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Lawrence Krauss brings some lively insights and delusions to Czechia

A visit that the narcissist had to like

Tonight, people called me to remind me about a program on the ČT24 channel of the Czech Public TV:

Hyde Park Civilization (1-hour interview with Lawrence Krauss, Czech video) at "English version" at the bottom of the page above to watch dze Czenglish version of the program (around 5:30, English starts again, after a few minutes in Czech only)...
A one-hour interview on the public TV isn't a negligible thing. Note that the Hyde Park Civilization program was previously mentioned on this blog in 2013 when they discussed the LHC.

Holy Body Chapel in Olomouc's convent, now a part of the Palacký University, is where AFO initial and concluding ceremonies take place...

In 2006, I got used to the U.S. journalists' obsession with not very good physicists and downright crackpots such as Lawrence Krauss and Lee Smolin. You could think that one may escape from this pseudointellectual populist shit to Central Europe but you know, we've been a part of the Western civilization for 1,000 years so it shouldn't be shocking that Czechia isn't safe enough.

Cosmologist and especially professional anti-Christian exhibitionist Lawrence Krauss is attending the 2014 Academic Film Festival AFO (previously discussed on TRF) as the main guest. He has filled a hall in the historical capital of Moravia.

The page presents Krauss as a "top world-class scientist": not bad for a mediocre cosmologist. On Friday, they would screen his and Richard Dawkins' film "The Unbelievers", a more intelligent version of a concert of Pussy Riot in the churches across the world (I haven't watched it yet; Woody Allen and Stephen Hawking appear there, too). The movies got poor rating from critics for its sloganeering replacing a substantive debate and the self-glorification of the stars – and it has earned a funny $14,400 in the box office. But in Czechia, it may be sold as the ultimate achievement of cinematography.

But back to the interview on TV which was posted on the web almost instantly. The interview – which occurred in English and was translated to Czech in real time (very well, I would say) – started with the host's playing "pi" on the piano. He then said something about the discovery of the primordial gravitational waves which was the first topic – one that they would return to later. They covered it acceptably and what Krauss was saying about cosmic inflation in general was just fine.

They would talk directly in the Holy Body Chapel of the local convent which now belongs to their local university named after František Palacký, an important Czech 19th century historian, community organizer, intellectual, and politician ("the father of the [Czech] nation"). Krauss said he liked the environment; he better should have. He has also praised the enthusiasm of the Moravian audience he encountered during two talks – sometimes the same people whom he met on the street, too. (They also gave him a prize.)

He was sold as an important early guy who contributed to the concept of dark energy; what they mean is primarily the 1995 paper with Michael Turner (arXiv) predicting the looming discovery of the cosmological constant; the author of 300 papers, and numerous books. One of them was translated to Czech by Jiří Chýla, a politically influential local anti-string jerk, and as the editor has previously told me, there was some extra pain in the ass during the preparation of the Czech translation with Chýla. In fact, Chýla appeared in the TV program as well and admitted that he had to understand what he was translating but this director of particle physics at the Physics Institute hadn't understand it, so portions of the book had to be translated by someone else. It is surprising for him to start a project he doesn't have the potential to complete; Chýla is a much better critic (attack dog) and a socialist frog sitting on the spring than a writer, scientist, manager of science, or translator. In 2001, he would write a hostile 30-page critique of Brian Greene's "The Elegant Universe". I won't hide that I can't stand this guy (not just because of his unacceptable attitude to modern theoretical physics but because of his sickly totalitarian political activities, too); he is a much worse jerk than Krauss himself. (Czech readers: search for "Jste unaveni" on this TEU page to check my 2001 exchange with this particular scumbag.)

They – including astrophysicist Jiří Grygar – praise Krauss and his energy for quite some time, also mentioning that his skills contributed to his being an aide to President Obama.

Then the questions (from viewers) and answers finally begin. How could the Universe start from nothing? I guess that the viewer was familiar with some proclamations of physicists and cosmologists (including Hawking and Krauss himself who wrote about "universe from nothing"). In this question and many others, Krauss would say that we don't know almost anything, that science (and himself) is only meant to formulate questions and not give the answers, and so on. But in the case of the "universe from nothing", he would at least say something about the compatibility of the process with the valid energy conservation laws (no nontrivial ones in cosmology, really) etc.

He would be ambiguous about pretty much everything, however. But science isn't just this fog. The fog was particularly ironic e.g. in the case of questions about dark energy whose co-father he was supposed to be according to the program. When asked about the far future of the Universe, Krauss said that all the options including the Big Crunch are equally likely. We don't know what the dark energy is. Blah blah blah. This is just an unreasonable summary of the evidence and the viewers didn't learn anything correct from his politician-like answers. According to increasingly accurate and reliable measurements, dark energy is almost certainly a cosmological constant, just like Krauss' and Turner's paper in the mid 1990s said, and we know what is the future with a positive cosmological constant. We will be approaching – and we are already approaching – an empty de Sitter space. The distances between galaxies will grow exponentially and double each 10 billion years or so. Everything will be colder and colder and emptier and emptier.

But he was also explicitly asked about modern research in high energy physics. A true spokesman would offer a concise yet rich monologue about the most important directions and findings in the field in the recent decades. But even though he started as a high energy theorist, Krauss didn't do anything like that and he would present a mostly negative yet content-free summary of the state of string theory, too – in fact, I think that he has used the word "failure" and some of the widespread idiotic slogans about "lack of predictions". What a staggering lying asshole. Of course, nothing else in theoretical or particle physics has been mentioned at all. He has also questioned the existence of a final theory and incorrectly claimed that we don't know how to unify gravity and quantum mechanics. There are about 100 string theorists who are better scientists – according to any objective enough criteria – than this guy who allows himself to be presented as the "world's best cosmologist" and "top world-class scientist" (Witten has almost 20 times more citations than Krauss, and to stay among cosmologists, Linde has 5 times more than Krauss) but when you allow a jerk to access the media, be sure that he will maximally abuse it for self-promotion.

I started to watch the program with the impression that he wants to be presented as another Witten but the program has surpassed my expectations: this guy clearly wants to be viewed as more than Witten.

He would repeat the clichés about the young people who can solve something in the future but with the exception of the cosmic inflation where he has said at least something meaningful, he just didn't present any non-trivial picture of the research directions and even questions that have been asked or answered by modern fundamental physics. For this reason, I would say that even his anti-religious proclamations were therefore standing on a shaky ground.

Moreover, he must have remained completely unaware of the demographics of the Czech nation and its intellectuals. He may paint himself as a brave person because of his atheism in the U.S. but it just doesn't really work in Czechia, the world's most atheist nation. It's just completely normal not to seriously believe in any God here – which also means that it isn't exciting for others if someone is a vocal atheist. Ironically enough, it may be true that the Czechs – despite our being atheists – are more respectful towards believers and church heritage (of course, unless the Catholic Church wants some extra money from the restitution process – a typical down-to-Earth materialistically oriented average Czech atheist citizen gets angry). The intellectuals sometimes define themselves as an opposition to the average Joe. So the intellectuals in the U.S. are predominantly atheists; there is an analogous tendency within the Czech intellectual group think to pay lip service to religions (although I don't really think that they believe in the same sense as religious people in America do: even the famous Catholic priest and Templeton Prize winner Halík isn't "really religious").

There were some comments about some of his popular books, Star Trek, and Feynman who was said to have taught Krauss how to dance (by telling Krauss that he shouldn't be worried by the fact that he looks like an idiot). The host also had a slightly combative exchange with Krauss – the host called Krauss an arrogant man, and I would tend to agree with Krauss in a slight majority of the topics in that segment (whose details I have mostly forgotten). To summarize, it was kind of entertaining but the self-glorification, constant promotion of uncertainty about every question, and low-brow anti-religious attacks (a straw man in the Czech Republic) were vastly greater parts of the program than the correct or deep scientific content which is why I would classify similar "popularization of science" to be mostly counterproductive for young prospective scientists as well as the broader public.

Krauss is right that the scientific approach involves the questioning of the believed truths and authorities. But he fails to see or admit that science is also learning new truths and they have some authority, too. Mr Chýla at least admits that he is a less competent attack dog than Chýla, his American role model; Krauss doesn't publicly admit that there are people doing much better work than himself.

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snail feedback (3) :

reader Gene Day said...

Thanks for the summary, Lubos. Now I don’t have to waste an hour. I’d much rather re-watch Linde’s SETI speech. That would be as much fun as an episode of “The Big Bang Theory”. Maybe I’ll do both!

reader Ehab said...

Dear Lubos,

Regarding the doubling of distances between galaxies, what will happen to any galaxy itself? I mean will the local gravitational bound systems, like solar systems, be stretched as well in the v far future due to the expansion?

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Ehab, the size of local bound systems (like atoms, electrically, or galaxies, gravitationally) isn't changing.