Thursday, December 08, 2005

Is electricity fire?

This text is not a real article, just an annotated link to

at TechCentralStation about the cultural shock that the author experienced in Montreal as a scientist among, well, scientific ignorants. His description seems extremely similar to the story "Is electricity fire?" in Feynman's classic book

Spencer was surrounded by thousands of people who were not interested in actual numbers, calculations of uncertainties, or error margins. People who had no idea how the economy or the real world works. The only way why these people would ever be interested in science was that they wanted to interpret their ancient, provincial, medieval religious dogmas - such as the stupid dogma that what is good for the economy must be bad for the Earth, much like the rabbinistic students who asked Feynman "Is electricity fire?" not because they were interested in science but because they needed to know whether Talmud allowed them to use the elevator on Saturday although it forbids fire on the same day.

Now imagine thousands of people in Montreal complaining about the urgent threat of global warming that required action "now" - when the temperature outside is 16 Fahrenheit. People whose whole careers depend on the wealth of the modern civilization and who consume food and electricity for very many millions of dollars (and, less importantly, who also produce a lot of CO2 during their gathering). The only result that these pompous fools have is that all of them describe the only real scientists at the conference as "Flat-Earthers".

And our society is funding this idiocy. Is not it sad?

Concerning their misunderstanding of economics, we can find a similar example in the same section of Feynman's book.

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

Well, Feynman was obviously not the only one who had similar reactions to these pompous fools who don't understand science, economics, and the real world. However, he did not have a blog so that he only encountered their moronic comments a few times in his life, not every day as your humble correspondent. ;-)

Roy Spencer attempts to define the basic principles of economics that should be taught before the end of the high school here.


  1. Dear Lumos,

    Thank you, especially for that first link:

    "I learned at a Pew Center briefing that anyone (like me) who is skeptical of climate change is a "Flat-Earther." While I thought that had a nice ring to it, it was pointed out to me the term wasn't intended as a complement.

    "... (Attention: henceforth, all unusual weather events will be due to our burning of fossil fuels.) Natural climate variability has been relegated to the status of quaint myth. Mother Nature wouldn't cause a Category 4 hurricane to hit Louisiana unless mankind forced her hand."

    I do feel it good that you are defending science, Lubos!

    "I would claim that the standard model is best thought of by thinking about a 16 dimensional space (a fiber bundle with fibers SU(3)xSU(2)xU(1) over spacetime)." - Peter Woit, comment 12 on how-many-dimensions-are-there at

    Do you find Woit's 16 dimensional space as convincing as 10 dimensional strings? Does it have more evidence, due to the successes of the Standard Model? :-(

    Best wishes

  2. At the end of the long page of the Russian's online Feynman book (does it breach copyright?), Feynman says complains ESP isn't science because it isn't a testably predictive theory:

    "And now you find a man saying that it is an irrelevant demand to expect a repeatable experiment. This is science?"

    He finishes up by discussing the problems of people who depend on saying the right things for
    "organization or financial support", and so don't have the freedom to remain independent and maintain integrity. In a sense this is the whole string theory issue.

    As for the question "Is electricity fire?", have you seen electric sparks? Faraday gave an entire Christmas lecture on the physics and chemistry of a burning candle, but ultimately it is electrical. Chemistry is electronic or electrical. It all gets down to the way electrons in the outer shells of oxygen and carbon atoms behave. Much as anyone might want to debunk the notion that fire is fundamentally driven by electron interactions, this is the case.

  3. Nigel, or you could, according to Tony Smith, do the following which relates the 10 and 16:

    The 28 gauge bosons can move around in the 8-dim spacetime
    by defining a connection on a principal fiber bundle made up of
    the 8-dim spacetime base manifold
    the 28 as the fibers, acting as generators of a Spin(0,8) gauge group.

    The 28 generate the LITTLE GROUP, or isotropy group,
    of the coset space Spin(0,10)/Spin(0,8)xU(1) of dimension 45-28-1=16.

    The 8-dim spacetime is the Silov Boundary RP1xS7
    of the 16-dimensional bounded complex domain
    derived from Spin(0,10)/Spin(0,8)xU(1).

    The Lagrangian at this stage of construction is
    the integral over 8-dim spacetime of

    dd P' /\ * dd P + F /\ *F

    where F is a curvature 2-form and * is the 8-dim Hodge dual, and
    where d is the covariant derivative defined by the connection
    and P is a scalar field

  4. I should add that Peter's 16 comes from 4 of Tony's 8 for the base space and 12 of 28 for the fiber space. Specifically the 12 are Spin( 8 ) / Spin( 6 ) x U( 1 ). The 10 for string theory are from the Spin(10).

  5. I have determined that the folks over are not very bright at all. Those are folks completely detached from reality. It's odd that a guy who lost his academy job recently would worry much more about how to save the earth from a meteorite that will hit earth 38 years later with a 1/100000000 chance, than about his own job, he could not even comprehend how weak gravity is (between a spaceship and a meteorite), after spending his lifetime studying the gravity.

    But the academy circle is overall composed of dumb people. A few ppm increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would scare them to death. But the fact of the in-escapable pending energy crisis, and the collapse of civilization as unfolding right in front of our eyes, is of no concern to most of them.

    Has any one been monitoring the energy price on bloomberg? It's going up like crazy. Natural Gas is pushing towards $16. It was only $2 in 2002. Electricity is now above $0.13 per kwh whole sale. Lots of businesses are going under. And a record low temperature in many parts of this country is not helping the situation. And it's only the beginning of the winter!

    Factories that produces fertilizers are being forced to shut down, exactly as predicted. Expect much more expensive food price next year.

    The only good news is gasoline is now just slightly more than $2 a gallon. But even that is worrysome. It's not the true price, but manipulated one, in order to cool down the Congressional talk of a windfall tax against big oils. Think about it, the crude oil is still $60 a barrel, each barrel is 42 gallon. Even if crude oil can be refined into gasoline at 80% efficiency, the cost of crude oil will account for $1.79 barrel already. And there's tax and all other things. At $2.20 per gallon they are losing money! Bloomberg shows whole sale gasoline future at $1.65. Which is definitely a losing deal. It's so un-real.

    Not to meantion we are consuming the Strategic Petroleum Reserve like there will be no tomorrow. Not to meantion the national debt is piling up like there is no tomorrow. A lot of indications are majority of people no longer believes there is a tomorrow any more. When we wake up from this especially hash winter, the picture will be very nasty.

    Forget about LHC. It will not be finished and will not be turned on. They simply can not afford the electricity bill any more 2 years from now.