Natura non facit saltus
Debunking the Paradigm Shifters
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Monday, Nov 30, 2009
Which climate conspiracy
The leftist SciAm mag explains the warmist email scandal:
There is, in fact, a climate conspiracy. ...The conspiracy link is to this book which claims to have discovered "premeditated prevarications about the threat of greenhouse gas emissions by the oil and coal industry".
I certainly hope that the old and coal industries have been funding their own research, and promoting their views. I mainly hear the warmist views.
The London UK Times reports:
Scientists at the University of East Anglia (UEA) have admitted throwing away much of the raw temperature data on which their predictions of global warming are based.I could not find this remarkable statement on the CRU website. This is no excuse for this. They are not real scientists if they just have "value-added" data and not raw data.
Another London paper reports:
Leading British scientists at the University of East Anglia, who were accused of manipulating climate change data - dubbed Climategate - have agreed to publish their figures in full.Why did the CRU ever negotiate such agreements in the first place?
The FOIA requests to CRU started in 2007. If this were really a legitimate excuse, then CRU would have released the agreements in 2007 to justify the non-compliance. The leaked FOIA documents do not have any such agreements, as far as I know. Either this story is another smokescreen, or the warmist conspiracy just got worse.
Sunday, Nov 29, 2009
Warmist email contradicts testimony
Michael Fumento quotes the IPCC head Kevin Trenberth:
It has become evident that the planet is running a 'fever' and the prognosis is that it is apt to get much worse. 'Warming of the climate system is unequivocal' and it is 'very likely' due to human activities. [2007 testimony]I think that warmist is a good concise neutral name for the global warming alarmists or those who argue that global warming will have catastrophic consequences. This includes Al Gore.
I think that the most shocking thing about the leaked emails is that the warmists had been stonewalling FOIA requests for their data and computer codes for two years. And even after two years of trying to cover their tracks, the codes reveal an assortment of indefensible hacks.
I think that all govt science grant applications should have a couple of checkboxes. They should ask: Does this research have any public policy implications? Will you post all relevant data and data manipulation tools?
We should not be deciding important public policy matters based on hockey stick charts, when the data has not had public scrutiny.
Friday, Nov 27, 2009
Ernst Mayr on Darwin
SciAm has just reposted this 2000 article by the great evolutionist Ernst Mayr:
Clearly, our conception of the world and our place in it is, at the beginning of the 21st century, drastically different from the zeitgeist at the beginning of the 19th century. But no consensus exists as to the source of this revolutionary change. Karl Marx is often mentioned; Sigmund Freud has been in and out of favor; Albert Einstein’s biographer Abraham Pais made the exuberant claim that Einstein’s theories “have profoundly changed the way modern men and women think about the phenomena of inanimate nature.”No, Einstein did not invent any theories that profoundly changed anyone. He just popularized the theories of others. Marx and Freud was also big phonies.
Darwin founded a new branch of life science, evolutionary biology. Four of his contributions to evolutionary biology are especially important, as they held considerable sway beyond that discipline. The first is the nonconstancy of species, or the modern conception of evolution itself. The second is the notion of branching evolution, implying the common descent of all species of living things on earth from a single unique origin. Up until 1859, all evolutionary proposals, such as that of naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, instead endorsed linear evolution, a teleological march toward greater perfection that had been in vogue since Aristotle’s concept of Scala Naturae, the chain of being. Darwin further noted that evolution must be gradual, with no major breaks or discontinuities. Finally, he reasoned that the mechanism of evolution was natural selection.Darwin doesn't even claim to be original on the first three ideas. On the fourth, he says that he published it after Wallace wrote the same idea, but Darwin claims to have had the idea independently.
Remember that in 1850 virtually all leading scientists and philosophers were Christian men. ... First, Darwinism rejects all supernatural phenomena and causations.Occasionally I hear some evolutionist reject the term "Darwinism" because it suggests philosophical ideas. This proves that the usage is endorsed by mainstream Darwinists.
Sixth, Darwin provided a scientific foundation for ethics. ... We now know, however, that in a social species not only the individual must be considered --— an entire social group can be the target of selection.No, there is still no consensus on this point. David Sloan Wilson backs group selection, while Dawkins denies it.
Let me now try to summarize my major findings. No educated person any longer questions the validity of the so-called theory of evolution, which we now know to be a simple fact. Likewise, most of Darwin’s particular theses have been fully confirmed, such as that of common descent, the gradualism of evolution, and his explanatory theory of natural selection.A simple fact? Dawkins denies that part about group selection, to the extent that it differs from kin selection.
This article is a good example of how mainstream evolutionists idolize Darwin.
Meanwhile, the same magazine has this article on human testicle evolution. Far from scientific fact, it is wildly speculative and amusing.
Wednesday, Nov 25, 2009
Galison on Einstein
I have commented before on Peter Galison here and here. I take him seriously because he is a distinguished Harvard professor and historian, and because he looks at the original sources himself and does not just regurgitate conventional wisdom.
In a 2000 essay on Einstein, he wrote:
Poincaré's first exploration of simultaneity came in 1898, when he argued that simultaneity was not an absolute concept, insisting that we have no direct intuition to any such notion. What we do have are certain rules, rules that we must invoke in order to do the quite concrete technical work of, for example, longitude determination. ...This is an article praising Einstein for discovering special relativity, and emphasizing his notion of time as being the crux of the theory. And yet he concedes that Poincare did the same thing years earlier, and that Einstein might have gotten the idea from Poincare.
So what exactly was the merit in what Einstein did? For that, read the carefully worded sentence in boldface above. It is an incredibly strained defense of Einstein.
The sentence is incorrect, for reasons I will explain later. But even if it were correct, it would not be saying that Einstein had any new or better theories. He merely presented Poincare's ideas in a way that was preferable to some people.
You would think that if Einstein really did such great work, it would be easier to point to just what he did that was original.
In a review of another book, Galison writes:
Looking back on the early 20th century, Bohr wistfully reflected that Einstein had done so much of relativity theory by himself, while quantum mechanics took a whole generation of physicists 30 years.No, this is really wrong. The first relativistic theory was Maxwell's equations in the 1860s. Experiments by Michelson and others showing a contradiction with the prevailing aether theories were in the 1880s. Theoretical explanations started to appear around 1890 with work by Larmor, Voigt, FitzGerald, Lorentz, and others. Poincare figured out the relativity of time around 1900. Einstein wrote his famous special relativity paper in 1905, and his famous general relativity paper in 1915. The expansion of the universe was figured out in the 1920s by Lemaitre and Hubble. I think that relativity took about 30 years, and Einstein's contribution was minor.
(The book has fictionalized dialog, so Bohr probably didn't really say that.)
Monday, Nov 23, 2009
Hawking on Einstein
A Brief History of Time By Stephen Hawking Stephen Hawking is the world's most famous physicist. He wrote Galileo and the Birth of Modern Science, in Ameritage's Invention & Technology, saying:
Galileo, perhaps more than any other single person, was responsible for the birth of modern science.This is a crazy exaggeration. See the post below.
Between 1887 and 1905 there were several attempts, most notably by the Dutch physicist Hendrik Lorentz, to explain the result of the Michelson-Morley experiment in terms of objects contracting and clocks slowing down when they moved through the ether. However, in a famous paper in 1905, a hitherto unknown clerk in the Swiss patent office, Albert Einstein, pointed out that the whole idea of an ether was unnecessary, providing one was willing to abandon the idea of absolute time. A similar point was made a few weeks later by a leading French mathematician, Henri Poincare. Einstein’s arguments were closer to physics than those of Poincare, who regarded this problem as mathematical. Einstein is usually given the credit for the new theory, but Poincare is remembered by having his name attached to an important part of it.This is pretty good, except that Poincare had done all those things by 1902. His 1902 book said that the aether was unnecessary, that there is no absolute time, and that the laws of physics are bound by the principle of relativity. In his 1905 paper, Poincare actually did consider gravitational effects.
The oddest statement is "Poincare ... regarded this problem as mathematical." Is this supposed to be some sort of put-down? Hawking himself is known for mathematical physics.
Poincare's work is more mathematically rigorous, but it is also closer to the physics. He explicitly says that he is trying to explain the Michelson-Morley experiment, while Einstein doesn't mention it. Historians aren't sure that he even knew about that experiment.
Saturday, Nov 21, 2009
Bogus Galileo story
A common science textbook story is Galileo's Leaning Tower of Pisa experiment:
Vivani's early biography of Galileo informs us of the story that Galileo dropped two objects of different mass from the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. He did so as an experiment to disprove Aristotle's theory of gravity, which states that objects fall at a speed relative to their mass. It is generally accepted that this is not a true story, but rather a fictional tale passed down among other scientific folklore.I knew that this was an embellishment, but I thought that Galileo really did refute Aristotle. See this extract from Galileo's Two New Sciences:
SALV. ... Aristotle says that "an iron ball of one hundred pounds falling from a height of one hundred cubits reaches the ground before a one-pound ball has fallen a single cubit." I say that they arrive at the same time. You find, on making the experiment, ...I have wondered about this quote, because I didn't think that Aristotle's physics made any quantitative predictions. Now I learn from this book that the quote is bogus. Aristotle did make some hard-to-explain statements about heavier objects, but not about them falling. Here is the closest thing the book finds:
The facts are that fire is always light and moves upward, while earth and all earthy things move downwards or towards the centre. .' . . The palpable fact ... is that the greater the quantity, the lighter the mass is, and the quicker its upward movement} and, similarly, in the reverse movement from above downward, the small mass will move quicker and the large slower. Further, since to be lighter is to have fewer of these homogeneous parts and to be heavier is to have more, and air, water, and fire are composed of the same triangles [according to the argument Aristotle here combats], the only difference being in the number of such parts, which must therefore explain any distinction of relatively light and heavy between these bodies, it follows that there must be a certain quantum of air which is heavier than water. But the facts are entirely opposed to this. The larger the quantity of air the more readily it moves upward, and any portion of air without exception will rise out of water.I am not sure what this means, but it is not the silly straw man argument that Galileo refutes. The book also traces the myth about dropping cannonballs from the Tower of Pisa.
Friday, Nov 20, 2009
Cave men understood the tides
I just watched the new PBS TV Nova Becoming Human Part 3. It seemed to have many speculative opinions stated as fact, such as:
NARRATOR: The Neanderthals were just one of many species that disappeared when we arrived. ..., 28,000 years go. Then they vanished, leaving no legacy but their fossilized bones. For the first time there was only one type of human on the planet.There are some who claim that Flores Man was another type of human at that time. Going back further in time, the show pretty much claimed that all of the hominids of the last 5M years were very closely related. Eg, Lucy was assumed to be very closely related to human ancestors. Maybe the narrator would say that Lucy was a hominid and not a human, so his statement about the "first time" does not apply. These shows have an annoying tendency to make these statements that sound profound but are actually meaningless.
The show argued that S. African cave men were smart enough to understand the relationship between the Moon and the tides:
CURTIS MAREAN: ... Seventy-six thousand years ago somebody had a nice shellfish dinner there.Wow. Galileo's dispute with the Pope was over whether the tides were caused by the motion of the Earth or the Moon. The Church scholars said that it was the Moon. Galileo was wrong.
I figured that the ancients knew about the Moon and the tides, but it is news to me that African cave men might have known it 76k years ago.
Kepler was a contemporary of Galileo, and understood that the Moon's gravity caused the tides. According to a Virginia physics prof Michael Fowler's page:
Kepler stated flatly that the traditional Aristotelian doctrine that heavy things strive toward the center of the world was completely erroneous. He stated that gravity was a mutual tendency between material bodies toward contact, so the earth draws a stone much more than the stone draws the earth. Heavy bodies are attracted by the earth not because it is the center of the universe, but simply because it contains a lot of material, all of which attracts the heavy body.Occasionally Galileo is called the "father of modern observational astronomy", or even "the father of modern science". He does not deserve these titles. His contemporary Kepler did astronomy that was vastly superior any way you want to measure it.
Wednesday, Nov 18, 2009
Einstein on Minkowski space
I say that Poincare's 1905 theory of special relativity was superior to Einstein's, and you don't have to take my word for it. Just look at what Einstein himself wrote.
These inadequate remarks can give the reader only a vague notion of the important idea contributed by Minkowski. Without it the general theory of relativity, of which the fundamental ideas are developed in the following pages, would perhaps have got no farther than its long clothes.He is talking about Minkowski spacetime, which Minkowski announced in 1908 as a 4-dimensional version of special relativity. He began with this bold announcement:
The views of space and time which I wish to lay before you have sprung from the soil of experimental physics, and therein lies their strength. They are radical. Henceforth space by itself, and time by itself, are doomed to fade away into mere shadows, and only a kind of union of the two will preserve an independent reality.I am not sure what Minkowski did that was original, as Poincare had already introduced spacetime. I believe that Minkowski was the first to combine the electric and magnetic field into a tensor on spacetime. Maybe he also combined energy and momentum into a 4-vector.
Poincare did not wholly buy into Minkowski's view, as he said this in a 1912 lecture shortly before his death:
The new conception … according to which space and time are no longer two separate entities, but two parts of the same whole, which are so intimately bound together that they cannot be easily separated… is a new convention [that some physicists have adopted]… Not that they are constrained to do so; they feel that this new convention is more comfortable, that’s all; and those who do not share their opinion may legitimately retain the old one, to avoid disturbing their ancient habits. Between ourselves, let me say that I feel they will continue to do so for a long time still.In Poincare's philosophy of science, a some scientific principles are a matter of convention, and are neither empirical facts nor theoretical necessities. His point was that you can think of space and time as being separate or as being unified. Either way, you would have to accept the spacetime symmetries, so there may be no practical difference. A century later, space and time are still distinguished for most purposes.
But what Einstein actually described was entirely contained in Poincare's 1905 paper. He described the spacetime metric as being formally Eucldean if you use imaginary time.
Apparently Einstein did not understand what Poincare wrote in 1905, because in early 1908 he complained:
A physical theory can be satisfactory only if its structures are composed of elementary foundations. The theory of relativity is ultimately just as unsatisfactory as, for example, classical thermodynamics was before Boltzmann interpreted entropy as probability.Einstein soon learned about spacetime from Minkowski, but did not appreciate it:
Einstein's reaction to Minkowski's work was interesting. It's well known that Einstein was not immediately very appreciative of his former instructor's contribution, describing it as "superfluous learnedness", and joking that "since the mathematicians have attacked the relativity theory, I myself no longer understand it any more". He seems to have been at least partly serious when he later said "The people in Gottingen [where both Minkowski and Hilbert resided] sometimes strike me not as if they wanted to help one formulate something clearly, but as if they wanted only to show us physicists how much brighter they are than we".In Einstein's 1949 autobiographical notes, he wrote:
Gradually I despaired of the possibility of discovering the true laws by means of constructive efforts based on known facts. The longer and more desperately I tried, the more I came to the conviction that only the discovery of a universal formal principle could lead us to assured results.So Einstein was dissatisfied with his 1905 explanation of special relativity, and desperately searched for a more constructive one. When Poincare's 1905 explanation in terms of a spacetime metric became popular in 1908, he rejected it. By 1912, Grossman convinced him that it was essential to understanding gravity. By 1920, Einstein admitted that he would have been helpless without it.
Tuesday, Nov 17, 2009
I had offered to post examples of anti-evolutionists lying to promote their cause, and someone sent me an example. Creationist Ray Comfort distributed free copies of Darwin's Origin Of Species, but it was missing four (out of 15) chapters. His web site promised the whole book. He includes a correct table of contents, so I don't see how he could be fooling anyone.
I am not sure what the point is. I have never heard of this guy. The original book is in the public domain, and you can download it here.
I have noted before that evolutionist criticism of others nearly always centers on dubious claims of dishonesty. This appears to be an example of a creationist being dishonest.
Monday, Nov 16, 2009
Galison on Einstein
Harvard science historian and genius prize winner Peter Galison writes:
Einstein's removal of these philosophical absolutes [of space and time] was more than a contribution to relativity; it has become a symbol of the overthrow of one philosophical epoch for another. To physicists such as Henri Poincaré, Hendrik Lorentz, and Max Abraham, Einstein's special relativity was startling, almost incomprehensible, because it began with basic assumptions about the behavior of clocks, rulers, and bodies in force-free motion -- it began, in short, by assuming what these senior physicists had hoped to prove with starting assumptions about the structure of the electron, the nature of forces, and the dynamics of the ether. Soon a generation of physicists, including Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr, patterned its quantum epistemology around Einstein's quasi-operational definitions of space and time in terms of rulers and coordinated clocks. For the philosophers of the Vienna Circle, including Moritz Schlick, Rudolf Carnap, and Philipp Frank, Einstein’s special relativity paper was also a turning point, an ever present banner to be flown for scientific philosophy.No, Einstein's 1905 paper did not startle Poincare by removing absolute space and time. Poincare had already written a popular book in 1902, “Science and Hypothesis”, where he said:
“Absolute space does not exist. We only perceive relative motions”. ...Einstein's friends report that he was deeply affected by this book in 1904. Einstein's rethinking of simultaneity was entirely contained in Poincare's papers of 1898 and 1900.
I agree that Einstein's 1905 paper is the best-known 20th century physics paper, but I deny that it was a radical break from the past. It was nothing but a recapitulation of the special relativity theory that Lorentz and Poincare had published over the previous ten years.
Saturday, Nov 14, 2009
Will on Einstein
The physicist (and general relativity experimentalist) Clifford M. Will writes in this 2005 essay:
Much has been written about why Einstein was able to arrive at this new view of time, while his contemporaries, including great men like Lorentz and Poincaré were not. Henri Poincaré is a case in point. By 1904 Poincaré understood almost everything there was to understand about relativity. In 1904 he journeyed to St. Louis to speak at the scientific congress associated with the World’s Fair, on the newly relocated campus of my own institution, Washington University. In reading Poincaré’s paper “The Principles of Mathematical Physics” , one senses that he is so close to having special relativity that he can almost taste it. Yet he could not take the final leap to the new understanding of time.What final leap? Lorentz was accused of inventing local time, and then not realizing that moving clocks would actually measure local time. But not Poincare. Here is what he says in that 1904 lecture:
The most ingenious idea has been that of local time.It is clear that whatever time he is talking about, it is the time that observers see on their watches.
Will also argues:
The first postulate merely adopts the wisdom, handed down from Galileo and Newton, that the laws of mechanics are the same in any inertial frame, ... Furthermore, there existed a set of transformations, found by Lorentz, under which Maxwell’s equations were invariant, with an invariant speed of light. In addition, Einstein was presumably aware of the Michelson-Morley experiment (although he did not refer to it by name in his 1905 paper) which demonstrated no effect on the speed of light of our motion relative to the so-called “aether” . While the great physicists of the day, such as Lorentz, Poincaré and others were struggling to bring all these facts together by proposing concepts such as “internal time”, or postulating and then rejecting “aether drift”, Einstein’s attitude seems to have been similar to that expressed in the American idiom: “if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck”.Will is essentially saying the Lorentz and Poincare did not understand relativistic time, and the proof is that they called it "internal time"! This argument is so idiotic. It is like saying that Poincare did not say what Einstein said because Poincare wrote in French while Einstein wrote in German. Their terminology is nearly identical, after doing the obvious translation.
Poincare and Lorentz did not propose or endorse aether drift; others did. Poincare used the term "local time" to give credit to Lorentz, as Lorentz used that term. It is a good term, as it measures time in the local frame.
Poincare and Lorentz use the exact same formulas for relativistic time as Einstein. (In their later papers, that is. Lorentz's 1895 paper used approximations.) There is no difference. It is amazing how Will can spend 40 years worshipping Einstein, and then base his claim of Einstein's superiority on such an obviously stupid point.
Friday, Nov 13, 2009
NewScientist mag tells about supersymmetry:
If supersymmetry does smooth the way for string theory, however, that could be a decisive step towards a theory that solves the greatest unsolved problem of physics: why gravity seems so different to all the rest of the forces in nature. If so, supersymmetry really could have all the answers.No, string theory is not going to explain why gravity is so different. Gravity is different because it is the curvature of spacetime, while other fields are the curvatures of other (nontangential) bundles. String theory adds nothing to that understanding.
Einstein wrote well
The Super-Freakonomics guys were just interviewed on Charlie Rose, and one of them said:
Dubner: There are all these brilliant academics out there, and they are not writing books. Einstein I wish had written well. I'd like to hear from him.No, that is not true. Einstein wrote a pretty good 1920 book on relativity and it is now in the public domain (and free to read online). There are also lots of modern academics who write well.
Of course Prof. Levitt has the advantage of a full-time professional writer promoting his work. So he has publicity and sales far beyond other academics who are just as good.
Update: The same Rose show also interviews Malcolm Gladwell, a similarly overrated author of best-selling books. He tells entertaining stories with seemingly insightful lessons, but those insights are often wrong. See Steven Pinker's review of Gladwell's latest book:
An eclectic essayist is necessarily a dilettante, which is not in itself a bad thing. But Gladwell frequently holds forth about statistics and psychology, and his lack of technical grounding in these subjects can be jarring. He provides misleading definitions of “homology,” “saggital plane” and “power law” and quotes an expert speaking about an “igon value” (that’s eigenvalue, a basic concept in linear algebra). In the spirit of Gladwell, who likes to give portentous names to his aperçus, I will call this the Igon Value Problem: when a writer’s education on a topic consists in interviewing an expert, he is apt to offer generalizations that are banal, obtuse or flat wrong.There is more criticism here and here.
Update: Gladwell complains about the review, but eventually concedes that Pinker was right. Somehow Gladwell is one of the popular essayists and speakers in the USA today. And yet he appears to be wrong about much of what he says.
Thursday, Nov 12, 2009
Science in two minutes
Discover magazine has contest winners for a two-minute video teaching evolution. They previously had a contest for string theory.
What do evolution and string theory have in common? Are these two theories particularly hard to communicate for some reason?
Yes, I think that they are hard to communicate for different reasons. The basic ideas of evolution are simple, easy to explain, and uncontroversial. But when evolutionists say that the theory explains all life on earth, then it gets difficult.
The videos have an ad for a PBS Nova series on human evolution. I am currently watching it, and it has new evidence about hominid fossils. This is the first time I have seen a show like this admit that the African savannah theory had fallen out of favor. That theory had been the core of human evolution for a century. The new theories seem about equally speculative to me.
The show used the word hominid to mean a human relative that postdates the human-ape split of about 6M years ago. It did not comment on this definition even tho most of the evolutionists today insist on using the term hominid to include all the great apes. It seems that they want to emphasize that we are just apes. Using the word hominid to mean a non-ape human relative makes much more sense to me.
String theory also purports to be a theory of everything. The basic idea is fairly simple, but there is no good theory or evidence to back it up, so explanations of string theory tend to be vacuous.
I think what they have in common is that both subjects try to evangelize a quasi-religious worldview where the proponents have reasons to convince you that go beyond the scientific merits of the theory.
Based on that, I predict that the next contest will be on Climate Change.
Wednesday, Nov 11, 2009
E.T. phone Rome
The AP reports, in USA Today:
VATICAN CITY – Four hundred years after it locked up Galileo for challenging the view that the Earth was the center of the universe, the Vatican has called in experts to study the possibility of extraterrestrial alien life and its implication for the Catholic Church. ...No, Galileo was not locked up for challenging that view. The Vatican asked him to write a book challenging that view. He was not locked up, but put in house arrest with a pension. He was not declared a heretic. It was not just Church teaching that put Earth at the center, but most astronomers at the time did.
It is not news that the Vatican clergy "openly endorse scientific ideas like the Big Bang". The Vatican astronomer Georges Lemaître invented the Big Bang theory!
Some myths just won't go away.
Monday, Nov 09, 2009
Kevin Brown quotes Einstein's 1919 essay:
We can distinguish various kinds of theories in physics. Most of them are constructive. They attempt to build up a picture of the more complex phenomena out of the materials of a relatively simple formal scheme from which they start out. ...Brown goes on to show that Einstein plagiarized this distinction from Poincare!
I prefer to think of this distinction as that of top-down and bottom-up design. The constructive theory is bottom-up, and the principle theory is top-down.
This is one of those philosophical distinctions that is confusing because sometimes the same theory can be described as either top-down or bottom-up, depending on how it is presented. This terminology comes from computer software. If you read a book top-down, you would read the title, then the table of contents, and then the text of the book. Reading it bottom-up would start with the text.
A better is example is writing an essay. The top-down method is to write the title, then a short outline, then progressively more detailed outlines until you have a complete essay. The bottom-up method would be to immediately write paragraphs of text, and then piece them together into an essay. Both approaches have merit, of course.
Einstein is saying that his presentation of relativity was that of a top-down theory. He gave some abstract postulates (indistinguishability of frames, constancy of light speed), and worked out the details as consequences.
Lorentz's approach was bottom-up. Lorentz studied the electromagnetic experiments, and then the differential equations for electrodynamics, and then the experiments testing those equations, and then looked for transformations that explained those experiments. The existence of those transformations became Einstein's postulate. His approach was the reverse of Einstein's because he did the detailed theory first, and then abstracted out the abstract principles.
Poincare did special relativity both ways. He wrote technical papers improving on Lorentz's results, and he wrote philosophical papers discussing the high-level principles. It was Poincare's idea to look for theories that are Lorentz invariant, and that has turned out be one of the most principle-driven ideas of 20th century physics.
If you like top-down better than bottom-up, then I can see why you would like Einstein's approach better than Lorentz's. But surely Poincare had the superior top-down approach. Among other approaches, Poincare proposed deriving relativity from Minkowski spacetime. That is the approach that was necessary for general relativity at the time, and it remains the preferred approach today.
There are pedagogic advantages to a top-down approach, and perhaps that explains why Lorentz gets so little credit today. But it does not explain why Poincare gets even less credit.
Saturday, Nov 07, 2009
Eddington on Einstein and the Copernican Revolution
The physicist Arthur S. Eddington wrote in a 1922 essay:
Every one now admits that the Ptolemaic system, which regarded the earth as the centre of all things belongs to the dark ages. But to our dismay we have discovered that the same geocentric outlook still permeates modem physics through and through, unsuspected until recently. It has been left to Einstein to carry forward the revolution begun by Copernicus -- to free our conception of nature from the terrestrial bias imported into it by the limitations of our earthbound experience. ...Wow, I thought that Eddington was a competent physicist. What reduces him to such drivel?
Relativity teaches that the laws of physics are valid in any frame, including the Ptolemaic system or geocentric outlook. It does not crown the work of Copernicus because it is contrary to what Copernicus said. None of this stuff makes any sense.
Eddington was British, Quaker, and a World War I draft evader. He led the 1919 team to measure the gravitational deflection of light during a solar eclipse. He was trying to convince the authorities that he was doing something more worthwhile than joining the army. He exaggerated the significance of his findings, and made Einstein famous. Following Einstein, Eddington spent the next 20 years on a silly and fruitless search for a unified field theory.
Friday, Nov 06, 2009
The experiment that led to relativity
A relativity page explains:
In this sub-section we discuss a famous experiment done in the late nineteenth century by Michelson and Morley. ...So how is it that special relativity is always taught as a consequence of the Michelson-Morley experiment, and Einstein didn't even know about it?
The explanation is simple. Lorentz developed his Lorentz transformations directly to explain Michelson-Morley. Poincare was led to his Principle of Relativity from Michelson-Morley also. They said so in their papers.
If Einstein had developed relativity by himself, it would not make any sense that he would not know about Michelson-Morley. But if Einstein plagiarized it from Lorentz and Poincare, then he would not need to know anything about Michelson-Morley. He just needed what Lorentz and Poincare deduced from that experiment.
It is amazing how much trouble historians and philosophers have with explaining how Einstein discovered special relativity. Einstein was a patent clerk who spent all day looking up inventions in libraries. If he wanted to learn about relativity, wouldn't he just look up the published papers on the subject?
Wednesday, Nov 04, 2009
Einstein explains himself
Historians have tried to figure out how Einstein created special relativity. Eg, Peter Galison wrote this in his book, Einstein's Clocks:
The reader is referred to an excellent short synthesis in Stachel et al., "Einstein on the Special Theory of Relativity," editorial note in The Swiss Years: Writings, 1900Ð1909, vol. 2 of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, ed. Stachel et al. (Princeton, N.J., 1989), pp. 253Ð74, esp. pp. 264Ð65, which argues that the rough sequence of Einstein's work was (1) conviction that only relative motion of ponderable bodies was significant; (2) abandonment of Lorentz's assignment of physical significance to absolute motion; (3) exploration of alternative electrodynamics justifying emission hypothesis of light relative to source; (4) abandonment of this alternative electrodynamics as Einstein assumes velocity of light independent of the velocity of the source; (5) critique of the usual conception of temporal and spatial intervals, and especially of distant simultaneity; and (6) physical definition of simultaneity and the construction of a new kinematic theory.The curious thing about this summary is that there is no mention of the Lorentz aether theory, of Poincare's relativity, or of the Michelson-Morley experiment.
Special relativity is often taught as Einstein trying to explain the Michelson-Morley experiment, but Einstein's famous 1905 paper does not mention that experiment, and his account of the matter is confusing. Prof. R. S. Shankland reported:
The several statements which Einstein made to me in Princeton concerning the Michelson-Morley experiment are not entirely consistent, as mentioned above and in my earlier publication. His statements and attitudes towards the Michelson-Morley experiment underwent a progressive change during the course of our several conversations. I wrote down within a few minutes after each meeting exactly what I recalled that he had said. On 4 February 1950 he said,"...that he had become aware of it through the writings of H. A. Lorentz, but only after 1905 had it come to his attention." But at a later meeting on 24 October, 1952 he said, "I am not sure when I first heard of the Michelson experiment. I was not conscious that it had influenced me directly during the seven years that relativity had been my life. I guess I just took it for granted that it was true." However, in the years 1905-1909 (he told me) he thought a great deal about Michelson's result in his discussions with Lorentz and others, and then he realized (so he told me) that he "had been conscious of Michelson's result before 1905 partly through his reading of the papers of Lorentz and more because he had simply assumed this result of Michelson to be true."...Einstein biographer and fan J. Stachel says:
We do have a number of later historical remarks by Einstein himself, sometimes transmitted by others (Wertheimer, Reiser- Kayser, Shankland, Ishiwara, for example), which raise many problems of authenticity and accuracy; and some very late Einstein letters, answering questions such as whether he had prior knowledge of the Michelson-Morley experiment, what works by Lorentz he had read, the influence of Poincaré, Mach, Hume, etc., on his ideas; Einstein's replies are not always self-consistent, it must be noted.Stachel has written detailed articles about where Einstein got his ideas for special relativity, but just says this about Poincare:
Here, I believe, Einstein was really helped by his philosophical readings. He undoubtedly got some help from his readings of Mach and Poincaré, ...This is strange. Poincare was a mathematician and he special relativity papers that are more mathematically sophicated than Einstein's, and yet Stachel only credits him with some philosophical influence on Einstein. No, Einstein got his math from Poincare also.
Einstein gave his own explanation in a 1922 Kyoto Japan lecture, titled "How I Created the Theory of Relativity". A translation was published by the journal Physics Today in 1982.
It was more than seventeen years ago that I had an idea of developing the theory of relativity for the first time. While I cannot say exactly where that thought came from, I am certain that it was contained in the problem of the optical properties of moving bodies. Light propagates through the sea of ether, in which the Earth is moving. In other words, the ether is moving with respect to the Earth. I tried to find clear experimental evidence for the flow of the ether in the literature of physics, but in vain. ...Notice how Einstein egotistically claims all the credit for himself. He claims to have searched the literature, but does not admit to reading anything but Lorentz's 1895 paper. He does not mention Poincare, Minkowski, Planck, Levi-Civita, or Hilbert at all. Each of them contributed more to relativity than Einstien. He mentions Michelson, but not Michelson-Morley. He mentions his friend Besso, who is thanked in the 1905 paper, but only to say that Besso did not do anything but listen. He mentions Grossman, who co-authored Einstein's biggest general relativity paper, but only credits him with teaching Riemann theory.
Overall, Einstein promotes the myth that he discovered special relativity in a flash of brilliance in 1905, with hardly any help from any papers, theory, experiments, or anything. He refuses to even acknowledge the work of Poincare and others. He also claims all the credit for general relativity, admitting only that it took him a few years.
At the time of Einstein's lecture, he was the most famous physicist in the world. His future was secure. Poincare was dead. It would have cost him nothing to honestly credit others. But he did not.
Monday, Nov 02, 2009
Reany on Einstein
Patrick Reany has a defense of Einstein's originality. He quotes this post on sci.physics.relativity:
Reany responds:"Tom M-G"
But just to answer the poster: It is obvious what Einstein has done for physics. He unified into ONE damn theory all of the above stuff that sat around in remote and obscure clumps, disunited -- a little bit here, a little bit way over there, no one knowing what to make of the motley collection. Then came Einstein and it was cleared up! It was the unity achievable to those that had true faith in the heuristic of the pure principle of relativity to unify physics by forcing humans to give up their a priori metaphysical prejudices which were a hold-over of the naive common sense of pre-sceintific thought.Well, no. Several of those ideas were not only not original to Einstein, but Einstein wrote papers attacking them. Eg, Einstein opposed the amalgamation of space and time and the expansion of the universe, until after everyone else accepted these concepts.
Reany goes on to claim that various 20th century philosophers stole from Einstein. Reany admits that Einstein got the bulk of his philosophy from Poincare, but then argues that the philosophers Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos, and Feyerabend stole from Einstein. He also argues that those philosopher got it wrong, because their ideas differed from Einstein's. He makes no sense.
On the priority for relativity, Reany argues:
Arguably, the greatest scientist of the twentieth century, both by popular and scientific standards, is Albert Einstein (1879--1955). I intend to argue that the greatest philosopher of science of the twentieth century is also Einstein. I will present as proof of this two categories of examples: The first is that Einstein apparently had a complete methodology of science which has stood the test of time, and second, that those who have been recognized as the greatest philosophers of science of the twentieth century have been granted this status primarily on their work which in fact added nothing appreciably to what Einstein had long before them preached on the philosophy of science. ...So Einstein is the 20th century's greatest scientist and philosopher, but not because he had any new equations or new predictions or a theory with any new physical content. He is the greatest because he had a fresh way of looking at the foundation of relativity theory. That is what Reany is saying.
You don't have to take my word for what an overrated phony Einstein was. Just look at what the folks say who are idolizing him, and look for a precise description of just what Einstein did that was original.
Reany also argues:
Christopher Jon Bjerknes has told us that Einstein was not inclined to give any other physicists any praise, and he did so only reluctantly. What follows is a direct disproof of this false claim.He goes on to quote Einstein praising Kepler, Newton, Faraday, Maxwell, and Lorentz. All of this praise was after they were dead, and were no threat to him. Consider the praise for Lorentz:
His genius led the way from Maxwell's work to the achievements of contemporary physics, to which he contributed important building stones and methods. ... His never-failing kindness and generosity and sense of justice, ...This was after Lorentz had credited Einstein for relativity, and Lorentz had died. Notice still how the praise is limited. He only credits Lorentz with "building stones", and not with a coherent theory. Einstein had a long history of badmouthing Lorentz's contributions to relativity. This praise is really nothing but a clever put-down to boost Einstein's own reputation.
Notice also that there no praise for the main people he stole from, Poincare and Hilbert.