Sunday, November 30, 2008 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Civic Judo: Gypsy integration in reality

This program of TV NOVA, "Civic Judo" about the gypsy questions, was aired in May 2008. English transcript, my fast translation:

Saturday, November 29, 2008 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

AlJazeera's PC nonsense about Czech gypsy kids

AlJazeera is apparently the ultimate prototype of a TV station brainwashing its audiences with absurd PC propaganda. No surprise that it is a favorite station of the terrorists and the far left.

You know, I've spent my childhood in the neighborhood of Pilsen that was most densely populated by gypsies, Roudná. So I have quite some experience with these issues. My interactions with the gypsy kids were numerous and I even had a gypsy classmate in the first grade who made it into the normal school (yes, barely, but she wasn't an evil girl in any sense).

I assure you that generic gypsy children simply can't be in the same classroom with the generic white children unless your goal is to make the whole classroom dysfunctional and bring as much constant embarrassment and inferiority complex to the gypsy kids as you can.

Christian Doppler: 205th birthday

Christian Doppler was born to a stone-mason on November 29th, 1803, in Salzburg, Austria. However, he became my territorial countrymate as a scientist.

When he was 38, the Prague Polytechnic (now Czech Technical University, ČVUT, which just managed to become the 228th university in the world, topping the Charles University in the list) hired him as a professor of maths and physics. One year later, he published his famous paper on the Doppler effect: the color of stars depends on the relative velocity. A few years later, his prediction was verified. In Prague, he published about 50 papers.

What are you supposed to be, Sheldon? ;-)

His research was interrupted by the revolutionary year 1848 which was surely less frustrating than 1948 ;-) but the revolutionary revolt of the nationalistic working class was bad enough for Doppler to flee to Vienna. In Vienna, he helped another famous German-speaking scientist who was born on the territory of Czechia, Gregor Mendel, to become scientifically mature.

Friday, November 28, 2008 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Feynman's lectures at Cornell

This is probably one of the oldest videos with Feynman as a teacher:

Messenger Lecture 2: a playlist
He talks about the relationship between mathematics and physics. Recall that Feynman wasn't really happy at Cornell. But I think that the lecture is very charming, isn't it?

Update: I was an idiot. The Messenger Lecture was from 1964 when Feynman was already happy at Caltech - for more than a decade. ;-)

In the first ten minutes, he explains e.g. how the "1/R^2" scaling in Newton's law becomes less mysterious with Le Sage's theory of gravity (with the unbalanced inflow of particles from various directions). Except that he can also easily falsify the theory (because it predicts a new type of friction).

Thursday, November 27, 2008 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Dow Jones money: a stable future economy

I began to write this text in October when Ben Bernanke and his friends followed the laws of string theory (a Reuters blog) and cut the rates to fight against the self-feeding global panic. Note that to "push the strings" means to try to lower the rates in a situation where no one wants to lend or borrow, anyway. Economists agree with the physicists that such "pushing" is futile and unphysical due to the coordinate reparametrization invariance of the string.

To repay Bernanke's debt, I will look at the situation from an economist's viewpoint.

Unfortunately, I missed the 2008 Memorial Nobel Prize for Economics but this proposal should be early enough for the next one. :-) The goal of the text below is nothing less than to design a financial system for the future that will avoid the troubling cycles of bubbles and downturns and that will optimize the economies, leading the people to do things that are as useful as possible.

Useful and harmful degrees of freedom

If you quantize general relativity in the background of a Kaluza-Klein toroidal compactification, you will find out that different parameters describing the shape of the torus become scalar fields in four dimensions.

In every natural enough basis, virtually all of these scalars will have a normal kinetic term. But one scalar - the overall volume of the torus - will have a kinetic term with the opposite, ghostly sign.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

David McMahon: String theory demystified

The following review was posted to, too.

I actually love the book, its format, and its focus. Imagine that your task is to take Polchinski's textbook on String Theory and compress both volumes to 320 light pages or so.

You have to include some basics of GR, QFT, abstract classical mechanics but also the CFTs, bosonic strings, light cone gauge, T-duality, symmetries, RNS superstring, heterotic strings, D-branes, AdS/CFT, black holes. But you also add some material that was not yet fully covered in Polchinski's book such as tachyon condensation on D-branes and the speculative field of string cosmology, among others.

I think that if you realize your task well, you will end up with a book very similar to McMahon's book. As a kid or undergrad, I would actually love the playful format of the book, the icons and big headlines. In fact, I like it even now. It's the format that succeeds to attract the reader's attention and give him or her the (semi-realistic) feeling that the knowledge needed to fully master string theory is of encyclopedic character and "learnable" in a finite time.

Although the brevity of many explanations will clearly make it insufficient for all readers to understand the true origin of all results and steps, this is a book focusing on real, solid scientific arguments.

This is a simplified but technical, not popular, book that won't overwhelm you with postmodern philosophical babbling, trying to convince you that it can replace the calculations and lead you instantly to "big" conclusions without any hard work. It is a book that shows the actual correct calculations and derivations, albeit in a simplified form. Most importantly, the answers are pretty much universally correct, as far as I could check, and they uniformly cover the basic topics that are important for actual researchers in modern high-energy theoretical physics.

If you're a college student, high school student, or a mathematically skilled "semi-outsider" who is bright enough to learn advanced theoretical physics, please ignore the other reviewers who clearly have no idea what theoretical physics actually is, and buy this book. You may like it, too.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

NYT about Václav Klaus

The New York Times printed an article about Czech president Václav Klaus:

Dan Bilefsky: A fiery Czech is poised to be the face of Europe
It's a fun reading, mostly because the article is so similar to the official communist propaganda articles about Václav Havel and other famous dissidents.

Václav Klaus considers golf to be "too feudal" but he is very good in tennis and skiing, enjoys hiking, and has been a member of the Czechoslovak junior basketball national team. Snowboarding, floorball, and other newer mutations of traditional sports are leftist sports. ;-)

First of all, I must clarify a potentially important technicality (because the title seems to be misleading and e.g. Marc Morano who informed us about the article seems to misunderstand it). The boss of the European Union since January 1st, 2009 won't be the Czech president but rather the Czech prime minister, currently Mr Mirek Topolánek. Klaus believes that the EU presidency is mostly an inconsequential formality.

Monday, November 24, 2008 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Typealyzer: INTP - The Thinkers

Typealyzer seems to be a pretty good gadget to estimate the personality of bloggers, at least in comparison with many other gadgets that seem to produce rubbish. When I entered, it said the following:

INTP - The Thinkers

The logical and analytical type. They are especialy attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.

Obama's chetviorka: Geithner, Summers, Orszag, Romer

Barack Obama is likely to reveal his economic team today.

  • Timothy Geithner is set to be the Treasury secretary.
  • Lawrence Summers who needs no introduction among the TRF readers will be the White House economic director, with a chance of superseding Ben Bernanke in 2010
  • Peter Orszag will chair the Congressional Budget Office.
  • Christina Romer who was denied a job at Harvard by the new administration will head the Council of Economic Advisers.
Sounds pretty good, at least if you compare the group above with the most typical Obama supporters. ;-) Because this blog was the Google hit #5 for Christina Romer before many articles about the choice exploded today, we are getting a few thousand extra hits a day.

Doubling the U.S. debt, at least for a while

Gordon has pointed out a Bloomberg story that the segments of the U.S. federal government are lending or going to lend about USD 7.4 trillion in total. Just to be sure, I mean 7.4 x 10^{12} dollars, about 25,000 per American capita, including newborns. It equals the U.S. federal budget for three years. These numbers are completely scary and suggest that the negotiations in the U.S. Congress were just a joke about a tiny tip of an iceberg.

Sunday, November 23, 2008 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Why can anything ever fall into a black hole?

That was one of the questions in which I was "retarded" because even though I kind of knew what Einstein's equations were exactly saying in the middle of the high school, it was unclear to me how can someone ever manage to cross the horizon. Fortunately, CommunistSocialistSwine, pretending to be CapitalistImperialistPig in order to damage the capitalists' image, has repeated the same question.

The (wrong) argument that nothing ever manages to get inside the black hole goes as follows. The observer at infinity, Paolo, never sees the infalling observer - that will be referred to as a beer can to preserve the standard conventions here - crossing the horizon because the final moments of the can's live before the horizon crossing are infinitely stretched.

The Weather Channel: "Forecast Earth" nuked

A commenter informed us in the slow comments about another good consequence of the financial turmoil and the dropping TV ratings of NBC.

The Weather Channel - a channel founded by John Coleman, a well-known climate skeptic, but recently bought by NBC Universal (and two private equity firms) and overrun by left-wing activists - has finally fired pretty much all the staff of the "Forecast Earth" program.

See Google News
"Forecast Earth" was a hysterical activist, doomsaying program (check some of the videos) that followed the example of "Climate Code" of Ms Heidi Cullen. Unfortunately, this lady who wanted to decertify and fire all climate skeptics in the U.S. remains at The Weather Channel.

Well, the ratings have to drop a little bit more for NBC to realize that it is not just one program but the repetitive, biased advocacy in general that is not compatible with the NBC's financial sustainability because the viewers are not as stupid and thirsty for repetitive propaganda as some people seem to think. And believe me or not, most of The Weather Channel viewers actually like to watch it to learn something about the weather! ;-)

You know, for example, this babe (probably Natalie Allenn - who performed an interview with an insane CEO about the dying living system on Earth) is hotter than Heidi Cullen and she probably had to go.

A huge landscape with 16 supercharges

Jester at Resonaances writes about a project of Edward Witten who is spending some time at CERN, apparently bringing shock and awe to some slightly less famous string theorists over there. ;-)

I understand where the fear comes from but I think it is counterproductive and irrational, after all. And as a citizen of EU, I have to urge the CERN people to defend the good name of the European hospitality rather than the image of CERN as a very cold place (1.9 Kelvin).

So please, participate at some lunches with Edward Witten and listen not only to his cool ideas but also to some precious observations why some of your work or approaches suck, please: he is a very pleasant person, after all. Thanks! :-) But that's not what we want to talk about here.

How large is the landscape?

Recall that a substantial body of evidence has accumulated since 2003 that implies that there exists a countable but huge number of semirealistic stringy vacua in four dimensions. They're parameterized by the topology of the internal dimensions, the information about the branes, fluxes, Wilson lines, and many other things.

ICC ordered to steal USD 1 billion from skeptical politicians

a propagandistic blog about the climate funded by John Lefebvre, a criminal arrested for money laundering, informs us about a lawsuit filed by Danny Bloom, a radical environmentalist activist.

In this lawsuit, Bloom claims to represent the "future generations of human beings on Earth - if there are any" and he wants to be personally paid USD 1 billion from those world leaders who are skeptical about the catastrophic climate change. This list is supposed to include politicians as undecided as Stephen Harper of Canada.

Bloom claims that he will donate the money to the IPCC. Of course, unless the capital will be needed to repay some money to John Lefevbre and others.

Now, I think that the probability that Bloom could win this absurd case is infinitesimally tiny. Still, it may be a useful exercise to imagine that he will. Just imagine that these internationally organized criminals - John Lefevbre, Danny Bloom, RealClimate.ORG, and many others - will also be able to take over the International Criminal Court and steal billions of dollars from any innocent individuals they dislike, according to their own choice. After the next lawsuit, climate skeptics could perhaps be executed, too.

Climate skeptics would become as threatened by these organized fanatics as the German Jews were around 1938: it became legitimate to steal their ski or furcoats and to break their windows but not to steal billions of dollars from them.

Sane and human countries should leave the International Criminal Court, outlaw the climate activists, and freeze all of their assets. Yes, I am afraid that if things like Bloom's victory in the lawsuit would occur, a world war against the climate alarmists, analogous to the war on terror, would be my preferred next step.

Saturday, November 22, 2008 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

TED: How science is nothing like democracy

Recently, I was very pleased by the people's wise reactions to a February 2003 talk that TED posted to YouTube last week:

This talk by Lee Smolin is titled "How Science Is Like Democracy" and it is another postmodern tirade against the very essence of science. At 0:15, he tells us that he needed 25 seconds to agree with a project that could involve a USD 120 million gift. Well, that's not terribly shocking. More seriously, at 1:25, we are told that everything we learned about science at school is wrong. Most importantly,

there is no scientific method.
Wow. Hasn't Mr Smolin at least considered the possibility that the scientific method actually does exist - only he's been unable to take notice so far? He continues with bizarre comments about democratic communities and their strange links to science. Well, science has nothing to do with communities and certainly nothing with their collective ethics because science is about objective insights and evidence while ethics is always subjective.

Are G20 leaders double-faced hypocritical opportunists?

Much like socialist physicist Tommaso Dorigo, I am appalled by this video.

Those twenty G20 leaders have exchanged almost 20 x 19 / 2 x 1 = 190 handshakes except that 19 of them were missing. Not only Gordon Brown, Angela Merkel, and other people of this category, but even Silvio Berlusconi decided to pretend that they didn't see George W. Bush.

If someone can't see the difference of their behavior from what it looked like a few months or years ago, he or she must be blind. And if someone doesn't realize that the difference shows that these politicians only behave nicely to others if they can personally benefit out of it, must be completely stupid. And whoever thinks that such a behavior is morally acceptable is an immoral jerk.

You know, this is a theme that has been intensely discussed - and lived - in Czechoslovakia since the totalitarian era. Many people used to be trucklers, licking the buttocks of the communist party (or even the Nazis). Later, many of them were proudly dismissing the communists, when these communists were no longer useful for their careers. I am sorry but my stomach is simply not strong enough to keep these feelings inside, so I must conclude with this punch line:

Unless there exists a strict and bizarre rule in the protocol that I am missing, Ms Merkel, you seem to be an immoral female dog, and the rest of the group should be deeply ashamed, too. You know, I am not surprised by the attitude of Gordon Brown or José Manuel Barroso. But seeing Silvio Berlusconi in the same group is deeply disappointing.

Another CNN video, based on the White House's spokespeople, argues that Bush didn't shake other people's hands in the video above because he had already done it in the morning, while other pairs of politicians hadn't have the opportunity. I remain mostly unconvinced by this interpretation. I don't believe it is a strict condition for hand shakes not to repeat themselves. And regardless of the previous hand shakes, these other politicians simply helped Bush to look bad and feel lonely.

Seeing that the encounters in "pairs" looked more cordial than the group behavior doesn't satisfy me. The difference is the key part of my very bad impression from the politicians' behavior.

Odiogo: listen to this blog

I have hired the former spokesman for the White House to record the audio version of all 2,600 postings on this blog, The Reference Frame. With his authentic English that your humble correspondent could never achieve, you may currently enjoy hundreds of hours of high-quality podcasts.

For example, you may wait for 20 seconds or so, until the "listen" button appears right below the title of this post, or any other post, for that matter. As soon as you click the button, you will be able to listen to these very sentences. You may also download all these texts as MP3 files either from a special page or a new audio-powered feed. If you want to check an MP3 file by one click, you may try this URL.

The speaker should have no problems to talk about string theory, the landscape, F-theory compactifications, fuzzballs, those 0.6 °C of warming in the 20th century, the Czech politicians, or many other things. Oh yeah: I wanted to test how he pronounces my name, Luboš Motl or Lubos Motl. Or do I have to spell it Loo Bosch Maw-tuhl to get the desired result? No, I don't. It was pronounced very well even when the template was written in Czech.

If it works well enough, I will also add the option to the HaloScan fast comment threads, so that the spokesman will also articulate the opinions of Rae Ann, Gene Day, and yourself. We report, you decide.

And that's the memo.

P.S.: I learned about Odiogo while browsing the information about Mathematica 7. But later I learned that Cynthia was recommending me the gadget already in March 2008.

Friday, November 21, 2008 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Snow returns to Pilsen

So far the temperature is around 0 °C so it melts rapidly. But that should change during the following days. For Tuesday, the temperature is forecast to go to -12 °C. Brrr.

Do you have deja vu? Yes, see 2007.

Thursday, November 20, 2008 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Barack Obama and climate change

Few challenges facing America — and the world — are more urgent than combating climate change. The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear. Sea levels are rising. Coastlines are shrinking. We’ve seen record drought, spreading famine, and storms that are growing stronger with each passing hurricane season.

Well, indeed. Quite a few challenges are more urgent than climate change: pretty much all of them. The science is, by definition, never beyond dispute. But it is true that some facts are established pretty well. They just seem to disagree with Mr Obama's statements.

For example, the sea levels continue to be rising by 2-3 millimeters a year, about 10 times slower than how they were (naturally) rising between 15,000 and 8,000 years ago. Coastlines are generally not shrinking and those that are changing are more affected by geological processes, erosion, and by the local human activity than by the climate.

We haven't seen record droughts. The famines generally seem to belong to the history as the national economies grow stronger. The 2008 Atlantic hurricane season was 1.5 times stronger than the 2006 and 2007 seasons but it was still 1.5 times weaker than the 2005 season. Sometimes things go up, sometimes they go down. There seem to be no statistically significant trends in the hurricane activity. Even theoretically, it is very unclear what the sign of such a hypothetical trend should be.
Climate change and our dependence on foreign oil, if left unaddressed, will continue to weaken our economy and threaten our national security.
Climate change cannot continue to do something if it hasn't yet started to do it. The dependence of countries on foreign oil is a function of objective circumstances, especially their own reserves relatively to other countries' reserves.

These geographical facts are usually pretty much constant as a function of time, so they cannot contribute to any weakening or strengthening of economies. The economies and trade patterns adapt to whatever external conditions they face. Moreover, as a commenter points out, the dependence is always mutual.

The dependence of a country on other countries may pose a threat to its security and independence but this threat is never infinite and a sensible politician should never try to pay an infinite price for changing the situation. Incidentally, the oil price dropped below $50 today, near 1/3 of the peak price from July 2008. Chances are for a drop towards $30. These are the developments about oil that actually matter.
I know many of you are working to confront this challenge. In particular, I want to commend Governor Sebelius, Governor Doyle, Governor Crist, Governor Blagojevich and your host, Governor Schwarzenegger – all of you have shown true leadership in the fight to combat global warming. And we’ve also seen a number of businesses doing their part by investing in clean energy technologies.
Indeed, many kinds of people and institutions are deeply immersed in this rubbish. I want to commend Václav Klaus, James Inhofe - who was reelected into his office, and others.
But too often, Washington has failed to show the same kind of leadership. That will change when I take office. My presidency will mark a new chapter in America’s leadership on climate change that will strengthen our security and create millions of new jobs in the process.
America should be ready to a new, somewhat unprecedented global situation in which it will stand on the political left side from the rest of the world and no one will be interested in its extreme policies. In the Asia-Pacific region and Europe, the support for all kinds of climate regulation is evaporating rapidly these days.

Germany is pretty much joining Italy and the Eastern Europe in rejecting any specific post-Kyoto regulations and other regions seem to follow a similar evolution. The Czech prime minister - who will probably take over the EU since January 2009 - announced today that he will reject proposals that would increase energy prices. He also opposes a "brutal" introduction of carbon indulgence markets that would be useless because other countries will ignore it.
That will start with a federal cap and trade system. We will establish strong annual targets that set us on a course to reduce emissions to their 1990 levels by 2020 and reduce them an additional 80% by 2050.
God bless America. If new economically viable alternatives emerge, there won't be any need to dictate such reductions. On the other hand, if they won't, such regulations will mean a decrease of the GDP that will be qualitatively comparable to those 80% because under normal circumstances, the inflation-adjusted GDP growth and the CO2 emission growth don't differ by more than 1-2% a year.
Further, we will invest $15 billion each year to catalyze private sector efforts to build a clean energy future. We will invest in solar power, wind power, and next generation biofuels. We will tap nuclear power, while making sure it’s safe. And we will develop clean coal technologies.
"Next generation biofuels" is a bizarre term that reflects a wishful thinking rather than existing and usable new technologies. Solar and wind power are ludicrous fads. By the way, the production of solar panels causes a huge amount of the greenhouse effect (via NF3 used for cleaning).

"Making sure that nuclear energy is safe" is just a different way of saying that President Obama might be open to the sentiments of anti-nuclear critics who may bury any conceivable future nuclear development of the U.S. at the time when nuclear energy is the only known, economically viable alternative to the fossil fuels.
This investment will not only help us reduce our dependence on foreign oil, making the United States more secure. And it will not only help us bring about a clean energy future, saving our planet. It will also help us transform our industries and steer our country out of this economic crisis by generating five million new green jobs that pay well and can’t be outsourced.
Well, they can be surely paid from the increasing U.S. debt if the country decides to pay millions of parasites who pretend to be doing useful work. But such a hot air economy will collapse soon or later.

The green jobs clearly don't bring any profit to the citizens that would make them voluntarily pay trillions of dollars. The only way how these millions of jobs can exist is that the people will be forced to pay them, either directly (for useless expensive "services" replacing the good old - but banned - energy sector) or indirectly by ballooning green budgets.
But the truth is, the United States cannot meet this challenge alone. Solving this problem will require all of us working together. I understand that your meeting is being attended by government officials from over a dozen countries, including the UK, Canada and Mexico, Brazil and Chile, Poland and Australia, India and Indonesia. And I look forward to working with all nations to meet this challenge in the coming years.
Don't expect any smooth sailing. The inclusion of Poland that critically depends on coal and that simply won't give it up is very entertaining but the other nations will oppose similar dictates, too, as soon as they realize that the projects to regulate the economies are becoming real rather than abstract nonsense used to bash America - which is what they have been so far.
Let me also say a special word to the delegates from around the world who will gather at Poland next month: your work is vital to the planet. While I won’t be President at the time of your meeting and while the United States has only one President at a time, I’ve asked Members of Congress who are attending the conference as observers to report back to me on what they learn there.
I am still not sure whether I will attend this conference in Poland, as some of the plans envisioned, because I should probably start to prepare a powerful talk in the case of Yes. ;-)
And once I take office, you can be sure that the United States will once again engage vigorously in these negotiations, and help lead the world toward a new era of global cooperation on climate change.
You should primarily check e.g. that the intelligence services will protect your life against the people in the Middle East who think that you are a Muslim traitor who has to be executed according to the rules of Islam. For ordinary infidels, the execution is optional. ;-) Also, the transition period is an ideal time for a possible new terrorist attack. See Al Qaeda's al-Zawahiri's brand new 10-minute speech dedicated to Obama's victory.
Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all. Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response. The stakes are too high. The consequences, too serious.
Well, delay and "denial" are not only options but they're the preferred ones, at least in democratic Europe.
Stopping climate change won’t be easy. It won’t happen overnight. But I promise you this: When I am President, any governor who’s willing to promote clean energy will have a partner in the White House. Any company that’s willing to invest in clean energy will have an ally in Washington. And any nation that’s willing to join the cause of combating climate change will have an ally in the United States of America. Thank you.
Stopping climate change will be hard, indeed. You may practice - try to first stop the Earth's rotation. It's very nice to promise special advantages to companies who are going to support your ideology and politics - this approach to the state-corporation relations is usually called corruption - but be ready that not everyone will be happy to join this movement, and even for those who will join, you will not have enough resources to show all these trucklers how good an ally you are because America, its economy, and its comparative advantages are finite.

Tommaso Dorigo: luminosity class is tough!

The discussions with people whose knowledge about physics follows the weaker part of the physics blogosphere but whose self-confidence would suggest that they are Newittons - hybrids of Newton and Witten - often reaches comical proportions.

That was the case of a recent debate with Tommaso Dorigo about luminosity, too. As we mentioned, Tommaso wanted Matt Strassler to admit that experimenters like Dorigo were infallible.

But in the middle of bizarre sociological Dorigo's prayers to the new deity, there was one cute technical comment. For no good reason, Tommaso decided that Matt Strassler's interpretation of the CDF estimate of the cross section for the ghost events - namely 75 pb (picobarns) on page 3 of Matt's paper - is incorrect by a factor of three or so. I suspect that Dorigo just invented this absurd "correction" for the sake of it, in order to undermine Matt's authority a little bit, believing that no one would notice that his "correction" is wrong.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Mikhail Lomonosov: a birthday

Mikhail Lomonosov was born to a fisherman at an Arctic Russian island on November 19th, 1711, i.e. 297 years ago (according to the new calendar).

On the picture, he may look like a French nobleman but that's how peasants looked like in the Russian Empire - after some successful life. The people who despise the Russian Empire are surely deluded. Lomonosov was a remarkable poet and polymath. He died in 1765.

A curious kid

Mikhail's thirst for knowledge was unlimited so he decided to walk to Moscow: notice that Russia is a pretty big country. He lived from 3 kopecks a day - something like 3 U.S. cents a day - but his progress was stunning. In 5 years, he completed a 12-year course and he was the best guy in his class.

After a year in Kiev, he returned to Moscow and then he went to Saint Petersburg. Those guys sent him to Germany. He learned French and German and imitated German poets, establishing the modern Russian literary language along the way. The Russian scholarship was not enough to live in Germany well so - together with his new wife - he returned to Russia.

Parallel Universes and science on TV

The History Channel has aired

Parallel Universes
and one of the stars of the show, Clifford Johnson, seems to be unhappy about the outcome.

The idea of the program is that the newest results in science indicate that our Universe is probably much larger than we thought and it can contain many regions that are not smoothly connected to ours but that are qualitatively similar, the parallel universes. And the filmmakers thought it was a great theme for a TV program. And in fact, so do I. But...

What do these parallel universes mean?

Let me begin with the term "parallel universes". It is a term that seems to be exciting for a certain large group of the laymen (and filmmakers) although it creates almost no excitement among most professional physicists. The phrase has been given at least three vastly different meanings:
  1. different histories that could occur in quantum mechanics interpreted with the many-worlds interpretation
  2. different stringy vacua that may or may not be connected with ours by bubble nucleation within eternal inflation
  3. different branes that may be parallel to our, Standard Model brane in our world if it is a braneworld
Again, professionals would never confuse these three concepts but the laymen and filmmakers often do - because what they really understand about these concepts are just the two words, "parallel universes". With this poor resolution of their wavelets, the very different concepts above may coincide.

However, the "parallel universes" in the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics do not change any observation we could ever do, at least in principle. In the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, there exists a whole tree of alternative worlds where the past events took place with different outcomes. Our "branch" of the tree was chosen randomly. But we can't have any contact with the other branches where the history differs. For example, in many "alternative universes", Adolf Hitler may have won the war.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

AGW: Jack Schmitt quits The Planetary Society

Harrison Schmitt, an award-winning astronaut and a geologist, has resigned from The Planetary Society.

He explains that the return to the Moon - where he has been (he speaks about this issue in this lecture since 7:00) - is the most natural path to Mars (and perhaps other bodies). But he also criticizes the TPS statement accelerating research into global climate change through more comprehensive Earth observations:
As a geologist, I love Earth observations. But, it is ridiculous to tie this objective to a "consensus" that humans are causing global warming in when human experience, geologic data and history, and current cooling can argue otherwise. "Consensus", as many have said, merely represents the absence of definitive science. You know as well as I, the "global warming scare" is being used as a political tool to increase government control over American lives, incomes and decision making. It has no place in the Society's activities.

Global warming causes more sex - and hundreds of other things: a film version of this list.

Hat tip: Marc Morano

Monday, November 17, 2008 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Lise Meitner: 130th birthday

Lise Meitner was born on November 17th, 1878, to a family of a Jewish lawyer in Vienna. She should have shared the 1944 Chemistry Nobel Prize for nuclear fission with Otto Hahn. Yes, it was the last chemistry prize that was received for nuclear physics; later, they realized that it was physics. ;-)

We will discuss both of the problems with the 1944 prize later.

According to many documents, she was born on November 7th. But the real date was probably one from the Jewish archives, November 17th. Elise Meitner had 2 older and 5 younger siblings. She has changed her name to "Lise" because Elise Meitner is not a famous name! :-)

With the money from her parents, she could attend private higher education which she completed in 1901. In 1905, she received a PhD degree from University of Vienna. Her thesis was about the thermal conductivity of non-uniform bodies. More importantly, her adviser was Ludwig Boltzmann, the "last classical physicist".

Saturday, November 15, 2008 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Fuzzballs: a modern review

In July, we discussed a paper by de Boer et al. about Samir Mathur's fuzzball proposal, an attempt to revise our understanding about the black hole interiors and the origin of black hole entropy in terms of many horizon-free configurations.

As a reader has pointed out, de Boer et al. just published a new, 79-page review of the fuzzball science:

Black holes as effective geometries
I am grateful to Mr Phantom for the tip because last week, I missed the preprint because when the paper was released, I was just reinstalling the OS on my desktop PC which is usually not a pleasant story. The message is that when you repeatedly restart your PC because a program badly freezes, you should be careful about the consistency of your hard disk: use CHKDSK.

(It seems to work flawlessly now, at least for a week.)

The work by LLM about the bubbling AdS space is presented as one of the simplest examples of the fuzzball approach - which is an interpretation that is clearly true but already slightly nontrivial. They also review various stringy situations in AdS5 x S5, AdS3 x S3 x T4, and AdS3 x S2 x CY and discuss the known things about the parametrization of the black hole microstates: they only talk about black holes that preserve a lot of supersymmetry. The analogous story in the non-supersymmetric case is likely to be much more complicated.

Besides their discussion of the construction of the horizon-free solutions associated with the black hole microstates, they also include a lot of qualitative comments about the framework. Let me organize the answers to some FAQ starting from the most obviously true ones:

Friday, November 14, 2008 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Gottfried Leibniz: an anniversary

Gottfried Leibniz died 292 years ago, on November 14th, 1716. He was a remarkable polymath but you don't expect an uncritical biography from me, do you? ;-)

Let me begin with his name. Gottfried was born on July 1st, 1646, to a professor of moral philosophy in Leipzig, Germany.

You can often see people and books referring to Gottfried as "von Leibniz". The title pages of his books (published posthumously) even say "Freiherr G.W. von Leibniz". Was he really a Baron? I thought that the spelling without "von" was just a part of communist, anti-feudal propaganda which is why I preferred to use "von". However, I changed my mind once I learned that there is no evidence that Leibniz was ever granted a patent of nobility. He gave it to himself. What a pretentious chap. ;-)

When Gottfried was six, his father died and the boy gained access to his dad's vast personal library. By 12, he learned Latin - his main language throughout his life (his second preferred language was French) - and began to study Greek. At age of 14, he entered university which he completed at 20: the focus was on the law, classics, logic, and scholastic philosophy.

His mathematics knowledge was lousy at this moment, according to the French and British standards.

GR-like theory without black holes?

When I was reading the preprints today, I got upset by this one:

Alexander Torres-Gomez, Kirill Krasnov
so I must get some relief. They claim nothing less than having a theory that passes the same classical tests as general relativity (sensitive to first post-Newtonian corrections) but doesn't have any black holes.

So you have to look what is their action. In one form, equation 5, it is the Einstein-Hilbert action plus an action for a scalar field chi. Clearly, for the configurations where the scalar field is constant, the theory is nothing else than general relativity and shares all of its solutions. Fine. So a reader is surely still interested how they can possibly lose the black hole solutions such as Schwarzschild.

They write the equations of motion for the Schwarzschild problem and obtain a generalized Schwarzschild solution with two integration constants, K and R. The Schwarzschild solution is clearly there for K=0 which means constant chi. In order for the reader to get confused, they subsequently use different letters r, chi, x for the radial coordinate while they define a function kappa of the integration constants, K and R.

But with an infinitesimal attention, you will still know that K=0 corresponds to kappa=1/2 and the Schwarzschild black hole solution is still there. How can it evaporate? Well, finally, they list four possible values of the parameter kappa, and they are:
  • kappa > 1/2
  • 0 < kappa < 1/2
  • kappa = i delta
  • kappa = 0
Suddenly, kappa=1/2 is gone (although they briefly mention kappa=1/2 in the paragraph dedicated to the second option, however without realizing what this special choice means). They conclude that the theory doesn't have black holes. Well, this is what I call a genuinely dumb conclusion.

The black hole solution is still there, of course, for kappa=1/2. The other solutions for kappa different from 1/2 are, indeed, different from black holes. But general relativity doesn't mean that all solutions must be black holes. Non-vacuum solutions, such as solutions with a variable scalar field chi (the same thing as kappa different from 1/2 solutions), are not black holes. They are morally similar to "stars". General relativity doesn't imply and has never implied that stars couldn't exist.

More generally, I view the expectation in 2008 that black holes will evaporate from physics of gravity to reveal a stunning lack of knowledge and intuition. The emergence of black hole horizons is an inevitable consequence of the equivalence principle. Even in Newton's theory, one could see that the escape velocity could hypothetically exceed the speed of light for a sufficiently massive object. It may happen in relativity, too. Whenever it does, light cannot escape the gravitational field and an event horizon develops.

Moreover, we know that the black holes always follow from the correct microscopic description of quantum gravity whose range of validity goes much further than to these trivial classical problems such as "do black hole exist?", namely string theory. I assure you that every single compactification in the proverbial landscape of 10^{500} semi-realistic choices - as well as any other compactification of string theory - implies the existence of black holes. You may be amazed by the unprecedented predictivity of string theory in this respect but that's how the world works. All these basic things are settled.

The existence of black hole solutions could have been open in 1917 and, at a more academic level, in the 1960s. But not today. Sorry, Alexander and Kirill, but your text is dumb beyond imagination.

Thursday, November 13, 2008 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Learning as a refinement of exceptions

I was recently tutoring my 15-year-old half-half-nephew Kuba (James). They have to simplify rational expressions all the time. For example, they must figure out that

8(c2-4d2) / 12(c2+4d2-4cd) = ...
... = 2(c+2d) / 3(c-2d)
Did I get it right? ;-) Now, if he's another Lagrange, it's not quite obvious because his talent must be profoundly hidden, so he would have "F" all the time. This grade has been recently brought to the "C/D" range but that's probably it. ;-)

You know, such lessons are not about the simplification of rational expressions only. We had to deal with many gaps that are more elementary - the difference between addition and multiplication (especially when numbers are substituted for variables), priorities of mathematical operations and the question which parentheses may be forgotten, the difference between 2(c) and 2(c+1) when "+1" is left after pulling a factor out, the difference between "u" and "1/u" when "nothing" is left in the numerator, the difference between "mn^2" and "(mn)^2", the reason why "1/5" is equal to "0.2", and so on, and so on.

Off-topic: Sonic boom visualized. See also genus one bubbles and other slow motion videos including popcorn pop. Hat tip: Rae Ann

I am confident that many of these idiosyncrasies are rather generic among children and teenagers and they should be taken into account when these things are being taught. More generally, I am convinced that the existing process of teaching doesn't sufficiently reflect the "natural" expectations of children (and adults).

What do I mean? Most people build and increase their knowledge using some kind of generalized wavelets. You begin with a rather simple rule that may be adopted in a wide range of contexts. For example, when you begin to learn about the origin of species, you may start with the assumption that "all animals were created by God". Or if you are equally "sensible" as the creationists and learn something about physics, you may begin with "all of modern theoretical physics is not even wrong".

These are not the best examples. I should have started with some insights that are at least remotely correct, like "weather and life are changing all the time". Fine. Such insights resemble a big wavelet that covers a big portion of the JPEG picture. Once you know these things, you know more than the people who don't know "anything at all" - for example the people who believe that the climate shouldn't be naturally changing or that the animal species were created to be constant forever.

However, this knowledge is clearly not terribly refined and detailed. So we keep on adding smaller wavelets. We are learning which things are changing and which things are not changing, how quickly they're changing, what they're actually changing into, and so on. In each case, a new "blob" or "wavelet" is added into the JPEG picture (or MPEG movie) of our knowledge. It's important to notice that we rarely remember things in the same way as the BMP bitmap image - even though, in some cases, it should be acknowledged that pure memorization is the best approach.

On one hand, when a pupil constructs a "blob" or "wavelet" in her head that allows her to solve certain problems correctly without extra learning, she shouldn't spend too much time with learning the "new" stuff that is not quite "new". On the other hand, when previous, nearby "blobs" and "wavelets" are likely to influence her thinking and lead her to erroneous conclusions, some lessons should focus on these particular "frequent mistakes". It must be explained why the previous "blob" no longer works in the special context and why (and how) the new rules replace it.

The teaching should be organized in such a way that the (generalized) students are able to reproduce as much correct information as possible after a given amount of time and effort that has to be invested to the teaching process. In this sense, the architects of textbooks face a similar challenge as JPEG compressing algorithms.

Also, various "big" or "ideological" disputes are actually about the size of the wavelets - i.e. about the area covered by one "wavelet" or another one: such ideological "wavelets" describe the reality in a simplified (or oversimplified) way. Now, these "ideological" questions are partially about social conventions rather than objective reality: the exact image is more than the oversimplified "wavelet". Nevertheless, when the real picture includes a big and dark spot, the simplified picture with a "big wavelet" could be better than others: so these social conventions about the way how to present simplified (and oversimplified) rules are at least partially rooted in reality.


It brings me to another point. The facts presented in the classroom are almost always phrased in a "positive" way: children always hear what is true but they never hear what is not true. This fact makes most classes in the world both boring as well as inefficient as methods to transfer the information. Moreover, children often do not realize that two things contradict each other when they do.

For example, when it comes to creationism, children hear almost nothing about it at schools. Now, I am surely not going to defend a "positive" teaching of creationism because it's all crap. However, I do agree with the statements that the kids should be "taught the controversy". What do I mean?

While there is no controversy among sensible evolutionary biologists, there is surely a controversy in the society. It is unrealistic to think that every student will end up "believing" the evolutionary story about the origin of species. And in fact, there is even no good reason to dream about this uniformity. What would it be good for?

So children should naturally hear about these thought-provoking topics. Those who are getting it are likely to understand the structure of the ideas and arguments more properly and they will be more able to explain it to others, too. The other children who are not getting it will realize that there actually exist some arguments that the Darwinists honestly believe. And the "evolutionary" children will hear some "better" arguments from the creationists rather than the hateful and dishonest caricatures.

But the current situation in which the kids are taught complicated trees of hundreds of kingdoms, superclasses, classes, and species of animals and plants - and many (or most) of them end up believing that all this hierarchy is unphysical bogus unrelated to the origin of the life forms - shows that the current focus is unbalanced. Does it make sense to teach stunning details about evolutionary biology if you can't guarantee that most children will believe the very basic pillars of this very field, evolutionary biology?

Similar comments apply to other disciplines, too. For example, students learn how to do a lot of things correctly in quantum mechanics or quantum field theory. But they are almost never led to understand why wrong methods and opinions are wrong (not even the highly popular wrong methods and opinions). In principle, learning the correct answer is equivalent to learning all the wrong answers. However, in reality, it doesn't work in this way.

For example, if a graduate student is unable to see that and why virtually every paper by Lee Smolin about quantum mechanics, quantum field theory, or quantum gravity is wrong and scientifically ludicrous - i.e. why physicists refer to Lee Smolin as a crackpot - he or she has not learned quantum field theory and related subdisciplines well. If someone really knows the correct answer and why it is correct, he should also know why all the incompatible answers are incorrect. Much like in the case of biology discussed above, students are being taught much more detailed - and generally less important - things than the insights they need to have in order to see why a wrong paper about some "big questions" is wrong. In other words, students are often taught things that are less important than those that they should learn.

Although I have mentioned biology and particle physics only, the same comment applies to all of human knowledge.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

CEZ: financial turmoil should euthanize EU climate package

ČEZ group (Wikipedia) is the most profitable Czech company at this moment: two billion euros a year is not a negligible amount of money. The Czech energy corporation is becoming a pillar of the Central and Eastern European energetic infrastructure. While its main future strategy is to build many new nuclear power plants across the continent, the current reality is that coal is extremely important.

ČEZ has to promote the nuclei, too: the number of weird atom-haters across Europe is pretty high.

AFP informed that its CEO, Martin Roman, is confident that the financial crisis is going to bury the insane "climate package" promoted by some crazy EU bureaucrats. The plan wants to rapidly increase the proportion of ludicrous sources of "renewable" energy by 2020, introduce trading with CO2 indulgences that would cost all these companies dearly already in 2013, and boost energy savings.

Roman explains that this plan would be an economic suicide.

Last week, Mirek Topolánek, the Czech PM, gave his full support to ČEZ. Now, you should understand that Topolánek is slightly weakened by the "orange tsunami", a devastatingly intense contamination of the Czech Senate and the regional bodies by the opposition socialists after the recent elections.

Topolánek, a center-right, non-intellectual politician from the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), has done a lot for President Klaus's re-election and in my opinion, there's a lot that Klaus should be grateful for. But it is obvious that the relationships between Klaus and Topolánek were never quite idylic. In the most recent era, Topolánek's intent to okay Brussels' climate plans as well as the Lisbon treaty became an important point of Klaus' decent criticism directed against Topolánek. Klaus may be using subtle forces helping to replace Topolánek by another politician as the chair of ODS (and, perhaps, as the prime minister).

Now, I am kind of satisfied with Topolánek. And when we talked to each other during Klaus' inauguration, it was a pleasant experience. But yes, I agree that it is good if Klaus reminds him that similar steps may be controversial and may have some implications.

Logos of the EU2009.CZ presidency were revealed.

By the way, Václav Klaus has visited Ireland and presented a lot of balanced comments about democracy in Europe (see e.g. this speech). How did the euronaive politicians responded? Well, MEP Crowley said that Klaus was a silly little prick. That's not only highly impolite but also paradoxical because Crowley's homosexual pseudo-husband, alarmist Mick Crowley, is known to have a small penis optimized to rape small children, as confirmed by Crowley's reactions to Michael Crichton's novel, "Next". ;-)

The eurofanatics were mainly upset that Klaus met (and endorsed) the boss of Libertas, the anti-Lisbon-treaty movement. The Czech diplomacy (including Topolánek), while not necessarily copying every opinion of Klaus', emphasized that every EU citizen including Klaus has the right to voice his opinions and meet with opposition politicians in Ireland.

Monday, November 10, 2008 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

RSS MSU: 0.013 deg C month-on-month cooling

RSS MSU (a satellite-based team to measure the temperature on Earth) has switched from v3.1 of their dataset to v3.2 of their temperature listings.

The latter, newer version already contains the October 2008 figures. With its 0.181 °C anomaly, it was 0.013 °C cooler than September 2008 and 0.044 °C cooler than October 2007.

In the mid troposphere (graph), where the greenhouse theory predicts the fastest warming, the anomaly was negative (cooler than average October). Among 13 months in the 21st century when the anomaly was negative, 9 months occurred in 2008! ;-) (All of them except for September.)

Their competition at UAH MSU - John Christy et al. - claim to be more accurate and have released their October 2008 data, too, indicating a tiny 0.006 °C warming: see Anthony Watts.

See also the previous monthly report about September 2008.

Hansen: Russia's anomaly warms by 25 degrees F a month

While the satellite data indicate that the October anomaly was cooler than in the previous month, James Hansen's GISS (The Gore Institute for Swindle Science) claims that it was a whopping 0.28 °C warmer than in September 2008, reaching the third warmest temperature anomaly ever (after Jan 2007 and Feb 1998).

Because it seems somewhat surprising to accumulate a discrepancy of more than 0.3 °C between two methodologies in as little as one month, Steve McIntyre looked at more detailed data leading to the GISS's final figure.

What he and a reader found was that the GISS October absolute temperature reading from 10 Russian and post-Soviet stations coincided with the figure from the previous month, September 2008. That's quite shocking because October is almost always 12 °C cooler than the previous September. ;-)

Steve McIntyre quips (if you allow me to improve the story) that Hansen should have been Napoleon's minister of weather because that would surely help Sarkozy's predecessor's autumn fights in Russia. (Today, Obama should hire Hansen to publish monthly GDP growth numbers: Dow at 20,000 would be here soon.)

Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, October 1812, by Illarion Prianishnikov

These numbers from Olenek, Russia are particularly telling:


Ignore the 999.9 °C temperature from December 2007 (even though Hansen's Al Gore Rhythm may count is as a real number) and check that October 2008 happened to be exactly as warm as September 2008 which happened to be exactly as warm as September 2007. October 2008 "was" 12.1 °C warmer than October 2007 and 17.7 °C warmer than October 2006. Not bad. If you ask whether it is a coincidence and suggest that the October was really hot in Olenek, let me tell you that 10 post-Soviet stations have the same "Sep=Oct" coincidence. Indeed, September 2008 is their hottest October on record. ;-)

The October temperature +3.1 °C in Olenek doesn't look quite consistent with the current temperature in Olenek which is -28 °C when I am writing this sentence. ;-) It is predicted to drop to -33 °C on the Day After Tomorrow. :-)

The confusing permutations of months in Russia are likely to continue during the following month, too. Recall that the Great October Revolution took place in November. ;-)

Russia is quite a piece of land: its 12 °C anomaly-wise fake regional warming (see Russia at this shocking wrong map; update: the colors have been removed, see how the map looked like: Daily Tech) easily transforms a slight real global cooling into a 0.28 °C of fake global warming. Well, you can calculate it pretty much exactly. Russia's land is 3% of the surface of the Earth, so its warming contributes a 30 times smaller warming to the globe. 12 °C/30 = 0.3 °C or so.

Now, you may dislike Russia. What about Ireland? It has seen its coldest October day since 1934. What does Hansen say about October in Ireland? Well, the same thing as he does about Russia: it had the same absolute temperature as September. Wow.

It's just an amazing mess. Hansen's results are weighted averages of numbers like plus infinity and minus infinity while Hansen likes the proportion of plus infinity to be increasing (even though NOAA's GHCN v2 data are probably the primary problem). This is his "global warming". Imagine that NASA uses the same sloppy dishonest charlatan as Hansen to launch space shuttles: the casualties would increase to 100% or so. This guy should clearly be arrested or executed, at least in the space shuttle case. See also John Goetz at Anthony Watts' blog.

Arctic sea ice

Today, the Arctic sea ice area is exactly at the normal level: see the NORSEX ice area graph. The Antarctic sea ice area continues to be slightly above the normal. So the ice indicates that the whole globe is actually cooler than normal which makes claims about a 12 °C temperature anomaly across Northern Siberia doubly absurd.

Frankly speaking, I don't believe that this was just a mistake. I don't believe that a scientist could fail to notice that Russia on the temperature map looks manifestly wrong: the huge territories with such a gigantic anomaly could occur after the explosion of 5,000 thermonuclear bombs in Russia but you would have heard about them from FoxNews is they actually detonated. ;-)

Someone - perhaps many people - are deliberately trying to promote complete nonsense as long as it supports "global warming", the greatest hoax ever perpetrated not only on the American people.

Saturday, November 08, 2008 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Felix Hausdorff: 140th birthday

Felix Hausdorff was born in Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland) on November 8th, 1868, to a rich family of a Jewish textile retailer. Therefore, he never had to work because of superficial things such as money.

The family soon moved to Leipzig. Being interested both in literature and music, Felix was keen on becoming a composer. But his parents convinced him not to become one. So he went to study mathematics. His 1891 PhD thesis was focusing on the effect of the atmosphere on astronomical observations.

Commercial break:

I recommend you a new book on quantum field theory by my (former) adviser, Tom Banks. There's a lot of wisdom that I have learned from, too. Many things are presented in a similar way as I would do so, and others are done differently. A nice summary of LSZ formalism, gauge invariance and its roles, the fate of different types of symmetries, phases of gauge theories, renormalization and the logic of effective field theory, instantons, and monopoles, among other things.
But recall what his interests were. Because he couldn't have become a composer, there was still literature. Felix published many books, including poetry and philosophy (the latter books were usually argued against the transcendental world). Even when he was getting married with Charlotte Sara Goldschmidt in 1999 - a Jew-turned-Lutheran - he clearly preferred literature. He wrote his last farce in 1904 and it became successful in 1912 when he was already an outsider in that field.


Since 1904, when he was 36, he focused on topology. He studied ordered sets and generalized Cantor's continuum hypothesis by inventing new ordinal numbers: yes, aleph was all over the place. The Hausdorff spaces are those in which different points may have non-overlapping neighborhoods. Did you like this concept at the college? I didn't, being convinced that non-Hausdorff spaces are so pathological that I would have never found them interesting, which is why it was annoying to repeat that a space had to be Hausdorff all the time. ;-) I have kind of kept this opinion although the adjective "Hausdorff" fortunately evaporated.

Friday, November 07, 2008 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Smartkit: Pitch black game

Can you arrange the 16 comic strip pictures correctly?

Full screen (click)

Thursday, November 06, 2008 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Christopher Horner: Red Hot Lies

I just received my copy of Chris Horner's new book, Red Hot Lies. I am just getting started with it but it is a powerful reading about the anatomy and physiology of the global warming propaganda machine.

The Preface is subtitled "How Greenpeace Steals My Trash".

Here is a rough table of contents:

1. Media on a mission: lies, distortions, cover-ups, and the reporters who push them
2. Fear and loathing: alarmist scare tactics, demonization, and threats
3. The establishment attacks: woe to dissenters
4. Stifling everyone's speech: even their own
5. Poisoning the little ones: propagandizing your children
6. Big government: how government, politicians, and alarmists abuse power in the pursuit of power
7. Stupid science tricks: keeping that gravy train chugging
8. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: the UN's four-alarm liar

Conclusions: heretics, speak out

Michael Crichton (1942-2008)

I learned about this very sad news from you - from the commenters at TRF.

It's doubly shocking for me because my refspect for Michael Crichton has been tremendous - and sometime in late 2006, when we were in e-mail contact, he was a "constant reader" of this blog. For example, here he had to reject an offer communicated through Bob F.:

From mcrichton@ear**** Sat Nov 18 22:15:57 2006

Subj: Hi, Lubos
I am a constant reader of your blog.

I appreciate your offer to run the fantasy commentary but I am trying, for the next few weeks, not to talk about global warming so that I can have a window to talk about something else, ie genetics, when I do my press for the book right after Thanksgiving. I don't want to inflame the situation just now.

One month later, a kid asked him what Crichton was reading for inspiration. As you can guess, he didn't read any fiction because he didn't have time to do so. He was doing serious research most of the time. That was his style.

Nevertheless, on Tuesday, he lost his courageous and private battle against [throat] cancer, as his website,, puts it.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Ethanol industry goes bust

Vitalik has pointed out that Goldman Sachs will no longer employ analysts to follow the ethanol fuel industry. Also, on Friday, VeraSun Energy, a major player in the industry, went bankrupt:

Public radio
Meanwhile, Barack Obama is likely to be elected the U.S. president today. His plan is to create the environment in which the coal power plants will go bust and, using his own words, electricity prices will skyrocket:
Anthony Watts
Barack Obama also finds the current nuclear technologies unsatisfactory. It's kind of amazing that a majority of America is ready to choose this kind of future. Welcome to the third world, America (or Western Kenya or whatever the new name will be).


Barack Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States. Congratulations to his greatest achievement and more importantly, I wish a lot of nerves, smile, and optimism to those who are expected to suffer under the new leadership.

The Cooper-Nowitzki Theorem

Monday, November 03, 2008 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

More really is the same thing

A previous article about the same topic:

Laughlin vs reductionism
In September 2008, Mile Gu et al. posted a preprint called
More really is different
which is an updated version of the 1972 article by Phil W. Anderson,
More is different.
In the new paper, they declare that it is possible to create a physical system that mimics a Turing machine. And because there are many difficult and undecidable statements about the Turing machines, the physical system they design also hides a lot of questions that cannot be decided by pure thought applied to the fundamental laws of physics, they say.

I have never understood why people like to amuse themselves with similarly bizarre statements.

Gödel's incompleteness theorem

My countrymate Kurt Gödel has shown that every axiomatic system that is at least as powerful as set theory including integers admits a proposition that can be neither proved nor disproved within the system itself. But it seems to me that what many people don't understand is the fact that at the very same moment when the proposition is shown to be unprovable, it is also proved to be correct - within a slightly extended system of logical methods.

The proposition is a refined version of the sentence "this proposition cannot be proved within the given axiomatic system". It's clear that this statement cannot be proved - because provable statements have to be correct which would mean that it cannot be proved (because that's what the sentence says): a contradiction. Also, the statement cannot be disproved because it would be false which would mean that it can be proven - another contradiction.

So the statement can be neither proven nor disproved within the system. But because the statement says nothing else - it says that it cannot be proven - the statement is clearly true. ;-) Gödel's theorem only shows the inevitable limitations of a fixed axiomatic system. It doesn't prove the limits of rational thinking. And I am confident that it is not possible to prove limits of rational thinking because there are no such limits.

Languages and particular "technologies" and "methods" may have limitations but rational thinking per se cannot have any limitations.

You know, some people thought that Fermat's Last Theorem (FLT) would never be proven or disproven because it is analogous to one of those undecidable propositions due to Gödel. I think that such expectations have always been completely irrational and unsubstantiated. FLT is a very well-defined proposition about integers that is clearly either correct or wrong. If it is wrong, there must exist a counterexample. It must be possible to write it down, at least if you forget that our Universe cannot contain more than 10^{120} digits (de Sitter entropy bound) - a fact that hopefully has nothing to do with universal limitations of mathematics. If the theorem is correct, and you bet it is, there may exist a proof and laziness is the only well-understood reason to think that the proof would never be found. Of course, today we know that a proof of FLT exists but some people will only move their statements about the limitations of rational thinking by a few meters.

All the undecidable statements in the context of Gödel's theorems are constructed to exploit a weakness of a particular system of axioms (or language). But there can always exist complementary logical methods that make it possible - and often very easy - to decide about the validity of such statements.

Unknown properties of ground states

Mile Gu et al. argue that some of the systems they consider have ground states whose properties cannot be determined. That's a very strange comment. If a system (a Hilbert space and a Hamiltonian) is fully well-defined, the question about the ground state has an answer. It may be difficult to find it out but it clearly can't be impossible in principle. If formal calculations are too hard and if smart tricks and dualities are unavailable, one may always try numerical calculations or an experiment.

The ground state may either be unique or degenerate. Both options are possible and potentially interesting. None of them makes the questions about the system "undecidable". Materials may behave as Fermi liquids, Bose-Einstein condensates, crystals, or quasicrystals. There's no problem in either. And several different "regimes" may want to co-exist. In that case, we usually deal with phase transitions. They are a part of theoretical physics that is close to condensed matter physics but that doesn't mean that they can't be studied fully rationally, by an application of mathematical methods to the elementary laws.

Quite on the contrary: a major goal of a fundamental physicist's thinking is to determine the different kinds of behavior that a physical system may exhibit. These new phenomena often deserve new concepts, new vocabulary, new (often approximate) equations. They might be called "emergent" by some people. But if they're emergent, that doesn't mean that they can't be derived from a more fundamental theory. Quite on the contrary: the word "emergent" is essentially equivalent to "derived" in this context.

In fact, when Anderson says "more is different", he wants you to believe that "more is more difficult". But in fact, a key insight of modern theoretical physics is that "many is usually easier". If we consider a new limit where something goes to infinity, there typically exists a new dual description of the situation that drastically simplifies. In many cases, the validity of this new description can be proved rigorously. In others, the proof is not yet available but we are basically certain that the dual description is correct. Thermodynamics as a large N limit of statistical physics is an example of the first group; the AdS/CFT correspondence for a large N is an example of the latter group even though a complete proof of the equivalence could emerge soon.

In the reductionist scheme of the world, we are not really aware of a major "gap" that would allow us to confidently say that life cannot be derived from the basic equations of quantum mechanics. Our understanding is not perfect but it is good enough to make the existence of a big gap with dragons very unlikely.

Sociology and the role of history and initial conditions

Even though the complicated effects may be reduced to the elementary processes in principle, it is obvious that different scientists are specialized to understand the world at different levels. Some people care about the fundamental questions; others are interested in numerous composite, usually approximate notions that are independent of the underlying microscopic details. Some people are good at something, others are good are something else.

But none of these things implies that there is something wrong with reductionism.

When we study a class of questions, we need to know several things that can be, roughly speaking, categorized to
  • basic objects and concepts
  • basic relationships and forces between them and other laws
  • history or initial conditions
  • conventions and terminology
Now, a physicist - especially a fundamental physicist - will discard the last entry, conventions and terminology. Almost by definition, they're not a part of physics. They're still needed for people to communicate with others but they're the part that belongs to sociology, not a part of the truth about a natural science. On the other hand, the first category - basic objects - are meant to be essentially mathematical concepts. They're whatever is needed to create a mathematically rigorous framework.

People in other disciplines won't view the difference between the "basic objects" and "terminology" so sharply. Why? It's because they're more sloppy. A part of the sloppiness is justified by the inevitably sloppy character of the questions they're interested in; a part of the sloppiness is not justified by anything.

If you go from fundamental physics all the way to humanities, the importance of the fourth category, "conventions and terminology", will increase. Once you get to the literary criticism, the importance of the latter group will be so huge that, in fact, many of the people will tell you that it is impossible for science to have any meat at all; by "meat", I mean the objective and rigorous "basic concepts". Well, they have never seen any "meat", certainly not in their own discipline, so they suppose that no one else has seen it either. This is a completely opposite attitude to that of fundamental physicists because the latter folks completely dismiss "conventions and terminology" as not being a part of science.

But even if we talk about more serious disciplines such as condensed matter physics, it is true that the difference between the "basic concepts" and "terminology" gets obfuscated a bit. The more "emergent" discipline we consider, the more obfuscated these differences are.

We have spent some time with "basic objects" and "conventions". What about the other categories?

The "basic laws" exist in all disciplines except that the more "emergent" disciplines usually talk about less rigorous, less reliable, and less regular "basic laws" than the laws of fundamental physics. But again, the laws can be derived from more fundamental levels of knowledge i.e. from more "microscopic" disciplines. Even the laws of thermodynamics can be derived from statistical physics even though people like Sean Carroll will never understand how is that possible. Quite typically, what we want to derive is not even accurately formulated so it is not surprising that there is no rigorous proof, either. But this fuzziness of the proofs is due to the inherent fuzziness of the very questions that the emergent disciplines study, not due to a failure of reductionism.

Finally, I haven't discussed the "history and initial conditions" yet.

Once again, it is supposed to play almost no role in particle physics. Experiments are repeatable and the physical laws we're interested in are universally valid. However, the more emergent discipline we consider, the more important "history and initial conditions" typically become.

Physicians study the human body (and do much more material things with it, but we don't want to go in this direction here). Can we derive the approximate DNA of humans from the elementary laws of physics? The answer is obviously No. The humans only evolved the way they did because of millions of coincidences in the evolution of life. Most of them were unpredictable due to the inherent probabilistic character of quantum mechanics.

Nevertheless, whenever you want to predict or retrodict something about the humans, you should better know what the humans are - what is their anatomy, physiology, psychology, and DNA code. This information about the human characteristics may be sold as history or as the information about the world at a particular moment (initial conditions). This important information about the human character will never be derived from the fundamental laws of physics because, as we can prove, the probabilistic nature of the relevant quantum events is indisputable.

Different disciplines need "history" to different extents but I would say that condensed matter physics doesn't need much of it. The more "repeatable" the evidence in a discipline is, the less the discipline depends on the "history". Both particle physics and condensed matter physics are supposed to be "fully repeatable" so they're not about the history.

On the other hand, evolution of animals is not quite "reproducible" in practice which is why the historical component is rather important - although evolutionary biology is surely not just about the history. This component will never be derived from the fundamental laws but there's nothing shocking or disappointing about this fact, either. Random events are not supposed to be predictable.

I could continue up to the history of the civilization where the relative importance of the historical component is even higher. Nevertheless, even this discipline needs to understand some laws (of human behavior etc.). Many of them may be (approximately) derived from more fundamental disciplines.

Fundamental physics itself may depend on the "history", too. The more the anthropic people are correct, the more important a role the "history" played in the selection of the Universe around us from the landscape of the full theory. The more important the "history" was, including its details, the less explainable various crucial features of the world will be.

Let's not forget that the world can also be much more explainable than what almost anyone thinks: the initial conditions of the Universe, normally understood as the information added on top of the laws of physics, can actually be another law of physics (Hartle-Hawking state etc.). However, even this state only tells us about the probabilities and we're not quite sure how essential the probabilistic character of such predictions is.


If you allow me to summarize, all the accurate results of a discipline can be reduced to mathematical procedures applied to the basic laws of more fundamental disciplines (i.e. to fundamental physics). However, the conventions, terminology (including the useful emergent concepts), and history (including random events that turned out to be important) cannot be derived from the more fundamental disciplines and they play increasingly important roles in increasingly "emergent" disciplines.

But none of these things is an equally good "supplement" of the basic laws of physics. Indeed, the basic laws of physics are supposed to be "complete". In principle, they answer all questions that can be answered. Any independent additional law that would be just "added" would make the union logically inconsistent. The freedom to play this game that avoids contradictions is limited to the conventions, terminology, and history.

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