, and the Future." It proposed strategies for medical professionals to overcome some of the natural group clustering that occurs in any large workspace: launch interdepartmental projects, socialize outside of the office, etc.
The paper was recalled, and the authors had to put out this apology:
From this experience, we learned that the words "tribe" and "tribalism" have no consistent meaning, are associated with negative historical and cultural assumptions, and can promote misleading stereotypes.4 The term "tribe" became popular as a colonial construct to describe forms of social organization considered "uncivilized" or "primitive." In using the term "tribe" to describe members of medical communities, we ignored the complex and dynamic identities of Native American, African, and other Indigenous Peoples and the history of their oppression.
This is ridiculous, as tribe is a perfectly good word. The authors ended up substituting "silo" for "tribe", but that has a less suitable meaning.

Update: Just today, here is a SciAm article complaining that physicians often note racial info, as it is correlated with an assortment of medical problems:

Yet, a tool used daily by almost every physician, the history of present illness (HPI), may still perpetuate medical racism. ...

Physicians often determine racial and ethnic labels themselves rather than asking patients to self-identify. ...

Beyond the issue of physicians using inaccurate racial labels, research has proven what scholars like W.E.B. Du Bois and Derrick Bell stated for decades: race is a social construct. ...

By using this outdated practice, physicians may be reinforcing the incorrect idea that race differentiation holds scientific value instead of being a clumsy artifact of the profession. ...

But, if physicians are truly trying to discern if patients are carriers of genetic allelic variants ..., then genetic mapping should be used in high-risk patients. ...

To be clear, a “color-blind” approach is not ideal either.

It seems clear that these people will cry racism no matter what the physicians do.

Update: Another example of one-sided politicization:

Well, the latest scientific journal or magazine to go to hell in a handbasket is Scientific American, which under the editorial guidance of Laura Helmuth has published a putrid piece of pure pro-Palestinian propaganda. It’s an op-ed piece apparently written by a group of Palestinian BDS activists (one author wishes to be anonymous). purveying the usual distortions, omissions, and outright lies.  If there were a counter piece refuting those lies (there is below, but not at Sci Am), it would be somewhat better, but not much. Instead, the op-ed is linked to a Google Document petition (surely not posted by Sci Am) that you can sign in solidarity with Palestine.

First of all, a science magazine has no business taking an ideological stand like this, particularly one replete with lies and distortions. What was Scientific American thinking? Do they fancy themselves to be Mother Jones?

And here is a recent Nature magazine editorial promoting leftist racial nonsense.

Update: From "Meet the Press Daily":

"So if you are trying to get at me as a public health official and a scientist, you're really attacking not only Dr. Anthony Fauci, you're attacking science. And anybody that looks at what is going on, clearly sees that, you have to be asleep not to see that. That is what going on," he added.

"Science and the truth are being attacked," Fauci concluded.

He is the highest paid US govt officil, and he certainly needs to be accountable to criticism.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Einstein book addendum

I wrote an Einstein book several years ago. One of the main arguments was that Einstein does not deserve credit for discovering relativity. The reasons are:

1. All of the important special relativity equations were published by others before Einstein wrote anything on the subject.

2. Einstein's 1905 theory was not seen at the time as being particularly novel or influential.

3. The main concept behind relativity is that spacetime has a non-euclidean geometry. This was published by others, and missed by Einstein.

Historians acknowledge (1), but credit Einstein for some non-mathematical subtlety such as accepting local time, saying the aether was superfluous, or giving a derivation that was not ad hoc. The trouble with these is that what Einstein actually said about local time and the aether was nearly identical to what Lorentz and Poincare said years earlier.

Item (2) is also acknowledged, but not so well known. There were papers written on competing theories, and they referred to the "Lorentz-Einstein theory", as if there were no distinction between the Lorentz and Einstein theories. Einstein tried, but was never able to give a good explanation as to how his theory differed from Lorentz's. Lorentz said that Einstein merely postulated what he and others had deduced from previous theory and experiment. Poincare and Minkowski did explain how their versions of relativity differed from Lorentz.

As for (3), it is well-known that Minkowski published a non-euclidean geometry treatment of relativity, and that is what caught on with physicists and led to widespread acceptance. Einstein complained that he turned the theory into something that he could not recognize. Some assume that Minkowski built on Einstein's ideas, but Lorentz and Poincare were much greater influences, and it is not clear that Minkowski got anything from Einstein.

Even as late as 1910, when someone suggested that Einstein's non-Euclidean geometrical view could avoid a paradox of Lorentzian relativity, Einstein wrote a letter to the journal denying that he has any such view different from Lorentz's. That would have been a great opportunity for Einstein to take credit for a conceptual advance, but he denied it.

In short, here is the paradox. If the Lorentz contraction is applied to a spinning bicycle wheel, the tire contracts while the spoke lengths remain the same. This seem to contradict the Euclidean geometry fact that a circle circumference is 2π times the radius. Adopting a non-euclidean geometry resolves the paradox.

Someone similar happened in the 1920s, when a general relativity explained that non-euclidean geometry was the heart of the theory. Einstein published a favorable book review, but denied the geometry view.

See also: Einstein did not discover relativity, Einstein book update, and Second Einstein book update

The history of relativity gives the background for the distortions in Physics that came later in the book. Einstein found that he was widely idolized for his supposed genius ability to do non-empirical theorizing. By the late 1920s, he was repudiating his earlier more empirical approach. Dutch physicist Jeroen van Dongen has written a very good new paper on this XX century trend towards non-empirical Physics. He writes:

In the absence of the empirical, Einstein emphasized the merit of his personal epistemological conviction, along with its success as documented in his version of his biography: the epistemic benefit of doing unified field theory was bound up with the virtuous dispositions of his kind of theorist.
This is a polite way of saying that Einstein lied about his life story in order to promote himself and the virtues of his worthless unified field theory research.
For admiration of Einstein as empiricist icon, see e.g. Heisenberg (1989) ; Heisenberg here further recalls his surprise when Einstein explained to him in 1926 that he no longer held empiricist views. In 1927, Heisenberg signaled a difference of opinion regarding the role of `simplicity' and the empirical with Einstein (Heisenberg to Einstein, 10 June 1927, cited on p. 467 in Pais 1982); Einstein himself was well aware of his isolation and the negative judgment of his peers; see Pais (1982), p. 462. See Howard (1994) on the logical empiricists. ...

Dismissal could take a moral tone, for instance when Robert Oppenheimer deemed that Einstein had been "wasting his time." In fact, he had gone "completely cuckoo", Oppenheimer added in private, or, as he put it in public, Einstein had "lost contact with the profession of physics." Clearly, the Einstein of unified field theory was not a proper theorist.

That's right. Respect for Einstein early was based on empirical work. The Nobel Prize was for one his more empirical papers. Then Einstein went non-empirical, and his work was cuckoo.

But a philosophical shift made the non-empirical work more respectable than the empirical. Those logical empiricists were driven out pf academia. The Kuhn paradigm shifters put non-empirical work as the true scientific revolutions that everyone admired.

Example of Einstein against empiricism:

In the same letter, Einstein expressed that he was no longer thinking about experiments on the wave and particle properties of light, and that one "will never arrive at a sensible theory in an inductive manner", even if "fundamental experiments" could still be of value - once again deprecating the quantum program's empirical slant.
The history is imprtant because these Kuhnian revolutions never happen. The discoveries of relativity and quantum mechanics in the early XX century were driven by empirical findings.

The patron saints of non-empirical philosphy are Copernicus, Galileo, Einstein, and Kuhn.

The example of Copernicus is particularly apt for today’s discussion. Copernicus proposed his alternative to the fairly successful Ptolemean universe in 1543. Yet, this theoretical proposal was basically beyond any meaningful notion of empirical falsifiability. This situation persisted pretty much until Galileo pointed the newly invented telescope to the heavens and in 1610 observed the phases of Venus.
The phases of Venus were not decisive, and arguments for and against continued until Isaac Newton. Some of the arguments were not fully resolved for centuries.

Kuhn makes a big deal out of this because Copernicus described a "revolution" of the Earth around the Sun, and the theory eventually caught on even tho there was little empirical evidence for it at the time. So he portrayed scientists as a bunch of irrational fad-followers.

In the case of relativity, all of the important early papers referred directly to the Michelson-Morley experiment as the crucial experiment, as well as to other experiments. This was acknowledged by everyone at the time, including Einstein. The view only got revised later, in efforts to credit Einstein and devalue empiricism.

I have posted here many times that I think that the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics could have been anticipated by clever theorists. If you are looking for a locally causal field theory, the math leads directly to relativity and gauge theory. In a way, that is what Maxwell did with electromagnetism.

And once you accept that we needed a wave theory of matter, quantum mechanics is the obvious thing. Nobody knows any better way to even propose such a theory. So these theories could have been developed from pure theory.

Or so it seems in retrospect. It never happened that way.

String theorists would like to tell you that Einstein created relativity out of pure theory, and that inspired string theorists to do the same today. Forget it. When Einstein shifted to purely theory analysis, his work was garbage.

Peter Woit mentions the above paper, and a comment notes that it ends by saying that non-empirical physics like string theory is a Kuhnian paradigm shift, and urging that we “keep funding it as generously as before.”

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

No, this is not Math's Fatal Flaw

A recent YouTube video explains:
This is Math's Fatal Flaw

Not everything that is true can be proven. This discovery transformed infinity, changed the course of a world war and led to the modern computer.

So this discovery was one of the greatest accomplishments of the XX century, and yet it is a "fatal flaw"?

The video is actually pretty good, but I object to all the explanations that say that Mathematics is somehow deficient because the consistency of the axioms cannot be proved from the axioms.

Nobody would ever want the consistency to be provable from the axioms anyway. Such a proof would mean nothing. Inconsistent systems allow such proofs, and nobody wants that.

It would be nice to have an algorithm to determine whether a given math statement is true or false. The above discovery shows that it is not possible. But again, this is not a fatal flaw. It is what makes Math interesting.