Monday, February 20, 2023

Petkov on the Tragic History of Relativity

New paper:
Petkov, Vesselin (2023) The Quadruple Scientific Tragedy involved in the Discovery of Spacetime Physics. The Origin of Spacetime Physics (2nd ed.). pp. 257-276. ...

The advent of spacetime physics came at the price of four different scientific tragedies involving Hendrik Lorentz, Henri Poincaré Albert Einstein and Hermann Minkowski whose work essentially laid the foundations of spacetime physics. Lorentz' and Poincaré's scientific tragedies had the same cause - both Lorentz and Poincaré regarded the new theoretical entities they introduced in physics as pure mathematical abstractions that did not represent anything in the physical world. Einstein's rather subtle scientific tragedy has to do with his unclear and, in some cases, even incorrect views on a number of subjects that might have led to confusions and misconceptions some of which still persist.

Four men made some brilliant discoveries that changed our fundamental understanding of Physics. It is hard to understand what is tragic about this.

His statement about "pure mathematical abstractions" is just a misunderstanding. Lorentz and Poincare had physical interpretations for everything they did. Some people argue that Lorentz did not have a way of tying his concept of "local time" to the time of local clocks, but they all agree that Poincare did, and that Poincare credited Lorentz with a similar understanding. Poincare even nominated Lorentz to get a Nobel Prize in 1902 for his theory of local time. Of course they understood local time represented something in the physical world. Lorentz and Poincare wrote papers on how their relativity theory explained the Michelson-Morley and other experiments. It was Einstein who took the more abstract approach of relating the formulas to his postulates, instead of experiments.

It is just a slander on mathematicians when non-mathematicians complain they are just doing mathematics, as if that makes it not real.

Einstein is widely credited with geometrizing spacetime. Many say that was his most profound and important discovery. Petkov explains that Einstein did not do that, and even disagreed with it:

After Minkowski’s 1908 world-view-changing lecture “Space and Time” Einstein had apparently had difficulty realizing the depth of Minkowski’s ideas and his reaction to the developed by Minkowski four-dimensional physics had been rather hostile. Sommerfeld’s recollection of what Einstein said on one occasion provides an indication of Einstein’s initial attitude towards the work of his mathematics professor on the foundations of spacetime physics [6, p. 102]:
Since the mathematicians have invaded the relativity theory, I do not under- stand it myself any more.
However, later, in order to develop his general relativity, Einstein had to adopt Minkowski’s four-dimensional physics but it appears that the adoption has not been fully successful since he did not truly employ Minkowski’s program of geometrizing physics. ...

In a letter to Reichenbach from April 8, 1926 Einstein wrote [25]:

It is wrong to think that “geometrization” is something essential. It is only a kind of crutch for the discovery of numerical laws. Whether one links “geometrical” intuitions with a theory is an inessential private matter.
Twenty-two years later, on June 19, 1948, in a letter to Lincoln Barnett Einstein reiterated his (mis)understanding of his own theory [26]:
I do not agree with the idea that the general theory of relativity is geometrizing Physics or the gravitational field.
... if Einstein did not believe that spacetime represented a real four-dimensional world 22 (and were nothing more than a mathematical space), then, clearly, gravitational phenomena could not be manifestations of the curvature of some- thing that does not exist. So it seems even in 1948 Einstein seriously doubted whether spacetime represented a real four-dimensional world. ...

Einstein seems to have never been able to eliminate entirely his negative attitude towards the discovered by Minkowski spacetime structure of the world, which ultimately prevented him from accepting the most counter-intuitive result of his own general relativity – that gravitation is not a physical interaction 23 since it is nothing more than a manifestation of the non-Euclidean geometry of spacetime. `

This is the most startling thing I discovered about Einstein. Everybody knows he refused to credit his sources, and used ideas and formulas that had been previously published by others. But they always argue that Einstein had a superior understanding, and primarily a geometric view which came to dominate 20th century Physics. But in fact he rejected that view. We got that view from others.

Petrov is particularly critical of Einstein explaining the Ehrenfest paradox incorrectly. Consider a rotating disk of radius 1. The circumference is Lorentz contracted, and so has length less than 2π. Einstein argued that it is really bigger than 2π because the measuring rods will be contracted, so more rods will be needed to measure the circumference. He wrote about this several times over many years, and never seemed to accept that space itself is contracting, in the view of another frame. Time cannot be synchronized over all the frames.

This article has more info on the history of the paradox. The paradox was first published in 1909, and it convinced a lot of people that non-Euclidean geometry was needed for general relativity.

Petkov argues that Minkowski independently discovered some relativity ideas that are credited to others, but was slow to publish. This is possible, but the evidence for it is weak. Minkowski cited Poincare's big 1905 relativity paper, and seems to use a lot of ideas from it. Minkowski died soon after publishing, and that is tragic, and we do not know what he might have done with the theory.

The main evidence is that (1) Minkowski's 1907 paper has so many original ideas in it that it was probably several years of work; and (2) Max Born recounts taking a relativity course from Minkowski in 1905, before the Poincare and Einstein 1905 papers were published. Regardless, it is clear that Minkowski made a huge contribution.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Dr. Bee Trashes Particle Physics

Slashdot reports:
Science educator Sabine Hossenfelder is a research fellow at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies. But Hossenfelder's latest YouTube video expounds upon the sorry state of particle physics, and in the process also has some interesting sidenotes on dark matter.

Hossenfelder criticises what has become the standard operating procedure of particle physicists, whereby they routinely predict the existence of particles that violate the Standard Model. Eventually, the postulated particles are experimentally falsified, at which time physicists move on to even more fanciful predictions.

Hossenfelder is pessimistic about the future of the field if particle physicists continue to behave in the same manner going forward. Hossenfelder also notes that in the past 50 years, only a handful of predictions have been validated, and all these were necessary elements of the Standard Model.
She talks a lot of about models that expand the symmetry to some larger, possibly broken, symmetry. For example the grand unified theories combine the weak and strong interactions into a larger group. Supersymmetry also adds many symmetries, and so does string theory.

There is an argument for such theories that goes like this. The history of Physics is in finding broader theories that unify others. Newton's gravity unified terrestial and celestial gravitation. Maxwell's theory unified electricity and magnetism. They were truly unified in that a moving electric field would generate a magnetic field, and vice.

So it seems conceptually desirable to unify strong and weak forces, with a larger symmetry group.

But it is not. All these theories cause drastic increases in complexity, and in unknown parameters needed to define the theory. Having more symmetries does not reduce the complexity because the symmetries are broken.

With electromagnetism, the symmetry is real, and you can do away with magnetism, and treat it as a relativistic effect of electricity. With the grand unified theories, there is no advantage to the extra symmetry at all. It does not make the theory more elegant.

All of this would be irrelevant if there were experimental evidence for the unified theories. As Hossenfelder explains, many billions of dollars have been spent looking, and none found.

Monday, February 13, 2023

There is no quantum world

Jeffrey Bub reviews some recent popular books on quantum mechanics.
John Bell’s status in our field has the same [like Isaac Newton, James Watson, and Linus Pauling] mythic quality. Before him there was nothing, only the philosophical disputes between famous old men. He showed that the field contained physics, experimental physics, and nothing has been the same since.
Some do say this, but it is crazy. All Bell did was to show that the predictions of quantum mechanics differ from a classical theory of local hidden variables. As what everyone believed anyway.
In several places Becker invokes the quote, ‘there is no quantum world,’ commonly attributed to Bohr (Becker, p. 14):
What does quantum physics tell us about the world? According to the Copenhagen interpretation this question has a very simple answer: quan- tum mechanics tells us nothing whatsoever about the world. . . . According to Bohr, there isn’t a story about the quantum world because ‘there is no quantum world. There is only an abstract quantum physical description.’
The ‘no quantum world’ comment is actually a quote from Bohr’s assistant Aage Petersen,17 who recounts Bohr saying this sort of thing. Bohr probably did make provocative statements along these lines in discussion, but he certainly did not mean that there is simply nothing there, as Becker seems to suggest.

What could Bohr have meant? Here’s my take on it. Quantum mechanics replaces the commutative algebra of physical quantities of a classical system with a noncommutative algebra of ‘observables.’ This is an extraordinary move, quite unprecedented in the history of physics, and arguably requires us to re-think what counts as an acceptable explanation in physics.

Aage Petersen, ‘The Philosophy of Niels Bohr,’ Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 19, 8–14 (1963). The quote is on p. 12: ‘When asked whether the algorithm of quantum mechanics could be considered as some- how mirroring an underlying quantum world, Bohr would answer, “There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract quantum physical description. It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature.”
Maybe Bohr meant that quantum mechanics is not a big disguise for a theory of hidden variables, as those pushing "realism" often suggest.
As Bell points out,20 Bohm’s theory involves action at a distance at the level of the hidden variables: ‘an explicit causal mechanism exists whereby the disposition of one piece of apparatus affects the results obtained with a distant piece,’ so that ‘the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox is resolved in the way which Einstein would have liked least.’ The problem of making sense of probability in an Everettian universe, where everything that can happen does happen in some world, is still a contentious issue.
Yes, these are fatal flaws to the Bohm and Everett theories.
the question of completeness dominated the debates between Bohr and Einstein. What Einstein had in mind was that something was left out of the quantum theory, which, if added to the theory, would restore the sort of ‘Anschaulichkeit’ characteristic of classical theories. ...

The question of ‘Anschaulichkeit’ morphed into a debate about the possibility of a realist interpretation of quantum mechanics, with the dissidents accusing the Copen- hagenists of the sin of positivism or instrumentalism, which by the 1960s had lost much of its appeal among philosophers.

As the review explains, when Einstein said completeness, he really meant commutativity, not determinism.

Yes, philosophers abandoned positivism for silly reasons, but why did physicists? Quantum mechanics is best understood as a positivist theory. So is relativity and other Physics theories. Quantum mechanics was explicitly positivist, before Bohm, Einstein, Everett, Bell, and others ruined it.

Friday, February 10, 2023

Anti-trans Language about Snakes

A recent 15-author paper begins:
Championing inclusive terminology in ecology and evolution

Amid a growing disciplinary commitment to inclusion in ecology and evolutionary biology (EEB), it is critical to consider how the use of scientific language can harm members of our research community. ...

In recent years, events such as the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and waves of anti-Black violence have highlighted the need for leaders in EEB to adopt inclusive and equitable practices in research, collaboration, teaching, and mentoring [1., 2., 3.].

Really, is that a fact? What are those waves of anti-Black violence?

There are references, so I checked them. One says:

Our non-Black colleagues must fight anti-Black racism and white supremacy within the academy to authentically promote Black excellence. Amplifying Black excellence in ecology and evolution is the antidote for white supremacy in the academy. ...

Black scholars in the life sciences are grieving, traumatized, exhausted, infuriated, frustrated and experiencing many other disparaging emotions4,12. As we attempt to operate in a system that presents extraordinary barriers to our success, we also watch our white counterparts thrive in a system equipped with the resources made for them7.

So it says the life sciences block Blacks, and make it easy for Whites. The reference to a Black Ivy League professor telling this story:
The officer asked for my license and registration. After he did whatever they do when they take your information back to their car, he came back and asked what I did for a living. I told him I was about to start a job as a professor, and that led to a long conversation about my life story. Once satisfied, he said I was free to go.

Before I drove off, I couldn't resist asking him why he pulled me over. "Your license plate is dirty," he responded. "You should get your car washed." If that was the true reason he pulled me over, then I'm not sure why he needed to know so much about my life history.

So he decided to wash his car more often, something a White professor might not have had to do!

Here is his only other gripe:

I was trained as a social psychologist to do basic research. ... senior faculty members told me that if I wanted to get tenure I would need to prioritize my basic research and set aside my "disparities stuff" until after tenure.
This is seriously delusional. White drivers also get pulled over by cops. Cops often ask nosy questions for a lot of reasons. Often they are just making conversation while they assess whether you are drunk. White researchers are also told to do basic research to get tenure.

The other references are no better.

This now passes for scholarship in today's scientific journals. Papers with a leftist agenda can present nonsense as facts. The above paper is filled with statements like:

Scientific terms used in EEB can also reinforce oppressive systems, discriminatory tropes, and offensive terms. For example, anti-trans language has been used to describe male snakes that engage in female mimicry, and phrases such as ‘sneaky mating strategy’ can normalize problematic male sexual behavior [6].
Next they will be objecting to terms like "male snakes".

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

The next Einstein will be African

Nature reports:
Mathematics has the potential to be a great equalizer. Compared with other scientific and technical fields, it requires few expensive physical resources. Sometimes, a whiteboard and a marker are all that’s needed.

However, maths is one of the least diverse of the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. For instance, the Survey of Earned Doctorates conducted by the US National Science Foundation) showed that, of all 1,915 doctorates awarded in mathematics and statistics in the United States in 2021, none went to people identifying as American Indian or Alaska Native. Just 28 (1.5%) were awarded to Black or African American mathematicians or statisticians, and 33 (1.7%) to researchers who identify as belonging to more than one race.

Maths is built on a modern history of elevating the achievements of one group of people: white men. “Theorems or techniques have names associated to them and most of the time, those names are of nineteenth-century French or German men,” such as Georg Cantor, Henri Poincaré and Carl Friedrich Gauss, all of whom were white, says John Parker, head of the mathematical sciences department at Durham University, UK. This means that the accomplishments of people of other genders and races have often been pushed aside, preventing maths from being a level playing field. ...

Mathematicians leading decolonization efforts say that building knowledge-sharing partnerships with communities is key. ...

The institute is a system of five centres of excellence in Cameroon, Ghana, Senegal, South Africa and Rwanda that are designed to deliver the next generation of leading mathematical thinkers on the continent. AIMS’s five centres award fully funded master’s degrees and doctorates, preparing students for jobs in academia and in industry. AIMS is built around the motto “We believe the next Einstein will be African”.

Einstein was not a mathematician.

This is just embarrassing.

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Quantum Computing Predicted for 2025

The Davos folks have new video with predictions:
Quantum Computing is On Track for 2025.

Back in 2022 Arvind Krishna, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of IBM Corporation, surprised the audience, and many viewers of this channel by asserting that we will have quantum computing by 2025. A year later, again during Davos the IBM CEO confirmed that IBM is respecting the timeline and we will have quantum computing by 2025. It will be powerful enough to create a major breakthrough in science, but also dangerous enough to make some of the worst fears come true. Others seem to agree.

In the cryptology world, there is a hot debate about what to do about this possible collapse of the technological underpinning of all our secure communications. The claim is that the Chinese are intercepting and recording encrypted transmissions so they can crack them in 2025 or 2035.

There are several issues. Public key agreements, signatures, hashes, and ciphers. The popular hashes and ciphers are safe. The signatures could be forged by a quantum computer, but that cannot cause any trouble unless it is an active attack. Signatures are used to verify a piece of data, and then discarded. There is no harm in continuing to use RSA or elliptic curve signatures until the million-qubit quantum computer is operational.

That leaves the only concern about public key agreements on data that is to be secret for 10 years. The padlock icon on your browser was largely invented to assure consumers that their credit card numbers would not be stolen if they ordered a product from Ebay or Amazon.

Even if quantum computers are invented, I am pretty confident that no one will use them to steal credit card numbers. There are too many easier ways to get them.

I guess I will revisit these predictions in two years on this blog. I doubt that we will see any significant advances.